Shocks my brain: Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion

PhishPhish at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Columbia, MD June 27, 2010

Phish wrapped up a two day stint at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last week. I was lucky enough to be in DC with some friends, and we managed to catch the second show on Sunday, June 27. We hired a guy with a van to take us to the show, so we didn’t have to worry about finding our way back to DC afterward. We offered to buy the driver a ticket, and he decided to stick around and watch the show with us.

In the group there were four of us who had seen Phish before, and five who had not. All but one of the five hadn’t even heard anything by Phish before that night. At least three of the five walked away as fans, ready to see the band again at the next opportunity.

This was my fourth time seeing Phish, and it was a great show. My favorite to date. The Pavilion offers one of the best lawn experiences I’ve had at an outdoor amphitheater. Phish played long and well, the weather was (almost) perfect, and the crowd was fun. They threw three covers in – Mellow Mood, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Fire – for good measure. You should have been there.

The venue’s capacity is about 19,000. It’s a venue with a storied history and good band pedigree: the only place where the Who and Led Zeppelin ever played on the same bill together. The Grateful Dead played there, but were banned in 1990 because of the size of the crowds outside the Pavilion, and what the local police felt were too many drug arrests. Madonna, with the Beastie Boys opening up, played there on her Virgin tour. And Animal Collective named an album after the venue.

One of the reasons Merriweather Post has such a great lawn experience is because there’s a giant JumboTron staring right at you, showing close ups of the band throughout the show. There are good sight lines to it from almost anywhere on the lawn, even though you’re relatively far from the stage and literally can’t see it in some places. That’s because it’s at a reasonable height above the crowd in the middle of the lawn space, and the lawn space isn’t so wide that it wraps around the stage in a U shape. Great sound on the lawn, too, and the band has a fantastic light show that’s tightly integrated with what they’re playing.

But as I said, the JumboTron serves those of us in the lawn well. When they kicked off the first song, my buddy asked me who the guy in the skirt was. At first I thought he meant someone in the crowd, then I looked up at the JumboTron, and Jon Fishman – the drummer – was playing the bass. In his traditional show attire, a dress. Mike Gordon was behind Trey Anastasio’s Languedoc guitar. Anastasio was playing keys, and Page McConnell – the keyboard player – was behind the skins. They were playing Walfredo, a song that was new to me.

The song Walfredo was written by the group – a rarity in itself – as a song that would be played with each of them on different instruments than they normally play. It’s only been played a handful of times since its debut in 1997, but it felt like the right song to start this show with. Maybe because of the reference to “eating crab at Merriweather Post.” This is followed by a reference to David Lindley’s band El-Rayo-X, which you don’t hear every day. There’s apparently a story behind this song: The subject of the song – Walfredo Reyes – used to play with Lindley’s band, I think. A little trivia for you.

Next came Mellow Mood. It was the first time they’d played it in about 7 years. It was also the first cover of the night. I thought I knew pretty much the entire Bob Marley catalog, but this is a Marley tune I did not know. Until after the show and I saw the setlist online, I had thought this was a Phish song written in the style of Bob Marley and the Wailers. They even got the male falsetto back up vocals thing going that the Wailers used to do. It was awesome, and the song that hooked one of my newbie buddies at the show and helped turn him into a budding Phishhead.

After Mellow Mood, they played something from their 2009 album – Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan, with the line “Got a blank space where my mind should be. Got a Clif bar and some cold green tea.” Is that the first song reference to a Clif bar? I don’t know, but it’s making me hungry. They played this when I saw them at Cobo, too, and I fell in love with it then. They tear this one up, and the “got a blank space where my mind should be” bit gets repeated in the chorus, which I like.

Next was Divided Sky, an early composition that remains a crowd favorite. It has this pregnant pause in the middle of the piece, and Anastasio stretched this one out to over a minute, and the crowd loved it. The JumboTron camera focused in on him, and the crowd was screaming. And it was hot out! Way humid, too. I swear I was sweating from my shins during Divided Sky. Which I didn’t know was physically possible.

Some of the other highlights from the show were Run Like an Antelope, closing the first set, and Wilson, which opened the second. There’s a nice little reggae bit in Run Like an Antelope before kicking into the end “run run run run run” vocal part, and there’s some serious crowd participation going on in Wilson – most of the crowd chanting “Wilson!” at the right points in the song.

Then there was Meatstick. Ten minutes of Meatstick. Which qualifies as one of the worst one word song names in history. But it’s a really fun song. It reminds me of another song that I love, maybe with a bit more funk to it. Definitely more bounce. It was great fun. Super funky bass from Gordon in this one. And another great brain-related line: “Whoaa, shocks my brain!”

In addition to Mellow Mood, Phish played two other covers that night. A new one – Jumpin’ Jack Flash – and for the encore, Fire (Hendrix). Jumpin’ Jack Flash was an interesting choice, and they really tore it up with Fire as the encore. The set closer was a twenty minute You Enjoy Myself. If you like guitar, you should check it out.

So it was just an outstanding performance, with a great crowd, and two great set lists. A fine showing by a band that started playing together 25 years ago. One that converted 4 out 5 newbies into real fans of Phish. Long live Phish 3.0.

Photo via Not Just Paul. Used with permission.

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8 thoughts on “Shocks my brain: Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion”

  1. Dont forget the Bathtub Gin in the first set highlights.Probably the best Gin in 13 years with an atypically peak driven jam.

    Or maybe the whole I Saw It Again craziness that defined the 2nd set by popping up in between or inside every other song?

    My mind is shattered by a review of MPP that doesnt mention I Saw It Again, Bathtub Gin or Piper..Those were the 3 songs that will make this show well loved for years to come.

  2. Such a great band of super talented musicians in the truest sense of the word – musician. That being said…yawn. Maybe it’s getting older and not tripping anymore?

  3. Thanks, Oberto, CVG. Bathtub Gin was awesome… no doubt about it… But if I listed all the great songs from the show, I’d be listing everything. :-) Contact had a great groove to it, though, and I Saw It Again rocked and it rocked hard. Thanks for highlighting some more songs from the show!

  4. And yes Merriweather Post is an awesome outdoor shed for a concert – if you’re in the first half of the pavillion closest to the stage. Anytime I was ever on the lawn there, I might as well have stayed home since I never saw the band. I guess that was years before the “JumboTron”. If I wanted to watch a band on tv, I would stay home and watch a band on tv.

  5. Jonathan – I hear what you’re saying about not being able to see the band. For a lot of shows, I arrive early so I can get right up against the barrier between the crowd and the photo pit. But I think it depends on the band, the venue, and how many people there are at the show. Phish is a dance band and their shows are group experiences, so being in the middle of the masses on the lawn is tons of fun. With the JumboTron right there, you get the best of both worlds. PS – what was the last show you saw at Merriweather?

  6. Hi Mike,

    It’s been at least seven or eight years since I was there. I honestly can’t remember who it was – Iron Maiden maybe? And I didn’t mean to rain on your Phish parade – I know how much fun their shows are. Their music and that scene just doesn’t do it for me anymore – that’s all.

  7. have to agree with Jonathan about Merriweather… Jones Beach has ruined me for all other outdoor venues on the east coast…

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