All-Tour Jam Vehicles & Summer Awards

Posted in Jams with the tags , , , on September 15th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
Merriweather 7/27 (Andrea Nusinov)

Merriweather 7/27 (Andrea Nusinov)

First Team

“Chalk Dust Torture”

Top Version: 7/13 Randall’s Island

Other Standouts:  7/9 Mann, 7/25 Charlotte, 7/29 Portsmouth

Two-thousand-fourteen has been “Chalk Dust Torture’s” most significant year in its 23-year history. The rock anthem had been known for blowout jams every now and then, but this summer really changed the game for “Chalk Dust” as it became a routine launch pad. Phish threw down six significant versions of “Chalk Dust” this summer, and more than half are legitimate keepers. Though most of the jams followed a similar contour with constant motion, the band diversified the major versions and carved out several top-level improvisations. Mann’s version set the tone for Randall’s all-timer, while Charlotte and Portsmouth’s versions anchored the back half of tour.

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“Harry Hood”

Top Version: 7/1 Mansfield

Other Standouts: 7/12 Randall’s, 7/19 Northerly Island, 8/29 Dick’s

“Harry Hood” had a complete transformation over summer tour. Previously, the band had taken the “Hood” jam far out of structure four times in thirty years (Charlotte ‘03, Camden ‘03, Worcester ’10, Hollywood ’13). This summer they did so three times in a month (Mansfield, Randall’s, and Chicago) and then also veered slightly off course another twice more (Philly, Denver). For the first half of summer, while Phish was focused on deep improvisation, “Hood” became an open jam vehicle, birthing three instant classics. But as the summer progressed and the band’s jamming waned a bit, so did “Hood’s” role as a springboard into the ether. The band played a quality contained version at Merriweather, used it as a means to four duets in Alpharetta, and played a stellar though relatively in-the-box version at Dick’s.

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“Ghost”

Top Version: 7/12 Randall’s Island

Other Standouts: 7/26, Merriweather, 7/20 Chicago, 8/29 Dick’s

“Ghost” could make an case for MVP of summer tour. Just hear me out. It appeared eight times this summer and never disappointed. Phish crafted three very diverse and creative jams out of “Ghost” at Randall’s, Chicago, and Merriweather,  while using it as a blissier, peaked out jam on three other occasions at Mansfield, Oak Mountain, and Denver. The Mann’s version isn’t particularly outside the box, but is quite smooth and enjoyable nonetheless. And even its least significant version in Clarkston was the highlight of a throw-away show, thus it’s hard to make a case against a jam that is essentially batting 1.000.

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“Down with Disease”

Top Version: 7/11 Randall’s Island

Other Standouts: 7/4 SPAC, 7/15 CMAC, 8/1 Orchard Beach, 8/30 Dick’s

Some things are like clockwork. The sun comes up every morning, bears shit in the woods, and “Disease” is always on the top shelf of jam vehicles for the Phish from Vermont. Ever since breaking out and becoming a consistent springboard in the years of ’96 and ’97, “Disease” has been Old Faithful, never wavering in its quest for the most innovative jams around. This summer, “Disease” had another rock solid tour with several high quality outings that took on different shapes and sizes. Randall’s version is at the head of the class, while Dick’s and Orchard Beach’s also elevated in different directions (as they might as well have been played by different guitar players). SPAC’s “Disease” feels like the forgotten version of tour, though got into a intricate jam following “Fuego” on July 4th. All in all, Summer 2014 another all-star tour for one of Phish’s staple anthems.

***

“Light”

Top Version: 7/19 Chicago

Other Standouts: 7/4 SPAC, 7/13 Randall’s, 7/26 Merriweather, 8/30 Dick’s

“Light” has become a regular all-tour selection in the modern era, always pushing the boundaries of Phish’s sonic comfort zone. “Light” was most often used as a supporting jam this summer, but flourished in this role with multiple late-set standouts. It’s best outing, however, came as the centerpiece of Chicago’s second show, plunging the depths of space jazz. Randall’s version also stood out, coming after the jam of summer and riding the same magic into a gentle and surreal Mind Left Body jam. SPAC’s, Merriweather’s and Dick’s versions all popped off late in the set, keeping the high-end improvisational vibe rolling right through the end of the show.

SPAC '14 (Andrea Nusinov)

SPAC ’14 (Andrea Nusinov)

Second Team

“Carini”

Top Version: 8/30 Dick’s

Other Standouts: 7/5 SPAC, 7/12 Randall’s

“Carini” saw a huge step backwards from its monstrous 2013. The band didn’t truly commit to any particular version from summer tour, using it mostly as a vehicle to ethereal soundscapes. Randall’s version got pretty interesting and intricate, but the “Carini” of the season easily goes to the explosive rendition we just heard in Denver, featuring Trey’s most soul-inspired peak of the year.

***

“Fuego”

Top Version: 7/8 Mann Music Center

Other Standouts: 7/4 SPAC, 7/30 Portsmouth

“Fuego” had quite an odd summer. Phish played the song lord knows how many times, but only jammed it thrice. Two of those three jams are among the best of the summer, including Philly’s masterpiece, and Portsmouth’s is fully connected as well. “Fuego” could make a case for the first team, but it’s fighting some pretty horrible percentages.

***

“Tweezer”

Top Version: 7/13 Randall’s Island

Other Standouts: 7/27 Merriweather, 8/1 Orange Beach

“Tweezer” had a fairly laid back summer, tough its campaign was highlighted by unique and inspired Randall’s Island outing. Merriweather got the full “Tweezefest,” but the actual “Tweezer” jam is a thing of beauty-turned-psychedelia. Orange Beach’s version reaches a gorgeous space but feels a bit underdeveloped.

***

“Piper”

Top Version: 7/5 SPAC

Other Standouts: 7/18 Chicago, 7/30 Portsmouth

“Piper” was most often used in combination with other jams this summer and was almost always good for some interesting minutes of jamming. Its one truly shining moment came as more of a centerpiece in SPAC’s final show in which the band truly developed the jam into something special.

***

 “Bathtub Gin”       

Top Version: 7/11 Randall’s Island

Other Standout: 7/3 SPAC

On the strength of two versions, “Bathtub Gin” made Second Team, All-Season . There’s just nothing else out there with two better jams from summer. And these two were pretty great.

***

Miner’s Post-Season Awards

Jam Vehicle of Summer: “Chalk Dust Torture”

Runner Up: “Ghost”

Rookie of the Tour: “Fuego”

Runner Up: “Wingsuit”

Show of Tour: 7/13 Randall’s Island

Runners Up: SPAC 7/4, MPP 7/27, Dick’s 8/30

Run of Summer: Randall’s Island

Runner Up: SPAC

Segue of Summer: “Twist -> Circus” 7/25

Runner Up: “Free -> Tweezer -> Simple -> Tweezer -> Free”

MVP of Tour: Jon Fishman

***

READER’S CHOICE AWARDS

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My Top 10 Jams of Summer

Posted in Jams with the tags , , , on September 9th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
The Mann '14 (Andrea Nusinov)

The Mann ’14 (Andrea Nusinov)

As always, rankings are silly, pointless and fun all at the same time. This list was extra tough for some reason. Depending on who you are, these jams could take different places, but I feel pretty confident about my group of ten. After making my initial list I re-listened to everything and did some major shuffling. There’s some serious goods in the Honorable Mention section as well!

Honorable Mentions: “Limb by Limb” 7/3, “Chalk Dust” 7/9, “Bathtub Gin” 7/11, “Light” 7/13, “Wombat” 7/18, “Harry Hood” 7/19, “The Wedge” 7/20, “Ghost” 7/20, “Chalk Dust” 7/25, “Tweezer” 7/27, “Fuego” 7/30, “Down With Disease” 8/1, Down with Disease 8/30, Carini 8/30

10. “Chalk Dust Torture” 7/28, Portsmouth, VA

Out of the many versions of “Chalk Dust” outside of Randall’s Island, Portsmouth’s version stands out for its coherence and its narrative thread throughout. The other versions feel a bit scattered.

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9. “Light” 7/19, Chicago, IL

A deep experiment in acid-space-jazz, this jam brought a late set peak to Chicago’s second set. And it was well needed as there wasn’t much of substance played before it.

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8. “Down with Disease” 7/11, NYC, NY

One of many early-tour jams that is laced with super-tight, super-original whole-band playing with a powerful Trey at the helm. This one gets buried in the avalanche of Randall’s jams, but it really shouldn’t.

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7. “Tweezer” 7/13, NYC, NY

Randall’s “Tweezer” was flooded with original playing from the moment the jam drops to its transcendent peak. At no point in this version did the band sit back on any convention, weaving pure gold for the duration. And the way the band collectively climaxed this jam with that chord progression that many reading this can hum right now was nothing short of masterful. This was far and away the best “Tweezer” of the summer.

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6. “Ghost” 7/12 NYC, NY

The centerpiece of a flawless set of Phish, this “Ghost” featured gorgeous whole-band interplay and some of Trey’s most powerful lead playing of the summer. The band hooked up early in this one and got into a Hose-like zone, bringing the jam to a huge peak and then sticking with it into an extended section of fully locked downtempo jamming. At this point in summer, the band was squarely focused on deep, psychedelic jamming and it really shows in the Randall’s “Ghost.”

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5. “Fuego” 7/4, Saratoga Springs, NY

This was as dramatic of a jam debut as we’ve ever seen over 30 years of Phish. We all knew “Fuego” jams were coming, and Trey made sure to make the first one extra memorable. This second version of tour opened July 4th’s second set with an extended exploration that ended with the most dramatic whole-band peak of the summer. The apex of this jam was a moment that, if present, one will never forget—one of those superhero type moments you wish the world could feel. After this massive version, who would have guessed we’d only see two more jams from the countless “Fuegos” played for the rest of the summer?

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4. Simple” 8/29, Commerce City, CO

On the first night of Dick’s all the pieces from summer seemed to come together within this all-time “Simple” jam. Fish and Mike took the reins of this jam out of the gate while Trey sat back adding accents and rhythm licks and plotting a long-range plan. He gradually emerged over the course of several sections and then—for the first time in far too long—took the jam home with a some gargantuan lead playing. After a cathartic peak where the band would usually move on, they—instead—stepped into an all-out, funk throwdown with Trey  spinning dance grooves in a style rarely incorporated into modern day Phish. This “Simple” also contained the longest period of groove of any jam in recent memory.

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3. “Harry Hood” 7/1, Mansfield, MA

Throughout their careers, it hasn’t been uncommon for Phish to drop one of tour’s best jams on opening night. And this summer, the band did just that with their late-set version of “Harry Hood.” This wide-open rendition initiated a character shift for “Hood” this past summer into a type II jam vehicle. While many versions popped off in different directions, this one still holds the top spot for me, a truly magical journey.

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***

2. “Fuego” 7/8, Philadelphia, PA

This centerpiece from the first night of Philly is a remarkable jam that is unique in its pacing and progression. Displaying incredible patient, the band shifted as a unit throughout this jam, crafting almost orchestral movements. Just as one thought they were heading for a big peak a la SPAC’s version, the guys took a quick left into a section of whole-band groove. All in all, this “Fuego” is quite an exercise in improvisation and another quality example of the band’s early-summer approach to their jams.

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***

1. “Chalk Dust Torture” 7/13, NYC, NY

While much of this list was difficult to put in order, the top spot was a no brainer. Differing from the many constantly-in-motion “Chalk Dusts” of summer, Randall’s version saw the band develop themes while settling in and exploring several distinct-but-connected musical directions. Even after Dick’s standout weekend, the hour of music highlighted by this “Chalk Dust” still stands out as the most accomplished and innovative playing of the year. There were many great shows this summer, but something special that bears significance in the context of Phish’s career took place on the final night of Randall’s Island.

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A Rocky Mountain High

Posted in Show Reviews with the tags , on September 5th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
DIck's 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Phish capped the summer of 2014 with a triumphant three-night stand at Dick’s that far surpassed their accomplishments of late July and early August. In Denver, the band combined the deep jamming that shone at the start of summer with the whole-set flow and thoughtful setlist contours that they diligently sharpened during the second half of tour. The result was three flowing second sets that were coherent in make up and laced with top shelf jamming. By integrating their two foci of summer tour, Phish was able to craft shows that truly illustrated their growth of 2014. The Colorado shows provided a hopeful blueprint for what is coming on fall tour, while providing a three-night exclamation point to another summer of Phish.

Dick's Official (DKNG)

Dick’s Official (DKNG)

In Denver, second sets didn’t fizzle halfway through, segues were not abrupt, jams were not rip-corded nor oversaturated with rhythm work by Trey. Rather, sets were thought out and fluid, flowed from start to finish, were highlighted by multiple deep improvisations each night, and laced with a different Trey who broke out of his late-summer shell. In retrospect, Phish dedicated the second half of summer to improving their fluidity and tightening up their live show at the cost of massive jams, but if the ending point of this growth likens the flowing sets stacked with powerful jams at Dick’s, then the growing pains were very much worth it.

The Denver shows provided a fantastic bridge to fall, blowing away most of the band’s summer performances and providing a preview of big things in the channel for October. The band has finally reached the level of whole-show literacy for which we have been yearning. Last weekend’s sets had distinct contours with very few gratuitous songs. The band is finally finishing shows with a purpose—one of the biggest growths of summer—featuring significant jams and dramatic closers in the fourth quarter of shows. Each night in Denver could be used as an illustration of this trend, as the guys capped each show with something special—”Hood” “Fuego > Slave” and “Mike’s Song.” And this time they brought the jams too!

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Beginning with “Simple,” the most developed and realized jam of the weekend, Trey broke out of his rhythm-only shell that had restricted the development of so many late summer jams. And when he broke out, he did it in huge fashion, peaking a longform “Simple” with calculated licks of splendor before leading the jam into a post-peak dance party that resembled a TAB show with its focus so squarely on Big Red. This jam felt like a breath of fresh air as Trey finally led the band to victory again. It clearly felt right to him, because he annihilated the peak of the subsequent “Ghost,” seemingly righting the ship for the weekend. The last standout of this set came in the final “Harry Hood” of summer—a dark-themed jam whose moment of transcendence occurred as Trey absolutely nailed the re-entry into “Hood’s” peak in very unconventional fashion. Friday’s show provided some incredible moments, however, the set of the weekend would take place the following night.

It is rare for Phish to jam their faces off while sequencing an entire second set in flawless fashion, but that’s what went down on Saturday night at Dick’s. As if shot out of a cannon at setbreak, the band responded to a rather standard opening frame with one of their most prolific sets of the year. Lacing together three highlight jams in “Disease,” “Carini” and “Light” with a “What’s the Use?” interlude and a “Slave” cap, Phish dropped a set plucked from a fantasy, and their playing stacked up to the eye-popping song list. Each of the three jams navigated unique musical planes, and each flowed quite well, musically speaking, from into one another. “Disease” provided a nice example of a standout 2014 group jam. And while Trey didn’t leap out in front of this one, his tone and directional play provided plenty of leadership in this jam as the band collectively worked their way into “What’s the Use?”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

“Carini” provided the platform for Trey’s most triumphant playing and most vintage peak of the year. This was the type of guitar god throwdown that so many of us have been craving in a notably guitar-lite season. This eruption of Trey’s soul transformed into the moment of the weekend in a certifiable case of time-warp Phish. Trey tore a portal in the universe through which the show—and all of its participants ascended—elevating the performance into something far more than a rock concert. This was one of those spiritual peaks that leave one thunderstruck at what just happened. The band carried this energy into “Light,” departing from convention almost immediately and embarking on a multi-terrain, psychedelic trek. Trey’s powerful leads continued through this jam, as if he was inspired by “Carini,” and his creative flow continued. This extended excursion finally melted into a poignant “Slave” that punctuated an hour of non-stop jamming with a fast-paced, group-based rendition. The pairing of “Meatstick” and “Bold as Love” provided the most bizarrely perfect come down from such a cosmic voyage, and Trey graced Jimi’s cover with a stunning solo to conclude an incredible personal performance. Saturday was another in the growing list of timeless nights that seem to happen with a notable frequency in Commerce City, this time highlighted as much by the duration and consistency of top-shelf play as it was by any one jam.

The band closed the weekend with their most complete two-set show of the weekend, lending some gusto to the opening frame in the form of a rarity and copious contained jamming. “Curtain With” opened the show for the first time since 1988, “Wombat” and “Wolfmans Brother” both contained extended jam segments, “Winterqueen” and “Funky Bitch” came with some extra mustard, all helping create an enhanced first set vibe. But as usual, the plot truly unfolded after setbreak.

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Phish opened their final set of summer with “Chalk Dust,” the song that could be considered the anthem of Summer ’14 as it has featured massive improvisations all season long. This was another fully competent version, though it didn’t separate itself from the pack of non-Randall’s renditions from this summer. “A lot of territory in a little time” might as well be the slogan for recent “Chalk Dust” jams, as more often than not the band doesn’t settle on a single space or theme, but rather hops from feel to feel in an ever-moving improvisation. This jam followed this trend to a tee, though the band moved even quicker than usual from one idea to another, compromising any real vertical build and pulling in short of several other versions from this summer. Two songs later came the final “Tweezer” of summer, a straight forward though totally well-played version. Trey started out with some slick rhythm work that allowed the band to create an engaging groove, but before too long he turned to a quasi-generic solo that brought the band into a more directional build. The more creative highlights of this set would come in its back half in the form of “Sand,” “Piper,” and “Mike’s Song.”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Perhaps because the initial two jams of the set didn’t reach full glory, the band took a mid-set turn for the abstract, favoring storage jam-like soundscapes in both “Sand” and “Piper.” “Sand” descended through a plinko-infused sequence after Trey briefly returned to “Tweezer’s” lick, and the process of deconstructing the jam brought about the highlight of the show. Note was how Fishman never left his the groove as his bandmates’ playing became increasingly abstract. “Piper” contained a bi-polar jam, favoring a beatless and amorphous vibe after a torrid opening section, as the band fully committed to a far out soundcsape before dripping into “Joy.” But the cherry on top of this visit to Dick’s came in the first jammed “Mike’s Song” of 3.0. Trey ditched his wanking solo and dove into some wah-infused rhythmic interplay and the band jumped right on board! Integrating the cowbell into his rhythms, Fish formed a tasty backbeat on which the band layered their dancy exchange. Trey then used his tape delay to add some more effects to the mix as the band stuck with this whole-band groove for the duration of the jam. Phish—at long last—played an original “Mike’s” jam in this era, and this certainly points to larger things from the song come fall.

Phish came to Denver and integrated what stood out on both halves of their summer tour—jamming and fluidity—to sculpt quite a memorable Labor Day weekend. The pieces all came together at Dick’s and the hindrances of summer seemed to dissolve in the mountain air. And as the community departed from Colorado for the short off-season, they did so with large smiles inspired by the music heard in the mountains. If Phish sticks with the blueprint of flowing sets chock filled with improv that was set in Commerce City, come fall we should be in for quite a two-week treat!

Dick's 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)

 

 

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