Ghost stories

By SAM PFEIFLE  |  December 7, 2009

Plus there were no ushers for the seated portion of the show, so that was a free-for-all. Plus the beer was cut off (or they ran out, it's unclear) before the first set break. Plus there just aren't enough bathroom facilities for that kind of crowd: The floor was completely shoulder-to-shoulder all the way back, and every seat was full, even behind the stage, as Phish's set-up was relatively simple and the fans were happy to stare at their backs.

Cleaned up can be better

Phish are definitely once again on top of their game, though, and it's not a nostalgia tour. The show was crisp and, at times, thrilling. Anastasio showed both inventiveness and incredible stamina in his jams (something decidedly lacking at the end of their first run, in 2003/2004, when he was reportedly a mush-head), and the band as a whole delivered on what is their greatest talent: molding the mood of the crowd with extended builds into cathartic releases, punctuated by white-hot lights and strobes.

The second set build into the chorus of "Antelope" was like being wired to an electric station, the band and crowd equally frenzied into a cacophonous crescendo before a razor-sharp all-stop into Jon Fishman's quiet drums that quickly led into the finishing singalong: "You've got to run like an antelope, out of control." This moment was equaled in intensity by the chorus to "Golgi Apparatus" ("I saw you, with a ticket stub in your hand"), the extended and repeated chant that finishes the iconic "Cavern" (with its "picture of Nectar" that makes old Burlington, Vermont, types smile), and the equally satisfying call-and-response portions of old-time favorites "Stash" and "Rock and Roll."

There were some flat moments, too, though. The new-this-year "Light" was boring enough that I was taking notes on the new infusion of hip-hop flavor into Phish's crowd — track suits and sideways, straight-billed ball caps were way more evident than I would have expected. "Crimes of the Mind," despite being very rare (used to be a Dude of Life song, back in the day) and featuring a particularly fat-bottomed guitar sound, never got the crowd going. The encore started fairly brilliantly, with a throwback a capella "Freebird," Trey getting laughs with a ripping take on a vocal guitar solo, but then finished pretty flat with "Carini" and "Waste," which didn't deliver a big finish.

If Phish aren't your thing, and 12-minute jams leave you bored, that's fine, and the show might have left you a little cold. But I can assure you that this Phish show was a good thing for Portland, both financially (the best Sunday night in many a bar's recent history) and musically. If they were again to make Portland an annual stop, I think most people locally would welcome that. I mean, it's like having the mall come to you, only if the stores all sold drugs and grilled-cheese sandwiches!

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at

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