On October 29th, 2013, Phish dropped a legendary show in Reading, Pennsylvania. Being the band’s inaugural performance here, it was a historic night with an old-school vibe. Shenanigans ensued.
Arriving in Reading you could feel that something special was brewing. The town itself is tiny and entrenched in urban blight. Historically Phish loves these little towns in despair. Not to mention, any chance to avoid Philadelphia is probably a plus in their eyes. Perhaps most well known for carrying the nation’s “Poorest City” moniker in a ranking from the Census Bureau, Reading seemed like a good fit for the Phish from Vermont.
As showtime neared, the anticipation grew. This was a tiny, indoor, East-coast Phish show and everyone really wanted to let loose before Atlantic City. Even before the band played a single note, the walls were sweating. The venue truly feels like a high-school gymnasium. Upon first glancing the stage the intimate setting comes alive. There was only one way down to the floor. And generally while I dislike venues that enforce this crap, the place was small enough that it didn’t really matter. In fact, the dance space we had on the floor was dreamy. That people didn’t feel the need to sneak down to the floor emphasized the quality and size of this venue. The band sounded good from anywhere in the room, and in a space this size, Phish knows how to destroy.
Coming out swinging with a classic Page tune, Cars Trucks Buses really got things cooking. Just a few minutes into the sizzling instrumental tune and the band was firing on all cylinders. Stealing Time always feels right at the beginning of a first set and Ginseng Sullivan was a really nice treat. The first true highlight of the show was Wolfman’s Brother. Easily one of the best Wolfman’s in recent memory, we were treated to some refreshing, hard-thumping grooves. Trey’s guitar peddles were completely dialed in and he was throwing down some really addictive funk-delay-loops. Mike and Fish set a heavy rhythmic foundation. Next thing we knew the band was fully engulfed in a beautiful, wah-wah driven funk jam. Mike was thundering the bottom as Page tickled the top. Fish and Trey were communicating brilliantly. Snare and wah-wah snaps. Truly a masterful version of this song. As everyone looked around and realized how small this venue felt, Sparkle made us all smile and laugh. Walk Away was incredibly solid, yet things really were just getting started.
Divided Sky commands so much attention in a tiny, indoor venue. These days many newer fans have yet to travel out East to catch the band where they feel most at home. Divided Sky may seem most at home in an enormous, outdoor summer venue like Alpine Valley or The Gorge, but it’s hard to beat a sweaty, screaming indoor version of the tune that feels like it was plucked from 1994. Trey took more than a few deep breaths during the long pause. The crowd stared up at the rafters, imagined a sky and held up lighters. It seemed like forever, but the pause was beautiful, natural, and exactly what everyone needed at the time.
As the hugs continued and friends shared rumblings about how much fun the whole Phish organization was having, the band shifted into the sinister with an extremely heavy version of Split Open and Melt. In my opinion, with all variables considered, this is the best version of Split Open and Melt that the band has played since reuniting in 2009. This version of Melt deserves its own article. It is incredibly dark and twisted. The time signatures are complex. The jam gets so heavy that the band literally lifts off into another dimension, yet all four of them remain attached at the hip. Since the band reunited in 2009, every attempt at this song has led to the version played in Reading. Moving straight into Julius was not only understandable, it was a breath of fresh air. Shit was getting really, really dark. And while that’s exactly how we like our Melts, Trey knew we all needed to move on. Julius did his job and ushered us into another much needed setbreak.
Visibly excited the band hit the stage for the second set. A really nostalgic Pop Goes the Weasel tease from Mike gave way to one of the best versions of Down with Disease played since the band’s 2009 reunion (a common theme). A monstrous jam with multiple themes and peaks, this version stood out instantly. Touching upon some anthemic similarities with the Tahoe Tweezer, this Disease was captivating, dark and dirty, beautiful and filled with joy at the same time. Morphing into a thrashing rendition of Taste, the band was feeling good. Taste is a very complex arrangement. To see it emerge after a 21 minute Disease — placed as the second set pearl — demonstrates how confident the band was feeling.
As the crowd collectively caught its breath, Trey ominously started playing the opening notes to Twenty Years Later. An introspective Anastasio/Marshall tune, Twenty Years Later takes its listener on a gorgeous journey. Stories of peaks and valleys resonated through the venue. Some in the crowd grew nostalgic, others grew more intrigued. Then BOOM. In the middle of a fifteen minute version of Twenty Years Later Phish threw down a straight dopamine filled funk jam. A time-shifting Free-esque groove emerged and Trey threw down a supple lick that forced the whole room to move as one unit.
At this point, Phish had won. The band had all of us eating out of the palms of their hands. This is what we all wanted. Piper was up next and that red worm didn’t disappoint. Backwards Down the Number Line has grown into a song that I love. Another round of smiles and hugs gave way to yet another enormous surprise.
YEM. Out of all the shows, in all the states, and all of the venues. Here in Reading. Holy Shit! is what everyone collectively exhaled. We buckled our seat belts and tightened our grip. YEM, in such a tiny, indoor venue, at the end of a raging (and rare) Fall Tour, during Phish’s 30th anniversary year, at the end of a show of this caliber. It started clicking that they probably wouldn’t be playing a YEM in Atlantic City after dropping this one here in Reading. People hugged, people rejoiced, and then we all got down. The dance party was so intense, such controlled chaos. This was a prime Phish crowd. When Mike grabbed a hold of the jam towards the end, Trey nearly hit his face on the microphone as he completely lost himself to his bandmate’s earth-shattering talent. To see Trey dance like that just feels so, so good. Kuroda nearly stole the show with his work during the vocal jam and everyone laughed in hysteria as the band wrapped up a monumental version of YEM. Grind was a comical, tasteful closer to an other-worldly set.
With the crowd left reeling in outer space, Phish completely nailed the vibe with a Bouncin’ encore opener. That YEM vocal jam was a masterful piece of evil art and we all really needed to link back up in a similar groove.
And then. BOOM. Reba. A beautiful, delicate version that forced a few security guards to shed a couple of tears. This was something special. An epic, delightful treat at the end of a scorching show. We lost ourselves to the warm and fuzzy Reba jam and all was right in the world. The band then kicked into Good Times, Bad Times, and those of us with some fight left gave them a run for their money.
The crowd was left completely stunned and the band left the stage. I am honestly surprised that the place is still upright.