The Story of “The” Ghost

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on May 23rd, 2014 by Mr.Miner

20100616-000718-776261“Ghost” is a composition that Phish wrote in 1997 to facilitate their newly found passion for equitable groove-building. At this time, Phish’s musical focus fundamentally shifted from their past. No longer did they thrive on frenetic, guitar-led jams and scorching peaks, but focused on collective, group jamming amidst textured dance music. Debuted in the first show of  Summer ’97, “Ghost” jams became the band’s primary vehicle of funk exploration. “Tweezer” was barely played this summer. “Sand” didn’t exist. And while Phish, no doubt, inserted funk jams into just about every improvisational sequence, “Ghost” was the portal through which their sonic transformation truly took place. Though this protean jam made the stylistic shifts of the late-’90s right alongside the band, its conceptual raison d’etre was realized three years later—and 14 years ago yesterday—at Radio City. On May 22, 2000, Phish not only played their most accomplished version of “Ghost” to this day, they informed it—start to finish—with the democratic ethos that defined their groove transformation of 1997-2000.

As I listened to this magnum opus with close attention yesterday, something that never registered with me came to a glaring forefront—Trey played virtually no lead guitar in the 27 minutes that composed the Radio City “Ghost.” Mike played a serious leadership role throughout this jam as it morphed between feels, but most particularly at its onset, where the band coyly dripped into one of the filthiest—and most equitable—groove sessions of their career. Where Trey often took the lead right out of the gates in “Ghost,” this time he simply laid back and didn’t play at all, allowing his bandmates to craft a pornographic dance groove.  And when he did decide to enter, it wasn’t to play guitar hero, it was to be a fourth layer in the groove, filling in space with sparse rhythmic hits. As he offered his sound into the textured music, the whole band locked into each others ideas and the result was legendary. Radio City might as well have been Studio 54 as the band laid into a dance explosion.

Radio City 2000 (Unk.)

Radio City 2000 (Unk.)

As their first investigation of groove concluded, Fishman slid back into a more conventional “Ghost” rhythm, and the band sounded as though they could have been launching into the beginning of the jam once again. This brief return the the song’s theme—during which Trey played lead—served as a coy reset of the jam from which the band launched once again, this time into a very different feel. But even in this second movement, Trey remained very much a part of the whole, offering, first, a repetitive and glitchy, melodic phrase, and then playing off it and tweaking it for the duration. This is a quintessential 2000 Phish jam, focused on intricate layering, innovative sound, and whole-band, drone textures in the aftermath of Big Cypress.

A single guitar lick acted like a lasso, pulling the band out of this jam and back into “Ghost’s” theme for the second time in this Herculean piece. Trey resumed his position as lead for this section, but just as one might have thought it was heading for a rock-based, guitar-led peak, Phish took another left turn. Trey backed off his solo and began to offer rhythm chords that followed a very emotive progression. At this juncture, the band moved back into full improv mode prompted by Trey’s change, and Page came to the forefront, playing rolling chords along the same progression that Trey had started. This third movement takes on a reflective feel that seemed incredibly appropriate as this “Ghost” represented the band’s first monumental excursion since the Everglades. I’m sure being that deep in a jam again brought them back to their peak experience in Florida, and it came through powerfully in the music. Mike, once again, stepped into the lead  in this section, as Trey slid into a spiral lick with intermittent rhythm chops. In retrospect, it really sounds like they were having a musical conversation on stage about where they were in their career in the Spring of 2000.

2000-05-22mo3The band finally pushed through into a fourth and final feel, an ambient passage that rode the same emotional wave. Trey offered a quiet, high-register solo over an aural blanket that infused the final portion of the Radio City “Ghost” with an undeniably spiritual feel. And the band—still fully locked and improvising—flowed, together, to a final resting point that sounded like musical poetry.

At no point during this nearly half-hour odyssey did Phish fall back on any musical conventions. Not for a second. They were in full destruction mode the from the first note to the last. I still remember the feeling that I had when the opening notes of a late-set “Ghost” oozed into the space of Radio City Music Hall. It was haunting and inspiring feeling. But it was no comparison to the feeling in the building upon the jam’s final notes. Following almost five months of dormancy after the most historic performance of their career, Phish had once again exploded in virtuosic creativity, throwing down the defining version of their late ‘90s dance anthem in an Art Deco theatre in the middle of New York City. And it was the ultimate realization of their late-’90s shift to collaborative, groove-based playing. Once and for all-time, Phish had told us “The Story of the Ghost.”

Radio City Soundcheck (C.Taylor Crothers)

Radio City Soundcheck (C.Taylor Crothers)

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Winged-music-noteJam of the Day:

Ghost” 5.22.00 II, NYC, NY SBD

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Off the Shelves in 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 29th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

Jones Beach 2012 (Shelly Siegel)

Bustouts—some live for em, others are apathetic, but they always make for entertaining talking points in the fan community. Here are my top bustouts of the year that just past.

6) “Buried Alive” 6/7, Worcester, MA— More significant than the fact that Phish played “Buried Alive” for the first time in a year was the fashion in which they played it. By opening Worceter’s first show—and the entire year—with the old-school instrumental, the band gave an implicit message to fasten our seat belts for the oncoming ride. Not only was the show that followed one of the year’s best, but 2012 was the most impressive year of the modern era. Evoking the days of old school musical antics, the guys wrapped this show’s smoking second set with a “Buried Alive” reprise out of “Cavern,” the perfect finale to the opening night of 2012.

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Loaded

5) “Sweet Jane” 6/29 Noblesville, IN—One of everybody’s favorite songs from Halloween ’98′s Loaded set, “Sweet Jane” hadn’t been played  since that amazing night in Vegas. Instigated by a sign in the front section of Deer Creek, the band took the Velvet Underground cover off the shelf for only first time in 352 shows and played it for only the third time in their career. This feel-good anthem got the second night in the cornfields underway in stellar fashion and spurned a set filled with rarer selections.

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4) “Shaggy Dog” 6/22, Cincinnati, OH—Riverbend’s 2012 installment featured the most impressive first set of Leg One, including the bustout of “Shaggy Dog” for the first time since Fall ’95 (574 shows) and the second time since since 1988! A relic of Phish’s earliest era, this was a song most of us first heard on the Ian’s Farm tape of 8/21/87 and certainly a piece that most in attendance in Cincinnati had never heard live. This bustout was an early sign that this would be an awesome night by the Ohio River.

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The White Album

3) “Happiness is A Warm Gun” 7/3, Wantagh, NY—In the middle of Jones Beach’s first set of the weekend, the band plucked this Beatles classic out of thin air. Having performed the song only once during “The White Album” set on Halloween ’94, the gap between versions clocked in at 658 shows! Needless to say, this was a first for most of the crowd on Long Island that night. I’ve always loved this song, making this bustout especially meaningful for yours truly. You gotta’ love the Phab Four playing the Fab Four in any format.

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2) “Roses Are Free Jam” 6/8, Worcester, MA—If I was being shamefully subjective, I’d put this moment at number one. After April 3, 1998 in Nassau I jonesed for another “Roses” jam very badly. Salvation finally came in the swamps of Florida as Phish dropped a monumental version to bring up the sun of the new millennium, but since that timeless passage brought the darkness into light, the band had strictly used the Ween cover as a straight forward cover sans improvisation despite the launch pad it presented. Pretty much every time it dropped over the next decade, friends and I would exchange looks of sarcastic anticipation in jest of the routinely ignored possibility. Needless to say, when the band didn’t stop the song and swam into open waters during the first set of Worcseter’s second show, my head nearly exploded. This was the moment for which I’d been waiting for so many years, and the subsequent jam was one of my favorite parts Leg One.

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Little Feat

1) “Skin it Back” 7/3 Wantagh, NY—I remember looking at old-school setlists in The Pharmer’s Almanac back in the day and seeing a song called “Skin It Back.” Upon looking it up, I learned it was a Little Feat song. Hmm, Little Feat, that band of “Waiting For Columbus,” that album my buddy rocked so often in high school. That’s about as far as I ever got with the song until this summer. As Phish began the song to kick off the Jones Beach stand last summer, I and many others were sure we were finally getting the return of “Spanish Moon” for the first time since Halloween 2010, but the band was digging much deeper. Within a verse or so, it was clear what was going on, Phish had exhumed that song I read about so many years ago—”Skin it Back!” This performance represented the biggest bustout of all time—literally—with a gap lof 1,417 shows between appearances, and when the band jammed out the song to commemorate its return they left little doubt that it would be an occasion that every fan would remember.

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Through Alternate Paths

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on September 19th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

9.1.12 (Graham Lucas)

Although “Chalk Dust Torture” had been a Phish staple from the early 90’s onward, never leaving regular rotation, it had rarely been used as vehicle for exploratory jamming. While a handful of versions popped off through the years—most notably Camden’s ’99 masterpiece—“Chalk Dust’s” remained a high-energy rock song throughout the band’s career. Over leg two, however, that pattern changed dramatically. Hosting three outstanding jams in its last three appearances of summer, “Chalk Dust’s” quickly became a Leg Two All-Star. Only once, however, did Phish extend “Chalk Dust” from its normal jam within the song, twice preferring to improvise out of its ending. But any way you cut it, “Chalk Dust” gave birth to a trio of stellar excursions during Leg Two that deserve inspection.

Following a standard shredder at Bill Graham and a particularly heavy-hitting, show-opener in Kansas City, when Phish tore into a late second set “Chalk Dust” in Atlanta—literally, the 400th of their career—it felt like they had hopped the train to Fizzletown. Not long into the jam, however, Trey elevated the chugging rhythms with cathartic melodies, coaxing simultaneously stunning piano leads from Page. Fish and Mike were right there without missing a beat, and Phish set the controls for the outer realms of the galaxy. Transforming the normally benign single into thrilling, multi-dimensional journey, the guys finally landed their musical spaceship on a far away planet, and as they climbed down to the surface to explore the new land, Trey hit the opening lick of “What’s the Use?” A totally under-appreciated nugget of gold, this “Chalk Dust” jam foreshadowed what was to come for the rest of tour.

9.2.12 (Michael Stein)

The next time Trey called for the Picture of Nectar classic was in the unassuming slot of second set opener in St. Louis. It seemed like things would stay in bounds this time, but as the band wrapped up the song, they awkwardly bounced off the final downbeat and into uncharted waters. The guys came together quickly in a section of high-speed groove before Fish steered the ship towards calmer currents. Within seconds of this change, Phish immersed the arena in an ethereal and emotional open jam. Like hitting a switch, the guys jumped into IT out of nowhere. Trey spoke the words of the universe through his guitar in this understated and underrated passage. After a short, but engaging, full-band jam, Trey seamlessly wove the opening of “Frankie Says” into the mix. The band would fuse three more songs onto this opening couplet before stopping for a breath, and the most memorable chunk of that entire stretch was “Chalk Dust.”

8.25.12 (Ryan MacNeill)

When Phish got to “C” in the “F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E” show, they had just finished playing second set versions of “Farmhouse” and “Alaska.” With only “E” to go, and few possibilities therein, “C” had to go huge. Thus, when the band started “Chalk Dust,” it seemed like yet another surprise call, but when considering its Leg Two action, it immediately felt like the natural choice. Even before this jam ended, Dick’s “Chalk Dust” had broken all barriers, capturing the heart of everyone in the stadium and beyond, and contended with Camden for the all-time number one version. You can pick your favorite, but this one is mine. Blasting out of the end of the song, much like St. Louis (and with far more precision) the band took little time to switch from from down-your-throat rock and roll into a hard groove collaboration that brought echoes of Atlanta’s “Golden Age.” Trey sliced and diced the music with rhythm chops while Mike threw down commanding leads that directed the beginning of this unforgettable jam. In no time, the guys were fully locked and moving as a single unit through hyperspace. Riding this four-man momentum, Phish shot through any conventions and into totally original music on the back of Trey’s most impressive melodic themes of the summer. This was the stuff of instant legend; musical glory of the highest degree. And to finish things off, they moved into a looped out, intergalactic, bass-led denouement that settled into a quiet outro and a massive ovation.

1990

Coming to life in the final week of the season, “Chalk Dust” added a colossal surprise to summer tour’s long list of riches. The use of their anthem about youth angst as a exclamation point on their best tour in ages, held a certain irony for the guys as they cranked out some of the best music of their career while pushing fifty. On top of their game and as enthusiastic as ever, if one thing can be said about the guys in Phish, they are—most definitely—living while they’re young.

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Jams of the Day:

Chalk Dust > What’s the Use?” 8.25 II, Atlanta

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Chalk Dust -> Frankie Sez” 8.28 II, St. Louis

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Chalk Dust Torture” 9.1 II, Denver

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Back Into the Freezer

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , , on September 14th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

8.17.12 – Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

If “Ghost” took home the Comeback Player of Tour award for Leg One, “Tweezer” certainly ran away with the trophy for Leg Two. Phish’s had tamed their exploratory vehicle in recent years, popping out of the box with an outstanding version every once in a long while. The band still wove creativity into each version in spurts, though usually relented to a quasi-standard guitar build, with the potential of something more tacked onto the end. But during Leg Two, “Tweezer” returned to its proper place of prominence with four standout versions, three of which were featured in the second set.

The first “Tweezer” of Leg Two unfolded in dramatic fashion in the middle of Bill Graham’s second set. Following a monster “Disease” and an interlude of “Birds,” one could feel “Tweezer’s” opening notes about to drop. And when they did the tiny 7,000 person concert hall exploded. The intensity throughout the composed section was palpable, as everyone seemed dialed into the energy of the band. Slow and heavy hitting grooves came growling out of the gate as the band hooked the undersized crowd with their larger-than-life rhythms. Trey integrated a plinko lead and the band was off and running in an infectious opening sequence. Gradually, Trey infused a heavier guitar lead pushing the piece into a more typical “Tweezer” build but once this section peaked, the band pushed forth into the most engaging music of the jam— a looped out, piece of storage-laced, bass-led psychedelia. The most experimental music from any “Tweezer” this tour, this sequence stretched further into legitimately abstract planes before slipping into “Twist.” Overshadowed due to its placement at the beginning of tour, Bill Graham’s “Tweezer” was as good as any played on Leg Two.

8.19.12 – Bill Graham (Michael Stein)

As the band flew from the Bay, they landed in Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre. To greet the Heartland in their first visit to the historic venue, Phish dropped a “Tweezer” to open the second set, and what blossomed was a thing of beauty. From note one of this jam, Phish had the course set for the heart, patiently laying down the foundation for a blissful excursion. Playing with a melodic sensibility, the band shied from outright groove for realms of the divine. This laid back music merged seamlessly with the gorgeous summer night, and on a dime, the entire band turned to an uplifting theme. As if whisked away on a magic carpet, the guys, with the audience in tow, took off for the heavens. Reaching a hugely cathartic peak, and sitting in IT for some time, the band, and Trey, specifically, poured their soul into this version, providing an 180-degree turn from Bill Graham’s darker concoction. Trey slayed heart-wrenching melodies while leading everyone to the mountaintop in my favorite version of the year. The band remained in orbit, hovering in a sparkling, ambient place, before seamlessly merging with “Piper.”

9.1.12 – Dick’s (Graham Lucas)

The next time “Tweezer” popped up was in the middle of a second set “Mike’s Groove” in Charlotte! The surprising placement only added excitement to the opening section as the band and audience, alike, prepared for takeoff. Splashing into the jam with a buttery groove, the guys immediately felt connected as they surfed a mellow opening wave. At a particular juncture within the whole-band exchange, Trey held a long sustained note and then launched into one of his greatest guitar solos of the year. Moving through several distinct themes within a blissful escapade, Red took the helm as his bandmates crafted the perfect pillow for his golden melodies. Inspired and letting IT flow, Trey, for a second consecutive version, took “Tweezer” into incredibly emotional domains. Turning into the centerpiece of the set, this jam provided the highest high in Charlotte’s Sunday night affair.

The final “Tweezer” of Leg Two—the only first set rendition of tour—came as the surprise third song in Dick’s second show. Though not as developed as the previous three second-set versions, this jam held its own just fine. Opening with a smooth and relaxed groove session, Trey turned the swank up to eleven with an assault of rhythm licks, the likes of which he rarely treats us to these days. Easing into more typical “Tweezer” territory out of the crack-like opening, the band moved steadily through a solid build-and-peak before Trey returned to the “Tweezer” lick, seemingly signifying the end of the jam. But the band moved right beyond this, oozing into a spacier, groove-laced denouement. This segment seemed, momentarily, like it was heading towards a Bill Graham-esque jam, but Trey came in with “Fluffhead” to keep the first set moving, and thus ended “Tweezer’s” summer.

8.26.12 (R.MacNeil)

It had been quite some time since Phish consistently infused “Tweezer” with creativity and original playing, but within a powerhouse second leg of Summer Tour, the band applied several of their modern sounds to their vehicle of lore. Crafting four unique versions that each possess start-to-finish playback value, Phish brought “Tweezer” back to significance in big way over Leg Two. With one version left in the year, most likely in The Big Apple, perhaps that monstrosity of a “Tweezer” that has been looming in MSG’s rafters since the band’s return will finally drop in all of its urban grit and glory. But I digress. Needless to say, among the many developments along the plot line of Leg Two, the return of “Tweezer” stood out as one of the brightest.

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Four “Tweezers” For Friday:

Bill Graham” 8.17 II, SF

FTFF

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Starlight Theatre” 8.22 II, KC

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Verizon Wireless” 8.26 II, Charlotte

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Dick’s Stadium” 9.1 I, Commerce City

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Hidden Moments Pt. II

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on August 8th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

7-7-12, SPAC (Ryan MacNeil)

Here’s a closer look at some more stellar nuggets from Leg One that might not leap off the page when perusing setlists.

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Light Up or Leave Me Alone” 6.22 I, Riverbend

This dense chunk of improv during an action packed opening half in Cincy, is the tightest conversations of the set. Foreshadowing the all-star jamming in the second set, the guys fired into a full band groove out of the last verse, and the crowd absolutely went off. Riding an infectious tempo, the band locked into a sinful groove that allowed all members to shine while the sun was still out. Though not as long as SPAC’s set-closing version, this one takes the cake for improvisational gusto.

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Harry Hood” 7.4 II, Jones Beach

Amidst an extended visit to Standardstown USA during the second half of July 4th second set, this “Harry Hood” was the only jam that got interesting. Breaking the mold of the piece, the band infused the same, calypso chord progression from the the Gorge’s “Light” of August 7, 2009, into the jam. Lending a summery vibe to the alredy-uplifting anthem, this version stood out as the best of tour.

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Suskind Hotel” 7.4 I, Jones Beach

Phish tacked a fiery jam on Mike’s “Suskind Hotel” amidst a marathon first set on July 4th. Many may have forgotten the obscure piece, as it was only the second time played on the big stage. But back in 2006, “Suskind” was a central jam vehicle for Mike, Trey, Marco Benevento, and Joe Russo’s horribly monikered, though musically impressive, GRAB project. Driving the jam into a fast paced and groovy milieu, the band exploded through the piece and ended on a dime. And when it was over, nobody was really sure what had happened—but it was good. Bring on more visits to the “Hotel.”

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If I Could” 6.7 II, Worcester

In one of the sets of the summer—filled with jams aplenty—it would be easy to gloss over the “breather.” But in this case, the guys outlandish playing from “Carini > Taste > Ghost > Boogie On” spilled right into the elusive ballad. Juicing every ounce of emotion out of the song, the guys brought the crowd to their knees with this poignant landing pad.

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Split Open and Melt” 7.8 I, SPAC

In the first set of the final show of Leg One, Phish unveiled the second “Split” of summer. While Portmouth’s version was defined by slow and drone-like textures, this version popped with far more fire and dynamic interplay. Launching into a cacaphanous and aggressive conversation, the band carved an intense journey that peaked with deranged fury. Each band member contributed to this maddening piece of improv, navigating incredibly abstract music with unreal cohesion. Within a three-night stand, some jams can be lost in the flood of music, but this “Split” should not, as it stands out and one of the strongest versions of this era.

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Hidden Moments

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on August 2nd, 2012 by Mr.Miner

6.15.2012 (Michael Stein)

In a tour filled with so many standout shows and highlight jams, there is a propensity to lose some of the less monstrous moments in the flood of musical booty. With Phish so locked this summer, even minor pieces of improv popped with a different sort of life. Below are four examples of these undercover gems.

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2001” 6.8 II, Worcester, MA

Official Worcester Print (Vogl)

When Phish broke out the first “2001” of the year inside The Centrum, the place absolutely exploded, and the band responded with one of the more impressive versions we’d heard in a while. Though Trey tickled the initial half of the jam with sparse rhythms phrases, it was after the first chorus that he kicked things into high gear. Amidst a popping and collaborative dance groove, Trey painted the music with thick James Brown teases, before working his way into a legitimate solo for the only time in “2001” this summer. With a funk-fusion sensibility, Trey tore off liquid leads that upped the entire excursion to another level. Sliding right into the final chorus on Fish’s intricate textures, Trey’s acrobatics continued in the breaks between each part of  “2001’s” theme. Hitting the apex as if shot out of a cannon, the band wouldn’t play another version quite like this over Leg One.

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Tube” 6.15 I, Atlantic City, NJ

Though “Tube” has largely been left alone this era, contributing only a couple minutes of groove to first sets, in Atlantic City, the guys nailed a version that should be recognized. Extending beyond 3.0 standards, this “Tube” possessed a perfect tempo from the jump. While Page demolished his clav, Trey dove into meaty comping patterns that set the tone for the whole band to loosen into the jam. Passing the baton to Gordon, Trey stepped back, allowing the bass to direct the next segment. Moving through several stop/start throwdowns, this “Tube”  palpably juiced the afternoon crowd in the opening set of the weekend. For the first half of tour, I started every morning—er, late afternoon—with this selection.

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Bathtub Gin” 6.19 I, Portsmouth, VA

6/19 Official Print (Spike Press)

Jedi antics aside, Phish’s first night at nTelos Pavilion didn’t feature much memorable music. In fact, the first set significantly outshone the second, and this “Bathtub Gin” is one of the reasons why. Taking a slower approach to the jam—akin to the Worcester version—Trey laid back at the onset of this conversation while the band bounced ideas off each other. As the guys, methodically, built this jam, Trey gradually emerged from the shadows. And when the latter half of the piece arrived, he took full command, showering the audience with six-string marksmanship, while leading the troops to a blistering peak. Without moving outside the box, the band engaged in airtight interplay throughout this first set standout, converging in the most cohesive jam of the night.

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Farmhouse” 7.1 II, East Troy, WI

Much like the Gorge in 2011, when Phish completed a long segment of deep, psychedelic jamming at Alpine Valley this summer, they came back to earth via “Farmhouse.” And in each instance—the song’s only appearance of the respective tours—the band’s cosmic energy spilled right into the ballad. Following “Light > Ghost > Back on the Train,” Phish unveiled an incredibly delicate take on “Farmhouse,” featuring an emotional, though minimalist, guitar solo over a sparse rhythmic backing. Mike played a counterpoint lead to Trey’s dripping melodies, and Page’s piano accompaniment provided the final layer of this introspective bliss.

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Jam of the Day:

Sand > Roggae” 6.22 II, Cincy, OH

This stellar, late-set pairing from Cincy saw both jams go off.

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The Fizzle Factor

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on August 1st, 2012 by Mr.Miner

Atlantic City 2012 (Shelly Siegal)

The only any real criticism that bubbled from the fan base over Leg One was how second sets sometimes fizzled out. Sometimes front-loading sets with the heaviest improv of the night, only to coast to the finish line with a series of out-of-place singles, Trey fell prey to this phenomenon a handful of times this summer. This is quite an odd occurrence for a bandleader who would, self-admittedly, pore over setlists for much of his career, ensuring Phish shows flowed quite well. These days, that is not necessarily guaranteed. But, let’s not overstate things. Only five shows out of 20 second sets of tour fizzled out significantly. That means that 15 finished strong, or at least with a sense of completeness. All in all, I think this issue will right itself naturally, especially looking at the percentages, but it is something worth inspecting.

6.20.12 (M. Stein)

The sets I am referencing in this discussion are AC3 (6/17), nTelos1 (6/19), Deer Creek2 (6/29), Alpine2 (7/1), Jones Beach2 (7/4), and SPAC2 (7/7). In each case except nTelos—a set that never got going—Phish played a legitimate improvisational passage to start the second half. Interestingly, however, only one of those sequences—Alpine’s “Light > Ghost”—sits among tour highlights. Does the fizzle factor come into play when the band isn’t feeling musically hooked up? The general pattern of sets that fizzled might suggest this. Let’s look a little closer.

The third night of Atlantic City kicked off with “Drowned > 2001 > Reba,” a high quality, but mostly contained, run of jams. The first night of Portsmouth was a song-based second set, with only a “Split” jam to speak of, thus its hard to say this set fizzled as there was no place to fizzle from. Phish front-loaded Deer Creek’s second night with an extensive, though unspectacular chunk of jamming in “Disease > Sand.” While this sequence wasn’t bad by any means, it didn’t pop with anything original—fun while there, but without much playback value. After “Sand,” the band quickly moved from song to song but for a brief, though interesting, “Bathtub Gin.” Alpine’s all-star set, fizzled to near-boredom with a run of “46 Days,” “Heavy Things,” “Joy,” “Julius” over the final thirty minutes. The band’s July 4th performance started with a promising sequence of “Boogie,” “Tweezer > Twist,” only to transform Singlestown USA, less “Harry Hood” for nearly an hour. SPAC’s second show started promisingly with a strong “Disease -> Blister in the Sun -> Disease,” but morphed into a novelty show of “Blister” teases in a run of standard songs.

7.8.12 (R.MacNeil)

Interestingly, sets that fizzled—as a whole—produced few pieces of timeless music. Out of the five sets above, we are left with “Light > Ghost” in the upper echelon, Jones Beach’s “Tweezer > Twist” on the second tier, “Disease > Sand” on the third tier, and contained highlights of “2001 > Reba” and “Harry Hood.” In five second sets of 2012 Phish music, that’s not that much. Perhaps this is a coincidence, or perhaps Trey has a propensity to call for singles when jamming isn’t necessarily clicking as usual? In the end, we’ll never know, but—at times—it seems a tad of forethought might go a long way in closing a show with authority.

It often feels that Phish has gone away from show-stopping set closers. Aside from the over-used “Antelope” and the occasional “David Bowie” or “Slave,” sets were prone to end with “Zero,” “Julius” or another innocuous single. Though not a huge deal in the scheme of a summer filled with riches, second set closers are the final taste of real Phish for the night, often determining the immediate post-show vibe. Encores, though occasionally significant, are as much for reorientation as anything else. The biggest change in this department has resulted from the band moving away “You Enjoy Myself” to close sets without a new replacement emerging. Though dubious, perhaps one will rise in the coming weeks, or perhaps the band will just keep playing “Antelope.” But if this is the only flaw to write about—effecting one in four shows—we’re doing pretty damn well!

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Jam of the Day: 

Carini > Sand” 7.6 II, SPAC

The heavy-hitting pairing came at the front of the second set on SPAC’s first night.

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The Songs of Summer

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on July 26th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

6.22.12 (Michael Stein)

Before this summer, Phish declared they would break out 200 songs over their tour, and when Leg One ended, the tally was already at 207. Fresh first sets became proving grounds for once-a-year rarities, old covers, and—on several occasions—legitimate bust-outs that few fans had ever heard live. Keeping setlists spicy while playing notably fewer 3.0 staples, song selection was another factor that played into Phish’s best tour of the modern era.

With so many different songs coming from every angle, repeats were never an issue this tour. Though the band kept a far tighter second set rotation than first, few people had any problems hearing four to five versions of “Disease,” “Sand,” “Light,”  “Piper,” and “Ghost.” Believe it or not, Phish played only one “Divided Sky” and one “Guyute” over 20 shows! If one had the flux capacitor he could go back six weeks and make some big money on that statistic! And the “Divided Sky” (in Portsmouth) was magnificent. By staying true to their 200-song pledge, the band didn’t have time to repeat copious filler songs, giving the contour of tour a far fresher feel throughout.

6.23.12 (M.Stein)

The term “bust-out” has become a bit overused these days. When Phish plays a song that consistently appears once or twice a year—like “The Wedge” or “Contact”— it’s not a bust-out. But when the band opens up a show with a song they haven’t played since 1988—as they did at Jones Beach with “Skin It Back,” well—“That’s a bust out!” (In my best Crocodile Dundee voice.) In fact, the appearance of the Little Feat cover for the first time in 1,417 shows made it the “largest” bust out of all-time! And to celebrate the occasion, the guys stretched out the blues-funk number into a legitimate jam in what has to be considered one of the most significant openers of all time. Later in the very same set, Phish dusted off The Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” for the first time since their 1994 Halloween performance of The White Album! The third-longest gap between song versions came in Cincinnati, when the band took “Shaggy Dog” off the shelf for the first time October ’95, and only the third time since ’88! Practiced and polished, the once-extinct, old-school ditty rolled off the stage like it was in rotation. Contrary to the past few years, when Phish played rarities this summer, more often than not, they nailed them.

6.22.12 (M.Stein)

In addition to the aforementioned trifecta, the band also threw down three 3.0 debuts in “Shafty,” “Dog Log,” and “La Grange,” a threesome of the most sign-requested songs, for the first time since ’03, ‘03 and ’99, respectively. Fishman also broke out a few modern-era debuts of his own, performing “Purple Rain” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” for the first time since ’99.  Also making their first appearance in some time were several Velvet Underground songs off Loaded, all played during a second half of tour that sometimes felt like an homage to Lou Reed’s protopunk outfit. In addition to playing “Cool it Down” and “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” for the first time in over a year, the guys dropped the only versions of “Sweet Jane” and “Head Held High” since Halloween ’98. Both of these tunes were given the treatment, as Trey took a spirited and extended solo in each. Needless to say, Phish played some bust outs this summer!

Beyond all the first set variation, second sets never stagnated either. Diversifying their launchpads at just the right time, the band began jamming on songs like “Twist” and “Ghost” for the first time in ages, while adding “Golden Age” and “Back on the Train ” to second sets as a legitimate springboards. Phish also threw down several tour highlights with one-off jams, such as Worcester’s “Roses Are Free,” Deer Creek’s “Waves,” and Alpine’s “Fee.” Additionally, the band took new approaches on so many jam they encountered. No longer did “Bathtub Gin” have the same ten-minute path. The band  played beefier, more intense versions of “Ocelot.” “Carini” was totally unpredictable, producing different results each time out. A couple “Hoods” and “Antelopes” even contained enhanced interplay. Revitalized and recharged, Phish came out this summer with the intention to shake things up.

6.28.12 (M.Stein)

If one was on tour last month chasing a particular song, odds are he caught it. Leg One of Summer 2012 featured the widest song selection of any tour in history, while only on occasion feeling like an attempt to do so. Towards the end of tour, some first sets felt as though band was playing rarities for the sake of song count (see Alpine 1 or Jones Beach2), but most of the band’s elusive selections shrewdly fit within the context of their shows. Concerts, regardless of how improvisational in nature, are composed of songs. And aside from fizzling out of some second sets—which is another topic for another day—the band used strategic song selection to bolster their shows all tour long, transforming their eternally debated setlists into assets more often than not.

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Jam of the Day:

Roses Are Free” 6.8 I, Worcester

One of tour’s first shocking surprises.

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“Shakedown” 6.16.12 – AC (Steve Lehrman)

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The Brightest Stars of Summer

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on July 16th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

(Dan Shinneman)

Though many different songs took center stage throughout Leg One, the following four jams were undeniably the brightest stars of summer. While “Light,” “Ghost,” and “Golden Age” consistently forged innovative paths, “Sand” consistently brought down the house. Let’s take a closer look at the four improvisational pillars of Phish’s opening run of 2012.

“Light”

The signature jam of the modern era continued to grow expand this summer, as every version provided a totally unique take on the ever-changing jam. Beginning in AC with a hard-edged groove mashup with “Manteca,” and continuing with Star Lake’s new-school venture into a plinko paradise, Phish pushed improvisational boundaries with “Light” each time it hit the stage. At Alpine Valley, Phish wove a minimalist, melody-driven and ethereal tale that transformed into one of the more cerebral highlights of tour. And in their tour finale st SPAC, the guys took the jam for one last joyride, landing in a stunning melodic theme. Sculpting a tour highlight each time they played the song—less a standard run through at Bonnaroo—the boys put “Light” in strong position inb the MVP race. But its main competition would come from a revival story.

 “Ghost”

6.30.12 (K.Harris)

Resurrecting “Ghost” from the dead, Phish revitalized their late-‘90s jam vehicle in profound fashion this summer. For the most part, modern-era “Ghosts” had remained a springboard into groove or guitar-led jamming, but rarely a launch into full-band exploration. That all changed on the opening night of tour with a seductively, laid-back rendition that saw the band forge original ground with the tune for the first time in ages. Remaining in the background due to its location at the beginning of tour, it deserves a rightful place at the table with any summer versions.  Then came Blossom. Emerging from a standout “Golden Age,” “Ghost” settled into a sinister full-band groove before moving into the abstract on the backs of Fishman and Trey. Getting into a very creative, drone-like pattern, the band was now infusing totally fresh ideas into “Ghost.” And speaking of new ideas, out of a new-age, synth ending of “Light,” came the Alpine “Ghost.” With virtually no time in conventional realms, the band moved into a “live-tronica” sequence that knocked down yet another music door before slithering into a slow musical dungeon. The band also showcased “Ghost” in, arguably, the set of the summer, once again rising from the depths of a jam—this time, “Sneakin’ Sally.” Carving out a stunning version that spent zero time vamping, Phish used one-minded interplay to sculpt a quasi-ambient jam that covered all sorts of ground before a cathartic arrival. Easily the comeback player of the tour, the only question is whether “Ghost” brings home one trophy or two.

 ”Golden Age”

7.3.12 (S.Lehrman)

In 2012, the band finally decided to settle on “Golden Age” as a jam vehicle. After a demented pinko foray at Super Ball, 2011 only saw the cover come off the shelf as late-set filler. But that all changed this tour. When the song’s first summer outing fused into “2001” at Bonnaroo, the guys found a go-to combo that would come out twice more over the rest of the run. At Blossom, however, when breaking “Golden Age” to open the second set, they stretched it out far more significantly. Following an super slick rhythm sequence, Trey initiated a more intricate groove in which Fish followed right along, soon blossoming into a deep space sound sculpture. Alpine’s version featured delicate textures and plinko theatrics before smoothly moving into “2001.” Jones Beach’s version, however, may be the most complete of tour. Migrating from throw-down funk into a percussive palette, and gradually into a slowed down piece of Floydian psych-rock, Phish jammed this one to absolute completion. Entering a totally different style of music altogether, Jones Beach gets my nod out of the several of tour. Ending with a brief version at SPAC that, again, segued into “2001,” the band capped a run of standout jams from their modern era cover.

“Sand”

7.8.12 (R.MacNeil)

“Sand” has become the Phish’s preeminent launch pad to crack-like grooves. Filled with whole-band, rhythmic passion, each time the guys seeped into the millennial-era jam, everyone knew they were in for a treat. Kicking off the tour with, arguably, the most dynamic version of 2012, the band cranked through eight of the densest minutes of music you’ll ever hear. Laced with melody and evoking the sound of late-’70s Dead, the band annihilated a piece that segued seamlessly into the bluegrass juxtaposition of “Nellie Kane.” AC’s late-set version also popped out of the usual groove, and growled with a bit more guitar-focus than those sandwiching it. Cincy’s late-set version was in the dance floor, melodic variety of Worcester’s and segued smoothly into “Roggae.” But Deer Creek’s “Sand” was far more extended with outstanding—and stylistically diverse—guitar narration from Trey throughout. Jones Beach’s July 3rd version built into a second, consecutive multi-tiered scorcher that touched on several variant textures before landing in a plinkofied, looped out segment that brought them into “Golden Age.” The final version of tour came our of a gnarling “Carini” at SPAC and became the third spotlight version in a row that moved through several distinct segments of lockstep jamming.

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Jam of the Day:

Light -> Ghost” 7.1, East Troy, WI

Summer’s two heaviest hitters wrapped into one staggering sequence from Alpine.

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The Final Four of Phish

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags on March 21st, 2012 by Mr.Miner

Trey is My Friend Hosts "The Phinal Phour"

The battle lines have been drawn, the regionals are over, and we have made it to the end of the line—the Final Four! After some hard fought battles in the Elite Eight, the people have spoken and the cream has risen to the top. The first semifinal of 2012 will pit two vehicles of groove—#1 seed “Tweezer” against another #1 seed “Reba.” The second semifinal will see the tournaments overall top seed and Phish’s seminal opus, #1 “You Enjoy Myself” battle against the band’s sacred hymn and #2 seed, “Harry Hood.” Below are recaps of the Elite Eight games and previews of the two monster match-ups to come. Thanks to Trey is My Friend for such a great idea and a well run tourney!

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(1) “You Enjoy Myself” def. (3) “Antelope”— 625-338

In the west regional final, the size and defense of the tournaments’ top seed, “You Enjoy Myself,” held off the run-and-gun offense of an upstart “Antelope” squad who had their eyes on the big upset. The game stayed close for the first half as “Antelope’s” pesky quickness caused several turnovers that led to easy baskets. But the second half was another story. Spreading their feared zone defense, “You Enjoy Myself” took away the long ball by smothering the three-point line, while their help side defense was quick to collapse when the ball was passed inside. This took away “Antelope’s” advantage and led to an easy victory by the sizable voting gap of 625 to 338.

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 (1) “Tweezer” def. (3) “Ghost”— 566-369

The East final matched two esteemed launch pads—“Tweezer” and “Ghost.” Dark, exploratory, and funky as hell are adjectives that describe this ferocious battle. Taking the game into the outer regions of psychedelic debauchery, “Tweezer” and “Ghost” played a contest that was not for the faint-hearted. Featuring a continuous highlight reel of ally-oops, fast breaks, and groove-based basketball, both teams were feeling the flow in this game. Like the West’s match-up however, “Tweezer” just proved to be too much for the late-‘90s funk staple, and “Ghost’s” offensive prowess disappeared into the night with ten minutes to play. “Tweezer’s” experience—having played the game in every way possible—proved to be one of the crucial factors of this contest, as “Ghost” looked like a discouraged JV squad by the end. Though this was the marquee match-up of the Elite Eight, did anyone ever have any doubt about the result?

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(1) “Reba” def. (2) “Bathtub Gin”— 559-449

“Reba” was the third #1 seed to make it into the Final Four, illustrating the accuracy of the tournament’s seeding committee. Phish’s classic fugue-turned blissful groove outclassed “Bathtub Gin” in a notably upbeat game—a far cry from the demonic basketball on display in the East final. “Gin” tried to knock “Reba” off its uplifting path by applying full-court pressure early and often. Making a second-half spurt with some powerful rhythm licks and ball movement “Gin” looked as if they it might overcome the narrow deficit. But “Reba” was able to answer back, winning the closest regional final by a tally of 559-449 to reach the Final Four.

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(2) “Harry Hood” def. (1) “Down With Disease”— 596-365

“Harry Hood” put on a ball control clinic in the South regional final, dictating a slower pace of game and taking the break-neck #1 seed “Down With Disease” completely out of rhythm. “Disease,” known for its off the rails adventure, was never able to get things going as the meticulous back door cuts and methodical passing of “Hood” lulled them to sleep. A This match-up featured the archetypal battle between a song that holds an unmatchable place in the Phish pantheon versus a more modern classic with limitless jam potential. And tradition won out over improv as #2 “Harry Hood” put a trouncing on “Disease” by the score of 596-365. As “Hood” moves into the semifinals, “Disease’s” fight song has never seemed more appropriate, for now is the time the team members can finally say, “This has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way.”

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FINAL FOUR PREVIEWS:

(1) “Tweezer” vs. (1) “Reba”

If I had to pick two songs to hear at any given concert, these would be the two. This national semi-final pits two diverse vehicles of groove against each other. With “Tweezer” favoring darkness and mystery and “Reba” leaning towards bliss and towering glory, this match-up is one for the ages. Both of these songs have similar game experience, but “Tweezer” more readily adapts to different styles of games, while “Reba” is a fairly one-dimensional, though formidable, squad. Able to shoot threes that tickle the next from anywhere on the floor, “Reba” will have to rely on their marksmanship to counteract “Tweezer’s” intimidating and imposing front line. While this should be a very entertaining game to watch, I think “Tweezer” has a spot in the championship locked up.

PREDICTION: “Tweezer”

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(1) “You Enjoy Myself” vs. (2) “Harry Hood”

Perhaps the two most revered songs in the band’s catalog will square off in the second national semifinal. Both “YEM” and “Hood” touch the very soul of Phish, featuring multi-part compositions that release into jams that have a character all their own. “Harry Hood” is carrying momentum after knocking off “Disease” with a particularly intense last few minutes of play, while every analyst has picked “YEM” to be in the championship from Selection Sunday. Could an upset be brewing? Many fans have been touched by “Harry Hood’s” ethereal and heart-tugging jams, and the emotional connection many have to the song could put it over the edge. While the band’s signature piece, “You Enjoy Myself” hasn’t held as much significance in this era, its history and experience is unmatched by any team in the tournament. It’s lack of a routine rotation spot as of late could hurt “YEM” against a song that has never rested much since it’s 1985 debut. Though I’ll be casting my vote for “Harry Hood,” I think “YEM” will win in a barnburner.

PREDICTION: “You Enjoy Myself”

 

VOTE FOR THE NATIONAL SEMIFINALS NOW @ TREY IS MY FRIEND!

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PHILLY PHISH EVENT- TONIGHT!

3/21/1992 Twenty Years Later: A Night to Celebrate the Phish

1992

March 21, 1992 at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia was a typical ’92 smoker! Secret language all over the place, that ’92 energy rippling through the room, and a”YEM” complete with a “Three Blind Mice” vocal jam reared its lumpy head. Tonight, The Blockley in Philadelphia would like to invite everyone to come and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the one and only time Phish graced our West Philadelphia stage! There will be 1/2 priced drafts until 10 PM and “Lot-Tails” such as Reba’s Toxic Purple Paste, the Makisupa Swizzle, Piper’s Sour (complete with worms!), and Bathtub Gin Punch…You in the Eye! Phish Quizzo/Happy Hour will start around 8 PM and 3/21/92 will begin playing over the PA around 9:30. Throughout the night there will be giveaways (think 3-day Bader Field Pass and other Phish goodies), surprise jams, DVD footage, related videography, and a Phan-friendly food menu, taboot! Look for Mike the Rager behind the bar in his magical vest! Come on down, and feel the feeling you forgot!

When: Tonight!—Wednesday 3/21/2012 @ 8 PM

Where: The Blockley, 38th and Chestnut, Philadelphia, PA

Why: An Asteroid Crashed, and nothing burned!

Check out The Blockley on Facebook!

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Jam of the Day:

David Bowie” 3.21.92 II, Philadelphia, PA

Twenty years ago, today, Phish dropped this “David Bowie” in the middle of the second set.

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