[Phish.net thanks volunteer recapper Ben Harder for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
To my fellow Mainers, a big Hihowahya!!?? To those of you who were visiting from away, stoked you made it up for what was the first Phish show in Maine since the Bangor show on 6/25/19 and 6/26/19. Tonight's show made for the fourth at the venue (the first being 7/3/13), and over the years we've seen the GA Pit evolve from lawn to crushed rock to concrete pad. The place looked a bit like the Big Dig, with a steel retaining wall and framing for private boxed seating to come.
Though I ought to know better, I'm still surprised by the level of investment in the venue. To be fair, though, it's simply a microcosm of what's going on all over the state. My crew was coming in hot from the Yarmouth Clam Festival, and, in a shocking twist, my brothers and I didn't overdo it on parade night [this recap's editor, @FunkyCFunkyDo, always advises to not underdo it. -Ed.]. Suffice it to say, there was blood in the water, and a real tooth chipper of a good time felt like it was in the bag.
For those of you consuming the world 140 characters at a time, I'm gonna make this real easy on you:
Bathroom lines: A- (though my wife says the women’s rooms devolved to a C by the end of the night, despite the effort from the staff)
Must-hears: "Free," "Reba," "Antelope," and the second set.
For those of you who are more interested in a Torchbearer experience, follow me, It's down there somewhere, let me take another look. Hells'd if I know the exact time they took the stage, but it was circa 7:30 on a glorious summer evening. In the moments before the band took stage we had a bit of a Funny Farm “cue-the-deer” moment when a mature bald eagle soared up from the Penobscot River, poised, tipped her wings, and swooped back down over the river. A roar came up from the crowd, and the “Free” opener to follow seemed to take on a double meaning. I can't say I've ever seen a baldy up close at a Phish show, and the fact that so many of us noticed it in a split second was pretty neat. Earlier in the day I was talking to a good friend about the Coney Island “Free” from 2004, which we were both present for, and probably constitutes the high water mark for the song in my mind. Four minutes into this version and I'm struck by so many things, most notably how accomplished the band is in 4.0.
It's a level of mastery, from all four of them, that is the culmination of almost forty years of doing what they do. What I hear in their sound today is a fullness - a richness of layering and command that is truly awe-inspiring. The projection from the stage is just that astounding. Of course I pine for some of the old days, but I wouldn't go back, even if I could. Phish today is so evolved, and the ease and haste with which the band can transport us all back to a moment like we had on Coney Island – and even take us beyond – is something to behold. This “Free” is eminently listenable, with a plucky Trey peppering all those notes we know and love. Mike's bass notes bob along the backbeat and Page's work on keys put a bowtie on this one. Ten minutes in, and I must say, things are going well.
The segue into “I've Never Needed You Like This Before,” honestly, was not where I hoped things would go next, and, for me, that was a trend that would continue through “555”>”Possum,” “No Men in No Man's Land”>”Ocelot.” I get no joy out of writing that, but when you've got a one-year old and a four-year old at home, and this is your only show of the summer, time is of the essence. I mean, make no mistake here, I was head-bobbin', toe-tappin', finger-snappin', skibbideebooboppin' along with everyone else, it's just that I was also doing a bit of clock-peeping for the sake of my wishlist. Both of my brothers feared I was going cranky pants for a minute there. Still, the “INNYLTB” pairs well with “Free,” and the staccato build from Trey is finger lickin' good. “555” does “555,” a well-played if unremarkable version, absent the stretched out droning that seems to typify the better versions of the song. Mike's vocals impressed though, and the segue into the saber rattling opening of “Possum” pulled me in. Trey seemingly works every fret as “Possum” builds to a trip down nostalgia road.
“NMINML” is a fastball, no doubt, and the band's energy and command in this one shines. Page and Trey follow and nudge one another around through the end frame as Fishman steps it up in the bass-snare pocket with tasteful splashes on the cymbals. “Ocelot” was, again, not what I was hoping for, and I'll concede to doing a bit of existential work toeing pebbles, looking around and wondering if this show was in fact getting away from me. Imagine my elation when Trey throws the opening notes of “Reba.” Given the songs complexity, and the utter dedication it must take to execute it well, the fact that they go for it just makes my heart glow. I think I caught a “Reba” at the first 5 or 6 shows I went to, and for a time I thought it was a given. For me, the song is inseparable from Phish, and to catch it live is a gift. The composed section of the song, with Trey and Page's cat-and-mouse, is done well. The sole flub from Trey casts the tempo off for a brief moment, but Trey rights things quickly and Fishman sticks the drum rolls that prelude the jam to follow. This jam, while on the concise end, still pushes all my bliss buttons, and soars. While not drawn out by any means, this crisp version is worth the listen.
“Axilla (Part II)” starts as the headbanger we'd all expect it to be, but the darker second half of the frame is pure glory. When I was seeing Phish in my teens, the band could literally scare the shit out of me at times (think cutting the stage lights out mid “Wolfman's Brother” on 11/30/97 kinda thing). The psychedelic moments, especially in these darker spaces, have been an acquired taste for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last minutes of this “Axilla (Part II).”
“Antelope” is a fuckin' banger, straight-up, and in this version, the first in Maine since 2013's absolute scorcher, the boys seemed determined to get back to familiar territory with a crescendo that releases just about perfectly into Fishman's toms and Page's organ. Phew! It was a hell of a way to cap off Set I, and seemed to recalibrate what would be possible in Set II.
Set II began with a bit of a surprise, although in terms of the newer material, “Sigma Oasis” has become a bit of a crowd pleaser. At about the 8-minute mark things take a turn and head for deeper water. Space abounds with heavy lobs from Mike and languid notes from Trey. For a second I thought this is where the band was set to make its mark for the evening, but the airy vibe comes to a close as Mike's bass takes the lead and springs to life with the initial bass drop of “Down with Disease.”
If you've been in the game for any amount of time then I'm sure you also have a pile of second set “DWD” trophies that you could dust off and talk shop about. Given that the “DWD” from 6/25/19 was probably the highlight of that show, I was somewhat miffed by the choice to revisit it again here and now, but boy are we glad that they did! Once we were beyond the initial structure of the song, Trey set the gate alongside the rhythm section, which quickly progressed with some glorious fills from Fishman. Not long after, Trey pressed what I refer to as the brain-tickle pedal - firing lasers right over our heads in the pit to crash into the stands and lawn above. Nine minutes in is just boogie town as a build mounts on the horizon and Trey settles on a theme that drives through the 15-minute mark.
The critical point of this must-hear “DWD” is at 17 minutes in. A discerning viewer at home also noticed Mike looked over to see if it was time to pull the plug, and Trey was a hard no. I saw it too, that moment when a ripcord could be a very real possibility. And there it is folks – the patience, commitment, wisdom, and mastery of this band to just keep 'er going. Only Phish, our band, can do this. What comes next is another build of Trey's overarching power amongst Page's organ, Mike's small meatballs, and a gloriously percussive racket from Fishman across the whole kit, with a clinic on cymbal splashes on the side. Things cool off into a 'woo' moment, but even that is short-lived. Another build is quick on its heels and leads to a blistering rock out before a minor flub from Trey seems to precipitate a return to the song's chorus. Look, I can go on and on here, but the reality is that this “DWD” is a journey, and it's yours to be had. Being present can be a full-time job, and looking around at my brethren in attendance, that is exactly what I saw. The crowd was as present as the band, perhaps because it knows just how fleeting this moment, even 30 minutes in, truly is.
At this point in the show I was utterly satiated, and the transition into “What's the Use?” hit me like a brick of love. I adore this song, from its opening groans to those spaced out delicate notes that engender nostalgia, humility, and something I can only explain as a deep sense of everything being right in the world in front of me. Hand in hand with my wife, swaying in a warm summer night's breeze amongst a crowd of good, kind people. What's the use, indeed. Just let it wrap you up and pull you into a transcendence that many of us will count on to get us through another year of clinical FOMO-ing on not seeing enough of our favorite band.
At the opening of “Fluffhead” my You-gotta-be-shitting-me meter really went off. This coveted track is definitive Phish, and as with the other compositional tracks of the night, this one is also definitively played. For a band made up of members in their late 50's, at the end of a three night run to open summer tour proper, I gotta say, it's just something to marvel at – Life is just a bundle of joy! “Twist” is another one of my favorite tracks, so by this point things just felt like more gravy on top of gravy. The segue out of a vigorous but concise “Twist” and back into “Sigma Oasis” to button up the second set felt like another example of the band's aplomb at work.
I'll venture to guess that there wasn't a damn soul in the crowd that was expecting a “Roses Are Free” in any encore slot, but this playful ditty did well to bring the band and fans together for one last feel good moment to raucously sing along. Perhaps to best honor what was an excellent show, “First Tube” is one last rocker, another punch in the mouth to solidify that our band kicks ass.
I hope that your time in Maine – even beyond the show – has been good to you. We bolted home in the morning to squeeze the most out of Clam Fest before she shut down. When a local cover band in the tent on Main Street opened up with “Quinn the Eskimo” and moved into “Roses Are Free,” I noticed I wasn't the only one in the crowd letting out a knowing chuckle. As we watched our son dance along with us, I know for certain my wife and I had the same exact thought – maybe he'll be at the next Bangor show with us.
The start to this tour has been three validating nights of music from Phish, and we all know that the best is yet to come. Take good care everyone. Be safe and best of luck with the rest of the summer tour and Dick's and beyond. I'll have a finger on the pulse, but I'll look to you to carry the torch and to honor our band in person.
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