I must admit, in ranking shows, I am essentially ranking second sets. There were a couple first sets that stood out over others this tour, but at the end of the day, when thinking back and spinning these shows, it’s all about the second sets. There were no first sets that were strong enough to sway my decision making process, so there’s my disclaimer. And therein lies the reason for a couple of rather tight calls on this list of shows. As always, thanks for reading!
Honorable Mention: 7/3 SPAC, 7/5 SPAC, 7/18 Chicago, 7/19 Chicago
10) 7/8 The Mann Music Center, Philadelphia, PA
This show breaks into the top ten on the strength of its “Fuego,” the second best jam of tour, and its late-set sequence of “Ghost > 2001 > Harry Hood.” Though Trey shanked the “Tweezer” jam, there is more than enough meat to carry this one. The story here, however, is the monumental “Fuego” jam that still stands as the song’s most developed and prolific outing.
I: Axilla, Gumbo, Taste, 555, Tube, Halfway to the Moon, Camel Walk, Sparkle, Halley’s Comet > It’s Ice, Ocelot, Walls of the Cave
II: 46 Days, Fuego > The Line, Backwards Down the Number Line, Tweezer > Ghost > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Harry Hood > Tweezer Reprise
9) 7/25 PNC Amphitheatre, Charlotte. NC
Living in the shadows of the Merriweather stand since the weekend they both happened, Charlotte’s performance actually has quite a bit to offer. This show’s centerpiece is a long form “Chalk Dust” that stands second only to Randall’s in summer’s top versions. The seamless sequence of “Fuego -> Twist -> Circus” boasts tour’s most impressive segue between the latter two songs, and summer’s most intricate and variant “Reba” popped up late in the second set. Trey’s “riftcord” in the “Piper” jam was the only blemish in this set, and Charlotte has one has one of my favorite first sets taboot.
I: Mike’s Song > Back on the Train > Weekapaug Groove, Wingsuit, Possum, Tube, My Friend, My Friend, Winterqueen, Beauty of a Broken Heart, David Bowie, Golgi Apparatus
II: 555, Chalk Dust Torture > Fuego -> Twist -> When the Circus Comes, Piper > Rift, Waiting All Night > Reba > Character Zero
E: Loving Cup
8) 8/1 Amphitheatre at the Wharf, Orange Beach, AL
Phish’s first visit to the Gulf Coast resulted in a smoking second set that featured the jam of the south in “Down with Disease” and an original “Tweezer” that reached a gorgeous musical space. Pairing “Fuego” and “Slave” in the middle of the set and then closing things out with a seamless mashup of “Boogie On” and “Antelope,” Phish brought their best Southern effort on the three-night run’s opening night. A rock solid set of music gave the Phish-starved deep South something to write home about.
I: Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance, Heavy Things, 555, Rift, 46 Days, Tube, Devotion To a Dream, Wolfman’s Brother, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Free, Character Zero
II: Down with Disease > Theme From the Bottom > Tweezer > Prince Caspian, Waiting All Night, Fuego > Slave to the Traffic Light, 2001 > Boogie On Reggae Woman -> Run Like an Antelope
E: Bouncing Around the Room > Tweezer Reprise
7) 7/26 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
This second set flowed like water from start to finish and boasts plenty of high quality improvisation throughout. The jam of the show is a toss up between the ‘70s-rock infused “Ghost” jam and the avant-garde fusion that went down in “Light.” Each of these jams is quite good and of completely divergent feels. The opening run of “Carini -> Ghost -> Steam” came off without a hitch and a contained but blistering “Harry Hood” capped things off. A true powerhouse Phish set.
I: Sample in a Jar, The Moma Dance, Wombat, Backwards Down the Number Line, Roggae, The Wedge, Wolfman’s Brother, Nellie Kane, Lawn Boy, The Line, Stash, Suzy Greenberg
II: Carini -> Ghost > Steam -> The Mango Song, Monica, Light -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Harry Hood
6) 7/30 nTelos Pavilion, Portsmouth, VA
Portsmouth’s second performance was far and away the best show Phish has ever played in the intimate nTelos Amphitheatre. It was always a treat to see Phish in such a small outdoor venue, but the shows there have always been medicore. That changed this year in a big way on night two, as Phish dropped only the third “Fuego” jam of tour (and first since Philadelphia almost three weeks earlier) and it was a keeper. The band was locked on this night and it showed in “Fuego’s” deep groove throwdown, a vibe that continued with the second-ever “Meatstick” jam (and first since 7.15.99), a funktastic piece that eventually bled into one of tour’s “Pipers.” This set boasted flow, bust-outs, surprise jams and just about everything you’d want in a Phish set (except a powerful closer).
I: Bathtub Gin, Devotion To a Dream, Yarmouth Road, Guelah Papyrus, Alaska, It’s Ice, Poor Heart, Mountains in the Mist, Meat, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, David Bowie
II: Fuego > Gotta Jibboo, Meatstick > Piper > Billy Breathes, Seven Below, Waste, Backwards Down the Number Line, First Tube
E: The Lizards
5) 7/20 Northerly Island, Chicago, IL
I’ve totally come around on this show, as I was in a poor headspace that night, and the back half of this set completely smokes! This is a “Mike’s Groove” to be reckoned with, as the band not only split open “The Wedge” like never before, crafting one of tour’s best jams out in the unlikeliest of places, but they followed it up with an incredibly unique “Ghost” jam that was as dark as “The Wedge” was light. A smoking “Weekapaug” this closed the “Groove” emphatically and an above average “Disease” kicked things off in a set that flows from start to finish, despite an unneeded “Theme.”
I: Gumbo, Runaway Jim, Tela, The Line, Scent of a Mule, Bathtub Gin, Silent in the Morning, Maze, Ocelot, Walls of the Cave
II: Down with Disease > Winterqueen, Theme From the Bottom, Mike’s Song > The Wedge, Ghost -> Weekapaug Groove, First Tube
E: Character Zero
4) 7/12 Randall’s Island, New York City, NY
When this second set ended I called in perfect. With everything it its right place, Phish played an airtight frame of music with highlight jams all over. “Ghost” is the true centerpiece of the set, a patient journey through rock and downtempo realms. A stunning “Harry Hood” closes things out, and an intricate and ambient “Carini” started things off. Tour’s only “Punch” opened the set and tour’s only “Rock and Roll” came as a blistering contained rendition. Throw in a strong “Wingsuit” in the middle of the set, and you’ve got—well—a perfect frame of Phish.
I: AC/DC Bag, 46 Days, Yarmouth Road, Devotion To a Dream, Free, My Sweet One, Back on the Train, Halfway to the Moon , Sparkle, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, The Line, Run Like an Antelope
Set 2: Punch You In the Eye, Carini > Ghost > Wingsuit, Rock and Roll, Harry Hood
E: Tube, Joy, First Tube
3) 7/4 SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY
Rarely does Phish open a second set with an hour of top-shelf improvisation but on July 4th that is exactly what happened. And they did it in grand style, debuting “Fuego’s” jam with an exploratory, twenty-minute excursion that peaked in tour’s most sublime moment. From the new to the classic, the band slid into a run of “Disease > Twist > Light” before ever looking up for air. They coasted to the finish with “Theme,” “Number Line” and “First Tube,” but the damage had most definitely been done. This one was a holiday show to remember, and—easily—the best July 4th show in since 7.4.00.
I: The Star Spangled Banner, 555, Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance, Reba,Waiting All Night, Runaway Jim, 46 Days, Rift, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil
II: Fuego > Down with Disease > Twist > Light > Theme From the Bottom, Backwards Down the Number Line, First Tube
E: Character Zero
2) 7/27 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
Night two of Merriweather was a different kind of Phish show. Though breakthrough jams took place in “Tweezer” and “NICU,” the take away from this night was about energy. But not the balls to the wall energy one would associate with a rock show, but the wacky, Phishy energy that was necessary to pull off such a second set at all. This type of setlist trickery and antic/comedy driven show was part of the band’s repertoire in the early-Ninties, and here we were in 2014 witnessing a performance every bit as musically inspired and energetic. Watching the band perform this show was like watching them rediscover their youth. As if shot into some alternate zone by Fishman’s abrupt change of direction in “Tweezer’s” jam, the guys became possessed with a spirit of old—but a spirit that clearly still burns brightly in their hearts today, driving the modern version of Phish. We’ve all seen a lot of shows, and we’ve all seen the guys have a great time on countless occasions, but something was different on this night, they were having a whole ‘nother level of fun as they wove in and out of songs, stopped to jam where the spirit moved, and generally carried on with a zaniness that has lied just below the surface for the most of the modern era. This night was special for us, no doubt, but far more significantly, this night was special for them.
I: Fee, The Curtain With, 46 Days, 555, My Sweet One, Sand, Bouncing Around the Room, Saw It Again, Fuego, You Enjoy Myself
II: Wilson > Tweezer -> Back on the Train -> Tweezer > Back on the Train -> Tweezer > Waiting All Night, Free -> Tweezer -> Simple -> Tweezer -> Free, Catapult -> Slave to the Traffic Light, Down with Disease -> NICU -> Hold Your Head Up > Jennifer Dances > Hold Your Head Up, I Been Around
E: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer Reprise
1) 7/13 Randall’s Island, New York City, NY
No antics in this one, just the best improvisation of the entire tour in a Hall of Fame hour of music that went “Chalk Dust > Light > Tweezer.” “Chalk Dust” is up there with Phish’s all time jams, easily cracking the upper echelon of that discussion. A true masterpiece that soars out of the gates and then settles into the most intuitive and connected jamming of the summer, this one has replay value for days as it continues to wow with every spin. Showing ultimate composure and exhibiting patience rarely seen in this day and age, the band navigated a near half-hour piece of music that is ridiculously dense and rich, featuring countless feels and soundscapes. But that’s just the first half of the coin. On the backside Phish dropped “Light > Tweezer,” each a standout highlight of its own. The band dripped into a surreal “Mind Left Body” jam in “Light,” and packed the tour’s best “Tweezer” with totally inventive playing, building to a group-wide peak that saw brains explode across Randall’s Island. This first hour of the second set was real-deal Holyfield, sashimi grade Phish that will stand up to anything. Finishing the set with “Velvet Sea,” “Monica” and “Slave,” this one was airtight through the end. Randall’s final performance also boasts my pick for best first set of tour, featuring several juicy selections.
I:Sand, Winterqueen, Reba, Birds of a Feather, Water in the Sky, Possum, Runaway Jim, Bouncing Around the Room, Maze, Split Open and Melt
II: Chalk Dust Torture > Light > Tweezer, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Monica, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Backwards Down the Number Line > Tweezer RepriseTags: 2014, Miner's Picks, Summer 2014