Five Sets of Summer

Posted in Uncategorized with the on August 11th, 2016 by Mr.Miner
7.19 Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

7.19 Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

When presented with care, Phish sets are more than a collection of songs. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and carry the listener on a journey with strategically placed jams and songs. Though such artistically created statements were few and far between this summer, here are five that stood out from the pack.

***

5) 7.15 II The Gorge, George, Washington

The Gorge M. Stein

The Gorge (M. Stein)

Every time you thought Phish was going one way, they threw a head fake and veered another in a set anchored by misdirection, teases and all-around zany Phishiness. Though it didn’t always flow so well, the band certainly went for something on this night, never settling into any one jam and keeping the audience on their toes with segues, hijinks and musical theatrics. Though the set didn’t contain a whole lot of meat, the band came closest to a central jam in the opening sequence of “Crosseyed” > “What’s the Use?,” building the former into a sublime space, before quickly jumping ship into the latter. “What’s the Use?” took on a larger-than-life, feel amidst the majestic surroundings of The Gorge. Phish used “No Man’s Land as a recurring theme throughout this frame, continually referencing the song both musically and lyrically, while featuring a mash up with “Crosseyed” in its jam segment. “Meatstick” > “2001” contained the most fluid improv of the night, as the band locked into a hypnotic outro groove that flowed seamlessly into the Deodato cover. In a set that never stopped bobbing and weaving, Phish delivered a dynamic listening adventure on the first night of their west coast swing.

Crosseyed and Painless > What’s the Use?, No Men In No Man’s Land > Stash, Ghost > Chalk Dust Torture, Meatstick -> Also Sprach Zarathustra, Cavern

***

4) 7.18 II Bill Graham Civc Auditorum, San Francisco, CA

7.20 Bill Graham M. Stein)

7.20 Bill Graham (M. Stein)

The second set of Bill Graham’s first night possessed four distinct segments that pieced together to form a pretty fluid frame of music. The first segment came in the pairing of “Golden Age” and “Twist,” the former featuring a fiery groove excursion that carried a hybrid feel of “2001” and “Tube.” It seemed as though the band would revert to playlist form with mid-set versions of “My Sweet One” and “The Line,” but they rebounded nicely with the combo of “Simple -> Sneaking Sally.” “Simple” briefly moved into ethereal territory before giving way to the jam of the night in “Sneakin’ Sally.” A relentless peak highlighted this centerpiece before the set concluded with standout versions of “Limb by Limb” and “Slave.” Phish engaged in some patient jamming on this night which came as a welcome shift from their previous several shows.

Golden Age > Twist, My Sweet One, The Line, Simple -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Limb By Limb, Slave to the Traffic Light

***

3) 7.1 II SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY

SPAC Andrea Zimmerman Nusinov

SPAC (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Sometimes a massive jam sequence can hold down a set all on its own, and this is what took place on the band’s first night in Saratoga Springs. After a solid set-opening “Sand” the band took flight in their most outstanding improvisation of the summer in “Carini -> Chalk Dust.” Masterful interplay rolled off the stage with the sense of effortlessness that characterizes Phish’s best playing as the band connected multiple themes in a cohesive, thirty-five minute explosion. This sequence felt like a breakthrough after a week plus of building improvisational momentum and it seemed as though the band would take off from here for the rest of tour. As it turned out, however, “Carini -> Chalk” proved to be an anomaly in a low-key summer, but this portion of jamming certainly stands up to the band’s most proficient work of the last several years. Although it did contain some rarities, the rest of the set devolved into a series of songs, but after the peak that Phish had already reached, everything else felt like gravy.

Sand, Carini -> Chalk Dust Torture > Prince Caspian, Bug, Shine a Light, My Sweet One, Sleeping Monkey, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Fire

***

2) 6.28 II The Mann, Philadelphia, PA

BGCA M. Stein

BGCA (M. Stein)

The three elements of a great Phish set are flow, jamming and song selection, and the band hit on the trifecta on the first night of the Mann. Phish navigated this second set with nary a hiccup, offering two tour highlights and connecting everything quite smoothly. High quality excursions stemmed from “Fuego” and “Breath and Burning,” as both jams navigated the darker side of things. “Fuego” likened a revamped soundtrack to Super Mario’s dungeon lair and “Breath” took a bass-heavy path towards a similar vibe. These jams were complimented by a searing version of “Jibboo,” an intense Page-and-Trey-led “Timber,” and a peakier-than-thou version of “Slave,” creating an airtight set that possessed non-stop action throughout.

Fuego > Runaway Jim, Gotta Jibboo, Breath and Burning -> Timber,  Slave to the Traffic Light, You Enjoy Myself

***

1) 7.19 II Bill Graham Civic Audirorium, San Francisco, CA

7.20 Bill Graham M. Stein

7.20 Bill Graham (M. Stein)

The second night of Bill Graham contained the best set of summer and, frankly, it wasn’t even close. Amidst a tour in which second sets often lacked jams and flow, Phish swam fluidly through series of jams in this one and closed with authority. This musical statement featured one of tour’s upper echelon improvisations in a high-octane and cathartic “Ghost,” a long-form, angelic-turned-demonic “Down With Disease,” and a wide-open couplet of “Scents and Subtle Sounds” and “Light.” The band assumed a different demeanor than they had shown for the majority of the summer, favoring artistry and improv over songs and simplicity, and they came up with a winner. Capping their jam-laced escapade with the high energy combo“No Quarter” and “Fluffhead,” Phish left everyone with a smile on this Tuesday night.

Down with Disease > Fuego > Ghost > Scents and Subtle Sounds > Light  -> Manteca > No Quarter, Fluffhead

***

Honorable Mention

6.25 II Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL: Though nothing crazy happened on this night, flow alone pushes this set into contender status—a comment on the quality of this summer more than anything else. A compact, blissed out “Carini” provided the lone highlight of the night.

Carini > Tweezer > Fluffhead, Piper -> Steam, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Harry Hood, Tweezer Reprise

The Mann A. ZImmerman-Nusinov

The Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

The Tale of Two Summers

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized with the on August 1st, 2016 by Mr.Miner
Merriweather 2015 (Andrea Zimmerman Nusinov)

Merriweather 2015 (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of interstellar jamming, it was the age of mundane music, it was the epoch of sound, it was the epoch of songs, it was the season of bliss, it was the season of woe, it was the spring of blossomed fantasy, it was the winter of harsh reality, we had everything before us, we had next to nothing before us, we were bursting to see what each night had in store, we were hoping each night Phish would actually go for it—in short, the periods were so dissimilar that it felt as though we were watching different bands. When looking at the past two summer tours, two very divergent pictures emerge, one of a band at its peak, creative juices flowing like the Nile, churning out all-time jams with joy and ease, and one of an uninspired quartet, playing shows devoid of improvisational adventure that rarely produced music worth listening to several times over. The juxtaposition of Summer Tour 2015 and Summer Tour 2016 presents a peculiar challenge in attempting to decode the reasons for such different paths. Though one can never truly understand the motivations, choices or results behind Phish’s ever-changing performances, the process of analysis always renders an engaging discussion.

Fare Thee Well (Jay Blakesberg)

Fare Thee Well (Jay Blakesberg)

In 2015, Trey was a different animal. In preparation for his prestigious gig sitting in for Jerry Garcia with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, he drilled himself in guitar methodology like no time in recent years. He spent the first six months of the 2015—much of the time alone—learning Garcia’s style and subsequently picking up all sorts of new techniques, sounds, phrasing and expression. He was pushed out of his comfort zone and was forced to embrace a monumental challenge that paid off in droves once Phish hit the road. In a telling interview with Guitar Magazine at the end of last year, Trey answered a question about how the Dead shows energized his playing—“I had to learn 100 songs. What could be better for your playing than learning a large collection of great material?” He dove into this foreign territory and made discoveries about how Garcia executed his craft. “I wrote charts for every single song and had a bulging three-ring binder. Every song had at least two surprises: ‘Oh, that’s supposed to be a C9!’ He followed up these answers concluding—”I played so much better on Phish summer tour because I played so much getting ready for the Dead shows.”

It didn’t take long to see how his diligent work translated to Phish music, as he led the band in a colossal performance at the Bay Area’s Shoreline Amphitheatre in only the third show of summer tour. His playing boasted a lyricism and a confidence that had been absent for much of 2014. His tone control was dialed in and his ability to play unique leads had transformed from a weakness in the previous year to an overwhelming strength. Though Phish is certainly an equitable endeavor between four members, as Trey goes so does the band. And with Anasatsio soaring high in the sky, playing as lofty and commanding as ever, the band seemed destined for an amazing tour.

Merriweather '15  (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Merriweather ’15 (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

As the summer progressed, specifically from Atlanta and beyond, the band caught absolute fire. The uber-connected, top-shelf open jams that fans crave so deeply leapt off the stage nightly in a never-ending highlight reel. Atlanta’s “Kill Devil Falls” and “Tweezer,” Tuscaloosa’s “Down With Disease,” Nashville’s “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug,” Kansas City’s Down With Disease,” Blossom’s “Chalk Dust,” Alpine Valley’s “Tweezer,” Philly’s “Twist” and “Scents and Subtle Sounds”—the list goes on and on. A sense of adventure and the unknown were paramount every time the band took the stage, and the way they brought the goods night after night harkened back to the days of lore. Phish tour adopted a different sense of majesty last summer with a band and their leader at the top of their game.

But it wasn’t just the full band, open jams that elevated as a result of Trey’s preparedness, but the more structured supporting material as well. Their type-one improv popped with a clarity, excitement and vigor that breathed life into first sets and kept shows flowing throughout. Notable examples of such playing include Bend’s “Waves,” LA’s “Limb by Limb” and “Roggae,” many selections from Atlanta including “Ocelot,” “Reba,” “Bathtub Gin,” and “Carini,” Tuscaloosa’s “46 Days,” both Alpine and Raleigh’s “Reba,” Merriweather’s “Antelope” and “David Bowie”—the list goes on and on. There were no gaps in the band’s fiery offerings, an element of their performances that leads into the third crucial aspect that made Summer 2015 so special—show structure.

Magnaball A. Nusinov

Magnaball (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

For much of the 3.0 era, Phish had struggled with playing complete second sets that contained a natural arc. So many of their sets featured notable highlights but not a beginning-to-end flow, often dropping off in the second half. But last summer, the band rolled out artistically sculpted frames of music. The guys most often took multiple jams into open waters, experimenting and exploring cohesively and almost always finding success. With strategically connected songs and improvisation, most all second sets provided a holistic journey that sent the listener off and brought him home. The strongest examples of this enhanced structure were Shoreline, Atlanta night one, Nashville, Blossom, Mann night two, Raleigh, Merriweather night one, and all four of Magnaball’s main sets. Thought went into the progression and movement of these sets—and many others—and their intrinsic level of craftsmanship went a long way to form cohesive performances, regardless of if every jam ascended to elite level. During this tour, Phish waxed poetic in complete musical statements as they did in their heyday, erasing recent memories of sub-standard set construction.

In summation, all aspects of Phish were firing during the Summer of 2015, resulting in a tour that holds up among the band’s most prolific months of music and certainly stands out as the most accomplished stint in the modern era. The band capped their summer docket in old-school fashion with a blow out festival—Magnaball—that served as the month’s grand finale. And, boy, was it an event. Phish threw down the gauntlet for three days and eight sets of music, each of which elevated in full and contained copious improvisational highlights. Listing standouts seems fruitless because just about everything they played that weekend in Watkins Glen turned to gold. The second day, however, stood out as the peak of the weekend, boasting A+ outings of “46 Days,” “Tweezer” (with “Caspian” sandwiched in an outlandish two-pronged jam), “Blaze On,” and “Light,” not to mention several other strong supporting highlights. Phish also graced the festival grounds with one of their prized “secret” sets, a near hour-long, multi-thematic free-form improvisation as they stood behind a colossal movie screen on which mind-melting projections were cast. It was a feast for the senses and one of those magical moments that only take place at Phish festivals. The transcendence of Magnaball was a throwback to the band’s earliest festivals that routinely ended the summer with some of their most massive musical exploits of the season amidst a free-for-all atmosphere. Summer 2015 ended with a true sense of awe among a Phish fan base that was infused with enchanted vibrations, a feeling that would stick with everyone through Dick’s and the off season before the band capped their incredible year with four nights back at the Garden.

Magnaball (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Magnaball (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

*****

In the same interview for January’s Guitar Magazine, Trey also noted, “The best players play all the time because it all goes away so fast,” an observation that might have something to do with the path Phish’s 2016 summer tour followed. After the band’s three-night beach party in Mexico, Trey didn’t perform for five months as he and the guys focused on recording an album of very mellow, heartfelt songs.  The length of this break wasn’t an anomaly in Phish’s modern schedule, but to say that he and the band lost momentum would be an understatement. Though Phish’s new material might be suited to a thematic album, its style didn’t exactly translate well to the stage. If these songs are where Trey’s focus had been for months previous to tour as opposed to the intricacies of Garcia’s improvisational guitar playing, perhaps he just came out unprepared to play exploratory, psychedelic music. Whatever the reasons may have been, something had shifted.

Mann A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann ’16 (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Aside from a few interludes here and there, Trey seemed completely unwilling to lift off this summer, reverting to his former ways of aborting jams and abrupt set shifts that prevailed so heavily in the early years of 3.0. It certainly felt like an issue of comfort and confidence once their improvisation opened up. The band and their guitar player seemed very on point amidst structured jams when there was a known path to follow, but when they splashed into open waters, Trey most often got cold feet and swam for the shore. This timidity was quite uncharacteristic of his recent playing in which his willingness to explore the unknown had pushed the band to greatness throughout 2015. One kept thinking that things would loosen up as tour progressed and as the rust wore off, but it only happened sporadically as the band churned out a minuscule amount of top shelf jamming over a month of shows.

Many times in their past when shows didn’t take off, the reason lied in the band’s inability to fully hook up amidst their jams, but this summerPhish just didn’t attempt many full band jams, often to the tune of one time per night and in a couple cases, zero. Granted that open jams aren’t the only things that define a Phish show, but without them, shows simply don’t reach that magical plane—it’s impossible. Most fans don’t chase the band to see them play singles and compositions, but rather to witness their unparalleled, improvisational prowess, something that was in short supply over Summer ’16. So many times during the month second sets reverted to jukebox style playlists that held no cohesion, rhyme or reason. Following up their best summer tour in memory, this hardly made a lick of sense. What was causing their lack of creativity? Or more particularly, why was Trey just not willing to allow the band to give it a college try? There seemed to be a complete lack of intent on his behalf as much, if not more, than anything else. Who was this band? Much head scratching ensued. Just what happened over the past month?

SPAC A. Zimmerman-Nusinov

SPAC 2016 (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Tour sparked with two strong though unspectacular shows at Wrigley Field highlighted by notable versions of “Disease” “Twist” and “Carini.” Phish then built on Wrigley at the Mann with two more high quality shows. None of Philly’s jams blew the roof off the pavilion, however, the guys put their best foot forward in significant versions of “Fuego,” “Breath and Burning,” Crosseyed,” and “Disease.” Although these jams lacked a complete arc, most often moving into the next selection when one more section of improv would have completed their narratives, it certainly seemed as though the band’s jamming was steadily improving.

On the first night at SPAC, Phish finally broke through with a spectacular sequence of “Carini -> Chalk Dust” that would hold up at tour’s end as the most accomplished improvisation of the summer. But following this show—which tailed off considerably after these jams—the band’s improvisational efforts nosedived. In five of their next six shows, the band only attempted a single open jam per night and, suddenly, their set craftsmanship went the way of the wind, often playing what amounted to two first sets with countless standalone songs.

In these five shows, only one jam—SPAC’s “The Moma Dance”—was executed masterfully, and four of the five second sets—SPAC’s two final nights, Portland, and Syracuse—fell absolutely flat. The band simply wasn’t going for it. Shows became a never-ending playlist of songs, a format that systematically drained the excitement and energy from the room, leaving many fans questioning what had happened to the band that had started tour only weeks earlier.

Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

Trey abruptly abandoned ship in a couple of these one-jam affairs, harshly aborting Portland’s “Tweezer” and Syracuse’s “Drowned” as each seemed to be gaining momentum. These two shows wound up with zero complete jams with nary an effort to even get there. In SPAC’s third performance, the band slayed a tour highlight in “The Moma Dance” only to follow it up with nothing for the rest of the set, and in Hartford, they played a competent “Disease” but only backed it up with a concise version of “Sand.” (Though to their relative credit, Hartford’s set boasted a legitimate contour and shied from the jukebox nature that characterized the others.) These two shows wound up with one realized jam each over three hours of music. In SPAC’s second show, the fifth of these five peculiar nights, all the band could muster was a meager “Light” jam over two sets leaving very little to write home about in another uneventful night of Phish.

The only uptick along this east coast stretch came in the first half of Mansfield’s second set in the sequence of “Ghost > Light,” the latter piece transforming into the only other truly elite jam of tour (with “Carini -> Chalk” and “Moma”). But following PA issues that disrupted the show, the band reverted to their playlist style to fill out the rest of the set.

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

As tour hit its break before the west coast, the band had unfurled only four top-shelf jams over thirteen shows along with copious B-level highlights. If one thing was for sure, 2015 felt like a distant memory as Phish was fumbling through a thoroughly mediocre run. The ideas just weren’t flowing in a complete antithesis of the previous summer. The band didn’t possess that subconscious connection one can hear when they are truly flowing. Trey favored heavily effected playing rather than the clean, melodic and impassioned lead guitar that defined 2015. Things just felt off in the improvisational realm and the band seemed ok with glossing over jamming on most nights in a thoroughly puzzling development. But with the Gorge—the Mecca of Phish jams—on the horizon, things had to turn around. They had to. Right?

Well…not exactly. Though Phish played a fun and zany show filled with teases, hijinks and generally all-over-the-place theatrics on the first night in Washington, they refused to settle into a single jam. Once “Crosseyed” moved into a promising space, they jumped ship for “What’s the Use?,” while similarly abandoning “Ghost” after a couple of minutes of gnarly music for a full-band drum jam. Rushing through “Chalk Dust” and “Stash,” the band seemed totally unwilling to dive deep, favoring more surface level tactics to create an entertaining though shallow set. A small jamlet out of “Meatstick” became the only patient full-band improvisation of the night. Despite the set’s amusing nature, there was no meat at all while a lot of the ins and outs and movements between songs seemed forced and used as a substitute for creative ideas. This was unheard of for a Gorge show. History had proved that The Gorge was where things slowed down and the music opened up. That’s what transpired in all of the band’s previous visits to the exalted venue. This show seemed more appropriate for Merriweather Post than the expansive environs of George, Washington, where jams had, traditionally, grown larger than life.

The Gorge (Michael Stein)

The Gorge 2016 (Michael Stein)

The second night at the Gorge held a promising feel after a smoking opening set in which the band sounded confident and up to the task. But they completely tanked the show’s second half. Just as “Blaze On” was a couple minutes into some truly engaging territory, on the brink of transforming into a massive, Gorge-esque excursion, Trey kicked the audience in the nuts with an inexplicable ripcord into “Number Line.” It was not kind. It was very harsh. And with this move, so passed the set into jukebox oblivion that had no place in the mystical amphitheatre. With one song after another, the band sucked all of the energy out of the audience, something that had never happened in this venue’s history. Come the encore, the crowd was deflated. It was palpable. With nary a complete jam over the two-night stand these, shows were a disgrace to the band’s legacy at the Gorge, and at this point there were only five shows left in tour. The head scratching continued.

Somehow, Phish managed to flip the switch and squeeze out two impressive performances at Bill Graham Auditorium. They completely changed their approach to the second set on each of these nights, favoring improv and set crafting in what felt like a breath of incredibly fresh air after the previous couple weeks of sub-par concerts. The most notable highlights came in “Down With Disease” and the one-two punch of “Ghost” > “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” both amidst a non-stop, flowing set of jams on the second night of the run. Night one featured notable excursions in “Golden Age” and “Simple” > “Sneaking Sally,” while both second sets were well constructed, and anchored by stellar playing all the way through. Though far from all-timers, these two performances at Bill Graham were excellent nights of Phish, especially for a tour that had been stuck in the mud for so long. The second night’s second set felt like it had dropped from the heavens, providing true adventure and creativity through lockstep jamming. But, alas, these shows would be anomalies in the open jam department among tour’s last five nights, as the other three combined for a quality first set “Ghost” and a partial “Piper” jam that Trey cut for “Twist” shortly after it left the song’s central vibe, both coming in Chula Vista. Bill Graham’s third night and Chula Vista both featured standout first sets with old school rarities and extended dance grooves, respectively, but in terms of second set jamming, the scene over the final three shows of tour was as bleak as ever. In fact the second sets of Bill Graham’s third night and Los Angeles combined for zero jam attempts!

Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann (A. Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Let’s cut to the chase here, Summer 2016 was a completely underwhelming Phish tour, the least adventurous since 2009. Perhaps Trey’s focus on the band’s new album brought him away from his bread and butter, perhaps the massive new lighting set up provided some level of distraction to the band—two theories posited by fans over the summer. But neither of these ideas can fully explain Trey’s lack of assertiveness and diminished improvisational confidence. More often than not, he was simply unwilling to jam. We all know that Trey calls the shots on stage and what he thinks and says is what happens. It seemed quite evident that his geyser of original ideas that had spouted so consistently throughout last summer had dried up as he led the band in a completely different direction for most of the month, only showing flashes of the brilliance that has floored us year after year. One can usually look at recent tours and pick out the jams that will stand the test of time, the ones that could hold up in almost any era, and this summer there were four of these in twenty shows. The band’s creative output hit a serious low point this summer and it remains a mystery as to why.

With Dick’s three-night stand and a two-plus week fall tour on the horizon, Phish can obviously bounce back at any time, and one hopes that they will. But for an entire month during the summer of ’16, the band mired through a slump that lasted longer than any other in memory. Though they could navigate songs and pre-structured improv quite well, the band had serious trouble elevating their open jamming to anywhere near the level we had seen the year before. All it takes is a revisit to the extraordinary music of last summer to hear the monstrous difference in output. Phish always goes through ups and down, but few have ever been so drastic as the difference between the last two summers. But they’ll be back and we’ll be back, and things are bound to come around again, though until they do, we will live with memories of one not so crazy summer.

Mann Center (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Mann Center 2016  (Andrea Zimmerman-Nusinov)

Tour Talk Thread

Posted in Uncategorized with the on June 27th, 2016 by Mr.Miner

Just resetting the comment section for Summer Tour.

The Top Jams of Summer Tour

Posted in Uncategorized with the on December 29th, 2015 by Mr.Miner

15. “Simple” 7.22 II, Bend, OR: The first hint that something strange was afoot at the Circle K this summer.

14. “46 Days” 8.15 II, Columbia, MD: A murky jam that ended in a huge melodic peak.

13.“Golden Age” 9.4 II, Commerce City, CO: Abstract psychedelia turned ethereal groove highlighted the first night in Colorado.

12. “46 Days” 8.22 II, Watkins Glen, NY: A very original, quasi-ambient take on one of the anthems of summer.

11. “Down With Disease” 8.5 II, Kansas City, MO: A multi-part jam that passed through a gorgeous spacescape en route to some of Trey’s most seething guitar playing of summer tour.

***

10. “Down With Disease” 9.6 II, Commerce City, CO

Though Dick’s three-night stand was largely the denouement of an incredible summer, one jam that stood out was the final set’s “Down With Disease.” In the last section of this excursion, Trey initiated a melodic motif that would tug on the heartstrings of even a dead man. The whole band latched on to this theme, crafting a life-affirming section of music that provided the four most blissful minutes of Colorado’s three-night run. While some of Phish’s most complex explorations speak to the intellect, and their grooves speak to the body, this jam truly speaks to the soul.

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***

9. “Chalk Dust -> Tweezer” 8.7 II, Cuhyahoga Falls, OH

Blossom Official  S.M. Studios)

Blossom Official (S.M. Studios)

This set-opening combo knocked down the doors of one of Summer’s most complete sets of music. “Chalk Dust” reached a gorgeous, fast-paced, whole-band peak laced with thematic playing that evoked Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City.” When Phish descended from this truly awesome plateau, Trey gradually led them into a seamless transition into “Tweezer.” While this version of “Tweezer” didn’t necessarily stand up to the several monumental versions of summer, it certainly packed a legitimate punch with several swanky sections of improvisation. Trey directed the band with some powerful lead playing that Page supported with stellar work of his own. Towards the end of this piece, the band discovered a very dark, almost-industrial, creative milieu that stood out as the most interesting aspect of this jam.

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***

8. “Light” 8.22 III, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball D.Millward)

Magnaball (D.Millward)

Deep in the third set on the band’s most prolific night of their summer-ending festival, they broke out a delicate and very creative version of “Light.” This version saw Trey engage in nimble runs of notes throughout a very connected four-part conversation. Passing through an ethereal plane in its middle stages, this jam saw the band sculpt an open soundscape congruent to their festival surroundings. Landing in an polyrhythmic, digitized exchange replete with a blanket of effects, this version absolutely slayed from beginning to end and is a prime example of how on point the band was on the second day of Magnaball.

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***

7. “Tweezer” 8.1 II, Atlanta, GA

You know it was quite a summer when a near half-hour “Tweezer” with a soaring peak section lands at number seven on this list. This multi-faceted journey was anchored by Trey’s heartfelt and long-lasting leads in the aforementioned peak section in which he brings the jam out of darkness into the heavens with a circular melodic theme that froze time on a sweltering Atlanta evening. Once the band came down from this middle section, they entered a very creative part of the jam that saw the band proficiently chopping it up in a fast-paced rhythmic exchange that prominently featured Trey’s Tru Tron effect (or Trey Tron as I like to call it) that he favored for so much of summer tour.

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***

6. “Bathtub Gin” 8.21 I, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball J.Pollock)

Magnaball (J.Pollock)

Phish absolutely annihilated this all-time version of Bathtub Gin in the opening set of Magnaball this August. Taking everybody by surprise with such an explosive, multi-tiered rendition, Phish announced their presence with authority early on in their highly anticipated festival. Another jam in which the band continued to roll through fluid themes with ease, the band christened the summer’s peak weekend of majestic improvisation. The guys built to a breathtaking climax in this middle section of this “Gin,” one that had thousands upon thousands of jaws on the field as the band collectively arrived at one of tour’s most indelible moments. And when the band pushed right through the peak into another section of improv, they just about knocked everyone out.

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***

5. “Kill Devil Falls” 7.31 II, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Official J.Weinberg)

Atlanta Official (J.Weinberg)

Who knew a day would turn into a week, and who knew that when Phish opened up the second set of this show with “Kill Devil Falls” that they’d wind up with a masterpiece? This colossal jam passed through several distinct phases with notable fluidity, moving from a Tru Tron-based section into darker bass-led textures; through a brief “Manteca” motif into a powerful and extended sequence of guitar narration; through a bluesy exchange into a groovy section of interplay, and finally into a monstrous peak with a “Tweezer Reprise”-esque progression. The band never lost focus or momentum through this phenomenal exploration as the fresh ideas continued to readily flow in lock step fashion, as was the case in all of summer’s top jams. This one was an instant classic and the only thing to be determined was where amongst summer tour’s gems it would land.

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***

4. “Tweezer” 8.9 II, East Troy, WI

The Alpine “Tweezer” is pure butter. Arguably the smoothest jam of the summer, it featured pure cohesion upon a single theme from beginning to end. Unlike the multi-tiered explorations that were so prevalent over summer tour, in this “Tweezer” the band jammed along a single, united path without a wasted note. Fusing groove with melody like only Phish can, this jam represented what can happen when all band members are on the same page and things go perfectly for an entire jam. This one is so flawless it almost sounds composed; truly an opus of summer.

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***

3. “Tweezer -> Caspian -> Tweezer” 8.22 II, Watkins Glen, NY

Magnaball Land Land)

Magnaball (Land Land)

This improvisational sequence was the undeniable centerpiece of Magnaball’s second day. Closing out the first evening set with almost a half an hour of stellar jamming, the band—essentially—dropped two “Tweezer” jams with “Caspian” in the middle. I’m not sure why Live Phish didn’t label the second half of “Tweezer,” as Trey even initiated the segment with a gnarred out, chunky version of the song’s signature lick. Nonetheless, both halves of the jam are nothing short of spectacular. Another excursion that signifies the incredibly tight and exploratory jamming that popped up almost every night of tour, this two-part “Tweezer” packed insane power into its every nook and cranny. While its opening half transformed from thick groove into fast-paced melodica, it’s the second half that boasts the magnificent richness that is Phish. The entire sequence leads up to a mind-bending peak that featured a dizzying Mind Left Body progression.

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***

2. “Twist > Light” 7.24 II, Mountain View, CA

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

Shoreline Official (J.Santora)

While Bend’s “Simple” teased us of what was to come in a transformative tour, it is this two-pronged sequence from Shoreline that kicked the summer into high gear and showed us that the band was playing for keeps. This dualistic rendition of “Twist” plunged the depths of the Netherworld and then ascended into the heavens with a prolonged, symphonic movement of cohesive bliss. This “Twist” was the jam that changed my summer plans of hitting a few shows out west and the festival to a hitting every show (but Austin). In this monumental improvisation, the band demonstrated the comfort, ease and seemingly effortless communication that allows them to create art in the highest form. And this “Twist” set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the season. Featuring a looser feel than many of this summer’s jams, the style felt very congruent to the Bay Area environs on the heels of Fare Thee Well. This was one of those unforgettable musical moments that will live in the memory banks of all attendees for the annals of time.

And just as “Twist” came to a close, the band crashed into “Light” in a real statement of improvisational intent. The band’s cosmic jamming continued throughout this amazing, multi-thematic jam in which the band eventually landed in an “I Know You Rider” jam in a clear nod to the Bay Area forefathers. A one-two punch like none other of summer, I knew as soon as this combination dropped we’d see it near the top of the tour’s highlights.

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***

1. “Twist” 8.12 II, Philadelphia, PA

phillyposter

Philly Official (D.Welker)

The Philly “Twist” from the second night of the Mann Music Center stands head and shoulders above any other jam from summer. And it’s not even close. This excursion transcends tour highlight status into that of a career highlight. Demonstrating pure mastery of their craft, the band members passed musical ideas with delicacy and precision, echoing and responding to each other in a way rarely witnessed at Phish shows. As soon as they dove into open waters, the guys were like a one-minded organism, improvising with a stunning proficiency that seemed to awe even themselves, as could be seen with the extended pause they took at the piece’s conclusion. The first half of the jam featured a dark exploration of sound, texture and melody fused into one. Trey utilized all facets of his game as he not only played notes but crafted blankets of sound and effect that served to color the music as much as he pushed it forward. The band crafted a dark and abstract—though airtight—jam, that had it ended when they transitioned into the exploration’s second half, would have still landed it near the top of this list. But the guys pushed on as Fishman initiated a slow groove that methodically built into an entire new jam. After navigating another foray into darkness, the band finally emerged from the murk into a monumental peak that was pulled from a fantasy. Trey tore off majestic melodies that sounded like music you’d known for your entire life as the entire band exploded in catharsis. Capping such a deep excursion with an arrival this glorious is the stuff of which dreams are made. As I walked out of the venue this night with a long-time friend, he described this jam perfectly with a single line—“the soundtrack to the universe.”

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Working It Out: A Conversation with Myself

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on August 6th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
Portsmouth (Andrea Nusinov)

Portsmouth (Andrea Nusinov)

Mr. Miner 1: Let’s call a spade a spade—that Summer Tour just wasn’t up to snuff. The band came out of the gates like a well-oiled machine, exhibiting patience and crafting thoughtful, developed jams, but their improvisation peaked at Randall’s Island. It’s kind of tough to call a tour a success when the best jams occured with three weeks left. and they never again reached that level. Trey’s patience—something praise-worthy over tour’s first two weeks—waned considerably and he got back to impatiently axing jams. I give him credit for laying back in the mix, but there is a point of diminishing returns. He is still the lead guitar player who’s leadership is crucial in the both the development and the realization of jams, and there was a serious lack of both in the second half of summer. After letting jams progress while sitting back, he rarely stepped up with strong ideas or leads in the back half of things to bring things to the top, often content to play rhythm for the duration. There were several stellar sets this shows this tour, especially towards the beginning, but the improvisation in the post-Randall’s segment of tour wasn’t on the same level, let alone the level of last summer or fall. This tour just didn’t feel like a progression to me.

Mr. Miner 2: This summer, they fully integrated their new material into their live show, found a place for most of it, while developing a new jam vehicle in “Fuego.” How could you not call that a progression? You always want new material and this summer Phish dropped a slew of it into place. In terms of improvisation, the band’s jams were more diverse than ever, and Trey’s willingness to lay back in the mix contributed to the many different sounds that were explored by the band this summer. It felt like a sort of a transitional tour to me, not just with the new material, but with an even more group-based, lead-less focus to the jams. Perhaps the lack of peaks or true jam development over the second part of tour was part of this approach, and once integrated, I have no doubt that the band will continue to play fully realized jams come Fall.

MM1: I hear that. This summer definitely felt like a transition, but looking at this summer alone, Trey’s willingness to sit back and not play lead for entire jams contributed to an unfinished and unrealized feel to many potentially huge summer excursions—even some of the tour’s better jams. Without Trey’s ideas bringing jams to a head, there was often a notable absence of leadership and many jams ended without truly having an ending. Perhaps the focus on the new material took away from a focus on improvisation, because I just don’t feel that the band was fully dialed in on too many nights after Randall’s Island. You had Chicago night three, the Charlotte/Merriweather weekend, Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach. That’s about it. That’s a lot of relatively average nights for Phish these days.

MM2: While many of this tour’s jams may not traditionally peak or resolve, perhaps that wasn’t the band’s focus this tour. Perhaps they were looking to explore as many sounds and directions as possible to see if they discovered something special. One can not argue against the incredible diversity of improvisation this tour, the band was devoted to exploration and on most nights came up with at least one gem if not two. Taking the tour at face value, its hard to say its not a success when the guys were able to cover so much ground while still integrating an album’s worth of new material into rotation. Perhaps it wasn’t their best tour musically speaking through and through, but I see this run as a step forward for Phish, even if they experienced some growing pains this summer.

Chicago (G.Lucas)

Chicago (Graham Lucas)

MM1: Sure, when stepping back now that the tour is over and looking at it with a macro view, its easy to say that it could be a stepping stone to bigger things, both stylistically and improvisationally, but musically, I just don’t feel this tour holds as much weight as last summer or fall. The most impressive jams of tour are still the “Fuegos” and “Chalk Dusts” from early on, while there were certainly highlights along the way, there only a handful of jams that truly felt complete. I’m not saying the band wasn’t playing well—for the most part they were—but there were very few “IT” shows. There was a ton of B+ playing, but the A/A+ playing was few and far between. It was a good tour, it was an interesting tour, but not necessarily the band’s most powerful, if that makes sense.

MM2: But the first couple weeks were damn powerful and you can’t discount those shows just because they happened at the beginning of tour. Mansfield through Randall’s Island were amazing Phish shows with only a couple glitches among them in total. Those were special shows. Every tour has its own trajectory, and this one front-loaded the heat, there is no doubt about that. But there was a certain revitalization over Charlotte, Merriweather, Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach. So really, the lulls were only CMAC through the beginning of Chicago and the very end of tour. Really not all that bad, man.

MM1: I guess that is true, I just felt that those two lulls combined with such a drastic stylistic shift by Trey that left many jams feeling as “teasers” or “tasters,” combined to make the entire tour a bit of a disappointment. I have seen each tour as a musical progression throughout the modern era, and this one just didn’t feel like a significant step forward to me jam-wise. Though if looking at the first two weeks alone, I guess that’s not totally true. It was just the lack of ability to sustain that level of patience and playing that left a bad taste in my mouth. I do buy into the theory that Summer Tour could be part of a larger shift that will be realized during Fall Tour, but going through the shows night to night, the tour just felt a little thin to me,  a bit underwhelming. And Phish is not usually underwhelming.

MM2: While the tour doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of standalone timeless gems, Phish still threw down a fair amount of them and generally played stronger start-to-finish sets with better flow than we’ve come accustomed to in recent years. That, in itself, is a huge step forward. Did Trey cut off jams? Sure. It seems that will be a part of what happens as they try to keep things fresh this era, but the overall focus on flow kind of negated the ripcord effect, ya’ know?

Detroit (J.Herzog)

Detroit (Jesse Herzog)

MM1: I guess I’d rather have fully completed jams and a bit less flow than sacrificing musical realization for flow. I get it when they use two jams as one, such as the “Carini > Ghost” from Oak Mountain, but I’d rather hear one amazing jam and one less so, with less flow than two pretty good ones that flow. It’s all about those trasndendent moments to me, and there were notably few of those after Randall’s Island this summer, regardless of what else was happening in the show, flow or no flow, ya dig? For example, you don’t think of Toronto ’13 as a choppy second set, you remember the insane “Disease” jam that froze time and space. When we think to Merriweather night one, we will remember the impeccable flow, but at no point in that second set did the band absolutely break through. You know what I’m saying? The “Ghost” is awesome and the “Light” is the jam of the show, but we can’t pull a truly timeless gem from this set. I guess it’s a matter of what you prefer at some point. I’m in it for transcendence—the times when the band hooks up with their effortless flow and weaves magic out of thin air—and quite honestly, that didn’t happen all that often over tour’s final three weeks. And the band’s last two tours were drenched it IT.

MM2: Well, Chicago night three had timeless moments and Merriweather night two was pure magic. It certainly did seem that extra-special aura lacked a bit after Merriweather, however, with high-level outings only coming at Portsmouth night two and Orange Beach, and I’m not so sure those shows or jams reached the timeless plane, possibly Portsmouth’s “Fuego” or “Meatstick” and the Beach’s “Disease” though. But did you really expect much from the Southern run?

MM1: Right, I mean last summer ended up on the west coast and this one in Alabama. Set and setting certainly makes a difference. I am on board with Summer ’14 being a very good Phish tour and potentially part of a larger transition, but it just didn’t feel like the band reached the next level too many times, those types of jams where they hook up and never look back. At some point it is what it is, but when the band reinserts well developed and peaked jams into their beefier, more well-balanced sets, then things will feel just right again. Fall, here we come!

Merriweather (Andrea Nusonov)

Merriweather (Andrea Nusonov)

Tags: ,

Catching Fire

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on July 29th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
7.12.14, NYC (Chris LaJaunie)

7.12.14, NYC (Chris LaJaunie)

Phish returned to Summer Tour with a monster weekend comprised of two standout shows and one for the record books in the mid-Atlantic last weekend. Following a four-day break, the band has made a concerted effort to deliver the whole package each night to each audience and were successful on three consecutive nights to begin the second half of Summer Tour 2014. Phish certainly hit a stride with these performances and their fluidity has stepped to the forefront of their shows to compliment their already present jamming. Everything has now fallen into place and the guys are in the zone as they approach the final week of a tremendously successful run.

7.16.14, Detroit (J.Herzog)

7.16.14, Detroit (J.Herzog)

It became quickly apparent this past weekend in Charlotte and Merriweather, that Phish is serious about their segues again. I’m not sure what, if anything, transpired during the four day break, but the band came back firing off seamless transitions at almost every juncture. Beginning in Charlotte’s second set, the guys wove “Fuego” “Twist” and “When the Circus Comes to Town “ into a seamless suite of music. Even with all of the segues that transpired at Merriwether, the slyest of them all happened when the guys unsuspectingly transformed the “Twist” jam into the tour debut of Los Lobos’ “Circus.” A definitive musical segue with not a momentary glitch, this shift actually deserves consideration beyond just its all-tour status. The transitions continued to fly on the first night in Columbia as the band slithered through a second-set sequence of “Carini -> Ghost > Steam -> Mango” with notable flow. But this second-“leg” trend, though only three days old, came to an immediate head in Sunday’s retro segue-fest, the likes of which hasn’t showed its face in oh, about two decades! Bobbing and weaving in and out of songs with spontaneity and precision, the band treated the audience to an old-school affair in which the excitement generated was as much about what would happen next as it was about the music. Totally in the moment and having a blast, the band tore off countless segues, but the most seamless movement of the night came in the musical palindrome of “Free -> Tweezer -> Simple -> Tweezer -> Free.” Delivering three songs a single piece of music, the guys took the early-set mashup theme to a whole new level with this clever vignette. The entire vibe of a set changes when the band makes smooth transitions between songs, and one would expect this trend to continue through the south.

7.20.14 (G.Lucas)

7.20.14 (G.Lucas)

These artistic transitions helped contribute to the second Mid-Atlantic take away—Phish’s delivery of complete second sets. Though Summer Tour started out strong in this regard, the band’s set craftsmanship took a small dip after Randall’s Island. Phish began to bounce back in Chicago, specifically with their third-night performance, and continued this upward swing with these past three shows. With only one blemish in three main events (Charlotte’s harshly “Rift”-corded “Piper” jam), Phish’s second sets have not only been proficiently smooth, but exceptionally so. This arc was highlighted by Merriweather’s Saturday night performance in which the band threw down a bulletproof second frame. Each segue was considered and artistic, virtually every song contained a legitimate jam, and the entire set went off without hitch. Even Sunday’s wild ride was notably smooth as the band worked through countless shifts between songs and schticks. Phish’s sense of the moment—one of their defining characteristics throughout their career—has returned in full this summer, and no performance illustrates this more than Sunday’s unforgettable affair. The best versions of Phish instinctually know when to pull back and when to push things far over the edge, surfing the energy of the crowd and the moment as well as any performers in history. Sunday night’s show at Merriweather showed us that, even while pushing age 50, the guys can still blend their musical acumen with their sense of the absurd to craft a wacky though virtuoso ride through a unique universe called Phish.

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

And don’t look now, but two of the weekend’s three first sets were great too! Both Charlotte’s and Sunday night Merriweather’s opening frames popped with energy and musicality. Friday’s first set featured powerful versions of crowd favorites including “Mike’s Song,” “Back on the Train,” “Weekapaug,” “Possum,” “Tube” and “David Bowie,” as well as a quality version of “Wingsuit” and the most improvised “Winterqueen” to date. This amounted to a virtual non-stop barrage of serious Type I jamming throughout Charlotte’s opening set. Sunday’s first frame contained legitimate improvisational highlights in “Curtain (With),” “Sand” and “You Enjoy Myself” and also derived energy through the rarities of “Fee,” “My Sweet One” and “Saw It Again.” On each night, as the setbreak lights came on, one felt like he had already been through a legitimate musical experience, and in the modern era of Phish shows, that makes all the difference.

Meanwhile, the jams have continued to roll. This weekend’s improvisational Dean’s List has two tiers. The first is headed up by Charlotte’s “Chalk  Dust Torture” and Merriweather’s “Tweezer” while also featuring Saturday’s “Ghost” “Light” and Sunday’s “NICU.” The second tier includes Merriweather’s “Carini,” “Harry Hood,” and Charlotte’s late-set “Reba.”

As we turn to the final five shows of tour, Phish has their feet solidly under them and the creative faucet locked in the on position. They certainly seem like a band that is primed to slaughter the south in a victory lap of a successful summer tour. Crushing it night after night creatively and consistently, and having the time of their lives, this is Phish live without a net and in their prime once again. Or simply put—this is Phish en fuego.

7.12.14 (Chris LaJaunie)

7.12.14 (Chris LaJaunie)

Tags: ,

Mid-Tour Awards

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on July 23rd, 2014 by Mr.Miner
7.20.14 (Graham Lucas)

7.20.14 (Graham Lucas)

Best Show: 7/13 Randall’s Island

Runner up: 7/4 SPAC

 Best Set: 7/13 Randall’s Island Set II

Runner Up: 7/12 Randall’s Island Set II

Best First Set: 7/13 Randall’s Island

Runner Up: 7/11 Randall’s Island

Best Stand: Randall’s Island

Runner Up: SPAC

MVP of Tour: Jon Fishman

Runner Up: Page McConnell

 Jam Vehicle of Tour: “Harry Hood”

Runners Up: “Chalk Dust,” “Light” and “Down with Disease”

Best Segue: “Piper -> Halley’s” 7/18, Northerly Island

Runner Up: “Ghost -> Weekapaug” 7/20 Northerly Island

Top Jams of Tour

(In chronological order after 1 and 2)

1. “Chalk Dust Torture” 7/13

2. “Fuego” 7/8

“Harry Hood” 7/1, “Bathtub Gin > Limb” 7/3, “Fuego” 7/4, “Piper” 7/5,  “Chalk Dust” 7/9, “Bathtub Gin” 7/11, “Down With Disease” 7/11, “Ghost” 7/12, “Harry Hood” 7/12, “Light” 7/13, “Tweezer” 7/13, “Down With Disease” 7/15, “Wombat” 7/18, “Light” 7/19, “Harry Hood” 7/19, “The Wedge” 7/20, “Ghost” 7/20

7.16.14, Detroit (Jesse Herzog)

7.16.14, Detroit (Jesse Herzog) 

Tags: , ,

Middling in the Midway

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on July 22nd, 2014 by Mr.Miner
7.16.14 Detroit (Jesse Herzog)

7.16.14 Detroit (Jesse Herzog)

Phish’s three-night stand at Northerly Island in Chicago was a mixed bag. Although the shows featured a handful of standout jams and shined in short stints, they simultaneously suffered from choppiness, a lack of flow and missed opportunities. “Wombat,” “Light,” “Harry Hood,” and “Ghost” stood up to any jams played this tour, and “The Wedge,” “Piper,” “Golden Age” were not far behind, but only the run’s final frame could make any true case for cohesion. Trey’s jumpiness that was largely absent during tour’s opening two weeks returned over the third, and his inability to commit to jams contributed to some lost potential throughout the three nights. The Chicago shows were certainly not bad, but they were most definitely several steps behind the fluid performances of early-tour to which we quickly got acclimated.

Some Good Points

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

Friday—Amidst a bumpy second set on Friday, Phish managed to squeeze out one incredible jam in “Wombat,” and two highlight stretches in “Golden Age” and “Piper.” The set kicked off with “Golden Age,” a jam that has consistently attained “B” level outings in its career, but has never sprung into that upper echelon. The Chicago version would follow this pattern, as the guys engaged in a lively conversation in groove, but never pushed the jam to the next level before entering a denouement of ambient noise and seeping into “Mango Song.” The “Pipers” of 2014 have stuck to the high-paced, frenetic jam palette that characterizes most versions, though the Chicago version had a twist. After a hard-edged sequence that got into some engaging textures, the band reached a juncture in which they could have easily dissolved into another song, but they pushed through the quasi-awkward moment and came out the other side with an infectious mid-tempo groove. Just as the piece was elevating, Trey layered the lyrics of “Halley’s Comet” over the groove and the place went nuts over the all-but-seamless segue.

The jam of the night, however, came in “Wombat.” Placing the quirky Fuego piece in the second set, Phish completely blew out its jam into a profound improvisational excursion. Trey provided a signpost lick amidst the funk, and the band dutifully followed, taking the exercise far beyond groove and into a wide-open space. Morphing into a piece of free-form improv, the band crafted a moving soundscape that Trey navigated with a blissful sensibility. Though they had played some solid jams in this set, everything clicked during “Wombat” and the band set sail on a more timeless journey into the unknown.

Saturday—Phish salvaged Saturday night’s performance with two jaw-dropping jams in the fourth quarter of the show—“Light” and “Harry Hood.” An uneventful first half of the set gave way to a table-setter version of “Twist” that saw the band engage in the tightest improvisation to that point in the night. Using this momentum, they launched into “Light” with enthusiasm, and the night’s first open jam was upon us.  And what a jam it was! Standing up to any piece of tour, the band coalesced into an avant-garde experiment in astral jazz that brought echoes of Randall’s Island “Chalk Dust Torture.” Fishman’s fluttery, cymbal-heavy beats provided the backbone for the band’s course from groove into abstraction. This intricate and ever-darkening exchange was characterized by the advanced, cerebral jamming on display in Summer Tour’s most impressive pieces, and now we can add Chicago’s “Light to this growing list.

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

The second stunning takeaway from Saturday night came in the set-closing “Harry Hood.” Phish had pushed every single “Hood” this summer out of structure and into an open jam, and Chicago’s would be the fifth such consecutive version. Each 2014 “Hood” has also been incredibly diverse, and while this one started in traditional territory, it wasn’t long before the guys had seamless morphed into a rootsier, bluesy feel reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. For a few moments, in fact the rhythmic shuffle of the jam resembled the structure of “Not Fade Away.” The beauty of this piece was just how far away the band got from the traditional sounds of “Harry Hood,” and how effortlessly they left and returned to the song’s theme. And the peak they hit before making the turn for home is something to behold! Notch another huge victory for Summer ’14 “Harry Hoods,” as the classic song is the leading candidate for MVP of tour as we hit the midway point.

Sunday—Much like Saturday’s performance, Phish succeeded in saving the show in the 11th hour with two very creative late-set jams out “The Wedge” and “Ghost.” Midway through the second set, it seemed that Troy had turned on cruise control with the run of “Winterqueen,” “Theme,” “Mike’s Song” and “The Wedge.” But just as the “Wedge” was set to end, the band modulated into a surprise jam! Phish took a couple minutes to find its way in this jam, as they hadn’t truly hooked up all night. But after some searching, things fell into place as Trey happened upon the chord progression shared by Guns N Roses’ “Paradise City” and REO Speedwagon’s “Keep It Rolling,” and the jam absolutely took off! (Seeing that Trey was in his 23 when “Paradise City” dropped in 1987, I have little doubt as to which song he was playing, but nobody can truly know without confirmation as the songs are nearly identical.) The band must have gained some confidence through this soaring sequence, because when “The Wedge” ended, they dropped into “Ghost.”

7.20 Official (Millward)

7.20 Official (Millward)

One of the notable things about 2014’s standout jams has been their utter originality in sound and direction, and Chicago’s “Ghost” fell in line with this pattern. Within a moment of entering the jam, Mike and Fish charted a coarse with a drone, repetitive pocket that pulled the jam into a completely fresh, psych-based sound. Trey never played lead in this jam—another trend of the Chicago shows—and as a result its vibe leans towards an art rock sound sculpture rather than a traditional Phish jam. As Trey focused on tonal color and sound effects during this “Ghost,” Page stepped up and offered lead piano lines over the dissonant canvas. This jam stood out immediately for its diversion from the norm and its eclectic sound, and it certainly represents one of the top few pieces from Northerly Island. A fiery, tease-ridden “Weekapaug” closed out another show-salvaging sequence.

Some Bad Points

Second Set Openers—Over the first weeks of tour, Phish front-loaded the second set with centerpiece jams and jam pairings that made for powerful and extended chunks of improvisation. In Chicago, however, the band threw down three fairly standard second set openers that hurt the flow to the second sets right off the bat. Friday’s “Golden Age” was the most impressive second set opener of the run, but even so, it never progressed into something more than a funk jam and the band deflated their own momentum with a “Mango Song” in the second slot. Saturday’s “Carini” seemed primed to explode, but the band couldn’t hook up once they reached open waters and Trey pulled the string for “Waves” before anything truly developed. The band went on to play standard versions of “Waves” and “Fuego,” leaving us half way through the second set before they took an upward turn with “Twist.” Phish gave it a solid effort with Sunday night’s “Disease,” hitting some cool groove textures within the jam, but they were never able to find that one idea to develop and give the jam a direction. Although it featured some cool interplay in the erstwhile, this “Disease,” though serviceable, was largely unsuccessful and easily the fourth out of the four version played this summer. Trey determined that they weren’t finding anything worthwhile and moved on “Winterqueen” in a place where something heavier-hitting would have been more appropriate.

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

7.16.14 (J.Herzog)

Choppiness and TreyDD—One of the glaring lacks of the Chicago show was natural, set-long flow. Part of this had to do with the aforementioned lack of beefy improv at the front of the second sets, but another part of it seemed to do with Trey’s jumpiness and lack of focus. Both “Carini” and “Disease” could have pushed beyond their transitional junctures, but Trey’s patience and willingness to maintain through adversity just wasn’t there. Perhaps he didn’t feel anything would develop, and that call is resepectable, but there is no arguing that the moves into “Waves” and “Winterqueen” were moments of deflation.

On each night, Trey made the call to follow up set-opening jams with compositions instead of assembling strong and more customary 1-2 combos. This created an up and down contour to sets and the solid 30 to 40 minute improvisational sequences that kicked off most east coast sets were sorely missed. On Friday night, Trey pulled a harsh ripcord in the middle of “Sand” that brought the band into “Piper,” but certainly jarred the crowd and the set’s flow. “Piper” then segued smoothly into “Halley’s Comet.” At this point, Phish had the crowd in the palm of their hands as the audience anticipated the first “Halley’s” jam in three years. This slowed down version was primed for a second-set explosion, but as the piece reached the beginning of the jam, the band all but stopped playing and Trey bailed out with an awkward transition into “Wombat.” Ouch—that was like a punch in the nuts.

7.16/14 (J.Herzog)

7.16/14 (J.Herzog)

Saturday’s second set simply had nothing going on until a mid-set “Twist,” a dynamic not dissimilar to Sunday’s show that struggled until “The Wedge.” In each of these sets, the band just kept the songs rolling until they felt comfortable to take one out. (In all fairness, they tried with “Disease,” but it just didn’t get there.) And with the type of first sets that the band has been playing these days—tasteful but largely uneventful—these voids left us with almost two and a half hours until something truly popped off on either of the last two nights. And that’s just too long. Perhaps it took the band that long to connect in both these shows, but the flow and contour of each had been irreparably damaged in each case. Though two stellar late set jams can save a performance, it’s tough to pull that off two days in a row.

All in all,

Phish’s run at Northerly Island contained several highlight jams, but the shows never transcended and became more than the sum of their individual parts. If these Chicago shows happened the weekend before the east coast shows, they would have made a lot more sense, but after Phish set the bar incredibly high during the first two weeks of tour, they have struggled to play an entire show, and more specifically, an entire second set with the focus and artistry they displayed early on. Now, as the band looks to the second half of tour, they have eight shows in which to correct their course and to ultimately determine the legacy of Summer Tour 2014.

I: 555, Kill Devil Falls, Bouncing Around the Room, Reba, Waiting All Night, Birds of a Feather, Halfway to the Moon, Sparkle, Sample in a Jar, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Stash, The Squirming Coil

II: Golden Age > The Mango Song, Sand > Piper -> Halley’s Comet > Wombat > Chalk Dust Torture, Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Julius

***

I: The Moma Dance, Wolfman’s Brother, Devotion To a Dream, 46 Days, Yarmouth Road, Brian and Robert, Wingsuit, Tube, Free, Roggae, Heavy Things, Run Like an Antelope

II: Carini > Waves > Fuego, Twist > Light > Twenty Years Later, Harry Hood, Cavern

E: Grind, Bug, Suzy Greenberg

***

I: Gumbo, Runaway Jim, Tela, The Line, Scent of a MuleBathtub 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

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Two Meh’d-Week Affairs

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on July 17th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
7.12.14, Randall's (Chris LaJaunie)

7.12.14, Randall’s (Chris LaJaunie)

After Phish nailed eight straight shows between SPAC, Mann and Randall’s Island, fans were salivating to see what the band had in store as they stepped away from the east coast for the first time this summer. Back in the day, these more remote, smaller market shows brought a welcome respite from the higher profile nights of the northeast. In the past, Phish often threw down spectacular shows in these more out of the way performances. This created a dynamic where fans would not want to miss these hard-to-get-to shows. However, in the modern era, these smaller shows have become something totally different. While the dynamic of less pressure remains the same, the resulting concert often crumbles into an array of jamless greatest hits for a localized fan base. The “skip” shows on tour are no longer the ones fans must quest after, but rather less focused affairs whose moniker is quite appropriate.

Canandaigua Official (J.Soto)

Canandaigua Official (J.Soto)

Needless to say, both Canandaigua and Detroit’s mid-week shows succumbed to this modern trend and the band on stage on Tuesday and Wednesday nights might as well have been understudies for the maestros on stage last weekend in New York City. If Randall’s Island was the culmination of a fortnight that was characterized by artistry and patience, these two mid-week, small market shows were exactly the opposite, crude and rushed. This is not to say there weren’t individual highlights in these shows—there absolutely were, but the overall feel of the shows were far from the refined and cerebral affairs that dotted the east coast, but mildly entertaining rock concerts in which the band seemed more concerned with how many songs they could get through than what any individual piece contained. To put it bluntly, while Trey graced the east coast with his timeless brilliance, Troy brought his ripcord and ADD to Canandaigua and Detroit, crafting more trainwrecks than memories.

Detroit Official (S. Serigraph)

Detroit Official (S. Serigraph)

The highest point of Canandaigua came in a twisting, long form “Down With Disease” that kicked down the doors of the second set with a fury. This jam was certainly on the level of tour’s first stretch, and it seemed like we were in for another set-long journey. But nothing of improvisational significance developed after that and a great “Disease” was hung out to dry. Striking first set renditions of “Wingsuit” and “Wombat” also provided takeaways from CMAC, as the former kept the more whole-band improvisational feel debuted at Randall’s, and the latter got into the dirtiest, loopiest funk jam of its short life. DTE’s lone improvisational highlight came in “Ghost > Caspian” though the “Ghost” jam seemed to have plenty of legs when Trey switched gears. Additionally, the band took “Weekapaug” for an out-of-character spin into abstraction and really had something significant building when the jam was cut inexplicably cut for “Cavern.” And that, folks, is about it for the mid-week highlight reel. On the “Not Top 10” list, Phish played two consecutive late-second-set “Fuegos” in Canandaigua and Detroit, while touching neither with a single improvisational brushstroke. At this point, “Fuego” has appeared far more times without a jam than with one. Interesting. An unsuspected development to say the least.

When it comes down to it, perhaps it’s not the size of the market, the distance from the east coast, the age of the band or the lack of hardcore fans in the audience—perhaps it’s the combined effect of all these elements. And alas, Phish is human. Call me presumptuous, but in Canandaigua and Detroit, the band just wasn’t putting in the same level of effort and focus that was on display for two weeks straight on the eastern seaboard. And when you don’t put in the same effort, you don’t get the same results. Thus, it is not surprising that these midweek shows paled in comparison to the musical events that took place on the in Saratoga Springs, Philadelphia and New York. The band needed an exhalation from an intense two weeks, and they took it in the form of two jukebox shows over the past couple nights. Have no fear, however, the Phish we know and love will be back in Chicago and tell a largely different story. Why? You tell me…

7.12.14 Randall's Island (Chris Lajaunie)

7.12.14 Randall’s Island (Chris LaJaunie)

7/16 Canandaigua—I. Buried Alive > Twist, Heavy Things, 555, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Wingsuit, Divided Sky, Wombat, David Bowie

II: Down with Disease > Back on the Train > NICU, Gotta Jibboo, Theme From the Bottom, Meatstick, Fuego > The Wedge, Run Like an Antelope

E: Character Zero

*****

7/17 Detroit—IWolfman’s Brother, Devotion To a Dream, Wilson, Poor Heart, The Moma Dance, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Lawn Boy, Yarmouth Road, Rift, The Line, It’s Ice, 46 Days

II: Mike’s Song > Ghost > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line, Weekapaug Groove > Cavern, Piper > Waiting All Night, Tweezer > Fuego > Tweezer Reprise

E: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Possum

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Randall’s Reprise

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on July 16th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
Randall's Island (Andrea Nusinov)

Randall’s Island (Andrea Nusinov)

Phish’s three-night stand at Randall’s Island was a perfect litmus test of where they are as a band right now in their 31st year of existence. While most bands their age are playing greatest hits on reunion tours, Phish is neck deep in one of their most creative phases of their career. Through Randall’s Island, Phish had nailed seven of its past second sets in full—and when is the last time that could be said of the aging superheroes of the 3.0 era? Playing tour’s two most impressive second sets on consecutive nights in front of a New York metro audience, Phish plunged depths in their improvisations that were informed by both patience and persistence. Phish has owned these qualities thus far this summer, allowing jams to develop far beyond a single theme, and often stretching into several. Very often it has been the later sections of jams that have gotten the most outlandish—see New York’s “Bathtub Gin,” “Disease” “Carini,” “Ghost,” “Chalk Dust,” and “Tweezer” as prime examples. The band has been patient in an individual sense, allowed all members to offer up ideas and guide improvisations, but they have also been very patient with the group as a whole, providing space for whole-band searching where necessary, and usually not giving up until something is found. And therein lied the biggest juxtaposition between Friday’s Randall’s show and the next two—how easily they bailed on jams.

On Friday night, Phish had several second-set selections teed up and ready for liftoff, only to turn the other way and keep the setlist moving. This is usually a tactic employed when the band isn’t feeling the flow, but on Friday night, they most certainly felt it in spots as they dropped elite versions of “Bathtub Gin” and “Down with Disease” and a smoking “Stash.” But when “Steam” opened the second set, primed to get the full treatment for the first time in its life, the band got a tad discombobulated as the jam was seeming to open up, and Trey reeled everything awkwardly back. Then in “Golden Age,” the guys seemed to be moving in an ambient direction when they decided to skirt a college try once again. The make or break moment for the show, however, came in a late set “Fuego.” On the heels of Philly’s epic, fans were salivating upon the opening piano chords. But instead of following up the song’s two seminal versions with a third, they decided that they would head into “David Bowie” instead. This show felt like one from years ago with two standout jams and a bunch of aborted attempts. But damn if those two jams weren’t astounding and a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Randall's Island (Andrea Nusinov)

Randall’s Island (Andrea Nusinov)

The next two nights told a very different story­, the type of story of that unfolds when Phish is focused and artistically concerned. Scripting two flawless second sets on Saturday and Sunday night, the band worked over every piece they touched with jams that were so unique. The music within the pairing of “Carini” and“Ghost” spanned the spectrum from psychedelic abstraction to wide open bliss, and covered all sorts of ground in between. So far this summer, “Carini” has been a vehicle to reach ethereal textures and soundscapes rather than the thematic, multi-staged epics that we heard last year. “Ghost” provided the central highlight of night two, as the band pushed beyond a quasi-conventional bliss peak into several more creative sections of interplay.

Two other macrocosmic takeaways from Saturday night’s affair were “Wingsuit” and “Harry Hood.” The former seemed to be settling into the repertoire as a cool down song, and that is the placement they gave it at Randall’s. But everything changed in the final section, as Fishman altered his backing rhythms and transformed the end jam into a whole-band, “Curtain With”-esque piece of improvisation. I didn’t love the first, guitar-solo based versions of the song, as they felt very static. But when “Wingsuit” drops from now on, it may in fact be still represent an exhale from a monstrous jam, but it now has improvisational intrigue all its own. Secondly, I’ve been waiting my whole life for “Harry Hood” to become an open jam, and this summer Phish has played three, deeply improvised versions in a row. This transformation of “Hood” into a cosmic springboard is the most profound development from the opening weeks of Summer Tour. And what an exclamation point the impeccable Randall’s version put on an airtight set of Phish. Composed too perfection, the frame had six songs, all in place and all performed with maximum gusto.

And then came Sunday. Played with a vigor through and through, we will be talking about Sunday at Randall’s for years to come. It was just that good—dense, top shelf jamming laced with nuance and innovative currents around every turn. Page and Fish stood out the most to me over the three-day weekend. Each altered the courses of several jams, while Trey’s biggest attribute this summer is his willingness to be one of four and take his place amidst a band that now has all but four musical leaders. The way they have fed off of each other’s ideas and made them into their own—a sort of quadruple helix—was the hallmark of the Randall’s jams and the thus far, the summer at large.

Randall's Island (Andrea Nusinov)

Randall’s Island (Andrea Nusinov)

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