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”

  1. Selector J Says:

    Augustus Pablo tribute show in full swing.
    Click the name to start listening or go here:
    http://listen.kvrx.org/

  2. [Not Tom] Says:

    @ Miner – any word on who won round #2 of your book contest?

  3. Matso Says:

    @KWaLf –

    Thanks. I was spinning the full Darien show yesterday and Trey’s playing on that BDTNL just completely jumped out at me. It is fantastically creative, just a cascade of fresh ideas executed brilliantly. At the point in the set where you think there’s going to be a lull, Trza dropped possibly his finest playing of the show (which is saying something given the soul with which he plays Golden Age and the exuberence of the Hood).

    I love the whole vibe of the Darien show especially the Nellie Kane/Mellow Mood/Buffalo Bill opener, which I just imagine being so blissful on summer’s day in the big tent. Clearly a very happy Phish on stage that night.

  4. Mike in Austin Says:

    Love Thursdays. Came home from walk to Freedom Fighter.

    I’m long Phish.

    Six more shows for me in 2011. August seems so far away.

  5. alf Says:

    a very unique night, one of my favorites attended

  6. Jtran Says:

    @sumo

    Thanks for starting that spreadsheet. I’m looking for folks to carpool in with and was thinking of starting something similar myself.

  7. Kaveh Says:

    @Miner: Thanks for the post. Funny, because I tried to watch the Alpine DVD and Utica DVD last night; and just couldn’t. Didn’t sound or look anything like this new released beast of Phish that we have on our hands. So I got my fix by watching some of the nightly videos from tour.

    DWD from Pine Knob…is still a beast of wonderful music!

  8. fat bastard Says:

    i had a dream that a show was cut short because of rain and they put up this plastic see thru wall and the show was over at 10:00. everyone left but me and a few others yelling WE WANT MORE! page opens a flap in the wall and says trey theyre not leavin unless we play. then they bust out something from outer space.

    phishdreams

  9. punkmug Says:

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

    I was thinking the exact same thing.

    Well written thoughts Miner. Thanks for sharing.

  10. sumodie Says:

    anyone ever attend LA’s Electric Daisy Carnival? Looks like it’s moving to Vegas:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/us/17rave.html?scp=1&sq=electric%20daisy&st=cse

    (jambase or jambands did a great spread on it a year or two ago)

    the east coast variant, NYC’s Electric Zoo Festival at Randall’s Island, unfortunately takes place over Labor Day weekend (Phish always wins)

    http://www.madeevent.com/ElectricZoo/

  11. litteringadd Says:

    My buddy who I went to convetry with and who I am also going to to the ball with is conviced they’re going to play Glide because in his words “they owe him” 😉 Also I feel like the last real bust out left on the table (and hoping to see at the ball) is a legit version of Scents. Any others?

  12. thedayman Says:

    commencing first spin of darien, excited to hear this bad boy.

  13. Mike in Austin Says:

    Darien is sunny happy day music for sure. Love the show.

  14. thedayman Says:

    nice, should be a quality spin then

  15. themanatee Says:

    what did happen to Pigtail?
    and Problem Right THere?

  16. themanatee Says:

    Bethel Hood vs Darien Hood…

    very different animals but both excellent versions. Darien is in the box, but so lyrical and fluid by Trey.
    Bethel is a bit more off-kilter in a wonderful way

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    Nice thoughts, enjoyed reading this morning. Id put the raleigh split right near the top of those highlightts .. also in the aftermath of atl2 im thinking the sand Dwd maze from night 1 is getting overlooked a bit. Course its no portsmouth sand or dte dwd but that trio looms large in my mind. And also the tub / light up seems to have been lost in the shuffle as well.

    Matso love yer post wrt the whale and treys phrasing .. very nicely elucidated.

  18. c0wfunk Says:

    Oh and someone was looking for a timber.. atl would have to be the one for me there too though the portsmouth one comes off well ill never forget the way they were riding that storm

  19. voopa Says:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/22/woman-startled-by-peeping_n_882047.html

  20. Hilary Says:

    no love for the bethel jim? shocking

  21. ohhphee Says:

    @voopa

    The same thing happened years ago at the Taste of Chicago. Apparently, the police and firefighters sat there arguing over who would go after him in there. Not sure who won, though.

  22. Kaveh Says:

    Just fired up Darien Set II…again! Lovely….and it works even on non-sunny days; as we are experiencing here in MinneHopeless.

  23. ohhphee Says:

    Also, thanks, Miner for the great write-up. Great to see that with a bit of perspective, tour as a whole was off the charts for this new era.

    I’m still trying to re-listen to all of these highlights. So many! Bodes very well for the Big Ball Jamfest coming up in a week.

    @Kaveh

    Is there sun out anywhere in the midwest? Saving it up for the ball?

  24. c0wfunk Says:

    maybe this is old news but my wife turned me onto this last night.. thefirstset.net is a jambands themed Onion type news site that is pretty friggin funny..

    Christ Kuroda Admits he’s colorblind

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    also Fans enraged by grammer flub in new trey interview

    “If you listen to the three-minute-thirty-two-second mark, after the second commercial break… you can clearly hear him botch an independent clause. Ouch, it makes me fucking cringe.”

    hilarious

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