A Total Transformation

5.27.2011 (Kevin Deutsch)

So let’s be serious here…what the fuck is going on? Where are we? What year is this? Because last night was as good as Phish has sounded in memory. Taking risks throughout both sets like a band we once knew—and have become staggeringly intimate with over the past two nights—Phish let us in on a secret: they are as good, if not better, than at any point in their career. Having their way with improvisation like they have in their best of days, the band has all of a sudden completely changed the game. And as a result of the first two shows in Bethel—two nights that have been nothing short of revelations—fans all over the country are now changing their summer plans, perhaps putting a little extra on their credit card than anticipated, in order to catch more of the greatest show on earth—Phish 2011.

Completely reinventing themselves in front of our eyes, from the moment they stepped on stage, the band commanded last night’s show with a passion, enthusiasm, and most of all—jams of all shapes and sizes—in a complete package of the likes we haven’t come close to seeing during this era. The Gorge? Miami? The Greek? Alpine? Utica? MSG? Psshaw….improvisational child’s play compared to the unbridled jamming of Saturday night’s spectacle. Since Hampton, Phish hadn’t come close to playing a show as chock-full of virtuoso, full-throttled and wide-open jamming as they did last night—and it was only the second night of summer tour! So do your reassessing, change your plans, and get to the amphitheatre nearest you! But enough about how we have a new phenomenon on our hands…what the hell happened last night?

5.28.2011 (Masthay)

It all started with a third-song “Cities.” As the band dripped into the funk, Trey layered a menacing guitar lead over the band’s textures, upping the entire jam to another level. Growing in size and scope while maintaining a thick groove, it was the most powerful version of “Cities” we’ve heard in this era. Then, when Phish dropped into “Halley’s,” the one percent chance that they would actually jam on the song came through in droves! Things were falling into place. Soaring into a quickened groove and anchored by Trey’s lightening-quick guitar work—a defining facet of the Bethel shows thus far—Phish crushed a “Halley’s” like they haven’t since a previous epoch. Speeding into “Anetlope-esque” interplay, the band was off and running in the best show anyone had seen since a previous lifetime. As they switched gears into a bass-led and more demented path, more than a few times I wondered what song we were amidst as I was blissfully unaware of anything but the transcendent moment. And this feeling would be replicated all night long in one improvisational escapade after the next. Flowing through “Halley’s” into “Runaway Jim,” the band’s relentless creativity continued. Within the mellow section of the song between verses, Phish infused a mind-melting “plinko funk” jam in the exact essence of the Worcester “Hood.” Feeding the song’s melodic patterns into a staccato-shredder, the band furthered one of their emerging jamming styles. And when they tore through the song’s “regular” jam, it was the second standout segment within”Runaway Jim!”

5.27.11 (K.Deutsch)

After playing through “Gumbo” and a smoking “Quinn the Eskimo,” the band unveiled a pristine “Limb by Limb” And with their newly-found super-abilities, this “Limb” took on an immaculate, life-affirming majesty that others simply don’t. But just when we had no idea how this extended set would come to a close, the opening notes of “Bathtub Gin” took everyone by surprise. And the only thing that could have been more of a surprise than the song’s placement was the jam that came out of it. Getting into torrid uptempo grooves, Trey took command of the music with his precise guitar assassination, and the band careened into yet another stellar piece of improvisation—this time—one of the no-brainer highlights of the night. Phish gained momentum by the second—pushed forward by the quickening beats of Fishman—and sounded as if they might segue into “Golden Age” when, in fact, they were actually speeding into a double-timed “Manteca!” Where were we at this point? When we last left Madison Square Garden, the band had dropped a series of great jams over the New Year’s Run, but they didn’t have the exploratory fire like this! Playing as if a band possessed, upon seamlessly re-merging with “Bathtub’s” theme and punctuating an absolute joke of a first set, the band received an extended standing ovation as if it was the end of the show. But it was only setbreak.

5.27.11 (K. Deutsch)

Nobody had any idea what had hit them come setbreak and the only thing many could consider is what might happen when the lights dropped again. And when they did, another musical labyrinth ensued. Sculpting the entirety of the set with mind-melting improvisation from start to finish, Phish came out and simply slayed the second half. To continue describing the superlative nature of their playing would feel redundant at this point, but simply stated, the band spat fire throughout, from the first note to the last. Sometimes, after a stunning set, you are just left with feelings and memories, and last night these emotions couldn’t have been more glowing. Memories of a full-throttled dance session that slowly morphed into a sky-scraping, ambient soundscape in “Disease.” A memory of a natural arrival in “Free” that served as a landing point of deeply cosmic exploration. Feelings evoked by a show-defining, centerpiece jam in “Backwards Down the Number Line”—an organically building adventure into the stratosphere of psychedelia. Memories of visiting band member’s “houses” within in a classic bit of Phishiness and comic relief in an extended “Makisupa.” (I think we all want to live at Page’s house!) Feelings of an exploratory and overwhelmingly blissful “Hood” that brought the song back into play as an vehicle for creative, out-of-the-box, interplay. Memories of needing water after the obvious set-closer in “Cavern” only to be backhanded by a scintillating “Bowie” that punctuated the frame with yet another improvisational odyssey.

We weren’t in Kansas anymore. Nope. We were in Bethel, New York—the site of Phish modern-era reinvention, and it might as well have felt like heaven. The band we watched re-birth themselves over the course 2009 and 2010 had left the building, and Phish 2011 moved in. A whole new monster with razor sharp fangs and a refined improvisational acumen, the band of summer clearly has something to prove. These last two nights have been incredibly powerful events for anyone who has loved this band for any part of their life. To be witnessing all this again is nothing short of awe-inducing. To use a cliche but incredibly appropriate sign off, “It’s all happening…”

I: Theme From the Bottom, NICU, Cities, Halley’s Comet > Runaway Jim, Gumbo, Quinn the Eskimo, Limb By Limb, Horn, Bathtub Gin

II: Down with Disease > Free, Backwards Down the Number Line, Makisupa Policeman -> Harry Hood > Cavern, David Bowie

E: A Day in the Life

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1,127 Responses to “A Total Transformation”

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  1. Baxter Says:

    What a revue! I am psyched for the rest of Summer Tour, 2011. Sweet site, Mr. M. Thank you.

  2. Seth Weissmango Says:

    Oh wow. Wow. My-oh-freakin-my. Mr. Minor, with deep sincerity I thank you immensely for sharing this spectacular news with me and everyone else who loves this band and the profound joy they help us connect with! These developments are wondrous and thrilling and inspiring – and of course I haven’t heard a note of Bethel yet! Thank you again for your willingness to convey your experiences with us – being there for those of us who can’t. I am very happy for you and Mr. Deutsch (and a few thousand others) that you were there – and please tell Mr. Deutsch that Seth Weissman sends greetings – and thanks for the fantastic shots. I can’t wait to dive into the epicness! Genius Anyway! 🙂

  3. Gratefulcub Says:

    this is why we fluffers defended 2009/10

    faith in the boys

    (by ‘we fluffers’ I mean almost everyone here)

  4. Gratefulcub Says:

    The sage-like Mr c from last night:

    “the band has evolved over the years. we have evolved alongside them, each of us in our own ways, and together.

    for some people, certain points in the past can never be topped, either for their place as peak experience in that person’s history or because the style of music the band was making at that time suits a person particularly well.

    for others its the opposite, and the best show really is the next show. especially if it’s legit high level phish. there’s a threshold that we can’t define but we all know it when we hear or feel it. they’re above that threshold these days.

    so regardless of how you feel it stacks up against other eras, or if you don’t think about it that way at all – as long as you’re not letting the past interfere with the present, you’re not wrong as far as I can see…”

  5. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Phish=winning

  6. jdub Says:

    Stunning. Traveling back from the most beautiful east coast venue after a breathetaking show. I feel like I was just downloaded with some cryptical source code about planetary travel.

    Enjoy the ride folks!

  7. Mike in Austin Says:

    Phish has me back. I run along the jaded vet side with occasional fluffer tendencies, but overall love to see this band play to it’s potential. Mark Bethel II as playing to their full potential.

    The Phish hallmark is when you can recommend a show to someone, not a song. 12/17/97 or 12/29/97 or 4/3/98 etc. There is a big list. Add to that 5/28/11.

    Although not mentioned, Trey’s tone sure sounds cleaner!

  8. MisterChristian Says:

    Wow. When I first looked at the setlist and the song length I figured this would be just another by-the-numbers show since a couple jams barely reached over 15 minutes. After reading this review I’m stunned and I need to stop typing this and download it right now.

  9. Spasm Waiter Says:

    So happy for everybody that has been at the Bethel shows. So much for early tour cobwebs. Last night sounds like it was the real deal. Jaded vets are creaming for this latest crop of inter stellar playing. Loooking forward to spinning the show today after work.

  10. kayatosh Says:

    hallelujah! what a review! what a band!

    listening to cities, halley’s now (taylor c aud.)

    I know that i and others here used the refrain “trey is back” repeatedly throughout 3.0, but we all knew 1.0 trey could kick 3.0 trey’s ass. Now I am not so sure. Let’s all say it together unequivocally:

    TREY IS BACK!

    his playing in cities is nothing short of majestic.

  11. Dr Pronoia Says:

    Even through the less-than-prestine stream last night, everyone on couch tour knew we were hooked into the magic. Staring down the barrel of what, 31 more shows?, I could not be more excited to hear where this Summer takes us

    Have a great Sunday everybody. They play again tonight, by the way

  12. kayatosh Says:

    notice how they’re not using jam length to create greatness. musical density in full effect.

  13. ThePigSong Says:

    Holy fucking shit. hfs.

    This might be the most glowing review I’ve read. Thanks for the writeup MrMiner!

  14. KfL Says:

    cash for your pnc extras

  15. kayatosh Says:

    They’re not using bustouts or random cover choices to grab people’s attention. aside from waves (78 show gap) and bold as love (47 show gap), everything played over the last two nights was used during fall tour and the NYE run. Only now, they’re playing these tunes better and with way more possibility.

    listening to the halley’s now. $$$. as miner aptly stated: “what the fuck is going on? Where are we? What year is this? Because last night was as good as Phish has sounded in memory.”

  16. kayatosh Says:

    the drop into jim out of that $$$ halley’s jam is butter.

    remember the joke/wishful thinking that 1.1.2011, a show we loved, would be the worst of 2011? it’s no longer a joke.

  17. Dr Pronoia Says:

    Somthing just occurred to me. Maybe the lack of sold-out shows played in our favor. Maybe 09 and 10 they listened to red light and tried to give the ‘something for everyone’ shows, with 1 big jam, a bunch of straight forward rock, some silliness every 2-3 shows, etc.

    So then then summer came around, and that formula just hasn’t resulted in the renewed fanbase and sold out shows they’d been expecting.

    I imagine a round table that goes something like, Fuck it, when were we most popular and successful, and having the most fun? Yeah, when we were jamming anything we wanted and just enjoying each other’s creativity. Let’s just do that again, and the fans will follow

  18. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Miner’s first paragraph had me smiling ear to ear this morning. Make it happen kids. This is the one (tour) we’ve been waiting for.

    See you in pnc KfL ! Pretty much speechless after last night.

  19. Mike in Austin Says:

    Hopefully this gets the Kevorkian treatment.

  20. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Repost from last night. Waves in official hD video

    http://www.livephish.com/phish/video.asp

  21. Tray Anastasio Says:

    GO PHISH GO PHISH GO PHISH

  22. Posternutbag Says:

    What a great thing to wake up to!

  23. JMelby Says:

    Way to go Mr. Miner, great write up and so glad my wife made the trek to see these openers. Really hard to get up and go to work when I’m dying to get the download from last night and rock my Sunday away. Phish always wins!!!!

  24. bhizzle Says:

    TaylorC at it again

    http://bt.etree.org/details.php?id=545263

  25. Beantownboy Says:

    This is going to be a summer to remember for a lifetime. Off to hike in the white mtns. Enjoy the day!

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