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Phish: Southern-Fried Style 

Oak Mountain Amphitheatre – Pelham, AL – 08/24/2012

Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood – Atlanta, GA – 08/25/2012 

Living in the Southeastern part of the United States does not offer nearly as many short-trip chances to see Phish as living in the Northeastern region.  But fortunately, since their return from hiatus in 2009, Phish has been giving the South at least a few shows each year.  The second leg of Summer Tour 2012 allowed Phish and phans to visit two legendary venues that hadn’t been played since before hiatus, and that in itself was reason to celebrate.  While most concert-goers would “follow the lines going south”, we loaded up the car and headed north up I-65 toward a small town called Pelham, AL, just outside of Birmingham.  On our way, we took advantage of the summertime travel through Clanton, AL which grows some of the most delicious peaches in the nation; we also stopped at a little place called The Peach Pit (next to Peach Park), where they make delectable homemade ice cream with flavors like coconut, peach, cantaloupe, and my personal favorite blueberry.  With scrumptious cones in hand we continued on, and arrived at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre with enough time to greet longtime-unseen friends in the lot. 

Phish took the stage amidst the roar of a rowdy crowd, opened with a rockin’ “Possum”, and then gave a welcome nod to the locale in “Cities”, with “…a lot of bridges in Birmingham.”  Hearing “Timber (Jerry)” was great, even without stepping outside the box.  After quickly getting “Back On The Train”, Trey Anastasio addressed the audience with “Hey, man, it’s good to be back here! It’s been like 13 years or something; thank you for having us back, we’re really happy to be here!”  We then heard from Page McConnell who said “I’m gonna send this one out to all the people who are sitting right up along this edge that can’t quite see me when I’m sitting here at my piano…”, and of course we knew “Lawn Boy” would follow.  When Trey then mentioned “We’d like to send this next song out to the people over there, on that tiny strip of lawn…”, and the swirling bass notes of Mike Gordon signaled “Down With Disease”, I became hopeful that this show would transcend normalcy and get down to some serious jamming business.  That hope was abandoned as the shortest “DWD” of all time ensued, sounding more like the album cut off Hoist than what is typically a work horse for crafting improvisation.  The remainder of the first set consisted of songs that are fun to hear, but which passed by in the blink of an eye, though “Julius” did provide ample reasons to dance.   There was a notable surprise when instead of ending the set with “Cavern”, the band pressed forward with The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Trey delivered the solo with beauty and finesse. 

The second set opened with one of the common jam vehicles of Phish 3.0, The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll”, providing a 16-minute groovy playground featuring a segment by Trey reminiscent of “Live And Let Die”, and a slowed space lovely outro jam that melted delightfully into “Lizards”.  A brief “Halley’s Comet” reminded me of the last Oak Mountain Phish show in 1999, when a sign made by my in-law siblings was responsible for the “Halley’s” encore that night.  “Sand” was standard fare, seguing into a fun “Twist” with a definite “Oye Como Va” extended section in the middle; a well-played “Birds Of A Feather” was hot on its heels, with Jon Fishman’s lightning-fast drum complexities.  Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” is always a crowd pleaser, as is the Chris Kuroda light extravaganza of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  The set ending “Waste” and “Slave To the Traffic Light” were beautiful though sleepy.  A brief encore of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” would end the evening.  The long-awaited return of Phish to Oak Mountain resulted in a solid show, but was so packed full of great-on-paper songs that the band never quite got a chance to stretch out and create that timeless musical space that Phish fans tend to crave. 

Moving on to Atlanta, we took roads that were less traveled to our hotel situated 30 miles south of the city.  Whilst on the highway, we drove past a little shop that had an Elvis impersonator in full white jumpsuit glory performing on its front porch!  We hypothesized that perhaps taking atypical backroads to an atypically far-from-venue hotel would help Phish manifest a unique inspired show.  Upon discovering the Jedi Master Yoda perched atop a van painted with dancing bears in the lot, we felt certain that The Force would be with us that night.

After a nine-year absence from Lakewood Amphitheatre, Phish opened with the instrumental “Cars Trucks & Buses”, marking the first time the song was played in 2012, and adding to the number of unique songs played by the band this year (210 thus far, which is impressive, but below their all-time record of 251).  Both “CTB” and the subsequent “Wolfman’s Brother” reached nice peaks while staying within bounds.  In fact, peaking within bounds was a fairly constant theme of the first set in Atlanta, with songs like “Runaway Jim”, “Ya Mar”, and “Wilson” playing out well.  Hearing the blues of “My Soul” always feels right down here, and perhaps being in the Dirty South helped draw a bit of dirty groove out of “Alaska” and the set-closing “Character Zero”.  There was even an injection of mid-set intensity as “Maze” grew out of “Wilson” and sent energy levels soaring.

Set II in Atlanta was, for me, the fruition of our roads-less-traveled hypothesis.  Coming out of the gates with “Kill Devil Falls”, the relaxation of Fishman’s drumbeat allowed immediate entrance to jam territory, and the band took advantage of the open door and grooved for a while.  A free-form transition point melted into the driven and purposeful intro of “Golden Age”, bringing an air of inspiration and hopefulness.  A dark dance session commenced, and then Chris Kuroda added his spectacular light artistry to the mix, making full use of the incredible light rig, as the band twisted a spacey segue into the beauty that is “Free”.  Propelled by invisible yet tangible momentum, Phish proceeded in the continuous set with a foray into “Light”, allowing Kuroda to bathe the crowd in lovely illumination.  Melting into “Wading In the Velvet Sea” provided a needed breather for band and crowd, and Trey’s work was rendered tenderly.  Once again ready to rock, “Chalk Dust Torture” appeared, and unexpectedly morphed into a truly distinctive jam that dared to tread the road less traveled, easily earning my stamp of approval.  The segue into "What's The Use?” is indicative of how far outside the box “Chalk Dust” ventured.  The band allowed one more breather with heartfelt “Joy” before romping through a high-octane “Run Like An Antelope” that certainly made for an energy-laden end of show.  A psychedelically peaking encore of “A Day In The Life” worked well, and I left the show satisfied with a Soul full of Phish.

To an extent Phish, perhaps more than most other bands, gives its audience an experience that is received quite subjectively.  From the atmosphere at each venue, to the showmates we travel or meet up with, to the song selections, there are many aspects that contribute to the level of enjoyment at a Phish concert.  For myself, Oak Mountain was a very solid show, and Lakewood left me with a stellar impression.  Southern-Fried Phish may be an acquired taste, but it is a taste I acquired long ago, and I look forward to every opportunity to devour it with gratitude.

More OAK MTN. Photos     More ATLANTA Photos


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Written and Edited by: Rosemary A.W. Roberts

Photos by: Clayton Roberts

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