Before this summer, Phish declared they would break out 200 songs over their tour, and when Leg One ended, the tally was already at 207. Fresh first sets became proving grounds for once-a-year rarities, old covers, and—on several occasions—legitimate bust-outs that few fans had ever heard live. Keeping setlists spicy while playing notably fewer 3.0 staples, song selection was another factor that played into Phish’s best tour of the modern era.
With so many different songs coming from every angle, repeats were never an issue this tour. Though the band kept a far tighter second set rotation than first, few people had any problems hearing four to five versions of “Disease,” “Sand,” “Light,” “Piper,” and “Ghost.” Believe it or not, Phish played only one “Divided Sky” and one “Guyute” over 20 shows! If one had the flux capacitor he could go back six weeks and make some big money on that statistic! And the “Divided Sky” (in Portsmouth) was magnificent. By staying true to their 200-song pledge, the band didn’t have time to repeat copious filler songs, giving the contour of tour a far fresher feel throughout.
The term “bust-out” has become a bit overused these days. When Phish plays a song that consistently appears once or twice a year—like “The Wedge” or “Contact”— it’s not a bust-out. But when the band opens up a show with a song they haven’t played since 1988—as they did at Jones Beach with “Skin It Back,” well—“That’s a bust out!” (In my best Crocodile Dundee voice.) In fact, the appearance of the Little Feat cover for the first time in 1,417 shows made it the “largest” bust out of all-time! And to celebrate the occasion, the guys stretched out the blues-funk number into a legitimate jam in what has to be considered one of the most significant openers of all time. Later in the very same set, Phish dusted off The Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” for the first time since their 1994 Halloween performance of The White Album! The third-longest gap between song versions came in Cincinnati, when the band took “Shaggy Dog” off the shelf for the first time October ’95, and only the third time since ’88! Practiced and polished, the once-extinct, old-school ditty rolled off the stage like it was in rotation. Contrary to the past few years, when Phish played rarities this summer, more often than not, they nailed them.
In addition to the aforementioned trifecta, the band also threw down three 3.0 debuts in “Shafty,” “Dog Log,” and “La Grange,” a threesome of the most sign-requested songs, for the first time since ’03, ‘03 and ’99, respectively. Fishman also broke out a few modern-era debuts of his own, performing “Purple Rain” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” for the first time since ’99. Also making their first appearance in some time were several Velvet Underground songs off Loaded, all played during a second half of tour that sometimes felt like an homage to Lou Reed’s protopunk outfit. In addition to playing “Cool it Down” and “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” for the first time in over a year, the guys dropped the only versions of “Sweet Jane” and “Head Held High” since Halloween ’98. Both of these tunes were given the treatment, as Trey took a spirited and extended solo in each. Needless to say, Phish played some bust outs this summer!
Beyond all the first set variation, second sets never stagnated either. Diversifying their launchpads at just the right time, the band began jamming on songs like “Twist” and “Ghost” for the first time in ages, while adding “Golden Age” and “Back on the Train ” to second sets as a legitimate springboards. Phish also threw down several tour highlights with one-off jams, such as Worcester’s “Roses Are Free,” Deer Creek’s “Waves,” and Alpine’s “Fee.” Additionally, the band took new approaches on so many jam they encountered. No longer did “Bathtub Gin” have the same ten-minute path. The band played beefier, more intense versions of “Ocelot.” “Carini” was totally unpredictable, producing different results each time out. A couple “Hoods” and “Antelopes” even contained enhanced interplay. Revitalized and recharged, Phish came out this summer with the intention to shake things up.
If one was on tour last month chasing a particular song, odds are he caught it. Leg One of Summer 2012 featured the widest song selection of any tour in history, while only on occasion feeling like an attempt to do so. Towards the end of tour, some first sets felt as though band was playing rarities for the sake of song count (see Alpine 1 or Jones Beach2), but most of the band’s elusive selections shrewdly fit within the context of their shows. Concerts, regardless of how improvisational in nature, are composed of songs. And aside from fizzling out of some second sets—which is another topic for another day—the band used strategic song selection to bolster their shows all tour long, transforming their eternally debated setlists into assets more often than not.
Jam of the Day:
“Roses Are Free” 6.8 I, Worcester
One of tour’s first shocking surprises.
=====Tags: 2012, Songs, Summer 2012