A Spectacular Set

7.3.11 - Watkins Glen (Graham Lucas)

On the last day of Super Ball, Phish not only threw down one of the most impressive second sets of the summer, they also played quite the first. With shrewd song selection, engaging interplay, and extra zest added to every piece, Phish unveiled—without question—the strongest opening set of the year, and many fan’s pick for their favorite set of the entire festival. Having already reviewed the wildly creative second set of July 3rd, let’s look back at this monster that kicked off Super Ball’s finale.

Of the six times Phish has played Bob Marley’s “Soul Shakedown Party,” three have been openers and a sure sign that a big-time night is ahead. Debuted as the first song at their legendary show on 2.17.97 at Amsterdam’s Paradiso, other opening versions came on 4.17.04 (sure—not exactly an instant classic) and 12.30.09. And when the opening notes of Marley’s original rang out over the concert field at Watkins Glen on the evening of July 3rd, we knew that were in for a treat.

"Mound" - 7.3.11 G.Lucas)

Busting into the old-school combination of “AC/DC Bag” and “The Curtain,” Phish set a retro tone for their opening stanza—a thread they would weave throughout the entire set. As the band wound down the final hits of their composition, everyone expected to hear “With,” but they threw us a left hook in the form of “Colonel Forbin’s!” For the first time since returning to the stage, the band used “The Curtain” as a composed “launch pad” into another song—a use popularized throughout their career. With the special vibe that defined Super Ball all weekend long, as Phish precisely played their Gamehendge classic, one could feel the oncoming narration. And just as they hit the crossroads, Trey let go of his guitar before “Mockingbird” for the first time since Vegas 2000, and he began to spin a yarn.

7.3.11 (G.Lucas)

Trey told a tale from ancient band history; a self-avowed true occurrence when they inadvertently locked themselves in their storage shed. With a lack of anything else to do—and no immediate way out—the band proceeded to break out their instruments and jam. Twisting the story like only he can, Trey jokingly explained that the entire festival was a projected reality of the band’s consciousness from their storage shed back in the day. And when the festival ended—and the band got released from their captivity—no one would have any recollection of the weekend. A quintessential tale that blended fact, fiction, lore, and humor with our actual experiences of the weekend, Trey continued the old-school feel of the set without even playing a note. But when Phish got back to music, they were all business.

Tearing off uncharacteristically supercharged versions of “Destiny Unbound” (with a ferocious funk jam), “Wilson” (with a strong, whole-band “Mind-Left Body” tease), and “Mound” (with a spectacular final solo by Big Red), everything the band touched was turned to gold. Even throwing a “Big Black Furry Creatures” into the mix to enhance the retro vibe, Phish was playing this set to all everyone from jaded vets to drooling noobs. And as Trey punctuated “Mound” with a blistering showcase, he set the table for the final—and most impressive—sequence of the set: “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” “Time Loves a Hero,” Reba > Bowie.”

7.3.11 G.Lucas)

A day after resurrecting their post-hiatus opus “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” Phish threw down their other epic 2.0 jam—“A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” Riding the song’s menacing wave, when the snarling section ended one of the more profound segments the set emerged. Nodding to the ambient harmonies and abstract playing that graced the Storage Jam (and much of June,) Phish oozed into a gorgeous piece of patient psychedelia as day started to transform into night. Following the far-out realms that they reached in this experiment, Phish got the audience back on the same page with a juxtaposition of styles in Little Feat’s groove-based “Time Loves a Hero.”

But the climax of this torrid set came in the unlikely and (once again) old-school one-two punch of “Reba” and “David Bowie.” Daytime “Rebas” have provided vivid festival memories since The Clifford Ball’s immaculate Sunday version. Followed three years later by Oswego’s dusk performance and in 2003, by IT’s phenomenal afternoon rendition, it had been a while since a daytime festival set and “Reba” collided. But when this happened at Super Ball, one of the defining versions of the modern era resulted.

7.3.11 (G.Lucas)

Splashing into a laid-back groove, Mike and Trey took their time building their lines together, echoing and weaving melodies around each others’ ideas. The interplay of the two guitarists would be the defining facet of this version as they leaped into another dimension of sonic convergence. Finally exiting their one-minded symbiosis with a series of uncharacteristic rhythms licks, Trey moved into a final solo that floated atop the band’s majestic groove and Lead 35,000 people to the moutaintop. And as Fishman’s drum roll slammed the door on this dramatic excursion, the band broke out the song’s now-rare whistling ending. But as they entered the final verses, the band dropped the ball, butchering their attempt at the first complete rendition in ages. But playing off their own mistake and humorously embracing their flub, they guys never stopped playing when the lyrics ended, and—with stage antics—built an ambient bridge from the end of “Reba” into a set-closing “David Bowie.”

Super Ball Print (Masthay)

Tearing off an adrenalized and intricate version of yet another ancient opus, Phish underlined the vintage quality of this stanza. The outstanding communication and creativity that was on display throughout this frame flooded the final jam and the guys shredded a fierce take of their classic, moving from feel-good textures into far more harrowing territory before delivering the demonic tale to its final shrills. A thrilling exclamation point on a near-perfect set, “Bowie’s” airtight excursion dropped the hammer on a stunning first half of what would soon become one Phish’s best two-set shows since their return.

Soul Shakedown Party, AC/DC Bag, The Curtain > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Destiny Unbound, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Wilson, Mound, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Time Loves a Hero, Reba -> David Bowie

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443 Responses to “A Spectacular Set”

  1. Chuck sweD Says:

    kind thoughts mitch.

  2. albert walker Says:

    that sucks Mitch. As someone that values his relationships with his pups more than anything in this world I really feel for ya man. couldn’t imagine dealing with something that unexpected.

    damn. really so sorry man.

  3. DaNcInG fOoL Says:


  4. Leo Weaver Says:

    Damn Mitch. Sorry to hear that. Good vibes headed your way bro.

  5. Gratefulcub Says:

    Miami Tweezer may still be my favorite 3.0 track

  6. Gratefulcub Says:

    Damn man. All the best, i loved that little fella.

  7. phoammhead Says:

    phish delivered at sbix.

  8. sumodie Says:

    mitch, im very sorry to hear about jackson. sending you a big hug…

  9. kayatosh Says:

    deep breaths, mitch. sorry for your loss.

  10. Guyute711 Says:

    That totally sucks mitch. It has not been a good week for the pets of the world. That is a really rough way to lose a furry friend. Keep your head up.

  11. Mr palmer Says:

    Sorry dude. That’s awful. Hang in there.

  12. EL Duderino Says:

    Yeah, sorry Mitch!

    My heart goes out to you!

  13. mitch Says:

    He was such a good natured, kind pet. If we lost the punk ass old cat it’s one thing but he was so gentle and nice to everyone. This fucking sucks. Guilt it on overdrive. He isn’t used to having a yard and I should have been watching closer. Keep telling myself he didn’t suffer. I still dunno what to say to former ms mango a thousand miles away.

    I feel like fucking shit. Worst trip home ever, broken arms, cavities, Jackson. I’m gonna need Reba everynight on tour. Spinning the ball Reba now. Loud.

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    worcester hood always makes me feel good

  15. phoammhead Says:

    hang in there, mitch. it’ll be okay. damn.

  16. mitch Says:

    GP, you out there? I’m ready for a blunt tonight.

  17. voopa Says:

    Condolences, mitch.

  18. phoammhead Says:

    in 1991 phish played 5 nites in a row several times and played 6 nites in a row at least twice according to my quick glance a phish dot net setlist stats. . . that’s dedication #wow!

  19. kayatosh Says:

    maybe spin some JGB 12.8.77 love in the afternoon. soothingly smooth jerry w/ light as a feather keith.

  20. phoammhead Says:

    i prefer phish to play up to 3 nites in a row in my backyard . . then take a few days to regroup and then play another up to 3 nites in a row in my backyard . . kinda sounds like east coast

  21. phoammhead Says:

    i’m spinnin’ this sbix day 3 set 1 right now and it is the shizz

  22. Kaveh Says:

    @Miner…I’m checking with the troops…I’ll let you know soon. Thanks.

  23. Dr Pronoia Says:

    jesus christ, mitch. thoughts and love your way brother

  24. phoammhead Says:

    btw bethel 2, dte, charlotte, sbix day 3 . . . . what’s anybody’s fav complete show?

    mine’s bethel 1, sbix day 2, charlotte

    not competition, just friendly comparison

  25. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @phoam, DTE is still my fav. how many shows have you seen btw?

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