The State of the Game

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on September 3rd, 2013 by Mr.Miner
8.30.13 (Jake Silco)

8.30.13 (Jake Silco)

Phish came out on Saturday night at Dick’s and played their most impressive show of 2013. Rivaled only by the Gorge’s second night, Saturday featured the most innovative, forward looking music of the season as the band tore part the second set with jaw dropping improvisation. Anchored by Jon Fishman—the unquestionable star of the show and the weekend—and his inhuman breakbeats Phish carved brand new sonic pathways in the year’s most creative jam—a 23-minute odyssey out of “Chalk Dust Torture.” And then the train just kept chugging along. Blasting into “Light” and, later, a surprise, late-set “Tweezer” that popped with aural ambrosia, Phish never relented throughout the second set, leaving a wake of fire in their trail. I had the feeling one of Dick’s s performances would wind up in the top slot of summer, and Saturday night was most definitely that show.

8/31 Official (K.Taylor)

8/31 Official (K.Taylor)

Before getting to the otherworldly second half, the first deserves some discussion. Relatively thin on jamming, Saturday’s opening frame was, nonetheless, high on energy, favoring uptempo selections throughout. Songs that shined included “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Antelope,” while the rarities of “Buried Alive” and “Fee” surfaced as well, together forming a very solid 90-minute opening set. The band must have been feeling good, because after setbreak, they would throw down their defining jam of the year.

A “Chalk Dust” second set opener can go it two ways: a short rocker to kick things off or a monumental open jam. This version was the latter. Steeped in virtuoso improv, “Chalk Dust” flowed through at least four different mini-jams with notable fluidity, crafting an unparalleled modern epic. Moving from a blissful, melody-based opening to the darkest, fastest drum and bass music we’ve heard since the post-hiatus era, Phish showcased the full spectrum of their abilities—and that was just the first half of the jam! The communication between the band members was shockingly tight and precise given the jam’s breakneck tempo, and—boy—did Jon Fishman shine throughout. Giving his best performance in a year where he has routinely stood out, Fish upped the level of the entire band within this jam and throughout this entire show. After exploring a futuristic, quasi-electronic realm, the band migrated into a chord progression that strongly suggested a segue into “Light.” However, after dancing around the song’s chords for a period of time, they, instead, slipped into a mini-“Manteca” jam before ending “Chalk Dust” with some intentional stops and starts that induced some enthusiastic crowd “Woos.” Honestly, I think this is the jam of the year. While Tahoe’s “Tweezer” was far longer, this jam contains the most original and innovative music dropped by Phish this season. Tahoe’s “Tweezer” consists of many themes pieced together, all which sound like Phish. Denver’s “Chalk Dust” contains a more vicious flow from start to finish while containing groundbreaking music that pushes the boundaries of Phish universe. In the end, there is no need to compare the two, but I felt I needed to if I was claiming “Chalk Dust” to be the jam of the year. In the end, this “Chalk Dust” raised the state of the game to an entirely new level, foreshadowing mind-bending possibilities for fall tour.

8.30.13 (Jake Silco)

8.30.13 (Jake Silco)

One might think after such an extended exercise, the band would follow with a breather. But on this night, they moved directly into their most prolific modern jam vehicle, “Light.” The intense, laser-focused interplay of “Chalk Dust” spilled right into “Light” as the band crafted a short, but densely packed piece. Fishman stayed behind the wheel as the band followed his lead en route to a fast paced, immensely creative passage.

All summer Trey has used “46 Days” as a landing point for profound voyages, and he made the same decision on Saturday by settling the set’s initial 30 minutes of jamming into the blues rock anthem. Shying from a funked out ending like the other versions of summer, Trey, instead, elected to use both “Steam” and “Free” as a slow funk release valve for the raucous intensity that defined the opening half of the set. “Steam” entered some slithery textures before the band moved into “Free,” which got a little extra loving of its own. These two songs paired to form a mid-set groove session before the final third of the frame unfolded.

8.30.13 (Graham Lucas)

8.30.13 (Graham Lucas)

When Phish revved up “2001” late in the set, I felt a “You Enjoy Myself” coming out of it to end the set on a celebratory note. But much to my surprise, Trey kept his delay loop going at the peak of the jam and he laid down the opening lick to “Tweezer!”  Hello!! With a move that took most everyone by surprise, this set was about to get a hell of a lot better—and boy did it! Once again following the infectious rhythms of the Greasy Troll, the band threw down a cathartic version of “Tweezer” that absolutely brought the house down. Moving with an urgency through several different feels from the uplifting to the thick groove, the band absolutely slayed the song’s first rendition since Tahoe, peaking the show with absolute ferocity. When I re-spun this “Tweezer,” it was even more impressive than I remembered live—a certain keeper and the perfect way to cap this set.

The band ended with a relatively conventional run through “Number Line,” allowing everyone a moment to catch their breaths and find their marbles after quite the night of music. When Trey came out for his encore, he spoke of how much fun they had this summer and how much they are looking forward to their first fall tour in three years. The band then played Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” a move that conveyed ultimate enthusiasm for their current endeavors. And when they ended with “Tweezer Reprise” everything felt perfect in the world. Apparently Phish loves the last day of August, as each of the last two shows on that date have elevated in full. When this night ended, one got the sense that this performance was what we came for. Sunday would undoubtedly be great, but Saturday was IT. And damn, was it good.

I: Buried Alive, AC/DC Bag, Wolfman’s Brother, Yarmouth Road, Fee, Halfway to the Moon, The Wedge, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Bouncing Around the Room, Mound, Gumbo, Run Like an Antelope

II: Chalk Dust Torture, Light -> 46 Days > Steam -> Free, Joy, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Tweezer > Backwards Down the Number Line

E: On the Road Again* > Tweezer Reprise

*debut

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Are You Ready for Summer?!

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on June 24th, 2013 by Mr.Miner
12.28.12, MSG (G.Lucas)

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

With only a little over a week left before Bangor’s opener, the anticipation of the band’s 30th Anniversary Summer Tour is beginning to reach a fever pitch. It will have been been the longest off season in the band’s history—outlasting ’99’s drought by four days—when the band takes the stage in Maine, and fans are feeling the excitement across the country. In only nine days, the long and winding road of Summer 2013 will begin, and this week we start with a series of Summer Tour-based articles. Today I present my five wishes (in no particular order) for Phish’s upcoming month on the road.

1. New MaterialTrey has confirmed that the band is collaboratively writing a new album, though it doesn’t sound like it will be done before tour. Phish, very often, have debuted new songs in the live setting before they have come out on an album, so if any tracks have been completed, we might be hearing them come next week. Regardless of what new songs they feature, be them originals, side project contributions, or covers, I can’t remember a time in the band’s career when they were so glaringly in need of new material. Hopefully we’ll see some debuts in Bangor and SPAC, as the guys tend to drop fresh music at the front end of tour.

8.15.12 (Sam Heller)

8.15.12 (Sam Heller)

2. Continued Improvisational TrajectoryAnyone who has been paying attention to Phish for the past few years has to be on the edge of their seat with anticipation of what this Summer Tour will hold. The last seven shows—Dick’s and MSG—have produced the most astounding music of 3.0. Many fans were a tad apprehensive heading into MSG, concerned that Dick’s would be an outlier in the band’s improvisational course. The jams in Colorado were both emotionally powerful and technically complex; a retro run with a distinctly new-school vibe. Any doubts about this were erased, however, with 12/28’s “Tweezer”—another instant classic. All of a sudden, Phish was reliably excellent again! Though 3.0 has been an amazing ride, consistency hasn’t exactly been their strong suit. But after witnessing the level of jamming we heard in Colorado during the first show in New York, we realized the paradigm was shifting. Despite a throwaway on the 29th, the band followed up with a couple more of the year’s most impressive jams in 12/30’s “Disease” and “Carini,” and sealed the deal with an underrated “Ghost” on New Year’s Eve. If my calculations are correct, Phish should come out in Bangor ready to let things loose with more wide open, multi-tiered adventures. The band has improved considerably with each and every tour of this era, and assuming that trend continues, things are gonna get really, really interesting on Phish tour next month!

The Ocedoc (Phish FB)

The Ocedoc (Phish FB)

3. The Ocedoc—During this winter’s TAB tour, Trey primarily played his old Languedoc (the Ocedoc was nowhere to be seen). Just the other day, Phish tweeted a picture of his guitar tech setting up his rig with Trey’s old guitar in the shot. This combination has gotten some folks wondering if Trey will be using his former axe for Phish this summer as well. In all probability he will travel with both, but I—for one—hope he doesn’t leave his new six-string wonder child sitting at the back of the stage. As soon a Trey debuted the Ocedoc at the Greek in 2010, the enhanced sound and dynamic of his new instrument was obvious. He confirmed what everyone was hearing at the end of the first show when he introduced his “magic guitar.” The tone and clarity of the Ocedoc is unparalleled, and, in my opinion, was a huge improvement over anything he’s played before. Let’s hope Trey hasn’t changed his mind about his new axe, and the Ocedoc remains his central guitar this tour.

4. A Shift/Diversification in Jam VehiclesI realize that beggars can’t be choosers,  but this is a wish list, so here’s my wish. Throughout this era, Phish has grown more predictable than ever. That takes nothing away from the quality of their playing, but for anyone paying attention to their patterns, few things come as surprises in the live show anymore. Inevitably, the biggest jam of any given night will stem from “Disease,” “Light,” “Piper,” “Rock and Roll” “Sand,” “Tweezer” or “Ghost.” “Carini” and “Sally” provide wild card platforms, and occasionally the band will expand a cover like “Crosseyed” or “Drowned.” But what gives at some point? What about everything else? Just as the band adopted big staple jams from their former Halloween albums, why haven’t they brought one aboard from Exile and Waiting for Columbus—that’s a whopping 4 records to choose from! Wouldn’t it be fun for them to jams songs they have never jammed—or haven’t jammed often (or at all) this era? I gotta believe it would be. Think of “Yamar,” “Cities,” “The Wedge,” “Waves,” “Pebbles and Marbles,” “Seven Below,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” “Halley’s Comet,” “Free,” “2001,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Gumbo,” “Mike’s Song.” Let’s get songs like “Bathtub Gin,” “Simple,” “Reba, and ‘Wolfman’s” back into creative space. I’m not sure what’s holding the band back from jamming most of their catalog. Perhaps they don’t think people care that much any more? Someone should let them know that we do.

6/20/04 Setlist (Coventry Blog)

6/20/04 (Coventry Blog)

5. Complete ShowsThroughout the modern era, Phish’s musical high points mostly exist as jams, jam sequences, or segments of shows. Occasionally, the band will keep things focused and on point for an entire set and even less often, for an entire show. I’m sure this is a facet of their age and stamina as much as anything else, but it sure would be great to see them put a bit more forethought into their setlists and play start-to-finish performances. They don’t have to spell something with their song titles to make a great show, but a basic road map could greatly assist the cause, as Trey’s ability to call shows from the hip has flown by the wayside. On the rare occasion that Phish does play two smoking sets (see 8/31/12) we react as if the heavens parted and we were bestowed with a miracle. It didn’t used to take divine intervention for the band to put together two tight frames of music, and I honestly don’t think it takes much more than a bit of planning and focus. Hopefully, to celebrate their 30th year together, the guys will come to ready to play from note one through the end of each night this summer, and we will be left with a bunch of shows we can throw on the system years from now and just let roll without having to fast-forward the lulls.

What are your wishes for this Summer? Respond to @mrminer on Twitter with the hashtag #SummerWishes so everyone can follow the responses. And, of course, share your ideas in the comments section below!

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Winged-music-noteJam of the Day:

Light > Ghost” 7.1.12 II, Alpine Valley, IN

One of the high points of Leg One 2012.

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Summer Musings

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on March 12th, 2013 by Mr.Miner
PhishSummer2013Header

Summer Tour 2013

There’s nothing like a fresh set of dates. Despite the accuracy of the rumors you had the previous week, once he band posts their schedule, the time between now and then is posted on a virtual countdown timer that we all carry with us to some degree. Whether you are planning on hitting every show or just a few, downloading every show or hearing them when you do, the infusion of new Phish music douses our collective consciousness with vitality and life force. When dates drop, all of this gets brought to the surface again and everything gets jacked up for a few minutes or a few hours, depending who we are, in anticipation of what is to come. And this year the band has changed it up.

Instead of splitting up their summer into a two-pronged attack, Phish’s first tour of their 30th year is a month-long stretch spanning both coasts and evoking the feel of a late ‘90s summer circuit. Starting in Maine and finishing in Los Angeles, the band will play 22 shows with a 3-day encore in Colorado over Labor Day Weekend. I’d go over all the venues one by one, but Hidden Track has got that covered. What immediately stands out to me upon looking at the docket is the plentitude of multi-night runs and the long-overdue, west coast love. Making things easy for travelers, all but five shows are in the context of multi-night runs. And with all due respect to the east coast, 3.0 mainstays such as Jones Beach, Merriweather and Alpharetta, the golden stretch of this summer runs down the left coast for a change.

The Gorge '09 (W.Rogell)

The Gorge ’09 (Wendy Rogell)

To cap their month of touring, Phish will fly from Chicago to Washington State for 13th and 14th shows at The Gorge, and their the fifth and sixth of the modern era. Since 1997, every time the band has ventured into the Columbia River Gorge they have reaped some of their most creative exploits of their respective tours. There’s nothing quite like seeing Phish at The Gorge, and who knows how many more times they will go back? Taking two days off the band will hit up Lake Tahoe for a mid-week twin bill. Although the venue at Harvey’s amounts to a parking lot, being in the mountains for the other 20 hours of the day will provide quite the worthy tour stop. The band’s 8/9/11 show at Harvey’s remains one of the universally underrated shows of this era. The band will head back to the Bay and back to Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for a late summer three-pack that looks to be quite the end-of-tour blowout. With a standout show under their belt in the building, the band returns almost a year to 8/19/12 for three more shows that are in prime position. Instead of playing the intimate arena at the beginning of a tour, the band should come in a well-oiled machine—see Dick’s last year. Phish will hop down to LA and close their tour with one show at Hollywood Bowl. Marking their second show under the visually electric shell, the band will play a one-off show in the glitzy surroundings of the music industry’s epicenter.

As an encore to the tour, the band will play their annual, end-of-summer date at everyone’s favorite soccer stadium in Commerce City, Colorado—a stand-alone, three-night run at Dick’s over Labor Day Weekend. The band’s first two stands at Dick’s have provided some of the strongest music of their respective summers, and I see no reason why that trend would stop now. With a month to go deep, the band will showcase what they found over the course of the season in the Rockies of Denver. The thinner summer schedule suggests the fall tour that everybody assumes is right around the corner, but one thing at a time here.

8.19.2012 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (Ken Scelfo)

8.19.2012 – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (Ken Scelfo)

Two other runs that jump out at me are the opening weekend and Chicago. The the obscure tour-opener on July 3 in Bangor, Maine is a no-brainer must-see show. Nothing else needs to be said about that. With one day off, the band will back that up with a three pack at SPAC over the holiday weekend. This run has throwback written all over it, and Bangor’s date is reminiscent of The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, ME on July 3, 1994. The second attention-grabbing destination shows are in Chicago over the second weekend of July. Taking place at Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island looking back at the city, this venue will be a first for Phish, but I’ve only heard great things.

Additionally, Phish will dip into Canada right after SPAC to good ‘ol Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, the site of two shows in ’99 and ’00, for the first time since 2000. It is good to see them return to the over-sized GA floor at Alpharetta and leave Lakewood a fixture of the ‘90s. This month-long jaunt is rounded out with routine tour stops at PNC, Jones Beach and two nights at Merriweather.

Tickets requests are available now for just under two weeks. More on the tour as things get closer. Good luck in the lottery and take the brief Summer Tour Poll below.

7/3 Bangor Waterfront Pavilion – Bangor, Maine
7/5-7/7 Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, New York
7/9 Molson Amphitheatre – Toronto, Ontario
7/10 PNC Bank Arts Center – Holmdel, New Jersey
7/12 Nikon at Jones Beach Theater – Wantagh, New York
7/13-14 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, Maryland
7/16-17 Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre – Alpharetta, Georgia
7/19-21 Northerly Island – Chicago, Illinois
7/26-27 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, Washington
7/30-31 Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys – Stateline, Nevada
8/2-4 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, California
8/5 Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, California
8/30-9/1 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, Colorado

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