The Only Rule Is It Begins

Hartford (T.Salido)

The Gorge - 8.7.09 (A.Headington)

In a powerful final stanza of summer tour, Phish played a second set at SPAC that showcased some of their newest and oldest songs, weaving together their past and future in a musical tapestry.  Leaving us with one last summer memento, and reminding us that the current state of the Phish is one of pure joy, the band drew from the full spectrum of their bag of tricks.  From a masterful twenty-minute psychedelic exploration and a seamless segue, to a Summer ’09 anthem and an always-elusive bust-out, the band’s full repertoire was on display in summer tour’s closing show.

SPAC (D.Perrucci)

SPAC - 8.16.09 (D.Perrucci)

Following a musical dip in the road at Merriweather Post, Phish stepped up their game for the final night at SPAC, providing a triumphant conclusion to their tour.  Coming onstage shortly after a torrential thunder-shower drenched a good portion of the uncovered audience, the band opened with the roaring bust-out of “Llama,” instantly juicing the crowd before slowing things down with the laid- back “Moma Dance.”  A engaging combination, the two opening songs existed at opposite ends of Phish’s musical spectrum reached out to their diverse fan base right off the bat.  But after this bombastic opening, the set seemed to drag for a bit, featuring a string of songs that didn’t exactly pop.  The exception was a stirring rendition of Round Room’s “Anything But Me” in which the band showed ultimate control, painting a powerfully emotive picture with the introspective ballad.

Hartford (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

The extensive first set picked up the energy with a mid-set “David Bowie” that, while solid, didn’t compare to Darien’s blistering version of three days earlier.  Yet the first set highlight came in the late set menagerie of the “Poscelope!”  Merging three of their animal-named songs to close the set, Phish played a bumping “Possum” that finalized a portfolio’s worth of versions played this summer.  Ironically, my friends and I had been joking about the “Ocelope” combo since the song’s debut at Fenway, and on the last night of tour, our inside joke came to fruition on stage as the high point of the first set.

Stretching out “Ocelot” time it comes out to play, Phish sat into another jam session in the affable song.  And to the same musical degree that Ocelot is laid back, Antelope is not- providing a starkly-contrasting couplet that ended the set just as it began.  Both versions were legitimate, if not extended, versions that punctuated the set with a bang.  “Ocelot” followed its now-established bluesy path, turning into a well-phrased, guitar-led piece of improv.  A smooth “Antelope” closed the set with a relaxed and dancy vibe- more reminiscent of the west coast renditions than Darien’s scorching second-setter.

Merriweather (J.Arthur)

Merriweather (J.Arthur)

After the first half ended, there was definitely a sense that it was a tone-setter for something bigger to unfold in set two; and it most certainly did.  In a fitting decision, the band opened their last second set with “Backwards Down the Number Line”- the first new-school Phish song, which carries a thematic significance for this chapter of the band’s career.  Tom Marshall’s birthday poem to Trey about old friends reuniting has grown in stature from it’s Hampton debut to its emergence as an improvisational vehicle over the past couple weeks.  But last night’s version was a different monster all together- generating a supremely psychedelic excursion that provided not a standout summer highlight, but a preview of what is to come from Phish 3.0’s theme song.  Building the jam into some extra-terrestrial territory, Phish unfolded their final- and arguably their greatest- creative jam of of the summer.  A piece that continued deepening into the musical ether as it progressed, there were more than a few spine tingling segments throughout.  Completely fluid and one of the indelible memories from tour’s last weekend, this “Number Line” segued seductively from its concluding ambiance into “Twenty Years Later,” creating a set-opening suite of their newest material.  Breaking out their rarely-played new song, its placement was impeccable and the performance foreshadowed what could turn into a heavy jam come Fall.

SPAC (D.Vann)

SPAC (D.Vann)

As Phish concluded their escapade through their- soon-to-be-released music, they delved into their earliest archives with a mid-set “Halley’s.”  Based on the infectious energy of the show, it seemed like Phish would finally settle-into a looser, funk-based version of their college classic, but when the musical fork in the road divided, Trey ripped into a brief guitar solo before quickly switching to “Rock and Roll.”  Used in the old-school vein as opposes to as a jam, “Halley’s” nonetheless upped the adrenaline of the entire audience before spilling into one of Summer ’09’s standout songs.  In tour-closing shows, Phish often showcases their successful pieces of that particular tour, and this summer, the Velvet Underground cover certainly fit the bill.  After sparking Bonnaroo’s second set with one of June’s more interesting jams, the song expanded into a second leg highlight with a dose of heftier improv at Red Rocks and one of the summer’s defining pieces at The Gorge.  A certain nod to the song’s significant place in their tour, Phish once again leapt into the fray- locked and loaded- with dense and fiery playing.  Trey undertook some inspired leads that pushed the song out of its comfort zone into more collective improv.  Rooted to the songs quicker tempo, however, Phish explored the given textures without creating wholly new ones.

"I Kissed A Girl" (D.Perrucci)

"I Kissed A Girl" (D.Perrucci)

Sustaining the jam’s sonic residue, the band took a minute before stunning the New York audience with a last-set-of-tour appearance of “Harpua.”  Only days after playing “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” and “Icculus” in Hartford, Phish reached back into their early-history, un-shelving the ultimate bust-out and the “ever-evolving” saga of Jimmy.  Recounting a low point in Jimmy’s live, Trey told the story of how Jimmy discovered his Fishman-eqsue “spirit guide,” who floated in through his window to give him life guidance, delivering the “great truth of all time.”  At this point, Fishman came front and center for a cow-like rendition of Katy Perry’s global top-40 smash-hit, “I Kissed a Girl.”  The bizarre Fishman interlude seemed less than congruent within the flow of the set, but in the zany context of “Harpua,” anything is fair game.  As they entered the final segments of the song, the band was both physically and musically animated as they performed Jimmy’s fateful conversation with his dad and moved into the song’s ragtime ending.  It was warming to see Phish bask in their old-school wackiness again, something that was so noticeably absent from the post-hiatus years.

Official SPAC Poster

And to cap the tour, one last run through “You Enjoy Myself” after Hartford’s comedic, but musically-minimalist show closer.  The moment seemed right for a tour-ending “Mike’s Groove,” but nobody can scoff at a celebratory blowout of the band’s seminal piece.  Fitting in every sense of the word, Phish finished their summer comeback where it all began- with the song that Trey offered up a gonad to play five times a day for the rest of his life while coming to his post-rehab realization that Phish is IT.  The feel-good dance-session hit the spot, putting an exclamation point on a summer of dreams.

Who knew that on the thirteen-year anniversary of The Clifford Ball, Phish would be we at this point of re-evolution?  Over the course of one tour, broken into two legs, Phish has redefined themselves and the possibilities for their future- and to be honest, things have never looked brighter.  Engaging in their best playing in so many years, the universe now holds no barriers for how our musical super-heroes; and so many lives, souls, and imaginations have been revitalized in a summer where inspiration and mystery seemed to lurk around every musical corner.  Though it took a little while, things are finally back on course for the Phish from Vermont, and we are all blessed to be along for the ride.

I: Llama, The Moma Dance, Guyute, Anything But Me, Cars Trucks Buses, Chalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus, David Bowie, Cavern, Possum, Ocelot, Run Like An Antelope

II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Twenty Years Later, Halley’s Comet > Rock & Roll, Harpua > I Kissed A Girl* > Hold Your Head Up > Harpua, You Enjoy Myself

E: Grind, I Been Around**, Highway to Hell

*debut, (Katy Perry cover) **debut (original; final track of Joy to be played live)

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388 Responses to “The Only Rule Is It Begins”

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  1. Crack of Thunder Says:

    your insight has been helpful to a lot of kids that dont fly to shows.. preciate it

  2. TheDropper Says:

    Thanks again for all the hard work. It’s reaaly cool to come back from tour and know that someone, anyone, is writting reviews and actually “covering” this band. What a great summer! But like the post-show music said after night one of the Gorge, “We’re Goin’ Back to Cali, to Cali to Cali…”!!

    Great job Miner! Now, take a nap.

  3. rizla mon Says:

    Thank You Mr. Miner!

    You made AudioTour 2009 so much better!

  4. Birddog Says:

    SPAC was a great show – didn’t blow my mind the way Hartford did but the scene seemed much more laid back. That said, I was pretty disappointed with the nitrous obsession after the show. I have never seen it this bad – right over the pedestrian bridge some kid had a tank, and there must have been 30+ tanks in the west lot. I’m not against a balloon here and there but for fucks sake how about a little class. This is the kind of shit that ruined it for us all last go round.

  5. MakisupaSecurity Says:

    @birddog

    not sure if you mean the nitrous at Hartford or SPAC, but I noticed an insane amount of tanks at Hartford. The bridge to the Citgo lot was lined with tanks, the hiss drowned out any other sounds. I hate to see that myself. Too much.

    Downloading this show now, can’t wait to hear the Number Line, def my fave out of the new songs

    Thanks again Miner, stellar review, you call it like it is.

  6. Sammy Martin Says:

    time to get bassed with mike gordon!!!!!!!!

    info here:
    http://phishandthedead.blogspot.com/2009/08/time-to-get-bassed-with-mike-gordon.html

  7. 20YearsLater Says:

    Thanks, Miner, for your reviews all summer. It has helped us all feel connected to the tour and the band in a way that is probably somewhat unprecedented in Phishtory. I am looking forward to your posts in the interim between now and Festival Eight!

  8. Rich Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner. While I don’t always agree with your reviews, I always look forward to reading them and certainly respect your opinions. Didn’t catch SPAC but celebrated my 30th bday in Hartford – – best birthday present ever! It’s a great time to be a Phish fan!!

  9. pebbles Says:

    Just getting back to my desk after the four-show run. I think the only things Miner and I part ways on are:

    1–the end of YEM at Hartford. I went nuts when I saw Trey put down his guitar–I think it was an acknowledgement that his hand has been too heavy at times this tour, and it was freaking awesome to watch him lay down his axe and show us all that he knew when to listen to his bandmates. Besides being a canny and called-for gesture, it worked musically for me.

    2–It is great to get all the exploration, but I think Miner is leaning too heavily on the lexicon of psychedelia to describe what went on: this was rock-driven improv, and as far afield as it got, the band hit just about every note as though it belonged there and nowhere else– the jams were meticulous and cogent, well-structured and beautifully executed. I think that aspect of what was happening those last four days gets lost in some of the reviews, so I wanted to share it.

    I had a great time finishing up this summer run, but I am honestly glad it is over (until fall tour, that is). I don’t remember missing my own bed and my workaday routine this much when I was a younger man…

    I said it on here Saturday morning, and I’ll say it again, though. Hartford was a show for the ages, and for my money is the clear standout of this last tour. I can understand how a more laid-back fan could pick gorge 1 or RR2 instead, but I am more of a straight-ahead rocker, and the Meadows show satisfied my soul in a way no other Phish show ever has. That one show made all of the (ruthlessly inflicted on us by the band) travel worthwhile. I don’t yet know if it comes across on the tape, but the band was essentially playing a single instrument that night–they were locked in from start to finish, and were killing it every minute of every song.

  10. Kim Cecero Says:

    The music was phenomenal at SPAC…the venue was a toilet bowl. I agree with Birddog: “for fucks sake how about a little class?”.

  11. posternutbag Says:

    Miner.

    I appreciate all your posts and work. Great job.

    I realy disagree with your evaluation of SPAC. I real subpar jamming show. Besides BDTNL there was little to no jamming worth mentioning, and even after you listen to BDTNL it will not hold up to Gorge RnR or Red Rocks. Not even close. The people who think SPAC was a good show are more into Phish lore or culture than they are the jamming.

    I disagree with Pebbles. Exploration is the heart of Phish. Straight away Rock jamming is great and Phish does it the best, but Phish’s most compelling moments are the deep exploration and not the straight Rock they can rip at times.

    Also, Hartford was a great show, but the jamming was still behind the Gorge RnR and RedRocks. Very good show, top show recently becuase of all the fun, but not monumental jamming.

    The N02 sucks after the show and the younger phish crowd is a rowdier bunch. Have seen too many fights during shows this tour.
    All in all a great tour, great job covering it, and look forward to Halloween.

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner for all the hard work and thought that you have put into covering Phish in their return. It has been a real pleasure looking forward to your posts and reviews. With articulate and colorful language, you provided a forum for us to enjoy and be part of the happenings.

    To everyone that has contributed comments to the site, I thank you too. It has been an incredible time to have our favorite band back. The future looks so promising and it seems like the community is as strong as ever. There have been many wonderful, fun, tough, intense conversations on this board and it has been better for it.

    It has been a real pleasure to meet all of you, especially some of the more consistent posters.

    I know I will continue to check in to see what daily doses Miner has for us.

    And again I must extend as much gratitude as I can to Mr. Miner. You have earned a much needed break. Thank you for taking your time, your morning afters, and your plane trips and sharing your experience with us.

    It was one hell of a ride

  13. kb Says:

    nothing i can say that hasn’t been said already, but i echo their appreciation and thanks.

    @pebbles – i disagree with your 2nd point. i follow mr minor for this precise reason! but point well taken. 🙂

    cheers! hopefully see you at indio!

  14. Exree Hipp Says:

    I’ll also throw out a big thanks to you Miner. Your work on the site and especially the no spoilers effort is heroic and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you keeping the site straightforward and free.

    I caught Hartford and SPAC on this tour and it looks like I stumbled into a couple of gems. The rain before this show turned the lawn into a Woodstock style mud pit, and the energy out there was through the roof before the band came out and rocked us for that first set. Can’t wait to revisit these two shows in depth.

  15. notkuroda Says:

    Just getting back to work today, still catching up with all the madness that has happened over the last week in Phish world. Gotta say that the gorge may have been the best phish weekend of my life. It definitely helped to have my wife there for the first time, who had so much fun she was giggling uncontrollably a few times. The band sounded better than they’ve sounded in years, Friday nights show was like an atomic bomb. Maybe later I’ll have more words for it. The only thing I regret is not meeting any miner’rs(Stupendous, my phone crapped out, I’ll call you soon man). It’s been an enchanted 10 days, now I’m back in Florida, and back to work

  16. Al Says:

    Thanks Miner, also from my side. Read every essay on every show.

    Here’s Trey’s YEM dance from Hartford:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09lX6JB_ya0

  17. Kaveh Says:

    @ Mr. Minor: A huge thanks for all the commentary and your thoughts on all the summer shows from June to this last Sunday. Much appreciated; much, much appreciated! Now we get to sit back and take it all in again!

  18. tela'smuff Says:

    Just listening to Darien now — Not sure if it has been discussed but KUDOS to the crowd for the oohing and ahhing participation on Dinner & a Movie!!!!! That is GOOD participation. I imagine that made Trey VERY happy.

    Well done phans!

    Miner – thanks for a great summer and thanks for revitilizing the fun geekiness of being a Phish phan!

    (i know i can’t spell and abuse CAPS)

  19. Birddog Says:

    What was the deal with Fish saying he wasnt going to apologize to Page after his “I Kissed a Girl” song? Was he just joking or did I miss somthing?

  20. spideyguy0 Says:

    he was saying he wasn’t gonna apologize to katy perry, not page.

  21. Wax Banks Says:

    He said he wouldn’t apologize to Katy Perry for butchering her stupid song, as I recall. Then apologized to the fans for butchering his singing. 🙂

  22. Adam Says:

    I’m a relatively new poster, long time lurker….Thank you Mr. Minor for the great reviews and downloads, you are a credity to the community.

    In short, I am so impressed by this 2nd leg. The jams have purpose, something I think was lacking in a lot of 2.0 and late 1.0 jams. I don’t see the noodling that I used too and I don’t get bored listening at all. They’re going to rock our socks off or make us think but if it’s not working they move on! The sign of a mature Phish (not that they weren’t mature before but all that much more now).

    Anyways, thanks for keeping me distracted at work everybody!

  23. Jay Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner. Appreciate this site and your reviews as launch pads for discussion. Keep up the good work!

  24. Adam Says:

    I’m sorry, thank you Mr. Miner, not Mr. Minor 🙂

  25. Kevin Says:

    We all need to admit something to ourselves: while things are definitely looking optimistic, Trey is still rather sloppy at times, even when he isn’t. Let’s call it “3.0 Tight” when it’s good, but it doesn’t even come close to how tight they used to be, “1.0 Tight.” I know there’s hope down the road, but when Trey misses a VERY easy part to a song(AKA the ending lines to Esther or Guyute), to me it means he’s lost some of his Jedi mastery.

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