With tour having just concluded, there are so many thoughts swirling in my mind about the past three weeks and what this tour represented to the band and to us, the community. It was an amazing feeling to be back on the road with Phish again, and by all accounts, Phish was very happy to be back on the road with us. Throughout the tour, the one constant was the infectious energy that characterized each show. Exploding from both the stage and the audience, the enthusiasm that oozed from the band and community each night was intense. Everyone you saw- whether it was their first show or three hundredth- was giddy over the band’s first tour in five years and the limitless potential that lies in the future of Phish.
As expected, this tour was the next step of Phish’s “re-evolution” that started in Hampton, and will continue later this summer. The band’s improvisation became more and more adventurous as the tour progressed, as this tour was part a much larger process- certainly not a destination. Playing with an urgency and direction that was lacking in their last go-round, Phish used this early-summer run to get their sea legs back, re-acclimating themselves to the road in a whole new, sober, family-oriented atmosphere. This change of scenery was never more evident than with Alpine’s “Brother” opener, which brought the family vibe to the forefront of the stage- literally. Overall, the playing throughout this tour was incredibly encouraging, and bodes very well for late-summer and beyond.
The past three three weeks have also hinted at new musical directions that Phish is moving towards in their third incarnation. Rededicated to playing tight compositions, the band’s precision was one facet of their game that jumped out at almost every show. Sure, there were some flubs and mistakes- that was inevitable- but for most of the time, the band was very attentive to playing their songs carefully and without flaws. This held true for longer pieces such as “Divided Sky,” “Fluffhead,”and “Time Turns Elastic,” as well as the composed sections of larger vehicles like “Reba” and “YEM.” Throughout the tour, Phish tore through their most complex segments with a welcome accuracy. Akin to years past, many eclectic compositions were in regular rotation.
In comparison to the looser funk era of the late ’90s and the exploratory post-hiatus years, Phish’s improv was far more direct and to the point. Instead of letting jams settle or vamping over rhythmic patterns, this summer’s Phish dove straight into things with a purpose, also driving up the pace of their improvisation, resulting in creating shorter, more densely compact jams. The result of this musical shift- hinted at in March- was more rock-based jams and a virtual absence of whole band funk grooves. Even dance-staples like “Tweezer,” “Ghost,” and “Wolfman’s” saw themselves focused on whole-group builds and sustained peaks rather than laid-back grooves. This served as a reminder that Phish, at their core, is a rock and roll band.
As the tour progressed, we watched them become more and more comfortable taking musical risks, delving further into exploratory improvisation by the time they pulled into their final four nights. Yet, their intent on psychedelic experimentation was clear, while not omnipresent, in the tour’s first two shows with Fenway’s “Tweezer > Light,” and Jones Beach’s “Harry Hood.” Focused strongly on structured improv for most of the tour, the band crafted many standout type-I jams which helped them lie a foundation for the more exploratory playing that seeped its way into shows slowly but surely. A musical pattern emerged from their improv as well; the cultivation of a new sound. Defined by cohesive, directional jamming Phish often progressed from rock-based textures into dissonant and contrasting ambient improv, forming a dynamic flow to their jams. As we listen and re-listen to these shows, it will be interesting to see what other observations arise about the hybrid of new-school and old-school Phish.
Another piece of the emerging picture of Phish 3.0 is their array of new- and excellent- songs that were debuted over this tour. Some played in full rotation, and some played only once, it is clear that Phish has many new choices in their repertoire to pull from. Combined with their already vast catalog, the new rule for Phish shows is, “Anything goes!” All songs are fair game- from “Destiny Unbound” to “Lengthwise,” and from “The Connection” to “Crosseyed”- setlists now contain songs spanning the earliest years of Phish to the unreleased. New pieces, such as “Ocelot,” “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan,” “Kill Devil Falls,” and “Backwards Down the Number Line,” hopped right into rotation and began to grow in improvisation with each subsequent version. Others, like the “Sugar Shack” and “Twenty Years Later” only appeared once, leaving much to be discovered come August. Songs such as “Light,” “Let Me Lie,” and “Joy” fell in between, appearing a couple of times during the three week tour. Needless to say, Phish’s upcoming album could be their best yet, and we have barely scratched the surface of the many musical realms that these new pieces will take us- (see Bonnaroo’s “Kill Devil Falls” and “Light”). Never shy with pushing their new material, this could be the strongest new batch of songs we’ve heard from the band since the summer of ’97.
The next chapter of Phish has arrived. The next month-plus will give us time to give a closer look at all of these musical trends, specific jams and more. While certainly a building block for August and beyond, this June run had its fair share of incredible moments and magical Phishy rides. And by the looks of how tour ended- with the two most improvisational shows in the last three- the band is just beginning to hit their stride. With only a little over a month before their long-awaited return to Red Rocks, we finally have plenty of new Phish jams to keep our ears busy until then!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
6.19.09 Deer Creek Noblesville, IN < TORRENT LINK
My favorite show of June- by far.
I: Backwards Down the Number Line, AC/DC Bag, Limb By Limb, The Moma Dance, Water In The Sky, Split Open and Melt, Lawn Boy, The Wedge, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Connection*, Ocelot, Fluffhead
II: A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing > Drowned > Twist, Let Me Lie, Tweezer > 2001 > Suzy Greenberg, Possum
E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
Source: Schoeps CCM4V’S (din) > Lunatec V2 > Benchmark AD2K >
Sound Devices 722 (24/48) – Recorded by Z-Man
Check out Andy Gadiel’s guest blog on Headcount.org summarizing Phish’s massive presence on the internet in this new age!