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!

Phish 2013 – Through The Jams / Part I: Bangor – Toronto

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With just four shows remaining in 2013, weeks removed from a peak-level Fall Tour, and just three months since the conclusion of a Summer Tour that is increasingly becoming an underrated gem, it’s high time we take stock of where we are musically with Phish in their 30th year.

Since the onset of 3.0, I’ve compiled year-end ‘Best Of’[1] lists for each successive year. Check them out here: 2009 Part I and Part II20102011, and 2012. In each of those essays I narrowed my selections to the bare essentials: Ten Jams, Ten Shows, and Three Honorable Mentions for each section. Detailing the evolutionary steps forward in each of the past five years of Phish’s history, these lists have focused on the overall diversity of Phish’s improv, rather than any singular style. Song length is never an issue taken seriously. Popular opinion or communal preference is never taken into account. Many of my own personal favorite jams have even been omitted from each of these lists. Essentially, these lists are to be viewed as historical guides, or, musical stepping stones, which tell the story of how Phish got from Hampton ’09 to Atlantic City ’13.

2013 however, presents a new challenge altogether, particularly on the jamming front.

Following their creative renaissance at Dick’s 2012, Phish entered 2013 on a mission to once again break through their own artistic mold by infusing the musical and communicative skills of their past with a more democratic model that would shape their future. After reestablishing their communication and connectivity throughout 2009 – 2012, their 30th year was poised to be one of both self-referential celebration, and the symbolic onset of a new era. Furthermore, after informing their fanbase on 12/31/2012 that “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself,” it was clear that 2013 would be a whole-band peak on Phish’s terms – and at their own pace – not based on the desires of any sector of their fanbase. As a result, Phish took their time, setting the foundation within the early part of their summer tour, which lead to skepticism, impatience, and uncertainty from many corners of their fanbase. While it was clear by the time Fall Tour rolled around that Phish had known exactly what they were doing all along, the debates over what “The Right Way” was for Phish still raged ever onwards.

In hindsight it’s clear there are three distinct periods of 2013:

1.) Bangor – Toronto, when Phish laid the foundation for the musical peaks to come, and the eventual unveiling of Wingsuit, through a series of shows focused heavily on their own musical history. Celebrating their thirty-year legacy, the band centered much of their attention on the most revered songs in their catalogue, while constructing setlists that felt plucked from their past. Controlling many of their shows with a noticeably tight rotation, and keeping a short leash on each of their jams, this early period of 2013 displayed the unyielding potential of Phish at this stage in their career, while emphasizing a focused insistence on building tension and inter-band-communication.

2.) The Gorge – Dicks, when Phish – fully removed from the torrential weather of the East Coast and completely confident in their abilities and direction – moved beyond foundational setting, and began to consistently play high quality shows with ease. After informing their fanbase that only Phish knew “The Right Way” for Phish during the Chicago Harpua, they now unveiled their longest piece of improv since 2003, and connected for three of the most diverse jams of the entire year in the Tahoe Tweezer, Hollywood Hood and Dick’s Chalk Dust. Further, at Dick’s, the band continued to zag against the expectations (and desires) of many of their fanbase by declaring MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING (Backwards). Subtly pointing out the many variables that determine the content and goals of any singular Phish show, the band clarified for those who had been reading between the lines, just what their intentions throughout 2013 had been. Finally, they continued to set the stage for the peak month of October, and the ultimate unveiling of their new album Wingsuit on Halloween night, through a series of self-conscious shows and jams that only further displayed their advanced level of play in their 30th year.

3.) Hampton – Atlantic City, when everything Phish has been working towards since 03/06/2009 came together in one hyperbole-filled two week tour. Full of top-level shows, standout jams, unyielding energy, effortless musical connectivity, and a Halloween show that will undoubtedly alter the entire direction of the band over the coming years, this was the tour we had all (band included) been waiting for over the past five – even fifteen – years.

As a result, there is so much creativity packed into each show in 2013, that it becomes incredibly challenging to trim the fat down to a list of 13 standout jams[2]. With this in mind, and keenly aware of the fact that the New Year’s Run is sure to produce at least 2 – 3 MORE top-level jams (it always does…) I’m using this space in time as a way to hash over the entirety of what I believe to be the very best of Phish in 2013. With a heavy focus on the diversity and sheer quantity of excellent improvisational interplay within Phish in 2013, think of this list as both one giant rough draft and a potential playlist for anyone seeking to absorb the best of Phish in 2013 in one sitting[3].

This list will appear in three parts so as to focus on the three aforementioned periods in 2013:

I. Bangor – Toronto

II. The Gorge – Dicks

III. Hampton – Atlantic City.

Please feel free to send me your comments on which essential jams I may have overlooked, which I’m giving (far) too much credit to, and, if you agree or disagree in any way with how I’ve interpreted this really diverse, and really incredible, year in Phish’s history. Without further adieu, the list[4]:

The Best Jams Of 2013 – Part I

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07/05

Light -> The Mango Song

Following the focused and game-changing Dick’s Light of 2012, it’s only appropriate than any ‘Best Of’ 2013 list begins with the most reliable jam vehicle of 3.0. A song that, lyrically, speaks so directly to Trey’s rehabilitation and awakening following his 2006 arrest, and musically caters itself to the kind of open-ended exploration that had become something of a rarity throughout much of 2009-2011[5], everyone knew the first Light of 2013 was going be a seminal moment. Expanding outwards on an ambient plane much like the 12/02/09 and 08/07/10 versions, before evolving into a rhythmic jaunt, the jam turns on a dime at 11:11 with a sinister, groove-ladened riff from Trey. Foreshadowing the clarity and deliberateness he’d continue to iron out in his playing over the course of the summer – ultimately peaking in Fall – the band fuses this segment into an blissful melodic jam that finally resolves itself in The Mango Song. The SPAC Light is, while certainly not the rawest, nor the most accomplished jam of 2013, if nothing else, the moment when we all collectively realized the revolutionary steps forward of late-2012 were not all for naught.

07/06

Tube

For everyone lamenting the death of the extended Tube, please direct your ears to this version[6]. For whatever may be missing from an 8 – 12-minute Tube jam of 97-04 lore, the band more than makes up for the lack of quantity with focused, groove-heavy, linear, funk-based-jamming these days. Perhaps the best modern example of what’s always possible with Tube, this version pops immediately from a somewhat awkward first set, crafting an absolutely infectious dance number. What’s more is this is one of the first moments of 2013 where it’s clear to anyone listening that song length has ultimately become moot. As anyone at SPAC – or even those web-casting – could attest, this jam felt like 10+ minutes, regardless its 6:48 length. Check out the crowd’s reaction when it’s clear Trey’s pushing the song past the unofficial coda to be reminded once again of the beauty of the intercommunication between band and audience in this whole Live Phish thing.

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Split Open & Melt

Wow. What a statement. What a glorified mess[7]. A conscious experimental push into the unknown as anything I’ve 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.

Carini -> Architect

The first of four versions for Señor Lumpy Head on this overall 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 2013. 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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07/10

Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood

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[8].

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 there 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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07/12

Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge

Like a snapshot right out of Summer ‘98, this fully-flowing chunk of the second set – in one of the more polarizing shows of summer[9] – is both the least-challenging and least groundbreaking piece of exploratory music from the entire tour[10]. And yet, it’s unquestionably some of the most infectiously pleasurable, which is exactly why it finds itself on this list. Rock & Roll moves into a modulated jam based on its origins and theme, ultimately reminding one of the great 08/08/2009 jam from The Gorge. Tweezer is the crown jewel of this sequence as Trey, who just sounds so playful throughout, jumps on a bouncy groove, drives it skywards and then patiently segues it right into Cities. Forget about listening critically here. Just fucking throw this on and boogie.

07/13

Harry Hood

A banner year for Hood. A. Banner. Fucking. Year. Right smack in the middle of one of the most overtly old-school shows of 2013[11] comes this overtly old-school Hood that does literally everything anyone could ever want from Harry Hood. Trey’s in command throughout in the purest, peakiest Hood in a year full of standout versions. Just soak this one in and be grateful the band has spent so much time rededicating themselves to this classic.

Mike’s Song> Simple> Weekapaug Groove

Early on this summer it appeared as though the band was coaxing a big jam out of Mike’s Song. While they ultimately never did, this version from the first night at Merriweather Post is the closest they came, and the best version of the entire year thus far. For me, however, this Groove is all about the Simple. Only one of two versions played all year, this Simple loosely locks onto the theme from Down With Disease, building a subtle, warm, full-bodied, wholly-united jam out of the band that’s among my favorite musical moments of the entire year. Proof of the musical progressions made by Trey’s insistence on focusing on his rhythmic playing, this jam just goes to show how little Phish actually has to play within a jam to craft brilliance.

07/14

Stash

They took their time prior to starting up perhaps their most innocuous first set composition[12]. They knew where they wanted to go. This version was to be different. They wanted to see how far they could push Stash while still remaining within Stash. It was – or at least, it sounds as though it was – an experiment in controlled democratic fusion. It showed Phish what they could do within even the most structured of their songs. It ultimately helped to loosen them up as they pushed their most time-honored classics far beyond the limits they’d set for them back in 2009. Trey’s wha funk spills into major-keyed bliss on a dime. This is effortless Phish. This is 2013 in a jam.

Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman

Following that masterful first set Stash: the payoff. In perhaps the best show of the tour to that point, Phish let loose on their modern classic, fusing start/stop jams with rapid key changes, creating a disoriented dance-fest that shook Merriweather Post to its core. A prelude to the “woo’s” comes as the band peaks the jam in hysterically controlled chaos; this jam is the sound of a band fully realizing their interconnectivity, and yet still unwilling to let it all hang out at once. This is like one of those great Summer ’97 jams, when the band knew they were onto something, but weren’t quite ready to simply walk out on stage and totally strut their stuff like they’d do throughout the Fall. Few times has Boogie On sounded this anticipated, nor this perfect all at once.

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07/16

Rock & Roll -> Heartbreaker -> Makisupa Policeman> Chalk Dust Torture> Wilson> Tweezer -> Silent In The Morning

Within the confines of 2013, there were seven fully-flowing sets of music[13]. Of them, the segment from the first night of a two-night stand in Alpharetta, GA is neither the most accomplished[14], the most diverse[15], nor even the most jam-happy[16]. What it is however is a quasi-throw-back to the early days of 3.0 when humor and song selection were of the utmost importance in a Phish show, and jams rarely veered too far off into the unknown. Fusing this approach (as heard in the endless Heartbreaker teases, and the first of two Makisupa Policeman of 2013) with two jams that thematically sound plucked right out of Dick’s 2012[17], Phish crafted an indelible segment of music on a Tuesday in the Atlanta ‘burbs. For another example of how little time Phish needs to reach plains of musical bliss, look no further than the sublime Chalk Dust, a jam that feels like it covers 15-20 min of music in just under 10.

07/17

Piper -> Fast Enough For You

In a year in which the band spent so much time reviving their classics[18], while also pushing many of their newer songs into the unknown[19], less time was devoted to many of their turn-of-the-century vehicles than at any point in the past 15 years. Nowhere is this clearer than with Piper. A song that drove many of the best jams of 2003-2012, Piper appears to have adopted the role once held by Twist, as the mid-set recharge. Rather than explore the vociferous terrain Piper so seamlessly caters to, Phish instead employed it as a bridge between jams, and between the two halves of a second set, allowing its driving groove to maintain energy, rather than explore the unknown. Of these versions, perhaps none is as diverse as this one from Georgia. Touching on the baroque, haunted, underworldliness of many of its 2.0 peak versions, this Piper goes deep in a flash. Teasing the refrain from Energy, Trey immediately begins to impose darkness through the use of his tremelo effect, thus harkening back to the sprawling 07/19/2003 version. Emerging to a more blissful and melodic zone of music before fading softly into the ever-rare Fast Enough For You, perhaps it was all a subtle wink from Trey towards all those clamoring for a return of the slow-build intro?

07/21

Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards

“Thank you for sticking around….” With those five words, the band systematically lifted the imposing weight of three weeks full of torrential weather throughout their east coast run, and thus pivoted from the foundational setting of the first half of their summer tour, before moving earnestly into one of the strongest peaks of their entire career[20]. Energy, the song of summer, builds upon its 07/17 version, with Trey invoking funk rhythms that bleed into a gorgeous melodic space – ala the 11/22/1997 Halley’s Comet. Ghost is employed once again as something of a bridge, but it’s worth hearing all the same, as it quickly finds its way into a lilting jam – by way of a distinct Seven Below tease – that fades idyllically into The Lizards. A brilliant segment of music, which makes up the meat of one of the strongest sets of summer – and perhaps the most critical moment of the entire year[21] – these uninterrupted 35 minutes have held up long since the band moved westwards from the sodden and abandoned airport on the shores of Lake Michigan.

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07/22

Down With Disease -> 2001

After kicking off the summer with three fairly contained versions[22] of one of their most cherished Set II Openers, Phish finally broke through with a jam that built off of their pivotal second set on 07/21, and pointed the way westward. Featuring melodic and rhythmic riffs from Trey throughout, the jam ultimately settled on a remarkably pleasant platitude, which felt entirely composed, and is 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 summer. A section of wholly deliberate, rising melodic playing followed, ultimately giving way to a full-on tease of Sea Of Love from The National. Further proof of how much Trey has gained from his time spent listening to – and playing with – those in the indie rock world. Following this all up with a truly patient build towards 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.

David Bowie

Perhaps no Phish classic has struggled to regain its unknown potential since the onset of 3.0 as one David Bowie[23]. With only a few glimmers of hope stuck in there, things changed with drastic earnestness on 12/28/12 when the band began exploring within the frame of Bowie like they hadn’t since 2003. Powerful versions on 07/05 and 07/20 paved the way for a revivalist rendition to end the second set in Toronto. A jam I highlighted in August as one of the underrated gems of the whole tour, this version leans more towards the demented explorations from 12/28/12, while further emphasizing Trey’s rhythmic explorations. Fusing the playful old-school nature of Phish with their modern and more subtle communicativeness, this Bowie is a reference point for anyone searching for the moments when Phish was fully capable of abandoning the foundational setting of the first half of summer tour, and got down to the business of properly (and consistently) breaking through their own artistic mold.

*A huge THANK YOU to Mike Hamad of @phishmaps and @MikeHamad for allowing me to use his jam maps for a few of the jams of this list. His work is phenomenal, and it really helps those listening understand better what’s happening in Phish’s music. Please give him a follow on Twitter if you don’t already. And check out his site: Setlist Schematics for even more jam maps.


[1] ‘Best’ is obviously a tricky term when it comes to a subjective essay such as this. Seeing as so many different people love Phish for so many different reasons, it’s impossible to capture an entire community’s preferences, and moments of unified elation, within a singular list. Believe me, I’m aware.

And yet, these lists are more than simply a reflection of my own subjectivities and favorite jams/shows. These lists are a result of an extensive amount of time spent listening, reading, writing and thinking – all the while parsing through the historical layers of Phish – in search of moments that stand out, and seem to both unify and exemplify the sound of an entire year. Be certain, many of my “favorite” jams and shows from the past five years have been omitted from each of my lists. Be certain that some of my favorite jams from this past year were omitted in the initial whittling process.

[2] NB, this list originally began with more than 130 individual songs, and something like 75 single jam entities. It’s now at 76/39 respectively. Progress.

[3] Anyone in need of any of these jams, or of the full playlist, feel free to hit me up @sufferingjuke and I’ll happily send em your way.

[4] This list will be delivered chronologically as all my ‘Best Of’ Lists are. Some may be fond of ranking, but I find that to be both an insolent and irrelevant endeavor when discussing and documenting Phish. This is art, not sports for Christ sake’s.

[5] A topic for another essay and another time, when you actually go back and chart the actual occurrences of improv from 03/06/09 – 12/31/11, it’s clear the band jammed with far more regularity than many wanted (or were willing (in many ways, still are willing)) to give Phish credit for. Like I said, another essay, another time.

[6] For that matter, don’t skip on the 06/15/12, 07/06/12 (w/Psycho Killer jam!!!), 07/26/13, or 11/01/13 versions.

[7] In much the same spirit of the 12/30/09 Back On The Train, 06/25/10 Chalk Dust, 10/20/10 SOAM, 08/15/11 Undermind, and 08/31/12 Runaway Jim, this SOAM feels like a leftover of the unguarded, throw-the-paint-at-the-wall-&-see-what-happens, unfiltered, macabre-style jamming that so defined the band’s 2003-2004 period, otherwise known as 2.0.

[8] There are loads of examples of groundwork being laid throughout the first three weeks of tour, a period wherein which many in the fan base were melting on Twitter, PT, Phish.net & in Mr. Miner’s comments section about how Phish wasn’t living up to the lofty heights established in 2012, or weren’t busting-out enough songs, or jamming with enough frequency, etc. Among them: Bangor’s Golden Age – specifically Trey’s insistent use of his wha-wha pedal – 2001, Antelope, and Hood; SPAC’s Cities -> Bowie, 46 Days -> Steam and Slave; the defiantly old school setlist and playing on 07/07, 07/13 and 07/14; and the funk escapade of It’s Ice that gave the band an insane amount of confidence to let their hair down and just groove.

[9] In all seriousness I loved this entire show. Set I is one of the most unique of the entire summer, featuring excellent versions of CTB and 46 Days, a loping stride through Ocelot, and an old-school pairing of Reba and David Bowie to close things out. Then again, I didn’t have to brave the cold, steely rain that reportedly blew sideways through the open-air venue that night. From my cozy apartment though, things sounded quite lovely, tbh.

[10] Yeah, I just know there’s some dude on PT right now spewing his coffee over this statement. It’s not exploratory at all. Get over it. This 60-min segment of uninterrupted music has far more in common with the late-1.0 era than anything else really played at all throughout 2013. It’s all groove. Groove for the sake of groove. It’s essentially all extended Type I jams, (with the great exception of the melodic jam that emerges from Tweezer prior to its segue into Cities) it’s essentially one big excuse for the band to simply hook-up. None of this, btw, is said to insinuate that it’s not a huge evolutionary step forward for the band within the confines of 2013, nor worth your time, or your ears.

[11] It’s right in line with 07/07, 07/10, 07/14, 10/23, and 10/25 as shows the band played throughout 2013 that felt plucked right out of 1992-1995.

[12] You could make the same argument for Bowie and Reba, but there’s something about Stash that – particularly in 3.0 – just screams “live soundcheck.”

[13] 07/05, 07/12, 07/16, 07/27, 07/30, 10/20, 10/25

[14] 10/20

[15] 07/05

[16] 07/12, 07/30

[17] The Set Opening Rock & Roll and the mid set Chalk Dust Torture are also two of the best examples of what Mr. Miner calls “Musical Density” that we have in 3.0

[18] Harry Hood, Tweezer, David Bowie, Stash

[19] Energy, Light, Golden Age, Steam, Twenty Years Later

[20] You can make a strong case that from 07/21 – 11/02 the band played 15 instant classic shows – an incredible 60% of the shows during that period – something they haven’t accomplished with such ease – nor such consistency – since probably 1997.

[21] There’s no denying how profoundly well the band was playing throughout much of the first three weeks of tour, but it was clear they were in need of something of a moment of truth to push them beyond the spurts (and the horrendous weather that dogged them) that had somewhat defined their east coast run. From the final set of their weekend in Chicago onwards, 2013 has been nothing short of a masterpiece. Without the interconnectivity and phearlessness displayed here, who knows what would have become of the band’s 30th year…

[22] This isn’t to say in any way that the other versions were bad, per se. Both the 07/07 and 07/13 versions contained some phenomenal interplay from Trey and Page in particular. Just that, well this is Down With Disease. It’s kind of one of those ‘when in doubt songs’ for Phish. The kind they can always rely on to jump-start a set/show, or immediately build upon the energy of a hooked-up Set I.

[23] Seriously, take out the 06/19/10, 10/20/10, 06/03/11, 07/03/11, and 12/28/12 versions and what you’re left with are essentially a massive amount of skeletal imitations of what Bowie once was. Of all the Phish classics that have suffered – necessarily and unnecessarily – at the hands of Phish’s full-on rebuilding project of the last five years, none have been as tragic as that of Bowie.

The Next Level: Thoughts On The West Coast Leg Of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour

577216_10151503226831290_30855049_nAnd so we’ve come to the end of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour. Yes, we do have that Dick’s run looming just two-and-a-half weeks away, but Dick’s is something all to itself at this point, right?

After just over a month on the road Phish capped off their summer tour with an eleven-day stretch of shows along the Pacific that has to rank as one of the most profound peaks of their entire career.

(This isn’t to say of course that their music is somehow better than anything they’ve played in, say, the last 15 years – how could one even begin to be able to quantify that, after all? Yet, there’s an undeniable energy surrounding Phish right now that hasn’t been present this consistently for a long, long time…)

More on this later.

Leaving behind the rain for good, Phish built upon, and expanded on the foundations of their NE run, the celebratory vibes of their SE run, and the conflicts overcome in the midwest to produce a string of diverse, exploratory, uniquely engaging, and overall classic shows chock full of highlights.

One night they were throwing down rapturous funk, the next they were weaving together rarities in an unending seguefest. Any style could, and would, be explored from one show to another – and often within each show – displaying a dexterity in a consistent peak that we honestly, may have never truly experienced with Phish to this point.

(It’s the thing that completely separates Phish 2013 from their past. Where their sustained peaks in 1995, 1997, 1998, and 2003 for example, were centered around a singular style, here in 2013, the band is attacking a variety of styles within each show – often times within a single jam. The diversity of music played within this past week is nothing short of astounding from a purely musical level.)

Jams abound, songs perfectly placed, the string of shows from The Gorge on 07/26/2013 to Los Angeles on 08/05/2013 represents the most consistent, highest quality Phish we’ve heard in over a decade.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything I’ve just heard.

Below I’ve once again compiled an assorted list of thoughts on the finale week-and-a-half of the tour.

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So, How’d We Get Here?

Perhaps the best place to start is by looking back on everything Phish has done since reemerging from hibernation on July 3rd in Bangor, ME.

While it was clear throughout the opening weekend of summer that the band was focusing on laying the groundwork for the tour that would ultimately unfold, it’s also clear that their plan hit a bit of an unexpected moment of advanced inspiration within the second set of 07/05. Weaving together a fully-flowing set of music that started with the debut of The Apples In Stereo song “Energy” – also the eventual theme song of Phish 2013 – and ended with their age-old classic, “Slave To The Traffic Light,” from the onset, one couldn’t deny the high level Phish was already playing at.

Continuing southwards – following the 07/09 postponement of their Toronto show – the band reached an initial peak in the tour with their PNC – MPP run of shows. Fusing old school setlists with high quality, boundary-pushing jams – 07/10 “Crosseyed & Painless,” 07/12 “Rock & Roll,” 07/13 “Simple,” 07/14 “Light,” – the band showed two differing, yet ultimately united sides of modern day Phish. In emphasizing their most time-honored classics – “Stash,” “It’s Ice,” “Maze,” “Harry Hood,” “Mike’s Song,” “You Enjoy Myself” – while also centering their 07/14 show around a harangued take on “Light,” the band played a show that could only have happened here in 2013.

A point that must be emphasized: 2013 Phish is everything that Phish has been, everything that Phish currently is, and everything that Phish is working towards. This career-spanning sound is no better heard than in these four shows.

A brief midweek stoppage in Alpharetta, GA allowed the band opportunity to let their hair down, while still expanding upon the improvisational advancements of their first week on tour. Basing their entire 07/16 second set around the riff from “Heartbreaker,” the band built a massive seguefest that read: “Rock & Roll -> Heartbreaker -> Makisupa Policeman> Chalk Dust Torture> Wilson> Tweezer -> Silent In The Morning> Birds Of A Feather.” A wholly-engaging musical moment, it fused the band’s modern-day melodic jamming with their endearing sense of humor, resulting in absolutely classic Phish.

The following night’s highlight came in the monumental “Energy -> Fluffhead -> Piper -> Fast Enough For You” quartet, a segment which displays both how keen Phish is right now at sparking creative jams out of the ether, and how aware they are of fusing their past and present together – be it through setlist construction or various jamming styles – within each of their shows.

The first half of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour came to a close in a three-night run in Chicago, and a makeup show in Toronto. For however memorable the music made at Chicago was – and much of it is very memorable – it will always be overshadowed by the rain that cost the band half of their 07/19 show, and nearly cancelled their 07/21 show. Regardless the fact that 07/19’s first set is among the strongest of the first three weeks of tour, nor the fact that 07/20 was a surprise three-set show that saw the band construct a fully-flowing (sorry, @waxbanks) second frame which featured a sublime “Golden Age> Waves -> Piper> Slave To The Traffic Light” closing segment, those two nights in particular will always be seen as casualties of THE RAIN.

On the run’s final night it poured and poured and poured. (And poured and poured and poured and…) Rain fell from the heavens in biblical fashion cutting the first set short, while also breaking the internet for the first 25mins of the second frame.

It was in the second set however where the band emerged phearlessly, and pointed the way towards the west – and towards their own future – within a 35min segment that read: “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards.” Infusing literally every style of improvisation the band has experimented with throughout their career – before giving a nod to their past through a perfectly placed “Lizards” – the band sent a message about where they were, where they’d been, and most importantly, where they were going.

Following this with a “Harpua” gag for the ages, one in which the band sent a message to their fans that it was in fact they, and not us, who knew what the “right way” forward was for Phish, and it simply was a set we’ll be talking about for years to come.

The next night in Toronto they opened Set II with a lengthy, uplifting, and melodic take on “Down With Disease” whereby Trey and Page hooked up for over seven minutes of improvisational bliss. The trail westward had been marked. Little did we know what was to come…

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There Are No More “Standard” Songs

Immediately evident in the rollicking first set on night one at The Gorge – and only further emphasized as the tour wound south along the Pacific – is the fact, that, no matter the setlists, no matter the set, there’s no such thing any longer as a “standard song.” Proof of the absurdly high level the band is playing at right now, there are seemingly no more filler songs anymore.

Listen back to the “AC/DC Bag,” “Timber,” “Funky Bitch,” “Architect,” “The Curtain (With),” “Ocelot,” and “After Midnight” from The Gorge. Listen to the “Bathtub Gin>Tube>Walk Away,” the “It’s Ice,” and the “Stash” from Tahoe. Listen to the entire first set from 08/02, to the blistering seven song opening segment from 08/03, and the “Divided Sky” and “Ya Mar” from 08/04. Listen to the “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Scent Of A Mule,” and “Ocelot” from LA.

First sets, which, particularly from 2009 – 2011, were the definition of banality and sterile song selection, now pop with ease.

You can say whatever you want about how jamming displays the evolutionary steps forward for Phish, but, as the irreplaceable Walter G Holland (@waxbanks) showed us in his insightful piece from last week, the energy the band is now putting into their individual songs – particularly those in Set I – proves the refined peak we now find ourselves at with Phish.

Ever since they stopped focusing on their individual song performances in 1997, this singular aspect of the Phish experience has been missing. A point of emphasis since 2009, not until last year was the band truly capable of stringing together complete shows that featured consistently unique performances of their most time-honored classics. Yet even last year, many shows still relied on extra-musical aspects such as song selection, jamming lengths, and gimmicks to be memorable. Here, now, in 2013, there’s simply no question of whether or not their whole shows are going to be standouts, they just are.

Perhaps we can hear this best in the three-song opening segment from 07/27: “Architect,” “Golgi Apparatus,” and “The Curtain With.” A run of songs that, on paper would appear to be a rigid – even, awkward – way to kick off a show, here, in the idyllic setting of The Gorge – and played with such a unified passion as these were – the songs flowed with an organic, and thematic brilliance.

The kind of moment that signifies Phish at their best, one can only imagine that, by the time the band invades their favorite soccer field just outside of Denver, and then tears through some of their most classic venues back east, that this approach will be further explored and capitalized on.

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About That “Tweezer”…

I recently spent a week in Tokyo, on summer vacation from my job as an English Teacher in Korea. On our second day in the country, my wife and I wandered through the Shinjuku and Shibuya neighborhoods, sampling various ramen and sushi shops, soaking in the youthful and creative vibe that permeated around us. We felt alive with that tangible elevation that can only come from travel in a completely new place. At night we made our way to a pub we’d discovered the previous night run by a Japanese man who obsessively collected classic rock records. He graced us with drinks, music that reminded us from home, and invited us to share in a late-night Izakaya feast with his wife.

At one point he put on the 09/02/2012 “Sand,” and the bar, packed with aging Japanese hippies, boogied down like life-long fans.

It was one of the best days I’ve ever experienced in my entire life..

When I arrived back at my hostel I jumped on the internet to discover that Phish had just played a 37-minute “Tweezer.”

I sat at a public computer laughing hysterically.

Somehow this “Tweezer” made this perfect day even better. I wouldn’t even hear the jam for another week, but somehow I just knew…

The thing about this “Tweezer” isn’t so much its length – yes, it’s incredible to see the band played a 37-minute song, but it could have been half that long and it still would have been one of the best jams of the year – nor is it the connective peaks the band reaches throughout – though they are pretty epic. What ultimately makes it so unique, so special, and yes, so important in the historical lineage of monumental Phish jams, is the fact that it reached such a moment of full-band-interplay that it ultimately peaked with a united band AND audience jam, that will go down as one of THE top moments of Phish’s entire history whenever it is they finally decide to hang it up.

By now the topic has been almost beaten into the ground through a series of follow-up “woo’s” in the tour’s final days, and in the endless discussions on the jam that have spread throughout the online community. But, for a moment, just consider the fact that the true peak of the Tahoe “Tweezer” – and the reason the jam will ultimately be remembered – came as a result of an audience instigated cheer within a start/stop jam, that the band immediately latched onto, leading to an apogee within the entire Phish experiment.

This is the artist creating based upon the environment that their audience has created for them.

For all of their history the band has made a point to emphasize how important their relationship with their audience is; how the crowd’s energy often pushes the band to greater heights. Yet, never before has crowd & band seemed so united, so in the moment, so spontaneously connected as they do during the peak of this “Tweezer.” Just listen to the force with which Trey re-enters the jam following the first set of “woo’s” and try to tell me the band wasn’t completely taken aback, and totally blown away by the unified moment of improvisational connection that had just occurred.

Yes, the “woo’s” became a tad over-exhausted by the end of the tour, but, honestly, could you really blame the band for capitalizing on this moment and trying to replicate it? Like their secret language in the early-90’s, their chess match in the Fall of 1995, and the entirety of Big Cypress, the Tahoe “Tweezer” represented yet another completely unexplainable moment of band-audience interplay where Phish just seemed bigger than a rock & roll band.

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A New Old School Approach – 08/02’s First Set

You can just feel the energy seething from the August 2nd Bill Graham Civic Auditorium show simply from watching the YouTube clips. The first set since the Tahoe “Tweezer,” the band enters to a crowd that has seemingly lost its collective mind. Just watch how shocked Trey is as he humbly waves towards the fervent fans.

It looks like what one might imagine a 1994 show in some dingy IHL Arena might be like.

In the moment, and in hindsight, “Free” was the perfect song to open that show with. Could anything else have summed up the unified feelings of their entire fanbase quite as well?

I feel the feeling I forgot…..

I feel freeeeeee………

Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

And then that guitar riff…

Without question, 08/02’s first set is the most diverse first set of the entire tour. Combining rarities – “Meat,” “Oh Kee Pa,” “Vultures – tour debuts – the aforementioned along with “Roggae,” “When The Circus Comes,” and “Babylon Baby” – with absolutely stellar playing throughout, it’s – if not the best – then certainly one of the best first sets of the entire tour. Trey just sounds so alive, and in the moment, in the dirty, and building solo out of “Sand,” and in the patient, yet focused, “Reba” that came two songs later.

While one can’t deny the impact of the band’s tighter song rotation here in 2013 – be it more exploratory playing or an influx of repeats – regardless your stance on their structural approach this year, there’s just something about the feeling of being at a show where the band decides to throw down a number of unexpected rarities and bust-outs. Not something any of us should be actively chasing – particularly now, when the band is at the top of their game regardless what they play – when you hear a show full of songs you’d have never guessed the band would have played that night, it just seems to raise the energy and sentiments surrounding the show to an unexpected level.

By mixing “Meat,” “Oh Kee Pa,” “Vultures” and “Roggae” in with rotational staples “Free,” “AC/DC Bag,” “Sand,” and “Reba,” the band crafted a setlist that both celebrated their diverse history, while also displaying their current peak. That they played each of these songs with fresh energy, innovative musical passages, and precision delivery only further emphasized the new/old school gem they unleashed in 08/02’s first set.

Whereas in recent years, these kinds of sets tended to sound bloated and even awkward, everything gelled on the first night in San Francisco.

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The Second Set Of 08/04 & Where We Go From Here

If the first set of the San Francisco run represented a veritable link between Phish’s past and present, then the run’s final set displayed not only how far the band has come over the last five years, but also, where they’re headed.

All summer long the band has used “Energy” to usher in their most innovative and consequential second sets.

On 07/05 it displayed the high level in which Phish was entering their tour at, and graced us with the theme of the tour: Energy & Electricity.

On 07/21 it was the only song Phish could have played at the time, expanding into a limitless jam that eventually flowed into “Ghost,” summing up the phearlessness Phish was playing with, and turning the focus towards the west.

On 08/04 it closed out the BGCA run in perfect fashion, summing up the entire vibe surrounding Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour, while reminding us of the electricity that coursed through the community.

Like the two previous sets it kicked off, the entirety of the 08/04 second set flows from the intangible force that that song has on the band here in 2013. Following with an expansive, rock-based jam off “Runway Jim,” a “Light” that both explored all the musical terrain contained within itself before moving into the Storage Unit, and ultimately towards the original kiln of the storage jam: “David Bowie,” the set was constructed in a way to emphasize their jamming vehicles of old, and of new, while systematically pointing the way towards Dick’s, and the Fall.

So, where are we going?

I wrote about this in my recap of the second week of tour, just about a month ago, which you can read here. In that essay, I argued that – up until 07/14 – the 2013 Summer Tour reminded in many ways of August 2010, in that, while it was an incredible tour to be a part of, little did we know until October, that it was actually the building block for the first true peak of 3.0.

Lo and behold, as this tour moved westward, faced with torrential weather that had consumed the tour until that point, with the band fully aware of timing and the moment, Phish pushed the tour to a completely new level with their second set on 07/21. From there through Hollywood the tour remained on an absolutely consistent and mind-bending high.

I cannot see this ending any time soon.

Phish is completely comfortable back on stage, communicating with each other like they haven’t since 1998. The growing pains that plagued them in their first years of 3.0 aren’t even a conversational bit anymore. There’s no longer a need for a “settling in” process whenever they get back on tour.

When we look towards the remainder of the year, what we find is a Dick’s run that’s sure to be a HUGE moment for the band. Regardless if it actually “tops” last year’s run – something that has more to do with subjectivity than it does with what the band actually plays – one has to imagine the shows are going to have a deeply emotional impact on the band. Beyond that: Fall Tour, most notably a return to Hampton. If one thinks Dick’s will hit the band emotionally, just think what Hampton’s going to be like…

Following the first three-night run in the Mothership since March 6th, 7th, and 8th, 2009 is a tour that takes the band through their most hallowed stretch of country – returning them to Hartford, Worcester, Glens Falls, Rochester, and a Halloween date in Atlantic City. And after all that is the 30th Anniversary Run the band has clearly been building towards, and then finally a return to MSG to ring in 2014!

When was the last time the back-half of a year looked this promising for Phish fans? 1997??? 1995???

The point is, the band built to a sustained peak out west at a time when they’ve only got monumental show after monumental show on their horizon. The thought of where (mentally & emotionally) the band is right now musically, and where (locationally) they’re going to be playing over the next five months is somewhat incomprehensible.

Moreover, the fact that they’re playing sets like 08/04 II where they’re throwing out stunning jams from new songs such as “Light” and “Energy,” combined with innovative takes on their classics – “Runaway Jim,” “David Bowie,” “You Enjoy Myself” – while also fucking around with the crowd by continuing to play a “Horse”-less “Silent In The Morning,” or encoring with “Sanity” and “Bold As Love,” just raises the possibilities even higher as we move towards Fall.

So, where are we going?

Gamehendge, duh…

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When Is The Last Time Phish Peaked Like This?

In my recap of the second week of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour, I argued that this was the best start to a tour since Summer 1998. Not only do I not feel this statement was in anyway shortsighted or, even overfluffed, but I firmly believe that the way the tour has unfolded since then has only worked further confirm this opinion.

It’s time to go a bit further….

This recent peak from 07/21 through 08/05 represents the most consistent stretch of high-quality music the band has made since 11/17/1997 – 12/07/1997.

It’s true. Go back through the setlists and the shows of the past fifteen years, and try to find a stretch of ten shows that have been played at as high a level as these have. Add in sets like 07/05 II, the run from PNC – MPP, even the Alpharetta run, and this tour is without question the band has played since at least Summer 1998.

This is not to compare the music made from these two eras – a task that would be as impossible as it would be pointless – rather it’s simply a statement on how great things are in the world of Phish right now.

This is also not to say that this peak here in 2013 is somehow better than any of their peak periods from 1998 – 2012 were. This is only to say that Phish has reached a point of consistency on a high level that is absolutely unprecedented in 3.0 and 2.0, and, that the absence of such a recent period was a major factor in why the band decided to take their first hiatus back in 2000.

Ever since the final show in Chicago, Phish has played with both a driven energy, and an understood ease that has always been present in their peak periods. Regardless if they were exploring minimalistic funk grooves, abstract patterns of dissonant noise, the hellish depths of their souls, or prying open the pockets within their own songs, the combination of a driving force, and a relaxed ease has always been needed for the band to reach these heights.

The only difference between these current heights and those from 1998 – 2012, is that, now, the band can sustain them for weeks on end.

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Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

I’ve been compiling this list as the tour’s moved along. Were I to grant you my full list that’s currently occupying an itunes playlist, this post would become a lot more bloated than it already is…. Once again, I’ll be focusing here on only a select number of my favorite shows and jams. Rather than ranking them, or trying to grant any a “best-of” status, they’re all simply listed chronologically. More than anything, these are the shows and jams that have really grabbed me as the tour’s evolved.

For any show/jam listed that I’ve discussed prior, I’ve left any sort of write upon them blank. I’d invite you to check out the past lists/write-ups compiled here and here.

Favorite Shows

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

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

– 07/10/2013 PNC Bank & Arts Center – Holmdel, NJ

– 07/12/2013 Nikon @ Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, NY

– 07/13/2013 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD

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

– 07/20/2013 Northerly Island – Chicago, IL

– 07/21/2013 Northerly Island – Chicago, IL

– 07/26/2013 The Gorge Ampitheatre – George, WA – To me, this is the most complete show of the entire summer. Combining rarities, gimmickry, jamming, a crafty setlists, and the overall magic that just permeates The Gorge, this is one of those special nights we spend so much of our time and energy as Phish fans searching for.

– 07/27/2013 The Gorge Ampitheatre – George, WA – A more refined approach after 07/26’s throwdown. 07/27 opens with my favorite opening segment of the year, fully summarizing what makes Phish such a special bend. The second set is the definition of perfection in my mind. Fully-flowing, expert selections, top-notch playing of some of their best songs, one listen to this will go a long way in displaying just how high Phish is right now.

– 08/02/2013 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – Set I might be my favorite of the entire year thus far. Set II is a gem in and of itself as well. With so many rarities and tour debuts in the first set, one might have assumed by simply glancing at the setlist that the flow was sacrificed, but that simply doesn’t happen anymore with Phish. Energy prevails throughout, and the band busts open “Seven Below” and “Stealin’ Time” in Set II before capping the night off with the first ever “Walls Of The Cave” encore, perfectly setting things up for the tour’s final weekend.

– 08/04/2013 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – Similar in structure to last year’s 08/19/2012 show at BGCA, this show perfectly displays where Phish is at here in mid-2013. Nailing every single song in Set I, the band focuses Set II on two remarkable jam segments – “Energy> Runaway Jim” and “Light -> David Bowie” – while never relenting energy. A perfect show to cap off the best tour of Phish’s career in fifteen years.

Favorite Jams

– 07/06/2013: “Split Open & Melt”

– 07/06/2013: “Carini -> Architect”

– 07/10/2013: “Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood”

– 07/12/2013: “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge”

– 07/21 2013: “Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards”

– 07/22/2013: “Down With Disease”

– 07/27/2013: “Down With Disease -> Undermind> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> 2001” – A 50-minute segment of music that opened up the final set at The Gorge, this flowed from sparse/rhythmic themes in “DWD” and “Undermind,” to contemplative melodies in “Light,” before building to a massive funk/rock peak in “Sally.” The first half to my favorite set of the summer, this is just further proof of both the power of The Gorge, and the unique peak Phish currently finds themselves in.

– 07/31/2013: “Tweezer” – 37 minutes. The woo’s. Trey’s riff. Tears. What more can I say?

– 08/03/2013: “Rock & Roll -> Steam” – A diametrically different take on “Rock & Roll” than JB’s extended-Type I jam, this version explores the innate groove within the song before segueing fluidly into one of the stronger “Steam’s” we’ve heard thus far. For me, there’s just something about the force in which the band enters the “R&R” jam segment that says so much about how high they’ve been over the past month.

– 08/04/2013: “Energy> Runaway Jim” – The theme song of the summer combined with an age-old classic that’s jammed to a menacing and lengthy rock-based peak. It’s the kind of stuff that’s becoming commonplace here in 2013.

– 08/05/2013: “Harry Hood” – Three songs before the tour’s conclusion, the band expanded on “Harry Hood,” crafting a 22-minute gem that stands up with some of the best versions ever played. No matter the fact that the band clearly wanted to play an upbeat, if, safe show, IT was still racing through their veins. Times like these, even the band can’t even control when they’re going to hook-up.

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And this concludes tackle & lines recap of Phish’s west coast run. Hope everyone has enjoyed this tour as much as I have! Please feel free to leave me comments here, or at my twitter feed: @sufferingjuke. Can’t wait for Dick’s!!!

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.

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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: Bangor, Me – 07/03/2013

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Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion – Bangor, ME – 07/03/2013

Set I: Possum> Runaway Jim, Stash, NICU> Wolfman’s Brother, Rift, Theme From The Bottom> Chalk Dust Torture> Mike’s Song> Silent In The Morning*> Weekapaug Groove

Set II: Golden Age> Twist> Backwards Down The Number Line, Ocelot, Rock & Roll -> 2001> Cavern> Run Like An Antelope

Encore: Harry Hood#

* First “The Horse” – less “Silent In The Morning” since 17 June 2012

# “Harry Hood” contained a “The Divided Sky” tease

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The first show of a summer Phish tour is always about more than just the music played.

It’s a celebratory rejoicing of the band being back and making new music once again.

It’s an opportunity for old friends to reunite in a random parking lot, open field, or sports arena.

It’s – as Andy Greenberg, Zach Cohen, and Mr. Miner so eloquently said yesterday – a return to that metaphysical quest we’ve all undertaken for truth and purpose through music and travel.

It’s the first chance we all have to gauge what the layoff did to the band, and surmise at what music we may hear from them in the coming touring season.

It’s like Opening Day in baseball; in the end, it matters little if your team wins or loses, just that the game is back in your life. For the first time since winter, there’s opportunity (and reefer, of course) in the air.

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Historically, tour openers have typically been regarded as opportunities for the band to simply re-settle into the road. However, in the 3.0 era, Phish has regularly come out firing on all cylinders from show one. From 06/11/2010 to 05/27/2011, 08/05/2011, and 12/28/2011, to 06/07/2012, 08/15/2012, and 12/28/2012, the band has, in recent years, jumped fully back into a tour with standout shows that typically set stylistic tones for the tour ahead.

Yet, what a tour opener can really tell us about a tour is up for the debate. The Chicago 2010 show preceded the weakest overall tour in 3.0. The 12/28/2011 show looked to carry the fire from Dick’s straight through to MSG, which turned out to be all for naught. To the contrary, a severely underwhelming three-night-run to open Fall 2010 in Broomfield, CO did little to hinder the magic of that tour’s final two weeks. Even in 2012, when the band opened with perhaps their best opener since 1999, (though what does that really mean anyway?) few could have predicted the highs the band was going to hit as the tour unfolded.

Essentially, it’s best to take tour openers with a grain of salt. Enjoy them for the sheer fact that Phish is back in our lives, but don’t go calling anything the best/worst ever before, during, or after them.

1012304_10151444225366290_976737831_nAll this brings me to the first night of the 2013 Summer Tour, and the onset of the band’s 30th Anniversary.

By showtime two things were clear:

1. The band had made their first adjustment in their stage alignment since Coventry. Fish rotated to the back between Mike and Trey, on level with the band, and positioned slightly ajar facing Trey. It’s essentially a mix between their 1999 – 2000 and 2.0 set ups. Enacted so Trey can clearly hear the entire band without the drums being in the monitors, the move bodes big things for the band in terms of overall communication and improvisation.

2. Kuroda has totally overhauled his lighting rig. Gone are the three screens that he used to create patterns, and write Phish on with his lights. In their place are a vast array of canned lighting, some new, old-school floor lighting, and a canvas screen backdropping the ENTIRE stage that allows for even bigger and bolder lighting patterns.

What these two aesthetic adjustments do to the music is still unknown, but you’d nary find any fan with a good reason not to praise the band tinkering with their system here, some thirty years in.

As for the music…

Set I kicked things off with a run through a litany of old-school Phish classics. By set’s end, there wasn’t a single song played that had been written after 1995. Reminiscent of 10/31/2009 and 06/13/2010, the set was a clear nod to the past, here at the onset of the band’s 30th Anniversary.

“Possum” got things rolling the way “Possum” is meant to get things rolling; nothing more, nothing less. At first listen, Trey’s use of his older Languedoc gave him a much cleaner sound, as he offered spry and playful licks throughout both the opener and the subsequent “Runaway Jim.”

Neither shocked nor awed, though neither one had to.

I’m sure that being in the venue, ankles deep in the sodden grass, perspiring beer in hand, that old, funny feeling rushing through your veins, the sight of balloons and beach balls bouncing through the air, the sheer greenness of a post-rained sunny summer day in Maine, the pot drifting through the air, the energy of 15,000 fans and friends cheering with all their might, helped to make both tracks feel bigger, and more impactful than they were.

In terms of your own personal memories and emotions tied to the show, it is neither my duty, nor my desire, to alter them.

From my perspective however, much like the opening combo, “NICU,” “Rift,” “Theme From The Bottom,” “Chalk Dust,” and even “Mike’s” did exactly what the were placed there to do – which was reacquaint both band and audience with being at a Phish show, while subsequently keeping the energy flowing – and nothing more.

The most interesting aspect of Set I came in a “Stash” which toyed with dissonance, as the band played around with the concepts of darkness and light. While never fully embracing the underworld, nor becoming an overtly major-keyed, happy-“Stash” jam, (ala, 10/31/2010) the song proved, nonetheless, that the band is both excited to build from their monumental 2012, and is also feeling that loose-tightness that only comes from practice and chemistry.

Beyond the “Stash,” “Wolfman’s Brother” messed with some seedy funk before resolving itself in a satisfyingly high-fiveable type of arena-rock peak, “Chalk Dust” featured incredible energy due to its placement and an excellent solo from Trey before fading into “Mike’s.” The high point of energy from the set, and perhaps one of the peaks of the show, the two songs paired perfectly together in the moment. While “Mike’s” still remains a caged beast, it’s nevertheless, always effective at offering an energy burst to a show in just seven minutes that few other songs will ever be capable of.

Ending things with the first “Horse”-less “Silent In The Morning” since Father’s Day 2012, and a Mike-a-fied “Weekapaug Groove,” the set ended in not only more interesting territory than it began, but also displayed a consistent upward mobility of energy and playing from the band. Solid, solid way to kick off 2013. While few may revisit it from here on out, this is the kind of set you can throw on at a bbq and not catch too much flak from your non-Phish fans. Great songs, great energy, great fun.

Welcome to Phish 2013.

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I recently wrote an essay about “Golden Age” highlighting while I believe the band is struggling with improvising on the song. You can read it here.

Regardless your opinion on how the band is fairing in terms of jamming it, one thing will always be clear: it’s just a damned fun song to hear at a Phish show. A perfect song to open the second set of the first night of their 30th Anniversary year, the song speaks directly to the Phish community, and the 3.0 era, like few of their originals ever could.

Musically the jam on the TV On The Radio hit moves effortlessly into a pseudo-funk dance-territory almost immediately. Employing subtle rhythmic licks from Trey, its Page who takes the lead here on his Rhodes. Anchored by Mike and Fish, the jam is immediately less frenetic than it has been in past versions, allowing Trey a bit more leeway to trade leads with Page rather than scatter ideas all over the place. Following some meatball magic from Gordo, Page infuses the jam with some major scales offering a distinctly different take on the jam.

A year to the day after the most successful and transcendent version the band has played of the song, here they were, once again harnessing a new approach to the jam. Space is key in the jam’s final minutes, as each member balances rhythmic groove with patience and atmosphere. Yet right before it had a chance to take off into some truly untapped space, the jam was cut short for a fade into “Twist.” A hopeful sign nonetheless for the jam in the coming year, I myself am incredibly eager to hear how the band can build on yet another version that almost got there.

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A lot has already been said about the middle part of the second set. A lot more doesn’t need to be said. They played “Twist> Backwards Down The Number Line, Ocelot.”

Individually I love each one of these songs. (Hate if you will, “Number Line” just sounds like Phish to me in the happiest state, and “Ocelot” always makes me feel like I’m dancing on the lawn at Alpine no matter where I am.) Together, in the 2,3,4 slot of the first second set of the tour, not so much. From the seedy bounce of “Twist,” to the bubbly happiness of “Number Line,” to “Ocelot’s” slow-trotting western groove, they are an odd mix at any time in a show. Props to the band for mixing up their sets, and I for one, would certainly love to hear “Ocelot” expanded upon in a future second set, but we’ll chalk this segment up as the first genuine misstep of the tour.

The second set ended however, in commanding fashion with a segment that reads: “Rock & Roll -> 2001> Cavern> Run Like An Antelope.”

A thrilling run of songs, it’s more energy than jams, and a great cap to the first night back. “Rock & Roll” does it’s cawk-rock thing before it finds itself in some interesting space through its last minute and a half. Ultimately, however, it serves as a lengthy fade into “2001.” Offering Kuroda his first chance at truly testing out the new lighting rig, the song does what all modern-day “2001’s” do: groove, peak, groove, peak, fade to next song. “Cavern” adds to the old-school feel still lingering from Set I, and “Antelope” shines for a second straight July 3rd. An expansive version that features interwoven chromatic phrases from Mike, Trey and Page, before building towards an explosive, and unified peak, the song is up there with the 08/14/2010, 10/20/2010, and 07/03/2012 versions as the cream of the 3.0 crop.

Is there anything better than a “Harry Hood” encore? How about a standalone “Harry Hood” encore? How about a standalone “Harry Hood” encore to end the first show of the tour?

While something of an odd choice after a show that ultimately just ushered the band back into tour with a standardly solid first set, and an energetic, if a bit uneven, and wholly contained second set, no one in their right mind will ever deny the sublime brilliance of Mr. Hood commandeering us into the post-show reality. This version does what it needs to and even offers a bit more. An excellent take on the classic that builds off the gorgeous versions from 08/15/2012, 09/02/2012, and 12/30/2012, my prediction that 2013 would be a banner year for “Harry Hood” already looks like my safest pick of the year.

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And with that, night one of Phish’s 2013 Summer Tour is in the books. The band now heads to SPAC fully charged, kinks out, knowing that on a night when they weren’t fully capable (or, perhaps willing) to take too many chances, they still got to that place with “Stash,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Golden Age,” “Run Like An Antelope,” and “Harry Hood.”

A tour opener in the historical sense, my guess is few will be talking much about this show three months from now. Not for nothing, however, for a show that will probably be forgotten by summer’s end, it still carries enough promise to keep all our hopes up for the summer to come. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, the tour opener is like Opening Day in baseball. Phish certainly didn’t play their best show of 2013 tonight. But, so what? Phish is back, that’s all that matters for now. If this is an “off” show, just imagine how the band is going to sound once they really get in a groove.

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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!

Summer 2003 – Ten Years After

phish100This month marks the tenth anniversary of the 2003 Summer Tour, which saw Phish trek across America – their last to properly span both coasts. A tour that blurred the lines of their overall 2.0 legacy, it also displayed a band – 20 years deep – pushing their music far into the unknown on a nightly basis. A year, and a tour that was unfairly maligned in many ways as it was happening, few tours have aged quite as well as Summer 2003 has. Much of this is due to the band’s relentless exploration throughout its entirety. Much of it is also probably due to the fact that Phish fans tend to come around on every era the band has played. Enough time passes, even 2009 starts to look like the best year of 3.0. Insipid music listening patterns will do that to a lot of people.

After returning from a two-year hiatus with a sub-par reverse-NYE Run in New York City and Hampton, Phish finally rediscovered their form throughout the two-week-long, LA – NC, Winter Tour in February. Hinting at many of the themes that would come to fruition throughout July, they nightly tore down into the rabbit’s hole in search of any light that could guide them through the unknown. That they often found even more darkness only worked to push them even further. Defined in many ways by Trey’s uncompressed, distorted, and gruesomely dirty tone, their jams took on a distinctly bluesy sound, rife with unrefined psychedelia, which bore little resemblance to any music they’d ever made before. For examples and confirmation, direct your ears towards the Chicago “Simple,” Cincinnati “Gin,” Nassau “Tweezer,” and Worcester “Moma Dance” (among, obviously many, many more jams) each of which displayed the untapped musical mine they’d unearthed throughout the tour.

Stylistically, the music they made throughout 2.0 has been called oxyjamming. Whatever that means. While sure, there are stories that Trey was struggling mightily with the on-again/off-again patterns of a hooked narcotics user, by all accounts, the Summer 2003 tour was a totally sober tour. (Whatever that means.) Are these the kinds of jams that would sedate an oxy-addict in withdrawal? Would one recommend steering clear of the pot and LSD and heading right for the pharmies in order to properly understand the musical mess Phish conjured up in 2.0? I have no idea. I guess the name just sounds like these jams in an abused, disoriented, ominous way that certain words just sound like what they’re describing. Oxyjamming has such a sloppy connotation to it, after all.

These were the first jams the band graced me with as a 18-yr-old noob seeing his first shows. To me, they often sound like the literal confusion I was experiencing in the period between high school and college. For the first time, life appeared both full of unknown potential, and increasingly baleful all at once.

At times it sounds like the band is literally fighting to stay afloat. At others, you’d have thought they were on the fringe of a massive breakthrough. It’s all very convoluted and messy.

Some people take issue with the apparent slop that dotted the band’s typically button-tight classical compositions throughout 2003. This is a fair point, to a certain extent. By all accounts the band re-engaged as Phish without participating in a single focused practice session in almost five years. Age and side project obligations played a part as well, as the band had clearly lost the youthful camaraderie – the whole inside-joke part of their performance – that had served them so well in their ascent from outcasted UVM Dead-cover-band, to regularly headlining MSG, and commanding upwards of 100,000 people to make a four-day trek to the upper reaches of Maine. And yet, while you can certainly find moments of slop throughout 2003, it’s not as if you can’t find numerous incidences of slop, and inconsistent dedication to their time-honored approach throughout much of 1997 – 2000 as well. Taken as a whole, 2003 is clearly the tightest they were as a band throughout 2.0. But, then again, I guess that’s not saying much.

The argument people love to make is that in 1995 – the summer tour in particular, which is the closest amorphous musical brethren to Summer 2003 – the band balanced a precision/energy-based approach within their compositions, while regularly spawning maximalist musical adventures into the far reaches of the unknown. To that point, all’s one can say is: true. But, it wasn’t 1995 in 2003, now was it…

The overall point is, that in the isolated Phishdom between October 7, 2000 and March 6, 2009 – a period wherein only 58 shows were played – that the band was able to tap into whatever connective force was driving them, and muster as many memorable shows/sets/jams as they did in 2003, is as true a testament as any to them as a creative engine. That these shows/sets/jams often coincided with the literal breakdown of both the band’s aesthetic, and their own personal lives only further separates the entire era from everything that else Phish has ever done.

People often complained – many times, rightly so – throughout 2009 and early 2010 that we were experiencing an era of Phish Lite. (Some continue to grouse this same point today, but it’s best to just ignore them.) Essentially saying that the music being created by the band was something of a weak imitation of everything they’d been capable of just eleven and twelve years earlier. Granted, in 2009 they had five years separating them from their last tour – ten from their last year of consistent touring – that was all moot in the face of the fact that the jams – THA JAhhhMS brAh (!!!) – were lacking. Yet, for however justifiable the criticism was in 2009, that the band needed essentially no time diving back into the netherworld when they reemerged in 2003 (technically speaking 2002, but…) is, well, the aforementioned testament.

Perhaps the key to all this inspiration can be found in the loose, late-nite-stoned-laziness of The Victor Disc. But, what was the spurt for that? That’s for another post and another time.

This essay is less here to find the historical roots of Summer 2003, as it is to honor and try to understand what happened throughout the tour.

While yes, 2003 initially received a burst in fan support and recognition in mid-2009, once it became clear the jams weren’t immediately coming back in 3.0. In many ways still, 2003 could take the award for ‘most underrated year of Phish’s career.’ Sure, a completely subjective argument – and one probably not really worth anyone’s time trying to quantify – the point is, that for however misunderstood the 2.0 era is in Phish’s overall legacy – I mean, did Parke Puterbaugh dedicate more than two paragraph’s to it in The Phish Bio?? – it’s home to some of the most jaw dropping, innovative, frightening, fall-on-your-face-failure, moody and introspective elations, and simply, unique examples of improvisation the band has ever engaged in throughout their entire career.

As follows is: Summer 2003 – Through The Jams. Ten jams, tracking the entirety of the tour. Each one signifies the various stylistic dimensions the band was willing to toy with, while also displaying the overall unifying elements that gave the tour its signature sound. That each tour has its own distinct sonic quality should come as no great revelation. Perhaps though, aside from Summer 1995, Fall 1995, and Fall 1997, Summer 2003 just sounds like Summer 2003 more so than most other tours in literally every moment of its existence.

Maybe it was a political message about the decade of war, paranoia and instability we were settling into. Maybe it was a response to all the intra-band issues still unresolved. Maybe it was just the right place and the right time. Whatever inspired them throughout the tour, one thing’s for certain: Summer 2003 stood the test of time, and is more than worthy of yours.

Big thanks to the guys over at www.phishtracks.com  for all the links for this piece!

*One quick note about the selected jams — this is neither a “Best Of” nor a “Favorite Jams” piece. These jams were all selected based on my sense of how they display the overall evolution of the 2003 Summer Tour.

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“Bathtub Gin” – 07/09/2003 – Mountain View, CA

Three shows into the tour, Phish dropped their first complete set and show, displaying a musical dexterity only heard in glimpses during the tour’s first two shows. With a five-song first set that opened with a sublime “You Enjoy Myself -> Simple,” and a fluid second set that featured a bizarre and scintillating take on “Piper,” the keystone of the whole night could be found at the end of the first set in “Bathtub Gin.” A song that produced a number of top-notch jams throughout 2003 – see, 02/14/2003, 02/22/2003, 02/28/2003, 07/26/2003, and 12/30/2003 – the version from Shoreline may be the most noteworthy. Less danceable than many of its counterparts. Less obscure that other versions. The 07/09 “Gin” is the sound of Phish 2003, the way one would expect to find them when locked in a studio, or mid-soundcheck.

Emerging from the song’s theme with a rollicking dance-beat from Fish and Mike, Trey intends to keep the jam grounded, employing his over-effect’d tone to explore the spaces between Mike and Fish, rather than command the lead, or try to impact the jam with rhythm. Employing the blues/rock riffs that had become so common throughout the winter, the jam neither meanders, nor stays put, nor necessarily takes off. Sure there’s some climax happening here, and a few moments of tension and release – see, 14ish min – 15:45ish – but it’s clear throughout that the band is far more focused on how far they can push the jam, rather than achieving any defined peak.

To this point, the most compelling aspect of this jam comes from 17:56–on when Trey signals a fade from the lethargic groove. Initiating a stoned, late-night, come-down jam, space opens up, and Page’s ambient washes become the central part of the jam. Hinting at the musical landscape the band would explore with far more earnestness in the IT “Tower Jam” and “Waves,” this is a musical space that’s perilously distorted, and yet soothingly blissful all at once. A unique blend of darkness and light, the Shoreline “Gin” is the first real indication we have in July 2003 of a band eager to dive as deep into their improvisation as possible; in constant search of a musical plane that wouldn’t have been discovered had it not been for the experimental dive that preceded it.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-09/bathtub-gin

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“Piper” – 07/19/2003 – East Troy, WI

In what’s perhaps the best year for the red, red, worm – though 1997 and 1999 certainly have something to say about it – the version played at Alpine Valley on 07/19 is neither the best, nor even the most interesting. In the summer tour alone, there are two versions that are more coherent, and more dynamic than this particular version – 07/09/2003, 07/31/2003. Yet, what separates the Alpine Valley version from the rest of the tour, and what puts it on this list, is the similarly subdued – read: peakless – jam that shares distinct thematic ideas with the 07/09 “Gin.”

Peaklessness was an overall focal point of 2003, as the band sought – deliberately or not – to direct their jams into more abstract, open soundscapes, rather than groove on a few themes while building towards some all-inclusive “big bang.” Many of the best jams of the year flow with seemingly reckless abandonment. Conflicting stews of alternating musical concepts are tossed together, all leading to an often confusing, if not incoherent, period of wading through the ideas tossed at the proverbial wall, before one is loosely latched onto until the next moment of musical amalgamation. Perhaps the jam that most displays 2003’s union with Summer 1995, the 07/19 “Piper” is more about the journey of the jam, than any sense of destination.

If there is any moment of full-band-connectivity, it comes from 12:01 – 14:05 wherein which Trey brilliant employs his Tremelo effect over a sturdy support system from Mike, a top-of-his game, abstractly holding-a-driving-beat, Jon Fishman, and Page littering the entire section with ascending and descending scales of complying melodic and dissonant passages. Yet once they discover this moment of unified jamming, they dive head-long back into the swamp, surrendering the last 10-odd minutes to soupy, psychedelic-driven-mayhem. Akin to a Fall 1997/Island Tour jam gone mad, there are moments where it feels like if the band just willed it, they could hook-up and discover transcendence – see, 20:55 to the end.

And, yet, that’s not the point of the 2003 Summer Tour. Less was the band in search of the simplified moments of ubiquitous groove that defined their 1999-2000 period, which directly preceded the hiatus. Instead here, the whole goal is the depth of music discovered. Often times, in jams such as the 07/19 “Piper,” this search yielded few tangible rewards. And yet, this was a band undeterred by the potential of falling on their faces. Like so many of the jams that needed large swaths of muddingly tedious experimentation to discover bliss, the tour itself needed a host of jams akin to the 07/19 “Piper” to overcome both their fears of the unknown, and prove that even if the band didn’t always come across brilliance, the rewards of simple exploration were more than worth it.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-19/piper

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“Harry Hood” – 07/25/2003 – Charlotte, NC

The much-revered Phish classic – capitol C – for it’s historical legacy, consistently transcendent versions from 1993 – 1996, and emotive peak that is often positioned as cap to whatever show it appears in, in 2003, the band regularly took “Harry Hood” where it had rarely even hinted at going before. While yes there were some truly captivating exploratory versions throughout 1997 – 08/14/1997 and 12/30/1997 immediately come to mind – you’d be hard-pressed to find a single traditional version of the song played on the 2003 Summer Tour. (The lone example comes as the second set closer to a 07/13/2003 Gorge show that, quite frankly, needed the warm and comforting familiarity of “Hood” after the psychologically destructive “Seven Below” that preceded it.) Perhaps out of a need to shake things up, maybe out of bordem, maybe out of an innate desire to fuck with their trusty old friend, 2003 – and to a large extent, 2004 – featured a stunning variety of lengthy, Type-II takes on “Hood.”

The jam in question is, in my humble opinion, the most interesting, and most diverse of the Type-II “Hood’s.” Granted, one could make the argument that the 07/18 version, which sticks closer to the “Hood” theme, while still breaking new ground, or the 07/31 version which is an overall tighter take on the sprawling jam are better representations of the extended “Hood,” there’s just something to the uncompromising endless push of this version that just resonates with me.

A sublime post – “Thank you Mr. Hood…” section is highlighted by particularly gorgeous piano work from Page, until, at 10:16 Trey finds his way out of the theme through at jarring chord, before backing off and allowing the band to shift downwards. Yet it’s at 12:10 where things really move in a totally opposite direction as Trey forcibly imparts an aggressive rock structure into the jam. Note Page throughout the jam, as his response to this somewhat abrasive decision is to paint a wall of keys behind Trey’s impatient lead, creating the ideal cushion for the jam’s immediate shift. That they find a unified moment of connection is a miracle; the segment from 15:54 – 16:53 is some of the most hooked-up Phish you’ll find in all of 2003.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the jam is – music aside – the simple fact that it’s reminiscent of the messages the band sent to their fans with their sprawling jams in June 1995, and their slimmed-down setlists in 1997. Here, in 2003, they’re indicating a willingness to jam any/all of their songs. That their taking such liberties with one of the emotionally coveted songs in their catalogue is all the more bold. I think, in many ways, this was the overall issue many fans had with the band from 2009 – 2011. That lack of aggressive dominance and willfulness over their catalogue had seemingly disappeared.

Ultimately resolving itself in a less-than-satisfying peak off the rock-based jam they’d been toying with through various themes over the past few minutes, the jam spends its last 3ish minutes in a realm of directionless abstract noise before somehow finding the closing peak of the “Hood” jam. (Seriously, listening back, one has to wonder how the fuck did they actually rediscover “Hood”???) A more confounding piece in many ways than even the 07/19 “Piper,” the 07/25 “Hood” shows what happens when a band cares little about the emotional rewards of paying customers, and instead, treats a mid-tour-jam as if they were locked in a room, tossing potentially meaningless ideas at each other. It’s both brilliantly important, and absurdly infuriating all at once.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-25/harry-hood

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“Crosseyed & Painless” – 07/29/2003 – Burgettstown, PA

If one were to rank the best jams of 2003, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more enthralling, resolutely satisfying, or unanimously praised jam than the “Crosseyed & Painless” from Star Lake. After littering Set I with nine-straight bustouts, that Phish would open the second set of their one-night stop in Western, PA with a song that had only been played three times in the previous six calendar years was enough to push the show into untapped territory. That the jam that emerged contained nearly 22-minutes of the most connected, unified, and determined improvisation of the year was the kind of thing that only happens in the historically brilliant moments of Phish’s career.

From essentially the moment they leave the structure of “C&P,” the jam is distinctly more focused than literally anything else played throughout the tour. And, yet, for however determined and hooked-up the band was, they sacrifice none of the exploratory zest that had thus far defined the entire summer. Led by the tour’s MVP – Jon Fishman – the jam turns on a dime at 6:20, leaving the Latino/North African sway of “Crosseyed” for something more electronic and post-modern. Like a cross-breed between the infectious grooves of the Funk Era, with the distorted and grungy hangover-rock of 2.0. With a plethora of ideas coming from each member, there’s none of the meandering psychedelia from the majority of the tour to be found. This is vintage, locked-in Phish. In the pocket; unprecedented in 2.0

So, why include a jam that so clearly deviates from the unified sound of the tour?

Because, this jam in many ways displays the total worth of the band’s relentless exploration throughout July. Were it not for all the moments of wandering experimentation, who knows if the band would have discovered such a stream for the kind of unified dive down into the rabbit’s hole they took with this “Crosseyed.” And yet, perhaps the imagery of them diving into the rabbit hole is purportedly incorrect. There’s something heavenly about this jam that’s just not present throughout the entire tour to this point – save for the 07/22/2003 “Gumbo.” It’s as if all the darkness that’s surrounded the preceding jams has led to a spiritual awakening within the band, thus guiding them away from the underworld they’d been so insistent upon residing in. This impact of the melodic, the positive spirituality, the salvation rather than damnation, is perhaps never clearer than in the moment when they band loses momentum and direction from 10:48 – 10:58, and yet, as if they’d planned it all along, discover a completely new, totally untapped, essentially more rewarding musical landscape to play around in.

This, the same band who two days earlier bickered an entire show away.

That this jam features easily the most assured playing from Trey throughout the entire tour is not for nothing. There’s a clear break from the tour that came before, and the remaining five shows, and there’s no coincidence that the brilliance of the Camden and IT shows are directly correlated to the whole-band exploration within the 07/29 “Crosseyed.” Seriously, in some ways this jam sounds like the prelude to everything achieved in the Dick’s “Undermind” and “Chalk Dust.” It’s the kind of jam that makes you wonder what could have been had the bottom not fallen our for Trey.

The peak that begins in earnest at 12:03 and lasts until 14:39 is easily the most celebratory piece of music they’d played thus far in the tour, and a direct building block to the massive “Ghost” five nights later. That they still had twelve minutes of quality exploration left untapped after the peak just goes to show how hungry they were for the unknown in 2003.

16:21, another instantaneous change. From the aggro-groove-rock that defined the previous five minutes, to a more subdued, melody driven jam. There’s simply no time in this jam for the band to become lost. Even when they meander, as they do throughout the jam’s final ten minutes, none of it feels unnecessary, nor forced. It’s one of those jams where they’re simply playing the music they’re supposed to be playing when they’re supposed to be playing it. One idea emerges and the band follows suit, exploring it to all its worth, until another member comes up with another. It’s musical democracy in its highest form. That it happened within the vaccum of 2003 is difficult to understand.

Finally at 22:40 we enter the final segment of the jam, as Trey signals with a appropriately placed “Wilsonesque” downstroke that the jam has reached its organic lifespan. The stylistic brother of the 07/30 “Scents & Subtle Sounds,” the denouement is akin to the smoldering coals on a fire. A fade to darkness after so much natural light.

Perhaps part of the reason the 2003 Tour took so much flak is that it took the band until the fifth-to-last show of the tour to produce such a naturally unified jam as the 07/29 “Crosseyed.” And yet, that’s part of the overall brilliance of the 2003 Summer Tour, something that’s increasingly become apparent in the 3.0 era: the band is neither capable of, nor willing to participate in Phish with the same relentless time/energy as they did in the late-80’s/early-90’s. As a result, their leaps forward are more gradual, and a result of more publicized failure than they were perhaps risking early on.

Regardless, they got to the 07/29 “Crosseyed.” That’s the key. The rest of the tour was a run for the ages. Also, it’s about damn time they brought back “Tunderhead” as a landing point for jams.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-29/crosseyed-and-painless

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“Scents & Subtle Sounds” – 07/30/2003 – Camden, NJ

A microcosm for the entire 2.0 era, perhaps no show – aside from 02/20/2003 – received more vitriol immediately following it, only to be reborn as a veritable classic in later years. Coming on the heels of the Burgettstown show, which featured numerous bust-outs the fanbase had been clamoring for, a brilliant jam in “Crosseyed & Painless” and the first “Harpua” since 11/02/1998 taboot, it made sense the first night in Camden would underwhelm. Yet, for whatever expectations fans held about the final stand before IT, it’s clear from the moment the band dives into a monstrous third-song jam off “Scents & Subtle Sounds,” that they intend to use the show as an opportunity to push their music even further.

The lone keeper of the new songs unveiled over the course of the tour, “Scents” spent the first half of the tour locked in a 2-show rotation, wherein which the band focused on the melodic bliss of its post-lyrical “Hoodesque” jam. On 07/23 however, they opened the show with it, and, feeling inspired, took it on a 20-minute journey before resolving it in “Theme From The Bottom.” Not seen in seven days, when they initiated the new-agey preach for spiritual enlightenment, the depths of its musical expansion was really all the band could focus on.

A lethargic, yet still beautiful – in the way that only 2003 songs could be – composed segment led to the jam’s initial movement. Though, just watching the YouTube clip of this jam, it’s clear Trey is eager to get the band into the unknown. A signal to both Mike and Page brings an ominous tone of darkness to the jam at 8:15. What’s clear about the jam though, is that, once they fully push beyond the “Scents” theme, they’re as locked in as they were the previous night during “Crosseyed.” The jam ebbs and flows with organic (un)precision, each member offering an idea that fits the puzzle as it constructs itself. Far more seedy than the spiritual awakening of the “Crosseyed,” the “Scents” finds Phish toying with the under-worldly, and brooding concepts that had overtaken their music in 2003, yet doing so without the meandering, soupyness that had so far defined it. This is a band fully focused on their goals, diving deep into the dark matter of their music, and crafting brilliance.

Yet for as focused or democratic as the band is in conducting their jam, up until around 15minutes in, its clear this is not the music you play in a live concert. (Not to mention the music you play three songs into a show.) There’s a late-night sludge to the jam, a stoned-haziness that sounds like a direct-link between The Victor Disc from eight months earlier. It’s as if there’s no one watching, or pressuring the band. The weight has been lifted, and it’s abundantly clear that all the time spent simply pushing their music further and further – for the sheer sake of pushing it – has resulted in a musical clarity, and an organic conversation that couldn’t have come about without said experimentation.

A period of downtempo, contemplative rock highlights the middle part of the jam from 18:23 – 19:59. Then, at 20:01 Trey finally settles on  hazily beautiful tone and theme, building the jam towards a sustained peak that only relents at 24:06.

Dedicating the final five minutes to the same murky, and foreboding music that brought “Crosseyed” to its resting point, the jam dissolves organically; a proper cap on the entire journey. They’d reached a point in the tour where their jams breathed with new life until, there was no more life. That the final five minutes are often as horrifying and jarring as they are, only speaks to the musical outskirts they’d trekked to. Displaying both the full worth of their improvisational exploration, and the command they had over their communication, and their music, the Camden “Scents” is one of those jams that just could only have happened in the Summer of 2003.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-30/scents-and-subtle-sounds

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“Twist” – 07/30/2009 – Camden, NJ

After achieving such musical brilliance in the first set “Scents & Subtle Sounds,” Phish opened the second set with a muddled, tedious, bewildering, and ultimately transgressive jam off a song that’s seen its fair amount of them: “Twist.” Whereas the “Crosseyed” and “Scents” that came before it produced organically-driven music, where untapped landscapes appeared effortlessly, there’s simply nothing subtle about, when, at 7:00 into “Twist,” the band nosedives straight into Hell.

A maddeningly bleak jam ensues, defined more by a unified swamp of noise, than any forward-progressing music. This is a wall of sound being built, rather than a journey being undertaken.

Returning to the core of abstract psychedelia that had defined much of the tour, the “Twist” at times feels like a statement made in opposition to the successes of the “Crosseyed” and “Scents.” It’s as if the band – acutely aware of their tour nearing its end – is actively trying to become uncomfortable once again. The jam becomes a dizzying swirl of noise, and reaches points of chaotic experimentation that has a direct correlation with June 1995.

All of a sudden, at 12:05, an industrialized pattern begins to emerge. The drumming becomes sparse, the piano and guitars take on a more polyrhythmic feel. It’s like nothing that has been played since perhaps the 07/18 version of “Twist.” They’ve broken through again, and in doing so, have found a key in which to push their music even further in the tour’s waning days.

Back to the swirling descent into Hell, the jam becomes the full-band conversation that had been ever-present in the “Crosseyed” and “Scents,” only here, the focus is less on letting the music carry them, as it is they who are actively pushing the music forward. That they’d found such communicable brilliance in the two aforementioned jams resulted directly from the fact that they, as a band, surrendered to wherever the music would take them. It’s so clear though throughout the “Twist,” that it’s them as a unified group who are doing the controlling.

And yet, for however they try to infringe upon the organic nature of improvisational music, they’re powerless to the plane of musical bliss they reach at 18:07. That they find a light at the end of the tunnel of dizzying madness is a remarkable feat. Proof once again of the total value in their experimentation. A concept we’d see put into practice in two more standout jams from the tour, the Camden “Twist” only furthered the musical renaissance of 07/29 – 08/03/2003. That it did so by going so totally against the grain of the two best jams of the tour thus far would help to lead to the unprecedented musical brilliance found at IT.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-07-30/twist

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“Waves” – 08/02/2003 – Limestone, ME

Few songs appear ready to be jammed as did “Waves” when it first debuted on NYE 2002. Perhaps the most Dead-like song the band has ever written, “Waves” both fit the downtempo feel of the post-hiatus era, and was recorded as an open-ended jam to close out Round Room. Thus when eight months later, it had failed to produce a single version that traversed beyond its structure, many wondered if the band was simply unsure of what to do with it.

In the midst of the most fluid set of the IT Festival, the band finally delivered the “Waves” everyone had been waiting for.

For a song that musically just sounds like standing on a beach in the NW as clouds gather and grey waves swirl in front of your eyes, and lyrically referes to a loss of control, and a sense of peace being found under the water, the jam that ensued on 08/02 combined both of these sentiments in one unified and mesmerizing experience.

I know I’ve tossed around the term unprecedented a lot here in this essay, but, seriously, is there any precedence in the 2003 Summer Tour for the IT “Waves”??? So much of the sound of the summer was based off of a muddled drive forward into the unknown, led by Fishman’s expansive rhythms and Trey’s grungy tone. Yet, this “Waves” is the sound of a band just there. It’s like they’re just residing in space. It’s so ambient. It’s so patient. It’s so unified. It’s so much a peak moment of the band’s entire career.

It’s as if all the sounds, all the jams, all the hours spent wading in unknown perdition have led to this moment of absolute clarity, focus, and presence. You can’t even really say they’re focused though, because it all sounds so effortless. They’re just there, playing, because they’re there playing.

It’s also a moment that’s so bittersweet for any Phish fan. It’s such a clear peak moment for the band – really, the entire IT Festival was one enormous peak for 2.0 – and yet, it was all so unsustainable.

As the IT “Waves” and the three jams that follow each show, no matter how sober, how unified, or how focused the band may have been in the Summer of 2003, the jams that were produced were a clear result of demons surfacing from within. In the context of their history, these jams make complete sense when one accounts for the personal trials of each member.

A singular moment of clarity within the 2003 Summer Tour, the 08/02 “Waves” sounds nothing like the band in Phoenix on July 7th, and exactly like how Phish has always meant to sound all at once.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-08-02/waves-jam

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“The Tower Jam” – 08/02/2003 – Limestone, ME

When Phish followed their 08/15/1998 Lemonwheel show with a candlelit Ambient Jam in the style of Brian Eno, it was both the culmination of the minimalist style they’d been toying with since Halloween 1996, and a self-conscious decision to focus more on Ambient jamming.

When Phish locked themselves in a USA Storage Unit on the night of 07/02/2011 and went on to shock their fans by playing an entire set of uninterrupted space and noise, it was a revolutionary step forward in the 3.0 era.

“The Tower Jam” from IT is somewhere between those two extremes. In many ways it sounds like the culmination of the muddying, hypnotic, everything-in-the-pot-stew that defined the improv of that summer. At other times, its a statement on how much further, how much deeper, how much more the band could take their music. It’s like an amalgamation of everything the band has accomplished up to this point, and how much further they could go. It feels like a rebirth in places.

Aided by the visual effect of the fiery traffic control tower re-awakened after years of inactivity, and the added psychological mind-fuck of the sheer remoteness of Loring Air Force Base, the fact it was the middle of the night, and the history of UFO activity that has dotted Limestone, ME’s past, the jam takes Phish’s music to places it simply can’t go in a standard rock concert environment.

The entire jam is an unravelling work of art which must be listened to in full, and truly, any written breakdown of it would be an injustice. Just know that this is a moment in Phish’s history that deserves your full, unyielding attention. It’s the sound of a band exploring the inner reaches of their mind and soul, and also discovering, after twenty years, just how much more they can do with their music.

That the band would only play 25 more shows between here and 03/06/2009 is an absolute tragedy.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-08-02/tower-jam

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“Ghost” – 08/03/2003 – Limestone, ME

The celebratory roar to the “Tower Jam” and “Waves” deep and expansive masterpieces the IT “Ghost” is home to both the most massive peak throughout the entire 2003 Summer Tour, and the largest glowstick war that’s ever occurred at a Phish show. Seriously, just listen from 8:03 – 13:47 and try to resist dancing.

It’s in many ways the lone gunslinger of the tour. It’s got the arrogance and the balls that the “Crosseyed” did, plus dedicates its final 10 minutes to the kind of murky exploration that defined much of the tour. It’s that unification of styles in such a blatant way that works, even as it doesn’t

You could certainly make the argument for the fact that it’d be far more pleasing if the jam were to only offer its more refined, rock-based, first half. But isn’t there something to be said for just how far, and how out there the band was willing to stretch, and peel back the layers on this jam? Me thinks so, at least.

There’s this point in the jam, 15ish minutes in, where Trey starts looping a swirling riff over a prodding rock base from Mike, Fish and Page. In that instant, the swirl of noise and harmonic dissonance sounds like the love-child of Summer 1995, December 1999 and Summer 2003. It’s these three eras of defined exploration all meeting in one singular jam.

The IT “Ghost” just feels like the kind of jam that could only happen at a festival, hundreds of miles from the rest of America. It’s so big, it’s so bloated, it’s so free. There’d be no way for the walls of an arena, nor the roof of a pavilion to contain it. Just when you think, around 20:05, that it’s finally reached its breaking point, it discovers a whole new landscape to explore for the next 11 minutes.

The final comedown of the jam is neither totally engrossing, nor really captivating. It’s just there. (Don’t get me wrong, for fans of unyielding noise-ladened jams like myself, it’s pure brilliance. But most people tend not to be…) It’s kind of like the hangover to the previous night’s “Tower Jam.” It’s a statement – much like the following jam – for all that was accomplished throughout the summer. Rules – aside from the aforementioned sobriety – were tossed by the wayside. The only goal was exploration, followed by further exploration.

So what if a jam peaked over ten minutes prior? If the band wanted to follow its smoldering leftovers to the edge of the world, so be it. In this context, that the band would proceed to open their final set of summer with a near-40 minute vomit of unabashed noise and sound is quite fitting.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-08-03/ghosterem_Miami-NYE-2003-Behind-the-stage-copy

“46 Days” – 08/03/2003 – Limestone, ME

Is there a single jam in Phish’s extended cannon that both accomplishes essentially everything the band intends it to, and is so resoundingly despised by the overall fan community as the IT “46 Days”?

Following five minutes and thirty-three seconds of toying with the song’s theme, the band dives head-first into the rabbit’s hole, not to emerge for well over 30 minutes. The capstone to an entire summer of relentless exploration, the IT “46 Days” goes further, longer, and deeper than ANY other jam throughout the tour, save, obviously, the “Tower Jam.” Akin to the 11/29/1997 “Runaway Jim,” or the 06/14/1995 “Tweezer,” the IT “46 Days” is a constantly moving organism, wherein which ideas naturally emerge, yet rarely lead to any coherent plane of musical significance. There’s some maddening shit throughout this jam. To experience it live would be to wonder if the band was just fucking with you for the sheer sake of it.

And yet, it’s the fitting denouement to a tour full of unparalleled exploration, the likes of which we simply haven’t seen with as much consistency since. (I guess we did in 2004, but so many of those jams were just excuses to fill time. The 2003 jams had purpose; a goal.) From 11:45 – 16:54 the band resides in a hypnotic, tribal trance that sounds nothing like anything they’ve played before, or certainly since.

Following the systematic destruction of literally everything that had been played since they left the song’s theme, the band discovers one of the most sublime musical passages they’ve ever played. Initiated by Fishman at 22:31, the jam becomes a hazy late-night groove that simply wouldn’t have been discovered without the fifteen minutes of unified chaos that preceded it. It’s like the last five minutes of the 10/31/1998 “Wolfman’s Brother.” After residing in such a nightmarish dimension, the band discovers a seedy and slow blues strut that grooves like nothing else.

The ever present theme of the tour: keep pushing further and further ahead/down, and something is bound to emerge out of all the darkness. The said theme carries the band through to the 30-minute mark whereby it discovers barroom rock before returning to the “46 Days” theme. A segment of music that could only have been produced by a band reeling from a month of heady exploration, not to mention six sets of peak performances, it once again proves the worth of all this seemingly senseless exploration throughout the tour.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-08-03/46-days

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Closing the curtain on the Summer 2003 tour, the IT “46 Days” was the send-off to one of the most successful, combative, controversial, exploratory, and unabashed tours in the band’s history. That 20 years in Phish was still this willing, able, and dedicated to the kind of exploration, and improvisational brilliance that emerged from the “46 Days,” and the overall tour, is something few bands could ever hang their hat on. The fact this all came immediately following a two-year break, and almost immediately before the band “broke up” is a whole different story.

In the end Summer 2003 is what it is: a moment where the band sought to reestablish the creative control of their career, and in doing so, careened their music off into the unknown, in effort to see what the underworld would offer them. To say it was a successful tour would be an understatement, and, in some ways, a misnomer. The tour confounded many, and elated others. In many ways it simply couldn’t be fully appreciated until it was long gone.