, attached to 2018-07-21

Review by DevinB

DevinB I must admit that the ratings on this site are sometimes a complete mystery to me. To wit, I am perplexed at how Friday night's show received a higher rating than this one. Having been at both, I can't claim any sort of bias either way, so I am surprised that my experience (and, incidentally, the experience of just about everyone I have spoken to at The Gorge this weekend) seems to contradict what people are saying here.

First, let's get something out of the way: there are a lot of slow songs in the second set of this show. Yes, some may suggest they killed its momentum, but that's ok. After all, variety is the spice of life. These ballads were beautifully performed and bookended by some truly spectacular jams and high-energy material that more than made up for any dips in momentum. More on that in a moment.

In contrast to Friday night's loose, jammy first set, Phish delivered a more streamlined take on the first frame this time around, featuring a great one-two Party Time/Punch opener, a 'classic' Mike's Groove sans the second jam, a strong reading of It's Ice, and a fabulous sunset Divided Sky for the ages. It also featured the debut of Infinite, which appears to have some jam potential and could be a great addition to their catalog.

Now, about that second set...

No, they didn't drop another exploratory 24-minute jam a la the previous night's Chalk Dust. But does that matter? Hear me out: for as exploratory as Friday night's show was, it seemed to lack focus and discernable peaks. Most nights, I will take a 24-minute ANYTHING, but I will be the first to admit that you could have easily trimmed five or six minutes off that jam and it would have actually been more focused and cohesive. And, occasionally, those bold experiments don't pay off -- see Light from the same show as an example -- so you're left with a lot of aimless, directionless noodling that never establishes interesting themes or reaches the transcendent highs we all know this band is capable of reaching. By contrast, the first two songs of this show's second set, while not as long or as exploratory, featured some incredibly cohesive playing from the band, focusing on dark, melodic passages characteristic of last summer's Baker's Dozen run. I would urge anybody focusing so intently on a handful of six-minute ballads to go back and listen to the peak of this Tweezer or the inspired mechanical soundscape late in Golden Age as a reminder that this second set was more than just Farmhouse and Velvet Sea. Ditto for the thrilling, energetic Piper.

And, frankly, it's difficult for me to understand how someone could complain about a set that starts with a powerful Tweezer and ends with Antelope (even a by-the-numbers Antelope like the one in this show), effectively ignoring just how well those two songs frame a set. A great sandwich starts with the bread. In this case, we had at least one familiar ingredient in between (Piper) but also had some lighter fare that helped elevate its taste profile. I will be the first to call the band on their momentum-killimg moments, but I didn't feel that way about the ballads in this set. Farmhouse seems to be a nod to the remoteness of the Gorge, Caspian featured a truly serendipitous moment of powerful sustained wind right as the solo reached it's climax (sorry, webcasters -- nature really came through for those of us in attendance!), and Velvet Sea was... well, it wasn't the worst Velvet Sea ever.

Sure, I understand that most of us don't associate these songs with strong second sets, but they have an emotional resonance that matches the natural beauty of The Gorge and delivers a different kind of Phish experience to those willing to open themselves up to it. Last night's show was expertly performed and riddled with highlights. It felt tight, focused, and emotionally rich. Even as someone who considers myself more of a jam guy than a song guy, I'm having a difficult time finding faults in this show. It was a wonderful and memorable experience, proving that this band is equally adept at playing clean and tight as they are at playing fast and loose. Can't wait to see what they have in store for Night 3!


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