There’s just no better place to see Phish than The Gorge. And judging by their music every time they step foot on the majestic stage, it’s one of the band’s favorite places to commune as well. Friday night provided another page in the amphitheatre’s storybook of legend, as Phish dropped a massive show, strewn with creativity from start to finish. Hitting the west coast like a well-oiled machine, the band dusted off several rarities, while crafting a fresh setlist for the largely fresh audience. The night, however, was centered on a monumental “Crosseyed and Painless” that threw its hat in the ring for jam of summer, while anchoring a fluid, hour-long second set sequence of dreamlike playing. Phish could do virtually no wrong in a smashing west coast debut.
You knew shit was on when “AC DC Bag” popped with creativity right off the bat, and when the guys followed it up with a dense “Timber” jam and wide-open “Wolfman’s Brother,” the ship had set sail for glory. The only routine stretch of the show followed in “Funky Bitch” “Wilson,” and “Possum,” but the rest of the opening half was pure gold. The trifecta of “Tube,” “Secret Smile” and “McGrupp” made for the most unique, and dare I say, sublime stretch of the set. Hearing “Secret Smile” for the first time since Indio’s acoustic set during sunset at the Gorge was one of the more special moments of tour. The haunting ballad fit congruently with the psychedelic environs, sparking a magical early-show moment.
Seeping out of “McGrupp,” the band brought “Curtis Loew” off the shelf at a poignant juncture before dropping into a skull-crushing “Split Open and Melt” to close things out. The guys have been nailing “Split” all summer long—something to write home about in itself—but last night’s had extra mustard, and fused with the open air sound of the Gorge, it made for quite the spectacular exclamation point on the best first set of summer tour. In fact, after the “Crosseyed,” this “Split” is the second-in-command jam of the show.
Whenever Phish comes to the Gorge, they leave with at least a couple jams that stand up to anything they’ve ever played and could have taken place nowhere else. Friday night’s “Crosseyed and Painless” was one of these jams. Spanning incredible amount of ground and getting very dark and experimental, this jam leapt off stage with a different energy than any recent piece. Often, in peak experiences, I remember nothing of detail until I respin the show and it all comes flooding back—note for note–like Niagara Falls, so I will reserve the play by play for another day, but damn this shit got real. And something weird happened at the end. Most people heard “Roggae” and some heard “Ocelot,” but it was pretty evident that the band was on the cusp of a slow, well-thought out transition. But just as it seemed like the segue would transpire, Trey bailed out of it for “Twist.” Peculiar to say the least.
Maintaing the wide-open, liquid feel to their improv, the following 40 minutes of “Twist > Steam > Waves > Twenty Years Later” carried an unparalleled flow with gentle segues and powerful playing. Each piece moved unfinished into the next, all boasting plenty of action. “Steam” featured the first non-whale drenched jam of its life, and the song sprang to life in a way many thought it would two years ago upon its debut. I remember waiting to hear the band drop “Steam” at the Gorge 2011, thinking it was a perfect match of setting and music, and lo and behold, two years later, that very premonition came to fruition. This entire sequence carried Gorge energy through and through, and will garner many respins in the near future.
“Mango” and “Bug” bridged the set to another ferocious “David Bowie.” With all of the phenomenal “Bowies” we have heard this tour, the band has resurrected one of the greatest jams in their catalog, a jam that had been left for dead as another casualty of the modern era. But, this summer, the band has made sure that “modern era” won’t forever be a moniker for watered down Phish.
The final piece of a wild evening took place in “Character Zero”, when Trey asked Kuroda to shut the lights so they could jam to the moon. Immediately, all four band members began howling as they rocked out the end of “Zero”—Trey’s current closer of choice for big time shows. Capping the night with a divine “Harry Hood,” that provided the yin to “Bowie’s” yang, Phish put their John Hancock on another special night in the northwest. And then they shredded “Fire” to bits as if taking a victory lap before releasing the hounds into the gorgeous summer night—another night that could have only happened at the Gorge.
I: AC/DC Bag > Timber Ho, Wolfman’s Brother, Funky Bitch, Happy Birthday to You*, Wilson > Possum, Tube, Secret Smile, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Split Open and Melt
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Twist > Steam > Waves -> Twenty Years Later > The Mango Song, Bug > David Bowie, Rocky Top > Character Zero
E: Harry Hood > Fire
*For KurodaTags: 2013, Summer '13, The Moment