Me, two months ago: “Hell yeah I’ll do the Hershey 2 recap, I’ll be there. Boom!”
Narrator: “He would not be attending Hershey.”
Due to a looming work deadline and some family obligations, I had to bail on the shows, but I was excited to be able to do the recap based on couch touring. I also got to spend the evening with my wife, celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. Maybe I should have prioritized that in the first place? All’s well that ends well.
Speaking of that, Hershey night two showed again that sometimes, from the start, the band comes out and is just completely ready to rock. Last night was one of those nights. And before you write me off completely for not being there, I will bring in reviews I got from a couple friends who were there.
I really love the opener choices this tour, a mix of staples, like Crowd Control, and new songs, like Evolve. This You Sexy Thing opener last night really set the tone. I remain impressed by Mike’s vocals on the tune. Wombat in the two slot, and a solid ten-minute exploration—who could have expected that? This jam was a jam, as confirmed by Jonathan: “At least half of the Wombats are in the five minute range. A good number of them, however, crack the ten minute mark. Dayton 7.18.17 goes 13 minutes. That said, this one is a jam.” It sure was. It highlighted the musical theme of the tour, for me: Page with his synth sounds, Trey with his new effects, making a spacey, improvisational moment straight out of the gate.
The “You Sexy Wombat” segment may seem a little silly, but if you watch the band move into that You Sexy Thing theme while singing different lyrics, it took them no time at all, and there was no disruption or confusion. They were exchanging a few glances, but this is how telepathic they are at this point. This moment hammered that home for me.
A jammed out Halley’s Comet? The statisticians can contradict me, but I think this was the longest version since 9.18.00. And this did not disappoint. This song obviously provides a great entry point to a jam, but often it peters out as quickly as it starts. Not this one. Trey started going back to the chorus lyrics at the beginning of the jam, but you could tell by his vamping and Fishman’s driving that they weren’t going anywhere. Page and Mike push the space sounds around 6:40, and Trey continues with his soloing, instead of opting for the Jedi switch or any of the new toys. But you know he can’t resist! So he starts using that effect around 8:30, then returns back and takes it into a major key bliss jam. This is just a wonderful example of patience, and attentive listening, early on in a show.
I’ve been waiting for more Lonely Trip songs, and the title track was a welcome cool down after that jam. This set of Herman / Marshall lyrics, and the great songs they became, have been overlooked so far, but I hope they continue to be played and recognized. They have a modern, melancholic perspective at times, but there’s a lot of hope in them, too. I think this is Trey and Tom meeting halfway in the way they both approach songwriting. Can’t wait to hear more music like this.
A smoking Maze to finish the set, complete, of course, with a You Sexy Thing reprise. That’s a hell of a start, and a world of difference from night one.
My friend Patrick, who was at the show, sent this report back: “Nice step up from night one. Seemed to be testing out all the bells and whistles to get ready for AC. They played a whole lot of water songs that seemed like a better fit for this weekend, but I’m sure there’s plenty more water songs left in the tank. I have to relisten again but I’m not sure there were huge highlights we’ll relisten to over and over again. That said I’d do it every day of the week. It was a Phish concert. They are fun. I like them.”
They are fun. I really like the pattern of playing a bit of a warm up song before a big jam in set two. The Theme from the Bottom slowly built the energy, and then into this Birds. What can you say about that jam? I’ll try. It’s kind of a perfect 3.0 / 4.0 combo—similar builds and patterns but totally different sonic textures. Fishman’s drumming never slows down. One pattern I’m noticing from these shows is that the “bliss” jams, if they happen, are happening more in the middle, as opposed to the end (save the Blaze On from Deer Creek). In this Birds, it’s around 10 minutes, and then it gets darker and more spacey. Just another way they’re continuing to explore and evolve.
I’m a sucker for Bug. It’s one of my favorite songs, and I love when it comes after a huge jam (see 8.15.15 out of 46 Days). There’s something so beautiful about this song. The space that exists in the verses and chorus, the build of the solo, the release. This was a great spot for it.
In terms of the rest of the set, this is from my friend Matt: “Solid show from start to finish, not really a lull at any point. Even the Lonely Trip and Bug were perfectly placed and didn’t suck any energy from their respective sets. Halley’s was the high point for me, but Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves was 30 minutes of heaven. CDT proved the old adage: ‘If you don’t stick the landing, just land again.’”
One more thing. I'd like to take this time to thank Trey for his amazing singing this tour. The Show of Life encore was a great example. Ever since Ghosts of the Forest, and maybe before that, he's spent so much more time and energy focusing on his singing, and it shows. Bringing soulful feeling to so many songs, it elevates every song. Keep up the amazing work.
This show had a great combination of fun and improv, new songs and old, familiar and novel. The Light -> Party Time segue was perfect, and again showed how locked in they are, how willing to explore while also never straying too far from the humor and spontaneity that made them who they are. And those two songs landing into a new(ish) jam vehicle, Ruby Waves, that built the energy up again before going into a classic, Chalk Dust Torture, is the best summation of where they are right now.
Since the pandemic, I think Phish, like all of us, are excited about a return to (relative) normalcy, while still feeling tentative at times. And we all are looking toward the future, and what it brings for us, musically, personally, professionally. I think the band and the audience are on the same page right now, celebrating where we are while continuing to push forward. I can’t wait for Atlantic City.
The author, swittersdc (RJ Bee) is the CEO of Osiris Media.
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Thought, for this go around, I would add my show notes. Disclaimer, unedited and from the couch (and bed):
Note times are in central time zone:
Sexy thing 635 gave hints of the first set to come and as they dropped into
Wombat 642 wawah effects underwater menagerie with hints of shakedown slow drift softer tone effects frog tone type two page synth
Sexy thing tease 650 sexy wombat mashup hard stop cuddly but muscular
Land o chocolate
Talks about being locked in man cave 652
Free 653 felt like an extended intro Mike slinky tight jam fishman holding down the fort CK5 with this red and light cascading out effect turned purple machine gun 80’s laser tag lighting whining guitar sustained wine
Into the outro some demented centipede of lights waving across the top of the backdrop big Mike slinky bass lines noodling out pulsating
Asihtos 703 staccato licks out of way way way
Tiptoed the line between type 1 and type 2 Sexy thing between page and Trey screaming guitar fishman leading a second charge short lived turned feisty now twisting toward 1 full band wah wah wah repeated into the ending.
Halley’s Comet 711 Mike lead bass bombs into a vocal medley of central part of town this Haley’s ripe for the major treatment purple lights with Trey on a dead sequence of central part of town page on synths firing laser beams and Mike dropping bass bombs with the army procession almost xeyed each taking stabs at leading the charge the stage bathed in red veil of CK5 lights fishman picks up the rhythm with Trey effects echoing his notes sonic landscape being laid out in front of them the jams turns major key like victory 4 beacons of light CK5 bathed in yellow as Trey ushers in the new dawn simultaneously as the sky goes dark stark contrast from the jams initial darkness out of the proverbial muck comes a series of riffs beckoning to the gods escaping from the central part of town into Elysium. Hard to pick up Mike but page is tickling the keys like an angel possessed him. Shuttered effect out as things wind down almost like theme from the bottom and enveloped in a sea of red the jam begins a dark twist back into the eerie abyss with more laser beams and a CK 5 spectacle. Then soft and blue landing in
Lonely trip 727 major juxtaposition of the former and latter that worked with it’s elegant embrace
Giboo 733 as Trey dropped those wide swooping loops layered over each other kuroda s lights began a searchlight effect across the stage and audience. Purposeful playing band weaving musical thoughts in and out of each others sonic space with a slight build and volume increasing type one soire that built to the final sequence had the crowd on boogie mode.
Meat 742 with page’s organ taking us to church and Mike on the mic dropping early bass bombs another vocal medley looped into the Start stop section (a musical musical chairs of sorts which I would take any day of the week) Mike got turned up for this one turnt up for this one and turned up. 746 charge hockey theme. Groggy tone out Sexy thing back into Meat worry band interplay kept these meat rambling before an extended stop that came back full groggy force framp Ton style which dissipated into maze
Maze 749 now come page storming on the keys, organ forming brilliant trills as we frantically move through the endless maze Trey hopping bouncing beckoning for his romp through the maze calls for his instrument to be turned up and fires into an inspired solo that tirelessly builds and builds the tension to a cataclysmic frenzy with CKs strobbbing effects missing the peak early regroups and then the whole band opens wide up and takes it into the red zone before eclipsing the first set with the last vocal medley before the ditty of an ending and a last sexy thing reprisal. 758
833 set two
Theme out of the lyrical section into the build up Trey leans into a soaring lead page laying a back drop on his grand with tight pocket held by Fishman. Mike rig is decidedly subtle. Treys sustain beckons again before building to yet another full band crescendo and a transition back into the composed from the bottom section leading to the outro and melding into the frantic beginning of BOAF
841 Trey rolls up his sleeves high and tight to step into his staccato licks page hangs over the Wurlitzer as CK5 strobes the stage with white. Mike starts to build his sound out of the ether. Trey shifts to major key the band locks kn behind his lead as the sheets of lights spray out onto the audience.
Page and Trey trade riffs before the tone gets heavier, thick and the Moog is on the loose. Fluctuating between ethereal and sinister the frog returns from the bog as the crew refreshes, down shifts and pivots to another beautiful whole band interplay, weaving through each other without any one of them dominating ck5 has this crystallized effect as rods of red blue green and white grow upward on the monstrous rig. Trey throws echoes around before some soaring licks that are greeted with pages moog. Fishman goes double time and the band falls into an improvised outro that sets the bird aloft again. Fishman helps the darkness take hold with series of percussive licks and the growl effect rises from treys rig. Out of the ether comes the reprisal of BOAF. Band bathed in blue they slowly build the birds theme to the wah wah and like that this bird has landed.
900 Bug is a welcome breather that builds so inconspicuously. Before you know It there is not a soul standing still and Trey is a man possessed as he navigates through Chocolate town churning the molten goodness with note played. The final refrain echoes out to the crowd with the music bleeding into
909 light quickly shifts into low gear a sottovoce of sorts with Mike locked in. Another stranger things themed light sequence with kuroda cascading angled beams of light purple and orange in alternating variations. A flying orange bird burns into red and then this slapping effect of lights clapping with the stage. This light stays positive almost Jim like until
918 party time appears having melaterialised from nowhere like a sleight of hand trick. Slick and silky smooth segue, like drawn butter on warm toast. Page bending the notes on his moog to the point of absurdity and Trey full teasing Sexy thing yet again.
922 Ruby waves placement bodes well for this jam vehicle and quickly the echo effects abound and plinko funk firing from the stage in tight licks. kurodas tight thin lights are like moonlight streaming through the fog. The plinko echo was mirrored by kurodas strobe cascade and it appeared for a moment the lights were playing the band. The band brings the volume down and gradual reascends to a rollicking plateau before taking things up a notch. Dropping back into the Ruby Waves for a just a moment the sonic dissonance that resulted was cut through and
938 Chalkdist torture appeared. Another lyrical faux Paux stirs the crowd. Machine gun Trey atones for his sin builds the tension to peak after peak. As if we thought things couldn’t get more hectic we hit yet another fever pitch peak before the band reels CDT back in to its cage until the next time it’s let loose. A slight nod to Sexy Thing Trey calls the crowd you sexy thing you and four horseman of the apocalypse now and exit stage left. 946
949 show of life fills the encore slot like a delicious bar of chocolate. Totally satisfying.
956 say it to me santos is like the gooey nugget found inside the chilocolate bar. Kuroda cues the rig up for one last dance across the stage backdrop as the bad builds yet another peak to culmination and puts a solid exclamation point on the night 2 in zhershey pa.
I've been seeing shows for 30 years. I'm loyal to old school but am willing to adapt to newish (within reason). 3 of the 4 sets were fairly old school. They all had an upbeat, family friendly feel (lots of kids at these shows- no surprise!). Tuesday Set II was by far the weakest but still had some merits. At worst, I got to hang back and admire CK5's "firework" display.
They're playing at a high level and about to get down & dirty in the sleazepit that is AC. Bring it on!! And be safe everyone. See you there!
The vibe both days in the lot and in the venue was absolutely perfect. Respectful tailgate neighbors, fun shakedown, ease of entry into the stadium, lots of space inside, water refill stations and a decent beverage selection. The storm did come both days but it actually worked out well because it cooled the temperature down! We were prepared with ponchos but didn't have to use them because the rain was gone in time for the shows! A rainbow added to the good energy.
The music was unbelievable! Total dance party on the field both nights. The band brought so much enthusiasm, love, and spirit. I love how happy they are to play, and wow can they play!! Every set had something special. It was a joy to be there. Of course it is a strange climate with covid looming but all the more reason to live it up (carefully). So grateful to have attended and it felt wonderfully pleasing to enjoy my favorite band live again!
First Tube, Axilla, Fuego
Gumbo > Sample in a Jar
No Men In No Man's Land > Soul Planet
Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line > The Lizards
Rock and Roll
You Sexy Thing, Wombat
A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
Birds of a Feather, Bug > Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves
Show of Life
Also, I saw this one guy last night that was totally out of control, but he was having a blast with a huge smile on his face. His friends were trying their best to corral him, but they were struggling. These two security guards came walking by, and I thought that this guy was toast, but he was somehow able to muster all of his will power to hold his breath and stand still with his eyes closed, almost like he was pretending to be invisible. I could see him trying his best to be a statue while his friends whispered to him, but he was barely able to maintain his huge smile or composure. The two security guards walked right by him and I had to laugh. You did it dude, way to go!
I agree, Mike's singing to start the show was excellent. As lead singers they have all stepped up their game quite a bit. Lots of confidence in their singing. Intonation as a group with harmonies, eh... but that's what happens when you play loud music for almost 40 years. I think that sincerity is more important than perfection (though what is perfection anyway?) and these guys are sincere with every note.
Something I really like when getting close is the looks, glances, interactions between the 4 of them. Meat was a lot of fun. It looked like they were having fun. CDT... let's try that ending again... still messing it up... eh, whatever it was still a rocking good time!
The Halley's jam into Lonely Trip was great. I don't know that album Trey did in lockdown. I'm sure I'll hear it at some point, when the time is right. I like this song. Again, don't know it but the execution felt solid with intention and that's what I'm interested in hearing.
Was great to see some of you!!! And those I didn't see, catch you next time!
I didn't make the connection until I was back in my hotel room after the show, and I looked up who originally performed You Sexy Thing. Then, I laughed at the brilliance of it all. It's this kind of stuff that makes me LOVE this band!
Oh, Sweet Nuthin'>Bittersweet Motel
But like I always say... these boys give me what I NEED, not what I always want. The ocean is love.... AC here we come
Do any of you insiders know why Fishman was sporting the Dark green smock with the light green doughnuts . Its the 1st time I've seen it . I wonder if he wore it again tonight?