Sunday night was my 22nd time making the walk from Thunderdome along the Sagecliff Saunter to the fabled Gorge Amphitheater to see and hear Phish do what they do. It is a special place, one of the greatest pocket amphitheaters ever, neatly hewn into the fabric of the rock that lines the walls of the canyon that towers over the Wanapum Lake segment of the Columbia River. No matter how many times I crest the rise and see the view behind the stage, I am never without the awe that the sheer majesty of the channeled scablands and the iridescent sky beyond deserve. If you still haven’t had the opportunity to see Phish at the Gorge, please add it to your bucket list, you are unlikely to be disappointed by the experience. This recap on the other hand, no guarantees.
Sixteen years prior to Sunday night’s show, I was sitting on a 36-foot sailboat, spinning in circles while becalmed in the mid-Pacific high, which had abnormally expanded due to Hurricane Katrina pulling all the available wind on the planet into her maw to lay waste to the gulf coast of Louisiana and beyond. At the same time, I learned on our daily satellite phone check in with family, a couple of my dearest friends were celebrating the birth of their second child Zevariah. As we made our way together into the show on Sunday, I pointed out the bizarrely synchronous events unfolding as Hurricane Ida attempted to do the same thing to Louisiana as he turned sixteen. Not to be outdone, Phish responded with a collection of songs to open the first set that were eerily on point. Sure, I’m ignoring "Cool Amber and Mercury", but "Moma Dance" is a sailing song, "Free" is a sailing and birth giving song, and "Lonely Trip" is a sailing song. I see you seeing me you guys. We appreciated the distinct nod.
The songs themselves were also great of course. First time having the opportunity to faceplant into Rokk in person was a welcome way to start the show. The formula for the show construction for this tour has been a pinch of Kasvot Växt, a spoonful of Ghosts of the Forest, a handful of rarely or at least not recently heard classics, a Trey song, a Mike song, a Page song, and sticky clumps of jam in unlikely places. "Cool Amber" was a strong indicator that the recipe would not be abandoned. The vocal interplay in "Moma Dance" seems different, and I like it. Crowd vibe rising. Light rig AMAZING. "Free" was patient but crunchy. "Lonely Trip" is mellow and forlorn, but certainly not in that Joni Mitchell way. More like a Paul Simon joint, and like I said, about boats passing in the night. So I like it. I’ve always heard "How Many People Are You" as Mike’s homage to the late great Tom Petty. Not that Petty is the dude in the song that Mike is talking about, but the driving style of the tune is just so evocative of the Heartbreakers to me.
"Bathtub Gin" was the obvious high point of the first set. Patient and sparse, bordering on lugubrious at the outset, the Fishman sample pad hummahummahumma effect lights the fuse and this batch of basement liquor starts to boil and bubble. About the ten minute mark the lid blows off the still and a geyser of incandescent froth spews into the pastel hued heavens above. All peaks no freaks on this thrill ride. It could have gone a lot longer as far as I am concerned.
"Back on the Train" followed and having been in fairly regular rotation during this tour is pretty well crushed this time around with a "No Men in No Man's Land" tease for good measure. I always think "My Friend, My Friend" is "Guyute" when it starts, and then I’m happy when it is not. Third time played at the Gorge, breaking the tie between 2011 (with “Myfe”) and 2018 (without “Myfe") joining 2018 in Myfelessness. During "Rift" it was proposed to me that we were careening towards a "Walls of the Cave" set closer similar to 2016, but I was feeling "Character Zero" all the way and was rewarded with the same. THIS ONE IS DIRRRRRTYYYYYY. Wow. I love that sound Trey...do it again. The "LA Woman" tease mind-warped me back to Miami 2003. Then some "Johnny B Goode" riffing to finish it off dragging me further down the wormhole to my first time at the Gorge in 1997.
I had never seen "Mr. Completely" before and therefore was pretty stoked when they dropped into it to open the second set. I heard a "Mind Left Body Jam" before it went full on revival tent "Mountain Jam" in the style of the Tahoe "Tweezer." Shortly after the ten minute mark the tent collapses and the revival is over. Trey and Page take turns picking through the debris pile exploring several themes over the next eight minutes that are evocative of the greater sum over a completely mental Fishman beat. Dude is an octopus. I thought they were going back into "Camel Walk" when "Meat" started. The vocal interplay here is also badass. “YEAH!” Funky neon electric pudding got smoked. Over far too soon.
"Crosseyed and Painless" makes its fourth consecutive Gorge appearance and consistent with the 2013, 2016, and 2018 versions is subsequently teased later in the set. It also contains a "Mr. Completely" tease-wreck jamlet, which in turn teases the previous teases of "MLBJ" and "LA Woman" before devolving into "Saw it Again." "Crosseyed and Painless" four times in a row > "Saw it Again"? HA HA HA! I get it. Such pranksters. "The Mango Song" serves as the bridge to the fourth quarter and is largely unremarkable.
The “new” NANANAYEAHYEAHYEAHs in "Everything’s Right" reminds me of the Beatles, which to many of you may be good, but to me is less so. Great little jam afterwards though. Really thought it was heading towards "2001" towards the end but instead fades into a "Beneath a Sea of Stars." The requisite Ghosts of the Forest cut for this show. Again more sea and sailing imagery which leads me back to the beginning of this piece and the overarching theme of this song, the album from which originates, the tributary nature of the opening and closing of the weekend, and the far too personal aspect of this recap that I am choosing to exclude so as not to cause myself to cry when I read it. Trey asks Toph to cut the lights and we revive the ghost of the 1997 "Harry Hood" glow stick jam. Unfortunately to much lesser effect due to the hyper-aggressive search and seizure tactics at the gates to the venue.
You may not think "I Always Wanted it This Way" was a sailing song, but check it out, it is from the album Big Boat! And we are...Still waiting….for the wind….Still waiting...for a Gorge "Harpua"...Still waiting...for "Mr. Completely" to return. I also heard some "Down with Disease" and "Cool Amber and Mercury" weaving through the pretty tight jam that effectively pushes "Mr. Completely" over the 20-minute jam boundary if you put it all together.
As Trey indicates before the "Shine a Light" encore, some people deserve two songs. Charlie Watts is such a person. A “Perfect Gentleman” to quote Roger Daltrey. “The greatest pocket drummer of all time” according to Alice Cooper. This weekend was thereby sandwiched between “Torn and Frayed” and “Shine a Light” in tribute to the man who kept the steel wheels of the Rolling Stones on their chaotic rails for over 50 years. The encore concludes with the fractal jedi geometry of "First Tube." If your mind does leave your body, hopefully there is a perfect gentleman or lady around to help you to your seat. My crew is full of them, feel free to find us on the lot. “Who really wanted to stop the Melt?” asked the blood red crescent (city) moon.
Safe travels to Shoreline and Dick’s. See you in Eugene.
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