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June 28, 2010

Concert review: Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Last year, when I reviewed Phish's show at Merriweather Post Pavilion, a commenter named Matthew Pugh said he could write a better review than me. Instead of telling him to buzz off, I told him to prove it, and recruited him to review Phish this time around. Here is his review of Saturday's show:

Make no mistake about it. When Phish arrived last night at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia for the first show of a two-night stand, they brought not peace, but a sword to remove any lingering doubt about them being one of the most dangerous bands alive ...

The Vermont quartet played for nearly four hours, ripping through 23 songs in two sets. They launched the first with "Crowd Control" and "Kill Devil Falls," the same two songs they opened with last August at Merriweather — a show that met with much criticism from fans new and old. Phish, therefore, meant one of two things with this identical start: We're going to try this again OR maybe you didn't hear us the first time. ...

A steady roar from the 17,000-plus in attendance made it clear that ears were wide open as the band jammed a variety of classic, new, and obscure tunes under a June full moon.

"AC/DC Bag" and "Tube" got the booty juice flowing in the muggy Maryland air, while "Sugar Shack," "Stash," and "NICU" pleased listeners with a penchant for Caribbean and other ethnic-flavored rhythms. Fans were also treated to a rare cover of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Guitarist Trey Anastasio displayed mastery of his instrument by rarely looking at his Languedoc six-string or effects when soloing. Likewise, Page McConnell, gave the audience an education in keyboard dominance, navigating brilliantly over his Hohner clavinet and grand piano.

Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman threw a combination of heavy-weight bass and drums punches that hit you squarely in the sternum. At times, Fishman drove into his Zildjian crash with rage that lifted him off his throne.

The second set blasted off no less aggressively than the first with "Rock and Roll" and "Free." Phish's light designer, Chris Kuroda, matched the band with a syncopated tapestry of both cool, mellow hues and intense, seizure-inducing flashes.

Phish, staying true to their improvisational DNA, captivated the crowd with a deep, dark, raunchy rendition of "Tweezer," before bringing them back to earth with a fine version of "Silent in the Morning." The band would close the second set with a trio of Phishhead favorites:  "Wolfman's Brother," "Slave to the Traffic Light," and a deafening "Tweezer Reprise."

The band encored with a new ballad called "Show of Life" and the Led Zeppelin rocker "Good Times Bad Times." This juxtaposition of soft and hard coming-of-age tunes perfectly represented this latest iteration of Phish: an older, wiser band whose music and abilities have been forged and refined by fire into sharp and deadly forces.

Set I

Crowd Control
Kill Devil Falls
Sugar Shack
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Backwards Down The Number Line
46 Days
Suzy Greenberg

Set II
Rock & Roll
Fast Enough For You
The Horse
Silent In The Morning
Wolfman's Brother
Slave to The Traffic Light
Tweezer Reprise

Show of life
Good Times Bad Times

Matthew Pugh is a public relations specialist by day. By night, he drums for the Baltimore-based jam band Willies Light.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:37 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Concert reviews


Matthew Pugh is a public relations specialist by day. By night, he drums for the Baltimore-based jam band Willies Light.

... and a unabashed Phish fan who shouldn't be writing "reviews" for a newspaper's blog.

23 songs in 4 hours is "ripping through" them? That's an average of 10 minutes a song, all night long. Are those actual songs as written, or is it improvising most of the time?

Sounds kind of unfocused and unexciting, but it's because I lean more towards rock music than meandering jazz-style improvising.

Kudos to Sam for having some integrity and not taking these comments lightly.

That's a lot of adjectives in that review.

I was wondering why there were so many dirtbags raoming around Columbia yesterday. I hope the filters in the local water fountains are fully operational if these bums decide to take their annual bath in Maryland.

Oh and Sam Sessa review > Matthew Pugh review. Stick to the PR gig son.

Thanks Matt, for giving credit where credit is due. Trust me...nothing about Saturday night's show was unfocused or unexciting. There was plenty of rock and roll all night long.

phish rules. two great shows.
i love people who don't anything about phish. go buy your john mayer records and be happy.

Nice try. Apparently Pugh thought that he could do a better job than official music reviewers in reviewing a Phish show. He's right, but it's like being the world's tallest midget.

Most Phish concert reviews are terrible because the reviewer has no concept of Phish and what that band does onstage, preferring to stick with rock-show cliches and "just the facts." Pugh's revie-ugh suffers from just the opposite: far too much intimate knowledge of the band and their history. Also, someone please take away his thesaurus. A non-phan reading "rage!" "aggressive!" "seizure-inducing lighting!" is going to come away from the review with the same completely-wrong idea about Phish and the Phish concert experience as they would have from reading a traditional review.

Matthew, good job, but stick to PR. If you are as heedless in lavishing compliments on your clients as you are about Phish, you'll go a long way.

Saturday's show was hardly meandering. It rocked. They rocked. I rocked. Sunday was more "meandering" but funky beats and tension and release rock do not equate to a Miles Davis Live Evil jam session. This band rocks and it's a helluva good time. What's not to like?

haha --- ""AC/DC Bag" and "Tube" got the booty juice flowing in the muggy Maryland air.." ----Was phanboy Matthew referring to an energy drink called "Booty Juice" or the real-deal, never imitated juice from the booty? Because honestly, as a 17-yr phan of Phish, the band has actually been able to telepathically excrete juices from my booty during live shows. Therefore, for no other reason than not being a booty juice apologist, I give this review an A+! Well done Matthew. and great humility from Sam Sessa.

Matthew Pugh is a public relations specialist by day. By night, he drums for the Baltimore-based jam band Willies Light....before going home to his folks' basement to play Dungeons and Dragons and eat Doritos until 4 a.m.

sounds horrible.

... and a unabashed Phish fan who shouldn't be writing "reviews" for a newspaper's blog.

First World Problems! Get a grip, man, jeez.

Pokey: did you go to the show? Then shut your clap trap. Unfocused and unexciting? Phans like us (who were actually there) left the show dripping in sweat from 3 hours plus of dancing, rocking and singing. Didn't your mother tell you if you don't have anything nice to say when you have no clue what you are talking about, to not say it???? Loser.

Forget the Phish shows, sounds like the real party was at the Hole show last night. With Courtney is anybody really surprised????

I think I'm going to be sick after reading that. Laying it on a bit heavy, are we?

It kind of reminds me of concert reviews from The New Zealand Consulate Times by Murray Hewitt.

I think this reviewer may have been at a different show than I was Saturday night. Don't let your zeal for the band overshadow the fact that, for Phish, that was a bad show. Now, sub-par Phish may be better than a lot of things, but Saturday was definitely sub-par. As I spoke with people after the show, I don't think I talked to anyone who was overly impressed. Because the few highs were extremely high, I grudgingly settled on a C+ for Saturday.

Now Sunday night? That was the show to be at. Total rager, earning a solid A.

Was anyone who posted comments here ACTUALLY at the show(s) or are you just instantly averse to anything involving songs that are more than 2-3 minutes long?

If you weren';t there for Sunday's show missed out. Probably the best show of Phish 3.0 (maybe even best since version 1.0)

Sam Sessa is a virtual pimp the likes of which has never been seen in the four-one-oh.

When he shakes that money maker, it brings angels to tears...

Nothing against this guys review, but it is more meant for a Phish blog or jambase. It is a narrative of the setlist from this particular concert for phish fans to interpret. Sam's blog is for a wider audience and his reviews generally focus more on the atmosphere and the band's overall sound and performance. -OLD MAN GNAR's 2 cents

One thing that can't be disputed.....Phish fans didn't learn their lesson from the last time they played at Merriweather. The cops had another field day arresting 20+ people with what mainly appears to be drug charges.

Wow - it's nice he took a stab at it, but clearly overuses commas, heavy on the subjective adjectives, and who really gives a crap what brand or model of instruments the band is using?

Sounds like merriweather is a crap venue, cops should know better to leave phish fans alone and that they'll have herb on them..

Sounds like Andy's review in the comments was a little more objective than Matthew's.

You gotta wonder about a fan's musical taste when every performance by a given band is "great", even when not. But that's what happens when being part of a following is more important than the quality of the music.

Wow. I'm thrilled that so many people took the time to read and comment on my review. Good or bad, just getting a reaction is a compliment. Thank you.

For the record, I never told Sam Sessa that I could write a "better" review. In fact, it was Sam who challenged me to write one in the first place. I happily and bravely accepted. Don’t just take my word for it, however. Go to his review from last year posted August 16 and you can read the exchange in its entirety.

Regardless of how it all got started, Sam is a great sport—and equally great reporter—for allowing me to have some space on his blog. I appreciate the conversation and the criticism. Keep it coming.


Trite, contrived, hackneyed, gauche, sophmoric...the writers lack of originality is just mind-boggling. Given a pulpit to preach the gospel we phans know and love, instead what to do we get? The song titles in the order played with the obligatory sentence or so about said song. Where's the creativity in this formulaic weaksauce review? Zero points for stye.

Oof. That review read like one you'd find in a college paper. Wide-eyed and breathless. Step away from the thesaurus broham.

@Matthew Pugh -- You did indeed say you could write a better one. Here are your words, posted on last year's review:

"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. ... 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."


"You should have let me do the review."

Full post here:

So I did. And thanks again, Matthew, for doing it. Cheers, everybody!

Your intro is not accurate, Sam. I never said those words, so you did misquote me. That's okay, though. It happens all the time. It's your turf I'm on so I don't mind being bullied by a few of your friends/regular readers.

So where is you review of Sunday's show? I thought we were going to do a side-by-side, since that was also your idea. Have you lost your sand?

I think it's great that my review as garnered so many comments. I've clearly struck a nerve.

In our business I've always thought that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Would have hated to have 0 comments.

I win.

Matthew Pugh: if you're reading this... Know that everything will be alright. You're still in my heart and you're exceptional music reviewer... I heart you. Hold your head high my love and do your thing. See you in NY and you're forgiven by me... See you in March and next week in NY Babe!!! IL09

Good review. Not one constructive comment, however.

Fight! Fight!

I was definitely not too impressed with the setlist for this one. But heard it ws a pretty good weekend for the guys as a whole.

I'm hitting Phish in Charlotte on 7/2 and Atlanta on 7/4, so crossing my fingers for some "ragers."

Honestly this review sounds like it was written by a giddy 16 year old, BUT.. For all you people who are commenting and hating on phish you are lame or just feel the need to whine... I was at BOTH Camden shows (Thurs and Fri.) and BOTH MPP shows.. Saturday was a little slow but was a solid show... Sunday however was the best show back. If you weren't there SHUT YOUR MOUTH, and if you don't know a thing about Phish, SHUT YOUR MOUTH. Screw Hole!

Not sure why you "win." After reading this, I think some people might want to avoid your PR services.

@ Richard

You and your comments remind me of something that's often limp and/or stiff, veiny, sometimes smelly, occasionally wears a turleneck, and has nutty friends but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Going back through the comments on last year's show that led to the review, I find it humorous that Matthew has clearly done the same thing he attacked Sam for doing last year.

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.

It is clear that Matthew is a Phish fan. He obviously set out to write a glowing review of the show, no matter how it turned out. I don't garner an open-mind (sic) feel or genuine objectivity from his review.

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.

So this time we're sinking our teeth into the brand of instruments the band played instead of what they wore. Tasty.

Saturday's show was definitely reminiscent of last year's. Lots of newer songs in the first set, and an overall lack of flow throughout. However, Sunday night made up for it big time... I Saw It Again!

My comments are a penis?

I'm not a Phish fan or a Christian, but associating a band with Jesus in your first sentence does not bode well for the rest of your "review". And hey, people can comment on the writing without hating on the band, so some folks here need to relax a bit

Good review. Interesting insight to the band's evolution in your conclusion. ...and you can't miss the point they made of coming back with a vengeance when they start the set with the same songs as last year; these guys really care about the crowd! When I saw them play in Hartford, they played Tweezer Reprise twice, according to Anastasio, because they forgot the reprise at the Hershey show!

I don't think it was because they forgot. There is a strict curfew at Hershey at 11:00 and they went off exactly then after a short encore. Merriweater has the same 11:00 curvew though, but both Saturday and Sunday they went 5-10 minutes over.

I'm sure the Columbia Community Association is gonna have a field day with that. I'm imagining fines in the tens of thousands of dollars

All that writing and not one comment on any goo balls or nitrous balloons? What kind of Phish show was this?

I'm liking my life more and more. Thank u Phish fans, Goodnight!

This dude is operating under the unfortunate delusion that he can write.

Sam, well played in letting him self-immolate in front of everyone.

Go write a press release Pugh.

I never read your review, but if this IS actually better, than yours must have been terrible. My guess is that this was not better.

Believe it or not, Phish has been around for a long time. For the purist, Phish has existed since the early 80’s and got a makeover in the late 80’s and 90’s.

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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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