Kicking off the second leg of their summer tour, last night Phish performed the first of three shows at The Gorge. It marked the 20th time Phish has performed at the famed George, WA venue. There are few places more special to see this band, and they took the stage looking fresh and like they had washed off any lingering residue from Atlantic City.
As the sun set behind them, the band started with an homage to the late Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer of The Rolling Stones who passed away earlier this week. “Torn and Frayed” was performed for only the ninth time by Phish, marking its first appearance since 2/20/20 in Mexico.
“Welcome everybody,” said guitarist Trey Anastasio through a smile before counting off “No Men In No Man’s Land”. Drummer Jon Fishman seemed particularly inspired early on, while the rest of the band stayed relaxed and patient waiting for the jam to evolve. Though this one never erupted, it had interesting moments that seemed primed for expansion before Trey pulled the plug and wrapped things up.
Then, for the first time since 9/3/17, and for only the fourth time ever, Phish delivered a brief pass through the Sigma Oasis track “Leaves” before Fishman kicked into the drumbeat for “Split Open and Melt.” But to the dismay of the crowd, he stopped after one measure. Laughing and looking at Trey, Fishman said, “I thought you said ‘No’? Trey replied, “I did! But you can’t do that and stop, man! I think Fish is scared of ‘Split Open and Melt’, it’s too scary.”
Accepting the challenge, Fishman re-started the song with some extra flourishes. With barely any light left in the Western sky, Phish stumbled upon some early, accidental darkness usually reserved for later in the show or even the weekend. Keyboardist Page McConnell set the tone early on by leaning on his Moog synthesizer, giving this one some spacey color.
A solid but nothing-out-of-the-ordinary “Tube” followed before “I Been Around” landed in the sixth slot, performed for only the eighth time since its debut in 2009. Trey hammed it up with his usual “Page, where ya been all week?” before the keyboardist showed some nice vocal range on the Joy track.
Next up was the first “Ha Ha Ha” since the Baker’s Dozen finale. The Mike Gordon-penned “Mull” followed for its second performance by the band, the first being in Nashville earlier this summer. Like a few of the more recent Mike tunes, “Mull” seems to have the potential for the band to stretch into Type II jam territory, but so far it hasn’t gone there.
After an emotional pass through “Shade”, Page started up “Alaska” as Trey said, “This is about as close as we get, so …” The band worked the jam nicely up to its peak before a slick transition back into the chorus. Before the final notes rang out, Trey launched into the set closer, “Golgi Apparatus”.
Though we can’t quite call this 11-song first frame a “bust out” set, I’m sure the audience didn’t see many of them coming. Could it be a harbinger of what was to come?
“Sigma Oasis” opened the second set. Though previous versions this summer didn’t showcase much from the band, and it usually feels like a warm-up for whatever follows, this one had some energy to it. Before the final notes rang out, Trey led the band into a fantastic, though oddly placed “What’s the Use?” This is a song that feels tailor-made for The Gorge; beautiful, nuanced, and expansive. It also gives lighting director Chris Kuroda an opportunity to stretch a bit and show just how in-sync he is with the band as he bathes the audience in an array of flashing patterns and colors. We know the band loves The Gorge, but you’d have to think that it’s among CK5’s favorite spots to light in the world. He did some absolutely stunning work last night.
A fun “Blaze On” followed, but it never really developed into anything noteworthy before Trey segued nicely into the first “Lifeboy” of 2021. If there’s a spot that might make you want to talk to God, it’s The Gorge. Inching closer to me reconsidering my earlier call about how we can’t quite call it a “bust out” night, the band delivered a funked up, greasy “Camel Walk” for the first time since 7/12/19. Without question, the musical highlight of the evening, this 16-minute “Camel Walk” (the longest ever) was the most unique of the last decade. The Type II jam stayed on the mellow side, but it allowed each member of the band the opportunity to put their stamp on it. They all had a lot to say, but it was never too much.
Phish – “Camel Walk” [Pro-Shot] – George, WA – 8/27/21 – Partial
Attempting to ignite the kind of energy that had been lacking thus far, Trey dug into the riff for “Chalkdust Torture”. The audience responded in kind, but a rather disjointed run through the composition gave way to a flagging version of the unfinished Phish staple. The always welcome and never uninspired “Slave To The Traffic Light” closed an interesting second set.
“Drift While You’re Sleeping” seemed like an odd choice for the encore, but the song selections and placements didn’t feel congruent for most of the night. Most of the evening was measured and paced and it seemed like the band was shaking off some dust after their well-earned two-week hiatus. But what this show lacked in tension, release, and monster jams, it made up for with some moments of sublime beauty. And that “Camel Walk” is certainly worth a re-listen.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) August 28, 2021
Phish – “The Gorge Song” (Soundcheck) – George, WA – 8/27/21
Every single band that comes to the Gorge plays the Gorge Song! 🎶 pic.twitter.com/mPqWTeBHYD
— Wombat_Mätt ✭ (@Wombat_Matt) August 28, 2021
Setlist: Phish | The Gorge | George, WA | 8/27/21
Set One: Torn and Frayed, No Men In No Man’s Land, Leaves, Split Open and Melt, Tube, I Been Around, Ha Ha Ha, Mull, Shade, Alaska > Golgi Apparatus
Set Two: Sigma Oasis > What’s the Use?, Blaze On > Lifeboy > Camel Walk -> Chalk Dust Torture > Slave to the Traffic Light
ENCORE: Drift While You’re Sleeping
Trey teased Let It Grow in No Men In No Man’s Land. Leaves was performed for the first time since September 3, 2017 (102 shows). Trey teased Super Bad in Tube. Ha Ha Ha was performed for the first time since August 6, 2017 (105 shows). Chalk Dust Torture was unfinished. The Gorge Song in the soundcheck was improvised with Trey making up lyrics about the Gorge. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.