[We would like thank Michael Ayers, user @yhgtbfkm, for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite aspects of Phish shows (aside from the music) is the people watching. Outside of the usual cast of characters you might happen to run into, one thing that’s always interested me is the groups of friends that attend shows together. I can’t recall which year at Dick’s it was, but one year in front of me were a group of 8-10 folks all wearing matching t-shirts with their names and the number of shows they had attended (I assumed) on the back. I remember thinking how cool that was, to have a group of friends like that. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, so I didn’t know anyone who liked Phish as much as I did. I knew people who knew who they were, but most everyone else was into either nu metal or country. That is, until I met [Redacted] (who asked to not be named as he’s embarrassed to be my friend and, quite frankly, I can’t blame him).
We met back when I was in college. We were both members of a peer-to-peer music sharing service called Soulseek where you could share your music collection with others and download what they had. After downloading the Phish shows that he had that I didn’t and vice versa, we exchanged messages and the rest, as they say, is history.
[Redacted] has an unusual penchant for catching "Backwards Down the Number Line," which is unfortunate for him as it’s his most disliked Phish song. Over the years it’s become a running inside joke that any show he attends (or even livestreams) he’s gonna get one (known as getting Number Lined). I had this text exchange with him while I was in Mansfield earlier this month:
Me: Oh no
Me: Oh please no
(Trey: Happy happy oh my friend…)
Me: Son of a…
Which brings me to tonight. Because of his work schedule and geographic location, we aren’t able to attend many shows together, but with Merriweather being relatively close to where he lives, we met up on the lot, exchanged awkward bro-hugs and headed to Shakedown. Shakedown, for the first time ever (as he mentioned at least three dozen times over the course of the evening) was in its own lot and was massive. We wandered around enjoying beers and purchasing lot tees (Homer mumu for the win!) but had to leave as we saw something that was such an abomination, such an offense to the senses, that I physically cannot type it out.
With Shakedown thoroughly scoured, we met up with a friend of his and headed for the show. We walked in just as the band was starting "Sand." While not likely to blow anyone away (unless you just like, LOVE "Sand"), "Sand" was a fun way to get the crowd warmed up for the weekend. Coming in batting second, however, was quite the treat with "If I Could," a personal favorite of mine and one of the songs I pick when trying to introduce Midwesterners to Phish. Cranking back up the heat, Trey then launched into "Buried Alive" before taking us into the first big jam of the night "Set Your Soul Free."
Clocking in at 16 minutes, this SYSF jam is worthy of a relisten, especially for me as multiple times throughout, a gentleman next to me who spent most of the first three songs consuming airplane bottles (plural) of 99 Bananas leaned over and yelled something to the effect of “HRRBA DRRRBA BURBA FORME?” Legit had no idea what he was saying, but luckily for me and those around us, he wandered out onto the concourse and last we saw him, security was escorting him out of the 200s (which is not where we were sitting) and presumably the venue, as we did not see him the rest of the evening.
As if to apologize for having my jam ruined by a less-than-sober patron, Trey kicked off an absolutely fiery "Llama," and I mean this thing COOKED. Say what you will about slow "Llama" (and as we were leaving the show last night, a gentleman wearing a "Slow Llama" t-shirt got heckled mercilessly), but nothing beats an intense, upbeat "Llama." Normally I would just mention that the band played "Halfway to the Moon" next and be done with it, as it’s a) boring and b) never not boring, but this may go down in the annals of history as the first not-boring version ever. About seven minutes in, Trey started singing the lyrics to "Oblivious Fool/Shafty" (it's the same damn thing when it’s just singing the lyrics over a jam, livephish.com, but I digress), giving us the first instance of anybody unironically asking after the show “What’d you think of that "Halfway to the Moon"?!” A personal favorite of [Redacted]’s was up next with "Strawberry Letter 23," with the first set being closed out with a crowd pleasing, if not awkwardly placed, "The Lizards."
Setbreak afforded [Redacted] and I the opportunity to procure beers and Red Bulls and stand in the world’s longest line for the men’s room. A gentleman in front of us had clearly not read the book, as he was standing in line for the bathroom wearing neither socks nor shoes. God only knows what diseases he picked up walking on that bathroom floor. There’s a solid chance he had no idea he had no shoes on, as he walked past several open urinals and stood looking off into space for a few minutes before realizing where he was and what he was there to do.
[Redacted] and I settled back into our seats, and just as we were debating about whether or not we’d be getting Number Lined (I said encore, he said tomorrow), the house lights came down, the band came on and away we went.
"First Tube" kicks things off and gets the crowd super riled up. It seems like an odd choice to kick off a set with as it’s one of those songs that just works as a set closer, but apparently it’s more common in this spot than I realized. Go figure. Keeping up with the theme of “The world is literally on fire this summer” from earlier is "Fuego!" It starts off kind of abruptly as a segue out of First Tube, but cooks (see what I did there?) for a solid 18 minutes before jumping into "Sigma Oasis." Is it a similar "Sigma Oasis" to what folks witnessed in Hartford? Unlikely, but it’s still "Sigma Oasis," which is way better than some of their other newer tunes. "Prince Caspian" is up next. It’s "Prince Caspian," what can I say? Either intentionally or unintentionally, as a nod to Prince Caspian, the band starts up "Waves." "Waves" is one of those songs I never tire of hearing, so any chance to witness it is welcoming.
And now for tonight’s first major flub, "Meatstick" and Mike clearly forgetting the dance moves! A not so subtle glance over to Trey to remember the highly technical and coordinated dance moves, and we’re back on track. Silly Phish is one of my favorite parts of Phish. "Simple" gets us back to business, and for the proverbial icing on the cake "The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" -> "Suzy Greenberg" brings us to the end of a wonderful show.
Now…the moment of truth. Would I be right or would we be spared? We wouldn’t know until the house lights came on, because as [Redacted] learned in Atlantic City last summer, you can be Number Lined right at the very end (also [Redacted] learned in Atlantic City that you might get chased down the Boardwalk with a dude brandishing a knife. New Jersey, ladies and gentlemen!) The band comes out, everyone goes to their respective instruments and Trey starts up… "Alumni Blues!" [Redacted] has yet to catch an Alumni Blues, so this was especially sweet for him. After Trey flubbing his way through "Letter to Jimmy Page" and then back to "Alumni," the band finishes off the night with "Character Zero," sending us into the crisp Maryland evening and back to Shakedown for more food and libations! Did you know that this is the first time Shakedown has ever had its own lot in Merriweather? Because I sure didn’t!
It’s hard looking at a setlist after the fact and debating how someone who did not see/hear the show would feel. Maybe this was a “You had to be there” show or maybe this was just ok. For me personally, this was the best show I’ve seen this summer. It could be the surprising setlists, enjoying the show amongst (irl) friends or it could just be a great freakin’ show. I’m torn between the last two. It’s a rarity for me to get to see shows with friends who actually like the band, as most of the time when I have someone in tow it’s either a) begrudgingly or b) trying to get them into Phish, so these types of shows are special to me. However you feel about it, at the end of the day I am glad I made the trek to Maryland and am (mostly) excited to see what they play tomorrow.
In closing, stay safe, stay sane, stay hydrated and most importantly, stay happy. You never know when you’ll get Number Lined. Could be today (but not tonight!), tomorrow (dear lord I hope not), next week or even next year. Thankfully [Redacted] and I survived another show, but that feeling is fleeting once you realize there’s another show (and another chance) just around the corner…
Until next time, friends.