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


Light > Taste 8.7.09 II


Bathtub Gin > Harry Hood 8.7.09 II




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. Mr. Completely Says:

    yes, I haven’t heard a single case of overuse of the whammy pedal for leg 2. When he uses it, it’s done to build tension and usually not for long. Now that it’s found its proper context I am actually a big fan of the sound.

    @Phamily, i convert using iTunes. For Windows, Traders Little Helper does it too. But iTunes is just really easy. You just have to set it up real quick:

    – In preferences, General tab, click “Import Settings”
    – Import using MP3 encoder
    – choose Custom Setting, and unless HD space is very limited, set Bit Rate to max (320). Leave the other settings alone but make sure the “Filter Freqs” checkbox is NOT checked. Hit OK to save that.

    Then when you put a CD in, just make a playlist, and drag the files from the CD to the playlist. It will convert them as part of the import process.

    The only time that’s not good enough is if you’re seeding Mp3s to a picky torrent tracker like or something like that. If it’s just for listening, iTunes is fine.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    oh and super cool post by @summer98 there

    glad your wife got back on the train – nothing like having a partner that’s as into it as you are – I’m lucky that same way, it’s pretty much the best thing ever

  3. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ Teddy- I just checked. Its there. Disc1 Track9

  4. BrandonKayda Says:

    Leo – Your discs came today! Thank you so much! I think I will put on Groove Corp. first. I can’t wait to listen to all of this, nice job and thank you for putting it together.

  5. Summer98 Says:

    Certainly the best thing ever. To share in that experience with the one you love and know you are both feeling IT is sooooo special. We came back to reality and actually had a pretty hard time adjusting, and we didn’t do anything heavier than some booze and herb!!

    Re Whale: It caught me off guard on the first leg but I have to say I really dug the way it was used in Leg 2. I think Trey may read this site.

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

    if so:

    Hey Red! you rock, yo! whatever you’re doing, keep it up, it’s working!

  7. neemor Says:

    Just poked my head in,
    Brandon you make me happy and reminisce.

    You got CD’s in the mail.

    I know you’re young, but that’s how we used to do it….

    But they were tapes.

    See, cassettes (as they were also known)…were these….just kidding.

    I love your youthful drive to soak it up. Reminds me of a young guy I once knew…..

    My mother got me those tickets in the mail today for Trey and the Philharmonic.
    It’s gonna be a friggin clash of cultures for sure, but the fact that she wanted to do this with me is about as cool as it gets.
    For those that missed it, she’s a supporter of Carnegie Hall (where the Philharmonic and Trey are taking place), she actually sang on the stage there at a point….
    It’s going to be something.
    I missed the Radio City shows back in the day, this reminds me of that a little bit.
    Anyways, Orchestra seating, up close and personal with The Bad Lieutenant.

    Can not wait.

  8. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Gracias Señor C.

  9. neemor Says:

    There’s actually a little snippet/soundbyte of Trey with a full orchestra backing (presumably from one of his earlier shows?) on the nyphil website.

    My gut tells me that if I’m ever going to hear Trey play spot-on perfect note for note guitar work, this will be the time and place.

    Holy crap, it sounds really cool.

  10. Leo Weaver Says:

    @bk…not a problem, already thinking about a few more…planning to give those you sent a listen this weekend. enjoy…

    @98…your story sounds familiar…only your wife gets it…bastard 😉

    And I’ve finally given Gorge proper listening…as I recall fool (and others) had the list right re: jams: 1) Sally 2) Gin 3) Light
    I was enamored with Light and it still gives me chills every time they move into the calypso part. But Sally just offers SOOO much, it constantly evolves: song>vocal>dark/chunky>ambient>uplifting/regal (someone described it like this yesterday I think). And the Gin is out of this world. Hood is full of feeling, delicacy, and emotion for sure. And the Slave was really nice…I espeically like that thing Fish does with the sparse toms from the beginning of the build. And gorge 2 was definitly a more rocking, intense night, but 1 gets the nod for me…the “surrender to the flow” was just impeccable all around. And that Antelope was the shit.
    Re: Light…I still think it’s the 3.0 Piper (lite)…uptempo, repeating melody/lyrics, etc. And I think the beauty is it’s flexibilty with placement…it’s either a great landing pad or launch pad. Miner mentioned a couple of days ago that its best jams are ahead…that is the TRUTH.
    And Party Time is perfect as Mr. C pointed out…VERY Meters-esque…and I do love me some Meters…

  11. neemor Says:

    Light = Piper 3.0


  12. neemor Says:

    If Interested, this is what the venue will look like.

    I will be in the center of those red seats on the floor.


  13. Mr.Miner Says:

    Light = Piper 3.0

    ^^ said this months ago 😉

  14. Leo Weaver Says:

    @neemor…it just has the same feel to me, just more patient and flowing. I can’t exactly put my finger on it so I’ll describe the best i can…it kinda ‘starts immediately’ with short ‘choppy’ almost rhythmic lyrics over a big sound. And it ‘rolls and repeats’ though it doesn’t build quite like piper (I think it could). and it’s an easy leap into a huge jam or an easy landing pad from a huge jam.

  15. Mdawg Says:

    how about…

    Boogie and then
    YEM > Undermind > Drumz > 7 below > 2001 > Waves > Character 0

    from RR4

  16. Leo Weaver Says:

    ^then credit where credit’s due my man…I totally agree with you Miner 🙂

  17. SJC Says:

    Light = Piper 3.0…..with a steady beat. Piper has the fills in there which can make for a choppy rhythm at times. Light is so much smoother coming out of the gate than Piper. But yeah, I agree it has that full throttle, wide open feel that Piper has.

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

  19. Mr.Miner Says:

    i’ve loved Light since Trey debuted it in Brooklyn last summer- was so destined for Phish

  20. neemor Says:


    Glory hog.


  21. Mr.Miner Says:

    lol….just sayin’ 😉

  22. Nissl Says:


    I’ll stick up for the DMB Red Rocks ’95 recording. May still not be your bag, not quite on the level of Phish, but I still pop it in now and again. Not a bad band for the couple of years when their base was mostly hippies.

    Although how much my opinion is influenced by high school nostalgia, it’s difficult to judge.

  23. neemor Says:

    That’s what I mean about this place opening up my ear to hearing these different things, adds to my enjoyment of this band so much.

    I never would have noticed many of the things that have been brought up by the poster nutbags here, especially Miner.

    Thanks again.

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    its what ive always envisioned this site to be- a place for intellectual discussion and analysis of Phish, and plenty of fun….and all you folks have made that happen. so cheers to that.

  25. Leo Weaver Says:

    yep…that’s the one Miner…I remembered the post-Fenway writeup as soon as you mentioned it…guess the Gorge version really opened my eyes to it…damn what a weekend…

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