With the cancellation of camping at Dick’s 2019, and an initial announcement that vending would not be allowed, there was uncertainty about whether the Dick’s lots would live up to their reputation as some of the finest in the land. While there was no official “Shakedown Alley,” there were plenty of people peddling their wares on the first night. Unsurprisingly, that meant there was a solid flea market popping off by night two.
We drove to the venue about 4 PM and entered the parking lots with zero delays. We parked the car and hit the pavement to sling some of my hand-painted sunglasses (shameless plug for Instagram @nice_shades). There was much more of a central Shakedown area, but still nothing like previous years, so we roamed around instead of posting up. We managed to stop by the phish.net “Official Meat-Up” hosted by @DaleCooper just in time to hug some friends and get in the group pic. My girlfriend Esther (who went to her first show Friday) was not going to be in the picture but at the last minute she was joyously invited to partake by a bunch of people she’d just met. We even said her name as we took the pic. Welcome to the family, babe.
As the sun faded into the mountains in the West, there was something electric in the air. After a couple hours of sweating bullets, and tired of chasing shade, we decided to head into the venue about 6:30. It had been a hot day with highs in the triple digits by some accounts, and sometimes that is enough to drain the energy from the crowd, if not the band as well. This was not to be one of those nights.
We made our way to the floor and found our crew in a fantastic spot, about fifty feet directly in front of Mike, which is just where you wanna be if you like feeling his bass reverberate through your sternum. As the crowd filled in around us, there seemed to be a collective energy not normally present at outdoor shows. The anticipation was high - after the massive “Everything’s Right” > ”Mercury” from the first night, what would be in store?
“The Moma Dance” got things started on a funky note and the crowd was grooving right off the bat. While it may not have been an extended Moma, it featured some fantastic interplay between Trey and Page over a chunky pocket held down by Fish and Mike. “The Final Hurrah” followed as the only Kasvot Vaxt song of the evening, and was followed by a short but tight “Gumbo.” “Access Me” came next as the bust out of the evening (last played 7/1/12, 275 shows), and introduced a reggae vibe that would keep showing up throughout the night. Up next was “Funky Bitch,” which was another short but tight rendition, along the lines of the “Moma” and the “Gumbo” that had preceded it.
“Ghost” followed and provided us our first foray into "Type II" Phish. It only took about 4 minutes before the band was fully locked into a pocket - murky, textural, and exploratory. More inspired playing from Trey, who seemed to be trying to elevate the jam into the bliss zone we’ve become quite familiar with in recent years. But Mike said no, and kept driving back into the darkness, keeping the rock rolling. Terrifying Phish is some of my favorite Phish, and moments of this jam were just that - terrifying. Eerie synths from Page shrieking over distorted shredding by Trey created a truly magnificent soundscape.
“Tube” came next and contained a more straightforward rock groove than the traditional funk we’ve come to expect, but was very well played. A gorgeous rendition of “Mountains in the Mist” provided us a little breathing room before “Drift While You’re Sleeping” arrived to close the set as the only Ghosts of the Forest song of the evening, and introduced some more reggae vibes.
The second set started with a traditional “Mike’s Song” > ”I Am Hydrogen” > ”Weekapaug Groove” that was most excellent. The “Mike’s” was short but intense, with Trey driving the ship through raging waters. When the closing chords arose out of the mayhem, I turned to a buddy and said how much I’d appreciate an “I Am Hydrogen” in its traditional spot in the Groove. Sure enough, they delivered the goods, and this “Hydrogen” was absolutely sublime. I turned to Esther and said “If you thought ‘What’s The Use?’ was beautiful, just wait.” The soaring beauty of Trey and Page’s intertwining melodies nearly brought her to tears. I think it’s safe to say she gets IT.
“Weekapaug” came riding in on the heels of “H2” like Mario when he eats the star of invincibility. Page and Trey both peppered us with soaring licks that felt like running on clouds. About seven and a half minutes in the jam devolved into a slinky rhythmic space with Fishman holding the groove on the woodblocks. Page and Trey started filling in plinko style and a psychedelic stew was formed. I don’t think anyone would’ve minded if that had continued, but I also don’t think anyone was complaining as they dropped seamlessly into “46 Days”. And as has been the case lately, this “46 Days” absolutely crushed. Heavy, funky, dark, and brooding. Rock. And. Roll.
I was thinking we might get a set of older Phish, which has become a rarity these days, but my dreams were dashed when Trey launched into “Set Your Soul Free.” While far from my favorite of the newer songs, “SYSF” continues to deliver hearty jams, and this version is no exception. Right out of the gates, Mike and Trey started painting an eerie landscape, perfectly befitting Page’s detuned Rhodes.
An unusually late in the show “Down With Disease” followed and was a truly driven jam. Once again, it seemed that Trey would be reaching for bliss and Mike would keep the groove crunchy. It’s not that I don’t like major jams, it’s that they’re plentiful in 2019 Phish, and this minor “DWD” jam was exactly what the doctor ordered. Another buttery smooth segue into “NICU” brought back the reggae and got the crowd boogieing again, if only for a minute.
“Bug” was the next selection, and by far the weakest song of the evening. I’ve never been a fan of “Bug”, but this version truly felt deflating. I had to turn my fun meter down from red to mid-yellow. It didn’t stay there for long though, as “The Wedge” came next and gave the crowd some self-referential lyrics to cheer to. (“Take the highway to the great divide!”)
“Slave to the Traffic Light” arrived in its traditional slot to close the 2nd frame. In my mind, “Slave” is quintessential Phish, and the perfect closer. It’s got dark brooding rock, a glorious melodious build (which didn’t stop the guy next to me from blowing his top, MSG Hood Guy style), and one of the most soaring, cathartic releases in their catalog. As the band took their bow, there were nothing but smiles across the faces of the crowd. A relatively rare “Brian and Robert” started the encore and was followed by the much bemoaned and predictable show closer “Character Zero”.
In the end this show demonstrated exactly what Phish is capable of in 2019 - they can be dark and mysterious and psychedelic and transition seamlessly into arena rock on a dime. They can blend newer songs and older in the same set naturally, and use them to create new dynamics. They are confident, capable, and committed to their craft. They move through stormy weather, and love will carry them through.
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