Fire In the First

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

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

8.1 - Red Rocks (D.Vann)

8.1 - Red Rocks (D.Vann)

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

Darien Lake (H. Ainsworth)

Darien Lake (H. Ainsworth)

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.


Hartford 8.14

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

"Punch / The Landlady" - Hartford (T.Hill)

"Punch / The Landlady" - Hartford (A.Hill)

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.


Merriweather 8.15

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

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

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!)


Winged music noteJam of the Day:

Disease > Free” 6.26.95 II


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.



11.3.94 Mullins Center, Amherst, MA < Torrent

11.3.94 Mullins Center, Amherst, MA < Megaupload

November '94 Pollack

November '94 Pollock

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)

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281 Responses to “Fire In the First”

  1. Robear Says:

    Giving ‘Darien’ a re-listen for the first time since hearing it live.

    For starters, there was a TON of room in the pavilion. Made for a great dance fest! During ‘Bowie’, I’m dancing right by a kind brother, and I offer to share my wares with him. He turns to me and says, with tears starting to swell, “I can’t believe how awesome this is! This is my first show since Coventry”. I said, “Welcome back, this is their organic sound”. It was a great phan moment for me, and what I offered him had no formaldehyde.

    Awesome, awesome ‘Drowned’. Carried the ‘west coast’ vibe. One thing I miss from ’94 and ’95, the 4 minute ‘Prince Caspian’. This is a song I need to embrace a little better in its current form. It fit the night though, as I felt like the shows theme was songs from about 15 years ago, due to Trey’s wedding anniversary.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    lol, word albert

    for the record I only listen to MP3s for convenience when on the move – otherwise lossless all the way – my puzzlement with peeps who say they can’t hear the diff between full quality and MP3 is as deep as yours is with digital heretics in general

    There are some key albums which 100% no question have never sounded as good on CD, even after remasters, as the heavy vinyl LPs – Dafos for one, one of the great sonic experiences anyone can have is to hear that LP on a good stereo, your perception of what’s possible will be altered forever – Santana’s Lotus for another.

  3. HarryHood Says:

    Trust me, I like to smoke as much as the next guy, but the formaldehydle Darien buds freaked me out. There is nothing worse than the feeling you have the moment you realize that something just isn’t quite right.

  4. beepaphone Says:

    I was VERY close to moving there in this spring but I didn’t really like the current job market. Might give it another shot in a couple years. I lived in Colorado after college, but its back in Indiana now. Hard to go from mountains back to flatland.

  5. voopa Says:

    I’ve only ever had Santana’s Lotus on CD. You mean it gets better?

  6. EL Duderino Says:

    @ AW

    Did you read the post in the link I put up earlier today on the whole process they went through? I thought it was informative and impressive. i would like one of those box sets. For me, probably the stereo box

  7. Robear Says:

    See, that ‘Darien’ version of ‘Caspian’ was short and sweet.

  8. albert walker Says:

    Next time I’m in the northwest we will have to do a head to head test on some classics and taste that local OG

  9. VTsnowboarder802 Says:

    ahhh I’ve missed this board…

  10. snigglebeach Says:


    Thanx for that Mullins center show. My buddy will be impressed it was that easy. Awesome that listen to everyone on here.

    I agree with the night driving too. It can be tough, you need at least 2 dependable, trustworthy people to pass it off. I left from Bonnaroo right after last set to drive back to Boston. told my buddy to get 4 good hours of sleep in back so that he would be ready to take over. last hour was tough, tried hard to make it out of the state of Tennessee, to no avail. 5 switches and 21 hours later we were back to our beds. and we drove right out of Bonnarroo. I have hit festival exit traffic before, and it is way less fun than entrance traffic.

  11. albert walker Says:

    Given their audience and the technology of the time, for much of the Beatles’ run, the band themselves considered the mono mix as the “real” version of the record and devoted more of their attention to it. Mono mixes were prepared first with the involvement of the band, and in some cases, George Martin and EMI engineers completed stereo remixes of the albums later, after the group had left the studio. So mono, first off, presumably hews closer to the intentions of the Beatles themselves. It’s what the Beatles had in mind, their vision of the records.

  12. EL Duderino Says:

    Except for Sgt. Pepper!!!!!

  13. whole tour! Says:

    thought this was interesting and relevant:

    Radiohead to UK government planning to cut off internet access to file sharers: “We’ll give you a war you won’t believe”

    go radiohead!

  14. EL Duderino Says:

    Fuck RadioHead!!! They can give me Head.

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    @beep, job market sucks here worse even than most places for sure. If you’re still thinking about it, what do you do? Just in case I hear of something. Does happen.

    @albert, you’re on. last batch was substandard for what we’re used to, I’d say merely average, he was mortified – too much time away during the summer – next one should be off the hook, awaiting arrival of the “romulan army” LOL

    when I was 17 in NC I’d have paid top dollar for this and loved it, now I’m a spoiled west coaster for sure

    @Harry, one of the ghetto cats in Greensboro talked me into trying that Love Boat when I was young…bad trip city…as joe piscopo would say, “I smoked love boat once….once.”

  16. fat bastard Says:

    oh oh not another radiohead argument brewing?

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    @El Dude, I think that quote had them on the side of good, not evil

  18. Little Buddy Says:

    “Fuck RadioHead!!! They can give me Head.” Really? I don’t get the hate at all… Its fine if you don’t like the music, that’s a matter of taste, but at least they care about the people that buy and share music, right? You know, LIKE US!

  19. fat bastard Says:

    el dude has knee-jerk reactions

  20. albert walker Says:

    El Dude

    Nice reaction
    The only person that can cause that much hatred in me is Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa, or SCI

  21. Mr. Completely Says:


  22. EL Duderino Says:

    Your right Mr. C, I miss understood. Funny how that that set the bells a ringin’ LOL

  23. Leo Weaver Says:

    the dude’s nervous about his impending move south.

    @Mr. C…couldn’t imagine the drive from Hampton to C’lotte in the snow. Hampton>NC (along Hwy 58) is bad enough on a warm sunny March day, would hate to know I was making it during a blizzard. Damn southern snow and ice is serious shit…WAY worse than the kind up north lol

  24. EL Duderino Says:

    The good thing about where I’m moving is that there are so many universities there to bring in some diversity, intelligence, artistry and music to the area. There are much worse places to live. And yes I’m a little nervous.

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    black ice, leo. black ice.

    to top it off, Charlotte was about half as good a show as Hampton – but then Hampton was amazing – JGB with Hornsby, one of the best shows of the year….it was so blissful I was in a perfect driving state afterwards…needed to be, too. Charlotte had its moments, but wasn’t close. Still worth it, but just barely.

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