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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tags: 2014, Jams, Miner's Picks, Summer '14