Basking In Bethel’s Blowout

Bethel Woods (George Estreich)

After spinning through the first two shows of tour a number of times over the weekend, and I have to say, I hear the emergence of a new Phish. Not only are their jams multiplying in number, but they are also diversifying in scope and laced with new ideas. The band seemed incredibly fresh over the weekend and ready to try new things once again. And one of the biggest reasons for the Bethel shows’ many successes was—go figure—Trey Anastasio. Over the weekend, Trey stepped up and led the band in the commanding fashion of lore, but directed jams with a refined style that didn’t always necessitate melting faces. With delicate, yet directional licks of leadership—creative and intricate leads—Trey came to the forefront of the stage in a way that didn’t diminish his mates’ contributions. I keep thinking of the word “mature” to define this type of playing; a style that could only have been acquired through decades of improvisation and experimentation with the same players. Some key jams from Bethel where this refined yet powerful style is quite prevalent are “Halley’s,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Number Line.” And not consequently, these were three of the more impressive excursions of the weekend.

Bethel Woods (G.Estreich)

But only one day earlier, Phish engaged in a completely different type of jamming in an awing rendition of “Waves.” This unforgettable segment came via deep and collaborative exploration—and incredible patience. Unafraid to let things breathe and allow ideas to develop, the band didn’t scurry from improvisational abstraction over the first two shows, but embraced it—exercising patience to discover sublime moments. In this vein, creative soundscapes emerged as a style of Phish jamming again, and no piece exemplified this better than “Waves.” Dripping into the ether directly as the lyrics ended, the band illustrated a new-found proclivity for cosmic exploration. As no one member pushed or dominated the jam, the band traveled together through one of Bethel’s utterly surreal portions of improv. Open-ended jamming at its finest, the band took a collective swan dive into the void during “Waves” and just let the music flow through them. Ending this journey with a ambient sound sculpture, this standout sequence (and its eerie “Crosseyed” counterpart) couldn’t be more different than the stellar jamming of night two.

Bethel (G.Estreich)

And yet another divergent sound was showcased in one of the absolute gems of the weekend that got buried in the opening set—”Kill Devil Falls.” This jam was captained by the combination of Trey and Fishman—the backbone of Phish. Pushing the band with speedy and intricate breakbeats, Fishman directed this jaunt at a vicious pace. Fish’s quickened beat science pushed Trey out of some of his only “Whaling” of the weekend and into mind-bending guitar playing, while coaxing the entire band to engage at a pace at which they play.. But the jam wasn’t straight ahead rock; it was far more creative yet still moving a mile a minute. This seemed like an extension of the “urgent ambient” jamming that began to emerge last year during summer’s second leg (illustrated in the Greek’s “Rock and Roll” and Jones Beach’s “Number Line”)—but on steroids! This was some breakneck jamming and tight as anything we heard all weekend.

Phish had that invincible feeling again over the Bethel run; that sense that bullets would bounce off their musical armor like Lilliputians’ attacking Gulliver. And even though the third night’s affair strayed a bit towards the seemingly-fading song-based trend of this era, the show was still strewn with impressive musical conversations. Throw in a bit of staccato, plinko-funk jamming, and from every angle possible, Bethel was an overwhelming triumph for the band and their dedicated fan base. By anyone’s account, this is shaping up to be one crazy summer, and when we finally wind down amidst the Rockies in Colorado come Labor Day, we’ll think back to the green rolling pastures of Bethel Woods and smile.

Bethel Woods (George Estreich)


867 Responses to “Basking In Bethel’s Blowout”

  1. halcyon Says:

    gave up on stream…..

    that being said listening to Bethel 1-3 again and Fishman was so solid this past weekend.

  2. SillyWilly Says:

    I agree with mitch.

    He does smoke ganj.

  3. Fly Says:

    i don’t think so mitch, but i’m not sure

    i was trying to act cool around AW so was probably fumbling my words a little bit

  4. ThePigSong Says:

    printing these on beer coozies for fest8

    any feedback is cool.

  5. tba Says:

    Minor, you did a great job giving description to a Phish that seems as fresh as ever. I attended nights 2 and 3 Bethel-place is great; only downfall is shortage of hotels in immediate five minute drive-our hotel, Hampton Inn was a good 30-40 minute drive. After night 2 was thinking the same thing, wow even though they played songs I have heard a million times; something seems fresh about it. I have a bit of a different take even though I agree with most of what you say. Trey is the leader, and obviously very key, but IMHO Page is the most important member of Phish in regards to realizing their greatness and potential. It’s akin to say a member of a hoops team-if he scores over so and so or gets so and so assists or goes to the line so and so the team wins. Same goes for Page, when he is heavily involved, Phish wins. Yes Trey was taking more direction of jams, but he needs to be careful not to overwhelm the other members-especially Page. Page’s singing and clavinet playing are vital to today’s Phish. IMHO his voice is almost more suited to some ballads than Trey. Overall all four members are singing very well, but some of the ballads lyrics are a bit much. maybe they should tap some other songwriters in regards to ballads, as even though the melodies are great some of the words need work. I prefer Fast Enough for You over Joy for example, but Joy does have great Beatle-esque harmonies.

    The key is not forcing jams when they are not there. Some people like the 45 minute versions, and I respect that, but in 2011, for me, I like the new approach they seem to be taking with more productive jams. Cross Eyed Painless is such a great comeback song, as is MakiSupa which has great inertia to produce wonderful jams.

    Finally highlights for me Night 2 set 2, and 2001 from night 3. Now 2001 is a song I could see extending more and more. Also I have never been a CK5 guy, as even though I enjoyed the lights, it was nothing other bands were not doing especially right before the breakup. But the lightshow at Bethel was the best lights I have ever seen, amazing producing colors I didn’t know existed, kudos to Chris. Even close to the stage the lights were great, from the lawn they must have looked wild. And what a lawn it was, nice, green, comfy, with GREAT sound.

    Looks as if Light is the jam vehicle of now, and has been. I hope they don’t forget The Little Feat stuff though as those tunes are tailor made for Phish. Psyched for H-Bowl-maybe Great Woods.

    And as I write, just saw RR played, awesome as Page has really made that song his.

    Have fun everyone and be safe.

  6. BingosBrother Says:


    trey says they’re going to pages house and busts into TUBE!

  7. Leo Weaver Says:

    @summer98…great, keep me in the loop. For their sakes, I hope you get your n00bs to go, but…ya know. Do you still have my email addy?

  8. buried alive sf Says:

    zero, to close the set for sure…

  9. BingosBrother Says:

    I have a shitty stream going fwiw

  10. SillyWilly Says:

    Pages house should have been built from a dank little cabin in the woods to a massive colonial mansion in upstate new york

    What I mean is that Pages House could be developed into a sick jam

  11. kayatosh Says:

    night yall. gotta get some zzzzz’s

  12. SillyWilly Says:

    Later Kaya

    Dream of the big Ghost that’s a-comin

  13. BrandonKayda Says:

    How was set one? Any experimenting like Bethel?

  14. plord Says:

    BK nobody knows, no stream. Tweets suggest a trainwreck in Divided Sky and a mention of Page’s House before Tube, but other than that we got nothin.

  15. angryjoggerz Says:

    That first set looks kinda heat, actually.

  16. Fly Says:

    BK: yemblog says “high-energy low-exploration first set”

  17. plord Says:

    Yeah, looks good on paper, but…?

  18. SillyWilly Says:

    Looks like heat

    But yemblog says little exploration

    Too early to tell, no doubt

  19. angryjoggerz Says:

    I hate actually, yet use it to spoke the fires of my hate.

    Actually, …..

  20. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Highlights from Bethel 3?

  21. angryjoggerz Says:

    Silly is on some rogue haiku shit right there.

  22. SillyWilly Says:

    Need a couple syllables, huh

    Maybe some creativity on the board will spark the band

    I really hope the rnr sand pans out

  23. SillyWilly Says:



  24. P.S.H.S. Says:

    that’s a set that makes me drool regardless. excellent song choices imo. and a biffed divided is fine by me. what was wrong with it? was the silent jam not long enough for the cape?
    thank you sir, may i have another

  25. Willowed Says:

    @ mitch
    I meant the Bethel Number line brought me back to 94 – 95 due the style of play. I know the song came out in 3.0

    Just wanted to clarify.

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