Phish returned to The Gorge on Saturday for the second of three parts to the band’s 2021 sojourn to the vast expanses of the George, WA natural amphitheater.
Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell wasted no time “easing in” on night two, instead opting for a monster “Carini” opener—the second time this summer that the unhinged jam vehicle has opened a show following 8/6/21 at Deer Creek.
After moving quickly into dark, murky, low-register waters, Trey dropped into a rocking, major key progression that pushed the jam toward the light. Speaking of light, Chris Kuroda et al. continue to discover new patterns for this year’s highly involved light rig. Particularly on the towering stages at venues like The Gorge and Hersheypark Stadium, the sheer vertical distance being traversed by each of the segments—dangling and rising, falling and turning with robotic precision alongside sparkling spotlights and pulses of volume and activity from the LED panels—has been nothing short of breathtaking, and the spectacle gets better every night.
Moving forward with zero regard for the fact that this was the start of the first set, Phish continued to fire off unfettered rock n’ roll energy with “Maze” and “46 Days”. While both numbers rose to their typically satisfying peaks, “46 Days” took the scenic route through a sonic swamp to get there, each member of the band experimenting with low-register synths and effects while employing a concerted economy of notes and musical concepts, allowing new roads to present themselves organically.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) August 29, 2021
After 35 straight minutes of heat to start the show, Phish used the next song to slow things down a little. The change in pace only piqued the excitement in the crowd, however, as the band dusted off “Esther”, the eerie, early-days composition/surrealist carnival tale, for the first time since “Jimmies Night” at the Baker’s Dozen in 2017. Following an extra run-through at Friday night’s soundcheck, this rendition of the creepy yet beautiful song was masterfully played, a confirmation that despite the relatively tight song rotation we’ve seen this summer, Phish can still pull out the old rarities and knock them out of the park.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) August 29, 2021
A brief “555” followed before Trey signaled the opening of the summer’s second “Divided Sky”, a song that always feels well-suited to the sprawling environs of The Gorge (it has been played at five of the ten Phish Gorge runs dating back to 1997).
Phish – “Divided Sky” (Partial) – 8/28/21
[Video: Aaron Wright]
The tour debuts continued from there with a brief “Swept Away” > “Steep” before the band hit the gas and powered into Stevie Wonder‘s “Boogie On Reggae Woman”. While always a welcome addition to any set, this one struggled to get going after some flubbed lyrics and the ensuing laughter they prompted. Even so, the band managed to lock into a few solid minutes of a grungy funk groove before winding down and firing up a set-closing “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”.
A chilly breeze blew through the George air as the band stepped back onstage for set two and waded into the fourth “Sand” of the summer. This one got murky and funky with efficiency, taking off in patient ripples and waves. As the exploration neared the 15-minute mark, Gordon pulled the stopper and drained the frothy puddle of ambient tones into “Down With Disease”.
Yet another summer 2021 go-to, “Prince Caspian”, provided a brief respite before a delicate, breezy, location-appropriate “Mountains in the Mist” gave way to “Scents and Subtle Sounds”. While this marked a notably short gap for the song, which was featured prominently at Phish’s last run, this version saw the Undermind favorite reunite with its music-box intro portion after lending it to “The Moma Dance” last time around.
While the AC “Scents” focused on intro-swapping lyrical jigsaw puzzles, the version from The Gorge was all about the song itself. Its flowing improv remained amorphous for several probing minutes with help from some “99 Red Balloons”-like melodic frills from Trey before Page locked onto a catchy synth pattern and the rest of the band fell in behind it. Riding the reverberations of that pulse, the band percolated there for a while before easing into echoes and creeping tension.
Just shy of 18 minutes into the “Scents” voyage, “Bug” shined some light through the cracks for an airy interlude, highlighted as always by some beautiful Mike/Trey interplay. Finally, a nimble “Possum” brought the set to a close.
Phish – “Possum” – 8/28/21
With plenty of time left for the encore, the band returned with an interesting mix of three tunes including the tour debuts of “Bittersweet Motel” and “Heavy Things” (crazy that we’ve gotten this far without one, huh?) and the searing coda of Ghosts of the Forest rocker “About To Run”.
Phish – “Bittersweet Motel” – 8/28/21
[Video: Noshua Narmer]
The second night of The Gorge was a strange but satisfying slice of 2021 Phish. The beginning of the first set blasted off like the start of a second set, the second set kept its deepest jam for late in the night, and the encore felt like it was plucked out of the middle of a set one. Strange (setlist) design aside, this show offered a few fun bust-outs and more of the tight, creative, spacious, simmering group playing that has made this tour so strong.
One more night at The Gorge tonight. Have a great Sunday, folks. See you on the other side.
Setlist: Phish | The Gorge | George, WA | 8/28/21
SET 1: Carini > Maze > 46 Days, Esther, 555 > Divided Sky, Swept Away > Steep, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.
SET 2: Sand > Down with Disease > Prince Caspian > Mountains in the Mist, Scents and Subtle Sounds > Bug > Possum
ENCORE: Bittersweet Motel > Heavy Things, About to Run
Esther was performed for the first time since July 30, 2017 (111 show gap). DWD was unfinished.