2015 summer tour arrived both later than usual and all of a sudden. We barely had time to process the build up and triumph of Fare Thee Well (at least as a live experience) when we were 2 weeks from go time. And there was much to be excited about!
Word of mysterious new material from a writing session on the North Carolina Outer Banks spread. June saw a well-regarded Mike Gordon Band tour. Spawning thousands of sarcastic tweets, Trey talked about practicing guitar again. Even the return of Touchpants (okay, maybe not that one). And of course Big Red saving Fare Thee Well with his energetic lead guitar work after a timely pep talk by Bill Walton. And the most exciting question of all – would the Mu-Tron pedal find a permanent home among Trey’s effects?
I was bullish on Phish Tour 2015, but after dropping a significant percentage of my life savings on FTW, I wasn’t sure I could make the trip to Bend for the opener. Luckily, my friends were going and this is Phish – damn the rational justifications. I was in, and traveling with a renewed sense of optimism/entitlement.
Just saying this is my third tour opener, and the other ones were fall 97 & fall 13. Might be another magical one
— Eric Calhoun (@emc2birds1stone) July 22, 2015
Yep, you’re welcome.
The venue was an adorable GA amphitheater, all grass except a concrete floor designating a pit area. Hippies too broke or too cool to buy tickets assembled a floatilla of rafts and inflatable mattresses on the bend in the river wrapping around the venue. We grabbed some turf behind the soundboard on a little hill, preferring dance space on grass. In Oregon I guess we’d be on grass either way. Anyways, my people are mostly short and don’t like being up front. The only venue negative was a ridiculously early curfew that kicked off the show still in the afternoon heat and daylight lingering until deep in the 2nd set. A different atmosphere for sure, but more welcome with opening day jitters. Let’s get this show on the road!
First set was… good to have Phish back, says Mr. Positive! “Sand” in the second slot makes a nice statement of intent. Trey gets lost during his Horn solo and I mentally pinch his cheeks, give him a participation trophy, and tell him to get back out there, slugger. We get the auspicious debut of “Blaze On.” Second set starts with a “Ghost” that makes you feel kinda bad that the bar is so high on “Ghost” jams that this will never be remembered. We get a “Mike’s” with the odd filler of “The Wedge,” “Fuego,” and the scintillating debut of “Shade” (shaddup, great melody!).
And then: what is this funk??? There is suddenly a fiery new groove led by an avalanche of molten clavinet, find some high ground everyone.
You’ll hear more about “No Men In No Man’s Land” later in this series. Paired with “Blaze On” in the previous set, it’s an instantly powerful summation of the current state of Phish: in the groove and moving forward. Broken free, indeed. There is something that appeals to me about the band writing about their own journey, since their journey becomes ours as well. And this private thing they’ve incubated and polished is becoming ours as they roll it out. Heady and meta.
The lyrical section, which I find actually quite good and not just good for Phish winds down, we get a few bars of grooving. Then there is a shift in Trey’s tone we’ve been waiting for, only it isn’t immediately apparent as he’s doing the team player thing, and you have to lean forward to pick it out from the non-stop clavinet. A few riffs leak out, it is the Mu-Tron! Praise Icculus and let the year of Trey Tone begin.
At 4:50 Trey steps steps forward to take his new toy out for a spin.
What’s my journey in life? Hopefully to more dance parties like this! It’s a good solo, not earth shattering, but so fresh. At 7:00, Mike starts powering the jam with some booty-shaking riffs, and we go into a little breakdown with lyrical reprise. It all almost comes to a halt before Fishman drops the “Weekapaug” beat while Page and Trey playful layer the “NMINML” riffs on top before going into the full segue and sharing even more of the groove with the faithful.
By itself this “Weekapaug” is much more of a good omen than a tour highlight but we’ll respect the segue here. Coming on the heels of Miami’s breakthrough “Weekapaug” and the breakthrough-the-breakthrough performance to come in Nashville, the band keeps it fun and finds ways to spin new ideas into the old classic. Some good organ work is followed by a dexterous 3 minute guitar solo that makes us think Trey is in it to win it this year.
Another “No Men” quote sandwiches “Weekapaug,” then Fishman slows the beat, exchanges some onstage telepathy, and a tight “Boogie On Reggae Woman” breaks out. Boogie on we shall! Happy 4th Quarter, Happy 2015, Happy Phish!
Eric is co-founder and video director of Blue Clay Studios and lives in a pre-Civil War farmhouse in Saxapahaw, NC. So if you’re going to complain about Farmhouse, take that noise elsewhere. He loves the chance to write about Phish, but probably does it better when Lawnmemo remembers to give more than 2 days notice when he wants to crowdsource a new blog series. Or not. He also thinks you’re crazy if you think the Radio City Ghost is better than 11/17/97… but also likes crazy people so it’s all good.