Summer Awards: A Road Map To Navigating Phish’s 2013 Tour

994230_10151489069061290_1293990735_nNote: This was a collaborative effort between myself and James Kaminsky (@jameskam17) from One Phish Two Phish

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Regardless what happens throughout the rest of 2013, Phish’s recently completed Summer Tour is certain to go down as their best overall tour since Summer 1998. Full of thematic, boundary pushing shows, odes to their historical roots, along with clear paths pointing towards their future, 2013 is the most complete Phish tour in over a decade, and a sure sign of the summit reached in Phish’s 3.0 experiment.

With so many highlights contained throughout the tour this is the first in recent memory that simply cannot be divided into best/worst, or worth your listen/not worth your listen categories. There’s nothing cut-and-dry about 3.0 Phish tours anymore.

EVERYTHING played this summer is worth your time and your attention.

As a result, James and I figured we’d compile something of a road map for fans in search of some guidance of where to begin their Summer 2013 (re)listen. As we’re both well aware of, after all, with so much good music just produced, one can become easily overwhelmed by the prospect of re-listening. While this is an “awards” compilation, yes, it’s also meant to be read as an overall guide to the most noteworthy moments of the tour.

Moreover, we wanted to use this platform as an opportunity to extend our thanks to the band and to the overall Phish community for what has to be regarded as the most positive Phish tour in ages. By all accounts, those of you at the shows had nothing but glowing reviews on a nightly basis. I know for myself, hunkered down in a closet apartment in Osan, South Korea, this tour could not have sounded any better.

I’m absolutely honored that James asked me to be a part of this project, and I can’t wait to work with him in the future!

Hope everyone enjoys the piece! Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, criticisms, and rants in either the comment section or @sufferingjuke and @jameskam17.

*Note: For each section our favorite show/set/jam/song is in bold

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Opener Of The Year

Llama: Holmdel, NJ – 07/10/2013

First Tube: Columbia, MD – 07/13/2013

Prince Caspian: Chicago, IL – 07/20/2013

Dinner and a Movie: Chicago, IL – 07/21/2013

Architect: George, WA – 07/27/2013

Honorable Mention: Free, San Francisco, CA – 08/02/2013

In 2012 Phish entered their summer tour with the stated goal of playing 200 unique songs. Impacting their setlists with unexpected diversity on a consistent level like no time previously in their history, the 200-song-challenge affected all aspects of their shows, most notably the opener slot. From 06/07’s Buried Alive, 06/15’s My Sweet One, 07/03’s Skin It Back, 09/01’s Antelope, and 12/31’s Garden Party, the opener became an entity all to its own throughout 2012. Here in 2013 however, the focus moved away from the number of songs the band would play (their rotation was perhaps their tightest since 1997) to, now the quality of play, and the overall craftsmanship of setlists. As a result, the openers were less a separate moment removed from the overall show, and rather an immediate insight into the night’s flow, and the band’s mood.

Each of the above songs we felt best introduced their shows – from the frenetic rage of Llama and First Tube, to the gimmicky charm of Caspian and Dinner & A Movie, to SF’s Free that summed up the entire communities sentiments following the Tahoe Tweezer, while at the same time setting an overall thematic tone for the BGCA run that fits perfectly on re-listen.

And yet, while each of the above songs certainly sent a jolt of energy and adrenaline into their respective shows, no song better captured the setting, mood, nor indescribable bigness of Phish, than Architect did on 07/27/2013.  Ushering in the show under a hushed tone, the song – with lyrics like: “it turned out better/so much better/than we ever did expect,” and “there might be more to this than we all know” – allowed everyone a pause to remember just how special and unique this whole Phish thing is.

Regardless of jam lengths, regardless of song selections, at the end of the day, the fact that Phish has created this living, breathing, evolving, fully healthy, totally redeemed entity, which has a positive impact on literally anyone who touches it, is enough in and of itself, right? Raise a glass to the architect…

Top New Song

Yarmouth Road

Energy

Say Something

Architect

Frost

In the Phish offseason, the most commonly heard request from fans for 2013 was not Gamehendge, but new material. Everyone, including me have been craving for some new Phish jams. Trey said a new album was in the works and when news broke the community went crazy. We heard the band was working collectively on the album. I mention this because this year, we did get some new tunes, but none were written collectively from the band.

After a tour opener in Bangor with no new songs, the band changed gears the next show with a Phish debut in the first set and the second set. We got Yarmouth Road, a real funky reggae song from Mike and Energy, an instant classic Phish cover from The Apples in Stereo. Yarmouth brought some great vibes to the first set and settled in comfortably for the tour. Energy kicked off the second set in thrilling fashion and just improved each and every time, getting more and more exploratory, tighter and unique with each play. Say Something and Frost were each played once, the former another Mike song that I absolutely love from the Gorge and Frost, a Trey tune played in Alpharetta.

While each song was unique and special in its own way, Energy was the clear highlight of all the new songs. It kick started one of the best sets of the tour at SPAC and was just a consistent thrill to hear. Only played four times, Energy started with a ton of potential that SPAC night, shifted to a nice meaty exploratory groove in Alpharetta after Water in the Sky, opened up another classic set in Chicago with Ghost->Lizards, Harpua > Antelope and opened the final set at Bill Graham, a peak and symbol of the true development of Energy. Energy is here to stay and is a perfect Phish song with nice lyrics, good harmonies and rocking chords. There’s room for everything and anything with this song and anything is possible. It’s just the beginning for this tune, and the other classics from the summer.

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Top First Set Jam

Tube: Saratoga, NY – 07/06/2013

Split Open and Melt: Saratoga, NY – 07/06/2013

Stash: Columbia, MD – 07/14/2013

It’s Ice: Columbia, MD – 07/14/2013

Reba: San Francisco, CA – 08/02/2013

Honorable Mention: Cities->David Bowie: Saratoga, NY 07/05/2013

The fact that there’s even a category for first set jams in this collection of thoughts says more about the state of Phish in 2013 than perhaps anything else. Proof that the band felt a comfort with their songs, and a willingness to expand upon them from the onset of the tour, these six jams display the peak period we currently find ourselves in here in Phish’s 30th year.

Centered around two first set’s in particular – 07/06 and 07/14 – throughout the summer, even when the band wasn’t expanding upon their first set selections with exploratory zeal, they were still attacking them with a newfound creativity and energy than we’d seen in over a decade. Just check out the 07/07 Maze, 07/12 Cars Trucks Buses, 07/14 Scent Of A Mule, 07/26 AC/DC Bag, Timber, Funky Bitch, and Tube, 07/27 Ocelot, and the 08/02 Vultures, Sand, and Roggae, for some noteworthy moments.

In the above jams – each of which displayed a willingness to expand with ease within the rather strict confines of the 2013 first set – the band alternated between funk clinics in Tube and It’s Ice, ambient soundscapes in SOAM, Stash and Cities -> Bowie, and the idealized conception of Reba on the first night of the San Francisco run. In the end, the ethereal – and grossly surprising – jam that emerged from Split Open & Melt to close out the first set of 07/06 reigns supreme here in 2013. A moment where the band simply stopped trying to push their oft-tormented classic, and instead, yielded to the larger forces at play, the result was nothing short of sublime.

A representative jam for the year, the 07/06 Split Open & Melt displays the unyielding opportunities available to the band as they continue to explore untapped musical territory in Set I.

Top Sequence

Columbia, MD: 07/14/2013 Light->Boogie On

Saratoga, NY: 07/05/2013 46 Days->Steam

Alpharetta, GA: 07/16/2013 Rock & Roll->Heartbreaker->Makisupa->Chalk Dust Torture

Jones Beach, NY: 07/12/2013 Tweezer->Cities->The Wedge

George, WA: 07/27/2013 Down with Disease->Undermind

Honorable Mention: Chicago, IL: 07/20/2013 Theme from the Bottom->Weekapaug Groove

Unlike any year in recent memory, 2013 was symbolic for many things, one the return of epic and slick segues on a nightly basis! In Saratoga all of set two segued flawlessly between songs, specifically 46 Days-> Steam and Light->The Mango Song and the segues never stopped. Think about Cities->David Bowie from that show in addition to so many more from the run. Merriweather had a fantastic segue from the rocking Light to the funk fest in Boogie On and continued down south with the now famous Heartbreaker set. One of my personal favorite segues all summer happened from Theme from the Bottom to Weekapaug in a classic set two of three sets on Saturday in Chicago. On Saturday night at the Gorge set two was dripping with seamless segues, specifically the gorgeous Down with Disease->Undermind that so many people rave about constantly. But there was one segue that was a personal favorite for it’s tenacity and ultimate rock and roll peak — the Jones Beach Tweezer->Cities->The Wedge.

One of the most brutal shows to endure for any fan, Jones Beach was met with heavy winds and insane rain. The second set started with 20 minute Rock & Roll->2001, another shining highlight of the tour before the band headed right into Tweezer. Around 11:15 into Tweezer Trey starts repeating these light chords, shifting the direction of the jam. Page picks up on this and plays right along with him. Trey changes to a three chord progression that is the stuff of holy gods on top of Page’s now classic melody. Fishman totally locks in on the most intense Wedge groove as Trey continues to rocks these classic chords that EVERYONE should have branded into their brains. Trey keeps it going as he moves the band right into Cities. The jam continues in Cities is the stuff of bass, bliss and bad ass plinko-jazz infused funk. Trey plays these descending chords before fast play of something that sounds like a mind left body jam while Fishman builds faster. Trey then starts playing the Wedge main riff as the band seamlessly segues right into the beat Fish started a song earlier.

This stuff is perfect Phish. This stuff is what we come night after night after night to see. Thank you Phish.

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Resurrection Jam

David Bowie (Note: 07/05, 07/12, 07/20, 07/26)

Scent of a Mule (Note: 07/14, 07/19, 08/05)

Split Open and Melt (Note: 07/06, 07/26)

Harry Hood (Note: 07/03, 07/10, 07/13, 07/26, 08/05)

Tahoe Tweezer

Honorable Mention: Mike’s Song (Note: 07/03, 07/13)

One of the enduring themes of 2013 has been the veritable resurrection of many of Phish’s most time-honored classics. Songs like David Bowie, Harry Hood, Run Like An Antelope, Slave To The Traffic Light, and even Mike’s Song – songs which had grown stale, even predictable in recent years – were suddenly presented with a new-found energy. Think of the melodic and chromatic territory the 07/05 David Bowie and the 07/03 Run Like An Antelope reached in the earliest nights of tour. Listen to the commitment to exploration in the 07/06 Split Open & Melt. Feel the fervent fire being birthed in the 07/03 and 07/13 Mike’s Song. Check out how Scent Of A Mule re-emerged as a beacon of creativity in each of its performances.

Each of the above songs – which for so long, had been played seemingly just because they had to be, simply because they were the band’s classics – here in 2013 have been resurrected as show-stopping, and tour-enforcing highlights.

Perhaps this approach is heard best in two songs: the Tahoe Tweezer, and in each Harry Hood played throughout the tour. Played as the lone encore on Bangor’s opening night, Harry Hood was re-approached with creativity, delicate exploration, and refined passion, peaking in two separate performances on 07/13 – when it sounded plucked right out of the mid-90’s – and on the tour finale in Hollywood, when it engaged on a 22min voyage that still has the community shaken.

The former, a 37min free-form jam – the longest jam since the 08/03/2003 46 Days, and the 8th longest jam of the band’s career – represented a peak in the band’s new-found approach to jamming. Focusing on harmonic freedom, which has defined their best jamming of 3.0 – ultimately peaking at Dick’s last year, and then all throughout this summer – the band wove numerous musical passages, culminating in a full-on band & audience impromptu segment of emotional jamming, surrounding a series of start/stop’s and woo’s.

A clear sign of the peak experience the band has had throughout 2013 thus far, these resurrected performances display a band once again at the top of their game.

Top Encore

Bangor 07/03: Harry Hood

The Gorge 07/26: Harry Hood, Fire

Lake Tahoe 07/30: Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero

San Francisco 08/02: Walls of the Cave

San Francisco 08/02: Sanity, Bold as Love

Honorable Mention: Alpharetta 07/17: Quinn the Eskimo

This year the encore was a little different than in past years. While there wasn’t much of a variety, each encore provided a little something to each show. Bangor’s Harry Hood was a perfect encore for the first show of the tour. A classic Phish song, not to mention that it was played perfectly (and was a foreshadower for it’s dominant summer), Bangor’s Hood was the right way to end night 1 and move us from the jitters of a tour opener into the actual tour.

Lake Tahoe’s Weekapaug and Zero were both great for a few reasons. First, Weekapaug continuing the groove from end of the show to encore is BEYOND BAD ASS. Second, Zero was pretty much the symbol for a stellar show all summer. This encore continued high energy and led us into night two of Tahoe with a lot of momentum and energy. San Francisco’s encore on night one and night three were both great. Night one had Walls of the Cave, a nice 2.0 surprise after the Seven Below highlight in set two. A one song encore allowed for a nice meaty jam and some explosive energy. The Sanity and Bold as Love allowed for two tour debuts in one encore, with Sanity being one of the highlights of the whole run. Boom! Pow! Talk about an encore! An amazing Sanity after one of the finer sets of the entire tour then some Hendrix! Man do I love this band.

The best encore happened on night one at the Gorge. After a stunning Character Zero with the band howling at the moon, the boys came out for another round of Harry Hood, another fantastic version, and Hendrix! This encore was the most fitting especially after the masterpiece set two that the boys played right beforehand. Harry Hood, whether set two or encore, was a monster in 2013, something we’ll touch upon later on.

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Surprise Gem

It’s Ice

Scent of a Mule

Steam

Split Open and Melt

Walls of the Cave

Honorable Mention: The Mango Song

Along with the resurrected jams that dotted the band’s 2013 Summer Tour are the surprise gems that kept everyone’s ears perked, and made essentially every single show a must hear. From the aforementioned Scent Of A Mule and Split Open & Melt, to the fully-realized Steam jam, the choicely placed – and expansively attacked – Mango Song, and the 2.0 survivalist Walls Of The Cave, each of the above songs helped to shape the summer through their consistent dedication to creativity.

And yet, for as engaging, and even as surprising as each of the above songs performances throughout summer were, nothing could compare to the shock that reverberated throughout the fanbase when Phish dropped into a thick funk-jam right in the middle of Merriweather Post’s It’s Ice. A defining moment in the second week of tour, It’s Ice was one of many songs that helped to shape the early tour peak that stretched from Holmdel, NJ to Columbia, MD.

A group of song’s that felt uncertain of their direction, if not wholly lost altogether, this summer each was featured in a way that far exceeded anything the band had tried to do with them for at least the past ten years.

Top First Set

Saratoga, NY: 07/07/2013

Columbia, MD: 07/14/2013

George, WA: 07/26/2013

George, WA: 07/27/2013

San Francisco, CA: 08/02/2013

Honorable Mention: Saratoga, NY: 07/06/2013

Last year in the quest for 200 songs, first sets were a chance for Phish to play old favorites, one-timers and classic bust outs. Think of Riverbend, Noblesville, and Jones Beach. But in 2013, first sets were different. With a much tighter rotation there was more room to focus on tighter sounding jams and sets crafted with impeccable flow. Sunday night at SPAC just felt like there was a greater force building this beautifully crafted set. Starting with AC/DC Bag, heading into a monster Back on the Train, the lightning Divided Sky then classics in Free, It’s Ice, Mound, Maze and Limb By Limb, ending with a rocking set closing Walls of the Cave. This set just felt right. It flowed perfectly and each song was fantastic. There is nothing better than good music and good flow. And the next Sunday the consistency continued. Never miss a Sunday show.

The second Sunday show of tour went down at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. Opening with an amazing First Tube, right into the funk of the Moma Dance before a fun trio of NICU, Roses are Free and Chalk Dust Torture, Merriweather had high moments from the start and never once had a downer. True highlights in a dark and dangerous Stash proceeded an exploratory Scent of a Mule before my personal favorite, a Phish Destroys America funk fest in It’s Ice! Talk about a first set. Then a nod to the ‘97 funk with Tube before a closing Antelope. Another amazing first set!

Both nights at the Gorge had stunners in the first set, with Friday starting off in classic fashion with AC/DC Bag, the tour debut of Timber and a fantastic Wolfman’s Brother before Funky Bitch, Happy Birthday, the “Russell Wilson” Wilson, Possum and Tube. Secret Smile made a huge return before another tour debut, the elusive McGrupp! Another tour debut Curtis Lowe came for some blues before another set closing Melt! The next night started off in another amazing fashion – Architect, Golgi, Curtain With. The set was upbeat and fun with the Phish debut of Say Something, one of my favorite songs of the summer, and an After Midnight set closer in remembrance of J.J. Cale.

Everyone knows what happened after The Gorge. Tahoe. The Tweezer. 40 minutes of glory. The question on everyone’s mind in line waiting to get in at Bill Graham was how could Phish “top” it? What’s next? There was only one thing Phish could do. They changed the conversation. They played the most fantastic first set of all tour. The Tahoe Tweezer will live forever, and this set proves it. Starting with Free, an ode to the “feeling we all forgot” that exists in the magic of 30+ min jams, before never having a single down moment. The tour debuts of Meat and Oh Kee Pa Ceremony came next before a perfect AC/DC Bag to really get the show on the road. Talk about a four song intro! Next came the tour debut of Vultures which truly resurrected the energy of Tahoe’s Tweezer with the first of MANY batches of woos!! throughout the run.

The tour debut of Roggae was next and it was absolutely magnificent. The fun continued with a funk fest in Sand and a nicely placed When the Circus Comes to Town, a great song symbolizing tour. Another tour debut with Babylon Baby came before Reba!!! A song that has huge jam potential came after a gorgeous Reba, Page’s Halfway to the Moon before a classic Phish set closer – Golgi.

This first set of the San Francisco run was constructed with magic. The set was perfect to move on from the greatness and holiness that is the Tahoe Tweezer. This set was truly so damn good, with perfect debuts, perfect flow and amazing play in each and every song. It’s no exaggeration, and that’s why this set gets the award for top first set of tour.

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Derek Jeter Award

Back on the Train: Saratoga, NY – 07/07/2013

Timber: George, WA – 07/26/2013

Golgi Apparatus: George, WA – 07/27/2013

Meat: San Francisco, CA – 08/02/2013

Divided Sky: San Francisco, CA – 08/04/2013

Honorable Mention: Wolfman’s Brother: Holmdel, NJ – 07/10/2013

Ahhh, the second song of the show. One of those slots that’s often overlooked in its distinct ability to affect the overall flow, energy, and direction of the show, here in 2013, it constantly seemed as though the band fully understood the power and importance of the Jeter slot.

On 07/07, the band followed up a sharp AC/DC Bag with a dense and intricate take on Back On The Train. Three weeks later they again followed and AC/DC Bag opener at the start of their weekend at The Gorge, though this time with a torrid Timber. In Holmdel, following a cancelled show in Toronto the night before, Phish kicked off one of the best shows of the entire tour with a blistering Llama followed by a loose, funky, yet still raging Wolfman’s Brother. During the tour’s final weekend, the band treated their fans to two classics on 08/02 and 08/04, using the second song of each show – Meat & Divided Sky – to key fans into the overall energy the band was messing with by tour’s end.

And yet, it was on the second night of The Gorge, when, after opening the show with their most contemplative, emotive, and sublime opener of the summer, that the band worked to sculpt one of their best shows of the tour, by infusing their age-old classic Golgi Apparatus into the show’s second slot. A song that has always seemingly fit best as a set closer, the placement reminded many of the NICU>Golgi>Crossroads trifecta that opened the hallowed 12/29/1997 show. Perfectly placed, expertly played, that they followed it up with the lone Curtain With of the summer just showed what kind of magic the band was wielding here in the summer of 2013.

Best Poster

BGCA

Hollywood

Alpharetta

The Gorge

Lake Tahoe

Honorable Mention: Jones Beach

Posters were a hot commodity as always this summer, and the posters were absolutely spectacular at each run. It’s hard to say which one is the best, because in all honesty, each and every one of them is special and unique to the venue while looking incredibly bad ass. I narrowed down my 6 favorites: San Francisco, Alpharetta, The Gorge, Jones Beach, Lake Tahoe and Hollywood. Jones Beach is the poster with an astronaut in the middle, surrounded by eyes blossoming from the slime below. Alpharetta’s dual set is perfect for representing the south. A beautiful landscape of friends swimming in a lake, playing on a rope swing. The silhouette of the children and grass with the bright colors of the sky reflect hot summer days in the south.

Heading out west, Phish had beautiful poster after beautiful poster. The Gorge, like Alpharetta, is a duel set with a wolf and goat looking at the lochness monster, swimming in the sea, another perfect poster for the venue. The posters kept getting better and better, with Tahoe’s an image of Tahoe Tessie rising on a full moon from the Lake and San Francisco’s three posters represent the psychedelia that is San Francisco. Night one is a pelican, night two is a butterfly with guitars and a keyboard and the third is a fox with drums. The colors are magnificent, blue and red and each are uniquely special.

However, Hollywood’s poster is clearly the best. Not only is it huge (20×30), but it’s a split perspective of the same image, one from the sky, one from below the waters. On the left there is a boy and a girl sitting high above the water in a patch of flowers, watching sailboats below and fireworks in the distance. On the right side is the image from below the water, with sharks swimming towards a light, deep below the sailboats, next to scuba divers. It’s really a fantastic poster and I’m thankful to have got a copy. Point is, all the posters are beautiful! Wonderful job from all the artists! Thank you!

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Most Unexpected Part Of Tour

The Rain

Harpua

The Tight Rotation of Songs

The end of mkdevo

3 Set Show at Chicago

Honorable Mention: Hollywood Harry Hood a.k.a. HollyHOOD

Summer 2013 was a unique tour for Phish for a plethora of reasons. There were a lot of unexpected surprises, some good, some bad, but all having an effect on the tour in one way or another. The biggest may be what happened to @mkdevo and all of his videos. For all of 3.0, if there was a song you wanted to check out and watch, everyone knew look no further than mkdevo. If you missed a show, no problem, you could watch it practically through his videos. The videos were arguably Phish’s greatest marketing tool as they were free and they exposed Phish to a generation of fans who never knew of the band before 2009. It’s definitely been a different tour with little to none visual footage as there has been in years past.

Another big surprise was the Harry Hood from Hollywood, otherwise known as HollyHood. The last show of a 4 night stand between San Fran->Los Angeles, Hollywood was characterized by no new songs and lots of great, but typical, Phish excellence. All of the sudden, out of nowhere in the second set though comes this beauty. This magnificent mother of god Harry Hood that is instantly an all-timer. The song that started it all off in Bangor and never let down throughout the tour peaked in full capacity that Monday night, and that was a huge unexpected gift.

It’s been said a bunch already, but 2012 and 2013 were very different. The chase for 200 songs changed the dynamic of the tour in 2012 and therefore 2013 not only had a much tighter rotation, but it truly felt like a tighter rotation. It made for interesting sets. There was plenty of variety among each jam and development and improvement with each play. The juxtaposition between the two summer tours was evident and unexpected.

But by far, the most unexpected part of the tour was the rain. Without the rain you don’t get the Chicago run – Friday’s cancellation, Saturday’s three set speciality, and Sunday’s Harpua. The rain was EASILY the biggest factor throughout the east coast, all the way through Chicago, with everyone jokingly calling it Phish Pours America and Phish Summer Pour 2013. Every night there seemed to be a storm or threats of storms, starting with SPAC having delays and thunderstorms. Jones Beach’s show was caught in the middle of the worst storm of the summer on Long Island, with the wind whipping people in the face and the rain pounding on all of us from above.

The rain didn’t stop though, it just continued, down to Merriweather and Atlanta, before finally “peaking” in Chicago. When the show on Friday was cut short, the band was truly devastated, and rewarded us with three sets on Saturday. But when Sunday came and the first set was cut during Antelope, you could really tell how frustrated and annoyed the band was, especially Trey and Page. The rain was just a constant deterrent, but both the band and the fans NEVER let it get in the way. I’ll always remember this tour for the rain as will many, as the rain truly gave life to each and every show in a different, unique way.

Show Of The Tour

Holmdel, NJ – 07/10/2013

Columbia, MD – 07/14/2013

Chicago, IL – 07/21/2013

George, WA – 07/26/2013

George, WA – 07/27/2013

San Francisco, CA – 08/02/2013

San Francisco, CA – 08/04/2013

Honorable Mention: Saratoga, NY – 07/07/2013

The thing about this 2013 Summer Tour is that there really wasn’t a single bad show played. Seriously, you could throw any of these shows on and find numerous moments of full-band-connectivity. Even on their safest nights – 07/03 and 07/05 – even on the cancelled mess of 07/19, even when they came out with a song-based/energy affair on the second night of BGCA, each of these shows are still worth your time and your ears. Each display a Phish at the top of their game, attacking their shows no matter the style.

And yet, for however strong as the tour is as a complete entity, their peak shows are simply based on an even higher level of musical connectivity, advanced experimentation, and evolutionary progression. From 07/10 and 07/14’s dedication to the band’s classics, representing an early peak for the tour, while displaying Phish’s desire to jam as a unified force, to 07/21’s show that – like the above jam segment – absolutely HAD to happen, to the string of shows at the Gorge on 07/26 and 07/27 that display the most consistent peak for the band in 2013, to the first and third night of SF that combined rarities and segues on 08/02, and a second set for the ages on 08/04, there’s just simply SO MUCH music we have to listen to from Phish moving forward. And, one cannot forget to mention the initial high-point of the tour – a show rightly praised when it happened, yet overshadowed now as the tour has unfolded – 07/07.

We’ve truly been blessed throughout the entirety of this 2013 Summer Tour. The thought of the band continuing to build upon this at Dick’s and in the Fall is simply mind-boggling.

Thankful is simply not enough.

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Top Run

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, New York: 3 Nights

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland: 2 Nights

The Gorge, George, Washington: 2 Nights

Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada: 2 Nights

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, California: 3 Nights

Top run? How can one even decide…Between the magnificence and glory at Phish’s real life Gamehendge, Saratoga Springs, through the tri state area in New Jersey and Jones Beach, and the weekend run at Merriweather, almost every run was unique and special, loaded with stunning moments and overflowing with highlights.

Lake Tahoe had great shows and the most special moment, Tweezer, and Bill Graham was the RIGHT way to end the tour, in the place where the birth of the counter culture happened. But one run stands above the rest — The Gorge. Like Phish’s last trip to the legendary venue, this weekend stand boasted complete shows filled with sick segues, exploratory jams and fantastic first and second sets. Night one at the Gorge had a AC/DC Bag, Timber, Wolfman’s Opener with a closing trio of McGrupp, Curtis Lowe and Melt. The first set was stunning as was the second set, which had an 18 minute Crosseyed and Painless, followed by Twist, Steam, Waves and a jam that has WAY TOO MUCH POTENTIAL, Twenty Years Later. Mango, Bug and Bowie!!! rounded the end, before a symbolic Rocky Top, signifying the awesome set, and then the moon howling Character Zero.

The next night opened with a gorgeous Architect, the first Golgi of tour and then the first Curtain With of tour! After that came more great songs with Moma, Maze and the new debut, Say Something, a song I love. After Midnight ended the set with a tribute for J.J. Cale and kept the energy at an all-time high. The second set was even better! The famous Down with Disease->Undermind to start things off before another amazing highlight, Light->Sneaking Sally. A spacey and funky 2001 was nicely placed before a perfect ending trio – Walls of the Cave, Fluffhead and Run Like an Antelope. Talk about a two night stand.

There are a few rules of Phish. Never miss a Sunday show. If you have the ability to go to a show, you go. Never miss Dick’s, and of course, Never miss The Gorge.

Top Set

Saratoga Springs: 07/05/13- Set II Energy > Light->The Mango Song > 46 Days->Steam, Drowned > Slave

Jones Beach: 07/12/2013- Set II Rock & Rock -> 2001 > Tweezer->Cities->The Wedge, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Character Zero

Chicago: 07/21/2013- Set II Energy->Ghost->The Lizards, Harpua > Run Like an Antelope

The Gorge: 07/26/2013- Set II Crosseyed & Painless > Twist > Steam > Waves->Twenty Years Later > The Mango Song > Bug > David Bowie, Rocky Top > Character Zero

The Gorge: 07/27/2013- Set II Down with Disease->Undermind > Light->Sneakin Sally Thru the Alley->2001 > Walls of the Cave > Fluffhead > Run Like an Antelope

San Francisco: 08/04/2013- Set II Energy > Runaway Jim > Carini > The Wedge, Light->David Bowie, Silent in the Morning, Meatstick > Quinn the Eskimo, You Enjoy Myself

For much of 2009 – 2012, no matter what musical leaps forward were made, Phish continually struggled with conceiving fully-flowing sets. While yes, there are exceptions – 08/07/2009 II, 06/27/2010 II, 10/16/2010 II, 05/28/2011 II, 07/03/2011 I, 08/15/2011 II, 08/19/2012 II, and 12/30/2012 II immediately come to mind – the start-to-finish thematic flow of a set – particularly a Set II – was one of the missing links that marked any conversation about where exactly Phish was in their climb back up their veritable mountain.

As with much of their music, all this changed in 2013.

On the second show of tour to be exact.

Crafting a fluid, flowing, and thematically unyielding set on the first night of their three-night SPAC run, the band ushered in a tour full of relentless sets that stack up with some of the most complete sets of their entire career. These sets are SO good that the thought of ranking them/choosing a singular one that’s better than the others seems preposterous. Almost like an insult.

07/05 showed us immediately what was possible here in 2013. 07/10 displayed the lengths the band was prepared to go to craft improvisational brilliance, while also letting their hair down and proving that party/rock sets don’t necessarily mean a loss in flow. 07/12 felt plucked right out of 1998. 07/21 HAD to happen right then and there; phearless’d. 07/26 both built upon 07/10’s theme, but used down-tempo rarities, along with a deranged moon-chant in the often-predictable Zero to allow the band an entrance into an alternate dimension. 07/27 is definition of ‘perfection’ in my mind: jams, flow, energy, rock, classics. 08/04 capped off a tour full of highlights with expansive jams, a nod to the bands ever-present gimmickry, and an ode to the theme of Phish 2013: ENERGY.

While we’ve selected 07/27 as the singular set that best defines the peak we’ve all just experienced here in Phish 2013, the reality is any number of those sets could fill that slot. There’s a reason SO many were SO floored after 07/05 after all…

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Jam Of The Tour

Carini -> Architect: Saratoga, NY – 07/06/2013

Crosseyed & Painless> Harry Hood: Holmdel, NY – 07/10/2013

Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge: Wantagh, NY – 07/12/2013

Light -> Boogie On Reggae Woman: Columbia, MD – 07/14/2013

Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards: Chicago, IL – 07/21/2013

Down With Disease: Toronto, ON – 07/22/2013

Down With Disease -> Undermind> Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley -> 2001: George, WA – 07/27/2013

Tweezer: Stateline, NV – 07/31/2013

Rock & Roll -> Steam: San Francisco, CA – 08/03/2013

Energy> Runaway Jim: San Francisco, CA – 08/04/2013

Harry Hood: Los Angeles, CA – 08/05/2013

There’s simply no other option in this category than the 07/31/2013 Tweezer from Tahoe. A 37-minute masterpiece that saw Phish craft an unending jam, displaying both a willingness to expand upon the subtlest of musical cues, and a desire to push their music out as far as possible, that the song resulted in one of the most stunning peaks of the band’s career is almost icing on the cake. And yet, the peak itself resulted in an impromptu band/audience moment of connection only possible in the purest forms of live music, representing a unified sense of elation between band and audience alike. Just listen to the way Trey absolutely tears into his riff following the first – and most spontaneous – set of woo’s from the crowd. There simply hasn’t been a jam in all of 3.0 that can compare with the exploratory zeal, communicative transcendence, nor unified band/audience moment quite like the Tahoe Tweezer.

As for the rest on this list? Each would unquestionably be a top jam in any other year in 3.0.

07/06’s Carini that changed on a dime numerous times, as the band tore through gorgeous melodic passages before landing in the debut of Architect.

The first Crosseyed of the year which saw Trey reach an early peak through his experimentations with this rhythmic and melodic jamming.

The Jones Beach Rock & Roll -> 2001> Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge segment that felt plucked right out of 1998, and more than made up for the torrential weather in Set I.

At Merriweather Post the band dropped a sharp and rhythmic Light, which tore through various segments of start/stop jamming, fused with heavy and distorted rock, before segueing perfectly into Boogie On Reggae Woman.

Reaching a mid-tour peak with the Energy -> Ghost -> The Lizards segment in Chicago, a jam that absolutely HAD to happen, it touched on literally every jamming style the band has ever experimented with throughout their entire career in one 26min jam before moving into one of their most time honored classics.

A night later Trey led the band down a beautifully sublime path in Down With Disease, displaying the wide-open possibilities for the band as they moved westward.

On the second night of The Gorge, the band spent the first 50 minutes of their second set locked in a constantly evolving jam segment that passed through sections of funk, ambient, and bliss before peaking with a torrid Sneakin’ Sally.

Two shows after the Tahoe Tweezer, the band took Rock & Roll again on another spin, this time focusing more on the groove rather than its melody, moving it seamlessly into perhaps the best Steam of the year, in a year already full of top versions.

On one of the best shows of the summer – 08/04 – Phish opened their second set with a 27 minute segment based around their newest jam vehicle, and one of their oldest.

Finally, they took Harry Hood out far beyond the reaches of your typical Hood, crafting an often seedy, if not painstakingly gorgeous version that rivals any of the 2003 experimentations on it, and proved just how high the band was by tour’s end.

Each of these jams displayed a band simply locked in. No two ways about it. Phish was on throughout all of their summer tour. Evolutionary steps forward, momentous goals achieved, surprises galore; further proof of where things currently stand in the world of Phish.

Song MVP

Harry Hood

Energy

David Bowie

Crosseyed and Painless

Tweezer

Honorable Mention: Rock & Roll

Look up any show from the past tour where any of the above songs were played, and you’re guaranteed to hear an innovative and energized performance that served as both a show and tour highlight.

Each year of 3.0 has provided us with transcendent takes on Rock & Roll: 08/08/2009, 10/22/2010, 08/05/2011, 08/15/2012, and now, 07/12/2013 and 08/03/2012. Each wholly unique versions that displayed both the open-ended quality to the song, and the bombastic grooves that are just bursting at its seams, the song proved its lasting value  in 2013 once again as one of the band’s trustiest jam vehicles.

David Bowie returned from years of seeming irrelevance to reclaim its place among the most enthralling live compositions in Phish’s catalogue. Punctuated by engaging, melodic versions on 07/05, 07/12, 07/20, and 07/26, the song proved that for however predictable and tepid it had been throughout the first three years of 3.0, there was no way the band could contain this gem forever.

Crosseyed & Painless, played only twice, was significantly stretched out on each occasion, further displaying the boundaries pushed in last summer’s transcendent 08/19 version. Offering up one of the jams of summer at PNC, it touched upon the 02/16/2003 Piper theme on its way to fully displaying the rhythmic melodic playing from Trey that was pushing the band to new heights. While it didn’t totally hook-up in the same way sixteen days later at the The Gorge, that version did represent a significant step forward in terms of Trey’s willingness and desire to push their jams deep into the unknown, something which would lead to a landmark jam some five nights later…

The lone cover debut of summer, Energy fit Phish’s rotation with stunning ease, expanding over four transcendent versions to become the new go-to jam for the band. With lyrics that speak directly to Phish’s overall message, a melody that just screams White Album-era Beatles, and an open-ended quality that caters directly to expansion, and it’s no wonder the song has stuck. Just listen to how much the song grew from its 07/05 debut, to its 07/17 performance that allowed it its first opportunity to wander, to its two peak performances thus far on 07/21 and 08/04. Anyone who doesn’t think this is opening one of the second sets at Dick’s is crazy.

Even if the four Tweezers that preceded the 07/31 version had been complete duds, the song was still bound to make this list for the sheer impact its 37 minute incarnation had on the entirety of the music made this summer.

Yet, aside from the 07/06 version, each the 07/12, 07/16, and 07/22 versions are unique, thematic, and are featured in choice segues midway through their respective sets. Still, nothing compares to the masterful jam that kicked off the final set in Tahoe. A musical peak for Phish in any era, it cemented 2013 as yet another Tweezer-strong year, and kept up the trend within 3.0, of a sublime take on their much-loved jam vehicle, joining the likes of 12/29/2009, 12/30/2010, 09/03/2011, and 12/28/2012 before it.

And yet, for everything that’s been played in 2013 – much of which that has simply blown away a large percentage of the music the band has made throughout their already illustrious career – it all comes back to one Harry Hood. The lone encore on the tour opener in Bangor, literally every single version played – 07/10, 07/13, 07/20, 07/26, 08/02, and the monumental 08/05 – is a veritable tour highlight. In much the same way that David Bowie completely revitalized itself here in 2013, so did Mr. Hood, and then some. Peaking in the first half of the tour with old-school takes on 07/03 and 07/13 in particular, out west the song opened itself up to a certain degree on 07/26, before completely rewriting the rulebook on Hood some three songs before the tour’s conclusion. One of the jams of summer, the Hollywood Harry Hood displayed the untapped potential of the song as a jam vehicle, exposing yet another layer in Phish’s continuously unveiling musical amalgamation.

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Once again, many thanks to James for asking me to be a part of this piece! So glad to be able to share our thoughts on Phish in such a way! We can’t wait to see what Phish has planned for us at Dick’s!

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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!