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”

  1. Robear Says:

    ^I’m with you Butter! My lady thinks we’re all a bunch of Phish dorks : p

  2. flarrdogg Says:

    Wow- what an amzing night this was. This was my first show since Coventry, although I’d listened to Hampton, most of leg 1, and RR. Being there in person is such a different animal than just listening. I went in pretty relaxed. Not real sure what to expect. Wondering if seeing the phish live was still going to have the same affect on me it once had…

    I was absolutely blown away by what I saw (Saturday too). Yes, the shows are fantastic- especially Friday. There was something else, though. Something different. It was kind of an indescribable thing: the vibe?, the ambiance?, the venue?. Something was BETTER than I remember it. Have I changed this drastically since I last saw the phish? Have THEY changed this much since I’d last seen ’em? After having spent some time reflecting since that weekend, the answer is that we both have- in many ways for the better.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m in a such a better place both emotioally and spiritually than I was at Coventry. What was clear to me at the Gorge- what I really took away from those shows- is that THEY are too. It was really special to be on the floor for this show and see these guys having so much fun together. Just playing music. And by “just playing music” I mean totally locked in, really listening to each other, and otherwise just absolutely Killing it. Destiny, Satsh, Sneakin, and the whole second set- especially the gin- are abslotuely must listens.


  3. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Secret language hasn’t been done in years

    well, it should be!

    The closest I’ve seen to it from 2009 were the Dirt and Free riffs tossed into the start of Hood at Red Rocks. Not the same, but still a nod back to something they used to do a lot more.

    As a musical antic, I recall seeing a show in the early 1990s where at the start of Bowie Trey ran through the riffs to every song played up to that point in order. 4-10-93 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, if I recall correctly. Great second set there as well with Sugar Blue on harmonica for four tunes. Check out that Mike’s>Great Gig in the Sky>Weekapaug if you think they weren’t improv jamming back in the day.

  4. Neemor Says:

    I liked the ‘All Fall Down’ in Camden ’00.
    That shit stays.
    In fact, why are we discussing how they should change?
    Why is that up to us?
    You think they look silly jumping on trampolines?
    Alright, guys…you’re too old. Stop that. That silly ‘Landlady’ dance.
    Time to get old.
    Act your age.
    Here’s a cane, Michael.
    And Ernest, stop that silly Glide thing there, you just look like a child.
    Grow up.
    Here’s your Ensure, Page.

    What’s wrong with them PERFORMING? It’s why I call them shows, not concerts.
    Hartford had all that shit.
    PYITE Dance.
    Phish Vacuum.
    Shooting stars. For effs sake, God sent a shooting star to mark the occasion.

    Let them do what they do.
    Do we really need SOMETHING to complain about?

    How about the fact that there is only one band that does this.
    There should be five.

  5. Chuck D Says:

    Papyrus dance!

  6. halcyon Says:

    Neemor….that shooting star was great to see especially in a city – venue.

  7. Mr.Miner Says:

    “like I said the craziest shit and most experimental stuff this band did was in the mid 90’s IMO
    summer 95”

    ^^ Summer ’95 is possibly the most intensely psychedelic tour ever

  8. Neemor Says:

    Serously, Hal..
    In hindsight, it honestly meant to me that we were in the right place at the right time.
    And that show was perfect.
    Did Wilson come in too abruptly?
    Did Ghost have an off-kilter start?
    Do I come to see their technical prowess, or the total package.

    One total package please.
    Thank you.
    See you next time.

  9. notkuroda Says:

    flarrdogg-totally feel you. I’m in a much better place than in 04. Hell I’m in a much better place than I’ve been my whole life. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the mega-fluffery I’ve been doing on Phish this year

  10. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Do we really need SOMETHING to complain about?”

    ^^ some do. That’s why Phantasy Tour exists 😉

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    well-said neemor!

  12. Matso Says:

    There hasn’t been nearly enough love given to the Gorge 2 Tweezer – listening to it now and Trey plays some inspiring stuff through out. Damn. Just like the Alaska, they don’t push it out too far, but it’s note-perfect anyway.

    Gorge 2 might be the second best show of the summer…. 😉

  13. Neemor Says:

    I just think right now is a time to discuss what’s right with this band.
    The things that they are doing well, and there are lots of them.
    This isn’t a time for reflection on days of yore and their shortcomings.
    Not so soon after what we’ve just been given,
    and certainly not while they are still on tour.
    I mean, c’mon.
    Some of the depressing, pointless, nitpicky, glass-is-half-empty and erroneous things I’d ever heard about this band were spewed during leg one.
    Talk about spoiled?
    They were being trashed for minisclue shit while it was still evolving.

    I had a metal head who used to ask me why I only listen to this Jam music, this “happy shit”.
    He said, “It’s not roses and sunshine all the time.”
    I explained that I listen to this music to put me in a good place.
    I want dark, I turn on the fuckin news.

    I appreciate how much this site and you all focus on the positive of what we’re being given, I hate hearing how much better it could be, how much better it was….
    Let’s just be in the NOW.
    Let Phish be Phish.
    Remember, with these boys, you will eventually eat those words.
    8/7 and 8/14 caused many to eat words.
    And the grin I bore in Hartford, even listening to Summer ’09 is worth every penny I’ve spent, every hour I’ve wasted.
    It IS a good time to be a phan.
    We are very lucky.

  14. Robear Says:

    ^lol, Miner and Neemor. I saw someone make a comment about this site at Livephish too. I was thinking, ‘I hope the trolls are sleeping on that review.’

    Lots of psychedelic experimentation and exploration by the band in summer ’95. Red Rocks ‘Mike’s’ comes to mind….’Bowie from Deer Creek….Split from Blossom..

  15. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    true dat, Neemor. Good perspective to have…

  16. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Gorge 2 might be the second best show of the summer…”

    ^^ I could barely decide between Gorge I and RR II, but the overall flow and grand quality to the Gorge took it. I’d say top level: Gorge I/RR2 then 2) Hartford/Gorge2

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    “Let’s just be in the NOW.
    Let Phish be Phish.
    Remember, with these boys, you will eventually eat those words.”

    ^ amen Neemor! If this summer has taught us anything…

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    Summer ’95 had a tweezer, mikes, stash, bowie, or split go huge virtually every single night…some of the most dark exploration in the band’s history

  19. Neemor Says:

    Miner, sorry for the hijack.

    You’re the man.

    I can’t wait to see you all at MSG.

  20. Mr. Completely Says:

    phenomenal posts on this page by @Neemor and up there by @flarrdog!!!!!

    preach it fellas!!!!!

  21. halcyon Says:

    Right On Neemor and everyone else. Its so good to have them back, and to be playing with determination. TGIF everyone. Its beer o’clock. I am out.

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    don’t apologize neemor, that’s not a hijack! it’s the truth!

    and it’s even on topic

  23. Ga dawg Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner

  24. Sleepy Monkey Says:

    I know we dont rate shows, but what is your favorite overall psychadelic show of summer of 95. Ilove the Fall tour 95 but havent delved into to much of the 95′ full shows. Just key jams. Gosh they toured like crazy in 95

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    The ONLY downside I can see to how great the Gorge was, was for my buddy who came up. He’d seen them once before but it wasn’t a great show in ’00 and things hadn’t clicked. If anyone should Get It with phish it’s this guy, he has all the elements, smart, quirky, musically knowledgeable, funny, everything. So the Gorge blows up like that, and now he’s going to expect that every show I guess?!?! I’m trying to let him down easy, but hopefully that just becomes the new baseline.

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