10. 8/28—Chaifetz Arena, St.Louis, MO
I: Punch You In the Eye, Runaway Jim, Ocelot, Reba, I Didn’t Know, The Curtain > Peaches en Regalia, Mound, Sample in a Jar, The Sloth, Camel Walk, Possum, Quinn the Eskimo
II: Chalk Dust Torture -> Frankie Says -> Undermind -> Sand -> Walk Away, Limb By Limb, Julius, Also Sprach Zarathustra > You Enjoy Myself
E: Shine a Light
St. Louis Official (Vastagh)
Set I: The first set in St. Louis combined a host a rarities and some well-loved classics to form a very entertaining set of music. A powerful trifecta of “Punch You in the Eye,” “Runaway Jim” and “Reba” kicked things off in the Gateway to the West, and after “I Didn’t Know,” the rarities started to surface. Phish dropped the first “Curtain” of Leg Two, but when they were ready to drip into the “With” jam—as they had done every time in 3.0—they rolled directly into “Peaches En Regalia” to form a potent one-two punch. Backing up this pairing with “Mound,” the guys continued to drop non-rotation songs, also including “The Sloth” and “Camel Walk” before closing out the set with “Quinn the Eskimo.”
Set II: This is a darkhorse set from summer tour that has lived in the shadows of its surrounding shows. Splicing together several mini-jams with patient segues, the band unveiled a set-opening sequence of ‘Chalk Dust -> Frankie Says -> Undermind -> Sand -> Walk Away” that moved with a liquid flow. “Chalk Dust” and “Frankie Says” each contained unique, out of the box jams that fluidly migrated into the next song, and though “Undermind” possessed no adventure, the band peaked the sequence with a blistering “Sand” before capped things off with “Walk Away.” Just when one thought the band might cool down with “Limb by Limb,” the song exploded into the centerpiece of the night with a spectacular type-II fiesta that stands as the best version of the song the band has ever played. The “breather” of the set came in the form of “Julius” before the guys topped off a non-stop second half with the classy combo “2001 > YEM.” This set should have been included in my previous posts about the well-crafted sets of the year, because it was certainly one of them.
X Factor: Flow and More Flow—I walked out of this show with it in the highest regard, as it was an experiential masterpiece. The second set never relented for a second, and the entire night never flirted with a slow moment. Though the mini-jams of set two are a bit more concise than they felt in the live setting, there is no denying their quality. And that “Limb by Limb” served as the most out-of-left-field centerpiece of the year, likening a musical left hook that nobody saw coming. St. Louis was a quality two-setter thaty, admittedly, was more of a live experience than one with limitless playback value.
9. 12/30—Madison Square Garden, NYC, NY
I: Runaway Jim, Cities, Divided Sky, Back on the Train, Ride Captain Ride, Ocelot, Ya Mar, Horn, My Friend, My Friend, Run Like an Antelope
II: Down with Disease > Twenty Years Later > Carini > Backwards Down the Number Line > Julius > Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Harry Hood > Show of Life
12/30 Sketch (Masthay)
Set 1: Coming on the heels of a totally sterile performance on the 29th, the first set of this show felt like more of the same—well-played standard versions of common songs. A few quasi-rarities dotted the setlist in the form of “Ride, Captain Ride,” “Yamar” and “Horn,” but these selections didn’t do much of to enhance the vibe of the set. The energy turned up at the end of the frame with “My Friend” and “Antelope,” but like so many shows last year, the real action started after setbreak.
Set II: Check out yesterday’s summary of this set, excerpted here: The second set of December 30th provided the most musically impressive and conceptually crafted stanza of the New Year’s Run. This frame contained a darkness-into-light progression, though the entire vibe changed a bit to abruptly to necessarily label it artistic…
X Factor: Darkness—Rarely, if ever, in this era has Phish assembled such an extensive menacing adventure as they did on this night. The playing within “Disease > Twenty Years Later > Carini” is very scarce in this era of good feelings, and when Phish let the cat out of the bag on this night, the results were astounding.
8. 6/23—Star Lake, Burgettstown, PA
I: Funky Bitch, Backwards Down the Number Line, Gumbo, Maze, Torn and Frayed, The Moma Dance, Scent of a Mule, 46 Days, You Enjoy Myself
II: Gotta Jibboo, Mike’s Song > Simple > Light > Weekapaug Groove > Seven Below, Bouncing Around the Room, Julius, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: The Lizards
Star Lake (Millward)
Set I: This set didn’t possess a heck of a lot of meat, causing Star Lake to drop to the bottom of the top ten. People love “Mule,” but I don’t dig on that song at all, thus this opening frame amounted to a set-closing “YEM,” and we all know how “YEMs” go these days—purely generic. But the second set was a different story.
Set II: Check out yesterday’s summary of this set, excerpted here: Phish’s second set at Star Lake stood out the minute it ended. With impeccable flow, clear structural intent, and plenty of improvisation, this one had it all. Firing collectively on this Saturday night, the band dropped a timeless frame of music in their Pittsburgh-area venue of lore…
X Factor: Cohesion—The most cohesive second set of Leg One, hands down. The songs not only flowed from one to another, but the improvisation within “Simple > Light > Weekapaug > Seven Below” was all cut from the same cloth.
7. 6/28—Deer Creek, Noblesville, IN
I: The Birdwatcher, The Curtain With, Fuck Your Face, The Old Home Place, Pebbles and Marbles, Weigh, Chalk Dust Torture, Wolfman’s Brother, Cool It Down, Tweezer, Tela, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Mike’s Song > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Back on the Train -> Hold Your Head Up > Bike > Hold Your Head Up > Weekapaug Groove, Prince Caspian > Waves > Bug > David Bowie
E: Show of Life > Tweezer Reprise
Deer Creek (Masthay)
Set I: Amidst 100-plus degree heat, Phish stepped onto the famed stage in the cornfields of Noblesville and dropped one of the most complete first sets of the year. Following an a cappella opener of “The Birdwatcher,” the band rolled out a series of rarities including “The Curtain With,” Fuck Your Face,” “Pebbles and Marbles,” and “Weigh.” After this run of songs, it felt as though the band hit the reset button and launched into the second half of the set comprised of more classic selections. “Chalk Dust” kicked this segment off and it led into funkified “Wolfman’s” which was followed up by the tongue-in-cheek combo of “Cool it Down” and “Tweezer,” as the band poked fun at the blistering heat while planted behind their stage fans. “Tela” emerged from an old-school ending in “Tweezer” and the setlist train kept rollin.’
Set II: This set kicked off with heavy-hitting “Mike’s Groove” sandwich that included the most improvised “McGrupp” to date and a version of “Back on the Train” that jumped way beyond convention into a dark, ambient fantasy before it seamlessly transitioned into “Hold Your Head Up.” “Bike” gave way to more antics in “Weekapaug,” as Fishman started the anthem on guitar while Trey still sat behind the kit. The two joined forces for a drum duet before Trey picked up his axe and slayed song’s feel-good jam. Phish didn’t allow the second half of this set to fizzle like so many others of the year, weaving together a gorgeous quartet of songs to close things out. This late run was centered on the first “Waves” of the year, a stunning rendition that covered a great deal of territory from quickened groove, through a cathartic passage and into deep space before subtly merging into “Bug.” “David Bowie” closed the door on a show that was quickly filed into history under the chapter of Deer Creek lore.
X Factor: Heat—The temperatures peaked in triple digits on this late-June day, making it—easily—the most tortuous show of summer tour. The band clearly understood this and treated the audience to a proper two-setter as they spared us from sitting through any filler in the ungodly heat.
6. 6/15—Bader Field, Atlantic City, NJ
I: The Sloth, My Sweet One, 46 Days, Camel Walk, Tube, Cities > It’s Ice, Ginseng Sullivan, Stash, Simple > The Wedge, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Squirming Coil
II: My Soul, Birds of a Feather -> Back on the Train > Heavy Things > Twist > Piper > Billy Breathes, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > David Bowie
E: First Tube
AC 6/15 (Masthay)
Set I: The first set of Atlantic City’s three-day weekend contained quality songs throughout and also carried a flow of its own. “The Sloth” provided a jolt of energy in the opening slot and the band backed it up with a rare “My Sweet One.” Following “46 Days,” Phish stepped into a groovy triumvirate of “Camel Walk,” “Tube,” and “Cities,” highlighted by the best “Tube” of the year. If you’ve forgotten about this version, check it out, it was my first jam of the morning for most of Leg One. The band included “It’s Ice,” “Stash,” “Simple,” “The Wedge” and “Squirming Coil” over back half of a set that fit congruently with the sunset vibe.
Set II: Check out yesterday’s summary of this set, excerpted here: This set from Atlantic City is one of the more glossed over stanzas of Summer Tour. Boasting a liquid-like flow and non-stop jamming, there is no doubting its rightful place among the year’s best frames of music.
X Factor: The Festival Feel—Bader Field provided a festival-like atmosphere for the weekend, and coming after Worcester, as most skipped Bonnaroo, this show was the transition to summer tour in earnest. Everyone could easily congregate around speaker towers with all their friends and enjoy the wide-open freedom a Phish festi for the only time in 2012. The nearby casinos graced the show with a visual backdrop and a quasi-circus feel as this Atlantic City became a destination spot for much of the Phish community on this weekend in mud-June.
5. 6/7—DCU Center, Worcester, MA
I: Buried Alive > Runaway Jim, Torn and Frayed, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, Rift, Nothing, Ocelot, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum, Rocky Top
II: Carini -> Taste > Ghost > Boogie On Reggae Woman > If I Could, Quinn the Eskimo, Harry Hood, Cavern > Buried Alive Reprise
E: Loving Cup
Worcester 2012 (Masthay)
Set I: The first set of the year kicked off in high-style with “Buried Alive” and continued with “Runaway Jim” and “Torn and Frayed.” Just like that we were underway; the highly anticipated indoor shows to kick off the summer were off and running. The band sounded polished and ready for tour, adding the rarities of “Nothing” and “Beauty of a Broken Heart” in the opening frame. Though the setlist was far from eye-popping, the music was spot on and everything seemed primed for take off in set two.
Set II: Check out yesterday’s summary of this set, excerpted here: Since 2010, Phish has most often come out on the first night of tours and dropped a monster show. Last summer’s opener in Worcester followed this pattern congruently. The second set of 2012 holds up as one of the year’s best, containing several standout, stylistically diverse jams.
X Factor: First Show After MehSG—Outstanding first shows of tour have become a tradition over the past couple of years, but this one carried a little extra weight as the first show of the yearn and considering it was the first performance since 2011’s lackluster New Year’s Run. This night in Worcester, specifically the second set, likened a soul cleansing for all involved after the band had slogged through their year-end party. The course had been corrected, illustrating that the MSG was a clear aberration and the band was ready to launch into 2012.
4. 8/15—Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA
I: Suzy Greenberg, Cities > Kill Devil Falls, Guelah Papyrus, Cool It Down, Rift, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Bathtub Gin, Quinn the Eskimo
II: Rock and Roll > Ghost > Limb By Limb, Guyute, Dirt, Harry Hood > Good Times Bad Times
Long Beach Official (MMM)
Set I: So much focus has been placed on the amazing second set of this show that the first set has been largely forgotten. But as first sets go in 2012, this one wasn’t too shabby. “Cities” appeared in beefier form than usual in the second slot of the show and Velvet Underground’s “Cool It Down” came two songs later. The two most significant pieces of this frame, however, came in “Stash” and “Bathtub Gin,” the latter being one of the strongest and most overlooked versions of the year.
Set II: Check out yesterday’s description of this set, excerpted here: When Phish hit the west coast to start Leg Two, everyone had Long Beach circled as a potential blowout. A tour opener in an old-school area before a high key, three-night weekend in San Francisco had all the ingredients of a must-see show. And when the dust settled, Phish had dropped another spectacular tour opening bomb that contained, arguably, the set of the year.
X Factor: The Advent of Long Form Improv—Leg Two represented a crucial juncture in Phish’s modern era development. The band had grown quite proficient at nailing 10-15 minute jams, but the question remained as to when the band would stretch things out into the long form passages so many of us love. The band came out on the first night of Leg Two and immediately spoke to that question with a devastating combo of “Rock and Roll > Ghost” that spanned 40 minutes. We had our answer. They were ready to dig deeper than ever before in this era, and over the course of this tour they would add quite a few more monstrous jams to their 2012 resume, all sparked on this gorgeous night in Southern California.
3. 9/1—Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium, Commerce City, CO
I: Run Like an Antelope, Backwards Down the Number Line, Tweezer > Fluffhead, Roses Are Free, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, When the Circus Comes, Theme From the Bottom, Golgi Apparatus, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Light, Boogie On Reggae Woman, The Wedge, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Mike’s Song > No Quarter > Weekapaug Groove
E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Repriise
Denver Official (Stout)
Set I: Most of the audience that filled Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium on 9/1 was still riding high from 8/31’s throwdown, and when the band opened up this show with “Antelope,” the first such occurrence since 1990, everything picked right back up where it left off. Extraordinary song choices dotted the front of this frame, as “Tweezer > Fluffhead” backed up a second-song “Number Line.” Lost in all the highlights of Dick’s, this “Tweezer” is actually quite good, capping off a proficient second leg for the song with a slick, groove-based incarnation. The rest of the set had a more conventional contour, but the juices were flowing and the band was ready to dig far deeper after setbreak.
Set II: The 50-minutes that kicked off set two—“Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Light”—dominated the landscape of this show. Though the movement between songs wasn’t fluid as in Bill Graham’s sequence, the playing within was just as mind-melting. This segment, anchored by a version of “Light” that stands as the most incredible jam of the 3.0 years, stood out immediately and has matured like a fine wine over the five months since it took place. The focus of this night has so squarely been on the multi-thematic, other-worldly “Light” that the first two jams in the set have been (rightfully) overshadowed. “Golden Age” is one of the strongest versions of the year, while Trey took “Prince Caspian” off course into darker territory, crafting one of most unique renditions of all time. Following the centerpiece of the weekend in “Light,” the band exhaled via “Boogie On,” “The Wedge” and “Horse > Silent,” before ramping things up with an adrenaline-fueled “Mike’s > No Quarter > Weekapaug” to close out the set. Despite a slight pause in the action to recoup, this set is absolute fire.
X Factor: The Best Jam of 3.0—When you hear the best improvisation the band has played in four years, the stakes of the set—and show—are immediately raised. Spanning so much of their musical spectrum within a single jam, Phish had everyone’s jaw firmly planted on the ground by the end of this treasure. Building on each version of summer and far outdoing them all, Dick’s “Light” will be the eternal takeaway from Summer 2012. If Phish played nothing else to support the stunning take on “Light,” it would have been fine by me, but they added quite a but more, putting this night right up there with the best of the year.
2. 8/19—Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
I: Crowd Control, Party Time, Axilla, Reba, Free, Mound, Walk Away, NICU, Back on the Train, Gotta Jibboo, Roggae, David Bowie
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Crosseyed and Painless > Theme From the Bottom, Rocky Top, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Meatstick, Bug, You Enjoy Myself
E: Ride Captain Ride > Tweezer Reprise
BCGA 8/19 (Taylor)
Set I: This set picked up with the mid-set run of “Reba,” “Free,” “Mound” and “Walk Away,” but it’s peak came at the end with the threesome of “Jibboo,” “Roggae,” and “David Bowie.” All in all, this was a solid first set, but nothing out of the ordinary. At setbreak, I said that if the band didn’t play a massive second set that the Bill Graham run would be seen as a disappointment. And we all know what happened next.
Set II: Sometimes an out-of-this-world sequence of jamming can elevate an entire show, and this set’s “Crosseyed > Light -> Sneakin’ Sally > Crosseyed” did exactly that. Totaling 50 minutes of unbridled adventure, this run of songs takes the cake for the improvisational segment of the year. Combining “Crosseyed’s” open-ended exploration with tight, thematic jamming in “Light,” and capping things off with a funk-filled victory lap in a bravado-laced “Sally,” Phish threw down the gauntlet at the top of this set. This three-song leviathan knocked the socks off anything played in 2012 up to that point, and still stands strong as the most focused hour of jamming in this era. The back side of this set left a little bit to be desired, but it was all gravy at that point as the entire venue was on cloud nine. The band brought things home with “YEM” to skillfully close one of the most exhilarating sets of the year.
X Factor: Intangibles—It’s hard to describe the feeling in the intimate Bill Graham Civic Auditorium that night, as the vibe was intense and infectious. This show defined the energetic exchange between band and audience that makes the Phish experience so sacred. There was no show in 2012 that contained a more unified feel between every person in the room; it felt like each of the 7,004 participants was locked into the moment. It is even harder to describe the metaphysical explosion that took place during the segue of the year, when a “Tweezer Reprise”-laden build at the end of “Light” spilled seamlessly into “Sneakin Sally.” A communal eruption like none in memory provided the experiential moment of 2012—one of those magical occurrences that nobody in the room will ever forget. This special night in the city by the Bay can’t be recreated or relived by tapes alone, there was something more at hand. And that’s why we go.
1. 8/31 —Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium, Commerce City, CO
I: First Tube, Uncle Pen, Carini > Kill Devil Falls, You Enjoy Myself, Ocelot, Undermind
II: Runaway Jim > Farmhouse > Alaska, Chalk Dust Torture > Emotional Rescue > Fuck Your Face
E: Grind, Meatstick
Denver Official (Stout)
Set I: Phish dropped two bombs in this first set in the form of “Carini” and “Undermind,” the latter being a top five jam of the year. It is rare to see any long form improv in opening frames, let alone jams of this magnitude, thus this set jumped forth as the most significant opening frame of 2012. An extended, third-song “Carini” signified something strange was afoot at the Circle K, and a mid-set “YEM” confirmed this. By the time “Undermind”—the most astounding first set closer in memory—ended, it was clear this would be the show of the year.
Set II: Though many figured out the setlist gag by setbreak, the band came with one surprise after another in the second half, furthering the face-fucking theme of the night. The guys added two more outstanding jams to this show’s resume with the first exploratory “Runaway Jim” of this era and, arguably, the greatest “Chalk Dust” ever played. The best show of 3.o included “Farmhouse” and “Alaska” smack dab in the middle of the second set, as well as an intentional “Also Sprach” fake-out, illustrating the well-planned nature of the show-long trickery. The first “Emotional Rescue” since 2000 and an absurd “Meatstick,” “Grind” encore capped the night that everybody has been talking about since it ended.
X Factor: FUCK YOUR FACE—Forcing their own hand with a limited number of songs to spell out “Fuck Your Face,” the band extended jams all night long. Despite the setlist games, however, this show—unquestionably—contained Phish’s most impressive playing of the year. With four astounding jams, including two that are easily among the best of this era (“Undermind” and Chalk Dust”), Phish left a wake of fire in the Rockies on the final night of August. Aside from the top-shelf improv, their outlandishly tight playing shone through all night in selections such as “First Tube,” “Uncle Pen,” “Farmhouse” and “Ocelot.” This show was not just a standout performance, but a conceptual masterpiece as well.
Honorable Mention: (in chronological order) 6/16 Atlantic City, 6/22 Cincinnati, 6/30 Alpine Valley, 7/1 Alpine Valley, 7/3 Jones Beach, 7/6 SPAC, 8/22 Kansas City, 9/2 Denver, 12/28 MSG