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. bearito Says:

    I’ll go with TubHumper for 500 Trebek

  2. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Start over:

    http://zenhabits.net/ritual/

  3. c0wfunk Says:

    also bearito, you’ll find my attempt at fluffing the alpha sand dwd maze on page 2 😉

  4. albert walker Says:

    My new theory is early tour is the way to go which is def opposite of tours past. Jams would build on each other and tours would just pick up throughout blowing up late.

    These days I feel being no the road sober and with all the families maybe it kind of takes a toll on red as the tour progresses.

    As great as this tour was and Portsmouth was def one of hotter shows the relaxed and patient but extremely focused feel of Bethel seemed to dissipate as the tour progressed.

    A couple weeks rest and maybe a day of practice and the boys should be in top form for custy ball. Not trying to raise expectations but I’m very excited for the jamming that will come out of this run. Could be the epic run we’ve all been waiting for.

  5. bearito Says:

    Glad to hear it was a great experience @ Cow – I would have loved it too

    I wouldn’t catch my first real show till the following Fall

  6. albert walker Says:

    Since Jiggy and Tubthumping were jokes

    I’d go Sabotage for worst cover

    Or that Neutral Milkshake Hotel or whatever the fuck that was

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    yeah the aeroplane is a head scratcher. Big fan of the Sabotage cover though think they do that well and it lets out the whiteboy thug in all of us.. the original MPP bustout of that ranks among my all time show moments.

  8. angryjoggerz Says:

    what up, y’all. Getting ready to pack for a week in China, hoping to just do carry on only. Not very excited about this trip, gotta up my grateful to be able to do this levels and put a smile on my face. 61st time there. woot.

  9. Mike in Austin Says:

    Katy Perry.

  10. bearito Says:

    Neutral Milkshake Hotel ftw!

  11. gratefulcub Says:

    re: Tight song rotation

    It seems to be the consensus opinion that it was a problem. But, outside of Possum, #Line, and that strange Mike’s in back to back set thing, is there any other song that caused “seriously?? this again???” reactions?

  12. angryjoggerz Says:

    My personal worst cover that I can think of is that Rage song – I just find Rage so boring and suburban, and having old guys cover it just made it feel even sadder. Maybe I am a jaded noob.

  13. c0wfunk Says:

    I think the openness of the multi-night runs in this second of the summer will open up some space. Seems the 3 night sold out tour opener in a great region for phish contributed mightily to that bethel run. Colorado last year has a similar nature as did the RR run.

  14. Mike in Austin Says:

    I think there are people who are getting tired of Fluffhead. Although that escapes me why, when they do it like DTE.

    Fall ’98 = Roggae. Played like every other show almost.

  15. Kaveh Says:

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

    ^Brilliant!

  16. butter Says:

    Well written Miner

    Some of the things that make Trey loosen up and let the jams develop – we’ll never know, your right

    Using Twist from Raleigh as an example, maybe they’re saving the big face melting Twist for the Ball, or he felt the crowd really wanted to hear “rift”

    The other major variable that we were talking about before Portsmouth is energy. You just never know what inspires an artist, he could look down and see the glimmer of a marvelous tourmaline necklace or a hot chick in the front row, or even a deer give ng birth before a gig 😉

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    in person the rage worked really well, more of that same vibe of the sabotage. Never seen phish fans moshing before that and probably hope not to see it again. Being front and center for that one made a big difference.

    OTH I thought the been caught stealing the other night with the vocal effects came off pretty rough. I actually liked the 98 version I caught and thought Trey did those vocals pretty well then, wonder what prompted the change – a little loss of range? A new toy trey just wanted to bust out? On the SBD it kinda sounds like hell and you’ll rarely hear me saying that about live phish.

  18. bearito Says:

    “Killing in the name of” came completely out of left field and my crew & I almost lost our shit. Not a big fan of Rage anymore obviously, but when I was a young’n, the shit was fun as hell.

  19. c0wfunk Says:

    @mia – my wife, generally very accepting to all things phish has had it up to here ^^ with Fluffhead. And of course they bust it out first set we see all summer. It was kinda funny actually.

  20. marcoesq Says:

    Aeroplane: Def worst cover ever

    MPP ’98 Sabotage and then Hampton AND Lemonwheel: Amazing

  21. c0wfunk Says:

    that’s right sabotage at hampton and lemonwheel too 🙂 I think I”m in the 100% club on that one?

  22. marcoesq Says:

    ^yep

  23. marcoesq Says:

    That Sabotage>Mike’s to open 2nd set of Hampton2 was outtttta control!!

  24. bearito Says:

    That vocal effect in BCS had the delics forcing me to question the reality of sound. I didn’t see the second mic get brought out. Great to experience!

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    please to not forget that simple.

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