With Bangor fast approaching, and everyone anticipating quite the banger in Maine, I figured it would be a good time to take a look back at the other tour-opening throwdowns of this era. For the past couple years, the band has come out practiced and polished to kick off tours, and—very often—these tour openers have blossomed into one of the most memorable nights of the season. Putting all these shows side to side, it’s quite eye opening to see all the amazing music that has come in 3.0 tour openers. Let’s look back at the making of a 3.0 tradition.
Phish sparked Summer Tour 2010 with their first mega-opener of 3.0. During 2009, opening shows were a clear warm up, but starting in Chicago on this brutally hot day, the band laid the groundwork for future tour-opening blowouts. This show featured two sets chock full of improv and full-tilt playing. One can tell from the setlist alone, that the band meant business—but the setlist was just part of the story. Six months after playing their best modern shows to date in Miami, the band hit the stage in The Windy City with a similar fire and cohesion, and what resulted after setbreak was a thing of beauty. Framing the set around the centerpiece jams of “Light” and “Ghost,” the latter of which remained a highlight of tour well after tour’s final show, Phish sculpted a flowing stanza of music that never once hit a road bump. The “Limb” was spectacular, “Caspian” was placed perfectly, and “Antelope” was more shredding than usual, all before they closed the set with the debut of “Show of Life.” I can still remember the glow of everyone faces when the lights came on after this one—this night was a keeper.
I: Down with Disease, Wolfman’s Brother, Possum, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Reba, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Divided Sky, Golgi Apparatus > David Bowie
II: Light -> Maze, Ghost -> Limb By Limb > Prince Caspian > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Run Like an Antelope, Show of Life
E: Cavern > Julius
The Bethel run, or at least the first two nights of the Bethel run, is the stuff of modern era legend. Bursting out of the gates with far more improvisational bravado than we had heard from the band in 2010, Phish set their community afire with these two shows. This leg of summer tour would be a game-changer for the band, as they dropped far more complex jams than we had heard in the previous two years—and it all started here in Bethel. The opening show has lived in the shadow of the brilliant performance on night two, but has almost just as much to offer. To begin with, the band dropped “Tweezer” to open the show and jump-start the summer. The opening half also saw high points in “Wolfman’s -> Walk Away” and the best “Kill Devil Falls” outside of Bonnaroo ’09. The meat of the second set, however, would remain one of the elite jam sequences of the year. “Boogie > Waves > Prince Caspian > Crosseyed” contained some of the most dynamic playing of the era to that point, but more improtantly, it showcased Phish’s intent to bring things deeper. A transcendent “Waves” jam saw the band sculpt abstract soundscapes with staggering, leader-less interplay—a revelation at the time, and quite the blast off for the opening night of the year. Not to mention that the guys had just masterfully deconstructed and dissolved a “Boogie” jam to segue into “Waves.” “Caspian” provided an anthemic comedown before they took “Crosseyed” right back out into a deep improvisational space. A murky, evil groove emerged from the hard-rock playing, absolutely slaying the audience while tallying the the third open jam of the sequence! I think we spun this chunk of the set ten times through before coming to Bethel the next day. Phish had taken five months off and had come back way better!
I: Tweezer > My Friend, My Friend, Poor Heart, Roses Are Free > Funky Bitch,Wolfman’s Brother -> Walk Away, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Kill Devil Falls, Bold As Love
II: Carini > Back on the Train, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Waves > Prince Caspian > Crosseyed and Painless > Wading in the Velvet Sea > Possum, The Squirming Coil
Few other things need to be said about this show than “Rock and Roll > Meatstick.” Playing—arguably—the greatest jam of this era, rivaled only by Dick’s “Light,” the story of this show began and ended with this unforgettable sequence. Spanning so many different feels within one jam, the band flowed through distinct sections of melody driven improv, the dirtiest funk you’ll ever hear, and evil, storage-laced abstraction. This “Rock and Roll” in the context of The Gorge created an experience that tapes can never translate. This is the type of jam that steals a show—in fact, it stole the entire weekend as the second night was a fun, though straightforward, show. To illustrate the magnitude of this jam, people debate it versus Big Cypress’ monstrous “Rock and Roll” for the best version ever! I’m not picking a winner, but I think that tells you the level of jam we are dealing with here. Then, the final bass-led jihad into “Meatstick”—an all-time Phish moment—to bring us into the heavily funkified segment of “Meatstick > Boogie On.” That three-song run is what everyone remembers about the show—and rightfully so—but there are a couple other points of note. First and formost, a sunset version of “Roggae” that transformed into a wide-open daydream, easily the most impressive version ever played. And the delicate “Farmhouse” placed after the second set theatrics is as good of a rendition as you’ll ever come across.
I: Kill Devil Falls, The Wedge, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane > My Friend, My Friend,Cavern > Taste > Roggae > Walk Away, Funky Bitch, Roses Are Free > David Bowie
II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Rock and Roll -> Meatstick ->Boogie On Reggae Woman > Farmhouse, Show of Life, Julius, Character Zero
E: Loving Cup
Although Phish’s Summer ’11 tour was their best modern jaunt to date, many were not sure how the extended layoff between Labor Day and New Year’s Run would treat the band. If the first night of the run was any indicator, however, they hadn’t missed a beat. And then the next three nights happened. But the first night was legitimately awesome. First set standouts included a third-song “Cities” that stopped abruptly deep into open waters, the promising first set sign posts of “Stash” and “Bathub Gin,” and a rare “Ballad of Curtis Loew.” The second set was straight fire start to finish, and one of the better Holiday Run sets of this era. “Carini” flipped into major key territory, taking the show on an uplifting journey before Trey seamlessly wove in the opening lick to “Tweezer.” This prime-time combo exploded the arena and before long, the band was ripping off a plinko highlight reel amidst the “Tweezer” jam. One crack lick led into another in this swampy, urban dance monster which smoothly rolled into a mid-set “My Friend.” The darkhorse jam of this show, however, is the “Rock and Roll.” Overshadowed by “Carini -> Tweezer,” this jam puts a magnifying glass on the dark, glitchy, abstract, plinko-esque jamming style that was prevalent during 2011. “Harry Hood” rounded out the night, a version in which Trey led with notable passion, evoking his “Hood” playing of old, if even for a little bit. Walking out of MSG after this one, I thougvht we might be looking at one of the elite New Year’s Runs of all time. We weren’t.
I: Free, Glide > Possum, Cities, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Stash, Contact >Sample in a Jar, Kill Devil Falls > Bathtub Gin
II: Birds of a Feather, Carini -> Tweezer > My Friend, My Friend -> Rock and Roll -> NICU, Bouncing Around the Room, Harry Hood > Bug
E: Tube > Rocky Top > Tweezer Reprise
The band opened last year’s touring schedule with one of their strongest shows of 2012. A complete show—bookended by “Buried Alive”—possessed a retro feel and intensity that was certainly welcome after MSG’s anticlimax. This night has been discussed so much that I feel I don’t need to go into it here. It was outstanding on every level.
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
Leg One of 2012 was unquestionably the band’s most impressive tour to date when it ended. Exploding through their staple sheds on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Phish had themselves at a crossroads. Despite their clear musical proficiency, none of the jams had surpassed 15 minutes (or so). Obviously, time is not the central factor in jam quality, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Phish fan who’s favorite jam is under twenty minutes. The band often finds musical gold mines 17 minutes into a piece or deeper, places they just weren’t going in this era. But on this night in Long Beach, everything changed. Taking the next logical improvisational step, the band opened the second set with 40 minutes of jamming, including 25 in “Rock and Roll” alone.” And it was awesome, exploratory improv, the type of stuff fans had been yearning for. This show sparked the modern trend of long form jamming that would culminate at Dick’s two weeks later—and we all know what happened there. That road to glory—however, at least in the short term‚ started at Long Beach. Oh, and the “Hood” that ends set two is the best of the year.
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
A year later when Phish was heading to MSG after a long layoff, people were confident Phish wouldn’t tank again—and they were right. The magic of Dick’s carried over to MSG’s jams, and the most dynamic and far reaching of them came bursting out of the gates on the first night in the form of “Tweezer.” Taking their classic vehicle on a multi-staged odyssey with their new-school musical sensibilities, the guys gave us a message that Dick’s wasn’t just a Rocky Mountain high. And when the dust settled on the New Year’s Run of 2012, an argument could be made for the 28th as the most complete show of the four. A hot “Stash” and a “Little Drummer Boy” infused “Wolfman’s” set the improvisational stage for “Tweezer,” while the band filled out the second set with solid playing and selections all the way through.
I: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Moma Dance, Funky Bitch, Army of One, Tube > Stash, Nellie Kane, Kill Devil Falls, Free, Wolfman’s Brother
II: Tweezer > Maze, Twist > Theme From the Bottom -> Fluffhead, David Bowie
E: Bouncing Around the Room, Good Times Bad Times
Tags: Culture, Jams, The Moment