Show Review: Phish, Merriweather Post Pavilion, August 11, 2018

Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion 8/11/2018
Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion 8/11/2018, from the lawn.

Setlist: Set 1: Blaze On, Party Time, Breath and Burning, Sugar Shack, Home, Joy, Stash, 46 Days.
Set 2: Sand, Mercury > Ghost > Fuego > Slave to the Traffic Light.
Encore: Twenty Years Later, Martian Monster, Rocky Top, Golgi Apparatus.

I have had the misfortune of spending most of Phish’s 3.0 period either living in Florida or being insanely busy. Or both, which has made it difficult to get to many shows. I got lucky in 2009 because the New Year’s run was in Miami, 20 miles from where I was living. The next closest shows they played the entire time I lived there were in or around Atlanta, about a ten-hour drive if you don’t stop. I got lucky again the next summer when I happened to be at a law school tech conference in Camden, NJ on the same two days as Phish’s two-night stand. I wouldn’t see them again until a year after I moved back to Syracuse, when they played in Rochester in 2013. I also saw CMAC in 2014 and Syracuse in 2016. I had to miss Magnaball because it was only a couple of weeks after the bar exam. I ran out of money over the summer, so I went straight back to work when it was over. If it had been a few weeks later, I probably could have made it.

So after no shows in 2017 because I had just started a new job in Buffalo, I declared 2018 the year I would finally see Phish on multi-night runs again. I started with Merriweather Post Pavilion because I wanted to check out the venue. That the shows were on a weekend was a bonus. There were rumors of another festival in Watkins Glen, but I didn’t want to count on that. I would go to Maryland and if the festival wasn’t booked, maybe I would add Camden.

Three weeks before the shows, I sprained my ankle roller skating. The short version is we were checking out a new trail, which turned out to be under construction. One of my wheels got caught in a pavement crack and I went down. By the time of the shows, I could drive again, but walking could be difficult and was definitely time-consuming. I was also unable to stand for long periods. I was looking forward to our second-night seats in the pavilion, but was not as excited about spending the first night on the lawn.

By the time, we got to the venue, it was extremely crowded. There was a long, but organized line to get into our assigned lot, Lot 2, a large parking garage. People were tailgating in the garage as we drove up. Once inside, we did a walk-around. Mine was more of a half-walk-around before finding a bench to sit on. While I was sitting, my wife found us a nice spot to set up under some trees. There was a decent view of the stage and it was sheltered a little from the sun. I hobbled over and sat in the tree until show time.

Phish took the stage shortly after 7:30. Blaze On got the Saturday rock show party started. Party Time added to the vibe. Breath and Burning slowed things down a little. So far, three newer songs, all tight, but with perfunctory jamming. The rarely played Sugar Shack was next. After a mostly tight opening, the performance seemed a bit sloppy, especially from Trey.

Page’s Home followed. It started out well enough, but eventually built into a loud, aimless, dissonant jam. A long pause followed and then Joy. I don’t really understand this placement. You have a bit of a Saturday night party vibe, even with the odd song selection. And then you drop this kind of depressing, slow song right in the middle of the set. I think it would work better later in the first set or in an encore. Or as a cool down after a hot jam, not a three minute jam on the end of Home.

But it’s a short song and next up was the first older song of the night, Stash. Stash came out of the gate a bit sloppy, with Trey tripping over the leads. Eventually, it settled down and the band finally seemed to find some kind of groove. A competent, if uninspiring, 46 Days was next and the band left after only about 65 minutes.

The second set started with a nice, well-played Sand with a kind of mellow, hypnotic jam. Mercury, one of their best new songs, was next. Trey seemed to shake off the problems he had in the first set with Mercury, deftly working through the complex changes. A beautiful Mercury worked its way to an amazing Ghost. After the head of the tune, they deconstructed it into a quiet, multipart jam that built up to a frenetic peak. At the end of the jam, Trey brought it back to the Ghost ending, which sounded as if someone shut off the tape deck. It got slower and lower until it stopped. Unfortunately, odd song choices came back as Ghost backed into Fuego. Fuego was, however, played well. A nice Slave to the Traffic Light ended another short set and the band walked off stage with 35 minutes to curfew.

Would they come back and play an epic in the encore? YEM? Something like the Guyute/Antelope encore at 12/12/1997 Albany? Maybe, as was suggested by @_beyondthepond on Twitter, a 20 minute Tweezer? No. None of those things. Instead, they played Twenty Years Later, which inspired a sing-along in my section of the lawn. The beginning of Martian Monster elicited cheers. It was, however, rather short. When they started Rocky Top, I thought that they must have one more coming before they left for the night. The Golgi closer was a great sendoff to a kind of odd show. The show wasn’t bad, but it was lackluster in parts and sloppy in others. The song selection was strange, particularly in the first set. It just seemed like something was off, especially in a venue where Phish has played some excellent shows. Tomorrow, we thought, is going to be a barn burner. That’s going to be the show we all came to see at Merriweather.

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