REVIEW: Phish Summer Tour 2011 Leg 2 (Part One)

Phish will be returning to the road a week from tonight in Commerce City, Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and there will be a new flurry of coverage surrounding my favorite band all over the interwebs. But that means it’s a perfect time to reflect back on the tour that just wrapped up last week at UIC Pavilion in Chicago before we get inundated with new awesomeness.

Speaking of awesomeness, I’ve had a week now to sit at home, listen to the show and find some kicking YouTube videos — finally a chance to really digest the tour I was able to witness while earlier this month. For those that weren’t following along, I was able to see eight shows in the span of two weeks (while also fitting in a full weekend at Outside Lands, an amazingly good time) all while shooting the band (when I was given a pass to) and having an amazing time meeting new and old friends along the way. In short, it’s not something that’s will be that easy for me to summarize. It was definitely something that deserves a deeper dive as I reflect on the good times I had with the great people I was joined by.

Life has an awesome way of showing you what’s right in the world and where you fit in and belong, and I’ve had that feeling a few times in my life over the past few years … both of which have come after Phish tours and that majestic feeling of staying on the road for a few weeks with friends and seeing my favorite musicians in beautiful, epic settings. Red Rocks. Shoreline. The Gorge. Indio. The Greek. The Gorge. Lake Tahoe. UIC Pavilion. I’ve been pretty lucky and all of these shows will reserve plenty of memories for me…

And it’s hard to be objective when it feels that good to see them every single time the lights go down…I don’t care where I see them and that feeling is still evoked.

That said, I’m going to try to break down a bit of what I saw and learned along the way and I had our very own Wesley Hodges give a breakdown of what was the jam at the Hollywood Bowl show. Some of my choices may be obvious or not, but you’ll see how I was quite lucky in some of the choices that Phish went with while I was following along.

August 5th, 2011 – The Gorge Night One

Phish @ The Gorge, 8/5/11 | Photo by Justin Ward

The day before Phish began their leg two summer tour with a two-night run at the Gorge is a day of wondermont in the eyes of many of the fans making the journey. If you flew into Seattle, you’re greeted with one of the most beautiful and scenic routes out of a major metro that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to drive. Arriving at our campsite and being able to camp next to our close friends and crew members was key to the get the weekend started off right.

And the entire run started off pretty amazingly for me in that I was approved to shoot the band from the photo pit. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be seeing the band at the Gorge from the front row with the pleasure of sharing that space with the talented other photogs that follow the band like I do. Add to that it’s the Gorge and my first shows of the year, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid and consistent memory that this was one of the shows of the year for me.

That said, musically, the band was only just beginning to show what they had in store for the entire second leg and the real meat of this show is the “Rock and Roll > Meatstick > Boogie On Reggae Woman” combo that got the second set going after the “Backwards…” opener. If you haven’t heard this yet, you’re missing out on a key moment in Phish’s current evolution as a new band. Phish 3.1, if you will. Theremin. Jam.

After a first set that had a few fun moments in it and definitely some solid playing — go back and listen to the best “Roggae” ever laid down in public for proof of how strong the show was — it was the “Rock and Roll” theremin jam that has the money shot for the entire show. Must. see. Phish.

Check out my photos and recap from immediately after the show while I was chilling at the restaurant at Cave B Winery. That place rules.

August 6th, 2011 – The Gorge Night Two

@Phortin @ The Gorge

The biggest takeaway I have from the second night of the Gorge was that I was already starting to lean into the idea that I had exactly seven more shows to go in this whole tour and that’d I’d better suit myself to avoid wook flu by taking care of myself a bit better. The day before, me and my buddy actually took a run from our campsite at Wildhorse Campground to visit the main camping areas on-site and check in with our friends. I was relaxing on day two pre-show, that’s for sure.

The band, however, came out with an interesting set of choices for night two’s first set. They totally curve-balled everyone with the “Possum” opener (not really). We got a really good spot down on the inner concert area so we felt like we were just hanging and dancing and laughing along with the crew up front. That always makes a show a bit more interesting, and then the band nailed a cover of “On Your Way Down” and played a solid “Wolfman’s Brother” which sorta reawakened the crowd and got everyone moving and grooving. Then “Maze” tore through the vast expanse of the sky of the sun was real setting, which made way for the famous Kuroda spotlight chaser pattern that I’ve grown to absolutely love the most about the band playing this tune.

Great first set and solid playing all around was my takeaway at the time.

But, the full-on highlight of the show was the entire second set, though. At the time, I felt like the band was still having a few moments of struggling with flow or waiting too long between songs, and this set completely put all those thoughts to rest and featured a band flowing with creativity and real listening to each other. It just seemed to work for me front to back.

Set 2: Chalk Dust Torture > Tweezer > Prince Caspian > Sand -> Tweezer > Birds of a Feather, Waste > Golden Age > Reba, Run Like an Antelope

Encore: Suzy Greenberg > Sanity > Tweezer Reprise

It was my first “Sanity” – yay.

BOOM.

POW.

What a way to get sent off to the Lake Tahoe shows…me and my crew were off the next morning to Bend, OR to visit with some friends and take a leisurely day of driving through the middle of nowhere to get down to Lake Tahoe. Meanwhile, the band took a day off too and headed down to Los Angeles to play the Hollywood Bowl for the first time ever.

August 8th, 2011 – Hollywood Bowl

by Wesley Hodges (@LMBNOLA)
Phish on a Monday evening that was a picture of perfection in one of the most naturally beautiful urban amphitheatres in all the land, regardless of what the jaded Phisherati have to say about this show, for me, personally, it was an amazing and possibly once-in-a-lifetime event. Visually, this may’ve been one of the better setups ever provided to CK5, and he worked the rainbow ringed shell of the Bowl like the consummate pro that he is, dazzling those in attendance with a show that would have been worth the price of admission itself (seriously). The thought of Phish playing in a venue more known for hummus, white tablecloth, red wine and the LA Philharmonic than the requisite Phish circus was comical and intriguing leading up to the show, but you had to know both sides would adapt and the fact that the show was on a Monday was surely no mistake, I’m thinking this was a test run for a possible two or three-night weekend run in the future. The security guard in our section de-briefed us on where it was acceptable to dance and where it wasn’t, nice try guy – it was a free-for-all as it should be but I notably didn’t see any gutter-wasted spunions, stretcher’d w00ks or any of the dark side of the scene that can pop up at times, it was a respectful and relatively well-behaved bunch for the most part (probably, because most people had to report to a boss the following day).

As for the show, the first set was a nice progression, starting off with a trio of standards before two of my favorite Phish covers “Cities” and “Peaches en Regalia” popped up. The highlight of set one had to be the quick and dirty, cheap-heat tossin’ “Tube” and the kickin’ “Back On The Train,” followed by Wilson > Axilla I. Set One was a nice live reintroduction to the band I hadn’t been able to see in a non-festival setting since 7/27/03.

Set two, as expected, blew the gaskets off the Bowl with the Crosseyed > Twist > Piper. The “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” was extremely unexpected and although botched fairly badly, it was fun to watch and I’ve never been one to critique Fishman appearances from a musical perspective, but I thought when he was getting the words right, the tune was pretty fun (and the crowd ate it up). A great Monday night show in a historic venue with a few friends from back in the Southland, I’ll always have very fond memories of this night.

What did you think of these shows?!

Check back tomorrow for part two with some memories from Lake Tahoe and Outside Lands. We’ll have part three up on Sunday. Have a great weekend, dudes.