Phish: The Compass Points to Dick’s
Phish at The Gorge
With all eyes on three more shows at Dick’s to officially close out Phish’s 2013 summer tour and a hotly anticipated Fall Tour ready for liftoff this October, the present buzz around Phish is as high as it’s ever been. After eight memorable shows on the West Coast they can now lay claim to their own “Elite Eight”. Were they the best eight Phish shows ever? Maybe so, maybe not. But in a world of subjective musings revolving around this purely one-of-a-kind band, it is certain that their most recent West Coast tour will be referenced as yet another highpoint in the bands illustrious 30-year career.
After picking up steam in Chicago and Toronto to close out leg one of summer tour, Phish descended on Gorge Amphitheater is the middle of nowhere Washington for two of the most anticipated shows of the summer. The Gorge is simply a magical venue to see Phish. If you love this band, this is a mandatory venue visit, something to the effect of a non-produced West Coast style festival. With six previous trips before this summer’s visit, the majority of Phish’s Gorge shows have produced something special. The latest two shows continued this historical trend, offering arguably the two most complete shows of the summer.
On night one the band came out firing right from the start. With a more jammed-out version of “AC DC Bag” than what’s been more recently offered, right into the first “Timber Ho” of tour, the crowd went from gaping at the dramatic scenery into a complete instantaneous throw-down in no time. A funky “Wolfman’s Brother” followed, where keyboardist Page McConnell brought a dance party groove early in the set.
If Phish didn’t offer the possibility for something truly special on a nightly basis, fans wouldn’t keep going, would we? So when Trey grabbed a “Wilson” t-shirt from a fan in the crowd and proceeded to banter about how the NFL would start playing “Wilson” next season to welcome star Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to the field, you knew the rest of the evening had the potential to leave something special. So if you hear “Wilson” played at Century Links Stadium next football season to 67,000+ attendees, possibly on national TV, just remember Trey called it at the Gorge.
It also turns out this night was none other than Chris Kuroda’s birthday. Chis, aka the “fifth member” or “CK5”, has a new lighting rig and is a central part of the Phish madness. Knowing it was his birthday only grew anticipation for the remainder of the show. While a little stretch in “Tube” was nice to push the fan favorite beyond a mere few minutes of play, it was the set closing, exploratory “Split Open and Melt” that received the most attention at set break. It’s definitely worth another listen. As is set two.
Kicking off with an out-there “Crosseyed and Painless”, Phish offered a unique, dark jamming sequence that is easily one of top moments from this leg of tour. The following run of “Twist”>”Steam”>”Waves”>”Twenty Years Later” was pure, flowing, seamless Phish. Since it was Kuroda’s birthday, it made sense that “David Bowie,” what he’s said is his favorite Phish tune, would get played. Another standout version of a staple Phish song, this “Bowie” put the cherry on top of a show that felt more like it was falling at the end of tour rather than the beginning. Maybe that’s because they weren’t done yet. “Character Zero” played as sort of an exclamation point on a complete show which allowed the band to blast off one more time before Trey asked Kuroda to kill the lights so the entire Gorge could literally howl at the almost full moon. Here in one show we had beautiful type II improvisation, tight takes on type I fixed jam sequences, quirky madness with the “Wilson” banter and howling at the moon jam, something memorable in a “Happy Birthday” sing-along for beloved lighting director Chris Kuroda, with a little bluegrass, funk and rock and roll taboot. And I haven’t even gotten to the beautiful encore pairing of an original in “Harry Hood “, and the seldom played Jimi Hendrix cover “Fire”. What else could you possibly ask for?
Enter Gorge night two.
After one of their tightest offerings of the summer, Phish showed up on night two of the Gorge and dropped arguably the most total show of the summer. Again, right from the start things were immediately interesting. “Architect” opened the show followed by “Golgi Apparatus.” A strange couple that somehow worked. When “The Curtain With” dropped everyone was as locked into the show as conceivably possible. The “With” jam was light, flowy and transcendent. The rest of the set carried on in a rather straightforward, but groove featured fashion.
With the sad news of JJ Cale passing many fans thought the band would make some sort of offering to the late, great musician. They did in closing the set with a blistering “After Midnight” that was preceded by a wide-open take on “Ocelot.” But “Say Something”, had something to say. Many were unfamiliar with the song and actually thought it was a JJ Cale cover. It had a similar feel to a JJ tune in its bluesy, rockabilly style, but it turns out it was a Mike Gordon original (co-written with Scott Murawski) and a debut at that. Give it a re-listen and let’s hope to hear this one at Dick’s. It’s got all the makings of a new classic and deserves a place in the catalogue.
Set two, night two. Here’s were the exclamation point went down on what really ended up being two unbelievable shows. The opening frame of “Down with Disease”>”Undermind” is the clear standout. While the previous evening’s standout jam was “Crosseyed and Painless,” this “Disease” was patient, unique, a simply beautiful jam. But it was the segue and playing throughout “Undermind” that was the stuff of brilliance. Only two songs in and Phish was clearly winning. While nothing else from the rest of the set touched the improvisational quality of the “Disease” and “Undermind,” what’s left is what one can call a truly complete set of Phish. Song choice, place and style all fit perfectly. “Light” wasn’t as crazy as we’ve come to know and love. “2001” was still shortened to only a few minutes in length. But together, the set worked in such a way that if you’re going to listen to any one set from leg two of summer tour, this is the one. The funk of “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley”, the ripping chords of “Walls of the Cave,” and closing notes of “Fluffhead” >”Antelope”- ultimately, it’s a textbook example of how masterful Phish can bring it in the now, and why as a fan you should never miss a show at the Gorge.