The furiously talented Vermont jazz rock quartet Phish dropped into eastern Washington for a weekend at The Gorge Amphitheater. The weather was ideal, and over 25,000 made their way to remote Grant County. Phish at The Gorge is Washington State's number one visiting tourist draw and an overlooked pan-demographic. Our seat neighbors were from Coeur d'Alene, Ashland, and Spokane, and we met and smelled visitors from throughout northern North America. Phish displayed suburb musicianship, delivered a whirling show, and again proved itself to be the best American four-piece rock act.
This is Phish's eighth weekend visit to The Gorge ('97, '98, '99, '03, '09, '11 (review night 1 review night 2), '13 (review), '16) and each has been special. (This is the first presidential election year of Phish at The Gorge. Where was Gary Johnson?) Phish phans and The Gorge have matured together, slightly, but noticeably, over the nineteen years. Many phans have children at the show, and The Gorge now has twelve different ways to pay for parking, including not paying. The moist green organic that your feet tread upon remains the same.
In a world of chaos, Phish was dialed-in, doing its part for world peace from the banks of the Columbia River. Versatile keyboardist Page McConnell was the night's MVP, reminding the music world that no other rock act uses a grand piano like Phish. Coiffed bassist Mike Gordon retains the style award, now with a digital background to chameleonize his purple shirts. Artful drummer Jon Fishman retains the humor award. Untrimmed guitarist Trey Anastasio cannot help but be the talented leader of the band -- he's seen all the shows.
Tweezer: "Look who's in the freezer..." Thundering opener carried by the wind all the way to Mattawa. Reprise immediately pegged for Saturday.
Sample in a Jar: "I shuffle by alert but numb to all the glances and the glares..." CK5's new photo-runing LCD light box backdrops are showing images of Jupiter -- or just look on the south horizon and see Mars.
The Old Home Place: "What have they done to the old home place..." Mike doowops and diddys like he likes to, and it seems appropriate in Grant County.
Wolfman's Brother: "I hear the high pitched cavitation of propellers from afar...." Page and Mr. Anastasio have fun with their interplay bouncing sounds off the canyons. This 2016 Gorge Wolfman's was better than the 1999 Gorge Wolfman's, the 2003 Gorge Wolfman's, and the 2011 Gorge Wolfman's, and about the same excitement level as the 2009 Gorge Wolfman's and the 2013 Gorge Wolfman's, but not quite as good as the 1997 Gorge Wolfman's.
Bouncing Around the Room: "The woman was a dream I had...." Phish management is like the cigarette companies, aiming to hook new users. Phish has spent a generation trying to use Bouncing for this purpose -- you know, for kids. Not sure it's working.
Undermind: "Mystified and misshapen; misinformed but not mistaken...." Page is Korgtastic and sets the bar for what is to come. At least one beauty had this raw 2.0 masterwork on in the car on the way to the show.
Kill Devil Falls: "Reach for a beer, glad that I'm here...." Lyrics are less important to Phish 3.0. Phish does this one playfully, setting the Cool Jerk meme for the night to follow.
Lawn Boy: "I can smell the colors outside on my lawn...." Page takes the microphone and croons -- pure and clean like his parents bought him voice lessons as well as the piano lessons. The band members introduce each other in a nearly-sincere, admiring fashion.
Get Your Ass Handed to You: "Get your ass handed to you every day...." Mr. Anastasio introduces Jon's new diddy as has having the truest lyrics ever written, forgetting Jon also has a band named after him.
Party Time: "Party time!" 25,000 agree, as an ambulance flashes its way down the stage access road.
The Line: "And you step to the line...." Phish tries to be poignant, even though we all know what they really are.
Tide Turns: Mr. Anastasio tries another new set-killing song about a submarine.
Rift: "And silence contagious in moments like these...." Page and Mr. Anastasio continue their mastery of queer-music call and response. This masterpiece was not nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year on its debut twenty-six years ago.
Walls of the Cave: "Look at me, time stands still...." Pip pop splattered all over the walls of the Columbia River caves. Phish 2.0 stands the test of time.
Cross-eyed and Painless: "Still waiting...." Jon Fishman as David Byrne. Slinky. Set I's submarine song portends the endless sandwich to come.
What's the Use?: Soulful instrumental. If this were a Dead & Company show, people would be crying.
No Men in No Man's Land: "You stand on a rock, suspended in air...." Fast fun. If this is the dad/yacht rock the kids complain about, then count me as a dad into yachting. More Cool Jerk as the Cross-Eyed teasing begins.
Stash: "Was it for this my life I sought? Maybe so maybe not...." Un-unlikeable. All 25,000 are moving with some degree of amazement. Boss bossa nova. Cha-cha-cha. La-de-da. Oh-my-god.
Story of the Ghost: "But this was my big secret...." Thick. Confetti flies. More What's the Use? Another animated, amplified jewel in the desert.
Chalkdust Torture: "And watch what I say as it flutters away...." Mr. Anastasio plucks and strums a strong version of a song he has completely memorized. No Men and Cross-Eyed return.
Meatstick: "Do, do atamaga shock...." Phish knows phans are in the audience from Japan. Would the Rolling Stones do a silly song like this?
2001: Huge. Precise. Complex. Not over too quickly. Slathered with No Men and Cross-Eyed mustard. Every Live Nation usher is dancing.
Cavern: "Give the director a serpent deflector...." Plate tectonic closer with a frilly toothpick. More What's the Use? All the loops are closed except Tweezer. With age (and perfect weather) comes wisdom, and more phans have taken care of their shoes.
Makisupa Policeman: "Woke up this morning, I really like this song...." No need for the rasta to be paranoid in Washington state. You're welcome.
Wilson: "Can you still have fun...." Like Pearl Jam, Phish is occasionally political.
Good Times Bad Times: "But you still don't seem to care...." Can you imagine Mike Gordon auditioning for Led Zeppelin?
See you tonight at the Gorge!