Sitting on plane on the way to Chicago, it’s hard to believe we are heading for the home stretch of summer. One show in the Midwest and a four-night cannonball run up and down the east coast and that’s all she wrote until Fall (which is only two and half months away!) Thinking back to where we were in June, it almost seems inconceivable that the band has come so far in such little time. Though they had twenty years notched in their belt, their quick progress has still been astounding to watch. The jaded fan thought they would never even get this far, and if one for thing is for damn sure, Phish is just beginning- again.
Taking June’s tour and kicking it firmly into distant memory, the western swing was nothing short of magic. Over the course of seven shows, Phish completely reestablished their musical creativity with shows that we would have been happy to hear come year’s end. Redirected and emboldened with confidence, we haven’t heard Phish jams this tight and unique since the late ‘90s. Sure, post-hiatus had many amazing jams, but these just feel different. There is an incredibly purity to Phish’s music right now, a vitality that had been absent during even the best moments in’03 and ’04. No longer are things predictable- Phish can, and will, take any given song and take it anywhere. Take The Gorge’s “Sneaking Sally” for example. As soon as we thought we were getting a massive outdoor groove-fest, Phish took us in on of the most psychedelic rides of the summer, leaving any semblance of groove in the dust as they crafted an ominous, ambient soundscape.
The entire weekend in Washington was simply surreal; to be back at The Gorge and hear Phish play like they did was nothing short of an out-of-body experience. The combination of the greatest natural backdrop in music and a band who is playing like nothing else matters made for two nights of indelible memories in the ongoing path of Summer ’09. The band showcased contrasting styles over the two nights in George, WA, as the first night’s enchanting and psychedelic fairy tale was wholly distinct from Saturday night’s rock-centered odyssey, illustrating two aspects of Phish’s uncanny versatility. Using new songs and old, Phish created a laundry list of highlights from The Gorge: “Ocelot,” “Stash,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” “Light > Taste” “Bathtub Gin > Hood,” “Tweezer,” “Wolfman’s,” “Antelope,” “Rock and Roll,” “YEM,” “Number Line > Piper;” the list goes on and on.
Between Red Rocks, Shoreline and the Gorge, the west has unleashed a fury in Phish that we wondered if and when would return. They say the west is the best, and in the case of this summer ‘s tour, that maxim has never been truer. With a week of shows that will go down as the return of the Phish we know and love, the hotly-anticipated run through the wild west will remembered as the time the band’s improvisational magic came back. And not only are the band’s chops back in shape, they are having the time of their lives, imbued with the Phishiness that put them on the map- spontaneously crafting vocal accompaniment deep in their jams, telling jokes onstage, switching instruments mid-song, using hand signals to call out the setlist, and generally radiating a musical and personal happiness we haven’t seen from these four guys in ages. And this energy has flowed from the stage right into the community, channeling the genuine joy we all feel for the current state of Phish.
And as we take a u-turn halfway across the country, meeting in Chicago tonight, the possibilities for the last five shows are limitless. Bringing the spirit of the west into a soccer stadium and then four classic Phish amphitheatres, some of the season’s best moments are certainly about to unfold. Buckle your seat belt, literally and figuratively, as this last stretch will contain not only crazy music, but crazy driving as well. As we crisscross the northeast from Darien to Hartford, down to Merriweather and back up to SPAC, the east coast will get a several tastes of the rejuvenated Phish in a case of bizarre tour routing. Nonetheless, we have five more to go, and there’s no telling what we’ll be talking about come next week; only time will tell, but I’m sure eager to find out! See you tonight.
8.7.09 The Gorge (Photo: Graham Lucas)