A Quick Start to Summer

SPAC 14 (Andrea Nusinov)

SPAC 14 (Andrea Nusinov)

Showcasing new songs, original jams and a clear exuberance to be onstage again, Phish kicked off Summer Tour 2014 in style with four shows last week. Polished, practiced and ready to roll, the guys hit the ground running, requiring exactly zero time to warm up and dropping timeless jams from night one. Armed with a new material and playing with unbridled creativity and confidence, Phish seems poised to play a tour for the record books.

Following a sharp show in Mansfield that heated up in its final sequence of “Ghost” -> “Weekapaug, “Harry Hood,” the band unleashed three flowing second sets in Saratoga Springs that illustrate their continued re-commitment to show craftsmanship that we saw blossom last fall. Frustrating trends that have plagued the modern era—aborted jams, random song calls and fizzling second sets—have all but vanished, and the artistic Phish of old has re-emerged. Crafting contoured frames of music, the band has brought narrative arcs back to their second sets—the journey of a Phish show has fully returned. Wide open jams, smooth transitions, and shrewd song placement colored all three of SPAC’s main events. Highlight segments that illustrated these themes include “Bathtub Gin > Limb by Limb > Winterqueen,” “Fuego > Disease > Twist > Light” and “Carini > Waves > Wingsuit > Piper.” Each second set adopted a unique vibe—7/3 was explosive and energetic, 7/4 took on a far more cerebral feel, and 7/5 possessed lighter, dreamy strand throughout. When three consecutive shows provide three unique and completely different musical experiences, it is a surefire sign that Phish is in a very special place.

Reading '13 (A.Nusinov)

10.29.13 (A.Nusinov)

The band flipped an improvisational switch during Mansfield’s “Ghost” and has not looked back. Offering totally fresh takes on their jams nightly, Phish seems to be consciously improvising in new and different directions. Examples of this include the masterful and unforced exploration of “Harry Hood in Mansfield, the spacious dance grooves of “Bathtub Gin, the swinging rhythmic filth of “Limb By Limb,” an intricate, deconstructivist “Disease” jam, the meditative jazz fusion of “Twist > Light,” an ethereal “Carini,” “You Enjoy Myself” featuring a Mike and Trey prompted funk jam, and of course the first free-form “Fuego.” (Though “Piper” had a stellar Trey peak, I can’t say that it was a totally original rendition.) Throughout all of their jams of week one, however, Phish’s communication has been notably tight and responsive, having seemingly reached mid-tour form rather quickly this go round. And there are eighteen shows to go.

Setlists have seen an expected infiltration of Fuego material, and most often with positive results. First and foremost, “Fuego” has ascended to the center of the Phish universe with the monumental debut of its jam. There’s nothing quite like it when Phish premieres a brand new jam, and “Fuego’s” introduction was as grand an entry as any ever. A dramatic, 20-minute trek that peaked into the heavens with a stunning crescendo sent a clear message to their fan base of Phish’s intent with their new title track—”Set the controls for the heart of the sun.” This is clearly the new school jump off. Aside from “Fuego,” however, the only other new song that seamlessly wove itself way into the live show was “Winterqueen.” Employed as a landing pad for the other-worldly sequence of “Bathtub Gin > Limb by Limb,” “Winterqueen” sounded like Phish had been playing it for years. The unexpected twist was the opening of its final solo, a hint of what could possibly come from the song. All other Fuego tunes, though sounding quite good in the live setting, are still searching for their comfortable place in the setlist.

10.31.13 (J.Silco)

10.31.13 (J.Silco)

From a macro perspective, the band sounds incredibly comfortable on stage together. Their improv has been characterized by a looseness that allows for all sorts of exploration, but, at the same time, a tightness of purpose that allows the band to explode into jams and reach experimental planes without several minutes of meandering. The way they are stringing together these jams and crafting larger segments of music, and ultimately sets and shows, however, is what is setting the band apart from their recent former selves. This comfort level will only increase as the tour moves on, and one should expect to see more well-crafted sets as we look towards Philadelphia.

And from a more micro perspective, how about that July 4th show? Hot damn! Talk about a fresh sounding set of music in which the faucet was turned on for the duration! As majestic as “Fuego” was, the most complex music of the night was yet to come in the next three selections of “Disease,” “Twist,” and “Light.” All in all, this four-song sequence totaled 55 minutes of creative, top-shelf interplay that left just about every jaw on the ground. Each jam was unconventional and each jam was unique. This was the type of innovative set of which we dream, and had the band finished strong with a significant closer instead of moving into “Theme,” “Number Line” and “First Tube,” we’d be looking at a legitimate all-time set of Phish. Even so, 7/4 was a signature performance that deserves recognition among the band’s best in years. And 7/3 wasn’t far behind, containing the most accomplished sequence of the weekend in “Bathtub Gin > Limb By Limb > Winterqueen,” and a thick, groovy “Tweezer.”

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. If this is what Phish had to offer in their first week of Summer shows, one can only imagine what is to come over the next three. Inspired, loaded with new material and dropping awe-inspiring jams left and right, Phish has their fan base on the edge of their seats once again, salivating to live the next chapter of the band’s storied history.

Week One Picks:

Best Show: 7/4

Best Set: 7/4 II

Best Jams: Mansfield “Harry Hood” and SPAC “Limb by Limb”

Best Moment: “Fuego” peak

SPAC '14 (Andrea Nusinov)

SPAC ’14 (Andrea Nusinov)

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2,446 Responses to “A Quick Start to Summer”

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  1. SOTBD Says:

    Welcome back Mr. Miner!

    Great run, 2014 is shaping up nicely!!!

  2. butter Says:

    Miner!!

    Good stuff

  3. voopa Says:

    Get on your proverbial freak.

  4. MrCompletely Says:

    Nice overview miner. Really on point. I agree pretty much throughout. I’m not sold on every one of the new tunes being good but most of them are. I thought waiting all night worked ok in both places they tried it…Fuego is obviously a heavy hitter…Wombat is new school old style silly party phish and will work in any of the energy dance break slots. Monica is a pop tune, harmless I guess, and I’m in the camp that doesn’t hear much potential in The Line. Biggest letdown for me is wingsuit. Coming off the album I thought it’d work live but unlike the other new tunes the more I hear it the less I think it can really go anywhere. I do like the main groove obviously. Anyway overall I’m pleased and a bit surprised at how well the fans are responding to the new material. People are definitely giving it a chance.

    Of course that’s easier to do when the jams are legit every night. The interplay is really locked in and fluid every time and without delay. Mid tour form is a good way to put it.

    Trey needs to clean up some control issues but I’m sure that’s coming. The band sounds practiced and is playing great individually and together. Vocals are better than usual. Fishman is ridiculous but what’s new.

    Really a good start to the tour.

  5. MrCompletely Says:

    Sixteens of seven five https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B12223IOLmBFUG5YN2lCSlJWNVE/edit?usp=sharing

  6. little umbrellas Says:

    Microtonality. Fuegostein Bridge.
    ::
    “They need to do a new album every year”.-MiA
    ^Maybe they will. A bunch of songs didn’t make the album. New Halloween tradition?
    ::
    “I’d love no covers all summer till Dick’s, with the band playing an all covers show for Friday Dick’s”
    ^There ya go. Could see that. Covers for Dick’s, New originals for Vegas.
    ::
    “Carini, Piper, Bowie, YEM, Wombat” – Hogue
    ^Holy Shit!! @Cable Hogue, and peeps thought Palmer was calling the plays, Hogue nailed it! #SMFDIRN
    ::
    “Whatever Trey changed up in his rig, I like it.”
    ^Haven’t listened to a lick of SPAC yet but you guys pumped me up to hear it. Perhaps the old speakers really were why his tone was deflating. Things to wonder. New speakers, freshness and presence in the high range, not an impossible connection.
    ::
    What a weekend! crushed it in Tahoe for days. Big time SPAC listen back for me tomorrow. BB rockith!

  7. little umbrellas Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner. Lovely write up, excited. greater stoking of the fire ensues.

  8. Blooby Says:

    It’s just not the same without your next morning posts, but I respect your decision to sleep once in a blue moon. Enjoyed the commentary as always and mostly agree. I’m off to spin “Light” again as I thought it didn’t get off the ground.

    Peace.

    Blooby

  9. Cable Hogue Says:

    IMO Wingsuit will find its place as they get more comfortable with it. If they had been able to seamlessly weave it into the Waves outro it would have felt nicer in that set: it strikes me as a natural “landing pad” tune. It will work better when they can segues into it but for now they still need to count it off.

    Everything is great in the Phish universe. “Set the controls for the heart of the sun” indeed.

    Cant wait for Randall’s.

  10. c0wfunk Says:

    Thanks, miner, enjoyed the summation post. After spotty stream attendance I’m still working my way through a relisten and just have the first set under my belt, but the first time through was a gas. 555 is my new favorite mike song; strongest effort from cactus in years. Another that really popped for me was the get back on the train.. Without straying from the set progression, the boys managed to craft an original jaunt through nonetheless. Now in complete control of their repertoire once again, the boys are seemingly effortlessly spinning out hot fresh vibe with every chance.

    Something else that has been noticed but that is getting to be monumental ( I think I have this right…) In 10 shows now There has been *1* cover song –funky bitch at jazzfest– !! The world’s best cover band has become so comfortable with their own material that they don’t need any covers at all to get them through. This is glaringly notable from where I stand.. Yes we all love phish originals but who among us was not grabbed early on by one of their unique takes on an old favorite? I’m keenly interested to see how far they take this into the tour.

  11. c0wfunk Says:

    Note: ssb on 7/4 is more an obligation than a cover 🙂

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    ..c: (or anyone?) you got matching links for the first 2? thanks.

  13. Buddysmyles Says:

    Mmm… I m not certain either but i think they have played 3 ‘covers’ in 9 shows plus the Letterman set… Auld Lang Syne, Funky Bitch & Star Spangled Banner… Now i agree the ALS & SSB are both an exception to the the rule, but they are covers. However, i for one am certainly interested to see how long this goes too!

  14. punkmug Says:

    Welcome back Miner! Nice recap. Fun to hear your take. I agree with the majority of it. Can’t wait to see how these next few weeks unfold. I’m jumping on the train for a few shows in Detroit and can’t wait to put my wingsuit on.

    Last night I was playing catch up from the long weekend and just heard the Fuego>DWD>Twist>Light sequence in its entirety for the first time. What a great chunk of tunes! Totally agree on your point about the unique feel the jams from each song have.

  15. vapebraham Says:

    Great thoughts, miner. I like the choice to do a summary of the run. The jams have been excellent. However, wingsuit in set 2 fell flat and they didn’t know how to jam it.
    7.4 set 2 was indeed the best stuff of the run, and top shelf phish from any era, but you have to include Theme in there. It emerges seamlessly from the light outro wash and really delivers emotionally and technically.

    Oh, Mann, u gotta be excited for what’s to come!

  16. vapebraham Says:

    555 is a great Gordon tune, if not his best piece for phish, but the first spac version crushes the second.

  17. RicksFork Says:

    Thanks Miner. Great post. You summed up my feelings on these four to a T. I couldn’t be more fired up for Randy’s or more excited for everyone getting to hit the Mann. I have a good feeling about this week to come and I hope for all our sakes that it one ups last week. Not sure that’s possible, but a guy can hope.

  18. vapebraham Says:

    Fish in LxL jam – fresh beats.

  19. Snigglebeach Says:

    I’m surprised wingsuit jolts people more than some others. I for one really liked it In it’s first set closer spot in Mansfield. It was not a song I loved originally, but I think there is potential there. Much more than The Line. Or Monica. Even wombat for me. Don’t really like that song.

    555 and fuego def are going to be huge this summer.

  20. Dorn76 Says:

    Miner!

    Haven’t heard anything since I left the GW lot and have not read back.

    Gonna be a busy day at the office!

  21. jerseyjim Says:

    “swinging rhythmic filth” 🙂

  22. RicksFork Says:

    I like the idea behind Monica lyrically, but understand why people might not love it. I could also do without the Line, but I see huge potential for a funk jam in Wombat and am going to hang in to that hope. Yesterday at the beach I was listening the 7/5 with my wife and a buddy and my wife (who has no interest in Phish) said that Wombat sounded like a song from a Saturday Night Live skit. Couldn’t really argue with her

  23. c0wfunk Says:

    @Buddysmyles – yeah auld lang syne; but they didn’t play any covers except funky bitch on 11/2 either – so 4 this run; jazzfest, 4 nye + 11/2/13 is where i get the 10. 11/1 they played a bunch; but 10/31 was a 3 setter with only mighty quinn; so you’ve now got 11/12 shows with 0 to 1 cover; from a band that used to do at least 2-3 a night (check the 11/1 list; 5 covers that night and it seems totally normal.)

  24. c0wfunk Says:

    *4 covers on 11/1

  25. RoosterPizza Says:

    Wingsuit was in the three spot after Carini>Waves and before a killer Piper. How often is the three spot more than a landing pad in those circumstances? Not so often methinks…

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