Phish once again hit the stage at The Gorge on Sunday to wrap up a three-night summer 2021 weekend run.
Playing into the relaxed vibe that tends to permeate Sunday crowds, the band eased into smooth Kasvot Växt tune “Cool Amber and Mercury”, marking just its second time opening a show following 6/11/19 in St. Louis.
The band continued with tried and true first set fare in “The Moma Dance” and “Free”, the latter of which received some early-show grease via Trey Anastasio‘s signature summer 2021 octave-shifted tones.
Bittersweet Trey quarantine tune “Lonely Trip” came next, making its second-ever appearance with Phish. If you’re just tuning back in to the Phish universe this summer after the pandemic-imposed pause—if you’re one of the many who never really dove into the deluge of material pouring out of Anastasio’s NYC apartment last year—”Lonely Trip” may just sound like a pretty, new “slow song,” the kind of song that often takes a while to catch on with fans. If you have been tuning in from home, however, it’s impossible not to feel the sweet, simple number’s contextual weight.
It first appeared on Trey’s accounts on March 31st, 2020 as initial coronavirus lockdowns were being extended and the grim realities of our immediate future were starting to settle in. In all struggle, however, there is hope, and Trey seemed resolute in his aims to impart that notion with “Lonely Trip”, a collaboration with Tom Marshall and Scott Herman.
Along with “Lonely Trip”, Trey shared a heartfelt note about an early-quarantine tradition in NYC and around the country: the nightly cheer from the windows for all the essential workers putting their safety on the line to help keep the masses safe. As Trey wrote,
Every night at 7pm the whole city, all 5 boroughs, leans out their windows to scream and cheer and bang on pots and pans to show support for the essential workers, the doctors, medical, police officers, food delivery people, who are going out there and risking everything to take care of others. I wish you could hear the sound. It’s overwhelming. An entire city screaming with love and gratitude.
That significance is baked into every note of “Lonely Trip”, which would eventually go on to serve as the title track for Anastasio’s lockdown collection, an album born of uncertainty but steeped in optimism. “If by chance our vessels pass,” the lyrics surmise with friends, fans, and bandmates in mind, “I hope we finally meet at last.”
The year got longer and stranger from there as 2020 contingency plans fell into place—from Sigma Oasis to Dinner and a Movie, The Beacon Jams to New Year’s chess. As months passed, that refrain grew more and more potent. “I hope we finally meet at last…”
“Lonely Trip” will forever be intertwined with the full scope of the pandemic experience for this community, and any time Phish plays it from now on, any time we hear it, we’ll relive that moment Trey is singing about: meeting at last, back in our happy place, all together after all this time. Did Trey botch some lyrics on the Gorge version? Naturally, but it hardly mattered. Call me sentimental, but I’m now officially chasing “Lonely Trip” at every show.
The tour debut of Mike Gordon original “How Many People Are You” followed, bringing some synth swells from Page McConnell and more low-register guitar synth tones from Trey. While the lush sonic space being cultivated seemed like it had the juice to go much further, Trey quickly pumped the breaks and piloted a segue into “Bathtub Gin”.
While the composed portion experienced some turbulence both on take-off and landing, the groove that developed within the 14-minute “Gin” proved to be one of the set’s improvisational highlights. The texture provided by Page’s synths and Jon Fishman‘s sample pad helped set the stage for a climactic, effects-laden closing swell.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) August 30, 2021
Well-played if relatively unremarkable readings of “Back On The Train” (featuring some subtle “No Men In No Man’s Land” riffing), “My Friend, My Friend” (sans “myfe” ending), and “Rift” finally set up the set’s closer, “Character Zero”. Fans of the “seen one ‘Zero’, seen ’em all” persuasion should take a gander at this one. Benefitting greatly from Trey’s continued exploration of the low end, this “Character Zero” felt like it had something new to tell the man Mulcahey—and Anastasio’s visible elation throughout the rendition seemed to verify that notion.
Phish – “Back On The Train” [Pro-Shot] – 8/29/21
Both Trey’s use of pitch-shifting guitar synths and the entire band’s efforts to deconstruct and isolate those thematic tones and feelings have been a hallmark of the sparser, “darker” summer 2021 sound.
As bassist Mike Gordon told SiriusXM Phish Radio‘s Ari Fink ahead of the Gorge run, “A jam might go on for a long, long time, and in the middle, rather than adding elements, [we’re] seeing which ones can be subtracted. So, you know, Trey might be playing some patterns on the guitar and then to take that away and create ambiance…it’s all just a way of saying ‘you know what, I’m just gonna relax and whatever I can think to play isn’t as cool as what the muse can think of.'”
“I think it’s pretty cool to have two low-end instruments, and Trey is doing it in new ways,” Mike added. “I find it really cool that that’s another thing in the middle of a jam gets taken away, the upper register, and now we all get to swim in the murk, the swamp, together.” [Read more from Mike’s SiriusXM Phish Radio interview here].
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Much like the murky “Zero” that closed set one, the band returned to the stage for the second frame and dove straight into the sonic swamp with “Mr. Completely”. The appearance of the once-shelved, somewhat recently revived Anastasio tune almost always portends a big jam, and this version proved to be no exception. Forging into the shadows, Gordon and Fishman set the foundation while Trey and Page created an ominous ambiance behind them as Chris Kuroda‘s rig burst out from its center with pellets of light through a mechanical web.
Following a pronounced “There Is A Mountain”/”Mountain Jam” tease from Trey, Page fired off some glitching synths, pushing the band toward a pulsating, ascending progression and onward into a cathartic peak before slipping into an unusually-placed “Meat” featuring a murky, call-and-response “bass” showdown between Mike and Trey and an armful of Fishman samples.
Phish – “Mr. Completely” [Pro-Shot] – 8/29/21
Talking Heads favorite “Crosseyed and Painless” was up next, giving green-donut Fishman a chance to flex his vocal chops. Trey seemed eager to push this “Crosseyed” back into “Mr. Completely”, wedging in a few measures of its main riff before ceding to Fishman’s rhythmic insistence and heading deeper into the unhinged depths with the first “Saw It Again” of the tour. Another tour debut, the ensuing “Mango Song”, played the foil and brought the mood back from shrieking menace to laughing delight.
“Everything’s Right” arrived from there and quickly settled into a slow, funky rumble. Practicing the same techniques Mike spoke about, the band didn’t seem in a hurry to arrive anywhere in particular, instead opting to explore the nooks and gaps in the brooding groove they had concocted.
After ten minutes, “Everything’s Right” pooled into a delicate, location-appropriate “Beneath A Sea of Stars Part 1”. As the billowing, amorphous jam expanded, Trey called to the LD, “Hey Toph, turn off the lights, dude?” Kuroda obliged, giving the crowd a final, emotional moment of connection with this vast natural wonder they had called home for the last three days.
Big Boat electro-vamp “I Always Wanted It This Way” had never closed a set before Sunday night, but the track tied a satisfying bow on the performance as synth pulses from Page wove together with “Crosseyed” and “Mr. Completely” teases from Trey.
The band returned to the stage for the third of three 2021 Gorge encores with yet another Rolling Stones cover, “Shine A Light”, to bookend the run alongside the “Torn and Frayed” that kicked it off on Friday (some legends deserve two tributes). An emphatic “First Tube” finally brought the show to a close.
Phish tour 2021 continues on Tuesday and Wednesday at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA, followed by a three-night run at DICK’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO this weekend. For more information, head here.
Setlist: Phish | The Gorge | George, WA | 8/30/21
Set One: Cool Amber and Mercury > The Moma Dance, Free, Lonely Trip, How Many People Are You > Bathtub Gin > Back on the Train, My Friend, My Friend > Rift, Character Zero
Set Two: Mr. Completely > Meat, Crosseyed and Painless > Saw It Again > The Mango Song > Everything’s Right > Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > I Always Wanted It This Way
Encore: Shine a Light > First Tube
 No “Myfe” ending.
Trey teased No Men In No Man’s Land in Back on the Train. My Friend My My Friend didn’t contain the “Myfe” ending. Trey teased L.A. Woman and Fire (Ohio Players) in Character Zero. Mr. Completely contained There is a Mountain teases from Trey and Page. Mr. Completely was teased in Crosseyed. I Always Wanted It This Way contained Mr. Completely and Crosseyed teases.