21 in 21 of 2018: #7 07/25/2018 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Franciso, CA (RJ Bee, @rjbee_2)
I was lucky enough to see more shows in 2018 than I’ve seen since the late 90s. Some of it was work related, some of it was other work related. But it was a really fun year for seeing Phish. Some of the rankers out there might say that the Summer Tour was not good, or even bad. I had a different experience, mostly because I was able to visit new venues and see shows with great friends. So that’s how I went into these BGCA shows.
I’ve seen shows at BGCA before, but never Phish, so this was a bucket list venue for me. As I sat on the plane back home after the 2nd night, I was feeling that night 1 was a lot better than night 2. The second set combo of “ASIHTOS,” “Mercury” and “Carini” felt perfect that night, along with a nice “Hood” closer. And the opening “46 Days” was a great way to start.
By contrast, night 2 was more mellow, a little slower at times, and maybe had fewer jams. But on the plane, I was texting with Jonathan about the shows, and he kept telling me that I was wrong about the show, and that it was a really great show. He wasn’t there, he just wanted me to appreciate it more. So we were text fighting about whether a show was good or not. As I’m writing this almost a year later, I have to say, I think Jonathan was right.
Something about this venue is at once really airy and light, but also very intimate. Night 2 really captured that for me. The “Roggae” opener didn’t feel like it matched the intense pre-show energy of the crowd, which was really awesome. In a smaller venue like that, once people get in, sit down and get ready, it gets really rowdy. Especially once people recover and get settled in after the crazy seat-saving tactics like spreading blankets over entire rows. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was the one-year anniversary of 7.25.17, so maybe people were expecting something. Expectations, man. Anyway, the “Roggae” actually created a nice vibe as it got going, with some really good soloing from Trey.
The first set was a little odd in terms of flow, and felt a little low energy at times, but the “Runaway Jim” was really fun, upbeat, and really well played. This is one of my favorites to see live, my favorite opener, but apparently I’ve only seen it 16 times in more than 22 years of seeing Phish. Hope to get one this Summer. Are you listening, Phish?
The “Horse” > “Silent” mid-first set is a bit of a head scratcher but what can you do. I go back to the intimacy of the venue and the second night vibe, which was a little bit more relaxed, and maybe that was reflected in some of the song choices. The “Driver” was likely in response to the big Driver sign that was hanging from the balcony the night before. I like hearing this song, and this was the first since 2016, after 62 shows. Fun fact: since the end of 2012, they’ve only played “Driver” 3 times, twice at BGCA and once at The Gorge. An intimate venue like BGCA will help Trey feel comfortable playing a tune like this.
A first set “Saw It Again” felt like a reference to the free webcast and the “Saw It Again” webcast package for the summer, which I guess is an okay reason to play it. But for five minutes? What about 30?
My favorite part of the set was the “Number Line” > “More.” You’ve probably heard my thing about Number Line. If you haven’t, ask me this Summer and I’ll explain my perspective on it. But it’s going to take a few minutes.
I also love “More.” It’s heartfelt and raging and who doesn’t love a singalong about vibrating with love and light? I’ve told Kelly Morris this many times, but I really can’t listen to this song without thinking about her amazing video. One of the most poignant pieces of Phish content ever created. The right time, the right feel, the right attitude we need right now. I hope they keep playing this song. Okay, so two emotionally strong songs to finish a sort of mellow first set. What’s next?
Many people derisively refer to the two “soul” songs — “Soul Planet” and “Set Your Soul Free.” I guess that’s fair, given that they both have that word in the title, but it of course means more than that, doesn’t it? Part of it is that some fans are often not thrilled with Trey’s lyrics, maybe because they are very straightforward, literal and emotionally charged. I really wonder if this will change given the recent power and beauty of Ghosts of the Forest. Say what you will, Trey has come into his own as being able to express himself authentically through his own lyrics, which is a good development. (Caveat: Trey, please keep writing songs with Tom.)
Anyway, this is a fucking jam. Say what you will about the lyrics to this song, it’s a monster. Four of the nine versions played to date are on Phish.net’s Jam Chart. So if you’re going to complain about this song, just please, don’t.
This jam starts strong and doesn’t stop. Right in the middle, around 14 minutes, Trey starts peaking the jam, and it’s feeling very blissful, with Page playing along on the piano. I thought this was going to be a standard, wonderful bliss jam that would fade into the next tune. But then Mike takes over, and we get into a robot funk jam. Brad and I were grooving pretty hard at this point. Trey’s adding some effects to the Mike/Page led jam, which creates a wonderful space groove, which doesn’t slow down at all. In retrospect, this was probably the peak of the two-night run. Really beautiful textures, but driving hard in a space funk groove. I’m in.
Finally it dissolves down into “Twist.” And “Makisupa” follows, and then a drop into “S&SS” with no intro. Sort of a difficult drop, but it’s a solid, intense but brief version. Then a drop into “WTU?” Man, I’ll take this every single time. Every single show. Maybe the intimacy of the room is what compelled this, or maybe Trey’s just loving this song at this point. Anyway, I’m in. Another head scratcher with a late second set “Wedge,” but I won’t complain. I think this is all about the “SYSF” and everything else is a bonus.
They also played “Possum.”
I thought “The Lizards” as an encore was a really good way to cap off this run. Intimate, pretty, airy and a nice ending to my first trip to BGCA. This is a long-standing debate in the Phish community—what’s the difference between being at a show and listening back later, how does that affect rankings, and is there such a thing as objectively ranking Phish shows and tours? There are certainly two sides to this, but I am reminded yet again that these deeply personal experiences are memorable and noteworthy for their own reasons.
RJ is the CEO and co-founder of Osiris and co-founder of HF Pod.