The Daily Ghost

26 in 26 of 2019: #5 06/18/2019 Budweiser Stage, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (@Uncle_Lope)

Let’s get this out of the way right off the hop. This isn’t a show you’re likely going to revisit. It’s, in fact, among the worst rated shows on the platform. The setlist is a head scratcher. It’s a festival of mid-tempo bathroom/beer run tunes. Even in its finest moments, the best I can say about it is that it’s well played, simple and steady. The soaring peaks that we chase elude us for most of the night. The smattering of jams rarely reach beyond standard at best. Hell, they’re not even second rate, if we’re being honest. And, as I’ve learned from a parade of new friends I’ve connected with over the past year, the location would have been a turn off for anyone who’s had a DUI in the U.S. 

So, why did I jump at the chance to reflect on this show? What kind of masochist would want to listen back to this lackluster offering by the world’s greatest band when there are so many A+ examples? Because it’s quite simply one of my favourite shows I’ve ever attended. Because sometimes the night is about so much more than just the music. Because after dozens of shows spanning decades, beginning when I was just 19 years old in 1992, I was able to share the experience with my own children. 

From the time they were old enough to ask, I always promised my sons that if the Phish from Vermont ever graced a Toronto stage, we’d make it a home-show family affair. They’ve grown up listening to the music, hearing the stories, and watching the soul-deep smile wash over me as I recall the life changing experience that a Phish show can be. They saw their mom become a devout show lover, although she may not reach for the music on her own. Given the opportunity to soak up that scene and absorb all of the happiness it has to offer, she’s become the greatest, and most willing, show partner I’ve ever had. The boys wanted a piece of that. 

Sure enough (while not quite past the age of maturity) when Phish came north again, at age 11 and 9, they were ready. And I was ready to abandon my selfishness. Those nights had always been my nights, full of all the things that weren’t necessarily within the realm of the PG-13. But at 45, and with the hardest of my living behind me, the timing was perfect to Dad Up and share the experience. To make the night not just about me, but about them. And to that end, the show, the setlist, the song placements, the crowd, the venue … it was all just so perfect. 

I love a home show. We don’t get many in Canada. But, I’ve been lucky. As a Montrealer, I grew up a couple of hours north of Burlington, giving me the exposure to this band from a young age. I saw my first show in Montreal. Later, in ‘99, the phenomenal Fall tour opener in Vancouver was played a five minute walk from my apartment. But this Toronto venue, which I’d rather just call the amphitheatre, has become one of my favourites. 

It rests by the shore of Lake Ontario, so there’s always a lovely, cool breeze sweeping across the vast, angled and perfectly symmetrical lawn. The roof is high, giving everyone a great view. You’ll never hear anyone complain about the sound. While the lot scene is always muted at a Canadian show, it made for safe surroundings for a pair of impressionable kids. Walking up, excited and full of anticipation, we ran into friends and cousins and people in corn shirts and some dude in an awesome bike helmet (wink), adorned with stickers. “What’s with the corn?” “Why’s that guy wearing a helmet?” Questions I couldn’t answer at the time. I was barely finding my footing in the Phish Twitter community. I hadn’t known anything yet of these legends. It all added to the mystery for the boys. Truth is, I guess, I had never paid all that much attention to costuming over the years. On this night, we were all seeing things with fresh eyes. 

As we walked to our seats, joined also by my baby sister (15 years my junior) and her would-be husband, we realized just how much the stars had aligned for us on this night. There are four sections of seating at the amp. The fourth section, though, is elevated with a wide walkway in front of it. We were dead centre, first row of the fourth section, giving the boys a clean look at the stage. Our own personal rail. And that made our seats the perfect meeting spot for friends who came from far and wide. Just in case they couldn’t see us, the 9-year old became our tent flag, with his long red curls tied up into pigtails and adorned with a dozen or so glow sticks. Impossible to miss. We were the party on this night. Annnnnnd with that …. show time.

AC/DC Bag opener. I called it. I never make the call. And I LOOOOOOOOVE a Bag opener. Is there a better way to get this show on the road???!! My boys know Bag. They’ve heard it a thousand times. Such a perfect introduction to the live Phish experience. Eyes lit brighter than CK’s rig. Trey was in fine form off the hop, with full voice and spirited pluckery. I didn’t care what else was to come. All else was gravy.

555 followed – and while that will often elicit a groan from jaded fans, I’m a fan of the Mike funk. That booming bass was front and centre for this rendition. A well played offering.

Ocelot was next. Another that hasn’t really found its way into the hardened hearts of many fans. But, this one is a family favourite. My wife and I saw our first Ocelot at the previous Toronto show in 2013. It was her first ever show. And midway through the song, our eyes met. Her smile was huge and she told me “I love this.” She loved the bounce and the groove and what makes her happy makes me happier. When it comes on in our house, we dance. Together. Always together. And on this night, our boys watched us dance like they had so many times before. But this one hit differently. While I can’t say for certain, I believe they were swallowed whole in our dance/embrace. 

Oh, you’re not done groaning? How about a Sample? Look. I was there on Jam Night. I’ve seen the best Sample has to offer. This was not that, It was fine. But something has to get this setlist into another gear. 

And so it was Stash to the rescue. This one cooks. Not “vintage” cooks. And yeah, the St. Louis earlier in the tour had more balls. But this one gets Type II spacey and gave the boys a taste of what’s what. 

A well-played Wedge followed. But again, a mid-tempo gem. Then another cooler (pun intended) with Frost. Could a huge Halley’s Comet save us? Nope a short, muted, but fun, Halley’s was what we got. 

That’s when this set takes another turn towards redemption. The Phish debut of Ruby Waves. I know, it’s not the Alpine RW. But, few things are. This was a spirited introduction to what’s becoming a latter day jam vehicle. Well worth a listen. 

Lawn Boy gives us another fun breather before YEM closes the first set. This one is fine. It’s always welcome, and it’s played very well, very clean. The real highlight, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is the vocal jam. They were locked on a groovy, bouncy vocal jam that never got boring or pitchy or twitchy. And my guys ate it up. They were hysterical over it. I don’t make a habit of listening to vocal jams at home, so it sent them into a WTF frenzy. This one is worth a listen.

Set 2 opens Plasma, Final Hurrah and a 3-hole breather with Wingsuit. It’s lovely, sure. But where’s my vintage second set jam???

That’s when my highlight of the night takes flight. I love Golden Age. I really do. And as soon as it kicked up, I yielded responsibility of my children for 15 minutes. It’s standard fare through the lyrical section. And if I’m giving you the straight poop here, it never really goes for the throat. What it does do is put you into a trance with a synth-heavy passage early on in the jam, before Trey takes the reins. An “I’m A Man” tease in there. A welcome hint of Shakedown too. Some prototypical call and response interplay between Trey and Page, which gives a whiff of Crosseyed. But the wind down is the real key in this one. Cuz the mellow mood of the night translated into a beautiful, blissful landing for this Golden Age. All in all, a solid if unspectacular centerpiece of the second set. 

So would that serve to push this show into the “acceptable” category??? Followed by a run of Page EDM > Caspian > If I Could, in a word… just no. 

The set closes with a hot 46 Days and a GOTF encore of Drift.

Thank Icculus I was making the trip, sans family, the next night to Blossom and caught that BOAF.                      

Let’s not lose sight of what this was all about. While the crowd filed out muttering language I’d hoped my kids wouldn’t hear until their bachelor parties, as a phan, I got it. I was speechless. As a dad, though, I couldn’t care less. They didn’t know it was historically bad. They only knew they wanted more. To tell all of their friends the next morning about one of the coolest nights of their young lives. That’s the real redemption here. Not the music. Not the setlist. But the experience of sharing in the groove with the people we love the most in this world. They went to bed with blissed-out smiles and stomachs full from late night fast food. And so I ask… what more can you ask of a show?  

Bio: Uncle Lope is not my given name, but my chosen handle. It’s an identity that’s become another cherished branch of my being because of the friends I’ve made through the Phish Twitter community. Otherwise, I’m just a middle aged TV news producer who loves my wife, my dogs, my kids and music.