Hartford Comes Alive

8.11.09 (C.Smith)

8.11.09 Chicago (C.Smith)

In a show strewn with Gamehendge allusions and non-stop awing improv, Phish wove one of their finest tales of the summer, tapping into the band’s age-old mythology throughout the entire evening.  The second set was a crystal river of creativity, taking us for a thrilling ride through the annals of Phish history.

Opening the show with a string of songs that could easily have been plucked from a late-‘80s setlist, Phish bursted off the starting block with “Punch,” “AC/DC Bag,” “NICU,” and “Forbin’s > Mockingbird.”  With an 8:00 pm ticket time that bled into darkness, we had ourselves a rare two-set outdoor show with no sunlight, providing the feel of two more serious sets.  Taking a dramatic tone early, Phish lashed through one of their best openers on the way to a second song “Bag” that popped with energy and stepped in some brief funk before ending in it’s classic guitar shrill.  But the most poignant first-set moment came after “NICU” as the band made the long-awaited drop into “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent.”  After sound-checking the song at The Gorge, we knew it was a matter of time before the band unveiled the Gamehendge saga for the first time in the modern era.  Clearly well-rehearsed, Phish moved through the tale with a methodical precision, as Mike’s bass forged the path up the mountain.  Yet, as the time came for the anticipated new-school narration, the band moved cleanly into an impeccable version of the elusive “Famous Mockingbird” allowing their playing to do all the talking necessary.

8.11.09 (C.Smith)

8.11.09 (C.Smith)

Concluding the opening segment of the set with the return of the their iconic tale, the entire venue was buzzing as the band dropped into the first “Birds” of tour.  Phish attacked the piece with the proper ferocity that often lacks with more standard versions.  With machine-gun accuracy, Trey led the band- chugging like pistons- through a nasty excursion that broke structure with some high-octane improv within a darker musical canvas.  The second-leg bust of of the Ghost-era song came in shredding fashion, juxtaposing the ’98 vibe with the Gamehendge-laced opening.

Complementing “Birds,” as the other stellar first-set chunk of improv, was a delicate and extensive “Stash.”  Bookending  an organically grown melodic segment with fluid sections of darkness, this version capped a second leg that featured exclusively standout explorations of the murky jam.

The Gorge (G.Lucas)

The Gorge (G.Lucas)

With the New England crowd floating at setbreak amidst an incredibly lax venue, everyone could sense an impending bomb coming in the second set.  But what form it would take was anyone’s guess.  When the band came out with “Down With Disease,” everyone sensed an impending journey, but little did we know that by the time we caught our breath, one of the greatest Phish sets of the tour would be over and our band’s revered history would be revitalized in a Phishy adventure for the ages.

As we exited the composition of “Disease,” the band dove into another stunning second-set opener, bursting with original ideas strung naturally together, upping the psychedelic ante with each musical shift.  Slowly delving into more transcendent territory, Phish continued to bring the music outwards in a stylistic journey that immediately leapt to the forefront of their most emotive and poignant jams of the summer.  Knitting a delicate web of psychedelia out of their anthemic vehicle, Phish carefully crafted an introspective tour highlight.  As the band wound the jam down, they landed in more Gamehendge culture with a ripping version of “Wilson.”  While not always suited for the second-set, it worked perfectly within the context of this show, giving the audience a raging landing point for some out-there improvisation.

Shoreline (W.Rogell)

Shoreline (W.Rogell)

A set that flowed flawlessly, both musically and energetically, rolled surprisingly into a mid-set “Slave”- once again illustrating that any set-list conventions are out the window.  Placed under the mid-set spotlight, Phish molded an awe-inspiring piece that carried over the aura they had left in “Disease.” Fishman’s accented and gentle drumming meticulously framed the jam, while Page, Mike, and Trey wove their congruent offerings into a path of wonder.  This “Slave” was another second-leg version of a song that fully realized its essence; a majestic centerpiece of a set that wasn’t about to slow down.

Maintaining the upbeat and magical feel that had defined the set thus far, the band opened up another tour-highlight in a courageous “Piper.”  The most thematically developed version thus far in 3.0, this “Piper” saw the band undertake a full-on engagement, connected by a string of percussive segments that seamlessly built into one of the most exploratory jams of the night.  Landing in a section led by Trey’s quirky note-bending- a la Alpine’s version- the band’s musical reaction time was negligible as they continued to stretch out their excursion with uptempo rhythms.  The band was simply feeling it all night long, seamlessly segueing into “Water In the Sky” out of the wild escapade.  Its odd placement was supplanted by the fact that the band naturally ended up in the song, and it flowed seamlessly out of their virtuoso playing.

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Ending the segment, the band soaked up enthusiastic appreciation for the non-stop joy-ride we were amidst, but before we got a chance to revel in any grandeur, the band brought everyone’s focus sternly back to the stage with the opening chords of “Ghost.”  Finally revisiting the song that blew up at Red Rocks- it did so again- but in a wholly different fashion.  While Morrison’s highlight was defined by a looser, wide open rhythmic canvas, last night’s “Ghost” went for the jugular in a more guitar-rock rendition that brought fiery, rather than laid-back energy to the set.  Taking the rugged version to a ripping, yet linear, peak, at the top of the jam Trey slammed into some hard rhythm chops that within seconds transformed into Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer.”

Shoreline (S.Weiand)

Shoreline (S.Weiand)

Oddly enough, the song had played over the PA shortly before the show, and many fans had sung along with the house music.  Without knowing for sure, everyone had a hunch the band either heard or found out about the goings on and wove the nugget of the evening into their show.  Carrying an increase in adrenaline for everyone in the venue, the band crushed the cover, but just as it seemed they would sit into the song’s grooves, they dwindled their music into an amalgam of digital effects, creating a bizarre, and interesting musical texture.  Sticking with the odd soundscape, Trey took his guitar off and joked about dancing to this weird music, poking fun at someone’s continual front-row gyrations.  At this point, Trey’s joke got carried away as both he and Fishman took turns dancing to the layers of effects, while Mike and Page laughingly looked on.  After spending a few minutes bantering and dancing, Trey leaned to the mic and opened Phish’s lyric-poem, “Catapult.”  Always saved for innovative musical passages, Trey deemed this the right time to bring out yet another quirky piece of Phish culture, but the most epic bust out was yet to come.

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Using the sustained musical pattern to connect pieces the of music, Trey turned his banter to the days of his youth- days before cell phones and DVDs.  Mocking our overly digital age, Trey continued, saying that he didn’t have video games as a kid- and he was around for the invention of Pong.  Continuing his assessment of present-day culture, Trey noted that no one any longer reads books.  With perfect timing, the band made the chord change into “Icculus.”  As they vamped over the chord progression, Trey continued his diatribe, telling people to break from technology, commanding people put down their “fucking iPhones and “DVDs” and to “Read…the…book!”  In a stirring rendition of the band’s legendary “non-song,” they announced that the spirit of Phish is alive and well, visiting their great and knowledgeable prophet for the time in ten years-since Oswego’s memorable final set.  Cementing the show’s special significance in the band’s increasingly memorable late-summer run of ‘09, this night had turned readicculus!

Sliding back into the digitally-looped theme from earlier, the band counted off the beginning to the only song that could have ended such a Phishy affair- “You Enjoy Myself.”  The band played an immaculate composed section and into the funk, but as Mike and Trey hopped off the trampolines to start the jam, Trey took off his guitar and decided to put his dancing shoes instead of playing, quasi-popping to a Mike-led groove.  In a small travesty, the guitar never came back into play and the likely-last “YEM” of summer fizzled without ever really happening.  It was for sure going to be a blowout to end all blowouts- capping a massively triumphant set- it had to be.  But it wasn’t.  Perhaps there was curfew issues, but I had heard they had none.  We will never know, but the expected groove-clinic was left for another day- and in all probability- another tour.

But with a show that carried such power and improvisational peaks, there were copious memories to go around.  This was one of those nights where things just clicked from note one, leaving us with a show that certainly  stands among the best of tour.  Bring on Merriweather for the last Saturday night of summer.

I: Punch You in the Eye, AC/DC Bag, NICU, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Birds Of A Feather, Lawn Boy, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Middle Of The Road, Character Zero

II: Down With Disease > Wilson > Slave To The Traffic Light, Piper > Water In The Sky, Ghost > Psycho Killer > Catapult > Icculus > You Enjoy Myself

E: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

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399 Responses to “Hartford Comes Alive”

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  1. Baxter Says:

    OMG what a show, had soooo much phun in Hartford last night. Perfect weather, kewl crowd. Nice to read your review because it was awesome. Thank you so much for no-spoilers, I am going to listen to the show again now. Have fun in Maryland, see y’all in SPAC.

  2. In Flagrante Delicto Says:

    You know it must have been the bee’s knees when Miner runs through set one before discussing that madness from after setbreak. Can’t wait to hear it.

    Rumors on PT are that the Green Crew has been given the opportunity to write the setlist for MPP, ala 7/25/99, with the only rule being that there have to be a certain number of new tunes (none of which were played in Hartford). Rumors, rumors, rumors, but it has happened before, and if it is true, expect the setlist madness to continue.

    I can’t believe I’m missing these. This one hurts to miss like Red Rocks did. But I’m happy for my folks who got in.

  3. stash Says:

    good morning all –

    wow. what a write up. song after song. pure perfection. the YEM – ouch?! but, hey, that’s phish. can’t wait for SPAC.

  4. Jon Bailey Says:

    Piper jam = heady goodness!!
    What a show!!
    Love the guitar tone in the middle of zero. Darkness tone as I like to cal it!!

  5. jdub Says:

    I am still collecting my thoughts, craziness and bliss.

    Green Crew is calling 4 shows tonight, Ha Ha Ha is one of them. They’ll pick a whole set next summer!

    So many faces melted

  6. Mike M. Says:

    Will anyone ever be able to correctly the predict the tour’s “sleeper” show? Holy Hartford!

  7. pabalive Says:

    This is easily the best of tour. The question is really is this one of the best of all time? Easily the best of the last 10 years. I think it is in there with best two set shows ever played.

  8. old enough to read Icculus Says:

    Great account! Had a blast at Deer Creek earlier this tour and happy to hear that things are getting better and better. What a fun night.

    (found you through http://sqatter.com/phish/#)

  9. Les Says:

    I think the Roggae we have been waiting for is coming tonight.

  10. Highway Bill Says:

    Awesome, truly awesome, my friends.
    As they say in poker….read em’ and weap.

  11. Ben Says:

    OH MY GOD!! Miner explained it perfectly but I will say one thing. The “boy” in YEM is almost always the loudest part of any show…tonight it was not! When the band tore into Psycho Killer, people were going nuts, but when you get to the musical clmax, the 6 note eh eh eh eh, eh, eh I thought the building may fall down. I actually can’t wait to hear the LivePhish sbds of that song because I want to hear how much of the crowd came through. I’ve been to at least 40 shows and that was by far the loudest crowd point I have ever heard.


  12. Ben Says:

    Pabalive, I hate throwing around the best show ever clauses because there are so many good shows…but it’s easily the best entire show I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to shows since ’94 and saw a few MGS NYE shows. This show is way way way up there on the scale. I’ll be talking about this shows forever!

  13. rizla mon Says:


    not fair that my girlfriend got to go and I didn’t

    she was down front, in the middle, row M or something

    she said she and her friend were having a dance party with Trey and Mike …

  14. Wax Banks Says:

    the YEM – ouch?! but, hey, that’s phish. can’t wait for SPAC.

    Oh, it definitely was NOT an ‘ouch’ moment. By that point it didn’t matter that Trey wasn’t playing a solo. Page rocked his, Mike went to town on the B&D segment, and Trey’s dancing was part of the show and the vibe regardless. Who knows whether it’ll sound good on tape, but it was perfect at that moment.

    And the vocal jam to follow was top-notch – starting from the same crazy-loop noise that had percolated through the whole second set.

  15. Wax Banks Says:

    I’ll say, though, that I’d trade away every Phish version of WMGGW in exchange for an extra couple hours of serious improv. Though last night’s version was odd – sloppy written playing, spectacular soloing from Trey.

  16. butter Says:

    starting off with two gamhenge songs did have me think hmmmm.
    I was in the bathroom for NICU and had to run back in the shed with the opening notes of col. forbin, a beautiful version followed by mocking bird with no narration. I wasn’t surprised not to have any narration as Trey seems not into telling stories these days. The fact that they had played 4 of 5 gamhenge songs to start though was quite peculiar. When Trey said ” when we did play video games it sounded something like this” and the band , led by Fishman ( i think) went back into the crazy digital pong noises they had been making right on cue. I know a mom that brought her son and his two friends about 15 years old. I really wonder what they all thought when trey told them to put down their fucking iphones and read a book!!!!
    I thought the story was hilarious and appropriate with all the texting and importance of cell phone use with PHISH 2009. I was just joking and pokin fun at a group of girls at setbreak that were all simultaneously texting lookin for their friends. ( i’m guilty of it too.)
    So we got our narration after all, even after it didn’t come between col forbin>mockingbird!!!! MADNESS

  17. pabalive Says:


    I agree. I have seen phish for 17 years and have seen what many consider the best shows. 7/16/94, 10/31/94, 12/30/93 etc… My best friend and tour buddy for all those years was with me last night.

    We were having a hard time not jumping to the conclusion of best show ever. I mean it was the whole enchilada. Everything you want in a show, creative jams, phunk, something for the setlist geeks, and something for those of us that are always looking for the magical moments at phish shows. So great…so great!

  18. stash Says:

    hey wax,

    believe me when i say, i am a in the moment kind of person. i love it when the boys do something that is completely out of the ordinary.

    just going by miner’s review, everything seemed to be going so well, and as minor said, it “fizzled out.”

    that’s just what they do. they leave you hanging for more. although from what i’ve read today (not listened to yet) they poured it out last night.

    can’t wait for SPAC.

  19. jay Says:

    wow. wish I was there 🙁

  20. posterus nutbagus Says:

    Everyone needs to hear the disease>reba jam. Fucking transcendant. I’m surprised you didn’t mention reba, mr miner

  21. Robear Says:

    Who are these guys? Magic, magic, magic. The Gamehendge songs will always be talked about, however, the jams will be deeply remembered by those in attendance. From the little funky AC/DC jam, to the inside out, upside down ‘Stash, to the expansion and contraction of ‘DWD, to the absolutely inventive ‘Piper.

    I thought of the guy yesterday saying Phish hadn’t done anything since whenever. I’m convinced you are in the minority on that opinion. The really, really, small, tiny minority.

  22. stash Says:

    where was a reba? or was it a jam that sounded like reba?

  23. Robear Says:

    ^stash, ‘Rebaesque jamming in DWD.

  24. stash Says:

    i see said the blind man.

  25. butter Says:

    GOOD morn Robear – awesome to hang with u last night for that “keeper” of a show- wow – i did not think we would possibly get narration until Halloween !!!!!

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