TTFF: The Upper Echelon

7.4.2012 (Graham Lucas via webcast)

Ok. I sat at my computer copying and pasting paragraphs for about half an hour, trying—somehow—to come up with a definitive list of my favorite ten jams of tour, and trying to rank from 10 to 1. It was damn near impossible on both accounts. There were so many phenomenal jams over Leg One that any “Top Ten” or “Number One” comes down to what mood I’m in at the moment. Instead of ranking the jams, I’ve left them in a general order that reflects my inner-negotiations. It’s impossible for me to say that any of these  top jams are “better” than one another. We’ll just say that—as a group—these were my favorite ten jams of tour (though the next ten—to be unveiled next Friday—are insane as well!) As I said in the beginning of summer tour, 2012 is great time to be a Phish fan!


Piper” 7.8 II, SPAC

In this locked and loaded final voyage of summer, Phish navigated a series of different feels in a multi-part centerpiece. The band engaged in an exploratory odyessey with a rocket strapped to their back, communicating with ease at a break neck pace before shifting into divergent feels. Amidst a more potent rhytmic context, the band concluded by reprising the chord progression from the end of “Light’s” jam earlier in the set.



Fee” 7.1 I, Alpine Valley

Blissfully converging in a delicate, plinko-laced groove, Phish wove melodic magic out of the evening air at Alpine Valley. Passing through a beatless bridge, the guys came up with a second captivating soundscape that, in previous years—or even on a different night—Trey would have bailed out of three different times. His patience paid off, however, as the band sculpted one of the most majestic tales of summer while the sun was still shining.



Light > Weekapaug” 6.23 II, Star Lake

Rightfully, this song pairing shouldn’t be plucked from its surrounding setlist-mates “Simple” and “Seven Below,” but at that point the suite is almost an hour. Deep into “Light,” the band splashed into a plinko paradise, merging the staccato style with a calypso chord progression that resulted in some of the most innovative music of tour. This section led into, and was referenced in, the most dynamic “Weekapaug” jam we’ve heard in this era and beyond.



Sally -> Ghost” 7.6.12, SPAC

As “Sally” began to get gnarly, Trey took a step away from the jam and dove into a high-octane, alternate universe. The band followed right along, diving headfirst into this hellbent tangent. Live without a net, the band set their improvisational motors to eleven and let it rip. Emerging far later in an ambient passage that morphed into “Ghost,” the pavilion exploded with the transition. A collaboration in rhythm and melody, this jam found a medium tempo and turned into a climbing, cathartic tale.



Sand -> Golden Age” 7.3 II, Jones Beach

This paring of two of summer’s brightest stars featured the greatest “Golden Age” to date—a jammed-to-completion excursion that moved from rhythmic acrobatics into the type of downtempo psych-rock of which I dream. Throw in one of the most impressive “Sands” of summer to the sequence, and you’ve got quite the tour highlight.



Carini” 6.7 II, Worcetser

This mind-bending jam that moved from seething musical dungeons into stunning ambient pastures, set the standard for improvisational density and fluidity on the first night of tour. The band morphed into an abstract sound sculpture that strongly suggested “My Left Toe,” plunging the depths with a soul-tugging, Siket-laced exchange. When this jam ended, I knew it was going to be a special summer.



 Waves” 6.28 II, Deer Creek

It feels redundant to continue typing how fluidly jams of 2012 covered a spectrum of musical feels, but Deer Creek’s “Waves” is but another example. A jam that immediately vaulted itself into the conversation of all-time versions, this late second set gem moves through groove, bliss, and into a trance-inducing spacescape that eventually bleeds into “Bug.” A jam in which Phish is fully locked, this one is musical gold.



Birds of a Feather” 6.15 II, AC

This profound, multi-tiered journey covers astounding amount of ground while never once losing cohesion. Merging aggressive textures with segments of groove, and landing in an extended pool of transcendence, this “Birds” wraps up everything I love about Phish in a single jam. Moving into the abstract and back again, Phish concluded this monster with a seamless segue into “Back on the Train.



 Twist” 6.22 II, Riverbend

When Phish stepped into “Twist”—a song that hadn’t moved outside the box in memory—in the middle of Cincy’s second set in, few could have imagined what was about to transpire. Exiting song structure as a unit, the band reached deep into their satchel of dark magic and cast a musical spell that would hypnotize the entire audience. Playing with ultimate cohesion, it felt as though we had been transported into a different dimension. Realizing so much of their abstract experimentation within this jam, the guys prowled like a menacing assassin through this music; missing a beat or a note wasn’t a possibility. Emerging from the depths with a ferocious theme from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the band passed through this quote and seamlessly continued the jam as if commanding a ship through outer space. Gradually jamming back towards the song, the guys—instead—continued the piece into silence before dropping into “Halley’s.”



Light > Ghost” 7.1 II, Alpine Valley

If Phish wove a tighter jam with more virtuoso communication over Leg One, I have yet to hear it. I’m a sucker for when the band hits egoless planes of improvisation where they share leadership of the music, playing off of, and developing, each others’ ideas as if controlled by a single mind. And that is exactly what Alpine’s “Light” represents. As Trey neared the end of his guitar solo, Mike picked up on his notes and began to echo them on bass. From this point on, the band entered the most equitable conversation of tour, passing the lead between Trey, Mike, and Page with incredible fluidity. One member would finish and continue the ideas of another in a jam that really stands out as prime example of collaborative improv, and one that furthered the ethereal ideas planted in the first set’s “Fee.” As the band wound down the piece with a new-age, synth-led section, “Ghost” emerged in seamless fashion, combining Leg One’s two heaviest hitters. Taking “Ghost” on, arguably, the most unique ride of summer, the band’s airtight interplay continued as they dropped into a “jamtronica” build and slithered into a slow, menacing groove. Moving without hesitation, within measures, into “Back on the Train,” Phish was absolutely on fire throughout this entire three song sequence.



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639 Responses to “TTFF: The Upper Echelon”

  1. PigSong Says:

    I def don’t think you made up the weather control aj, I just think you may be buying a little too much into propaganda…

    The military had been fighting of storm clouds around Beijing for hours, and as soon as the fireworks stopped then let the clouds roll in and it poured, really amazing.


  2. PigSong Says:

    lol at the N. Korea comments – is that Costas?

    sry, I’m out. Seeya!

  3. tela'smuff Says:

    yeah, for those making the argument for too much ambience in the DC Waves, first 10mins is not ambience. space whale appears at 11mins via AJ’s Chinese Connection. Mikes drops meatball soul crushing bombs nearing 12min mark, making up for Telly Tweezer. beautiful move into Bug. three different movements in the DC Waves, not a wasted note.

  4. angryjoggerz Says:

    What can I say… I was there. I have no idea if it was just coincidence, but it certainly was amazing. I met with the Mayor of Beijing the day before and was told that was the plan, so that is a crazy coincidence. I know it is unpopular to give credit to China for anything good, so I will be quiet.

  5. Mr. Palmer Says:

    My kid was all excited about this and we let her stay up a while and then it became a celebration of childrens bedtime nightmares… wtf?

    ^^ Ha! totally, was there with you.


  6. angryjoggerz Says:

    In their defense, I am pretty sure that London publicly stated that they would not even try to top the Beijing Olympics – it was waaay over the top and cost crazy amounts of money. I think it just meant a lot more to them than London – UK is pretty well established in the world.

  7. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Dc Waves is nice. For some reason the DC shows have been the one’s i’ve spent the least time with. Not for any particular reason either. I think maybe because the Waves wasn’t real long and it was kind of buried in the set it hasn’t gotten it’s rightful props? Who knows. Happy to have another jam on the list of great ones. Leg 2 can’t arrive fast enough.

  8. phoammhead Says:

    Djibouti ftw

  9. Gavinsdad Says:

    Good Chinese takeout earlier tonite AJ

    Americanized dumpling sauce > dc waves

  10. tela'smuff Says:

    i think Trey got some ideas from London. Gamehendge musical on Dick’s field. cabbage fields abound.

  11. albert walker Says:

    I’m sure the Mayor actually consulted with AJ before the weather control operation is in full effect

    your a smart ass bitch AJ. fuck off.

  12. angryjoggerz Says:


  13. tela'smuff Says:

    DC1 was a near perfect show, minus the Fish song, but even then, the Trey/Fish dual drim jam saved it. maybe a have to be there moment.

    DC2 was fun, but other influences may have saved the day. regardless, the Disease>Sand was real fun.

  14. Dorn76 Says:


    DCU Carini>Taste for drive thru Glenwood Canyon = $$$

    The Colorado looking muddy as always but very low this year.

    Looking forward to catching up with the BB.. Weird for me to be out of touch. Life intervening. Hope all are well.

  15. albert walker Says:

    get a clue geek.

    team enthusiasm for the win.

    I cry all the time.

    you are a fuckin nut kid.

  16. Robear Says:

    Dorn! U still have time to turn it off! Do it!

  17. angryjoggerz Says:

    The mayor most certainly did not consult with me, why would he? Who the fuck am I? But I did have to attend the meeting. Its my job. It was pretty awesome to be there and to have the whole experience. Certainly not trying to be a smart ass bitch, so everyone settle down. Sorry if my experiences were offensive.

  18. angryjoggerz Says:

    you are a fuckin nut kid.

    ^ guilty as charged!

  19. albert walker Says:

    it’s my fault I hate most people and AJ hit’s just about every trait that annoys me. I gotta stop ruining the hug fest around here

    I apologize. I don’t play well with peeps just like me. I’m a narcissistic asshole to the highest degree.

    see ya kids on ter

  20. Mr. Palmer Says:

    People’s Republic of China Long live!
    The people of the world the great unity of Hooray!

    ^ Google translate FTW!

  21. tela'smuff Says:

    @Dorn – head up to Carbondale and let’s have a beer.

    gonna break a rule. i’ve met some of ya hear, and made some nice friendships. those that know, me, know what i’m about. AJ is as good as friend, father, and all around person as i’ll ever meet. whatever your aggro issues are AW, i seriously hope you work them out. i’m not looking for a war of words, and won’t respond to it. i figure if someone has an issue, address it face to face. otherwise, stop with the BS tough talk on the message board. you’re a 36 yr old man. tough talk on message board = jock a fool. like arcade fire = you’re a douche. sometimes the BB fits with the rest of the f’d up world.

  22. PigSong Says:

    I believe in cloud seeding to an extent, to the extent they could hold off rain because of the opening ceremony down to minutes…not so much.

    Sorry AJ, China cheerleading while brushing off any downfalls/social oppression of the Republic as “how they do it” gets old. You are a highly credible source of all things China, just like Wen Jiabao. It’s your job, you’re doing a great job! I mean that sincerely.

  23. PigSong Says:

    erk, not in on the AJ hate fest – just calling it like I see it. Hope to meet you some day, I’m just a skeptic. Cheers dudes, I was going to bed.

  24. xpun Says:

    uh what the hell is happening here?

    ajs story about weather control was cool, we researched and confirmed the methods. i found it all very interesting,

    is aw just suffering from the olympics talk. unless that chinese up there is really offensive im not sure why the agro?

    or am i missing something?

  25. Mr. Palmer Says:

    “ajs story about weather control was cool, we researched and confirmed the methods. i found it all very interesting,”

    ^^ yeah, me too. Peeps are getting crazy on a friday night.

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