Photos / Recap: Phish @ Harvey’s Outdoor Arena, Lake Tahoe 8/9/11

“Keep it Blue and Type II” – @phortin

Last night Phish rolled into Stateline, Nevada to play their first-ever show to South Lake Tahoe, and I was fortunate enough to be granted a photo pass with my ticket so I could shoot the show. Keep reading for all of my photos from the pit, and if you were there hopefully this recap serves to jolt your memory back into shape while you’re nursing yourself back to health in the casinos. I thought last night’s show was definitely a continued step forward for this band’s summer tour and I’m glad I chose to book myself for most of the shows; the band is in a peak that I wouldn’t recommend anyone “skip” out on.

With the sun blazing onto the venue and an early start time confirmed, the band’s gear was covered right up until 10 minutes before the show started to protect from sun damage and heat. Once everyone was in place, the band came out and started into “Party Time,” the one new-song opener I tend to enjoy the most. I got a PT opener at Festival 8 and everyone always seems to laugh at me when I call this one for other shows, but I consider this one “my call” (usually) even though @PeteLikesMusic did officially call it for last night. That led the band into the classic “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” which transitioned into “AC/DC Bag,” the first curve-ball of the night and something that kept fans wondering what choice would come next. Then I got removed from the photo pit with all the other photographers, so I missed most of “Mellow Mood” and “Rift” while I returned my gear to my hotel room.

On the way back, I noticed how many people were without tickets but still hanging out at the venue to listen to the show. In fact, anyone at the pool at Harvey’s after the show started would have had a kick-ass view of the venue and nearly pristine sound compared to other venues where you’d be stuck outside. Definitely seemed like a scene that was thriving with or without tickets, despite the long drives between tour stops. Making it back to the venue allowed me to run into this super cute girl that used to live in SF and now lives in Truckee (North Tahoe), so I hugged her and ran into the crowd once I knew the band was playing “Punch You in the Eye.” Because I was shuffling through the venue it’s hard to get a read on whether or not it was “best version ever” stuff, and I didn’t gather that by any means, but I have no clue if it was choppy like the past few versions I’ve seen were. The composed stuff at the end around “The Landlady” definitely makes this a song that challenges the band muscle memory dexterity.

The band launched into “Meat” next, a total crowd-pleaser at this point given the rarity nature of the pick, and while this version was nothing close to perfect — some of the composed start/stop stuff at the end of the song didn’t find the band hitting the same cues together — but this version still came out sublime from where I was sitting. The groove was patient and the band didn’t worry about a mistake here and there; the feeling of the song came through perfectly and got the crowd into that sunset mindset while the heat went down. The mid-set “David Bowie” was a nice choice but it didn’t seem to wow me past a standard version, and I liked the way the band set up a few more chilled songs to finish off the set before rocking everyone’s ass through “46 Days.” I love “Horn” so much and always pleased to see it grace a setlist. It’s quintessential Phish and I’m glad those tones wafted out of the venue for all of Lake Tahoe to hear.

The second set was another foray into the darker and jammier side of Phish, obviously what we keep seeing out of the band once the lights finally get bright and the sun finally goes down. “Gotta Jibboo” opener kept things light and airy, though, which seemed to lead somewhat quickly into a rager of “Light” featuring a long, amazing jam out of the end of it with a ton of “Timber (Jerry)” teases throughout. I definitely thought the nod to the big bright moon rising up over the band’s view was clever, but throwing together a “Timber (Jerry)” jam or bust-out tonight would be pretty apt for the pines surrounding the venue and all of Lake Tahoe. It seems fitting; let’s hope the band brings this one out tonight. Definitely check out this jam, though; easily my “sick” highlight of the night.

A mid-set “Chalk Dust Torture” was totally unexpected, especially this late in the evening, so everyone was raging on the “Can’t I live while I’m young” line and throwing their hands in the air with abandon. Then “Slave to the Traffic Light” found its way into the set and I definitely felt like I was witnessing a special event. The setlist choices were just solid for me front to back. A mid-second set Slave? Yep, pretty amazing.

“Free” seemed to be a standard rocker of a version from what I saw, and after a short break the band busted out their debut of the Elton John classic, “Rocket Man,” with Page taking over the main vocal duties and leading the crowd through the closest singalong cover we’ve had in a while. Tons of people in the audience were carrying out little green rocket ship cutouts, a new version of the Hold-Up-A-Sign-As-The-Band-Enters-The-Stage tricks that fans are getting wise on. Distributing little rocket ships throughout the audience was smart and hopefully got that crafty fan the cover they always wanted.

Around this point in the show I realized how much more Phish I had left to see, and I was so amped given that I knew we had at least 45 minutes or so to finish it off. We got a predictable closer in “Harry Hood,” and a great version, but then the band busted out a solid “Walls of the Cave” to end the set. Solid, but only because of the jam that ended, not because of the composed parts — Gordon missed a huge bass cue and the lead-up into the jam fell hella flat for me. But again, oh well….they hardly play this tune and they need to find ways to practice it while working it back into the rotation.

For the encore, “Bug” and “Squirming Coil” are great ways to close a show. Epic, beautiful, majestic music — tunes to match the epic, beautiful, and majestic Lake Tahoe surrounding area. And that’s really what these two shows are all about; nobody here cares about the repeats, the one or two missed cues that every show has, the one or two jams that “don’t go anywhere” says the guy next to you, none of that shit matters up here at this lake. It’s really about having fun with your friends, seeing a band that brings you tremendous joy in life and in your heart, and being a part of something larger than yourself, ala the Phish community. We can all come to Tahoe, leave the town clean, have some fun in the casinos, and hopefully make a few new friends in the process.

Follow along tonight @LiveMusicBlog and on my personal account @justinpward. Watch for official updates from @Phish_FTR and @YEMBlog and watch for lot prices via @CoventryMusic. See you in the bleachers!