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. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Not a lot of chances taken with that list, but the Dead has mostly been pored through. Ordered in roughly my preference.

  2. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    nice list tzara’s. any top 12 will be missing something.

  3. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    complete fillmore west ’69 and dick’s picks 12 are my top 2 releases

  4. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    5/10/91 Shoreline with a headful of accroutements lured me into the tribe, 2/28/69 completely spun at home sealed the deal in a very real way.

  5. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Nice, @fool, can’t really beat that. For our improv/rock community that this whole subculture is based on, I think you could argue that that weekend in ’69 is the most important weekend of music ever.

    Please, argue away.

  6. chefbradford Says:

    @Vegas, Bill and Ted Part 3, whatever the title, is indeed in the works. I think it really picked up steam a couple of years ago, and since then producers have procured writers and have gotten (I hate that word) Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves to confirm that they’d love to reprise their roles. Shame George Carlin won’t be physically present

  7. chefbradford Says:


  8. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    well i’m not arguing against that. at least not for me. live/dead is the reason i got into the dead (12-31-78 was the first show i listened to and it didn’t really do it for me, but then i listened to live/dead a week later and haven’t looked back), and i got into phish because of the dead, soo…

  9. chefbradford Says:

    I enjoy listening to the Dead, although I never saw them (came close in 94 or 95, newly sober older sister decided it wouldn’t be a good atmosphere for her).

    I know what I like when I hear it, but that’s about it.Mr C’s 72 and 73 mediafire plugs have helped me recently, and I’ve enjoyed the Filmore East (69 or 70?) discs for years. Beyond those and the studio stuff (as unfamiliar as I am with them given the huge catalog, American Beauty is one of my favorite albums by anyone), I’m pretty much a blank slate, save some random finds. Love “The Eleven”, “Dark Star”, “Eyes” (a favorite song), “Franklin’s”, “Bird Song”, “Other One”, off the top of my head

  10. chefbradford Says:

    And although I don’t think it’s a jam song, “Ripple” has resonated with me forever, and it is a link between myself and my best friend who died in 2006. “Box of Rain” grows with me the older I get, especially as I watch my father die.

  11. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    @fool, actually my brother was into mid- ’90’s “alternative” or whatever. He was starting to like the Dead a little, then we were hanging out one night, took some serious L, and listened to 2/28/69. Complete awareness ensued. He knows way more about Phish than I do now. Fillmore ’69 changes lives. Fact.

  12. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    @chef, those songs stand up to any songs in music I think. I use them to assert the songwriting ability of these so-called jambands all the time. Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Box of Rain, So Many Roads, and Days Between are as well written as any songs in the literature.

  13. chefbradford Says:

    Brokedown Palace, yes, love that one too. So Many Roads and Days Between I can’t think of, possibly would know upon hearing. Like I said, I’m basically a Dead noob, but I know what I like when I hear it

    I suck. I know. “Morning Dew” has also been rocking my world lately

  14. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    @chef, So Many Roads and Days Between are from the later days. No worries being a Dead noob on a Phish site, there are many here that are excited to help. Go to archive.org and check it out. For so many roads go to the last show, 7/9/95. Very inspiring and unspeakably sad for me. I can’t listen to it around others. For Days Between the definitive version seems to be Eugene 8/22/93. Pure Hunter poetry.

    Most of us love turning people on to new music, so please ask away.

  15. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Much of why I’m here is because I’m a Phish noob and learn a hell of a lot about what to listen to.

  16. BrandonKayda Says:

    GD ballads are unlike any other. Just beautiful. I especially love Brokedown Palace Ripple and Box Of Rain

  17. chefbradford Says:

    Thanks, Tzara’s, I do occasionally dig into the Archive. This place has always offered a ton of knowledge on the Dead, I just haven’t always had time or incentive to follow up. I’ve had a little of both lately, and it’s paying off. For instance, Morning Dew has hooked me.

  18. chefbradford Says:

    @BK, a trio from American Beauty that I love. My late friend Donny just couldn’t get over the sheer soul in the vocals on a handful of versions of “Ripple” that I played for him, and the power of the lyrics.

  19. Lycanthropist Says:

    three of the best ballads ever

  20. chefbradford Says:

    I have clear, awesome memories of my first listens to “American Beauty”. I don’t play it often anymore, a few days ago was the first time in just over a year, but it moves me more every time I do.

  21. Lycanthropist Says:


    when we gonna hang out again brother?

  22. RamblinMind Says:

    Do we need a clip of Lindsay Weir’s first listen to American Beauty, or have you all seen that?

  23. Lycanthropist Says:

    nice ref

  24. chefbradford Says:

    Lycan, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how often I think about that. I really have no idea. My small world is upside down right now, and I need a short getaway, and some good tunes.

    I’ve been hoping to catch you for about a week or two now, so I could tell you. I was playing one of your bands at work recently, I think some CF. One of my friends asked if it was Pandora radio. No, this is my friend’s band. Two of the guys are like, “You know these guys”. Yeah, I’m kind of friends with one. A little while later, my bud is like, “Dude, their keyboardist is awesome”. That’s my friend!

    Basically, they were impressed with the band, doubly so by your playing

  25. RamblinMind Says:

    i hope nobody calls me on it because now i can’t find a good clip of it. gotta have the guidance counselor quoting it, run in with the hippies at school, playing it in her room, etc

    maybe just go and watch the last episode of Freaks and Geeks

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