Phish: Portsmouth 6.19.12
nTelos Wireless Pavilion
Words By Benjamin Wilkerson
Photos By Nick Xenakis
Phish descends down the eastern seaboard corridor from the Atlantic shores of New Jersey to the windswept rivers of Portsmouth in southeast Virginia for its first ever two-night run in the city. This mid-eastern state holds a special place in the bands heart as lovers of Hampton’s mothership-shaped Coliseum and as grateful musicians to the sail-shaped canopy that covers the pavilion in Portsmouth doubling as a brilliant light canvas. Since many fans spent the previous day clamoring down the NJ Turnpike or through the Eastern Shore, the humming tailgate party outside hears constant mentions of “Cars, Trucks, Buses” as a song the ‘heads’ want for tonight’s show.
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Party Time, Simple > Axilla, Tube, Kill Devil Falls, Water in the Sky > Horn, Babylon Baby, Bathtub Gin > Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, I Didn't Know > Run Like an Antelope
Set 2: Back on the Train > Rift, Split Open and Melt > The Mango Song > Backwards Down the Number Line, Limb By Limb, Shine a Light, Lengthwise -> Maze, Cavern > Fire
Encore: Mexican Cousin > Slave to the Traffic Light
 Carl "Geerz" Gerhard on trumpet.
 Trey requested that Fish tuck in his shirt; Fish complied.
 Lyrics changed to "Been you to tuck in your dress, man?" "Tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck" and "Tuck in your dress man, you're out of control!"
 Lyrics changed to "Split open and tuck."
 ‘Dave’s Energy Guide’ tease from Trey.
 Lyrics changed to "When you're there, I sleep tuckwise, and when you're tucked, I sleep you really have to tuck" and "I sleep diagonal in my tuck,"
 "You suck at tucking" repeated numerous times and Trey speaking like Darth Vader in the intro. Included Trey playing his guitar with his light saber.
 Lyrics changed to "Let the Tucker take over!"
Phish dives right into “Sample in a Jar” to gently set the mood for the evening, or at least the first set. Next, and even faking out veteran fans, the band brings out Page McConnell’s warbling organs to pump riffs that resemble the previously-mentioned desired ode to motoring, but this tune turns out to be “Party Time” to the pleasant surprise of the crowd. Mike Gordon delivers hot rhythms on the bass before guitarist Trey Anastasio introduces the bands’ longtime friend Carl “Geerz” Gerhad who toured with them in 1991 as part of a temporary brass section known as the Giant Country Horns, and who is now the executive officer of the military music school based in this region colloquially known as Pentagon South. In what is likely the longest version of “Party Time” to date, ‘Geerz’ gives us a few extra bars of peppy trumpet soloing before he takes a bow – with his shirt tucked in. This last tidbit is important.
“Simple” is broken out for the second time in two venues, albeit with several shows in between, and whose lyrics fittingly reference a band with brass instruments. They take this right into “Axilla” which delivers rocking riffs amidst an especially dazzling and colorful display by Chris Kuroda for the duration before a slight pause. Over a loud crowd, Trey jokes that he and Page will play what they think the shouting requests in the orchestra pit are enunciating. Truly in jest, they of course jump right into “Tube” and the same request happened here in Portsmouth on 6/5/2010, except the muddled ‘ooooo’ of the chant almost comes across as a boo instead of a call for “Tube”, hence the joke, and is also reminiscent of Springsteen’s fans chanting ‘Bruce’. “Kill Devil Falls” provides a bluesy continuance for a southern crowd in a venue where Trey first played with his solo band opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 2006. This rendition gives way to a touching “Water in the Sky” during the painting sunset and into the seldom seen “Horn”.
From the 2010 third solo album by bassist Mike Gordon, “Babylon Baby” makes its second ever appearance at a Phish performance. Mike counts the band off and starts with a low-frequency intro before singing his words, and Trey gives breathing room for the rest of the groups’ groove coming into the solo which makes for a smooth version this is eased into before they delve into deeper territory after the rehearsed movements. Next, a Page specialty and also a possibly reminiscent again of 6/15/2010, “Bathtub Gin” metaphorically shatters eardrums with a spectacular harmonic display on the grand piano introduction before the bubbling bass and drunken, meandering melody get the crowd moving and swaying. “Gin” revs up around the seven-minute mark with a light groove that finishes out big with a unique double-time showing of the chorus melody before the tempo is reset to normal and the song concluded. “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” makes another appearance and another repeat from the previous shows at the last stop in Atlantic City, although it still rocks out in typical fashion and seems to build on motifs begun in today’s “Kill Devil Falls”.
In satirical form of the introduction of their horn playing friend on the second song, and no doubt his armed service affiliation, the quintet shuffles guitar player and drummer as Jon Fishman takes front -stage to tuck his characteristic circle-patterned mumu into his underwear while performing in “I Didn’t Know”. After all, he has to show his respect for the vacuum cleaner solo he is about to play, while Trey now taps along on the drum kit to Gordon’s jazzy walking bass line. They ham it up just long enough to segue into “Run Like an Antelope” for the always energetic closer - but this time with an added bonus of alternate lyrics referencing ‘the tuck’, as it is now being called. They include a ‘been you to tuck in your dress man?’ quote, a ‘tuck tuck tuck’ chant instead of the usual backing vocals singing ‘run run run’, and finally ‘tuck in your dress man/you’re out of control!’ before a rigorous applause for set one is served up from the gracious and ecstatic sold-out crowd.
“Back on the Train” brings us back into improvisation for the second set music after a first set marked by hijinks that also continues a snowballing trend from the three Atlantic City shows prior. The contagious adventure of “Rift” from the 1993 album of the same name carries fans deeper into the set, followed by the first “Split Open and Melt” of the tour and year. “Rift” is the third song from the Sunday’s trivia question ad-lib which contains the ending similar to “My Friend, My Friend” and included the distinct vocal wiggle from the prior show’s “Brother” to jokingly bring it home. Complemented by another throwback from the injection of alternate lyrics ‘split open and tuck’, “Melt” brings us back into the recursive jams with some dark and dissonant movements.
Following this, the band seems to go into random territory with an atypical flow behind the song selection that brings “The Mango Song”, “Backwards Down the Number Line,” “Limb by Limb” perhaps referencing the ‘unglued’ or disjointed choices occurring ‘midair’ and with a big jam, and finalizing with the Rolling Stone’s poignant “Shine A Light” before more hilarity ensues. Just when the banter levels and jabs at the audience reach fever pitch for what seems like the first time since the 2009 reunion (or at least the since the ‘train wreck’ encore of Burgettstown, PA on 6/18/2009), this show sees an increase in crowd interaction and discussion, even compared to the last two. Fans in dresses are asked to come up on stage to tuck it into their underwear and sway along with Fishman, but much to the surprise of everyone, the first volunteer is actually commando and bears his ass for all to see while unable to tuck! A female also joins and quickly jams her Fishman-like blouse into her dress (instead of her underwear) while Trey and Fishman chastise them both with chants of ‘that tucking sucked!’ intermixed with the a capella “Lengthwise.” The first failure then lies down next to Fishman and alternates between diagonal and lengthwise to match the lyrics, no doubt in mild embarrassment. Fishman starts the steady beat that begins either “Maze” or “David Bowie” when Trey grabs a lightsaber from the crowd, and Mike uses his noise know-how to recreate the appropriate humming sound from the Star Wars movies via bass synthesizer. The joking continues as Kuroda kills the lights, leaving an electric blue streak on the stage to slide against Trey’s guitar as he begins a thrilling version of “Maze” with the lightsaber still in his hand as a prop.
Finally getting to Trey’s proclaimed favorite in New Jersey, Phish wastes no time ripping into “Maze”, also from their 1993 album Rift. He uses his foot pedals as a faux-Theremin, and then plucks the overtones that complement Page’s plinko timbre and his own accompanying lyrics. This song typically features a duel between the similar-harmonic ranges of keyboards and guitar, so it’s a fitting enclosure for Jedi horseplay. The two go back and forth before entering some super-psychedelic liquid mercury retrograde that rang out so shrill and heated into the muggy night, even shut-out fans left in the parking lot were still talking about after the show.
An abbreviated “Cavern” follows with what seems like final advice ‘whatever you do take care of your shoes’, but they smoke right into a blistering version of Hendrix’s sixties anthem “Fire” with its Jimi line changed to ‘let the tucker take over!’, which features Trey’s hot leads and big bass bombs dropped by Mike before the uproarious calls for encore.
With an encore of almost fifteen minutes overall, the first song seemingly has friends everywhere arm in arm hollering the lyrics of this Tequila infused drinking ballad right back at the band. “Slave to the Traffic Light” continues this flow gently into a soaring and uplifting conclusion.
After leaving a venue that already overlooks the historic Elizabeth River, numerous fans head over to the slip for a good spot in line to board the ferry across to their stays in Norfolk. The parking lots and gaps between the shanty-town of vendors serving refreshments and trinkets long into the night fill out with people, the bars flood again now just before midnight, and the for the final two hours until closing-time, local band Octopus keeps a cache of energetic fans entertained at the upstairs venue just across the street from the pavilion. A bit of parting Phish trivia for the day: prior to tonight’s show, Fishman’s dress remained untucked for approximately thirty years.
Notes: Carl "Geerz" Gerhard sat in on trumpet for Party Time. Trey introduced Gerhard as having come to the School of Phish in 1991 and talked about Gerhard's teaching career in the Armed Services. Trey acknowledged the crowd's request by playing Tube. During I Didn't Know, Trey said that they took Fishman on the road in 1983 and he went to the Phish School of Music, adding that he was now the executive officer of the "Air Force." Trey said he didn't think Fishman should be representing the vacuum cleaners without tucking in his shirt (a.k.a. Fish's dress) and asked him to do so (Fishman complied). Antelope included alternate lyrics "Been you to tuck in your dress, man?" "Tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck" and "Tuck in your dress man, you're out of control!" Trey also said that for 30 years, Fish has been leaving his dress untucked and told everybody to tuck in their dresses. Mike, Trey, and Page tucked in their shirts before the set break bow. Split Open and Melt included the alternate lyrics "Split open and tuck." Backwards Down the Number Line contained a DEG tease from Trey. Lengthwise included an invitation for audience members to appear on stage and tuck (a few fans came on stage), contained alternate lyrics "When you're there, I sleep tuckwise, and when you're tucked, I sleep, you really have to tuck" and "I sleep diagonal in my tuck," and Trey wielding a light saber, saying "the force is weak with that one. And that one too. But the force is strong with that one." The audience was subsequently called out by Fishman, Trey, and Page, in part being told repeatedly "You suck at tucking" over the Maze intro. The Maze intro also featured Trey talking like Darth Vader, saying "I am your father, Fish. I am your father." Maze included Trey playing his guitar with his light saber. Fire contained more Tuck references, with Trey saying "Tuck it!" and the alternate lyrics "Let the Tucker take over!" Mike and Trey sported sombreros for Mexican Cousin. (Courtesy of Phish.net)