Nothing goes better together than Fourth of July weekend and a three night run at Saratoga Performing Arts Center with legendary band Phish. The four piece jam band returned once again to the historic city of Saratoga Springs who welcomed the band as well as the thousands of dedicated fans from all over the country. Guitarist Trey Anastasio, Bassist Mike Gordon, Keyboardist Page McConnell and Drummer Jon Fishman started their summer tour on July 3rd at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Maine, with Saratoga Springs two days later. One of the best features of SPAC is the beautiful State Park with cool shaded springs for fans to escape the humidity before the show and even catch soundcheck echoing off the valleys. The venue itself has a beautiful indoor seating area with incredible sound and fantastic views from any seat. The lawn has gotten a bad reputation for being overcrowded with poor sound and visuals, but the fans make the best of it by partying and dancing that much harder. Knowing that my Phish filled weekend had finally arrived, I was just thankful to be there.
The parking lots were filled with hundreds of cars, covered in trendy bumper stickers plus more VW vans than you’ll ever see in one place. Thousands of people could be seen walking the aisles searching for the latest merchandise or reuniting with dear friends from past shows. The weather was a disgusting humid Friday evening, with the air so thick you couldn’t tell if it was the heat or all the smoke. With some relief of a brief but heavy rainstorm, fans headed through the gates with plenty of electricity and excitement left over from the storm.
Phish started the weekend with “Kill Devil Falls”, leading to the crowd instantly rejoicing and singing the lyrics that pretty much sum up Phish tour: “Who knew a day would turn into a week, but I learned my lesson, and I can still remember the last one, but this time will be different, until I do it again”, with a great high build up at the end. It gives one chills to hear the familiar breath from the thousands of fans as the groove of “The Moma Dance” starts. At a phish show, you can actually hear the crowd hold their breath in anticipation before each and every song. The slightest bass drop from Mike Gordon during “Moma” resulted in massive cheers as longtime fans are glued in to every single note. “Sample in a Jar” and Ween’s “Roses are Free” brought easy going melodies, giving fans a chance to take a deep breath, wait in the obnoxious beer lines and find friends. Page took a moment after a solid “Birds of a Feather” to thank the fans for joining them at one of their favorite venues being SPAC and recognized a close friend, Ian McLean, from Ian’s Farm shows in 1987 in Hebron, NY. One of the big surprises of the night was the debut of the band’s newest song, “Yarmouth Road”. The song was light-hearted with Mike leading on vocals and Trey Anastasio holding short riffs.
The thrilling beginning of the infamous riffs and oddball notes of “Bathtub Gin” brought back great memories of past shows, especially those at SPAC with the crowd always erupting to the classic line, “We’re all in this together and WE LOVE TO TAKE A BATH!” Once the catchy and bizarre vocals are over, the band carried the jam for over 10 minutes in glorious leaps and bounds. The set tooks a turn as we glided into the bluegrass vibe of “Nellie Kane” and the rocking ballad “Army of One” with Page serenading the audience amid light, airy finger playing. Suddenly we go straight into the ticking time bomb of “My Friend, My Friend”, with its comforting start but breaking down into a frightful free for all. The energy is kept at a high peak by playing right into the cover of “Cities” by Talking Heads, a predictable song for the weekend yet slightly unexpected for the first night. The set concluded with a 12 minute “David Bowie”, with fans in the fully packed lawn, throwing glowsticks up in the air, trying to keep in rhythm with the melody. It makes for great entertainment as long as you aren’t getting hit in the head and a special reminder to NOT throw glow sticks at the band.
The second set started with another surprise as the boys debuted “Energy” by The Apples in Stereo, with delicate harmonies and an upbeat temp, nonstop cymbals and steady cowbell from Fishman. Hearing an unrecognizable song temporarily threw off almost everyone’s groove, leaving the great sense of mystery that Phish fans have a love hate relationship with. Thankfully we were all reassured to hear the start of “Light”, a song that has the reputation for being a serious jam session with tonight at SPAC being no different, lasting just over 15 minutes. “The Mango Song” was kept playful as always with childish lyrics and Trey teasing the crowd with “Light” riffs. You could see the band members having a great time throughout the night as each wore their wide and familiar smiles. The song that stood out this night was “46 days”, which had the most intense surge of energy as the crowd screamed the lyrics and Trey shredded his guitar nearly to pieces. The funky jam gave the band more than enough space to jam right into “Steam”, a still newer song with a steady beat, spooky lyrics and deeps notes from Mike. The party mood got picked up right away as we stepped into a cover of The Who’s “Drowned” with Page reaching for those high notes and Trey teasing “Divided Sky” just like the “Hood” encore at Bangor. The show ended with the classic “Character Zero”, a high energy song with heavy loops of the strong organ and frenzied guitar grooves.
As security wasted no time pushing concert goers towards the nearest exit, many were still in shock that the first night had come and went. Despite being soaked from the rain and sweat, phans still had the biggest smiles on their faces and were eager to experience the rest of a Phish filled weekend.
Set 1: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance> Sample in a Jar, Roses are Free, Birds of a Feather, Yarmouth Road (1), Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane, Army of One> My Friend, My Friend(2)> Cities> David Bowie
Set 2: Energy (3)> Light> The Mango Song (4)> 46 Days> Steam> Drowned (5) > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Character Zero
2. No “Myfe” ending
3. Phish Debut
4. Light teases from Trey
5. Divided Sky tease from Trey.
6. Jean Pierre tease from Trey.
After Birds of a Feather, Page pointed out Ian in the crowd from “Ian’s Farm” fame and waxed nostalgic about playing there while also noting that SPAC was one of the band’s favorite venues. Yarmouth Road made its debut at this show.