One of the biggest events on my calendar for this year was my trip to the Gorge to see Phish, something we’ve all been planning for at least four months now. Coming down from last night’s show, I’m fairly confident that I just saw one of the more interesting shows in 2011, with the band at the peak of a new creative endeavor…one that none of the fans can really ever understand and yet we want so fully to reach into the band member’s hearts and brains. The setlist choice was not perfect by my standards, but with the backdrop of the Gorge and a crew of great friends surrounding you, there really is nothing better on Earth than the joy that a lot of us were experiencing last night.

Hidden Track has a great writeup from last night and I’m not sure I have time to catch up on much else — and I’m skipping the Mr. Miner review for reason’s that I’ll go into later — but I do have time to give my play-by-play as it happened last night. Starting at around 5:30pm, we got the crew motivated to start heading to the shuttle from Wild Horse Camping. We knew the poster from last night was a big “wild horses” themed and that really seemed ideal that we made it to the venue in time for our crew to snag posters. I waited in the press box area near Will Call until my chaperone from Live Nation made his way (via golf cart) up to the top of the hill. I got in unchecked and unscathed, with enough time to grab a beer with my friends and find their spot on the lawn so I could check in with them later. Back to the “lawn chair rentals” pickup spot, I got into the photo pit and chatted up the dudes in the front row while we waited for the band to take the stage.

About five minutes before show time, Dave Vann made it to the pit and got situated, so we knew that they were on any second. The band came on about 10 minutes before anyone fully anticipated (8:03pm, I believe), but I had my camera in hand and started snapping away. The band started with “Kill Devil Falls,” which was definitely a good warm up to the weekend. “The Wedge” was an awesomely obvious choice, too, but I disagree that it didn’t follow a “good enough” tune as @whitperson lamented. Check your jaded vet syndrome on the East Coast, brah.

Other random highlight of the photo pit; Dave Vann asked to use my shirt to wipe off one of his lens. He was wearing polyester.

The first set highlights for me were definitely the “Roggae” and the jam that came out of it. I wasn’t even sure it was truly the best version ever that the band had played, as I’m told from friends that the beginning was a little sloppy and I’ve probably already blocked that out of my memory. The jam out of it was sublime, though. Definitely worth listening to and a likely candidate for the band’s “official” video release on their Vimeo channel in the next few days.

Second set started off with a dud in that nobody gets exceptionally over-joyed for the stuff off Joy. I can’t figure out if the band will ever be able to shake this, but in essence they don’t care and they keep playing what they want when they want to. And that keeps things interesting, which was what I was worried about when we got the standard and predictable second set “Rock and Roll.” Sure, last time they played this at the Gorge it was truly exceptional, but I just wasn’t feeling this song in the rotation. Well, as expected, I got the unexpected and the band delivered an out-of-this world ambient style space funk theremin-laden jam that nobody saw coming. I don’t have time to upload the video now, but I got some hella good footage of this event as it went down. It was impressive. The band seemed to be having a lot fun as they segued into “Meatstick,” complete with silly Japanese lyrics and then lead into a super fun cover of “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” I felt like the rest of the set didn’t even need to happen after that three-song hit fest.

So it’s time to re-listen to the show; we have a stealth taper on our crew that got an awesome recording from last night that’s already been played at camp twice or so all the way through. And maybe I should wait to pass more judgment, but that said I really don’t have any time to complain about anything right now. I’m sitting at some pimp-ass winery called Cave B, which is basically ON the Gorge Amphitheatre land, and I’m about to meet up with the @CoventryMusic crew to exchange some extras for tonight….all the while enjoying this beautiful weather and a scenery that few in the world get to experience like we crew have. We’re a lucky bunch and these photos should hopefully share some of that love that we all got down on yesterday. Hugs, smiles, tons of bottles clinking, laughing, music, sunlight, dancing, and bare feet; if you just stop worrying about what the band is doing, what they’re not doing, and what the biggest bust-out was and how it affects your stats, last night is the exact experience that we all chase when we talk about the band Phish.

Feel free to follow along again tonight on my personal account at @justinpward. I would tweet along as @LiveMusicBlog but it’s too unreliable in connection for me (with my s***ty AT&T iPhone 4 service). SO…I’d say follow along with the folks over at @YEMBlog and @Phish_FTR and you’ll probably have a good idea of the action going down. Check out my full photo gallery below and let me know what you thought of the show!

Phish @ the Gorge Amphitheater, George, WA 8/5/11

Set 1: Kill Devil Falls, The Wedge, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane > My Friend, My Friend, Cavern, Taste, Roggae, Walk Away, Funky Bitch, Roses Are Free, David Bowie

Set 2: Backwards Down the Number Line, Rock and Roll[1] -> Meatstick[2] -> Boogie On Reggae Woman > Farmhouse > Show of Life, Julius > Character Zero

Encore: Loving Cup

[1] Page on theremin.
[2] Japanese lyrics.

[setlist via]