Donnelly: Phish at Starlight Theater, August 22, 2012

I walked through the grass parking area looking for Shakedown Street

I was wondering what kinds of treats and trinkets I might find.  I stepped around a group of laughing people with balloons and a guy sitting on the ground selling “dank beers” out of a cooler.

“How are you, friends?” asked a mid-20s girl in a long, flowy sun dress.

I snagged a dank beer and strolled toward some white, pop-up tents where burritos and grilled cheese where the specials of the day.  Lots of people were looking to get rid of tickets to the sold out show, but it looked like few were having any success.  Several dudes ended up giving away handfuls of tickets, not wanting to remain in the lot as Phish’s first set crept closer and closer.

Around 8:05, the legendary Vermont band came out swinging. 

Without a word to the packed house, Trey, Mike, Paige and Fish launched into the crowd-favorite Chalkdust Torture, setting the tone for a celebratory evening at Starlight with the sing-along refrain, “Can I live while I’m young!?”

Already the crowd was surging towards the stage, dancing and twirling through the over-matched ushers who were trying to maintain some sense of order.  Armed only with little flashlights, the staff tried to steer exuberant Phish heads back to their seats, out of the aisles, put out that cigarette.  But it was a losing effort as their admonishments were met with mostly vacant stares and smiles.

The music was in charge, not some eight buck an hour yellow shirt.

I was lucky enough to nestle in right near the walkway closest to the stage almost dead center.  “I can see Trey smile from here,” a cute girl to my left said.  From that kick-ass vantage point the sound was great, balanced and clear.  Fishman was on his game as always, wearing a purple dress and laying down a precise rhythmic bed for the other boys to play on, like a well-oiled atomic percussion machine.

After Live While I’m Young, Phish kept the next 30 minutes pretty mellow.  They segued into Skin It Back, which turned into The Moma Dance, which morphed into one of my favorites, Rift.

At that point I thought we were in for the first real freakout jam of the night, but the band kept things on the down low for one more tune with the down home Bathtub Gin.  The next number, though, cranked the energy in the theater up a notch, as Trey delivered a top notch extended drone solo on the always high-energy song, Stash.

At that point it was on.

The asses shook even harder, the twirlers twirled even faster, and the haze in the air got stankier.  Phish’s always stellar light show pulsated and strobed, illuminating the smiles of the crowd as they soaked in the bleeps and bloops of Trey’s swinging guitar picking.

The boys went right back to the energy well to start the second set, beginning with Tweezer, then Piper, Mike’s Song, and Bouncing Around the Room, which kicked off a multi-song jam that included Backwards Down the Number Line into a plucky and happy Heavy Things.

Looking around, it seemed like the crowd was feeling it and their party favors were really kicking in.

The highlight of the show for me was the following song, the always sweet, If I Could into a funky ass Weekapaug Groove that went on and on.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget how impressive Phish are, particularly live.  They have such a distinctive style and an intricacy that can go unnoticed on their more laid back material.  But then they’ll pull out some crazy jam that just mutates and elevates and you think to yourself, “How in the hell are they doing this?  What are they even doing?”  I don’t know, but whatever they’re doing, it sounds fucking cool.

They closed out the second set with a shout-out to dumbass Missouri candidate Todd Akin that was tucked into a ripping version of Suzy Greenberg.

“Todd Akin is a neurologist,” crowed Fishman from behind the massive drum set as Trey lightly teased a Stairway to Heaven riff.

As I exited the venue I wanted more.  And that’s after two long sets and a pretty decent encore that featured Tweezer Reprise.  I go to a lot of shows, probably more than most people, and it’s not all that often I feel like doubling up right as the final note sounds.

And I’m pretty sure the several thousand other attendees were with me on that one, too, judging from the number of strangers I high-fived on the way back to my car.

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3 Responses to Donnelly: Phish at Starlight Theater, August 22, 2012

  1. the dude says:

    Could not imagine a much better show myself, Glaze even liked it even though he left early. Can you believe that shit, leaving a Phish show early?!?!?!?

    Chalkdust set the tone for the night.

  2. Brandon Leftridge says:

    Great review, Matt, but you left out the most important part: how many teenage girls did you bang at (or upon conclusion of) the show? Three? Seven?

  3. balbonis moleskine says:

    I’ve seen about two dozen shows and this was in the top 2 of all time.

    Bathtub Gin, Antelope, Harry Hood, Moma Dance, Mikes > Weekapaug….the hits kept on coming.

    During Trey’s heroin years they had a bad habit of playing about a half hour of slow, noddy songs especially during the second set. (Velvet Sea, etc). They only played one song tonight.

    I was very impressed by how much better the band sounded than the early 00′s. They’ll be playing for a while now.

    Phish heads are older now, the crowd is now mid 30s on average. They didnt pick up a lot of young people but the shows are still high energy.