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. kayatosh Says:

    I had a chance to spin that waves a few nights ago and was floored again. masterpiece of jamming/open improv.

  2. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Can’t wait to go to Bethel again next year. No way they don’t go back. Place was magic for the band. Nicest staff ever, except for the on guy that decided to bust my balls for selling $20 lawns. . Is it still scalping if your losing 60% on the tickets?

    Bethel- The east coast’s west coast venue…

  3. Guyute711 Says:

    Listening to IT Waves as we speak.

    This place is tremendous. When I left Cincinnati for MA I had no place to stay that night. Jdub steps up and let’s me stay at his place. Mind you, I had never even met him before. I appreciate that so much and that is just one story that has come out of this board. I know quite a few people have gotten the same type of hookups. I don’t get all gooey normally but I have met so many fine folks through here in just a couple years and I never would have expected that when I read my first review. Oh, and thanks Miner for all your hard work. You started this thing.

  4. BrandonKayda Says:

    Bethel Crosseyed jam sounds like Electric Funeral by Black Sabbath

  5. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    ^
    Was just listening to that today BK

  6. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Sabbath that is.

  7. Guyute711 Says:

    I’m gonna have to throw that on after this Live Bait. Love me some Sabbath. BK, what do you just sit around and listen to music all day long. I respect your knowledge.

  8. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    the cat at the wizquiz clinic today in front of me was name jerry garcia. No resemblance

  9. Guyute711 Says:

    That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry PB.

  10. halcyon Says:

    NYS appears assured marriage equality bill will pass. While some people here may agree, or may not agree, I know several people that worked hard and held rallies in support of this. Sometimes democracy in our corporatocracy can work.

  11. BrandonKayda Says:

    It takes up a lot of my free time @guyute. I’ll be bummed if people don’t know who Black Sabbath is.

  12. Guyute711 Says:

    You would be surprised. More people know about Ozzy from MTV unfortunately.

  13. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    who is black sabbath?

  14. Mike in Austin Says:

    This Live Bait is such a great present. Thank You Kevin.

    I’ve been to every Festival since Clifford Ball. Almost like it was a responsibility.

    Not going to SBIX this year due to vacation, work, West Coast and UIC etc. Bummer. Luckily I’ll get to hit Brahlorado.

    The best times of my life have been at festivals. Really wish I could go, and jealous of everyone going this year. It will be a great time.

  15. Guyute711 Says:

    As soon as you start peaking I’m gonna punch you right in the gut Df. 😉

  16. kayatosh Says:

    6.18 caspian — $$$. best caspian ever? bethel’s was also $$, at the least, but this 6.18 caspian really grabbed me. and then as the dust clears . . . esther. rift>caspian>esther –looks a little suspect on paper, but delivers on tape.

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    haha

  18. BrandonKayda Says:

    Packard Goose is a kick ass song.

  19. Mike in Austin Says:

    BK, now we’re talking!

  20. BrandonKayda Says:

    So how’s it going folks?

    I really need to find something to do until Monday. Dying over here.

  21. kayatosh Says:

    was temporarily at a loss as to what to listen to. went directly to charlotte rnr jam.

    good night yall.

  22. Mike in Austin Says:

    Joe’s Garage was really my first foray into Zappa in Jr. High. Dove deep after that. By ’84 I owned every Zappa album and quite a few bootlegs. Always dug your avatar.

    Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best…

    The guitar solo is among my favorites.

  23. RamblinMind Says:

    damn, wish i could be as carefree as you guys re: first puddle at a show (albeit a festival)

    can’t make it to SBIX, but not sure that would be in the cards anyway

  24. Mike in Austin Says:

    Not a lot of pentatonic scales in that solo.

  25. BrandonKayda Says:

    I LOVE that quote.

    Yeah…my Zappa intro in 7th grade went like:

    Apostrophe->Overnight Sensation->Hot Rats->Joe’s Garage->Freak Out->One Size Fits All->Bongo Fury

    Billy the mooooooooooooooooountain, and his stunning wife Ethyl a treeeeeeeeeeeee

    I really Love Joe’s Garage, Freak Out, and One Size Fits All/Waka Jawaka/Grand Wazoo

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