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. MrCompletely Says:

    RV + nanny scene is worth some effort. I’d be part of the team that pulls that together for a few shows

  2. Jtran Says:

    No arrests last night.

    Good representing

  3. poop goblin Says:


    If all the cool kids are rocking babies on tour may have to knock up the lady before summer 2012

  4. Guyute711 Says:

    I made one of my buddies go to that Dayton show with me. He went to every west coast show this summer. Mission accomplished!

  5. MrCompletely Says:

    in the past 24 hours I’ve heard new-to-me, best-I’ve-ever-heard Jerry versions of Roadrunner, Sittin’ in Limbo, Boogie On Reggae Woman, and He Ain’t Give You None, new to me top shelf versions of That’s What Love and Harder They Come, the first decent/legitimately interesting version I’ve found of My Problems Got Problems and Wonderin Why (which is still cheesy), a bafflingly two-faced 25 minute jazz odyssey version of What’s Goin On with great Jerry leads and comically hokey Martin Fierro Plays Ron Burgundy jazz flute, and a OMFGWTFBBQ lava-edged, shockingly bomb 20 minute version of Weather Report’s Cucumber Slumber….

    I love this project and do not want it to ever end

  6. Guyute711 Says:

    That helter skelter is a trainwreck though.

  7. MrCompletely Says:

    git ‘er done @aw

  8. alf Says:

    bandana kid fit right in with the state fairgrounds vibe. thats a way better pic than the one i saw, haha

  9. MrCompletely Says:

    that’s one thing the couchtour is good for

    “i was conceived on couch tour” onesies added to the To Do list

  10. poop goblin Says:

    Shit is fire man. To me Legion of Mary is pure Jerry. I always pictured him digging the blues, soul, jazz stuff better than the hippy dippy stuff from the GD.

    Of course that’s probably just me projecting my own thoughts on poor Jerry.

    Either way those tours took place in the perfect moment. Jerry getting his buzz on but still not quite out of his mind and practicing the more fusion harmonically challenging guitar playing.

    Love that shit.

  11. poop goblin Says:

    I also don’t dig 2 guitar player bands. I way prefer to just listen to Jerry without some other cat comping in the back.

    Nothing against Bob. Some of his stuff 72-74 is just brilliant I just don’t ever think a band needs two guitars

  12. MrCompletely Says:

    well there’s no doubt by ’74 there are a lot of Dead shows where you can tell he’s phoning in a lot of the normal songs. Everything that’s not a jam. Not every show, sometimes he was super into it, but a lot of the time it seems like he’s killing time til the second set jam segment

    this stuff is self indulgent to the max, but that was the point and for the most part its in a good way. they were playing exactly what they wanted and only that. plus his soloing style is so different. not oriented around peaking jams for tripping hippies. there are still rock songs that peak like that but 90% of his solos aren’t in that mode.

    super interesting to me how current the material was at the time. debut of Boogie On Reggae Woman was THE SAME DAY the album dropped – doesn’t get any more current than that!

  13. MrCompletely Says:

    well plus a lot of the coolest shit in here is listening to Jerry comp the fuck out of rhythm parts he doesn’t usually get to play, esp on the jazzy stuff and funk tunes. sickness

  14. alf Says:

  15. MrCompletely Says:

    i mean he plays about 20 minutes worth of jazzy rhythm chords on this version of What’s Goin On alone

  16. MrCompletely Says:

    anyway back to work…I just really had my mind blown last night cueing up a couple of late-summer-74 shows after the stream and found them full of A+ gems

  17. kayatosh Says:

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    …and fwiw, i spoke to a friend of mine, 1 of 2 people in the storage shed besides the band (helping mix sound) and nobody had ANY idea what was gonna happen when they went in there…pretty awesome…pure unknown…as was obviously the point of the exercize…just bringing this up bc it was thrown about in a discussion about planned/unplanned nonsense.

    in other news, Phish planned a stellar carini > dwd > slave last night 😉

  19. MrCompletely Says:

    carini was another top shelfer Miner

  20. JeffieM Says:

    BB Tech support department: Can anyone help me get the audio out of my computer to distribute evenly to L and R channels? the connection to my left speaker has gone bad, and i’d love to get full sound through my right speaker, at least, while I try and get a fix/replacement (which might take forever).

    Carini>Disease (or at least, part of the mix) from last night was delicious, as you all already know.

  21. RoosterPizza Says:

    Great times last night. First set from the floor was a good time, but the second set from the grandstands was amazing. Everything was better from up there: the sound, the space, and the view.

    It was good to see a show again with Hood and Alf, and it was also good to meet a bunch of new people. I had a lot of good laughs yesterday and last night.

    Thanks to everyone for your hospitality!

  22. alf Says:

    the groove in disease was just sick… trey had this riff going… halfway between comping and soloing… moved in and out of it 2-3 times, had the crowd hanging on every change. barely noticed it on relisten but the interplay was so slick. need to crank up that aud & get the separation

  23. alf Says:

  24. poop goblin Says:

    sick Carini man

    stoked for New Years

    too early?

  25. poop goblin Says:

    So you’re are saying that not doing anything beforehand was PLANNED heh.

    I knew it.

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