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August 16, 2009

Concert review: Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion

trey anastasioFrom the start, expectations were high.

When tickets for last night's Phish show at Merriweather Post Pavilion first went on sale, fans snapped them up in minutes -- a record for the Columbia amphitheater. And all along this tour, the band has been sounding reinvigorated and delivering impressive shows.

While last night's performance had its high points, it won't go down as one of the best gigs on the tour. It was a surprisingly mellow show overall -- almost underwhelming at times.

Hours before the concert began, thousands of diehard Phish fans swarmed Merriweather Post Pavilion to set up tents and party in the parking lots.

The sweaty weather had folks swilling extra drinks to keep cool, and come 7:30 p.m., the crowd was pretty riled up and ready for the world's biggest jam band ...

Phish hit the stage at 7:40 p.m, and launched into "Crowd Control," a song from the 2004 album Undermind. Even after 20+ years of playing together and all their fame in fortune, the four guys in the group still look like lovable dorks you might bump into at a music store.

Guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio sported a shirt, jeans and surprisingly, a jacket. In that heat, I'm surprised he didn't suffocate. Bassist Mike Gordon (whose thick mop of hair is increasingly white) wore a black cutoff shirt and dark jeans, keyboardist Page McConnell wore a green shirt and pants and drummer Jon Fishman had on one of his trademark dresses (don't ask).

phish merriweatherBoth sets lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, and the encore was about 10 minutes.

The ambling first set saw the debut of a new Fishman song called "Party Time," whose only lyrics were the words "Party Time." Right before it, they flubbed the start to another Fishman song, "Ha Ha Ha," whose only lyrics were "Ha ha ha ha." Sense a pattern?

The slow-paced "Beauty of a Broken Heart," "Let Me Lie" and "Alaska" were snoozers, but a "46 Days," "Harry Hood" and a super funky "Tweezer," made up for them."Tweezer" has what is possibly my favorite Phish line: "Look who's in the freezer / Uncle Ebeneezer"

Near the end of the first set, the audience started yelling what sounded like "Bruuuuce" or "Snoooop." Turns out, it was a request for the song "Tube," which the band dutifully played.

As always, the light show was spectacular. Phish has one of the best touring lighting rigs in live music, and from the pulsing strobes to the beams of bright colors, last night's light show was just fantastic.

If you're not familiar with Phish, their music is almost as progressive as it is improvisational. No two shows are the same, which is part of the reason why they have such a huge fan base. Some of their songs change tempos on a dime, and many have complex instrumental passages.

phish merriweatherTrey's sharp, searing guitar work was right on point -- as was Fishman's drumming and Gordon's juicy bass. Though the band sounded great, Page's keyboards were too low in the mix, and hard to hear. His solos seemed uninspired, too.

The band looked like they were having a great time, though. A couple times over the course of the night, Trey kicked up his left leg, like a Rockette in training. 

The second set, which got off to a great start, started to lose momentum toward the end. But covers of The Velvet Underground's "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" and "Good Times Bad Times" from Led Zeppelin gave it a boost.

The inevitable "Tweezer Reprise" rounded out the concert, which ended just shy of 11 p.m. Was it a great show? Not quite. But it was definitely a good one.

First set:
Crowd Control
Kill Devil Falls
The Sloth
Beauty Of A Broken Heart
Axilla I
Ha Ha Ha
Party Time
Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan
Strange Design
Time Turns Elastic

Second set:
Let Me Lie
46 Days
Oh! Sweet Nuthin'
Harry Hood

Good Times Bad Times
Tweezer Reprise

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:30 PM | | Comments (41)
Categories: Concert reviews


Sorry you thought is wasn't a "great" show. I personaly thought it was amazing.

Definitely not a great show. My friends and I had a good fun time like we always do. But, we all left disappointed since the show was so mellow. If you think this was a great or amazing show then I recommend you plan some roadtrips to see Phish in better venues across the country. Not to mention the phans out west are a lot more nicer and generous to other humans than they seemed to be in Baltimore last night. Again, good times, bad times, we all have had our share. We had a good time last night and that was it.

Could someone maybe learn to proofread? If you can't proofread your [stuff] - i can't even begin to give your writing credibility.

Hard to top the Hartford show. Anything afterwards was bound to disappoint. It was so old school Phish, I felt transported back to 1997.

To jay: you really have a problem with a little typo? seriously? ha!

Anyway, with the show... This was my 19th Phish show and first on this tour. After seeing the setlists from the previous two (including a scorcher from Hartford, agreed Sean) I was disappointed. After much thought, I'd say that the open and close were great - gotta love a Hood - the middle was snooze-inducing. I was just hitting the point where I wanted the show to get when Tweezer Reprise ended. Bummers.

But I understand people that say the show was great, too. If I had gone to any one of the previous shows this summer, I would have been happy with the Merriweather Post show. But since it was my one and only - and my first Phish show since 2003 - I wanted something more.

A Fluffhead or Divided Sky would have made me super happy, or even a David Bowie or Weekapaug. I was actually holding out for a Lizards considering they player Forbin's Ascent the night before. Oh well....

And Sam, thanks for the magnet. I'll be shooting a picture to you soon.

Was this article a great article? Not quite. But it was definitely a good one.

this guy knows nothing did you get paid for this gonzo journalism bud

I would say by Phish's standard it was a "good show" but not great. I enjoyed my night. The Ha Ha Ha, Party Time, Tube combo was the highlight. I missed the Sloth due to traffic getting to Maryland from Hartford, so I was bummed about that. Hartford may have been the best show of the tour(atleast the 10 shows I say and I listened to recordings of all the others though that doesn't fully count) so it was inevitable that the show would be a little down tempo.

I drove 7 hours from Columbus, OH for the show. 2 out of 3 tickets I bought off of Stubhub were counterfiet.

It was a huge disappointment and totally devestating. Now I'm glad I went to Darien the Thursday prior and am going to Indio for Halloween. Hopefully that will make up for the terrible time in Baltimore.

This take on the concert is pretty accurate. One thing it leaves out is that the sound on the lawn was low until the end of Party Time when the soundboard realized their mistake and was turned should have been turned up even louder.

In general I was dissapointed. It seemed to me like pretty much everything about this concert was low energy. Even Tweezer Reprise lacked an edge to it. I'd give the concert a 'C-' especially when considering that it was flanked by great shows at Hartford and SPAC.


This show was every bit the turd the setlist would indicate. The new songs are terrible and everything except the Tweezer, which got my hopes up for a good second set, was uninspired and sloppy. I'm very disapointed that I drove 9 hours for this show and unless they somehow return to the mid-90s form that I loved so much this was my last show ever. Since there were hundreds of people in the lot looking for tickets I'm sure they can pick up the slack from my absence. Best of luck to the kids just getting into the band. I now understand the way the older Deadheads felt about the Dead in the 90s when I was starting to go to shows.

And does anyone else think Page is looking a lot like Vince Welnick these days? Perhaps that's an omen for the bad music ahead.

anyone who thinks this show was an amazing one should be praising the drugs they were on instead of the music they heard. the show was very far from amazing.

Song selection was bad, they played well...after seeing last night's set it feels like we got the short straw.

The fact that you said this "The second set, which got off to a great start, started to lose momentum toward the end", just tells me that I should basically ignore any review you write, considering the last 3 songs of the set were the highlight of the show. The 46 days jam itself was better than anything I saw the night before in Hartford, and that was a GREAT show. This show was a standard show with a very good segment at the end of the 2nd set. A couple bustouts in the first set as well, but playing was mostly standard. So far everyone I've heard say this show was "terrible" or "worst of the tour" was in the lawn. I understand the lawn was crappy, I could see how poorly it was sloped. I also understand there were sound problems. The sound really didn't sound bad from the middle of the pavilion where I was. This isn't one of the best shows I've seen, but it isn't one of the worst either. I've heard soundboards of every show this tour and it was not the worst show of the tour.

A good show? worst show i've been to (not counting coventry) seeing the setlist from the night before and night after makes this show all the more disappointing.

Please take the time to proof read your article before you publish it. I pray that that you write other articles that are better than this. I'm still trying to understand how you still have a job with the paper you work for.

sorry you were on the lawn, phan

I was in the lawn and I thought the show was great. Its been years since i saw Phish and thought he energy they played with twas great. "Sloth" "Esther" and "Foam" were wonderful to here, and sounded solid from my vantage point. Tweeezer was funky, 46 days was great, and HOOD was awesome.
Some you are spoiiled brats...

Missed this show but Hartford was incrdible. I've talked to friends who were pleased with the MPP show even with the low energy. Can't wait for next summer

Merriweather Post is not in Baltimore - its in Columbia, Maryland. Big difference.

I'm not sure how you can call any show that features 7 bustouts (including a never before heard Fishman tune) a bad one.

Typical Saturday night, lots of rock, not much in the type II vein. Phans shouldn't be surprised by now.

Esther>Ha Ha Ha>Party Time was amazing. 46 days....ethereal (and will hold up over time as one of the better jams on tour, imo)

The band was having a blast, and it looked as if they played whatever they felt like. Tube audience request was cool. Sortof a straight ahead show...not everyone's cup of tea, but all in all a great experience. The only real negative was the amount of chatter during the ENTIRE show.

My wife and I had an awsome time at this show. I enjoyed the new songs. It was cool that they played Oh sweet nothing because we love that song, also Good Times Bad Times?!?!? awsome!! I've been seeing them sine '96 and that show was the Phish I remember! Spontainious, fun, happy, tight, funky, and spacy. As to the crappy lot scene - dude, your in Maryland, It's not Phish's fault. It was the same crap when I saw them there in the late 90's, and now it's post 911. WTF. To make y'all jealous we got a sweet spot in the grass lot, short walk to the show and not a cop in sight all night. We had everything flowing and it felt like it was frwakin' 1997 summer tour all over again!!! You kids today are so negative and quick to complain (anonamously I may add) with your twitter and i-phones and internet. Quit your [snarking], I mean what did y'all expect the coming of christ of something, ITS A PHISH SHOW ITS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT with your friends and new friends. If you dont like it then stop whording up all the tix so my friends and I can get some without buying them from a scalper site! Wow when I used to tour we used to go STAND IN LINE to get good seats not sit on our Iphone/internet/whatever, we would get stoned and and make an effort!

I love that Phish is back. I only saw one Hampton show and the MD show but thats cool. MD was way better than Hampton ill tell you that! vibes!!

This whole time I thought I hated hippies because they were so blindly happy.

Lots of bad vibes around here, man.

Not, only the worst phish show I have ever seen, it was also the most terrible sounding venue I have ever been to. I was front and center on the lawn and everthing from the bass to the vocals sounded very faint. Towards the end of the first set I migrated towards the top left corner of the hill. I don't know if I was in a sweet spot or what but the sound was much better unfortunately the songs sucked. What a snooze fest. Never got me moving. What a very uncool venue. COPS COPS COPS and more COPS!!! Everything about this show sucked. I will never go to merriweather again for anything. The scene has changed. Jerry's dead, phish sucks, get over it! I have. There is much better "LIVE" music out there.

So much hate. Was it an epic show? No. Was it awful - certainly not! Coventry was bad...A lot of shows in 2003-04 when Trey was spinning out of control were bad. MPP was far from a bad show. Sorry they didn't trot out song after song that will someday be on a "greatest hits" album (even though they've never really had a "hit" song). I loved this show (and I've been seeing Phish for over 15 years) for it's unique/varied setlist - a good mix of new tunes and rarities. Yes, the sound was low for the first few songs, but blame Paul (sound guy), not the acousitcs of the venue or the slope of the hill as Whit said. That's laughable. Merriweather is known for being a great sounding natural ampitheater. Live music, and Phish shows in particular, are supposed to be joyous celebrations, not events that haters can bitch about online if they're short of being perfect. When was the last time any of you haters had 18,000 people dancing for 3 hours to music you made? Get a clue.

FYI... I know Phish tunes and Alaska is a GREAT Phish tune!!

FYI, I know Phish tunes and Alaska is a great Phish tune... For all of you who are to old to appreciate the progression of the band, I feel sorry for you. You can have your "Bouncin Round the Room." I'll take Alaska any day!!!

This show was horrible. I have seen phish play since '96, traveled all over the country to see them, and this concert sucked. They should refund the money to the fans that went. Horrible show, they should be ashamed of themselves.

They started late & ended early... they played way too many "new" songs. For the 2nd to the last show, my expectations were much higher... that said, after my 13 year hiatus it was phantastic to see the boys again. They got me dancing a few times like the old days w/ The Sloth & KDF... Ester was a nice treat, different. Tweezer was good, Hood was, well, Hood... and GTBT rocked. They owed us another encore I thought, maybe an Antelope or something rarer. Though I was little bit dissapointed, even an average Phish show is still an above average musical experience. No drugs, no alcohol for me... clean living & beautiful music. Gone Phishin' !!!

Weak review

if this venue and it's combined attributes of locals, cops and meatheads could learn something from Darien's and Hartford's staff, then Maybe, possibly, it would have been a better experience for all that attended. Unfortunately, I, alone saw numerous arrested for 'ticky-tack' offenses. Possibly more than 200 bunke / counterfeit tickets sold as real ones and tons of meathead/fratboys getting more drunk than enjoying the music. Thus, the reason no want ever wants to go to Merriweather Post. Sorry, but that's my last phish show there. i'll stay at the venue where they treat us well.

The set list was fairly muddy. It was a slow night for a Saturday show in an isolated venue (comparative to adjacent nights' shows). Your review captured the general mood of the concert...which is what you are suppose to do. Good work. There were show highlights, but in general, it was a weak set.

Here's another review for everyone to bicker over.... :

I too was at MPP, my 2nd show of tour and had a swell time. Uh, would Red Rox or Hartford have been better? Probably, but I'm happy to get the plethora of goodies from this show nevertheless.

Oh yes, about the sound: I was smack dab center on lawn next to tapers for the 1st set and then inside next to soundboard for 2nd. Ouch - what a difference. (It was OK outside - not enuf keys or volume; and ripping sick inside). DD

Sam - Once again you've blown an opportunity to give props where they are aptly deserved -I'm referring to your limp-wristed review of the Trey-BSO show. Clearly you went into both shows with an agenda, and probably 3/4 of your story already written. You should have let me do the review.

Matthew, I'm sorry, it's hard for me to respond with such limp wrists ...

The review of the Trey-BSO show? Might want to re-read that, as it was reviewed by Tim Smith, our classical music critic -- not me.

Here's a link:,0,134847.story

I went back and re-read it, and I'd say Smith was quite fair. It was a positive review overall, and well-written.

Agenda? I was a big fan of Phish in college, and still have a ton of their live shows. I can't say I'm a fanatic, but I know a bit about their music, and still enjoy it.

3/4 of my story already written? Yes, Matthew, I go to all my shows with the reviews already written. How do I do it? Remember that TV show "Early Edition?" Yeah, it's kinda like that.

Sam - Thanks for the response; I must have hit close to the mark to get you all riled up like this. Usually, I'm a fan of your work. By "you" I mean The Sun, my apologies for not being clear. Yes, an agenda - a series of steps or goals to be carried out. I believe you set out to write a luke-warm, half-assed review. I don't garner an open-mind feel or genuine interest from your review. And enough with the coyness. You know darn well what I mean about having your story already written. (See previous comment re: agenda.) What happened to journalists actually interviewing someone from the band? Step out a little more next time and give us something other than the band's attire to sink our teeth into - or step aside.

Matthew, hate to break it to ya, but I'm not riled up, just chuckling a little. You obviously don't know much about journalism.

This was a review. You don't interview band members in a review.

You're thinking of a preview feature, which we do a lot. We actually lined up an interview with Trey before the BSO show. It was going to be a Sunday centerpiece, which is the biggest play we can give someone in the A&E section. But Trey backed out last minute for personal reasons, and we had to scrambled to find another story last-minute. So we could only review the show -- not preview and review it.

And for the record, I'm sorry you didn't "garner an open-minded feel" from my review. If you read Midnight Sun regularly, you'd know that I often have guest reviews of shows I can't review myself.

You're more than welcome to try your hand at one. My email is Hit me up sometime.


Sam - I accept your challenge. Sent you an e-mail with my information.

Hey all you Phans, I had a ROCKIN' SOLID TIME! It's an experience and what you make of it! Quit complain', start your groovin'!

Phun friends, phunky tunes, phabulous beer, pheelin' good......

Peace & love,
See you in Indio!!!!

they must have been saving their energy cause they were excellent the next night in Saratoga Springs. Energized, tight, happy.

We got Harpua, Bowie, Golgi , Llama + good new stuff, though backward down the number line must be an intentional salute to its doppleganger Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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