The Dawn of A New Era

Merriweather - (Brian Adams)

Though I’m still largely in and out of post-tour sleepsville, I figure I’d get some thoughts up on this past tour. I’ve only scratched the surface of re-listening to the shows, but June was—without question—the most impressive tour since the band returned in 2009. Despite a tight song rotation, the band’s communication skills are clearly at the top of their game, and when Phish is now at their best, their music is as good as it has ever been. Jaded vets will always glorify their own touring days, but anyone with two ears and an open heart can hear the excellence that Phish embodies once again.

Merriweather (B.Ferguson)

Spinning through some of June’s highlights last night, I was floored by the virtuosity of the band’s current listening skills. The quickness with which Trey picked up on Page’s ideas and expounded on them was staggering—in so many jams. And then Mike would respond with an eclectic counter thought in no more than a nanosecond. These three-part conversations that underlined Phish’s best playing all tour illustrates a band matured and focused on equitable jamming, the hallmark of improvisational success. Fishman’s melodic sensibility and his ability to respond to Trey and Mike at once, provided the fourth part of these musical puzzles that dazzled crowds throughout the month. Within structured or open jamming, these four-part exchanges blossomed with dynamic vitality, a crucial facet of their game that has now fully returned.

With all of their individual skillsets at a 3.0 high, the band is now executing at a new level of proficiency—a level that allows for subconscious creativity of the likes we hadn’t seen this era. The only question that arose each night was how safe the band would play, and this decision came down to one person and one person only, Trey Anastasio. With the guitarist’s mood and patience, so went the contour of every show. When Trey lacked focus or seemed to be overthinking things, shows turned into choppy affairs with little cohesion as Big Red often favored more songs over musical flow. But on the nights when Trey came out with his patience of old—a la Bethel night two, Detroit, Charlotte or Portsmouth—sublime, timeless music resulted.

To be honest, Trey almost seemed like two different people this tour when comparing how he directed various shows. On some nights he had his own agenda, and regardless of what the band was musically immersed in doing, he asserted his ideas at awkward times with no context whatsoever. (See PNC’s “Ghost > Numberline” or Alpharetta’s “Tweezer > Julius for perfect examples.)  But on other nights, he allowed each and every jam to flow to its natural conclusion, playing with a wholly collaborative nature and crafting music that can stand up to any era. It’s quite the perplexing issue that has will never truly be answered, but we can only hope that as the summer moves on, Trey embodies his patient and selfless persona more often than the restless and intrusive front man he has often resembled.

Walnut Creek - Raleigh (John Crouch)

But when Trey was in it to win it—on the same page as the rest of his band members rather than swimming upstream—the music transformed into magic. The oustanding jams of June are too many to list, but some of the tour’s most magical moments included Detroit’s “A Disease Supreme -> Fluffhead -> Bowie,” Charlotte’s “Rock and Roll -> Ghost” and “Reba,” Blossom’s “Sneakin’ Sally,” Bethel’s “Waves,” “Halley’s Comet” and “Bathtub Gin,” Mansfield’s “Rock and Roll,” Cincinnati’s “Tweezer” and “YEM,” Portsmouth’s “Slave” and “Sand,” Darien’s mash-up of “Golden Age” and “What’s the Use?” with “2001”and so much, much more! And this was only leg one. During 2009 and 2010, Phish’s playing vastly improved from leg one to leg two of summer tour, but with their best playing being as good as ever, what I think we can look forward to is greater consistency night in and night out.

PNC (C.LaJaunie)

The top-notch shows of this past tour were often interspersed with spottier performances whose highs still matched the best moments of the month, but whose flow or risk-taking was often compromised for safer, high-octane playing. Looking past Superball and into leg two, I think that we will see an increased consistency of excellence from Phish. This translates into fewer nights dotted with head-scratching jam abortions and fewer shows anchored by safe, rocking, straightforward playing a la Bethel night three or Merriweather night two.

This past month, the band has certainly arrived. For any naysayers who thought Phish couldn’t regain their past glory in this decade, well—eat crow. The band has IT harnessed again, and as Trey said for an upcoming Rolling Stone interview, “everything seems to be dialed in right now, the band feels loose in all the right ways.” Creating musical highs on par with any era, the band has now fully entered the next phase of their career as a creative tour de force. After watching the guys’ skills re-evolve through 2009 and 2010, their musical output of June has been incredibly rewarding for anyone who maintained faith in quartet through the rebuilding process. Firing on all cylinders like they haven’t since sometime in the ‘90s, Phish is back to sculpting nights of musical majesty laced with spectacular improvisation. Hop on the bus, folks, this summer has a long way to go. Next stop, Super Ball IX!

PNC (Chris LaJaunie)

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1,359 Responses to “The Dawn of A New Era”

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  1. Born Under Punches Says:

    First? Really?

    Portsmouth Sand.

    That is all.

  2. BrandonKayda Says:

    Touche, BornUnderPunches, touche.

  3. sumodie Says:

    Sand, Split, and Ghost were my Southern Cross trifecta!

    SBIX looms large -previously I wanted tour to begin ASAP but now I could use a few more days before the big ball bounces, lol

  4. BrandonKayda Says:

    hey @Sumo

  5. sumodie Says:

    ***Super Ballers***

    I created a google spreadsheet in order to help BBers connect with one another either outside the festi grounds (in order to camp together) and/or to meet up inside the festi

    BB’ers wishing to camp together would most likely have to meet up somewhere outside the festival grounds and caravan in together

    https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AtuZfj67qLKKdEg0ZEI5RjFaRkxsTEJicTVMSEJ0YUE&hl=en#gid=36

    or just click on the “Blackboard Meetups” link, located on the right side of the home page under “I. Phish Thoughts Links”

    open to any suggestions as to how to improve the spreadsheet, etc

  6. sumodie Says:

    hey bk, I see your diving deep into West Side Story! Awesome -wished my high school had a better theater department when I was there

    I ate an intense ice dessert tonight that has given me a belly ache -ugh. But at least I’m catching up on real time stuff post tour

  7. Matso Says:

    Darien BDTNL v Bethel BDTNL – both extremely good yet relatively contained jams.

    I relistened to some Summer 10 Leg 1 yesterday just to see how far the band has come. The contrast was starcker than I thought it would be. Notwithstanding all of the issues with that tour (TreyDHD, overuse of the whale, etc), I’d always felt that the underlying playing was solid. It certainly was, but they’re now on a distinctly different level.

    That said, hearing Trey on the whale was revealing in terms of just how much it deliberately slowed down his playing and forced him to really focus on his phrasing. I would say that “exercise” was part of the reason why, from Summer 2010 Leg 2 onwards, his solos were imbued with more originality and creativity (and fewer crutches) than before. In a sense, he had relearned to play. I’ve mentioned the fact that the whale, by slowing him down, also meant the 3-way conversations with Page and Mike could develop as it gave them space to be bold with their own ideas as well.

    And if you want to hear this evolution at a particular highpoint, I don’t hesitate to recommend the Darien BDTNL.

  8. Born Under Punches Says:

    Putting together my playlist for leg 1 and deadline is fast approaching. I need some help. Time for Best Version Deathmatch!

    Round 1: Weekapaug
    Darien vs. Charlotte – Fight!

    Round 2: Harry Hood
    Darien vs. Blossom – Let’s Get It On!

    Title Fight: Reba
    MPP vs. Charlotte – Finish Him!

    In your mind, who wins? Also anyone think any version of Timber or Piper stands out above the rest?

    Let’s have a good, clean fight!

  9. roofless_sheds Says:

    “…upcoming interview for Rolling Stone magazine…”

    is this something we’ve known about for a while? anybody have a link handy?

  10. MisterChristian Says:

    @born under;

    Stop. Full Point.

  11. Baxter Says:

    Getting fired up for The Glen!

  12. McGGGGGGGG Says:

    What happened to Pigtail???

  13. McGGGGGGGG Says:

    Drowned in the ink?

  14. Al Says:

    Miner, you’re talking “June”, but some great music was in May – Bethel…my German DNA forces me to write this…

  15. st8 of mind Says:

    Mornin’ BB. Thanks Miner, and well done!

  16. Pat Says:

    MPP Piper is unreal. I’ve been a bit surprised it hasn’t received more love around the Phish blogosphere. Same with the “outer space jam” in that same night’s R&R. Both are exceedingly great versions of these tunes.

  17. Cable Hogue Says:

    BornUnderPunches-

    Round one to Darien Weekapaugh. Camden is a very close second IMO.

    Round 2 – Can Bethel Hood come charging in the ring and knock the others out with a chair or something?

    Round 3 – My gut says Charlotte, but that Reba may have benefitted strongly from placement.

    I favor the MPP Piper, and I might give the Timber to Alpharetta 2, just so that show doesn’t go totally unrepresented….first set looked like it was headed for greatness….

  18. albert walker Says:

    Custy ball futures trading strong lately

    Up on bethel waves momentum

  19. albert walker Says:

    The organ groove makes the Portsmouth timber quite hip

  20. btb Says:

    “The only question that arose each night was how safe the band would play, and this decision came down to one person and one person only, Trey Anastasio.”

    Quick correction, I believe you meant “Trent Anastasio”

    Portsmouth Sand.

    That is all.

  21. alf Says:

    couldn’t believe the trent anastasio i saw bethel 1 and 2, b/c it was him and him alone leading those jams. couldn’t believe the patience.

    then was baffled walking out of pnc 2 – what happened? maybe trent is just bipolar

  22. alf Says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/magazine/my-life-as-an-undocumented-immigrant.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&src=ISMR_HP_LO_MST_FB

  23. Luther T. Justice Says:

    I listen to A Disease Supreme, Cinci Tweezer, and Charlotte RnR>Ghost everyday like I take my vitamins. And I feel blessed to have witnessed the midwest run. What a great summer and its still only June.

    I’m all sunshine, rainbows & unicorns today.

  24. alf Says:

    ^just figured we’d want to read up on the folks we’re hiring to get us prime spots at leg 2 GA shows

  25. alf Says:

    nice ear on the darien # line matso

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