Phish 7.18 - 7.20.14


FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island
Chicago, IL

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)

Friday July 18th:


By the time Phish landed in Chicago on July 18th they had already proven that the summer of 2014 was going to be a high point of the 3.0 era. With the release of their newest album Fuego, Phish is a band reenergized and ready to strike out into untapped musical territories. They hit the ground at full throttle with impressive runs at SPAC and Randall’s Island so expectations were high as fans flowed inside on night one. This is Phish’s second year spending three nights at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island and as you walk inside, it’s obvious why. First of all, the skyline views are grand. This thoughtful venue is laid out well with grandstand seating framing the spacious GA Floor. The lawn is slightly larger with ample vending and easy access to bathrooms. I heard complaints that it was hard to see from the lawn last year, but I found the view from there to be quite majestic with a huge cityscape background.

Each night the band emerged around a quarter to 8 PM while the sun was hanging low in the sky. The golden hour basked the audience in a warm light as Phish ripped into the new Gordon sung, “555.”

Set One: 555, Kill Devil Falls, Bouncing Around the Room> Reba, Waiting All Night, Birds of a Feather, Halfway to the Moon> Sparkle> Sample in a Jar, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing> Stash, The Squirming Coil

Set Two: Golden Age> The Mango Song, Sand-> Piper-> Halley’s Comet-> Wombat> Chalk Dust Torture> Slave to the Traffic Light

Encore: Julius

This first night was a mixed bag of nuts. Incredible highlights juxtaposed against some sloppy transitions made for an interesting experience overall. The first set began in a routine manner with a heavy “Kill Devil Falls” and a clean “Bouncing Around the Room.” The “Reba” was the first curveball stretching on with a tight buttery jam. We were treated to another new tune with “Waiting All Night” which included some striking vocal harmonizing. “Birds of a Feather” was an excellent touch, while the “Halfway to the Moon” took on a brooding tone. “Sparkle” into “Sample” again stuck to the script. “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” seems to be becoming a bit more common having already appeared twice this summer. The segue into “Stash” was tasty, but “The Squirming Coil” was a delicious close to the first set. The band left Page to his own devices to finish the song and his piano solo seemed to go on and on much to the delight of the enamored audience.

The second set is where things got dicey. The “Golden Age” was a noteworthy jam stretching over seventeen minutes and including some of the best improvisation of the night. “The Mango Song” was shaky, but still enjoyable. The “Sand” built very well before the jam seemed to fall off a cliff and disintegrate into an off timed “Piper.” From here things improved with a tight, protracted “Halley’s Comet.” “Wombat” was absolutely off the chain and again saw the band dribbling into Type II territory. The atypical combination of “Chalk Dust Torture” into “Slave to the Traffic Light” was a powerful statement to close the second set. They returned with a quick but rowdy “Julius” to end the night. While this show contained a few missed cues, Phish ultimately pushed on to put on one hell of a show. The song selection was unusual which made for a unique experience. With one night down it was apparent that the boys from Vermont were finding their groove. Two more nights on the Island would give them plenty opportunity for a flawless performance.

Saturday July 19th:

Once again the weather would be perfect all night long. This was a relief for those that made the inaugural trip to Northerly with Phish in 2013. Torrential rains throughout that weekend actually stopped the band from playing a second set on night one. They returned with three sets on Saturday to make it up to fans. While a three set show was an extraordinary experience for those in attendance, I was much happier to just have three shows go off without a hitch in the weather. Like night one, the show would feature a song-heavy first set and some focused jamming in set number two. They started the night funky with a dirty “Moma Dance.”

Set One: The Moma Dance, Wolfman’s Brother, Devotion To a Dream, 46 Days, Yarmouth Road, Brian and Robert, Wingsuit, Tube> Free> Roggae, Heavy Things> Run Like an Antelope

Set Two: Carini > Waves> Fuego> Twist> Light> Twenty Years Later> Harry Hood> Cavern

Encore: Grind, Bug, Suzy Greenberg

This show shook off the ghosts of night one by taking us on a musical journey that will not be soon forgotten. The funk continued gracefully through “Wolfman’s Brother." The parade of new songs off of Fuego continued with “Devotion To A Dream.” Phish took the opportunity to rock out on “46 Days.” Original Mike Gordon Band tune, “Yarmouth Road,” has found a good fit with Phish. “Brian and Robert” served as a nostalgic breather before the boys took off again on the title track that never was, “Wingsuit.” “Tube” got weird and contained a massively appropriate “Smoke On The Water” tease. They transitioned marvelously into a cathartic “Free” that felt more like church than a rock concert. They again took us back down with a well-timed “Roggae.” Phish continued with a straightforward “Heavy Things” that transformed into a decisively executed “Run Like an Antelope.”

The second set took us into the upper stratosphere of musical possibilities. They took us down a dark road with their set opening, “Carini.” This tune has become a means for the band to give us a heavier style of improvisation, which was the case again in Chicago. The beautiful “Waves” could not extinguish the blistering “Fuego which saw Fishman giving us a “Little Drummer Boy” tease. The set continued unmitigated with an animated “Twist.” They went into a huge “Light,” which continues to be yet another tool in the box for musical extemporization; this time lasting well past expectations. “Twenty Years Later” worked as a transition to the show peak “Harry Hood.” This particular “Hood” was a deep trip down the rabbit hole with some extensive Type II jamming. They closed the second set with an explosive “Cavern.”

The encore felt like another mini set starting with the acapella song, “Grind.” Afterwards they retreated to their instruments for a spicy “Bug.” This tune has evolved from its nascent roots as borderline pop into a real showstopper. Phish finished strong with a punchy “Suzy Greenberg.” This was a distinctive night two show from the boys from Vermont. It had everything, crowd-pleasing classics, gigantic jams, and a nice spattering of new tunes. With two nights down, we could only imagine what would float to the shore for the last hurrah.

Phish After Show with Particle + DJ Logic:

In sort of a random way we found ourselves on Navy Pier boarding the Spirit Of Chicago Yacht for some late night shenanigans with some incredibly talented musicians. The night started with a couple hundred kids streaming onboard to sounds of DJ Logic on the top deck. He played for about 40 minutes while the super group assembled below. The ‘house band’ consisted of Steve Molitz from Particle, Kris Myers from Umphrey’s McGee, Fareed Haque of Garage Mahal fame, Clay Parnell from Brothers Past, and a couple of the guys from Old Shoe tossed in for good measure. What followed was a two-hour jam that showcased the amazing musicians who set sail with us.

The boat itself was posh to say the least, complete with multiple bars and a catered food. The original cost of $100 a ticket my have deterred some would be sailors, but I’m glad we managed to hop on this ride. The boat undocked and headed out into the darkness of Lake Michigan. We drifted out a bit giving us a panoramic view of the city, which alone was worth the price of admission.

The music stretched on even after we made it back to Navy Pier. It was a great jam session and a wonderful way to end the night. Now finding a cab afterwards was a different story.

Sunday July 20th:

Phish’s final night at Northerly Island was arguably the best of the three-night run. It most certainly featured some of the most extraordinary jamming of the weekend. They opened with “Gumbo” for the first time since 1998.

Set One: Gumbo> Runaway Jim, Tela, The Line, Scent of a Mule*> Bathtub Gin> Silent In The Morning> Maze> Ocelot> Walls of the Cave

Set Two: Down with Disease**> Winterqueen> Theme From the Bottom> Mike’s Song> The Wedge, Ghost> Weekapaug Groove, First Tube

Encore: Character Zero

*Fish on Marimba Lumina and all four band members on Fish’s drum set.
**Unfinished

The soup drained into an energetic “Runaway Jim.” The somewhat rare “Tela” had not been performed in almost a year, this particular version was a nice touch that seemed to float over the crowd. New song, “The Line,” appeared giving us our first taste of Fuego for night three. Phish then proceeded to launch off into one of the most dynamic and musically innovative “Scent of a Mule(s)” since their return. The “Mule” riffing continued in a tremendously timed “Bathtub Gin.” They segued smoothly into the more relaxed “Silent In The Morning.” I’m still waiting for the return of “Horse.” The band threw down the gauntlet with a tight “Maze” before moving on to a vibrant “Ocelot.” They closed with a dark “Walls of the Cave.” This song too seems to be making a comeback on set lists as of late. The first set featured some awesome give and take along with otherworldly improvisation. Set two would take it up another notch before we would all say our goodbyes.

They opened with an unfinished “Down With Disease” that definitely got everyone’s attention. This was only the fifth performance of the bubbly “Winterqueen.” It was a nice calm before the storm of songs on deck. “Theme From The Bottom” manufactured a palpable rise in the energy level before they broke into a predictable “Mike’s Song.” Here’s were they went off script. “The Wedge” took us on a musical adventure pushing the fifteen-minute mark. This version contained a deep funky jam that took the audience full circle. They continued on with another sick jam on “Ghost” which continued the funky flow. Phish then kicked on the turbo with a slaphappy “Weekapaug Groove.” They closed the second set with a spacey “First Tube.” They bid adieu with a rocked out “Character Zero.”

After a first night with a couple of aborted jams, Phish set down a path to focus on putting on two stellar shows against the skyline of Chicago. The weather was absolutely perfect for all three nights. The venue was an experience in itself. Standing on the grandstand while random fireworks blasted off in the distance on night two was a personal highlight. Phish is an unstoppable musical force capable of absolutely anything. Over the course of three nights in the Windy City, they proved that one more time.

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