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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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.