Phish – Aaron’s Amphitheatre, Atlanta, GA – 8/25/12
Words/Photos by Jakob Ross
Phish Drop Bombs and Blow Minds in Atlanta
The last time I was truly blown away by a band was when I saw Phish for the first time at Bonnaroo. They played what Reverend Justito refers to as a “greatest hits set”, playing songs like Down With Disease, Sample In a Jar, Cavern, and Tweezer. While that set was great for a beginner such as myself, some hardcore phans probably wouldn’t give it such high praise. Keeping that in mind, I stepped into Aaron’s Amphitheatre for the third time this year expecting something awesome. Two sets full of some popular tunes, some rarities, some covers, and something hopefully better than the Bonnaroo set. And that is exactly what I got.
According to the Aaron’s Amphitheatre Facebook page, the 1st set was scheduled to kick off at 7, giving us something like two 95-100 minute sets, with enough time for a 30-minute set break and a 10-minute encore. Well, apparently that changed because the 1st set didn’t start until 7:45, giving us two 75-minute sets instead.
We left our house a few minutes before 3:00, with an expected arrival time of about 5:00 or so (the gates opened at 6:00). Finding a spot to park was a nightmare; one parking lot was already full of cars and vans and tents, so we had to head into a lot on the other side of the amphitheatre, which was right adjacent to a different entrance than the one we’ve used in the past. Despite all that, we still managed to be the first people in line at the gate and found the perfect spot on the lawn that was both close and free from any obstructions of view.
After an unexpected 45 minute wait and with the sun setting to my left, the mighty phoursome graced the stage and welcomed the 20,000-strong sold out Atlanta crowd with a neat instrumental tune called Cars Trucks Buses from their 1996 album Billy Breathes. After a round of applause they dove headfirst right into Wolfman’s Brother, a song I’d hoped to hear at Bonnaroo but didn’t. It’s one of my favorites from Hoist so I’m very glad I got to hear it. Afterwards they played Runaway Jim, which I’m pretty sure is just about a dog that ran away, ran-away ran-away.
After Jim, they played Ya Mar, which is a song by Cyril Ferguson, for only the third time this year. Early on, I could tell this set would focus more on Trey and Page’s skills, as both were playing some amazing solos, while Mike and Fishman’s spotlight would wait until Set 2. After Ya Mar, I got my first repeat ever, Alaska. While this was played towards the end of Set 2 at Bonnaroo, it appeared halfway through Set 1 here, where I feel it worked better. The jam for Alaska was absolutely brilliant, probably the first of many amazing jams of the whole show. After Alaska came another cover, My Soul, originally by Clifton Chenier. This was one I’d never heard before, but it sounded great. So far everything was sounding amazing. All the songs felt like they belonged in this set, which was certainly more of a straight rock and roll set. There were plenty of great jams, but one song didn’t jam into another. And that’s fine with me, I was having an amazing time.
After My Soul, the sun had gone almost all the way down. Darkness poured down on the lawn dwellers of Aaron’s Amphitheatre and marijuana smoke pervaded the air all around me. And then what would be one of my favorite parts of Set 1 happened, Trey hit the first couple notes of the ever so famous Wilson riff and every person shouted “WIIIIIILSOOOON” up to the stars. Another Bonnaroo repeat, but I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing this one live. The dudes played with the intensity and the ferocity of rock and roll gods as they sang about Wilson, the King of Prussia.
After Wilson came Maze, a song from one of the jammiest studio albums ever composed: Rift. Maze is full of great lyrics, I’ve discovered and I love the chorus. Sometimes it’s not just the jams and solos that make Phish great; they can also be great songwriters, even when the lyrics don’t make sense. After Maze, came the final cover of Set 1, a song I’ve wanted to hear live for a long time: Roses Are Free by Ween (RIP). The brothers Ween may have stopped making music together, but their best music lives on vicariously through bands like Phish, who, thankfully, brought out this cover of one of Ween’s best songs during the set. This show was already better than Bonnaroo, and the first set wasn’t even over yet. Next I got two more Bonnaroo repeats, Backwards Down the Number Line and Character Zero. Backwards is a pretty good song, but I could’ve done without it, and Character Zero was a great way to end a set. At 9:00 PM exactly, the boys left the stage for the 30-minute set break.
During the break, I learned that going to the bathroom after Phish have gone on stage is a bad bad idea, so I kept my liquid intake to a minimum, only taking a few sips of Coke when I got really really thirsty.
At 9:30 as I was making my way back to our spot, the lights went down and Phish came back on for Kill Devil Falls, another Joy cut I could have done without, yet not a horrible way to kick off the set. Kill Devil Falls flowed smoothly and directly into Golden Age, another one of their better cover songs. It was during Golden Age that Mike’s bass playing really sounded amazing, as it did for the duration of the second set. Golden Age in turn flowed directly into Free and for the whole second set it didn’t feel like the band stopped at all. Just one continuous 75-minute medley of songs interspersed with slow, psychedelic jams that climaxed into exploding energy all accompanied by beautiful lights. Phish have once again proved themselves as one of the best live bands ever, and the show wasn’t even over yet.
After Free came Light,—kinda funny to hear the words “and the light is growing brighter now” as it was getting darker and darker outside—which led into Wading in the Velvet Sea which felt like it could’ve been a power-ballad from the 70s, even though it is a Phish original. After Velvet Sea came the opening riff to Chalkdust Torture, another favorite I never tire of hearing. Although I initially felt like it would’ve done better in the first set, for some reason, it just felt right exactly where it was. Chalk Dust Torture was another example of a jam where it was quiet and chill but eventually built up into an awesome crescendo, but then went right back to being quiet, almost as if Phish were dropping bombs of music on our heads and we were more than happy with the mushroom-shaped cloud that resulted. Chalkdust jammed, unfinished, right on into What’s The Use, a rarity from The Siket Disc that they haven’t played since June 8, 2011. What’s The Use jammed relaxedly into Joy, a great, albeit overplayed, ballad from their most recent studio effort.
Joy jammed for a little while until there were only 5 minutes left in Set 2 (I figured since the set started at 9:30 then it would conclude at 10:45; I was right), so Phish threw an amazingly heavy, energetic, and explosive rendition of Run Like An Antelope to finish up a whirlpool of amazingness that was almost overwhelming. Set 2 was a vicious cycle of emotion, energy, and relaxation that boded well for this writer. Phish left the stage again for the encore break, and came back a couple minutes later, where keyboardist/pianist Page McConnell thanked us and told us how much they love playing Aaron’s Amphitheatre. The show may have been close to over, but they still had enough time to drop one more bomb on our heads, and this one was an atomic bomb: A fantastic cover of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life. Page sang John Lennon’s part (“I read the news today, oh boy”) and Trey sang Paul McCartney’s part (“Woke up, got outta bed”). Hearing one of my favorite live bands perform one of my favorite Beatles songs was an amazing experience and a great way to end the show.
A Day in the Life ended without any cool extended jams, but the show itself was all kinds of amazing. I had an amazing time, and there is no better way to kick off our last week of American residency than with an amazing live show. Thank you Phish, thank you Atlanta, and thank you America.