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

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

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

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

More on this later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

So, How’d We Get Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1887_10151496599156290_1539238575_n

There Are No More “Standard” Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

164599_10151496599501290_1491467990_n

About That “Tweezer”…

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

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

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

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

I sat at a public computer laughing hysterically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

561487_10151503227636290_1575591018_n

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

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

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

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

I feel the feeling I forgot…..

I feel freeeeeee………

Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

And then that guitar riff…

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

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

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

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

996540_10151503258621290_734921195_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where are we going?

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

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

I cannot see this ending any time soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where are we going?

Gamehendge, duh…

1002901_10151503258571290_1136259999_n

When Is The Last Time Phish Peaked Like This?

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

It’s time to go a bit further….

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

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

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

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

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

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

533644_10151487728951290_242704636_n

Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

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

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

Favorite Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Jams

– 07/06/2013: “Split Open & Melt”

– 07/06/2013: “Carini -> Architect”

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

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

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

– 07/22/2013: “Down With Disease”

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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

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

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

Right?

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

559140_10151468649221290_488722061_n

Alpharetta: Combining Gimmickry With Dick’s-esque Jamming

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

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

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

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

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

164984_10151474680201290_709496204_n

What’s The Deal With All The Repeats?

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

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

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

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

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

So clear, it actually makes perfect fucking sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1004894_10151472572421290_357089748_n

What Do We Make Of 07/20/2013?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea.

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

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

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

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

554577_10151477068206290_1384956350_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

941258_10151468648201290_1261988077_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

59432_10151477068431290_720268473_n

Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

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

Favorite Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Jams 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“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

bigstockphoto_phish__420651

“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

4209897646_3abb634558_o

“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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“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

dsc00027

“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

42950800

“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

luke5

“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

l

“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

2003_GlowstickWar

“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.

Why Can’t They Take Golden Age Out There?

2012_12_30_04Perhaps the most appropriate cover Phish has played in all of 3.0, the infectious TV On The Radio quasi-indie-hit “Golden Age” is at something of a creative crossroads as we head into 2013.

Long before the June 2010 tour that featured seemingly one new – and totally obscure – cover every night, there was the 11/27/2009 Set II, way-out-of-left-field debut of “Golden Age.” A performance which shocked the fanbase at the time, it immediately appeared to have granted the band their most jam-happy cover since “Crosseyed & Painless” and “Rock & Roll” entered the rotation more than a decade before. Bubbling with syncopated grooves, a communicable melody, and lyrics that spoke directly to Phish’s current state, it seemed a no brainer that the ten-minute version that highlighted the first night of Albany would quickly grow to join “Light,” “Down With Disease,” “Rock & Roll,” and “Drowned” as the reliable jam vehicles of 3.0.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2009-11-27/golden-age

Nearly a year would go by however before we’d hear the song again, when, on 10/11/2010 it opened the second set of the middle show of the largely forgettable Broomfield, CO run. Eight months later it returned, once again, out of nowhere, opening up the second set on an inconsistent Wednesday night in Darien Lakes. For whatever reason, from there on it firmly entered a 5 – 10 show rotation for Phish.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2010-10-11/golden-age

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2011-06-08/golden-age

While up until this point, the “jam” had remained largely contained, the song’s next performance – opening the third set of the 07/02/2011 Super Ball IX show – would display, for the first time, “Golden Age’s” improvisational potential. Seamlessly building off the dance-heavy beats of the song’s origin, the band moved it swiftly away from melody, into something of a Mike-Trey staccatoed duel. Menacing, deranged, invigorating, and constantly moving, the jam spent it’s first four-ish minutes figuring out if it was going to self-implode or not, before Mike and Fish discovered a more structured type of foundation to push forward, thus allowing Trey and Page to enrich the song with plinko’d scales.

The key here was a distinct focus on the song’s rhythm, rather than on the soaring melody that accompanied it’s populist chorus. Taking a cue from the band’s plinko jams of the last two years, and the schizophrenic “Boogie On Reggae Woman” from 05/27/2011, the jam ultimately resembled something totally un-Phish like, at least in their current state. At times it sounds like a totally different band, like, perhaps what a looser incarnation of Atoms For Peace would sound like.

And yet, while there are certainly moments of brilliance throughout – check out the segment from 11:21 – 12:05 in particular – overall, the emphasis placed on the beat appears to be a barrier that the band keeps running into, rather than an opening to further exploration. After about seven minutes of jamming, it ends abruptly with a Trey-led segue into “Prince Caspian.” While one can hardly fault the band for not figuring out how to “properly jam” a song the first time they attempt to, the inability to get past the initial segment of beat-driven discorse can tell us a lot about why Phish has struggled up until this point to truly break “Golden Age” open.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2011-07-02/golden-age

Since it’s performance on 07/02/2011, the song has been played 14 more times. Out of that, only 3 of those versions have been truly memorable, or worth revisiting. That is, unless of course you happened to be at a show it was played at, and have a particular emotional tie to a specific version. While one can’t argue the fact that it’s just a damn fun song to hear live, to this point, only the 07/03/2012, 09/01/2012, and 12/29/2012 versions have truly pushed the song beyond it’s structural limits into some sense of transcendence. And of these, 07/03/2012 truly stands out as the only version where the band has capably navigated into the ether, displaying the infinite possibilities of the song.

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2012-09-01/golden-age

Still, though, each of these performances has fallen short of totally pushing the song past an initial jam segment, and into the complete vastness of exploratory jamming. Each, falling under 15 minutes, has come to resemble the multitude of jams from 2009 and 2010 that, while yes, they’d traversed beyond the confines of “Rock and Roll,” “Drowned,” and “Down With Disease,” couldn’t quite turn that corner into open space, instead opting for ambient washes and a fade into the next song.

So, the question bears asking at this point: what’s the deal with “Golden Age”? Why can’t the band seem to figure out how to take a song that lyrically speaks directly to the sentiments of 3.0, and musically caters to each of their individual musical specialties out past the structural barriers of the song, and into the unknown potential it clearly has?

I have a theory that the current problem with the song as a jam vehicle rests in the fact that the band is simply focusing too much energy on jamming based on the frenetic beats of the song, and less on developing space to jam within. As has been argued at length here on tackle & lines, Phish is at their best musically when they step back and allow the music to develop itself. Rarely are they successful when they try to force ideas.

539531_10150995832656290_1486852917_n

While, yes, much of their brilliance in the early-90’s was due in large part to this exact form of forced inspiration through their speed-jazz jams, the “Include Your Own Hey” exercise, and many of the abstract, shape-shifting jams of 1994, it was, in reality, an altogether different time, and, they an altogether different band. They toured relentlessly, and practiced even more so, thus catering to said freneticism in their music. Since their peak musical month of December 1995 however, and the evolution to sparser, more ambient-driven jams, the majority of the band’s success has occurred when they step back from the music, and accept their role as conduits to a larger musical force, rather than drivers.

In 3.0, this hurdle of allowing the music to guide them, rather than the other way around, took much of their first 18-months back together to totally accept and integrate within. Even then, Phish spent much of the latter part of 2010 and 2011 still fighting off the habitual tendencies to take control of their music. 2012 was far and away the best year Phish has had in the past decade, much of it due to their acceptance that if they just kept playing, innovative ideas were right around the corner. It makes sense then, that three of the four best versions of “Golden Age” have come in the past year. And yet, for all the improvisational success they were finding at Dick’s and MSG – I mean, they found a way to substantially jam “Farmhouse” and “Prince Caspian,” after all – “Golden Age” still remained that confusing outlier that displayed a band somewhat incapable of letting go and allowing the music to dictate their path.

While both the 09/01/2012 and 12/29/2012 have moments of connection, each suffer from this overt focus on the beat, which in turn adds far more noise and activity to the jam than is productive for a jam to flourish. In many ways, “Golden Age,” at this point in it’s existence, is reminiscent of “Light” prior to the 08/07/2010 version. While yes, we’d had the 08/07/2009 calypso jam, and the 11/01/2009 descent into Hell, overall, “Light” had become something of an inconsistent mess of whale call’s, disjointed rhythms, and an total lack of communication that prevented the song from realizing it’s full potential. Then, out of nowhere came the Greek “Light”: a patient, gorgeous version that built off a simple melody and displayed how far the song could traverse.

If the key to any substantial jamming is to be found in “Golden Age,” one need to look no further than the Trey and Page interwoven melodies from 8:17 – 8:46 on the 07/03/2012 version, which directly led to Trey deliberately opening up his playing, allowing more sound to grow within the notes. As Page follows suit – injecting the jam with a hushed, contemplative, and yet, somewhat errie piano line – Mike and Fish noticeably tone down their aggressive beats. Still rooted in electronica, their playing becomes muted as the jam shifts into another dimension. Touching on ambient themes, and a brief foray into soft rock, the jam ultimately fades away into nothing. It’s short, for sure, but it gives a hint as to where the song could go if the band allowed it the opportunity to breathe in the future.

As Phish has displayed time and again in their 3.0 evolution, the key to jamming at this point in their career is with a less-is-more approach. From the 12/31/2009 “Ghost,” and 08/07/2010 “Light,” to the 07/03/2011 “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing,” and 06/22/2012 “Twist,” when they get out of the way of the music they’re far more apt to discover untapped melodies, and vast open space that lead to groundbreaking jams. For a song that speaks to Phish’s current state like few others, and one that is so clearly being given the platform to dominate a show, one can only hope that Phish can figure out how to take “Golden Age” out there. Based on the evolutionary steps forward of the last few years, one wouldn’t be too surprised if this were the summer that finally featured an array of creative, boundary-pushing, and exploratory jams based off of “Golden Age.”

The Best Of Phish – 2011

After a six month break, Phish returned to the stage over Memorial Day Weekend, in Bethel, NY for their 2011 Summer Tour. At the onset of the third year of Phish 3.0 fans had nothing but optimism about the direction of the band, thanks to incredibly inspired 2010 performances during August, Fall Tour, and a blistering send-off show on New Year’s Day. After overcoming a rocky June tour the previous year, the band reemerged on the west coast in August hell bent on pushing their sound past the tepid, quasi-experimentations of the previous 17 months. Armed with a new guitar for Trey and a stretch of shows the brought the band to some of the most unique venues of the era – The Greek TheaterTelluride Town Park – and some of the most familiar – Deer CreekAlpine Valley – the Phish we all had come to know and love was reborn in front of the entire fanbase. The good vibes spilled over to the band’s three-week October run where they passed over the expected 20,000+ NBA arenas in favor of smaller, more intimate college gymnasiums and the versatile and historic Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall. Slimming down their crowds, the band absolutely destroyed their fall leg – particularly the east coast shows – playing with a fire and adventurism that reminded many of the goofy and zany college pranksters they’d fallen in love with in the late-80’s and early-90’s. Finishing off 2010 with a refined and balanced New Years Run in Worcester, MA and New York City, Phish capped off their best year since 2003 with memorable jams and their first show ever on New Year’s Day that was discussed ad nauseam on the band’s independent message boards. Thus when the band announced a 33-date summer tour, which included a three-day mid-summer festival in Watkins Glen, NY, fans looked to 2011 as the year when the band capitalized on all their growth over the past two, and returned to form as the “best god damn band on Earth,” for reals now.

Kicking off the summer with “Tweezer” – only the most reliable jam vehicle in the band’s history – was a pretty good sign that the creative juices were flowing from the get-go in the world of Phish 2011. When the inspired opener led to a thrilling weekend of shows, Phish fans either at the shows, or listening intently from home, picked their jaws up off the floor and wondered aloud just what in fact we were in for in 2011. Continuing with the exploratory, and unpredictable theme the following weekend in Detroit and Cuyahoga Falls – both shows put on high display the two sides of Phish at their best – it appeared that Phish had completely gotten over their growing pains of 2009 and early 2010, and could literally do no wrong.

However, as the band moved south along the Atlantic coast, the wide-eyed adventurism that had defined the first week and a half of tour faded and was replaced by the nervous, sporadic and inconsistent band that fans had seen far too many times over the past two years. Shows in Camden and Alpharetta, most notably, featured a band unwilling to take risks, craft fully flowing shows, or build upon their past successes. While there were certainly still high points – 06/11/2011, 06/17/2011, 06/19/2011 II – overall, the first leg of the 2011 summer tour, one which had started with such a bang, ended with little more than a whisper forcing many to once again wonder aloud about the direction of the band at the end of another disappointing June.

Returning to the stage less than two weeks later for a 4th of July Festival in Western New York the band appeared for the first five sets of the weekend to have all but abandoned concept of exploration – save for an absolutely sublime “Simple” – and instead, opted for a high octane, energy festival. All of this changed with the band’s late-night secret set – their first since IT’s Tower Jam – when Phish locked themselves in a Storage Unit and spent a hour playing wholly original and organic music, forever altering the paradigm of their 3.0 incarnation. The final show of the festival, occurring a mere 12 hours after “The Storage Jam” is without question the best show the band has played since returning to the stage in March 2009. Comparable to the affect Trey’s new guitar had on their sound a year earlier, “The Storage Jam” breathed new creative life into Phish, and gave their fans the assurance that the stumbling blocks of the last two years was not all for naught.

Spilling over to the west coast run of August, the band once again blew away their June run with a superior August run for the third straight year. Opening with back-to-back barn burners at the spectacular Gorge Amphitheater, Phish crushed their stand at Lake Tahoe, put on an incredibly balanced performance at San Francisco’s Outside Land’s Festival, and just destroyed the intimate UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Finishing off the summer with a three night stand at Denver’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Park over Labor Day, Phish concluded their marathon tour with three killer shows full of gimmicks, rarities, jams, and stellar playing all around.

Two weeks later Phish surprised their fans by announcing a one-night benefit show in Essex Junction, VT. The show was significant for two reasons. First and foremost, the band raised over a million dollars to help flood victims in Vermont, and secondly, it was the band’s first performance in Vermont since their emotional and sloppy exit seven years prior. While the show was light on substance – save for an all-time “Carini” – it was more icing on the cake than anything else for a fan base that had spent the entire summer reveling in the best Phish we’d all heard since 2.0.

With no Fall tour due to the band member’s obligations to their side projects and families, Phish returned to the stage after a four month break for a four-night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden to close out the year. A run that has historically given Phish and their fans an opportunity to both look back upon the year that was, while also offering a sneak peak to their direction in the following year, the vast distance between their final summer show and the NYE run proved to be too much for the band to overcome, as the run proved to be more underwhelming than anything. While the opening show had plenty of the magic fans have come to expect with holiday shows, the band’s energy, their willingness to explore, and, seemingly, their recognition that this was in fact the 2011 NYE Run, diminished with each passing show, leaving many with a bland taste in their mouth. What has usually been used as a guide for what to look forward to the following year, has instead left fans questioning the state of Phish on a level they haven’t since April 2004. With rumors circulating that 2012 will be a “light” touring year for the band, many are wondering if we’ve seen the best of Phish 3.0. As has been proven throughout their entire career, Phish must play regularly to be the band they can be. As we saw in stunning clarity this year, the music created at UIC and Dick’s was only possible after the band spent the entire summer playing together, getting more and more comfortable with each other. If it’s true that we’ll only see a handful of shows next year, and if it’s true that the gap between a significant set of shows will be around 9 or 10 months, then not only will fans yearning for more Phish suffer, but Phish’s music might as well.

Lo, these may well end up being the simple worries of an overly-anxious fan looking for more of the Phish we got this year. With that, let’s get to the countdown of the best shows and jams of 2011. As with last year, I have 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. They 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 last year, thus reserving the title of “Best Ever” as a subjective accolade. As always download links follow both the entire Jam section, and each individual show’s highlights.

Hope everyone enjoys the list, and hope we get some more awesome Phish in 2012. Happy New Year!

The Best Of Phish 2011

Honorable Jams

“Simple” – Watkins Glen, NY – 07/01/2011

The lone moment of the first two shows of Super Ball IX to really leap out and grab listeners, “Simple” is an ambient masterpiece from the moment it leaves the structure of the song. Building off strong outings for the Gordo-penned tune over the past year – 08/06/2010, 01/01/2011 – the band sits back and just rides the established theme out as far as they can, and then some. Crafting an emotive soundscape similar to the IT “Waves,” the melody simply exists, hanging in thin air as if a stiff breeze will destroy it. In much the same way that Brian Eno crafted the themes on his Ambient series, Phish emphasizes the space within and between notes, rather than trying to wow the crowd with fire. Peaking with a sad, yet and warm riff from Trey that begins around 12 minutes in, the jam is perfect example of what is possible when Phish forgets about all the outside distractions at their shows – curfew, setlist, bustouts, crowd energy – and simply lets the music guide them. Like a piece of music plucked out of summer 1998, the Super Ball IX “Simple” is proof that when Phish wants to conjure up the magic of their past, they’re fully capable of doing so.

“Down With Disease” – Chicago, IL – 08/16/2011

The first of two appearances for “DWD” on this list, their version to open the second set of their second night at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago is still one of the more underrated jams of all of 2011. Probably due in large part to both the epic show played the night before, and the shadow cast by the Pine Knob “DWD” from June, the “UICDWD” simply hasn’t gotten the full respect it deserves. A psychedelic masterpiece in an era where those are hard to come by, Phish leaps from the song’s theme without reprising the jam and dives straight into the unknown, devoting a solid 14 minutes to exploration. A more direct and forceful jam than June’s version, the “UICDWD” is a throwback to the kind of late-60’s/early-70’s era psychedelic jams that would emerge from the song during 1997, rather than the funk or ambient versions that graced it during the latter part of the 90’s, 2.0, and now the majority of 3.0. Unique in it’s direction, the jam is also reflective of the heavy exploration the band engaged in during the previous night’s first set. Moving through subtle funk rhythms, all with a keen eye kept on the disjointed sounds emerging from Page’s moog, Trey works as more of a finisher than leader, offering small ideas within Page and Mike’s theme. All of this peaks around 15 minutes when Trey latches onto a rough, yet danceable melody, and plays around with the melody while it becomes increasingly more and more distorted. Fading into an ambient jam that one would think will simply signal another song, the band instead extends this as well, giving Page and Mike ample time to fill the room with one more dose of psychedelia before choicely moving into “Twist.” A thrilling homage to the Phish of the past, the “UICDWD” is akin to the SBIX “Simple” in it’s ability to show just how much fire Phish still has left.

“Carini -> Tweezer” – New York City, NY – 12/28/2011

In 2010 the joke-metal song “Carini” was reborn. Previously used as simply a shot of adrenaline to either open a show or to throw a crowd off – save for the incredible 12/28/1998 version – on the fall tour of 2010 the band began using the jam as a way to call to the heavens. On three separate occasions – 10/12/2010, 10/22/2010, 10/29/2010 – Trey wove the dark jam into a melodic and uplifting jam. Resulting in stunning beautiful jams in each instance, “Carini” was a part of the Fall Tour transformation that saw the band explore within their songs in ways they simply hadn’t since the mid-1990’s. All of this however, seemed to come to a halt with the onset of 2011 when “Carini” resumed it’s status as a set opening shot of metal. Disappointing fans across the board, the band seemed to turn a corner with the song with it’s performance at Essex Junction on 09/14/2011. The ambient laced jam that emerged in Vermont spilled over to the band’s performance of “Carini” at MSG in December. Sliding easily from the high octane metal jam into a blissful state of sublimity, Trey coated the jam with a bubbly riff that seemed like it was plucked right out of the “Ramble On” from 08/12/1998. Shifting this theme back into the minor key, the band engaged in a full-band segue into “Tweezer” akin to the “Down With Disease” segue into the song during the Dick’s run. Perfectly moving out of “Carini” and into “Tweezer” there is no sign whatsoever of the awkward transitions that have plagued the band throughout much of 3.0. Riding high on their surprise move, the band used the entirety of “Tweezer” to dance around sharp, funk-laced beats, just toying with the crowd they held in the palms of their hands. Moving out of the overt funk theme into a more rock-based, Trey-led jam, the band brought “Tweezer” to a roaring peak before ultimately bringing it in for a soft landing by way of more blissful ambience. Extending the final section of the jam out to its proper conclusion, the band then moves it seamlessly into “My Friend, My Friend,” a subtle nod to how far they’d come since Bethel back in May.

The Top Ten Jams Of 2011

“Boogie On Reggae Woman -> Waves” – Bethel, NY – 05/27/2011

Coming out firing in the first set of the 2011 summer tour with jams in “Tweezer -> My Friend, My Friend,” “Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away” and “Kill Devil Falls,” the anything-goes feeling of the opening frame spilled over into set II with the first defining jam segment of the tour. The onset of Mike’s bubbly envelope-filetered bass that led into the band’s classic cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” initially gave fans worry that the set was to turn into a song-based affair, all but tossing the first sets creative peaks out the window. Yet as the song ended Trey chose to extend the mini-jam, generally revolving around Gordo’s bass, and instead built a wall of loops that threatened to descend the piece into chaos, but instead, turned out to be one of the experimental highlights of the show. As the loops became more and more disjointed though, Trey deconstructed the jam, opening up the space within the theme, and ultimately paving the way for “Waves.” Unseen since Red Rocks ’09, “Waves” had been soundchecked the previous night, and the ensuing 27-minute jam had been leaked out to the fan base, only exciting fans further for the upcoming tour. Emerging slowly from the decaying “Boogie On” jam, the jam that built out of “Waves” is among the most blissful moments of the entire summer. Inspired directly from Trey’s affinity for the guitar work of Beach House’s Alex Scally, the jam wove through various passages of soft guitar-driven melodies. Delicately playing over the band’s fluttering melodies, the jam ebbed and flowed like a quiet creek, each time it appeared it was finished, a new theme would begin. Finally coming to a rest in “Prince Caspian” some 13 minutes later, the jam set the bar pretty high for the summer tour, on its very first night. No doubt inspiring some of the heavy explorations throughout the summer, in some ways, the Bethel “Waves” was never topped in 2011.

“Down With Disease -> Fluffhead -> David Bowie” – Clarkston, MI – 06/03/2011

On the first night of the band’s second weekend of summer, kicking off the midwest portion of the tour, on Mike Gordon’s 46th birthday, Phish threw down a defining segment of 2011, and of 3.0 as a whole. Weaving together three of the band’s seminal songs in a fully flowing, 58-minute jam, Phish built off of the musical high’s of the first two nights at Bethel, and the first night in Holmdel, NJ with a massive jam off “Down With Disease” and standout versions of “Fluffhead” and “David Bowie.” Opening the set with a distorted tease of “Happy Birthday” by Mike, the band absolutely tore through the Hoist-era classic before blazing into the unknown. Building the jam around staccato rhythms, the band fizzled out around 13 minutes in, giving all the impression that the jam would end without much fanfare. However, coming to play on this night just outside of Detroit, Trey wove a sublime riff around the hanging space of sound. Much like the Bethel “Waves,” the jam was re-built anew by this riff, before turning to darker, more sinister place. Peaking some three minutes later, the band once again brought the theme down, indicating an imminent conclusion. However, before the jam could die, Trey and Page latched onto a familiar theme, a classic riff they hadn’t used in a jam in years: John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Continuing the jam in earnest around the jazzy theme, Phish played around with “ALS” allowing it to push the jam past the omnipresent 20-min barrier for 3.0 jams, and allowing it to build in a fully organic segue into “Fluffhead.” Playing a particularly inspired “Fluffhead,” due in large part to the emotions spilled over from the “DWD,” the legendary composition came to a massive peak, thrilling fans in the amphitheater and streaming the show from their couches. Yet just when fans thought the musical moment was over, Trey looped the final note of “Fluffhead,” distorting it until it became completely unrecognizable, and then segueing it perfectly into “David Bowie.” A song that felt incredibly lackluster and tame for the first year of 3.0, in 2010 “Bowie” was re-born with dark and sinister versions on 06/19/2010, 10/12/2010, and most notably, 10/20/2010. Building off those past highs, the DTE “Bowie” carried over the exploratory sentiments of the “DWD,” though here surging with an eye on the evil. Crafting a masterful version that stands in the top tier of the 3.0 echelon, “David Bowie,” completed the opening hour of 06/03/2011’s set II, a segment that will live on as one of the peaks of not only 2011, not only 3.0, but of Phish’s career when all is said and done.

“The Storage Jam” – Watkins Glen, NY – 07/02/2011

Without question, “The Storage Jam” from Super Ball IX is the single most important event of Phish’s entire 3.0 era to this point. More important than opening 03/06/2009 with “Fluffhead,” more important than the Gorge ’09, even more important that Trey’s Ocedoc. When they played their first festival of 3.0, the Halloween-tinged Festival 8, many fans were up in arms over the lack of secret set. A festival tradition dating back to The Clifford Ball, Phish’s secret sets were opportunities for both the band and their fans to dive completely into the unknown, deep in the night, with the only goal in mind being exploration and pushing their music forward. While many feared that the secret set had gone the way of the 30 minute jam in 3.0, the harsh reality at the time was that the band was simply not comfortable with each other enough again to create any lasting music in an open jam setting. Flash forward to summer 2011 and Phish was primed for some serious exploration, now two years into their return. Fucking with their fans as they love to do, Phish stole away to a makeshift USA Storage unit in the middle of the festival grounds, treating their fans to an hour of completely unwritten improvisational music – save for the loose “Sleeping Monkey” 50 min in – that dove deep into Hades, resurrecting a Phish we hadn’t seen nor heard in over seven years. Implying that they could still jam, the jam’s had just been in storage as they got their feet firmly on the ground over the first two years of 3.0, “The Storage Jam” was unanimously welcomed by Phish fans everywhere as it signified a renewed emphasis on exploration. Spending the majority of it’s first 30 minutes weaving in and out of psychedelic themes, the section from 18 – 22 minutes shines as the most re-listenable music of the jams first half. Full of siren loops, an eerie riff from Trey, repeated over and over, thumping, off-beat Bass from Gordo and Fish, and the first signs of the Theramin in 2011 from Page, it’s the kind of trippy noodling that was at home in Summer 1995, but was more than welcome here in 2011. Around 32 minutes however, everything fucking clicks. As Trey signals a sinister riff, the rest of the band follows suit, building a theme that’s among their most memorable, and could have been plucked right out of a jam rooted in the 06/19/2004 “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” Moving through another ambient movement, a nasty funk jam, and ultimately a hysterical and appropriate take on “Sleeping Monkey” – a song that’s most notably used as an encore any time the band plays a particularly inspired show – “The Storage Jam” came to a stunning finish as Trey buildt the final note of “Sleeping Monkey” to a point of menacing distortion, before ultimately laying it down to rest. A culmination of everything the band had been seeking to do since re-emerging in March 2009, “The Storage Jam” pushed Phish in ways they hadn’t been throughout all of 3.0, and as we’ll see with the following jams on this list, inspired them to continue pushing in search of the unknown.

“A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” – Watkins Glen, NY – 07/03/2011

The first jam to fully encapsulate the effect “The Storage Jam” had on Phish, the Undermind rarity, “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” appeared late in the band’s first set on 07/03/2011, taking the ideas realized in the storage shed, and bringing them to light. Moving past the sinister themes of the songs melody and into the blissful and sublime, the jam is akin to the Bethel “Waves” and SBIX “Simple” in its emphasis of space and time over notes. Perfectly matching the mood of the early July evening, the jam contrasts the song’s theme in it’s melodic tone. After slowly bringing the “ASIHTOS” theme to a close, the mood changes dramatically at 6:57 when Gordo begins to play an uplifting melody. The rest of the band latches onto Mike’s lead and they’re immediately off into the land of blissful serendipity. Stretching the theme out, they then begin to incorporate the space that in 2009 only signified an imminent segue into a new song, yet in 2011 serves as notice of a continuing jam. Further seeparating the “ASIHTOS” from any ambient jam in the formidable years of 3.0, Phish brought the jam to a peaceful conclusion rather than pushing it into a new song. A symbolic nod to “The Storage Jam” some 12 hours earlier, the SBIX “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing,” helped to craft 07/03/2011 as the best show of 3.0

“Rock & Roll -> Meatstick -> Boogie On Reggae Woman” – George, WA – 08/05/2011

Sometimes it just all comes together for Phish. On August 5th, 2011, on the first night of the second leg of their 2011 Summer tour, at the wide open Gorge Amphitheater, Phish threw down a stunning 40 minute jam sequence that without question ranks as the single greatest piece of music they’ve played in a concert since returning in March 2009. Busting the second set wide open with their classic take on The Velvet Underground tune, Phish wasted no time in taking “Rock & Roll” deep into the outer reaches. By seven and a half minutes in, any notion of the song’s them was in the rear view mirror as Trey began weaving minor keyed licks around Gordo and Fishman’s grooves, and choicely implementing his whammy pedal into the jam. Page then began pushing the jam even further into the unknown through a repetitive trance via his keys. After building a wall of loops Trey reentered the jam with an Middle Eastern-esque riff that became more and more distorted with each repeat. Mike and Fish latched onto his idea, creating a heavier foundation to the jam, ultimately drawing some powerful “Moma Dance” – esque teases from Trey. Now fully entrenched in the band’s darkest jam since 2004, Page moved from his keys to the Theremin, unleashing the beast from storage, further building the Hellish theme the band had conjured up. Capped off with Gordo’s demented reprise of the “It’s All right” chorus, the jam had fully departed from anything that resembled Phish 3.0 and was instead residing now in a category all its own. Riding the menacing groove to what appeared to be a proper, fading conclusion, Phish had one more surprise up their sleeves. As Trey stepped back and allowed the loops to build and fade on their own, Gordo stepped up and threw down one of the funkiest and most powerful bass licks of 3.0. The rest of the band jumped on the new direction continuing the jam, this time with a harder, more rock-based movement before it led fluidly into “Meatstick.” A joy to hear at any show, this “Meatstick” worked as a humorous bridge, leading the band out the darkness of “Rock & Roll,” before leading into a bass-led theme that would ultimately bring them to “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” The triumvirate was completed with the Stevie Wonder classic, a song which moved from it’s bubbly theme into staccato beats before filtering off in a wall of loops, and ultimately leading into “Farmhouse.” An absolutely stunning piece of music, Phish proved on the first night at The Gorge that “The Storage Jam” hadn’t been all for naught, and that thanks to that hour locked in the shed, they were a band reborn, ready to explore the ethers like they hadn’t in years.

“Light” – Stateline, NV – 08/09/2011

Along with “Backwards Down The Number Line,” no song has meant more to Phish in 3.0 as “Light.” Emerging from a heroic “Tweezer” at Fenway Park back in the Spring of 2009, “Light” quickly became Phish’s go-to jam vehicle during the Summer and Fall of 2009. Peaking with versions on 08/07/2009, 11/01/2009 and 12/02/2009, the song once-again led the way in 2010 with it’s 08/07/2010, 10/19/2010, and 10/26/2010 journeys. However, after a lackluster version on 12/30/2010, the song seemed plagued by a rushed jam segment leading to an awkward transition into another song for the entirety of June. The speed bumps were completely forgotten by the time the band reached Lake Tahoe in early August and threw down a version that joins not only the other two played nearly a year, and two years to the date prior to this, but also the other peak versions of “Light” played throughout 3.0. Reminiscent of the rhythmic experimentations Phish took the song on the previous fall, the Tahoe “Light” blended plinko jam themes with “Storage Jam” – esque noise and textures, creating one of the more mind altering, and unique jams of the summer. Highlighted by Gordo and Fish throughout, the jam was akin to 1997 jams in that Trey and Page’s main roles were to litter the top of the jam with a flurry of ideas and contributions, rather than full on leads. Combined with the Gorge “Rock & Roll,” the UIC “Waves -> Undermind” and the Dick’s “Piper,” the Tahoe “Light” put on high display the affects of “The Storage Jam,” and proved how innovative Phish could still be when diving deep into the depths of the netherworld.

“Waves -> Undermind” – Chicago, IL – 08/15/2011

Seven years to the day after the dream of Phish seemingly died in a drug-induced muddy field in Northern Vermont, the band played one of their defining shows of the modern era, directly contrasting their farewell festival, yet subtly nodding to the sounds of the bygone era. Midway through the second set of the band’s opening show in the storied UIC Pavilion Phish crafted a 25-minute masterpiece comprised of two of 2.0’s staples. Emerging with the third “Waves” since the transcendent Bethel version, the band looked to build upon that version, though instead of focusing on the blissful melodies that naturally grew out of the song’s theme, this time Trey was dead set on crafting a more rock-based, guitar laden jam. Seamlessly flowing into a percussive beat that hinted at “Undermind” four minutes prior the official segue into the song proper, it was Trey’s jam to dominate before he and Mike finally guided the band into only the 11th version of the 2.0 song. Playing a far looser version of the song than had been heard before, Phish wove in and out of each verse with something of wild abandon, giving the song it’s closest alignment to it’s origins. Yet it was when they fully departed from the song’s theme that the real magic happened, and one of the best jams of the year emerged. By turning the song’s rhythmic nature on it’s head, Trey began interlacing the beats with subtle funk chords, moving the melody further and further away from it’s origins. Yet before anyone could latch onto the funk, the music faded, Page traveled over the Theremin, and Trey began lacing together a melody that was fit for a sleeping child. Using the Theremin to coat the music, rather than dominate, the UIC “Undermind” is the best example of the Theremin being incorporated with the band’s sound since they first brought it out in “The Storage Jam.” Allowing the theme to fade off in the ether, one of the most unique jam sequences of the summer, and of 3.0, disappeared into “Steam,” thus continuing the elements set.

“Tweezer” – Denver, CO – 09/03/2011

After two years in which “Tweezer” dominated the 3.0 jam scene, culminating with one of the best jams of 2010 on 12/30/2010, the legendary jam vehicle fell flat during the early part of 2011. Sure there were some promising versions here and there – 06/05/2011 immediately springs to mind – but more often than not, the song would get “Horse’d” or “Julius’d” before it ever had a chance to really be explored. That is until it emerged seamlessly out of a “Down With Disease” jam on the second night of the band’s final stand of the summer in Denver, CO. Moving rapidly out of the funk-based origins of the song into a more melodic and uplifting theme, the jam took on a unique quality all its own, one that would soon evoke memories of the band’s style from the Fall of 1999. With near perfect precision, Trey built a soulful solo above the powerful drums of Fish and Page’s heroic baby-grand. Much like the phenomenal “Light” from 10/19/2010, it was clear the band loved the musical zone they’d discovered as they spent the entirety of the jam residing in it. Rather than moving swiftly from one theme to another as most 3.0 jams do, Phish opted to play within a singular theme, crafting ideas from within it. The result is one of the most sublime and organic jams of the era, a nod to their patient past, and a hopeful sign of things to come in the future. Dissolving into a gorgeous ambient movement, the jam came in for a soft landing before emerging in “Golden Age.” An emotive piece that summed up the band’s place at the end of their summer tour, the Dick’s “Tweezer” is the kind of jam Phish could only play after months of consistently playing together, and shows the benefit of their time and dedication to the road.

“Piper> Harry Hood” – Denver, CO – 09/04/2011

On the final night of their summer 2011 tour, Phish threw down a jam midway through the second set that hit all the highs that had occurred throughout the tour, and celebrated all they’d accomplished over the previous four months. Playing easily the best “Piper” of the year to that point, the band dove into the raging theme of the song before moving at a blistering clip into a playful and danceable section which featured Trey and Fish singing some unknown rhyme in unison with the beat. Building the jam out of it’s goofy interplay, Page stepped to the Theremin for one more go around of the summer as the band engaged in some serious “Storage Jamming.” The nod towards the seminal moment of the summer allowed Phish to bring the jam to natural conclusion before fading into their legendary piece of music, borne out of Trey’s near-death experience in Italy: “Harry Hood.” A song that, while always welcome in 3.0, has time-after-time struggled to live up to the lofty expectations built by it’s just incredible performances throughout the 90’s, the Dick’s “Hood” finally saw Trey in particular nail the song’s ethereal solo, resulting in the best pure version since certainly 2003, but probably since sometime in the mid-90’s. An absolutely sublime moment that resulted in a full on peak of the song’s emotive theme, the Dick’s “Hood” was a celebratory version of the song, capping off an incredible summer tour, and an incredible finale to the tour.

“Piper” – New York City, NY – 12/30/2011

Midway through the second set of probably the weakest show of the 2011 New Year’s run, Phish threw down a “Piper” that clearly built off the stellar version in Colorado four months early and gave a promising sign to fans that “Piper” would once again be used as a regular jam vehicle. Moving through multiple themes at a breakneck pace, much like the “Down With Disease -> What’s The Use?” from 08/14/2010, this version of “Piper” put on high display how connected the band is after almost three years of playing together again, yet all the more making fans scratch their heads over why the NYE run felt so underwhelming. Dramatically moving from chaotic interplay to a blissful melody at 9:19, the band changed on a dime for the wide open soundscapes that defined many of their best jams of the year. Building through siren exchanges from Trey and Page, Gordo filled out the blossoming jam with a massive tug at his envelope filtered-bass, filling the arena with fuzzy bass. Page then took charge of the jam while Trey opted to sculpt walls of sound, giving the chairman of the boards a fitting moment in the sun after a year in which he absolutely dominated the majority of their best jams. Fading into “Twist” the jam which had covered so much ground over 15 minutes, ended with a whisper, a symbolic reference of sorts to Phish in 2011.

Honorable Shows

Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD – 06/11/2011

Set I: Daniel Saw The Stone*, AC/DC Bag>Ocelot, Access Me, Vultures, Wilson>Sand>Roses Are Free -> Reba, On Your Way Down>Run Like An Antelope#

Set II: Birds Of A Feather>Tweezer -> The Horse -> Silent In The Morning>Waves>Chalk Dust Torture##, Rock & Roll>Albuquerque>Piper -> Wading In The Velvet Sea -> 2001>Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan>Suzy Greenberg

Encore: Show Of Life>Tweezer Reprise

* First “Daniel Saw The Stone” since 08/03/2003

# “Run Like An Antelope” contained “On Your Way Down” teases from Trey

## “Chalk Dust Torture” contained “Birds Of A Feather teases

After 2010’s epic “Saw It Again”-laced Set II, expectations were high leading up to Phish’s return weekend at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Honoring the fun-filled 06/27/2010 show, the band opened with the traditional rarity, “Daniel Saw The Stone” for the first time since the 2003 IT festival. Mixing the first set with punctual takes on the band’s classics – “AC/DC Bag,” “Wilson,” Reba,” “Run Like An Antelope” – and inspired versions of other rarities – “Access Me,” “Vultures,” “On Your Way Down” – Phish crafted the ideal summer first set. During a week when they struggled to both consistently play with energy and purpose, the first night of Merriweather Post displayed a band at ease and having fun. Mixing surprises with excellent standards, the set just sounds like a June Phish show. For their second set, the band opted for a song-based movement, mixing some of their best jams vehicles – “Tweezer,” “Rock & Roll,” “Piper” – with a few quieter, more introspective songs – “The Horse -> Silent In The Morning,” “Albuquerque,” “Wading In The Velvet Sea”. On paper it took the appearance of some of their less-loved “recital” shows of 3.0 – Hampton 09, 08/15/2009, 10/15/2010, 12/30/2010 – yet when one listens, it is a set that flows perfectly; the amount of songs keeps the listener engaged, rather than frustrated. Highlighted by a psychedelic and distorted take on “Rock & Roll” – subtly hinting at The Gorge’s epic version later in the summer – which smoothly lands in the always welcome “Albuquerque,” a torrid “Piper”, and an absolutely blazing “2001>Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan>Suzy Greenberg” to end the set, the show’s interwoven dichotomy makes it a keeper in 2011.

 

The Gorge Amphitheater – George, WA – 08/06/2011

Set I: Possum, The Moma Dance>Sample In A Jar, Limb By Limb, Ocelot, Poor Heart, On Your Way Down, Wolfman’s Brother# -> Maze>Wilson>Fluffhead

Set II: Chalk Dust Torture>Tweezer>Prince Caspian>Sand -> Tweezer>Birds Of A Feather, Waste>Golden Age>Reba>Run Like An Antelope##

Encore: Suzy Greenberg>Sanity>Tweezer Reprise

# “Wolfman’s Brother” contained a “Heartbreaker” tease

## “Run Like An Antelope” contained “Reba” whistling, “Tweezer,” “Tweezer Reprise,” “Sand,” “Nellie Kane,” and “Golden Age” teases

The night after blowing apart the minds of their fan base with the masterful “Rock & Roll -> Meatstick -> Boogie On Reggae Woman” jam sequence, Phish returned for their second night at The Gorge and played a far more straight forward, rocking show, yet one which displayed better overall flow, particularly in set II. Opening with a string of tunes that one would have expected to have been played the night before, the first set took a while to get off the ground, regardless of how good the band sounded, particularly in “Limb By Limb” and “Ocelot.” Yet when they dropped the Little Feat rarity “On Your Way Down,” the show started in earnest as the final four songs that followed were not only fan favorites, but top notch versions at that. Highlighted by a phenomenal “Wolfman’s Brother” that touched on Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” before moving on to a disjointed groove, the song was the first genuine experimentation of the night. Seamlessly segueing into “Maze,” the two mid-90’s classic were united in the most random way, yet it worked and set off a firestorm within the crowd. Closing the set with a classic “Wilson>Fluffhead,” the crowd was at a fever pitch heading into setbreak. Opening set II with “Chalk Dust,” it’s first such appearance since it was taken to the netherworld on 06/25/2010, it appeared the band was poised to give their angst-ridden classic the storage treatment. However, the set’s theme was to be tightness, thus when the song came to a roaring end, Trey immediately launched into a “Tweezer” that set off an explosion within the open-air theater. Building the jam around fall-back funk themes the jam held little weight on it’s own, but when it led into a unique and lilting “Prince Caspian,” a shred-fest within “Sand” and ultimately a perfect segue back into “Tweezer,” all was forgiven. The other high point of the set came in the set closing trio of the TV On The Radio jam, “Golden Age” and the contrasting classics, “Reba” and “Run Like An Antelope.” Appearing in the second set for the second time this summer, and only the fifth since 2000, the song gave band and audience alike an opportunity to step back and reflect of the incredible weekend it had been. Finishing the set with an “Antelope” littered with teases of almost every song in the set, the band sent a message of how much fun they’d had at the Gorge, only further emphasized with the “Suzy>Sanity>Tweezer Reprise” encore that almost shook the hill into the Columbia River. Similar to 06/11/2011 in it’s ability to show Phish’s excellence even when they don’t jam, 08/06/2011 is yet another one of those shows that just sounds like Phish in the summer time.

 

Madison Square Garden – New York City, NY – 12/28/2011

Set I: Free*, Glide>Possum, Cities, The Ballad Of Curtis Loew, Stash, Contact>Sample In A Jar, Kill Devil Falls>Bathtub Gin

Set II: Birds Of A Feather, Carini -> Tweezer# -> My Friend, My Friend&>Rock & Roll -> NICU>Bouncing Around The Room, Harry Hood##> Bug

Encore: Tube>Rocky Top>Tweezer Reprise

* First “Free” opener in history

# “Tweezer” contained a “Streets Of Cairo” tease

## “Harry Hood” contained a “Free” tease at the end

& “My Friend, My Friend” was unfinished

The first night of Phish’s 2011 New Year’s Eve run, 12/28/2011 proved to be the most inspired show of the underwhelming end to the year. Opening with “Free” for the first time in the band’s history, followed by the first “Glide” since MSG 2009 – only the second since the Coventry debacle, and only the fourth in eleven years – the stakes were set mighty high as many thought this run would carry over the inspired playing of the summer of 2011. A jam off of “Cities” in the clean-up spot only pushed the crowd to a roaring peak as Mike and Trey locked in for a jam akin to the one of the same Talking Heads cover at The Greek Theater in August 2010. The rest of the first set was full of tour opener set I standards – “Stash,” “Sample In A Jar,” “Kill Devil Falls” – a couple rarities – “The Ballad Of Curtis Loew,” “Contact” – and a stellar type-I jam in “Bathtub Gin” to close out the first frame. The second set proved to be me the most fluid and experimental set of the entire four-show run, highlighted by a perfect segue from “Carini -> Tweezer,” and a rhythmic jaunt through “Rock & Roll” which found an ideal landing in the least likely of places: “NICU.” Closing the set with a “Harry Hood” that matched the sharpness of the Dick’s version followed by the emotive ballad “Bug,” the band walked off the stage triumphant. Encoring with an unexpected trio of “Tube>Rocky Top>Tweezer Reprise” it appeared Phish could do no wrong and would surpass their past two NYE run’s with ease. However, after the following night’s “The Sloth>You Enjoy Myself” opener, nothing, aside from 12/30/2011’s “Piper” would approach both the song selection, experimentation, nor wild abandonment that defined much of 2011, and 12/28/2011 in particular.

 

The Top Ten Shows Of 2011

Bethel Center For The Arts – Bethel, NY – 05/28/2011

Set I: Theme From The Bottom, NICU, Cities>Halley’s Comet -> Runaway Jim, Gumbo>Quinn The Eskimo>Limb By Limb, Horn, Bathtub Gin -> Manteca# -> Bathtub Gin##

Set II: Down With Disease &-> Free>Backwards Down The Number Line###>Makisupa Policeman+ -> Harry Hood>Cavern>David Bowie

Encore: A Day In The Life

# “Manteca” contained “Golden Age” teases

## The ending of “Bathtub Gin” contained a “Manteca” tease

### “Backwards Down The Number Line” contained a “Dave’s Energy Guide” tease from Mike

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

+ “Makisupa Policeman” contained references to the band member’s houses, thus originating the tour-long gag, and referenced Trey’s favorite TV show: “House.”

On the second night of Phish’s 2011 Summer Tour the band played an absolute gem of a show, one in which many would expect to come two weeks into a tour, rather than right off the bat. However, after rehearsing extensively on the hallowed grounds of Woodstock in the week leading up to the tour, the band was primed and ready from the get-go, resulting in two highly inspired, exploratory shows out the gates. Opening with “Theme From The Bottom” the show got off to a unique start as the tour had kicked both night’s off with rare openers. Playing a perfect summer set, Phish dove right into the jams with a thick “Cities,” followed by a dreamlike jam in “Halley’s Comet” that spilled perfectly into “Runaway Jim.” Complimenting the rest of the set with tight versions of “Quinn The Eskimo” and “Limb By Limb” the peak of the set came with the closing jam out of “Bathtub Gin.” Typically a type-I shred-fest in 3.0, Trey in particular locked onto a groove right as it sounded as though the band was reaching the final peak and instead diverted the jam in a mash-up of the rare “Manteca” and the theme to “Golden Age.” Toying with the crowd, they wove in and out of this jam before finally bringing it back into “Gin” for a climaxing conclusion of the first set. Opening the second set with the expected “Down With Disease,” the band went on to craft one of their most connected, fully flowing sets of the summer. Taking “DWD” down a softer, more ambient-based path Trey wove lyrical riffs around a porous foundation before stepping back and allowing it to dissolve in a wall of sound. Taking their time to build out of “DWD” and into “Free” the segue was a far cry from the rushed segues into the song throughout much of 3.0. Dropping into “Backwards Down The Number Line” signaled the second significant jam of the set as Trey spent serious time playing around the comeback anthem’s theme before peaking it in a glorious celebration that is really how the song deserves to be played literally every time. Adding some Phish humor midway through the set by way of the first Phish song, “Makisupa Policeman,” the “House” gag that would follow the band throughout their June leg was born out of a story on Trey getting high at each of the guy’s houses. Closing out the set with a classic “Harry Hood>Cavern>Bowie,” plus an always welcome “A Day In The Life” encore, Phish left the stage at the top of their game. A stunning opening weekend to the Summer 2011 tour, the first two nights in particular would go down as some of the best music the band played all year.

 

DTE Energy Music Theater – Clarkston, MI – 06/03/2011

Set I: Wolfman’s Brother, Funky Bitch, Sample In A Jar, NICU#, Mike’s Song -> I Am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove, Tela>Chalk Dust Torture, The Wedge

Set II: Down With Disease#% -> Fluffhead -> David Bowie, Waste>2001##>Cavern

Encore: Good Times, Bad Times

# “NICU” and “Down With Disease” contained “Happy Birthday” teases

## “2001” contained a “Sex Machine” tease

% “Down With Disease” contained a jam centered around “A Love Supreme”

There are certain Phish shows when all involved – band and crowd – know going in it’s going to be a classic. A week into their summer 2011 the band dropped into the Motor City for a birthday show for Gordo and played a fully-flowing show that featured a fun-filled Set I, the longest jam of 3.0 in “Down With Disease” and a classic set II, only six-songs long, reminiscent of the band’s experimental throwdown’s in the 90’s. Opening a show for the first time since 2000, “Wolfman’s Brother” provided insight into the energetic and exploratory show the band was about to embark on. A song that really blossomed the previous Fall after a year and a half run as the most consistent tune of 3.0, the version from Clarkston, while remaining relatively contained to its structure, certainly displayed the band’s willingness this early in the tour to pushing their song’s past their 3.0 limit. Filling the set with powerful takes on first set standards – “Funky Bitch,” “Sample In A Jar,” “NICU,” “Chalk Dust” – along with a notable “Mike’s Groove” and a surprise “Tela,” the set grabbed the crowd, and although it didn’t explore too much new territory, showed how sharp the band was in the early part of summer. It was the second set though, that would be remembered for both the incredibly diverse, blissfully stunning jam out of “Down With Disease,” the segues into the classic’s “Fluffhead” and “David Bowie” that followed, and the overall length of the set, all of which combined to make it the early favorite set of the year. After the nearly hour-long triumvirate, the expected breather in “Waste” felt a whole lot more appreciated by the crowd, stunned by what they’d just witnessed. Yet showing how keenly aware they were of the set they were playing, the band capped off the show with a “2001>Cavern” chock full of James Brown teases, and a raging “Good Times, Bad Times” encore. A special show for both band and crowd, Clarkston provided an early peak for the summer tour, one that would be matched by the following night in Ohio, but one that wouldn’t be surpassed until exactly one month later at Super Ball IX.

 

Blossom Music Center – Cuyahoga Falls, OH – 06/04/2011

Set I: Kill Devil Falls, Guyute, Fuck Your Face>Foam, Ocelot, Rocket In My Pocket, Back On The Train>Guelah Papyrus, Tube+>Run Like An Antelope#++

Set II: Birds Of A Feather, Possum -> Steam^ -> Piper -> The Lizards, Sneaking Sally Through The Alley##>Harry Hood -> Have Mercy -> Harry Hood###>Character Zero####

Encore: Slave To The Traffic Light

+ “Tube” referenced Page’s House

++ Trey mentioned different band members including Toph before the “Marco Esquandolas” section

^ “Steam” made it’s Phish debut

# “Run Like An Antelope” contained a “Streets Of Cairo” tease

## “Sneaking Sally” contained a “Manteca” tease

### The second part of “Harry Hood” contained a “The Lizards” and a “Have Mercy” tease

#### “Character Zero” contained a “Smoke On The Water” tease

A night after playing their most exploratory jam to this point in 3.0, Phish put on a show that, while it was the antithesis to 06/03/2011, proved that when Phish is really feeling it, it doesn’t matter what kind of show they play. With a first set that contained some uneven flow as the band toyed with rockers – “Kill Devil Falls,” “Back On The Train,” “Run Like An Antelope” – compositions – “Guyute,” “Foam” – and rarities – “Fuck Your Face,” “Rocket In My Pocket” “Guelah Papyrus” – it still retained the magic from the previous night, and proved to be one of those puzzling sets that shouldn’t have worked, but somehow did. In a similar manner, the second set was a far more song-based affair that the previous night, though the band used the format to show off their ability to jam within their songs, as was heard in the disjointed climax in “Possum” and the “Harry Hood -> Have Mercy -> Harry Hood” that gave the set it’s emotional peak. However the set’s true highlights came in the debut of the year’s lone new original, “Steam,” the sublime jam that emerged from “Piper’s” rage and spilled smoothly into “The Lizards,” and the contrastingly menacing jam that built from “Sneaking Sally” and segued brilliantly into “Harry Hood.” Closing the show with a stunning take on the classic, “Slave To The Traffic Light,” the show was proof of how dexterous of a band Phish had become throughout 3.0, and along with the previous night made the June midwest run the band’s best until their UIC trifecta over two months later.

 

Verizon Wireless Ampitheater – Charlotte, NC – 06/17/2011

Set I: Mike’s Song -> I Am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove, Bouncing Around The Room>NICU+>Sample In A Jar, Col. Forbin’s Ascent -> Fly Famous Mockingbird, Axilla I>Wolfman’s Brother, Scent Of A Mule#, Stealing Time For The Faulty Plan

Set II: Backwards Down The Number Line>Rock & Roll## -> Ghost>Free>Reba, Icculus*, Hold Your Head Up>Bike**###>Hold Your Head Up, Chalk Dust Torture, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Wilson>Loving Cup

+ “NICU” referenced Leo’s House

# “Scent Of A Mule” contained a “Tra La La” tease from Page

## “Rock & Roll” contained a “A Love Supreme” tease from Mike

### “Bike” contained a “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” tease from Fish

* First “Icculus” sing 08/14/2009

** First “Bike” since 06/18/2009

After ten days worth of mostly forgettable shows, defined by recital setlists, aborted jams, and an overall puzzling disconnect from the band, Phish played a rarity-filled, fully flowing summery show in Charlotte, NC that still remains one of the highlights of June, and of 2011 in whole. Opening with the first “Mike’s Groove” opener since 08/15/2004, the band sent a clear message out the gates that they were stoked and ready to throw down a memorable night. Filling the first set with punctual versions of first set standards – “NICU,” “Sample In A Jar,” “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan” – alongside a heated jam in “Wolfman’s Brother,” and the first “Col. Forbin’s -> Mockingbird” since 07/04/2010, by the time the band stepped off the stage they had completed one of the top three sets of the summer thus far. In the second set, the same ideas that made Set I so much fun spilled over as the band engaged in one of June’s best improvisational moments in “Rock & Roll -> Ghost,” before throwing down a surprise Set II “Reba” – it’s first appearance in a second set since 09/22/2000 – and then engaging the crowd in the ultra-rare “Icculus” – first since 08/14/2009 – and Fishman sung Syd Barrett tune, “Bike” – only the second since 2000. Closing out the show with a raging “Chalk Dust Torture,” followed by the increasingly rare “You Enjoy Myself,” along with the energized “Wilson>Loving Cup” encore, the band kicked off the final weekend of their June run with a memorable show that far surpassed much of the music played during the meat of the tour, and left many wondering why the band had strayed so far from their focus and energy in the first two weeks of the tour in the first place. In any sense, Charlotte is the kind of show that shows Phish comfortable deep within a tour, simply having fun, loving playing in front of their fans. A great show to sum up the overall sentiments of 3.0.

 

Super Ball IX – Watkins Glen, NY – 07/03/2011

Set I: Soul Shakedown Party>AC/DC Bag>The Curtain*>Col. Forbin’s Ascent -> Fly Famous Mockingbird**+, Destiny Unbound>Big Black Furry Creature From Mars#>Wilson##>Mound, A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing&, Time Loves A Hero, Reba### -> David Bowie

Set II: Big Balls^>Down With Disease&& -> No Quarter>Party Time, Ghost>Gotta Jibboo>Light, Waves -> What’s The Use?>Meatstick>Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Star Spangled Banner

Encore: First Tube

* First “The Curtain” without since 09/09/2000

** First “Fly Famous Mockingbird” with narration since 09/30/2000

+ The narration in “Fly Famous Mockingbird” referenced the previous night’s “Storage Jam” and explained how the band got locked in a storage unit on their way to Colorado in 1988, and that everything since, including the entire SBIX weekend had been a mental projection from the band to their fans.

# “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars” contained a tease of “The Twilight Zone” and “Leave It To Beaver” theme’s from Mike

## “Wilson” contained a tease of “Mind Left Body”

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

& “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” was unfinished

&& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

^ “Big Balls” (AC/DC) made it’s Phish debut

Hands down, the single best show Phish has played since their return in March 2009. Sure, you could make an argument for 01/01/2011, or 08/07/2010, or 10/20/2010, or even 08/07/2009, but none of those – while phenomenal shows in their own right – have the combined energy, wackiness, exploratory spirit, and overall anything-goes Phish that has defined so much of their career, all packed into one show, quite like 07/03/2011. The result of the previous night’s secret “Storage Jam,” Phish emerged on the final day of their Super Ball IX festival totally relaxed, completely enthralled with their playing, and ready to throw down a show, the likes of which it’s fan base hadn’t experienced in years. Particularly in the first set, it felt as if the band could do no wrong, any song they played, any direction they took it worked, sculpting a first frame full of unique and inspired versions of classics – “Wilson,” “Reba,” “David Bowie” – and rarities alike – “Destiny Unbound,” “Mound,” “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” Starting in earnest with the first “Curtain” without since 1.0, the band dove into “Forbin’s -> Mockingbird” and delivered the first narration for the Gamehendge-era tune since Vegas 2000. Crafting a tale about how the band got locked in a storage unit on their first tour outside of Vermont in 1988, Trey messed with the crowd in classic form, revealing that the band just kept playing music while locked inside, that everything they did between then and 2011 was actually a mental projection from them to their fans. A wholly connected moment for the band and the fan base, the story evoked memories of the wacky stories Trey would tell when the crowd was a mere fraction of the size it’s grown to today. From that point forward the rest of the set was absolute fire, with a best-of-3.0 version – and a few top-10-ever versions thrown in there – that you simply have to hear to believe. Summed up in the “Reba” whistling outro that the band butchered horribly, but used the mistake to distort the gaily music into an eerie “David Bowie,” the set is truly Phish at their finest. Set II was more than anything, the icing on the cake. Opening with the appropriate first time cover of AC/DC’s “Big Balls,” the set featured expansive jams in “Down With Disease,” “Light,” and “Waves,” along with another stellar cover of “No Quarter,” and a deep second-set appearance for “What’s The Use?” Capping off the set with the expected and welcome “Star Spangled Banner,” the boys displayed their incredible musical fortitude by nailing their a cappella cover. A show for the ages, 07/03/2011 took the massive culmination of 2 years as a band that was “The Storage Jam” and showed their fans they were not only keenly aware of the side of Phish they all craved, but that after all these years, and after so much unknown, they were still that band. As would be seen with the August and Dick’s runs, the turning point that was “The Storage Jam,” was not all for naught.

 

Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena At Harvey’s – Stateline, NV – 08/09/2011

Set I: Party Time, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony>AC/DC Bag>Mellow Mood, Rift>Punch You In The Eye>Meat, David Bowie, Bouncing Around The Room, Horn, Water In The Sky, 46 Days

Set II: Gotta Jibboo>Light#>Chalk Dust Torture##& -> Slave To The Traffic Light>Free, Rocket Man^, Harry Hood>Walls Of The Cave

Encore: Bug>The Squirming Coil

# “Light” contained a tease of “Timber” and “Tweezer”

## “Chalk Dust Torture” contained a tease of “Dixie and Hedwig Theme”

& “Chalk Dust Torture” was unfinished

^ “Rocket Man” (Elton John) made it’s Phish debut

Since the onset of 3.0, two trends have held true: the August run combines the energy and excitement of uneven June shows with a commitment to exploration, and, the West coast produces some of the loosest Phish this side of 1997. Fresh off their transcendent performance at The Gorge – featuring The jam of the era in “Rock & Roll,” along with one of better shows of the year on 08/06/2011 – Phish arrived in the parking lot-turned amphitheater, right in between a casino and Late Tahoe, poised to give their fans a uniquely crafted show that balanced a recital approach in Set I, and a fully flowing, experimental set II. Kicking things off with “Party Time,” “Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag>Mellow Mood,” the show carried the kind of fun-filled summery feel that harkened back to 08/14/2010’s masterful performance. Using the set as a means to highlight some of the band’s best proper songs – “Rift,” “Water In The Sky,” “Horn” – while still saving some time for the funk in “Meat,” diving deep into psychedelia in “David Bowie,” and capping things off with a torrid “46 Days,” it was a diverse outing, one that retained incredible flow. A strange phenomenon in the band’s recital shows, the first set seemed to be eternally connected like an album, regardless of the fact that some of the songs were written more than twenty years apart. Set II was a fully-flowing machine, complete with groundbreaking improv in “Light,” a classic segue for the ages in “Chalk Dust -> Slave,” and a gimmicky first-time rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” a direct response to the loads of hand-held light-up rockets seen amongst the crowd. Capping things off with a blissful take on “Harry Hood,” a song which has once again returned to it’s role as the emotional peak of whatever set it’s played in, followed by a raging “Walls Of The Cave,”  the set was among the more hooked-up moments for Phish in a year full of them. Closing out the night with an emotive “Bug>Coil” encore, Phish walked off the stage having played one of their more diverse, understated shows of the year. A show which let the music speak for itself, the first night of Tahoe was the epitome of west coast Phish.

 

UIC Pavilion – Chicago, IL – 08/15/2011

Set I: Back On The Train>Rift>Guelah Papyrus, Scent Of A Mule, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Wolfman’s Brother, Anything But Me, Babylon Baby^, Reba>Alumni Blues+ -> Letter To Jimmy Page -> Alumni Blues

Set II: Sand -> Light -> Dirt>Waves -> Undermind% -> Steam>Fire

Encore: Camel Walk, Guyute, The Horse -> Silent In The Morning, Harry Hood

^ “Babylon Baby” made it’s Phish debut

+ Prior to “Alumni Blues” Trey said, “That green ball came up here just enough times.”

% “Undermind” featured Page on the Theremin

After 27 shows, two and a half months on the road, 18 cities, 12 states, and one festival, Phish arrived at the hallowed UIC Pavilion in Chicago, IL about as well-oiled a machine as they had been in all of 3.0. As a direct result, the six shows played between Chicago and Denver to close out the 2011 summer tour is some of the most memorable, consistent, and on-point Phish any of us had heard in years. Playing without restrain, the term 3.0 need not apply to any of the UIC or Dick’s shows, as each displayed a band on top of their game once again, and each would be a highlight in any year.  Four of the six shows from the run round out this list, the other two, while they didn’t quite make the cut, are still incredibly memorable shows in their own right. Simply put, were I making a top five list of the year, it’d be the following four shows only narrowly edged out by 07/03/2011. The culmination of Phish’s entire two-year re-birth, reformation and reclamation process, UIC and Dick’s is Phish at their most consistent, zaniest, and absolute finest. Kicking things off with a highly energized set featuring explosive type-I jams in “Back On The Train,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Reba,” and the surprise set closing classic of “Alumni -> Jimmy Page -> Alumni,” Phish reined in the fever pitch of a crowd gathered in the first indoor shows since 01/01/2011. Rounding things out with a divergent jam out of “Wolfman’s,” plus a heartfelt take the Round Room ballad, “Anything From Me” – only the second since Coventry – the set flew perfectly thanks to it’s rock spirit, yet kept things interesting with both surprise song choices, and inspired moments of variety. Set II however was about as perfect a second set as the band has played since possibly 08/02/2003. Traversing through their Earthly “element” songs, the band kept things tight with a six-song set, allowed the improvisational music that emerged from the songs to craft a tale the band hadn’t flirted with since 2.0. Anchored by a fully hooked-up jam within “Waves -> Undermind,” the set also featured a seedy “Sand,” and the band’s best performance of the 2011 debut, “Steam,” until 12/31/2011’s sinister take. Walking off the stage after “Fire,” many, while incredibly satisfied, were confused at to why the band chose to end the set after only an hour. Yet, fucking with their fans as they may, Phish treated the crowd to a five song encore, featuring the ultra-rare – “Camel Walk,” – the massive composition – “Guyute” – and the most ethereal Phish song of them all – “Harry Hood. A show for the ages, 08/15/2011 kicked off a run of shows that were played in a way we hadn’t seen nor heard since 1.0.

 

UIC Pavilion – Chicago, IL – 08/16/2011

Set I: Dinner And A Movie, Ha Ha Ha>Chalk Dust Torture, Mexican Cousin, Walls Of The Cave>Runaway Jim>Foam, I Didn’t Know, Ocelot, Ginseng Sullivan>The Wedge, Limb By Limb>Let It Loose

Set II: Down With Disease#& -> Twist>Backwards Down The Number Line>Theme From The Bottom>Golden Age -> A Day In The Life>You Enjoy Myself##

Encore: Heavy Things>Slave To The Traffic Light>Rocky Top

# “Down With Disease” contained “Leave It To Beaver” teases from Mike

## “You Enjoy Myself” contained “Walk This Way” teases and Darth Vader quotes in the vocal jam

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

A night after playing one of their most connected, on point improvisational sets in years, Phish returned to the UIC Pavilion and played a much more structured and song-based show, yet one that flowed just as well as it’s predecessor. Cruising out the gates with two gag openers – “Dinner And A Movie,” “Ha Ha Ha” – followed by an atypical take on “Chalk Dust Torture,” it was clear the energy from the previous night hadn’t subsided. Yet, where most of the band’s notable recital shows featured standard takes on standard tunes – just more of them – this set wove through various eras and styles of Phish, keeping listeners on their toes for it’s entirety. Featuring jams in “Walls Of The Cave,” “Runaway Jim” and “Ocelot,” along with humorous breaks in “Mexican Cousin” and “I Didn’t Know,” the boys threw a curveball by ending the set with the emotional, late-in-the-evening styled Stones’ tune, “Let It Loose,” seen for the first time since Indio. Returning to the experimental innovation that carried the second set the previous night, Phish came out blazing with a stunning “Down With Disease,” one that was only surpassed by the 06/03/2011 version this year. Moving seamlessly into “Twist,” it sounded as though the band was going to revive the once-jam monster, however, after an extended take on it’s blues themes, the flow of the overall set took over. Filling out the meat of the set with strong renditions of “Number Line,” “Theme” and “Golden Age,” the latter of which segued effortlessly into the always welcome, “A Day In The Life” – a show with a Beatles and Stones cover is never one to complain about – Phish ended the set with only the sixth “You Enjoy Myself” of the year. A song which had been used to close out literally every run in 2009 and 2010, it’s sudden rare quality made it far more appreciated than it had become in 3.0. Playing yet another extended encore the band treated the crowd to some of Trey’s best guitar work of the night in “Heavy Things” and “Slave,” before saying good night with “Rocky Top.” Carrying over the inspired playing of the previous night, 08/16 proved that at this point in the summer of 2011, it didn’t matter what kind of show they played, for whatever they played, they fucking nailed.

 

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO – 09/03/2011

Set I: Possum, The Moma Dance>The Wedge, Ocelot>The Divided Sky, Funky Bitch, Axilla I>Llama#, Fast Enough For You, Wolfman’s Brother

Set II: Down With Disease& -> Tweezer##>Golden Age>Limb By Limb, Kill Devil Falls -> 2001>Light### -> Down With Disease>Julius>Cavern>Run Like An Antelope####

Encore: Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise####

# “Llama” contained a “Streets Of Cairo” tease

## “Tweezer” contained “Green-Eyed Lady” teases from Page and a “Golden Age” tease from Fish

### “Light” contained “Dirt” teases from Mike and “Down With Disease” teases from Trey

#### “Run Like An Antelope” and “Tweezer Reprise” contained “Down With Disease” teases

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

The second night of the Labor Day Weekend Finale to the 2011 Summer tour featured a balanced Phish firing on all cylinders. Mixing rock with jams and gimmicks in a fully flowing setlist that displayed the entirety of their catalogue, the band continued the fire which started in Chicago, carried over to 09/02’s “Sssssss” show, and would see them end the summer at the top of their game. Opening with a string of well-played, first set standards, the show popped with an energy one wouldn’t expect with a “Moma,” “Ocelot,” “Funky Bitch” showcase. Yet things really began in earnest once the band dropped the rare “Axilla I,” and followed it with the triumvirate of “Llama,” “Fast Enough For You” and a raging “Wolfman’s Brother” to close things out. Ending on such a high note, it was reminiscent of 08/06/2011’s first set which started in much the same way, and ended just as hot. Opening Set II with the second-ever “Down With Disease -> Tweezer” – the first since 08/02/1997 – was about all the sign anyone needed as to what kind of set we were in for. Developing into an absolutely transcendent jam, “Tweezer” quickly wove from an A-minor funk-fest into a dreamlike Fall-99-esque passage that showed off Trey’s chops and displayed the band’s full-on connection this late in the summer. Peaking numerous times before dissolving into “Golden Age,” the jam continued the Summer 2011 trend of risk and reward with various types of jamming in the world of Phish. Highlighting the middle of the set was a searing “Kill Devil Falls” that warped into a swill of ambient noise before moving with ease into “2001,” the sequence displayed Phish’s career-spaning ability to meld styles that don’t appear to fit at first listen, this time with barroom rock and space-aged funk. Moving into “Light,” the song stopped briefly in a blissful theme before rising back into a full-on “Down With Disease” jam, thus sandwiching the first half of the set. Bringing the show and set to a fiery finish with “Cavern>Antelope,” along with a classic “Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise” encore, the show ended on a peak, one that would spill over to the following night, the final night of the tour. A mix of jams and energy, 09/03/2011 was reminiscent of the second night of tour way back in May, in it’s fully-flowing spirit, and moments of transcendent improv.

 

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO – 09/04/2011

Set I: Maze*, Back On The Train#>Rift>Bathtub Gin##, The Way It Goes^###, Halfway To The Moon, Gumbo, Halley’s Comet -> Tube####>Timber>Roses Are Free>Chalk Dust Torture

Set II: Rock & Roll -> Come Together**& -> Twist##### -> Piper######%>Harry Hood>Roggae, Ghost####### -> Guy Forget -> Ghost, Walls Of The Cave########

Encore: Backwards Down The Number Line

# “Back On The Train” contained a “Sneaking Sally Through The Alley” tease from Trey

## “Bathtub Gin” contained a “Low Rider” tease from Trey

### “The Way It Goes” contained a “Streets Of Cairo” tease from Page

#### “Tube” contained a “Charlie Chan” tease from Trey

##### “Twist” contained a “Low Rider” jam

###### “Piper” contained a “Roadrunner” tease

####### “Ghost” contained an “Oye Como Va” tease

######## “Walls Of The Cave” contained “Rock & Roll” teases from Page

^ “The Way It Goes” (Gillian Welch) made it’s Phish debut

* First “Maze” opener since 12/09/1995

** First “Come Together” since 12/08/1995

& “Come Together” was unfinished

% “Piper” featured Page on the Theremin

A journey that began on the site of the original Woodstock Festival way back in May, over Memorial Day Weekend, concluded in a soccer stadium, in the industrial offshoot of Denver, CO, over Labor Day Weekend. Thirty-three shows deep, Phish used all the time committed to playing together throughout the summer to throw down one more show that will stand the test of time in 2011. A true two-set affair, Set I was all about the energy, while Set II was a fully flowing beast of jams and gimmicks, rarely stopping, displaying the band’s total connection and ability to go in any direction with their music. Opening with the first “Maze” opener since the legendary 12/09/1995 show that features maybe the greatest “You Enjoy Myself” of all time, the band seized upon the palpable energy of the crowd, and exploited them for all they were worth. Tearing through the Rift-era shot of adrenaline, they moved swiftly into a trio of “Back On The Train>Rift>Bathtub Gin,” the latter of which featured a jam so heated, it brought back memories of the 05/28/2011 “Ginteca” affair. Pausing briefly for a one-time take on Gillian Welch’s “The Way It Goes,” and the Page-penned gem “Halfway To The Moon,” the band revived the energy in earnest with a six song sequence of adrenaline that read: “Gumbo, Halley’s>Tube>Timber>Roses>Chalk Dust.” It was the kind of set that, upon ending, left all in the crowd wondering what had just happened and how in the world the band would top that. As they’d done throughout the entire year though, just when one thinks they’ve reached their peak, Phish has dug deep to wow their fans even more. Set II’s of tour closer’s are generally reserved for the band to revisit the song’s and ideas that brought them the most success throughout the year. Thus, it was incredibly appropriate for the band to open their 2011 tour-ending set with their cover of “Rock & Roll,” after playing such memorable versions on 06/07/2011, 06/11/2011, 06/17/2011, and 08/05/2011. Building the jam to it’s raucous peak, the band brought it down into a wholly groove-based segment before easing into a welcomed surprise of The Beatles “Come Together.” Albeit a sloppy version, the sheer fact the band had discovered this Lennon-gem by way of The Velvet Underground, for the first time since playing it on the fifteen-year anniversary of Lennon’s death, made the sequence of music all the more special. Allowing “Come Together” to bleed right into “Twist,” the band united their music with that of the past, a respectable move, and one they’ve gained the ability to do after so many years. Melding the Ghost-era jam vehicles, “Twist” and “Piper” together as they’ve been so many times before, the band took “Piper” on a ride it hadn’t experienced since 06/27/2010 in Merriweather. Landing in a full-on jam based around The Modern Lovers’ – and one-time Phish cover (09/11/2000) – “Roadrunner,” before launching into a “Storage Jam” centered around Page’s Theremin the jam was insanely diverse and displayed Phish’s uncanny ability in 3.0 to jump from idea to idea without wasting time hooking up. Honoring the style that was discovered in the wee-hours of 07/02/2011, “Piper” concluded a month’s worth of jams that explored the dark side in ways the band simply couldn’t up until now. Fading into “Harry Hood,” Phish played their old reliable emotional peak of sets with a precision, and a drive that they hadn’t in years. Capping off the first part of the set, this “Hood” was the culmination of a journey that began with the first “Hood” with Trey’s Ocedoc back on 08/07/2010. Honoring the simple, building quality of the song, Trey played within the theme like it was 1995, waiting for just the right moment to return with the “You can feel good…” conclusion. “Roggae” followed which gave everyone a chance to step back and breath, before “Ghost” kicked off the final segment of the set. Shifting quickly into a major-keyed jam like so many “Ghost’s” have since 12/31/2010’s peaking gem, the jam built around a thunderous theme, hinting at something within the vast memory bank that is Phish, finally materializing into the second-ever live version of “Guy Forget.” Not played since 10/01/2000, the gimmicky tune about the tennis star, injected the jam with some serious humor, without compromising the musical integrity. Sandwiching the song in “Ghost,” Phish closed out the set with the 2.0 masterpiece, “Walls Of The Cave,” before encoring with the 3.0 anthem, “Backwards Down The Number Line.” The absolutely perfect song to close out the show, run, and tour with, “Number Line” signifies everything Phish in their current state is about: family, friends, and the overall joy of playing music. Closing out the meat of their 2011 touring season with an absolute barnburner, Phish showed how far they’ve come since their humble comeback weekend in Hampton, VA back in March 2009. While the rest of the year featured either no Phish, or less-than-amazing Phish, none of it matter, for 2011 will go down as one of the better years of Phish when all’s said and done. Constantly building since their return, one can only imagine where they’ll go from here once they kick off the 2012 tour.

——–

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