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. gavinsdad Says:

    @ mitch & el dude:

    went thru this a couple days ago but i was on the back of that CID bus traveling with “the woman on the bus that turned out to be the boss of a dude you know”. We’ve been seeing music together since 91 🙂 good to meet you here again and el dude, thanks for the ABB dvds…they got us home nicely.

    A few days back i called out how interesting it was to watch Gordo “lead” the middle section of stash at the Gorge. wasn’t saying anything about the quality of that particular Stash but I too was in the pit and what’s funny is that the sbds i’ve heard really downplay the snappiness/crunchiness of mike on nite 1. they seem so padded down. and i know for a fact that he was absolutely killing it (was only puffing that nite) all of nite 1….just some of the crunchiest, thoughtful mike i’ve heard in years. really can’t stand when the recordings don’t convey these nuances but that’s just me.

    regarding the sally….i think i need to do some more research against that RR tweezer AW mentioned….i liked the Sally for sure but the more listens i give both nites of the gorge, the more stuff pops out….like the tail end of Light being so good, etc.

  2. Neemor Says:

    Whoever said that the Hood from Gorge 8/7 wasn’t inspiring should re-listen.

    That’s Trey from his heart.

  3. albert walker Says:

    I love the subtlety of the red rocks Tweezer
    sometimes Phish (mostly Trey) hits you over the head to prove a point
    it is just tasty the whole time without over playing and a lot of listening
    there are 3 distinct melodic themes and Mike is just killing it
    Trey trey’s a little of his overplaying pentatonic wailing for a few bars at the end but quickly realizes that’s not what this tweezer is about and brings it back down

  4. EL Duderino Says:

    @ Mitch

    Ah I remember you now!!!

  5. gavinsdad Says:


    got it on now 😉

  6. EL Duderino Says:

    @ AW I have to download 100gig before invitation codes come. I’ve downloaded 76 gig so it won’t be too much longer.

  7. Stupendous Says:

    @ fromthetub
    You got it!!!
    i just realized you said here referring to the link not to the proximity of the location as to your whereabouts…

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    @notkuroda glad you had fun

  9. EL Duderino Says:

    The Allman’s 3/24/09 pro-shot DVD with Billy Gibbons and Sonny Landreth is up @ Demonoid if any of you are interested.

  10. Leo Weaver Says:

    @llamalee…sorry you missed your llama…told you and tele to head on up to SPAC! We’ll have to do a few more shows next tour.

    @El Dude…sorry I missed you (and others) at the gorge…was looking forward to the ABB disk. Were you camping in the back corner of the premiere parking area in a bus? Whoever it was had a sweet setup with late-nite screenings of several old shows, Dead, Talking Heads, etc, etc…was perfect background entertainment from our campsite.

  11. EL Duderino Says:

    @ Leo

    No that wasn’t me. Stayed in Ellensberg @ a hotel no camping for this dude. Didn’t make it to the WW table either always seemed to go down the other side and later than I wanted too, had little time for anything but getting my spot in the pit.

  12. albert walker Says:

    I also find the red rocks Ghost very interesting
    is there another from the 2nd leg that stands up?

  13. Leo Weaver Says:

    ^yeah, I think we all spaced on the WW table out there…jockeying for prime ass-shaking real estate was fierce and took first priority. I did get to meet Robear at MPP though…awesome guy.

  14. EL Duderino Says:

    It was a bummer I really wanted to meet Mr. C and some of the rest of you cats on this board. I had good intentions but that damn shakedown would always delay me more than I wanted. Go figure

  15. gavinsdad Says:

    AW – that #line after the RR tweezer is pretty spirited taboot.

    goes to show…gotta give this stuff many many listens.

  16. ColonelJoy Says:

    This was a solid, better than average show, but I’ll have to disagree with the stature Miner is anointing this BDTNL with. While Phish can jam anything out, not all songs are suited for such things, and generally I feel the new batch of tunes, while good tunes (I think Number Line is a great song), aren’t great jam vehicles, and compared to all other song writing eras, the least jammable, without question. Listening to the Number Line, I find it a bit forced, and while the jam isn’t bad…it is quite fine, really amongst the pantheon of jams this second leg brought… doesn’t register, IMO.

    While in general I prefer the West Coast jamming….does anyone remember a tour split so distinctly in jamming characteristics by geography?….I do believe the Phish achieved something mighty on the east coast….here is the diatribe

    Performance, even improvised, to a great extent is about manipulation, it is about being good at contriving…..with Phish this is a balance, because while Trey primarily is the maestro, the best of their music also requires surrender…to the air….to the flow…you know the deal

    manipulation and surrender are like positive vs. negative electrons…you want to have both, but you kind of have to work on them separately before you bring them together.

    The west coast was all about surrender….something we (and they) weren’t getting nearly enough of Hampton through Leg One…..the west coast had that total GOO….GOO….GOOIE Improv, some of the gooiest we’ve ever heard really….

    Once the surrender was worked, as they moved east they went back to control and manipulation, but then they balanced that in surrender, which culminated not in Saratoga, but for anyone who cared to listen, the Hartford show….pretty much front to back, but of course peaking where it should in a second set that at once was full of surrender and manipulation

    Who cares that Icculus was busted out….it was all about the timing….they had already thrown down an outrageous set filled with >>>>>but on the audience, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard more energy surge on a recording then when Maestro Trey goes into that Pong Rant>Icculus>Pong Rant….that was manipulation, and it was brilliant….that was the best show this year

  17. fromthetub Says:

    I stopped by the WW table at the Gorge and didn’t see anyone either. We should make it happen at 8.

  18. notkuroda Says:

    I tried to find people at the top of the lawn, but that place was a lot bigger than I had thought

  19. albert walker Says:

    thanks Joy

    I was looking for recommendations for east coast
    gonna give Hartford a spin later tonight

    you must be itchin to see some live shit after hearing all these shows
    I’m sure I won’t be the only one waiting to puff some heads with you out at Indio
    you’ve been waiting too long for some 2009 Phish
    could not think of a better 3 night run to get goin

  20. Stupendous Says:

    What was the top of the lawn anyway? was it all the way out to the highest tip on page side?

  21. Mitch Says:

    El dude and gavinsdad,
    all this time I thought I missed the pt meet and greet at the top of the lawn then heard everyone else did too only to find out the meet and greet was on the bus.

    You’re either on the bus or your off.

    Gavinsdad, so you were with Robyn. That’s the small world I’m talking about.

  22. Comrade Says:

    @vomax – baby elephant walk?

  23. Mr. Completely Says:

    Gorge was just too crazy for me dealing with the kiddo to make any sort of meetup possible. He did great but needed constant interaction and reinforcement, understandably – once the music started he was good to go

    great writeup Colonel

  24. whole tour! Says:

    next up: GORDO TUOR!
    in fact…one month from today!

  25. whole tour! Says:


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