The Second Sets of Summer

6.17.12 (Michael Stein)

While gazing over the summer setlists this past weekend, there were so many great second sets that ordering them one-by-one seemed like an exercise in futility. But as I looked a little longer at the second sets of Leg One, I found that four “tiers” of shows emerged. Using nameable qualities—or lack thereof‑—to separate these tiers, a macro picture of summer emerged. But before we get into analyzing—and overanalyzing—what shows should be where, let’s take a step back to recognize that even the Tier Four shows have solid chunks to offer, and in some cases, more than one. Point being, Phish just played an amazing tour.

The main elements that separated shows were lack of flow or the “fizzle factor.” The first is self-explanatory, while the second refers to a set that started out strong but didn’t finish with authority. The elite sets that made the top tier of Leg One, in my opinion, contain outstanding improv—most often with a centerpiece jam, possess an undeniable flow from beginning to end, and have supporting jam sequences that could be no-brainer highlights of lesser shows. Let’s take a look at these four groupings and then inspect a couple takeaways. Each tier is listed in chronological order. (I wasn’t at Bonnaroo, thus it isn’t included.)



6/7, Worcester:

Carini -> Taste > Ghost > Boogie On > If I Could, Quinn, Hood > Cavern > Buried Alive Reprise

The opening night of tour featured a second set that can stand up to any of summer. The opening sequence of “Carini” through “If I Could” is pure improvisational gold. Juxtaposed against the mediocre MSG shows over New Years, this tour-opening set felt like an indoor soul cleansing. With central jams of “Carini” and “Ghost -> Boogie On,” there is no question that this set belongs in the upper echelon of 2012.

6/15, Atlantic City:

My Soul, Birds -> Back on the Train > Heavy Things > Twist > Piper > Billy Breathes, Sneakin’ Sally > David Bowie

Atlantic City’s first night has everything I look for in a second set. Start-to-finish flow, a centerpiece jam in “Birds” and incredibly strong supporting sequences of ‘Twist > Piper” and “Sally -> Bowie.” A scorcher through and through, and a set of non-stop adventure, AC’s opening night stole the show down the shore.

6/23, Star Lake:

Jibboo, Mike’s > Simple > Light > Weekapaug > Seven Below, Bouncin, Julius, Slave

This unbelievably cohesive frame of music is centered on a sublime, 45-minute chunk of jamming—“Simple > Light > Weekapaug > Seven Below.” Interlacing “Light’s” jam in “Weekapaug,” and “Weekapaug’s” in “Seven Below,” Phish was flowing like lava on this Saturday night with a modern-sounding symphony. Sparked with “Jibboo,” “Mike’s” and brought home with “Bouncin,” “Julius,” and an outstanding “Slave,” Star Lake stopped for nobody.

6/28, Deer Creek:

Mike’s > McGrupp, Back on the Train -> HYHU > Bike > HYHU > Weekapaug, Caspian > Waves > Bug > Bowie

With an unconventional setlist and a Fishman appearance in the middle of the frame, Phish pulled of one of their most musically impressive second sets of summer. Served in wonderfully packaged pre-and post-Fishman suites, this set flowed particularly well, and several jams jumped off the deep end. Pairing the greatest “McGrupp” that I know with a deeply psychedelic “Back on the Train,” and following Fishman with the seamless sequence of “Caspian > Waves > Bug > Bowie,” this set is an absolute gem. The “Waves” is a tour highlight, and in the running with best versions ever played.

7/6, SPAC:

Chalk Dust, Carini > Sand, Roses Are Free > Punch You In the Eye > Sneakin’ Sally > Ghost > Suzy, Antelope

Phish took no prisoners on the first night of SPAC, putting together one of the finest second sets of tour. Opening with a scathing combo of “Carini > Sand” and focusing on the even more adventurous combo of “Sally > Ghost,” Phish played live without a net on this night. Using “Roses” to ground the set before utilizing “Punch” to launched into its second half, Phish didn’t come close to a ballad in frame of fire. Capping their performance with aggressive runs through “Suzy” and “Antelope,” Phish had the pavilion buzzing long after they left the stage.


Tier Two

6/16, Atlantic City:

Crosseyed > Slave, Light -> Manteca -> Light > Theme > Golgi Apparatus, Sand, Number Line, Antelope

This set was hard to keep out of the top tier, but I just didn’t feel it held up to the crème de la crème. Centered on the stellar “Lighteca,” and supported by a “Crosseyed” that all-but-seamlessly segued into a knee-buckling “Slave,” the only other piece of interest was a late-set “Sand.” With songs like “Theme,” Golgi,” and “Number Line” compromising the flow of the set, this one just missed the bar.

6/22, Riverbend:

Disease > Guelah Papyrus, Kill Devil Falls > Twist > Halley’s > Sand -> Roggae, Carini > Chalk Dust, Golgi

Laced with magical interplay throughout, including one of the jams of tour in “Twist,” Cincy’s second set was kept in the second tier due its choppiness. Though “Disease” was glorious, Trey ended it quite abruptly with “Guelah Papyrus,” and after “Roggae,” the final three songs of “Carini > Chalk Dust,” and “Golgi,” felt like they were picked out of a hat. But when focusing on the jams—“Disease,” “KDF-> Twist,” and “Sand > Roggae,” this set packs plenty of improvisational gold.

 6/30, Alpine Valley:

Number Line, Carini > Wilson > Golden Age -> 2001 > Rock and Roll > Steam > Piper > Quinn, Hood > Zero

What the first night of Alpine lacks in a centerpiece jam, it more than makes up for with relentless momentum, non-stop flow and several 10-minute gems. Never stopping for air, the band crafted an ultra-groovy first half of the set through “2001,” including a plinko-funk throwdown in “Golden Age.” And then the guys sculpted two standout excursions in “Rock and Roll” and “Piper,” highlighting exploratory playing during the second portion of the set. Filling in the gaps were the only version of “Steam” this year and a show-capping combo of “Harry Hood” and “Zero.” If I weren’t being so stingy with Tier One, this set one could be argued upward. Though the following night at Alpine reached higher highs, this set was a start-to-finish powerhouse. Had there been a significant closer versus “Quinn,” Hood,” and “Zero,” this would be sitting higher.

7/1, Alpine Valley:

Crosseyed > No Quarter > Light -> Ghost -> Back on the Train, Farmhouse, 46 Days, Heavy Things, Joy, Julius

This set is one of my favorite of sets summer through “Farmhouse”—but then the fizzle factor came into play in major fashion. The final segment of the show read like the middle of a first set—“46 Days,” “Heavy Things,” “Joy,” and “Julius.” Though everything was solid, it seemed like the band had shot their load during the first half of the set and coasted to the finish line. Sometimes that’s what it takes for them to reach their highest highs these days—and “Light -> Ghost” is my favorite playing of tour—but the set’s final third certainly keeps it out of the top tier.

7/3, Jones Beach:

Chalk Dust, Sand -> Golden Age, Wolfman’s -> Walk Away, Bug, Fluffhead, Wedge, Antelope

The first night of Jones Beach seems to have everything to qualify for Tier One, but is missing that intangible “x” factor. A smoking opening combo of “Chalk Dust,” Sand -> Golden Age” featured one of the jams of tour in “Golden Age.” And though the band hit a slight stumble between “Wolfman’s” and “Walk Away,” they didn’t fizzle out, following “Bug” with the summery triumvirate of “Fluffhead,” “Wedge,” and “Antelope.” “Antelope”—the first to raise a brow since Utica—provided a late set highlight, but when I had this paragraph in Tier One—and that’s where it started—it just didn’t feel right. Is it because “Wolfman’s” wasn’t allowed to breathe, cut short for a trio of jamless songs? I’m not totally sure. I had a blast at this one, but listen back boils down to “Sand -> Golden Age” and “Antelope.”

7/8, SPAC:

Axilla > Light > Twist, KDF -> My Friend > Swept > Steep > Piper > Free, Kung > Hood > Cavern, Bowie

This set was one of the hardest for me to place. Though it doesn’t hold up in flow to the top sets, it is played well throughout, and centered on two monster jams in “Light” and “Piper.” Supported by a “Kill Devil Falls” with quite an interesting outro, the rest of the set is just kind of there. The awkward mid-set c0mbo of “My Friend”—best used as a set opener—and “Swept > Steep”—best used as a landing pad for improv—provided a lull in the action, and while Trey shines in “Harry Hood,” nothing else really pops to me. But, damn, “Light” and “Piper” are right up there with the jams of tour.



6/8, Worcester:

Disease > Sand -> Nellie Kane, Mike’s > Makisupa > Weekapaug, Velvet Sea, 2001 > Zero

Kicking off with an explosive combination of “Disease > Sand -> Nellie Kane,” and supported by a late set “2001” that is one of the dark horse gems of tour, this set suffers from a case standarditis right in the middle of the second set in the form of “Mike’s > Makisupa > Weekapaug.” The only real keeper from this one is “Sand -> Nellie Kane,” hence its placement.

6/20, Portsmouth:

Rock and Roll > Tweezer > Free, Guyute, Birds, Hood -> What’s the Use? > Velvet Sea, Possum

Though compared to Portsmouth’s first show, this felt like a colossal triumph, on listen back, I feel this is a very solid tier three show. A quality—though unspectacular— opening combo of “Rock and Roll -> Tweezer > Free” set the table for a huge set, but the band hit some momentum issues with “Guyute” and a standard “Birds.”Hood -> What’s the Use?” is the highlight of the set, even though it’s a sin that the band didn’t follow Fishman back into “Hood.” A “Velvet,” “Possum” pairing closed this night with a whisper.

6/24, Blossom:

Golden Age > Ghost > Sweet Virginia, Rift, Tweezer -> Walk Away > Horse > Silent > Piper > Waste, Antelope

A fun-filled and powerfully-played set peaked with the opening pairing of “Golden Age > Ghost.” Though this sequence was great, albeit chopped a bit too soon, there was little other true meat to the set. The “Tweezer” was pure fire until antics ensued and “Piper,” though short, was notable. A hell of a lot of fun to be at, this isn’t a set with timeless playback quality from top to bottom.

7/4, Jones Beach:

Boogie On, Tweezer > Twist > Taste, Quinn, Julius, Rock and Roll > Horse > Silent, Hood, Shine a Light, Show of Life, Slave

Another front loaded set, Phish’s July 4th edition was centered on a blissful “Twist” and a gorgeously divergent “Harry Hood.” “Tweezer” seemed destined for the stars before the band slipped into “Twist,” and after “Taste,” the guys played an hour of completely standard music, less “Harry Hood.” And when the band followed “Hood,” with similarly mellow song selections of “Shine a Light,” “Show of Life,” and “Slave,” it made me wonder why they no longer use setlists.



 6/17 Atlantic City:

Drowned > 2001 > Reba, Roses > Chalk Dust > Caspian -> Silent, Bug > A Day in the Life > Disease

Bursting out of the gates with “Drowned > 2001 > Reba,” this set caught the first train to Fizzletown as soon as that sequence was over. Fine versions of mellow songs provide a nice soundtrack to a Sunday night while doing something else, but that’s not what we’re looking for here.

6/19 Portsmouth:

Back on the Train, Rift, Split, Mango, Number Line, Limb, Shine a Light, Lengthwise -> Maze, Cavern, Fire

Portsmouth’s second set amounted to a ninety-minute extension of its first, and were it not for Trey’s entertaining light saber antics, this set would have fallen fairly flat. The show that birthed “tucking” was focused far more on fun and songs than any sort of cohesive jamming. “Split Open” stood out, but that’s about it.

6/29 Deer Creek:

Disease > Sand -> Twist -> Rift, Bathtub Gin > Fluffhead, Ride Captain Ride, Antelope

Though the front of this set is front-loaded with a one-two punch of “Disease” and “Sand,” I haven’t found myself revisiting either version very much in favor of others. “Disease” is jammed to completion without ever getting anywhere super-engaging, and after “Sand,” the set kind of fell apart. Trey was certainly having a blast, but when he aborted “Twist” for “Rift,” and the band cut an intriguing “Gin” far shorter than first set versions for a midset “Fluffhead,” serious music didn’t seem to be their concern on this night. A fun Phish set—kind of—I haven’t found much playback value in this one.

7/7 SPAC:

Disease -> Blister in the Sun > Disease > Boogie On, Golden Age -> 2001 > Number Line, Caspian -> Scent of a Mule -> Blister in the Sun -> Scent, Mike’s > Contact > Weekapaug

This is one of those gimmicky sets—like the Moby Dick escapade of 2000—that some fans will treasure and some will yawn at. After a very significant “Disease” stopped off in “Blister in the Sun,” the rest of the set amounted to a standard performance with countless “Blister” teases. Showcasing the playful side of Phish in between two more musically-focused second sets, this one fit fine in SPAC’s three pack, but doesn’t stand very well on its own.



It’s pretty clear that the first night of any given stand exploded, and the following shows were composed of its fallout. There were no occasions over the summer where subsequent nights of any given stand clearly outshone the first, less Portsmouth. What’s the reason for this? Who knows. But don’t miss those first shows! It was also pretty crazy to me to have a high-quality set like Blossom’s in the third tier of tour, but that speaks to the consistent greatness of Phish these days. I would genuinely say that there were no bad shows this tour, just varying qualities of good, and that is exactly where we want to be. Phish 2012—it’s been a long ride, but it’s great to be here!


Jam of the Day:

Waves > Bug” 6.28 II, Noblesville, IN




6.19.2012 (Michael Stein)

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232 Responses to “The Second Sets of Summer”

  1. oldskool Says:

    @Palmer, is possible gig The Fan? That was my childhood! Remember Costas coast to coast on Sundays?

  2. Mr. Palmer Says:

    thats the one. I hear ya. Mine too! I remember Costas coast to coast. I was a Mike and the Mad dog guy. Loved listening to it late night though. Scott Ferrell for a while and Steve Somers… They just celebrated 25 years on air, wfan.

    Seems like a dream gig. we shall see.

  3. oldskool Says:

    Awesome! I will keep my fingers crossed. Please keep me posted.

  4. joe Says:

    was Dave Simms ever on overnights? I seem to remember being able to get it in if I moved my radio just right and didn’t move a muscle.

  5. Mr. Palmer Says:

    thanks buddy

  6. Mr. Palmer Says:

    very likely @ Joe. In the early days, I think every sportscaster on earth worked their. There is pretty cool oral history article from Grantland on the beginning of the Fan. Pretty interesting, if your into that sort of thing.

  7. Mr. Palmer Says:

    there, not their…^^

  8. Mr. Palmer Says:

    another piece Simmons wrote about Mike and mad dog. He says it was his favorite sports radio show ever.

  9. tzara's Says:

    @palmer, Ichiro’s all yours. Hasn’t done shit in the last two seasons, though like most Mariners, will probably be an all-star after he leaves, and maybe win a ring.

    Funny thing is, due to his legacy here, we had to keep trotting him out in the leadoff spot and batting him 1st. Now he will probably bat 9th and play left. Whatever: great career here, and best of luck in the future.

  10. tzara's Says:

    *leadoff spot and playing in right, should have said.
    #celebratory pints

  11. joe Says:

    yeah, I read that one. dug it. tried to get it in every night. awesome signal sometimes to make it all the way north of boston

  12. Steamer Says:

    Phoammhead, amen dc1. Aside from chalk dust (pedestrian leg1 for cdt IMO) and not the crispest tela (enjoy it anyways and a dc tradition), and then some space eating fishman time (could be used a touch more sparingly in leg 2 for me), it was a strongly played first set with that extra punch that makes a set list misleading on paper, and then 3 proper kick down jams in set 2 w a pretty good Bowie to wrap.

    Also feeling dcu2 on playback. Set2 def lulls but 2001 and zero pay some bills at the end of set. Good lord that sand finds the sunshine around 7/8 mins w some filthy trey melodic comping. Can still remember the audible gasp of whoa for that razor sharp cut into Nellie Kane but that sand as miners aid was the go to groove for instant offense

  13. BingosBrother Says:

    Sandy Kane has mad special energy.

  14. plord Says:

    Palmer, good luck with the interview. Sounds like a dream job, and those are few and far between.

  15. plord Says:

    I didn’t read back, have people been digging on this jammed out Buffalo Bill Soundcheck from AC on 6/17? WTF guys. Drop that shit IN THE SHOW please!

    The soundchecks from the past 15 months make a fucking amazing playlist. Bethel Waves, Darien Funky Bitch->Old Zealand, Superball jam-> UIndermind and Ginseng->jam, The Essex monstrosity with the Peaches in the middle of it, and now this Bill. Crazytown.

    (I know we have Dick’s soundchecks out there too, but I haven’t listened to them so no idea what’s in them…or how good they are.)

  16. tzara's Says:

    I’m going on sound check tour in ’13 for sure. No horsin’ around.

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    Palmer—interview at the FAN?! Epic.

  18. Steamer Says:

    Thx plord, cool take there … My only question is who are those folks still talking and not taking that puppy in? Cool work from fish and trey

  19. joe Says:

    just noticed the countdown clock is up and running again. sweet. also intriguing miner creation something or other.

  20. voopa Says:

    Best of luck Palmer! Even us west coast slackers know about WFAN.

    Got my license back today. Finally. Weight of a million universes lifted.

    Never, ever get a DUI. Aside from the obvious social/moral reasons, dealing with the sentence has been one hassle after another. Just a few hurdles left now, but all downhill from here.

    The shows will be that much more enjoyable for me now. 23 days! Half of 46!

  21. plord Says:

    While I’m talking to myself, I’ll lay out my argument for the opening set, DCU1 set 1, as the top first frame of Leg 1.

    * Buried Alive Opener – all signs point to srs bsns.
    * Jim – with a nice outro jam and a perfectly natural Buried Alive Tease – Hell yes.
    * Torn and Frayed – with a healthy Type I jam on it (Longest version since Indio? I don’t have the ’09 versions to compare). “A bag of nerves on first nights” FTW.
    * Funky Bitch – Page takes an extra chorus or two in his solo and the room ate that shit up.
    * Moma – The funk continues. A normal i.e. cowfunk personified version.
    * Rift – The beginning of the “Trey will keep playing this until he nails it” batch of Rifts. A little rough but you have to like the intent on night one.
    * Nothing – ok, I had no idea this tune existed. A nice one for the ballad slot, and holy fuck the lyrics are like a fictional metaphor or commentary on the Diamond Sutra. The Lover is the hardest aspect to relinquish before you achieve nondualism, right? I mean, dig on the imagery in this tune. That is some deepness. I was standing next to AW for this part and may have been highly suggestible but the band had my attention here.
    * Ocelot – AC’s went deeper but this version was awfully burly and featured Trey going hard for the growl tone from the outset.
    * Beauty of a Broken Heart – great tune, nice kickdown/bustout, and they kill it.
    * Possum – Be honest. Getting Possum in the first set of the first night is great because then you KNOW it’s not going to derail either second set. Right? Right. Ripped to bits as usual, ho hum here is this song we kind of endure that the band clearly enjoys playing the shit out of, poor us.
    * Rocky Top – Uh. Unexpected given the Roo around the corner. So ok, weird ending and off to the break wondering WTF.

    That’s my call. What’s your fave set 1?

  22. plord Says:

    I could make a similar argument for DCU2 set 1 but I am fundamentally incapable of pimping a set with a Bouncin and a botched Theme.

    Drop the Bouncing and nail the Theme, though, and it’s on. 9 min Free, Ripping KDF, A ROSES JAM, the usual “best Julius ever”, and a Maze, Gin closing pair that slayed.

  23. plord Says:

    This tour has been the fucking heat from note one, is all I’m saying.

  24. litteringand Says:

    Just because-

  25. Iriewalton Says:

    The girl scout and kush arrived at the door today.
    Bliss arrived shortly thereafter.

    Cindy twist?
    Yes, please.

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