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”

  1. afroskully Says:

    here here Miner! You’ve done a hell of a job keeping us all very entertained these last few months. I truly love the vibe here…even when there are dissenting points of view, the mood remains civil.

    I was at Hartford. I’ve seen 40+ shows since ’94, and it is up towards the top of the list. buffalo 94 (trey breaks his foot), new yrs 94/95. Niagra 95. Clifford Ball. 12/30/97. merriwether post pav. ’98. HARTFORD!!!!

    these are my favorites of favorites! I didn’t think after ’99 that I would be able to add to that list. I am beyond happy that I can now.

  2. Jim Says:

    I for one really enjoyed this show (my first since Coventry) at my home venue. As I have outgrown the excesses of my youth, taking in a show sober, and being in one of the State Park $10 lots, the laid back lot atmosphere was welcome. For me, one of the highlights was having Page take control between verses of Cavern. Less indulgent Trey makes for a better Phish. Having a brain cramp as to which song it was, but also having the Page/Fish interplay was awesome.

    Mr. Miner, just discovered your site post-Hampton, and have been glued to it every day since (including some incessant internal whining that I couldn’t read your review of SPAC 10 minutes after the show. LOL).

  3. Marshall Says:

    So, did Miner make it to all 30 shows this year?

  4. whatup Says:

    Love the reviews…keep up the good work. Will be living vicariously through these blogs for the festival 8. Made it to Darien and SPAC and had the best weekend in a long time. The Band is back and happy and having fun SO WERE WE!!!

  5. jtone Says:

    Yes! Thank you Mr. Miner, I also don’t always agree but wait eagerly for each and every post and appreciate your colorful descriptions and insight. But ALSO thanks to your squad of photographers, I equally look forward to the photos that you post of each show, they are spectacular. Thanks to all the photographers!

  6. Marshall Says:

    If so, how can anyone possibly manage that? Its understandable when you are college-aged, or unemployed (by choice or not), but these days, its pretty remarkable if someone can take off from that many days of his or her regular life to follow the band.

  7. empire01 Says:

    well I knew I would miss out not going to these shows, after having tickets in hand. but fuck they played some old school songs that hurt my eyes when I saw the set lists.
    Darien’s Dinner and a Movie!!! I have never gotten to see that live!!

    Hartford Col.Forbin>Flying Mocking Bird and a second set that looks insane all with a Psycho Killer!!!and a Catapult that set looks crazy I have to listen to that.

    Sloth and Axila and Ha Ha Ha at Merriweather..

    SPAC second set looks crazy and with a Harpua!!!

    this was for the old school fans for sure..
    I really hope they come to Miami for NYE…cause Im jonsin now

  8. A_Glide Says:

    I agree with Pebbles on his point # 2.

    just my 2 cents…

  9. Kevin Says:

    I know everyone is elated about Phish playing again, but are we deaf? Sure, it’s a way better go than 2.0, but it’s still way off 1.0. Let’s just call anything decent out of this year “3.0 tight.” Trey is still missing too many notes and scales, then sliding into place when he knows he’s wrong. Esther from a few days ago, Guyute, Foam, etc all have HUGE mistakes in some of the easier parts of the arrangements. I think the H did it’s toll on the red man’s head.

  10. SOAM Says:

    It’s back on…..friday and Sunday were sick.

  11. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    this tour brought something back for me that had been missing for several years. It’s amazing how you can dive back into something you thought was passed by and that it can feel like there has been no gap. I got to a point during 2.0 where I was done, finished, and through with Phish. There are many cliches for what 3.0 has brought back but none of them quite capture the totality of it.

    Definite thanks to Mr. Miner for his diligence. It’s a good sign of how well you do this that I was annoyed yesterday that you didn’t have a post up right away for me to read and potentially comment on.

    This thing has always been about the music but (some would say) more importantly the community and this site has gone a long way towards promoting that aspect of Phish. Kudos.

  12. Marshall Says:

    It’s looking more and more like there might not be much of a fall tour.

    3 day reunion
    2 summer legs
    3 day festival
    Thanksgiving run?
    NYE run?

    September’s out for sure. Not likely to have any shows leading right up to or after Festival 8, for logistics reasons. So, we’re probably looking at a couple of short runs at best??

  13. Robear Says:

    I’ve been thinking about the difference between seeing a show live, or listening to a recording.

    To me, a live show is like watching an incredible lightning storm unfold from your back porch. Listening to a recording is like watching a lightning storm on the Weather Channel.

  14. elduardo Says:

    One thing I was thinking about a lot incongruencies in the sets an flow is that they’re really sober. You may not think the same way when you clean as a whistle but the guys are playing so good the just say fuck it and pick another song and keep playing. No problems here because the groove always comes back after a second set. However in the last week or two in the pics trey has looked no so sober. Of course theres no september tour gordo is on solo tour. Still hoping for a november run thru the wisco area. So has trey played this new guitar at all this tour? One thing I noticed was that really good billy breathes from red rocks has that 05 trey tone which is interesting because most people really didnt like it but it sounds good. So did they finally get gordo turned up enough because alpine valley I was seriously lacking some mike vibration.

  15. Bapslap Says:

    This summer has been great, and with the final show wrapped up with a Miner review it now feels complete.

    I was at Fenway, Great Woods, and Hartford, and each show was better than the next. Is there any wonder why we all love this band as much as we do?

    Bring on the Fall!!!

  16. nonoyolker Says:

    Wow, back in the bean, not sure I am in one piece yet… Miner, great work all summer. Thanks for all you do.
    SPAC was nice, great to catch a Harpua and the #line got WAAAAYYY spacey, but Hartford was where it was at, hands down. That show was really solid, front to back. I heard every show now except Darien and Merriweather and I think Hartford may be the show of the year so far. That or first night of Gorge. Just one dude’s opinion. I need to recoup and catch up on a shit ton of work. Hope everyone had a blast! Boys are back for real.

  17. BTB Says:

    Looking forward to a couple short runs after Festi8. Let’s get a Thanksgiving run and NYE run in while people have some time off. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if they played mini-runs a lot and left the bulk of touring to a Summer format. gives them time to be with their families and record/relax.

    We’re back (and it doesn’t suck!)

  18. BobSacamano Says:

    MM — Gratzi you phine human you. You have done a wonderful job painting THEE picture for all of us who were unable to catch each night. I as well look forward to the posts each morning, and although i do agree with most things you say, there are times i don’t. but that’s exactly why i love coming back on here…you make me think. i’ve been seeing shows since 96 and feel better than i have since 98 (aside from big cyp) about going to see our band thrown down. i caught jb3 and hartford on this run and feel giddy about what i witnessed friday night in hartford. from punch on something was just clicking the whole night…i was even stoked about that birds and stash, 2 songs i usually don’t love (no hatred, just not 2 of my first choices at shows). every single song had the element of fun and that spirit we all search for at each show.
    here’s hoping for msg shows this fall/winter…and someday (sooner than we all might like to think), venues like giants stadium. cheers boys for all the hard work each night, and cheers to you, mr. miner…for making me feel good again.

  19. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ BTB –

    agreed. I think small short runs would be good for Phish these days. From what I can tell (hartford aside) that they start getting tired towards the end of the longer tours.

    Thats not to say that the last few shows they played weren’t fantastic. But the energy and the creativity seems to ebb a little as they go on.

    I think nice holiday tours will be good for them, their families and their music, and for us older working farts too

  20. wvbrdr Says:

    Thank you for all your reviews Miner. I know it was rough seeing that many shows, but somebody had to do it. Your insightful reviews allowed me to appreciate 3.0 even more than just listening on tape to the shows I couldn’t attend.

    And I agree that short tours would work out well for now. I certainly can’t tour, but I do want the band to be on a creative peak when I see them next. I think short mini tours would facilitate that.

  21. Marshall Says:

    problem with short runs … they become event shows, which means hard-to-score tickets, scalpers, shoulder-to-shoulder floors, etc., not to mention the band looses a little bit of their sharpness. but hey – I’ll take anything over “hiatuses” and “break-ups.”

  22. SOAM Says:

    the animal set rocked at Spac-my 3 faves set one
    llama-bust out nut in your face NY
    Posssum-some Possums better than others
    Ocelot-another incredible tune about ridiculousness

  23. Neemor Says:

    I echo everyone’s thanks, Miner.

    It’s been great.
    RoBear, I see it a little differently. Seeing a show is like seeing the storm from your back porch. Listening to a show recorded is like listening to a storm recorded. THIS is our Weather Channel.
    PT is like watching the storm unfold somewhere else with detailed coverage, photos, reporting, etc. Funny analogy, tho.

    Cool phone call yesterday, it was my mom.
    She called and asked how much I love her.
    She’s always been very interested in my following the band, curious about how the shows went, etc. And she’s a big supporter of the New York Philharmonic, so much so that they offer her early tickets, great seats, etc.
    I started to get really excited because I knew where this was headed.
    Yup, MY MOTHER got me tickets to go see Trey and the Philharmonic on 9/12. Should be pretty sweet, not really sure what will be played besides a full-on composition of TTE.
    I guess it can’t be worse that TTE in concert. I mean, we’ll be expecting a slow, composed, but entertaining evening as opposed to a Phish show.

    I guess my only question is, do I wear a fuckin suit??

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    good point marshall
    didnt really take that into consideration.

    may have to rethink then..


  25. Adam Says:

    Listening to Hartford for the 1st time. This Slave is, dare I say it, bringing out the hose!

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