[Thank you Gene for recapping last night's show! -Ed.]
It’s been eight and a half years since Phish last played in Seattle — nowhere near the 23.5 year gap that its neighbor to the south and my adopted hometown of Portland can claim — but a long time nonetheless. And a lot has happened since October 2014.
Renewal, evolution, and hope make the Climate Pledge Arena a fitting cradle for the birth of Phish’s spring tour. The last time they played this room, it was a sad monument to a departed basketball team ("The Line" fit in all too well in that setlist). When Seattle got its most recent sports upgrade, they chose to build on what was already there rather than start from scratch — to renovate, renew, and look to the future with one foot in the past, under a landmark roof first built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
The result is nothing short of stunning. The “new” Climate Pledge Arena shares the basic shape of its predecessor, but the similarities end there. Amenities galore, massive sound-treatment improvements, 100% renewable energy, and zero single-use plastic. This is the venue of the future. And that respect for the past, as we build and evolve for the future? That’s a great metaphor for the tour opener Phish threw down in Seattle last night.
"Blaze On" opened, built gradually, and evolved seamlessly into "Plasma." The shuffling march of "Plasma’s" drum line set a rhythmic theme for the night that would persist throughout, as Fishman kept a setlist full of relatively complex drum patterns and patient, slow-build jams woven together masterfully. The map is not the terrain. The setlist is not the show.
"Vultures" gave everyone in the crowd an opportunity to get in on the call and response, and whatever your feelings on wooing, the broad grin on Trey’s face during the audience-participation segment made it clear that he’s a fan.
"Ya Mar" gave Page an opportunity to stand out, and the crowd reaction to his solo was remarkable. The jam in "Ya Mar" started a pattern of bass-led improv sections that would continue with the "Ghost" that closed the first set, and the "Wave of Hope" to open the second. As a card-carrying member of The PFLM, it’s heartening to hear the band all make space for each other, and particularly for Mike to step forward and lead the band into jams.
A brief pause after "Ya Mar" gave Trey an opportunity to address the crowd: “Congratulations on the Kraken. Everybody needs a hockey team!”
If the first half of the set built a foundation and set the tone, the second half capitalized on it, and delivered in a big way. "Steam" featured some interesting, new high-harmony vocal parts, and the guitar run-up to the final peak of "Walls of the Cave" was crisp and punchy. Landing: stuck.
Given how often "Walls" is a set-closer, the "Ghost" that followed felt like a bonus. For a seemingly varied setlist, the band did a great job of maintaining rhythmic cohesion and solid through-lines of patience and active listening. The energy from the crowd was focused and positive. I’ve been to a few chatty shows, and this one thankfully had a super locked-in audience.
Mission Control to Spaceport Seattle… you are GO for launch. Commencing countdown…
Building on the theme of building on top of building, the second set took the foundation established by the first, constructed a rocket on it, and launched that sucker into the stratosphere. Kicking off the second set with "A Wave of Hope" made a bold statement, and backed it up with an evolving, bass-led jam that morphed into a great transitional section with Fishman subtly shifting the snare placement to move from a shuffling build to a steady slap, driving to a satisfying peak, and return.
Launch successful. High fives all around Mission Control. Our boys are in orbit.
But what’s that? Floating outside the capsule window? Floating ever closer… an innocent-seeming white balloon comes to rest at Trey’s feet. He kicks it back towards the audience, but the laws of physics have other plans, and it reverses course and lands right back where it started. Another kick, another return. It just keeps bouncing back like a bad penny. Finally, Mike intervenes, and places it atop the not-so-secret black box that holds his spring-loaded cordless power drill gimmick.
Trey leans over to the band-comm mic and, presumably, says something like, “OK then, 'Bouncing'…”
"Bouncing Around the Room" provided a nice reset, and "No Men in No Man’s Land"kicked off the final ascent of the night, deepening the explorations and getting into wonderfully bloopy synth domains, until Trey dropped into the "Golden Age" riff, and Fishman quickly but smoothly slid the beat inside out to pull into the song proper.
Gravity-assisted moon slingshot accomplished. More high fives from Mission Control (don’t worry — they’re a renewable resource — if you do it right you’ll never run out…)
"Golden Age" felt like a joyful release. Age of Miracles, indeed.
Here are our intrepid crew in space, not just floating, rocketing towards Mars.
Bell-like tones from Page’s Rhodes and polyrhythms from Fishman gave way to a synth-heavy meltdown with a solid dub backdrop. It’s weird in space, and about to get weirder.
Things get quiet in the capsule, as our crew approaches the surface of Mars… and they’re not alone. Comms have gone dark as the red planet eclipses the ship’s cosmic sight-line to earth. They’re alone out there now, or are they?
"Martian Monster" gave us all the terrifying intensity we needed to get down, and then some. Our trip may be short, but man was it intense.
Set a course for Earth, full thrust, warp 10, screaming through space — before you know it, we hit the retros and slide sideways back into Earth’s atmosphere. Splash down!
Sighs of relief from Mission Control. Our boys are coming home. Yet more high-fives.
With a tightly executed snap to pivot into the "Wedge," the band returned safely to the harbor, got the old RV out of storage, and hit Nostalgia Highway for another road trip to the Great Divide.
Back home, our intrepid astronauts take a much-needed breather. Outer space exploration gives way to inner space contemplation.
There are a few songs the give me chills every single time, and "Bug" is one of them. This one felt a little more raw and real than usual. If you know, you know.
As the band got "Back on the Train" to close out the second set, the full arc of the evening came into view. To Mars and back in a few short hours. All in an evening’s work.
A "Fluffhead" encore — with a slightly-extended outtro jam featuring what sounded to me like Jackson Five teases from Page, was the icing on the gravy. “You always end up where you start”, indeed.
Welcome back to Earth, fellas. Take a bow.
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