21 in 21 of 2018: #6 07/24/2018 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA (Matt Burnham, @therealburnham)
I’ve never been to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium but I hear it’s nice. By all accounts a small venue (~8500 people) and completely general admission sounds like a pretty good time. And if you found yourself at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Tuesday July 24th in 2018, I bet you had yourself a pretty dang good time. After all, you’re reading this so you must have at least a passing interest in Phish. And the band played a pretty good show that night. And, specifically, a very damn good suite of songs early in Set 2.
Coming out of a pretty typical “Moma Dance” (in terms of style but not placement; it was the first set 2 opening Moma since 2009), a familiar drum riff kicks off and we find ourselves in a liquidy “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” A gem from the 2.0 years and this one in particular is very good. This version would make the “Top 10 All-Time” list for sure on its jam chart. Phish song lyrics are usually a bit of a mixed bag but I really do love the lyrics from the 2.0 years. I think that the band was in a weird place (ya think?) and there’s a bit more honesty involved as a result. And when I hear ‘I prayed a prayer into the tide,’ I think that’s a really cool line, but all I can think of is Gob throwing the letter into the ocean and it makes me chuckle inside.
Anyhow, this version gets in a groove not unlike anything we haven’t heard before, but that doesn’t make it bad. It takes a while to get where it wants to get to which is appreciated. At eight minutes in, you can hear the point where the song inflects into a jam. Some nights, a long fade would occur and lead into “Ghost” or another song but here, they just keep moving through. There is some absolutely beautiful playing at around 10:15-11:15 where everything is clicking.
Once the requisite peak and fade out occurs (along with, if we’re being honest, a clumsy drop back into the lyrics), the best song from 3.0 — “Mercury” — starts up.
This version seems to have more patience than others. It’s not slow, but it’s methodical. It’s enveloping. It’s malleable. In some ways, it’s similar to the previous song with a lot of whale calls.
The back six minutes of “Mercury” might be the highlight of the entire show. The ambience in this time would fit in right at Big Cypress at 3 AM. And it’s beautiful. Eventually, a distortion builds and becomes slightly dissonant and that leads into “Carini.”
The typical 1.0 gem that it is, it gets the crowd amped (LOUD on the AUD!). Immediately after the lyrics end, we’re in a clavinet groove. Mike has a really cool segment at about 4:50 where the band plays support as he plays some great leads. And the whole thing is pretty danceable.
The groove continues to push along the outer edge to grow and ooze forward until about eight minutes when Trey moves in a new direction. He decides it’s been too long since we’ve had a bliss jam. Unfortunately, this means Mike needs to take the tone into a new space and before 10 minutes, we’re fully in a new module in the song. The last few years have been littered with ‘bliss” (at least in terms of Phish, outside of the band I think bliss is a bit harder to come by). So while the peak building isn’t novel, it’s still pretty damn good. And, to be fair, the peak is huge. And moves into “Maze” of all places afterwards.
I enjoyed this stretch of songs because it was a blend of old and new with songs from all three ‘eras’ which were all standout versions. Maybe not transcendental all-timers, but not everything can be. And not everything needs to be. There’s something to be said for the steady routine of expectations being met and eclipsed. And although no one likes to say so, we all have expectations when we go to see our favorite bands (or go about anything in our lives). I think the third quarter of this 7/24/18 would have definitely exceeded my expectations.
And more so, I would have liked to have been there at this show. It would have been I think my 23rd. I’d have to look that up. Now, that’s not a lot compared to some people that are in their 100s and even higher. But this would have been a fine show to have be my 23rd (or 24th or 22nd, whichever number it is). And if it had been a show I attended, I’m sure I would have been pretty happy listening to these songs in the moment and gushed about them online only to push them into my memory as a date to recall and call it done. Pulling a number out of my head, my fifteenth show was at SPAC on July 6, 2013. That was a fun show. I wrote about it for this site way back in 2014 (I’ve been doing these for a while!). That “Melt” and “Carini” are still fun versions. But I haven’t listened to them in ages.
I think as we get older the shows are, to pass a cliche along, more about the friends you make along the way. To quote Robert Hunter, “All the years combine, they melt into a dream” and not one of us is getting younger. The music and the concert are why we get together (and by God, they are really fun times!) but the stories and the experience are what we take away. Those are expectations as well.
So I guess this is really building to a point where I say that it sucks that Curveball was cancelled. I was going to go to that festival and the timing worked out well and my parents were going to watch my kid and I had a car and a caravan and friends I hadn’t seen in years lined up and everything was going to be perfect. Until it wasn’t perfect anymore. I had the joy of sending the text to that same caravan of friends saying “Ummm…guys?” with a link to a story that no one had wanted to read. And that time, in that moment, in that backdrop was stolen from everyone. Was it the end of the world? No, of course not. And was it the band’s fault? No to that, too. (Just look at the Woodstock 50 debacle at WGI currently unfolding.) But does that make it any easier to accept it in the moment? That’s a ‘No’ as well. Even if the weekend was salvaged by doing something else, no one’s expectations were met.
So to escape this maudlin tailspin, what else can you do but pick yourself up and keep moving forward? The band has certainly recovered from the cancellation. They had a great fall tour in 2018 highlighted with an insane Halloween show. A fun and bust-out-centric New Year’s Run. The best Mexico dates yet! There is reason for hope. I find that hope is what carries us forward. I hope I get to see the band if the rumored fall dates in Texas come through. I hope that I get to see all of you soon. And I hope I never have to go back to Watkins Glen.
My name is Matt and I live in Austin, TX with my wife, two kids, and two dogs. One of which is named Possum which is kind of a weird name for a dog especially because the Possum in the song gets hit by a car which is decidedly not what you want for a dog but the name stuck. There are no shows on the immediate radar for me but I think there is a rumor of fall dates in Texas and as long as they don’t Grand Prairie 2016 us, it’ll be a great time. You can find me talking Phish, movies, and generally being very positive about things at @therealburnham and silently judging your tease submissions and doing song history revisions at phish.net.