A Safe Sunday Smoker

Merriweather - 6.12.11 Graham.Lucas)

Phish punctuated their weekend in the Mid-Atlantic with a show that boasted all sorts of energy, high-octane shredding, but only bubbled with legitimate creativity in select spots. The band’s straightforward smoker felt a bit safe on a mid-tour Sunday night in Columbia, and one would hope this is not a trend as we move into tour’s final leg in the South. Though last night’s second set featured molten guitar playing, the whole-band, however, took few risks in a show that felt like was going to blow up with so many exploratory vehicles waiting in the wings. Nonetheless, the band played a ripping show with a smooth second set to end their two-night stand at Merriweather, and most all fans left for home as happy as clams.

6.12.11 (Graham Lucas)

Kicking off the weekend’s final frame of music from out of left field, Phish dropped “Party Time” at the same venue they debuted the song two years ago. And when Phish slipped into “Crosseyed” out of the New Orleans funk stylings, one had to imagine we had been cleared for takeoff. But following an all-too-common trend, “Crosseyed”—though balls-to-the-wall intense and laced with snarling guitar shreddery—remained wholly inside the box and contained little musical adventure. Most people will love this version for its high-octane textures, but as the band has now started to use “Crosseyed” as a setlist-strengthener instead of a jam vehicle, the whole experience felt a little tame to me. We all know Trey can melt faces with his guitar playing, but the reason I go to Phish is for the unknown, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot of that in last night’s show.

Crawling out of a brief abstract tail to the jam, the band broke into their second-ever version of “Steam”—a song that holds limitless potential. Slightly reworked with a refrain of “Your souls joins mine” as they drips into the jam, Kuroda also reworked his visual effects, covering the stage in smoke every time the band sang the word “steam,” and then totally blanketing the scene in a cloud of smoke as the improvisation began. Taking the slow and sinister groove on a far more developed ride than Cleveland’s debut, “Steam” provided one of the set’s unquestionable high points. Once the band settles into this song, watch out, good things are bound to happen. Returning to the final verse, the band then built out of it with an increasingly menacing soundscape that turned into “Light” before reaching truly creative realms.

6.12.11 (Graham Lucas)

And with a head full of steam rolling into “Light,” one figured a cosmic exploration was just around the corner. But once again, the band chose the more straightforward path as the version was completely anchored by Trey’s intricate guitar solo instead of any whole-band experiment. Taking the structured jam for a ride, when Phish finally settled down into a more earnest four-part conversation, it was totally sublime for the minute or so it lasted before “The Wedge” started sequence of standalone songs that also included “Alaska” and “Halfway to the Moon.”

Aside from “Steam,” the other highlight of the second set came in “Harry Hood.” A song that has stepped it up another level each and every tour of this era, last night the band burst into the jam with a notable energy as Trey took command with gorgeous phrases comprised of several shorter notes. Playing with a four-minded passion, the band crushed this jam and then popped out directly into the final verse. The band’s interplay within—and Trey’s guitar narration—was outstanding. “Number Line”—a song the band is pushing a bit too hard right now—slid in after “Hood,” proving once again that it has no natural slot in a Phish set. A noodly and uneventful version led to a raucous “Loving Cup” closer.

6.12.11 (G.Lucas)

And the band concluded the show in the same way they started it—by responding to audience signs. Playing “Sanity” to start a triple-encore in response to a front-rower’s sign, Trey had similarly kicked off the show with three songs that were picked from a forest of signs in the GA pit—“Buried Alive,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” and “Ha Ha Ha.” The improvisational highlights of the first set came in an unusually funked-out “Boogie On” that came out of “Wolfman’s” and a stellar version of “Bathtub Gin” that provided, arguably, the most impressive jaunt of the show.

In tours of lore, Phish’s playing got more creative in nature as shows passed, but this past weekend at Camden and Merriweather represented a step backwards in the overall risk-taking that has graced this summer, and out of three shows, we are really left with only two extraordinary, innovative jams—Camden’s “Disease” and Merriweather’s “Piper.” The envelope-pushing improv that was so present throughout the first half of tour dropped off a bit this weekend for large doses of high-powered rock and roll. Let’s hope that when we get to the south, the shows are less about fun entertainment and more seriously centered on pushing musical boundaries. Will the band reconnect with the type of jamming that has made this leg such a success, or will their pioneering creativity of June peter out? Only time will tell…

I: Buried Alive, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Ha Ha Ha, Sample in a Jar, The Divided Sky, Wolfman’s Brother -> Boogie On Reggae Woman, Gumbo, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Character Zero

II: Party Time, Crosseyed and Painless > Steam > Light > The Wedge, Alaska, Halfway to the Moon, Harry Hood, Backwards Down the Number Line, Loving Cup

E: Sanity, Makisupa Policeman, First Tube


895 Responses to “A Safe Sunday Smoker”

  1. albert walker Says:

    remember though cow

    this is the same band that brought us the bethel shows and the DTE show.

    of the 6 shows I caught 3 were jammed out affairs filled with open improv while one had the sally of all sally’s and the other the funkiest groovin tweezer since Miami

    the improv has fallen off a cliff but I’m not sure why it cant return


    shit was pure improv fire. let’s hope Atlanta get’s a throwdown. I’ll be watching from the crib no doubt.

  2. Mike in Austin Says:

    No Type II = “custie fests” – AW

    Ha ha ha.

  3. Mike in Austin Says:

    Just think that’s an exaggeration AW. No teeth.

  4. c0wfunk Says:

    not saying it can’t .. but the distinct ..Intention.. we noted early in the tour has slipped away.

    At this point on any given night nothing would surprise me. But something has modified this intention .. whether there was something special in the water in Bethel I don’t know. Maybe the crowd in DTE was just oozing type2 jam vibes. No clue..

    So maybe the sold out show – sure to be a higher concentration of In the Know type heads will prompt some deep space exploration – but I think it’s just as likely that the South brings the rage rock guitar god face melting, as we experienced last summer down there..

    I’m pretty psyched to be front and center finding out, I’ll tell you that – and I imagine I’ll be pretty pleased whatever the outcome 🙂

  5. Mike in Austin Says:

    I’m outta here though. Gonna give these shows a proper listen.

  6. albert walker Says:


    I’m a 94-96 kid so I know this band is not just about open improv in the 03-04 realm. I’m also one of the first to respect how important it is to tighten the ship back up and nail the compositions.

    I just am not gonna pretend that these 40 song shows are phish. even in the 96 era which is considered one of the most jamless we were getting ran over by Mike’s and tweezers that summer. hoods were just amazing.

    to just pull almost all aspects of jamming form the second sets while cramming no flowing song filled setlists is in insult to fans that came up with this band and no what’s up.

    how you can play a set like DTE and the couple from the last few nights and have real fans dig it is beyond my understanding.

    do they have to play interesting music, no
    but let’s not pretend what has been going on lately is

    trey has perpetuated the hose thing. and the jamming being this huge spiritual connection with the fans. then he just strips it out. doesn’t make sense. jamming has been why kids see phish for a long, long time. if he wants to go back to the 90-91 style band I don’t think anybody wants that at all.

  7. btb Says:

    lol at GD – My thoughts exactly!

    Time to launch BTB’s Phish Thoughts….got to go tell my boss I’m headed out on the road 🙂

  8. joe Says:

    they certainly can and will open things up. It’s not like they are playing sloppily right now at all. It’s always good to remember that we are the vocal minority preaching to ourselves here about the need for more freewheeling playing. The festival is a good place for them to play the kind of music that most of us here would love them to play as then we will be in the majority of the fans at the show. (just got interrupted and now I forget what I was trying to say. need coffee)

    side question: How many people do you think are on the full tour these days? and does that affect the way the band chooses their setlists?

  9. albert walker Says:

    has nothing to do with type I or type II either



    just bring back the fire. then no one will be complaining. you open up tour with straight heat. then drop the set of 3.0 at DTE and then rip out all aspects of any kind of interesting improv and you won’t be making friends in your fanbase.

    we shall see
    have fun today comrades
    back to work

  10. c0wfunk Says:

    the parallel to 80s gd is inescapable in my mind..

    It’s somehow this evolution of a band that is past the point where they really feel like they need to explore on a nightly basis – for themselves – and more to the point where they are the party band for the night..

    I mean… at this point, you’ve gotta figure – they’re doing this because *it’s what they want to do*

    So you then come to a crossroads with an artist.. is the art they are producing now aligned with the art that I want to absorb at this moment in my timespace?

    I truly feel it’s up to the artist to just do what comes to them, and the rest of us either get it , or not. No big whoop either way.

    Fan disappointments and expectations etc are just about irrelevant to this art, in a vacuum. And history is full of stories of artists who piss of their core constituencies as they move on from what that core felt was the main thing..

  11. albert walker Says:

    then why did they open tour with wide open jamming cow?

    makes no sense to your argument it seems

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    @aw you say ‘has nothing to do with type I or type II either’

    and then your list is exclusively “type 2” type jams except the hood 😉

    It seems obvious to me that this distinction is actually a huge part of Miner’s reviews, and often the prime consideration in a show.. I’ve seen a lot of comments around that show others feel similarly.

    Of course, Miner’s blog, he can post whatever and feel whatever and this is an open forum.

    On to listen to the show!

  13. lastwaltzer Says:

    :fingers crossed: for the peach state.

  14. c0wfunk Says:

    “then why did they open tour with wide open jamming cow?”

    no fracking clue. Maybe just to spin our heads around? I think I address this above .. We noted last summer the CO run starting out with a similar intention..

    But it makes it more obvious to me – this is where they want to be – cuz they did that, were wildly successful, and then moved on.

    Who knows maybe they are indeed trying to stir up tour buzz from the heads at home who have passed.. I don’t necessarily buy that as a conscious motivator though.

    I’m sure it’ll be back here and there.. but right now the boys seem to be having a great time playing these custy jukebox shows 😉

  15. Mike in Austin Says:

    AW, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I’m am old grey beard myself and came from a mostly Type II-less Phish. And I feel like I saw/heard a lot of hot, non-custy shows at that time.

    I just think the bands ability to pull put more melodic jams is getting tougher and tougher, and I think overall, the Evil Jams part is mostly extinct.

    It appears to me that the ’98 Woostah Simple type of jam, isn’t in the bag of go to jams anymore. If a fan wants to hear it, there are tons of tapes out there.

    I do want the deeper introspective jams back. But he’s also playing to a bunch of people who think if they hear Sanity and Ha Ha Ha at a show or FYF or Harpua it’s an instant classic.

    I just wanted to hear more than one line about the Gin.

    Off for my own Phish Thoughts.


    I just want to hear a proper Bathtub Gin and jams like the Holy Ghost, and the DWD from Pine Knob.

    You are right that the DWD

  16. kayatosh Says:

    morning, folks. look fwd. to reading your comments after I get the little guy to “camp”

    any spare dl codes for last night? I got camden to trade for it.

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    My sister – a hearty veteran of 15 shows or so (started in atl 99) told me last night was “best bathtub gin ever”


  18. kenny powers Says:

    finally just spun the Cincy Tweezer. Hot damn, that shit is diiiiirty. Love how they come back from the abstract loop thing and go back to the nastiness for a couple minutes.

  19. Mike in Austin Says:

    was great. But that was an enthusiastic show. DWD was the only real type II jam of that show.

    Now I’m really out. I’ll pop back in to read the news that Mr. P passes his test.

  20. seif Says:

    after listening to Bethel on the stream – like everyone else – i thought this tour was lining up to be legendary. i caught all 3 Jersey shows and had a blast at everyone…but with the shows of the last week I don’t feel compelled to “have” to see them as much as I can. there is great playing every night and I listen to every show at least once through, but these 14-song sets don’t have me scrambling now to catch anything else before SBIX, or after.

  21. lastwaltzer Says:

    I listened to set two of bethel 1 last night and it really is as if somebody kidnapped the band.

    I don’t even think those shows are that out there. Most of the jams are brief. The shows that have followed even feature the beginnings of opening up and they just abandon the idea. So its not like there is a lack of ideas, they just don’t stick with them.

  22. btb Says:

    What’s funny is the band doesn’t think at all like we do…

  23. albert walker Says:

    this band frustrates the shit out of me. their fan base even more for being entertained by such nonsense. go see Arcade Fire if you want to rock out to the same songs every night. why ruin my band

    damn I’m frustrated this morning
    what started out an epic summer has fallen off to nonsense

    laterz comrades

  24. butter Says:

    Bethel Halley’s

    Ends up being a sick prank

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    it truly is uncanny in a way lw. They get there, the groove is happening. and Trey (or mike or page or fish sometimes) is like “meh let’s get going”

    I really can empathize with those who find this frustrating. I honestly made a pact with myself in 2000 when my jamchasing got in the way of my vibe ingesting that I was there to see what the phish were going to do ; not try and imagine what the phish should do. Changed my showgoing experience 1000%

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