While the second sets have been the primary focus of all the summer shows, there were a few first sets that stood out among the rest. While Phish traditionally uses the first set to showcase their songs, and the second set, their improv, in any legit first set there is usually some overlap. The first sets this summer followed a more old-school contour, featuring longer setlists and standalone jams, while most often feeling like warm-ups for second half adventures. But a few times during the second leg, the first set popped off a bit more. Below are four first sets, in chronological order, that left a greater musical wake, gave a little bit extra, and set up the second set with a bit more gusto than usual.
Red Rocks 8.1
I: AC/DC Bag, The Curtain (With), Mound, Gotta Jibboo, Guyute, Punch You in the Eye, Tube, Alaska, Run Like An Antelope
Always a great opener, “Bag” kicked off the show with energy and a hint of funk before everyone was blindsided by “The Curtain (With).” Arguably the most emotional moment of the summer, the band slaughtered the composition that had slaughtered them back at Coventry. As the band gelled majestically, Trey played incredibly poignant leads into the Colorado heavens. A one-of-a-kind catharsis, we all lived what we had imagined for years- and the past was behind us. But so much more importantly, the band stepped up to the moment,and put the past behind them. The first song after such an episode would be….”Mound!” Played only twice since 1996, Phish ripped through the old-school piece, and it sounded as fresh as any new song played all summer. The “Jibboo” that followed felt like a celebratory groove-fest that ushered in the future. “Punch” and “Tube” flooded the set with plenty of super-sized dance patterns before “Antelope” sprinted to the finish line. Taking the jam out to a more dissonant intensity before returning to the peak, this was the first of several menacing versions throughout August.
Darien Lake 8.13
I: Sample In A Jar, Dinner and a Movie, Wolfman’s Brother, My Friend, My Friend, Possum, Farmhouse, Sugar Shack, Brian And Robert, David Bowie, Bathtub Gin, How High The Moon*, Golgi Apparatus
Though this frame embodies the “set of songs” structure, it featured energetic playing throughout, some choice rarities, and was anchored by three solid jams. “Wolfman’s” moved through liquid grooves to an expressive peak- my personal favorite of August; and at the end of the set came a somewhat unprecedented combo of “Bowie” and “Bathtub.” These three pieces- with “Bowie” being the jam of the first half- carried the improvisational weight of the set, but there were elements of surprise as well. After “Sample” innocently opened, Phish dropped into the ever-elusive “Dinner and a Movie.” Played only seven times since 1994, any time you hear the dark instrumental, it is always a treat. And with their 3.0 precision, the band nailed the eighth. Phish sandwiched “Wolfman’s” with a second ominous bust-out in “My Friend, My Friend.” In addition to a well played “Sugar Shack,” the spoken tribute to Les Paul and “How High the Moon” also made this set unique. It may look routine on paper, but that’s why you can’t judge a show by its setlist.
I: Punch You in the Eye, AC/DC Bag, NICU, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Birds Of A Feather, Lawn Boy, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Middle Of The Road, Character Zero
One of the most scorching first sets of tour, the band came out with a string of oldies that set the tone for the entire show. An exciting “Punch” had the pavilion blowing up all over the place before the ushers began asking for tickets during “NICU.” But the biggest surprise of the set came with the heavy drop into “Colonel Forbin’s” for the first time since Vegas 2000. We finally had returned to Gamehendge- a land that seemed somehow inaccessible during the post-hiatus era. A gorgeous run through “Mockingbird” capped the ’80s portion of the set, and the band fell right into the only “Birds”of August. The jam was fuel-injected, soaring through fast-paced textures, and bursting at the seams with snarling energy. Taking their improv into an aggressive ‘type 1.5’ territory, Phish used “Birds” to set up the most outstanding excursion of the set- “Stash.” With a darkened psychedelia, the band got in touch with the ethos of the song, leaving its more melodic interludes on the west coast. The highlight of the set- in my opinion- this “Stash” has flown way under the radar. A vacuum solo, a Mike song, and “Character Zero” to close- a great first set.
1: Crowd Control, Kill Devil Falls, The Sloth, Beauty Of A Broken Heart, Axilla I, Foam, Esther, Ha Ha Ha, Party Time, Tube, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Strange Design, Time Turns Elastic
Sometimes a first set can ride on sheer energy and well played songs- and it always helps if most of the songs haven’t popped up yet on tour. Thus was the case with Merriweather’s opening frame, featuring seven late-summer debuts, and a couple songs that has only been played once. This version of “Beauty of a Broken Heart” really hits a groove and foreshadows what I think can be a solid vehicle for good-times dance music. And of course there world premiere of “Party Time.” A song that is sure to ingrain itself in Phish lore, the debut of the funk was nothing short of delightful. With huge smiles and great energy, Phish delivered a satisfying first course.
OTHER LEGITIMATE FIRST SETS: 7.31 Red Rocks, 8.7 Gorge, 8.8 Gorge (We’ve talked about these a lot though!)
Jam of the Day:
This supremely psychedelic segment of music saw an early, improvisational “Disease” morph into a brand new “Free,” creating a forward-looking highlight of an unreal set at SPAC. These jams gets into seriously spacey and mind-expanding territory- incredibly engaging jamming in my book. If you’ve never heard this, listen…now! Classic Summer ’95.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.3.94 Mullins Center, Amherst, MA < Torrent
11.3.94 Mullins Center, Amherst, MA < Megaupload
Coming at you via reader request is an early show in the huge month of November ’94. With a focus on fast-paced psychedelia, Phish was drooling with hunger on the verge of stardom. A great relic from an intense era in Phish history.
I: Fee, The Divided Sky, Wilson, Peaches en Regalia, Glide, Split Open and Melt, Dog Faced Boy, Sparkle, Down With Disease
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Simple > Poor Heart, Julius, You Enjoy Myself > Big Black Furry Creature From Mars, Harry Hood, Cavern
E: My Sweet One*, Nellie Cane*, Amazing Grace, Highway to Hell
Source: DAUD/OTS AKG460B/ck61 > Custom Pre-amp > Teac DAP-20 @48kHz (Taper – Dave Flaschner)Tags: 2009, Summer '09