The First Six of Summer

Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (John Florek)

Phish commenced their Summer Tour with two incredibly strong performances in their first three shows in the second night of Bend and Shoreline, both of which contained beautifully flowing, jam-filled second sets. But since then, the band has pumped the brakes a bit with a trifecta of spotty performances across the southern part of the country. Los Angeles had plenty of energy but carried little musical substance, while Austin and Dallas contained some high points but also long stretches of cruise control in their second sets that simply didn’t cut the mustard. As we take a look at the first segment of Summer Tour 2015, let’s first explore the positives.

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Bend (Joe Iudice)

Following a solid warm up gig on the first night of tour, the band came out blazing on the second night of Bend, unveiling several more new songs (jn addition to the three debuted on opening night), along with a seamless second set anchored by an awesome, groovy-turned-evil jam out of “Simple.” Trey played impeccable guitar all night long, perhaps most impressive during the standout “Bathtub Gin” encore. But more to the point, he slayed every single solo he took, including the slower ones on “Wingsuit” and “Farmhouse.” Some of his most inspired playing of the night came in the opening sequence of the second set in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Waves,” a nautical pairing that absolutely smoked the entire way through. But beyond his personal musical marksmanship, the band played with incredible cohesion as a unit, crafting a non-stop set with undeniable flow. This show was quite the statement on only the second night of tour, only to be significantly topped on night three.

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Phish absolutely exploded at Shoreline Amphitheatre, one of the former haunts of the Grateful Dead, with a set that stands up to any of this era and many beyond. Chock full of open-ended improvisation, the band locked into a flow and rode the wave through the entire second frame of the show. Beyond the music—and the music was incredible—there seemed to be a peace and contentment emanating from the guys that built on a similar feel during the previous night in Bend. It felt like they now know, especially after Trey’s starring role in Fare Thee Well, that they no longer have anything to prove—they were just out there doing what they do. The level of relaxation and togetherness was palpable as they navigated an awesome set-long sequence of jamming. Using one of their newest songs, “Blaze On,” to kick off the main event, the band expounded on its percussive, blues-rock theme, taking the jam for a ride before returning to its refrain—and then promptly exiting the through the back door into an abstract foray that wound its way into “Twist.” In the undeniable highlight of the night, Phish wove together a two part epic that touched on the both the dark side and the utter bliss of their craft. The first half showcased a grungy, snarling tone from Trey as the guys slipped into a slow methodical mind meld, transforming the passage into some murky, swamp-like psychedelia. When Trey began to lead the guys back towards the theme of the song, his mates coaxed him onward and the band soon coalesced into some of the most orchestral beauty we’ve heard in ages. Hitting a sacred stride, the band moved as one through a passage of utter musical triumph that continued for an extended period. Time stood still and the audience watched in wonder as Phish sculpted one of their most indelible moments in recent memory. This was fully realized musical improv of the highest degree; a time when one could hardly believe that four mere mortals were creating such a symphony. Emotionally wrenching and staggeringly beautiful, this segment elevated to the highest planes of reverie. Once they picked their jaws up off the floor, the crowd roared their approval as the band finally descended from the heavens and passed into “Light.”

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Shoreline 7.24.15 (J.Florek)

Supporting two extended jams with one their most significant modern launchpads amounted to quite the statement of intent in the middle of this set, and the guys kept on rolling full steam ahead into a multi-thematic exploration of “Light.” Hitting on “Manteca,” “Roadrunner,” and “I Know Your Rider” in a clear homage to the Dead, this “Light” saw the band weave together diverse movements with seamless acumen. Just as great athletes enter a “zone” and everything slows down for them as their excellence emerges, so did Phish on this night as illustrated in the protean nature of this “Light” jam. Their playing felt effortless but simultaneously virtuosic, and that is what greatness is all about. As the band dripped into “Joy,” everything felt right in the world following over 45 minutes of stunning improvisation. The set’s magical energy carried through a particularly cathartic rendition of the 2009 ballad and upon its conclusion, right into “Harry Hood.”

Selecting one more jumping off point to conclude this set’s theatrics, Phish played yet another extended and amazing jam which saw them divert from “Hood’s” traditional major chord build into some earnest and darker exploration that followed the trend of 2014 versions. Though their reentry to the theme wasn’t immaculate and the song’s final peak saw more of a strumming rather than ballistic effort by Trey, the exclamation point on the set had certainly been made. With a fourth jam surpassing 15 minutes, the band had just dropped an utterly poignant frame of music and one of the defining stanzas since their return. Slamming the door with a raucous version of “Cavern” and a blistering “Character Zero” encore, Phish had bequeathed us with one of those timeless nights of music that we will remember forever.

Shoreline (John Florek)

Shoreline (John Florek)

Coming off two consecutive second sets laced with artistry and deep improvisation, one could only imagine what would transpire when Phish stepped indoors at the LA Forum with “Disease,” “Carini” and “Tweezer” hanging in the balance. But when the dust settled on their southern California stop, it was an “energy” show that favored sudden segues and antics rather than any fully realized jamming. While it seems that many fans liked this performance, after the previous two nights it felt to me like a serious letdown. The band kept “No Man in No Man’s Land” (a song that sounds more suited for TAB than Phish) in a linear groove, passed through a truncated “Carini” highlighted by one very brief peak, and aborted “Tweezer” before it really got going, all amounting to a serious case of musical blue balls. Once this “meat” of the set transpired, the guys commenced jukebox mode favoring an innocuous string of songs that couldn’t hold up the set after they had bailed out of their potential heavy hitters. “Roggae” and “Slave” were nice enough but hardly seemed to fit after nothing significant had went down during the first half of the frame. Then Trey all but killed a potentially special “YEM” encore by dry humping Mike while they played each other’s instruments, replacing any chance of musical interplay with its physical counterpart. I can see this set being “fun” on some level, but after two profound musical statements in Bend and Mountain View, this show fell pretty flat for me despite a quality first set. The under-the-radar highlight of the show came in the opening half’s “Limb by Limb” which saw stellar soloing by Trey and a strong collective effort from the entire band.

Austin Official C.Nolan)

Austin Official C.Nolan)

The last couple shows in Texas took place in very divergent atmospheres—Austin’s in a brutally hot outdoor amphitheatre and Dallas’ in a tiny, air-conditioned theatre. (I will give the disclaimer that I only attended Dallas, but will discuss both shows.) The first sets of these shows differed greatly, as Austin’s was a run of mill, pedestrian affair while Dallas’ featured a very fresh song list and all sorts of energy. The high point of the latter was a version of “Steam” that Trey inexplicably stopped once the band had reached a thick, improvisational groove. It felt as though they were on the brink of a legitimate first set jam for the first time in ages, but it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless, the band seemed excited and engaged despite several noticeable flubs by Trey during composed sections, and felt primed to explode in set two. As the band went into set break in Austin, many fans were hoping that someone had a defibrillator to get things going for the second half.

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Dallas Official (K.Taylor)

Each of the Texas second sets had jam-anchored moments, but in neither did the band weave together a coherent frame of music. Austin kicked off with “46 Days -> Dogs -> 46 Days,” with the latter segment of “46” exploring some menacing, bass led textures that felt like it could have kept going having reached a very interesting space. Dallas’ second set kicked off with one of the jams of tour thus far in a fiery and exploratory “Chalk Dust” that saw Phish migrate from an atmospheric start into more full on, energetic jamming before dropping into “Simple.” Austin’s opening segment was supported by an in-the-box “Piper” and an above average “Ghost” whose melodic peak stood out as perhaps the show’s highest moment. Dallas’ set took a veritable nosedive after the opening blowout, as Trey made a string of questionable calls with “Silent in the Morning,” “Birds of a Feather,” “Fuego” and “Julius.” “Birds” did pop with more intense playing than usual, but nothing of serious note took place between the “Chalk Dust” and the set-closing version of “Harry Hood.” The band pulled things together for “Hood’s” jam after Trey botched most of the composed section of the song, salvaging an energetic if not intricately awesome rendition. Austin’s second half of the set also also featured a string of cruise control songs only highlighted by a “Jibboo” that saw Trey rip off several clean runs of notes amidst its groovy canvas.

The Texas shows, in total, were two average nights of Phish that featured a couple highlights each—pretty much to be expected in their modern mid-week, one-off performances in random markets. But after dangling the carrot in Bend and Shoreline, it felt like something bigger might have been on the horizon. But that horizon now falls to Atlanta, where Phish pulls in tonight for a two-night stand at their old stomping grounds of Lakewood Amphitheatre with all their big jam vehicles on the table. I suspect that this weekend we will see more complete efforts from the band with more developed jams and more cohesive sets than we received in LA, Austin and Dallas. The first stretch of tour has concluded and Lakewood now starts the middle segment through the South and Midwest before Alpine commences the home stretch next Saturday. With six shows under their belt on this summer tour, I think it’s fair to say that things are just getting started.

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31,929 Responses to “The First Six of Summer”

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  1. Sven Says:

    Will be in fine form for Alpine

  2. little umbrellas Says:

    Woo!

  3. Buddysmyles Says:

    I hope you’re just getting started Miner! Thanks

  4. little umbrellas Says:

    Nice photos! @voopa

  5. Darth Vaper Says:

    “Mere mortals” FTW.

  6. neemor Says:

    Miner!
    I’m just gonna drop this here and hope it gets lost in new post shuffle:
    https://www.yahoo.com/politics/cannabis-credit-union-in-denver-sues-federal-125519842981.html

  7. garretcorncob Says:

    Miner’s in mid-tour form already. Good to see the hiatus hasn’t rusted your writing bones.

    Pretty fair assessment of tour so far taboot, even if I’m a little higher on the Forum than you (albeit without a second spin yet).

  8. Darth Vaper Says:

    http://youtu.be/QOVRgVPrGlQ

  9. dorn76 Says:

    Nice! Thx Miner!

    Trajectory Theory remains valid.

  10. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    Very fair and on-point review, Miner. Thanks for the post!

    I have six Phish shows left to attend this summer. Stoked!

    I was on the fence about RRE @ Red Rocks this year, but Billy and the Kids are on the bill now. Snarky Puppy, Billy and the Kids, RRE. I wouldn’t mind leaving after Billy and the Kids. I prefer the two opening bands. I have to see at least one Red Rocks show this summer. I put all of my energy into FTW and Phish and neglected my “local” venue. Worth the neglect, imho.

  11. neemor Says:

    “It felt like they now know, especially after Trey’s starring role in Fare Thee Well, that they no longer have anything to prove—they were just out there doing what they do. ”

    ^ I felt this. Well said.

  12. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    I feel like that phish has had nothing to prove for a while now. Playing Terrapin in 1998 was not only the coolest nod to Jerry, it was also a statement.

  13. little umbrellas Says:

    Awesome words @Miner, loving your descriptions of Shoreline. Cheers!

  14. tela's_muff Says:

    enjoyed that one Miner. nice review, balanced. welcome back and keep them coming.

  15. avila Says:

    Phil and Jill sighting in Kentfield this morning with the grandchild on Jill’s back. Pretty sweet sight on a sunny morning. I wanted to ask him to call Trey and reiterate what it means to be a jam God.

  16. neemor Says:

    While that may be true for the initiated, Heady, there is a mouthful to be said for Trey stepping up to the FTW shows and doing what he did.
    There was a palpable feeling that was hard for me to put my finger on and had forgotten until Miner put it in words here.
    It seems to be what I consider to be the finest balanced combination of that old Trey swagger with equal parts humility.
    He’s found his jam again, his ability to stalk the stage.
    See that ASIHTOS solo right when Mike orbits him.
    That shit was timeless, and the peaked notes he hit when Mike got back into place were the stuff that sends chills up my back and puts a smile on my face.
    The legend now is free to grow again.

  17. MrCompletely Says:

    hm I basically agree with every word of that which makes for limited discussion potential other than “yup”

    Oh I like No Man’s Land more than you, Miner. Agreed it’s static but as a funk workout I dig it.

    that’s all I got

  18. little umbrellas Says:

    Without ever thinking Phish is definitely gonna jam every night, I still think the Forum was a great fun show. Roggae and Slave were both great versions, only real dick punch is the shortened Tweezer, but if they’re not feeling like they can make the deep sea dive pop, then this was a great way to go.

    In this camp: Forum No Man’s jam is the goods. Not voyaging like Shoreline, but awesome.

    Great piece here though Miner. Thanks.

  19. vapebraham Says:

    Miner: On point, succinct assessment. I dig that you reviewed these shows in one piece, perhaps with a little more perspective and space vs. cranking em out the next day. well played.

    Dallas Dust is $$$ Phish. Love IT. This is a top jam so far along w/ bend simple and shoreline twist>light.

    can’t get enough of Page on the Rhodes. so velvety.

  20. jtran Says:

    telas you owe miner $30

  21. xpun Says:

    Noticed my PayPal donation was unclaimed. Sent to hotmail account. Is gmail account the same name just @gmail?

  22. tela's_muff Says:

    yeah, agreed C and LU. No Man’s is a keeper. that was a hot opener. not really hearing as much a TAB tune. i’m looking forward to the Dicks No Mans>I Know You Rider dance party.

  23. vapebraham Says:

    Fly: you get my missive?

  24. vapebraham Says:

    No Men is a winner for the mutron tone alone.

  25. little umbrellas Says:

    .. Miner, perhaps you could repost the correct email for sending donations on this page.

    A lot of people read back, but not everyone.. could be good to bring that statement you got over here. Just an idea.

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