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

——–

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.

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The Best Of Phish – 2012

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“To the victor goes the spoils.” – Sen. William Macy (1832)

When Phish announced their return on 1 October 2008 – four-plus years away from the world of sold-out arena’s, fully connected jams, and everything that comes with the Phish scene – there was both a collective sigh of relief and, resounding celebratory roar from anyone who’d connected with the band, and had hoped the demise of Coventry would not be the last time Phish would grace the stage. Four years of worn out Phish tapes, unfulfilling solo efforts, and quotes from Trey about his willingness to give up a testicle to play “You Enjoy Myself” all-day/every-day had made the fan base hungry, and desperate, for a do-over of the 2004 conclusion of Phish. What few realized, however, was just how long and arduous a process it would be for Phish to retain the sense of who they were when they finally returned to the road in the Spring of 2009. Five years removed from touring – not to mention at least ten years since their last serious practice session – Phish was noticeably rusty upon their return, and used much of 2009 and early 2010 as a back-to-basics campaign to relearn what it meant to be Phish. Determined to rebuild from scratch, the early part of 3.0 featured an inconsistent band who was accused by many of returning simply as a last grasp for a paycheck.

Gone were the unending jams of 1997-2004, gone was the zany spirit that had defined them in their early years, gone was the unpredictability that made every show a must-see, must-listen event. In it’s place was a band that appeared unsure of itself, intimidated by their fan’s expectations, and unable to consistently muster up the energy and magic that had come to be expected with a Phish show. First sets became extended recitals where the band sought to relearn their entire catalogue. Second sets – which had long been an opportunity for the band to dive head first into the unknown – were suddenly predictable. Featuring a handful of rotating “jam vehicles” to kick them off, yet provided little in the way of substantial experimentation, they almost always concluded with a string of high-energy classic standards, that, while certainly were fun to hear live, retained little replay value for anyone interested in listening to their shows. All the more frustrating was the sense that anytime Phish would play a show that was unanimously regarded with praise, they would essentially take two steps backwards by following it up with a dud. The entirety of 2009 and the June 2010 run is littered with shows that many loved, and still love – 06/07/2009, 06/19/2009, 08/01/2009, 08/14/2009,  11/24/2009, 11/29/2009, 06/18/2010, 06/27/2010 – only to be followed by shows that were among the weakest offerings of this or any era of Phish. Worst of all, Trey Anastasio, Phish’s leader – far and away the most talented member of the band during their best years – had seemingly forgotten how to play guitar. It appeared throughout the first 18 months of 3.0 that the Trey, who had so often taken charge in jams – who’s playing had inspired Carlos Stantana to coin the term “Hosing” to describe his style of jamming – had disappeared in a cloud of drug abuse and rehab. Replaced by a fumbling, awkward, mistake-prone guitarist who couldn’t get his tone right, cut jams short, ignored his bandmates, and valued contained energy over exploration, the band felt tame simply because their leader was leading with an emphasis on timidness. When they closed out the first leg of their June 2010 run with a high-energy, yet forced string of shows in Alpharetta, GA, there were more questions surrounding the direction of the band, than at any time in their career, save April 2004.

And yet, throughout all of the ups and downs, throughout all of the just bad shows, throughout all of the “Sand> Horse” moments that seemed to hang over Phish 3.0 in the first year and a half since their return, there were still many fans who held on to the belief that the entire process was a calculated one of rebuilding, one that would reward in droves once the band regained their footing. There had been too many signs of greatness – the “Fluffhead> Divided Sky” to beckon in 3.0, 06/07/2009, the gimmicks and jams that engulfed 06/21/2009, the entire Red Rocks run, the music created at the Gorge, Hartford, Festival 8, “Seven Below -> Ghost,” 12/30/2009, “Tweezer Reprise Reprise,” 06/27/2010, “Fuck Your Face” – for 3.0 to simply be a cash-grab. Phish had always been a band that relied heavily on a tight-looseness (loose-tightness). And this in-the-moment creativity was best delivered through practice, repetition and communication, something that the band hadn’t had in at least five years. Clearly they were aware that their music wasn’t on the level that many had come to expect from them. Clearly they were working towards a bigger goal. Clearly they hadn’t reunited, toured and spent so much time relearning their entire catalogue for nostalgic purposes. Clearly, Phish wasn’t a Greatest Hits band that would return to the stage only to be a stale shell of their former self.

The first sign that those who stood by the band’s 3.0 direction were right came on 08/06/2010. In the intimate Greek Theater Phish took a typically standard First Set “Cities,” latched onto a groove from Mike, and locked into a jam that could have been plucked right out of Summer 1998. The second set featured a blissful take on “Simple,” directing the ambient section of the song into a bubbling melody, resulting in some of the most organic music created in this era. “Light” from 08/07/2010 followed the trend, and from there, the band crafted easily the best tour of 3.0 at that time. Surpassed immediately by the Fall Tour that saw the band traverse throughout the Northeast in some of the most intimate and archaic venues they’d played since the mid-90’s, Phish rediscovered their zany spirit, and infused nearly every show with humor, energy, and intricate jams. Due in large part to the Ocedoc guitar that Trey received from their former sound technician/guitar craftsman, Paul Languedoc, prior to the August 2010 tour, Trey’s tone became much less abrasive overnight, and his playing immediately evolved into a more rhythm-oriented style, emphasizing the lead only when necessary. Concluding the year with a triumphant five-show run through Worcester, MA and New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Phish had clearly turned a corner in 2010, allowing all to look ahead to 2011 with gleeful excitement, rather than cautious optimism.

The overall sense surrounding 2011 is that while Phish made some of the greatest leaps forward in reasserting their brilliance, they still lacked the consistency that had defined them during the peak of their career. While there were moments that were far and away better than anything they’d been capable of during the first two years of 3.0, they were still just as prone to abandon exploration in favor of energy, and at times, could certainly be accused of mailing in performances, such as their incredibly lackluster 2011 NYE Run. Featuring a number of ups and downs, the year started off with a brilliant run in Bethel Woods, NY, and jam for the ages from “Down With Disease -> Fluffhead -> David Bowie,” outside Detroit. Yet, the June tour took the route of the 2009 and ’10 runs, sputtering as it moved along, and featuring a string of forgettable shows that left many questioning where the source of their initial energy had come from. The Super Ball IX Festival over Fourth of July Weekend on the other hand, featured the most important moment in 3.0 – “The Storage Jam” – followed by the best show of 3.0 in 07/03/2011, and helped to reinvigorate the band with a sense of wonder, and an intrigue in the unknown. As Trey said, “it kind of reignited us to open our minds a little bit.”

When they returned in August at the wide-open Gorge amphitheater in Washington, they kick-started a tour that would feature some of the darkest, most exploratory, and surreal jams since 2004, most notably the 08/05/2011 “Rock & Roll -> Meatstick -> Boogie On Reggae Woman,” 08/09 “Light” and 08/15 “Waves -> Undermind.” Closing out the tour with a celebratory, innovative and overall victorious three-day run at the intimate Dick’s Sporting Goods Park just outside of Denver was a send off to a summer that, while it had it’s moments of uncertainty and mistakes, had seen Phish take more risks and reap more rewards than any point during 3.0. All the more bizarre then, their New Year’s Eve Run at Madison Square Garden turned out to be a complete dud aside from the tepidly exploratory and genuinely fun opening show on the 28th. Without a Fall Tour to bridge Summer and the holiday’s, Phish sounded directionless, and for the first time in all of 3.0, truly appeared to be going through the motions. 2011, which had begun with such optimism, with so much joy over the state of the band, ended with a resounding sense of skepticism, backed up by the fact that 2012 was going to be a “lite touring year for the band.”

As the two summer tours were unveiled in the late winter, the offerings left much to be desired for they featured a string of shows in oft-played Northeastern venues, followed by a two-week scattering of one-off shows in August in-between a three-night stand in San Francisco, and the second-annual Labor Day Tour Finale at Dick’s. What’s more was the confirmation in April that the band would not release any more tour dates in 2012, meaning even fewer shows would be played in 2012 than 2011, only further worrying a fan base that the best of 3.0 had come and gone in a flash. Oh, but we were oh so wrong…

In one of the best scene’s in Phish’s 2000 documentary, Bittersweet Motel, Trey responds to a question about their Fall 1997 tour, saying, “Nobody’s paying any attention, and we’re having the best tour we’ve had in years.” This quote could aptly describe the Summer 2012 tour in the same way it did the legendary Fall 1997 outing. While sure, people were excited for the 2012 return of Phish, the sense of anticipation, the unbridled celebration, the endless discussions on what would happen this tour were all but absent from the Phish community in the weeks leading up to 7 June. For the first time Phish would begin a tour in 3.0 without much fanfare, hype or expectations. And in legendary fashion, they responded with easily the best tour they’ve had in years. Putting to rest the myth that their June runs were there to get the kinks out, the band spent a week rehearsing prior to their opening run in Worcester, MA. Resulting in an experimental-heavy tone to the start of tour, a string of rare songs, and standards in unique placements, the tour kicked off with an anything-goes spirit that wouldn’t let up once throughout first leg.

Turning conventional wisdom on it’s head, the tour featured a band excited about it’s music, excited about playing with each other, energized, and using every show as an opportunity to dig deeper than they had in all of 3.0. The growing pains were officially gone, this was finally the Phish we’d been waiting for for four years. To those who had hung around and believed even when the band threw a 06/20/2009, 08/15/2009, 11/25/2009, 06/17/2010, 10/15/2010, 10/24/2010, 06/10/2011, 08/10/2011, 12/30/2011 in our faces, 2012 was a revelation, a year of spoils to both band and fans alike. With a stated goal of playing 200 unique songs throughout June, the run was infused with rarities and a sense that any song could – and would – be played at any show. Add to it, the comfort the band felt with each other again, multiple jams would pop up in various shows, reigniting the band’s sense of exploration, and thus proving “The Storage Jam” was a turning point, rather than a on-off experiment. Combining these two aspects of Phish resulted in a tour for the ages, one that spilled over into August and featured a number of standout shows with a more polished approach to the wildness of June. Culminating with the Dick’s shows, the band once again capped off the tour with a celebratory run that emphasized exploration, delivered the best jams of the year, the best shows of the year, and gave 07/03/2011 a real run for it’s money.

In the same sense as the rest of 2012, Phish returned to MSG for their NYE Run far more prepared than they had a year earlier, resulting in a much better overall run. While it is clear that they do in fact benefit from a Fall tour, the band still managed to infuse their MSG shows with a determined and driven energy, stoked the exploratory fire lit at Dick’s, and gave all in attendance – and all listening at home through the much-refined couch tour – a reason to truly be happy about the state of Phish in 2012. As we look forward to the 30th year of the band’s career, there’s no reason anyone should question the direction, drive or focus of Phish. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s more than obvious now that the trials and errors of 2009 – 2011 have all but been overcome, and that Phish is in a healthier state than they’ve been since 1995.

As with the last two years, I’ve assembled a list of ten shows and jams that standout as the best of the year. Along with these selections, there are three honorable mentions to each. These are not simply shows/jams 11-13, but rather foundational jams and shows with which the band grew, yet didn’t crack my top ten. The lists are assembled chronologically just like the last two years, thus reserving the title “Best Ever” as a subjective accolade. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Happy New Year! Can’t wait to see what 2013 brings to the world of Phish!

The Best Of Phish 2012

Honorable Jams

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“Boogie On Reggae Woman” – Worcester, MA – 06/07/2012

The first night of the 2012 Summer tour brought an array of surprises – from the bookending “Buried Alive” performances, to the quantity of jams in Set II including “Carini,” “Ghost” and “Harry Hood” – perhaps the greatest being the jam that emerged from “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” A song that’s been let out to run only a handful of times, it’s typically been called upon in 3.0 to showcase Mike’s bass talents, and inject a show with a dose of fun and energy. Yet on 7 June, after emerging from a rather demented and atypical “Ghost,” Trey jumped all over the “Boogie On” jam, building a raucous theme, and highlighting his reacquaintance with the “Hose.” All energy, all rock, all Trey, the Worcester “Boogie On” is neither the most exploratory, nor most original number of the night. What it is though, is that moment when everyone in the Phish scene realized the band had really brought out their big guns in 2012, a foreshadowing of the surprises and the overall greatness the band had in store for us fans during the summer of 2012.

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“Limb By Limb” – St. Louis, MO – 08/28/2012

For a song that had grown increasingly stale, and predictably tepid, the “Limb By Limb” from 28 August represented a revolutionary moment for Phish. Appearing deep in one of the best second sets of the year, it seemed initially that it would be used as a breather after the “Chalk Dust Torture -> Frankie Says -> Undermind -> Sand -> Walk Away” jamfest that had opened the set. Yet, once the band broke from the song’s structure, they left the theme completely, as Trey led them down a completely unique and untapped path, totally devoid of “Limb By Limb’s” original concept. At first, dark and rhythmically plodding, the jam built upon a celebratory melody, leading to a full band peak, which ultimately hinted at the jams that would emerge from “Light” and “Sand” at Dick’s the following weekend. Featuring fully realized licks from Trey, structurally supportive bass from Mike, a resounding organ fill from Page and proactive drum riffs from Fish, it was the kind of energized tension and release jam that had been the band’s bread and butter for so many years. Returning here, in type-II fashion to compliment one of their best lyrical songs – at a critical point during the show, and tour – it only further stoked the furnace that was burning within the band in 2012.

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“Runaway Jim > Farmhouse” – Commerce City, CO – 08/31/2012

The first of five jams and two shows from the legendary 2012 Dick’s Run to appear on this list. When Phish left the structure of “Runaway Jim” to open the second set of 08/31/2012 – only the second time they’d done so since 2000 – everyone in the venue, and watching from the comfort of their couches knew it was on. The first set of the show had featured two fully realized jams in “Carini” and “Undermind,” a first set “You Enjoy Myself,” and a setlist that read: F.U.C.K.Y.O.U. Thus when they opted to see how far from home Jim would rome, rather than keep him chained up as he’d been for all of 3.0, it was a clear sign that the Dick’s run wouldn’t follow suit with the various criticisms and assumptions that had plagued much of the last four years of Phish. A jam that moved from it’s theme into a much darker realm, the Dick’s “Jim” might be most notable for it’s recovery from potential miscommunicated disaster from 12:00 – 12:24, resulting in an improvised funk-throwdown, the sorts of you just don’t get this side of 1998. Sveltely flowing into a melodic segment of psychedelia, the band displayed a desire to push jams beyond their typical resting places, a theme which would come to represent the entire run. Landing in “Farmhouse,” it appeared as though the gimmicks from set one were over. Yet, the band had other ideas. Needing to fit R.F.A.C.E. in the second set meant they had to keep the jams rolling, and once the theme of “Farmhouse” ended, they embarked upon a segment of Ambient washes and spacious noise that brought everyone back to the phenomenal “IT Waves” from 2003. An unlikely pairing of jamming partners in 2012, “Jim > Farmhouse” represented the realization at Dick’s that the Phish we thought we’d figured out, had once again duped us. A sense us fans were more than happy to accept.

The Top Ten Jams Of 2012

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“Birds Of A Feather -> Back On The Train -> Heavy Things” – Atlantic City, NJ – 06/15/2012

Born out of Phish’s 1997 linear musical communication renaissance was a song that felt snagged from the discography of The Talking Heads. For it’s first seven years in existence, “Birds Of A Feather” worked a lot like “Chalk Dust Torture” in that it could alternate with ease between an exploratory jam vehicle and a short, punchy, determined rocker. Then 3.0 came around and the song’s edge seemed to be gone for good, as every version followed the same pattern of thematic soloing, high-energy payoff, end. At first it seemed the 15 June version was destined for the same short, unnoticed death, something which would have hailed an immediate end to a promising show. Yet, Trey held the final note of the song’s chorus out just long enough for his band members to latch on and ride the song out into the unknown. What followed was a blissful, weaving jam which displayed full band communication, startlingly gorgeous leads from Trey, and an intricate and patterned melody that sounded as though it had been composed. Building through melody, rather than noise or energy, the jam took on a sound much akin to the “Birds” jams of 1999 and 2000, retaining the song’s theme, and exploring within it. When Trey moved into a minor key the jam took on a harder feel, resulting in a rhythm-based jam that led seamlessly into “Back On The Train.” Remaining totally within the structure of the country-twinged song took nothing away from the segment, for when it bled into “Heavy Things” the triumvirate of the late-90’s songs had flowed so perfectly together, that the concept felt pre-planned. Ushering in the era of musical suites that seemed to defined 2012’s jamming structure, the “BOAF -> GBOTT -> H Things” was one of the early highlights of summer which reminded everyone that the successes of Worcester were not all for naught, regardless of the mediocre Bonnaroo show.

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“Twist” – Cincinnati, OH – 06/22/2012

Emerging out of the murky fade of “Kill Devil Falls,” “Twist” was a welcome addition mid-way through Set II of a show that had produced an absolute classic First Set – full of gimmicks and killer playing – and a Second Set that through “DWD> Guelah, Kill Devil Falls” was in danger of fading into predictability. A song that had been used almost solely as an vehicle for seedy improv in 1.0 and 2.0, “Twist” had become more of a slow-shuffling blues number in recent years, exciting fans more with it’s possibilities, rather than it’s delivery. Keenly aware of this, Page switched from his strutting piano fills to his organ at 6:13, followed immediately by Gordo hovering over an ominous tick-tock bass riff, solidified by Trey’s minored trills which dove the song into the nether world for the first time since Coventry. What followed was perhaps the darkest, seediest and evilest jam Phish had produced since the 08/15/2004 “Split Open & Melt -> Ghost.” If the knock on Phish has been that they can’t get dark in this era of drug-free, happy-Phish, then the Cincinnati “Twist” threw this theory into an abandoned pit and let it rot to the glee of everyone watching and listening. Highlighted by noise-induced guitar washes and a sinister duel between Mike and Trey from 8:54 – 10:20, the jam never rose above the underworld it embodied over fourteen minutes. A moment when Phish proved their ability to summon the demons of the past, the Cinci “Twist” would reemerge at least in theme in a number of other dark jams throughout the year, all of which owe a debt of gratitude to it for breaking the barrier.

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“Mike’s Song -> Simple> Light> Weekapaug Groove -> Seven Below” – Burgettstown, PA – 06/23/2012

Throughout their career there has been a suite of music that has hung around with their constantly evolving styles, and has reflected the current state of the band like few other songs could. “Mike’s Groove” as it’s affectionately referred to by their fan’s is a shape-shifting union of songs which can appear as simply as “Mike’s -> Hydrogren> Groove,” or “Mike’s -> Simple -> Hydrogen> Groove,” or, can morph into a completely separate entity, book-ended by “Mike’s” and “Groove,” but containing ideas within that can only be found within the confines of an era. Notable examples can be found on 12/30/1993, 06/22/1994, 12/01/1995, 12/07/1995, 12/31/1995, 12/02/1997, 08/15/1998, 08/06/2010 and 10/26/2010. The lone show of 2012 in Burgettstown, PA joined this elusive group with a “Groove” in Set II that seemed to sum up everything about the modern era of Phish that makes it special. Following a punctual “Mike’s,” “Simple” faded into the Ambient wonderland it’s become in 3.0 as Mike, Page, and Trey all built a wall of blissful noise, and Fishman continued to prove his worth with off-beat rhythms that kept the music constantly on it’s toes. The undisputed jam-champion of 3.0, “Light” once again was featured as the centerpiece in this suite and show, as Trey and Page guided it from a noise-ladened swamp into a calypso-themed dance-off, and finally a demented, rhythm-based soiree. One of the more connected versions in a year full of them, the “Light” itself is truly one of the top tier pieces of music produced by the band this year. “Weekapaug” picked up right where “Light” left off, diving head-first into staccatoed beats, Moog-induced rhymes, ambient washes, and a deconstructed fade to the 2.0 rare-classic, “Seven Below.” While not the extended journey it is constantly capable of being. “Seven Below” served as a proper conclusion to the suite, with it’s “Weekapaug” inspired jam, hints at the underworld, and contemplative pace that allowed everyone a chance to breath after the music that had just transpired. A fully realized fifty-minute suite of music the “Mike’s -> Simple> Light> Groove -> Seven Below” was one of the best overall moments of an incredible June run, and an incredible year of Phish.

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“Crosseyed & Painless -> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> Crosseyed & Painless” – San Francisco, CA – 08/19/2012

On the third night of their massively hyped, yet so far underwhelming, run at the intimate Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Phish not only put on one of the best shows of the year, but clicked for a 45-minute suite of music that rivaled the Burgettestown “Mike’s Groove.” Featuring the first truly extended and experimental “Crosseyed & Painless” since 05/27/2011, the set moved with determined precision, weaving through historical Phish themes, and crafting a fully-realized union of songs that would have highlighted any show in any era. Dedicating the final 7:45 of “Crossyed” to ambience, the band engaged in a jam that flowed with ease from one theme to another, pushing itself seamlessly from its origins. Featuring some of the best Mike, Page and Trey interplay, it was a blissful foreshadowing of the music that would come to dominate Dick’s and the best parts of MSG. “Light” took on a more aggressive role, initially teasing “Crosseyed” before moving into a fully-loaded, rhythm-based groove session. Packed tight with a rock breakdown from Trey and Page, Trey once again took the lead and engulfed the jam with fully-formed lyrical phrasings on the Ocedoc, harkening back to the aforementioned Burgettstown “Light.” Hinting at the “Tweezer Reprise” that was still on the table, Trey directed the torrid jam into “Sneakin’ Sally” crafting the second memorable version of the legendary cover of the Summer. From funk-rock origins the song descended into a groove that resided in the Set’s opener and before one realized it, suddenly they were back in “Crosseyed & Painless,” thus completing a massive sandwich of high-energy and exploratory music that achieved literally all the goals set out for by the band when they returned in 2009. A flawless segment of music, the “Crosseyed -> Light -> Sally -> Crosseyed” highlighted one of the shows of summer, and reignited summer tour as it moved into the Southeast.

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“Undermind” – Commerce City, CO – 08/31/2012

Deep in the best First Set of 3.0 came a top tier jam and immediately solidified the Dick’s run as the best of the last four years; even before it ever really got going. Completing the First Set F.U.C.K.Y.O.U. gag, which would spill over and engulf the entire show, “Undermind” took a wholly unique route the second it left it’s theme. Led entirely by Trey, the jam reflects the massive improvements he made as a guitarist throughout 2012, and is the culmination of the efforts he made all summer, starting with the Worcester “Boogie On.” Flowing through various themes before reaching an ethereal peak that closed out the set, it’s a perfect piece of improv, something Phish simply wasn’t capable of on this level prior to 2012. Whereas in the previous three years, any Trey-led jam would follow the route of predictable rhythm-based breakdowns, followed by ambient washes, the Dick’s “Undermind” has fully-formed ideas based around unique riffs that all sounded composed upon first listen. When it was happening, I was unaware of the gag occurring, simply thinking I was witnessing a totally different band than the one I’d listened to play a contained and predictable show in Oklahoma City two nights earlier. All’s I remember thinking is that this would be the perfect jam to end the set on, that we didn’t need a “Golgi,” “Character Zero,” or “Stealin’ Time” set closer proper. The fact that gag-or-no-gag, the band instinctively knew what they’d accomplished with this jam and decided to close out their phenomenal opening set at Dick’s with it, only goes to show just how important it was to them then. It’s replay value and ability to still surprise, proves it’s importance to all of their fans now.

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“Chalk Dust Torture” – Commerce City, CO – 08/31/2012

The eternal Phish-rebellious-rocker, “Chalk Dust Torture” has been here before. One of the most unique numbers in their repertoire, the song spent the majority of it’s first eight years as a punctual rocker, used to open/close a show, or infuse one with a massive dose of adrenaline. Then, out of nowhere it started randomly being used as a launching pad for exploration. The 07/10/1999 version which spilt into “Roggae,” the 08/03/2003 masterpiece that seemed to fulfill the idea of what it would be like if “Chalk Dust” were originally written as a 25-minute song, and the elongated 08/09/2004 version that’s probably the only memorable part of the Hampton ’04 show. In 3.0 it returned to it’s historical place of a doors-busting rock anthem, used seemingly to open every other show in 2009 and much of 2010. Yet, when it opened Set II of 06/25/2010, something changed, the paradigm shifted, and the exploratory possibilities were renewed. Call it fate, call it destiny, but when the band stretched the 08/25/2012 version into “What’s The Use?” and the 08/28/2012 Set II opener into a spacey jam that ultimately landed in “Frankie Says,” everyone could sense that the version played at Dick’s would fully embrace the unknown. Thus when it was placed in the “C” slot of the F.A.C.E. part of the gag, only forty minutes into the second set, the band jumped all over a version that ranks up there with 07/10/1999 and 08/03/2003 as the best versions of the song ever played. Like the “Undermind,” Trey is in control of the entire jam. Yet what separates the “Chalk Dust” is his willingness to rely on off-beat rhythms in a way he simply couldn’t in years past; to fully communicate with his band members as they shifted through a multitude of themes. Each member shines in this version, and every fan owes it to themselves to watch the performance of it for themselves. You’ve just never seen Phish fully embrace the unknown and exploration in 3.0 in the way they do throughout the “Chalk Dust” jam. Surreal still now to hear it, something about Dick’s just brings whatever it is, out of Phish.

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“Prince Caspian> Light” – Commerce City, CO – 09/01/2012

After playing an impossibly brilliant show to kick off their run at Dick’s over Labor Day weekend, it seemed pretty certain that Phish just wouldn’t be capable of topping their 08/31 performance. Even a “Run Like An Antelope” opener, followed by a “Tweezer -> Fluffhead” in slots 3 and 4 didn’t seem up to the immeasurable task asked of them on this evening. Thus when Trey abandoned a potentially promising “Golden Age” jam for “Prince Caspian” it felt like a confirmation that they just couldn’t quite summon up what was needed to even attempt to push the show into the conversation with the “Fuck Your Face” show. Then, out of nowhere, “Caspian” went where it hasn’t gone in years; or, since at least 1999. Trey hooked onto a Hendrix-esque concept and drove the song far below the waters, infusing it with sinister lead, before breaking it all down, only to re-build the atypical jam with torrential focus and drive, summoning the demons. Brutal, evil, raging, it was the kind of jam that just wasn’t commonplace in Phish 3.0. It felt badass. It felt like the Phish of old where one couldn’t predict where or when their moments of inspiration would emerge. Fading into “Light” – the 3rd version of the song on this list this year – it was clear Phish was going to at least take a stab at competing with the previous night. And compete they did. A performance for the ages, “Light” – which had never crossed the 20-minute mark in it’s storied career as Phish’s go-to 3.0 jam vehicle – built through multiple, fully-conceived themes to a peak that’s honestly difficult to communicate in writing. Stylistically altering the fates of two remaining jams on this list, the Dick’s “Light” combined the exploratory zealousness of 2012, with their high-energy, Tension & Release jams of lore, patiently building over time to a peak that nearly tore the Colorado soccer field down. Sustaining the peak from 20:10 – 22:45, the venue was overwhelmed in the expansive lights, fist pumps, engulfing cheers, and shit-eating-Trey-Grins that have long represented the band’s most memorable moments. Honestly, a jam that needs to be heard to believed, this was Phish fully connected, refusing to abandon an idea when they knew they could sniff greatness, building towards a moment of ethereal bliss that felt like a brilliant cap on the summer, and confirmed that Dick’s was no one-show-pony.

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“Sand -> Ghost -> Piper” – Commerce City, CO – 09/02/2012

On the final night of their 2012 Summer Tour, Phish opened up their second set with a triumvirate of music, featuring three of their most historically brilliant jam vehicles. After playing two of their best shows of the year – and of the era – the band opted to treat the First Set of 09/02 like a Greatest Hits album, throwing down high-energy classics rather than traversing the unknown like the previous two nights. With so many songs still on the table, it seemed a certainty that they’d treat the final set of Summer in the same manner. Yet, when they left the confines of “Sand” seven and a half minutes into the song, they kicked off 50 straight minutes of unabridged music, the likes of which ranked with the best of the previous two days. The “Sand” itself is incredibly notable for the sheer fact that – aside from the adventurousness of 12/13/1999, 12/31/1999 and 06/07/2009 – no version has ever left the structure of “Sand” quite like this. Building from a sublime state of ambient pause, “Sand” went the rout of “Light” as it built into an absolutely epic peak, thus transforming the trance classic into an arena rock anthem, before bookending it with the “Sand” theme. Not to abandon what they’d built over the first 25-minutes of the set, Gordo directed the band from the jam’s conclusion seamlessly into “Ghost,” the first version since Long Beach. Directing “Ghost” in much the same way it’s been used in 3.0, the jam built through high energy exchanges from Trey with Fishman, supported by throttling bass and obedient piano fills from Page. Where it really got interesting was in it’s final 2:30, as it faded into an ambient fade that featured some beautiful and patient interplay between Mike, Trey and Page – fully utilizing the Rhodes – before emerging in “Piper.” Torrentially building the energy back up, “Piper” came out with one of it’s more unique performances of the year highlighted by it’s final 3:30 that featured some of the best Trey and Page interplay this side of the 07/01/2012 “Light.” A trio of modern classics, jammed out to full potential, the “Sand -> Ghost -> Piper” capped off the summer in victorious fashion, ushering everyone out into the Colorado night; bellies full, blissfully stoned, eager for more Phish.

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“Tweezer -> Maze” – New York City, NY – 12/28/2012

The “Tweezer” we’d been waiting for all year from Phish. Fully embracing the style that was mastered over three nights in Central Colorado, “Tweezer” left the funky/bluesy comfort zone it had inhabited for much of 3.0, and for the first time in nearly ten years – including even the classic versions that have appeared on this list in years past – totally left the structure of “Tweezer” and carved out a new path in it’s unrivaled history. Flowing through fully conceived themes, “Tweezer” was the swift kick in the ass the MSG run needed after a painfully predictable first set. More than that, it immediately bridged the ideas of Dick’s with MSG, and proved that in 2012 – while literally everything produced this year was brilliant – there was a clear line between pre-Dick’s and post-Dick’s in terms of what the band was capable of. The final 11:45 are where the magic’s at, for when Page infuses the jam at 9:09 with a lilting piano fill, Trey latches on immediately, and off they go. Effortlessly blissfully, and suave improvisational mastery is one way to describe this new style of Phish; one which relies wholly on the communication they’ve built as a band over the past 30 years, embraces all of their styles, flows from one theme to another with ease, and emphasizes the sublime and ambient. Building to a satisfying peak, the MSG “Tweezer” followed suit with the concept established with the Dick’s “Light” and “Sand,” and forged a bridge between the modern, sub-tempo jams of 1997-2004, with their career-long dedication to Tension & Release. The sound of a band coming full circle, the “Tweezer -> Maze” used two classic Phish songs to open a Second set that helped to elevate MSG 2012 almost immediately from the catastrophic lows of their 2011 run.

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“Down With Disease -> Twenty Years Later> Carini” – New York City, NY – 12/30/2012

The musical peak of the 2012 NYE Run came at the start of the Second Set of the best show of the entire run. “Down With Disease -> Twenty Years Later> Carini” highlighted a forty-minute segment of music to kick off the best set of the run, and infuse the show with some much-welcomed evil Phish. In a year when “Down With Disease” stayed either noticeably contained, or failed to produce transcendent versions, the jam on 12/30 traversed as far from the structure of the song as any since 08/16/2011. Weaving through various segments of down-tempo, ambient bliss, the jam allowed for the band to just play, all to the delight of the MSG alum. While never producing any fully-realized sections of improv, what the “DWD” does better than any jam of the weekend, is display the diversity that Phish plays with now. Their jams are no longer long-winded, failed experiments that occasionally produce greatness, nor are they singular concepts that build through repetition. Instead, they are constantly evolving entities, which value shape-shifting, and melodically crafted music more than any previous era of Phish. Armed with 30 years of experience, there is no wasted space in Phish jams any longer. The one faux-peak of the jam came at 17:15 as Trey and Mike latched onto a simple, yet sinister riff, transforming MSG, for a moment, into a beckoning ground for the devil. A concept which would be fully realized two songs later, in “Carini,” the evil spirits that had invaded Phish so often in the late-’90’s and early-aughts returned with impassioned results. Fading into near silence, the “Carini” relied solely on industrial beats from Fishman, ambient washes from Trey and Page, and an all-engulfing bass from Mike. Summoning up the best noise they’d created this side of “The Storage Jam,” and doing their best Animals-era Pink Floyd impression, the jam goes deeper that the Cinci “Twist,” and is simply the evilest thing Phish has played in years. In an era when “Carini” has really stepped up as one of the premier jam vehicles, the 12/30 performance took the joke-metal song to completely new heights, unimagined when it was first performed back in 1997. A segment that will surely carry Phish fans through the long winter, “Down With Disease -> Twenty Years Later> Carini” will be hard pressed to be topped whenever Phish steps on stage again.

Honorable Shows

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DCU Center – Worcester, MA – 06/08/2012

Set I: Free, Kill Devil Falls, Roses Are Free -> Theme From The Bottom> Axilla I> Julius, Bouncing Around The Room, Maze, Bathtub Gin

Set II: Down With Disease&> Sand -> Nellie Kane, Mike’s Song> Makisupa Policeman+> Weekapaug Groove, Wading In The Velvet Sea, 2001#> Character Zero

Encore: The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Suzy Greenberg

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

+ The keyword in “Makisupa Policeman” was “Sour Diesel”

# “2001” contained a “Sand” tease from Fish and “Sex Machine” and “Mike’s Song” teases from Trey

On the second night of Phish’s 2012 Summer tour, the band threw down a solid affair that built upon the brilliance of the opening night of tour. Featuring a high energy First Set, and a fully-flowing, jam-heavy Set II, it was an all-around great show, one which helped to establish a base from which to build upon throughout the tour. Highlighted by a blissful jam out of “Roses Are Free” – the first “Roses” jam since Big Cypress” – Set I featured unique versions of First Set standards, not to mention the second “Free” opener in history. Set II flowed through moments of darkness and light, crafting a complete set that never let up. Featuring a funky, ’97-esque jam out of “DWD,” an all-time segue in “Sand -> Nellie Kane,” a bit of humor in the “Mike’s> Makisupa> Groove,” and a top notch 3.0 version of “2001,” the set left little to be desired by a band that sounded as if they were deep into a tour only two days old. The surprise encore of the classic “Oh Kee Pa> Suzy” pairing topped things off, and finished the run off with an old-school feeling. While Worcester II was forgotten by most by year’s end, when listening back, it provides a clear foundation to the brilliance that would become commonplace just a week later.

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Deer Creek Music Theater – Noblesville, IN – 06/28/2012

Set I: The Birdwatcher, The Curtain With, Fuck Your Face, The Old Home Place, Pebbles And Marbles, Weigh, Chalk Dust Torture, Wolfman’s Brother, Cool It Down, Tweezer#, Tela, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan

Set II: Mike’s Song> McGrupp And The Watchful Horsemasters> Back On The Train## -> Hold Your Head Up> Bike> Hold Your Head Up> Weekapaug Groove$, Prince Caspian& -> Waves, Bug> David Bowie###

Encore: Show Of Life> Tweezer Reprise

# “Tweezer” contained a “Fuck Your Face” tease from Mike

## “Back On The Train” contained a “Psycho Killer” tease

### “David Bowie” contained a “Bug” tease from Trey

$ “Weekapaug Groove” featured Trey & Fish switching instruments, and a drum jam between the two

& “Prince Caspian” was unfinished

By this point in Phish’s June leg of their 2012 Summer Tour, full sets had become so engulfed in the band’s determination to play 200 unique songs, that one had no clue what could or would be played during a single show. Calling upon their recital-type shows from 2009 and 2010, the band focused on songs during many of these shows. Yet, whereas in the past, the shows were full of heavy-rotation songs, in 2012 sets felt like putting Phish on shuffle, where any random song could appear. Probably the most complete, fully formed of these shows was the first night of Deer Creek. Featuring tour debuts tour in the first six songs of the set, plus “Cool It Down” and “Tela,” Set I was both unpredictable and unending, and helped to take the crowd’s mind off the torrid Midwestern heatwave billowing down on Central Indiana. Focusing heavily on songs, the only numbers in Set I to really move outside the box were a dance-heavy “Wolfman’s” and a peaking “Tweezer” that countered the temperatures for brutal heat. Set II is one of the most unique of the summer, featuring an elongated “Mike’s Groove,” an “HYHU” within the groove, and two phenomenal jams out of “Back On The Train” and “Waves,” the former which bled right into “HYHU.” Clearly in a playful mood, the “Weekapaug” featured Trey and Fish switching instruments, inspiring Trey to muse whether or not Phish would be a better band with this set up. The late-set “Waves” takes the medal for song of the night, emerging out of “Caspian,” producing an aggressively atypical jam that came close to making this list. Easily the best show of the Deer Creek-Alpine weekend, 06/28/2012 had just a bit of everything that was Phish 2012 all mixed together.

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Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/08/2012

Set I: AC/DC Bag> My Soul, Camel Walk, Sample In A Jar, Wilson> Party Time, Gumbo, Nellie Kane, Driver, Foam, If I Could, Split Open And Melt> La Grange*

Set II: Axilla I> Light> Twist#, Kill Devil Falls## -> My Friend, My Friend& -> Swept Away -> Steep, Piper -> Free -> Kung> Harry Hood###> Cavern -> David Bowie

Encore: You Enjoy Myself####

* First “La Grange” since 22 September 1999

# “Twist” contained an “In-A-Gaada-Da-Vida” tease from Trey

## “Kill Devil Falls” contained a “Jeopardy!” tease

### “Harry Hood” contained a “Kung” quote

#### “You Enjoy Myself” contained a “Flashlight” tease from Mike

& “My Friend, My Friend” was unfinished

Closing out the first leg of Summer with a three-night run at SPAC, Phish produced two of the best shows of the year, the final of which produced a massive bustout, and a fully-flowing, jam-heavy Set II. Coming out the gates with a string of standards, Set I got a boost from a high-energy “Wilson> Party Time” pairing, and a surprise twist at the end when everyone who thought they’d be closing things out with a seedy “Split Open & Melt,” were instead treated to the first “La Grange” since 1999. The real magic, however, is in Set II: a high-octane, jamming set which saw both “Light” and “Piper” go deep. In between were masterful segues of unlikely pairings – “Kill Devil Falls -> My Friend -> Swept Away -> Steep,” “Free -> Kung> Harry Hood” – which elevated the possibilities of the set. Never relenting energy, yet never sacrificing exploration for such energy it was a masterfully atypical set that simply couldn’t have occurred with as much success during any other year of 3.0. Concluding with a noise-ladened segue from “Cavern -> Bowie,” it was the kind of set that displayed a band at the top of their game: relentlessly attacking their catalogue with precision and youthful excitement. Capping off the tour with the only appropriate song left, “You Enjoy Myself” closed out Leg I on a classic note, ushering everyone into a month of no Phish with jam-packed must-listen-playlists. After the best June of 3.0, Phish closed it out with a memorable run at SPAC, and a tour finale that foreshadowed the music that was still to come in August.

The Top Ten Shows Of 2012

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Bader Field – Atlantic City, NJ – 06/15/2012

Set I: The Sloth, My Sweet One> 46 Days> Camel Walk, Tube> Cities -> It’s Ice, Ginseng Sullivan, Stash, Simple> The Wedge, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Squirming Coil

Set II: My Soul, Birds Of A Feather& -> Back On The Train -> Heavy Things, Twist> Piper# -> Billy Breathes, Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> David Bowie##

Encore: First Tube#

& “Birds Of A Feather” was unfinished

# “Piper” and “First Tube” contained “Twist” teases

## “David Bowie” contained “Stash,” “It’s Ice,” “Birds Of A Feather,” “Simple” and “Ginseng Sullivan” teases

Night one of the quasi 2012 Phish fest (If there’s a Ferris Wheel it’s a festy, right? Right?) produced easily the most complete show of the weekend and immediately raised the bar from the brilliant opening shows in Worcester the previous weekend. Opening with the random trio of “The Sloth,” “My Sweet One” and “46 Days” was really all the indication anyone needed that the night was going to produce the kind of magic one hopes to catch at any Phish show. The First Set enveloped into a lengthy recital of rarities and unique combinations – “Camel Walk,” “Tube,” “Cities -> It’s Ice,” “Simple>The Wedge” – and all around excellent playing, including perhaps the best “Stealing Time” we’ve ever heard from the band. Wholly embracing the 200-song challenge, Set I was both the exact kind of comeback needed after the Bonnaroo show, and the kind of reassurance that the band wasn’t simply going to play 200 different songs throughout the month; they were going to craft wholly unique shows while doing it. Set II was simply perfect. The aforementioned “Birds -> BOTT -> H Things” made way for the late set “Twist> Piper -> Billy Breathes” which kept the Farmhouse-era jams unravelling, and produced a segment of music that barely missed this list. Infusing “Bowie” with various teases of songs played throughout the night only further solidified it’s placement among the top tier of the summer. A show that felt like one of the best shows of summer right when it happened, 06/15/2012 never relented it’s placement among the best, regardless what came after it.

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Riverbend Music Theater – Cincinnati, OH – 06/22/2012

Set I: Wolfman’s Brother> Peaches En Regalia, Shaggy Dog*> Runaway Jim#, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Wilson> Alaska, Stash, Llama, Buffalo Bill, Saw It Again -> David Bowie

Set II: Down With Disease&> Guelah Papyrus, Kill Devil Falls -> Twist##> Halley’s Comet> Sand -> Roggae, Carini> Chalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus

Encore: Fluffhead**

* First “Shaggy Dog” since 29 October 1995

** First “Fluffhead” Encore since 3 November 1990

# “Runaway Jim” contained a “When The Saint’s Go Marching” tease

## “Twist” contained a “Eleanor Rigby” tease from Trey and a “Heaven On Their Minds” jam

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

A must-hear, top-tier show of the summer, the band let it all hang out on the third Friday of the June leg, crafting a show full of rarities, segues, gimmicks, and one of the best jams of summer. A “Wolfman’s” opener is always a welcome sign, for it produces a no bullshit intro to a show, bringing the house down before anyone has a chance to catch their breath. Followed by the always welcome Zappa-cover, “Peaches En Regalia” and the first “Shaggy Dog” since October 1995 immediately gave the show an air of superiority over the rest of summer thus far. The rest of the First set contained even more rarities with “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” “Llama,” “Buffalo Bill,” and “Saw It Again,” the latter three which were results of a Fishman gaffe when the band tried to go into “Poor Heart” and “The Moma Dance,” leading to Trey joking they apparently needed to play a song that started with drums so their drummer could keep up. The energy spilled over from the “Saw It Again” fade into “David Bowie” resulting in another solid version for the summer. Set II started out with an abandoned jam in “DWD,” a welcomed “Guelah,” and a make or break “Kill Devil Falls,” which was oddly placed in the middle of the second set. Fortunately, Trey extended the end of “KDF” over two minutes, resulting in stunning ambient waves that bled into the best “Twist” of 3.0. A “Sand -> Roggae” crafted the second unique “Sand” segue of Summer, and the “Carini> Chalk Dust” added some extra adrenaline to the end of the set. A unique blend of classics, jams, darkness and light, the show ended with the first “Fluffhead” encore since 1990, a placement that all but confirmed the band’s enjoyment in Cinci. The show of summer until SPAC night one, Cinci kicked off an incredible run of music throughout the midwest, and, reignited Phish with their love of the dark side in one of the best jams of the era.

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First Niagara Pavilion – Burgettstown, PA – 06/23/2012

Set I: Funky Bitch> Backwards Down The Number Line, Gumbo> Maze#, Torn & Frayed, The Moma Dance> Scent Of A Mule+, 46 Days, You Enjoy Myself##

Set II: Gotta Jibboo> Mike’s Song -> Simple> Light> Weekapaug Groove### -> Seven Below, Bouncing Around The Room> Julius> Slave To The Traffic Light

Encore: The Lizards

# “Maze” contained an “Eleanor Rigby” tease

## “You Enjoy Myself” contained a “Scent Of A Mule” tease from Trey

### “Weekapaug Groove” contained a “Divided Sky” tease from Trey

+ The “Mule Duel” featured Page on the Theremin

A night after raising the bar on Summer 2012 with a standout show that focused on bustouts and rarities, Phish played another gem in one of their storied venues, only this time, consisting almost totally of standards, which allowed their playing to totally speak for itself. With a First Set that appeared brutally bland upon initial glance, the band offered top-notch versions of “Maze,” “Scent Of A Mule,” “46 Days,” and the first First Set closing “You Enjoy Myself” since 07/13/2003. Interweaving teases, the theremin, and a fully-connected jam in the set closer, the show lived and died on the band’s performance, something that would come to fruition in the brilliant Second Set. Opening with the always welcome “Gotta Jibboo,” the set can essentially  be summed up in five songs: “Mike’s -> Simple> Light> Weekapaug -> Seven Below.” The aforementioned “Groove” is one of the standout suites of 2012 – a 50-minute sequence of communication, connection, and brilliant playing that joined the echelon of “Mike’s Groove’s” throughout their storied career. Foregoing the 200-song challenge for at least one night, Burgettstown 2012 was all about the performance. With little-to-no breaks in flow throughout, the show is one of the tighter shows of 3.0,  and combined with the standout jamming in Set II, is in a lot of ways modeled after a 1.0 type of show than anything we’ve heard from the band in the last 10 years. Rounding things out with a solid “Julius,” a sublime “Slave To The Traffic Light,” and a “The Lizards” encore which added a bit of humor when Trey forgot the lyrics, the show finished in classic fashion. More than anything, the show was a reminder to all that Phish has reached a point where they don’t need bustouts or rarities to craft a memorable show in 2012.

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Nikon At Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, NY – 07/03/2012

Set I: Skin It Back*#> Possum##, Tube, Happiness Is A Warm Gun**, Mike’s Song -> I Am Hydrogen> Weekapaug Groove, Halley’s Comet> Axilla I> Ya Mar, Joy, Jesus Just Left Chicago> Backwards Down The Number Line> Golgi Apparatus

Set II: Chalk Dust Torture, Sand### -> Golden Age, Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away, Bug> Fluffhead####> The Wedge, Run Like An Antelope

Encore: Character Zero

* First “Skin It Back” since 29 July 1988

* First “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” since 31 October 1994

# “Skin It Back” contained a “Spanish Moon” tease

## “Possum” and “Chalk Dust Torture” contained “Skin It Back” teases

### “Sand” contained an “Izabella” tease

#### “Fluffhead” contained a “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease

Jones Beach has produced some of the standout moments in 3.0. From their 2009 three-night run that allowed the band to settle in to the road, featuring a completely unique take on “Hood,” “Ghost> Antelope,” and a second set that rivaled all in 3.0 before it on 06/05/2009, to their 2010 Leg II closing affair that gave us the first “Fluffhead” opener since Hampton, the best “Backwards Down The Number Line” we’ve seen thus far, to their 2012 Fourth of July Performance, it’s been hallowed grounds in this era of Phish. Fitting then, that they’d use the East Coast hideout to bustout “Skin It Back” for the first time in nearly 24 years, after so many soundcheck jams featured the Little Feat classic. Fully embracing the 200-song challenge in this show, Set I is a full-on recital featuring another massive bustout in “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” plus a solid “Mike’s Groove,” “Axilla I,” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Set II reigns supreme in this show however, with a brilliant jam-combination occurring between “Sand -> Golden Age,” the former which produced hands-down, the best version of the TV On The Radio cover that we’ve ever heard. Dedicating it’s final 4:42 to blissful ambient soundscapes, it’s really the furthest the band has ever let the song traverse, and it’s the most patience they’ve displayed towards expanding it. With another peak in the “Wolfman’s -> Walk Away” combo that literally never gets old, the set finished in strong fashion with top notch versions of “Fluffhead” and one of the most torrential “Run Like An Antelope’s” we’ve heard this side of Utica. In the same realm as 06/15 /2012 and the first night of SPAC, 07/03/2012 used a lengthy, song-based Set I to ease them into a calculated, and professionally driven Set II.

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Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY – 07/06/2012

Set I: Runaway Jim, Ocelot, Heavy Things, Back On The Train, Funky Bitch, Tube -> Psycho Killer -> Tube, Hold Your Head Up#> Craklin’ Rosie> Hold Your Head Up, Stash, Bouncing Around The Room, Paul & Silas> Horn, Corinna, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone

Set II: Chalk Dust Torture> Carini> Sand> Roses Are Free -> Punch You In The Eye> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> Ghost> Suzy Greenberg> Run Like An Antelope##+

Encore: Loving Cup

# “Hold Your Head Up” contained “Psycho Killer” quotes

## “Run Like An Antelope” contained a “Crosseyed & Painless” tease

+ “Run Like An Antelope” featured Tom Marshall and The Dude Of Life on vocals

On the opening night of the final weekend of the First Leg of their 2012 Summer Tour, Phish crafted an absolute masterpiece that still ranks as one of the best shows of the entire year. Once again, the 200-song challenge dominated as they threw down an unprecedented 17-song First Set. Opening initially with a string of standards – all of which carried an extra summer-flair – the set got going in earnest with a nasty “Tube -> Psycho Killer -> Tube,” thus marrying the best moments of 12/07/1997 into one surreal jam. Festivities continued with a humorous take on their “HYHU” gag, including references to the “Tucking” joke that had consumed Summer – by which Fish would tuck his gown into his underwear, and perform whatever song was asked of him; always a willing jester. Concluding with top-notch versions of rarities “Corinna” and “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” the set was a marathon 90-minute journey that left all eagerly anticipating how the band would top it in Set II. Focusing on energetic jamming, Set II produced a tight combination of “Carini> Sand,” and a sprawling, forceful and powerful jam between “Sneakin’ Sally -> Ghost.” “Sally” fully left the structure of the song for the first time since 08/07/2009, producing a driven and hard-edged jam, which deviated from many of the traditional funk takes on it. One of the final cuts for this list, the “Sally” displays just how unique and original Phish was willing to go in 2012, how far they were willing to push their jams to discover the unknown. Concluding with a classic pairing of “Suzy Greenberg> Antelope” – the latter which featured Tom Marshall & The Dude Of Life on vocals – the show fit the bill of it’s locale and placement in the tour. Feeling like a true homecoming show, SPAC I was, and is, one of the clear standouts in a year full of them.

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Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – 08/19/2012

Set I: Crowd Control, Party Time, Axilla I, Reba, Free> Mound> Walk Away, NICU, Back On The Train, Gotta Jibboo, Roggae, David Bowie

Set II: Crosseyed & Painless# -> Light## -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley## -> Crosseyed & Painless -> Theme From The Bottom> Rocky Top> Boogie On Reggae Woman -> Meatstick+, Bug, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Ride Captain Ride> Tweezer Reprise

# “Crosseyed & Painless” contained a “The Cave” tease

## “Light” and “Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley” contained a “Crosseyed & Painless” tease; “Light” contained an “All The Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” tease

+ “Meatstick” included Japanese lyrics

Night three at the BGCA was a night to remember in 2012 and Phish 3.0. Featuring a classic first set – the kind where it literally did not matter what song was played – and a fully-flowing second set, including one of the best jam segments of the year, it was a standout show in the greatest regards. After two sub-par shows opened the overhyped, three-night stand at the intimate San Francisco theater, Phish clearly came out on the 19th on a mission. Crafting a killer show with apparent ease, listening to this show was without question, one of the most pleasurable experiences any Phish fan had with the band in 2012. Riding a scorching “Back On The Train,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Roggae,” “David Bowie” segment into set break, the band came out on fire in Set II. With a six-song opening segment that read “Crosseyed & Painless -> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> Crosseyed & Painless -> Theme From The Bottom> Rocky Top,” there was no let-up over the set’s first hour. Featuring intricate jamming, high-energy transitions, a gorgeous ambient breakdown, a massive “Tweezer Reprise” tease, and fluid song selections, it was a jaw-dropping section of music that left many wondering how the band was capable of putting on a show as discombobulated as 08/18 one night, and one as fully-connected as 08/19 the next. Riding the energy to the end, the show never let up as “Boogie On” and “Meatstick” continued their perfect tandem, and “You Enjoy Myself” closed out the set in strong fashion. Encoring with the second “Ride Captain Ride” of the summer – a song which includes references to San Francisco – it was the kind of rare treat that fit perfectly within the celebratory feel of the show. The “Tweezer Reprise” that followed, and closed out the run, blew the roof off the joint once more, providing the extra oomph that “Tweeprise” is always good for. Immediately launched into the discussion of “Show Of The Year,” 08/19/2012 is literally the exact show that everyone hopes to catch every time they see Phish.

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Chaifetz Arena – St. Louis, MO – 08/28/2012

Set I: Punch You In The Eye> Runaway Jim, Ocelot> Reba, I Didn’t Know+, The Curtain> Peaches En Regalia> Mound> Sample In A Jar, The Sloth, Camel Walk, Possum> Quinn The Eskimo

Set II: Chalk Dust Torture -> Frankie Says -> Undermind -> Sand -> Walk Away, Limb By Limb, Julius> 2001> You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Shine A Light

+ Before the vacuum solo in “I Didn’t Know,” Fish was introduced as The John Coltrane of the Vacuum Cleaner

On a Tuesday night during the last week of their 2012 Summer Tour, everything came together for Phish, crafting yet another classic on par with 06/22/2012, 07/06/2012 and 08/19/2012 for the best shows of the year at the time. With a first set that matched 08/19’s in terms of the irrelevance of songs played, “Reba,” “Peaches> Mound,” and “Possum> Quinn The Eskimo” all stood out as top-notch versions. The “Reba” in particular – the last performance of summer – was a stunning display of the beauty the song encompasses, as Trey crafted sublimed riffs and musical thoughts with the subtle backing on his band. It was the kind of First Set that, once concluded, everyone in the venue just knows will lead to a heated Set II. While on paper, Set II of 08/28 looked admittedly like a crapshoot, once one listened to the intuitive communication displayed by the band throughout it, it was clear we had an immediate classic on our hands. Containing fluid segues from one song to another that no one – not even the most clever PT-vet – could ever conceive of, the first forty minutes of the set were one unending jam. “Chalk Dust -> Frankie Says -> Undermind -> Sand -> Walk Away” all somehow found their way to one another – bridging the gap with masterful playing, where on paper, they appeared to be a choppy mishap. Concluding with a “Limb By Limb” that initially appeared to be a breather, the contemplative Ghost-era track broke ground and wound itself through layers of upbeat, Trey-led percussive jamming, finishing off with a massive peak before rediscovering the “Limb” theme. “2001> You Enjoy Myself” brought things home with a classic pairing of two songs that, while a bit tamed by 3.0, still retain the magic that brings the crowd to full attention and a rousing applause whenever they hit their ecstatic points. One-off encores can be tricky, particularly after a show with so much heat, but no one can argue with the importance of “Shine A Light” to the band in the 3.0 era, and whenever it concludes a show on par with 08/28, it fits perfectly, in the same way “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “A Day In The Life,” and even “Harry Hood” does. A killer show all-around, St. Louis sent everyone off to Central Colorado dreaming of seeing a show on par with it, and the best shows of summer that had come before it. Little did anyone know what they were in for…

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Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO – 08/31/2012

Set I: First Tube, Uncle Pen, Carini> Kill Devil Falls, You Enjoy Myself+, Ocelot, Undermind#

Set II: Runaway Jim&> Farmhouse> Alaska, Chalk Dust Torture&, Emotional Rescue> Fuck Your Face##

Encore: Grind, Meatstick++

+ “You Enjoy Myself” contained a “We all love Dick’s!” vocal jam

++ “Meatstick” contained Japanese lyrics

# “Undermind” contained a “Crosseyed & Painless” tease

## “Fuck Your Face” contained “Emotional Resuce” quotes

& “Runaway Jim” and “Chalk Dust Torture” were unfinished

There are certain shows that hold such superiority to the rest of Phish’s live catalogue, that words really do them no justice. They must be heard to be understood. Many of them, must have been seen to fully grasp. They are nights when the band is so on, when everything just comes together, that even Trey, Mike, Fish and Page couldn’t tell you why they were so good. In The Phish Book Trey said, “It’s Strange. There are some shows that crystallize into great experiences for bot us and the audiences, and I usually remember a minute of them.” 08/31/2012 was one of these such nights. In so many ways it resembles no single show that has appeared before it in 3.0, and who knows how long it will take them to reach this level again. With a goal set to play a show that read F.U.C.K.Y.O.U.R.F.A.C.E. the band had to somehow fit 13 songs (plus “Fuck Your Face”) into a three-hour show – something they hadn’t done since SPAC ’04. As the show unraveled from the fan’s perspective, it was clear something was amok. The “First Tube,” “Uncle Pen,” “Carini” – which included a blissful type-II jam – just didn’t fit with the 3.0 model. The fifth song “You Enjoy Myself” only threw people off more, and the glorious, set-closing “Undermind” had everyone celebrating like Phish had just won the World Series. As word spread through the venue that the first set had spelled out F.U.C.K.Y.O.U. the sense was that the band had caught onto the all crap they’d received over the lack of jams in 3.0, and were thus responding with an onslaught of exploration to the unassuming ears. The gag of course, would in fact spill over into set two, and the format would allow the band to reach even more sublimity through jams in “Runaway Jim> Farmhouse,” and “Chalk Dust Torture.” When all was said and done, the show was an instant classic. Regardless of the gimmick – something that’s come to dominate the first night of the Dick’s runs – the band stepped up and responded with a show for the ages. Full of top-notch jams – three of which made this list – a song selection that kept fans on the edge of their seats, and an all-time gag that messed with the crowd all night long, 08/31/2012 is without question the best show of 2012, the best show yours truly has ever seen, and the best show the band has played in 3.0 aside from 07/03/2011.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO – 09/01/2012

Set I: Run Like An Antelope*, Backwards Down The Number Line> Tweezer> Fluffhead> Roses Are Free> Funky Bitch> The Moma Dance> When The Circus Comes, Theme From The Bottom> Golgi Apparatus, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan

Set II: Golden Age> Prince Caspian&> Light#, Boogie On Reggae Woman> The Wedge, The Horse -> Silent In The Morning> Mike’s Song -> No Quarter> Weekapaug Groove

Encore: Sleeping Monkey> Tweezer Reprise

* First “Run Like An Antelope” opener since 26 January 1990

& “Prince Caspian” was unfinished

# “Light” contained a “Mercy Mercy Mercy” tease from Page

The night after THE night. After playing their strongest show of 2012, and one of their best of 3.0 overall, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who thought Phish could in fact top the brilliance of 08/31. On it’s own, 09/01/2012 would have been endlessly praised, yet grouped with 08/31 it was unfortunately overshadowed, and has been hopelessly underrated by many in the Phish community. The truth is, 09/01 is one of the best shows of 2012. Opening with the first “Run Like An Antelope” opener since January 1990, and featuring a “Tweezer> Fluffhead” in the 3-4 slot, the show was a keeper just 45 minutes in. Rounding out Set I with a focus on First Set standards offered a nice breath of fresh air after a show-and-a-half of mind-altering music. The Second Set kicked off with a 50-minute sequence of music that read: “Golden Age> Prince Caspian> Light.” Featuring expansive, groove-based jamming in “Golden Age” – on par with the brilliance of 07/03/2012 – a deep, extensive and sinister “Caspian” and one of the the jams of the year in “Light,” the set opened with endless possibilities, assuring the entire crowd that the magic of 08/31 had in fact spilled over into Night II. Filling the middle of the set with crowd pleasers – “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “The Wedge” – and a quick, contemplative breather in “The Horse -> Silent,” the set ended with a straight up nasty take on “Mike’s Groove,” with the Zeppelin cover “No Quarter” bridging the two classics. A welcome shock to everyone in the venue, the “No Quarter” built upon the rage of the “Mike’s” “jam” section, and fit the bill with the darkness that had engulfed so many of the jams throughout the weekend. Finishing with a raging “Weekapaug,” when the band reemerged for the encore, Trey informed the fans that they’d have to give them a minute, cause Fishman was simply too worn out from rocking out. When they finally did play, the classic pairing of “Sleeping Monkey> Tweezer Reprise” finished the show off right and sent a message to the fans that Phish had thought as highly of the last two nights as we did.

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Madison Square Garden – New York City, NY – 12/30/2012

Set I: Runaway Jim#, Cities> The Divided Sky, Back On The Train, Ride Captain Ride, Ocelot, Ya Mar, Horn, My Friend, My Friend&> Run Like An Antelope

Set II: Down With Disease##& -> Twenty Years Later> Carini> Backwards Down The Number Line> Julius, Slave To The Traffic Light###

Encore: Harry Hood###, Show Of Life

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

## “Down With Disease” contained a “Woman From Tokyo” tease

### “Slave To The Traffic Light” and “Harry Hood” contained a “Little Drummer Boy” tease

& “My Friend, My Friend” and “Down With Disease” were unfinished

For the first time since 2009, Phish took the stage on a 30 December and played like they fully understood the implications of the date in Phish history. 12/30/1993, 12/30/1995, 12/30/1997, 12/30/1999, 12/30/2003, 12/30/2009; these are shows that are revered across years and eras for the anything-goes atmosphere that engulfs Phish on the night before THE night. After a 12/28 show that featured a fully connected Set II, and a rocking 12/29 show that never quite got off the ground, the energy was palpable in MSG, and Phish responded in classic fashion. A top-notch first set, chock-full of classics was really the definition of fun. It was the kind of set that, like 08/19 and 08/28, matter little what songs were played, for by setbreak everyone was raving about just how good the band had sounded. Whatever good feelings were crafted by the band in Set I, however, would quickly be reversed (for the better) with a three song jam segment that would ultimately be the most memorable aspect of the entire NYE Run. Reading: “Down With Disease -> Twenty Years Later> Carini,” the set started with an ominous dive into the netherworld, featuring some of the most abstract, beatless, egoless music the band has produced throughout 3.0. Akin to the best moments of Dick’s, the thing that separated the “DWD” and “Carini” was that they were devoid of any of the climactic peaks that defined the “Light,” “Sand” and the MSG “Tweezer.” Emerging from the reckoning with a killer version of the 3.0 theme-song, “Backwards Down The Number Line” and “Julius” brought everyone back to life, and kept the show moving, regardless of the song selection. Finishing things off with an emotive “Slave” set closer, and a gorgeous “Hood” encore was the perfect way to end the show of the 2012 NYE run, and veritably end the 2012 playing season. The NYE show the following night was by far their best NYE show since 2003, and a great show in it’s own right. However, 12/30/2012 was the exact kind of show that defined Phish 2012: solid song selection, high-energy, transcendent playing, and an intuitive linear music communication from four solid years of playing together which produced some of the best improvisation music crafted by the band in the last 10-15 years. After such a phenomenal year for Phish – a year that rose to the ranks with best the band has produced in the last 30 years – one can only wonder what the band has in store for us in 2013. A year of with another two-legged Summer tour, 30th anniversary events planned, Festival X, and yet another year-ending NYE Run at MSG, there is a resounding sense of hope surrounding the direction of the band. The ups and downs of 2009, 2010 and 2011 fully behind them, 2012 was without question the best year of 3.0. The year where people stopped wondering if Phish would ever regain their former glory, it was instead when everyone stopped critiquing and fully enjoyed the ride Phish was taken us all on.

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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!