Phish returned to one of the nation’s most scenic venues on Friday night for their first of three performances at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. Travel was tough for some fans as wildfires led to closures on I-90 but hopefully all was forgotten once the band delivered a concert studded with deep improvisation.
The foursome offered their first debut of the tour to start by opening with “Set Your Soul Free.” Anastasio originally unveiled the peppy rocker with his Trey Anastasio Band outfit on October 27, 2017. Phish’s version featured a brief but fruitful jam highlighted by keyboardist Page McConnell’s dynamic electric and grand piano work. Drummer Jon Fishman drove the “Wolfman’s Brother” that followed thanks to ample use of cowbell. The quartet then played to the majesty of the venue during a particularly beautiful “Roggae” that saw Anastasio expertly shred through his solo with a look of delight and wonderment on his face. Bassist Mike Gordon next had his first turn to take lead vocals on the A Picture Of Nectar bluegrass ditty “Poor Heart.”
Early on it became clear something was different, in a good way, with guitarist Trey Anastasio’s tone from what was heard at the tour opening run in Tahoe. Ryan Chiachiere of Trey’s Guitar Rig took time to explain how a change in tubes and guitar greatly affected Anastasio’s sound.
Anastasio took a spirited and playful approach to “Undermind” which saw the guitarist show off his different tone with punchy leads while McConnell focused on chunky Clavinet rhythms. Phish then dove into a “Simple” that ushered in the first deep improvisation of the evening. Trey pushed a move into a dark minor-key jam space with impressive results as the band connected to build to one of the most powerful peaks of the tour through that point. A breezy “Ya Mar” came next and featured shouts of “Play it Leo!” and “Play it Cactus!” from the guitarist leading to solos from McConnell and Gordon respectively. One more soaring climax was in store for the standout first set courtesy of the “Sand” closer.
Phish initiated the second set with “Chalk Dust Torture” and wasted little time breaking through the song’s normal structure. A Pink Floyd-esque jam section saw McConnell hop on electric piano and Anastasio utilize an envelope filter effect while Gordon and Fishman held down the beat. The guitarist went on to trigger a transition into a pretty major-key motif and his band mates quickly picked up what he was laying down. Page settled in on a heavenly riff reminiscent of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica.” Trey then asserted gorgeous leads of his own making for a truly transcendent piece of improvisation especially once Phish brought the jam to a frothy peak. A more spacey segment followed as the instant classic “Chalk Dust” passed the 20 minute mark. Eventually “My Friend, My Friend” emerged.
The foursome kept the set rolling with a nasty “Fuego” that went outside the lines for a few delicious minutes before fading into “Sparkle.” An unusually placed “Halley’s Comet” was the first played in a second set since August 22, 2015. Trey put extra emotion of his vocal delivery of the last few lines but otherwise “Halley’s” was a straightforward affair. “Light” emerged next and yielded yet another experimental jam. The improv was all over the place and surprisingly once Phish settled in on a direction the quartet brought the music to a halt. “Waste” then filled the ballad slot. An energetic run through The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” ended the second set.
Considering a change in tubes was responsible for Trey’s different tone, it’s fitting “Tube” started the encore. The Vermonters uncorked a short but sweet version of the song and “Golgi Apparatus” to end the night. Phish returns to The Gorge on Saturday. A webcast is available via LivePhish.com.
The Gorge [See upcoming shows]
16 shows — 08/02/1997, 08/03/1997, 07/16/1998, 07/17/1998, 09/10/1999, 09/11/1999, 07/12/2003, 07/13/2003, 08/07/2009, 08/08/2009, 08/05/2011, 08/06/2011, 07/26/2013, 07/27/2013, 07/15/2016, 07/16/2016
8 songs / 8:19 pm to 9:31 pm (72 minutes)
9 songs / 10:06 pm to 11:39 pm (93 minutes)
17 songs / 15 originals / 2 covers
8.76 [Gap chart]
Set Your Soul Free (Anastasio)
Sparkle - 22 Shows (LTP - 07/21/2017)
Chalk Dust Torture - 24:03
Poor Heart - 2:03
Junta - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 2, Rift - 1, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 1, The Story of the Ghost - 1, Farmhouse - 1, Undermind - 1, Joy - 1, Fuego - 1, Misc. - 4, Covers - 2
77° and sunny at showtime