July 16/17, 1998
The Gorge Amphitheater
Set I: The Squirming Coil, NICU, Stash, Reba>Fast Enough for You>When the Circus Comes, Run Like an Antelope
Set II: Julius, Moma Dance>Piper, Axilla>David Bowie, Tube>Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Sample in a Jar
Set I: Makisupa Policeman>Ya Mar, Gumbo, Divided Sky, Waste>My Mind's Got a Mind of It's Own, My Soul
Set II: 2001>Mike's Song>Weekapaug Groove>Character Zero
E: Punch You in the Eye>Rocky Top
Let's get one thing clear: I love Phish, and there was no force in live music like Phish coming off of 1997, and there is no better venue in America to camp out and see awesome music than the Gorge Amphitheater.
My first shows here (Phish's as well) in 1997 were like the first time I smoked pot. It was cool, but there was so much going on that I felt like I was watching myself on TV more than a part of the moment. I had now seen 13 shows (some of those are now legendary 1997 Phish shows) and was much more comfortable with the scene, the music, and myself. Phish had developed exponentially over the year. Four song sets and improvisational journeys could pop up at any moment. Funk and ambience owned the airwaves. And then they rocked the Gorge and reminded us that Trey was a metalhead.
As with the previous year, we had taken the long journey from Memphis, TN to the Gorge. We stopped in the Badlands, the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks on the two week ride.
We had conquered the country before Phish played a note.
Arriving at the Gorge provided a new spark to our trip. Those last few miles of two lane, high desert road before arriving at the campground was the last chance to ditch our cares for a few days of pure fun. The Phish crowd awaited.
The experience was a lot different from the previous year. We were down from 6 to 2. We were Gonzo and the Lawyer in our own way. The shows, while hazy in the memory, were intense rock and roll workout sessions. We climbed down to the floor Trey side first night, and just off from Fishman on the second. It was such a welcome sight to be amongst the freaks again. Memphis is full of crazy, but the freaks left town long ago, so having our own little Phish Mecca gave us a sense of divine purpose and total separation from the norm. Phish was still underground in a way in the summer of 1998.
Highlights from Friday were the sinister Bowie and some deep funk in Moma and Tube. The sunset Reba and set closing Antelope were both top notch as well. We stayed up all night and met some new friends who dubbed us, "The Wordsmiths" because we kept making up stories with odd scenarios. The party was immense and perpetual. There was no choice. My roommate fell and busted his ankle. He managed. A true trooper. We found a group of guys with musical equipment set up in the grounds. I played those drums for two hours on mescaline. Life will never be the same.
The real action was on Saturday when a perfectly chill first set primed us for a near volcanic eruption rock and roll show in the final stanza on the mountain. The soaring dance/funk of 2001 rode through several peaks before falling into an evil and drawn out version of Mike's. Trey found his metal roots and let loose on the Languedoc with a grinding, powerful riff. Eventually they passed over the sandwich song and carried straight through into Weekapaug for another long run through quick shifting grooves. Finally closing the set with a bombastic Character Zero and a symbolic wink in the PYITE>Rocky Top encore, Phish had reckognized the Tennessee and satisfied us in so many ways.
As I wandered back to the campgrounds, I noticed that everything I did was functioning in the same rhythm as that Mike's riff. Phish won again. It was in my bones.
We were still in the midst of our midsummer journey. We had to get home, but figured there was more to enjoy along the way. We left the Gorge bound for San Francisco and Shoreline Amphitheater. Jim Morrison was right, "The West is best."