Super Ball—An Instant Classic

Super Ball IX (G.Lucas)

A few days removed from Superballin’ and I’m still reeling from the quantity of amazing Phish that went down over the weekend. For 13 hours, 17 minutes and 22 seconds over three days, Phish threw down a musical showcase at Watkins Glen International, while recapturing their festival magic of lore. Though Festival 8 provided a blissful return to the festival setting in Southern California, it didn’t feel the same as Phish’s historic Northeastern fiestas. Super Ball most definitely did. As a full-powered band collided with the fantasy-like festival grounds, a musical spark was lit early in the opening show and a fire of blazing Phish burned all weekend long. Coming off a stellar opening leg of Summer Tour, when the guys hit the stage at Super Ball IX, things seemed to loosen up in just the right ways as they crafted a weekend of dreams. Phish—the improvisational juggernauts we fell in love with—are back on the scene with new improvisational tricks up their sleeves and an enthusiasm to match.

7.1.11 - Watkins Glen (G.Lucas)

Over the course of three shows, the band played so many profound jams that its been impossible to listen to, wrap my head around, and digest them all in such a short amount of time. With more standout music at Super Ball than at any other three (or four)-night run in the modern era, Phish exploded with innovative playing throughout the weekend. Capping the festival with four unforgettable sets, including, perhaps, their most psychedelic performance to date in their late-night “Storage Jam,” Phish left their fan base in a state of bliss and disbelief after a weekend that surpassed most everyone’s expectations. It was that good.

The band’s masterful improvisation shined throughout the festival, whether playing within song structures or exploring new territory—something they did quite often over the three days. The reaction time between band members was negligible as they patiently crafted one standout piece after another. The tempo of their playing adopted to the booming sound and open-air surroundings, slowing down just a bit and allowing Mike to dominate the stage, directing jams with dark and eclectic bass lines throughout the weekend. But Phish’s virtuosic whole-band interplay, showcased all weekend long (and especially during their late-night set) wrote the story of the festival, leaving fans new and old in a state of utter joy. For those of us who saw them in their heyday, the band’s creativity has fully returned. And for those experiencing a full-powered Phish for the first time, well, get ready for the ride of your life!

7.3.11 - Watkins Glen (Graham Lucas)

Within all the musical theatrics of the weekend, Phish introduced us, in earnest, to a new musical style—extremely abstract, and often beatless, psychedelic sound sculptures. An improvisational direction hinted at throughout June (in jams such as Bethel’s “Waves” and “Disease,” Alpharetta’s “Disease” and Raleigh’s “Split”) was displayed on night one in the mini-jam before “Crosseyed” and during “Simple,” and then fully expounded upon during their late-night dip into the abyss in 5.1 surround-sound amidst the interactive art installations of Ball Square. After focusing on eerie, abstract and ambient exploration throughout this hour-long performance, Phish infused similar sounds into their festival finale, particularly in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” and “Waves.”

7.3.11 (G.Lucas)

Historically, Phish has honed in on jamming styles at their festivals which they continued to explore during subsequent tours. Melodic ambient interplay at Lemonwheel (highlighted by the fourth set’s “Ambient Jam”) and IT’s growling psychedelic textures of 2003 (underlined by the unforgettable Tower Jam) provide the best examples. During the band’s final slate of shows in August, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this type of abstract experimentation they continue to push forward.

Most of all, Phish’s creativity—in all directions—was on display at Super Ball. From the groove-based turned exploratory “Golden Age” to the Tyrannosaurus-sized “Tweezer,” and from the scorching-turned-funky “Disease” to the intricate interplay of “Light,” Phish jams were sprouting from every angle at Watkins Glen. There is so much to discuss and so much to process from the weekend (and leg one), that it is hard to know where to begin. But with a month off we have plenty of time breakdown the exploits of the festival and beyond. Look for more detailed analysis and discussion of Super Ball IX this week as we bask in the glory of Phish 2011.


Jam of the Day:

Golden Age” 7.2.11 III

One of Super Ball’s upper-echelon excursions.

[audio:] Tags: , , ,

600 Responses to “Super Ball—An Instant Classic”

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  1. Corey Says:

    Ballin’ on the one. First.
    Great job Mr. Miner. Again, great to see your reviews in the PHiSH post at The Glen.
    That was a pleasant surprise, upon opening the paper.

    The best three show run of summer, easy. I loved Bethel more than any, but what they gave us at the Ball was truly special.

  2. Gordo G Says:


  3. Corey Says:

    Guess the beach ball thingy worked, or is putting that pic up there your way of saying, was a cool idea afterall? 🙂

    The pic looks neat but the balls look photoshopped. I know they weren’t…

  4. Magicmikec Says:

    I wish I was there. Traveling from Australia was just not in the budget.

  5. tela'smuff Says:

    wow, this Quinn!!

  6. tela'smuff Says:

    just hearing this jam that started set ii on 7/1.

    man. one can only dream all sets start like that!! sick sick sick.

  7. tela'smuff Says:

    ha!! wow! that Jam>Crosseyed!! ugh!

    ok. done talking to myself. nice write-up Miner!

  8. Corey Says:

    It was the Quinn of the year, no question.

    Wait, didn’t I say I was going to bed? G’night all you night owls.

    Don’t let those eerie/creepy sounds of the late set bite you: If you listen to that set intently enough….oh, they will bite you. First time I didn’t know the late set was gonna go down ahead of time, though through past experience I expected it. It was one of the heaviest sets I’ve ever heard. Walking from Glen Close, listening to them as I head to nomansland between Alaska and Hawai’i, talking my friends into walking back in, all the while hearing this creepy music bouncing all over the place…amazing. Love walking to these sets and hearing the sounds get louder and more intense as we get closer.

    PHiSH is too cool for school and that’s a fact, Jack (or whatever your name is).

    Steve Reich, John Cage, please step aside. There’s a new PHiSH in swimtown.

    Ok, for real, it’s sleep time.

  9. Corey Says:

    @Magicmikc, for the furthest lurker award (sorry if you’ve posted before, you’re new to these eyes). Great to see fans down under. Australia tour 2014, perhaps? 🙂

    And with that, to bed.

  10. Corey Says:

    Sorry, @Magicmikec, for leaving out the e. Getting old over here…

  11. ihatepockets Says:

    Yeah Miner!!!

    That Storage Jam was really something else. Dove especially deep that night, and it payed off huge. Easily the one of the most all-around psychedelic experience of my life. Total in the zone, loss of ego, one with the music type of things.

    And yes, the jams were sprouting from all angles throughout the weekend. Way too many amazing jams for me to pin a favorite.

    Even aside from the music, there was just an abundance of great times and great people.

    The only medicine for my post-SBIX depression is my excitement for UIC.

  12. BrandonKayda Says:

    Is anybody awake?

  13. Henry Says:

    The Golden Age recording is pristine!!! Thanks Miner!!

  14. pyite94 Says:

    Super hot Golden Age…hot openers galore. SSP, Big Balls, Jam>C&P were all choice.

  15. ThePigSong Says:

    Couldn’t agree with this post more. No other run even comes close to the playin the band gave us over the weekend. From peaches to Quinn to golden road to Light, the fire was everywhere!

    ftr, I didn’t have much of an opinion on the beach balls other than hoping they were disposed of properly. I’m really glad they were there now though, I wasn’t hassled in the least bit and the bb war only lasted a few minutes. Very psychedelic experience.

  16. ThePigSong Says:


  17. Baxter Says:

    I’ve been in permagrin mode since Friday. Everything about the weekend was perfect, perfect, perfect. So many bust-outs, such great playing. The boys were on fire. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  18. Foul_Domain Says:

    Nice summary Miner.

    Lets face it – The balls were cool!

    Best. Weekend. Ever.

  19. ThePigSong Says:

    I need another festi in my life, stat.

    One thing my crew decided this weekend is we need an RV from here on out. Four days in the dust/ heat and sleeping on the ground just ain’t gonna cut it from here on out. Not when your busy raging 14 hours of music.

  20. ThePigSong Says:

    The massive balloon fish was also pretty gnarley. When it’s time was done I was imagining a crowd of piranha mowing that shit into oblivion. Seriously fucking cool.

  21. litteringandd Says:

    Upon play back, it was not just wishful thinking- anyone else catch the Spanish Moon tease from Mike at the end of Camelwalk? BTW the Boogie>Camelwalk is the biz from the day set.

  22. Foul_Domain Says:

    Roger on the Spanish Moon tease. I was waiting for it all weekend after that, but to no avail.

  23. Tom Martyn Says:

    I haven’t dared start listening to the shows. The music last weekend changed me. There were times where I literally lost track of where I physically was – thinking back, I seem to remember being in some other location, some other place. The music was that transportational. And yet I know I missed alot, even though I was present every moment of every set. So I know as soon as I start spinning these shows, I’ll be gone for a month. Fortunately I’m starting a six week vacation between jobs and my new house has a pool.

  24. Badphish Says:

    Just starte re listening to it last night on my 30 min drive home. Let me say this, my first show was in 96. Im 32. I partied like it was the last party of my life last weekend. Sometimes it takes a re-listen to, to make sure thiings played out the way you remember them. First set, Gin was tasty but wolfmans was proboby the best wolfmans ive ever heard live and maybe just plain ever. Quinn was for sure the best. just my .2 cents. Got tons and tons to listen to still. As far as the storage shed goes….maybe mind was blown alittle too much that first night. Im pretty sure we all witnessed a phish phirst and something very very special!

  25. Mike in Austin Says:

    Great start Miner. I love the snippet above that many of the fests were the seminal seeds of future jam styles for fall.

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