The Show of the Summer

The Gorge 8.7 (G.Lucas)

The Gorge 8.7 (G.Lucas)

I am never one to rank Phish shows- or even compare them much for that matter- but sometimes one night just shines brighter than the others, leaving you with an unmatched feeling of awe .  While there is clearly subjectivity in preferences of musical style, sometimes virtuoso improvisation cuts through subjectivity, creating a virtual consensus about particular shows.  In discussion with many people who saw all the shows this summer, the central talking point always comes back to first night of The Gorge.  While there are plenty of other shows that standout, there was a certain ethereal quality to the band’s improv throughout this show that was unmatched for the rest of the summer.  Trey wasn’t playing guitar-god, and became but a piece of a complex musical puzzle, fitting within the whole, and rarely on top, of the music.  The entire second leg is littered with highlights, but no show featured the consistently patient and organic jamming that defined August 7th at The Gorge.

8.7 (W.Rogell)

8.7 (W.Rogell)

Three of the top jams of the summer came from this show, and it could be argued that the three top jams stemmed from Phish’s powerful return to The Gorge.   But as mentioned earlier, there is no need to rank music.  The band tapped into an energy on this night- influenced by the mind-expanding natural surroundings, and what resulted was- in my opinion– the finest night of Phish this year.

Right from the start, the band’s music had a palpable energy, crushing an opening “Disease” that set a high-spirited tone for the evening.  Merging the wide-open landscape with the wide-open, bluesy-funk of “Ocelot” the band stretched out a relaxing, yet engaging, version of the constantly-evolving song.  Even from these first two pieces of the show, you could feel Phish’s enthusiasm; their music popped with a certain energy and creativity, even within this more contained opening context.


8.7 (G.Lucas)

But the magnitude of this show lied in the enchanting and exploratory improvisation that gelled perfectly all night long.  Each jam was seen to fruition, with no abrupt endings or transitions, and we often found those frozen moment deep into pieces of  improv.  The creativity of each single jam was paramount on this evening, resulting in some of the most sublime music of the entire summer.

The first hint of what was to transpire came with the first set “Stash.”  Following up Red Rocks’ opening-set highlight with another psychedelic success, this jam hinted at the outward planes we would soon visit.  The “Sneakin’ Sally” that came next is a top contender for the jam of the tour.  Crafting a piece of improv so original and diverse in scope, Phish masterfully moved through several distinct stages of music, creating one of the enduring memories of 2009.  As the song morphed into a mid-song, “YEM”-like vocal jam, Phish was letting their mojo flow in whatever way they felt.  But when the vocal jam ended, and the band slammed back into the song, the transcendence began.

8.7 (W.Rogell)

8.7 (W.Rogell)

Progressing out of the funk and into a more abstract rhythmic canvas, they began building the jam out of the song’s structure and into some increasingly nasty territory.  With each member using their instrument as a rhythmic tool, the band was knee deep in completely original music. The improv grew darker and more ambient, where Trey began painting gorgeous melodies over the drone backdrop.  Combining a dark spacescape with uplifting melodies played in Trey’s spiritual register, this part of the jam is incredibly moving.  Fishman decided to lend a quiet backing beat to the music, and soon the band climbed out of the murky ambiance into a triumphant passage that oozed nobility.  The band was totally together on this insane trip, crafting a jaw-dropping Phish excursion that included all band members equally, crafting an opus that was greater than the sum of its parts.  Concluding the set by stepping into “Cavern,” the band left the crowd in awe at setbreak.

8.7 (G.Lucas)

8.7 (G.Lucas)

A chunky “Moma” sparked the second set, which slid into the third-ever version of “Light.”  A song whose exploratory nature was hinted at during Bonnaroo, fully blossomed on this night.  Locked and loaded, this piece saw the band gradually coax the high-paced improv beyond its confines into a more percussive groove.  What was so cool about this jam was that the band continued pushing themselves, even amidst a great jam, and eventually they hit the jackpot.  Organically building from the rhythmic canvas, the band found themselves in a stunning calypso groove that sounded composed.  As they often do when they hit a sacred musical place, the band added a layer of vocal accompaniment, clinching the magic of this inspiring piece.  Seamlessly segueing into “Taste,” the soaring landing point fit thematically with the standout improv that just ended.

8.7 (G.Lucas)

8.7 (G.Lucas)

The only non-improvisational segment of the second set was a passionate, centerpiece “Fluffhead”- and who can argue with that- and a perfectly placed “Joy.”  Selecting a cohesive and connected setlist, while harnessing the undeniable energy abounding from the geography and isolation, Phish was slowly forming one of the great shows in Gorge history.

Once the opening licks of “Bathtub Gin” hit, the next fifty minutes of the set plus encore would be chock full of top-level jamming, creating tour highlights in “Bathtub Gin”- battling “Sally” for jam of 2009, a magnificently emotive “Harry Hood” that stands out among other leg-two versions, and a “Slave” encore that was like a cherry on top of this Phish sundae.

8.7 (G.Lucas)

8.7 (G.Lucas)

As the the “Gin” jam began, the band playfully quoted “Praise You,” the Fatboy Slim song that found its way into the peak of the Red Rocks’ “Ghost.”  As the band slid through some locked-in, feel-good patterns, Trey was absolutely killing it.  But he soon changed his tune into some dirtier and more aggressive guitar work, urging the band into a creative segment of original groove.  This is when the jam really began going places. Fishman and Mike  formed a driving rhythmic pocket as Trey added fluttery melodic themes above Page’s clav effects.  But as naturally as the band found themselves there, they moved into some slower, behemoth rock textures.  Getting downright nasty, they entered a segment of incredibly spacious grooves that matched the over-sized surroundings.  At this point, Trey played a space-like descending melody over the band’s pattern that would carry the jam all the way to its rest.  Getting more abstract and sparse through its final segment, the band built the jam down just as they had built it up, ending in an ambient, atonal place that suggested an extra-terrestrial encounter.  As the band sustained the wall of sound, Fishman hit the intro drum roll of “Harry Hood.”

8.7 (G.Lucas)

8.7 (G.Lucas)

As the band dropped into “Hood” you had the feeling the version would be colossal given its placement in this insane set and its consistently top-notch performances all summer long.  And as expected, the delicate piece merged with the warm summer night in a glowing ball of bliss.  Taking their time and space to explore the cathartic jam, the interplay of Trey, Mike, and Page during this will give you goosebumps, and it is some of Trey’s most genuinely soulful playing of the tour.  An emotive and extended version of the classic closed a truly epic set of Phish.  And when they came out with a “Slave” encore to close the eve, the musical aftermath seemed fated.  A song that matched the vibe of the set congruently created a final peak of the night; a warm, empathetic piece that provided an introspective mirror of the self.

There were many nights of this past tour that standout in my mind- specifically Red Rocks 7.31 and Hartford as the creme de la creme- but after listening through to each, there is something different taking place during the Gorge’s first escapade.  With magnificent, selfless pieces of flowing improv Phish consistently reached that other-worldy plane we quest for.  The jams of the night often sounded completely effortless, channeling that larger universal energy- bigger than any individual or band- the energy that defines the very fabric of the Phish experience.


Winged music noteJams of the Day:

Sneakin’ Sally 8.7.09 I

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Light > Taste 8.7.09 II

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Bathtub Gin > Harry Hood 8.7.09 II

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8.7.2009 The Gorge < Torrent

8.7.2009 The Gorge < Megaupload

I: Down With Disease, Ocelot, Pebbles And Marbles, Possum, Sleep, Destiny Unbound, Stash, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley > Cavern

II: The Moma Dance, Light > Taste, Fluffhead, Joy, Bathtub Gin > Harry Hood

E: Slave To The Traffic Light

Source: DPA 4023 (ORTF) > Lunatec ACM V3 + DPA 4028(NOS) > AETA PSP-3 > Sound Devices 744t  (FOB)



The Gorge – 8.7.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)

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482 Responses to “The Show of the Summer”

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  1. Oh Yeah Says:

    So, Im listening to the Gorge Gin….Can someone point out when they allude to “Praise You”? I was at the Rocks and definitely heard it, but I as wondering if they recognized it.


  2. Yome NetSan Says:

    What a night ! What a summer !
    Thanks Mr. Miner for your efforts !

  3. Matso Says:

    The only blemish on this otherwise fantastic show, in my very humble opinion, is that the P+M was so poorly played. I love this song and saw this as a welcome return for it, but it’s a small shame they didn’t do the composition justice. It’s sloppy and choppy.

    I’m also not a huge Slave fan, so the encore leaves me cold (the Hartford version on the other hand, like the classic 7.4.99 version, transcends the song’s deadly repetitive jam segment).

    Otherwise, as an unprejudiced listener (I saw no shows this summer), I agree: Best Show of 2009 (so far).

  4. jlkaz Says:

    I largely agree, though one or two of the Red Rocks shows might come close, but that Taste is pretty bad. I’m not sure if Trey forgot the guitar part or if he couldn’t keep up with it (hand cramping?), but he dropped out for large segments of it and was off-key when he came back in. Other than that, though, it’s a really nice show front to back.

  5. JPhishman Says:

    Thanks again Miner. Great review. My fav show of the tour overall and I was ucky enough to bein attendance as a West coast PH. 7/31 a couple steps behind and Gorge 2 right there for top three. Epic summer. Can’t wait for the Fest! Let me hook you up with a beverage there it would be my pleasure. I met your bro at Monitor Mix Portland Phish meetup.

  6. fluffced Says:

    I was also lucky enough to attend all the shows this summer and have pretty much the same feelings here miner… Gorge 1, with hartford and RR 2 tied just a smidge below. The gorge was just so majestic it was truly amazing. Also interesting, on my way driving to merriweather I was on the phone with my girl telling her about the different jamming style and sounds of the west coast and the northeast which was your post yesterday. We must be thinking on the same wavelength or i dont even know whats goin on

  7. Joshua Grenier Says:

    When I first saw the setlist I immediatelty jumped to listen to the Sneakin, as I am a huge fan of the late 90’s funk, however I was shocked when I heard this version. But after repeatedly listening, I love it and it alone should be considered a tour highlight. I think it was a jumping off point for future improv. The spoteanous or at least unconventional vocal jam and then the drop back into the jam both embody why I continue to listen to and first fell in love with the Phish.

    Also, Miner, thank you so much for all your work.

  8. axillalot Says:

    Yeah, but, well, night 2 is better.

  9. ColonelJoy Says:

    I still say Hartford–which was no jamming slouch, either–was the most well packaged and executed show, not only of the tour, but probably since 1.0…

    Gorge night one jamming is sublime, no doubt.

  10. ColonelJoy Says:

    Gorge is sprawling, obviously, and the energy is spread out, not so immediate….not that that is bad…it isn’t bad at all, and you can here the uber-relaxed nature of the place in the recordings. Hartford has everybody crammed together….fat east coasters….smelling and schwilled out with crazed Atlantic madness….It comes through very, very well on the audience, and I just believe everything was perfecto that show….the timing, the jamming, and proper bustout selections that were well placed and not bustout for bustout purposes alone….you know what I mean…

    But hey, at least we aren’t arguing about how much trey sucks anymore:)

  11. DrFred Says:

    Mr Miner is in the clouds. Blah Blah Blah. I think he likes controversy. Maybe too many drugs? Who knows…kinda fun to read how people actually go along with him.

  12. afroskully Says:

    obviously, “show of the year” is a tough sell. so many different factors to consider. I only went to 2 shows…JB3 and hartford. I agree with @colonel that hartford may have been one of the best shows since 1.0… but after hearing that gorge show, i may have thought the same thing if i was actually there.

    The stash, sally>cavern is hands-down the best ending to any set all tour. But then again, Hartford was the closest thing to a gamehenge we’ve gotten since ’94. For me, the fun factor is almost as important as the improv factor…which may have given hartford the leg up.

    Next summer my daughter will be 1 1/2 yrs old, and we live in nyc… anyone have any ideas as to how to convince my wife that phish 2010 at the gorge is a good idea?


  13. Old Willy Shakes Says:

    Agreed whole heartedly that Gorge 1 was the best show of summer MM. Have listened to those jams way more than ones from any other show, you can just listen again and again and again. I was at all of red rocks and hartford but missed the gorge, so bummed, but what can you do. Even on tape this beats having been at the second two best shows IMO, RR2 and Hartford. Which is kinda cool cause it just emphasizes that you dont’ have to be at the show to fully appreciate the music that comes out of it.

  14. ColonelJoy Says:

    Yeah, Afro…Hartford just had a classic phishiness to it that wasn’t forced or overtly nostalgic

  15. shpongleyez Says:

    so glad i was there. definitely one of those special nights, to be sure.

    the mixture of phish and nature is always what takes shows to the next level for me (raleigh 97, this one).

    the playing may not be note perfect start to finish, but it was definitely one of those shows that left me feeling super jubilant and like anything was possible. that’s one of the biggest reasons i love-a-the-phish.

    cheers, all.

  16. Pencilneck Says:

    I still got two for each nite sitting on my dresser here in toronto. Cryin’ shame. thanx for the dl tho miner! ease the pain.

  17. nonoyolker Says:

    You make a good case Miner. The jams in Gorge 1 are undeniable. I think all three stated jams are in the top 5 of the summer (last 3 min of Gin is straight jesus…). I found myself going back and listening to that show the most, until Hartford happened. Being at Hartford and not Gorge obviously makes a huge difference for framing my opinion. Now i go back and listen to both of those shows equally (i still haven’t listened to SPAC and i was there too – heard all the others). Maybe the atmosphere at Gorge puts it up a notch?? Not sure. I am sure that Hartford is a shithole (i grew up in CT, i can bad mouth my native state – SAVE THE WHALE!).
    Tough to compare the two – great for different reasons. The good Col makes a good point – “Hartford just had a classic phishiness to it that wasn’t forced or overtly nostalgic” – perfectly describes what it was like to be there.

  18. nonoyolker Says:

    Oh, and i think people were bad mouthing the Gorge Hood!??! That is nonsense. Fine version of Hood. Can’t even imagine its glory with the Gorge as a backdrop.

  19. bhizzle Says:

    You’re the talk of the town Miner over there on PT. You’re something of a mystery, almost mythilogical (sp?).

  20. stash Says:

    Once again we debate over apples and oranges. Due to phish’s ability to play such contrasting show, they are both excellent representations of “best of tour.”

    My first thought was RR, 7.31.09. Then came the Gorge. But for me, it is still Deer Creek as a pure musical show. Hartford, was true craziness.

    Both, as in Hartford and (insert your pick here) are what it’s all about.

  21. Mitch Says:

    Haven’t used this on a post yet an I see other people doing it and I like it so here goes:

    Gorge 1 was the ( . V . )’s

    There I said it. I have to agree with miner. Wether it was because I was there or not I can’t really say but this show kept a huge ass smile on my face all night. I’ve listened to all the shows except for parts of the east coast last 4 shows and I keep going back to 8.7

    p.s. I have gorge pollocks that I need to sell to have monies for fest 8. Maybe we can work something out. tickets at facemelt dot net

  22. Comrade Says:

    SALLY… 🙂

  23. Kendall Says:

    This was prob my second top show of the summer, and may be biased but liked Camden a little bit better (and thought it had an added element of excitement with the seemingly never-ending encore). 22 minute Sand (the only of the summer?), the Tube > First Tube set closer, a massively sinister Tweezer (maybe the best of the summer) and an extra-juicy encore with a slamming Antelope.

  24. Rolling Papyrus Says:

    Giving Gorge 1 the second full listen this morning. This Sally starts out thick and just gets thicker… One thing I’ll say about the second leg is they seem to have re-mastered the art of taking the jams unexpected places — there is more “Type II” in this one show than probably the whole first leg.

  25. Danny B Says:

    “Hartford has everybody crammed together….fat east coasters….smelling and schwilled out with crazed Atlantic madness….”

    Excellent description Colonel!!! I couldn’t have phrased it any better myself.

    I wasn’t at the Gorge show, but I listened to it twice before going up to Darien Lakes, and so far this is the only show in 3.0 I have listened to twice. I loved Hartford, it was the best show I have seen since summer 2000, but I have to agree that night 1 of the Gorge was something special. It would have been the perfect night to drop, and just stare in awe at the natural surroundings absorbing all the music and energy at once. Next year I will have to make it a priority to get out there.

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