12/30/1993 & The Significance Of The-Night-Before-The-Night

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By most accounts 12/30/1993 should never have happened.

With a torrential blizzard encompassing the Northeastern United States, most fans traveling from New Haven, CT to Portland, ME were either caught in virtual whiteouts or forced to wait until the very last minute to travel.

For those who were in Portland in the hours preceding the show most had to brave sub-zero temperatures outside while waiting for the venue to shuffle everyone in. As had become a staple of Phish fandom over the past 10 years however, Phish fans would prove more than willing, & more than capable of overcoming seemingly any/all odds, any distance & any weather in the unyielding hunt towards the next Phish show. Be it Dec 1995’s NE Run; Fall 1997’s Denver –> Central Illinois –> Hampton Quest; the long march across Alligator Alley to Big Cypress; the rain-soaked hell-slog to Coventry; or the overnight cross-country hauls throughout 3.0, Phish fans were always ready to hit the road – no matter the conditions – in search of the musical highs Phish provided.

More often than not, Phish would repay their efforts in full.

On such nights when it took an extra effort just to get to a show, there’d often be a palpable energy in the air – tension one could reach out and clutch onto – where band & audience engaged in a back & forth exchange of riotous celebration & shared camaraderie brought upon by years of shared musical unity. With each Phish show being a wholly new & unique experience, with each crowd being compiled of dedicated fans who’d seen the band countless times & discussed them as one would their favorite baseball team, with each venue & city providing its own historical backdrop to the band’s performance, & with the potential always there for a historical, boundary-pushing jam, &/or unexpected bustout, &/or tongue-in-cheek inside joke from their Burlington days, it’s no wonder nights like 30 December 1993 resulted in some of the most significant shows the band ever played.

And yet, for all of the immediate table-setting that logistics played in making 12/30/1993 one of the best shows of that crucial year – not to mention one of the most enduring performances of Phish’s overall career – perhaps what most sets it apart from other shows is its significance as one of the ever-special “Night-Before-The-Night” shows.

The concept of the Night-Before-The-Night is as uniquely Phish as any.

In the same vein as their ever-changing, unpredictable setlists, their surprise Halloween covers of Full Albums, their litany of bustous & special guests & gimmicks that dot their live catalogue, the Night-Before-The-Night is a singular way for the band to catch their crowd on their heels and deliver a memorable – if not wholly unexpected – concert experience. Like the sheer childish thrill of a surprise gift on Christmas Eve, or the rehearsal dinner for your best friend’s wedding that parties deep into the night, the Night-Before-The-Night is a celebratory result of pent-up energy, anticipation, & a shared history that bursts uncontrollably ahead of schedule.

It’s a sensuous feeling rooted deep in youthful excitement and unbridled anticipation.

It’s the party the night before finals. It’s the unrivaled sense of freedom that comes with clocking out the night before your flight to someplace warm & very far away. It’s walking into your apartment the night before your birthday to find 20 of your best friends cloaked in darkness, exalting their love and friendship for you.

It’s all of these moments of unexpected celebration and tensional release; only here it’s shared with 20,000 people, hosted by your favorite band, whose entire career has been built on capitalizing on these very moments.

If there’s any Phish show you ever need to be at, it’s The-Night-Before-The-Night.

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For a show like The-Night-Before-The-Night to even occur there has to be “The Night” for there to properly be a “Night Before.”

This often comes in the form of holiday shows – 4th of July, Halloween, NYE – festivals, tour finales, & any otherwise overly-hyped show due to venue locale, date, et al. Such shows are often the ones wherein which the band feels such an overwhelming amount of pressure to deliver that often times their nerves are released one show prior as a means of lessening the expectations for the highly anticipated performance. In some cases this unexpected and unexplainable release tends to water down the originally hyped show as a result.

In the same vein as the Wild Card rounds of the MLB & NFL playoffs, and the first round of the NBA Playoffs tend to be more electric and bombastic than the more prodding later rounds, there’s something about the anticipation of a BIG night that lends itself to the shows preceding it.

Some of the most revered Phish shows in history are a direct result of this alchemic composition. Beyond 12/30/1993, many fans look to 10/29/1995, 08/14/1996, 12/30/1997, 08/12/1998, 07/25/1999, 02/28/2003, 07/29/2003, 12/01/2003, 12/30/2009, 10/30/2010, 08/28/2012 & 10/29/2013, among others, as further examples of legendary nbTn’s.

In person these are some of the most exciting and unforgettable shows one could catch. They cultivate the sense of Phish being your own personal secret while also making one feel as if they’re in on some spectacular joke few others will ever quite understand.

On tape these shows reverberate with electricity & a pop that separates them from all others. It’s not so much that they’re “better,” per se, than other shows, more so that they contain within them the same cognizance of dangerously tampering with larger forces that comes with sneaking out of your parents house at 3am, or skipping class to smoke pot with your best friends.

Senses elevated, each song tends to carry more weight, each jam more significance, each ovation more reverberation.

From the tension in Trey’s voice as he delivers the Forbin’s Narration on 12/30, or the maniacal outburst that results from the nearly-900 show bustout of Sneakin’ Sally four years later, to the unparalleled appearance of Jeff Holdsworth on 01 December 2003, to the Tweezeppelin madness that overtook the second set on 10/30/2010, there’s often no match for the energy output that comes from the pure shock value that occurs on the nbTn.

It’s unsurprising that on these nights the band tends to pull out all the stops. For a band that’s built its entire career on a devoted partnership with their crowd, the awareness of, and emotional reaction to such a show could never be lost on the performers.

These are the nights where storytelling is most likely to occur. Jams are typically extended to surreal & ethereal heights. And a selection of choice rarities & bustouts are dropped seemingly at will. These are the nights when you review a setlist in the hours following the show’s conclusion & find you have to pick your jaw up off the floor. These are the nights when it feels like Phish won the NCAA Title as an 8th Seed.

They are as shocking as they are monumental & as rewarding as they are unexpected.

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With a New Year’s Eve show planned for the following night at the Worcester Centrum – a venue the band had been working towards playing at for five years – 12/30/1993 was in many ways the first every Night-Before-The-Night show in Phish’s history. And while the NYE show would more than satisfy diehard fans with its Greatest Hits-esque setlist, unified “we’re all in this together” vibe that permeated throughout, and the all-time version of Harry Hood that capped off the 3rd Set, many overlooked 12/30 as little more than an appetizer for 12/31 in the days and weeks leading up to it.

Just four years earlier Phish had packed The Paradise in Boston through word of mouth – and the help of Greyhound Buses – as their very first headlining gig in Beantown. A city that feels in many ways like the capitol of the Northeastern Kingdom, it’s always been like a second home for Phish. Its summer shed, Great Woods, hosted the final Gamehendge performance in 1994, the Fleet Center hosted their 20th Anniversary show in 2003, it was the site of two emotional sendoff shows in 2004, in 2009 the band chose Fenway Park to usher in their first proper tour in five years, and in 2013 the revamped Centrum (now the DCU Center) hosted two shows in October that felt as close to a 30th Anniversary Celebration as any.

To close out a year as monumental as 1993 in The Centrum would be yet another step forward for a band that had yet to relinquish their foot from the gas in nearly ten years of growth and development.

As Phish would show on 30 December 1993 however, there’s rarely a time when you can assume they’ll simply mail a performance in. Regardless how amped they & their fanbase was for the NYE show in Worcester, there was simply no way 1993 Phish was going to allow the gig in Portland to be forgotten.

As this show would prove for years to come, the shows where Phish is least expected to deliver are often times the most memorable ones of them all.

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By the end of 1993 Phish was a serious musical and artistic force to be reckoned with. A national touring act that had continuously pushed themselves both creatively and artistically, they’d spent the past two years touring without restraint in effort to evolve beyond the tight-shipped machine they’d spent the better part of 1989 – 1991 becoming.

The Spring of 1992 had seen them expand their setlist and their improvisational abilities, while their time spent opening for Santana that summer had given them the chance to witness first hand the immense possibilities of band/audience connection through live improvisation. No longer the lackadaisical, wide-eyed college students jamming at house parties and in dorm cafeterias, they were ready to push their music deep into the unknown in a professional, and an artistic manner.

In early 1993 Phish spent five months on the road. In a tour that saw them cross the nation twice in just over 3 months, the band consistently tinkered and experimented towards further improvisational expansion. They carried themselves with a swagger that could only result from having played nearly 400 shows in the previous four years. Their sound fuller, their shows more fluid, their crew stable, they now began a process of outward expansion that would eventually lead them to the abstract explorations of November 1994 and June 1995.

David Bowie became a prominent opener, while Tweezer continued its evolutionary expansionism towards its eventual status as the ultimate Phish jam. The Big Ball Jam, one of a number of examples of band/audience interplay – introduced in late 1992 – was played nightly, allowing the band the opportunity to shed their artistic self-consciousness while the audience directed their music. For whatever shortcomings it had in terms of listenable music, it was yet another example in a line of band-initiated exercises that would help to bridge the gap between them and their audience, while also broadening their perspective on what was possible with live music.

Shows such as 02/23, 03/16, 03/30, 04/14, 04/18, 04/30, 05/03, & 05/08, among others, displayed a Phish far more relaxed in terms of setlist construction than they’d been in years past. During many of the aforementioned second sets, songs like Tweezer, Stash, David Bowie, Weekapaug Groove and Mike’s Song could expand far beyond the previously understood frames of musical construction. Direct, fully-flowing, organic segues became a far more typical aspect of second sets. And while their jamming was still rooted in a frenetic dissonance that bordered on shock value at times, it was clear by tour’s end – as heard in the 05/03 Tweezer -> Manteca -> Tweezer, and the 05/08 David Bowie -> Jessica -> David Bowie -> Have Mercy -> David Bowie – that the band’s expansionist efforts were beginning to blossom in melodic terrains of improvisational music.

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Early on in the year they played a show in Atlanta, GA that would stand as one of the most important of their entire career. To this day 20 February 1993 is still revered as one of the critical moments in Phish history.

Taking a leap forward within the confines of a single show in a way they hadn’t since the mid-80’s, Phish fused the tight and explosive sound they’d crafted over the previous four years with the exploratory origins they’d been founded in. Wielding a set of segues, teases and jams in and out of Tweezer and Mike’s Groove, a porthole opened.

Phish would never be the same.

No longer would gimmicks & stories & Fishman joke-songs & secret languages & pure energy be enough to make a show. To move forward as artists in pursuit of their goal of producing linear, equal, & completely unified music through live, improvisational jamming, the band would begin a process of shedding their own egos and exploring the various musical avenues their songs could take them.

Later that year, during the fateful month of August 1993, the band continued to tinker with the formula they’d established throughout the previous four years, here using the “Hey Hole” jamming exercise to cultivate new lines of communication and new avenues for improvisation and linear musical communication. While the month of August is revered as one of the most impressive of their entire career – along with June/November 1994, December 1995 and November/December 1997 – the entire Summer Tour proved to be a massive breakthrough for the band. Shows like 07/16, 07/17, 07/24, 08/02, 08/07, 08/09, 08/11, 08/13, 08/14, 08/20, & 08/28 stretched the confines of what a concert could be in theory, and provided Phish with further proof that their energy & precision wasn’t at risk with a refined emphasis on experimentation. To the contrary, Phish discovered that by emphasizing improv, the energy of their concerts, and their trust within each other as artists, only solidified their original product. Oftentimes they’d find themselves writing new songs and themes within jams as can be heard in the 08/11 Mikes, 08/13 Gin, & 08/14 Antelope, among others.

The sets and shows that produced these groundbreaking musical experiments were thusly enhanced by their existence.

That Fall Phish would take a break from touring to record their most accessible and taught record to date: Hoist. An album recorded with a keen eye on an altogether different type of musical expansion – here popular exposure – was a reflection of the halcyon year 1993 was for Phish. Still young enough to devote all their waking hours to their craft, devoid of the responsibilities to family, crew and a burgeoning fanbase, fixated on an abstract goal to produce completely egoless music in a live setting, they had seemingly all the time in the world to push their own artistic goals forward while still spreading their name.

It was the kind of period of artistic fruition and popular expansion that any musician would kill for some ten years into their career. It’d been a long road to this point, but now here, Phish intended to make the most of the opportunities before them.

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The Cumberland County Civic Center is a 9500 multi-purpose arena in downtown Portland, ME. Home to the AHL Portland Pirates it’s like many of the 60’s & 70’s era concrete sheds that have witnessed some of the best shows throughout Phish’s career. Encased in cement, graced by neon-lit corporate sponsorship, ripe with stale beer and the lingering scent of processed foods, acoustically unreliable, employed by the least abled-bodied workers in the American workforce; these are the venues that marked the arrival of Phish as a national touring act, and that they have called home on Fall Tours, Winter Tours & New Years Eve Runs ever since.

A venue that was ushered into live-music-existence with a ZZ Top performance in 1977 – and is ultimately famous for the fact that it was to have been the site of an Elvis concert were he to not have died the morning of 16 August 1977 at his home in Memphis – it’s one of the industrial and pop-cultural pinpoints that’s put Portland on the map. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, a town known for outdoor enthusiasts, green energy, and the fact that it’s home to the most restaurants per capita in America, the venue and the city are the kind of Northeastern haunts that have always felt like home for Phish.

The original capitol of Maine, the Portland of the East, is the state’s most populous city; it’s a city that’s known its own fair share of hardship, resiliency, & ultimately, recovery.

Hit hard by the British trade embargo of 1807, the city grew in both size and stature following the War of 1812. It was the site of the Portland Rum Riots in response to Maine being the first state prohibiting the sale of Alcohol, and in 1863 its harbor was the site of one of the northernmost battles of the Civil War. Nearly destroyed in 1866 due to a fire that resulted from Fourth of July celebrations gone awry. It’s a town that’s played as distinctive a part in its region’s history as it has in reveling in the fruits of Americanization.

An early 20th-Century rail hub, it faced marked economic decline during the mid-century due to the invention of icebreaker ships which allowed freight ships to reach Montreal without having to transport goods through Portland. In the mid-70’s the construction of the Maine Mall severely impacted downtown Portland’s economy, a trend that would only finally be reversed in the 1990’s as businesses began opening and revitalizing the Old Port.

Like many midsized American cities it’s experienced a cultural and economic revitalization over the past two decades as more and more Americans have realized the aesthetic importance of local production & authentic business centers.

Home now to a bustling service industry, the main financial services of Maine, and some of the most dedicated urban farmers in the US, it’s a city that resembles in many ways the remarkable career Phish has cultivated these last 30 years. Resilient in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, adaptable to changing tides and bursts of inspiration, amicable to keep people coming back for more, Portland was the fitting town to play host to one of the most memorable shows in Phish history.

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phish_aquarium_setStepping to the stage in front of an eager and packed house, Phish opened with one of their storied, compositional masterpieces: David Bowie. A song known for its eerie kinetic energy as much as it is its open-ended spaciousness, it’s the kind of song that announces a BIG show simply in its presence alone. Containing only two lyrics: “David Bowie” & “UB40” – both shouted with youthful irreverence and a satirical nod towards their arena rock forbearers – the song is built upon the duality of its maddeningly spinning harmonic interplay, and ultimate release into the musical unknown.

Complete with repeated references to Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” this performance struck the crowd at once. As Trey directed the song back to its musical home through a torrential cacophony of blistering leads, the crowd responded with the kind of electricity that can only be a result of abject surprise and bewilderment over the course the show had taken right out the gates.

A night when many would expect the band to proceed with measured caution and ease – essentially reserving the best for NYE – here they were, immediately in full attack mode, assaulting the crowd right out the gates.

The entire first set is a clinic in structural flow and energy.

From Bowie we’re brought to Weigh’s comedic shrill and musical balefulness. The Curtain retains Bowies composed complexity, reminding those in attendance – and listening years later – that, ultimately, Phish is an artistic project to “please me,” sans all regrets.

Sample In A Jar, Paul & Silas, & Rift are the kind of playful, energized, reductive songs that mark time and flow within a first set. Presented here with an added dose of electricity, the solo from Sample engulfs the arena in the way fans would come to expect from it for years to come.

In Col Forbin’s Trey launches into a sprawling tale that originates within the CCCC wherein which the Pirates ice rink – upon which the crowd is watching the show from – melts away, setting the entire crowd at sea until they drift away into the mythical land of Gamehendge. A song that had become something of a rarity even at that point in their career (It’s only been played 25 times in the 21 years since) it’s – along with its musical partner, The Famous Mockingbird – the kind of song that immediately marks whatever show it appears at as singular and special. One needs only to think of 11/17/1994, 12/01/1995, 08/14/2009, and 07/03/2011 to realize its significance within a setlist. In the same sense as Harpua did on 12/30/1997, Destiny Unbound on 02/28/2003, and Crosseyed on 07/29/2003, the Forbin’s -> Mockingbird on 30 December 1993 immediately gave the show an added dose of mythical lore and historical relevance.

Played only seven times throughout 1993, Bathtub Gin had yet to fully assume the role of a complete rotational song. However, its performance just four-and-a-half months earlier in Indianapolis had been crucial in bursting open the musical confines that Phish was increasingly desperate to move beyond. A jam that moved from vocal-jam-gimmickry to dissonant guitar swells to arena rock grooves to a frenetic peak to a joyous, funky breakdown in the matter of 15 minutes, it was one of many improvisation journeys throughout August 1993 that worked to release Phish from their own self-consciousness and equip them with the confidence needed to run assuredly off the veritable musical cliff. While the version on 12/30 didn’t traverse quite as far from home as the 08/13 Murat Gin did, it still relied on the bottled-up energy and experimental fervency that defined so much of their improvisation throughout 1993.

Closing with an absolutely revolting acapella cover of Skynnard’s Freebrid was the kind of tongue-in-cheek Phish-nonsense needed to close out a set such as this. Energy sustained, they exited for their “15 minute break” having equally stunned and warmed the packed house.

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Perhaps one of the telltale signs of a nbTn show is the explosiveness that often overtakes a crowd during setbreak. A setbreak like this was filled with exclamations in the beer lines, high fives amongst complete strangers, and the unified sense that this was the only place on Earth one would want to be.

In Set II Phish compiled nothing short of a masterpiece in terms of set construction, improvisational experimentation, and overall energy released. Fluid from one song to the next, containing within it one of the critical jams of the era, not to mention an all-too-rare oldie full of Phish lore, and a massive bustout for their East Coast faithful. In short it’s one of those sets any respectable Phish fan has heard at least once, and any diehard knows by heart.

A precursor to the jam-heavy, seguefests that would mark their peak-periods in 1995 and 1997, 12/30/1993 II is the kind of set one presses play on, and never skips a track, nor stops listening until its conclusion.

Opening with their cover of Deodato’s Also Sprach Zarathrustra, otherwise known as 2001 – a song which opened no less than 19 second sets in 1993 – was equal parts anticipated punch and a missionary pronouncement of the set to come. In the same way that its anthemic jam ushered in memorable sets on 08/07, 08/14 and 08/20, here it worked as a precursor to a set that would be as transformational as it would be celebratory.

It was, however, when they dropped into Mike’s Song that everything changed.

One of the most revered and oldest songs in Phish’s catalogue, Mike’s Song moves from the poppy nonsensical lyrics written by an 18-yr-old Mike Gordon into a dark and prodding jam that, at its best, opens to unending musical possibilities. Just that year, during its performances at The Roxy, and in August on 08/11 and 08/13, the song had expanded considerably as the band sought to carve out the underbelly of the F#/B jam. Yet, where those three versions focused firstly on the varied segues that could emerge from the jam, and later on the wacky staccato dissonance the jam catered to, the version on 12/30 was far more melodious than any Mike’s had been before. Swimming through the minor-keyed jam the song produced, Trey built the band towards an anthemic peak that fit both the show’s setting, and the place they found themselves in at this point in their career.

Perhaps though, the most remarkable thing about this jam is its dexterity. As the band quieted down, they brought in a sense of darkness ultimately directing the jam into The Horse by way of a deft segueway.

The jam, rooted in harmonic bliss, capable of evolving with an effortlessness that would define their best jams in the years to come, was a critical turning point for the band in their evolution from prankster aficionados to true artists.

Compiling the middle part of Mike’s Groove with such rarities (for its time) as Punch You In The Eye and McGrupp was the kind of understood nod from the band that colors all great nbTn setlists. From 10/29/1995’s It’s Ice -> Kung -> It’s Ice -> Shaggy Dog and 12/30/1997’s Carini -> Black-Eyed Katy -> Sneakin’ Sally (Reprise)> Frankenstein encore, to 02/28/03’s Soul Shakedown Party and 12/30/2009’s Tela, one of the sure signs that you’re at a nbTn show is the appearance of the rare songs most fans spend years chasing down.

After a spirited jaunt through Weekapaug Groove – a jam that mirrored the Mike’s in both its melodic burst and its foreshadowing of Phish maximalist playing of 1995 – closed out the near 45-minute Mike’s Groove, Fishman’s take on Purple Rain brought the laughs before the last surprise of the night was delivered.

Only seen twice since 1991 – and unseen on the East Coast since 11/15/1990 – Phish closed out the second set with a triumphant version of one of their most beloved songs: Slave To The Traffic Light. Responding to the show-long pleads from their audience; it was one final gift from the band in an evening full of them.

Cementing the show as an all-timer, and a must-hear tape, the appearance of Slave made it essential that nearly every Night-Before-The-Night show include a similarly big bustout. As 10/29/1995’s Shaggy Dog, 12/30/1997’s Sneakin’ Sally, 02/28/2003’s Destiny, 07/29/2003’s entire first set, 12/01/2003’s Long Cool Women In A Black Dress, and 12/30/2009’s first set, would later display, the bustout would play a vital role in raising the bar of a show, especially one as rare as a nbTn.

Closing things out with a frenzied Rocky Top & Good Times Bad Times encore, the band left their giant Aquarium stage and headed south towards Worcester, MA. The New Year’s Eve show would deliver on a level only seen twice more – 1995’s three-set masterpiece & 1999’s millennial all-nighter – and would rightly be regarded as one of the best shows the band’s ever played.

Yet it was 12/30 that created an endless debate amongst Phish fans about which show was supreme – the answer which, spoke volumes towards what kind of music you preferred from Phish – and opened the door into yet another possibility for the band in terms of the live concert experience.

For as the concept of The-Night-Before-The-Night proves, Phish is far more than simply a Rock & Roll Band in the traditional sense.

For them, the live concert is a living-breathing organism, in many ways like a Broadway Play. The idea that there shouldn’t be an element of surprise, nor a reward for those fans who make the extra effort to see even their lesser-hyped shows is something that Phish has always worked to transcend.

As the band would continue to grow in both stature and artistic accomplishment – as more and more shows became hyped in terms of promotion and fanfare – the concept & possibilities & opportunity to unleash unexpected doses of energy always lingered and was always available for the band through the shows that had remained off the radar of many of their fans. Yet another reminder as to why to never miss an upcoming Phish show. More often than not, if the band has a heavily hyped gig on the horizon, the best show to catch is the one most are overlooking.

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The Best Of Phish – 2013 – Part II

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Click Here For Part I

The Best Of Phish 2013

Honorable Shows

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Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/05/2013

Set I: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance> Sample In A Jar, Roses Are Free> Birds Of A Feather, Yarmouth Road^, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane, Army Of One> My Friend My Friend+> Cities -> David Bowie

Set II: Energy^^ -> Light -> The Mango Song#> 46 Days -> Steam> Drowned## -> Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: Character Zero###

^ “Yarmouth Road” made its Phish debut

^^ “Energy” (The Apples In Stereo) Made its Phish debut

+ No “Myfe” ending in “My Friend My Friend”

# “The Mango Song” contained “Light” teases

## “Drowned” contained “Divided Sky” teases

### “Character Zero” contained “Jean Pierre” teases

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For all intents and purposes, this is the night Summer Tour began. If the overall goal of 2013 was that of both honoring Phish’s past, and projecting them towards their future through the crafting of whole-show, thematic experiences, then this show is the seedling from which the concept was born.

The first set is a mosaic of – and a homage to – the many eras and stylistic dimensions of Phish. Be it the arena-rock peak of the “Kill Devil Falls” opener and mid-set staples,”Sample In A Jar,” “Birds Of A Feather” and “Bathtub Gin,” the communal funk of “The Moma Dance,” the widespread reach and display of influence in covers like”Roses Are Free” (Ween) and “Nellie Kane,” (Hot Rize) the debut of the refined, reggae-spiced storytelling from Mike’s “Yarmouth Road,” or the haunting, and fanciful compositional approach of “My Friend My Friend,” the set worked as a overall Phish pastiche. Concluding with a subdued segueway from “Cities -> David Bowie” gave further hints at the bands improvisational intentions for the year, as each member hooked up around a simple melody in “Cities” and drove it forward into an expansive “Bowie.”

The second set, however, was where both band and fans alike discovered in unison, just what was possible with Phish in 2013. Opening with the debut of The Apples In Stereo cover “Energy” – a song that would go on to become the theme song of the tour – the band dove into a fully-flowing – and completely connected – 90-minute set that worked as a unified, conceptual piece. From the elemental origins of each song – Energy, Light, Fruit, Coal, Steam, Water, Motion – to the thematic musical passages that conjoined each of them, the set was something of a manifesto for Phish 2013.

In “Light,” “46 Days” and “Drowned” the band engaged in integrated and diverse jamming – ranging from melodic ambience, to downtown gritty funk, to demented trance – offering a peak into the range with which they’d approach their improv throughout the year.

Throughout 3.0 it’s become something of a trend for the band to tear out the gates of a tour with a series of strong shows, only to lose steam as the tour progresses. In 2013, Phish took a different approach, focusing on foundational setting in the tour’s initial weeks before peaking out West. Yet, regardless of their intended plan, in few tours have they ever been capable of connecting with as much depth and immediacy as they were here on the first night of SPAC’s three-night-run.

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FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island – Chicago, IL – 07/21/2013

Set I: Dinner And A Movie+, AC/DC Bag> Maze, Mound, Funky Bitch> Bathtub Gin, Wilson> Water In The Sky, Boogie On Reggae Woman> Run Like An Antelope++

Set II: Energy> Ghost# -> The Lizards, Harpua+++> Run Like An Antelope

Encore: Character Zero

+ “Dinner And A Movie” was dedicated to a fan who had yet to catch it in 172 shows

++ “Run Like An Antelope” had to be aborted due to an impending rainstorm

+++ “Harpua” featured the cast of Second City and narration from Mike

# “Ghost” contained a “Seven Below” tease from Mike

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As Phish approached the three-quarter mark in their Summer Tour, two things had ultimately defined it thus far: foundational setting and rain. The rain had forced the re-scheduling of their 9 July show in Toronto, caused fans to take cover in Jones Beach, intruded on second sets in Merriweather Post and Alpharetta, and ultimately forced the cancellation of their first show on Chicago’s new lakefront venue midway through. Following an impromptu – and admittedly contained – three-set show on 07/20, one could sense a tipping point in the tour, and the year overall. Thus when Phish took the stage on their third Sunday of the Summer and opened with “Dinner & A Movie” – dedicated to a fan*, no less – there were many who called this the critical show of the summer.

The first set worked in many ways like those played on 07/07, 07/10, and 07/14 in that it was the kind of set that could have been plucked out of any past era of Phish. It was taught, it was nostalgic, yet it was incredibly fresh. Throughout – particularly in “Bag,” “Gin” and “Boogie On” – the band sounded electric. They were ready to put one more celebratory stamp on the first leg of their prolonged 30th Anniversary Tour before moving westward.

And then the rains returned…

When Phish reemerged for the show’s second set following an extended, rain-soaked setbreak, Trey noted “You guys are amazing…” Page followed assertively – lips curled upwards, hand resting on his belly – in his professorial way: “I told you we’d be back…” laughing, and then sardonically quipping, “Thank you for sticking around…” The band then unveiled an uninterrupted 35-minute segment of music that read: “Energy> Ghost -> The Lizards.”

In “Energy” and “Ghost” Phish played with deliberateness, moving as one through a dense array of musical passages with clarity and ease. A huge weight had seemingly been lifted. All the rain behind them, all the foundational setting set, this was the sound of a band, thirty years in, turning yet another corner in their career.

As “Lizards” faded, the band stepped to their mics and dove into the first “Harpua” since 19 June 2011. As with many of the best Phish-related moments throughout 2013, this too came layered with self-referential messages. It too would also become a heavily-discussed, intensely partisan event for many in the Phish community.

In the same vein as “Garden Party,” MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, Wingsuit, and the coverless NYERun, the Chicago “Harpua” was an example of the band’s attempts to pull back the curtain on their goals/aspirations/feelings throughout their 30th year. Inviting the cast of Second City on stage with them to pose as the type of fans who think they know the  right way in which Phish should approach their career, Phish lovingly reminded their entire fanbase to trust both the process and their own artistic evolution. A move that drew as much ire as it did praise, it was the kind of gag that could only work in the context of a band thirty years in, confident after so many artistic breakthrough, and peak periods, yet still incredibly self-conscious about themselves.

Closing the show with a complete, and torrid take on “Run Like An Antelope,” along with a solo “Character Zero” encore – a signal that asserted a particular show was a peak one throughout the year – the band bowed on their first three weeks, and pivoted westward with a refined determination and unshakeable focus.

*In reality, the “fan” was all part of the “Harpua” gag that would take place in Set II

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Boardwalk Hall – Atlantic City, NJ – 10/31/2013

Set I: Heavy Things, The Moma Dance> Poor Heart> Back On The Train> Silent In The Morning, Kill Devil Falls, Mound, Free> Camel Walk, Stash, Golgi Apparatus> Bathtub Gin

Set II: Wingsuit^+, Fuego^, The Line^, Monica^++, Waiting All Night^, Wombat^+++, Snow^++, Devotion To A Dream^, 555^ -> Winterqueen^, Amidst The Peals Of Laughter^++, You Never Know^

Set III: Ghost> Carini, Birds Of A Feather, Harry Hood> Bug> Run Like An Antelope++++

Encore: Quinn The Eskimo

^ All songs in Set II made their Phish debut

+ The end of “Wingsuit” featured Mike on a power drill

++ “Monica,” “Snow” and “Amidst The Peals Of Laughter” were played acoustic

+++ “Wombat” feature Abe Vigoda and the Abe Vigoda dancers

++++ “Run Like An Antelope” referenced Abe Vigoda and the Abe Vigoda dancers

——–

For much of 2013 Phish toured with a secret. No one knows how long they walked around with it; in all reality, we may never know. What we do know though – at least through hindsight – is that much of the year was orchestrated as a consistent build towards the unveiling of their new album, live on Halloween. All year long, starting with “Garden Party” on NYE 2012, Phish was informing their fanbase that their 30th year was going to be celebrated on their terms. It was going to be as much about honoring the past as it was about projecting themselves into the future. Perhaps nowhere is this heard clearer, than in the second set of their Halloween show, when Phish debuted Wingsuit.

Having handed out playbills prior to the show, there was something of a nervous energy being exchanged between fans and the band throughout Set I. Were they really going to buck tradition, many asked? What were the new songs going to sound like?

The playbill noted that Phish had lifted segments out of their best jams from the past two years as inspiration for the songs. Which jams? How would they translate into proper songs? Throughout Set I you hear a band struggling under the weight of impending pressure. They missed changes, the set featured little flow, and much of it felt like a prerequisite that just had to be completed. One has to empathize with the pressure the band must have felt at this moment.

Dropping into the weightless bliss of “Wingsuit,” Phish consciously moved from one era into another with everyone in their fanbase watching. An incredibly ballsy move by the band, the second set of the show felt like no other Phish show that had preceded it. What’s more is that this act represented a moment of complete control over the delivery of an artist’s product. In the digital age of music, this is almost unheard of. At a time when most artists’ must shrug and accept the fact that their new album is going to leak before its release date, Phish was able to craft an environment wherein which their album took on the role of a live, in-the-moment, completely unknown organism.

Over the course of 90-minutes, the band introduced their fans to the ideas and concepts that had been rolling around their heads – many of which were a direct result of the best improvisational moments over the past 18 months. Almost all of them full-band compositions; the first of their kind since The Story Of The Ghost.

Some of them immediately felt like keepers: the maniacal expansiveness of “Fuego,” “The Line’s” self-conscious indie-rock blaze, “Wombat’s” self-referential mockery and infectious beat, the subdued and organic “Waiting All Night” and “555,” and the infectious pop of “Monica”; these were the songs we’d be anxiously awaiting at MSG and in the Summer of 2014. Others – “Snow” and “Winterqueen” in particular – felt unfinished, or out of place. Regardless, the unified act spoke more to the purest roots of Phish – and to their growth potential in the next phase of their career – than any classic rock cover could.

In Set III the band “blew off some fucking steam” with a 35-minute tour through the diverse musical landscapes accessed within “Ghost> Carini.” Following it with an ideally crafted third set that featured a balanced approach of tried & true rock: “Birds,” “Antelope,” and emotive exploration: “Hood> Bug,” along with the first cover of the night in the “Quinn” encore, the band walked off stage and into a new era. Regardless one’s initial feelings over the band’s choice of a Halloween album, one can’t deny the importance of said record, nor the critical shift it initiated here in the band’s 30th year.

The Top Ten Shows Of 2013

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Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD – 07/14/2013

Set I: First Tube> The Moma Dance> NICU, Roses Are Free> Chalk Dust Torture, Stash, Scent Of A Mule+, It’s Ice> Tube#> Run Like An Antelope

Set II: Golden Age##> Twist> Backwards Down The Number Line> Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman> Julius, You Enjoy Myself###

Encore: Loving Cup

+ “Scent Of A Mule” featured Fish on the Marimba Lumina

# “Tube” contained an “It’s Ice” tease

## “Golden Age” contained a “Third Stone From The Sun” tease

### “You Enjoy Myself” contained a “Set Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” tease from Mike

——–

Phearless. When Phish returned for the final set of their weekend stand at Merriweather Post Pavilion, they summoned the spirit of the T-Shirt Trey Anastasio wore, and delivered a pivotal set in the year. Having already crafted an overtly old school and thematic stanza in the first set, 07/14’s Set II represented the kind of musical moment where everything just clicks for the band.

Two hours earlier, “First Tube” and “The Moma Dance” kicked the show off with thick, cavernous beats, inviting everyone to shake their troubles and just fucking dance. Nothing says you’re at a Phish show quite like an immediate invocation to boogie. Midway through, “Stash” provided an insightful dive into the layered and harmonic jamming style that defined much of 2013. If you haven’t heard this “Stash,” it’s an absolute must. A window into the creative process at work throughout the tour’s first three weeks. Concluding the opening frame with a psychedelic take on “Scent Of A Mule” – complete with the debut of Fishman’s melodious Marimba Luminas – the first expansive “It’s Ice” of the year, and a romp through “Tube,” the show reflected the band’s celebratory, dance-driven, and forward-thinking intentions that would bear fruition come Fall’s peak.

In many ways the Merriweather Post run was the defining run of 2013. Through their song-selection and stylistic jamming approach, the band seemed to be insinuating to their fans – and to themselves – just what their intentions for the year were. The run carried a distinctly old school feel – 8-9 song sets, a heavy emphasis on classics, such as “Maze,” “Split Open & Melt,” “Down With Disease,” “Harry Hood,” “Mike’s Groove,” “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Stash,” “Run Like An Antelope,” “You Enjoy Myself” – interspersed with some of their most relevant new songs, like “Twenty Years Later,” “Halfway To The Moon,” “Yarmouth Road,” “Light,” threaded by a jamming approach that valued whole-band communication, rather than individual exploration. If there are two shows one should listen to in effort to understand the goals of 2013, these two are it.

Opening Set II with “Golden Age” the band carried over this communal revivalist approach through a song that has etched itself into the core of their 3.0 message. It was in the 20-minute excursion in “Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman,” however, where everyone involved was rewarded for the band’s efforts thus far in 2013. Honing in on a demented zone of abstract rhythmic breakdowns, “Light” became a musical playground for absurdist groove-based jamming. Finding pockets and holes to explore around seemingly every bend, the jam took on the feel of the sparse, Fall 1997 jaunts. To hear this jam is to hear the origins of the Woo some three weeks early. In seemingly every moment of minimalist and rhythmic connection the band has reached since – think, 07/31 “Tweezer,” 08/02 “Seven Below,” 08/05 “Harry Hood,” 08/31 Chalk Dust Torture,” 10/27 “Golden Age,” 11/02 “Piper,” 12/29 “Carini” – the discoveries made in this “Light” can be found.

Closing out the show with the anticipated brilliance of their seminal piece, “You Enjoy Myself,” the band concluded one of their cornerstone weekends of the year. A fully-flowing, thematic unit of nostalgically rich, forward-thinking music, Merriweather Post was one of the hallmark stop-gaps for Phish in their 30th year.

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The Gorge Amphitheater – George, WA – 07/27/2013

Set I: Architect, Golgi Apparatus, The Curtain With, Kill Devil Falls> The Moma Dance> Maze, Beauty Of A Broken Heart, Roses Are Free, Say Something^, Ocelot, After Midnight

Set II: Down With Disease& -> Undermind+ -> Light# -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> 2001> Walls Of The Cave> Fluffhead> Run Like An Antelope

Encore: Show Of Life> Good Times Bad Times

^ “Say Something” made its Phish debut

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

+ “Undermind” featured Fish on the Marimba Lumina

# “Light” contained a “Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley” tease from Mike

——–

The second night at The Gorge is akin to a carefully crafted rock album in the live setting. Every song flows in thematic propensity to the song that preceded it and that which follows it. It’s both referential and full of risk. There’s a warmth throughout it that reflects the awe-inspiring setting it was crafted in. In short, it’s one of the most complete concerts the band has delivered in the five years since they reunited. This is one of those shows one doesn’t simply toss on for a spare highlight here or there. Rather, this is a complete artifact. One that must be heard in whole to fully grasp.

The opening trio of “Architect,” “Golgi Apparatus,” and “The Curtain With” initially fuels the show. The three songs share few commonalities. Yet with the sun setting an auburn glow over the Central Washington desert, the pieces somehow fit together on this night. “Kill Devil Falls,” “The Moma Dance,” and “Maze” are equal parts peaking rock and bulbous groove. Concluding with the debut of Mike’s bluesy prowl, “Say Something,” the expansive stroll of “Ocelot” – a song that subtly pushed its own limitations all year – and the apropos nod to the passing of JJ Cale with “After Midnight,” few could have denied that something big was one the horizon for Phish in the second set.

Playing their fourth fully-flowing Set II of the year to that point – alongside 07/05, 07/12 and 07/16 – Phish crafted a nonstop tour of their stylistic past and present. Reading: “Down With Disease -> Undermind -> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> 2001> Walls Of The Cave> Fluffhead> Run Like An Antelope,” the set was an unbroken chain of old and new school jamming. Early on it was the open-ended explorations of “DWD” and “Undermind” that drove the set into the unknown. “Light” then bled into “Sally,” delivering a version rooted in equal parts infectious rock-based peaks, and spacious expansionism, before fading into “2001.” To cap things off, the band used two of their most enthralling compositional pieces – “Walls Of The Cave” and “Fluffhead” – and the ole’ reliable closer “Antelope.” A packed set that flowed with precision, this one had a bit of everything to offer.

In the weekend where it all came together for Phish in 2013, the band sculpted one of their defining shows of the year, and a telling snapshot of where things lay midway through 2013.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO – 08/30/2013

Set I: Ghost, NICU, Icculus, Heavy Things, Theme From The Bottom> Esther, The Moma Dance> Ocelot, Stash, Lawn Boy, Limb By Limb, Easy To Slip^

Set II: Punch You In The Eye> Sand#> Say Something> Walls Of The Cave> The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Harry Hood& -> Silent In The Morning&&> Twist> Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’*, Meatstick

^ “Easy To Slip” (Little Feat) made its Phish debut

# “Sand” contained a “2001” tease from Fish

& “Harry Hood” was unfinished

&& “Silent In The Morning” was unfinished

* First “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” since 15 August 2010

——–

The first night of Dick’s means one thing: word play. In 2011, the band crafted an entire show using only songs that began with the letter ‘S.’ On 31 August 2012, the band spelled FUCK YOUR FACE, and subsequently played their most important show of 3.0.

In 2013, Phish tweaked the gag’s formula once more, here crafting a message backwards. In the same vein as “Garden Party” and “Harpua the right way” before it, and Wingsuit and the coverless NYERun that would come after, the MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING (Backwards) show was one of those indelible moments of 2013 that further displayed the layers with which Phish approaches their craft. Insinuating that each show played “spells” something different to everyone who hears it – and that based on the setting/position in the tour/year/songs played/jams/song placement/etc, no two shows “spell” the same thing – was a clear shot at fans bringing their own specific expectations with them to the overall experience of listening to Phish. It also provided those of us in the business of analyzing the hidden meanings within Phish shows and jams that much more fuel to burn…

Opening with the left field trio of “Ghost,” “NICU,” “Icculus,” it was clear from note one that this year’s gag would be far more Phish playfulness than 2012’s improvisational onslaught. Wading through 23 songs meant the show didn’t have the same amount of room to breath either. The word “Spell” was chopped off following the Set I closing debut of “Easy To Slip,” further adding to the intrigue surrounding the actual gag. Whereas in 2012 the triple jab of:

1.) the FUCK YOU jammed-out first set,

2.) the jam out of “Farmhouse” that just had to fade into “2001,” but instead dove into “Alaska” of all songs, and,

3.) the realization that they were actually spelling FUCK YOUR FACE, meant the crowd was not only in on a lot of the gag for most of the show, while also mainly consumed by the jamming the structure decreed,

here in 2013, much of the show was consumed by all simply figuring out what in fact the band was spelling. The decision to unveil their message backwards not only added to said level of intrigue for this particular show, but was also a symbolic gesture to the notion that all shows spell something in general.

It was in Set II where Phish hooked up for their most connected string of songs, as “Sand” through “Slave” left everyone on their toes, and, in re-listening, flows with curious ease. While one could argue that the promising jam discovered late in “Sand” was sacrificed for the gimmick, few could deny that the muddy groove of “Say Something,” the blissful segue from “Hood -> Silent,” or the airy peak of “Slave” didn’t make the show more than worth absorbing.

Encoring with the first “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” since Alpine 2010, and “Meatstick” which offered a tongue-in-cheek admission that, while most shows might spell something, when it comes down to it, we’re just telling dick jokes here, offered a comical conclusion to a third successful gag-show at Dick’s. A show that offered both increased meaning to the band’s MO in 2013, and is a highly-engaging re-listen, one can only hope the band renews their Dick’s contract in 2014 to carry on the tradition.

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Hampton Coliseum – Hampton, VA – 10/20/2013

Set I: Julius, Funky Bitch, Back On The Train#, Roses Are Free> Sample In A Jar, Ginseng Sullivan, 46 Days, The Divided Sky, Bold As Love

Set II: Paul & Silas> Tweezer+ -> Golden Age++> Piper -> Takin’ Care Of Business^ -> 2001 -> Sand> Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: A Day In The Life> Tweezer Reprise

# “Back On The Train” contained a “Jean Pierre” tease from Trey

+ “Tweezer” featured Mike on the Power Drill

++ “Golden Age” featured Fish on the Marimba Lumina

^ “Takin’ Care Of Business” (Bachman Turner Overdrive) made its Phish debut

——–

Nearly five years after returning from their own demise, Phish finally returned to the place that saw them take their initial steps towards rebirth, rebuilding, and renewal.

On the final night of their Three-Night Fall Tour-opening weekend, Phish played one of their defining shows of the year, and, simply put, one of the best shows they’ve ever played at the legendary Hampton Coliseum. This was the kind of show they needed to play. A confident, exploratory, full-band affair that was rooted in both self-referential humor, and musical discovery, the last night at Hampton ’13 is one sure to be spoken of with reverence for years to come.

The first set was a determined run through some of the strongest pieces in their rotation today. “Julius,” “Funky Bitch” and “Back On The Train” allowed the band to settle, connect, and launch some early tension & release fireworks. “Roses Are Free” provided the first insight into the band’s exploratory desires. Later “46 Days” and “The Divided Sky” were equal parts raging rock and blissful contemplation. The kind of set that few would write home about, this was akin to the solid and efficient first stanzas of 1994 and 1995.

Set II was – well, at the risk of sounding overtly hyperbolical – a masterpiece.

Opening with the playful rarity “Paul & Silas” – dedicated to two different groups of fans – the band was relaxed, on point, and ready to throw-down. As the murky riff from “Tweezer” emerged out of “Paul & Silas” you can hear a roar build throughout the crowd as everyone simultaneously realizes the show’s about to go deep. Over the next forty minutes, the band would craft their seminal jam of 2013 in “Tweezer -> Golden Age,” revealing a darkness, a depth, and a desire to explore that will surely drive them once they begin playing again in 2014.

Out of “Golden Age” came “Piper” which raged like all “Piper’s” tend to before settling on a shuffling, arena-rock groove that led to the unexpected debut of BTO’s “Takin’ Care Of Business.” Sometimes Phish debuts a cover at just the right time that it not only raises the bar on its current show, but further works as a larger message for the overall state of the band. In the same regard as “2001,” “Crosseyed & Painless,” “Emotional Rescue” and “Psycho Killer” before it, the 10/20 “Takin’ Care Of Business” was the perfect song at the perfect time. The band latched onto a groove and infused the song with energized playing, and the message rang loud & clear as to the intentions of Phish in Fall 2013.

At a point in the show where they could have faded into “Friday” and few would have complained, the band opted for “2001 -> Sand> Slave” to close things out. Crafting a complete stanza of unified, energized, forward-thinking music, there was only one way left to send their fans out into the night: The Beatles and “Tweezer Reprise.”

Some nights everything just comes together for Phish. On 10/20/2013 the band was able to shake whatever was getting in their way in their first two nights of the tour, and play a fully-formed, era-defining show that will surely sound as fresh and exciting in 15 years as it did in the moment. Seriously, what more can you ask for?

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Glens Falls Civic Center – Glens Falls, NY – 10/23/2013

Set I: Back In The USSR*, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Water In The Sky, Undermind#, David Bowie, Golgi Apparatus, Gumbo, Yarmouth Road> Camel Walk, Horn> Limb By Limb> I Didn’t Know, Split Open & Melt

Set II: Rock & Roll> Seven Below> Alaska> Twist+, Wading In The Velvet Sea> Harry Hood> Chalk Dust Torture

Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

* First “Back In The USSR” since 06 December 1994

# “Undermind” contained a “Long Tall Glasses” tease from Mike

+ “Twist” featured Mike on the Power Drill

——–

The Glens Falls Civic Center. Just typing those words conjures up idiosyncratic images of Phish lore. Worn-down AHL Arenas. A cross-dressing Mike Gordon. Minkin sheets. A fully-nude, unremarkably-hung Jon Fishman. Wildly absurdist jams. A Trey Anastasio whose fashion sense begins and ends with the word ‘pajamas,’ et al.

For nineteen years The Glens Falls Civic Center resided as a singular moment in Phish history. A moment when Phish captured everything intangibly special about themselves in one unending performance. A moment when Phish pointed the way towards an even bigger and brighter future.

Five shows into their 2013 Fall Tour, Phish took to the stage in the archaic 5,806-person arena and immediately stepped back in time, opening with only the third “Back In The USSR” they’ve ever played. The first set unfolded like a carefully constructed historical artifact: a mid-set “Bowie” followed by “Golgi,” the lone “Horn” of tour, the ever-elusive “Camel Walk,” the classical gag of “I Didn’t Know,” and a demented “Split Open & Melt” to close things out. Much of it felt as though it could have been plucked out of 1993. Interspersed throughout were “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan,” “Undermind,” and “Yarmouth Road;” three “newer” songs, which formulaically fit the musical lineage of Phish. The set felt retro and relevant at the same time: emotively constructed, yet fluid and modern.

If Set I was indeed all about setting the tone, and establishing atmosphere, Set II was intended as a celebration where Phish’s past and present conjoined.

Opening with “Rock & Roll” was a statement of intent. “Seven Below” offered a glimpse of the road less traveled between 10/31/1994 and 10/23/2013. “Alaska” displayed unyielding joy through a simplistic blues-rock peak. Thirty minutes into the set and it was clear that regardless the fact the band had yet to play anything too transgressive, there was pure joy emanating from the stage. This was the essence of 3.0 Phish captured in a single performance. A symbolic bridge from 1994 to 2013.

And then “Twist” happened. Building upon the subdued, haunting jam from the Hampton tour opener, Phish directed this “Twist” towards ethereal spaces. Led by Trey’s deliberate rhythmic playing, the jam left the confines of “Twist” and entered a melodic space that spoke volumes to the band’s sense of comfort in Glens Falls. A sentiment that would be verbalized by Trey prior to the encore, this was a place of great meaning for everyone involved. This was the homecoming show of the tour. This show meant something more.

Closing out the set with a ballsy, yet emotive “Harry Hood,” the band reached back into the past once again to bridge who they once were with who they now are.

A singular encore: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” A song that often closes out the most reflective and nostalgically rich shows, perhaps nowhere else has it ever been placed this properly.

The Glens Falls Civic Center. Wanna know how Fall 2013 became Fall 2013? Just throw this show on and revel in it.

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DCU Center – Worcester, MA – 10/25/2013

Set I: Funky Bitch, Wolfman’s Brother, Wilson+> The Curtain With, Cities> Rift, Free, My Mind’s Got A Mind Of It’s Own, Vultures, 46 Days

Set II: Waves# -> Carini, Prince Caspian& -> Backwards Down The Number Line> Ghost++ -> Dirt -> Down With Disease&> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley> Cavern> Run Like An Antelope

Encore: Contact> Suzy Greenberg> Rocky Top> Good Times Bad Times

+ During “Wilson” Trey repeated a verse because he was so excited Rog was in attendance

++ “Ghost” contained alternate lyrics

# “Waves” contained a “Fuego” tease

& “Prince Caspian” and “Down With Disease” were unfinished

——–

Two nights after the homecoming show in Glens Falls, Phish returned to yet another venue steeped in immense historical importance, and threw down an equally-nostalgic and celebratory performance.

The Centrum in Worcester, MA. Home to 12/31/1993’s capstone performance, 12/29/1995’s “The Real Gin,” 11/29/1997’s hour-long “Runaway Jim,” 11/27/1998’s maniacal Set II, 02/26/2003’s side project excursion, 12/28/2010’s brilliant “Hood,” and 2012’s Summer opening renaissance, few doubted that a Phish this well-oiled – having just played two of their best shows of the year – would leave anything on the table in Worcester.

Like the Merriweather Post run from July, both night’s in Worcester fit together as a complete snapshot of Phish 2013. Each are complete performances displaying the musical reach, unyielding energy, exploratory drive, infectious humor, and well-earned confidence that defines Phish 30 years in. In the same respects as Merriweather Post, if you only have time for four shows in 2013, these four will give you as clear an understanding as you need of just who Phish was in 2013.

Simply put, the first night in Worcester is an unyielding and relentless assault of pure Phish energy.

Coming out the gates with the quartet of “Funky Bitch,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Wilson> The Curtain With” is about all one needs to know about how ecstatic and comfortable the band was midway through their Fall Tour. This show is an unending party.

In many ways it feels like a classic Fall ’95 gig – think 11/11/1995, 11/30/1995, 12/15/1995 – where the band’s goals reside in testing the limits of energy. Tension & release form a repeated pattern throughout. Each song in Set I pops with a freshness, fitting its slot perfectly, and providing a contextual lineage to its proceeding element. A thematic approach that would continue into the second set, much of what makes Worcester’s first night so compelling is the deliberate brilliance in each of its song selections.

Opening Set II with the first expansive dive into “Waves” since 28 June 2012, Trey pushes the song past its melodic origins into a haunting and billowing piece of equal-parts aggressive, direct and expansive atmospheric rock. In “Carini” the band got down. Hooking up around a thick funk strut led by Mr. McConnell’s clav plucks Phish displayed the accessible diversity that’s been attained within “Carini” since its rebirth in the Fall of 2010.

On many nights, the back-to-back placement of “Prince Caspian” and “Backwards Down The Number Line” midway through a second set would signify an off-night. But not here. Night’s like 25 October 2013, it matters little what song(s) the band plays. Whatever they play, they just crush.

“Ghost” combined idiomatic improv with an energized peak before fading into the rare “Dirt” breather. In the same way as Hampton’s second set became a fully-formed entity thanks to “2001 -> Sand> Slave,” here Phish faded into a surprise “Down With Disease” out of “Dirt,” and then closed things out with the relentless trio of “Sally> Cavern> Antelope.”

At this point, one would have expected the band to return for a solo “Character Zero,” or a “Squirming Coil,” or perhaps a fitting “First Tube.” The second set had seemingly been too long for anything more than a one-off encore. But on a night like the first night at Worcester, with Phish high on both their masterful playing, and the vibe of touring through their home turf, a single song simply wouldn’t do. Adding to the relentless approach that had defined the entire show, the band threw-down a four-song encore chock-full of classics. “Contact> Suzy Greenberg> Rocky Top> Good Times Bad Times.” They just wouldn’t fucking stop.

Hands down one of the most fun shows of 2013, 10/25 represents one of those moments where the combination of locale and peak playing results in a performance that just reeks of Phish lore.

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XL Center – Hartford, CT – 10/27/2013

Set I: Rock & Roll+, Ocelot> Tube, Halfway To The Moon, Fee++ -> Maze, Lawn Boy, Nellie Kane> NICU, A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing> Walls Of The Cave

Set II: Chalk Dust Torture> Tweezer#> Birds Of A Feather> Golden Age -> Halley’s Comet> 2001> Fluffhead> Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: Loving Cup> Tweezer Reprise

+ “Rock & Roll” was dedicated to Lou Reed who passed away that morning

++ Trey sang the verses of “Fee” through a megaphone

# “Tweezer” contained a “Fuego” tease from Page

——–

On the final night of their peak weekend of Fall 2013, Phish crafted yet another indelible performance for what has to be regarded as their most impressive tour to this point in 3.0. A one-off Sunday show in Hartford, CT, it was clear throughout the first set that the nostalgic-vibe that had permeated throughout since Glens Falls was still ever-present here in Hartford.

The morning prior to the show, the rock world lost one of its beacons of exploration, one of the greatest artistic minds of the past forty years: Lou Reed. In remembrance, the band opened with “Rock & Roll” for only the second time – first since 12/29/1998. A song that feels like one of their own at this point, the jam that built out of it – and the thoughts shared by Trey following it – were a fitting tribute to a man whose work helped pave the way for exploratory artists like Phish, and whose album Loaded instituted a great shift for the band in 1998.

The first set was conglomeration of newish songs – “Halfway To The Moon,” “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing,” “Walls Of The Cave,” – rotational pieces – “Ocelot,” NICU” – and a classic mini-jam from “Fee” into “Maze,” crafting a diverse and engaging unit. For however subdued it was in comparison to the relentless energy from 10/25, or 10/26’s fluid dance-fest, Set I from 10/27 worked like 07/05, 07/13, 07/27, and 08/04’s in that it displayed multiple angles with which Phish’s setlist crafting can be approached. Perhaps on paper it may appear unremarkable, the musicianship and flow that enlivens it comes through with ease and purpose via re-listening.

Anchoring Set II around two unique excursions in “Tweezer” and “Golden Age,” 10/27’s second frame combined the fluid explorations of the previous night, with the unyielding energy of 10/25. “Tweezer” is one of the jams of the year. A meta statement of minimalism, melodic interplay, and whole-band communication, it rides a melodious groove through 17-minutes of jubilant, “Weekapaug”-infused bliss. In “Golden Age,” the band built upon its breakthrough jam from 10/20, expanding on rhythmic interactions from Fish and Trey before discovering ambient nothingness. A signal that a corner has finally been turned for the bemusing cover, one can only hope the band will continue to expand on it with such determination in 2014.

Closing things out with a nostalgic run through “2001> Fluffhead> Slave To The Traffic Light” capped off an incredible weekend in the NE. Noting before the encore that the venue was the location of his first ever concert, Trey reflected the symbolic nature of the band’s peak period of rediscovery and renewal that the Fall Tour has come to represent.

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The Santander Arena – Reading, PA – 10/29/2013

Set I: Cars Trucks Buses, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Ginseng Sullivan, Wolfman’s Brother, Sparkle> Walk Away, The Divided Sky, Split Open & Melt&> Julius

Set II: Down With Disease&# -> Taste##, Twenty Years Later -> Piper> Backwards Down The Number Line, You Enjoy Myself, Grind

Encore: Bouncing Around The Room> Reba, Good Times Bad Times

& “Split Open & Melt” and “Down With Disease” were unfinished

# “Down With Disease” contained a “Pop! Goes The Weasel” tease from Mike

## “Taste” contained a “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease from Trey

——–

The night before the night. Or, in this show’s case: two night’s before the night.

If you’re ever going to try and hit a guaranteed barn-burner, make sure to be at the show that falls directly before a big, planned event for Phish. Throughout their history the band has built a reputation on playing some of their most memorable shows just prior to a heavily-hyped event. Think: Halloween, Festival, NYE, tour finale, etc. 12/30/1993, 10/29/1994, 10/29/1995, 12/29/1995, 08/14/1996, 08/14/1997, 12/30/1997, 08/12/1998, 12/29/1998, 07/25/1999, 07/29/2003, 12/01/2003, 08/14/2009, 12/30/2009, 10/30/2010, 08/28/2012, 12/30/2012 are all imbedded in the minds of Phish fans as much for the fireworks contained within, as for the fact that each caught their fanbase looking ahead at the schedule, rather than focusing on the moment at hand.

On a Tuesday night in Reading, PA, the band played one such show, crafting a second set that will long be remembered as one of the peak moments of 2013.

Following a first set that worked in much the same way as 10/20’s confident run through staples – “Stealing Time,” “Wolfman’s,” “Divided Sky,” “Julius” – rarities – “Cars Trucks Buses,” “Walk Away” – and a dive into the murky unknown of a completely lost “Split,” the band took to the stage for Set II and delivered a masterpiece.

Perhaps no song rings in a second set with the combination of familiarity and intrigue as “Down With Disease.” A song that has opened 65 second sets throughout its history, “DWD” is by far the band’s most consistent Set II-opener. Flowing into its customary zone of funk-infused, textural jamming, the band moved with persistence following Page’s shift at 13:10 to an uplifting, melodic theme. What results is, hands-down, the best solo Trey has played in all of 3.0. A deliberate, yet subconscious display of HOSE, Trey wove an emotive and uplifting  musical passage that resided in a distinctly Americana frame. Hinting at “Mountain Jam” from Eat A Peach, the passage seemed to suggest that the band was planning to play the seminal record from The Allman Brother’s on Halloween. While the gag was ultimately all-for-naught, the music that was crafted is some of the most memorable and emotive of the entire year, and of 3.0’s entirety for that matter.

Two songs later, the band dove into the unknown once more through the unexpected vehicle, “Twenty Years Later.” A song that has been begging for exploration since its debut on 06/05/2009, this was yet another reward for all those who have patiently followed Phish’s rebuilding and reclamation project in 3.0. Focusing on the rhythmic undercurrents of the song, Trey used his Wha with precision here, building a wall-of-sound that expanded the jam upwards and outwards. It was Page, however, who once again shifted the murky minimalism of this jam into openly blissful terrain. Resulting in a segment that built through Trey’s melodic rhythmic patterns, it briefly felt as thought the band were going to segue into The Dead’s “I Know Your Rider.” A peak into the potential for one of 3.0’s best original’s, look to 2014 as the year in which this and “Golden Age” regularly explode.

“Piper” and “Backwards Down The Number Line,” two songs that always seem to appear in the best 3.0 second sets, led to what has to be regarded as the most accomplished version of the band’s seminal musical statement in 2013: “You Enjoy Myself.”

In the encore, the band graced us with the lone “Reba” of the fall. One of only four versions played all year – and only the fourth time it’s ever been played in the encore – this placement and performance further stamped the Reading gig as one of the best of the year.

The night before the night. Don’t get caught looking ahead, for you never know quite what you’re going to miss.

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Boardwalk Hall – Atlantic City, NJ – 11/01/2013

Set I: Cavern> Runaway Jim#, Sand, Halfway To The Moon+, Halley’s Comet> Tube> Possum, When The Circus Comes, Sugar Shack, Jesus Just Left Chicago, David Bowie##

Set II: Twist###> Gotta Jibboo> Makisupa Policeman++> Light -> Chalk Dust Torture, Meatstick++ -> Boogie On Reggae Woman++####> The Wedge,  Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley#####

# “Runaway Jim” contained a “Theme From Shaft” tease

## “David Bowie” contained a “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and a “Symphony No. 5 In C Minor” tease

### “Twist” contained “Get Back,” Under Pressure” and “Long Tall Glasses” teases

#### “Boogie On Reggae Woman” contained a “Theme From The Rockford Files” tease

##### “Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley” contained a “Theme From Shaft” and a “Call To The Post” tease

+ Prior to “Halfway To The Moon” Trey noted how he hoped it makes Wingsuit

++ “Makisupa Policeman” contained numerous references to “Bush” and “Kush” which were then featured in “Meatstick” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman”

——–

If the night before the night provides the proper amount of amassed tension and hype to coax a defining show out of the band, then the effects of a heavy weight being lifted often cater to similar results for the night after the night. One only has to hear the Fox ’95 shows, 11/02/1996, 11/02/1998, 11/01/2009, 01/01/2011 and 07/03/2011 to understand how the band responds to their most anticipated shows with a loose, anything-goes vibe in their subsequent performance.

This show sounds like the way you feel following a huge exam, or the morning after your wedding, or after taking an enormous shit. It sounds like all the pressure that had been building internally towards Wingsuit is just gone, and the band can go back to just being a band again.

Let’s acknowledge the fact that debuting an entire set’s worth of new material in front of your fans – on a night when expectations are already incredibly high for you to cover a famous record from another famous band, no less – created some serious tension for the members of Phish. For as much as the band clearly wanted to debut their new record in this setting – and for as brilliant a delivery as it was – one has to imagine that there were internal doubts over whether or not this was the right decision in the days and weeks leading up to Halloween. Rumors have circulated since that the band was practicing a fall-back album, just in case. The pressure of delivering  a cover album is a feat in-and-of itself. To trust that an entire set of new material is going to be both nailed and aptly received has to have created an insane amount of artistic stress. Add to it the fact that the surprise debut of said set of new material was a planned ordeal that the band had been existing with for some time, and, well, wow, all that pressure’s gotta be released somewhere…

When Phish took the stage on 01 November 2013 and opened with “Cavern,” a “Shaft”-laced “Runaway Jim,” and “Sand” it was undeniably clear that the band was not only thrilled with the unveiling of, and reception towards, Wingsuit, but was ready to focus all that previously bottled-up energy into one of the best shows of the year, and of all of 3.0 for that matter.

In my opinion there are three shows in the mix for 2013’s top show: 10/20/2013, 11/01/2013, and 12/29/2013. For as many high-level shows as were played throughout the year, the gap between those three and the rest of the year is huge. These three shows were just that good.

Prior to “Halfway To The Moon” – a song that existed on the peripheries of their rotation throughout 2010-2012, but after a strong 2013 is one of their most complete new songs – Trey noted how grateful the band was for the open-mindedness of their fanbase. A moment of humility from artist to fan; a telling sign of just how much Wingsuit had meant to them.

Rounding out set one was an extended “Tube,” a punctual “Sugar Shack,” and a riotous “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and “David Bowie” set closer. It was a mature stanza filled with fresh interplay, intrigue and tangible energy. The exact kind of set that often serves as a prelude to a classic Set II.

Following the haunting second set opener on 10/18, “Twist” became the centerpiece jam in Glens Falls, as Trey directed the murky and bluesy groove of the song to a heavenly space. Opening up 11/01’s second set with it, everyone could sense we were in for a big jam. Uncovering the riff from “Get Back” Trey led the band into a segment of celebratory rhythmic jamming that complimented the masterful Hartford “Tweezer” from the previous weekend. A blissful peak was reached and the crowd rewarded the band lovingly. Settling on the melody from “Under Pressure,” the band jokingly toyed with the song’s theme before dementing it, and pushing the jam even further into the unknown. A symbolic moment of improvisational magic, the song evoked a larger meaning in the same way “Takin’ Care Of Business” did on 10/20, here, referring to the pressure lifted following Wingsuit.

From there the set was a combination of intuitive jamming and humorous gimmickry, resulting in a fully-flowing set that just reeked of peak-level Phish. “Makisupa Policeman” was a riotous celebration of all-things weed, as keywords “Bush” and “Kush” were distorted and played upon in a scrabbled inside joke between Trey and Fish. “Light” explored sparse pockets of funk and rhythmic minimalism before somehow discovering a rock edge and sliding right into “Chalk Dust.” “Meatstick” and “Boogie On” captured the joy emanating from the stage, and “Slave” closed out the set with a hazy, and beautiful peak, that was equal parts contemplative and riveting.

Dropping into “Sneakin’ Sally” for the encore, the band melted the faces of whoever in the building was left with their individual facial appendages. Revisiting the “Shaft” jam from the second-song “Jim,” the funk jam that spread across 11-minutes was one more reminder of what level Phish was operating on.

The night after the night indeed.

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Madison Square Garden – New York, NY – 12/29/2013

Set I: The Moma Dance> Rift, Roggae, Sparkle, The Line, Stash, 555, It’s Ice, Gumbo#, Walls Of The Cave

Set II: Down With Disease## -> Carini> Waves+> Twist> Golgi Apparatus, David Bowie+

Encore: Possum

# “Gumbo” contained a “Long Tall Glasses” tease from Trey

## “Down With Disease” contained a “Rhapsody In Blue” tease from Page

+ “Waves” and “David Bowie” feature Mike on the Power Drill

——–

Throughout 2009-2012 Phish evolved in fits and spurts. There’d be shows, or mini-runs where it sounded as though they were totally back. Then they’d offer up a string of subpar shows, full of hesitation, lacking communication, and sounding directionless.

With the Dick’s run of 2012 Phish crossed a demarcation line, evolving so far beyond the expectations anyone could have realistically had for them in early 2009. Since then, their evolutionary process has been less about rebuilding what they once were, and more about discovering who they are going to be. The notion that they’re a nostalgic act has become asinine. At the onset of 2014, Phish, as a creative unit, is just as fresh, and just as innovative as they were at the onset of 1994.

A show like 12/29/2013 is a perfect example of the place that Phish finds itself here in their 31st year. You could put this show up against any benchmark show from any other era of Phish, and it would stand up on its own. This is as complete, as deep, as raw, as innovative, as re-listenable as any single show the band has ever played.

On paper it’s a thing of beauty. Diverse in its offerings from the various periods of Phish. Flowing with thematic precision and aesthetic functionality. Full of surprising intrigue and moments of unexpected brilliance. Capped off by a 35-minute segment of music that just might be the best improvisational excursion of their entire 3.0 era. Just look at this setlist and tell me it doesn’t make your mouth water.

To hear it is something all to its own. “Moma Dance” pops and signals an emphasis on whole-band communication, and thick funk. “Roggae” creeps into your soul and breaks through the haze with a poignant solo. “The Line” and “555” make their first post-Wingsuit appearance, feeling right at home already. “Stash” moves aggressively from demonic leads to melodic hues, all in ten efficient minutes. “It’s Ice” and “Gumbo” display a band willing to take risks at any turn; so locked-in they nail them all.

The second set opens with “Down With Disease” and “Carini.” Two songs that served as the peak of 2012’s NYE Run, once again they provide the improvisational centerpiece of the run, and, perhaps the jam segment of this entire era. Combing the underbelly of its own musical being, “DWD” reconstructs itself some 17-minutes in, building into an ecstatic reprise of its eminent peak. Dropping into “Carini” the band rode a minimalist groove outwards, deconstructed it, demented it, and then redistributed it as an infectious communal beat. As complete an improvisational journey as any in 3.0, these two songs point the way forward for Phish as they enter 2014.

Riding out “Waves” and “Twist,” it was three of their oldest songs: “Golgi,” “Bowie,” and “Possum” that would appropriately close out the strongest show Phish has played in all of 3.0. Not a wasted moment throughout. Full of innovative, assertive, and communicative playing, 12/29/2013 is not only a statement of how far Phish has come since 2009, it’s a statement of how much further they can go if they continue with this whole experiment.

How far Phish will go within the confines of 3.0 is undetermined. But if they can summon the drive, and the ability to match the brilliance of a show like 29 December 2013 again, we’re all the better for it.

——–

Thanks everyone for reading! Can’t wait to see where Phish takes us in 2014!

Photo Cred: 1 – 10/20 Hampton, VA – Dave Vann; 2 – 07/05 Saratoga Springs, NY – Dave Vann; 3 – 07/21 Chicago, IL – Dave Vann; 4 – 10/31 Atlantic City, NJ – Brantley Gutierrez; 5 – 07/14 Columbia, MD – Rene Huemer; 6 – 07/27 George, WA – Dave Vann; 7 – 08/30 Commerce City, CO – Dave Vann; 8 – 10/20 Hampton, VA – Dave Vann; 9 – 10/23 Glens Falls, NY – Dave Vann; 10 – 07/12 Wantagh, NY – Dave Vann; 11 – 08/02 San Francisco, CA – Dave Vann; 12 – 10/29 Reading, PA – Dave Vann; 13 – 11/01 Atlantic City, NJ – Dave Vann; 14 – 12/29 New York City, NY – Rene Huemer

Thanks to Phish.Net (www.phish.net) and The Mockingbird Foundation (www.mbird.org) for organizational assistance and sourcing of setlists!

The Best Of Phish – 2013 – Part I

1376985_10151642180686290_587081184_nOn 31 December 2012 Phish opened their final show of the year with a cover of Ricky Nelson’s 1972 hit “Garden Party.” A song Nelson had originally written after being booed off that same Madison Square Garden stage during the 1971 Rock ‘n Roll Revival Show, it was a fitting nod to the place Phish found themselves in both musically, artistically, and personally at the onset of their 30th year. Highlighted by the line, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself,” the song would not only serve as a tongue-in-cheek jab at some of the more impatient members of Phish’s sprawling fan base, but would become something of a rallying cry for the band as they embarked upon their 30th year together as a collective unit.

Throughout 2013, the message of “Garden Party” felt ever-present, as the band sought to craft a six-month-long celebration of everything that had come to define Phish since 1983. In the summer, they emerged from hibernation with an overtly old school, foundational-setting run of shows from 07/03 – 07/21. Beaming with confidence, they went on to poke fun at their more obsessive fans in Chicago’s, ‘Poster Nutbag, the right way’“Harpua,” before crafting one of their seminal pieces of extended improve in the “Tahoe Tweezer” just ten days later. Friday night at Dick’s was once again devoted to gimmickry, this time as the band informed us that Most Shows Spell Something (Backwards). The Fall Tour that followed was a non-stop dance party with a signature throwback feel. And on Halloween the band debuted their new album – tentatively titled Wingsuit – in a move that has had the entire Phish community buzzing with thoughts and analysis ever since. Closing out the year with one more celebratory gag, Phish played an entirely coverless NYE Run, honoring the songs that had brought them so much acclaim throughout the years. Without question, 2013 was defined in large part by Phish’s desire to “please themselves” – without any regrets – in commemoration of everything they’d built (and rebuilt) since their college days.

What’s more though, was how “Garden Party” worked as a premonition for a band seeking to do more than simply garnish their 30th year with a nostalgic hue. Rather, 2013 saw Phish acutely pivot towards the next phase of their career. For, as much as 2013 was indeed about celebrating the essence of Phish – and their legacy – it was in many ways, more so about what’s next for a band that has systematically rebuilt itself from near-death, and now, at the onset of their 31st year, is in the midst of their most substantial peak period since the halcyon days of 1993-1998.

——–

Let’s pause for a moment, and take a step back to July 2010. At that point Phish had been back together for 17 months. Throughout they’d compiled four 10-15 show tours, alongside three, smaller, holiday-based/reunion runs. There’d been nights where they’d felt like Phish again. Nights where everything clicked: where they told jokes, where they pulled oft-forgotten songs out of nowhere, where their setlists flowed with precision, determination, and ease, and where they hooked up for extended pieces of forward-thinking, emotive, and ultimately revealing improv. But for all of the positivity that surrounded the 70 shows that had thus far made up Phish 3.0, there was a prevailing fear throughout much of their fan base that, perhaps, the band simply didn’t have it anymore. Too often they’d follow a breakthrough show with a run of unfocused and disconnected duds. Too many jams either followed a strict formula of assaulting rock -> rhythmic breakdown -> ambient fade, or would be cut off prematurely by Trey’s insistence on keeping the show moving. Too many shows featured a band that, simply put, appeared a shell of its former self. During the month-long break in Summer 2010, many openly wondered what would become of Phish 3.0?

Would they follow the same trajectory of their haunting and ultimately unsustainable 2.0 era; fading unfulfilled, full of regret, bemused with far more questions than answers?

Had Phish become (gasp) a nostalgia act?

Could they reestablish the unspoken communication that had led them to so many musical and artistic heights throughout their heyday?

Would they ever again evolve with the kind of abstract precision and focused experimentation that saw them transform from a psychedelically-infused speed-jazz quartet in 1993 to a spacious, patient, rhythmic juggernaut just five years later?

Could they do it again?

From the vantage point of January 2014 we know what happened. Barring a few setbacks along the way – parts of June 2011 and NYE 2011, most notably – when Phish reemerged for the second leg of their 2010 Summer Tour, they were a fundamentally different band. Since then they’ve been on a consistent upward trajectory, evolving with patient determination, overcoming many of the challenges set in front of them in 2009, and undoubtably blowing away even the headiest expectations any of us could have had for them when they announced their reunion back on 1 October 2008.

Beginning in earnest with the infusion of Trey’s Ocedoc – a move that systematically rounded-out his tone, resulting in him taking a more deliberate approach to building simple melodic lines, while also focusing more on rhythm – Phish has evolved with stunning speed over these past four years. Stylistically morphing – from the melodic jams of late-2010 to August 2011’s dive into the storage shed, to the cubist approach of 2012 – and further deepening their communication, they have consistently driven forward from the moment the Greek “Cities” dropped into its infectious whole-band groove-jam. A reflection of their own musical maturity and craftsmanship – and also the experience they’d gained from 25-years of friendship and collaboration – from August 2010 onwards, each tour has provided crucial reference points to Phish’s current peak. Be it the improvisational boon of August 2010; the self-referential gimmickry and humor of Fall 2010; June 2011’s experimentation & embrace of potential failure over conservatism; “The Storage Jam” and the darkness that engulfed many of their subsequent jams throughout August and September 2011; the 200-song challenge of June 2012; the fully-realized, multi-layered jams of August 2012; or the masterful run of creativity and exploration that was Dick’s and MSG 2012; there’s no denying the fact that following their initial – and necessary – 18-month rebuilding project, the Phish of late-2010-2013 in many ways mirrors the same band that rose from irrelevancy in the early-1990’s to become one of the largest, and most influential, creative forces in the country.

The only difference now: they are clearly wizened by their years. Trials & errors, fights, audits, drugs, failures, fuck-ups, youthful bliss, et al, behind them, the Phish of today is both healthy, happy, and inspired. Whereas in 2009 many wondered if such a “family-friendly” version Phish could muster up the kind of psychedelic expansionism and unadulterated experimentation that had drawn so many to them in the first place, it’s clear now that this version of Phish may not only match the creative ingenuity of their initial peak, but could in fact surpass their former selves in both musical discovery, and artistic sustainability.

——–

All of which brings us to 2013.

Beginning the year with a three-week foundational setting period, Phish toured the East Coast, fairing off torrential rains, all the while focusing on a tight rotation of songs which emphasized the original artistic statements of their career. Determined to perfect the whole-show-craftsmanship that had reemerged in Fall 2010, Phish used their first night at SPAC to send a message that 2013 would be more about patiently crafting complete shows rather than simply expanding upon big jams. Resulting in thematic concert experiences, the tour required noticeably more patience, reflection, and insight from their fans than the overtly jam-heavy August 2011, or bustout-driven June 2012 tours had. From 07/10’s “Maria” set, to 07/12’s “practicing safe music,” to Merriweather Post’s old-school affair, to 07/16’s “Heartbreaker” set to the existential masterpiece of 07/21’s second set, this first leg of the tour saw the band further advance their artistic intentions, while still infusing more than enough highlights to satisfy everyone in their fan base.

Following a five-day break, they reemerged at the Gorge intent on celebrating every aspect of their musical past, while systematically using each previous peak as a building block towards their next era. The rain behind them, comfortable enough to expand upond the strict rotation that had marked their entire East Coast run, rarities returned, jams popped, and the band played with an ease that could only result from the kind of foundational setting they’d initiated. From 07/26’s explosion of howlin’ energy, to 07/27’s album-like fluidity, to 07/30’s dance-party, to the methodical brilliance of the Tahoe “Tweezer,” to 08/02 and 08/04’s schizophrenic mind-fuck, by summer’s end Phish left no doubt in anyone’s mind that they’d not only coursed out their 30th year exactly as they’d intended to, but that they knew the “right way” forward for their creative evolution.

At Dick’s they keyed us in once more to their goals for the year by noting on 08/30 that “Most Shows Spell Something.” That they unveiled the gag backwards only lent itself more to their playful spirit and the multitude of angles with which one could approach understanding their music.

And then, as with 2010, Phish scheduled a two-week Fall Tour through some of the most historic – and smallest – venues within their home base of the Northeast. Needing no time to reacquire their bearings, it was clear from the jubilant jam that emerged from “Carini” on the tour’s opening night, that Phish had, once again, reached yet another level of unspoken communication and refined musicianship. Be it jams – “Carini,” “Ghost,” “Tweezer,” “Golden Age,” “Down With Disease,” “Twenty Years Later,” “Drowned,” “Light,” “Twist,” each built into fully-formed, innovative, and memorable excursions – or shows – 10/20, 10/23, 10/25, 10/26, 10/27, and 11/01 are some of the strongest complete shows the band has played since the 90’s – the band was completely locked-in throughout the Fall, and consistently able to tap into an vast wealth of creativity. At times one wished the band would simply have an off night to give fans re-listening, and avidly discussing, a chance to catch-up and breathe.

On Halloween the band once again repelled against expectations. Whereas traditionally they’d used the holiday to don a musical costume of one of their forbearers, here, in their 30th year, they instead used the moment to debut 12 new originals. Loosely dubbed Wingsuit, the second set of 10/31 represented yet another leap forward for this 3.0 incarnation of Phish. Like the Greek Run in 2010, the Storage Jam, and FUCK YOUR FACE before it, Wingsuit is a clear break between one era and another. Cultivated from various jams over the past two years, and containing some of the most advanced and deeply personal lyrics of the band’s career, the songs – and the symbolic nature behind their unveiling – provide the band with the necessary material and inspiration to enter the next phase of their remarkable career.

Closing out the year, once again, with four shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City the band honored their 30th Anniversary by focusing on the singular element that birthed their existence: their songs. Opting to only play originals, the four shows took on much of the same vibe that had marked the entire year. Nostalgically rich, yet full of forward-thinking jams in “Steam,” “Down With Disease -> Carini,” “Chalk Dust Torture,” and “Light,” the 2013 NYE Run both celebrated everything that has made Phish such a unique force in modern pop culture, and pointed the way towards their next thirty years.

——–

As with 2009 (Part I & Part II), 2010, 2011, & 2012 I’ve assembled a list of ten shows and jams that standout as the best of the year. Along with these selections, there are three honorable mentions to each. These are not simply shows/jams 11-13, but rather foundational jams and shows with which the band grew, yet didn’t crack my top ten. The lists are assembled chronologically, thus reserving the title “Best Ever” as a subjective accolade. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Happy New Year! Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings to the world of Phish!

The Best Of Phish 2013

Honorable Jams

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“Down With Disease -> 2001” – Toronto, ON – 07/22/2013

After kicking off the summer with three fairly contained versions of one of their most cherished Set II Openers, Phish finally broke through in Toronto with a jam that built off of their pivotal second set on 07/21,  thus pointing the way westward. Featuring patiently built melodic and rhythmic riffs from Trey throughout, the jam ultimately settled on a remarkably pleasant platitude, which felt entirely composed. A direct prelude to jams like the 10/23 “Twist,” 10/26 “Drowned,” 10/27 “Tweezer,” and 11/01 “Twist,” this “DWD” is not only one of the key, foundational jams of 2013, but it is also the kind of jam one could listen to on repeat without ever growing tired.

In short, this is simply one of the most enjoyable, and pleasing jams of the entire year. A section of wholly deliberate, rising melodic playing followed the Trey/Page melodic peak, ultimately giving way to a full-on tease of “Sea Of Love” from The National. Further proof of how much musical insight Trey has gained from his time spent listening to – and playing with – those in the indie rock world. Building towards a truly patient segue into “2001” rounded off one of the most subtly diverse jams of the year, one that clearly helped to initiate the band’s massive peak over the next four months. While this jam has become significantly overshadowed in the past four months, its influence on the stylistic evolution of 2013 cannot go unnoticed.

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“Harry Hood” – Hollywood, CA – 08/05/2013

There’s that moment in every single jam where everyone – band and audience alike – collectively realizes we’re suddenly in wide open, untapped, and unknown terrain. It may come via a reliable Set II opening vehicle, or in a totally unexpected song/slot in the show. Wherever and whenever it comes, the moment is ultimately defined by an immediate percolating of the senses, and a rush of euphoria, as the stakes of a show suddenly take upon unknown – in many ways, indefinable – potential. This moment is, for many, the entire reason why we see Phish. When that moment happens to come in a song steeped in as much historical lore as “Harry Hood” is, however, it raises a show to an entirely different level of excitement, sentiment, and lasting resonance.

While it’s clear here that Trey’s dedicating much of his energy to painting a backdrop of sound throughout the initial post-“Thank you, Mr. Hood…” section, we’re essentially still in typical “Hood-ville” until 9:37. From that point on, however, the jam enters completely unknown territory like it hadn’t since 07/31/03. A rock-based jam ensues, sounding in many ways like a leftover from the previous night’s “Runaway Jim,” before building into a full-on call-and-respond woo segment. Then, when it seems as though the band could momentarily snake back into “Hood,” they instead move into a more rhythmically-oriented realm, crafting a mosaic, where one member’s leads are effortlessly supplanted by another’s. Ambient-based jamming enters the fray, and suddenly the jam has become blissful. Abstract-cubism is the order, and, for a while, between 15ish and 17ish minutes, it feels as though we’re back in Dick’s 2012. Connecting on a dreamlike, plinko-esque jam that sounds like the denouement of a soon-to-be-unfinished jam, Trey plucks the “Hood” theme out of thin air, and the band rebuilds back to a subdued peak.

A creative palette of themes and varying musical passages, this jam harkened back to the band’s most prolific exploration within “Hood” from 07/25/03. A clear statement to the band’s M.O. moving forward in 2013, this “Harry Hood” opened the doors even further to what was possible in the coming Fall, here, coming on the last night of Summer Tour proper.

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“Carini” – Hampton, VA – 10/18/2013

On the opening night of Fall Tour, in the midst of a risky & self-conscious show, in their first performance back in the mothership since their reunion weekend in March 2009, “Carini” emerged mid-way through the second set and ultimately set the course of the entire tour. Rooted in the kind of bluesy, melodic, and celebratory rhythmic jams that had defined the best parts of the summer, what separated this “Carini” from the jams that had preceded it, was how simple and how overtly groove-oriented it was.

A bulbous and infectious dive into a rock-based, dance foray, this was the kind of jamming that would ultimately define Phish’s two-week Fall Tour. A fusion between the sparse, rhythmic jams of their 1997 peak with the rootsy, rock-oriented jamming that emerged in 2009 and 2010, further shaped by the cubist approach of 2012, and finished with the celebratory rhythmic style of the summer, this “Carini” felt like an ode to the nostalgically-rich, yet forward-thinking engine that was Phish 2013. Fading into their 3.0 hymnal, “Backwards Down The Number Line” was an entirely appropriate move for a band that had just shouted from the mountaintop their intentions for the proceeding Fall Tour.

The Top Ten Jams Of 2013

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“Split Open & Melt” – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/06/2013

Wow. What a statement. What a glorified mess. A conscious experimental push into the unknown as anything heard from Phish 3.0. This jam covers so much terrain in its 18-minutes, it’s really quite exhausting.

Abstract, gorgeous, uneven, risqué, unpolished, raw, emotive, completely human; an absolute pure example of a band seeking out the elusive hook-up. It’s also perhaps the loosest, and unfocused Phish has allowed itself to be throughout the past five years.

For every jam that has either foreshadowed or reflected the various thematic terrains of 2013, there’s really no other jam produced this year that sounds anything like this “Split Open & Melt.” This might be the most important pre-Tahoe “Tweezer” jam played in the entire summer. One just has to hear the vocal inflection and laugh from Page at the end when he says, “We’ll be right back…” following their sloppy re-entry to “Melt” to understand how unexpectedly deep the band went, and how gloriously lost they became. If any jam in 2013 could symbolize a much-needed trust-fall for Phish, it’s this. Just, wow.

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“Carini -> Architect” – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/06/2013

The first of four versions for Señor Lumpy Head on this list, this one pops immediately with an incredibly focused, highly expansive, delicate, interwoven and intricate piece of music that has continually resided in the upper echelons of Phish’s 2013 output since the moment it concluded. Reminiscent of the 08/31/12 “Undermind” and “Chalk Dust,” this is one of those democratic/full-band conversations we’ve now come to expect in 2012-2013 Phish.

In many ways though, this jam is all about Trey, as he plays with a determined and deliberate precision that would go on to define many of Phish’s best moments in 2013. An example of foundational setting leading to deliberate playing from Trey, this jam sounds like a direct prelude to Fall Tour more than most of the jams played throughout the summer.

Oh, and this jam also segues flawlessly into a debut. So much so, that, for a moment, “Architect” felt like it was simply just another part of the “Carini” jam.

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“Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood” – Holmdel, NJ – 07/10/2013

Two crucial things happen from 9:20 – 15:01 in this “Crosseyed,” which sets the foundation for literally every moment of fully-connected Phish in 2013.

1.) First, Mike creates an exorbitant amount of space through his melodic and atmospheric playing – something he’d been incorporating into Phish’s improv since mid-2011 – thus slowing down the jam’s typically galloping pace, and allowing more textural space for each member to communicate with each other.

2.) As a result of this, Trey recedes into the shadows and further incorporates his rhythmic playing that had been so evident during the Bangor “Golden Age,” building the jam to a unified peak based in large part around the familiar theme from the 02/16/2003 “Piper.”

Whether or not they were conscious of it, that they were jamming on a specific theme from one of their peak moments in the early stages of 2.0 was yet another of those unexplainable moments of pure musical magic that seem to find their way into the best Phish shows and jams. Fading some two minutes later into “Harry Hood,” which built upon the beauty of Bangor’s encore, was a clear nod to the brilliance of this “Crosseyed.”

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“Tweezer” – Stateline, NV – 07/31/2013

A moment of profound unity between both band and audience, as each rediscovered once again what was truly possible in the medium of a Phish show.

Listening back, there are just so many raw moments that harken back to the halcyon days of 1993 – 1998 when the band and audience engaged in the kinds of extended, abstract, absurdist, and inside-joke experiments that were both only possible at a Phish show, and made this whole cultural experiment feel that much smaller, and that much more unified and connected, even as it simultaneously widened as the word of the circus spread throughout upper-middle-class, white America.

A Few Examples:

10:20 – 13:30 — when Trey and Mike are both clearly so desperate to extend what, at this point, is just a standard 3.0, “Tweezer-themed-Tweezer-jam”, that they push atmospheric melodies outwards, building towards Trey’s rhythmic in-and-out fades, which – once Page catches on – leads to the hard-rock segment that defines the 13:42 – 16:06 section of the entire jam.

22:29 – 26:18 — Trey latches onto a deliberate riff which builds towards a gorgeous hose segment that would have single-handedly made this one of the elite jams of the year had it ended right then and there. No woo’s. No 30-minute barrier broken. No matter. This section of Trey-led riffing is among his most impressive playing of the entire year – in fact it’s a direct predecessor of that gorgeous, Allmans-esque jam that concludes the 10/29 “Down With Disease” – and would have been the single reason why – had the jam ended immediately after, as so many have throughout 3.0 – the “Tahoe Tweezer” would have still, at that point, been the longest jam of 3.0.

26:18 – 26:23 — This is, for all intents and purposes, the moment when the “Tahoe Tweezer” becomes THE Tahoe Tweezer. It’s all thanks to Page McConnell. He’s been following Trey’s lead for the past four minutes, and sensing – correctly – that the current theme is about to wind down, inserts the celebratory melody which, once Trey latches on at 26:24, becomes THE Tahoe Tweezer.

27:29 — The first WOO!

27:53 – 28:19 — Trey plays a riff that’s so driven, so celebratory, so deliberate, yet so thoughtless at the same time, so rooted in his purest feelings and emotions – from so deep in his heart – you can literally feel the shit-eating-grin spilling out across his face through your headphones. You can hear him realize right then and there just how big a deal this jam is. It’s not just the fact that it’s a great “Tweezer” to open a set. It’s not just the fact that this is the new longest jam of 3.0. It’s not just the fact that the band has allowed all their fears of playing deep into the unknown wash away. It’s not just the fact that the band is proving both to themselves and all their fans that they’re so locked in once again that they can play with an unending, limitless abandon, and still produce totally focused, driven, and unquestionably listenable, compositionally-sound music. It’s the fact that all these things were happening at once AND they’d latched onto a melody so contagious, so infectious, so rooted in the essential nature that has made music a communal and spiritual force for the entirety of human existence, that they’d spurred a wholly original conversation with their fans in the process. It’s the fact that if the entire goal of Phish’s entire existence – spontaneous moments of shared energy and musical brilliance resulting from carefully crafted compositions allowed to run wild – were boiled down to one moment in time, this moment would be it. That they discovered this through the peak in a “Tweezer” jam is all the more fitting.

32:46 – 35:07 — The Victory Lap. As if they even needed to keep playing following the woo’s. This is all Rock-Star-Trey here. Based loosely off the jam from “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” the band built towards one more massive peak – complete with Woo’s, because, why the fuck not at this point (???) – before coyly snaking back into “Tweezer.”

35:48 – 35:50 — Woo’s within the “Tweezer-riff” comedown. Fuck. This section is a lot like that loose and sloppy “Psycho Killer” that emerged from “AC/DC Bag: on 12/07/1997 as the denouement commenced upon Fall 1997. It’s so unserious, so ridiculous, so clear that whatever the band’s intentions were as they stepped on the stage for that night’s second set, they weren’t prepared for this. As Wax Banks said, “bag>psycho killer to open, seriously? they’re just dorking around at that point…”

36:09 – 36:47 — The final note. The final Woo. The fade. The band holds out this last note, systematically dementing it and burying it in the ground. It’s as if they don’t want to let it go. And why would they? If they only knew at that moment what this would ultimately build to…

Is it the best jam they’ve ever played? No. But it is the most important piece of music the band has played since the 07/29/1997 “Gumbo” or the 11/17/1997 “Ghost.”

It’s that revolutionary moment where the band is clearly searching for some ambiguous sound, some indefinable goal, and unquestionably uncovers something totally new about themselves in the process. Say what you will about the after-effects of the ‘woo’s,’ what’s clear to everyone involved is that without the “Tahoe Tweezer, “none of the brilliance that emerged with such stunning ease and consistency throughout the Fall would have been possible.

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“Chalk Dust Torture” – Commerce City, Co – 08/31/2013

Just listen to the segment from 10:02 – 12:36 and try – seriously try – to resist boogieing your ass off wherever you may be. Of all the moments of musical connectivity the band found themselves in throughout the entire 2013 Summer Tour, perhaps none felt as effortless, as mechanical, as choreographed, or as pre-planned as the immediate peak jam segment out of the Set II Opening “Chalk Dust Torture” from 08/31. A year to the date after their revolutionary FUCK YOUR FACE show, a night after informing their fans that MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, Phish connected on an aggressive, set opening jam, that systematically pointed the way towards the Fall.

Listen to the aforementioned segment again. Within it you can hear the first hints of what will become known as “Fuego.” What’s more is how deftly the band is able to hook up through rhythmically induced passages of deliberate playing, the very kind that would come to define all the highs of the looming Fall Tour.

Perhaps we couldn’t fully understand it at the time. Perhaps we weren’t aware that the band really just wanted to use Dick’s 2013 as a weekend-long celebration. But it’s clear now that this “Chalk Dust” was an essential moment that separated summer from fall in the same way the Toronto “Down With Disease” separated the East Coast Run from the West. A supremely confident statement from a band at the height of their powers once again, this “Chalk Dust” proved that all the foundational setting of early Summer were more than worth the patience required. And, just like in 2012, it was “Chalk Dust” that left perhaps the most lasting legacy on another memorable weekend at Dick’s.

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“Tweezer -> Golden Age” – Hampton, VA – 10/20/2013

In 2003 and 2004, Phish regularly dove wildly into the deepest and darkest holes of the musical underworld, drumming up some of the most baroque and macabre jams of their entire career. A result of the personal crises faced by Trey and Page at the time, these jams are, in many ways, singular to perhaps the most harrowing era in the band’s history. Rarely has Phish allowed themselves to even glimpse these seedy and hopeless terrains throughout their overtly-joyful period of rebirth since 2009.

On the final night of their Fall Tour-opening Hampton Run, Phish – and especially Trey – granted themselves a dip back into their darkside, resulting in their most inspired, and passionate improvisational excursion of 2013.

Channeling the guitar-wizardry of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, Trey incorporates his effects with caustic shreds of his guitar, cultivating a demented soundscape. There’s a stark nakedness to his playing throughout this jam, a peeling back the layers to his soul, a revealing insight into the darkness that still resides within.

This is the Yin to the “Tahoe Tweezer’s” Yang.

Yet, perhaps what makes this jam so rewarding, and ultimately so influential, is the segment of music that emerges at 19:57. Distantly related to the ethos of “Wingsuit” – a song that would debut some eleven days later, this denouement to the preceding jam segment offered a window into exactly what was possible when the band gave a seemingly fading jam one more look. Reminiscent of comments Page made in the IT DVD regarding the type of music that’s only possible after 18…19…32-minutes of jamming, this final segment would help push the band further, to the moments found in the latter parts of the 10/26 “Drowned,” 10/29 “Down With Disease,” 11/01 “Twist,” and 12/29 “Down With Disease -> Carini.”

In “Golden Age” Phish finally capitalized on the most profound excursions they’d thus far embarked on with the song – 07/02/2011, 07/03/2012, 07/03/2013, 07/30/2013 – pushing it further than it’d ever been before. A fully-realized, groove-based conversation between all four members, this version – along with its accompanying 10/27 version – finally unlocked the code on a song that had evolved in fits and spurts for the band.

A forty-minute segment of music that ultimately transcended everything else the band was capable of accomplishing throughout their brilliant 30th year, one can only imagine how much deeper Phish will now be willing to push their music in 2014.

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“Tweezer” – Hartford, CT – 10/27/2013

If the “Tahoe Tweezer” represented a moment of critical mass in Phish’s grand experiment, and the “Hampton Tweezer” was a marked dive back into the netherworld of their musical souls, then the “Hartford Tweezer” was a pronouncement of the celebratory rhythmic/melodic jamming the band had been busily perfecting all year on an extremely meta level.

We’ve long known that the ultimate key to Phish’s improvisational success is simplicity. A concept that’s often far easier said than done – especially when you factor in each member’s exceptional skill level, and the pressures associated with playing live, improvisational music – this version of “Tweezer” immediately gets to the point of itself, and then patiently rides itself out to its proper conclusion. Proof that less is more. Touching distinctly on the theme from “Weekapaug Groove,” this jam feels deeply rooted in the historical lexicon of Phish. It’s the kind of jam that fundamentally fit the conceptual goals of 2013.

Throughout 2013 Phish’s best moment came when they seemed to stop trying. Akin to 1997’s peak based around minimalist funk grooves, the diversity of their stylistic peaks in 2013 are only matched by the effortlessness it took the band to reach them. A moment when each member latched onto a singular idea and ran with it, the “Hartford Tweezer” is equally one of the most pleasurable, and important pieces of music played all year.

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“Down With Disease -> Taste” – Reading, PA – 10/29/2013

If one were to try and summarize the reasons for Phish’s two-week-long peak tour during October 2013, one could hypothesize over the bulbous and rhythmic interplay of Mike and Fish. Perhaps one would reference the archaic and personally historic venues the band toured through within their home turf. One might look to the impending performance of Wingsuit as inspiration. In their fifth year back following a five-year break-up, the overall health and friendship within the band has certainly led to a lot of possibilities as to why now, in their 30th year of existence, Phish has reached one of the highest peaks they’ve ever been on artistically. Yet, to me, one aspect of Phish’s playing sticks out as the most profound reason why this past Fall Tour was one of the greatest Phish has ever had: Trey’s deliberate approach to playing his guitar.

Nowhere is this approach more fruitful, nor more rewarding, than in the stunning jam that flowed out of “Down With Disease” on 10/29.

What was initially a funk-laced stroll through familiar “DWD” jam-terrain changed at 13:10 when Page began infusing melodic themes into the mix. Immediately latching onto his ideas, and toying with them before copying them, Trey built this initial foundation into an Allman-laced jam that harkened back to his heavily-lauded Hose-era-playing. Akin to the 12/30/1995 “Hood,” the “Went Gin,” the “IT Ghost,” and the “Tahoe Tweezer,” the melodic and spiritually uplifting notes that emanated from Trey’s guitar with such ease, passion, and deliberateness felt like a step back into an earlier time.

Beyond it’s musical brilliance, the “Reading DWD” provided one final twist for the thousands of fans trying to decipher any and all clues from the band about their upcoming Halloween performance. Immediately following this show, and continuing until the Playbills were dispersed two night’s later, the entire community was convinced we were getting Eat A Peach on Halloween. A fusion of Phish gimmickry, with musical ingenuity, along with the emotive thrill that’s associated with their best improvisational moments, the “Reading DWD” is one of those rare jams that repeatedly delivers on the hype.

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“Ghost> Carini” – Atlantic City, NJ – 10/31/2013

On 08/15/2004, following the whole-band collapse in “Glide,” and the emotional breakdown in “Wading In The Velvet Sea,” Trey told the crowd that the band needed to just “blow off some fucking steam…” They then proceeded to dive into a 50-minute firestorm of noise-ladened abstract improv within the limitless confines of “Split Open & Melt” and “Ghost.”

Just over nine years later, following a Halloween set where they debuted twelve completely new originals, Phish responded with this 35-minute segment of blissfully exuberant, and wholly-connected music within the limitless confines of “Ghost” and “Carini.” Without notifying their fans, the symbolic gesture was in many ways related to the necessary move to blow off some emotional steam at Coventry. The difference being the fact that in August 2004 they were a band grasping for their last breaths, whereas in October 2013, they were on the verge of rebirth once more.

The 10/31 “Ghost> Carini” is the sound of a massive weight being lifted off of Phish. For much of 2013 – no one knows exactly how long – the band carried around a secret waiting to be unveiled, live, in front of their fan base: Wingsuit. A burden that must have caused an incredible amount of artistic stress on the band, this jam segment was all the band needed to display how grateful they were for the open-mindedness of their fans to allow them such artistic freedom. Throughout the “Ghost” a sultry and sinister groove builds. The kind of deliberate and simple musical concept that had tracked their best improv of the year, this jam is the confident strut than can only follow a nailed risk. This is DiCaprio dropping the mic after one of his megalomaniacal speeches in “Wolf Of Wall Street.” This is Jordan shrugging after his 6th 3-pointer in the first half of Game 1 of the ’92 Finals. This is Trey’s prowling stomp around the stage during the surprise “Tweezer Reprise” encore on 04/03/1998.

It is, however, the “Carini” that gets all the glory in this segment. A 19-minute excursion that touches on literally all the moments of profound communication throughout the past two years, this jam is up there with the best improv the band has offered throughout the entirety of their career. Led by Trey’s celebratory rhythmic playing, this “Carini” reaches a full-band peak that would be further explored in the following night’s “Twist.” Stylistically reminiscent of the 08/31/2012 “Undermind” and “Chalk Dust,” the 09/01/2012 “Light,” 09/02/2012 “Sand,” 12/28/2012 “Tweezer,” 07/06/2013 “Carini,” and 07/31/2013 “Tweezer,” this is one of those Phish jams that moves effortlessly from one musical passage to another without giving the listener time to lament the conclusion of one before rewarding them with a fully-realized segment of music in the next.

Two songs that just scream All Hallow’s Eve in their musical origins and lyrics, “Ghost> Carini” was a fitting centerpiece for the band to blow-off some steam on a night when they confidently catapulted themselves into their next era.

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“Down With Disease -> Carini” – New York City, NY – 12/29/2013

“Thank you, we wrote that…”

By the end of 2013 Phish was on such an artistic peak, and on such a creative roll, that it became second-nature for them to hook-up and explore passages of musical brilliance. Fully-formed ideas seemed to simply emit from their instruments, and questions over if they’d produce another transcendent jam disappeared. Because of this, there are numerous jams from their recent Fall Tour and NYE Run that were painstakingly left off this list: 10/23 “Twist,” 10/25 “Waves -> Carini,” 10/27 “Drowned> Light,” 10/27 “Golden Age,” 10/29 “Twenty Years Later -> Piper,” 11/01 “Twist,” 12/30 “Chalk Dust Torture,” most notably.

When they stepped to the stage on 12/29, following their most fluid first set of the NYE Run, they unveiled yet another masterpiece of improvisation through two of their most reliable vehicles for musical discovery: “Down With Disease” and “Carini.” Two songs that have been featured extensively on this list, for whatever reason, both of these songs consistently allow the band an ideal passage into the unknown. In “DWD” Phish explored the melodic underbelly of the song’s origins – highlighted by Mike & Trey’s interplay as much as the soundscape crafted by Page – before rebuilding itself into a full-on “DWD Reprise.” A moment of euphoric magic for both band and audience alike, the blissful conclusion that rose naturally from the depths of improv was the kind of unexplainable point of connection that has so often marked the best moments of Phish’s 30-year career. Many claim you could feel the walls of the Garden shaking as the band reached a peak of a musical theme that is the composed sound of euphoric joy within the confines of Phishdom.

A yin to the “AC Carini’s” yang, the 16-minute “MSG Carini” was a demonic beast of minimalist groove. Deliberate, haunting, demented, abstract, insane, unified… the “MSG Carini” built from the Yo La Tengo-esque jam in the “Hampton Tweezer” into a hulking beast all its own. A sure sign that the seedy, under-worldly jams, which defined Phish 2.0, are at least back in part here in 3.0, this “Carini” felt like the unification of two eras. The fact that Phish can so willingly dive deep into the darkness again – during an era of such renowned health and personal well-being, no less – is as clear a sign as any of the artistic peak Phish is on right now.

Just as “Down With Disease” and “Carini” provided both the musical peak of the 2012 NYE Run, while simultaneously pointing the way towards the band’s improvisational future, the two songs once again served this symbolic purpose here in 2013. Who knows exactly what direction(s) the band will take their improv in 2014? One thing however, is certain: if they can in anyway build upon, and expand within the musical accomplishments of their 30th year, we’re all in for an absolutely mind-blowing 31st year of Phish.

——–

Part II coming this week!

Photo Cred: 1 – 10/20 Hampton, VA – Dave Vann; 2 – 07/17 Alpharetta, GA – Dave Vann; 3 – 08/05 Hollywood, CA – Brantley Gutierrez; 4 – 10/18 Hampton, VA – Dave Vann; 5 & 6 – 07/06 Saratoga Springs, NY – Dave Vann; 7 – 07/10 Holmdel, NJ – Dave Vann; 8 – 07/31 Stateline, NV – Dave Vann; 9 – 08/30 Commerce City, CO – Dave Vann; 10 – 10/20 Hampton, VA – Dave Vann; 11 & 12 – 10/29 Reading, PA – Dave Vann; 13 – 11/01 Atlantic City, NJ – Brantley Gutierrez; 14 – 12/29 New York City, NY – Rene Huemer

Phish 2013 – Through The Jams / Part II: The Gorge – Dick’s

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Click Here For Part I

The Best Jams Of 2013 – Part II

07/27

Down With Disease -> Undermind> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> 2001

A meaty segment of fully-flowing Phish, this 50-minute opening sequence is undoubtedly one of the most connected musical moments of the entire year. And like Jones Beach’s hour-long groove session, this chunk of improv is clearly more about Phish’s connection to itself. Save for the underworldly dip within Undermind, much of what’s played here is fluid and energetic. Exemplified in the bulbous jam that builds from Sneakin’ Sally, this is the sound of a Phish celebrating the trials won, foundations set, and conflicts overcome in the first three weeks of tour, rather than pushing forth overtly challenging music. Pure joy continuously emits from the stage here as the band celebrates their most accomplished run of the year, to that point. From here on out, there would be no more uncertainty. This is the division between the pre-Tahoe-Tweezer-Phish, and the latter.

07/31

Tweezer

A moment of profound unity between both band and audience as each rediscovered once again what was truly possible in the medium of a Phish show[1]. Is it the best jam they’ve ever played? No. But it is the most important piece of music the band has played since the 07/29/1997 Gumbo or the 11/17/1997 Ghost[2]. It’s that revolutionary moment where the band is clearly searching for some ambiguous sound, some indefinable goal, and unquestionably uncovers something totally new about themselves in the process. Say what you will about the after-effects of the ‘woo’s,’ what’s clear to everyone involved is that without the Tahoe Tweezer, none of the brilliance that emerged with such stunning ease and consistency throughout the Fall would have been possible.

08/03

Rock & Roll -> Steam

Celebratory melodic jamming as a singular jam. On the second night of a three-night run in the intimate halls of San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, after an opening show in which the band essentially took a – much-deserved – full-show victory lap following the Tahoe breakthrough, Phish unleashed a jam that displayed their evolved cubism, along with their innate communicative abilities, all under the umbrella of a reverent melodic passage that spoke volumes to the musical peak they found themselves on. Mike and Trey trade licks and leads throughout, and seemingly every trill Trey offers, Mike responds back with a perfectly placed meatball-riff that envelops and fits the immediate moment of the jam brilliantly. For all the hyperbole that’s been invoked to describe the recent Fall Tour, perhaps the most incredible thing about it is the fact that its best jams are unquestionably the simplest ones. A direct effect of the peak the band discovered via the Tahoe Tweezer, deliberateness, faith in simple, melodic music, and a trust in the communicative direction of each member, all helped to shape the band’s October peak. Each of these qualities is heard in their purest form throughout this Rock & Roll. If we only knew then what we know now…

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08/04

Energy> Runaway Jim

As a rule: In 3.0, you never miss a Sunday show[3]. On the final Sunday of the Summer Tour, Phish crafted a complete show that is as much a self-referential statement as it is an evolutionary step forward. Capped off by a 30-minute segment of music that ushered in its second set, the Energy> Runaway Jim is Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour in its essential form. Fusing a 2013 debut – which emerged as The Song Of Summer – with one of their oldest classics, the band simultaneously reflected on a tour that had set the foundation for future musical successes – while also forcing the band to overcome numerous external struggles[4] – and looked ahead to the (at the time) unknown heights of Fall. Building outwards from the structure of Energy via a rising theme, the entire jam changed on a dime at 6:39 when Trey imposed his wha into the mix. What followed was a rhythmically induced wall of sound that flowed into a piece of seedy urbaneness defined by Page’s Lydian riff from 9:49 – 10:11. Trey would systematically – and brilliantly – mimic, and then distort this riff to the jam’s fading conclusion.

In Runaway Jim, Trey did his best Hendrix impression since 09/01/12’s Prince Caspian, as the band proved the limitless potential for Jim – whenever the band is keen on letting it off its leash, that is. Rooted in sinister, bluesy psychedelia, this jam felt like a peek back into Fall ’97, when Trey would regularly indulge in his rock star fantasies. Yet in the context of 2013 the jam takes on a much more interesting – and necessary – accord, considering just how far Trey has come as a guitarist since 2008, and how he commanded many of the best jams throughout the Fall Tour. Rather than imposing his will because of a lack of support from his bandmates – or, in effort to simply kill time – it’s clear Trey needed to prove to himself, to the band, and, to his fans, that he was capable of shredding in an improvisational setting again like in the days of old. In a tour in which so many of the band’s classics were given new life, it was quite fitting the tour would conclude with yet another pushing the band to such heights.

08/05

Harry Hood

There’s that moment in every single jam where everyone – band and audience alike – collectively realizes we’re suddenly in wide open, untapped, and unknown terrain. It may come via a reliable Set II opening vehicle[5], or in a totally unexpected song/slot in the show[6]. Wherever and whenever it comes, the moment is ultimately defined by an immediate percolating of the senses, and a rush of euphoria, as the stakes of a show suddenly take upon unknown – in many ways, indefinable – potential. This moment is, for many, the entire reason why we see Phish. When that moment happens to come in a song steeped in as much historical lore as Harry Hood is, however, it raises a show to an entirely different level of excitement, sentiment, and lasting resonance.

While it’s clear here that Trey’s dedicating much of his energy to painting a backdrop of sound throughout the initial post-“Thank you, Mr. Hood…” section, we’re essentially still in typical Hood-ville until 9:37. From that point on, however, the jam enters completely unknown territory like it hadn’t since 07/31/03. A rock-based jam ensues, sounding in many ways like a leftover from the previous night’s Runaway Jim, before building into a full-on call-and-respond woo segment. Then, when it seems as though the band could momentarily snake back into Hood, they instead move into a more rhythmically-oriented realm, crafting a mosaic, where one member’s leads are effortlessly supplanted by another’s. Ambient-based jamming enters the fray, and suddenly the jam has become blissful. Abstract-cubism is the order, and, for a while, between 15ish and 17ish minutes, it feels as though we’re back in Dick’s 2012. Connecting on a dreamlike, plinko-esque jam that sounds like the denouement of a soon-to-be-unfinished jam, Trey plucks the Hood theme out of thin air, and the band rebuilds back to a subdued peak.

A creative palette of themes and varying musical passages, this jam harkened back to the band’s most prolific exploration within Hood from 07/26/03. A clear statement to the band’s M.O. moving forward in 2013, this Harry Hood opened the doors even further to what was possible in the coming Fall, here, coming on the last night of Summer Tour proper.

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08/31

Chalk Dust Torture

Just listen to the segment from 10:02 – 12:36 and try – seriously try – to resist boogieing your ass off wherever you may be. Of all the moments of musical connectivity the band found themselves in throughout the entire 2013 Summer Tour, perhaps none felt as effortless, as mechanical, as choreographed, or as pre-planned as the immediate peak jam segment out of the Set II Opening Chalk Dust Torture from 08/31. A year to the date after their revolutionary FUCK YOUR FACE show, a night after informing their fans that MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, Phish connected on an aggressive, set opening jam, that systematically pointed the way towards the Fall.

Listen to the aforementioned segment again. Within it you can hear the first hints of what will become Fuego. What’s more is how deftly the band is able to hook up through rhythmically induced passages of deliberate playing, the very kind that would come to define all the highs of the looming Fall Tour.

Perhaps we couldn’t fully understand it at the time. Perhaps we weren’t aware that the band really just wanted to use Dick’s 2013 as a weekend-long celebration. But it’s clear now that this Chalk Dust was an essential moment that separated summer from fall in the same way the Toronto Down With Disease separated the East Coast Run from the West. A supremely confident statement from a band at the height of their powers once again, this Chalk Dust proved that all the foundational setting of early Summer were more than worth the patience required. And, just like in 2012, it was Chalk Dust that left perhaps the most lasting legacy on another memorable weekend at Dick’s.


[1] Listening back, there are just so many raw moments that harken back to the halcyon days of 1993 – 1998 when the band and audience engaged in the kinds of extended, abstract, absurdist, and inside-joke experiments that were both only possible at a Phish show, and made this whole cultural experiment feel that much smaller, and that much more unified and connected, even as it simultaneously widened as the word of the circus spread throughout upper-middle-class, white America.

A Few Examples:

10:20 – 13:30 — when Trey and Mike are both clearly so desperate to extend what, at this point, is just a standard 3.0, Tweezer-themed-Tweezer-jam, that they push atmospheric melodies outwards, building towards Trey’s rhythmic in-and-out fades, which – once Page catches on – leads to the hard-rock segment that defines the 13:42 – 16:06 section of the entire jam.

22:29 – 26:18 — Trey latches onto a deliberate riff which builds towards a gorgeous hose segment that would have single-handedly made this one of the elite jams of the year had it ended right then and there. No woo’s. No 30-minute barrier broken. No matter. This section of Trey-led riffing is among his most impressive playing of the entire year – in fact it’s a direct predecessor of that gorgeous, Allmans-esque jam that concludes the 10/29 Down With Disease – and would have been the single reason why – had the jam ended immediately after, as so many have throughout 3.0 – the Tahoe Tweezer would have still, at that point, been the longest jam of 3.0.

26:18 – 26:23 — This is, for all intents and purposes, the moment when the Tahoe Tweezer becomes THE Tahoe Tweezer. It’s all thanks to Page McConnell. He’s been following Trey’s lead for the past four minutes, and sensing – correctly – that the current theme is about to wind down, inserts the celebratory melody which, once Trey latches on at 26:24, becomes THE Tahoe Tweezer.

27:29 — The first WOO!

27:53 – 28:19 — Trey plays a riff that’s so driven, so celebratory, so deliberate, yet so thoughtless at the same time, so rooted in his purest feelings and emotions – from so deep in his heart – you can literally feel the shit-eating-grin spilling out across his face through your headphones. You can hear him realize right then and there just how big a deal this jam is. It’s not just the fact that it’s a great Tweezer to open a set. It’s not just the fact that this is the new longest jam of 3.0. It’s not just the fact that the band has allowed all their fears of playing deep into the unknown wash away. It’s not just the fact that the band is proving both to themselves and all their fans that they’re so locked in once again that they can play with an unending, limitless abandon, and still produce totally focused, driven, and unquestionably listenable, compositionally-sound music. It’s the fact that all these things were happening at once AND they’d latched onto a melody so contagious, so infectious, so rooted in the essential nature that has made music a communal and spiritual force for the entirety of human existence, that they’d spurred a wholly original conversation with their fans in the process. It’s the fact that if the entire goal of Phish’s entire existence – spontaneous moments of shared energy and musical brilliance resulting from carefully crafted compositions allowed to run wild – were boiled down to one moment in time, this moment would be it. That they discovered this through the peak in a Tweezer jam is all the more fitting.

32:46 – 35:07 — The Victory Lap. As if they even needed to keep playing following the woo’s. This is all Rock Star Trey here. Based loosely off the jam from Dear Mr. Fantasy, the band built towards one more massive peak – complete with Woo’s, because, why the fuck not at this point (???) – before coyly snaking back into Tweezer.

35:48 – 35:50 — Woo’s within the Tweezer-riff comedown. Fuck. This section is a lot like that loose and sloppy Psycho Killer that emerged from AC/DC Bag on 12/07/1997 as the denouement commenced upon Fall 1997. It’s so unserious, so ridiculous, so clear that whatever the band’s intentions were as they stepped on the stage for that night’s second set, they weren’t prepared for this. As Wax Banks said, “bag>psycho killer to open, seriously? they’re just dorking around at that point…”

36:09 – 36:47 — The final note. The final Woo. The fade. The band holds out this last note, systematically dementing it and burying it in the ground. It’s as if they don’t want to let it go. And why would they? If they only knew at that moment what this would ultimately build to…

[2] Obviously a point of immense contention. Certainly a subject for another essay, and another time. However, if you allow yourself the perspective that Fall 1997 was the last period – until now – when the band was both – A. Fully Committed to the idea of Phish, so much so that they spent a majority of their time exploring within their music to push it forward along a specific set of goals, and B. Neither succumbing to the overwhelming pressures of fame and the bloated organization they’d created by turning to drugs which led to a 11-13 year period of uncertainty, collapse, rebirth, and rebuilding, nor immersed in the necessary process of rebuilding everything that was lost in said period – then the notion that the band hasn’t played a piece of music that’s equally inspired, influenced, reassured, and pushed them further than the Tahoe Tweezer clearly has since some time in 1997, is both plausible, and completely accurate. None of this is said to dismiss the music of 1998 – 2012, of course.

[3] 03/06/09, 06/07/09, 06/21/09, 11/01/09, 11/29/09, 06/27/10, 07/03/11, 09/04/11, 08/19/12, 09/02/12, 12/30/12, 07/14/13, 07/21/13, 08/04/13, 10/20/13, 10/27/13 are each both Sunday shows, and some of the best whole-shows the band has played since reuniting five years ago.

[4] It really can’t be emphasized enough how big an impact the rain that followed Phish throughout the Eastern half of the United States had on their playing, and presumably, their psyche. Out of the fourteen shows the band played from Bangor – Toronto, six were played up against torrential rainstorms, (07/07, 07/12, 07/14, 07/17, 07/19, 07/21) one had to be rescheduled completely, (Toronto) one had to be aborted some 13 minutes into the second set, (07/19) and another was nearly cancelled, only allowed to continue when the rains that poured relentlessly from the skies over Chicago, suddenly cleared (07/21). Throughout this stretch, you can hear the band’s increasing frustration in their inability to fully concentrate on their music in the face of such insolvent, yet unremarkable interferences. Be it Trey claiming the band was “practicing making safe music,” on 07/12, or Page and Trey’s clear frustration with being forced to evacuate the stage on 07/19 and 07/21, or the abrupt and constricted three-set show on 07/20, or Page’s endless gratitude towards their fans for their support on 07/22, one got the sense throughout those three weeks that many of the barriers between artist and fans were brought down as a result of extraneous issues.

[5] There’s that sensation that always accompanies a Set II opening Down With Disease, Tweezer, Crosseyed & Painless, or Rock & Roll (among others, but these in particular, especially in 3.0) where it feels like the band is giving us a knowing wink and a nod, as if to say, “here we go…”

[6] Think: 12/14/95 NICU, 07/10/99 Chalk Dust, 08/06/10 Cities, 07/01/12 Fee, or the 08/31/12 Undermind, for just a few examples.

Phearless – On The Third Week Of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour

942411_10151477068446290_461141722_nRemember way back on July 2nd when all those pictures popped up on Twitter of the rain that had consumed central Maine?

This wasn’t the way to kick of summer tour, we all thought at the time. Surely mother nature would realize the imminent onset of Phish’s 30th Anniversary 2013 Summer Tour and act accordingly, right?

Right?

Wrong.

In a fortuitous twist, the rain clouds that greeted everyone in Bangor, ME three weeks ago have yet to recede from Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour. From SPAC to the postponed show in Toronto, from Jones Beach’s torrential Set I downpour to 07/14’s Set II storm, from the rain that engulfed the Alpharetta pavilion to the mayhem in Chicago that resulted in 07/19’s cancellation, 07/20’s three-setter, and 07/21’s perfectly executed Set II, rain has defined the 2013 Summer Tour as much as the music itself.

For a band that has played its fair-share of weather-affected concerts – Coventry anyone? – Summer 2013 may take the cake as THE tour where the weather has affected Phish more than any other.

And yet, through all the rain, through all the on-again/off-again shows played, that Phish has continued to evolve this tour with the kind of energy, passion, and foresight as they have is more than anyone could ask for considering the circumstances.

The key? Phearless-ness and Energy. Like no tour since 1.0, here in the 2013 Summer Tour the band is attacking their shows with a sustained combination of focused precision and egoless exploration, resulting in fully-realized jams, flawless segues, and unyielding energy throughout each of their shows.

Below are another collection of thoughts and questions I’ve compiled about the last week of the tour.

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Energy (As THE Song Of, And The Keyword For, Phish 2013)

Certain songs appear in Phish’s rotation at just the right time.

Think “Maze” in 1992, “Down With Disease” in 1994, “Ghost” in 1997, “Seven Below” in 2003, and “Light” in 2009.

When the band debuted The Apples In Stereo 2007 song “Energy” to kick off 07/05’s second set it immediately felt like a Phish song and fit the initial mood of the tour. A bouncy melody combined with populist lyrics, it carried the tone and communicable message that has consumed so many of Trey Anastasio’s original songs for the last ten-odd years.

And then, with little effort or force, the song moved into Type II territory resulting in a moody, psychedelically-infused jam that bled seamlessly into “Light.” Eleven days later the band revisited the song midway through Alpharetta’s final set, expanding further on the jam that – in many of the same ways as “Light” has for the last four years – just builds outwards from the song at will.

When Trey walked on stage for the final set of the Chicago run wearing his “Phearless” shirt, (two t-shirt Sunday’s in a row!) following what must have been one of the most frustrating weekends the band has experienced in years, there was really only one song that the band could open with that would both fit the mood of the show while simultaneously altering the course of the tour going forward: “Energy.”

Resulting in one of the most patient, contemplative, and overall hooked-up moments of the tour thus far, the 07/21 “Energy” moved through various untapped musical terrains without any of the restraints that have, at times, held many 3.0 jams back. The performance was a statement on the musical peak the band is experiencing this summer, and on the overt role energy has played in Phish’s now-30-year career.

Think back to Trey’s rant in the hotel room in Europe in the middle of Bittersweet Motel. Angered that Brad Sands would slag off a show he clearly thought rocked, Trey spoke directly to the camera saying: “I couldn’t fucking care less if we missed a change, or a number of changes. Doesn’t have anything to do with how we’re playing. It’s all about energy.”

A concept that has always driven many of the band’s best shows, energy as an idea, and “Energy” the song are starting to define 2013 in a retrospective, yet forward-driven way, perfectly aligned as the band simultaneously celebrates their 30th year of existence. A song that speaks to the communal power of what Phish has created, while musically opening itself up to the untapped potential of the band’s improvisational journey’s, “Energy” is clearly THE song of Phish 2013.

One more thought on this, listening back to the “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards” segment one can literally hear the musical journey that Phish has embarked on over the past three decades in 35 uninterrupted minutes. From the sprawling, patient endlessness of “Energy” to the seedy minimalism of “Ghost,” which then evolves without effort into a bright, rhythmically-laced jam, before segueing seamlessly into “The Lizards,” the song that ushers us into Gamehendge, it’s a musical journey that takes us through the evolution of Phish both musically, emotionally, and thematically. It’s, no question, the jam segment of the summer so far.

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Alpharetta: Combining Gimmickry With Dick’s-esque Jamming

After everything that went on in Chicago this last weekend, it’s hard to remember that mid-last-week, Phish threw down two barnburner’s in the pristine suburban purgatory of Alpharetta, GA. Caught between their absolutely masterful two-night run at Merriweather Post, and the survival experience of Chicago that clearly had so much more to do with than just the music, Alpharetta’s at risk of being both overlooked and underrated.

While neither of the shows offer complete packages due to their underwhelming first sets, something clearly happened in Alpharetta that both altered the overall contour of this tour, and injected it with some fresh ideas that’s worth noting.

Whereas the run from 07/10 – 07/14 featured an exploratory-driven, top-of-their-game band that simply could do no wrong, the Alpharetta shows saw Phish truly tinker with their approach for the first time since SPAC. Eschewing the overtly old-school approach that saw the band reach their biggest peaks of the tour thus far in the aforementioned shows, Phish dedicated their two second set’s in Alpharetta to a combination of playful gimmickry, and Dick’s-esque jamming, resulting in a boost in energy and variety, while still consciously evolving their jams forward.

Summed up most perfectly in the 07/16 “Rock & Roll -> Heartbreaker -> Makisupa Policeman> Chalk Dust Torture> Wilson> Tweezer -> Silent In The Morning> Birds Of A Feather” segment that consumed the first hour of the set, the band blended Type-II jamming while threading the “Heartbreaker” theme throughout, resulting in a run of must-hear music. What makes this block of music ultimately so rewarding, so memorable, and so impacting is, whereas the band has attempted this type of set throughout 3.0 – 10/30/2010, 08/17/2011, 06/16/2012, and 07/07/2012 immediately come to mind – never before has it worked quite as well as it did in Alpharetta. By dedicating 35min of the segment to improvisational jams out of “Rock & Roll,” “Chalk Dust,” and “Tweezer” the band avoided the sloppy, and often awkward pitfalls that tend to plague sets such as this. Displaying an effortlessness in opening “Chalk Dust” up for the first time since 08/31/2012, while also experimenting with their Dick’s-esque melodic-driven jams in “Rock & Roll” and “Tweezer” gave the set far more depth than most gimmick-laced-tease sets of 3.0 have carried.

On the next night the band centered experimentation in two under-11min jams that proved once again how irrelevant song length is in 3.0. Rather than anchoring the set under one massive jam, “Energy” and “Piper” were featured as bookends to the return of “Fluffhead” in the middle part of the set, offering both abstract and thematic jamming which gave diversity to the set and their improv. A set – and an overall run – that carries far more weight than would be initially assumed by simply glancing at the setlist, Alpharetta combined energy, playfulness, and innovative jamming to play the role of celebratory cap to the east coast leg of the tour, while also helping to thematically push the band forward towards the west.

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What’s The Deal With All The Repeats?

For anyone following Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour, there’s one thing glaringly obvious about each setlist: repeats. I addressed this topic in my last essay, yet feel it needs revisiting due to the unending communal discussions surrounding it.

Fourteen shows into the tour, we already have two songs played in nearly half the shows – “Chalk Dust Torture,” and “Backwards Down The Number Line.” In addition to that, from run-to-run, and show-to-show, songs are being repeated night after night with a frequency that harkens back to the early-90’s; back when the band had a song catalogue half the size it is now.

As expected, many are openly complaining and lambasting the band for their apparent inability (or desire) to diverge from a strict rotation. Cause, no matter how well the band’s playing, you’ve gotta bitch about something, right?

Coming off a year that saw the band bust out song after song at literally every show – a tour in which they set out with the goal of playing 200 different songs – there is certainly something a bit jarring about the frequency with which the band is playing just their core classics here in 2013. Not to mention the fact that on paper, some of their shows tend to look a bit blasé at first glance.

Yet, when one removes themselves from the dreaded zone of personal expectations, when one allows themselves a shift in perception, it’s actually stunningly clear why the band would focus on such a small rotation.

So clear, it actually makes perfect fucking sense.

To me there are two reasons why the band is focusing on a tighter rotation in 2013:

1. Coming into 2012 it was apparent the band needed some sense of outward motivation to keep their relative high of August 2010 – September 2011 going strong. While they’d rediscovered their sea legs at the Greek Theatre in 2010, there’d been so many bouts with inconsistency strung throughout the 18months leading up to Worcester 2012 that it was clear the band still needed exercises to keep them fresh. (Think of this in the same way as the improvisational exercises the band relied on from Summer 1993 – Summer 1995, and parts of Fall 1996.) Throughout 2012 though, the band once again became completely comfortable and inherently confident with their ability to craft complete shows and innovative jams, that their need for bust-outs and rarities simply to spice up their shows became less and less necessary. (ala the peak music of December 1995 and Fall 1997 that was a result of said musical exercises, and thus just sounds like a band effortlessly playing, rather than attempting any specific style.)

While sure, thrilling as it may be to hear a song for the first time in 5-10 years, the bust out exercise is more telling of a band seeking inspiration in their past, rather than discovering it in their present and future.

Point being, something was clearly discovered at Dick’s that showed the band how truly powerful their music was right now, in the moment. They tapped into something in the “Carini,” “Undermind,” “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Light,” and “Sand” that they hadn’t experienced with that kind of consistency or ease in years. As a result, they grew beyond the need to center shows around a one-time rarity, hence the reason 2013 shows are now centered around jams, such as the 07/05 second set, 07/06 “SOAM,” “Carini,” 07/10 “Crosseyed,” 07/12 “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge,” 07/13 “Simple,” 07/14 “Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman,” 07/21 “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards,” and 07/22 “DWD,” rather than unique song choices.

2. 2013 marks the band’s 30th anniversary. A monumental achievement for a band that just nine years ago was essentially left for dead by its creators. Throughout 3.0 there’s been a clear focus on systematically rebuilding what made Phish Phish. From 2009 and early-2010’s foundation setting, late-2010 and 2011’s experimental excursions, and 2012’s fully-realized jamming, bust outs, and shift towards a new era in Phish history, the band has essentially rebuilt themselves using the tried-and-true method that saw them rise throughout the early/mid-90’s on way to their initial musical peak period of 1994 – 1998.

Yet, through it all, regardless of whatever process the band is engaged in, one thing has always remained, and will forever define them as musicians: their songs. Specifically, their classics.

In light of their anniversary, and their ability to now focus on a totally new musical era of Phish, it makes sense that in 2013 the band would want to highlight the songs that, more than anything else, got them to the veritable summit of the musical mountain first.

If you made a mix-tape of all the songs that just sound like Phish to you, chances are they’d all be receiving heavy airplay here in 2013. And that’s the point. 2013 is both a year of celebration and a year for the band to take another leap forward musically. And what better way to both celebrate the legacy they’ve built, and take their next evolutionary step forward musically than through the songs that got them here in the first place?

Far from a sign that the band is unpracticed, lacking creativity, or just disinterested, the tightened setlists are instead a clear message from the band of how much they respect and value the songs that will ultimately live on long after they do.

We all got into Phish, and continue listening to Phish for various reasons. Yet one thing will always be true: it was their songs that we heard first, and their songs that we will always return to. Instead of focusing on what they’re not playing in 2013, let’s instead focus on why they are playing what they are playing.

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What Do We Make Of 07/20/2013?

I’ll come right out with a disclamer: I wasn’t in Chicago. In many ways I realize I have no business writing about the experience as I wasn’t there to live through everything that came with the weekend. All’s I can base my perceptions from the ground on are the texts I received from my friends at the show, the tweets I followed throughout the weekend, and the reaction of the writers and thinkers in the community who were there.

That said, how could I possible write anything about the last week of tour without addressing something about the Chicago Run, specifically the three-setter on Saturday?

With a specific focus on the music created, here are my thoughts:

Following the first show that was cut short due to weather since – I believe – 07/01/2000, a wave of negativity permeated through the Phish scene. Thanks in large part to the inexperience of the Northerly Island staff and crew, along with the fact that across town Pearl Jam was able to resume their concert around midnight – ultimately playing until 2am – many felt the band had made a bushleague move in canceling the show.

The next day however the band informed their fans that, in response to 07/19’s cancellation, they’d be performing a three-set show, their first non-holiday/festival three-set show since 07/12/1996 in Amsterdam, and their first state-side one since Amy’s Farm back on 08/03/1991. In many ways it was the ultimate sign of communal understanding, and band-oriented sentiment about the regret felt over the debacle on Friday.

In addition to the good-vibes that now suddenly stretched far-and-wide throughout the Phish scene, many began making additional requests and predictions for the show in effort to make it somehow even more epic and even more important than it already stood to be.

The band’s response: An opening quartet that read “Prince Caspian -> Twist, Ha Ha Ha> Possum,” or: PT Hahaha Possum. The first dose of band-led criticism of their fans own backseat driving of the weekend, the message was either completely lost on the fanbase in its initial moments, or bitterly soaked up.

The remainder of the show was modeled in many ways like the Saturday Night Rockers that are littered throughout 3.0, featuring an energetic song-based approach, devoid almost entirely of deep improv. Avoiding rarities of any sort, many felt the band simply wasn’t up to the challenge of both making up for the previous night’s cancellation, and the headiness of a rare three-set show.

Once again, I wasn’t at the show. I’ve just listened to it a few times, and these are my thoughts.

I believe the weather impacted the weekend in Chicago in ways that the weather leading up to Coventry wasn’t even capable of. The mindset the band must put themselves in prior to performing has to be one of a meditative freeing of all outside expectations and challenges. To then be taken so completely out of it by real life weather warnings and safety precautions, must be jarring, unnerving, and frustrating in the highest sense. Add this to the fact that the band had been dealing with torrid weather all tour, and I’ve got to assume that by the time they were told they had to cancel the Friday show, they experienced combined exhaustion and negative energy.

In many ways, the 07/20/2013 show sounds like a band trying to fit a massive show into a confined space.

The middle show of a three-night run – typically a Saturday night – is always the most popular showing, featuring many fans who either don’t see Phish very often, or may just be checking them out out of curiosity. A result of all these outside forces the band had to juggle, I feel like the band was trying to appease everyone involved by consciously playing a lot of their biggest “hits,” while also maintaining energy and flow, all the while dipping a bit into experimentation.

To that point, the show lacks nothing for energy and flow. Particularly in the final two stanza’s, the band weaves thematic sets that never relinquish energy, nor musical connectivity. The second set especially is one I will revisit throughout the year for it boasts some of the smoothest segues, and emotive music the band has played thus far this tour.

What the show does lack however is a clear attempt by the band to truly reward all invested in the event with a moment of sheer unique Phishy-ness, (i.e. bust out/gag) nor a period of freely-improvisational-exploration.

Would the two above qualities have made the show an all-timer?

I have no idea.

Should the show be lambasted based upon its inherent inability to satisfy so many people’s unattainable expectations?

You’d have to ask someone who was there experiencing it all.

To me, the show sounds like a band willing themselves out of an un-winnable situation. Essentially residing with one-foot in a creative world, while another is trying to both live up to the shared expectations of everyone involved, and deal with the logistical barriers that were venue/weather-related, and had to have been wearing them down.

In the end, that they were capable of such musical ambience in Set II, and in the third set’s “Light -> Harry Hood” should in many ways say all that needs to be said about just how trying the experience was, yet how much this band clearly cares about their fans and their music.

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The Brilliance Of The “Harpua” Gag & The Role Of Conflict In Phish’s Music

James Kaminsky over at the One Phish Two Phish blog already addressed the “Harpua” Gag in a really excellent piece earlier this week, so I’ll spare you a massive recap. Seriously, you should just check out his essay, for it breaks down perfectly the band’s message through the elongated gag.

What I’ll say is this: Since their choice of opening up with “Garden Party” to close out their best year of 3.0 and 12/31/2012 – and most successful year overall in over ten years, no less – the band has been sending out a clear message to their fans that, ‘while we respect your passion and enthusiasm for the band, don’t forget why you’re here in the first place.’

Essentially: Quit telling us how we should play our music for you.

This is both the right message for the band to deliver, and one their fanbase should heed at all costs.

As fans of a band as diverse, and willfully experimental as Phish – a band that has reached far more musical peaks than most bands could ever conceive of – it’s understandable we each have our own stylistic aspects and songs from the band we want to hear over others. For me, the peak of Phish will always be the unyielding experimental jams of 1995, 1997, and 1999. Being at Dick’s last year was an absolutely peak moment in my life because I felt as though the band was playing right to me. After witnessing numerous 3.0 shows that featured an array of aborted jams and uneven setlists, to see the band play with the kind of freedom they did last Labor Day was the best experience I’ve ever had with Phish on a personal level.

While this kind of passion towards one aspect of Phish is important because of the eventual reward it offers fans who travel to numerous shows, it becomes problematic within the scene when fans force their expectations and individual desires on the band. As a writer of Phish, I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

Yet, as I sat there watching the band seemingly fall on their faces through an awkward gag with the Second City Comedy Troupe, (I specifically say ‘seemingly’ because in hindsight it became blatantly obvious that the band did not in fact fall on their faces, rather nailed their gag…) I realized all over again why I see and listen to Phish in the first place. It’s not because of my expectations, or my wishes, it’s because of the communal force, and metaphysical connections in play when those four guys walk on stage without any idea where there show might take them. Watching them weave through a horrible rap about how “Harpua” should really be told, into the first Mike’s-narrated “Harpua” since 10/31/1995, and all the jokes and snide remarks that emitted from the stage throughout, I was transformed back to the halcyon days when I was 16, hearing Phish for the first time, and felt as though I’d unearthed a world I never knew existed, yet so desperately wanted to be a part of.

That this came in the midst of the bands best tour in fifteen years, and in the most perfectly placed “Harpua” since 07/29/2003 only made the message that much more relevant.

In addition to “Harpua’s” brilliance as a message to their fans, the song also shed a larger light on the role of conflict in the band’s music.

For a band that espouses such philosophies as “surrender to the flow,” one would think at face value that conflict has little place in Phish’s history. Yet, the truth is, much of the best music the band has ever made came directly out of conflict.

In 1994 and 1995, the band was searching for way to expand their songs in effort to find passageways to linear musical communication, resulting in the abstract musical storm of Summer 1995, and the effortless tidal wave of connectivity in December 1995.

In 1996, minimalism was a musical obstacle to overcome which resulted in the shedding of their skin in 1997.

On a more personal level, the internal conflicts, addictions, and uncertainties that littered the band’s immediate community in 2.0 directly correlated to the stew of dark and seedy jams that defined that era.

Here in 3.0, conflict has been missing in many ways from the Phish scene, due in large part to the positivity and health of each of the band members. Where they have found conflict though, has been in their own evolutionary steps forward, addressing moments of stagnation and writer’s block with the aforementioned exercises such as “The Storage Jam,” and the bust-outs of 2012.

In a lot of ways, the weather that has followed the band throughout the East Coast Leg of the Summer 2013 Tour has provided the band their first dose of external conflict in years. Resulting in the postponement of 07/09’s Toronto show, the cancellation of 07/19’s show, and an aborted “Run Like An Antelope” to close out Set I of 07/21, when the band finally emerged on stage for that night’s second set, they had literally weathered the storm, responding with their most relaxed and freeing set of the year. From the brilliant musical explorations of “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards,” to the shared comedic energy of the “Harpua” gag, to the rage of the completed “Antelope,” the conflicts that had been brewing within and around the Phish community finally gave way to a set for the ages.

“Look, the storm’s finally gone! Thank God!” The line has never felt so appropriate on so many levels than it did when Trey exclaimed it in the latter stages of 07/21/2013.

Proving that the “right way” for Phish to both play and evolve is always centered upon their way, 07/21’s second set displayed a band at their peak: jamming with ease and conviction, while goofing on their fans like they have been throughout their entire career.

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The Toronto “Down With Disease”: The Phearless Moment Of Tour & The Great Transition West

Coming on the heels of Chicago’s weather-impacted weekend was the make-up show in Toronto that was originally scheduled for July 9th. A Monday make-up-show following a massively hyped weekend in The Second City? Toronto had sleeper show written all over it.

And while the show didn’t really live up to its sleeper potential, it did result in yet another monumental exploratory step forward for the tour, this time in “Down With Disease.”

Akin to the 07/13 “Down With Disease” and 07/10 “Crosseyed & Painless” in many ways, the Toronto jam explored a litany of musical terrains all while remaining somewhat connected to the “DWD” theme. Building towards a plain of melodic blissfulness, Trey emphasized chordal jamming, locking in with Page for a five-minute segment of music that’s among the most connected of the summer in a tour growing thick with them. Progressing from 10:22 onwards, and ultimately resolving itself in a glorified peak around 15ish minutes, the jam is in many ways the polar opposite to Chicago’s spacious exploration in “Energy.” Displaying an elevated sense of musical diversity in back-to-back jams, the Toronto “DWD” expresses the phearless vibe currently permeating through Phish, and provides a notable transition point as the band moves westward.

After reaching an initial peak in the tour from 07/10 – 07/14, then fusing energy and gimmickry into their Alpharetta and Chicago shows, (all the while dealing with the external impact of weather) the Chicago “Energy,” and the Toronto “Down With Disease” appear to represent a conscious shift back towards exploration, something which has suited the band well out west in 3.0.

Entering the west coast leg of their tour like no tour since Summer 1997, (in a structural sense) the band will now emerge at The Gorge with three weeks of consistent shows under their belt, rather than following a five-week break which has been the norm in this era. Building upon an established foundation, rather than having to start anew, one has to assume, that for all the incredible music crafted over the past three weeks, the best of the tour is still to come. Just listen to the effortless jamming, and intrinsic connection on display in the 07/21 “Energy -> Ghost,” and the 07/22 “Down With Disease,” and imagine how much more relaxed, how much more free, how much more phearless the band is going to sound once they hit the open soundscapes of The Gorge and Tahoe, and the urbane hotspots of BGCA and the Hollywood Bowl!

All of this without mentioning the brilliant “David Bowie” that closed out the Toronto show! It sure is a good time to be a Phish fan!

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Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

Like I said last week, I’ll be updating this list as the tour evolves. Take these with a grain of salt, for their just one man’s thoughts. As we move deeper into the tour, I’ll only be highlighting the shows that have really captivated me as whole-show entities as opposed to listing the entire tour. Rather than ranking the shows, they’ll now just be listed in chronological order, ala the jams.

Favorite Shows

– SPAC 1 – At the time I wondered (wrongly) if we’d even be talking about 07/05’s Set II two weeks from now. Even after three weeks of monumental second sets, there’s still something about the fully-flowing nature of 07/05’s second frame that has me constantly revisiting it. From the debut of “Energy,” to “Light’s” effortless segue into “Mango,” to the late-nite swank of “46 Days,” and the raw power of “Steam,” to the set concluding mastery of “Drowned” and “Slave,” the set is one we’ll be talking about all year long. Throw in the “MFMF> Cities -> Bowie” cap to Set I, and you’ve got a top show of the year.

– SPAC 3 – Perhaps the quintessential Phish show of 2013. 07/07 combines energy, an old-school setlist, and thematic jamming all packed tightly into a show that is far better than the sum of any of its parts. One of those shows you just toss on and leave it playing, knowing you’re gonna be happy the whole time it’s on. 07/07 is one of those special shows that immediately provides a tour with its barometer for greatness.

– PNC – Upstaged by MPP 1 & 2 as my favorite show of the summer, PNC is still an all-around classic that reflects the musical high the band found themselves on in the second week of tour. Featuring an old school first set, a jam of the year contender in “Crosseyed & Painless,” along with top-notch versions of “Hood,” “Light,” and “Slave,” PNC was one of the strongest shows of the tour while it was happening, and will surely continue to be regarded as such for the remainder of the year.

– Jones Beach – Caught between the PNC and MPP firestorm of tour’s second week, and featuring an elongated – and, frankly, weather inappropriate – first set, 07/12 has become something of an underrated gem in 2013. Yet with the lone “Reba” of the year, another masterful “Bowie,” great mini-jams in “CTB,” “Ocelot,” “ASIHTOS,” and “46 Days,” not to mention the relentless, and fluid 50min “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge” that opened Set II, it’s still one of the best offerings of the year.

– MPP 1 – A prelude to the following night’s mastery, 07/13 features one of the most engaging setlists of the year, while boasting top notch versions of “Maze,” “SOAM,” “Hood,” and the best “Mike’s Groove” in over a decade. For me, it’s all about Trey’s rhythmic playing in “Hood” and “Simple” that puts this night over the top. Talk about blissful innovation at its best. What a high they were on during this run of the East Coast Leg!

– MPP 2 – IMO, the best show of the tour thus far. A tightly wound peak experience featuring two fully formed sets without a single misplaced moment. Energy, innovative jams, perfectly placed classics, this show has it all. The seminal show thus far of the musical style and aesthetic structure Phish has been pushing all summer long. Highlight’s abound, but definitely check out “Stash,” “SOAMule,” “It’s Ice,” “Light -> Boogie On,” and “You Enjoy Myself” to hear the band at the peak of their powers here in 2013.

– Chicago 2 – The much maligned three-setter from Chicago, this show resonates with me based on many of the aspects I wrote about above. While perhaps an underwhelming show barring the circumstances and expectations throughout the community, the second set flows with precision and ease, and the “Light -> Hood” in Set III is up there as one of the better musical pairings of the summer. A show that I believe will outlast all the initial criticism it’s received, it’s one of those special shows that has more to do with the energy surrounding it rather than just the music played within it.

– Chicago 3 – Many are calling this the show of summer. Wherever I’d rank this show, it’s definitely one of the best offerings from the band thus far in 2013. Following a high-energy and well-played Set I that featured a show opening “Dinner And A Movie,” a torrid “Bag -> Maze,” an energized “Gin,” and a silly “Boogie On” that preceded a monumental rain storm, the band emerged for Set II and played the set of the year thus far. Reading: “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards, Harpua> Run Like An Antelope,” it’s the kind of set words simply won’t do justice for. If you haven’t heard it, get on it. If you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

– Toronto – While not the sleeper show everyone was expecting, Toronto was still an above-average and fun show, packed tight with great song selections, a three-song encore, and a jam out of “Down With Disease” that sets up a perfect transition to the Western leg of the tour. Check out “Undermind,” “Twist,” “Stash,” and “Ocelot” in Set I, and don’t miss the “DWD” or “Bowie” in Set II. A killer show for fans who’ve been waiting 13 years to see Phish again, Toronto caps of three weeks of tour in about as great a way as anyone could hope.

Favorite Jams 

– 07/05/2013: “46 Days -> Steam> Drowned -> Slave” – My favorite moment of SPAC 1 when it happened, and still my favorite today. How they figured a way from the seedy barroom stomp of “46 Days” to the ethereal bliss of “Slave” is beyond me. Perfectly fluid, leaving no music on the table, it’s a segment that proves the band has been on from the moment they hit the road.

– 07/06/2013: “Split Open & Melt” – Without coming off as too much a hypocrite, I sure would love to hear the band mess around with this kind demented melodic jamming more in the first set. Heard here and in the 07/14 “Stash,” there’s something about when the band opens themselves up with such freedom and pure musical communication – particularly in Set I –  that’s unrivaled in my mind. One of the most special moments of the first weekend of tour.

– 07/06/2013: “Carini -> Architect” – One of my absolutely favorite moments of summer thus far, I’m still in awe over how the band fit SO much music into 12 minutes. A beautiful, fluid, relentless jam, this one carried the torch from Dick’s and MSG and planted it firmly in 2013. Cannot wait to hear how the band approaches “Carini” when they take it out for a spin out west.

– 07/10/2013: “Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood” – The peak jam of the second week of tour, this one stylistically impacted the tour in ways few others were capable of. Hinting at the 02/16/2003 “Piper” theme, the jam built to an absolutely stunning peak made only the more special by Trey’s rhythmic interplay. Heard in the 07/13 “Hood” and “Simple,” the 07/21 “Ghost” and 07/22 “DWD,” the 07/10 “C&P>Hood” is one of those peak moments that happen throughout every tour and affect literally all the music around them.

– 07/12/2013: “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge” – Like a jam segment right out of Summer 1998, this seguefest that opened JB’s second set is a must hear for any fan of open-ended improv and groove. Spring-boarding from “Rock & Roll” by way of a take on the 08/08/2009 theme of the same song, the jam weaved through melodic plains before building into “2001.” In “Tweezer” the band locks into a relentless groove that just bleeds into “Cities,” before it segues flawlessly into “The Wedge.” Battling the elements out on the Long Island Sound, the band unquestionably struck musical gold with this jam on this night.

– 07/13/2013: “Mike’s Song> Simple> Weekapaug Groove” – While I was probably wrong to predict that this “Mike’s” would in fact lead the band into their first Type-II “Mike’s” since February 2003, (expectations and predictions are a bitch) there’s no denying the ferocity and tenacity of this version that still holds up some two weeks later. For me though, this jam segment is all about “Simple.” A gorgeous version that sees Trey focusing on rhythmic interplay, teasing at the “DWD” theme throughout the jam, it’s stunningly beautiful, and absolutely perfect. It will be great to hear how the band approaches “Simple” whenever they revisit it next.

– 07/14/2013: “Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman” – A clinic in Phish crack, the MPP “Light” is as enthralling as it is experimental as it is utterly rewarding. Featuring start/stop groove, noise-based themes, and a fluid segue into “Boogie On,” it’s just one more version in a seemingly endless list of top tier “Light’s.”

– 07/16/2013: “Rock & Roll -> Heartbreaker -> Makisupa Policeman> Chalk Dust Torture> Wilson> Tweezer -> Silent In The Morning> Birds Of A Feather” – One of the most locked-in moments of summer thus far, this 55min segment of music from Alpharetta 1 combines energized and fluid segues, Dick’s-esque jamming, choice song selection, and thematically repeated teasing’s of Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker,” all resulting in a massive tour highlight from the band’s lone southern stop. Particularly in the “Rock & Roll,” “Chalk Dust,” and “Tweezer,” the jams proves how irrelevant song length is in 3.0. Like the 07/06 “Carini,” it’s mind-blowing how the band is capable of covering such musical terrain in such a short amount of time.

– 07/21/2013: “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards” – Perhaps the most important segment of music played all year, this trio both spiritually freed the band from the burdens of the weather-related and logistical forces plaguing their Chicago run, while also helping to point the way forward for the tour. Tracking the musical lineage of Phish’s history, this segment’s one of the most innovative and forward thinking of 2013. On par with the best jams in the band’s history, we’re gonna be talking about this trio for a LONG time to come.

– 07/22/2013: “Down With Disease -> 2001” – And this is how you point the way westward. Building off of Chicago’s brilliant second set, the band played the “DWD” of the year thus far, residing wholly in a zone of sublime melodic blissfulness before choicely guiding it towards the ominous grooves of “2001.” A patient and effortless jam, this bodes great things for the tour moving forward. As a band, Phish has typically played their most refined, relaxed, and exploratory music on the West Coast throughout 3.0. Based upon the sustained peak of 07/10 – 07/14, and the explorations in Chicago and Toronto, one can only imagine this trend will continue this weekend.

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Thus concludes tackle & lines 3rd week tour recap. Gonna be traveling to Japan next week, so will probably do a big West Coast wrap-up following the Hollywood Bowl show. Feel free to leave any comments or thoughts to the post. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of us as Phish heads out west!

Assorted Thoughts & Questions On The Second Week Of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour

1045244_10151456729241290_627350807_nThe second week of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour is in the books, and it’s pretty clear to anyone listening that we’ve got a veritable classic on our hands here.

Torrential weather be damned. Postponed shows no bother. No matter what tries to impede Phish’s path right now, it appears the band simply can’t be halted.

In their 30th year, the band has clearly turned a corner and are showing no signs of slowing down. What was realized in the intimate Greek Theater way back in August 2010, capitalized upon that Fall, busted wide open with the SuperBall IX “Storage Jam” and subsequent experimentally-driven August run, toyed around with throughout a non-stop June 2012 tour, and finally realized in Commerce City, CO, has become the show-in-show-out reality of Phish here in 2013.

The band is just on. No two ways about it.

It’s a damned good time to be a Phish fan right now, both for everyone at the shows, and all of us listening with fervent ears back home. The band is littering shows with segues, jams, tight-knit playing, old school setlists, energy, and increasing humor that can only bode even greater things as the tour moves along.

All this music has gotten me thinking. Below are an assortment of random thoughts and questions I have from the last week of tour.

Hope everyone’s been enjoying this tour as much as I have!

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Is “Mike’s Song” About To Blow Up?

The long-forgotten classic, you’d have to go back to Summer 2000 for the last time the band truly approached “Mike’s Song” with the kind of aggression they are right now. While it’s always been a fan and band favorite, few could deny the overall power that’s been missing from “Mike’s” through the last two eras of the band’s history.

Out of nowhere, on the first night of tour, Phish treated us to a “Mike’s” that carried an extra bit of something – particularly from Trey – and for a minute felt as though it were going to explode into an unrelenting jam. Then, on Saturday night at Merriweather Post, the band again approached the song with a kind of desperation and aggression, once again expanding the limits we thought had been established as law going forward. That it bled into a gorgeously thematic and rhythmic take on “Simple” (more on this later) and a “Weekapaug” that felt slightly elevated, only helped to secure this as, hands down, the best “Mike’s Groove” since 2000.

So the question bears asking: Is Phish ready to blow “Mike’s Song” up again? Are they ready to approach the song with the same kind of fire, energy, and exploratory zealotry that made it one of the MUST-SEE songs throughout the entirety of Phish’s first 17 years?

Historically, one only has to look at the band’s patterns when they’re trying to will a specific song into the unknown. Two recent examples: the 08/16/2009 “Backwards Down The Number Line” and the 08/31/2012 “Chalk Dust Torture” each display that when the band is consciously trying to expand a specific song into a monumental jam, they typically build the song up through a series of versions that gradually push it further into the unknown. For “Number Line,” the 07/31/2009, 08/08/2009 and 08/11/2009 versions paved the way for the 20-minute monster that opened SPAC’s tour closing affair in 2009. For Chalk Dust, the 08/25/2012 and 08/28/2012 jams clearly helped to free the band up for the ethereal Dick’s version.

Beyond these two historical examples, it’s clear the band is focusing more time and attention on their classics throughout this tour. (More on this later) With the recent performances we’ve heard from “Bowie,” “Antelope,” “Hood,” “Reba,” “Stash,” “SOAM,” and “Slave” one wouldn’t be too surprised if one of these upcoming shows featured a “Mike’s” that fused the past and present of Phish in one monumental jam.

Can you even imagine how the crowd would react to a jam off “Mike’s” at this point?

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About The Celebratory Rhythmic Jamming…

If one clear-cut musical pattern is emerging from Phish’s Summer 2013 Tour it’s that the band is spending a large percentage of improvisational time focused on overtly melodic jams that have – in their best moments – resulted in segments of celebratory rhythmic hook-up’s that achieve transcendence on a number of levels. Heard most notably in the 07/10 “Crosseyed & Painless” and 07/13 “Harry Hood” – though elements of it are certainly abound in the 07/06 “SOAM” and “Carini,” the 07/12 “Rock & Roll” and 07/13 “Simple” – it appears the band is reflecting their ecstasy over this Summer Tour directly in their music.

Much like how jams in 2003 and 2004 descended into a dark and twisted underworld without reprieve, many jams in 2013 are the diametric opposite, rising to the heavens in rejoice over the current state of the band.

What’s perhaps most unique about this trend – at least to these ears – is that it’s taken Phish under eight shows to reign in on, and commit to this style. While there have certainly been a plethora of incredible jams that have littered 3.0, each of the past four years have been more notable for the fact that the band has restlessly jumped from style-to-style throughout tours, very rarely committing to one singular style to build through. Granted, August 2011 featured a number of “Storage”-based jams, and Dick’s 2012 highlighted the band’s ability and desire to weave a number of different ideas and themes under one singular piece of improve, those are more exceptions than the rules in the past four years.

Here in 2013, with the band at the top of their game, and an entire tour in front of them to explore the unknown, the band is fully communicating the peak experience their having as a band through their improv. Like how 1995’s abstract excursions spoke directly to the band’s fascination with how far their music could go, 1997 displayed a band in completely seamless communication, 1999-2000 showed how effortless and in many ways, uninspiring Phish had become for its members, and 2003 was the sound of a band dying in front of our very eyes, 2013 jams are full of celebration and revival.

It’s been a long time coming for Phish to return to the place of consistent playing – both within their songs, and outside of them – and to hear them attack their improv with the kind of celebratory zest they are this summer can only make fans feel great about the state of Phish as we continue moving forward.

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The 2013 Setlist Model

A simple perusing of PT or Twitter will display an even-handed amount of opinions on the structural approach the band is pushing forward with their setlist’s in 2013. A complete diversion from the recital sets that dotted much of 2009 – 2011, and a stark change from the rarities and bustouts that colored 2012, 2013 setlists have – thus far – been noticeably trimmed down and sharpened up. Emphasizing a stricter rotation throughout the tour thus far, repeats have been abound, while at the same time, few sets (first sets in particular) haven’t been subjected to the knee-jerk flow and unending feel that marked so many throughout 3.0.

So the question bears asking: is this new setlist model a positive for Phish, a negative, or just a part of the continual evolution of the band?

I see the effects of this evolution in two ways. First of all, to me, the recital approach – while certainly great when it worked; see: 11/29/2009, 12/04/2009, 06/13/2010, 07/03/2010, 08/14/2010, 10/26/2010, 10/30/2010, 06/11/2011, 08/16/2011, 06/15/2012, 06/28/2012, 07/03/2012, 07/06/2012 – had become somewhat stale and outdated by the time 2011 rolled around, when it was clear many of the growing pains of 2009 and early 2010 were behind them. In that sense, I both welcome the consistently trimmed down setlists – they’re tighter and flow better overall – and welcome the sequential emphasis of a stricter rotation.

The second effect of the band’s current approach to crafting setlists is an overt emphasis of their classic songs and jam vehicles. Whereas in 2009 through, even parts of 2012, the band was making a conscious effort to showcase their entire catalogue, here in 2013, there’ve been a number of shows that have specifically featured songs written before 1995. A result of this has been a newfound electricity and energy within their classics. One needs to look no further than the 07/03 and 07/13 “Mike’s,” 07/03 “Antelope,” 07/03, 07/10, and 07/13 “Hood,” 07/05 “Bowie,” 07/05 “Slave,” 07/06 “SOAM,” 07/07 and 07/14 “You Enjoy Myself,” 07/12 “Reba,” 07/12 “Tweezer,” 07/13 “Simple,” 07/13 “Weekapaug Groove,” 07/14 “Stash,” and the 07/14 “It’s Ice,” to see the effect this approach is having on some of Phish’s historically great compositions.

I argued yesterday on PT that while this last weekend’s Merriweather Post highlights were “Destiny Unbound,” “Maze,” “Hood,” “Mike’s Groove,” “Stash,” “Mule,” “Ice,” “Light -> Boogie On,” and “You Enjoy Myself” would have represented a horrendous pair of shows from 2003 – 2012, here, in 2013, suddenly these shows reside in the upper echelon of the tour thus far. This is a sign of a band fully focused on reinventing, and reigniting their classics like they haven’t consistently in years. And this is without mentioning the excellent “Gins,” “Wolfmans,” and “Themes” we’ve heard, nor the one-off performances of song’s like “BOTT,” “Ya Mar,” or “CTB” that have popped with fresh energy and playing.

It’s an amazing reversal on the trend that had dominated much of the last ten years of the band’s existence. For too long their time-honored classics felt forgotten, appearing in shows only because they had to. That the band is rediscovering how to approach so many of these songs, particularly within the structure of more refined setlists, can only bode great things moving forward.

While yes, there’s no doubt something missing from Phish shows due to the lack of surprise that was so associated with the random bustouts and rarities that littered much of 2010 – 2012, but in all reality, I’d personally rather hear Phish crush their classics like they have been over the past two weeks than compile sets that lack flow and energy just to get a one-off glimpse of a long-forgotten song. I definitely argued before the tour that we’d hear more bustouts this year, and so far I’ve been wrong on that prediction. So long as the band keeps playing the way they are, count me as one totally cool with the current approach to setlists, and consequential lack of bustouts in 2013.

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The Impact Of Trey’s Rhythmic Playing

From the first Type-II jam of tour (07/03’s “Golden Age”) one this was immediately different about Phish’s jamming approach in 2013: Trey’s emphasis of his wah-wah pedal like no time since the late-90’s. A stylistic move that’s allowed Mike and Page more space to continue their individual dominance in 3.0, this move has led to some of the most unique and colorful moments of the 2013 tour thus far.

From the 07/06 “Tube,” and 07/12 “Tweezer -> Cities,” to the 07/14 “Stash,” “It’s Ice,” and “Light -> Boogie On,” the wah has been at the center of some of the most unexpected funk clinics that have dotted 2013.

Moreover though is the full impact of Trey’s rhythmic approach. Even when he’s eschewed the wah, he’s still approached jams with a rhythm-centric mindset that’s led to the aforementioned melodic and celebratory jams that have stood out as the best of the year.

Like how 1997 – 2000 benefitted greatly by Trey’s deliberately minimalistic approach, so too is 2013. Playing within the pockets created by Mike and Fish, allowing Page to shine like he has since Hampton ’09, while giving Mike the proper space to lead jams, Trey’s coloring the jams with chords and rhythmic patterns that are leading to full-band-connectivity and linear musical communication with consistency and ease. For examples, look no further than the 07/10 “Crosseyed & Painless,” 07/12 “Rock & Roll -> 2001>Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge,” 07/13 “Harry Hood” and “Simple,” or the 07/14 “Light -> Boogie On,” and “You Enjoy Myself.”

Fusing their past with their current state, Phish is benefitting greatly from 30 years worth of musical experience as they diverge deeper into the unwinding conversation they’ve been sharing together on stage.

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Is This The Best Summer Tour Since 1.0?

Jumping the gun a bit here? Perhaps.

Remember how good 2012 was, kid? Yes, yes I do.

Didn’t you just write a 3000-wd piece praising 2003? Yes, that’s me.

Look, I hate the redundancy of certain Phish writers who review and comment on shows/jams/tours as if THIS is THE BEST ___________ since ____________, only to emerge a week or two later saying the exact same thing.

But we’ve reached a point with this tour, now two weeks in, where the question certainly bears asking.

Is this the best summer tour since 1.0?

My arguments in favor are as follows, in four points:

1. The band is jamming with a consistency and brilliancy the likes of which we simply haven’t seen since 1998.

Yes, I fully realize the absurdity of this statement when one considers how heavy the band jammed from 1999 – 2004, but hear me out.

While so many jams went deep throughout that period, there are unfortunately a litany of jams that simply jammed for the sake of filling space and jamming, rather than pushing forward with consistent purpose. Moments of brilliance and transcendence were often times separated by lengthy wanderings of a band that oftentimes appeared lost, or worst, careless. And yet, for however deep and methodically demonic those jams were – and this is coming from a proud-1999 -2003 fluffer – those jams didn’t really speak to the historical and emotional legacy that is Phish. So moody and ominous so many of them were, they represented a dying band’s last gasp at relevance and sustainability. That they went so deep spoke more to the individual member’s emotional struggles than any true evolutionary step forward. As I said throughout my essay on Summer 2003, (and this point is certainly transferrable to 1999 and 2000, and especially 2004) it’s clear in hindsight that that jamming approach was simply unsustainable. No one can be that lost and hope to persist in any sort of productive and healthy manner. For however monumental, or artistically innovative many of the jams were, they belong to their own era of Phish that’s in many ways separate from the band’s overall historical legacy.

Here in 2013 we’re hearing a band who has climbed the mountain once again, and is jamming with not only conscientious purpose, but also celebratory revival.

2. Phish’s greatest songs are being showcased like they haven’t since the mid-1990’s.

I’ve made this point ad nauseam throughout this piece, so I won’t go too deep into it here. But, the point remains, in 3.0, up until this tour, “Bowie,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Hood,” “Slave,” “Mike’s,” “Antelope,” “SOAM,” and “Stash,” all felt like dinosaurs in Phish’s catalogue.

Sure, they made their required every two-to-three show appearance.

Sure, they got their resounding cheers from the crowd.

But rarely did they feel like an opportunity for the band.

Instead, they always felt played because, well, they had to be played. Even in 2012 – by-and-away the best year the band has played in full since at least 2000 – these songs always felt like a shell of their former selves, no matter the fact that the band was beginning to focus additional attention on them. Now however, the band is approaching their time-honored classics like this were 1993 or 1995, and they have to explore them for all they’re worth.

3. This is the strongest opening to a tour the band has played since Summer 1998.

Go back through each of the summer tour’s of the band’s history. At this point, I count six shows that are unquestionably keepers – 07/05, 07/07, 07/10, 07/12, 07/13, and 07/14.

SIX, out of EIGHT shows total. This is unprecedented in recent Phish history!

At the end of each year I compile a list of the ten best shows of the year, along with three honorable mentions. I shudder to think how I’m going to widdle this list down to 13 by year’s end.

While Phish has treated the opening legs of 3.0 tours to some of the best overall shows of the year, none of the 3.0 summer tour’s can compare to 2013’s opening two weeks. The only tour that could carry a candle in my mind is 2011, and that tour petered out following an incredible opening week from Bethel – Cincinnati.

Going back to 2.0 – 2004 is disqualified based on the fact that the exceptionally strong June Run was no more than a week’s worth of music – the 2003 Tour sputtered for much of it’s first two weeks before finding consistently solid ground on it’s back end.

In 1.0, both 1999 and 2000 featured some exceptional shows starting a week into their tours, but in both cares, their immediate opening shows are dotted with too many head-scratching moments – 07/07/1999, 06/25/2000, for example – to hold a candle to how consistently great Phish is playing these days. Even in their weakest shows this tour – 07/03 and 07/06 – the band is still infusing each with moments of brilliance that make them worth listening to regardless.

So, is this the best opening to a tour since 1.0? That question’s ultimately up to you and your own standards of “best”. For me, there’s simply no question, 2013 has put itself in a pretty heady category thus far.

4. Each member is thriving individually which is translating to some stunning linear musical communication.

For much of 3.0, the continual argument against Phish (lazy or not) has been of the struggles of one Trey Anastasio. For much of 2009, both he and Fishman simply didn’t have the chops to keep up with Page and Mike, to craft transcendent improvisational music on a consistent basis. While Trey was able to dissuade much of the criticism when in August 2010 he unveiled the Ocedoc guitar that helped to deepen his overall sound, thus making him less reliant on the whammy pedal, and more conducive to full-band jamming, it wasn’t really until 2012 that all his practice since 2008 really started to pay off.

On the other hand, Fishman spent much of the band’s first two years back simply getting reacquainted with playing drums. Admitting to give up drums entirely for a time during the band’s break-up from 2004 – 2009, his technical inabilities left many jams rudderless throughout 2009 and 2010. Like Trey though, Fish has been on a consistent rise since 2011, now capable of playing in a variety of styles, and impacting jams with the kind of tactical precision and spontaneity that made him such a key figure in Phish’s mid-90’s renaissance.

Freed from the burdens of the band’s two weakest links, they’re now playing as one on a far more regular basis. As a result, jams like the 07/06 “Carini,” 07/10 “Crosseyd,” 07/12 “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge,” 07/13 “Simple,” 07/14 “Stash,” “It’s Ice,” “Light -> Boogie On,” and “You Enjoy Myself” are popping up throughout shows with far more consistency and ease than at any other time since certainly 2003, and more realistically since sometime in 1.0.

Is this the best tour since 1.0? Right now, it sure as Hell feels that way!

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So, Where Is This All Going?

I talked with Zachary Cohen of the phenomenal Please Me Have No Regrets blog at length yesterday about the state of Phish 2013. We’re at two interesting places with this tour, seeing as he’s been to most of the shows, and I’m simply absorbing them from 8000 miles away in South Korea. To him, these shows have been a spiritual celebration from the moment 07/05 began, whereas for me, from my perspective, little about the tour made total sense until around PNC. To me, the band was simply laying the groundwork for a the tour from Bangor through 07/06. Yet, in hindsight, while I still believe the first few shows were more or less feeling out how the band would approach this tour, it’s become clear to me that we were essentially immersed in brilliance from the moment “Cities” faded into “Bowie” on 07/05.

The bulk of our conversation however, dealt with where this is going with Phish. How’s Phish going to build on the musical achievements of the last two weeks? Where are these two weeks going to reside in our minds come October, December, next February…?

We’re both absolutely thrilled with the music Phish is currently making, but both of us agree that it’s clear there’s more that the band could be doing. For as incredible as all of these shows have been – and in all sincerity, there isn’t a show played this summer I wouldn’t have wanted to be at – it’s clear the band is somewhat still reigning it in on a nightly basis. From an unwillingness to totally let go with their jams like they were at Dick’s, to the lack of surprise quality often associated with bustouts and rarities, there are a few aspects of Phish’s storied career that could elevate this tour that much more.

Is this all necessary? Probably not. These are phenomenal shows after all.

If Phish cancelled the rest of their tour, we’d still have a massive amount of musical gold to sift through for the rest of the year.

And yet, if you’d ask me my honest opinion I’d say that this tour reminds me in many ways of how the August 2010 run felt like an immense corner turned, yet appeared as an obvious starting point by the time the mastery of Fall 2010 rolled around. This isn’t to compare the quality of music with those two eras, just the structure of them.

My point is, I’ve got a feeling this is all building towards something even bigger, and that by year’s end, these shows – which have been SO great so far – may appear more as building blocks towards some unforeseen goal. Kinda like how NO ONE could have predicted 08/31/2012 was just around the corner on 08/29/2012, regardless how innovative most of Summer 2012 was. Based on all the points I’ve made throughout this essay, the obvious excitement permeating the community based surrounding the band’s 30th anniversary, and impending Fall Tour and Holiday Run, one can’t help but think this whole year is only going to get better.

Be it a fusion of the band’s level of jamming at Dick’s with their emphasis on their storied classics, or gimmicky rarities timely placed throughout standout shows that just elevate them to another level, or a run of shows that musically rivals the true peaks of the band’s career, essentially everything is on the table now in 2013.

On a high like they haven’t been since the mid-90’s, at the top of their game, there’s simply nothing it appears Phish can’t do here in 2013.

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Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

I’ll be updating this as we move throughout the tour/year. Take these with a grain of salt, for their just one man’s thoughts on music that’s continuously interpreted by totally different people in totally different ways all at the same time. But here are my favorite shows/jams of the 2013 Summer Tour thus far:

Favorite Shows

1. PNC – First Set is that classic Phish energy set, containing a blistering “Gin,” a rarity in the opener, “Llama,” a full-on funk-fest in another nailed “Wolfman’s,” and great takes on “Ya Mar,” “Stealin’ Time,” “Theme,” and “Suzy. Set II flows with fiery precision, and contains a revolutionary jam in “Crosseyed.”

2. MPP2 – On paper, from 2003 – 2012 this show would look like crap. But groundbreaking performances in “Stash,” “SOAMule,” “Ice,” “Light,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” along with solid flow and all-around killer playing just elevates it to previously unknown heights.

3. MMP1 – Very similar to MPP2 structurally, this show benefits from a fresh setlist, notable playing in “Destiny Unbound,” “Halfway To The Moon,” “Maze” and “SOAM” in Set I, another glorious “Hood” in a year already full of them, and without question, the BEST “Mike’s Groove” since 1.0

4. SPAC 3 – The first show where the band appeared to be fully comfortable and in command from note one of the night. Just an all-around classic Phish show featuring only one cover, and no songs written after 2002. From the moment they descend into a quiet and rhythmic jam off second-song “BOTT” one thing was clear: it’s on.

5. SPAC 1 – Following a first set that failed to get off the ground until a stunning “MFMF> Cities -> Bowie” segment closed it out, the band emerged from setbreak and played without pause. Crafting the most fluid set we’ve heard this entire tour thus far, the jams in “Light,” and particularly “46 Days -> Steam> Drowned -> Slave” will remain on many people’s Best Of lists for the entire year.

6. Jones Beach – A similar first set structurally to 07/05, this one lost a bit of steamin the face of the worst storm the band’s played in since 07/22/1997 before being rescued by a sublime “Reba”/”Bowie” combo to close it out. After the break, the band emerged with a 19-minute “Rock & Roll” that faded into a “2001>Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge” seguefest that’s as smooth to the ears as it appears on paper.

7. SPAC 2 – The most inconsistent show of the tour thus far – at least to these ears – perhaps the only aspects I’ll revisit in the future are “Tube,” “SOAM,” and the “Carini -> Architect” jam. A notable show for the fact that it was SO well played regardless of it’s issues with flow, it simply doesn’t carry the mystique the above shows do.

8. Bangor – A solid tour opener that foreshadowed much of the brilliance we’re currently witnessing. However, this one, like SPAC 2 just doesn’t have that IT factor that any of the first six shows on the list do.

Favorite Jams (Listed Chronologically)

– 07/05/2013: “46 Days -> Steam> Drowned -> Slave” – A fully flowing and organically thematic jam segment that anchored the back-half of 07/05’s brilliant Set II, this run of songs is sure to remain as one of my favorite’s of the year by the time we wrap things up at MSG. From the minimalist funk workout of “46 Days,” to the impassioned, and fully realized peak in “Steam,” from “Drowned’s” rhythmic duel between Page and Trey, to the masterful performance of “Slave” that’s unquestionably the best we’ve heard in this entire era, this sequence is a fucking capital ‘K,’ KEEPER.

– 07/06/2013: “Split Open & Melt” – For a song that has endured so much controversy and dysfunctional experimentation in this era, everything was realized in this first set closer from the middle night at SPAC. Leaving the structure of the jam entirely, the band wove this “Melt” into a gorgeous plain of improvisation, connecting for five minutes on some of the most blissful music they’ve ever made. At one point it sounded as though they’d never find their way back home. While the end of the jam ultimately became a forced re-entry to the “Melt” theme, little could taint the brilliance of this jam.

– 07/06/2013: “Carini -> Architect” – My vote for jam of the year thus far, the band simply annihilated “Carini” before perfectly segueing it into Trey’s first Traveler debut with Phish (Save “Let Me Lie”). Diametrically opposite to the descent into Hell version from 12/30/2012, this “Carini” was lilting, it was ethereal, it was sublime, it was complete bliss. There’s a point midway in the jam where it sounds like the band is composing a new song out of thin air. It’s the stuff of legend. I can’t wait to hear how the band approaches “Carini” the next time out.

– 07/10/2013: “Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood” – Following an ambient soundscape that was reminiscent of the 08/19 version, “Crosseyed” built into a celebratory rhythmic jam that touched on the 02/16/2003 “Piper” while crafting one of the most transcendent passages of music Phish has offered in 2013. A thematic jam that has since been adopted in various other jams since then, it’s clear the band discovered something at PNC that had been lurking beneath the surface throughout the tour’s initial week. That they chose another brilliant version of “Hood” to serve as the song’s landing pad of sorts, spoke wonders of how highly the band immediately regarded this jam.

– 07/12/2013: “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge” – After stumbling a bit through a song-based first set that seemed to take the life out of their cold and wet fans, the band delivered a blistering 50-minute segment of uninterrupted music to open Set II at Jones Beach. The “Rock & Roll” shares musical qualities with the brilliant 08/08/2009 version before segueing into “2001.” The “Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge” is as fluid and masterful a segue as it looks on paper. They fucking earned those -> this night, and sure as Hell earned the “Sleeping Monkey> Tweezer Reprise” that closed things out.

– 07/13/2013: “Harry Hood” – Dropped in the middle of Merriweather Post’s Saturday night Set II, this “Hood” capitalized on the brilliant versions from Bangor and PNC, and then some. Fusing the thematic peak of the PNC “Crosseyed & Painless” into the “Hood” peak created a transcendent version that will be hard to top going forward. It’s clear the band just loves playing “Harry Hood” again, a sentiment that should be praised and rejoiced by all of their fans.

– 07/13/2013: “Mike’s Song> Simple> Weekapaug Groove” – A “Mike’s Groove” tour highlight?!?! What!?!? I’ve been following this band since 2001, and saw my first shows in 2003. “Mike’s Song” was one of those original’s that got me hooked on Phish. But never, I mean NEVER, have I ranked any version of “Mike’s Groove” since that time as a Best Of jam in all my years listening. Until now. A torrential “Mike’s” that nearly pushed itself into the unknown was followed by a gorgeous “Simple” that fused the melodic and rhythmic playing Trey’s been espousing throughout Summer 2013 with the “Down With Disease” theme to brilliant results. Capped off by a funky and sparse “Weekapaug” and you have the first “Mike’s Groove” in ages to push a show into the ether.

– 07/14/2013: “Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman” – Is there anything Phish can’t do with “Light?” Even in the PNC version that left a bit to be desired, the band still managed to infuse it with themes of “Maria” from West Side Story before segueing it fluidly into a perfectly place “Good Times, Bad Times.” Here, deep in Merriweather Post’s Sunday Set II, the band conducted a thrilling funk/rhythmic experiment on the modern jam vehicle, leading it into a start/stop jam that brought back memories of 1997 for everyone involved. Building into dissonance, they ultimately led the jam into a playful “Boogie On” that felt neither forced, nor out of placed. Make that three fluid segues from “Light” in 2013, along with three completely unique jams that have emerged from it. It’s clear 2013 is shaping up to be yet another banner year for “Light.”

– 07/14/2013 – “You Enjoy Myself” – Perhaps the most telling jam on this list, the band’s seminal song has been everything from overplayed, to stale, to underplayed, to rarity, to now, fresh and completely open again here in 3.0 That “You Enjoy Myself” is being attacked in the way it have thus far this tour, is reason alone to believe we’re in for something unprecedented with Phish this year. Building off a top-notch version at SPAC a week before, the Merriweather Post “You Enjoy Myself” featured a seismic funk workout from the band, infusing dissonance and elements of the “Light” jam before peaking and leading to a ferocious vocal jam. Will this be the peak of the band’s experimentation with “YEM” in 2013? I gotta believe this, like with “Mike’s,” “Stash,” “Hood,” and “Bowie,” is only the beginning. How crazy would it be if this excellent version were simply knocked off this list by the next “You Enjoy Myself” played? I wouldn’t doubt anything of the sort here in 2013.

——–

That’s all I’ve got for this last week of tour. Please feel free to share any comments or thoughts on the essay. Can’t wait to see what the band has in store for us in Alpharetta and Chicago!

Review: Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/07/2013

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Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/07/2013

Set I: AC/DC Bag> Back On The Train> The Divided Sky, Free> It’s Ice> Mound, Maze, Limb By Limb> Walls Of The Cave

Set II: Down With Disease&> Ghost# -> Piper## -> Wading In The Velvet Sea> Run Like An Antelope$> Meatstick$$> You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Loving Cup

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

# “Ghost” contained “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” teases

## “Piper” contained a “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease from Trey

$ Lyrics changed to “Run Like A Meatsick Outta Control!”

$$ “Meatstick” contained Japanese Lyrics

——–

It’s almost stupid to to even try to write a review after a show like that.

Phish was just on.

For the entire night, the band crafted a fluid, thematic and overtly old-school show that goes down as the most complete offering we’ve heard from them thus far this summer.

If the whole goal of Phish – and, live music in general; specifically live improvisational music – is that of communal connection and energy, then shows like 07/07/2013 are the epitome of why we travel/listen to/and analyze Phish like we do.

Packed to the brim with a phenomenal setlist, masterful playing and execution of their songs, and enough surprises and intrigue to keep the show interesting and playful, there’s nothing you can really say bad about a show like this.

I mean, I guess if you really wanted to be critical you could say that the “Down With Disease> Ghost -> Piper” section left a bit on the table. (It did) But in the end, does that really matter? It was clear that the “DWD” had reached something of a dead zone by the time they segued into “Ghost,” and for whatever could have happened in the “Ghost” when Trey discovered the major key following a mesmerizing plinko-jam, little was lost by the segue into “Piper.” Moreover, the more contained approach to these three jam vehicles just fit the old-school feel of the show more than any lengthy jam could have.

This was pure Phish at their best. This was the kind of show the band has been working towards and perfecting ever since they returned in March 2009.

——–

Kicking things off with the opening combo of “AC/DC Bag” and “Back On The Train” was as sure a sign as any what kind of show we were in for. Whereas the first three nights of tour, the band has somewhat eased into their shows, 07/07 was straight energy from the onset.

“Bag” displayed how locked-in Trey was, as he sounded incredibly clean, and just on-point throughout the solo. In the next song, the band entered the “BOTT” jam much quieter than normal, allowing themselves the time and patience to explore the subtle rhythms that drive the song forward, before building it to a resounding peak. It’s only further proof that the Type-II “BOTT” on 12/30/2009 ushered in an era of consistently great versions that the band is only continuing to push forward. Following with a perfectly placed “The Divided Sky,” along with a trio of “Free> It’s Ice> Mound” their song selections only helped to keep the energy at a max level.

(One of my initial struggles with writing these pieces has been overcoming this notion that one can’t get a show unless they’re there. While I fully understand the power and immediacy of being present at a Phish show, I’ve always argued that if the band just wanted us to experience their music live, in a venue, they wouldn’t offer so many opportunities for connection to those who aren’t there. From embracing the taper culture, to the vast library of SBD-quality archival music they’ve released, to LivePhish.com which makes their shows immediately available to all their fans once a show concludes, to the audio and video streams they now regularly offer; it’s clear the band knows their music has lasting power beyond just the singular medium of a one-time live event. To argue that one can’t get a show because they weren’t there is both shortsighted, and missing the overall point of Phish’s music. How else can you explain the fact that I’ve felt a pure spiritual connection to the 09/14/1999 “AC/DC Bag,” or the entirety of 12/30/1993 – shows I never saw – or that the first time I heard 11/17/1994 – also the first time I heard Phish – I felt like I’d just experienced a moment with a higher power, or, that just this morning, when the band began their rising solo in “Divided Sky,” I felt that feeling I get every time I’ve heard “Divided Sky,” live, or in the privacy of my room/car? Further, if music is as powerful a force we all claim it to be, doesn’t it make sense then that it’s transferrable across space and time, and that its power is both accessible and understood by those not immediately present at its creation? I digress… All’s I know is I felt like I was there this morning even though I technically wasn’t there.)

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Continuing a masterful first set, Phish closed things out with an agressive take on “Maze” that featured both excellent interplay between Trey and Page, and a weird little reggae breakdown in the middle that just added to the overall feel of the night. That it didn’t lead to any full-on reggae jam, but instead, just colored the jam, felt proper in a show that featured such playful playing, and SO much energy.

“Limb By Limb” continued the flawless setlist, providing the first breather of the set, while also being a beautiful and emotive version in its own right. Hinting at taking the song on another jam (ala, 08/28/2012) the song ultimately remained contained, but not before making its mark. “Walls Of The Cave” brought us home in Set I, taking the honor as the youngest song played in a set filled with classics. Reminiscent of 11/24/2009, 01/01/2011, 08/19/2012, 08/28/2012, and 12/30/2012, this was the kind of Set I that receives unanimous adulation and love. The kind of set where it matters little what song is played, for the band’s just nailing everything regardless.

——–

Is there any song in the Phish canon that would have been more fitting to open that second set than “Down With Disease?” It’s one of the classic Set II openers for a reason, and 07/07 just had “DWD” marked as the second set opener by midway through the first set. A version that tore out of the song on a mission before fading to a beautiful space of nothingness, the jam ultimately touched on a prodding rock jam while channeling some serious Floyd and Zeppelin. (Yes, it did) Opening itself up to a spacious segment of music, Trey played with a soulful drive, willing the jam forward. It wasn’t to be however. On a night like this, where energy reigned supreme, when in the first moment the band found themselves lost in the jam, they immediately abandoned it for “Ghost.”

Like I said above, no harm no foul with this move in “DWD,” or later in “Ghost” after that jam found itself deep in plinko-land before being ripcorded just as it reached a rousing melodic jam. When the band is playing with the kind of fire, emotion, and humor as they were on 07/07, jams tend to matter less. Perhaps the defining moment of the “Ghost” jam – aside from the plinko madness that made one wonder how in the hell this band has managed to find so many musical avenues to explore inside a song that’s essentially just an Am-G groove – came when Trey egged Page to mess around with his voicebox in between the second and third versus. Clearly unprepared, the off-handedness, and back-and-forth between the two only added to the anything-goes, playful spirit of the show.

“Piper” featured some of Trey’s best playing all night, (which really is saying something) and was notable for being the third straight “Ghost -> Piper” segment (09/02/2012, 12/31/2012). The jam built to the evening’s biggest peak, and for close to nine minutes the band just peaked and peaked and peaked in celebratory fashion, before fading beautifully to a baby grand solo from Page, wherein which you felt the first breather of the night approaching in “Wading In The Velvet Sea.” Like every other song of the show, “Wading” just felt perfect at the time, and was delivered with thoughtful precision, and patient soloing from Trey.

At this point – as in many a 3.0 shows – we found outselves at something of a crossroads seeing as song selection – which had made this show so memorable thus far – is clearly still of the utmost importance in 3.0.

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Thus, when they burst into a rare mid-set “Run Like An Antelope” it was all the more clear that the band was just as high on this show as everyone at SPAC, and all those watching from home. A high-octane version that never quite reached – nor really attempted to – the intricate and chromatic jamming of the 07/03 “Antelope,” this one instead was here solely to pack a massive punch and deliver yet another dose of humor.

One of the most brilliant aspects of Phish’s humor is how spectacularly lame it is, and yet how it rarely fails to arouse 20,000 people. Simply replacing the word “Antelope” with the word “Meatstick” only added another layer to a show already full of them, while guaranteeing a late-set “Meatstick.” A song that embodies the root of Phish’s humor – complete with dancing and Japanese lyrics – it fit the vibe of the show like everything else before it, and kept the energy high for the fade into the now-expected “You Enjoy Myself.”

I mean, could anything else have capped this set/show??? Like the Set II “Down With Disease” Opener, “You Enjoy Myself” closed out the set in perfect fashion, and that’s not even considering the sparse, rhythmic and plinko-style jam that emerged within the song’s jam segment. A fresh and original version of “You Enjoy Myself” to close out easily the best show Phish has offered us in 2013 ended the night on a distinct high. And when they emerged for the encore, the “Loving Cup” that followed felt both preordained, and ideal.

Oh, what a beautiful buzz indeed…

——–

An absolutely brilliant display of energy, flow, crisp playing, and whole-band communication, 07/07/2013 immediately raises the bar on this young Phish tour. That the band is already able to toss out an old school show chock-full of highlights only displays what kind of tour we’re currently experiencing.

What’s more is that this show suddenly puts the three shows that preceded it in perspective. As I’ve argued over the last few days, the first three shows in many ways felt like groundwork and foundation being laid for a massive tour. While obviously there were numerous highlights throughout, none of the first three shows clicked for me as complete shows.

Perhaps this is due to my absence from them.

Perhaps it’s due to my personal taste.

Perhaps I’m onto something and the band was treating them more as a way to ease into the tour, rather than come out immediately on a high.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s clear that each of the first three shows of the tour led in someway to the brilliance that occurred last night in Saratoga Springs, NY. From the old school setlist that dotted 07/03, to the fluid and thematic Set II from 07/05, to the expansionist playing in “Split Open & Melt,” and “Carini” in 07/06, each of these shows added another layer to the foundation that ultimately resulted in a near-perfect outing from Phish on 07/07.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. All’s I know is last night the band played a show that displayed them at their best, at yet another peak in what’s seemed like a litany of them over the past calendar year. Since 08/06/2010 we’ve watched Phish consistently get better as their tours progress, adding more and more to a constantly evolving live show. The idea that they could continue to compile better shows than one’s like last night, or better sets than 07/05’s second, or better jams than 07/06’s “Carini” is a bit perplexing. Yet we’ve watched them do just that over the past three years. Can they continue this hot streak?

As Page once said to a delirious crowd of 70,000 in Northern Maine: “Stick Around…”

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Thanks to Phish.Net (www.phish.net) and The Mockingbird Foundation (www.mbird.org) for organizational assistance and sourcing of setlists!