Phish’s Last Stand

Something was in the air at SPAC on those June nights five years ago.  In the woods of upstate New York, Phish would throw down the gauntlet one more time before calling it quits.  Sure, Coney Island was a great time with the huge movie broadcast, the baseball field, and Jay-Z’s appearance, but musically, nothing from ’04 can compare to SPAC.  Deer Creek and Alpine would go on to provide us with fabulous music and moments, but it was in the intimacy the New York forest where the band last dipped their golden ladle.  On June 19th and 20th, Phish delivered the last opuses of their career.

6.19.04 (Mark Terry)

6.19.04 SPAC (Mark Terry)

The 2004 summer run was surrounded by a bittersweet aura.  Knowing this was gonna be it, we wanted to savor every last drop, but that unspoken feeling of imminent loss lingered.  We didn’t want to mourn something that we still had, but the knowledge that this would be the end of the road wouldn’t disappear.  After two exciting nights in Coney Island, the caravan headed north to Saratoga Springs for the first time since Summer ’95.  Following issues with management, the band was not invited back after until nine years later under new ownership.  The whole community knew that these shows would be special, but we didn’t know the half of it.  Once Phish hopped onstage in the beautiful northern setting, the magic hose would be turned on, and left on full blast for two straight days.  Phish would tap into the universal spirit more coherently than any other time in 2004, providing the audience with two final nights of cosmic communication to hold in our hearts.

While all four sets of this weekend were out of hand, this is a story about the second sets of 6.19 and 6.20, two of the greatest, if not the greatest, post-hiatus frames of music created by the band.  Whether it was the light at the end of the tunnel or just the the inspiration of performing their final run, Phish dug in and played their souls out.

"A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing"

"A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing"

As the lights dropped signifying the start of the second set, we assumed our places.  After a stellar first half, highlighted by an opening “Reba” and a sublime ambient jam bringing “Walls of the Cave” into “David Bowie,” we knew that what was about to drop would be special, yet how special, we didn’t know.  Launching the set with the opening drum beats of Undermind‘s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” Phish chose one of their most sought after new songs to sculpt into a masterpiece.  As soon as the song started, everyone knew the jam would be huge, but the sheer perfection of it would be uncovered slowly.  After an abbreviated first-set “album version” at Coney Island, this second-set opener would clearly take a different course.


SPAC '04

Following Trey’s Hendrix-esque guitar solo, the jam began in earnest, and one could tell it was on.  The twisting and sinister music soon settled into a space where the whole band hopped into a collective jam rather than merely supporting Trey.  This is where the shit began to go down.  Improvising on the future epic for the first and only time, Phish created a menacing, yet uplifting, jam that would immediately vault into the annals of Phish history.  The exuberance of hearing the band absolutely slaughter this new favorite, combined with their absolutely locked and flawless playing, resulted in one of my top Phish experiences ever.

14071878106_0_albThe band connected several directed sections of improv, building a monstrosity.  By merging hard groove with searing evil psychedelia, Phish created a beast we had never seen before.  About half-way through the jam, the band snapped into some collaborative playing that set the table for the unbelievably spiritual jamming that would follow. This is where the magic began to blossom at an alarming rate, infusing the menacing piece with a sense of redemption and hope.  The band garnished a serious Pink Floyd vibe at this point, creating a beautifully  intense soundscape that was led to a cathartic release by Trey’s surreal and triumphant melodic licks.  This jam defines epic; for those looking to start listening to post-hiatus, start here.  As the only improvisational version of the song, Phish went all out and created a masterpiece.



As the twenty-minute jam closed, Phish moved directly into the opening of a superbly unique 32-minute “Piper.”  Using the popular jam vehicle to blow out any of the song’s conventions, the band took the momentum from their opening jam and kept it rolling.  As “Piper’s” scorching path left a wake of fire in its trail, it wasn’t long before the band broke down the jam into a more percussive place, stirring more musical creativity and diversity into the mix.  Bass-led grooves began to boom as Trey initiated some highly-addictive rhythm licks; where were we headed?  The pace slowed a bit, allowing for more spacious improv from all band members.  Following minutes of this polyrhythmic playing, Phish settled the music down again, creating an ominous tone before dropping into an “Tweezer Reprise” themed jam.  Starting with slow infectious patterns, the band built a completely unique jam into a straight dance-a-thon.  Gripping us with their imagination, the entire venue was soon bumping to the otherworldly rhythms.  Infusing an edgier tone to the music, the band built towards the Tweezer-laced peak.  This was heaven; one of those times where you danced so hard you knew not where you were, and you smiled so hard that your face muscles began to cramp.  This was IT, plain and simple, and everyone knew it.  IT was unmistakable.  With Trey wailing with the enjoyment of 1995, we all seemed to jump into a time warp to a place where things were firing on all cylinders again.  Were they really stopping in a month?  That didn’t make any sense now.

SPAC '04 (Mike Piera)

SPAC '04 (Mike Piera)

As if the “Reprise” peak wasn’t high enough, the band eventually morphed into the third section of this “Piper.”  Peeling away some of the layers of sonic residue, the band stripped the music down to some heavy drum and bass patterns.  Soon Trey and Page jumped into the mix and the band was locked into another infectious piece of improv, this time a down-tempo bulbous groove.  At this point, everyone’s minds were shattered to smithereens.  We were 40 minutes into the set and the entire time had been filled with some of the best Phish improvisation ever.  Before we knew it, we were coaxed into a funky and accented rhythm that delivered us right into the bouncing beginning of “Jibboo.”

3176382207_0d3c0e8ddaAt this point, we all knew we were in the grips of the Phish on an incredibly special night of music.  The jam stemming from “Jibboo” provided the us with the tight and uplifting candy-grooving that was much-needed after such a long and ominous period of improv.  Returning our brains to some sense of normalcy, this “Jibboo” was placed at the perfect point in the set, bridging the dark and the light.  With none of their impeccable tightness lost, Phish lept from their melodic relief into a late-set “Limb By Limb” that turned into yet another indelible 6.19 memory.  Transcending the general path of Limb jams, this version blossomed with patience and beauty into some truly delicate Phish.  As the jam reached its midpoint, the music gained some swing and built into something far greater than an average Limb peak.  In a geyser-like eruption of melody, Trey led the band towards spiritual apex that echoed of The Grateful Dead’s rolling melodic peak of “The Eleven.”  This was pure hose, and it was good. Perfection, beauty, and symmetry are all words that could describe this musical arrival, putting an exclamation point to this set of utter insanity.

With the classic set closer of “Cavern,” everyone’s brains came back to earth and realized the enormity of the Phish they had just experienced.  This was a perfect set; the type that didn’t come around all that often in the post-hiatus period.  As the set ended and Phish came back for an encore, there was nothing they could do to upstage what had just happened. Fully cognizant of this, they elected for one of the classiest encores in their repertoire, “Wading In the Velvet Sea.”  Reserved for post-epic situations just like this one, Velvet Sea provided the perfect reflective denouement to a show that no one would ever forget.

And this was only night one.  To be continued…


ironmountain_archive2ARCHIVE REMINDER: I know there are a lot of new readers lately, and I wanted to remind everyone that there is over 150 articles archived on Phish Thoughts.  You can use the orange “tag cloud” on the bottom right of the page to search by category (right above this paragraph), or you can search for any term using the search bar on the top of the page.  The search bar is especially useful when looking for particular show downloads.  You can always just click on a particular month of the archive, and all the articles should appear chronologically.  Also, the entire “Miner’s Picks” series is linked at the right side of the page as well, for quick access to the goods.  All links are always active.  If you find a broken link, please let me know via email.  Thanks so much, and enjoy!



Markthalle - Hamburg, GR

Markthalle - Hamburg, GR

7.23.96 Markthalle, Hamburg, GR < LINK

Dipping back into Phish’s oft-overlooked Europe ’96 tour, this show was their last headlining gig, and a fan favorite from the tour,  A standout show from start to finish, this should fill in a gap in many collections.

I: AC/DC Bag > Foam, Theme From the Bottom, Gumbo, Scent of a Mule* > Down With Disease > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Stash, Hello My Baby

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Runaway Jim, Loving Cup, Sparkle, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bike, Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Rocky Top

*Contained an a capella solo by Trey.

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120 Responses to “Phish’s Last Stand”

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  1. hairy pood Says:

    THANK YOU MR. MINOR,,,, i hit this whole tour, and as a younger phan (25 yrs) I appreciate your respect for this particular SPAC run. living in burlington at the time, i felt the quite unavoidable urge to see the boys close to home. then i read the dates. 1st night of SPAC was my birthday; you can fill in the blanks,,,, got there minus a ticket, first night was a double doozy; had the b’day sign, and all, ended up hoppin the fence on my 2md attempt on the 19th, losing my glasses to security, spending the weekend at Lee’s (sans vision)
    and loving every second of it. i ‘m pretty sure it was cavern first night and piper second that got me. but i remember great bowie. 1st night of alpine was, indisputably, greatest bowie of the tour. i love you all!!!!

  2. Al Says:

    The PIPER at SPAC 2004 was epic! Even Trey said so! By the way, many many people hate Coventry musically – that is true for the composed songs and parts – but check out some of the longer Jams. The ACDC Bag Jam was magic – also the “steamy” Split open & melt Jam is often overlooked.
    2003-04 was very focused on Trey’s guitarplaying. I hope for 2009, that the Jams will feature (and have a focus on) each of the instruments, so that we strive through musical passages & parts that will highlight the incredible musicality of all 4 guys!

  3. T Phish Says:

    Thanks for another well written piece. So glad to hear others’ thoughts on SPAC in 04. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about second night.

  4. Wax Banks Says:

    Brief explanation of what makes the ‘Limb By Limb’ in question special (i.e. not ‘swing'(?!)): in a set full of big anthemic jams, the ‘LxL’ unexpectedly broke out of its chord progression (at Trey’s insistence), from its usual seesawing I-IV to a ‘Mango’-like I-IV-VIIb-IV. And instead of reining it in as they might have on a less (blessedly) indulgent night, the boys just kept going higher and higher. That was the theme of the night: how big and broad can we take it. Unquestionably the best set of 2004 to my ears, on the back of two tunes from 1997.

  5. Edison Says:

    nice to see some post hiatus love! the magic never left this band. sure there were some issues in version 2.0 but they consistently delivered each time i saw them in 03 and 04. i been enjoying some trips down memory lane lately with some earlier shows…but i find myself still yearning for some of those newer songs that never fully got a chance to grow and evolve like many old standards did.

    one of the things i love about this band is it’s different for everybody. i once had a buddy told me he figured he might as well hit the bathroom because they were playing ‘Whats The Use’. i was shocked and knew then we just didn’t look for the same thing in the same places from this band despite our mutual love of seeing them. nobody knows for certain which song or when and how it may hit you. a couple surprises for me personally pot hiatus were the Albany ’03 Thunderhead and the Mansfield ’04 Waves.

    looking forward to finding myself lost again in hampton.

  6. c0wfunk Says:

    I missed a lot of post hiatus phish. Before hiatus, I’ve heard every notable show and jam out there, with a few exceptions. By 2003 I had moved into a new phase of my life where phish seemed a little less relevant. I’m fully back into late 90s mode right now and have been running back through the post hiatus stuff I missed. Last week I had a 2003 fest — listened to IT, . I’m starting to wonder why this era gets such a bad rap. Yeah, maybe some of the composed sections are a little rough (go listen closely to some earlier stuff and you may be surprised how many miffs are there!), but the jams are a whole new level of phishy. I have really gotten into the post-hiatus jam sound and can’t get enough. These will be a great segue into my review of 2004, can’t wait, thanks!

    I agree, Al, coventry gets an undeserved bad rap. Trey just wasn’t into many of the composed tunes, he didn’t even seem to want to try at many points (seems obvious to me why…) but the jams are amazing. (the seven below comes to mind, and the “bruno” fun) I went to alpine that summer and coventry and came away seriously impressed with the quality of the improvisation. Trey, Page, Fish, and Mike were so locked together it was like they could anticipate what the others would do in reaction to a jam and they just knew where to go and how to take it to whatever level they desired. They were composing improvisational fugues on the fly like no musicians I have ever seen before or since. I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next. It will be great, I have no doubt about that.

  7. brandofunk Says:


    I’m also back in that old feeling mode and can’t believe I am going to see PHISH in such a short amount of time. I think the new jams are going to be to a high degree tight!!

    But as far as the overall experience were going to be apart Gordon goin’ to be dropping Bombs, Trey nailing all the hooks, page breakout solos’s and of course fish rocking the phat beats.

    Side note on Trey and hitting the easy and hard parts. In brooklyn, trey’s comeback show, once I heard him kill the riff on Night Speaks, i knew if/when phish came back around it would be on!!

  8. DLewis Says:

    Yes kid! very well said and lookin forward part II. The SpacAttack is some of the best gravy ever. The vibe was out all weekend long, staring us all smack in the face, leaving mouths agape.

    The interesting thing I heard about the venue at these shows is that there are underground streams that run underneath the venue. Many musicians who play there have apparently talked about the water spirit which exists there. This isnt surprising since its called Saratoga Springs, but I think that this adds to the mystique and intrigue of the venue and the magic that happens there. Apparently people as far back as the Indians, who were much more in touch with the Earth than we are, revered and worshiped the waters in and around the area where SPAC is. The waters were known for their healing powers and rich mineral make up.
    People far and wide travel there to bathe, drink, and be enriched by the powers of water. This is just what I was told combined with a little bit of research i did after those shows, so take it for what it is….but I buy it.

    Bottom line, I think we all learned that weekend there is literally something in the water there because that shit was fuckin geyser!

  9. bhizzle Says:

    First night at SPAC was my last show and I never was a real big Piper fan until that night. Lordy, lordy. This post and the comments reminded me of how the new songs, Walls of the Cave and Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, were played and how I honestly felt the greatness of these two post-hiatus songs. I am soooo looking forward to hearing them this tour and how the band will light them up to levels I know they can reach due to them practicing and getting the feel for them. Song I heard the Ocean Sing is such a bad ass song. It is probably one of the more sinister sounding songs they’ve released out the last two albums and I’ve always dug the more evil sounding tunes (fav Phish album – Rift) I am trying to think of that track on Undermind that is instrumental – Maggie’s Jam or some shit? That is one evil souding tune. On the other side though I really love Army of One.

  10. WALSH Says:

    It is refreshing to hear some positivity about Phish, esp when coming to the aid of post hiatus Phish. These two nights were very special in SPAC to say the least. Having done both Coney Island, and having tix for both Great Woods, Camden & Coventry…I was looking at an unreal summer of goodbyes to such a large part of my life. I had no idea whilst dancing and partying in the woods of New York, the levels of goodbye I would reach.

    After such a surreal time at SPAC, I was ready to load up the car and ride on out to the Midwest and just do the whole thing, when the news hit like a ton of bricks. My father, who had been battling cancer triumphantly for the last 4 years, was dying. They did not know how long, but it was coming. Just like that, the innocence and cheer was gone from the Summer and I was staring at a grave task.

    Over the next month or so, I would occasionally say that I wasn’t going to the shows in August, to which he would wholeheartedly agree with my mother and tell me that I should go…he liked to live vicariously through my travels and excursions with Phish & The Disco Biscuits. So, after a while, I made up my mind to go. However, on the morning of August 7th, my mentor, my best friend, my father, passed away.

    I pleaded with friends to go to the shows and enjoy, yet they all attended the wake & funeral…not that I was surprised(thanks guys). I just couldn’t do it. My mom finally just yelled at me to get up and out for the Coventry shows. She told me that he knew how important Phish had been to me, and told her to make sure i go. Whether that happened or not, I won’t know…but I can definitely hear him saying that and hoping to hear one more story from the road.

    These SPAC shows were the last of an era for me in so many ways, that I can never get tired of hearing them. To think of the carefree weekend that was; the calm before the storm, if you will, makes me happy and sad all at the same time. It is truly remarkable the way music can hold such a strong tie to ones past.

    Thanks for listening, and for providing such a positive place to share our stories about Phish.


  11. AbePhroman Says:

    SPAC was the bomb. Love that Piper. And the Vermont Pepper guy I bought hot sauce from.

  12. Tadcaster Says:

    Nice! Onto the SPAC ’04 review and link (?).

    I’ve Heard the Legend, have yet to hear the music…

  13. vtsnowboarder802 Says:

    I have dubbed 6.19 the night of ‘Piper-prise’. One of, if not my most, favorite jams of all time.

  14. camman Says:


    You have no idea how stunned i am at your offer. Email me all the details at both of the following addresses:

    one is my home account and the other is school account. I think maybe only you and Miner know how bad i want to go to Hampton. If i have the tickets… i will find a way to be there. We will talk more man.

    CNN: Phish Noob gets miracle tickets…. Parties ilike it’s 1999 all over again

  15. A.Hill Says:

    Great descripton of the Piper sir. Best Piper ever imo. Keep up the good work!!! Thank you.

  16. BingosBrother Says:

    I’m with you Bhizzle. I love that evil shit the most too. It’s just so subversive that something that evil and nasty can be so beautiful. Also love Army of One, was superstoked to hear it at DC that year.

  17. shpongleyez Says:

    Just one correction: not the final opuses of their career!!!


  18. lanser Says:

    i was not able to make it to the june run. but i remember talking to the congressman after spac and he said something like the jams at spac could save the world. not an exact quote. but you get the idea. spac=sick!

  19. Kevin Palermo Says:

    I could not agree more, I remember standing there next to my x girilfriend and saying to her, ” Are the playing the best shit we have ever heard togther or am i just really high?” I saw most post hiatus shows, everything from IT to Coventry and for sure the first three songs of that second set 6-19 were epic, and Minor described it pretty perfectly. Check out the Twist from Philly 11/29/03, The Thrill Is Gone w BB, Haleys Comet From, East Rutherford, NJ 2/24/03, AC/DC from Greatwoods 8/10/04, 46 Days from IT, and GUMBO from the 03 Deer Creek run. These are some of the Phinest moments post hiatus. There are many others as well these are just some of my favorite. Can’t wait to see everyone out there on tour. My name is Kevin, I will be selling good healty clean food on the road, making the switch from ranch and italian chicken wraps, to Vegatarian Red Bean and Rice Wraps with sauteed mixed veggies, I drive a red Explorer with SC plates. Anyone comes by who uses this site will get a very Phriendly meal. Anyway yeah, cant wait!!!!!!!!

  20. camman Says:

    i hate to admit this, but the only shows from ’04 ive heard are the the first night of brookyln, and the curtain from convertry… im guessing im missing some good stuff, but ive always really like 2003 and never got in ’04 too much

  21. guyforget Says:

    bury coventry someplace far far away…..

  22. camman Says:

    i have.. i cried after that Curtain.. and only needed to hear it once. That was two years ago when for a while i had lost hope they would com back.. and i had to know how it all ended…

  23. guyforget Says:

    that’s why The Curtain will have the cover torn off it at Hampton, they’re not stupid. oh, that’s right, you’ll be there……:)

  24. spideyguy0 Says:

    Funny, I’ve been listening to that Curtain a lot lately. I heard that song (and the rest of Coventry) live over the internet on 8/15/04 when I was first getting into the band, and always thought that was the closest I’d ever get to seeing Phish in my life, and then never really listened to that song again. I listened to the rest of Coventry and to other Curtains plenty of times, but never to that Curtain, that “last” song again until Hampton was announced and I knew I was going to finally get to see Phish. Even though I missed out on Hampton tickets and don’t have any confirmed tickets for summer yet I’ve probably listened to that Curtain 15 to 20 times since 10/1/08, cause I know it’s not the end anymore. I will see Phish.

  25. camman Says:

    haha when do you think they’ll break out the curtain at hampton…

    im sorry but im still in denial that im actually going.. im not sure it quite set in yet… there are still MANY obstacles to overcome for me to boogie on march 6th

    1207 hours!!!!!!!!!!

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