Some Good Parts… – Phish and Great Woods

The Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts opened for the 1986 concert season with great regional access to many of the major population center in this part of New England being approximately 40 miles from Boston, Providence, Worcester, and Cape Cod. Situated between I-495, I-95 and the town of Mansfield the venue has reasonably strong regional access and even with newer venues having been built in the intervening years draws a consistently high level of performing group each summer. At opening the venue held approximately 12,000 people which was expanded to 19,000 in 1994 with further enhancements improving the access and comfort level for patrons. One challenge that still remains (and will forever be a problem at this venue) is the bottleneck parking situation where the majority of fans are parked around the back side of the venue and thus forced to wait out extremely long lines do get to the one main exit from the center. This is not always a bad thing for the Phish crowd who love to hang out and recreate before and after the show but when the band leaves the stage at just after 11pm and you are still waiting to get out at 1:30am it is safe to say there is a bit of a problem. Since debuting here with a single set opening performance for Santana in 1992 the band has played a total of seventeen shows with performances in all three of the main eras of the band’s history.

 

After that Santana single setter every show at Great Woods has been a two set performance as part of that year’s summer tour. 1992 and 1993 were single night stops and then the next five times the band came here was for a two night stand. Oddly, Tuesday holds the high mark for most days played at this venue with seven as the next two highest combined (Friday at 3 and Saturday at 4) total to that amount together. There has never been a Sunday night show (or a Thursday one for that matter) which should not be skipped per the axiom.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Great Woods Jams.

 

Oh, hi there! Miss me? Well, life moves pretty fast and all that. And then Summer Tour comes and that whole new Phish thing gets in the way of worrying about shows from twenty or more years prior. But we are back! And I have another site update to add! I’m going to add a link to the stream of each show on phish.in for your use if you so choose. Note that this provides a good, quick way to spin each show but in most cases those are auds unless a soundboard copy leaked at some point or it was recorded by patch which would only be relevant in the old shows. Many of the shows reviewed here, particularly the ones since LivePhish was created and the band starting releasing full tours of shows, are available in remastered soundboard glory elsewhere. Join me below the fold…

Continue reading “Some Good Parts… – Phish and Great Woods”

It All Runs Together – Phish and Merriweather Post Pavilion

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!

Wide Open Views and That Laid Back Sound – Phish and The Gorge

The next venue for us to visit is another outdoor beauty, The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. This is a much larger venue than Red Rocks with a 27,500 person capacity, making it more of a hallowed venue due to location and the band’s reputation to throw down great shows here instead of for it being a difficult ticket to see the band. Situated in the amazing Columbia River Gorge about 130 miles west of Spokane and some 150 miles east of Seattle, The Gorge was originally supposed to be a vineyard before eventually becoming the storied concert venue it is today. Those who have been know that few places can match the grandeur of the overlooking view one gets of the river valley that acts as a natural backdrop to the band playing, a backdrop that included an “open” back to the stage for many years until the venue added a black screen behind the stage to assist in the projection of lights and other visuals. The beauty of the area owes itself to the Missoula Floods which occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, carving the walls of the valley that had been forming for millennia into the form that we mainly see today. It is a place that seems to inspire a unique mode of playing for Phish, a mellow mood of sorts that comes through clearly even on the tapes of shows from here. Being the destination venue that it is the band has always played at least two shows here which also contributes to that relaxed feel as the crowd and band are able to settle into their surroundings and enjoy being away from reality for a bit. In a way, this gives shows here a bit of a festy vibe or at least more of one than your typical two show stand at [insert corporate name here] amphitheater.

It wasn’t until the Summer Tour in 1997 that Phish first played The Gorge but since then they have landed in George eight times with each visit being a pair of shows. Some quick math tells that totals sixteen shows. To date, no member of Phish has played at The Gorge without the rest of the band, unlike most of the venues we find in this project.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for The Gorge Jams.

08.02.1997  By the time Phish arrived at The Gorge in 1997 they were well into the US portion of the tour and about to make their way back east for the first of the Limestone, ME festivals, The Great Went. From the first notes of this one you can tell they are taking everything in here and playing with the laid back feel that will come to typify shows from this venue. The band opened with a solid Theme From the Bottom in a strong year for the song, hit the Ginseng for the 2nd song bluegrass slot, and then dive into the then new vehicle Ghost. There are others that soar more highly than this one but it has the swagger and groove that any good version should particularly once Trey hits on the Who-Knows-on-speed theme in the back half. After playing another of the new tunes (Dogs Stole Things) they played the first of the sunset Divideds that will become the norm for this venue as the years go by, building a lovely jam out of the reflective moment that is The Pause. The funk returns in a stretched out Wolfman’s (one of those songs that really took off once the funk entered the equation) and then they capped the set with a plodding Melt where Trey repeats a riff for much of the jam before exploding into a flurry of notes in the return to the song’s form. The second set starts off with a bit of a nod to the last time they had been in the region for the Fall 96 show we talked about here previously as they go big in Disease->Tweezer->JBG and almost get to the same type of Diseezer motif with the tease of Disease in the tail end of the Tweezer jam before the move to JBG. The other notable highlight here is the “lights out” Hood encore where Trey asks CK5 to turn off the lights so they can enjoy the “outdoor vibe”. This is a solid show for their first night ever at The Gorge.

08.03.1997  On the second night Phish came out hot from the start, opening with a punchy Gin that drops into an inventive Foam that goes well beyond the norm for the song. Next is the debut and one time performance of Samson Variation before the set turns song-y and towards the bluesy side of things. Twist->JJLC is an interesting combo with the Twist being a bit more rocking blues than normal and the JJLC carrying that vibe forward. They keep this feel going with the swinging Julius second set opener before a short but sweet Simple and a peaky Fluffhead. The singular performance of Lifeboy is next leading to a fantastic, peaked out Taste that really is the highlight of this set before they fill the end run with typical crowd pleasing fare. For a Sunday show this one feels a bit odd in that it is a tad all over the place and somewhat out of the mode that the Summer 97 shows went. It isn’t an off night by any means but it isn’t exactly peak Phish either.

07.16.1998 The next year the band returned but this time at the start of the US portion of the Summer Tour having only played the famed Portland Meadows show on American soil prior to this one. The first set is a pretty mellow affair as Phish goes, starting with a Coil opener (at the time the fourth ever Coil opener – there has been one other since in Telluride on 08.10.2010) to perhaps reference the sunset (do I need to point out the lyrical reference? I’m going with no). A third song Stash is a bit underrated as they do some nice T&R construction but it is the Reba that really sets the tone for the set in earnest. If you didn’t already know where I’m going here, this is a subdued, let’s-all-take-a-look-around type of Reba jam in the “mellow” vein that permeates this venue. Page’s organ fills accent Trey’s wah’d out comping carry us through until they shift into a higher gear with Mike pushing the pace until all fade out except for Fish as they drop into the transition to FEFY. They back that up with Circus which while fitting the vibe makes for a pretty low key back half of the set. They punch up the Antelope closer though and come back after the break with another 2nd set opening Julius to get everyone moving. A swanky Moma follows before a short Piper and Axilla lead to Bowie which is somehow kind of mellow even with its typically frenzied end tension. The band then cranks into a Tube that gets a funky ambient outro jam before giving way to the Slave closer. I’m not sure how to take the Sample encore here but we have another night at the venue so no harm no foul. The vibe in this show is a bit overwhelming in its mellowness, particularly in the first set but the highs are quite good.

07.17.1998  Often when Phish plays more than one night at a venue it can take a set or three to really get into the groove there and this can be compounded further when they are in the early stages of the tour. Well, my friends, this second show in the 1998 run at The Gorge is where they hit their stride bigtime. As a sign of the impending awesome to come the band opened with Makisupa, one of only seven confirmed times the song has opened a show (two of those were mentioned in the Red Rocks post). This is still the last time that they have opened with it. After a short loopy ambient jam they play the fun summertime vibe number Ya Mar, drawing out the end with a breezy jam that begs you to smile. The Gumbo that follows is Manteca funk (which is fairly common with the 98 Gumbos) before Trey finishes it up with a nice bit of soloing. Now it is time for the annual Divided Sky sunset performance and this one is no slouch as after The Pause they go big time. Divided is kind of one of those songs you might not go looking for at a show but always seems to deliver. That might just be my old school way of thinking but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone talk ill of the song. And if they did about this version I might have to question their motivations… ANYWAY after a breather for Waste>MMGAMOIO they close strong with My Soul. Now, you should probably already know this second set but just in case you don’t please do yourself the favor of cuing that up and cranking it. It only has one of the biggest (and the longest!) 2001s ever, a huge Mike’s Song with a second jam that eventually goes somewhat ambient, replacing the need for a filler tune and punching right into Weekapaug Groove. This one has it all what with the Mike-led funk, full quote of Taste by Trey in the middle, and a powerful end jam that never resolves back to the lyrics but instead slams into the Zero closer. Yup, that’s a four song set, friends. All killer no filler style too. The PYITE>Rocky Top is just gravy in the encore, quite frankly. This is to me the best show the band has played at The Gorge and it is a crime that there has yet to be an official release from it. We should start a petition.

09.10.1999  For their third visit here Phish was again coming in at the early stage of the Fall Tour having just started out on 9.9.99 (numbers are cool!) up in British Columbia. I’m not a huge fan of a Farmhouse opener so I guess it is good that four of the seven times they have done it were in 1999 but that one from this past summer scares me that they might think it is a good idea again. Thankfully it didn’t set the tone for the show though as First Tube cranks in with the “secondary” opener slot. This set is more typical of what we have come to expect from first sets in latter day Phish with a couple of non-jammed vehicles (Twist, Carini), the expected sunset Divided, a bluegrass tune, a head scratcher with the oddly placed WTU?, and then a fun debut closer (Will It Go Round In Circles which unfortunately only got one more performance a couple of weeks later in Tucson on 09.21.1999. The second set opening Disease is one of the contained, shreddy type I versions and then the set gets a bit uneven as they play a standard Moma and a seemingly truncated Piper leading up to a megaphone-less Fee (with outro jam!) that bleeds into the loopy debut of Gotta Jibboo (for Phish, of course. It had already been around for TAB at this point). The evil energy of Saw It Again picks the pace up but then they go into mellow mode for a downright slow Melt. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really go anywhere. The same can be said for the Bowie closer which takes almost ten minutes to get through the intro and that is without any teases, SL, or other antics adding to the time. It just has that overly patient let’s-get-ambient-no-matter-what feel and thus never really feels like it can top out. Capping it with a Coil encore doesn’t alter the mood here and we are out into the night kind of wondering what happened there. Truthfully this is more the norm for Fall 99 shows than the outlier but in comparison to some of the other shows we have heard here the difference in “intent” (god, I hate using that word in the context of Phish) is quite clear.

09.11.1999  For the Saturday night show of this 1999 pair Phish came out swinging with Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL to get everyone up and moving. Trey has a brief but melodic lead in the Tube Things see-saw a bit from there with DST and Billy Breathes keeping things grounded sandwiched around PYITE and then leading to the set ending Guyute>Free segment. This Free gets pretty crunchy for a bit, stretching past the “normal” length of the song but don’t be fooled by the timing on most pulls of this one as there is at least a minute of post set crowd noise in there. So maybe not quite the fifth longest version ever that it appears to be. Trey gets that glitchy guitar thing going here that is often found in jams from 1999 which is kind of a love it or hate it thing for some fans. Personally, I love it but I am a big fan of that era so there’s that. As with 1997 this second show gets a bit of the Wolfman’s funk but tonight the second set opening version is also tinged with the developing Millennial Sound as they layer washes of sound on top of the groove. This gives way to loops and those play-every-note-in-one-second fills Trey got so comfortable with in that era as they set up the transition to… the Phish debut of Sand! Now a quite familiar vehicle, prior to this night (and tour) the song had only shown up in TAB shows, primarily that May 1999 Tour. This version is a Trey clinic as Mike lays down the static bassline, Fish rides rhythm alongside and Page toys with accents and effects. Over the course of this 18+ minute version Trey patiently offers up several great ideas, some which stick and others that don’t take (that final Jimi-like lead is freaking great before they return to the main Sand riff). This is up there in the pantheon of great debut versions of songs (e.g. The Amsterdam Carini) but really just scratches the surface of where the song could go once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on it. But that doesn’t take anything away from this highly dance-able interstellar version! A run through Meatstick brings us back to earth a bit and then we get a somehow both shreddy and mellow Maze. Then following a real live actually engaging Prince Caspian and then a peaky, blissful Hood closer (with several false endings) before the Circus encore. This is probably the “better” of the two shows from this stand and the second set in particular holds up quite well for enthusiasts of the era.

07.12.2003  Okay, now we are really getting pretty removed from my writing comfort zone as I believe this marks the first 2.0 show that I will have written about more than simply in passing. Bear with me, folks. Well, the band helps out from the start, playing a soaring Taste opener before dipping into the then new material with Mexican Cousin and running through a fine enough Stash, NICU, and Heavy Things. Then we get the debut of Mock Song (only version they would play until the festy-themed bustout at Magnaball in 2015) and Army of One (previously only played at Vida Blue shows earlier that year) before ripping into a demonic, openly jammed Maze closer. It’s one you will want to hear if you are a Maze fan. Just remember that you will in fact get out of the maze and you should be fine. Second set starts out with a chugging type I Piper that swirls and grooves for about fifteen minutes featuring a lot of that gnarly, uncompressed Trey 2.0 tone before dissolving into the debut of Two Versions of Me which almost got backed up with the 2nd ever Secret Smile if you listen closely to the sbds of this one. Thankfully they chose to instead dive into Tweezer (unless you are a big Secret Smile fan in which case I’ll say go listen to 07.15.2003 if you want those two songs paired, sir). Trey plays the melodic part of Free before it kind of falls apart into a loose, dirty return to Tweezer. It isn’t the prettiest finish to Tweezer ever but you get some of that with 2003 Phish. They ease up for DST and WITS but then it is back to the deep end for a late set Ghost! This is a monster of a Ghost which you should go read about in more depth. Let’s just say this is the type of jam that jam chasers point to when decrying the ripcording and other stuff that sometimes creeps into Phish sets. Oh and let’s just go ahead and back that ridiculous dance party Ghost with a solid Bowie closer, mm’kay? So by the time the Frankenstein>Reprise encore hits you are just laughing at the power this band can wield. This was about a week into that summer’s tour so the band was warmed up and pretty well in form so you get a good snapshot of what they laid down in those shows here. 2003 has some positively other worldly jams intermingled with head scratching song choices, particularly with that set of ballad-y numbers they debuted that summer. You take the good with the rest though…

07.13.2003  For the Sunday night capper to this 2003 pair Phish started out with good old Runaway Jim which gets some extension including a bit of almost-but-not-quite Seven Below jamming. They follow this with the third ever Scents And Subtle Sounds (with intro!), playing it pretty straight at least in comparison to some of the massive ones from later this tour (not to mention the epic soundcheck version from before the next show in Utah). After romping through Axilla and Carini and playing the mini bustout for DFB they play what will be the last version of Round Room until its 140 show bustout during the first set of the wonderful 01.01.2011 show and it gets the 2.0 ambient outro jam treatment too which is a nice (one time) treat. Halley’s Comet is next with some Mike on electric bagpipes action in the end before they run through Guyute (also with some Mike electric bagpipery) and then a rousing run through YEM caps the set. The second set starts off fine enough with a rocking Llama and a funky Wolfman’s that dives into the 60 show bustout of JJLC but it is the Seven Below that follows where this set gets its legs. They go super deep in this one, jumping off into the ether such that by about the twelve minute mark you might have one or four of those “what song is this?” moments. At the start of the deepery Trey throws in a Third Stone from the Sun tease and then they proceed to build back up, eventually ending with a quick run through the main theme of the song. It isn’t the most connected Phish you will ever hear but there is a willingness to take the risk that is greatly appreciated. The show finishes strongly with Hood and Chalkdust before a First Tube encore and then we are left to wait for six years until the band would come back here again.

08.07.2009  When Phish returned after The Long Wait there were varying opinions about whether they would be able to recapture the jam magic that had been their currency with the fans for so many years. Heck, I guess you could say there were those who had been saying such things since like 1994 but whatever on all that. There had been hints of it sprinkled throughout the first leg of the Summer Tour that year but it still felt like they were searching for the connection that made it all work so well. After warming up the second leg of the tour with the four shows at Red Rocks and then playing a one off show at Shoreline (which we will get to…) Phish came back to The Gorge for a pair. Maybe it was something about being back in another familiar place but something seemed to click that weekend and the jams started flowing freely. The show opening Disease was a type I surprise considering they had just played a decent open ended one in the middle of the second set at Shoreline but it set the tone for how the evening would go. A fun midset call-and-response jam in Possum between Trey and Page livened up the crowd and offset the “another possum?” thoughts from those who had been keeping track of such stats. During this set they played the first P&M of 3.0 and then in the penultimate slot for the set the first Sally since that same 08.12.2004 show, taking the Robert Palmer cover to type II depths that this song simply doesn’t typically go. It is a quality jam that holds up so check that one out for sure. The Stash that precedes it also takes a noble leap at going sideways but really just stays in the T&R mode for the most part. The second set has an engaging calypso jam in Light before they nail the segue to Taste and then later on there is a Gin that some still hold as the most creative of 3.0 even though it is pretty well drenched in whale tone. Followed by a lovely Hood closer it is quite nice to hear the band willing to take risks again here at a place where that has definitely been their modus operandi.

08.08.2009  For the second night of this pair Phish started out by dusting off Mango Song for the first time in 3.0 and then after a quick Chalkdust debuted the Mike and Leo Kottke tune Middle of the Road which would be played one more time that summer before getting shelved. The rest of the first set is pretty underwhelming as the midset Tweezer never takes off and only the energy of the set closing Zero>Lope pairing makes any waves. The second set starts out quite strong with a loping RnR jam that hints at some FOTM phrasing before peaking and moving into Makisupa which has its own interest considering Trey and Mike switch instruments to give us a different sort jam (that actually kind of works). The set turns song-y from there as they play a standard YEM surrounded by a bunch of setlist fodder and then rock out the encore with GTBT>Reprise. This is definitely the lesser of the two from the 2009 run but has a great highlight in that RnR->Maki sequence.

08.05.2011 Two year on from the last visit Phish returned for another pair at The Gorge to start out the second leg of the summer tour following the one month break after Superball. The first set is basically a warm up the jukebox grouping of songs but the Taste>Roggae pairing here is a beauty that deserves your time. That set tricks us into complacency though as after the break and a set opening BDT#L the band starts up RnR and takes it out into a completely unique space, dropping into dark waters as Page hops on the theremin (something that was well received in the several times he did it in 2011) and Mike throwing in massive bass bomb brown notes. Many thought it was going into FOTM but instead you will get Meatstick and like it. They keep it flowing with a big time Boogie On out of the Meatstick jam and then kind of fizzle to the end of set with some questionable placements for Farmhouse and SoL. This RnR jam was something of a revelation at the time, another step up in the jamming department for the band as they had seemed to plateau a bit in this touring year. But by the time the summer had ended there were several great jams to look back on including the one here that started the run.

08.06.2011  The next night got a bit of the second show slump thing as the first set is mainly a collection of decent songs played reasonably well. The Wolfman’s Brother hints at more to come with some Heartbreaker teases but other than that there’s not much of note in this set. Then they come out hot with a Chalkdust second set opener that butts up against Tweezer which is where the real heat starts to rise. The jam goes from white hot shreddery to spacecamp soundscape and then out to Caspian and eventually a nice Sand before coming back to Tweezer. After a few other solid numbers like BOAF and Golden Age>Reba they cap the set with a tease-filled Lope closer and then a Suzy>Sanity>Reprise encore. This show is honestly a bit flat compared to most from this venue which is not to say it is bad in any way but that it lacks by comparison to some very big brothers.

07.26.2013  Once more, Phish kept to their play-it-every-two-years mode in 3.0, coming back to The Gorge in July 2013 for another pair of Friday/Saturday shows. This first night kind of feels like a Saturday Night Rock Out what with the high energy opening quad of Bag>Timber Ho, Wolfman’s, Funky Bitch and then following a nice Happy Birthday shoutout to CK5 they drop into the fist-pumper-pleasing Wilson. Trey stops during the blat boom pause to talk about wanting everyone to chant “Wilson” at Seahawks games and sports a fan made Wilson “jersey” which would eventually result in it being discussed in an official NFL film segment. The second set starts out with a far ranging C&P that kicks off a set filled with tons of teases and the fun looseness that comes when this band is relaxed and comfortable with their surroundings. Listen for a quite well played Waves, a Mango with a bit of outro jammery and a ‘moon jammed’ Zero closer where the band gets a bit howl-y once CK5 turns down the lights. It may not be the best show ever here but the energy from it comes through loud and clear on the tapes. Oh yeah, there’s a 156 show bustout of Secret Smile here too if you like that sort of thing.

07.27.2013  The second night in 2013 also has a pretty standard first set though it does get one of the four performances of Architect (as opener no less!) and the debut of the Mike tune Say Something along with an 87 show bustout of After Midnight to close in honor of the passing of its writer and one time opener for Phish, J.J. Cale. The second set starts with a short-ish but underrated Disease that segues into a fun Undermind that saw Fish hit the marimba lumina (before that was really a “thing”). Light also has a nice if abbreviated jam and on the whole you really cannot complain about a setlist like this one where aside from some possible jukebox-ing is all songs with great payoff. This show doesn’t have the big highlights of some of the others from The Gorge but is a solid set particularly for Summer 2013 which is viewed by some as a bit of a dip before they ramped things up again that Fall.

07.15.2016  And now we get to this summer’s entry and the final pair of shows at this venue. After a much discussed and somewhat jam-lite East Coast leg of the tour Phish had a few days off to make it west for this pair of shows. The first night had many wondering what band they would get out west so when they opened with Tweezer (even a contained one) you knew they were saying “ok, let’s get back to business” in a way. Shedding the distractions of the early summer (i.e. finishing work on the new album, Bernie, etc.) they played a solid if unremarkable first set including the debut of the now loved humorous Fish tune Ass Handed and the 155 show bustout of Old Home Place (perhaps a nice nod to being back in this great place after a three year absence?). The second set starts with another solid C&P from this venue (with an interestingly placed Under Pressure tease considering the general tenor of the fanbase at this point) and then a subtle yet powerful WTU?. From there things turn into something of a tease fest as the NMINML has heavy C&P quotes, Stash gets both C&P and WTU? teases, Ghost gets full band instrument switching and C&P and NMINML teases, Chalkdust gets C&P, WTU? and NMINML teases, 2001 gets C&P and NMINML quotes, Cavern gets C&P and WTU? teases, and the encore Wilson has some Makisupa in it. It is a fun, flowing set of the sort that works quite well in person but sometimes doesn’t hold up as well on tape even though in this case I’d say the energy and impact of the music works even after the fact. It was a bit of a beacon for some who though the sky was falling and another sign for others who see this as The End Times but somewhere between those two viewpoints is a third where this was yet another awesome night at The Gorge with Phish.

07.16.2016  The second night in 2016 is definitely a bit of a Saturday Night Special with the focus seeming to be on high energy rockers at the expense of big jams. I always love a Buried Alive opener so that’s nice and then there are solid versions of 555 and Sand before a rousing Gin closer. The second set feels like an extension of the first in that there is a lot of good playing going on but very few attempts to stretch anything too far beyond its normal limit. The BOAF is interesting and Wingsuit peaks well and the Mike’s is a different sort of jam than typical for the song but I’m not really here to laud the descending runs Trey plays in farmhouse, you know? This show lacks anything of a major centerpiece jam which (as always) doesn’t mean that those there didn’t have a great time but that it feels like a step backwards after the inventiveness of the prior evening’s show. Thankfully for us every night with Phish gives us something a little different so I guess we will just have to see what that next one from this wonderful venue provides.

Let’s see the tale of the tape for this venerable tour stop…

Venue:  The Gorge Amphitheatre

No. of Shows:  sixteen

Intangibles:  unique, beautiful venue with amazing views of the natural splendor of the Columbia River Gorge and an open, all-GA atmosphere. band seems to enjoy playing here as shows from the eight separate pairs of shows performed. on site camping and other close by amenities make it a relaxing destination for Phish. something about the vibe here always comes off as laid back and relaxed, showing up in the music performed which tends to include patient takes on the songs.

Recurring Themes:  Divided Sky sunset jams (ok, only three times but they are all great), Wolfman’s Brother (only song played seven out of the eight visits), Hood jams often with the “lights out”

Key Jams/Songs:  1997 – Theme, Ghost, Divided, Wolfman’s, Disease->Tweezer, Hood, Gin, Foam, LxL, Julius, Taste; 1998 – Reba>Fefy>Circus, Julius, Moma, Bowie, Tube, Ya Mar, Gumbo, Divided, 2001, Mike’s>Paug; 1999 – Fee>Jibboo, Melt, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian, Hood; 2003 – Taste, Maze, Piper, Tweezer, Ghost, Round Room, Wolfman’s, Seven Below; 2009 – Sally, Light->Taste, Gin>Hood, RnR->Makisupa; 2011 – Taste>Roggae, RnR->Meatstick->Boogie, Tweezer>Caspian>Sand->Tweezer; 2013 – Wolfman’s, C&P, Waves, Mango, Disease->Undermind>Light->Sally; 2016 – C&P>WTU?>NMINML, Ghost->Chalkdust, 555, Gin, BOAF, Wingsuit, Mike’s

PJJ Ratio:  2.50 (please see the Shoreline post for details on this)

This venue presents a pretty solid case for one with a high number of jams per capita. Phish always seems at home when they play here and each run has something we end up discussing for a while afterwards. For my money you cannot beat that second set on 07.17.1998 but having been here eight different times over several eras Phish at The Gorge offers something for everyone.