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”

  1. sumodie Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Miner

    Huh, somehow I got it in my head that tour was 32 shows long

    In fact it’s 25 shows total including Dick’s

    Phish: it’s all about the math

    Here’s hoping another Fuego tune gets the Mann jam treatment

    How many of you remembered there was a car called a Fuego? I certainly didnt.

  2. YouEnjoyPhun Says:

    Great piece on SPAC! You put in words what I was feeling. All three shows brought their own theme and I must agree that 7/4 was the best. The 2nd sets of all four shows have taken us on a trip. See y’all at CMAC!!

    Rochester NY

  3. RoosterPizza Says:

    Super typhoon heading our way…awesome.

  4. Cable Hogue Says:

    Fishman is very decidedly more upfront in the house sound right now. The massiveness of his sound is apparently inversely proportional to the size of his kit.

    His playing right now is so fresh. Legendary cowbell groove in the LxL. I thought his performance on 8/31/13 really stood out as a great one last year: every show this year he has equalled it.

  5. vapebraham Says:

    Wombat has the potential to get opened up and go big. sounded like they were going there on 7.5, but no dice. However, what they did lay down in that 5+ mins. is a tasty funk tapestry w/ expertly filthy chops by Red.

    Listen at 4:05-4:06. trey does something never heard before and simply incredible. Sounds like he pushes the note out and then snatches it back in. amazing effect.

  6. MiA Says:

    Great write up. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

  7. vapebraham Says:

    listen to fishman at around 9:30 in that LxL madness and listen for the washington DC street drumming beat all over that joint. Here’s an example of what fish is doing:


  8. Cable Hogue Says:

    Yes, next to Fuego I believe Wombat has the biggest potential of the new tracks, but could go either way: is it a novelty or a launching pad? Either way, it’s fun as hell and pretty hard to hate on in the live setting.

  9. c0wfunk Says:

    @vape need to listen back to the limb^2, but is that guy rocking some new school go go beats?

    iz raised on that shite. doo doo brown!

  10. Cable Hogue Says:

    apropos of nothing but a random phishthought:

    I watched 8/31 last year with a good buddy, non-phan, but he appreciates Phish and is also a drummer. At the end of Chalkdust he said “Fishman is the man with the steady kit! His drums never move an inch” I thought that was a funny observation and then started to watch more intently when webcasting, and he was right: All the toms were so rock-steady in his setup…I attributed it to his light touch.

    This year, watching from home, Fish’s toms are moving all over the place in the new setup! Maybe he’s hitting harder, maybe the new kit is a little looser…whatever it is, I like the results.

  11. c0wfunk Says:

    probably a better example of go go – chuck brown

    doo doo brown is more upbeat than go go

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    ..tends to be.

  13. dusty Says:

    Really very relaxed playing. Not sure if I’m a little biased on this though as I’m really just enjoying every moment with a smile ear to ear. I love the way I never have enjoyed the new album’s songs at first. However seeing them evolve and start to fit into the master puzzle is wonderful.

    I dug the three completely different vibes to the spac shows. Overall seemed under attended. Love that venue’s nooks and crannies. Mann shows should be something special or at least keep the vibe and smiles. Gotta drop off here and get one real day of work. Let me know if anyone is rallying at Tired Hands pre.

    @vape You might be talking bounce beat. Love all the go go talk recently.

  14. Cable Hogue Says:

    Yes! Definitely go-go rhythms on the cowbell in Limb. so sick.

  15. vapebraham Says:

    cowfunK: spent 3 years in chocolate city (DC) and that go-go swing beat is ubiquitous. love that shit.

  16. c0wfunk Says:

    yeah mt.. I grew up in the dc suburbs listening to those all night long wpgc go-go mixes in the late 80s/early 90s. Totally shaped my listening for life.

    garage a trois rocks some cool go-go tunes; Their tune get small is a gogo dance party and mike dillon will talk go-go all night long..

    It’s funny how infectious it is; people who know all seem to love it. Really gets a room going like few other grooves.

  17. ren Says:

    Am I back yet?

  18. ren Says:

    Yes!!!! I am!!! So good to be back! BlackBoard glitch left me unable to post throughout the first week of tour….but I was here in spirit.

    Thanks for fixing me up Miner and thanks for your most recent thoughts today.

  19. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Hooray for Ren!

    Glad to see some semblance of a return to form or, better said, land to reform.

    Nice work, Señor Miner!

  20. ren Says:

    Still haven’t spun 7/4 yet and this is getting me really pumped to catch up later tonight.

    All seems to be right in the land of BB

  21. ren Says:

    Too much real life still happening over here…doing my best to get dialed in before Randalls. MrsRen and glorious Jeep rides this weekend helping to keep me sane.

  22. neemor Says:

    Nipple-erecting stuff, Miner.
    I can. Not. Wait. For. Mann.

    Nice description of Winterqueen for those who doubted the landing pad potential of a gorgeous song.

    I feel like this exact thing happened just last decade.

  23. neemor Says:

    “Really very relaxed playing. ” -Dusty

    ^ This is exactly what I hear overall (on the ‘macro’ level).
    It’s that festival sound at the start of tour. Which is crazy to this guy.
    Patient, thoughtful, fiery when needed, poignant and crisp.
    There are too many adjectives.
    This is Phish.
    This is the edge.

  24. neemor Says:


  25. vapebraham Says:

    right on, yall.

    any more examples of fish employing the DC go-go beat? I may have hints of it before but the LxL cowbell action comes the closest to my ear.

    cowfunK: thanks for the garage a trois get small link. sickle.

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