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.

Gorge_Aug07_4

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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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY

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)

***

Gorge_Aug07_10

The Gorge – 8.7.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)

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482 Responses to “The Show of the Summer”

  1. Mr. Completely Says:

    The original solo album “Garcia” isn’t the one with full Grateful Dead personnel. In fact JG plays every instrument on it except drums, which is Bill the K – yes Jerry on piano on To Lay Me Down, everything. The pedal steel work on that album is sublime beyond words.

    You might be thinking of Bob Weir’s Ace which is in fact a GD album, every track has the whole band on it more or less. A great and little known album; the Playin’ in the Band studio cut is absolutely superb, also Greatest Story, Cassidy, Black Throated Wind…really every cut except Mexicali…it’s probably a great version of that song, but I hate that song.

    Also, exactly half of Garcia’s later solo album Reflections features the Dead as the backing band. Comes a Time, um Mission in the Rain I think, definitely They Love Each Other, and maybe Catfish John?

  2. Chuck D Says:

    Morrison Hotel would be a perfect album IMO. It’s not poetry crap, there is a bass throughout for Mike and a good mix of rocking out and ballads.

  3. SOAM Says:

    I was nervous Phil’s borrowed liver was going to be displaced,
    also-I mentioned this once before-I heard Bobby-just Bobby and an acoustic guitar on sirius and it was the best shit I have heard from him since that night in NH on 8-9-95-if Bobby did an acoustic tour/solo it would be pretty great-I hate his band but love the guys voice and his odd duck playing

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    Phil jumped a little longer than that…or maybe it just seemed that way to us since we were right down front and were afraid he was going to kill himself…the dismount was shaky in the end he stuck it

    what a classic moment even if it was brief, we knew he was coming out but hadn’t guessed the tramps thing

  5. butter Says:

    AW – different kind of improv we are talking about now a days, look at all of your examples: more of a heavy metal winding guitar style improv. Now we are talking of them taking us to outer space which they can and just did this summer.

  6. MOonSHaKe Says:

    yesterday heard some interesting thoughts about possiblity of a movie soundtrack… it’s got to be something Halloweenie though… Rocky Horror Picture Show?

  7. albert walker Says:

    thank’s for clearing up Completely
    I was thinking Reflections- the GD heavy album
    I forgot the OG album was pure Garcia
    has some of that trippy experimental stuff on it, very heady

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    I like shenanigans when they’re not forced

    totally respect old school fans who have been wanting a show like Hartford, I get that 100%

    I first saw them in ’90 but like the mid/late 90’s stuff a lot better…just more my style…and I never had any investment in the whole GH thing. But that’s just taste.

    I think it’s fucking awesome they threw down that particular show (Hartford) when and where they did. Very much a kickdown for the old school Phish hardcores.

  9. albert walker Says:

    yes the 88-92 band is a little less experimental, but not much difference to me
    like I said the craziest shit and most experimental stuff this band did was in the mid 90’s IMO
    summer 95

  10. EL Duderino Says:

    @ AW and Mr. C.

    That’s why I would pick that album as the “One” I would love them to do!

  11. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I agree about not being able to separate the “antics” from Phish. A few things I would miss:
    –story telling (Where else would I learn what color the Vibe of Life is?)
    –secret language (musical, but based in a Zappa antic)
    –drummers in drag (anybody else remember how odd fishman looked in regular clothes on stage – it just ain’t right!)

    Some things (tramps, dance steps) I can see going away as they age (perish the thought!), but I still think it is all part of the greater whole which makes them what they are. And I love every bit of it.

  12. butter Says:

    Phil def jumped more than twice , and i recall i shit eating grin on his face

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    2nd side of “Garcia” is trippy as hell and was beyond cutting edge production at the time – he did all the mastering and such too – a 100% solo project (except drums)

  14. albert walker Says:

    I also feel the old sound relied on tight as shit playing
    something we can all agree on is really not the case anymore
    playing the shorter songs with less precision kind of loses the effect to me
    I have not heard Hartford yet, so I’m not talking about that show in particular
    just the old school setlist in the current setting

  15. Chuck D Says:

    Fishman played with Del McCoury at Bonnaroo dressed like he was going to a funeral. Very odd looking. I prefer the mumu.

  16. butter Says:

    @AW – def by 95 was mad improv – i am speaking of the early 90’s as more of song based shows

  17. butter Says:

    We all agree Phish 2009 is the shit, right?

  18. wvbrdr Says:

    Hooteroll? for halloween

  19. EL Duderino Says:

    Secret language hasn’t been done in years. but these things are musical. It’s the dance steps and trampolines that are getting old. If Fishman want’s to play in a dress ‘cuz he’s more comfortable, then I’m cool with that. Totally understandable what ever makes you comfortable to make great music.

  20. MOonSHaKe Says:

    We all agree Phish 2009 is the shit, right?


    EYE NO DAS RITE!!! =^)

  21. butter Says:

    “I also feel the old sound relied on tight as shit playing” true dat
    boy what a revolution / rebirth of Phish we have on our hands here huh fellas? Even my friends that are into Phish think i’ve gone off the deep end. Glad you guys are here for me!

  22. halcyon Says:

    What about Bowie’s ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars’.

    Just a random thought.

  23. butter Says:

    I’m going to go out in the “real world” for a bit, peace ya’ll – till later

  24. Mitch Says:

    Type III,
    I’m going to Montreal this weekend to see Frankie and its an 8 hour bus ride… I’ll take the brain on music book and see what it’s all about. I haven’t been reading much because my reading time (train rides) has been consumed by new PHiSH music. I’ve been picking up and putting down Big Sur for months now and haven’t gotten through it because of all these new jams.

  25. MOonSHaKe Says:

    @MOon- hear ya for sure, those of us that saw Phish early on were attracted to the band for their cool SONGS, antics + Gamehendge. We had the GD if we wanted improv.


    @butter- and what days they were… if I remember correctly, last full-on Gamehenge was a show I just barely (and still regretably) missed. First time Phish played in West Virginia in 1994, first set was Hoist top-to-finish, second set was full-on Gamehenge, Encore: Fire

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