Phish Summer 2018 Tour: Lake Tahoe & Gorge Roundup (SHOW RECAPS/PHOTOS)

From the cool shores of Lake Tahoe, to the vast expanse of the hallowed Gorge, Summer 2018 Phish has arrived. In the way a deep ocean groundswell grows gradually, Phish has built a fluid momentum throughout their first five shows of this Summer 2018 tour. Tahoe was a solid one-two warmup, and after an extended three-night stint in Washington the band is loose, primed, and ready for liftoff. If you’re lucky enough to be headed to San Francisco or L.A. for any of the four California shows this week there’s no doubt you’re in a good position to catch some memorable music.

Night 1 -Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys – 7/17

Returning to Lake Tahoe for their fifth ever show, Phish took the stage at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena in Stateline, Nevada for the first of two sold-out shows. The band wasted little time in loosening up dropping an edgy, old school get-down set highlighted by a funky “Ghost”. The trio of “Free”>”Possum”, “Moma Dance” that preceded the “Ghost” made for a stellar start to the set, which ended with a fiery “Funky Bitch” and a rocking “Character Zero”.

Set two started funky and turned cosmic fast. The pairing of “No Men In No Man’s Land” >”Carini” surfaced as it has in recent shows offering a seamless segue of groove filled ambience into an abstract punky darkness. The “Slave” was an organic outpouring, although as smooth as the transition was, the move derailed the tightly woven improvisational work coming out of “Carini”. Some interesting jamming in “Soul Planet” and a crispy “Hood” highlighted the rest of the set before a fun encore of “Contact” and “Julius” capped off night one.

Night 2 -Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys – 7/18

After a pretty sharp tour opener, night two in Tahoe did not kick off with “Smoke on the Water” as so many was guessing due to the nearby wildfires, but rather eased into a hot summer afternoon. There was a little something extra on the “Everything’s Right” and the set-closing “Bathtub Gin”, but largely it was a contained twelve song outing.

Set two featured yet another pairing seen in recent years at Dick’s, “Down with Disease”> ”What’s The Use”. “Disease” had legs to it, exploring interesting soundscapes before giving way to the melting chords of “What’s the Use”. The move into “Blaze On” and “I Always Wanted it this Way” kept the crowd engaged, but fluidity was not the hallmark of the night. As fun as the set was live, with a shredding “YEM” to close, that special effortless melding from idea-to-idea was adrift this evening. But it didn’t matter. The two Tahoe shows were prime warmups for Phish’s first ever three-night visit to many a fans’ all time favorite venue.

Night 1- Gorge Ampitheatre – 7/20

There’s nothing like it. Seeing Phish at the Gorge is something every phan must do at least once. The community, culture, and style showcased by Phish fits too well with the freedom of finding oneself in the middle of nowhere Washington at a concert site that almost seems like it was made for Phish to play. Kicking things off with the debut of “Set Your Soul Free” was the message being sent by the band, and no one in attendance rejected it. A mellow, but increasingly explorative first set saw some nice subtle extended playing in “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Roggae” with increasingly more and more improvisation towards the end of the set with “Simple” and “Sand”.

On its own, “Chalkdust Torture” is the jam of the first five shows of summer tour. It checks the box in terms of length, but more importantly, the musical space explore dipped its toes into a kaleidoscope of abstract, fiery, nuanced musical territory. There was some tasty licks in “Rock and Roll” and “Light”, but nothing really supported the cosmic ground reached with “Chalkdust” minus the exceptionally smooth flow into “My Friend, My Friend” during this set.

Night 2- Gorge Ampitheatre – 7/21

Was it going to be a Saturday night special? Or a special Saturday night at the Gorge? “Party Time” signaled the day, and the fan favorite “Punch You In The Eye” continued the theme. However, this was largely a night of beloved songs played rather than the crafting of a salient show. Set two held all the cards, but just when “Tweezer” was settling in, “Golden Age” went full funk town, or “Piper” was reaching Type II territory another card was played. Another enjoyable show from a singular song perspective, overall the first four shows had yet to get the band in a full surrender to the phlow position. As luck would have it, what’s normally a two-show outing for the band at the Gorge was three this time so there was one more opportunity.

Night 3- Gorge Ampitheatre – 7/22

All it took was four shows and a few hundred miles to get here. As a member of the tribe that finds the Gorge to be the premier venue in the U.S., and one of the must-see stages for Phish, it’s hard to describe how special it was to listen to one of the more beautiful passages from the bands enormous catalogue- the “With” jam in “The Curtain”,  played out to the perfect timing of sunset over the Columbia River. It had to be an omen for the night, the simple reminder to never miss a Sunday show was in clear order. With a show pulling from every corner of Phish’s career, flow was found and a memorable audio adventure spilled out from start to finish. The complete first set is worth a listen start to finish, especially the atypical linkup of “Reba”, “Wombat”, and “Tela” towards the end.

Nine sets down and number ten was certainly the main event. Touching on a little bit of everything that continues to locate Phish in a purely unique position in the music world, this set is what it is all about. Dropping yet another memorable “Crosseyed and Painless” at the Gorge, this version lent itself to an ambient, psychedelic groove that ultimately punctuated the entire set. “Twist” added a thicker layer of drippy funk to the mix yielding 31+ minutes of top-tier modern Phish between the set’s first two songs. At the first notes of “Waves” played I got a little ahead of myself and thought if they take this one deep…which is never a good thing to do at a Phish show, create expectations that is, but hey, I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. “Waves” stayed within Type I territory. “Miss You” was up next. Although a slow tune with placement late in the second set, the gorgeous tribute fit. All that was left was a half hour of perfectly placed “Fluffhead”, and a not so much peaking as straight up dark and gritty “Split Open and Melt” to bring the energy back up and get a little Gorge-galactic before all was said and done.

Leaving the Gorge I’ve had the fortune of catching the last 17 Phish shows going back to the final five of the Baker’s Dozen. If it weren’t for that thing called life, I would be finishing the West Coast run and thinking about jumping tour. Phish is in a comfortable place right now. With these five shows underneath them the stage is set for a memorable remainder of the summer, with a hefty Fall tour on tap. It’s a good time to be a phan. To have the same core four musicians playing at such a high level together after all of these years is tough to find in the music world. We’re the lucky ones. Don’t take it for granted though, make a show or a run happen and keep riding that train. Unless a magic carpet shows up to whisk me to Dick’s I’ll see ya in Vegas and can’t wait to see what the rest of summer and start of fall have for us. Enjoy it!


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