To finish up the first full “weekend” of shows (assuming you, like me, back in this time would have considered a Thursday night part of your weekend because c’mon who did any real work on Fridays in their 20s? Wait. You did?) Phish left the lovely scenic views of the Columbia River Gorge and continued south and west to Portland for their second year in a row playing outdoors at Portland Meadows, the now defunct and deconstructed former racetrack/concert venue/betting parlor/digital casino (don’t worry, gamblers, there is a new poker room and money taking site a few miles away with the same name). That US Summer Tour 1998 opener got an official LivePhish release and I’m here today to tell you that this 1999 show deserves the same treatment. Until that happens, along with the regularly circulating not-quite-great auds out there we do have a very nicely done remaster, done by the formerly quite prolific Kenny Powers (this and many more of his remasters can also be found via www.phishspreadsheet.com in the ‘Remasters’ tab of all places) and if you like videos there is a random upload of the BOTT from this show on youtube though I haven’t been able to locate anything else from this show which is odd… ok let’s get to it!
Phish – Portland Meadows – Portland, OR — 09.12.1999
I First Tube, Poor Heart, Mozambique, Gin, BOTT, MMGAMOIO, Frankie Says, BOAF, Lawn Boy, Possum
II Ghost>Jim>Roggae, 2001>YEM
Notes Out On Sandpaper
–first Frankie Says of the year
The Central Theme
Showing that they really really like the song already, Phish opened with First Tube, its first time as opener but already the third performance of the song early on in this tour. It isn’t entirely uncommon for newly minted songs to be played a lot in their earlier tours with the band (like the “Every Venue Gets a Fuego” from Summer 2014 by example) but this might be getting a bit excessive already. Stay tuned I suppose. Poor Heart gets the classic second song bluegrass nod (listen for Trey almost falling into Yakety Sax) and then we are back to the new tunes for the second take on Mozambique by Phish. This one is a bit tighter and definitely shorter but gets us where we need it to… which is the drop into Bathtub Gin. So far this tour the first half of first sets have been pretty tame as the band has strung together mostly warm up songs and a few Limb By Limbs before settling in and opening things up a bit. Well tonight that changes a bit.
Dripping through the composed section and verses, this Gin starts off slowly paced and oozing with Trey and Page comping around the Gin motif. Trey eventually hits on a new riff which the band follows and they begin to stretch into a dance groove. Trey uses singular notes to set up the next move, continuing to move up the register and altering to a new, repetitive riff. He starts to peak it but backs off a bit and instead builds tension by not resolving before adding a drone loop and then soloing off of that. You can still hear the basis of Gin in the back but they are soaring now as Trey throws more ideas into the mix, false-peaking it several more times over the next few minutes and playing repeated riffs that hint to a big time release. Trey’s playing gets faster here as he reprises the Gin theme and drops back down into what feels like the song’s close after only about 12min of playing (and with no true release having been provided). Suddenly he goes back to the quick runs of notes, throwing it to our first peak and repeating that phrase multiple times before again seeming to head to the finish. But hand on, folks, because the gears shift again and now the whole band is rising up as Trey takes full charge and Mike (well, at least what you can hear of him in this mix) starts dropping big notes all over as Trey takes it nuclear to the full peak. Then for what feels like forever (but what is really only like two minutes) Trey is winding down as Mike pounds away and eventually they crawl back to the Gin close, leaving the crowd in post coital disarray, as the last underlying loop that Trey set continues to whirl around.
Now being Phish we all have our personal preferences when it comes to preferred jamming styles and what the “best” versions of songs are. And that is all part of the game. So when I tell you this Gin is easily one of my favorite versions of the fabled tune I say that with no intention of diminishing what others prefer. Just in the context of Gin you can go a few different directions for what you want to hear. Maybe you like the wide openness of The Riverport or the hose-to-the-max awesomeness of The Went Gin or the sideways improvisational wizardry of Winston-Salem 97 or something I haven’t even mentioned. Gin has gone through a lot of phases in its life and 1999 is a particular vintage that I, for one, appreciate greatly. And of that vintage this Portland one is my exact cup of tea. I have lost count how many times I have spun this Gin. But it still isn’t close to getting anywhere near old for me.
As that last loop wound down Fish kicks up the BOTT beat and we are back to first set fun time fare. Nothing too crazy here and soon enough we are into the second bluegrass number, another personal favorite in the cover of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own. If you didn’t know better it would be easy to think the lyrics of this one were Mike-penned which I suppose works since he sings it. Immediately following we get the year’s first Frankie Says which is a fairly hard turn stylistically away from the shuffle beats of BOTT and the countrified grassiness of MMGAMOIO. Frankie Says gives us our first taste of lysergic intent in this show with some looped out fun in the back end, but not too much because you are still not yet to the uncomfortable setbreak convos and overly bright lights making you regret that doubling. Rest assured Phish knows and will “take care of you” as soon as the break ends. BOAF snaps us back with those infectious breakbeats with Lawn Boy giving us the only true breather of the set ahead of a typically fun Possum closer.
Coming out of the awkwardness that setbreak often seems to be you would be quite right to belt out a few “awwww yeahs!” as the lights drop and Trey sets that telltale loop (you know, the one he never does anymore?) that lets us know Ghost is a coming. I have to say I was pretty surprised to discover that out of the 182 total performances of this vehicle only 17 have been 2nd set openers (and seven of those have come in 3.0). However, in 1999 it was somewhat of a thing as four of the thirteen played are in that slot and frankly all four are well worth your time. And this one? Yeah, this one is a doozy. Go check out the heaps of praise @lawnmemo throws on this Ghost. He gets it. Frankly, I’m not going to be able to improve upon his breakdown. Heck this image alone is worth reading the whole thing.
What I will say is that this jam GOES PLACES. LOTS of places. It starts with the pre-verse loops and never lets up for close to 30 minutes. You get the Phish funk. You get some power rock. You get a big satisfying peak. You get the darkness and weird (BIG TIME). Shit, you even get one of the canonical Trey riffs best known from the 05.22.2000 Ghost for a bit (check the 16min mark here). Over the course of this jam there is something for everyone. But to be clear, this one goes to deep, DEEP psychedelic places that may not be your filet of Phish. For many of us, this is the type of completely connected musical conversation we seek from this band and why getting it is so amazing when it happens – because it doesn’t always happen. This Ghost has sections you can’t NOT dance to and sections where you fear the world is collapsing in on you. It is relentless and magical. And I love every second of it.
By the time they wind down into the warped close of Ghost you are definitely in need of something to bring you back to some semblance of normalcy. Runaway Jim fills that void, chugging along brightly but without much to speak of outside of the normal end solo bits. Roggae gets the breather slot and works well enough in that role. Immediately following Trey cranks up the loops and effects and we are off into outer space once more as the band works towards 2001. This pre-jam part is better than the 2001 itself, honestly, and you will see it tracked as “Spacey Jam” on some tapes (and I have included that part in the playlist from this show). Following the Deodato funk cover You Enjoy Myself starts up and once again the soundscape-building aspect of the then current playing is on display both in the pre-nirvana and main jam segments. After a solid if not top shelf main jam Trey hints at Johnny B Goode as they transition to what ends up being a loop-laden though abbreviated D&B section. As the song often does this closes the set and show. For the encore tonight we get Theme From The Bottom which is very rare in that slot having only encored eight times out of the 164 total performances for the song. That alone is worthwhile but then when you hear Trey reprise one of the main licks that informed the Gin jam (listen at 5:20 in Theme for the first go at it) it takes this one next level even for a compact get-them-on-their-way encore performance. And with that we are on the road again, albeit now with a night off to make the 400+ mile journey east for that outlier before the start of the California/Southwest portion of the tour.
Take Your Laser Beams Away
Here in the 4th night of the tour the band is fully gelling. Fans would be forgiven for being pretty tired at this stage considering they had already driven more than 500 miles for this first weekend of shows. But the payoff is worth it! Along with many other shows this tour you can start it at the opener and let it run and be perfectly happy. But knowing how we fans are, here are the songs I would recommend you spend the most time and energy with from Portland:
‘Spacey Jam’ pre-2001
Theme From The Bottom
I recommend spinning this show top to bottom or at least those highlights above but definitely the Gin and Ghost if nothing else. Me saying more about those two songs would probably cause even fewer people to spend time reading this blog so let’s just say I consider these to be two of my favorite pieces of Phish improv from this whole tour and we are only four shows in so that should tell you something right there.
This Happens Once Again
Next we will hop over to Idaho for that very well known sleeper show stop that added so many miles to the routing for many fans. Hopefully you weren’t one of those who thought better than to do the drive and missed out on one of THOSE nights… Prep yourself with the official release of this classic night from Boise!