Phish wrap up West Coast shows, head East with eyes on Watkins Glen

Phish is back and headed east for the second half of their summer tour, which found them kicking things off in Stateline, NV on July 17 and 18. Over the course of nine West Coast shows and a show in Austin, TX on Tuesday night, Phish has dusted off some rust, debuted a few tunes and delved deeper on jams as the tour has progressed, more or less how the past few tours have gotten started.

There have been some high water marks: “I Always Wanted it This Way” from Stateline, “Simple,” “Wombat,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Chalkdust Torture” from The Gorge, “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” > “Mercury” > “Carini” and “Set Your Soul Free” from Bill Graham in San Francisco, “Kill Devil Falls,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Fuego,” and “Soul Planet” from The Forum in Los Angeles, and “Everything’s Right” > “Down with Disease” from Austin360 Amphitheater. Debuts of “Set Your Soul Free,” “Infinite” and “Keepin’ it Real” have been welcomed by the fans, and teases from the band have been subtle but wide ranging, more so than previous tours. “Little Drummer Boy” and “Theme from S.W.A.T.” have shown up on multiple occasions, as well as “There is a Mountain” (Donovan), “Celluloid Heroes” (The Kinks), “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin), and “Time Loves a Hero” (Little Feat) all making appearances ever so subtly throughout the shows.

There have been some head-scratchers too. The entire first set of Austin sounds like it looks on paper – a directionless smattering of usual first set options, but then second set they charge out with 36 combined minutes of “Everything’s Right” and “Down with Disease.” After a fiery “Tweezer” > “Golden Age” at The Gorge, and with the band dialed in, Trey dropped in a “Farmhouse;” the ripcord could be heard down the Columbia River valley for miles. Maybe they are throwing fans curveballs throughout the shows to keep fans on their feet, keeping things uneven, a stark contrast to 2017 when the band felt dialed in after just a few shows and went on to a historic Baker’s Dozen run of shows at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps they’re just getting warmed up and starting to catch fire the closer they get back to the usual stomping grounds of the East Coast. Or maybe they just play whatever they want, and at times hit a sweet spot of jamming that reaffirms their place on the Mt. Rushmore of Jam.

So what can we expect from Phish for the next 8 shows before they return to Watkins Glen for their 11th festival, Curveball? For one thing, a variety in the setlists – few songs have been repeated more than twice, and those are jam vehicles such as “Down with Disease,” an effect of the no-repeat Baker’s Dozen where the band played 237 different songs over 13 shows. They went five and a half shows without a repeat to start the tour, and the selection has been the most variation seen this far into tour, ever.

And what about at Curveball? With the music and art installations at Phish festivals always well-guarded secrets, fans have begun to speculate that Phish play 9 sets, or 9 innings of music, with a possible ‘Casey at the Bat’ tie-in. Phish always packs a little something extra for their festivals, and Easter Eggs among the art on the grounds and hints in the song selection could give fans an idea of what to expect. Still, a Phish festival is a Christmas present wrapped in a ball of mystery, and that surprise is always worth the wait.

Phish next hits Alpharetta, GA, at a fan favorite venue located in the northern Atlanta suburbs and also one of the smallest venues of the tour with capacity of only 12,000. Then it’s off to Camden, NJ for two nights at BB&T Pavilion on August 7-8, then they head down to Raleigh on Friday, August 10 before heading north to wrap up the pre-fest end of tour at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD August 11-12. Curveball gates open on Thursday, August 16 and the music kicks off on Friday.

Stay tuned for more coverage from NYS Music of past Phish festivals and upcoming shows, as well as daily reviews and photos from Watkins Glen. Setlists and teases courtesy of Donate to the Mockingbird Foundation and support music education throughout the country.

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