Following a Friday gig that was particularly tight for a tour opener and particularly jammy for a 2011 show, Phish kept the energy up in the second of two shows at the beautiful Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. As they did the previous night, the band dipped into every last pocket in their backpack of tricks, but managed to maintain the flow with a mix of segues, Phishy quirkiness, and some good old high-caliber musicianship.
Things kicked off with Possum, a song that earned the band some flak in June for the frequency with which it appeared in the setlist. But I’ll repeat what I said then: they’re playing it so much because they’re playing it so well. This version was no exception; though it stuck to the song’s formula, it did so with just the kind of punch a good Phish show delivers at the opening bell.
Now that we’re two shows into the tour, a developing trend should be mentioned: Trey is laying it on the thick with the Jimmy Page licks. You can hear it most clearly in the blues-rock songs, which, since the beginning of Superball, he’s been attacking with speed and ferocity. There are two specific riffs I’m thinking of: one is the big bend, the likes of which you see throughout the composed solo in Good Times Bad Times. One of these appears in the Wolfman’s Brother from later in this first set. Second, the use of the 9th in his blues licks, which he seems to be dropping in more frequently than usual.
Even if you don’t play music or have any idea what I’m talking about, I think we can all appreciate the fact that he’s clearly been practicing, and his playing is better for it.
Anyway, back to the show. The energy stayed high for the next three songs: Moma, Sample, and Limb, all of which were well played. The standard first-set fare continued with Ocelot and Poor Heart, before things heated up with On Your Way Down. Page belted out the vocals, as he often does on this song, and Trey seemed to feed off his energy, taking an inspired solo.
Wolfman’s was under 10 minutes, but had a few distinct, excellent sections: one in which Mike and Trey hit on a theme that sounded familiar, as if Smoke On the Water or some other classic rock tune could emerge. Trey spouted some fireballs before the jam dipped into a mellower place that the band had repeatedly visited during Friday’s second set.
Out of this haze came Maze—not a true segue, but not a jarring transition either. This was an especially strong version: Trey’s solo was hot, but the real superstar here was Page. Between his organ work here, his multi-instrumental additions to Friday’s Rock and Roll, and his solid playing throughout the two shows, Mr. McConnell gets my vote for MVP of the Gorge run.
Solid versions of Wilson and Fluffhead closed out the 11-song set, before Trey promised the crowd the band would return in exactly fifteen minutes. One of these times, he’s going to be telling the truth, and I’m going to be pissing, and I’m going to be pissed.
In a rare second-set-opening turn, Chalkdust played its typical show-opening role as short, high-energy rocker. Things quickly got serious, as the band fired up the funk machine for Tweezer. Following a dark opening, though, Trey took the lead for a rock jam that worked, but never quite found anywhere very interesting to go until the very end. Mike directed the band to a space that sounded somewhere between the Siket Disc and the Storage Jam, and that transitioned before long into a short Prince Caspian.
Not content to give Tweezer all the rock-jam-in-A-minor glory, Sand weaseled its way into the next slot, and it one-upped the Tweezer. The first half included some of Trey’s best-crafted textural playing of the night, and the second featured the show’s most raging solos This jam was straight-up summer heat, and it would’ve been just fine if it had simply wrapped up once it had left its mark. But Tweezer, not one to be shown up by its younger setlist sibling, snuck back on stage; the smooth completion of the Sand-wich was one of the weekend’s finest moments.
The following four songs—Birds, Waste, Golden Age, and Reba—weren’t quite as memorable as the previous four, but were nonetheless completely enjoyable.
As at Superball, Reba ended with whistling; however, Trey played it a half-step too high, throwing his band mates off. Turning flub into fun, he whistled the Reba line over the intro to the following song, Antelope. This set off a 2/20/93-esque “teaser reprise” run through the set’s previous songs, including Tweezer, Sand, and, once the jam got going, Golden Age. This kind of spontaneous quirkiness would make any flub worthwhile.
Antelope’s energetic jam, and the “Mike-o Esquandolas” outro would have been the perfect way to cap off an excellent two-night run. But a three-song encore followed, most notably including a rare take on Sanity, in which Fishman’s “WHAT?!” seemed completely at home. Someday that joke will get old; yesterday was not the day.
Two shows into this short run, it’s hard not to be excited about what’s to come. In four sets, the band has sounded tight as a unit, yet loose with the flow of the show. Not only have they had a large number of inspired moments, but those moments have been extremely diverse. Whether your Phish of choice is rock-star-Trey Phish, intergalactic-funk Phish, or quirky-weirdo Phish, the Gorge run had something for you. And for those of us whose Phish of choice is “all of the above,” the Gorge run was truly a special one.