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. wvbrdr Says:

    @ neemor, i agree 100%. if there’s anything this tour has taught me, it’s that all bets are off with this band. that kind of forces me to be in the moment when listening. i can’t wish for a different setlist because they’re totally blowing my mind with a setlist that i never would have chosen.

  2. MOonSHaKe Says:

    I couldn’t see the shooting star from where I was in the pavillion@Hartford.
    What song was it when it happened? For some reason I don’t remember the rubber chicken being thrown on the stage b4 BOAF either.

  3. Mr.Miner Says:

    yeah Neemor- no hijack at all. I concur 100%!

  4. Neemor Says:

    Moon, that’s the best part.
    During the YEM vocal jam!

    Thanks, guys.
    Have an awesome weekend and we’ll do it again Monday.
    If I still have a job!


    My boss hates Phish.

    GREAT T-shirt Idea!


    I own that one.

    Peace out.

  5. SOAM Says:

    After the tasty double opener-then Forbins-when they hit BOAF-I went ballistic on the boogie meter…….

  6. cal Says:

    you know, it’s easy to talk about what we miss about former incarnations of the band, but i just like to think about a couple things: (a) compared to coventry, and even hampton, the learning curve is a WAAAAAAY steeper incline than anybody could’ve hoped, and (b) we just got done with the FIRST TOUR following a long-ass hibernation. not to get expectations too high is important, but this band is going to get EVEN better. there are so many things that i missed in 2.0 that are already beginning to appear again, in addition to jamming that is new and unique. just think about the potential once these guys become REALLY familiar with the material again…once the compositions are old-hat again. the possibilities are endless.

  7. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Sleepy, check out 6-17-95 from Gainesville, VA for a seriously thick second set.

    I: Divided Sky, Suzy Greenberg, Taste, Fee, Uncle
    Pen, Julius, Lawn Boy, Curtain > Stash
    II: Wilson > Maze, Mound > Tweezer > Johnny B. Goode*
    > Tweezer > McGrupp’s, Acoustic Army, Sweet Adeline,
    Harry Hood, Sample
    E: 3 Little Birds**

    * first time played
    ** first time played, with Dave Matthews and Leroi Moore

  8. Mitch Says:

    Halloween is gonna be… (drumroll please)

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    Fear of a Black Planet.

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two.

  11. Kenny Powers Says:

    dude a Rage album would be off…the…hook. would be pretty funny watching the guys of Phish do it though…total comedy.

  12. Mr. Completely Says:

    Whipped Cream & Other Delights – Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass

    ok I’ll stop

    for now

  13. Mitch Says:

    Type III,
    Check out 2.20.93 if you like the teases. MIKES! is the shiz-nit-o-bam-snip-snap-snap.

    I’m sure you’ve heard it. If not, you can buy it (At the Roxy)

  14. Summer98 Says:

    Testament to anything can happen:

    My wife, who enjoys Phish and saw them before I did back in 1994, got pretty burned out due to my overplaying them from 1998-2004, although we did see many shows in that time together and she had some great times. When they took a break I took a break. We had some big things happen in our lives between 2004 and 2009: I finished my degrees, we moved to Seattle, got a big job that eats too much time, bought a house….everything except the kids thing.

    Then they come back, I go a little ballistic with playing them a lot again and new downloads, etc. Several spins through the Clifford Ball DVD (which was our first show together way back then). We get Gorge tickets. She is a bit tentative: what if it isn’t good, how will she fare in the crowds again, how will she deal with my total obsession, etc. We go and it blows our minds. She is back in it and is leading the charge for Indio.

    Another all bets are off with the P-hish in 2009 example. They transcended, brought us to that special place again, made us remember why we started doing this in the first place. Pure magic.

    I can’t wait to see where there band goes over the next few years. It could plateau: no big deal because it is still better than anything else out there. Or, they could continue to maintain focus, take daring “without a net” risks, and generally throw down in ways we have not dreamed of. I for one am super excited. I’m so glad they are back and this piece of me has been returned. The only downside is we’re no longer able to pick up and do long runs. Instead we’ll have to be the weekend warriors. Fair trade in my book to have the boys back.

    To the naysayers: go do something else if you aren’t digging this. Only positive vibrations allowed at the shows.

  15. oneshowatatime Says:

    @Mr. Miner – I can’t remember if you’ve weighed in on Trey’s “whale call” yet, but I couldn’t really find anything in your posts about it. I know there is a lot of banter and a lot of hate on PT about this, but I’m curious to know what you think about his new sound? Do you think he’s overusing the wah pedal (I think that’s what he’s using for that effect but correct me if I’m wrong)? Is this just a phase he’s going through as many have conjectured or a sound he’ll stick with for the foreseeable future?

    Just curious…

  16. EL Duderino Says:

    @ TypeIII
    That VA. shows was my girlfriends first! And it is pretty sweet!

  17. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Señor C-

    Herb Alpert ala phish with horns would kill.

    I think I’ll fire us up some herb tonight while hanging with the neighbors.

    Alpert that is.

  18. ColonelJoy Says:

    The Doors are sick! People bashing the doors are nuts…listen to their live in Pittsburgh release from 1970….great jams and transitions

  19. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Ok, prior to 2009, I lived overseas for 5 years, so I suppose I missed something, but is it true that people actually follow the Dave Matthews Band? When did this happen? I remember they pretty much sucked in 1994 when I saw them open for Phish and play the encore together (Just my opinion, please don’t bite). What kind of ppl follow them? Why? How? Where? When? How often? See, Phish, this is what happens when you vanish from the radar for so long…

  20. MOonSHaKe Says:

    @oneshowatatime: what’s this whale sound thing? When Trey does the solo for Character Zero he does a bit that sounds a bit whale-y, can you please expand on this?

  21. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Being my typical IDOL self

    Need a good freeware for MP3 conversion from audio discs.

  22. teddy Says:

    the megaupload doesn’t include salley.

  23. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Insert Eye to remove ambiguity.

  24. ColonelJoy Says:


    Miner never really focussed on the whale call in any posts, but bastards like me sure did….any thoughtful analysis on PT is surely stolen from myself and others here.

    Anyway, it is a Dead issue. The Whale was tamed during leg two…very nicely, IMO.

  25. EL Duderino Says:

    Almost non existent which works for me

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