After two strong tour-opening shows in Bend, during which the band surprised the crowds with seven debuts and displayed a confidence and tightness not normally seen until the middle of tour, Phish rolled down the coast to California for the band’s fourteenth show at Shoreline Amphitheatre in the last 23 years, and first since Summer 2009. Though oft-maligned by fans for its poor sightlines and sound from the lawn, Shoreline has an undeniable cachet to fans of the Grateful Dead and fans of Phish alike. Concert promoter Bill Graham essentially built Shoreline for the Dead and even modeled its construction after the “steal your face” logo (see this photo and compare it with the logo), so it’s no coincidence that the Dead played Shoreline 39 times from 1987 - 1995.
Photo © Phish From the Road
Phish has honored the Dead on numerous occasions at Shoreline, from the 7/31/97 “Happy Birthday to You” tease in “Weekapaug Groove” for Jerry’s birthday (August 1st), to the 9/17/99 “YEM -> Jam” featuring Phil Lesh on trampolines, to the encore with Bob Weir on 10/6/00, the penultimate show of Phish 1.0. In fact, 9/17/99 and 10/6/00 were my first two shows, so Shoreline and its connection with the Dead will always hold a special place in my heart. And with Trey’s recent foray into the music of the Grateful Dead, it makes sense that Phish opted to visit Shoreline instead of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium this year, especially given that they were only to spend a single night in Northern California this tour. Were we in for another Dead sit-in? Would we hear a Dead song?! Let’s find out...
The band took the stage a few minutes after 8 PM to a raucous applause from the crowd, and started things off with “The Line”. It was a somewhat surprising choice as it had never opened a show previously – perhaps it was Trey’s tongue-in-cheek answer to the question “are you going to cover a Dead song?”, or maybe it was a reference to the venue name itself – but it was well-executed and essentially a replica of the studio version off of “Fuego”. “The Moma Dance” got things started in earnest, and Trey’s crisp tone stood out and nicely complemented Page’s clavinet work. A rousing “Kill Devil Falls” followed, and provided the first extended improvisation of the evening. Trey’s spirited soloing (reminiscent at times of "I Know You Rider") elevated this largely in-the-box rendition of “KDF”. Only three songs in, it was already apparent how focused Trey was, and how loose and happy the band was to be back in California.
The Mike-penned “Yarmouth Road” and a short “Undermind” dissipated some of the momentum gathered from the “Moma”, “KDF” pairing, but the ensuing “Free” brought things back up a notch. While it was not on the same level as the “Martian Monster”-infused “Free” from MGM last Fall Tour, it was a perfect infusion of energy into the set. Page’s melodious work on piano guided Mike and Trey through the jam section, and Mike’s dominant bass work meshed perfectly with Trey’s assertive leads. The opening notes of “Reba” sent the crowd into a frenzy, and like many versions of “Reba”, the fine execution of the difficult composed section sent the band into the improvised section with ample wind beneath their sails. Trey immediately began to assert himself again, effortlessly nailing lick after lick in a “Meatstick”-esque fashion at times, while Fishman’s fleet drum-work pushed the jam onward and upward with the utmost of patience. When Fishman did eventually mash the toms to signal the end of the jam, Trey perfectly weaved one more beautiful riff right into the final chord – they absolutely stuck the landing. Despite a sloppy-but-hilarious whistling outro, the crowd went nuts in approval for what was to that point the highlight of the set and one of the better “Rebas” in recent memory. “46 Days” served as an exclamation point on the first set, and while standard-great in nature, it did feature Mike and Trey rocking out while standing back-to-back. After 70+ minutes of solid but largely standard playing other than the transcendent “Reba”, the first set was in the books with the recommended dose of momentum heading into the second frame.
Photo by @uprising77
After a 35-minute set break, the band retook the stage a few minutes before 10 PM, and kicked into the second-ever version of “Blaze On”. Played for the first time just three nights earlier in Bend during the tour-opening first set, “Blaze On” had shown serious improvisational promise but didn’t explore too deeply in its debut. With the tune now situated in the high-profile second set opening slot, we were hopeful to capitalize on that potential, and the band delivered on that promise in spades. Near the five minute mark, the jam started in similar fashion to the Bend rendition, but Trey and Mike tugged at the structure a bit, stretching the song beyond the known into uncharted territory for the next five minutes. Near the 11 minute mark, Trey led the band back into the chorus chords and repeated “you got one life // blaze on” to bring things back home, but it was only a short visit as the band almost immediately began to drift back into an improvisational space again. Some twinkling looping synth play from Page and some staccato work from Trey pushed things onward, and as the 15 minute mark approached, the jam dissolved to give way for “Twist”. The look on Trey’s face was telling, as if to say “we’re not messing around tonight”, and the excitement of the crowd was tangible.
Around six minutes into "Twist", Trey changed his tone to a dirtier 2.0 sound and Mike immediately followed suit with some filthy bass lines vaguely reminiscent of the Gorge “Rock and Roll”. This grungier segment led right into a section not unlike the Bend “Simple” jam, and near the 9 minute mark, Trey began to play the main riff again, potentially signaling the end of the jam segment. Thankfully, the jam was far from over, as the revisitation of the main riff was just another launching pad for a second improvised section. The second jam headed into major mode territory, with Trey picking some “Lizards”-like riffs before the chord progression and Trey’s playing led into two alternating major chords not entirely dissimilar from (but far from a tease of) “Fire on the Mountain”. At 13 minutes in, the jam began to pick up serious steam with a big push from Mike and Fish, and Trey played some fluid octave leads. A friend described this “Twist” as “a metamorphic masterpiece of evil to good; truly Darth Vader-esque”, and I couldn’t have put it better myself. The intent empathetic listening on display between the band members and the crowd was phenomenal, and when we thought it just might be too much, Trey let the opening chords of “Light” ring through the air.
The light began growing brighter, figuratively and literally as CK5 (Happy Birthday Chris!) painted the tent with his latest and greatest. After some extra mustard in the pre-jam vocals, the jam went right into standard “Light” space, with minor mode musings and Eastern scales from Trey. Like many of the better versions of “Light”, this darkness led to a modulation into major mode territory. After a “Manteca”-like reference from Trey and Fish and some “Blaze On” stylings near the 8 minute mark, like the first two songs of the set, the jam regathered itself and led to a hose-filled Allman Brothers Band-like section (with more hinting at "I Know You Rider") that represented a huge catharsis after more than 45 minutes of brilliant playing.
Photo © Phish From the Road
The ensuing “Joy” (after a brief "Twist" tease) could not have been better placed in the traditional Jerry ballad slot, and gave us a nice breather. But instead of running for the bathrooms, the crowd shared in the band’s joy, and much of the crowd seemed to appreciate the sometimes-cheesy-but-always-heartfelt sentiment that the band just wants us to be happy. By this point, I had sent a few texts to friends saying they had to play the “Hood” they didn’t play in Bend, and sure enough, Fishman gave us what we wanted. The intro was perfectly executed with some nice Hammond B3 work from Page, and six minutes in, the glowsticks were flying. On a dime with no prior notice, the band smoothly kicked into minor mode territory, and around 11 minutes in, the playing had a distinct Pink Floyd vibe to it. After the 12 minute mark, there was a near “Timber” fake-out before seamlessly slipping back into the feel good “Hood” coda. “Hood” has been ridiculously strong the past two years, and this Type II version was no exception. Already 70 minutes into the second set, instead of wrapping up, they kicked into a fiery “Cavern” to provide the exclamation point on the set. Trey was so pumped up that he yelled “Thanks everybody that was just so fun, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!”. Everyone in the venue knew we had just witnessed something special, and this second set will surely hold up for years to come. The “Character Zero” encore, though not my favorite, was all gravy at that point and allowed Trey to hose the audience down one last time.
The tour rolls along to Los Angeles tonight where Phish will play at The Forum for the second time in 9 months. I expect another stellar performance from the band and the birthday boy, Chris Kuroda, and I think it’s safe to say he’ll be activating the starry night LEDs at some point in the second set – perhaps when the stars all turn around during “Roggae”? I look forward to seeing everyone again tonight!
Phish Summer 2015 – Setlists & Recaps
07/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 1
07/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 2
07/24/15 Setlist – Recap, Recap2 – Shoreline
07/25/15 Setlist – Recap – LA Forum
07/28/15 Setlist – Recap – Austin
07/29/15 Setlist – Recap – Grand Prarie
07/31/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 1
08/01/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 2
08/02/15 Setlist – Recap – Tuscaloosa
08/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Nashville
08/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Kansas City
08/07/15 Setlist – Recap – Blossom
08/08/15 Setlist – Recap – Alpine 1
08/09/15 Setlist – Recap – Apline 2
08/11/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 1
08/12/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 2
08/14/15 Setlist – Recap – Raleigh
08/15/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 1
08/16/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 2
08/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 1
08/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 2
08/23/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 3
09/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 1
09/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 2
09/06/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 3
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