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. negev79 Says:

    Mitch – so sorry for your loss. Please let us know if there is anything we can do. Really.

  2. phoammhead Says:

    somewhere around 80 or so

    37 in 3.0

    a handful in 2.0

    40 or so in 1.0

  3. halcyon Says:

    Mitch

    Good Vibes headed your way. my sincere condolences.

  4. MrCompletely Says:

    fucking A, Mitch. That sucks.

  5. MrCompletely Says:

    you really are having one shitty summer @mitch. what crap! things will turn for you soon.

  6. MrCompletely Says:

    @phoam, I was at that show, your first I mean. were you at the next one, the Roll Like a Cantaloupe gig?

    You know, celebrating the Great Chapel Hill Cantaloupe Festival which was underway at the time?

  7. tela'smuff Says:

    damn. popped in and saw that news. sorry mitch. that’s a tough one to take. vibes are with you brother. you’re gonna get the treatment from me out West kid.

  8. William H. Bonney Says:

    Mitch, very sorry to hear about your loss. Had to bury my best friend this Feb. after getting hit. Still haven’t got over it, very well. Losing a family member like that is tough. Try to remember the good times, that is all I can say. Worst way to lose a friend, one thing to get old and pass but such a sudden loss. 🙁

  9. MrCompletely Says:

    open jam out of Runaway Jim in leg 2 for Jackson

  10. MrCompletely Says:

    BTW phoam kudos for sneaking in to your first show. I’m pretty sure you get double points for that.

  11. phoammhead Says:

    yes, C! that was classic phishiness!

  12. tela'smuff Says:

    actually just spinnin 7/25/99, right now in the thick of the My Left Toe>Whipping Post, and the music seems to fit this moment.

    :::vibes:::

  13. William H. Bonney Says:

    Only Phish I ever had to Jedi my way into were 12/28 and 12/30 1994. Tickets were not to be had.

  14. chefbradford Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Mitch. I buried two much loved family pets last week, both died unexpectedly for different reasons. Loki and Jim. Cried like the kid I still am

  15. vegas wolfmans Says:

    7/25/99 was the heat. Great, great show. E Center and the recent Fuji Rock Japan benefit show are the only official releases from ’99. Need. More. Please. The most under-appreciated year IMO. Love it.

    Sorry Mitch. That both sucks and blows. ::vibed::

  16. butter Says:

    snuck into 11.25.94, twas a tough sell out as i recall

    damn happy about that decision

  17. butter Says:

    ^i believe thats the only time i’ve ever done that

    wook down

  18. phoammhead Says:

    does anyone else think ups sucks

    they leave everything by my mailbox instead of bringing it to my door

    my mailbox is about 50 yds from my house . . . ups has shoved my packages and delivers in between the post and box or left it on the ground next to the box

    bek and i are like WTF?

  19. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Snuck into Blossom ’95- commando style through the woods behind the ampitheatre on a headful, arriving just in time for the tail end of Spock’s Brain. Good times.

  20. butter Says:

    ups rocks the land for me

    have a special drop box for them, as i live in a country property

    fed ex has so many different drivers have never been able to “train” their drivers to do what ups does for me

    fed ex used to leave my ptbm by the side of the highway, were my mailbox is

    so stoked ptbm ups’s now

  21. vegas wolfmans Says:

    William H. MSG 12/30/94 sneak-in FTW. Jedi status kangfirmed.

  22. tela'smuff Says:

    “we’re going to get you so wasted after the show”

  23. tela'smuff Says:

    “you roll up a big spliff, and you don’t pass it to no one!”

  24. butter Says:

    tela’s – ws have won 12/18

  25. tela'smuff Says:

    i know….sshhhhh……

    😉

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