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. c0wfunk Says:

    @beantownboy thanks for the details

    @ohhphee yeah; everyone should! I was turned onto him last year when I had to learn to play melodica phrasing on the synth. Absolutely brilliant musician. Also An Augustus Pablo Pandora station sets the vibe real nicely.

  2. Mike in Austin Says:

    What’s the over/under on Eliza coming out on stage and them playing Wilson together?

    Anastasio plays Anastasio in 2035.

  3. Robear Says:

    Trey has an iPad…….but he won’t follow my Tweets…

  4. Selector J Says:

    Pablo had such a unique musical identity. Left-handed, self-taught, minor chord enthusiast. Great ear for production, too.

  5. c0wfunk Says:

    “Perhaps a Jaded Tour Vet FB page is in order so that all can connect and talk about how good Phish used to be back in the day before they started Juliusing Tweezers….”

    Also, to prove just how nerdy I indeed am … A FB page just sprouted up recently for the old #phish undernet irc kids. We had 35 members in no time 😉

  6. Robear Says:

    Going to festi’s with WW kids can have perks.

    Anyone flying into ROC on the 29 th?

  7. ohhphee Says:

    Left-handed. I knew there was something else I liked that I couldn’t put my finger on. Left one, of course.

  8. c0wfunk Says:

    “Left-handed, self-taught, minor chord enthusiast”

    nice details . Thanks 🙂

    The minor chord thing and the loping melodic phrasing were the biggest things i picked up by studying him.

  9. bearito Says:

    Morning bb, spinning this darien #line for breakfast. Trey is throwing out all kinds of interesting fluttering licks. I still have to give it to the Bethel version for it’s whole-band interplay. The slightly slower pace of bethel seemed to guide the song into deeper waters.

    In Charlotte, when they slid #line in the 1 slot for set 2, I did cringe for a minute. After hearing the R&R>Ghost, I would have been content with Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumper” as an opener! Oh wait, they played that once 🙂

  10. ohhphee Says:

    Late for work. Catch up later.

  11. Selector J Says:

    Played killer stuff on the vibraphones, too. I’ll cue one up. Licensing laws be damned!

  12. Robear Says:

    I was there Bearito, thx for the reminder. Being I had just crawled out of the woods for that tour, I had no idea what was going on. But I danced. Hard.

  13. marcoesq Says:

    morning folks

  14. marcoesq Says:

    oh yeah, tubthumper. Faced in the mothership with my buddy having an allergic reaction to some sheet and then they busted out chumbawanba


  15. Robear Says:

    Good timz, Marco.

  16. marcoesq Says:

    Give a quick shout out to my boy Brian who got his pic picked for the top spot today. Fun in pit Mpp

    Yeah gui!

  17. Robear Says:

    Red Rocks, Toyota 10, Greek, Brimfilled, Bethel

    Can’t really say the band comes out rusty to start tours. Unless you enjoy eating crow.

  18. c0wfunk Says:

    also faced in the mothership that night. tubthumper did not compute. Very strange evening 🙂

  19. c0wfunk Says:

    yeah rob that’s some conventional wisdom that has been turned on its ear in 3.0

  20. bearito Says:

    Nice Robear! That Hampton run had such odd setlists. I’m sure I would have had fun regardless.

    The Alpharetta Sand, DWD>Maze should not be overlooked y’all. Not enough love for this set.

  21. Robear Says:

    I was too young and naive to be critical back then, anyways Bearito.

  22. bearito Says:

    Isn’t that the beauty of being young and naive 🙂

  23. Selector J Says:

    Worse cover?
    a) Tubthumper
    b) Getting Jiggy With It

  24. bearito Says:

    Currently taking Born Under Punches song challenge for Hood’s of tour but, I’m tossing in Bethel & Alpharetta for good measure. Bethel down. Love that hood!

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    @bearito – hampton 98 in retrospect seemed like it was being put together to piss off their record executives (think cover royalties).. at the time, for me, it came off very well and I had a huge big amazing time.

    Early in the evolution of the fanbase into the Molly thing the energy before that first show in the room was unlike any I’ve really seen before or after (except maybe hampton 97II and 99I) ..

    The wave going around and around the room and the unleashed Superbowl like intensity in the air which prompted the Gary Glitter opener was just insane. By the time they dropped the Quinn bomb on us I was frothing at the mouth and oozing with joy; It was autopilot Itness from there on through.

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