I’m going to preface this entire recap by admitting that I have never listened to a Phish ‘Gamehendge’ show before. This will undoubtedly color my perception of the second set. Before we get to that, however, we have a first set to get through. So let’s get started! Lucky enough for us, a very crisp and good sounding soundboard recording of this show circulates. “Chalk Dust Torture” kicks off the night. This isn’t the most exhilarating “Chalk Dust” solo I have heard from Trey but it gets the job done and is a solid opener. “Guelah” appears in its familiar second slot role and is followed by a tight “Uncle Pen.” “Stash” provides the first opportunity for the band to open up. The song breaks down to almost complete silence before and during the final verse, and the jam starts at 5:30. There’s a good, wailing build from Trey from 8:15 to 9:15 at which point the rest of the band comes in with the closing vocals. I felt like the band could have kept pushing here for Trey is still wailing away when the vocals come in. Nonetheless, this is a well-executed “Stash” and a decent first stab at improvisation this evening.
“Bouncing” provides a collective exhale before the band delivers another solid “Rift” (they have really locked this song down over the last couple of weeks). The first “Weigh” of March injects some variety to the setlist and drops into “Reba.” As in “Stash” earlier, the band adds more dynamism to this “Reba” than is typical. Perhaps the band learned some lessons from the Redlands show a couple nights ago where they were forced to keep the volume down? Continuing this trend the beginning of the jam is very sparse and near-silent from 7:30-8:30. Trey doesn’t start to lead until about 9:10, where he enters with some tasteful, jazzy playing. From there it’s a fairly standard build until the peak/end of the jam at 13:15. Also like “Stash,” this is not a particularly adventurous or unusual take on “Reba,” but it’s well-played and the band gets some brownie points for the added dynamics.
“Sparkle” is the penultimate song of the set and does what “Sparkle” does before “Bowie” takes us to setbreak. The “Bowie” intro is long tonight with lots of Secret Language and some teases of other songs from Page and Mike; the song proper starts at 2:40. Trey’s guitar has an interesting tone at 7:10 that I haven’t heard much of on this tour, and he accompanies it with good staccato playing. A jazzy feeling drives the first couple minutes of this “Bowie” jam, which includes the best group-improvisation of the set. The song starts to build at ~8:30 and has a strong peak at 10:00. The last couple minutes of the jam has some great playing from Mike (enhanced by the clarity of the soundboard recording) before the composed ending at 12:00. The band gets creative during the ending breakdowns (always a good sign) with dissonant playing at 12:30 and again at 12:45, first led by Trey and the second led by Mike. This is a strong “Bowie” with creative improvisation that colors within the lines of the jam’s standard build progression; the clear highlight of the set. Overall, this is a strong first set anchored by well-executed performances of several of the band’s first-set improv vehicles: “Stash,” “Reba,” and “Bowie.” This is complemented with a good, flowing setlist and all-around tight playing.
Set 2 opens innocently enough with a standard but decent sounding “Golgi.” It’s an unusual slot for this song (usually appearing at the beginning or end of a show), but it doesn’t betray the shenanigans to come. “It’s Ice” returns to its second-slot placement. The last time this song was performed the band experimented a lot during the ‘underwater’ segment. Tonight the band takes the ‘underwater’ segment sideways once again, in a much more epic fashion. As soon as this segment starts, over Fishman’s tick-tock beat and eerie ambience from the rest of the band, Trey begins to narrate a journey to Gamehendge. Before diving into the full Gamehendge saga, Trey thanks the crowd for being the “quietest, most attentive audience” the band has had “in years.”
From there the band performs the whole Gamehendge saga with narration from Trey between each song, describing the story for the audience. As many Phish fans know, each time the band has performed Gamehendge the setlist has varied slightly. The setlist for tonight’s Gamehendge reads: “It’s Ice (beginning of narration) > The Lizards > Tela > Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth > McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters.” I’m not going to recap the entire story; there’s a good 10-15 minutes of narration total between the songs. We have heard all of these songs on this tour, but some of them (Tela, AC/DC Bag, Wilson, McGrupp) have been played rarely. A notable aspect of this sequence is how tight the band sounds. This has been true throughout the entire show, but considering how infrequently some of these songs are played the clarity is impressive. The soundboard recording, of course, further enhances the listening experience. “Tela” in particular, which sounded spotty just a few nights ago, has been cleaned up quite a bit. This whole ~70 minute segment is light on improvisation, but that’s besides the point. The Gamehendge story was essential to the creation of Phish the band and to hear the band play through it, only done on a small handful of other occasions, is simply a delight.
And that’s not all! The band probably could have left the stage at this point, but we get treated to an excellent Mike’s Groove to cap off the set. The “Mike’s Song” jam starts at 3:00 and Trey joins in at 3:20. After a quick and standard solo from him the F-key transition begins at 4:45. Normally this section sounds messy and unfocused to me, but they experiment with it more than normal tonight and I like how it turns out. There’s a cool wash of noise and dissonance at 6:00 that leads to a sparse segment quickly accompanied by odd playing from Trey. It almost sounds during this passage like Trey is using a killswitch on his guitar, Buckethead-style. Page picks up on this and adds appropriate accompaniment of his own, matching Trey’s staccato playing. The end chords kick in at 7:20. “Hydrogen” sounds good tonight. “Weekapaug” eschews the experimentation that the song has indulged in lately in favor of a rocking exclamation point to end the set; an appropriate choice for this show. The jam begins at 1:25 and becomes dissonant around 4:00. Trey really shreds throughout this jam; the band doesn’t break down the song to give Page an opportunity to take the spotlight, as has often been the case in this song lately. Nevertheless, Page asserts himself around 4:30 and co-leads the rest of the jam with Trey. There’s a passage of incredible drumming from Fishman at the end of the jam from 5:30-6:00 as he breaks from the song’s typical beat. Again, this isn’t the most adventurous Mike’s Groove, but as has been the case with the whole show the playing is rock solid and it’s an excellent choice to end this monumental set. “Amazing Grace” and “Fire” send the crowd home as the encore choices.
There’s only so much ink that can be spilled over this show; either the prospect of hearing the Gamehendge saga performed in its entirety excites you or it does not, and nothing I say will change minds on that score. While hearing Gamehendge like this was exciting for me, it’s not the only thing this show has going for it. The first set is great for this tour with good renditions of “Stash,” “Reba,” and “David Bowie” providing the anchors. The second set, deservedly, has been inscribed in Phish lore. However, besides just the novelty of the Gamehendge performance, the band’s playing is great throughout the set and the Mike’s Groove at the end of the set is a nice cherry on top. Definitely a must-hear show!
- Show rating: 5/5
- Highlights: “David Bowie,” Gamehendge, “Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 74 mins.
- Second set length: 100 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Crest Theatre.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Weigh,” returning after a twenty-one show absence (2/20/93).
- The best represented studio album is The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (7 songs).