, attached to 2016-07-16

Review by zarathustraz

zarathustraz On paper, this first set probably doesn’t look that impressive, but it is. Each song is played with vigor, and there’s nary a lull to be had, even where you’d expect to find one. It’s one of the strongest, most consistent, first sets of the tour.

Buried Alive is one of the best and most beloved openers in Phish’s catalogue, so things are off to a good start. Phish maintains the energy through the next three songs, AC/DC Bag, Moma Dance, and Uncle Pen. It’s an entirely listenable, entirely danceable sequence, and everyone was getting down. Few bands can seamlessly string together surf music, straightforward rock, some funk, and some bluegrass and keep everyone moving without missing a beat. Phish can, and Phish did. Buried Alive is clean; Bag is enthusiastic and highlighted by a solid solo from Trey; Moma drops perfectly out of Bag and lands into the funk sweet spot where everyone can feel it; and Uncle Pen is another clean delivery with nice work from Mike and some fretboard acrobatics from Trey.

555 might look like the first misstep of the set, but it really didn’t turn out that way. The energy was already high, and 555 was able to carry it a little further. It’s a good song when placed well. The only problem is that it’s a bit too often played, which means it’s frequently not placed well. Fortunately, it worked here, and Trey peeled out a demonic solo with hints of the Carini to come later in the night. If you listen to both solos, you’ll notice a striking resemblance between the two.

Sleep Again was a welcomed choice for the setting sun ballad slot. A gorgeous song with an exceptionally gorgeous Page solo. This was my earworm the next day. I couldn’t get the Sleep Again melody out of my head, and I didn’t really want to. Next is It’s Ice. The composed sections are definitely passable, and the boys treat us to a nice extended jam in the breakdown. I’m happy we’ve returned to an era when a little Ice jam is expected. If this were only a couple years back, this Ice would definitely be on the charts.

After the down and up sequence of Sleep Again and It’s Ice, the boys take us down again for the big bust-out of the night, Driver. We’ll see this up and down pattern in the second set with less benign effects, but it works in the first set, especially when the sandwich includes two relatively rare slow songs interspliced with some Ice and then a little Sand. Sand stays within the sandbox, but it’s always fun playing around in there. The boys build a dazzling castle with a vertiginous precipice before moving on to their next plaything.

Trey hits all his marks in Horn, which makes this Horn a good Horn. Halfway to the Moon is a song with a lot of potential, but is too often played and too often not given the effort it deserves (I’ve seen it 4 times in my last 7 shows). Tonight it was given that effort, and, like the version from 10/17/14 in Eugene, OR, the build up is vibrant and the peak is strong. Halfway to the Moon is another example of where this set could plunk a dud and instead lands a gem.

The first set closes with a climax of epic proportions in the form of Bathtub Gin. This is possibly Trey’s highpoint of the evening. It’s shreddy and super peaky. There isn’t necessarily a lot of interesting phrasing that sticks out along the way, but it’s still impossible not to get caught up in this jam’s uproarious lift-off after uproarious lift-off. The song starts peaking around the 8:30 mark and doesn’t stop ascending for the next three minutes. Definitely worth a listen.

The end of the first set ties up two killer sets in a row at the Gorge, this one and the second set from the night before. It’s no wonder expectations were high for the final set of the weekend.

The second set opens with Blaze On. Blaze On, like Fuego, is one of those promising songs that almost immediately after being premiered entered the pantheon of over-played. It’s not a song I’m excited to hear, especially in the second set. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given a reason to reconsider my position. Blaze On leaves structure only to quickly fizzle out. Over about three minutes, a lot of promising ideas are presented, likely too many, which is maybe why none of them take hold. An attempted jam soon forgotten.

Backwards Down the Number Line follows the aborted jam. This is a song that has really grown on me. I’ve gone from grunts of disappointment at its opening chords, to genuine gleeful hooting. And the rest of the crowd at the Gorge seemed to be of a similar mind because Number Line was very warmly welcomed this evening. But this Number Line doesn’t quite do the trick. Re-listens prove it marred by some significantly placed flubs from Trey (the one during the peak was even apparent during the show). With a song like Number Line, you’re not going to find that much variety between versions; there’s really no reason to go for a flubified one over one better executed.

For re-listen value, the second set really gets underway with Carini. The energy during the verses and chorus was absolutely astounding. The true essence of the song is fully palpable. Trey was especially into it and even gave us a second run through the “lumpy head” refrain. The jam stays inside the box, but it’s an explosive box, for sure. Trey tears at his guitar with long, distorted strains, like we heard in 555, but this time with frankenstein intensity. It’s short, but it’s perfect.

Birds of a Feather was the most originally conceived song of the night, which is not something typically said of BOAF. Trey barely touches his guitar while singing the verses, only a few accents here and there. The rest of the guys catch on, and BOAF starts as a kind of minimalist collage, with a little color added here and there by each of the band members. Trey’s solo starts subterranean, just nudging at the earth, and then peaking through, but staying close to the ground, peering through the grass, inching this way and that, surveying, moving from a slither to a crawl to a gallop. By the end, it sounds like the BOAF we’re used to, but how we got there was quite a different adventure, and Trey exhibited some awesome artistry in brining us along.

After a Trey-huddle, the guys slow it down even more from an already relatively slow BOAF. Wingsuit is a beautiful song, and this is actually an exceptional version. There’s about two minutes more than usual in the jam section. You can hear Trey looking for different pockets in the music to explore, but what results isn’t as interesting as the BOAF that preceded. It’s a nice jam, but very chill and very delicate. That could potentially be a bonus, but it matters what they follow Wingsuit up with. Judging by typical Wingsuit placement, I think Trey believes it’s some sort of rocker. Someone should tell him that it’s not. No matter how much he slays at the end, the mellowed out beginning and the still swayable climax don’t quite constitute for an energy boost, which is all to say, Phish should not follow Wingsuit with a ballad. Wingsuit is the ballad. No discussion necessary. And this more chilled out version of Wingsuit is especially a ballad.

But, like I said, I think someone still needs to tell Trey this because they follow Wingsuit with Shade. I heard Shade debuted in Bend in 2015, and I like Shade, but this was absolutely horrible placement for it. If you cut this song out, the entire third quarter of this show would be much better, and I bet the rating would go up significantly. But Shade’s here, casting its shadow, and it sucks all the energy out.

Thankfully, they follow up with a Mike’s Song. They have a lot of ground to make up after the Shade energy-suck, but depending on song selection in this Groove, all could be salvaged. The Mike’s Song is strong, forceful stuff. Dark, menacing, and funkafied. Trey’s Mu-Tron puts in its best work of the night. There’s something about this jam that makes me think of old school Nintendo fighting games. It’s that good.

But once someone turns off the game console and the electricity goes out, we find ourselves quietly in the Farmhouse. Again, I like Farmhouse, but after the Wingsuit>Shade sequence only one song back, Farmhouse seems a quick descent just after we began to rise. (For re-listen value, if you just cut out the Shade, the whole set flows much more smoothly, and Farmhouse’s intrusion isn’t nearly as detrimental). But, Farmhouse is where Trey wanted to be, and, if you listen, you hear why. This solo is just dripping with sweetness and sentiment and sensitivity. It’s one of the better Farmhouses out there. Trey was in a delicate mood this evening, and you can hear it in all the ballads, which is probably why there were so many.

So now back up this rollercoaster with Weekapaug Groove. The jam starts out frenetic and exciting in a Page-led fury. Trey’s echoplex and some slap-happy quickness from Mike add some vibrant texture, but Trey starts feeling delicate again, and he takes the jam into a sweet little grassy valley, where all is well and serene. After gazing about there for a bit, he brings the jam back up and we make it back to a place similar to the one where Page left us. I would like to say this jam has a perfectly coherent valley-like structure to it, but that’s not quite the case. All the parts are awesome, but how they’re placed together, ultimately, feels a little disjointed.

Nonetheless, we were feeling pretty high after the Groove, so Trey has to make sure we relax into the beauty once more with Shine a Light before they close out the set. Shine a Light is Shine a Light. It’s a great song for when you’re in the mood. After the rollercoaster of this set, though, it was hard to know what you were in the mood for. You didn’t want to get too comfortable anywhere…I guess all I really have to say about this song is that I wish Trey would jam out the solo more.

The encore is a nice cohesive chunk of music, which I would give an A+ as far as encores go. It has a little of everything. First, we get the phishy hijinks of HYHU>Love>HYHU. Good for freaking out the noobs, fun for everyone else.

Then we get the community and the glory. If the vacuum solo freaked out the noobs, the Harry Hood definitely astounded them and brought them into the fold. Trey has CK5 kill the lights and the glow-stick wars begin. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, you can’t help but be mesmerized when it reaches this capacity. The build up to this Hood is almost entirely environmental, as the guys more or less let the spectacle sink in before stepping in with the music. On recording, this Hood build up might sound a little short, but, in person, it hit fever pitch right on time.

Then the rocker. They bookend the weekend with a balls to the wall Tweezer Reprise. There are few better ways to end a show or a weekend.


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