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Phish gives Bangor twin top-drawer performances

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Phish gives Bangor twin top-drawer performances (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – Anticipation was high when Phish performed two distinctly different shows back to back at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor on July 25 and 26.

Thousands of fans flocked outside the gates mid-afternoon on Tuesday when that evening’s show was preceded by an early sound-check at around 3:30. Guitarist Trey Anastasio, drummer Jonathan Fishman, bassist Mike Gordon and keyboardist Page McConnell loosely ran through a few familiar songs – including one that would appear in that evening’s second set.

An intriguing soundcheck factoid for Phish train spotters: During the jam following “Play by Play,” the band referenced an old listening exercise they regularly summoned during practice sessions back in the early to mid-90s known as “Including Your Own Hey.”

The threat of inclement weather didn’t seem to bother the 30,000 fans that filled Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion over the course of the two days. The rain and fog managed to add a bit of spook to the proceedings both nights as Phish unleashed four sets of music in an environment the band said “felt like home to us.”

Each show’s first set included a song referencing the weather with Tuesday’s “Water in the Sky” and Wednesday’s “Petrichor.” The former, a bouncy, melodic sing-along from 1998’s “Story of the Ghost” and the latter, a 17-minute, classically inspired 6-part suite from the band’s latest studio LP, “Big Boat.” Both pieces received their first public airing at a Phish show since last fall.

As Trey Anastasio said at the conclusion of Wednesday’s final song “Suzy Greenberg,” “This is home to one of us,” referring to drummer Jon Fishman, a resident of Lincolnville and a member of that town’s Board of Selectmen.

“We’d like to bring a local politician up on stage to sing one for you,” Anastasio said on Tuesday, before introducing Fishman to take the lead on a song. “Mr. Jon Fishman, getting it done for Maine!” Anastasio exclaimed, as the audience cheered and laughed.

“This is kind of a theme song if you’re on the select board, for sure,” Fishman joked during his introduction for his brief (mostly) a cappella sing-along, “Ass Handed.” (As in “You get your ass handed to you every day.”) “Vote Fishman in 2020!” Anastasio exclaimed, as the band punctuated the tune with some closing power chords.

Both shows featured tight, purposeful jams – even in songs not ordinarily recognized as obvious jam vehicles, and a few of those jams were so spectacular and exploratory (“Down With Disease” and “Simple” from the first show; “Fuego” and “Cities” from the second) that they stand confidently next to anything the band has performed over the last 20 years.

The momentum and energy dipped for a bit during Wednesday’s second set when Anastasio pulled the ripcord at the end of “The Final Hurrah” and began strumming the opening chords of “Prince Caspian” – a beautiful ballad from Phish’s 1996 “Billy Breathes” LP. That song remained unfinished as the band segued into the mid-tempo “Farmhouse” before shifting gears to 2009’s “Backwards Down The Number Line” and a ripping 10-minute “Chalk Dust Torture” to close the set.

Maine became a regular destination for Phish once the band began stretching out beyond their home state of Vermont in the 1980s. In his brief closing remarks, Anastasio alluded to the band’s lengthy history of performing here, as well as the four festival events the band has staged in Maine to date (the first, in 1991, in Auburn – the other three at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in 1997, 1998 and 2003).

“We had such a good time and hope we can come back really soon,” Anastasio said at the conclusion of Wednesday’s show, before adding “Thank you for welcoming us back one more time.”

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