5) 7.5.13, SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY
Lo and behold, the band’s July 5 performance at SPAC holds up at the end of the summer in the top five. The story of this night truly starts with the combo of “Cities > Bowie” at the end of set one. A fresh take on “Cities” blends into one of the forgotten “Bowies” of tour—a version that is among the season’s top few. But the second set was elevated to a whole ‘nother level. In the second show of tour, after a 2012 summer in which the band grew a tad predictable, they threw us one of the freshest sets in years. A palpable excitement filled the air as Phish kicked things off with the debut of “Energy,” a new cover and jam vehicle at a time when the band desperately needed one. The band’s enthusiasm bled right into “Light,” a version that remains the most engaging and refined of the summer—a profound statement for the beginning of tour. The greatest part of this set is that the band got creative with every single piece less “Mango Song.” One such moment took place in a filthy, slowed down wah-funk segment out of “46 Days,” a jam that coyly slipped into “Steam.” Everyone had been hoping for a jam from “Steam” since its 2011 debut, and albeit a whale-drenched one, we finally got it at SPAC. Changing the course of the song’s career, this version paved the way for a handful of second setters over tour.
Just when it felt like the guys might fall back into convention, they dropped a late-set “Drowned” that veered from its usual rock textures into delicate groove excursion, maintaining the newness of the set’s feel. Closing things out with an astounding “Slave” built with patience and reverence, Phish had dropped one of their sets of summer in just their second outing.
I: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance > Sample in a Jar, Roses Are Free, Birds of a Feather, Yarmouth Road, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane, Army of One > My Friend, My Friend > Cities -> David Bowie
II: Energy > Light -> The Mango Song, 46 Days -> Steam, Drowned > Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Character Zero
4) 7.12.13 Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY
Amidst a monsoon on the edge of Long Island Sound, Phish threw down one of their sets of the season. Jones Beach’s main event was flawless in execution from start to finish with zero hiccups to note. Featuring a wide-open, twenty-minute “Rock and Roll” to start, this set never slowed down as the band segued into “2001” and then into an infectious take on “Tweezer.” The mid-set sequence of “Tweezer -> Cities -> Wedge” flowed like a single piece of music, while the band’s interplay in both “Tweezer” and “Cities” was especially enticing. Placing “Velvet Sea” exactly where it fits, the band then followed with their favorite set-closer of 2013, “Character Zero.” It’s rare that the guys come out—on any night—and pitch a perfect game, but after set break—as the clouds momentarily parted—Phish threw an absolute gem.
The inclement weather made the first set of this show a rough scene until the band flipped their script with the closing combination of “Reba” and “Bowie.” Though their playing was tight from the jump, it felt as though the guys were oblivious to the vigorous downpour as they slogged their way through a standard set of songs. But once “Reba” started, the rest was history.
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Cars Trucks Buses, Ocelot, My Sweet One, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Water in the Sky, The Sloth, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Sugar Shack, 46 Days, Backwards Down the Number Line > Reba, David Bowie
II: Rock and Roll > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Tweezer -> Cities -> The Wedge, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Character Zero
E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
3) 7.31.13 Harvey’s, Stateline, NV
It was tough to not put this show higher for the “Tweezer” alone, but I am trying to be quasi-objective here. The Tahoe “Tweezer” is—without question—the jam of the summer, and the most magical moment I’ve ever experienced at a Phish show. The way the crowd seamlessly integrated themselves into the most epic jam of the modern era pushes this one over the top of every other contender. But when it comes right down to it, there was little else in the show of note.
To be honest, the first set was straight up abysmal. The guys picked up zero momentum in the opening frame set until a standard, set-closing “Stash” felt like a gift from heaven. Then, after “Tweezer,” the band played out a standard string of songs before a fiery “Antelope” closed shop. Nothing mattered after “Tweezer”—it was clearly all gravy—but with no supporting meat less a gorgeous “Architect,” I can’t place this show any higher than third.
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Camel Walk, Sparkle, Back on the Train, It’s Ice, Brian and Robert, Yarmouth Road, Kill Devil Falls, Lawn Boy, Ocelot, Stash
II: Tweezer, Tela, Twist, Architect, Bouncing Around the Room, Run Like an Antelope
E: Julius > Tweezer Reprise
2) 8.31.13 Dick’s, Commerce City, CO
Providing stiff competition for the show of the year, the second night at Dick’s, however, lands in second. Bottom line, the second set isn’t perfect, and I’ve got to give the nod to perfection. But there is a hell of a lot to discuss here, starting with “Chalk Dust.” The most innovative and original jam of the year anchored this performance, and was supported by a gargantuan, late-set “Tweezer.” But in between, though they were minor, the set had a few flaws. Firstly, “Light” had reached a crazy, original plane that was steeped in the creativity of “Chalk Dust” when Trey decided to chop it for a standard run through “46 Days.” Honestly, I didn’t notice the abruptness of this change in the live setting because the show was staggering up to that point, but on listen back, it’s just not smooth. “Steam” and “Free,” though great live, provide little playback value and a “Number Line” closer is nobody’s friend. However, despite these minor bumps in the road, the band’s playing was incredible all night long, earning this night the second slot of summer.
The first set of this performance certainly helped land this show over Tahoe. A 90-minute affair filled with choice, high-energy selections set the table for the massive second half. Throw in a couple rarities in “Buried Alive” and Fee,” and everyone was all smiles at setbreak.
I: Buried Alive, AC/DC Bag > Wolfman’s Brother, Yarmouth Road, Fee > Halfway to the Moon, The Wedge, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Bouncing Around the Room, Mound, Gumbo > Run Like an Antelope
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Light > 46 Days > Steam -> Free, Joy > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Tweezer > Backwards Down the Number Line
E: On the Road Again > Tweezer Reprise
1) 7.27.13 The Gorge, George, Washington
Phish’s second performance at the Gorge earns the top slot of summer due to its impeccable flow and perfect second set. Seldom does Phish offer a set of music with zero stumbles, hesitations or miscommunications, however at the Gorge, they attained perfection. From the opening note of “Disease” through the final note of “Antelope,” this set moved with a criminal smoothness and—literally—never hit a bump in the road. Featuring seamless segues between “Disease” and “Undermind,” “Light” and “Sally,” and “Sally” and “2001,” this set contained non-stop action, flow galore and great setlist calls throughout. The band spent almost the entire set in an improvisational space and threw down tour highlights of “Disease > Undermind” and “Sally > 2001,” including one of the jams of tour in “Undermind.” It felt like the band started this set, and then it ended, as there was no break in the action and never a moment to lose focus of the stage. We hung out in the pavilion for as long as permitted after this one ended—it was one of those special nights at the Columbia River Gorge.
The band eased into their second show at the outdoor mecca with a mellow, afternoon vibe in the trifecta of “Architect,” “Golgi,” and the only “Curtain With” of tour. The band worked in some standard rotation songs before debuting Gordon’s “Say Something” and capping the set with the Americana pairing of “Ocelot” and “After Midnight.” The first set was above average for this summer, and paired with a flawless second, the band’s July 27th show at the Gorge takes home the season’s top billing.
I: Architect, Golgi Apparatus, The Curtain With, Kill Devil Falls > The Moma Dance > Maze, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Roses Are Free, Say Something, Ocelot, After Midnight
II: Down with Disease -> Undermind > Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Walls of the Cave > Fluffhead, Run Like an Antelope
E: Show of Life > Good Times Bad Times
Tags: 2013, Summer '13, The Moment