Summer 2003: A Return to Glory

Phish 3.0 is around the corner.  In two months to the day, many of us will be traveling to the beautiful hamlet of Hampton, VA to set up camp for the weekend.  2009 is here, and with it, butterflies of excitement and a sense of anticipation is filtering through the community.  As we prepare our psyches and souls for brand new technicolor journeys, let’s take a look at some high points of Phish 2.0

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

In a comeback that lasted only a year and a half, Phish managed to play a fairly heavy schedule, creating some real monster shows within the year of 2003.  The winter run got the band back in the saddle, and though ripping from the onset in Los Angeles, once the band hit mid-tour in Cincinnati, they were once again firing on all cylinders.  Capping the tour with their renowned run through the Northeast, blowing up both Worcester and Nassau to the fullest, Phish was now prepared to undertake a full summer tour.

Summer ’03 is when the band hit their post-hiatus peak.  While Miami was outstanding, and the Summer ’04 run was even better, if not all-too bittersweet, Summer ’03 is when the band truly felt IT again.  Everything was back in full swing this summer.  The Sammies and veggie burritos flowed freely once again, and we went on a nostalgic tour of Phish’s most beloved summertime amphitheatres.  However, while the feeling of being in front of the Phish may have brought recollections of previous years, the music was most definitely evolving to a new place.

7.26.03 Atlanta

7.26.03 Atlanta

Integrating more exploratory effects and layered textures into their music, “space funk” took on a whole new meaning.  No longer as raw and unadulterated as ’97 and ’98, the band’s playing grew more refined and their jams took on completely new directions.  Exploring rhythmic psychedelia through both minimal groove and layered soundscapes, 2003′s music soon possessed a unique sound. Growing a host of new material from Round Room and beyond, songs like “Seven Below,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” and “Walls of the Cave” began to work themselves into rotation, along side more classic numbers.  Yet, more than anything musical, that innocent purity of Phish had returned.  As big as the scene may have been, the vibe in the shows was that of old.  Phishiness had returned, bringing the dynamic of the unknown to the stage each and every set.  The excitement was back, and every day you awoke with the question “What will happen tonight?” Everybody felt it.

As Phish traversed the nation, once again climbing up to Limestone, they left behind a trail of phenomenal music.  Songs were jammed out differently, new songs took center stage, and Phish vitality was reborn.  Reinvigorated, at least for the moment, the band was fully dedicated to their craft this summer, something that would be gone in just one year.  By the time the weekend at “IT” had concluded, Summer ’03 had taken a place next to the most well-loved tours in Phish history.

Below is a recap of seven epic jams from the Summer of ’03.  Because I only possess official SBD releases for these shows, I cannot post these songs on site.  However, you can download each track from phishows.com and put together the compilation yourself.  Unable to write about all the magnificent music that took place in the Summer ’03, I’ve included an additional list of Summer ’03 highlights.

“Seven Below” 7.13 The Gorge

The Gorge '03

The Gorge '03 - Brian Spiritsano

Hailed as one of the lasting high points of the summer’s improvisation, this late set jam on the second night of The Gorge signaled loud and clear that Phish was back and as good as ever.  This sublime improv began firmly rooted in the melodic template of the song before twisting into a more overtly psychedelic realm.  Trey’s post-hiatus uncompressed and dirty tone was on full display, typifying his more aggressive and edgy playing of ’03 and ’04.  Before too long, the band had left any semblance of the song’s structure in favor of more cosmic exploration.  Entering an eerie space, the band took the audience on a delicate stroll down a sinister and ambient musical roadway. When all was said and done, calls and texts flew around the nation about the most exciting and terrifying Phish jam since their return.

“Scents and Subtle Sounds” 7.30 E Center, Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

One of the most significant musical developments of the entire summer tour was the debut and evolution of Trey and Tom’s post-hiatus masterpiece, “Scents and Subtle Sounds.”  A stunning composition musing on the power of “The Moment,” this song instantly turned into a crowd favorite with its intricate sections, lyrical brilliance, and soaring improvisation.  The first versions remained contained within an uplifting musical structure, not dissimilar to “Harry Hood,” but once Camden rolled around, the song had developed into a legitimate improvisational vehicle.  This 30-minute performance steeped in blissful and surreal jamming, still exists as the defining version ever played.  Reaching psychedelic planes that would remain untouched by the song until the band returned to Camden the following summer, this rendition stood out immediately as both inspiring and exploratory at the same time.  Truly a jam for the ages, words can only go so far in describing its regal nature.

“Split Open and Melt” 7.22 Deer Creek

7.22.03 Deer Creek

7.22.03 Deer Creek

Another defining moment of the summer happened during the middle show of Deer Creek’s three night stand in the form of “Split Open and Melt.”  Forging the jam’s fierce trail, the band hopped into some driving patterns, immediately building musical momentum.  The thickness of the music beefened, as Trey’s exploration turned towards the dissonant and distorted.  Similar to much of his post-hiatus playing, his guitar’s dark path into the center of muddled dementia really stands out as the needle pulling the musical thread through the fabric of this jam.  A fantastically evil voyage that turned much slower about half way through, the entire band turned their vicious improv into something far more settled and grooving.  Taking the audience on a bass-led section of slow rhythmic playing, Phish created a multi-faceted monster out of this jam.  Watch out for evil seething guitar venom as the music descends into the center of the earth.

“Harry Hood” 7.25 Charlotte, NC

7.25.03 Charlotte, NJ

7.25.03 Charlotte, NJ

With all the changes in post-hiatus Phish, none were more intriguing than the emergence of “Harry Hood” as an enhanced jam vehicle.  No longer confined to its uplifting chord progression, Phish used their classic song to explore new uncharted places.  Gradually growing in depth from its first performance at Chula Vista to its colossal version at Camden, “Harry Hood” developed into something far greater than ever before.  “The Charlotte Hood,” would come to symbolize this transformation.  On this night, Phish created a twisting tale that passed through many segments of improv, moving far beyond the song’s conventions.  As the jam built upwards, it also built outwards, winding up in an uptempo groove-fest that you might expect from a “Bathtub Gin.”  Moving into a boisterous and shredding section, it was very easy to forget what song the band was playing this time.  A strong wave of distortion preceded the final peak of the song– a truly revolutionary version of “Harry Hood.”

“Twist” 7.30 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

Typifying the raunchy and abstract quality of post-hiatus psychedelia, this monster “Twist” opened the second set of one of Summer ’03′s best shows.  Gently sliding into the jam via regular “Twist” textures, the band soon painted with a much more aggressive palate.  Entering some of the most masterful improv of the post-hiatus era, this jam illustrated the crushing jaws of the monster that was ’03 Phish.  The band navigated an extended period of jamming that is not for the light-hearted, letting it all hang out in Southern Jersey.  This jam is one ’03′s finest moments.  Read more about this night here!

“Mr. Completely” 7.15 West Valley, Utah

7.15.093West Valley, Utah

7.15.03 West Valley, Utah

Pulling off yet another Utah surprise, Phish busted out one of Trey’s most popular solo jam vehicles, as most fans skipped the show and made their way from The Gorge directly to Sandstone.  Anyone making that decision missed one of the danciest jams to come out of post-hiatus Phish.  Taking off on a thirty-minute joy ride, the band lit up the Southwestern sky with musical fireworks.  Featuring some absolutely nasty playing, Trey led the band and audience alike through this exercise in groove.  The only time Phish has ever touched this song, it turned to gold.  A certain summer highlight, this one boomed though everyone’s rides for the rest of tour.

“Crosseyed and Painless” 7.29 Burgettstown, PA

The Gorge '03

The Gorge '03 - Dan Gareau

Perhaps the jam of the summer, this set opening odyssey was pure Phish.  Transcending the musical path of the Talking Heads cover, Phish used the song’s rhythm as a springboard to some purely spiritual music.  Hitting a subconscious musical stride, the band was clearly tapped in on this night, channeling IT directly to our ears and minds.  Showcasing a plethora of textures and feels, this jam was one of those where everything was in the right place.  The band chugged along the tracks as one, leaving a vibrant wake of beautiful psychedelia.

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OTHER GREAT SUMMER ’03 JAMS:

Wolfman’s > Scents (debut) 7.7 Phoenix, Harry Hood 7.8 Chula Vista, Ghost 7.12. The Gorge, Tweezer 7.17. Bonner Springs, Antelope 7.17 Bonner Springs, Disease > Catapult 7.18 Alpine Valley, Twist 7.18 Alpine Valley, YEM 7.19 Alpine Valley, Gumbo 7.22 Deer Creek, Scents and Subtle Sounds 7.23 Deer Creek, Antelope 7.23 Deer Creek, Drowned 7.25 Charlotte, Bowie 7.25 Charlotte, Piper 7.26 Atlanta, Ghost 7.27 Raleigh, Harry Hood 7.31 Camden, IT (a lot)

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE JAMS FROM SUMMER ’03?  RESPOND IN COMMENTS BELOW!

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SUMMER ’09 RUMOR MILL: With Rothbury just confirmed for 2009, don’t be surprised to see Phish make a two-night headlining appearance a la Bonnaroo.  I heard about this far before the festival was firmed up, and I think it is likely.  From what I’ve heard, Rothbury was a great time last year.

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

9.11.00 Great Woods, Mansfield, MA < LINK

Great Woods Amphitheatre

Great Woods Amphitheatre

In a year that gets dogged on all too much, there are a bunch of fabulous shows. This installment from the first night of Great Woods is one of them.  With a perfectly flowing second set that never stopped, Phish slaughtered the ending segment of “Piper > What’s the Use > YEM.”  A unique collection of songs comprise the interesting first set on a night that stood out as one of the strongest from the first leg of tour.

I: Roadrunner*, The Moma Dance, Rift, Brain and Robert, Vultures, Horn, Beauty of My Dreams, Ya Mar, Stash

II: Chalkdust Torture > Twist > Piper > What’s the Use? > You Enjoy Myself

E: Good Times Bad Times

*(Jonathan Richman and the) Modern Lovers cover from the album “The Modern Lovers”

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29 Responses to “Summer 2003: A Return to Glory”

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  1. Thunder Ridge Says:

    No mention of 7-9-03 Shoreline?! Possibly the best all around Post Hiatus Show? YEM opener. Surreal Gin closer. The Twist->Scents is erie improv at it’s best… and then they follwed it up with Mike’s->Hydrogen->Weekapaug.

  2. tubedss Says:

    Wolfmans,Waves,Tweezer,YEM from ATL was sweet.

  3. tom rigas Says:

    the possum and friday from deer creek 7-22-03 are hot fire. The possum rages with fury and friday is an introspective beast with some might fine high wailing points

  4. Wilson Says:

    Charlotte Gin… not bad at all. Last great jam i saw them play…
    until Asheville. ;)

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