Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Happy 20th Anniversary to Phish's 6/19/04 Show from Saratoga

RtBE have written about Phish a lot, but one show we have not mentioned is the June 19th 2004 monster of a night at the gorgeous Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, NY. 

It was the the first of a two night stand at the amphitheater in what would be their last summer tour for over five years. This era of Phish, between the hiatus and Coventry festival, is commonly known as Phish 2.0 and has many fans/detractors when it comes to the groups style during these years. 

RtBE is a huge fan of this time period as the jams could be messy, but also so exciting that on any night anything could happen, and that was reason alone to follow the band to SPAC. With Phish already announcing that they were done for good after the summer tour, there was a sense of apprehension and nostalgia in the air all tour and the first set dove into that.

Beginning with "Reba" the night had a unique feel. The classic song had only been a show opener one other time (2000-07-06 Molson Amphitheatre) since 1992 (1992-07-22 Holman Stadium) so something odd was certainly afoot. The version is sturdy, most fans arguments with 2.0 Phish is that the more prog like songs with lots of intricate playing were not as tight or skipped all together. While there is some truth to that, on this night, "Reba" was solid and a great way to start as it slammed into "Runaway Jim".

This show is a top five all-timer for RtBE and one of the main reasons becomes clear during "Runaway Jim" as drummer Jon Fishman is on fire. His playing is monstrous all night and it really starts as he drives the band forward on this classic tune. A personal favorite "NICU" arrives next with a bit of funky interplay as Mike Gordon gets his bass bumping while "Scents and Subtle Sounds" skips the intro and delivers a fine version of one of the band's newer (at the time) efforts.    

One thing 2.0 Phish did well and continues today, is expand "Wolfman's Brother" into a jam vehicle which can go in a few different directions. This version is a good one as things get angular/funky in a unique way, rocking out but still bouncing along in engaging fashion. The set highlight, somewhat surprisingly given all the strong playing before it, is a great version of "Walls of the Cave" as the band moves as one through heavy rocking sections, to spacey wanderings to a blissful exhale which is sweet and flowing. The set isn't over though as the group call up a version of "David Bowie" that is solid, upbeat and energetic, if not particularly note worthy. 

Lots of focus is given to the second set on this night, with reason, but the first set should not be overlooked as it is good to great in many aspects.       

Things push into legendary status right from the start of the second set as "A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing" begins the set. Debuting only two nights early in Brooklyn, this song wasted no time arriving in Phish lore with a version that still ranks as possibly the best they ever played as Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell used their guitar pedals and keyboards to shift things about halfway through the eighteen minute jam into spacey territory then organically grow with energy and get out there. 

Before most fans had time to digest this swirling number the band seamlessly start "Piper" and there is no argument here; this is the best rendition of this song the band has ever unleashed.  


I could leave it at that, but the 32 minute (!!!) jam should be discussed (and listened to). For RtBE this is peak Phish in all regards. Trey and Page keep the energy going spacey from the previous jam but Fishman kicks it up a notch and around the six minute mark Mike joins the fun. The energy builds with great work from Trey as he rips and the band rises around him with Page staying spacey. The song seems to peak around the 11 minute mark before breaking down to nothing a minute later. 

On most nights this would probably be a wrap of this tune, but the band slowly eases "Piper" back to life by exhaling some off-kilter funk with splashes of "Tweezer Reprise" peaking out from within the jam. Things start getting meaty, dark and gnarly around the twenty minute mark as the excitement builds yet again. At the twenty two minute mark things are soaring in killer fashion as the band is clicking on a high level. Things start to get stripped down and funky as the quartet kick up a relaxed groove and drift with a perfect transition into "Gotta Jibboo", as if this was always the plan. 

Woof, will get to the next song in a minute, but this is what RtBE love about Phish in a half hour of music. Exploratory, dark, could go off the rails at any moment, energetic, funky, weird, searching, connecting, speaking as if they are all one voice, soaring with triumphant joy. SPAC "Piper" is such an adventure every time we get to relive it, I can still remember being there and being overwhelmed by it in real time and that feeling returns each listen. 

Phish could have stopped there and the show would be great, but they continued and added an incredibly smooth version of "Gotta Jibbo", never one of RtBE's favorites, but this version has an easy flowing groove laid down by Fishman and Gordon as Anasatasio just dances on the fret board above the groove. The tune kicks up the rock levels a bit moving into "Limb by Limb" the last mega highlight on this night as the drumming of Fishman again is the backbone as the band plays a great version that has some extra special mustard on it as the group seems to know this is a special night. 

The extra jams in "Limb by Limb" more than make up for a flubbed verse from Trey in the perfunctory set closing "Cavern" before a sweet and floating encore of "Wading In The Velvet Sea" caps a magical night under Saratoga skies for Phish and their fans. 

Phish 2.0 might not be for every Phish fan, but for RtBE it was certainly amazing to experience in person and get these recordings to return to and relive. Take sometime today to check out the show, or at least the amazing beginning to the second set on the 20th Anniversary of one of our favorite shows from the band.   

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