Almost every second set this summer was served in portions, split up into multiple segments of jamming by “landing pads,” fillers, or ballads. These interludes didn’t necessarily compromise the flow of a set, and they often enhanced the contour of the night. In one second set, however, Phish wove a single, united musical narrative from start to finish, centering the frame on 45 minutes of uninterrupted improvisation—Star Lake’s. Instead of separating their jams on this Saturday night, the band lumped them together—in proximity and style—to form the improvisational sequence of summer: “Simple > Light > Weekapaug > Seven Below.”
While other sets may have contained more outstanding individual jams, none were laced with more cohesive and thematic improv than Star Lake’s second half. After a groove-based one-two punch of “Jibboo” and “Mike’s” sparked the set, Phish’s suite of summer began. And when they finished the sequence, they had created four unique, yet connected, jams that stood on their own but were part of a greater whole. To begin, “Simple’s” bubbling textures dissolved into an ethereal spacescape of the likes that Phish explored all tour long. Focused on sublime harmonies as well as layers of dissonance and effect, “Simple” brought the set to soul-tugging depths with intricate, ambient interplay. Trey broke through this tonal passage with the opening chords of “Light.” Only the second version of tour following “Lighteca’s” mashup, Star Lake’s “Light” would once again prove the modern-era launchpad to be Phish’s most consistent path to breakthrough jamming.
As Trey finalized his guitar solo, he took a step back, favoring dissonant, accentuated whale loops over the band’s soft and rhythmic canvas. Mike took the helm as Trey got in touch with his inner Shamu, luring Fish and Page—and eventually Captain Ahab—into a dark, four-part, exchange. And out of this sequence came the percussive conversation got the band on the express train to Plinksville. As Page hopped to his clav, the band converged in one of the most memorable passages of tour. Infusing a summery, calypso chord progression into the jam, Trey brought the locked excursion into the heavenly realm. Peeling off a series of award-winning leads, Trey, with his bandmates, forged a jam that could never be mistaken for music from a former era. Stylistically centered in the here and now, the band explored this staccato plane, as Page, Trey and Mike played complimentary leads that, together, fully-realized “plinko” jamming.
As the band wound down their percussive experiment, Trey initiated the beginning of “Weekapaug.” After two exploratory jaunts, one had to think “Weekapaug” would be a blistering cap on a “Mike’s Groove” for the ages, but as soon as the band broke structure and dove—headfirst—back into the textures of “Light’s’ jam, and it was clear that “Weekapaug” would only continue the risk-taking. Catching a heavier groove, the guys went on to create a multi-faceted “Weekapaug” for the first time in ages. Moving fluidly from one theme to another, the band raced through wormholes before Trey—seemingly—peaked the jam with a magnificently-placed “Divided Sky” lick, but the band refused to land in the final chorus. Careening through another segment of jamming, including an ambient finale, the band finally brought the anthem back around. Anyone in their right mind had to assume a breather was coming next, but when Phish started “Seven Below,” a song known for its improvisation, they showed no desire to slow down.
So much focus has fallen on the “Light > Weekapaug” pairing from this set, this stellar “Seven Below” has flown under the radar. Though Phish had ended countless musical suites with “Weekapaug” over their career, on this night, “Seven Below” would serve as the conclusion of their improvisational trek. For the fourth song in a row, Phish stepped onto fresh musical ground, while keeping the jam very tied to the one that came before it. Trey began a minimalist, though quite emotional, “solo” out of the gates, while Page played out front on piano. Just as hooked up as they had been for the duration of this sublime set, when Page coyly hinted at “Weekapaug,” Trey picked up on it instantly, cranking up his playing to reference “Weekapaug’s” jam as well. Pushing the music into a harder edge territory, the band moved quickly through a dense, standout jam, returning to the the song and concluding “The Seventh Simple Light Groove.”
As the band paused for the first time since the set’s beginning, the crown erupted in a massive ovation—everyone knew they had just witnessed something special. In a very classy move, Phish chose to follow the marathon of new-school improv with “Bouncin’”—and I’m not sure the song ever sounded better. Bringing it back to basics after pushing the envelope fro so long, the band placed their classic single perfectly. It seemed that Phish would punctuate the set with a rousing “Julius,” but upon its ending the band quickly passed into “Slave.” Serving as the light at the end of tunnel, a patient and collaborative take on “Slave”—far from just a guitar solo— finished the set with a majesty untouched by other 2012 versions.
Phish had IT in Star Lake this summer, gracing the amphitheatre with another in a long-line of musical triumphs. Coming into this show, the band had only logged one 3.0 show at the venue in June of ’09, thus they hadn’t let loose in their former shed of dreams since 2003. But on a Saturday night this summer, Phish more than made up for lost time as they dropped the set of the tour somewhere between Erie and Pittsburgh. Infused with connected and innovative jamming throughout, “Simple” through “Seven Below” provided a vivid portrait of modern-day Phish—and the rest just fell into place.
Jam of the Day:
The suite of Summer.