28 years. That's how long I've lived in Seattle. During that time we've had 4 shows within 150 miles of my house: two in '95, one in '96, and one in 2014. Part of it is that Seattle is tucked in a corner, far away from everywhere else. Part is that The Gorge is just outside of that 150 mile radius and if you have the ability to play there, you're going to be tempted. But also, a huge chunk is that the old Key Arena was just not a fun place for musicians. The acoustics were awful. The loading area was pitiful. Sure, people did perform there because Seattle is a major market, but no one really liked to.
And then the Sonics left town and the attempt to lure the Kings here got the NBA to belatedly realize that teams moving was a bad thing. Forestalling the departure or getting a team transplanted here would have had an arena built, but who knows what it would have been like. Instead we got an expansion hockey team, and they decided to rip down everything about the Key---other than the roof and some windows---and build a completely different building underneath it. Moreover, this was going to be a place as focused on the music as for sports.
They succeeded. The first time I saw a Kraken game last year, I was stunned at how crisp the piped in music sounded. We've gone from a dive of a venue to one of the best sounding hockey arenas I've ever been in. It's a bit of a maze at times, but the weird layout leads to an incredible ease of wandering around. The food - while expensive - is high quality; even the nachos I ordered used queso instead of the weird orange stadium cheese. Like so much of this city, we've moved from a bit of a weird dump to something expensive but amazing. A liability has become an attraction and for only the second time ever, Seattle was getting a two show run!
I woke on Saturday morning --- in my own bed! After a show! --- and wandered over to Green Lake. An advantage to having local shows is that you know where the good running trails are. I had organized a 4.5k to benefit the Mockingbird Foundation. While the weather was a tad on the sketchy side---clouds and a breeze off of the lake---the threatened drizzle never actually fell and it turned out to be perfect running conditions. Despite being done on the day between two shows, a lot of people were happy with their times. It was a fun start to the day and raised money for music education and with that in mind, I went back home and napped with my cats for a few hours feeling no guilt from either the exercise or social responsibility ends. Finally 5 rolled around and we headed the 1.5 miles south to get to the light rail station.
Since the last time Phish have played Seattle, the light rail has expanded to come near my house. They have a neighborhood station in my vicinity that few people who don't live there use. It means I know where all of the secret parking is and can easily hop on and catch the train. Moreover, Climate Pledge has made a deal where anyone who buys any ticket to an event at the arena gets a free transit pass to use any Seattle based transportation. Get off at Westlake, hop on the monorail --- go on, make the Simpsons' references. You'll pull something if you don't! --- and Sigma Oasis, you're already there.
One of the ways that Climate Pledge has changed Seattle is that it turned Seattle Center into this weird little area that has the most famous landmark structure but where people rarely went, into a place that regularly has 10,000 people coming there. The monorail has morphed into a novelty leftover from a World's Fair to a useful piece of transportation. There is a new energy to the region. Watching people pour out and get excited for a game or a show. Seeing a mini Shakedown form around the International Fountain, this is so much fun to see. So many times rich owners try to get public money for a venue and make grandiose claims about how it will change a city for the better but this is the one time where it's actually come true. Well done everyone!
Lights went out a few minutes later than on Friday, but still only a few minutes after 8. Some energetic chords were played and everyone waited until the first line was sung until knowing whether to write "II" on their setlists after "Axilla." Phish go back and forth between the two versions and we're in a Part II era now. The one advantage of the second part is the "Don't shine that light in my face" extra jam. This one wasn't the most extended version ever, but it already featured some amazing fills by Fishman. Maybe it was the acoustics of the room, but I constantly found myself being drawn into Jon over the course of the weekend. He's been a beast!
After a "Moma Dance" which had one of the extended intros that they've been doing lately, we had the biggest surprise of the night. No, not the "Wolfman's Brother," or even that it went into a very nice jam filled with some great bass lines---Mike feels energized by his new bass---and a few minutes of weirdness, but rather that the rocking peak somehow morphed into "Izabella." A tribute to Hendrix in his hometown wasn't shocking, but "Bold As Love" or "Fire" would have been a more likely call. This was my first version seen since 12/30/97, and it was a blast. Even the band seemed surprised by it, with a, "Well that was fun. That was a whole lot of fun," almost involuntarily exclaimed after. They so rarely react to their own music like that.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, we got another one during the "Reba." The jam took a little side path from the usual build. If we hadn't had it the previous night, it might have gone into "Plasma." Instead it was a very sweet interlude and worthy of additional listens.
The first set came to an end with a triple decker "Chalk Dust Torture." The first music break was short but high energy, the second more exploratory without losing the energy. They didn't quite have the deep underwater dives of the first night, but what we lost there was replaced with pure fun.
Set break reminded me again of the joys of local shows. While a lot of the fun over the week was watching distant friends come into town, during the break I stumbled into a few local friends and musicians (including Fruition's Jay Cobb Anderson, seeing his first show!) who I don't usually associate with Phish. This isn't a novelty for people in New York or Chicago, but it was so much fun for me.
The second set opened up with an intense "Free" and a "Ruby Waves" that kept the energy going. We then went into a bit of a pattern of fast jam into ballad. "Caspian" came out of the "Ruby" --- listen again towards the end of the jam to hear how Fishman was just inspiring everyone to keep things going. There seemed to be an extended game between him and Mike throughout the weekend of the two trying to see who could get my attention more --- and "Piper" followed the prince's outro.
The "Piper," while as upbeat as most of the big jam pieces of the night, got kind of weird with Trey still discovering some new tones and effects he can get out of his guitar all of these decades later. This is a unique sounding jam with Page playing off of the almost keyboard tone that Trey had going. It then resolves into a very nice peak until the pattern continued and we got "When the Circus Comes" to cool it back down.
Speaking of sounds that they don't use much, during the "Tube" (energy had to go back up, remember?), they had a stretch that almost messed with the "Not Fade Away"/"Aiko Aiko" beat. It kind of sounded like an unholy mixture of "Not Fade Away" and "Party Time."
As the show came to an end with "S.A.N.T.O.S." it felt like we had a pattern fulfilled. Sometimes people call shows on this evening "Saturday Night Specials" as a derogatory term, claiming that they're just empty, easy listens. This night had some of the hallmarks (no long jams, a focus on higher energy sections rather than weirdness, a "Hood" second set closer to get everyone loving life), but this was mostly the good way that you can have this kind of show. Every song had something extra and it was a perfect way to spend a weekend evening.
As someone who wants some more Seattle shows, I was worried about how well these shows would draw. The trick I've found if you're really curious about attendance is to not look at the floor or the lower level but focus on the worst seats in the house. The corners of the venue had some people on Friday but as the lights came up during the "Hood" peak, the tops looked quite full. It wasn't a sell out, but the band definitely did well; more proof of that is that the Sonics-themed venue-specific merchandise was completely wiped out by the end of the first night. I was going to buy a hat. I think there's a real shot that Phish might return here before 2031.
If they do, I will suggest that you try to make it out. It's easily accessible, close to a lot of Seattle's tourist attractions---it's amazing seeing the Space Needle loom as you walk out of the venue---and it's just an all around great place to see music. I've gone from wanting Phish to play the Key because I wanted a local show to wanting them to play CPA because I want to go to that venue.
This is how gentrification works right.
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