In Phish’s summer circuit of largely cookie-cutter amphitheatres, the Gorge stands apart. The Gorge possesses a power unto itself; it is special place. Situated amidst the vast landscape of the Columbia River in central Washington, the Gorge provides more than an infrastructure for a concert—it provides an experience. With virtually nothing around the amphitheatre, concert-goers must trek to the live music Mecca, and when they arrive, are immersed in the natural world. The majesty and energy of the land is immediately palpable, and civilization feels more than a drive away. A mystical quality pervades the Gorge that is unmatched at any other live music venue in the country.
When Phish plays the Gorge, it is not just another stop on tour—it is a sacred rite that legitimately feels different from any other show in the calendar year. The fans feel it, the band feels it, and the resulting music reflects this dynamic. When tapped in, the band’s improvisation sounds different within this limitless natural surrounding. The spirit of the land guides the band’s output, infusing the music with increased space, a slower tempo, and a larger-than-life sound. Phish plays with enhanced patience and sparser patterns of notes in this atmosphere, starkly different than their usual style at generic east coast sheds. These elements combine to provide Gorge jams with a unique, wide-open improvisational vibe that is not reproduced anywhere else on tour.
The three-night stand has become a staple of modern Phish. These trifectas cut down on the grind of tour for a band that has reached a new phase of their life, allowing them to relax in one place and really settle in, both physically and musically. It is not a coincidence that a lot of the band’s best music in recent years has come out of these extended stands, as the guys become familiar with the stage sound, need to work less to prepare each day, and are well rested. In their career before 2018, however, Phish had never played three nights at the Gorge. Hence, when the band announced its tour dates early in the year, the triple bill in George, Washington, was immediately circled as a can’t-miss affair.
Trey had unveiled a new guitar rig on his trio tour earlier in the 2018, and after toying with his revamped setup in Tahoe, he truly set forth on a new sonic path over the first two performances at the Gorge. His recalibrated sound favored the drippy, psychedelic palette of the Leslie speaker, leaned heavier on uncompressed playing than his 2017 style, and contained darker, more minimalist effects and textures that meshed within the band’s musical fabric, allowing Page and Mike to more readily step to the forefront of jams. His diversified sonic repertoire immediately pointed Phish’s improvisation in new directions.
All of these elements converged—on the heels of an incredible opening night and a mellower follow up—when the band took the stage for the second set on Sunday July 22, their first-ever, third-night at the Gorge. And what transpired was an undeniable masterpiece. Beyond the seamless flow and set construction, each of the jams within this performance oozed a Gorgieness of the highest level.
The set-opening “Crosseyed” blossomed into a wide-open space-symphony that featured impeccable patience and communication between four band members that had reached a supreme place of comfort on this stage. Each musician utilized space as skillfully as notes, allowing the music to breathe and expand within the boundless surroundings. The jam became a delicate, leadless exchange of sound and texture that could only have transpired within this spiritual oasis. The ambient nature of the music did not stop its motion, as each band member’s contribution nudged the improvisation just enough to elicit a response from the other three. Evoking a deep mystical awe, this “Crosseyed” was a true masterstroke from the Vermont quartet and set the improvisational tone for the rest of the evening.
The opening jam bled into a version of “Twist” whose improv fell stylistically in line with “Crosseyed’s” wide-open nature. This excursion perfectly illustrated equitable Phish jamming, in which each member’s contribution affected the music as much as the next’s. Trey leaned heavily into his new, darker sonic tricks for much of this piece, coaxing Page out front on Rhodes and various other keyboards, while urging Mike to offer lead bass lines that steered the course of the jam. Crawling methodically from stage into the open air, this music took on a life of its own, enveloping the audience within its three-dimensionality.
Following the sequence of “Waves > Miss You, Fluffhead,” the band threw a left hook that nobody saw coming, punctuating this stellar set with a menacing monstrosity of “Split Open and Melt.” Stepping into an alternate dimension, Phish formed a collaborative sound sculpture that plunged the depths of abstract darkness. Time froze as the band channeled a primordial magic into this uber patient and deeply psychedelic sonic experiment. Morphing into one energetic field, the band and audience grew still, levitating in sound and space, before Trey brought things back to earth with “Split’s” exit lick.
Immediately entering the annals of Phish’s rich history at the venue of legend, July 22, 2018, became an instant classic; and one would expect nothing less from the band’s first-ever third-night at the Gorge. It was an experience that nobody in attendance would ever forget. Phish would go onto to play an incredible summer tour featuring many nights chock-full of innovative improvisation, but this one could have only happened at the Gorge.
From LawnMemo: You can find all things Mr. Miner at Phishthoughts.com