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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is “Mike’s Song” About To Blow Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About The Celebratory Rhythmic Jamming…

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

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

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

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

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

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The 2013 Setlist Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Impact Of Trey’s Rhythmic Playing

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

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

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

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

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

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Is This The Best Summer Tour Since 1.0?

Jumping the gun a bit here? Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

Is this the best summer tour since 1.0?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure, they got their resounding cheers from the crowd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So, Where Is This All Going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite Shows/Jams Thus Far

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

Favorite Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Jams (Listed Chronologically)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Three Decembers – 1999

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Minimalist music got its start in the underground art-rock scenes of New York and San Francisco in the early-mid 1960’s. Pioneered by such composers as Philip Glass, John Adams, Steven Reich and Terry Riley, the music was created in effort to communicate the banality of the modern world, specifically, in an urbanized Post-War-West. Characterized by an almost stationary and repetitive melody, Minimalist music shifts between great lengths and ephemeral ideas. It is usually accompanied by a slow modulation, is generally marked by moments of elongated silence, and, is notable for its lack of overall direction. The Velvet Underground might be the first pop group to bring Minimalism to the masses, experimenting with the style in their attempts to describe Lou Reed’s experiences with electroshock therapy, and the band members well-documented substance abuse problems. In the 70’s Brian Eno’s Ambient Series focused entirely on minimalist music as he sought to regenerate his feelings of being stuck in airports, and being on solid ground, through motionless melodies. Perhaps no one has had more of an impact on minimalism than Brian Eno, whose career as both a solo artist and producer has helped to influence countless pop and rock acts to incorporate minimalism and ambient music in their own catalogue. From U2 to Radiohead, David Bowie to Coldplay, David Byrne to Paul Simon, Eno has infused the sound of modern pop music with a simplicity, cogitation, and subtly overt description of the world we live in.

When electronic and dance music rose to prominence in the mid-90’s, minimalism found its proper place in the lexicon, heard seemingly everywhere – most notably in Britain – from Radiohead to the Aphex Twin. Just as Baroque properly described the artistic, scientific, architectural, and literature advancements of 17th Century Italy, Minimalism’s stark, motionless melodies, washes of noise, and overall structure-less ideas are a reflection of the burdened existence of humans in this age of globalized commerce, overpopulated dreams, and decaying empires. While it has been compared to fascism for it’s repetitive thoughts, claimed as proof that American audiences are uneducated, and criticized by British music critic, Ian MacDonald, as the “passionless, sexless, and (the) emotionally blank soundtrack of the machine age,” Minimalism is, for better or worse, the music of our time. Whether or not one enjoys it is another topic entirely, but in order to truly understand and appreciate the era in history we currently reside in, one must grasp the role that minimalist music plays within this period. In this same regard, the artists – the communicators of an era – must embrace the concept to stay relevant, lest a revolutionary style emerges to document our era in a more contextual way.

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To many Phish fans, the end of 1997 felt like the end of 1993 or 1994 did. Having just concluded one of the standout tours of their career – not to mention a holiday run for the ages – 1998 loomed as yet another potential peak year, ala 1995. Reinforced by the surprise “Island Tour” during the first week of April, the band was rejuvenated, confident and stirring with 0402bandexcitement to push the sound they’d explored throughout 1997 even further through linear musical communication. Citing boredom after a three-month break, the band announced four shows on Long Island and Rhode Island in effort to keep the musical successes of 1997 fresh. A historic run that’s discussed with near-unanimous admiration and awe to this day, the Island Tour is perhaps the rawest Phish anyone’s been granted access to since the late-80’s. Each show is full of standout performances and transcendent jams, and features a Phish teetering on the edge of a musical cliff multiple times. And yet, no matter how risky, how far-flung, how abstract the band decided to push a jam, a set, or even a full show, the results completely speak for themselves. ‘Stash’, ‘Twist’, ‘Mike’s’, ‘Weekapaug’, ‘Roses Are Free’, ‘Piper’, ‘Tweezer’, ‘Birds Of A Feather’, ‘2001’, ‘Brother’, ‘Ghost’, ‘You Enjoy Myself’, ‘Bathtub Gin -> Cities’, ‘Prince Caspain -> Maze -> Shafty -> Possum -> Funk Jam -> Cavern.’ All top tier jams, all unique in their own right, all display a band in one of the peak moments of their career, connecting with such ease that it’s almost unrecognizable to the discombobulated quartet that would regularly stumble through shows just six years later.

In particular, the “Twist” from 04/02/1998 and the “Roses Are Free” from 04/03/1998 stand out as two of the most innovative, original, and jaw-dropping moments in Phish history. The “Twist” built through a Gordo-led dance-beat and swirling guitar riffs from Trey, (matched by Kuroda’s instinctive lighting skills) into an atmospheric jam that rivaled Spielberg and Dreyfuss for musical Close Encounters. A song that has been known to consistently push Phish into more demented, spacious and inter-stellar dimensions than practically all others, their performance on 2 April is famous for the integrated relationship between the music and the lights, creating a true aural and visual sense that the band was on the verge of lifting the venue off into outer space. Kicking off Set II of the 3 April show, “Roses Are Free” made its 3rd appearance in the band’s history. Opening into an unyielding soundscape it featured one of the most connected planes the band has ever reached, whereby Trey emphasized singular note dance beats over a thick layer of a Mike and Fish groove from 13:20 – 17:35, before stretching on into the unknown for another ten minutes. Separate from the overt funk jams of 1997, the Island Tour proved the grasp Phish held on linear musical communication. Completely locked into a simple musical language with which the band could connect, their jams in 1998 diverted from the Hendrix-esque onslaughts, the four-part James Brown breakdowns, and the disco-spaciousness of 1997. In their place were more fluid, glossy passages, Mike-led slow-strutting bass jams, blissful washes of noise and space, and an overall emphasis on the Ambient music that Brian Eno had perfected in the ’70’s.

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From the musical highs of the Island Tour, Phish returned to Bearsville Studios, heads full of ideas and inspiration, and recorded a number of songs that would ultimately become The Story Of The Ghost. As with 1997, they began their summer in Europe. Armed with an arsenal of new songs, they focused on pushing their jams into more simplistic, groove-oriented, and ambient realms. A quick 10-day tour of Copenhagen, Prague and Barcelona allowed the band to stretch their musical minds much like the previous summer, and eased them into what would become their last consistently brilliant summer tour until the 2012 run. A notable point in the band’s history, they were not only big enough to play pretty much wherever they wanted, but had just emerged from a year in which they’d overcome their first batch of improvisational writer’s block and had conquered their 14-year-long goal of crafting music that highlighted each member equally. They were essentially a 1997-version of Jordan: reinvented, dominating, perfecting their craft in such a way that few of their peers were capable of. And like Jordan, after a 72-Win season in 1996, another set of MVP’s in the regular season and Finals, and a commanding Championship over the Seattle Supersonics, Phish followed up their victorious 1997 with a year that, while incredibly successful and memorable in its own right, was the first sign of a band who was regressing.

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As a quick side note: what might be most interesting about the period between 1998 – 2004 is that literally nothing substantial has ever been written about it. And yet, it is the most clear-cut era of Phish that features a band in conflict with each other, struggling with why they’re still playing together, attempting to reinvent themselves once again, failing to surpass the highs of 1995 and 1997, and battling against the internal and external forces that substance abuse has on people. Biographers have written at length about the band’s improbable rise from the mountains of Vermont to Madison Square Garden. Bloggers – such as this one – have relentlessly praised the band’s musical heights in 1995 and 1997. The 3.0 era is littered with reviews, insights, interviews and articles about the happy state of Phish, and the clear redemption story that they’ve come to be considered. Yet no one has comprehensively written about, nor sought to truly understand, the darkest, most confusing, and most misunderstood period of Phish. In his 2009 book, Phish: A Biography, Parke Puterbaugh essentially wrote off the entire six-year-era, claiming it to be little more than a drug-addled voyage into the unknown.

While we can all agree that these years featured loads of mistakes, shows where the band simply didn’t show up, questionable energy, and cringeworthy moments, there’s also an untapped amount of brilliance that emanates from the conflict, and provides an intriguing view into the world of the band. Yet, it’s almost as if no one wants to go there with Phish. It’s almost as if the majority of their fanbase, the writers tasked with articulating their history, and the band members themselves, wants nothing to do with the reality that the scene overtook them at the height of their powers and popularity, and directly impacted the music they made. The sum of Phish’s entire history – some 30-years in – has thus been reduced to: happy hippy drug band makes it big, happy hippy drug band jams, happy hippies dance, everyone has fun, happy hippy drug band breaks up (twice), happy hippy drug band returns a bit older and wiser, happy hippy drug band rediscovers their happy hippy selves, happy hippy drug band becomes the elder statesmen of the jamband scene all while infusing good ole’ fashion rock n’ roll into their happy hippy repertoire. While it’s an endearing tale, it’s not honest. It does not serve any of their fans – nor any casual observers – any benefit by providing a lighter version of the band’s history. Conflict and confusion are a part of life whether we like it or not. And one of the most intriguing aspects of Phish has always been their diametric relationship with darkness and light. At no time was this relationship clearer than during the tumultuous period of 1998 – 2004.

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Drugs had begun to seep into the lives of Phish and their road crew in ways they simply hadn’t before 1998. While, sure, obviously Phish’s music wouldn’t have been produced in the way it was without the aid of a few psychedelics and a bit of weed, and yes, their energy and drive couldn’t have been sustained over four month tours without a bit of yay to keep them going, drugs have been a part of the modern musical lifestyle, since at least the Honky-Tonk and Jazz age. But up until 1998, drugs had taken a back seat to the omnipresent goal of hooking-up in a unified and fully connected way. In 1998 however, we see, for the first time, the negative effects of a life lived on the road, and the addictions that can stem from casual drug usage and partying. The introduction of pharmaceutical drugs and MDMA were probably what turned the tide in the late-90’s. The latter – which is thought to have entered the Phish scene in 1997 – is known for both its ethereal highs, and the lack of disturbance to cognitive behavior. Yet taken regularly, it leads to increased paranoia, chronic depression and liver damage.

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Prescription drug abuse isn’t thought to have become an issue within the band until around 1999. Overwhelmed by the tidal wave of fandom that followed the band’s every step, in need of a substance to effectively cut their anxiety, it’s no wonder the band and their crew – each with various connections to fans and dealers – latched onto drugs that have increased in their prescriptions in America from 5 million to close to 45 million between 1991 and 2010. Essentially a heroin addiction, prescription drug abuse takes a viscous grip on the addict, resulting in an unrelenting need to satisfy their urge to get high, while impacting their cognitive awareness, personal relationships, and increasing the addict’s anxiety and paranoia. Trey and Page, most notably, would be overtaken by the unrivaled force of drug addictions. Affecting both their own individual lives, the addictions eventually led to Page’s 2004 divorce and Trey’s bottoming out in 2006 which all but killed him.

Musically they had become even looser than 1997 leading many of the band’s oldest fans to accuse them of laziness – a claim backed up in part by the increasing amount of flubs that accompanied many shows. While yes, a stronger focus on jams seeped into their live repertoire in 1997 and 1998, and while yes, one can certainly claim that this was a stylistic result of the linear musical communication they’d unearthed, there is unfortunately a laundry list of examples where the band used jamming as a crutch to overshadow their lack of tightness from 1998 – 2004, particularly when it came to performing their compositionally complex classics. Just listen to the 04/02 ‘Sloth,’ 04/03 ‘Reba’, the 04/05 ‘You Enjoy Myself’, the 07/02 ‘Fluffhead’, much of 07/05, 07/15 ‘Guyute’, the 08/02 ‘David Bowie’, 08/09 ‘Esther’, 11/04 ‘Guyute’, 11/11 ‘Punch You In The Eye’, and the  11/15 ‘My Friend, My Friend’, among others for clear examples of the band’s performance and discipline slipping. What’s more is that each of the above shows contain jams that have, over time, come to overshadow moments where it’s clear the band had lost a step when it came to performing their compositions. While not nearly as mistake-prone, or even careless as they would become in the coming years, 1998 is the first time where we see a clear shift from practice and dedication to the songs they’d written, to the band who would eventually all-but omit their songs entirely in favor of extended jamming.

All said, 1998 is still retained as one of the better years of Phish. The Europe tour, while not as monumental as 1997’s absolute destruction of the old world, still produced moments of brilliance throughout, and pushed the band forward in their experiments with the sublime and ambient blissfulness. The Copenhagen ‘Down With Disease -> Dog Faced Boy> Piper’, ‘Tweezer -> 2001’, and 07/02/1998 Set II, Prague ‘s’Fee -> Water In The Sky’, ‘Buried Alive> AC/DC Bag -> Ghost -> Cities’, and ‘Piper -> Makisupa Policeman’, and the Barcelona ‘Ghost -> Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Tweezer’, and ‘Drowned -> Theme From The Bottom’ all stood out as moments when the band hooked-up and embarked on extended journeys, defined by stunningly beautiful, and wholly simple, fully connected music. When they returned to the States in mid-July, Phish trekked from Portland, OR to Limestone, ME over the course of a month, igniting the tour with two gimmicks that would reap insurmountable payoffs.

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Throughout their entire career Phish has always emphasized cover songs as a way to celebrate their influences, embark on extended journeys of classics, and inject their overall sound with fresh ideas. In the mid-80’s The Grateful Dead dominated the band’s cover arsenal, so much so that Trey swore off listening to the band in 1986. Almost overnight, The phish1dDead’s songs disappeared from their live catalogue, as Phish moved swiftly in their own unique direction. Frank Zappa, The Talking Heads, Jazz Standards and under-the-radar rock groups like Traffic, Robert Palmer, and Little Feat took precedence in the late-80’s. In the early-90’s there was a noticeable shift away from covers and towards the band’s own catalogue, as original songs began to dominate their shows. With a goal to “tighten the ship” from 1989 – 1992, the band spent much of their shows focused on their own burgeoning song collection, reserving many of their covers for the Fishman “HYHU” gag. By late-1993/early-1994 however, Phish was so ripe with confidence in their catalogue and overall show, that they began re-introducing covers back into their sets. While still, many were of the “Freebird,” “Great Gig In The Sky” variety – honoring the cover as somewhat of a joke performance – legitimate takes on The Who’s “Sparks,” Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” and Joe Walsh’s “Walk Away” injected new life into Phish sets, and would help to shape the band’s sound in the coming years.

An idea was thus born in the Summer of 1994 to cover an entire album of another band, immersing themselves in the style and sound of a group, in effort to both capture the snapshot of a band, and see what affect it had on their own music. On 31 October 1994 Phish spent the show’s entire second set performing The Beatles’ The White Album, an exercise that would be repeated six more times – including one 11/02 cover – and each offering would impact the band’s style and sound in various ways, such as songwriting, and stylistic jamming. In 1995, covers began bleeding into Phish’s live repertoire like they hadn’t since the mid-80’s. A new tradition was born, by which the band would select one song from the year’s covered album to remain within their rotation, so as to always remind fans of the original performance, and to keep the sound born out of it, relevant. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Drowned’, ‘Crosseyed & Painless’, ‘Rock & Roll’, and ‘Shine A Light’ are each revered songs for this very reason.

Flash forward to 1998. Now a band that had twice peaked – once in December 1995 with the defining sound of their entire career, and then in November/December 1997 with a wholly reinvented style – they were, in the Summer 1998, seemingly out there with nothing left to prove. Hence the overt-looseness of the tour, Summer 1998, while chock-full of stunning improv, sounds in many ways like the most pure fun the band’s had in years. Calling upon the inspirational source of covers, Phish infused the entire summer with one-off covers that added an anything-goes dynamic to nearly every show, and ultimately led to one of the most emotive, personal, and honorable gags of all time. ‘California Love’, ‘She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride’, ‘Albuquerque’, ‘Ramble On’, ‘Rhinoceros’, ‘Runnin With The Devil’, ‘Sabatoge’ – all out of nowhere covers – all proved the versatility of Phish’s musicianship, and all gave the tour a defining sense of humor that has stayed with the band some 15 years later. All led to Virginia Beach when, for the first time in twelve years, Phish covered The Grateful Dead. Honoring the band and their leader on the third anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death, Phish shocked their unassuming crowd with a stunning and beautiful encore performance of The Dead’s composed tale, “Terrapin Station.” A moment that linked the two bands forever, it marked a sense of unity and equality, and a shared goal the two bands embraced, regardless of the often lazy comparisons tossed around about them. It represented, in many ways, a growing-up moment for Phish. They’d conquered the goals they’d set out for themselves over the previous 30 months, and were now, just a band again, playing for the sheer sense of joy they got out of playing together. It was clear at this point in their career that The Dead had provided a road map for their success, and that there was a shared lineage between the two. It was okay after 1995 and 1997 to embrace their similarities, and to honor the band . After twelve years of forging their own path, they no longer sounded like a kid trying to emulate Dad. They now sounded like the Dad, fully established, with a sound all their own, honoring those who’d come before them.

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All summer long, the posters that accompanied each show proclaimed Phish would play in a ring of fire by tour’s end. Used to senseless gimmicks and jokes from the band, many fans brushed this advertisement off in the same way they had Fall ’97’s Phish Destroys America posters. As far as anyone was concerned, they were there as one more proof of the absolute brilliance with which Phish had been playing over the last five years. Musically a dedication to Ambient music had overtaken the band. From the onset of the tour, the band infused their sound not with the thick and meticulous funk grooves of 1997, but with a more refined, minimalist, spaciousness and overtly Ambient style. Heard in the jam that emitted from the end of ‘Horn’ on 07/15, Ambient influences popped up in the 07/17 ‘Mike’s Song’, 07/19 ‘McGrupp’, 08/01 ‘Tweezer’, 08/03 ‘Halley’s’, 08/08 ‘Piper’, 08/09 ‘Bathtub Gin’, 08/12 ‘Ramble On -> Slave’, and the 08/15 ‘David Bowie’, among others. Combining both the “ring of fire” gag with the style that was creeping into their jams, Phish emerged after three sets of music on the first night of the Lemonwheel Festival and played an hour-long set of music totally in the Brian Eno Ambient style, lit only by a ring of handmade candles provided by their audience. Bridging their festival tradition of the late-night, instrumental set with the musical style they were infusing into their sound, the “Ambient Jam” is the most successful of their late-night sets, not only for its sheer listenability, but also for the impact it had on the band over the course of the next two years.

When the band returned to the road in late-October, their jams took on a patient, wholly-ambient soundscape, as they further built upon their linear musical communication. All but phish_DSOTMeliminating individual notes from their jams, they took on the sound of one unified instrument, more so than any period in their career. The 10/29 ‘Reba’, 10/30 ‘NICU -> Prince Caspian’, the terrifying ‘Wolfman’s’ from Halloween, UIC ‘AC/DC Bag’ and ‘Bathtub Gin’, Hampton ‘Simple’, and the Worcester ‘Weekapaug’ and ‘Simple’ were far less reliant on beats and dance breakdowns as their jams had been in 1997 and early 1998. Trey stepped further into the background, all but omitting the Hendrix-style guitar onslaughts from his repertoire, favoring instead, patient washes with his effects, allowing Mike and Page to rise to prominence in their most innovative jams. While the style aggravated many who only saw it as a continued downward spiral away from the youthfully crazed jams of 1993-1995, and others who viewed it as nothing more than a distraction from the grip the band was losing on playing their actual songs, one cannot ignore the fact that here was a band, fifteen years into their career, not even a year removed from one of their peak musical achievements, attempting to reinvent themselves once again.

It’s a point Tackle & Lines has been pushing since its onset: Where most bands would have cashed in on the successes of 1993, 1994, and 1995, and either broken up, or reverted to an easier method of playing, Phish has never remained still. Keenly aware that if they keep pushing their music further, if they stay dedicated to the process of improvisational change, the musical payoff will come, and, they will gain even more knowledge about each other as people. This knowledge not only serves them as friends, but as musicians trying to unearth the secrets of linear musical communication.

The Holiday Run of 1998 was unique for two reasons. First, it was the band’s first four-night NYE run in the same venue – that being, “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden. Second, it is generally referred to as the most consistent, and overall most on-point NYE Run they’ve ever embarked on. While there were certainly more highs in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997, no one would ever call the 28th in any of those years a standout show. A path that would be followed in their 2003, 2009, 2011 and 2012 NYE runs, the 1998 NYE run in no way suffered from a rusty opening night, nor a weak show throughout, probably due to the consistency of the venue. Ambient jams dominated the run with ‘Carini> Wolfman’s’, ‘2001’, ‘Frankie Says’, ‘The Squirming Coil -> Slave’, ‘Mike’s Song’ and ‘Simple -> Harry Hood’ all standing out as the best moments of integration. Concluding the year with the best all-around NYE show since 12/31/1995, the band looked to 1999 as a year of change. Few probably realized at the time just how different things would be when the band finally reemerged as a singular unit six months later. Combining the stylistic changes that had been occurring within their sound over the past two years with the impact drugs and the burgeoning scene were having on the band, 1999 was to prove to be the most tumultuous and confusing year of the band’s career – save 2004, of course. And yet, with the awesome world-wide event of the Millennium occurring just one year later, Phish would prove once more their ability to rise above the darkness, and in part, accomplish one more of the distinctive goals they’d set as a band.

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While Phish’s 1997-1998 foray into linear musical communication produced exceptional results in terms of whole-band unified jamming, and led to a musical peak in 1997, there were a few casualties of the controversial era. The band’s dedication to precision playing, particularly with their composed pieces, took a back seat to their nightly dives into the unknown. The tension & release jams which had been their bread & butter for twelve years nearly faded from existence, as the band opted for mellower, less peaky jams with which they could communicate on an even plane. Being as the music they were making had to be  completely egoless to work, Phish’s guitar-extroidinaire stepped behind the shadows, and many of the jams which in the past had lived and died with him, became far less reliant on his output. Sure, no one could have replaced him, but it was necessary – by Trey’s own admission – that he reduce his role in leading Phish, thus giving Mike and Page a chance to step up and lead the band. This diminished time in the spotlight took its toll on the natural born star, Trey, and in the winter of 1999 he embarked on his first solo tour, in effort to not only get his kicks as a front-man again, but also to test out potential future Phish songs in a live setting.

His decision in early-1999 to pursue a solo-tour in his free time was a monumental shift for the band. No longer would all the band members’ time be dedicated to pushing Phish forward. For the first time, it appeared the band might need a vacation from itself. Phish suddenly became a part of Trey’s life, not his whole life. This new world for both Phish and their fans has become the norm some fourteen years later, as fans have come to expect that Phish will play only when they’re recording or in the immediacy of a tour, and the rest of the time will either be dedicated to family or side projects. Yet, in 1999 it was just another in a long line of reasons, that displayed the band was on rocky ground and was, in a lot of ways, adrift for perhaps the first time since Trey’s suspension from UVM in 1984.

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When fans strolled into Sandstone Amphitheater, just west of Kansas City, on 30 June 1999, the first thing that must have caught their eye, was the stage set-up which was drastically altered from the way it had been since the mid-80’s. Whereas for the first 15 years of their history the band had been arranged on stage in a horizontal line – Page, Trey, Mike, Fish, from left to right, respectively – which spoke of their goals of linear musical communication. In 1999 Mike and Trey switched places, and Fishman moved behind Trey and Gordo. A clear sign that the band wanted to sonically emphasize the rhythm within their music, the shift would have a direct impact on the music they made over the following two years, while at the same time, symbolically represented the growing divisions that would ultimately tear the band apart. When looking at pictures of the 1999 – 2000 stage set-up, what’s most interesting is that Fishman is not located directly behind Mike, ala a generic rock band. Positioned slightly ajar, with an opening towards Trey, the band appears to be a trio, with Page off to the side. The new set-up would have its effects on a growing division between Trey and Page, with Trey conferring with Mike and Fish about song selections, directions of jams, and Page being left in the dark for much of each show.

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Wasting no time displaying the affect their new stage set-up had on their sound, Phish opened 1999 with a twenty-minute “Bathtub Gin” which heralded in a tour, and a year that would see them move even further from a regimented playing of their songs, while consistently favoring improv and the unknown. Prior to the start of the Summer Tour, Phish released The Siket Disc. A compilation of instrumental song concepts from The Story Of The Ghost sessions, The Siket Disc was the product of Phish toying with ideas out of extended jams, rather than composing any songs proper. These songs debuted throughout the summer, adding a new element to the shows, as many fans who either hadn’t heard the record, or weren’t following the band on the road, simply thought they were extensions of jams. “My Left Toe,” “The Happy Whip & Dung Song” and “What’s The Use?” received the most play, each of which added to the loose style with which the band was playing, where any song could catch a groove and set off on a twenty-minute excursion. What’s more is that the songs further emphasized the minimalist and ambient style the band had been experimenting with throughout 1998, pushing the band to continue developing their sound through a more noise-based approach.

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Much like three of their last four Summer Tours, Summer 1999 lives and dies on its improvisational jams. What’s truly incredible about the tour – and really, the year overall – is that through all of the unknowns, through any of the conflict, through any of the slop, the band is still capable of crafting unique, mind-altering improvisational music. Retaining the groove-based nature of the 1997 revolution, the sound of Phish in 1999 is even more spacious, even more focused on the abstract. Their best jams emanate from simple grooves set by Mike and Fish and allow Trey and Page even more freedom in painting melodies over the tops of a rhythm section that has essentially been training for this moment for three years. Increasing his arsenal of effect pedals, Trey continued to remain in the background of many Phish jams, though by year-end, the best jams would have built upon linear musical communication, only to be fully realized through colorful melodic riffs from The Bad Lieutenant. What’s most unique about the Summer 1999 tour, is that it’s the one tour where the band’s drug problems really showed – just listen to 07/24/1999 – AND were a good thing. The whole summer sounds like a band that’s over the crest, and is just playing on pure instinct. First sets were mostly compiled of songs that couldn’t have matched in any other year – 07/08/1999, 07/13/1999, 07/24/1999, 07/25/1999 – and yet due to jams and segues, work somehow in an effortless way. Second sets, much like the last four years, are full of stunning excursions into the unknown. Only this tour, with a more spacey and contemplative approach, emphasize the space between notes, and the mellow moments in between the rage, creating a dream-like affect throughout the entire tour.

Standout shows are found in Camden, where the band embarked on one of the first extended jams out of “Chalk Dust Torture -> Roggae” with stunningly blissful results in the first set, before taking “Tweezer” and “Birds” of a feather to ambient, groove-based realms in the second. The second night of Great Woods is remembered for the sublime “The Curtain> Halley’s Comet -> Roses Are Free -> NO2” segment in Set I, a monster “Wolfman’s> Piper” in Set II, and a fitting one-time performance of “Tuesday’s Gone” in the encore, concluding their first two shows at Great Woods since 1994, the latter of which stretched into Wednesday morning. Holmdel, NJ’s two-nights featured the closest shows the band had played to Trey’s hometown of Princeton, and Page’s Basking Ridge, in five years. The first night contained a jam sequence in Set II that has lived on as one of the lasting soundscapes of the era. Reading “Meatstick -> Split Open & Melt -> Kung -> Jam -> Bouncing Around The Room,” the jam is nearly 55-minutes of unabridged improv. The fifteen minute jam out of “Meatstick,” and the post-“Kung” jam prove to be two of the most equally sublime and unnerving moments of the entire tour. The Oswego Festival granted fans a third set on 07/18 which read “My Soul> Piper> Prince Caspain> Wilson -> Catapult -> Icculus> Quinn The Eskimo> Fluffhead,” thus bridging stunning improv with their age-old gimmicks. As the tour wound into the midwest towards its conclusion, Columbus’s second set of “Ghost -> Free> Birds Of A Feather -> Meatstick> Fire” provided one of the most fluid sets of the entire tour, displaying the band’s grasp on groove-oriented, spacious jamming, regardless of the fact that Trey clearly stumbled through the lyrical section of “Birds.” For as controversial a show it is among the legion of Phish’s dedicated fans, 07/24/1999 at Alpine Valley still retains some of the most surreal moments of the tour. The 18-minute jam that unfolded from the second song “Fluffhead” is a completely unprecedented moment in the band’s history, resulting in a blissful jam in the least likely of places. The Second Set’s 18-minute “Mango Song ->The Happy Whip & Dung Song” provides yet another completely atypical jam of the show, and the encore of “Glide> Camel Walk, Alumni Blues> Tweezer Reprise” will set the standard for years to come in terms of what an incredible encore is. The following night at Deer Creek is probably the best show of the entire tour, and is on the short list for show of the year. With an absolutely classic first set that opened with a six song segment “Meat> My Friend, My Friend -> My Left Toe -> Whipping Post> Makisupa Policeman -> Happy Birthday Chris Kuroda” that was as out of place as it was stunning, the show is a microcosm of 1999. Loose, jammy, a bit strung-out, the music crafted is the kind you’d expect a band to craft in the wee-hours of the morning.

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After six months apart from each other in early-1999, the band dedicated the last six months of the year to Phish. Thus, only a month and a half after the conclusion of the Summer Tour, the band embarked on a month-long Fall Tour that saw them spend more time on the West Coast since Summer 1997. Inherently understanding that their songs had gotten away from them over the course of the last two years, First Sets began to resemble the recital type sets that would become commonplace over the next fourteen years. While there’d still be jams regularly contained within for at least the next five years, a clear structure was being implemented, whereby the band would play themselves into shape over the course of a tour, through essentially rehearsal-esque First Sets, and then use Set II as a platform for exploration. Fans of Phish’s extended-improv have more than their fair share of choices in 1999, as the Fall Tour is littered with standout jams that feature even darker themes, deeper spacious exploration, and an emphasis on electronic beats that would come to define their sound over the next year-and-a-half. The Portland ‘Ghost’, Boise ‘AC/DC Bag -> Gumbo’, Chula Vista ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’, Memphis ‘2001 -> Down With Disease’ and ‘Mike’s -> Catapult -> Mike’s -> Kung -> Mike’s -> I Didn’t Know’, Minneapolis ‘Piper’, and Albany ‘Limb By Limb -> 2001’ all stood out as the top-tier jams of the tour. The 09/14 “AC/DC Bag -> Gumbo” resides in its own separate category. A jam that displayed the interwoven communication 16-years as a band creates, the “Bag” wove through blissful ambience, beat-driven electro-funk, and noise-laden soundscapes over 27-minutes, crafting a jam for the ages, fusing sounds of 1995, 1997 and 1998 in a compartmental vehicle that could have only been created in 1999.

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Along with their career-long goal of establishing a sound that allowed them to play as one unified instrument, Phish had long talked of a desire to play what they called “The Long Gig.” In their ideal world, the band would surprise their fans by locking the doors prior to show time, give everyone in attendance one phone call, and then play for as long as they desired, be it overnight, or over the course of multiple days. The idea was part experiment to see how their fans would react to not only an onslaught of Phish, but also the psychological effects of being locked in a room for an extended period of time with no clear ending. Musically, the band had always wanted to see what kind of music they would be creating some 10-20-30-hours in, if they embarked on an unyielding journey of exploration. Unfortunately, with the age of modernity that birthed us cell phones, frivolous laws that prevent trapping people, and the monetary needs of a venue which relies on turnover at the gate on a regular basis, the idealized Long Gig would have to be altered to be plausible.

With the millennium celebrations fast approaching, Phish realized that by combining their New Year’s show with their festivals, they’d have the opportunity to fulfill their Long Gig, at least in part. A massive Phish-blowout was in the works. Located in the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the show would allow the band to emulate their summer festivals, while celebrating the literal, once-in-a-millennium event. Phish would play three-sets on the 30th, an afternoon set on the 31st, and then emerge just before midnight and play through the night, a seven-hour, unending set, one that would go down in infamy as perhaps the most unique, special, and incredible gag/show of Phish’s entire career.

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phish_9_16_99_1The December 1999 tour was announced as a run-up to The Big Cypress Festival. Just three-weeks in length, it gave the band a chance to tour their home turf, seeing as 1999 would be their first ever NYE run outside of the Northeast. Building upon the improvisational accomplishments of the summer and fall, the December 1999 tour is probably the best example – aside from their June 2000 tour of Japan – of Phish fully realizing the groove-based-ambient jams they’d been working towards over the past year. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe the anticipation of an entire night of live music, maybe the cement structures which always seem to bring out a darker side of Phish’s music, maybe it was the sheer fact that they’d been playing almost continuously for six months, whatever it was, the improvisational music crafted in December 1999 resides in a category with that of December 1995 and 1997 as some of the most original they have ever crafted. This is not to suggest that the greatness of December 1999 is somehow comparable or equal to the greatness of 1995 and 1997. It’s not. For starters, many of the overall shows in December 1999 are shit, and in many ways, complete throwaways. As with much of 1999 (and 2000, and 2003, and certainly 2004) the jams are what make or break a show. Overall the energy of shows was certainly lacking, most likely due to song selection and performance. Unlike December 1995 and December 1997, December 1999 is not a peak month in Phish’s history. What it is – for all of the negativity brewing within the band and for all of the ominous darkness hovering over the scene – is a shining example of the band immersing themselves in their music, crafting jams that are original, and completely true to themselves, using a minimalist style to further push linear musical communication.

– Jams –

In a month so reliant on its jams, selecting three to sum up the overall sound is a bit daunting. Each show contains at least one exploratory excursion that would be worthy of selection, be it the 12/02 ‘Bathtub Gin -> 2001’, the Cincinnati ‘Limb By Limb’ and ‘Split Open And Melt’, Portland ‘Halley’s Comet’, 12/10 ‘David Bowie -> Have Mercy -> HYHU’, 12/11 ‘Ghost -> 2001’, the 12/13 and 12/16 ‘Sand’, the Hampton ‘2001> Sand’, or the Big Cypress ‘Mike’s’, ‘DWD’,  ‘Rock & Roll’, ‘Crosseyed’, ‘Drowned.’ Yet for as remarkable as each of those jams was in both their musical merits and their ability to embrace the sound the band was seeking to emulate, there are three jams which just capture the entire era of Phish with more ease and authenticity. The Hartford “Drowned,” and the Big Cypress “Sand -> Quadrophonic Toppling,” and “Roses Are Free” standout as The jams of December 1999.

On the day after Trey’s Grandfather passed away, Phish took the stage in Hartford, CT, and unleashed a Second Set jam out of “Drowned” that turned the tide of The Who classic in a shape-shifting manner, that altered all versions played up to now. Leaving the song proper, guns a blazing, Trey absolutely dominates the torrential jam like few of 1999 right up to 14:28. From there, the band embarks on a beat-driven, dance-heavy jam that builds off a rock-solid foundation from Mike and Fish, and features interwoven licks from Page on the clav, and Trey alternating between guitar and his own keyboard.

Moving through various rising themes, the jam pushes into its own realm, away from the arena-rock jam in which it originated, as each member trimmed the fat and moved into more simplistic rhythms. At 20:19 the band crosses a plane, leaving the dance-heavy mid-section of the jam, as Trey hits the sirens and they move into more abstract territory. It’s here that we 17445967week0hear the massive influence of Mike, who emerges from his back-up bassist world and directs the jam around pseuedo-dance-beats that emphasize space over notes. Trey follows suit, while Page moves to his synths to cultivate a wall of sound, and Fishman keeps the jam afloat atop a subdued, electronic beat. The last six minutes of the jam are spent in atmospheric space, as Trey allows the layered loops he’s established to continue, and his guitar becomes more of a destructive force, in conflict with the beat. Concluding with an ominous tone before fading into “Prince Caspain,” the Hartford “Drowned” embodies literally everything about 1999. Combining blissful Hose with dance-heavy breakdowns, atmospheric noise, and minimalist influences, the jam is a stark image of where Phish was in this latter era of 1.0.

Three hours into their all-night set at Big Cypress, Phish kicked into the song that had come to define December 1999, “Sand.” Born out of Trey’s solo band, “Sand” was built on a incessant beat from Mike and Fish, staccato dance melodies from Trey, and ambient washes from Page. While it jammed consistently, it rarely diverted from its theme. It thus provided both a sustained groove-based dance party for their audience, and further ample reason for their longest-surving fans to continue criticizing them for laziness. All this changed on 12/31/1999 (well, 3am 01/01/2000, to be technically correct) when the band followed a straight-up fiery peak of the song’s theme with one of the most unique jams they’ve ever embarked on. At 17:41 Trey stays locked in to the fatty and distorted tone he’d used to emphasize the jam’s tension & release segment. Only here he follows Mike and Fish by pushing their poppy rhythms forward, diverting the expected return to “Sand”. Moving into a melodically demented realm, the band locks up rhythmically in a jam that sounds like a combination between an early-morning dream, and the last few hours of an acid trip. As the jam flows into a more twisted and melodic soundscape, the recorded voice of Mike Gordon appears, repeating the phrase “Quadrophonic Toppling.” A short sample on The Siket Disc, the song’s title is repeated, much like it is on the recording, though here, over far different music. A jam, a tease, it’s unknown really what inspired the band to inject the snippet into the “Sand” jam, other than to just fuck with the crowd, three hours into a mind-bending set. Emerging from the demented jam Mike and Page take the lead as an organic dual ensues with Page on the grand piano and Mike twisting bass lines around his “Squirming Coil”-esque patterns. Trey and Fish are thus left to enrich the jam with ambient washes through effects and cymbals, crafting yet another dream-like state, only this time, far more at peace.

Three hours later, just after 6am on New Year’s Day, Phish kicked into the fan-favorite Ween cover “Roses Are Free.” Since the “Sand -> Quadrophonic Toppling”, the set had struggled to remain fluent. While there were certainly some memorable moments within – “Reba”, “David Bowie”, “Drowned”, “Piper”, each of these jams popped up in between filler songs, compromising the structure of the set in favor of continuity. A song that had only been extended twice before, many expected “Roses Are Free” to follow the route of the last couple hours. A welcome surprise then when Trey held out the final chords of the chorus, the band followed suit, and they embarked on a totally unprecedented 35-minute jam that brought the sun up on the new millennium. Initially dominated by blistering Trey riffs juxtaposed against Page’s experimental jazz diversions, when Trey backed off at 8:30, the jam opened up, allowing Mike to join the fray. Over the course of the next nine minutes the band embarked on a loose and weaving, subdued psychedelic jam that featured Page in the spotlight, while Trey and Mike backed him up with minimalist noise. All this changed at 17:54 when Trey, who had begun searching for a melody to build off of, began looping a lilting riff that would see him take control of the jam, littering over the top of the base set by Fishman’s traversing drums, Mike’s equally bouncy bass, and Page who began incorporating ambient washes into the jam. Around 20:04 Page started forcing an ominous tone onto the jam, increasing his atmospheric noises pushing the jam into more abstract territory. The excursion resided in a conflicting zone over the next six minutes as Mike and Page underwrote the jam with intensifying noise, while Trey continued his blissful and sublime riffs. A sound that at first listen could have been accused as being offensively out-of-synch, when put into the context of the performance, it’s an incredibly fitting jam, displaying the interwoven musical relationship of Phish, crafting the experience of dawn through music. The final nine minutes are akin to a prayer of thanks, as they play out like a direct mental projection of the band’s state of mind after six-and-a-half-hours of near-continuous playing. Building to a driving force, the jam ends with little fanfare, simply concluding seemingly mid-jam, it shows the finite nature of improv, and displays the organic style with which Phish sought to embody in their 1997 – 2000 period.

– Shows –

If anyone were to compile a list of the best shows of December 1999 it would read like this: 12/02/1999, 12/03/1999, 12/08/1999, 12/11/1999, 12/15/1999, 12/18/1999, 12/30/1999, and, of course, 12/31/1999. Each of these eight shows reigns supreme over the rest of the month, and provide a snapshot of the best full shows the band played during one of their most unique months. Yet, if one were to select two shows that summed up the overall sound, the overall goals, and the overall mood of December 1999, those two shows would be 12/03/1999 and 12/31/1999. Providing a diametric perspective on one of the most controversial and misunderstood month’s of the band’s career, these two shows embody the improvisational sound, the lost sensation and the heralded place in their career December 1999 ultimately was.

On the second night of the tour, Phish crafted a full show in the minimalist style they’d spent the previous year pining at, displaying the sheer brilliance of it in the context of their music, while also proving its negative effects on their overall performance and relationship. The entire show was thus blanketed under the style that had overtaken their improv, altering the band’s approach in typically guitar-slinging songs like “Wolfman’s Brother,” “AC/DC Bag” and “Possum.” The shift is most successful in a second set that reads: “Sand> Limb By Limb, Bug> Piper, Harry Hood.”

Opening with one of the theme songs of the 99-00 Phish era, “First Tube” relies on a forward pressing, simple beat from Fishman and Gordo, while Trey and Page flitter over the top with walls of sound, and layered melodies, creating an electronic/dance feel. It’s a song that would become a commonplace opener over the next year, adding a burst of energy right out the gates, here, ushering in a show that would seek to emulate it’s musical philosophy. In the first set, “Wolfman’s,” “Bag>Possum,” and “Slave” were transformed and built like “First Tube.” Each relying on extremely simple, repeated riffs from Trey, accented by washes from Page, all over a steady beat from Mike and Fish, they fully emulated the minimalist approach the band was undertaking in 1999. Was this method good for a live concert? That’s in part up to the listener to decide. Many of the band’s oldest fans have long complained about the simplistic, lazy style Phish engulfed themselves in in the late-90’s, something which drained energy from what was once the most high octane, energized show out there. From this blog’s perspective, they’re right to a certain degree, and wrong to another. While it is apparent that the band’s performance on 12/03/1999 does lack some of the energy one might find in 1993 or 1995, but that’s the thing, it was 1999, not 1993 or 1995. Phish’s sound has always evolved, and the fact that they evolved from such an individually isolated zone of music to emulate the music of the time really goes to show the musical prowess of Phish. The fact that “AC/DC Bag” and “Possum” can be reinvented, in the moment, from a guitar-driven, straight forward rock song, to a patiently building minimalist dance number reveals more about Phish’s diversity than their laziness, regardless of the influence drugs and alcohol had on the band at the time.

The second set is without question one of the premiere examples of the 1999 sound fully working for the band. Flowing with ease, jamming with purpose, the “Sand”, “Limb By Limb” and “Harry Hood” all stand out as moments where the band fully hooked up under the guise of the minimalist style they were seeking. “Limb By Limb” in particular, which leaves its theme at 7:50, entering a rhythmic and melodic dual between Trey and Page before journeying off into the unknown. It’s the kind of solemn and peaceful jam that could only have occurred in the 1998 – 2000 era of Phish, where the conflicts of the time mixed with the linear musical communication they’d established, crafting music that was as simplistic as it was advanced.

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At this point, really the only thing left to say about 12/31/1999 should be said by the band in a series of interviews, be it for a book, or for the – hopefully – expected DVD to come about their Millennium blowout. Every fan has said their piece, as has every blogger. All that can be said about it really, is that it is without question the peak event in Phish’s 30 year history. Now, this is not to say it is their peak musical moment, for that came in 1995. What it is though, is the event where Phish realized all that was possible with their music, and with the culture they’d created, and played a concert that was totally their own. Afterwards, all Trey and Fishman could do, was look at each other and say, “We should quit.” After musically reaching their peak four years earlier, then shedding their skin and completely reinventing themselves in 1997, they’d finally discovered a moment that they knew they simply couldn’t top. Nothing Phish does in the future can, or will ever top it, even if they try to do it once more. Big Cypress was, and is, the greatest concert Phish has ever conducted. Not because of the music they created, but because of how they fully realized the power their music conducted.

From a musical perspective, the most fitting thing about the show is that the 1999 style fully matched with the band’s goal of playing all night long. Whereas their 1993-1995 sound would have been too intense for an all-night gig, and their 1997 sound would have been too reliant on Trey’s Hendrix-esque onslaughts, and four-part funk breakdowns, their sound in 1999 was so mellow, so patient, so melodic that it created a dream-like state for everyone in attendance, and everyone listening over the past thirteen years. Crafting a completely surreal feel to the entire show, ‘Down With Disease’, ‘Twist’, ‘Crosseyed & Painless’, ‘Rock & Roll’, ‘Sand -> Quadrophonic Toppling’, ‘Piper’, ‘David Bowie’, ‘Drowned’, ‘Roses Are Free’, ‘2001’ are all pushed forward with an effortlessness that could only emerge from a band so intuitively aware of each other as Phish was in 1999. The exhausted sensation, the “we made it” feeling that emanated through the concert field by daybreak sums up Phish in 1999 like no other could. While they played together for another eight months before taking an indefinite hiatus, Big Cypress was the top of the mountain for the 1.0 era of Phish. And is still, the peak of everything they have ever created.

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A year completely built on conflict, 1999 shows Phish producing some of the simplest, most connected, most linear music of their entire career, all while struggling with some of the more complex issues they would have to confront as individuals. A scene that had ballooned to proportions they could have never imagined. The negative effects of drugs and partying seeping in to their lives disagreements among each other that had always remained below the surface began billowing out. Confusions over the band’s overall direction became paramount issues. Through it all, the band continued musically evolving with ease. While there were certainly glaring issues due to their lack of practice and the personal conflicts that began to dominate the band, the fact that Phish was able to craft profoundly new music that both pushed their songs in a new direction, and reflected the current times, is an accomplishment that should rank with their 1989-1992 tightening-of-the-ship, 2003’s deep and prodding return from hiatus, and 2012’s overcoming of 3.0’s rediscovery period. Proving that their best music doesn’t always come from periods of sustained happiness. Sometimes, conflict and uncertainty are the best mediums by which to produce music. While in hindsight, one could certainly argue that Phish should have figured out their personal issues and should have practiced more in 1999, the music speaks for itself in its rawness, nakedness, and stark simplicity that is completely unique in comparison to all other eras of Phish.

The Best Of Phish – 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Of Phish 2012

Honorable Jams

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Ten Jams Of 2012

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

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

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“Twist” – Cincinnati, OH – 06/22/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Shows

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

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

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

Encore: The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Suzy Greenberg

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Show Of Life> Tweezer Reprise

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

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

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

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

& “Prince Caspian” was unfinished

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

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

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

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

Encore: You Enjoy Myself####

* First “La Grange” since 22 September 1999

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

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

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

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

& “My Friend, My Friend” was unfinished

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

The Top Ten Shows Of 2012

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

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

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

Encore: First Tube#

& “Birds Of A Feather” was unfinished

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Fluffhead**

* First “Shaggy Dog” since 29 October 1995

** First “Fluffhead” Encore since 3 November 1990

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

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

& “Down With Disease” was unfinished

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

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

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

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

Encore: The Lizards

# “Maze” contained an “Eleanor Rigby” tease

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

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

+ The “Mule Duel” featured Page on the Theremin

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

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

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

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

Encore: Character Zero

* First “Skin It Back” since 29 July 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Loving Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Ride Captain Ride> Tweezer Reprise

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

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

+ “Meatstick” included Japanese lyrics

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

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

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

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

Encore: Shine A Light

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Grind, Meatstick++

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

++ “Meatstick” contained Japanese lyrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Sleeping Monkey> Tweezer Reprise

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

& “Prince Caspian” was unfinished

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

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

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

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

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

Encore: Harry Hood###, Show Of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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