The only any real criticism that bubbled from the fan base over Leg One was how second sets sometimes fizzled out. Sometimes front-loading sets with the heaviest improv of the night, only to coast to the finish line with a series of out-of-place singles, Trey fell prey to this phenomenon a handful of times this summer. This is quite an odd occurrence for a bandleader who would, self-admittedly, pore over setlists for much of his career, ensuring Phish shows flowed quite well. These days, that is not necessarily guaranteed. But, let’s not overstate things. Only five shows out of 20 second sets of tour fizzled out significantly. That means that 15 finished strong, or at least with a sense of completeness. All in all, I think this issue will right itself naturally, especially looking at the percentages, but it is something worth inspecting.
The sets I am referencing in this discussion are AC3 (6/17), nTelos1 (6/19), Deer Creek2 (6/29), Alpine2 (7/1), Jones Beach2 (7/4), and SPAC2 (7/7). In each case except nTelos—a set that never got going—Phish played a legitimate improvisational passage to start the second half. Interestingly, however, only one of those sequences—Alpine’s “Light > Ghost”—sits among tour highlights. Does the fizzle factor come into play when the band isn’t feeling musically hooked up? The general pattern of sets that fizzled might suggest this. Let’s look a little closer.
The third night of Atlantic City kicked off with “Drowned > 2001 > Reba,” a high quality, but mostly contained, run of jams. The first night of Portsmouth was a song-based second set, with only a “Split” jam to speak of, thus its hard to say this set fizzled as there was no place to fizzle from. Phish front-loaded Deer Creek’s second night with an extensive, though unspectacular chunk of jamming in “Disease > Sand.” While this sequence wasn’t bad by any means, it didn’t pop with anything original—fun while there, but without much playback value. After “Sand,” the band quickly moved from song to song but for a brief, though interesting, “Bathtub Gin.” Alpine’s all-star set, fizzled to near-boredom with a run of “46 Days,” “Heavy Things,” “Joy,” “Julius” over the final thirty minutes. The band’s July 4th performance started with a promising sequence of “Boogie,” “Tweezer > Twist,” only to transform Singlestown USA, less “Harry Hood” for nearly an hour. SPAC’s second show started promisingly with a strong “Disease -> Blister in the Sun -> Disease,” but morphed into a novelty show of “Blister” teases in a run of standard songs.
Interestingly, sets that fizzled—as a whole—produced few pieces of timeless music. Out of the five sets above, we are left with “Light > Ghost” in the upper echelon, Jones Beach’s “Tweezer > Twist” on the second tier, “Disease > Sand” on the third tier, and contained highlights of “2001 > Reba” and “Harry Hood.” In five second sets of 2012 Phish music, that’s not that much. Perhaps this is a coincidence, or perhaps Trey has a propensity to call for singles when jamming isn’t necessarily clicking as usual? In the end, we’ll never know, but—at times—it seems a tad of forethought might go a long way in closing a show with authority.
It often feels that Phish has gone away from show-stopping set closers. Aside from the over-used “Antelope” and the occasional “David Bowie” or “Slave,” sets were prone to end with “Zero,” “Julius” or another innocuous single. Though not a huge deal in the scheme of a summer filled with riches, second set closers are the final taste of real Phish for the night, often determining the immediate post-show vibe. Encores, though occasionally significant, are as much for reorientation as anything else. The biggest change in this department has resulted from the band moving away “You Enjoy Myself” to close sets without a new replacement emerging. Though dubious, perhaps one will rise in the coming weeks, or perhaps the band will just keep playing “Antelope.” But if this is the only flaw to write about—effecting one in four shows—we’re doing pretty damn well!
Jam of the Day:
The heavy-hitting pairing came at the front of the second set on SPAC’s first night.
Tags: 2012, Songs, Summer 2012