After an up-and-down first leg of the Summer 2016, the stage was set for the band to explode once they arrived out west. At least that’s what the fanbase’s expectations seemed to be. And rightfully so. In recent years, the band has really opened up and taken jam deeper on the west coast. Look at 2013, for example. After a strong but somewhat inconsistent East Coast and Midwest swing, Phish landed on the west coast and threw down incredible shows with long-form jamming at the Gorge, Bill Graham Civic Center, and of course, Tahoe.
But that’s not really what happened in 2016. The fans (at least the vocal online community) expected big jams to match the wide-open land of the Gorge. We got something entirely different.
Let’s talk about the Gorge night 2. I loved that show. After the show, I turned to my friends and said “Fans on the internet are going to hate on this”. They nodded in agreement. And we were right – there seemed to be a lot of expressed disappointment within the online fanbase after this show.
Why? The heightened expectations due to the Gorge’s legacy, “Wingsuit > Shade” in the heart of the 2nd set, “Farmhouse” and “Shine A Light” later in the 2nd set, and what is likely the key factor, no Type 2 jams.
Sometimes when the band decides not to jam, you can tell that it’s because they aren’t connecting for whatever reason. This show is not an example of that. Every song this night was played with intent and purpose. I love long, experimental jams as much as (probably more than) most fans. But it’s important to remember that sometimes this band can be at their best when they are experimenting within the song, listening and reacting within a designated feel. Looking for new corners to explore within a song instead of searching for new ground. There was plenty of this on 7/16/16. A few examples:
“Birds of a Feather.” This is a great version of “Birds.” Right from the start, there is great full-band interplay, especially coming from Fishman and Gordon. Fishman’s playing is incredible throughout this entire song. Check out 1:25-1:35 and also the entire 2nd verse for some really playful fills and phrasing from Fishman. While most drummers (and even sometimes Fishman on a bad day) would simply keep time with a steady beat, Fishman is dancing around his kit and bouncing off Trey’s and Mike’s ideas.
There is great group interplay all throughout the jam section. Listen to some simple yet masterful communication between Trey and Mike around 3:15-3:30. At around 4:10, Trey begins taking the band out of the normal “Birds” vamp, moving through several modal changes and landing in a major interlude at 4:45, before snapping right back into the regular “Birds” feel. Again at 6:10-6:20 there is a quick and clever modal shift that jumps right back into a blistering “Birds” peak with Trey leading the charge. First-rate playing here.
“Wingsuit.” The Lydian jam section is played gracefully and seductively by all 4 members. 6:00-6:30 is a great example of beautiful group listening and interplay.
Trey is playing lead per usual, but leaving a ton of space for Mike and Page to weave secondary melodies of their own. And they in turn influence Trey’s subsequent melodies. Trey’s playing is soulful and has an almost mournful quality to it, accentuated by repeatedly returning to the “Wingsuit” melody before firing off another series of fluid licks. This jam soars, and is one of the best versions of “Wingsuit” to date.
No, there aren’t any – not even one- type 2 jams in this show, but those that write off this show because of that are missing out on exquisite playing by a band that was in full command on this particular night.
Also, I want to just say a few words about the “Harry Hood” encore. “Hood” at the Gorge is one of the best Phish traditions we have. You’re nearly guaranteed to see “Hood” when the band is at the Gorge, and when CK5 turns off the lights for us to take in the beautiful surroundings, you feel things. I cherish that moment and I hope everyone else does, too.