Working It Out: A Conversation with Myself

Portsmouth (Andrea Nusinov)

Portsmouth (Andrea Nusinov)

Mr. Miner 1: Let’s call a spade a spade—that Summer Tour just wasn’t up to snuff. The band came out of the gates like a well-oiled machine, exhibiting patience and crafting thoughtful, developed jams, but their improvisation peaked at Randall’s Island. It’s kind of tough to call a tour a success when the best jams occured with three weeks left. and they never again reached that level. Trey’s patience—something praise-worthy over tour’s first two weeks—waned considerably and he got back to impatiently axing jams. I give him credit for laying back in the mix, but there is a point of diminishing returns. He is still the lead guitar player who’s leadership is crucial in the both the development and the realization of jams, and there was a serious lack of both in the second half of summer. After letting jams progress while sitting back, he rarely stepped up with strong ideas or leads in the back half of things to bring things to the top, often content to play rhythm for the duration. There were several stellar sets this shows this tour, especially towards the beginning, but the improvisation in the post-Randall’s segment of tour wasn’t on the same level, let alone the level of last summer or fall. This tour just didn’t feel like a progression to me.

Mr. Miner 2: This summer, they fully integrated their new material into their live show, found a place for most of it, while developing a new jam vehicle in “Fuego.” How could you not call that a progression? You always want new material and this summer Phish dropped a slew of it into place. In terms of improvisation, the band’s jams were more diverse than ever, and Trey’s willingness to lay back in the mix contributed to the many different sounds that were explored by the band this summer. It felt like a sort of a transitional tour to me, not just with the new material, but with an even more group-based, lead-less focus to the jams. Perhaps the lack of peaks or true jam development over the second part of tour was part of this approach, and once integrated, I have no doubt that the band will continue to play fully realized jams come Fall.

MM1: I hear that. This summer definitely felt like a transition, but looking at this summer alone, Trey’s willingness to sit back and not play lead for entire jams contributed to an unfinished and unrealized feel to many potentially huge summer excursions—even some of the tour’s better jams. Without Trey’s ideas bringing jams to a head, there was often a notable absence of leadership and many jams ended without truly having an ending. Perhaps the focus on the new material took away from a focus on improvisation, because I just don’t feel that the band was fully dialed in on too many nights after Randall’s Island. You had Chicago night three, the Charlotte/Merriweather weekend, Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach. That’s about it. That’s a lot of relatively average nights for Phish these days.

MM2: While many of this tour’s jams may not traditionally peak or resolve, perhaps that wasn’t the band’s focus this tour. Perhaps they were looking to explore as many sounds and directions as possible to see if they discovered something special. One can not argue against the incredible diversity of improvisation this tour, the band was devoted to exploration and on most nights came up with at least one gem if not two. Taking the tour at face value, its hard to say its not a success when the guys were able to cover so much ground while still integrating an album’s worth of new material into rotation. Perhaps it wasn’t their best tour musically speaking through and through, but I see this run as a step forward for Phish, even if they experienced some growing pains this summer.

Chicago (G.Lucas)

Chicago (Graham Lucas)

MM1: Sure, when stepping back now that the tour is over and looking at it with a macro view, its easy to say that it could be a stepping stone to bigger things, both stylistically and improvisationally, but musically, I just don’t feel this tour holds as much weight as last summer or fall. The most impressive jams of tour are still the “Fuegos” and “Chalk Dusts” from early on, while there were certainly highlights along the way, there only a handful of jams that truly felt complete. I’m not saying the band wasn’t playing well—for the most part they were—but there were very few “IT” shows. There was a ton of B+ playing, but the A/A+ playing was few and far between. It was a good tour, it was an interesting tour, but not necessarily the band’s most powerful, if that makes sense.

MM2: But the first couple weeks were damn powerful and you can’t discount those shows just because they happened at the beginning of tour. Mansfield through Randall’s Island were amazing Phish shows with only a couple glitches among them in total. Those were special shows. Every tour has its own trajectory, and this one front-loaded the heat, there is no doubt about that. But there was a certain revitalization over Charlotte, Merriweather, Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach. So really, the lulls were only CMAC through the beginning of Chicago and the very end of tour. Really not all that bad, man.

MM1: I guess that is true, I just felt that those two lulls combined with such a drastic stylistic shift by Trey that left many jams feeling as “teasers” or “tasters,” combined to make the entire tour a bit of a disappointment. I have seen each tour as a musical progression throughout the modern era, and this one just didn’t feel like a significant step forward to me jam-wise. Though if looking at the first two weeks alone, I guess that’s not totally true. It was just the lack of ability to sustain that level of patience and playing that left a bad taste in my mouth. I do buy into the theory that Summer Tour could be part of a larger shift that will be realized during Fall Tour, but going through the shows night to night, the tour just felt a little thin to me,  a bit underwhelming. And Phish is not usually underwhelming.

MM2: While the tour doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of standalone timeless gems, Phish still threw down a fair amount of them and generally played stronger start-to-finish sets with better flow than we’ve come accustomed to in recent years. That, in itself, is a huge step forward. Did Trey cut off jams? Sure. It seems that will be a part of what happens as they try to keep things fresh this era, but the overall focus on flow kind of negated the ripcord effect, ya’ know?

Detroit (J.Herzog)

Detroit (Jesse Herzog)

MM1: I guess I’d rather have fully completed jams and a bit less flow than sacrificing musical realization for flow. I get it when they use two jams as one, such as the “Carini > Ghost” from Oak Mountain, but I’d rather hear one amazing jam and one less so, with less flow than two pretty good ones that flow. It’s all about those trasndendent moments to me, and there were notably few of those after Randall’s Island this summer, regardless of what else was happening in the show, flow or no flow, ya dig? For example, you don’t think of Toronto ’13 as a choppy second set, you remember the insane “Disease” jam that froze time and space. When we think to Merriweather night one, we will remember the impeccable flow, but at no point in that second set did the band absolutely break through. You know what I’m saying? The “Ghost” is awesome and the “Light” is the jam of the show, but we can’t pull a truly timeless gem from this set. I guess it’s a matter of what you prefer at some point. I’m in it for transcendence—the times when the band hooks up with their effortless flow and weaves magic out of thin air—and quite honestly, that didn’t happen all that often over tour’s final three weeks. And the band’s last two tours were drenched it IT.

MM2: Well, Chicago night three had timeless moments and Merriweather night two was pure magic. It certainly did seem that extra-special aura lacked a bit after Merriweather, however, with high-level outings only coming at Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach, and I’m not so sure those shows or jams reached the timeless plane, possibly Portsmouth’s “Fuego” or “Meatstick” and the Beach’s “Disease” though. But did you really expect much from the Southern run?

MM1: Right, I mean last summer ended up on the west coast and this one in Alabama. Set and setting certainly makes a difference. I am on board with Summer ’14 being a very good Phish tour and potentially part of a larger transition, but it just didn’t feel like the band reached the next level too many times, those types of jams where they hook up and never look back. At some point it is what it is, but when the band reinserts well developed and peaked jams into their beefier, more well-balanced sets, then things will feel just right again. Fall, here we come!

Merriweather (Andrea Nusonov)

Merriweather (Andrea Nusonov)

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1,231 Responses to “Working It Out: A Conversation with Myself”

  1. aj Says:

    Hey ! Just popping in to say that I am enjoying a few great beers at a craft brewery in Beijing,,, Great Leap Brewing. Mind totally blown. I gave them a Half Acre sticker and they asked me if I was whith the guys building their new brewing system… Who are from Half Acre. My worlds are totally colliding. If Trey walks in now I’m gonna lose it.

  2. aj Says:

    Listening back to tour highlights I find this summer pretty exciting.. The new material sparked a lot of good energy.

  3. Headface Says:

    Read the last sentence of the 1st paragraph of Miner’s previous post –Everything has now fallen into place and the guys are in the zone as they approach the final week of a tremendously successful run– and now read today’s post.

    Miner does this often – I love his enthusiasm for Phish –but then he forgets it and comes out with a negative review – his right to do so, and I’m not even saying he’s 100% wrong.

    But then when he feels the heat for sounding like a baby he writes a you-must-forgive-me-I-truly-love-Phish piece – he did so last summer.

    All I’m saying is that if you are believing this then you are going to soon feel bad for him when he writes about how he went to poppy town but truly loves jams. And you have to be at the shows to make immediate public reviews. I have no problem with someone 30 years old writing about a Dead show from the 70s he was obviously not at – but reading a review of a show from 5 nights ago that 17,000 saw live but one person watched from his couch, trashed and then cried about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  4. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    So Santa Barbara is 2pm eastern and BGCA is 3pm eastern right??

  5. BingosBrother Says:

    Miner arguing with himself? Can’t write lead anymore.

  6. phlorida phan Says:

    ^If I had something in my mouth, it would have been all over my desk after that zinger!

  7. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Good luck ticket gatherers.

    In exchange for Sea help, I will help someone today. Sea is Tom at 2pm

  8. dorn76 Says:

    Palmeiro, I’ll gladly pay you in TM chits tomorrow for a BGCA 2 or 3 today.

  9. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    ISO: one for everything

  10. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Does ticketmaster let you cancel tickets within 24 hours??

  11. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

  12. Teddy Says:

    This is probably my favorite post of yours, Mr. Miner. I agree, or said differently, am conflicted, about the tour. Portsmouth 2 is a great example—a very good show with several good jams that never quite got where it seemed they were going. MPP 1 is another example of this, though I thought the Carini>ghost was pretty complete and the LIght was excellent.

    It did seem they were either focused or inclined towards segues and sometimes that worked beautifully (MPP2) and sometimes it tended towards the ripcord.

    At times the jamming, in particular the tone, was better than anything I’ve heard in 3.0. But as was written here, much more of that was at the beginning of the tour.

    I remain optimistic and think it’s important to note that the tour was still at a very high level–just not necessarily a leap above fall 2013.

  13. MiA Says:

    I agree that the trajectory for jams went south after Randall’s. His groove playing increased significantly. But his ADDness didn’t allow for a more fuller realization of that.

    So often I wanted the jam to continue on and reach for the stars but Trey had other ideas.

    Phish has more technical capability now than previous tours but seem to not know if they really want to “jam” all that much.

    As mike says “it seems cliche to be a 20 min rock jam band.”

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    T3, Canadian version of that?

  15. neemor Says:

    Good post Miner.
    Interesting point about Trey stepping back.
    I noticed listening back the other day to the Mann Fuego that Trey stepped back at a point to play rhythm and, as much as I love that jam, it used to be that Trey would swagger back in with scalding leads an ideas that would transform a jam into something else entirely, giving it character.
    His leads used to provide narrative to the second half of a jam.

    When he stepped back in 2014, it seemed that the band would do their thing as a unit but really just be waiting to transition.

    To me, the step forward is just that.

    Exploring another way to jam, as you noted today, had to be utilized because they were working in new material. Having to be conscious of inserting new material tends to keep the band grounded.

    The additions of jams like Scents and Pebbles in Alpharetta tells me that they are ready to open things up in the Fall, being less conscious of placing Fuego material and thus plugging into the unconscious moments, releasing IT.

    Jealous of West Coasters.
    Fall will slay.

  16. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    just add eh to the end of each sentence

  17. phishm Says:

    I love the song Two Versions of Me. Off to Universal Studios to quest for fun in the hot ass sun. Should be fun. Time to put my Wingsuit on because I don’t think I can walk much further. My dog’s are barking. Skin is red. Mind is melty and I feel great. Thanks for listening to my rum filled self absorbed crap. Alcohol is a helluva drug. Peace.

  18. neemor Says:

    “Lastly, I watched “The Counselor” today and was amazed at just how terrible a film it is. How do you put a screenplay written by Cormac McCarthy directed by Ridley Scott together with that much acting talent and wind up with something that shitty? The embodiment of a Turkey Leg. F.”

    Awful film.
    Irresponsible, really.

  19. neemor Says:

    Spending the weekend in Gloucester, Mass.
    Real Eastcoasty.
    Two days of opening curtains to the Atlantic Ocean, gorgeous weather, walk to my favorite beach and exploring the tidal pools of Bass Rocks.

    Life is good.

  20. Darth Vaper Says:

    In other news, all my orangeness 2014 has been deleted. Hmm…

    I don’t think I did it and don’t think others have access to “delete” files in the directory.

  21. RicksFork Says:

    For golf fans (MiA), my father in-law is a member at Valhalla so I am off to KY for the weekend to attend the PGA Championship. Members tent on 18 should be sweet.

  22. neemor Says:

    Valhalla is like Valhalla.
    My money, as always, is on The Tiger.

  23. bathtubjoe Says:

    Just a thought…and probably not a valid one, but i will toss it into the ring anyway…

    Do you think that the absence of reviewing each show in its entirety has led to some of your thoughts regarding this tour? I know you visit about each show on other media streams (i.e..twitter,etc.) but you had to have held more of your post show emotions internal. Did this somehow take from the experience? Moments that were maybe transcendent the night of/morning after and discussed in length become just “moments” when not journaled intimately about as you were previously accustomed?

    I could really care less to be honest—one man’s trash is another man’s treasure–just a perspective i haven’t send discussed and curious to the board’s thoughts

    Cheers to Dicks!

  24. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    take a quick drive up to Red Rocks (at the rt 133 exit turn towards Essex instead of Gloucester and once under the rt 128 overpass park in the small lot on the left.) there is a trail system there (County Greenbelt) that will take you up onto the “pink granite” that gives it the name. if you go up to the top you can get a really nice view of both Gloucester and Essex harbors. I teach rock climbing there (but not this weekend – I’ll be on the Cape). should be a beautiful weekend for a little hike too. no more than fifteen minute hike from the road and probably about 15-20 from town.

  25. dusty Says:

    Everything I know about Canada is based off of Strange Brew. Well not really. Come on @DF, just replace .com with .ca ya hoser! Cooooooor ooCOOCOO coo coo COO COOOO! 

    @Telas You make some great points that I’ve also realized throughout my love of this band. Before it dawned on me it pushed me into a negative space and away from seeing just about any 2.0 shows.

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