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”

Children of the Cornfields – Phish and Deer Creek

Deer Creek Amphitheatre (I will not call it by one of the two subsequent corporate monikers) is located in Noblesville, IN, once a small town just northeast of Indianapolis but now fully part of that market due to the never-ending creep of urban sprawl. Once known for being surrounded by vast cornfields and not much else the area is replete with newish subdivisions, shopping malls, and more of the cookie cutter development that exploded upon our major metropolitan areas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Deer Creek is a venue almost synonymous with Phish and summer tour. Starting in 1995 and continuing through Hiatus, The Break Up, and now here in 3.0 Phish has played this venue on most of the summer tours they have performed including every one from that first single nighter in 1995 through a pair in 2004 and then hitting four of eight here in the time since The Return. Over that time Phish has played twenty-three shows in the venue with Trey also bringing TAB here for three other performances (all during those pesky times when Phish kinda wasn’t a thing). This venue is not just notable for Phish as the Grateful Dead played fourteen shows here between the opening summer for the venue in 1989 and their fateful visit in 1995 when gatecrashers the first night overwhelmed the venue staff, resulting in one of the few show cancellations ever as the Dead were forced to cancel the second night. Keller Williams even wrote a song about that whole thing. Obviously, there are many other bands who have played here but this isn’t a blog about them now is it?

The twenty-three shows Phish has played at Deer Creek have all been part of a Summer Tour. Most visits to the venue have been multi-night stands though in 1995, 2009, and 2016 the band played only the one show. There are two three show stands here (2000, 2003) and all other visits have been two nights apiece. Oddly, even with this venue having the second most shows in ‘modern era’ Phish they have never played a Saturday night show at this venue. Every other day of the week has been played at least three times. That’s kinda weird for such a revered venue in the band’s history.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Deer Creek Jams. Let’s get to getting…

Continue reading “Children of the Cornfields – Phish and Deer Creek”

Interpretations on 12.31.2016, Set III

I’d like to step aside from the Venue Project for a minute to get some of the innumerable thoughts down that have been swimming through my head since walking out of Madison Square Garden after the NYE show a couple of days ago. I have debated with myself about whether I should post this because, well, it could be taken in a few different ways depending on your approach and it definitely opens me up to the type of criticism that tends to divide our scene rather than bring it together. But you know what? I don’t care. If nothing else I want to flush this stuff out so that I can process it, take what I need from it, and move forward. Not sharing that seems to me to be the wrong way to go about starting that course of action.

 

Before I start this I feel like I should make a few disclaimers. First and foremost, I am not musically trained, can barely play an instrument, and do not have the vocabulary to speak to the specifics of the music that Phish plays. I am but a simple fan who has spent countless hours listening to this band and following them around the country to the extent that it is as much a part of my life as anything else I hold dear. This passion is why I write about the band and even without the formal knowledge that would undoubtedly make my posts more worthwhile I am comfortable with where I am in the stratosphere of our scene. What I do have is a background in liberal arts having read, dissected, discussed, and argued many of the great works of Western literature and art with people much more intelligent than I could ever pretend to be. This background and my obsessively analytical way of approaching my takes on Phish are my utility belt and crutch at the same time but at the very least I think that provides a bit of context about how I am looking at the Gag that Phish performed this past New Year’s Eve.

 

Unlike most of my posts, this will not be a full show/run deep dive through the minutiae of the show(s) but instead some thoughts on how I personally interpreted the art that Phish created for us with the spectacle of Petrichor and the set that unfolded in its wake. I am also not looking to turn this into a lit crit piece so outside of quoting some Phish lyrical content I won’t be trying to relate this to any Big Themes in the world of art and literature. Heck, I’m not even going to touch on the visual reference points that to me seem almost obvious (looking at you, Rene Magritte and Giuseppe Maiorana, amongst others…). I’m already making some fairly large leaps and assumptions so no need to dig a deeper hole for those who might deride this.

 

One of the things I often say about Phish shows is that ‘we all attend the same concert but experience a different show’. I state this again here to drive home the point that I have no insider information and no expectation that my words and thoughts on the matter hold any more weight or truth than the perspective of someone else. As much as we try to let go of it all, each time we see the band we bring everything in our lives leading up to that moment with us. It is unavoidable. And at a show our individual experience is shaped by the moments we have with the music, the people around us, and everything else that carves out the memories that we take away from being in that place at that time. All of that contributes to how we engage with the experience and influences our personal reactions to what occurred (or didn’t depending on what set of expectations one has). What may be a life-changing, mind-expanding journey for me might be the worst show ever for someone else and vice versa with many thousand varied experiences falling somewhere in between or around those poles. For me, the truth to be found in seeing shows is a personal one and not something universal that will apply to those around me. Heck, it might not even apply to the folks you shared the experience with directly in the moment. In my mind, that makes it all the more interesting to discuss since by doing so we can learn more about the experience from another perspective.

 

I know that this may simply be a personal reflection that doesn’t resonate with anyone else and reflects only the journey I traveled that night. It is not meant to be seen as anything but that. If you want to read such a thing, please be my guest. I am not looking for validation or hetty points or whatever. We all have times at shows where everything makes sense whether it be in the beauty of a Hood Jam or connecting through dance with a stranger or something else entirely. This is how the set unfolded for me. If it isn’t your bag, so be it.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all four shows on this latest MSG run and experienced each night from the Floor taboot. That alone puts this run into memorable territory for me personally but even further I was sharing it with a bevy of long time and newer friends including my wife, her sister and boyfriend (who I also consider a dear friend), two of my oldest best friends (who are married), and one of my newer friends in Phish not to mention the numerous wonderful individuals I have been lucky enough to meet over the years at shows, on the internet, and in person who all contribute to this wonderful thing we all share. Each night seemed to build on the prior one with themes emerging as we went along including the a cappella openers, second set mashup jam fun, bustouts, and more. By the time we got to New Year’s Eve there was a palpable buzz of anticipation as everyone waited to find out what the band had in store for this year’s big finish to the year. If I wanted to I could probably scratch together a pretty loose argument for a theory on the theme for the entirety of the run but my main goal here is in approaching the Petrichor production (and to an extent the balance of the third set) as that is to me the most overt example of Trey and the rest of the band building an artistic theme from this run.

 

At the start of the third set the stage set up had been augmented not just by length as Trey discussed in setting up the wonderful walkabout by Page and Mike for Lawnboy in the first frame but also by adding a full percussionist’s rig as well as three mike stands for what was assuredly going to be a horn section. There may have been more added but that was about the extent of what was visible to us at the back of the floor. When the musicians all walked out on stage Phish was joined by the TAB horns (James Casey, Jennifer Hartswick, and Natalie Cressman) along with Andres Forero (percussionist, of Hamilton fame) and (unseen until later when Trey pointed him out) Jeff Tanski on keys and other “symphonic” sounds. As the band started into the quiet beginning of the orchestral piece the crowd listened intently, producing a pregnant silence not too dissimilar from the awe we all felt during the Magnaball WTU?. This was different though as the anticipation for how the gag would unfold was building as the band moved through the structured piece into the more upbeat phrasing that first introduces the horns.

 

If you watch the video (and I HIGHLY recommend that you do, many times over) you can see the incredible smile on Trey’s face as this thing that he has worked on for so long is finally unfolding. That smile is evident throughout and really shows how happy Trey was to share this with all of us. They bounce into the first set of lyrics, introducing the main theme conceptually with the repeated phrase of “and the rain came down and washed it all away” as the crowd begins get into the groove being built. The song passes into the ‘pre-storm’ guitar-led segment and sixteen persons dressed in black suits with black bowler hats atop their heads and black masks shrouding their faces walk to the front of stage as Page plays the melodic interlude on the baby grand. In the moment my immediate thought was that these were the ‘no men’ referenced in the song No Man In No Man’s Land. As these ‘no men’ (that really works on many levels) form a line across the stage rain begins to fall, reflecting the lights and cascading as sheets onto the dancers, band, and rail riders alike. The dancers move with the music and take out black umbrellas, coming together to form one protected whole before separating with one dancer having taken off his mask at center stage. He then performs a series of tricks with umbrellas, juggling them and balancing one on his nose as the storm proceeds. He is playing in the rain without a care for the nuisance of being wet, something we all did as children (and that hopefully some of us still continue to do today).

 

The music shifts as Trey plays descending notes that seem to signal alarm and our lone known man is grabbed by the No Men who re-mask him, robbing him of his individuality and returning him to anonymity as one of the No Men grabs his umbrella and breaks it before throwing it aside. Another individual shows herself, flashing her brilliant red hair as she is tossed and accosted by the No Men, eventually being re-masked as well. A third No Man briefly shows his individuality but is quickly subsumed by the group and returned to the normalcy that they endeavor to maintain. The music here is building to the transition point where our next set of lyrics will come in and as this happens the dancers create a pyramid of uniformity around another one who has gone “individual”, flipping him upside down and shaking him before he escapes just as Trey sings the line “and the clouds will open and the seas will rise.” This individual then leads the No Men through a coordinated routine that includes each person “picking him/herself up by the collar” amongst other evocative moves (all while Trey sings and beams that wonderful smile behind them). After Trey sings the “when there’s no more future and no more past we’ll be on our way back home at last” lines the dancers slowly come back together at center stage but this time something is different. While the rain still falls, none of them is engaged in keeping the status quo but rather they are all distracted by a group of white/lit umbrellas that are slowly descending from the ceiling. As these new umbrellas come to rest just above the outstretched hands of the No Men they all shed their masks to reveal their individuality.

 

The band is playing the hopeful main theme now as the white umbrellas rise and fall into various patterns above the dancers. The band begins to sing the refrain “and the rain, and the rain came down” as the dancers leave the stage in a way not too dissimilar from how people passing on a busy city street would pass by each other, almost bothered by the nuisance of interaction. The umbrellas are moving through coordinated orientations, appearing almost as if they were jellyfish swimming and forming shapes such as an infinity symbol or a double helix with an array of colors and other lighting fills highlighting each one in turn as Trey takes the soaring lead and the rest of the band swells. At this point the rain is all but stopped, having accomplished its role of cleansing the No Men of their anonymity. As the song comes to its end the dancers return to the front of stage and we are nearing midnight Trey says “well, it is never too soon to get out of 2016 so…” and begins the countdown (a full 2-3 minutes early) to the expected Auld Lang Syne. The umbrellas are lit as a rainbow now and Trey says “aw, what the fuck!” laughingly acknowledging his early timing as they hit New Year’s and the ceiling (sky?) opens up and drops a massive deluge of balloons and other stuff upon us. It takes a second of recognition but most of the balloons are inflated cats and dogs such that it was literally raining cats and dogs on us. There are even cat/dog noises accompanying the deluge which also includes small foam raindrop-shaped stress ball thingies, confetti, big bouncy balloons, and so much more. By the time they finished up ALS the entire stage and floor area was overflowing such that we were up to our necks in cats, dogs, and whatnot. The No Men – though unmasked – oddly stand motionless with sullen faces but then Trey counts off the start to Suzy and they turn away from the crowd before throwing down their black suits and emerging in bright yellow outfits and with faces beaming, befitting the raucous abandon of the celebratory jam.

 

It is pure mayhem at this stage as they find spaces to dance and the band plays amidst the masses of balloons (with the various techs trying in vain to clear scene). Everyone is acting individually now with the dancers playing around and getting into the spirit of the old anthem about that free spirited gal no man can tame. The band jams along for a bit with the horns and added percussion adding that punch to the song that horns always do with Suzy. As it ends Trey never fully stops playing but starts in with the rhythm line for NMINML and we are off again into another dance party. The dancers and such have departed but the party ain’t over by a long shot. This song choice is very purposeful to me once you start to read into the lyrics:

how far have we fallen, how far can we go?
how far will we fall, if there’s nothing below
you stand on a rock, suspended in air
emblazoned with sunlight keenly aware
that we’ve broken free, something has changed
a tear in the fabric, some tiles rearranged

we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land
darkness the one thing we all understand
we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land

and the truth will rise above, and fiction fall beneath
although the lies may bite, the truth has all the teeth
you see us as a window, you’re happy that we’re here
exposed to all the elements, while inside all is clear

but if you hold a mirror, and you turn it to one side
the depth you see within at first, will find a place to hide
we are the no men in no man’s land

the loss of all motion, the absence of sound
when there’s no sun to circle around
we are the no men in no man’s land

Something has changed here. No longer are we under the weight of the storm that was 2016. In coming into the new year we are able to shed the “friction” and “lies” that dragged us all down which if you want to take as an overt political statement I’d be hard pressed to argue against. But even on a simpler level this song represents the move from conforming to being ourselves, understanding the darkness but not letting it define us.

 

Petrichor was the metaphor for that personal revelation and Suzy is the example of what freedom can look like (albeit under the guise of a person so different as to be seen as needing professional help). NMINML then punctuates the message of looking inward to become our best outward selves. But it doesn’t stop there. The next tune, Breath & Burning, is one that many probably audibly groaned to hear the band play in that spot but just listen to the lyrics and it fits the theme:

Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter
If the nightmares all came true?
The black clouds that scattered across
The sky so there’s nothing left we can do
Let’s celebrate while the hurricane
Throws salt and water into the room
The canary died
The healer lied
The yellow fields disappeared too soon
Mid-air voltage blooms and grows
Unstoppable, it’s instant heat
And as sinners plea on bended knee
We’ll be dancing here for days
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning At the waves command
And what does it matter
That the end’s in sight?
We’re not going gently
We’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light!
The sudden unexpected fate
Of sunken ships
Was our future path
Your string of beads did nothing to
Prepare for you what was sure to pass
Shadow wheels in shipping lanes
The angry winds blew straight from hell
And the tortoise pulls his head inside his shell
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter?
It’ll be over soon
Our heads on a platter
So lets spin in the light of the moon
We’ve still got the light of the moon
We’ll dance in the light of the moon
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning

This song speaks to hope and not allowing the many negative outside factors alter who we are and how we act. At a certain point, you cannot change or influence those around you. But you can change how you approach your interactions with others and more importantly how you approach YOU. As cheesy as the line is, there is hope in the idea: “and what does it matter that the end’s in sight? we’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light.” When the shit hits the fan would you rather be complaining about the stench or making the best of a bad situation?

 

At this point I have probably lost most people. I get that and have to reinforce that this is the interpretation that I took from the show in the moment and upon reflection after the fact. Song choice and thematic intent are messy subjects when it comes to Phish because as I mentioned above we are all coming at this from vastly different sets of experience. It is more than likely that this is not the true intention of what Trey was looking to do when crafting this project. But I like to think that he’d be open to this type of investigation. Let’s get back to it. Don’t worry, I’m almost done…

 

After Breath & Burning the band counts off another song with a high groan potential for the fanbase. Tide Turns has always felt like more of a TAB type of tune to most and based on the performances of it and the music it offers I can easily see that argument being made. But here in the context of this set the lyrics take on a slightly different meaning than how I had originally read them when first hearing the song. I have been talking about not losing yourself in the anonymity of conformity in our culture which is mentioned in the first stanza and continued throughout the song:

When you’re lost in the darkness
And the lonliness cuts so deep
When every breath is suffereing
And you’re longing for sleep
You don’t have to be alone
I’ve still got a kind word to spare
I’ve still have an ear to listen
I’ve got time

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

When the wolf is at your door
And the mirror holds your nightmare
There’s no need to hide your tears
If it’s too much for you to bear
You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

This is a song about not only finding yourself but of offering connection for those who need it. The message is clear. You do not have to be alone in all of this. Even as we are “slowly turning at the waves’ command” (from B&B) the narrator is offering to be there, offering hope to the individual in this personal struggle. This could apply to so many circumstances in our lives. How many of us have wanted to take that risky step into the unknown but were afraid to do so? How much easier was it to do such a thing when there was someone there to help you, support you, and guide you through that transition? In a sea of No Men we seek connection with individuals, something that our little community fosters but that is less prevalent in the wider world of our culture(s). Perhaps the message is not just to find the support you need but to be the one there to give it when you see the need in others as well because “together we can make it through.”

 

When they started up the next song, 555, along with really being excited that we’d get to hear this song with horns I found myself paying closer attention to the lyrics than I had before:

They’re tyin’ a blindfold cross my eyes
I rest my face down
Skidding on switchbacks near the sides
Gonna try to bust out

Get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away
Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day

Sprint on cobblestones past the tracks
They kept my money, and my water
Don’t wanna run ‘cuz I want it back
But I know I really ought to

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

They bought my soul for a pile of cash
Everybody else got paid out
They’re closing in I gotta dash
I gotta find a way out

Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day
Get up, jump out, don’t wait

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

In our context this song speaks to the struggle of breaking free from “them” and weighing the frustration of being able to “break away clean” else one escapes/leaves this “scene” entirely. That is, we often find ourselves struggling to be individuals who still desire to be able fit into a group or community which can cause some to “get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away, hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day” by removing themselves from participation in such community. We constantly push and pull between wanting to be individuals and wanting to be accepted within the greater whole.

 

Interestingly, the next song is not one I would have thought would fit this theme but once I took a closer look at the lyrics it fits perfectly after 555. Up through now we have seen the struggle to brush off the negativity of outside influences with the goal of allowing one to remain an individual followed by songs of hope and connection and then one about struggling with all of that. So when Ocelot started up I thought that perhaps the theme was complete only to find relevance in the words sung:

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
Morning is over
and noon slouches on

Your stripes could all fade
in the poisonous day
When you see the sunlight
move out of the way

You prance with the beasts
who parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest by light
Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the herd
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where are you now?
You never listen to me anyhow
You wandered and ambled
you walked, now you run
Knowing you’ll bake
like a snake in the sun
You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)

Hey what do you know? Another song about finding connection but maintaining individuality! Granted, the connection is loosening now and I wouldn’t fault anyone for telling me this one is a stretch. But how many times have you wanted to feel included when you were somehow left out? Sure, it feels great to be your own person but sometimes you want to be able to blend in and “float with the flock”. This song brings that home by pointing out that no matter how bright your individual “spots” are sometimes it is fun to simply “come out and play.”

 

The set then closes with the instrumental shot of energy that is First Tube, a song that may not have any of the overtones that I am connecting here. Then again, perhaps it does. Early versions of the song as performed by that short-lived early incarnation of Trey’s solo projects ‘8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes’ included Heloise Williams repeating the phrase “free thought” over and over. No man is an individual without free thought. Something to ponder. It’s a very loose connection but I think it offers up a closure point for the theme I am looking at here. Plus getting a Phish First Tube with TAB horns was a nice treat even if they didn’t take this (or really any) of the songs too far afield.

 

The idea of catharsis is often bandied about when discussing Phish’s music, particularly singular jams but often when looking at the arc of a particular set or show, for example with a well placed Slave or Hood that caps a deep dive set by bringing us all back into the light. I find it to be an overused term for the most part but I can attest that with this set that I experienced it in the moment. The tale that Trey wove brought forth a lot of emotional weight for me, weight that I was able to purge in the joy of that First Tube closer. Heck, even the Loving Cup encore helped in that regard what with the wonderful feeling that comes from belting out “what a beautiful buzz!!” at the top of your lungs with 19,000 other people. Phish generally ends their sets and shows in a manner that allows for such release. That is perhaps one of the things that many of us chase more than anything: that feeling of being able to lose yourself in the music, letting all the worry and weight of life slide away if even for only a few moments, and connecting with those who surround you. On this night, to me, the message was clear.

 

If you have read this far, I appreciate it. It seems that each year our dissections of Phish’s NYE Gags get more and more divisive as we have more points of comparison to relate them to. Was this set as compelling as the Hourglass NMINML jam from 2015? Musically, no way. I have been fortunate enough to see Phish on NYE several times and each time I know that there is more to what they are doing than a simple collection of songs being played. It is natural for one to want to find connection to the music just as we yearn for connection with other people. We want to be able to relate these experiences to what we know and understand or perhaps to foster questions about that which we do not comprehend. I know that my experience this year and in years past is different from what others got from the show. And I am probably reading more into this than ever intended by Trey and the band. But the very fact that this music can foster such thoughts in us is encouraging because it gives evidence to something that Mike Gordon once wrote to me on a postcard many many years ago after I sent in a letter to the band (the exact substance of which I have long since forgotten).

What you have written is far beyond the realm of a compliment. It’s an indication that the deeper thing – that deeper thing – is happening. Thanx so much.

Mike Gordon (Phish)

Art is defined by interpretation. Without context, real or projected, there is no meaning to it. To me that causes it to lose intrinsic value. We tend to shy away from this sort of perspective on the art that Phish creates or perhaps many of us do not view it in that construct. I am not here to say why that is. All I can do is reflect on what this music did for me and caused me to feel. At the root that is the goal, right? My interpretation is a product of what I observed visually, aurally, and physically along with the concepts I had swirling around my in head looking for external meaning or import. Phish provided the story and for that I thank them. I have found value in the experience that they gave me by way of their art.

 

 

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.