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:

    another random curious thing: Fluff Hen?? seems to have become the standard.

  2. c0wfunk Says:

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

    no doubt ..very much a christian dogma thing going on there. The general idea of pure knowledge getting twisted in the hands of power structure.

  3. Robear Says:

    Cow, I think Trey is having fun with how clear the vocals are on the soundboards. All kinds of little jokes can be heard.

  4. Phamily Berzerker Says:

  5. Mike in Austin Says:

    Well said c0w. The only time I get disappointed is when they can’t play the song. Sometimes.

    The ending of Fluffhead still raises the hair on my arms almost every listen. Bathing in those Fluffhead lights at the end doesn’t suck at all.

  6. gratefulcub Says:

    I like Darien set 2 above all the others. Golden Age is my favorite new Phish song (I know it’s a cover, but so is YaMar, so it’s a Phish song now), and the entire set is based on, and flows from the tone set in the opening number (which happened to rip)

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    makes sense rob..

    some really nice trey/page interplay in the rhodes solo section of the Clod in Fluff

  8. Fly Says:

    feels about right, adubs

    although i have to say i didn’t love Bethel I set II as much as most

    Waves obviously tip-top-shelf, but thought the C&P was standard and the Boogie On deconstruction, while intriguing, seemed a bit awkward and forced at times

    didn’t think much of the Carini>BOTT, or the Possum placement

    I think I’d take 1.1.11 set II over that, despite Waves

    will spin back to back at some point

  9. c0wfunk Says:

    thing about fluff head is you kinda need to play it every 4 shows or so to get this level of precision. That off time thing before the bundle of joy section sounds really really great.

  10. Lycanthropist Says:

    I would say Blossom Set 2 and Darien Set 2 are on par with flow of 1/1/11

  11. c0wfunk Says:

    as always I fluff the sets I’m at but I’d put Charlotte set II in the conversation of top sets of the year so far.. A lot depends I guess on your perception of Fishman antics. Been waiting for Bike so that one actually pushes it up for me.

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    I do enjoy the 1/1/11 Simple but I’m not sure I put quite as much weight on it as others. Heard a lot of jams this summer I think are more evolved.

  13. Lycanthropist Says:

    The Fishman antics were well placed and well earned in that set IMO @cow

  14. albert walker Says:


    not sure about that Lycan. talk about no filler.

    Blossom was def one I was considering but the short Birds and the Possum although hot was placed weird. like I said I considered it but still feel 1.1 just flowed so perfectly

  15. msbjivein Says:

    The next show is the best show!

  16. albert walker Says:

    I did like the Darien flow

    but that rough ass Theme intro and placement and a somewhat lack of jamming I didn’t love it as much as others musically

    on tapes it seemed fun but somewhat uneventful

    workign back through tour now. thoughts may change.

  17. Lycanthropist Says:

    i suppose at @AW

    but that set really works for me…

    probably my favorite whole set of leg 1

    either that or Bethel2 set 1

  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    the Blossome set I mean

  19. albert walker Says:

    being in the room for both there was def moments the energy picked up and waned in the blossom set

    anyone in the building 1/1 can contest. non stop shit.

  20. albert walker Says:

    key is to get the great flow, tight playing, and patient segues of 1/1 with the more blown out jamming of BLossom Sally or Charlotte Ghost and RnR and we will be in bizness

  21. c0wfunk Says:

    Truly the grail there aw.. only a handful of such sets exist in history to my knowledge.

  22. voopa Says:

    dusty- I offered some tapes to someone who posted here last week (Runaway Jim) who’s stuck driving a car w/a cassette player…still haven’t sent them, it’s been too hot to keep them in the car. It’s cooling now, so when I send them (tomorrow, most likely), I’ll drop him a note and can mention that you have some (if you want to give them away, obvs).

  23. butter Says:

    Bethel # line

  24. albert walker Says:


    not sure about Bethel C&P being standard

    may want to spin it again. really smoking stuff.

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    back in the day as we were morphing over to CD we usta stick our extra tapes underneath windshield wipers of likely looking cars. Hard to find a car w/ a tape deck now I guess tho.

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