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. marcoesq Says:

  2. Selector J Says:

    fwiw, at it’s core, I think Icculus is an anti-Christianty song.

  3. Selector J Says:

    ^at least a satirical take on Christianity.

  4. Mike in Austin Says:

    I think the debut of Sabotage was MPP?

    Someone gave me the advice to just relax if you’re no longer into a song. Chill down. Go take a piss, organize your pockets. I do appreciate them now actually. I don’t feel bad at all if I sit down and relax during Possum or whatever.

    I haven’t done “whole” tours but I did 8 shows in a row in ’98. Gotta keep away the negative emotions away if you’ve heard a song multiple times.

    I remember they played Roggae, Moma Dance and Birds alot. Every show had at least one of them. It was way predictable. Came to love them that much more.

    I was so tired by end of my run at Deer Creek II, I thought I just wanted to hang low on the lawn. Decided to head down to the pav regardless. Then Rhinoceros opener (weird cover) and Halley’s huge with ALS teasing (best Halley’s I had heard up to then).

    I was ready to go again and energy was up. The Gumbo of set II was really great too.

    All this talk of Hampton, so I’m listening to 11/13/98 Wolfmans with it’s big MLB jam in it. Great, laid back Wolfmans -> MLB -> Wolfmans. Then into Roggae. 😉 If you were on tour, you just sat down, relaxed and enjoyed. If it was the one show you got I imagine you were disappointed? Nah. Box o’ chocolates.

    I got back to Austin, then went to Asia for 3 weeks straight for work. Now that was exhausting.

    Looking forward to fall and ALMOST 6 shows in a row. Gonna be great.

  5. Mike in Austin Says:

    How do I type such long posts?

  6. thedayman Says:

    that would be phenomenal marco. cannot wait for the ball.

    everytime i say “ball” when referring to the fest, i just can’t help but imagine a wook and a wookette couple all dressed up in their fancy wook garb going for a night out on the town with the phish.

  7. Kaveh Says:

    @AW: Just dropped into Maze…what a sweet rie to get there!

  8. gratefulcub Says:

    Icculus may or may not be anti christian

    Sand definitely is. (at least the way i like to interpret and live by verse #3)

  9. Kaveh Says:

    Ride: I meant.

  10. c0wfunk Says:

    I wouldn’t say anti christianity as much as anti dogma.. those into dogma have a hard time getting that though.

  11. Stash Says:

    Who won the second book contest? Anyone know?

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    words of wisdom from mia

  13. c0wfunk Says:

    in 3.0 Trey likes to emphasize the “if I hit stormy seas I have myself to blame!!” line. Curious random thing to me.

  14. thedayman Says:

    good post @ MiA. thats how i felt in detroit when they dropped fluff. now don’t get me wrong, the segue was great, and i love the peak of that song, but when i’m at a show, the long composed part just doesn’t work for me. so i went and took a squeege, grabbed a beer, and came back and danced my ass off to the final chorus and ensuing cathartic upbeat soloing by trey. great way to look at it for sure.

  15. marcoesq Says:

    yeah he does. just like he also speeds up the line in Ghost “I feel-I never told you..”

  16. gratefulcub Says:


    me too I guess. Every version, the first time I hear it, I am waiting to see which words are emphasized in that line. It can change from version to version. I like not being able to sing a long the first time 🙂

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    just now getting back to the 3 shows I saw; after having heard the rest of the tour; I’m in Possum from alphaI right now and this thought strikes me:

    The amazing thing, to me, about Possum, and the reason I could hear it every run I see and not care too much… Is that I can’t even count how many Possum’s I’ve heard or Phish has played, and I can’t count how many different times i’ve heard someone play a 12 bar blues. But somehow, some way, Trey manages to find a new way through the 12 bars in virtually every chorus in virtually every run through Possum. This little trilly arpeggio effected thing he climbs up before The Big Wail in this possum is inventive as hell.

    Love it.

    Feel roughly the same about Julius.

  18. gratefulcub Says:

    Portsmouth Sand

    So very reminiscent of Mike’s playing in Miami 09 (Ghost)

  19. [Not Tom] Says:

    @ stash – I’m wondering the same thing – pretty sure the # of points required to win this round was fairly low, as compared to the first.

  20. Fly Says:

    So, where does 1.1.11 rank in 2011 shows?

  21. dusty Says:

    >>> I think the debut of Sabotage was MPP?

    correct. My ears still hurt from mike’s front monitor. I noticed mpp didn’t have seats in the pit this year.

  22. [Not Tom] Says:

    I still haven’t listed to 1.1.11.

    Need to get on that.

  23. Selector J Says:

    Sure, anti-dogma in general but lots of allusions to Christianity within the Gamehenge saga.

  24. Selector J Says:

    I’m out. Sorry to drop that last one and scoot but I got a meter that just expired. Thanks to those who tuned into the Pablo + bonus non-Pablo reggae.

  25. albert walker Says:

    I feel 1/1 set II

    is still right under Bethel 1+2 and DTE

    no # lined jams, impeccable flow, and centerpiece jams in Twist, SImple, and Sally

    real nice set IMO

    some of the newer set II’s may match them in jamming on a few tunes but the flow doesn’t quite work throughout IMO or there are some abrupt segues.

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