Fattening the First


Dick's 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Dick’s 2016 (Stephen Olker)

Let’s be frank, Phish’s modern first sets have been, for the most part, pretty lame. A selection of songs with one or two composed jams sprinkled in serves the purpose of getting everyone’s legs warm and drugs working in time for the second half. Once in many blue moons, the band will drop a highlight with lasting merit before setbreak, but most often there’s very little substance of which to speak. At Dick’s however, first sets took on a more emphatic role in the evening, each offering far more meat and engaging music than usual. Let’s take a walk through the first halves from a few weeks ago.

September 2

Ghost, No Men In No Man’s Land , Breath and Burning, Undermind, Heavy Things, Stash, Ass Handed,  The Wedge, Alaska, 46 Days

bcs bvr

9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

Phish came into their annual Dick’s weekend lacking any momentum from summer tour, and many in the community weren’t exactly sure what band would show up at the annual Labor Day party. When the guys came out and opened with “Ghost” for the first time since 2013, however, it felt like they delivered a certain message of intent. A compact though fiery rendition kicked off the weekend and was backed up by the always-energetic “No Men in No Man’s Land.” Upon the lyrical reprise at the end of the song, it seemed that Phish was ready to move on, but in a surprise move, they exploded into an outro jam that blossomed into an abstract foray. Staring from a chugging groove, the band gradually moved into darker territory where Trey eventually took over with wailing and echoed guitar screams. Maintaining a quickened tempo throughout the piece, out of nowhere Phish had kicked down the improvisational door and we were barely twenty minutes into the weekend. Though the set took on a more standard contour from here, it did feature a slightly stretched out version of “Breath and Burning” which provided a dash of hope that the band might jam off the new single come fall as they prolifically did in its second ever version in Philadelphia this past summer. The set, however, did contain one more standout highlight in its “46 Days” finale, where immediately upon the ending of the lyrics, the band dove deep into a primordial soup. Led by Fish’s tribal marching beat, they built a thick, distorted soundscape into which Trey unleashed furious guitar leads, slyly blending the “What’s the Use?” theme into this darkened excursion. The band was fully synched up in this sinister passage, foreshadowing good things for the weekend. And just like that we had ourselves a first set. Set break contained a palpable buzz after this set, as fans felt a mixture of excitement and surprise at what had just transpired. It was the rare time folks really discussed the music of the first set rather asking where that joint had gone.

September 3

Slave to the Traffic Light, Down with Disease, What’s the Use? > Maze, Farmhouse, 555, Wolfman’s Brother, Divided Sky, Rock and Roll


9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

The second night started off in a bizarre, though explosive, fashion as Phish welcomed the Saturday night audience the first “Slave to the Traffic Light” opener since 1988. The band backed up this surprise with a legitimate “Down With Disease” jam in the two slot, opening up the piece into experimental waters and taking the jam into dark, dungeon-like territory. Led by Trey’s growling tone, once again Phish had delved into the depths of improvisation at the very beginning of the night, offering some serious music to engage the crowd from the get-go. A rare stand-alone version of “What’s the Use?” came third, continuing the strange but welcomed song ordering. At this point, the set came back to earth a bit with the first set staples of “Maze,” “555,” and “Farmhouse,” but the guys followed up this trifecta with a popping version of “Wolfman’s Brother.” Led by Mike’s larger-than-life bass leads, the band leaned into into a slowed down, heavy-handed version of their cowfunk vehicle, that kept the energy of this opening frame sky high and the crowd enraptured. With “Divided Sky” and “Rock and Roll,” Phish completed quite the first half of music, arguably the best of the three-night stand.

September 4

The Moma Dance > Chalk Dust Torture, Mike’s > Wingsuit > Weekapaug, Party Time, Bathtub Gin, Split Open and Melt, Tube, Character Zero

(Michael Stein)

9.2.16 (Michael Stein)

On the third night in Colorado, Phish scripted a powerhouse first set song list that never relented from start to finish. Though they stayed within the confines of each selection, the band unleashed several type-one improvisations of crowd favorites. An early set “Mike’s Groove” got things warmed up quickly, and following a “Party Time” interlude, the band dropped a searing three-song sequence of “Bathtub Gin,” “Tube” and “Split Open and Melt.” The “Gin” was the clear highlight of the set, featuring energetic interplay between band members amidst an upbeat and peaky jam that continued to climb higher and higher. Mike anchored a somewhat extended “Tube” jam, and “Split” saw the band lock into an aggressive and abstract soundscape that, while not uncharacteristic of the song, formed an engaging and more-than-worthy highlight. “Character Zero” rounded out the opening half, a set that once again lent some serious weight to the concert before set break.

The presence of legitimate first sets gave an enhanced feel to the shows in Colorado, and completely shifted the vibe of each night. To be totally transparent, it’s a shame the band doesn’t offer the same level of music in most of their first sets. Shows are about three hours long, and the first set comprises almost ninety minutes each night, why waste it? Not to say that each opening frame needs contain multiple type-two jams, but how ’bout a little more meat for the kidz, ya know? This is a fairly universal sentiment across the Phish community, and these Dick’s shows illustrates how a significant first set can provide a far loftier feel to any given night of Phish.

1,175 Responses to “Fattening the First”

  1. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Pretty psyched for team BB that killed it with Spafford last night.

    I am a musical simpleton and these guys impressed me the first time I saw them and each subsequent episode?

    Each virgin I have brpught to see Spafford consistently say how impressive they are, even with zero knowledge of their song catalog. You alway get a fun cover or two, usually re-arranged to a genre bender.

    They are also super-solid dudes. Very approachable, grateful to connect with their fans

  2. vegas wolfmans Says:

    I’d go see Spafford if they came up this way. Although skeptical of new gen “jambands” enough people I trust (the bb massive) have endorsed. Side note: I strongly do not endorse the band Dopapod.

  3. MrCompletely Says:

    The only “jam bands” I’ve thought were enjoyable at all – meaning I would pay for, or stay for a whole set – either had Kimock in them, or people from jazz backgrounds (e.g. Garaj Mahal). I can’t think of a single exception. I’ll go see spafford with the right group of people though because of the hype. However I’d like to go ahead and create a safe space right now for anyone that goes and doesn’t feel it to the hyped expectation level

  4. MrCompletely Says:

    But I’m a notorious hater as is well known.

  5. MiA Says:

    Bingos… My birthday Reba request that was telepathically granted.

    This year is birthday phish in Dallas. But I have a big thing here in Austin I need to be at. Guaranteed to get a great Reba.

  6. phishm Says:

    Go see them with me C. You will enjoy them from there on out. I promise you.

  7. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    C, you’ll get a chance when Bwana hosts them at his host next year sometime.

  8. phlorida phan Says:

    I’d say St. Vincent for me. Never heard a note before she opened for the black keys. She blew my mind that night. It seemed like I was the only one getting down to it, everybody else sitting on their hands and shit. Imo, she killed the keys that night, which my friends that went too said I’m crazy…..pfft. I’ve leaned on way more keyboards than them. Not really a fan of the keys anyways, she was just so different.

    MiA, nice serg run in. Dig that dude

  9. phishm Says:

    Be kind of cool if that statement was even remotely possible.

  10. Sex&city Says:

    Mine would have to be The Lymbyc Systym… Anyone heard of them? Saw them at a bar where I took my girlfriend to 10 yrs ago. Apparently they forgot to promote the show and me and my girl were the only 2 people there. They fucking killed it!!!



  11. theBaker Says:

    “If we weren’t ALL crazy, we Would, goooo INSANE!!!” (Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes-J. Buffet)
    EnJoy & congrats on the Surf’n!

    I’d go see a new-to-me, hyped (or not) band w/ phishm ANYTIME…

    Did Ewe mail pre-rolls to Denver for the Front-Rangers’ SPAFFORD show?

  12. sumodie Says:

    Aahhh….I love it when virgin ears are treated to a top shelf performance. Maybe you’ll see the same artist again, but it’ll never sound the same as the very first time.

    Hamilton the musical is the most electrying live show I’ve experienced with virgin ears in ages.

    Seun Kuti & King Crimson also come to mind

    I’ll be sure to give Spafford a shot if they ever get their lazy asses to New England

    I suspect the better ‘new artist’ improvisers are not to be found in the current stereotyped jamband genre. Eg, NYCTaper keeps posting shows featuring improv by artists not found in jamblandia

  13. Lycanthropist Says:

    I had virgin ears the first time I saw a few bands that blew me away:

    Man Man

    Knew nothing about those bands when I saw em the first time.. Was blown away by all those particular performances.

  14. Lycanthropist Says:

    First time I saw MMW I had no idea they did what they do live.

    Was very much taken aback by that show.

  15. sumodie Says:

    Most of us have virgin ears when it comes to Japan’s psych rockers Kikagaku Moyo- their first robust tour of the US kicks off next week, Thursday, in Philly

    Tour dates:

    A few BBers caught Kikagaku Moyo at Austin’s Psych Fest in 2014

    Stream their catalog at bandcamp:

  16. BingosBrother Says:

    When my brother had his record release party, he opened the show with a song we had written probably 4 years before that, which wasn’t even on the record and I had no idea he even remembered it much less got his band to learn it and open with it. Me and him were literally the only people in a crowd of 500 that knew what was happening. I was losing my mind. Incredible experience and his band tore it up. One of the nicest things anybody has ever done for me. Only time I’ve ever rushed a stage. Bro hug.

  17. phishm Says:

    Spafford just sent live. Enjoy the show.


  18. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Lymbyc systym!

    They are originally from here. Pretty cool dudes and groovy music..

    JFJO is a band that impressed me sighte unseen at my first show of theirs BITD

  19. MrCompletely Says:

    JFJO another great call! The trio lineup! We booked them, and I had no idea. We had em in this tiny place and almost no one came out. I was almost sitting on Reed’s amp, with Brian’s Rhodes less than arm’s length. Total facemelt.

    KVHW was another. Lessened slightly by having seen Steve a bunch already, but maybe not really, because KVHW was soooooooooo much better than Zero it was almost more of a shock, seeing him play with other guys that were on he and Bobby’s level. And the weirdness of Ray White of all people being up there…spent many teen nights watching him in Does Humor Belong In Music

  20. MrCompletely Says:

    Living Daylights another example from that same freak-jazz groove lineage. Opening for Jambay, great set. Trauma & Discourse! Before that kind of music was really a thing, early 95 – so before MMW broke things open. Really a shock.

  21. phishm Says:

    hope you all are tuning in. Spafford killin it.

  22. MrCompletely Says:

    Family night here, about to fire up another Stranger Things

  23. phishm Says:

    Great show man. Hope the wee lad is enjoying the adventure of the cinema. It’s a fun ride.

  24. theBaker Says:

    RIP Buckwhear Zydeco


  25. phishm Says:

    Spafford done and went and laid it down thick this fine evening. Dudes can get the fuck down.

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