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)

Tags: ,

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

  1. phoammhead Says:

    this is usually about the time i have 10 posts in a row and then find myself in the cabbage!

  2. Guyute711 Says:

    I feel like an idiot for not having gone back to a lot of this stuff in such a long time.

  3. Guyute711 Says:

    you and me both phoamm

  4. kayatosh Says:

    listening to this sand, sand reprise, and sally from 6.19 and I’m hearing a band at the top of their game. this could be my favorite phish of any era. sounds flowing and effortless. this band is not laboring on stage.

    sand – funky 97 style, complete with start stop jamming and a reprise, but with more precision and musical mastery, especially page. they’ve become so tight and competent over the past two years that the music they’re making live sounds playful and on the edge of deconstruction more often than not, like the music is bulging, alive, busting at the seams. (listening to 6.19 light jam now)

    They are back to that place of comfort and familiarity that they can again toy with the songs and jams at ease and on the fly. turn on a dime, what’s happening? excitement. couldn’t be happier with the band.

  5. halcyon Says:

    Runaway Jim from Oswego is bumpin right now….love this. Wish I could go back in time to be here. No regrets as to what I was doing back then (living in Alaska in Bristol Bay, and on a boat in SE Alaska, but…..
    these are some sick grooves

  6. halcyon Says:

    :raises glass: to kaya’s post

    kanpai!

  7. phoammhead Says:

    cheers!

  8. kayatosh Says:

    reading some posts from earlier in the week. i went w/o for a few days.

  9. DukeOfLizards Says:

    Great post @kaya.

    I mean, $$$ post. My bad.

  10. Mr. Palmer Says:

    what’s up Kaya? hope you are well. Just a break from the BB?

  11. Bwana Says:

    been awhile since I listened to anything with the Giant Country Horns… fun sound! the Stones set in Indio was great with horns…

  12. kayatosh Says:

    i’m all good, palms. thanks for asking. just did a four night stint w/ the kids at the nj shore – no computer, no smart anything.

    hang in there w/ your stuff. you’re a good man and you will prevail.

    reading the old posts form the week. great discussion. you cats have good ears and good taste. just catching up here. had less listening time than I would like.

  13. Guyute711 Says:

    This Live bait 5 is Gold Jerry Gold!!!!!!

  14. kayatosh Says:

    still riding the positive fumes (vapors) of the PNC 2 show and the accompanying meetup/party.

    camden wasn’t the same. no BB crew, just the wife, who was cool, but i was less cool w/ her as the running partner, and i couldn’t get fully absorbed in the show. too much butter and one too many beers (3) too.

  15. kayatosh Says:

    camden skeeves me out too. weird history there for me.

  16. kayatosh Says:

    palms: just caught up w/ your status. promotion! way to go! makes enduring the gauntlet a little easier.

  17. Mr. Palmer Says:

    ya mon. Pnc was a fun two days of chillin with some good peeps. No stress, no real world bs. The way it should be. Some good jams taboot.

  18. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Its been a crazy 3 weeks kaya. Par for the course in my twisted world however. Still not sure how i managed to get myself out of that debacle. Where there is a will, there is a well.

    Also got some sage advice from a fine blackboarder off line who helped me keep focus when i was close to the edge. This place is great.

  19. Mr. Palmer Says:

    there is a way ^^^

  20. Guyute711 Says:

    I totally thought you were going to fall in a well. I was a little worried.

  21. kayatosh Says:

    this place is great, indeed. reading some of the gd vs. phish band ethos/character discussion. great stuff.

    got the 6.18 melt in my headdome. wow! $$$.

  22. BrandonKayda Says:

    This Bethel Waves solo is gorgeous. That little staccato build Trey does before it peaks is just lovely.

  23. BrandonKayda Says:

    Kind of makes me want to relisten to the MPP Waves and see if the first jam was good. I think I was just bummed that they didn’t do anything after the return to the chorus.

  24. kayatosh Says:

    “Another of my favorite aspects of Trey’s playing is his impeccable phrasing and use of space in his runs. This is also why John Scofield is one of my favs. Both cats can shred like nobody’s bizness but use space between notes to dramatic effects.

    Bursts of very quick phrases with a lot of space between allows the listener to pick up more of the overlying melodies to the soloing.

    The combo of sickly quick fingers and the patience and knowledge to let space creep in between is so key and very hard to do. The more space in your runs the less coherent your ideas appear when your playing falls out.” — aw

    ^^^^ this is why I come here to read. yall are a bunch of music heads.

  25. BrandonKayda Says:

    This outro jam is incredible – I totally forgot how melodic it was. I just thought it was space. Mike-led jamming..beautiful

Leave a Reply