Fattening the First

Posted in Uncategorized with the on September 19th, 2016 by Mr.Miner

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Dick's 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Dick’s 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Let’s be frank, Phish’s modern first sets have been, for the most part, pretty lame. A selection of songs with one or two composed jams sprinkled in serves the purpose of getting everyone’s legs warm and drugs working in time for the second half. Once in many blue moons, the band will drop a highlight with lasting merit before setbreak, but most often there’s very little substance of which to speak. At Dick’s however, first sets took on a more emphatic role in the evening, each offering far more meat and engaging music than usual. Let’s take a walk through the first halves from a few weeks ago.

September 2

Ghost, No Men In No Man’s Land , Breath and Burning, Undermind, Heavy Things, Stash, Ass Handed,  The Wedge, Alaska, 46 Days

bcs bvr

9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

Phish came into their annual Dick’s weekend lacking any momentum from summer tour, and many in the community weren’t exactly sure what band would show up at the annual Labor Day party. When the guys came out and opened with “Ghost” for the first time since 2013, however, it felt like they delivered a certain message of intent. A compact though fiery rendition kicked off the weekend and was backed up by the always-energetic “No Men in No Man’s Land.” Upon the lyrical reprise at the end of the song, it seemed that Phish was ready to move on, but in a surprise move, they exploded into an outro jam that blossomed into an abstract foray. Staring from a chugging groove, the band gradually moved into darker territory where Trey eventually took over with wailing and echoed guitar screams. Maintaining a quickened tempo throughout the piece, out of nowhere Phish had kicked down the improvisational door and we were barely twenty minutes into the weekend. Though the set took on a more standard contour from here, it did feature a slightly stretched out version of “Breath and Burning” which provided a dash of hope that the band might jam off the new single come fall as they prolifically did in its second ever version in Philadelphia this past summer. The set, however, did contain one more standout highlight in its “46 Days” finale, where immediately upon the ending of the lyrics, the band dove deep into a primordial soup. Led by Fish’s tribal marching beat, they built a thick, distorted soundscape into which Trey unleashed furious guitar leads, slyly blending the “What’s the Use?” theme into this darkened excursion. The band was fully synched up in this sinister passage, foreshadowing good things for the weekend. And just like that we had ourselves a first set. Set break contained a palpable buzz after this set, as fans felt a mixture of excitement and surprise at what had just transpired. It was the rare time folks really discussed the music of the first set rather asking where that joint had gone.

September 3

Slave to the Traffic Light, Down with Disease, What’s the Use? > Maze, Farmhouse, 555, Wolfman’s Brother, Divided Sky, Rock and Roll

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9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

The second night started off in a bizarre, though explosive, fashion as Phish welcomed the Saturday night audience the first “Slave to the Traffic Light” opener since 1988. The band backed up this surprise with a legitimate “Down With Disease” jam in the two slot, opening up the piece into experimental waters and taking the jam into dark, dungeon-like territory. Led by Trey’s growling tone, once again Phish had delved into the depths of improvisation at the very beginning of the night, offering some serious music to engage the crowd from the get-go. A rare stand-alone version of “What’s the Use?” came third, continuing the strange but welcomed song ordering. At this point, the set came back to earth a bit with the first set staples of “Maze,” “555,” and “Farmhouse,” but the guys followed up this trifecta with a popping version of “Wolfman’s Brother.” Led by Mike’s larger-than-life bass leads, the band leaned into into a slowed down, heavy-handed version of their cowfunk vehicle, that kept the energy of this opening frame sky high and the crowd enraptured. With “Divided Sky” and “Rock and Roll,” Phish completed quite the first half of music, arguably the best of the three-night stand.

September 4

The Moma Dance > Chalk Dust Torture, Mike’s > Wingsuit > Weekapaug, Party Time, Bathtub Gin, Split Open and Melt, Tube, Character Zero

(Michael Stein)

9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

On the third night in Colorado, Phish scripted a powerhouse first set song list that never relented from start to finish. Though they stayed within the confines of each selection, the band unleashed several type-one improvisations of crowd favorites. An early set “Mike’s Groove” got things warmed up quickly, and following a “Party Time” interlude, the band dropped a searing three-song sequence of “Bathtub Gin,” “Tube” and “Split Open and Melt.” The “Gin” was the clear highlight of the set, featuring energetic interplay between band members amidst an upbeat and peaky jam that continued to climb higher and higher. Mike anchored a somewhat extended “Tube” jam, and “Split” saw the band lock into an aggressive and abstract soundscape that, while not uncharacteristic of the song, formed an engaging and more-than-worthy highlight. “Character Zero” rounded out the opening half, a set that once again lent some serious weight to the concert before set break.

The presence of legitimate first sets gave an enhanced feel to the shows in Colorado, and completely shifted the vibe of each night. To be totally transparent, it’s a shame the band doesn’t offer the same level of music in most of their first sets. Shows are about three hours long, and the first set comprises almost ninety minutes each night, why waste it? Not to say that each opening frame needs contain multiple type-two jams, but how ’bout a little more meat for the kidz, ya know? This is a fairly universal sentiment across the Phish community, and these Dick’s shows illustrates how a significant first set can provide a far loftier feel to any given night of Phish.

The Feeling Returns

Posted in Uncategorized with the on September 13th, 2016 by Mr.Miner
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Dick’s 2016 (Stephen Olker)

In the subjective medium of improvisational music, perfection is a loaded term, as beauty lies firmly in the ear of the beholder. But sometimes stars align and factors converge resulting in a performance whose excellence is both undeniable and universally accepted. Not often does Phish unveil a set of music that fully embodies their artistic prowess and is praised by all as exemplary of their musical acumen. When this happens, a feeling arises in the community—a group-wide understanding—a manifestation of the shared, unconditional love we all have for the Phish experience. These nights remind us of why are here, why we have come this far, and why we have such a limitless devotion to this band. Phish’s closing act in Colorado was one of these nights.

The final set at Dick’s was a fully realized set of music like Phish hadn’t played in quite some time. There weren’t highlights—the entire set was the highlight. There was not a single awkward moment, no random calls, no blips, no stumbles, no stutters. Songs were simply springboards into the universe as the band sculpted Phish art of the highest magnitude. This all-time caliber performance flowed from first note to last in a continuous musical thrill ride the likes of which we dream; a show that gripped one’s soul, held on tight and never let go, transforming fantasy into reality right before our eyes; a night of music that produced emotional memories as much as musical ones, feelings that are impossible to articulate yet understood by all. This was Phish in its purest form of creation, leaving a trail of treasure in the cool mountain air, dancing on the astral plane on a night that will live forever.

Dick's 2016 (Michael Stein)

Dick’s 2016 (Michael Stein)

The synergistic flow that defined the band’s playing on this night peaked over the course of the second set which centered on an hour plus of free-form improvisation. In a show where Phish could do no wrong, they unfurled three massive jams in “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Piper” and “Light,” and while these were all top-shelf endeavors, “Crosseyed” elevated to career-highlight status with a sublime plunge into infinite beauty. In an spell-binding excursion, the band gelled masterfully, surfing a colossal soundscape while climbing to one of the most dreamlike and extended peaks in memory. One of those jams with staggering one-minded communication, “Crosseyed” not only set a highly elevated tone for the set but delivered a surreal Phish adventure that belongs among the band’s most esteemed.

Following a very active composed jam, the band moved into a melodic preamble of “Crosseyed’s” open jam from which they blended into the central mind-melt of the night. A passage so fluid and open yet tight and connected, the following section of soul-drenched reverie truly defies description. Teeming with retro ’98 / ’99-esque wizardry, the quartet stepped into sacred stride and channeled music that will forever send tingles down one’s spine—real deal, best ever type stuff. Mike’s eclectic and heavy-handed rhythms, Fishman’s crashing cymbal textures, Page’s rolling intensity on grand piano, and Trey’s otherworldly emoting meshed in a cosmic ambrosia that stayed among the heavens for minutes that felt like a lifetime. Finally allowing the sonic fallout to settle, the band likewise brought the audience back to earth.

Dick's 9.4.16 (Calico Giecewicz)

Dick’s 9.4.16 (Calico Gicewicz)

But IT didn’t stop there. The band continued in a heightened flow state for the rest of the set, descending tastefully into “Steam” before melting into “Piper.” Launching into this jam with fierce passion, Phish rolled into a cathartic, guitar-led theme behind which the band entered full annihilation mode. Mike anchored the savagery with creative bass lines, a motif of the entire evening as well as the weekend. A shift into a sparser segment of jamming saw Mike step to the forefront and Trey back off, as the group never lost their airtight cohesion. They soon coalesced into a full band drum jam with Trey on marimba, a sequence that had potential to derail the set’s flow, but instead burst with a vigorous musicality often absent from such ventures. Slipping out the backside of this percussive fiesta into a knee deep, pornographic Phish groove, it was clear at this point that there would be no slowing down the four-headed monster on this night. Bouncing the stadium in series of slow motion, musical crossover dribbles, the band continued to demonstrate the vast stylistic diversity that laced this powerhouse set of music.

Without hesitation, they layered a brief “Crosseyed” lyrical reprise over the deep groove before segueing smoothly into “Light”—another piece that transformed into a virtuosic jam of high order. Upon the conclusion of the lyrics, Trey sidestepped an extended guitar solo as the band dropped into a minimalist texture from which they built. Reaching a place of near silence, the foursome displayed patience and a willingness to let things breathe before intricately collaborating on their next sound sculpture. Mike and Page soon locked in as Trey layered ideas over their foundation while Fishman offered an ever-changing and delicate rhythm. This piece built slowly into an intense wall of sound, and peaked with a fury far removed from its starting point, another episode of improvisational gymnastics.

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Dick’s 2016 (Stephen Olker)

The band had played amongst the stars for over an hour as they opened a portal to Gamehendge and coyly landed in “Lizards.” This move evoked a certain poignancy as Phish hearkened back to their earliest days, 30 years later, with one of their seminal compositions. And they didn’t just play it, they shredded it to bits with the same level purpose that had been on display all night long. As they moved through the uplifting piece and into Trey’s classic solo, everything was in its right place. Following a bumpy summer tour, the last night of the season brought things back into focus in a way nobody could have imagined. Amidst a prolific set of music, a sense of serenity whispered through the air as the band and audience basked in their bond. “First Tube” provided the energetic culmination—an exclamation point—on this special evening.

Rarely does a set of music come together like Sunday’s second. A night like this is immortal—a show that transcends a mere concert and becomes a life experience. They don’t come around very often, sets without a hiccup, sets that flow relentlessly with unparalleled music, sets that define Phish’s raison d’etre and embody the ethos of the community that loves this band with all of their being. Sunday night at Dick’s, however, was one of them. It was a perfect set of Phish.

Dick's 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Dick’s 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Five Sets of Summer

Posted in Uncategorized with the on August 11th, 2016 by Mr.Miner
7.19 Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

7.19 Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

When presented with care, Phish sets are more than a collection of songs. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and carry the listener on a journey with strategically placed jams and songs. Though such artistically created statements were few and far between this summer, here are five that stood out from the pack.

***

5) 7.15 II The Gorge, George, Washington

The Gorge M. Stein

The Gorge (M. Stein)

Every time you thought Phish was going one way, they threw a head fake and veered another in a set anchored by misdirection, teases and all-around zany Phishiness. Though it didn’t always flow so well, the band certainly went for something on this night, never settling into any one jam and keeping the audience on their toes with segues, hijinks and musical theatrics. Though the set didn’t contain a whole lot of meat, the band came closest to a central jam in the opening sequence of “Crosseyed” > “What’s the Use?,” building the former into a sublime space, before quickly jumping ship into the latter. “What’s the Use?” took on a larger-than-life, feel amidst the majestic surroundings of The Gorge. Phish used “No Man’s Land as a recurring theme throughout this frame, continually referencing the song both musically and lyrically, while featuring a mash up with “Crosseyed” in its jam segment. “Meatstick” > “2001” contained the most fluid improv of the night, as the band locked into a hypnotic outro groove that flowed seamlessly into the Deodato cover. In a set that never stopped bobbing and weaving, Phish delivered a dynamic listening adventure on the first night of their west coast swing.

Crosseyed and Painless > What’s the Use?, No Men In No Man’s Land > Stash, Ghost > Chalk Dust Torture, Meatstick -> Also Sprach Zarathustra, Cavern

***

4) 7.18 II Bill Graham Civc Auditorum, San Francisco, CA

7.20 Bill Graham M. Stein)

7.20 Bill Graham (M. Stein)

The second set of Bill Graham’s first night possessed four distinct segments that pieced together to form a pretty fluid frame of music. The first segment came in the pairing of “Golden Age” and “Twist,” the former featuring a fiery groove excursion that carried a hybrid feel of “2001” and “Tube.” It seemed as though the band would revert to playlist form with mid-set versions of “My Sweet One” and “The Line,” but they rebounded nicely with the combo of “Simple -> Sneaking Sally.” “Simple” briefly moved into ethereal territory before giving way to the jam of the night in “Sneakin’ Sally.” A relentless peak highlighted this centerpiece before the set concluded with standout versions of “Limb by Limb” and “Slave.” Phish engaged in some patient jamming on this night which came as a welcome shift from their previous several shows.

Golden Age > Twist, My Sweet One, The Line, Simple -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Limb By Limb, Slave to the Traffic Light

***

3) 7.1 II SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY

SPAC Andrea Zimmerman Nusinov

SPAC (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Sometimes a massive jam sequence can hold down a set all on its own, and this is what took place on the band’s first night in Saratoga Springs. After a solid set-opening “Sand” the band took flight in their most outstanding improvisation of the summer in “Carini -> Chalk Dust.” Masterful interplay rolled off the stage with the sense of effortlessness that characterizes Phish’s best playing as the band connected multiple themes in a cohesive, thirty-five minute explosion. This sequence felt like a breakthrough after a week plus of building improvisational momentum and it seemed as though the band would take off from here for the rest of tour. As it turned out, however, “Carini -> Chalk” proved to be an anomaly in a low-key summer, but this portion of jamming certainly stands up to the band’s most proficient work of the last several years. Although it did contain some rarities, the rest of the set devolved into a series of songs, but after the peak that Phish had already reached, everything else felt like gravy.

Sand, Carini -> Chalk Dust Torture > Prince Caspian, Bug, Shine a Light, My Sweet One, Sleeping Monkey, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Fire

***

2) 6.28 II The Mann, Philadelphia, PA

BGCA M. Stein

BGCA (M. Stein)

The three elements of a great Phish set are flow, jamming and song selection, and the band hit on the trifecta on the first night of the Mann. Phish navigated this second set with nary a hiccup, offering two tour highlights and connecting everything quite smoothly. High quality excursions stemmed from “Fuego” and “Breath and Burning,” as both jams navigated the darker side of things. “Fuego” likened a revamped soundtrack to Super Mario’s dungeon lair and “Breath” took a bass-heavy path towards a similar vibe. These jams were complimented by a searing version of “Jibboo,” an intense Page-and-Trey-led “Timber,” and a peakier-than-thou version of “Slave,” creating an airtight set that possessed non-stop action throughout.

Fuego > Runaway Jim, Gotta Jibboo, Breath and Burning -> Timber,  Slave to the Traffic Light, You Enjoy Myself

***

1) 7.19 II Bill Graham Civic Audirorium, San Francisco, CA

7.20 Bill Graham M. Stein

7.20 Bill Graham (M. Stein)

The second night of Bill Graham contained the best set of summer and, frankly, it wasn’t even close. Amidst a tour in which second sets often lacked jams and flow, Phish swam fluidly through series of jams in this one and closed with authority. This musical statement featured one of tour’s upper echelon improvisations in a high-octane and cathartic “Ghost,” a long-form, angelic-turned-demonic “Down With Disease,” and a wide-open couplet of “Scents and Subtle Sounds” and “Light.” The band assumed a different demeanor than they had shown for the majority of the summer, favoring artistry and improv over songs and simplicity, and they came up with a winner. Capping their jam-laced escapade with the high energy combo“No Quarter” and “Fluffhead,” Phish left everyone with a smile on this Tuesday night.

Down with Disease > Fuego > Ghost > Scents and Subtle Sounds > Light  -> Manteca > No Quarter, Fluffhead

***

Honorable Mention

6.25 II Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL: Though nothing crazy happened on this night, flow alone pushes this set into contender status—a comment on the quality of this summer more than anything else. A compact, blissed out “Carini” provided the lone highlight of the night.

Carini > Tweezer > Fluffhead, Piper -> Steam, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Harry Hood, Tweezer Reprise

The Mann A. ZImmerman-Nusinov

The Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

The Tale of Two Summers

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized with the on August 1st, 2016 by Mr.Miner
Merriweather 2015 (Andrea Zimmerman Nusinov)

Merriweather 2015 (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of interstellar jamming, it was the age of mundane music, it was the epoch of sound, it was the epoch of songs, it was the season of bliss, it was the season of woe, it was the spring of blossomed fantasy, it was the winter of harsh reality, we had everything before us, we had next to nothing before us, we were bursting to see what each night had in store, we were hoping each night Phish would actually go for it—in short, the periods were so dissimilar that it felt as though we were watching different bands. When looking at the past two summer tours, two very divergent pictures emerge, one of a band at its peak, creative juices flowing like the Nile, churning out all-time jams with joy and ease, and one of an uninspired quartet, playing shows devoid of improvisational adventure that rarely produced music worth listening to several times over. The juxtaposition of Summer Tour 2015 and Summer Tour 2016 presents a peculiar challenge in attempting to decode the reasons for such different paths. Though one can never truly understand the motivations, choices or results behind Phish’s ever-changing performances, the process of analysis always renders an engaging discussion.

Fare Thee Well (Jay Blakesberg)

Fare Thee Well (Jay Blakesberg)

In 2015, Trey was a different animal. In preparation for his prestigious gig sitting in for Jerry Garcia with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, he drilled himself in guitar methodology like no time in recent years. He spent the first six months of the 2015—much of the time alone—learning Garcia’s style and subsequently picking up all sorts of new techniques, sounds, phrasing and expression. He was pushed out of his comfort zone and was forced to embrace a monumental challenge that paid off in droves once Phish hit the road. In a telling interview with Guitar Magazine at the end of last year, Trey answered a question about how the Dead shows energized his playing—“I had to learn 100 songs. What could be better for your playing than learning a large collection of great material?” He dove into this foreign territory and made discoveries about how Garcia executed his craft. “I wrote charts for every single song and had a bulging three-ring binder. Every song had at least two surprises: ‘Oh, that’s supposed to be a C9!’ He followed up these answers concluding—”I played so much better on Phish summer tour because I played so much getting ready for the Dead shows.”

It didn’t take long to see how his diligent work translated to Phish music, as he led the band in a colossal performance at the Bay Area’s Shoreline Amphitheatre in only the third show of summer tour. His playing boasted a lyricism and a confidence that had been absent for much of 2014. His tone control was dialed in and his ability to play unique leads had transformed from a weakness in the previous year to an overwhelming strength. Though Phish is certainly an equitable endeavor between four members, as Trey goes so does the band. And with Anasatsio soaring high in the sky, playing as lofty and commanding as ever, the band seemed destined for an amazing tour.

Merriweather '15  (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Merriweather ’15 (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

As the summer progressed, specifically from Atlanta and beyond, the band caught absolute fire. The uber-connected, top-shelf open jams that fans crave so deeply leapt off the stage nightly in a never-ending highlight reel. Atlanta’s “Kill Devil Falls” and “Tweezer,” Tuscaloosa’s “Down With Disease,” Nashville’s “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug,” Kansas City’s Down With Disease,” Blossom’s “Chalk Dust,” Alpine Valley’s “Tweezer,” Philly’s “Twist” and “Scents and Subtle Sounds”—the list goes on and on. A sense of adventure and the unknown were paramount every time the band took the stage, and the way they brought the goods night after night harkened back to the days of lore. Phish tour adopted a different sense of majesty last summer with a band and their leader at the top of their game.

But it wasn’t just the full band, open jams that elevated as a result of Trey’s preparedness, but the more structured supporting material as well. Their type-one improv popped with a clarity, excitement and vigor that breathed life into first sets and kept shows flowing throughout. Notable examples of such playing include Bend’s “Waves,” LA’s “Limb by Limb” and “Roggae,” many selections from Atlanta including “Ocelot,” “Reba,” “Bathtub Gin,” and “Carini,” Tuscaloosa’s “46 Days,” both Alpine and Raleigh’s “Reba,” Merriweather’s “Antelope” and “David Bowie”—the list goes on and on. There were no gaps in the band’s fiery offerings, an element of their performances that leads into the third crucial aspect that made Summer 2015 so special—show structure.

Magnaball A. Nusinov

Magnaball (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

For much of the 3.0 era, Phish had struggled with playing complete second sets that contained a natural arc. So many of their sets featured notable highlights but not a beginning-to-end flow, often dropping off in the second half. But last summer, the band rolled out artistically sculpted frames of music. The guys most often took multiple jams into open waters, experimenting and exploring cohesively and almost always finding success. With strategically connected songs and improvisation, most all second sets provided a holistic journey that sent the listener off and brought him home. The strongest examples of this enhanced structure were Shoreline, Atlanta night one, Nashville, Blossom, Mann night two, Raleigh, Merriweather night one, and all four of Magnaball’s main sets. Thought went into the progression and movement of these sets—and many others—and their intrinsic level of craftsmanship went a long way to form cohesive performances, regardless of if every jam ascended to elite level. During this tour, Phish waxed poetic in complete musical statements as they did in their heyday, erasing recent memories of sub-standard set construction.

In summation, all aspects of Phish were firing during the Summer of 2015, resulting in a tour that holds up among the band’s most prolific months of music and certainly stands out as the most accomplished stint in the modern era. The band capped their summer docket in old-school fashion with a blow out festival—Magnaball—that served as the month’s grand finale. And, boy, was it an event. Phish threw down the gauntlet for three days and eight sets of music, each of which elevated in full and contained copious improvisational highlights. Listing standouts seems fruitless because just about everything they played that weekend in Watkins Glen turned to gold. The second day, however, stood out as the peak of the weekend, boasting A+ outings of “46 Days,” “Tweezer” (with “Caspian” sandwiched in an outlandish two-pronged jam), “Blaze On,” and “Light,” not to mention several other strong supporting highlights. Phish also graced the festival grounds with one of their prized “secret” sets, a near hour-long, multi-thematic free-form improvisation as they stood behind a colossal movie screen on which mind-melting projections were cast. It was a feast for the senses and one of those magical moments that only take place at Phish festivals. The transcendence of Magnaball was a throwback to the band’s earliest festivals that routinely ended the summer with some of their most massive musical exploits of the season amidst a free-for-all atmosphere. Summer 2015 ended with a true sense of awe among a Phish fan base that was infused with enchanted vibrations, a feeling that would stick with everyone through Dick’s and the off season before the band capped their incredible year with four nights back at the Garden.

Magnaball (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Magnaball (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

*****

In the same interview for January’s Guitar Magazine, Trey also noted, “The best players play all the time because it all goes away so fast,” an observation that might have something to do with the path Phish’s 2016 summer tour followed. After the band’s three-night beach party in Mexico, Trey didn’t perform for five months as he and the guys focused on recording an album of very mellow, heartfelt songs.  The length of this break wasn’t an anomaly in Phish’s modern schedule, but to say that he and the band lost momentum would be an understatement. Though Phish’s new material might be suited to a thematic album, its style didn’t exactly translate well to the stage. If these songs are where Trey’s focus had been for months previous to tour as opposed to the intricacies of Garcia’s improvisational guitar playing, perhaps he just came out unprepared to play exploratory, psychedelic music. Whatever the reasons may have been, something had shifted.

Mann A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann ’16 (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Aside from a few interludes here and there, Trey seemed completely unwilling to lift off this summer, reverting to his former ways of aborting jams and abrupt set shifts that prevailed so heavily in the early years of 3.0. It certainly felt like an issue of comfort and confidence once their improvisation opened up. The band and their guitar player seemed very on point amidst structured jams when there was a known path to follow, but when they splashed into open waters, Trey most often got cold feet and swam for the shore. This timidity was quite uncharacteristic of his recent playing in which his willingness to explore the unknown had pushed the band to greatness throughout 2015. One kept thinking that things would loosen up as tour progressed and as the rust wore off, but it only happened sporadically as the band churned out a minuscule amount of top shelf jamming over a month of shows.

Many times in their past when shows didn’t take off, the reason lied in the band’s inability to fully hook up amidst their jams, but this summerPhish just didn’t attempt many full band jams, often to the tune of one time per night and in a couple cases, zero. Granted that open jams aren’t the only things that define a Phish show, but without them, shows simply don’t reach that magical plane—it’s impossible. Most fans don’t chase the band to see them play singles and compositions, but rather to witness their unparalleled, improvisational prowess, something that was in short supply over Summer ’16. So many times during the month second sets reverted to jukebox style playlists that held no cohesion, rhyme or reason. Following up their best summer tour in memory, this hardly made a lick of sense. What was causing their lack of creativity? Or more particularly, why was Trey just not willing to allow the band to give it a college try? There seemed to be a complete lack of intent on his behalf as much, if not more, than anything else. Who was this band? Much head scratching ensued. Just what happened over the past month?

SPAC A. Zimmerman-Nusinov

SPAC 2016 (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Tour sparked with two strong though unspectacular shows at Wrigley Field highlighted by notable versions of “Disease” “Twist” and “Carini.” Phish then built on Wrigley at the Mann with two more high quality shows. None of Philly’s jams blew the roof off the pavilion, however, the guys put their best foot forward in significant versions of “Fuego,” “Breath and Burning,” Crosseyed,” and “Disease.” Although these jams lacked a complete arc, most often moving into the next selection when one more section of improv would have completed their narratives, it certainly seemed as though the band’s jamming was steadily improving.

On the first night at SPAC, Phish finally broke through with a spectacular sequence of “Carini -> Chalk Dust” that would hold up at tour’s end as the most accomplished improvisation of the summer. But following this show—which tailed off considerably after these jams—the band’s improvisational efforts nosedived. In five of their next six shows, the band only attempted a single open jam per night and, suddenly, their set craftsmanship went the way of the wind, often playing what amounted to two first sets with countless standalone songs.

In these five shows, only one jam—SPAC’s “The Moma Dance”—was executed masterfully, and four of the five second sets—SPAC’s two final nights, Portland, and Syracuse—fell absolutely flat. The band simply wasn’t going for it. Shows became a never-ending playlist of songs, a format that systematically drained the excitement and energy from the room, leaving many fans questioning what had happened to the band that had started tour only weeks earlier.

Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

Trey abruptly abandoned ship in a couple of these one-jam affairs, harshly aborting Portland’s “Tweezer” and Syracuse’s “Drowned” as each seemed to be gaining momentum. These two shows wound up with zero complete jams with nary an effort to even get there. In SPAC’s third performance, the band slayed a tour highlight in “The Moma Dance” only to follow it up with nothing for the rest of the set, and in Hartford, they played a competent “Disease” but only backed it up with a concise version of “Sand.” (Though to their relative credit, Hartford’s set boasted a legitimate contour and shied from the jukebox nature that characterized the others.) These two shows wound up with one realized jam each over three hours of music. In SPAC’s second show, the fifth of these five peculiar nights, all the band could muster was a meager “Light” jam over two sets leaving very little to write home about in another uneventful night of Phish.

The only uptick along this east coast stretch came in the first half of Mansfield’s second set in the sequence of “Ghost > Light,” the latter piece transforming into the only other truly elite jam of tour (with “Carini -> Chalk” and “Moma”). But following PA issues that disrupted the show, the band reverted to their playlist style to fill out the rest of the set.

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

As tour hit its break before the west coast, the band had unfurled only four top-shelf jams over thirteen shows along with copious B-level highlights. If one thing was for sure, 2015 felt like a distant memory as Phish was fumbling through a thoroughly mediocre run. The ideas just weren’t flowing in a complete antithesis of the previous summer. The band didn’t possess that subconscious connection one can hear when they are truly flowing. Trey favored heavily effected playing rather than the clean, melodic and impassioned lead guitar that defined 2015. Things just felt off in the improvisational realm and the band seemed ok with glossing over jamming on most nights in a thoroughly puzzling development. But with the Gorge—the Mecca of Phish jams—on the horizon, things had to turn around. They had to. Right?

Well…not exactly. Though Phish played a fun and zany show filled with teases, hijinks and generally all-over-the-place theatrics on the first night in Washington, they refused to settle into a single jam. Once “Crosseyed” moved into a promising space, they jumped ship for “What’s the Use?,” while similarly abandoning “Ghost” after a couple of minutes of gnarly music for a full-band drum jam. Rushing through “Chalk Dust” and “Stash,” the band seemed totally unwilling to dive deep, favoring more surface level tactics to create an entertaining though shallow set. A small jamlet out of “Meatstick” became the only patient full-band improvisation of the night. Despite the set’s amusing nature, there was no meat at all while a lot of the ins and outs and movements between songs seemed forced and used as a substitute for creative ideas. This was unheard of for a Gorge show. History had proved that The Gorge was where things slowed down and the music opened up. That’s what transpired in all of the band’s previous visits to the exalted venue. This show seemed more appropriate for Merriweather Post than the expansive environs of George, Washington, where jams had, traditionally, grown larger than life.

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge 2016 (Michael Stein)

The second night at the Gorge held a promising feel after a smoking opening set in which the band sounded confident and up to the task. But they completely tanked the show’s second half. Just as “Blaze On” was a couple minutes into some truly engaging territory, on the brink of transforming into a massive, Gorge-esque excursion, Trey kicked the audience in the nuts with an inexplicable ripcord into “Number Line.” It was not kind. It was very harsh. And with this move, so passed the set into jukebox oblivion that had no place in the mystical amphitheatre. With one song after another, the band sucked all of the energy out of the audience, something that had never happened in this venue’s history. Come the encore, the crowd was deflated. It was palpable. With nary a complete jam over the two-night stand these, shows were a disgrace to the band’s legacy at the Gorge, and at this point there were only five shows left in tour. The head scratching continued.

Somehow, Phish managed to flip the switch and squeeze out two impressive performances at Bill Graham Auditorium. They completely changed their approach to the second set on each of these nights, favoring improv and set crafting in what felt like a breath of incredibly fresh air after the previous couple weeks of sub-par concerts. The most notable highlights came in “Down With Disease” and the one-two punch of “Ghost” > “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” both amidst a non-stop, flowing set of jams on the second night of the run. Night one featured notable excursions in “Golden Age” and “Simple” > “Sneaking Sally,” while both second sets were well constructed, and anchored by stellar playing all the way through. Though far from all-timers, these two performances at Bill Graham were excellent nights of Phish, especially for a tour that had been stuck in the mud for so long. The second night’s second set felt like it had dropped from the heavens, providing true adventure and creativity through lockstep jamming. But, alas, these shows would be anomalies in the open jam department among tour’s last five nights, as the other three combined for a quality first set “Ghost” and a partial “Piper” jam that Trey cut for “Twist” shortly after it left the song’s central vibe, both coming in Chula Vista. Bill Graham’s third night and Chula Vista both featured standout first sets with old school rarities and extended dance grooves, respectively, but in terms of second set jamming, the scene over the final three shows of tour was as bleak as ever. In fact the second sets of Bill Graham’s third night and Los Angeles combined for zero jam attempts!

Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Let’s cut to the chase here, Summer 2016 was a completely underwhelming Phish tour, the least adventurous since 2009. Perhaps Trey’s focus on the band’s new album brought him away from his bread and butter, perhaps the massive new lighting set up provided some level of distraction to the band—two theories posited by fans over the summer. But neither of these ideas can fully explain Trey’s lack of assertiveness and diminished improvisational confidence. More often than not, he was simply unwilling to jam. We all know that Trey calls the shots on stage and what he thinks and says is what happens. It seemed quite evident that his geyser of original ideas that had spouted so consistently throughout last summer had dried up as he led the band in a completely different direction for most of the month, only showing flashes of the brilliance that has floored us year after year. One can usually look at recent tours and pick out the jams that will stand the test of time, the ones that could hold up in almost any era, and this summer there were four of these in twenty shows. The band’s creative output hit a serious low point this summer and it remains a mystery as to why.

With Dick’s three-night stand and a two-plus week fall tour on the horizon, Phish can obviously bounce back at any time, and one hopes that they will. But for an entire month during the summer of ’16, the band mired through a slump that lasted longer than any other in memory. Though they could navigate songs and pre-structured improv quite well, the band had serious trouble elevating their open jamming to anywhere near the level we had seen the year before. All it takes is a revisit to the extraordinary music of last summer to hear the monstrous difference in output. Phish always goes through ups and down, but few have ever been so drastic as the difference between the last two summers. But they’ll be back and we’ll be back, and things are bound to come around again, though until they do, we will live with memories of one not so crazy summer.

Mann Center (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann Center 2016  (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Tour Talk Thread

Posted in Uncategorized with the on June 27th, 2016 by Mr.Miner

Just resetting the comment section for Summer Tour.

The Top Jams of Summer Tour

Posted in Uncategorized with the on December 29th, 2015 by Mr.Miner

15. “Simple” 7.22 II, Bend, OR: The first hint that something strange was afoot at the Circle K this summer.

14. “46 Days” 8.15 II, Columbia, MD: A murky jam that ended in a huge melodic peak.

13.“Golden Age” 9.4 II, Commerce City, CO: Abstract psychedelia turned ethereal groove highlighted the first night in Colorado.

12. “46 Days” 8.22 II, Watkins Glen, NY: A very original, quasi-ambient take on one of the anthems of summer.

11. “Down With Disease” 8.5 II, Kansas City, MO: A multi-part jam that passed through a gorgeous spacescape en route to some of Trey’s most seething guitar playing of summer tour.

***

10. “Down With Disease” 9.6 II, Commerce City, CO

Though Dick’s three-night stand was largely the denouement of an incredible summer, one jam that stood out was the final set’s “Down With Disease.” In the last section of this excursion, Trey initiated a melodic motif that would tug on the heartstrings of even a dead man. The whole band latched on to this theme, crafting a life-affirming section of music that provided the four most blissful minutes of Colorado’s three-night run. While some of Phish’s most complex explorations speak to the intellect, and their grooves speak to the body, this jam truly speaks to the soul.

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9. “Chalk Dust -> Tweezer” 8.7 II, Cuhyahoga Falls, OH

Blossom Official  S.M. Studios)

Blossom Official (S.M. Studios)

This set-opening combo knocked down the doors of one of Summer’s most complete sets of music. “Chalk Dust” reached a gorgeous, fast-paced, whole-band peak laced with thematic playing that evoked Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City.” When Phish descended from this truly awesome plateau, Trey gradually led them into a seamless transition into “Tweezer.” While this version of “Tweezer” didn’t necessarily stand up to the several monumental versions of summer, it certainly packed a legitimate punch with several swanky sections of improvisation. Trey directed the band with some powerful lead playing that Page supported with stellar work of his own. Towards the end of this piece, the band discovered a very dark, almost-industrial, creative milieu that stood out as the most interesting aspect of this jam.

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***

8. “Light” 8.22 III, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball D.Millward)

Magnaball (D.Millward)

Deep in the third set on the band’s most prolific night of their summer-ending festival, they broke out a delicate and very creative version of “Light.” This version saw Trey engage in nimble runs of notes throughout a very connected four-part conversation. Passing through an ethereal plane in its middle stages, this jam saw the band sculpt an open soundscape congruent to their festival surroundings. Landing in an polyrhythmic, digitized exchange replete with a blanket of effects, this version absolutely slayed from beginning to end and is a prime example of how on point the band was on the second day of Magnaball.

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7. “Tweezer” 8.1 II, Atlanta, GA

You know it was quite a summer when a near half-hour “Tweezer” with a soaring peak section lands at number seven on this list. This multi-faceted journey was anchored by Trey’s heartfelt and long-lasting leads in the aforementioned peak section in which he brings the jam out of darkness into the heavens with a circular melodic theme that froze time on a sweltering Atlanta evening. Once the band came down from this middle section, they entered a very creative part of the jam that saw the band proficiently chopping it up in a fast-paced rhythmic exchange that prominently featured Trey’s Tru Tron effect (or Trey Tron as I like to call it) that he favored for so much of summer tour.

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***

6. “Bathtub Gin” 8.21 I, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball J.Pollock)

Magnaball (J.Pollock)

Phish absolutely annihilated this all-time version of Bathtub Gin in the opening set of Magnaball this August. Taking everybody by surprise with such an explosive, multi-tiered rendition, Phish announced their presence with authority early on in their highly anticipated festival. Another jam in which the band continued to roll through fluid themes with ease, the band christened the summer’s peak weekend of majestic improvisation. The guys built to a breathtaking climax in this middle section of this “Gin,” one that had thousands upon thousands of jaws on the field as the band collectively arrived at one of tour’s most indelible moments. And when the band pushed right through the peak into another section of improv, they just about knocked everyone out.

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***

5. “Kill Devil Falls” 7.31 II, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Official J.Weinberg)

Atlanta Official (J.Weinberg)

Who knew a day would turn into a week, and who knew that when Phish opened up the second set of this show with “Kill Devil Falls” that they’d wind up with a masterpiece? This colossal jam passed through several distinct phases with notable fluidity, moving from a Tru Tron-based section into darker bass-led textures; through a brief “Manteca” motif into a powerful and extended sequence of guitar narration; through a bluesy exchange into a groovy section of interplay, and finally into a monstrous peak with a “Tweezer Reprise”-esque progression. The band never lost focus or momentum through this phenomenal exploration as the fresh ideas continued to readily flow in lock step fashion, as was the case in all of summer’s top jams. This one was an instant classic and the only thing to be determined was where amongst summer tour’s gems it would land.

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***

4. “Tweezer” 8.9 II, East Troy, WI

The Alpine “Tweezer” is pure butter. Arguably the smoothest jam of the summer, it featured pure cohesion upon a single theme from beginning to end. Unlike the multi-tiered explorations that were so prevalent over summer tour, in this “Tweezer” the band jammed along a single, united path without a wasted note. Fusing groove with melody like only Phish can, this jam represented what can happen when all band members are on the same page and things go perfectly for an entire jam. This one is so flawless it almost sounds composed; truly an opus of summer.

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3. “Tweezer -> Caspian -> Tweezer” 8.22 II, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball Land Land)

Magnaball (Land Land)

This improvisational sequence was the undeniable centerpiece of Magnaball’s second day. Closing out the first evening set with almost a half an hour of stellar jamming, the band—essentially—dropped two “Tweezer” jams with “Caspian” in the middle. I’m not sure why Live Phish didn’t label the second half of “Tweezer,” as Trey even initiated the segment with a gnarred out, chunky version of the song’s signature lick. Nonetheless, both halves of the jam are nothing short of spectacular. Another excursion that signifies the incredibly tight and exploratory jamming that popped up almost every night of tour, this two-part “Tweezer” packed insane power into its every nook and cranny. While its opening half transformed from thick groove into fast-paced melodica, it’s the second half that boasts the magnificent richness that is Phish. The entire sequence leads up to a mind-bending peak that featured a dizzying Mind Left Body progression.

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***

2. “Twist > Light” 7.24 II, Mountain View, CA

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

While Bend’s “Simple” teased us of what was to come in a transformative tour, it is this two-pronged sequence from Shoreline that kicked the summer into high gear and showed us that the band was playing for keeps. This dualistic rendition of “Twist” plunged the depths of the Netherworld and then ascended into the heavens with a prolonged, symphonic movement of cohesive bliss. This “Twist” was the jam that changed my summer plans of hitting a few shows out west and the festival to a hitting every show (but Austin). In this monumental improvisation, the band demonstrated the comfort, ease and seemingly effortless communication that allows them to create art in the highest form. And this “Twist” set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the season. Featuring a looser feel than many of this summer’s jams, the style felt very congruent to the Bay Area environs on the heels of Fare Thee Well. This was one of those unforgettable musical moments that will live in the memory banks of all attendees for the annals of time.

And just as “Twist” came to a close, the band crashed into “Light” in a real statement of improvisational intent. The band’s cosmic jamming continued throughout this amazing, multi-thematic jam in which the band eventually landed in an “I Know You Rider” jam in a clear nod to the Bay Area forefathers. A one-two punch like none other of summer, I knew as soon as this combination dropped we’d see it near the top of the tour’s highlights.

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***

1. “Twist” 8.12 II, Philadelphia, PA

phillyposter

Philly Official (D.Welker)

The Philly “Twist” from the second night of the Mann Music Center stands head and shoulders above any other jam from summer. And it’s not even close. This excursion transcends tour highlight status into that of a career highlight. Demonstrating pure mastery of their craft, the band members passed musical ideas with delicacy and precision, echoing and responding to each other in a way rarely witnessed at Phish shows. As soon as they dove into open waters, the guys were like a one-minded organism, improvising with a stunning proficiency that seemed to awe even themselves, as could be seen with the extended pause they took at the piece’s conclusion. The first half of the jam featured a dark exploration of sound, texture and melody fused into one. Trey utilized all facets of his game as he not only played notes but crafted blankets of sound and effect that served to color the music as much as he pushed it forward. The band crafted a dark and abstract—though airtight—jam, that had it ended when they transitioned into the exploration’s second half, would have still landed it near the top of this list. But the guys pushed on as Fishman initiated a slow groove that methodically built into an entire new jam. After navigating another foray into darkness, the band finally emerged from the murk into a monumental peak that was pulled from a fantasy. Trey tore off majestic melodies that sounded like music you’d known for your entire life as the entire band exploded in catharsis. Capping such a deep excursion with an arrival this glorious is the stuff of which dreams are made. As I walked out of the venue this night with a long-time friend, he described this jam perfectly with a single line—“the soundtrack to the universe.”

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The First Six of Summer

Posted in Show Reviews with the tags on July 31st, 2015 by Mr.Miner
Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Phish commenced their Summer Tour with two incredibly strong performances in their first three shows in the second night of Bend and Shoreline, both of which contained beautifully flowing, jam-filled second sets. But since then, the band has pumped the brakes a bit with a trifecta of spotty performances across the southern part of the country. Los Angeles had plenty of energy but carried little musical substance, while Austin and Dallas contained some high points but also long stretches of cruise control in their second sets that simply didn’t cut the mustard. As we take a look at the first segment of Summer Tour 2015, let’s first explore the positives.

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Following a solid warm up gig on the first night of tour, the band came out blazing on the second night of Bend, unveiling several more new songs (jn addition to the three debuted on opening night), along with a seamless second set anchored by an awesome, groovy-turned-evil jam out of “Simple.” Trey played impeccable guitar all night long, perhaps most impressive during the standout “Bathtub Gin” encore. But more to the point, he slayed every single solo he took, including the slower ones on “Wingsuit” and “Farmhouse.” Some of his most inspired playing of the night came in the opening sequence of the second set in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Waves,” a nautical pairing that absolutely smoked the entire way through. But beyond his personal musical marksmanship, the band played with incredible cohesion as a unit, crafting a non-stop set with undeniable flow. This show was quite the statement on only the second night of tour, only to be significantly topped on night three.

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Phish absolutely exploded at Shoreline Amphitheatre, one of the former haunts of the Grateful Dead, with a set that stands up to any of this era and many beyond. Chock full of open-ended improvisation, the band locked into a flow and rode the wave through the entire second frame of the show. Beyond the music—and the music was incredible—there seemed to be a peace and contentment emanating from the guys that built on a similar feel during the previous night in Bend. It felt like they now know, especially after Trey’s starring role in Fare Thee Well, that they no longer have anything to prove—they were just out there doing what they do. The level of relaxation and togetherness was palpable as they navigated an awesome set-long sequence of jamming. Using one of their newest songs, “Blaze On,” to kick off the main event, the band expounded on its percussive, blues-rock theme, taking the jam for a ride before returning to its refrain—and then promptly exiting the through the back door into an abstract foray that wound its way into “Twist.” In the undeniable highlight of the night, Phish wove together a two part epic that touched on the both the dark side and the utter bliss of their craft. The first half showcased a grungy, snarling tone from Trey as the guys slipped into a slow methodical mind meld, transforming the passage into some murky, swamp-like psychedelia. When Trey began to lead the guys back towards the theme of the song, his mates coaxed him onward and the band soon coalesced into some of the most orchestral beauty we’ve heard in ages. Hitting a sacred stride, the band moved as one through a passage of utter musical triumph that continued for an extended period. Time stood still and the audience watched in wonder as Phish sculpted one of their most indelible moments in recent memory. This was fully realized musical improv of the highest degree; a time when one could hardly believe that four mere mortals were creating such a symphony. Emotionally wrenching and staggeringly beautiful, this segment elevated to the highest planes of reverie. Once they picked their jaws up off the floor, the crowd roared their approval as the band finally descended from the heavens and passed into “Light.”

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Supporting two extended jams with one their most significant modern launchpads amounted to quite the statement of intent in the middle of this set, and the guys kept on rolling full steam ahead into a multi-thematic exploration of “Light.” Hitting on “Manteca,” “Roadrunner,” and “I Know Your Rider” in a clear homage to the Dead, this “Light” saw the band weave together diverse movements with seamless acumen. Just as great athletes enter a “zone” and everything slows down for them as their excellence emerges, so did Phish on this night as illustrated in the protean nature of this “Light” jam. Their playing felt effortless but simultaneously virtuosic, and that is what greatness is all about. As the band dripped into “Joy,” everything felt right in the world following over 45 minutes of stunning improvisation. The set’s magical energy carried through a particularly cathartic rendition of the 2009 ballad and upon its conclusion, right into “Harry Hood.”

Selecting one more jumping off point to conclude this set’s theatrics, Phish played yet another extended and amazing jam which saw them divert from “Hood’s” traditional major chord build into some earnest and darker exploration that followed the trend of 2014 versions. Though their reentry to the theme wasn’t immaculate and the song’s final peak saw more of a strumming rather than ballistic effort by Trey, the exclamation point on the set had certainly been made. With a fourth jam surpassing 15 minutes, the band had just dropped an utterly poignant frame of music and one of the defining stanzas since their return. Slamming the door with a raucous version of “Cavern” and a blistering “Character Zero” encore, Phish had bequeathed us with one of those timeless nights of music that we will remember forever.

Shoreline (John Florek)

Shoreline (John Florek)

Coming off two consecutive second sets laced with artistry and deep improvisation, one could only imagine what would transpire when Phish stepped indoors at the LA Forum with “Disease,” “Carini” and “Tweezer” hanging in the balance. But when the dust settled on their southern California stop, it was an “energy” show that favored sudden segues and antics rather than any fully realized jamming. While it seems that many fans liked this performance, after the previous two nights it felt to me like a serious letdown. The band kept “No Man in No Man’s Land” (a song that sounds more suited for TAB than Phish) in a linear groove, passed through a truncated “Carini” highlighted by one very brief peak, and aborted “Tweezer” before it really got going, all amounting to a serious case of musical blue balls. Once this “meat” of the set transpired, the guys commenced jukebox mode favoring an innocuous string of songs that couldn’t hold up the set after they had bailed out of their potential heavy hitters. “Roggae” and “Slave” were nice enough but hardly seemed to fit after nothing significant had went down during the first half of the frame. Then Trey all but killed a potentially special “YEM” encore by dry humping Mike while they played each other’s instruments, replacing any chance of musical interplay with its physical counterpart. I can see this set being “fun” on some level, but after two profound musical statements in Bend and Mountain View, this show fell pretty flat for me despite a quality first set. The under-the-radar highlight of the show came in the opening half’s “Limb by Limb” which saw stellar soloing by Trey and a strong collective effort from the entire band.

Austin Official C.Nolan)

Austin Official C.Nolan)

The last couple shows in Texas took place in very divergent atmospheres—Austin’s in a brutally hot outdoor amphitheatre and Dallas’ in a tiny, air-conditioned theatre. (I will give the disclaimer that I only attended Dallas, but will discuss both shows.) The first sets of these shows differed greatly, as Austin’s was a run of mill, pedestrian affair while Dallas’ featured a very fresh song list and all sorts of energy. The high point of the latter was a version of “Steam” that Trey inexplicably stopped once the band had reached a thick, improvisational groove. It felt as though they were on the brink of a legitimate first set jam for the first time in ages, but it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless, the band seemed excited and engaged despite several noticeable flubs by Trey during composed sections, and felt primed to explode in set two. As the band went into set break in Austin, many fans were hoping that someone had a defibrillator to get things going for the second half.

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Each of the Texas second sets had jam-anchored moments, but in neither did the band weave together a coherent frame of music. Austin kicked off with “46 Days -> Dogs -> 46 Days,” with the latter segment of “46” exploring some menacing, bass led textures that felt like it could have kept going having reached a very interesting space. Dallas’ second set kicked off with one of the jams of tour thus far in a fiery and exploratory “Chalk Dust” that saw Phish migrate from an atmospheric start into more full on, energetic jamming before dropping into “Simple.” Austin’s opening segment was supported by an in-the-box “Piper” and an above average “Ghost” whose melodic peak stood out as perhaps the show’s highest moment. Dallas’ set took a veritable nosedive after the opening blowout, as Trey made a string of questionable calls with “Silent in the Morning,” “Birds of a Feather,” “Fuego” and “Julius.” “Birds” did pop with more intense playing than usual, but nothing of serious note took place between the “Chalk Dust” and the set-closing version of “Harry Hood.” The band pulled things together for “Hood’s” jam after Trey botched most of the composed section of the song, salvaging an energetic if not intricately awesome rendition. Austin’s second half of the set also also featured a string of cruise control songs only highlighted by a “Jibboo” that saw Trey rip off several clean runs of notes amidst its groovy canvas.

The Texas shows, in total, were two average nights of Phish that featured a couple highlights each—pretty much to be expected in their modern mid-week, one-off performances in random markets. But after dangling the carrot in Bend and Shoreline, it felt like something bigger might have been on the horizon. But that horizon now falls to Atlanta, where Phish pulls in tonight for a two-night stand at their old stomping grounds of Lakewood Amphitheatre with all their big jam vehicles on the table. I suspect that this weekend we will see more complete efforts from the band with more developed jams and more cohesive sets than we received in LA, Austin and Dallas. The first stretch of tour has concluded and Lakewood now starts the middle segment through the South and Midwest before Alpine commences the home stretch next Saturday. With six shows under their belt on this summer tour, I think it’s fair to say that things are just getting started.

Tags:

Paradise Waits

Posted in Commentary with the tags on July 18th, 2015 by Mr.Miner

Miami 2014-15 (Andrea Nusinov)

Following Trey’s outstanding performance at the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows, there has been an anticipatory buzz around Phish’s forthcoming summer tour. With many questions on the horizon and a full slate of shows in which they will be answered, it’s once again an exciting time in the world of Phish. With Bend just around the corner, here’s what’s been on my mind about Summer 2015.

Trey @ FTW (Jay Blakesberg)

Trey @ FTW (Jay Blakesberg)

It wouldn’t be a stretch to posit that Trey’s preparation for Fare Thee Well represents the most focused guitar practice that he has undertaken since returning to the Phish stage in ’09. He has mentioned in interviews that he isolated himself for up to over five hours per day to study Garcia’s playing, to learn Grateful Dead songs, and to practice. When asked in a Rolling Stone what he’s taken away from his work, he said “One is just guitar stuff. I’ve made a conscious effort to learn everything I could about Jerry’s incredible style. I’m playing in different positions on the neck. It’s opened up a whole world of people I’d never listened to before.” While I wouldn’t bet on any stylistic crossover into his own band, there is no doubt that this preparation will affect his sharpness and readiness to tear things apart on the with Phish. During much of 2014, Trey lacked the powerful leads that traditionally have directed Phish jams. He often laid back with quasi-aimless rhythm playing while his band mates stepped up to varying degrees of success. During the Fare Thee Well shows, especially come Chicago, Trey’s lead playing was the undeniable force driving the band and holding jams on course. He took magnificently passionate solos all over the place, often flooring the stadium-sized audience with his six string prowess. If there is one thing that I feel that will certainly carry over from his Grateful Dead project, it will be his assertiveness. I surmise that Trey, the lead guitar player we know and love, will be back in full force this summer, and that alone is enough to make the any fan giddy with excitement. Phish is the best when Trey takes the lead, not necessarily dominating jams, but directing them. And with his chops as polished as they have been in years, things bode well for his musical leadership this summer. It remains to be seen if the overhauling of his tone for Fare Thee Well will spill over into his Phish articulation. While I doubt he’ll bring his full-fledged “Jerry sound” into the mix, he could integrate some new phrasings and effects that he picked up in such a diligent case study of Garcia.

10/31/14 II. Las Vegas, NV (Eric Battuello)

10/31/14 II Las Vegas, NV (Eric Battuello)

While many people in the community have been hypothesizing about Phish covering Dead songs this summer, I think the more pertinent question is what will come of the Halloween material? In Miami, we saw a slight integration of some of the band’s universally loved Halloween set, but will they commit to the material in full this tour? Will we see some of these jams reworked into actual songs? Inquiring minds want to know. Using “Martian Monster” as a set closer over the Holiday Run seemed to imply that it would become a legitimate part of the band’s rotation. I would imagine we see this infectious funk number fully integrated into the live show this tour. But what about everything else? The band used the “The Birds” as a jam motif during the New Year’s “Theme From the Bottom,” and it is more in this fashion that I think we could see these Halloween passages come to life. Most all of the vignettes from the Haunted House set weren’t fully fleshed out pieces of music, and if they stay that way, it would be really innovative for the band to use them as instrumental themes to jam in and out of within larger improvisations in the vein of “”Tweezer -> Shipwreck -> Tweezer,” “Bathtub Gin -> The Very Long Fuse -> Bathtub Gin,” or “Tube -> Your Pet Cat -> Tube.” They could also use them as bridges between pieces like “Tweezer -> Shipwreck -> Carini” or “Chalk Dust -> The Dogs -> Light.” In fact, we already saw this latter use on 11.1.14 in “Light -> Dogs -> Lengthwise.” While there is a possibility that we see a couple of them reworked into legitimate songs, I almost feel that it would be cooler to see them kept as improvisational devices. If any, I think “The Birds” has the best possibility of becoming a formal song. In terms of any real integration of Grateful Dead material? I seriously doubt it.

Summer '15

Summer ’15

Summer tour’s routing sees the band play nine one-off shows, with five of them coming in rarely visited markets. While small market, out-of-the-way shows were not to be missed in the Phish’s earlier eras, they have more or less become greatest hit sampler platters that lack truly adventurous jamming in 3.0. The overnight travel segueing into soundcheck and a one-night performance hasn’t always treated the guys well over recent tours, and from experience, I would be wary before chasing them through their stretch of the Southern and Midwestern single night shows. They represent a serious grind with potentially small payoffs. Or perhaps I’m just getting old. The band’s wheelhouse in this era has clearly been multi-night stands, and if I had to predict where the strongest shows of summer will materialize, it would be within the two and three night affairs—Bend, Lakewood, Alpine, Philly, Merriweather, Magnaball and Dick’s.

Magnaball

Magnaball

Finally, for the first time since IT in 2003 (excluding Coventry), Phish’s summer tour will culminate in a festival. This format of their earlier years always provided a larger than life showcase for the band’s musical achievements of their current tour. They traditionally used their festivals to show what they had learned through their month-long journey, and put their improvisational foci and successes on full display at their August fiestas. This was arguably the best aspect of placing festivals at the end of their tours. Instead of having to gear up for a massive event in isolation, the band was fully in the flow of playing and jamming as they will be this year, and I think Magnaball is primed to explode far more significantly than Festival 8 or Superball, both which were played in detachment. And at Magnaball, we will—in all likelihood—get to experience one more of the band’s hallowed “secret sets.” I find it fruitless to speculate on what will transpire in this year’s installment, because Phish is always one step ahead of their fans and come up with something that we could never have guessed. That said, following their avant-garde Storage Jam, folks will be anticipating this set as much as any other of the three-night festival.

Only a few days separate us from the beginning of another summer tour. When Phish came back in ’09, nobody knew exactly what to expect from them, how long they’d stick around or to what level they’d perform. Now, six years later, the band is going strong, surpassed most expectations for this era and the guys seem committed for the long haul. They have struck a balance in their personal lives and have no signs of slowing down. Having fully righted their ship and restored their legacy, it’s full steam ahead into 2015.

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A Live Bait-Inspired Playlist

Posted in Jams with the tags , on July 12th, 2015 by Mr.Miner
Miami (A. Nusinov)

Miami 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

The week before tour is usually when archivist, Kevin Shapiro, drops his next installment of his Live Bait series, highlighting jams from the cities of the upcoming tour. I figured I’d drop a similarly inspired playlist of my own comprised of tracks that would be great to have in remastered soundboard fashion. Enjoy the jams as we await the tour opener in Bend, Oregon, one week from Tuesday.

Ghost” 9.12.99 II, Portland, OR

A monstrous jam that highlighted the first weekend of 1999’s Fall Tour, despite the higher profile shows in Vancouver and at The Gorge. (Portland is close enough to Bend to make this one count.)

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Reba > Walk Away” 10.29.98 II, Los Angeles, CA

The most creative “Reba” ever played.

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Runaway Jim > Circus” 7.31.97 II, Mountain View, CA

This exploratory, set-opening colossus illustrates that Phish did more than funk in the Summer of ’97. One can hear echoes of Raleigh’s iconic “Disease” jam from the previous week in the middle section of this jam.

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Yamar” 7.25.98 I, Austin, TX

Though Austin has a history of great Phish jams such as ‘98’s “Tweezer “and ‘99’s “Wolfman’s”, I’m choosing something a bit more under the radar in this extended first set “Yamar” from the first set of 1998’s summer installment.

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Chalk Dust Torture” 7.25.97 II, Dallas, TX

This show seems to linger in the shadows of the many amazing outings if Summer ’97, but with it’s non-stop second set, it really shouldn’t. This “Chalk Dust” opened the frame with some spectacular whole-band improvisation during an era when the song was rarely used as a launchpad.

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David Bowie” 6.15.95 II, Atlanta, GA

This “Bowie” is quintessential ’95 psychedelia and represents a culmination of several experimental versions earlier in the tour.

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Harry Hood” 6.22.00 II, Nashville, TN

Very rarely do guests truly click on stage with Phish, but this “Harry Hood” from 2000 is one time where things definitely jived. In the first show back from Japan, Bluegrass legends, Robbie McCoury on banjo, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, and Sam Bush on fiddle, joined the band for a beautiful rendition of their classic work.

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Sneakin Sally” 6.4.11 II, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Might as well throw a modern-era track on here. At the time, this “Sally” hit like a freight train and five years later, it stands the test of time pretty well.

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Mike’s > Ain’t Love Funny” 8.9.97 II, East Troy WI

This snarling “Mike’s” jam segues into a haunting version of the rarity “Ain’t Love Funny” by JJ Cale.

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David Bowie” 6.24.95 II, Philadelphia, PA

If Lakewood’s”Bowie” was the defining version of the first half of Summer ’95, this version from the Mann was the flagship version of the second. The band exhibits amazing precision and control over their improv in this piece which is an all-time classic. (Excuse the repeat)

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Ghost” 8.7.98 II, Raleigh, NC

This driving jam came at the end of the first set of ‘98’s stop at Walnut Creek and represents the most impressive passage from a relatively straight forward show. (Excuse the repeat)

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Rock and Roll  > Theme > Dog Log” 9.17.00 II, Columbia, MD

This absolutely sublime run of jamming opened the second set of this show, one of the strongest efforts of Fall 2000.

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The Top Ten Jams of 2014

Posted in Jams with the tags , , , on February 12th, 2015 by Mr.Miner
7.12.14 Randall's Island (Chris LaJaunie)

7.12.14 Randall’s Island (Chris LaJaunie)

10. “Crosseyed and Painless” 10.17 II, Eugene, OR

Phish came into Fall Tour rested and raring to go and promptly dropped one of the jams of tour on its very first night. The band moves from hard groove into far deeper psychedelic textures when all is said and done, in a smoking piece of music.

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9.”Chalk Dust > Ghost” 10.21 II, Santa Barbara, CA

This one-two punch that opened up the second set of Santa Barbara moved to some very cool places in both halves of the sequence. The most beautiful portion, however, comes deep within “Ghost” as the band hits a musical plane that felt congruent with the Southern California surroundings.

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8. “The Wedge” 7.20 II,  Chicago, IL

This jam popped out of nowhere in the middle of Chicago’s final frame, and changed the landscape of the set from routine to creative in an instant. The band hits on some minimalist funk as they calibrate their communication, finally hooking up in some serious grooves before turning on a dime into the infectious chord progression that resembles “Paradise City” among other songs. All in all, a very cool surprise slice of Phish.

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7. “Ghost” 7.12 II, New York, NY

This groove-turned-exploratory version of “Ghost” stood at the center of “Randalls Island’s second show, and represents the version of the year. The band applied their patient and intricate style of the early summer to this show stopper, leaving us with a peak moment of Phish from the middle night of their New York City stand.

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6. “Fuego” 7.8 II, Philadelphia, PA

This was one of the many long form jams over the first two weeks of summer that built to the Randall’s “Chalk Dust.” On relisten while making this list, this jam struck me as a bit meandering and scattered compared to the rest of the top ten. Delivered in movements, this “Fuego” is certainly is an improvisational beast and hits some choice places, but it lacks continuity and tightness throughout.

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5. “Chalk Dust > Piper” 11.2 II, Las Vegas, NV

Phish’s Las Vegas stand provided just what the doctor ordered after an inconsistent Fall Tour, and its finest jamming came on the final night in this second-set sequence of “Chalk Dust -> Piper.” The interplay in “Chalk Dust” turned far more creative than several extended versions of summer and fall, coming as a welcome refreshment from a jam that started to grow a tad stale. This “Piper” took a turn from its usual frenetic pace into a gentle, melody driven peak that proved to be the golden nugget of the entire musical sequence.

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4. “Simple” 8.29 II, Commerce City, CO

Denver’s “Simple” is some good, clean wholesome Phish. A journey that moves straight out of the gates with an upbeat tempo, peaks with some of Trey’s most cathartic playing of the year. In fact, this jam is the piece in which Papa Bear awakened from his late summer slumber during which he dreamt about playing weird, aimless rhythm guitar in a rock band for a tour. But his awakening was glorious. And just then when you’d think this piece was winding down, a dance party breaks out. This was a feel good jam through and though, and a great welcome to the Rockies.

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3. “Down with Disease” 1.3.15 II, Miami, FL

This “Down With Disease” was the finest piece of improvisation to come out of the inverted New Year’s Run in Miami. The band connected four distinct and disparate themes with notable fluidity once they jumped ship on “Disease’s” composed jam. Improvising at a higher level than at any time in the Sunshine State, Phish slowly deconstructed each section and blended it into the next, creating an incredibly dynamic flow of music. Deep within this “Disease,” the band descended into some of the most gorgeous music of the entire year—a stunning space of aural gold in which Trey spun grail melodies over an ethereal backdrop. Red worked out of this quiet midsection with some grittier leads that developed into a harder rock peak of the jam, putting an exclamation point on the trip before coming down via an abstract denouement.

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2. “Harry Hood” 7.1 II, Mansfield, MA

In a year that featured more open jams out of “Harry Hood” than any in history, the first is still the most impressive. After a set and a half that amounted to lay up lines, the band got their feet wet with “Ghost -> Weekapaug” and then absolutely took the plunge in this now-iconic “Harry Hood.” The band’s coherence and command as they bob and weave through open waters is nothing short of astounding. This jam is both exploratory and super-tight simultaneously, creating a truly epic piece of Phish.

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1. “Chalk Dust Torture” 7.13 II, New York, NY

This jam from the final night of Randall’s Island is the runaway jam of the year. This “Chalk Dust” is among the elite versions ever played and is a clinic in improvisation. Phish took us on a wild journey in this monstrosity, and each and every movement is impeccable. From the initial burst and melodic peak to the meditative, astral jazz finale, this near 30-minute epic is truly on the all-time level. This “Chalk Dust” was the centerpiece of a very special evening of Phish.

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