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. Gavinsdad Says:

    ^cookies on a higher shelf dnw

  2. Gavinsdad Says:

    And speaking of photos…is that the first pic of shakedown ever on phishthoughts?

  3. Robear Says:

    Or, old glass gallon jar with screw top lid from a deli @DNW.

  4. stapes Says:

    @ Miner – 6/18 does. Sick sick second set.

    Good morning BB. Stony Sunday morning.

  5. RoosterPizza Says:

    Jones Beach ‘Walk Away’ ooOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo

  6. Robear Says:

    A return to Watkins Glen for the 30th anniversary and Festival 10. Halloween in Indio for the Big 11.

    Heard it here first.

  7. joe Says:

    whiskey breath at work. coffee only making it worse. Alpine Light>ghost to kick start me in the right direction.

    caught that 6/18 set 2 from the box set on sirius the other night. epic stuff. good observation about the difference between that and the 97 release.

  8. Xpun Says:

    Car gassed, flights booked

    Well mentally so at least.

    What’s an appropriate 30th anniversary costume?
    Traditionally the pearl is given on the 30th anniversary but men are given diamonds.

    Wish you were here? Diamond dogs?

  9. Robear Says:

    Thx Joe. I’m here to Provide balance, wise cracks, and the occasional trolling.

  10. phoammhead Says:

    diamond grill


  11. Robear Says:

    They plan to perform ‘Joist’ for Halloween.

    ‘Joy’ Set 1
    ‘Hoist’ Set 2

  12. angryjoggerz Says:

    Had a fun moment last night where we brought in a mariachi band to play for this group of teachers visiting from China – culture clash. At the end they were all dancing together. All of this with no alcohol. Amazing.

  13. stapes Says:

    Ahhhhhhh Indio……..
    Best Sunday morning ever.

  14. xpun Says:

    got to love melting pots AJ

  15. Robear Says:

    Well played

  16. Underlurker Says:

    Just read Dirksen’s reviews. ‘Bout what I’d expect for (mostly) playback-only, similar in result to other checklist & stopwatch reviews. Which I think misses the point Miner makes about the change of 2012. The change is the consistency. Dirksen seems to gloss over this fact. But, if you are on the train, this is all the difference.

  17. phoammhead Says:

    surprised that lochte beat phelps . . . i mean with all the chamber breathing exercises and all . . . tube stylie, that is 😉

  18. Robear Says:

    Phelps = over it
    He has money, fame and medical in Michigan.

  19. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Huggiebear on fire this AM!

  20. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    i am soo down with an Indio excursion again!

  21. Robear Says:

    PB, gotta take advantage of my last Eastern Time Zone posting.

  22. William H. Bonney Says:

    Phelps is still goin to win multiple medals, should not have swam the 400 im….he should be leading the relay swim tonite, or when ever NBC get’s around to broadcasting it…though the Aussie’s will be the favorites in that one….

  23. ThePigSong Says:

    Headline on the TV this morning as I got ready, “Will Phelps Ever Medal Again?”

    God I hate the media. Really, if you wrote that headline I hate you.

  24. William H. Bonney Says:

    Other than over hyping something, the media’s second favorite game is tearing down people……..

    Firing up Clifford Ball second day, for some Sunday service at the house……

  25. Robear Says:

    Medal or not, I love Michael Phelps.

    #firstube brothers

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