The 1960s were a time of developing and acting on big ideas in many ways. For some it was opening up to self expression and not simply following the path of others before them resulting in the massive social, cultural, political, and artistic shifts that typify the era. Without diving into some kind of essay about wow, the 60’s, maaaaaan let’s just agree that a lot happened back then. One thing to occur was the creation of the planned community of Columbia, MD by the Rouse brothers, notable real estate developers whose big idea included the design and construction of a familiar venue to Phish and music fans in general, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Seated in the midst of the 40-acre Symphony Woods on land once part of a slave plantation and named after heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, the venue was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, probably better known for buildings like The Guggenheim, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Dancing House, and many other visually memorable and aesthetically striking structures. Originally meant to be the summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra once that organization went bankrupt the booking net widened to include political rallies and even that godforsaken rock and roll music. There have been a couple of bans on “rock music acts” here over the years due to some gate crashing and whatnot but here almost 50 years since its opening (you have to think they have some fun stuff planned to celebrate that next year) it has become one of the more frequent tour stops for Phish particularly in 3.0.
The band has played Merriweather Post Pavilion fifteen times starting with a single setter in the summer of 1992 and extending all the way up through a two night stand in 2015. As hinted at above 11 of those 15 have come since The Return in 2009 including two night stands for each of the last five times they have visited.
Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Merriweather Post Pavilion Jams. Note that there are a couple of jams from other Columbias sprinkled in there (SC, MO). Don’t let that confuse you. It is just how the filters work on PJJ. Plus you get that ridic Funky Bitch jam from 11.22.1994 so no complaining!
07.17.1992 Sometimes it is better that there are no tapes of a show. For this first appearance by Phish at MPP that is the case as the band battled through sound issues and an overall lackluster performance in their first set opening for Santana after leaving the H.O.R.D.E tour behind. The reviews you can find of this one range from bad to worse with the one in the Companion by Timer being pretty eye-rolling in many ways. Hey, I was at this show too and while it wasn’t the best set of Phish I caught even that year you don’t see me hassling the drummer about whether this meant they had sold out. MOVING ON…
08.08.1998 The first full show of Phish waited another six years for whatever reason but they came back with fire (perhaps to atone? probably not but fun to speculate for them). The fun starts in earnest with the third song Sneakin’ Sally which gets a big funky outro jam that ends up in Guyute. Following a subdued Fikus, Farmhouse pairing they ramp it up for Possum and then debut a song that would later show up as part of that year’s Halloween costume, the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane. This has always been a favorite song of mine so to hear Phish play it (with some added gusto by Trey in his solo) was just amazing at the time. The second set starts out with one of two ever Cavern openers (notably, there are only 13 total set opening Caverns – 10 1sts, 2 2nds, 1 3rd) which came after one of only five Wedge show openers ever (of nine set opening versions ever – 5 1sts, 4 2nds). That’s actually probably the least exciting part of this set though. The 2001 that follows is a clinic in ’98 Phish funk and big Trey leads with some fantastic stuff by Mike for good measure in the back half. They pause the dance party for a nice Tela and then drive into a patient, grooving Piper that stretches out in a wonderful way before we get Fish Fun Time for one of the four performances of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing that all fell in that year. The set concludes with one of those soaring 98 Hoods which gets a bit of extension in the jam before they debut a seemingly out of left field cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage to the crazed delight of the fans in attendance. This is a triumphant return to the venue for the band with jams all over and the band at a peak. It is definitely a keeper.
07.09.1999 The following summer Phish returned again for a single show, opening up with an on point but contained LxL before kind of sleep walking through the majority of the first set that came after. It isn’t a bad set but there’s not much there there until you get to the set closing Jim which chugs through a rocking type I jam and gives hope for the second set yet to come. Coming out with what seems like a bit more purpose they rock through PYITE (with one of those good ol’ Super bad teases) before dropping into a gooey Free>WTU? that is oh so 1999 in the playing. After a Sofi-aided Meatstick (it was the summer of that dance craze which swept the nation, after all) the band starts into Mike’s Song. From the start you can tell they intend to stay in this Mike’s space for a bit and the resulting jam has the feel of an old school T&R jam as it slowly builds as they groove through several minutes of engaging music. As the release forms Trey is hinting at something… ah! there it is! Sweet Emotion quotes come in and the band peaks out the song and moves into Twist for the only time that combo has ever occurred. They don’t go far out like in the preceding Mike’s but Page manages a Spooky tease in there and then we get a fun Paug that nods to the impending solicitation by the band to help break the record for coordinated dancing by quoting Macarena. There is also a Meatstick tease in the encore Hood which while not as big as the one from the previous year is a solid capper to a good Summer ’99 show all the same.
09.17.2000 A couple of weeks before those final 1.0 shows at Shoreline we just covered Phish was back at MPP for their fourth show – and last until after The Return. If your younger phriends ever ask you what the heck The Millennial Sound was this show would be a good one to offer up as an example. First up is the ultra rare Guyute opener (one of four ever) to get the fist pumping and rocking out going. Later there is an underrated Gin (2000 was a good year for the song so in comparison to others around it maybe not the best but definitely a fun one), a bunch of mainly standard for the time takes on songs, and the second version of The Curtain (With) that tour following its ginormous gap stretching back to 1988. The second set on this night is all killer no filler stuff from the Rock and Roll opener through the Free closer including a unique take on Theme that segues into the 40 show bustout of Dog Log and a Mango Song that stretches into deep groove jam full of effects before ending up in that aforementioned Free. There are definitely more complete shows from that time period but the entirety of the second set is worth your time.
08.15.2009 Upon returning to MPP during the first summer tour back in action Phish opened up with a direct nod to the challenges the fanbase has had at this venue over the years by playing the first 3.0 version of the Undermind tune Crowd Control. The constant presence of police helicopters over the lots here and the seemingly militaristic control the security sometimes implements have made for some baaaaad experiences for many a fan over the years. Part of that could be a residual from the venue’s past with regards to rock bands here or it could be a Phish thing but either way it brought out the quirky almost-feels-like-a-protest-anthem ditty for us. The rest of the set is a song-based affair with thirteen played but it is notable that several of these were first timers for 3.0 including that opener, Sloth (57 show gap), Axilla (30 shows), and Ha Ha Ha (69 shows). And that Fish-penned tune preceded the debut of another, the now fairly loved Party Time. The second set is a bit underwhelming (the Tweezer goes nowhere) but there is a standout 46 Days that even listening back sounds like it could be plucked from a show a little more recent than the rusty days of that tour. You probably won’t go spinning this one in full so grab the 46 Days and let’s move on.
06.26.2010 The next summer would be the first two night run at MPP which has been the case for every visit since. Again, we get that Crowd Control opener (not played between the two shows) and a largely meh first set that is mainly notable for the debut and one time cover of the Neutral Milk Hotel song In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. This was during that tour when every show (almost) had a one off cover by the band kind of like Summer ’98 where that was a thing too. The Phish version is nice enough but never stuck around after this night. Our second set starts off with a strong RnR which was an oft used vehicle in that time period, often alternating 2nd set opening slots with Disease. Later on a promising Tweezer got Horse’d (another trend that was a “thing” that summer) and then the set drifted off into a string of closers lumped together. This too is a show where you’ll pluck the RnR and maybe the Tweezer out before going elsewhere.
06.27.2010 On night two Phish was perhaps a bit more relaxed as they come out with a fun bustout of the instrument-switching, self-referential-lyrics-having Walfredo to open the night. Mainly a relic of the Europe ’97 February run, this was the first since the final run of 1.0 some 131 shows prior. There’s a nod to the venue in the early stanzas as they recollect the namesake of the song, Santana percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr., eating crab backstage at that first performance here in 1992 but other than that is is just another quirky rarity people like to pine for more than anything. Another bustout is next with Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood popping in for the first time in 89 shows before the set settles into another bunch of songs that don’t raise any eyebrows due to rarity or unique playing. The second set is one that was talked about quite a lot in the wake of this night as from the end of the Meatstick->Saw It Again combo the band got mighty playful, slipping in several teases amongst a seguefest type of run of songs. Piper has some Saw It Again in it and then Ghost gets more (and a San Ho Zay quote for good measure) before evolving into a had to have been planned debut of the Stones’ classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash which then morphed back to Saw It Again. The ensuing Contact has more Saw It Again and then the set closing YEM goes for broke with Saw It Again, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Meatstick, Surfin’ Bird and Daniel Saw the Stone teases before one final Saw It Again nod in the encore Fire. These are the type of sets that are so much fun in the moment but sometimes don’t hold up quite so well on tape. Here some of that energy translates but mainly as a fun relic of a loose and fun night with our musical heroes.
06.11.2011 Just about a week short of a year later Phish was back again for another pair here, this time foregoing the Crowd Control opener for that Daniel Saw the Stone which was teased the year prior. That’s a 137 show gap ended for those keeping score at home. Again, the balance of the first set is pretty average though they did flirt with extending Roses Are Free but that would have to wait for the wonderful excursion in the second show of the tour in Worcester on 06.08.2012. The second set here has thirteen songs which tells you a bit about how deep they didn’t go on anything and that’s in a set that includes a Tweezer (Horse’d again!), Waves (no end jam), RnR, Piper, and 2001. I was at this one and while a fun night definitely not anywhere close to one of my favorite shows even of the ones I attended just that year.
06.12.2011 Fitting the pattern with these two night stands here, the second night has a bit more to offer. First up are a couple of bustouts with one of the best old school openers there is, Buried Alive, coming in after a 46 show gap followed by a 141 show bustout of the VU song Lonesome Cowboy Bill. The rest of the set is pretty predictable as the band runs through a total of twelve songs on their way to the inevitable Zero closer. This is not to say that the band isn’t engaged, just that this is shaping up to be a Saturday Night Special rocker energy show which can be extremely fun when there even if it fell on a Sunday. They just don’t translate as well to tape. That energy is on full display during the C&P in the two slot of the second set where they never leave the song but peak the crap out of it before dripping into the start of Steam. Later Light is just about to start getting out there at the end of its main jam but instead we get The Wedge. Look, let’s put it this way: when the Alaska in this set is the third longest song and longer than Hood you aren’t exactly in jamlandia. The triple encore Sanity>Maki>First Tube feels like a bit of a makeup call when you really think about it considering all that didn’t go down in the second set there. Oh well. They can’t all be heaters…
07.13.2013 After taking 2012 off from MPP Phish returned for Summer 2013 with a first set that while still a tad on the stock side does have a couple of bustouts (Destiny after 61 shows; HttM after 49) and a few jamlets. I like this Taste even with the somewhat whale-y tone from Trey (which carries over into HttM) but the set ending Melt is probably the best highlight from this set. There’s a lot of bent tone dissonance here as Trey rides the back of that whale hard. There is never that feeling of oh-no-this-might-fly-right-off-the-tracks that makes the best Melts what they are but they stick the landing and everyone is safe to fight another day. The second set opening Disease starts off with some solid Trey Trill similar to what you’d hear in a Waves jam before they dive into open waters, Trey bending notes as Page tickles through to a beautifully sparse space. They hang here for a few minutes as each member tries out a new idea or two before Trey strums a few telling chords and we get a real live completed Disease! Those are actually pretty rare these days as the song is typically the launch pad into something else, going unfinished approximately 72.8% of the time (that stat is totally made up but probably not far off these days…). There’s a fun, peaky mid-set Hood here with some subtle teases of BOAF, Dog Log, and Divided along the way and then we get the second ever Architect before a set closing Mike’s>Simple>Paug where the Simple rocks out with melody that almost feels like the Disease return phrasing before the real closer in Paug. Fun show but still in that SNS vein.
07.14.2013 Night two here is a Sunday which brings out the well worn and not necessarily valid chants of “never miss a Sunday show!” from those attending. Hey, it’s said for a reason but there are definitely more than a few examples where this ‘axiom’ does not hold true (I’ll have more on this venue and days of the week in the stats at the end). Thankfully this one is not a big miss. After some table setting in the first set first half the band goes for it in a Stash that is a definite keeper. Yes, there’s the typical T&R here but there is also a section of lovely melodic playing as they build not to mention some chunkier, funkier bits along the path. It is definitely one of the more engaging takes on the song in 3.0. Next up is Mule which goes about as HOLD UP! What is this new toy Fish is playing?? Yep, this is the first ever use of the marimba lumina that we have grown so accustomed to hearing Fish (and Trey) play in 2016. It was quite the novelty in this song that summer. Who knew it would become Trey’s new mini-kit/keyboard rig? This is followed up by a punchy Ice>Tube>Lope end of set sequence as the band plays their most complete first set here since at least the start of 3.0. Golden Age starts off the second set and even if it doesn’t stray far from form there’s a nifty Third Stone From The Sun tease in there. After a jamless Twist and a WYSIWYG BDT#L they head into Light for the expected highlight vehicle of the set. Those expectations are met as this jam goes type II in a hurry with the band connecting on several mind meld ideas including a bit of hey hole type throwback playing and even a stop/start bit that avoids the full blown woo flu. This is a nonstop version that’ll get you up and moving. Mike comes in with the laser tone as they head into Boogie and then keep it rocking for Julius but the set closing YEM is more of what you want as there’s a decent if un-peaked jam and more tease fun with a quote of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (long time contender for one of the best songs with an annoyingly long name). This show holds the second night MPP being better rule as true once more with some very good jam highlights taboot.
07.26.2014 And now for the pair from 2014 where the infusion of the Wingsuit/Fuego tunes is seenas six of the ten songs from the album showing up in these two shows. The first night has a standard 3.0 first set with the one highlight being a lovely Roggae where Trey and Mike both interject thoughtful guitar lines. The second set cranks in with a raging Carini that only gets to the major peak in the final minutes which is really just a set up for the transition to Ghost. This Ghost starts out patiently and then Trey shifts into a lead mode, first playing a repeated phrase of chords that feel like they should be a tease but once you put that thought out of your head you realize it is just a happy times feel good music. Instead of peaking it out Trey shifts into another phase and the band follows into a face paced groove section full of Trey effects and Page synth lines until they drop out into Steam. The set continues without a lag as they pass through Mango, Monica, Light (with a couple of all too brief moments of full band connection), and 2001 on their way to a soaring Hood that caps the set. In a tour that was pretty uneven between the extremely high bar set at Randall’s Island and some of the lows elsewhere this set holds up as a beacon of what that tour could be when the band was comfortable and communicating.
07.27.2014 With another Sunday show to be played at MPP you have to start thinking about whether the axiom will hold considering this venue has a bit of an up and down history with Sunday shows. What they gave us though is one of those shows that transcends the day of the week to become one of the ones people talk of fondly years afterwards. You aren’t going to find any singular jam highlights in this one though the first set does have solid if not epic versions of Sand and YEM. The second starts off innocently enough with Wilson (as if anything related to that foul despot could be innocent) before they blast into Tweezer, eliciting cheers from the crowd about what could be. But when they hit the jam section Trey strums a few chords and Fish changes the beat and we are off into BOTT?! After a verse they drop back into Tweezer for a few bars then back to BOTT THEN back to Tweezer where the jam pays off, complete with some Manteca by Page and then they drop into one of those newer tunes, Waiting All Night. After a verse or two of Free the band comes back to Tweezer, then off to Simple (with a Magilla tease in there), then back to Tweezer, then into the start of Free. A quick verse or so of that and then we get our first big bustout with Catapult (206 show gap) which heads into a nice Slave. This segues into Disease which while not as long as most versions these days does get to a synth-heavy space in the end as they work towards the full segue to NICU. There’s a teeny tiny end jamlet here that is perhaps not as memorable as the one from 12.14.1995 and really is more bridge to the HYHU that follows but keeps the seguefest going all the same. So guess what that means! Yup, Fish Fun Time and I wonder what he’ll ‘sing’ tonight… oh, hang on a sec. Is this? What the… hey, they are playing the divisive Jennifer Dances! With Fish singing this goes about as well as one would expect and is a perfect Phish troll of those who were pining for the song to come back into play (this was only the fourth ever version and following a 352 show gap). Then after the HYHU to close Fish Fun Time (with a vocal quote of Jenny D by Fish) they start up another rarity with I Been Around, the B-side Page tune (it’s on the Party Time album of seconds from the Joy sessions) which had only been played three times before and not for 149 shows prior to this second set closing version, complete with the band walking off stage in lockstep together. The Boogie>Reprise encore is a nice capper on a wild and fun set. This is pretty much the definition of a seguefest and a great example of the benefits of adhering to the Sunday Axiom.
08.15.2015 In the end of Summer Tour run-up to the wonderful MagnaBall festival Phish played another Sat/Sun pair here, coming in hot off the run of shows leading up to this one. The Simple opener again gets a Magilla tease in a first set full of fun what with the bustouts (Glide and McGrupp both at 53 shows not to mention another three with 24 show gaps: Buried Alive, BBFCFM and YPC) and a fun acronym sandwich for BBFCFM>YPC>BBFCFM not to mention the obscure Gaktoidler reference in Lope (that’s from the 1996 Phishbill). The band is loose and having a good time which is always nice to see, particularly when you are looking forward to the second set to come. After a Halley’s opener they get right to business with a multi-phased 46 Days jam that goes from dark and menacing to light and bright before ending up in the power ballad Bug. This peaks well and then they hit Steam which gets WTU? in the middle which is always a welcome thing though here it replaces any real jam from Steam. The segues keep coming as they go into Piper, taking the song down into a low groove before bringing it up to a big peak and then heading into Tweezer. Hopes are high for this one in this late set slot but instead the band creates another sandwich (must’ve been Page’s turn to write the setlist) by going into NO2 after a 202 show gap (and for only the then sixth time ever). Okay, there’s a crunchy groove with loops getting there but still, there’s no big Tweezer jam here (but we were well rewarded a few days later so…). After a big WOTC closer we get more fun Phish as they talk up Page’s “all time favorite song” Sleeping Monkey which also gets quoted in the expected Reprise to follow. It can be argued that this is a more memorable show than the seguefest a year prior since there is some real live engaging jamming going on above the moves between songs but both definitely have a you-kinda-had-to-be-there vibe that doesn’t fully translate on tape. No matter what this was a grand way to start their weekend at MPP in 2015.
08.16.2015 The next night the band kept the fun going, first teasing that Sleeping Monkey before the show and then eventually quoting it in the YEM VJ at the end of the second set. In between there are a couple of bustouts that are not as big as the ones from the night before or night 2 in 2014 but still worth mentioning (Nothing – 139 shows; Shine A Light – 91 shows) as well as a few solid jams and an overall well played if not otherwordly show. NMINML gets that mutron funk workout, Stash is another solid T&R build version though well below the one from the year prior, and Bowie actually gets more than the standard take we have become accustomed to in 3.0 just to mention the first set bangers. The second frame is a tad song heavy in a way as eight songs that could almost all vie for vehicle status (save Shine A Light) compete for minutes resulting in none of them every really taking off. Sure, there’s nice bits in the Disease as Trey plays a thematic riff that popped into several jams that summer and Light has potential with the echo’d out jam but just as that is getting interesting they move into an unjammed Twist. Oh, and there’s a nice wobbly echo’d Sally before that YEM (which has a nice jam too) so check that one out. But these jamlets don’t elevate this show above what it is. This is a SNS on a Sunday, unfortunately. It’s tough when your older brother is better than you but so it goes.
Time now for the Tale Of The Tape!
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
No. of Shows: fifteen
Intangibles: good fanbase reach being situated in Mid-Atlantic has made it a consistent two night tour stop (in 3.0), woodsy setting and grass lots make for a fun day pre-show, big crazy lawn can be a ton of fun though you’ll want the pav for better sound and sightlines, you get to see helicopters?
Recurring Themes: two night stands (five such in 3.0); weekend shows as Phish has only ever played here Friday (2 times), Saturday (7 times), and Sunday (6 times – which is a lot comparatively); band likes to play Hood (6 total) here not to mention BDT#L, Free, Stash, Tweezer, and Reprise all which have five appearances; Crowd Control openers (2), SEGUEFESTS!!
Key Jams/Songs: 1992 – no tapes!; 1998 – Sally, Sweet Jane (debut), 2001, Piper, Hood, Sabotage (debut); 1999 – Jim, Free>WTU?, Mike’s->Twist>Paug; 2000 – Gin, Curtain (With), RnR>Theme->Dog Log>Mango; 2009 – Tweezer, 46 Days, Party Time (debut); 2010 – IAAOTS (debut), RnR, Tweezer, Saw It Again seguefest set; 2011 – yeah, so… I got nothing here… maybe the Tweezer, RnR, Piper, C&P, and Light? that’s what PJJ has…; 2013 – Melt, Disease, Hood, Simple, Stash, Mule, Ice, Golden Age, Light; 2014 – Roggae, Carini->Ghost, Hood, Tweezer seguefest set; 2015 – Roggae, 46 Days, Steam>WTU?>Steam, Piper, Tweezer->NO2->Tweezer, Monkey->Reprise fun; Stash Bowie, Disease, Sally
PJJ Ratio: MPP comes in at a solid 3.00 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.48). Not the best but a better than average showing for this venue.
Merriweather has some 1.0 history including some of the best jams that have been produced here but it is really the 3.0 shows that have given it its reputation. There are frequently Sunday shows here which fans love and outside of a few underwhelming sets the crowd and band connect well in this place. Throw on a couple of “legendary” seguefest sets and this venue is one that fans try to hit if they can swing it. The feel here is a bit of the South but more of the Northeast, contributing to a buzzing vibe and energy feedback loop that can make seeing shows here a quite memorable experience. Just don’t linger in the lots lest the copters getcha!