Phish at The Gorge- there’s simply nothing like it. In the first show back in five years, we collectively felt the feeling we forgot as Phish played a show that meshed seamlessly with the one of the grandest surroundings in live music history. Playing two sets with highlights galore, the band crushed the first night of their two-night stand on the hallowed grounds of their Northwest home. Smoking right from the start, the band never paused, writing an entire show worthy of many re-listens- though isolated from the internet in rural Washington, listening back is a pleasure I’ve not yet had. What was once again evident was Phish’s spirit of adventure, taking any opportunity to tear off a unique piece of improv, and creating an all-out musical odyssey.
Popping off right from the start, the band shredded an opening “Disease” that spoiled any opener pools after they had just crafted a marathon version in Shoreline’s second set. With some high-energy fireworks to spark the weekend, the band followed it up with an extensive, laid-back “Ocelot” that represented the furthest out Phish has taken the playful new song. The 3.0 debut of “Pebbles and Marbles” reminded us of one of post-hiatus’ best compositions, but its “Disease-eqsue” jam seemed somewhat proximate in the set to its brother in the set. Yet, the boldest improv of the first half came towards the end of the frame in the form of “Stash,” “Sally > Cavern”- and trust me, looks can be deceiving. The second consecutive blowout of “Stash” saw Phish again transcend the song’s path with a jam that passed through foreign territory with a shining light in darkness deep. Growing out some melodic jamming from the dark song for the second time this tour, the band again crafted an engaging highlight version.
As the dramatic “Stash” came to a close, Phish launched into an apparent dance session with the bust-out of “Sneaking Sally.” But what actually happened was far from what we expected. As the band entered the jam, they didn’t go minutes deep into dance funk, but instead morphed the rhythmic textures into a “YEM-like” vocal jam. However, unlike their popular opus, the band jammed out of the vocal mélange, crafting the grandest sound-scape we have heard from since the return. Possibly inspired by nightfall over the vast landscape, Phish took the usual funk cover to uncharted psychedelia in one of the unquestionable highlights of the entire show. This jam illustrates the creativity of the Phish at this point in time, making musical mountains where you least expect them with purely original ideas that sound fresh to the ear and to the soul. This late set extravaganza sent ripples through the audience, giving the crowd a certain talking point for the break.
When Phish stepped onstage for the second set, there was one thing we knew for sure- it was gonna’be big- and big is certainly was. With a beautiful summer night as a backdrop, and with a perfect breeze, it felt blissful to be back at the Gorge again, and what better way to kick off the second set than with the earnest thickness of “The Moma Dance.” Finally placed in the second frame, Phish gave the song more focused love, using it as a hearty, funkified splash into the second half of the show. The rest of the set was almost purely composed of improv, as the band flowed through some of the most inspired playing of the tour. Using “Light” to launch into an other-wordly excursion of the sort I’ve been dreaming of since Trey debuted the song in Brooklyn last summer. Phish passed through many distinct stages of locked-in jamming before arriving in a stunning calypso groove that virtually sounded composed. Strewn with more vocal accompaniment, this time layered atop the music, Phish’s creativity was again in full bloom, painting an ongoing portrait of a band renewed as they crafted one of the shows enduring memories. This multi-textured jam is a must-hear highlight from a set that is filled with them.
Segueing into a soaring “Tatse,” the song’s ripping poly-rhythms were a fitting landing point for “Light’s” next-level improv, and carried the improvisational energy of the set into a surprise “Fluffhead.” It was awesome to see the band showcase the old-school composition in the middle of the second set at the Gorge, as this version brought back echoes of the band’s first-ever show at the venue in ’97 when the piece took a similarly central role in the second set.
After a mid-set “Joy,” the rest of the night was the stuff dreams are made of. With wide-open, patient jamming, the “Bathtub > Hood, Slave” just sounded like Gorge music. Few venues influence the sound and style of Phish music like The Gorge does; you can go back through the years and hear the similarity in playing, regardless of the era. And last night that tradition continued throughout the show, but particularly in these last three songs.
Just after “Bathtub” had taken a step into type-II territory at Red Rocks, the band slaughtered a mind-numbing exploration of the song last night. Without having listened back, its hard to precisely recall the several connected realms that comprised one of the jams of the show, but providing a fantastic voyage central to the second set’s alchemy, “Bathtub Gin” shone as bright as than ever. Ending in an ambient space that sounded like we were morphing into “2001,” the band was foreshadowing tonight, because instead of launching into the space-funk, the band dropped into a cosmic cannonball of a different variety. Building a monumental “Hood,” the band took their time to craft a defining moment of the night with the special life-force that only tremendous “Hoods” can channel. Leaving the entire crowd blissed-out in a spiritually heightened state, this energy spilled into the majestic “Slave” encore. One for the highlight reels, the band climbed patiently up the ladder, starting in near-silence in which you could hear a pin drop throughout The Gorge, and peaking the jam considerably later in an awing cascade of melody and harmony.
Another beautiful chapter in Phish’s Gorge legacy, last night’s tapped into the unique vibrations of the venue moreso than either post-hiatus show, returning the magical amphitheatre into our own Phishy wonderland once again. And as the sun came up today, everything seemed a bit more exciting as the proposition of a night two “Tweezer” and “2001” come into play. In mere hours- let the continuing mystery unfold!
I. Down With Disease, Ocelot, Pebbles and Marbles, Possum, Sleep, Destiny, Stash, Sally > Cavern
II. Moma, Light > Taste, Fluffhead Joy, Bathtub > Hood