Fruitful First Sets

One of the aspects that made the Denver shows so powerful and stand out from so many others this summer was their first sets. While first sets have been fairly routine this summer with highlights here and there, the three in Denver popped with energy and inspired playing throughout, while including some of the standout moments of the weekend. In their end-of-summer showcase in the Rockies, Phish crushed six straight sets—and below is a glance at the three that came before setbreak.


9.2.11 I

9.2.11 (M.Stein)

This first set was the only one that took a little bit to get going, but it was also felt like a marathon, clocking in a 14 songs. As Phish set the ‘S’ theme, an early-show combination of “Sloth,” “Sweet Virginia”—though seemingly random at the time—came as welcome additions to the setlist. But this first set truly took off with “Stash,” a song whose appearances have waned this summer. Delving into an intricate, guitar-led conversation, Phish sparked this frame with a classically-shaped rendition defined by intensity and vigor. Splashing into “Sneakin’ Sally’s” post-vocal jam section, the grooves commenced, but they weren’t typical rhythms. Trey danced around a prominent pocket with short rhythms licks before gradually oozing into a solo. Hitting as a band whole-band, the guys slammed into big-time dance grooves before Trey moved into a seething solo alongside Mike’s envelope-filtered dementia. Getting far from “Sally” into a dark and dungeon-esque realm, the band brought the piece down to almost nothing before the dramatic return of “Sparks.” Having clearly practiced the piece, the band tore The Who cover to shreds, highlighted by the precision drum work of Jon Fishman. Thus concluded the most improvisationally significant portion of the set, but Phish went on for a fair bit longer. Breaking out “Shine a Light” and “Split Open and Melt” as the standouts of the set’s final portion, Phish took “Split” into groovier places than recent versions before building out into more abstract and dissonant interplay. A dark horse jam of this show, this “Split” was a more solid. start-to-finish version than we’ve heard in a while. The darkness of “Split” set the table for a lighter closer of “Squirming Coil,” and the first set of the ‘S’ show was complete.

Sample in a Jar, Sparkle, The Sloth, Sweet Virginia, Suskind Hotel, Strange Design, Stash, Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > Sparks > Scent of a Mule, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Shine a Light, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil


9.3.11 I

9.3.11 I

This first set, though featuring only “Wolfman’s Brother” as a legitimate jam vehicle, kept my full engagement the entire time. Powerhouse versions of every song, even “Possum,” kept this set on track from beginning to end. Particularly stellar versions of “Moma” “Ocelot” and “Divided Sky” had the show moving at full speed before the band pushed things in into overdrive. Slaughtering “Funky Bitch” and “Axilla,” the potential highlight of the set came next in “Llama!” Huh? Yeah. Exactly. Phish hadn’t played a “Llama” in memory that harnessed the fury of the song’s glory years. But this one most definitely did. A perfect example of the energy and passion that underlined the band’s playing all weekend long, “Llama” practically burst at the seams as Phish tore through the first noteworthy rendition in ages. Juxtaposing a dripping “Fast Enough For You” against the manic backdrop, the stage was set for a show-stopping “Wolfman’s” closer. While several versions of summer have built away from the funk into another song altogether, this creative excursion returned to the song’s theme in a rousing set-closer.

Possum, The Moma Dance, The Wedge, Ocelot, The Divided Sky, Funky Bitch, Axilla > Llama, Fast Enough for You, Wolfman’s Brother


9.4.11 I

9.4.11 (M.Stein)

The final first set of Denver was super-charged from the get-go, as the band dropped a “Maze” opener for the first time since Albany on 12.9.95. Riding this adrenalized wave into spirited versions of “Back on the Train” and “Rift,” the centerpiece of the set came next in “Bathtub Gin.” Applying the full-throttle energy of the beginning of the show to a groove-centric version of “Gin,” Mike and, especially, Trey shone in what has to be considered one of the era’s top versions. As Trey ran through so many signature rhythm patterns, Mike punched holes in the spaces between, and the band immersed the audience in one of the weekend’s standout jams, regardless of set. Absolutely on fire, Phish was firing on all cylinders in the fifth of six sets. After the contemporary cover of Gillian Welch’s “The Way It Goes,” the band came back with one of the strongest versions of Page’s “Halfway to the Moon” to date, a song that is still begging for the second set spotlight. The subsequent sequence, whether intentional or not, carried quite a bit of irony. Phish powered through four of five songs for which fans have been begging jammier treatment—“Gumbo,” “Halley’s,” “Tube,” and “Roses Are Free.” Crafting an engaging “Tube,” the segment, nonetheless, felt a bit tongue in check from the band, thought each piece was nailed with high-powered playing. The fifth song in that run was “Timber,” a compact piece that favored screaming textures over rhythmic interplay, stood out as the late-set gem. “Chalk Dust” featured a creative though contained jam that punctuated the first set.

Maze, Back on the Train, Rift, Bathtub Gin, The Way It Goes*, Halfway to the Moon, Gumbo, Halley’s Comet > Tube, Timber, Roses Are Free > Chalk Dust Torture (*debut)


When Phish plays two sets of inspired music, their shows take on a whole different contour. Instead of everything building towards the second set, in the best first halves, one has to remind himself a time or two that set break has yet to come. In Denver, Phish didn’t just throw a couple jams into a longer run of songs, they actually sculpted legitimate sets with a beginning, a middle and an end. Contoured frames of music rather than the disconnected and liner song-fests that have plagued so many shows this summer, Denver’s first set delivered in full. Building momentum toward the main event while containing plenty of action on the under-card, Phish put together some heavy weight shows in Colorado. And their first sets—in a refreshing change of pace—contributed significant plotlines to the stories.


Jams of the Day:

Stash” 9.2 I



Llama” 9.3 I



Timber” 9.4 I

[audio:] Tags: ,

1,865 Responses to “Fruitful First Sets”

  1. WolfmansFather Says:

    Hey its almost midnight, meaning we’ve almost gone a full day without AW mentioning how many shows hes been to

  2. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    zzyzx on PT “carini never went anywhere”. fuck him.

  3. halcyon Says:

    Cool C.

    Thanks for allowing us to peer behind the curtain so to say. I and probably speaking for many of us here are real interested to hear how this plays out. It is obviously a labor of love and passion, and there is no doubt there will be some excellent music.

  4. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    “Hey its almost midnight, meaning we’ve almost gone a full day without AW mentioning how many shows hes been to”


  5. Gavinsdad Says:

    Here comes the pitch…

  6. albert walker Says:

    that’s funny Wolfman’s. I actually have no clue how many shows I’ve ever been to.

    asshole yes. crazy yes. fucked up yes. but never considered myself to be a stats dropper.

    maybe go back and try to figure it out so I can get back to you.

    I find 3.0 show stats to be useless but do have a general idea of what I’ve seen since they’ve been back.

    funny stuff.

  7. MrCompletely Says:

    this board is so hip the regulars now have their own trolls, not just miner


  8. MrCompletely Says:

    the expressway thing is an extreme example, it’s the only important song I haven’t found a home run version of, so I have a tiny bit of frustration around that one. all the other decisions are between two different super awesome versions of various tunes.

    i honestly love the spreadsheet aspect. i’m taking this project much more seriously than i ever have before for one of these…the material is a fucking gold mine and really relatively slept on…

    plus i have an ulterior motive. i’ve been pushing this concept for official releases for a couple years. i want to do one that’s so good that everyone finally gets it. whole show releases are for serious deadheads, and the RT series was halfway in between. I think they should be doing serious “Best of Summer ’77” type releases…this is my proof of concept

  9. albert walker Says:

    it’s funny the only time I mention stats ever is my 3.0 stats

    since 90% of 09 and tons of 10 sucked it’s more a statement that I’ve been through some shit in this progression that is 3.0 than bragging

    believe me I’m well aware the amount of phish shows you see is inversely proportional to how hip you are

    especially when talking 3.0 shows

    I’m just bored have no kids and vacation days

    that’s not very cool. probably not all that much to brag about.

    not sure why this kid is weirding me out but it did.

  10. albert walker Says:

    from now on I am going to pretend I didn’t attend any 3.0 shows

    will speak of phish as if I only listen from the SBD’s

  11. MrCompletely Says:

    no man its way internet cool to have your own stalker and shit

  12. albert walker Says:

    I just picture whoever the fuck makes a name. and waits for the moderation.

    just to make a diss on me that doesn’t even make sense. when I’m wide open for tons of shit that does is just crazy.

    at least come at me with something better than stat bragger.

    most of the regulars I’ve sparred with are much better at attacking. or el dude. trained professional.

    the stat bragger was kina soft.

  13. MrCompletely Says:

    just know that somewhere out there, someone loves you

  14. MrCompletely Says:

    in a really weird, mildly disturbing way

  15. butter Says:

    lol AW stat dropper delux

    goin to puff one and read new Miner

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