An Instant Classic: Phish Closes Summer Tour At Alpine Valley On This Date In 2019

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Click Here To Watch Phish’s Alpine Valley July 14, 2019 Livestream Replay

Today, July 14 was originally the date Phish‘s Summer Tour 2020 was supposed to begin in Eugene, Oregon. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic forced the tour's postponement until summer 2021. July 14 also marks the one year anniversary of the final concert of Phish’s Summer Tour 2019, which was the third show of a three-night stand at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin. The “instant classic” performance will be streamed tonight for Phish’s ongoing Dinner And A Movie archival replay series.

Phish’s July 14, 2019 concert was undeniably special. And while there is no such thing as a “perfect” Phish show, there is also no sense trying to get a consensus among Phish fans as to what constitutes a “perfect” show.

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For me, there are three main components to Phish concerts that have kept me coming back for over a quarter-century: jamming, song selection (particularly rarely played tunes) and the humorous antics that can occur from the stage.

One year ago tonight at Alpine Valley, Phish played as close to a “perfect” show as I have been lucky enough to witness in person. I’m not saying every note of the tour closer was flawlessly executed or that I wouldn’t slightly tweak the setlist or that it was even the best (however you wish to define that) performance by the band.

But walking back to the Lodge after the encore that night it was easy to check off three essential boxes:

Jamming: Check.

Song Selection/Rarities: Check.

Humorous Antics: Check.

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If improvisation is your reason for seeing Phish, the second set’s 38-minute “Ruby Waves” was a master display of jamming. Here’s how JamBase’s Scott Bernstein described the gem of a jam immediately after it happened:

Clocking in at 38 minutes, the Ghosts Of The Forest jam vehicle featured seven distinct and outstanding explorations. Phish slickly alternated between keys and between Trey-led sections and egalitarian affairs. By the 15-minute mark it became clear the Alpine ‘Ruby Waves’ was the best jam of the year thanks to Trey’s (guitarist Trey Anastasio) assertiveness, Page’s (keyboardist Page McConnell) usage of nearly every instrument in his rig, Fish’s (drummer Jon Fishman) half-time groove and Mike’s (bassist Mike Gordon) steady anchoring. Fish provided a reggae beat around the 20-minute mark that led to a nasty evil segment that itself was longer than any other jam of the past week. The drummer picked up the pace and his mates followed along and built to an impressive peak. There was nary a wasted minute in the action-packed “Ruby Waves” that was among the longest jams in Phish history and longest of the era.

Dispelling the notion of immediacy bias, here’s the Phish.net description of “Ruby Waves”:

An unflagging improvisational behemoth that moves from moody rocking out to a low-simmering groove to a propulsive Trey-led anthemic rush to swampy blissfulness to reggae (!) to motorized power riffing with a thrilling peak to ambient space to a surprising and welcome effects-laden gallop into the unknown to a breathless and ferocious finale (and second ambient deep space segment, for good measure) with neither muss nor fuss. The longest modern era jam and seventh-longest ever to date, and not a second wasted on top. Listening to this masterpiece is non-negotiable.

[Ruby Waves]

If that’s not enough, for a full-on, deep-dive into the Alpine “Ruby Waves,” follow this link to Mike Hamad's extensive breakdown and “Setlist Schematic” artistic rendering of the improvisation.

For some, jamming is not the most important component of a show. In some cases, what is played matters just as much as how it is played.

The fact that Alpine 3 was the final night of the tour made it feel like a Game 7: win or go home, leave it all on the field — or stage. The way the band “emptied the bench” by giving rarely played songs floortime, instantly set the tone that it was to be a special night. My wife was with me and she has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek standing choice of “The Landlady” whenever asked to call the opener, and we went wild when that indeed started off the show.

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The Phish.net notes section for this show’s setlist perhaps again states it best: “This show featured several bust outs: ‘The Landlady’ (first since July 10, 2016, or 122 shows), ‘Olivia’s Pool’ (November 17, 1997, or 692 shows), ‘The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday’ and ‘Avenu Malkenu’ (August 21, 2015, or 147 shows), ‘Strange Design’ (July 8, 2016, or 124 shows), ‘Icculus’ (December 31, 2013, or 210 shows), and ‘Catapult’ (July 27, 2014, or 191 shows).”

Beyond those “bust outs” were additional tour debuts of “Vultures,” “Spock’s Brain,” “Glide,” “Swept Away,” “Steep,” “Buffalo Bill” and Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.” Both sets contained rarities and unexpected song selections that satiated the statistics-driven #geekery fans and those chasing atypical experiences.

[Icculus | Captured by shinepigeon]

As noted above, among the second set rarities was “Icculus” as Trey brought Gamehendge to rural Wisconsin. A year later, it’s hard to hear Trey’s silly “drooling” narration and not think back to a safer time given our current masks-filled environment. Reading “Icculus” wasn’t the only smiler-inducer in set two as Trey prompted a wedding proposal by playing “Contact” at the request of would-be newlyweds he met in a hotel lobby.

Another indicator that the band was having as much fun as the audience was a brief attempt at “Icculus Reprise,” which came before the set-closing “You Enjoy Myself” that contained the “Catapult” bust out and requested “Contact” played within.

After the show, there was a feeling of celebration unlike after any other show I’ve been to. High fives were everywhere, accompanied by hugs, it was euphoria like we had won the championship. All that was missing was bottles of spraying champagne — but honestly, that was probably for the best.

The post-show hang back at the Lodge had a glow about it that lasted until the sun started hitting the ski hill. We left feeling fulfilled, knowing we could ride the “Ruby Waves” from Alpine all the way to Dick’s a few weeks later.

The Skinny

The Setlist

The Venue

Alpine Valley Music Theatre [See upcoming shows]

37000

19 shows — 08/10/1996, 08/09/1997, 08/01/1998, 07/24/1999, 07/08/2000, 07/18/2003, 07/19/2003, 06/25/2004, 06/26/2004, 06/20/2009, 06/21/2009, 08/14/2010, 08/15/2010, 06/30/2012, 07/01/2012, 08/08/2015, 08/09/2015, 07/12/2019, 07/13/2019

The Music

14 songs / 7:43 pm to 9:05 pm (82 minutes)

13 songs / 9:39 pm to 11:37 pm (118 minutes)

27 songs / 24 originals / 3 covers

1996

70.17 [Gap chart]

N/A

The Landlady, Olivia's Pool, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Avenu Malkenu, Vultures, Spock's Brain, Glide, Strange Design, Good Times Bad Times, Swept Away, Steep, Icculus, Buffalo Bill, Catapult

Olivia's Pool - 692 Shows (LTP -11/17/1997)

Ruby Waves -- 38:08

Swept Away -- 1:01

Junta - 2, A Picture of Nectar - 4, Billy Breathes - 2, Farmhouse - 1, Round Room - 1, Big Boat - 1, Misc. - 13, Covers - 3

The Rest

76° and Sunny at showtime

KOA 1 (Except Blonde 2 for Pebbles & Marbles)

Capacity: 37,000

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