Though Phish jammed on a diversity of songs throughout this past summer, some provided multiple leaps into the wide open and unknown musical pastures. Below are the five most consistently profound jam vehicles of Summer 2011.
“Down with Disease”
Phish played eleven versions of “Down with Disease” this summer, and nine of them broke free into open jams. Several renditions became highlights of the season with Clarkston’s epic excursion leading the pack. DTE’s 20-minute “Disease Supreme” took the cake for the version of summer, but other stellar outings included UIC’s exploratory jaunt that touched on so many places before winding into “Twist,” Super Ball’s powerful, groove-laced, then ambient piece that led into “No Quarter,” Camden and Alpharetta’s first-leg psychedelic standouts and Essex’ Junction’s final statement of summer. Nine for eleven—that’s one hell of a batting average. Also featured as an experimental vehicle in Bethel, Tahoe and Denver, one can make a strong case for “Disease” being the jam of the season.
Ever since “Light” burst onto the scene in 2009, the song has consistently pushed the band outside the box. “Conventional jamming” doesn’t exist in “Light” aside from Trey’s atonal solo, and the song’s improvisational canvas is ever-morphing. In eight summer outings, all but two reached completely original galaxies, led—head and shoulders above the rest—by Tahoe’s dark, bass-led adventure. UIC’s version likened an extra-terrestrial encounter, while Denver’s final suite of summer favored delicate and melodic interplay, culminating in the sublime “Disease Reprise.” Super Ball’s “Light” turned into the first blowout version of summer, reaching soulful planes untouched by the song over June. Though Riverbend’s version is not long, the band reaches an ethereal plane that—by all accounts—should have been explored further, though Portsmouth’s version capped the most impressive “Light” of leg one.
“Rock and Roll”
“Rock and Roll,” the lasting piece of Halloween ’98, not only provided the jam of the year, the era, and one of the best pieces of all-time in the Gorge’s 8.5’s abduction, it also left some other lasting highlights on Summer 2011 as well. Mansfield’s version provided one of the indelibly mind-numbing pieces of Leg I—a jam that holds up to anything from the summer. Charlotte’s “Rock and Roll” blossomed into a deeply soulful excursion that has been overshadowed by the top-shelf “Ghost” that followed, and in these three jams alone, the song produced three tremendous summer highlights. Throw in a very experimental, though not as cohesive, version at Merriweather, and you’ve got half the versions of summer. Others included more rocking outings in Denver (which segued into “Come Together), Essex Junction (which dropped into “Twist”), and PNC’s first-set banger.
Though “Waves” only made it to stage four times this summer, three of them were top-notch highlights. Busting the doors of summer wide open on night one in Bethel, the band deconstructed “Boogie On,” landing in “Waves,” and commencing one of the lasting highlights of the season. Getting into a delicate conversation and then abstract soundscapes, Phish announced their improvisational authority on tour’s opening night. The next version, in Super Ball’s finale, was one of several centerpiece jams in the festival’s most experimental (main stage) set. Moving far into ambient, space harmonies, Phish eventually seeped into a dripping version of “What’s the Use?” And then “Waves” came out in the Element Set as the spark to one summer’s most revered sequences: “Waves -> Undermind -> Steam.” Though the band only played four versions this summer (Merriweather being the other), three turned to absolute gold.
Always reaching wide-open musical pastures, only four of nine summer versions truly grab my attention—Denver, Hollywood, Merriweather and Raleigh. Denver’s Theremin-laced excursion remains one of my favorite jams of summer, while Hollywood’s psychedelic experiment continues to fly under the radar. The Mid-Atlantic region saw two standout explorations of “Piper,” Merriweather first night spectacle and the lesser-talked about rendition from Walnut Creek. Beyond these top four, Blossom’s version, though succinct,” gets into ambient realms quickly and segues into the only “Lizards” of the summer, and Super Ball’s rendition provided high-speed action that dropped into “Tweezer.” All in all a very solid summer for a song that is synonymous with improvisational adventure.
Jam of the Day:
The creme de la creme of Summer 2011.
Tags: 2011, Jams, Summer 2011