With all the excitement in the land of Phish these days—Fuego, Letterman, Live Bait X and an upcoming tour, one might forget that Phish left us with some pretty great shows at MSG last December. Coming off a Fall Tour that seems to have has gained a consensus in the community as the best of the era, the band delivered three out of four standout performances to end the year. Now, on the brink of Summer Tour 2014, Phish looks to continue the upward arc of their Golden Age as they step into the Fuego era.
The most integral aspect of successful shows—from a fan’s perspective—is the band’s excitement, engagement and energy. Based on what we’ve been hearing through media outlets, the guys are excited as ever with their new album and are eager to work the material into their live shows. Trey even went as far as to say that Phish would play less covers this summer, as they want to focus on their originals. As covers usually comprise a significant percentage of open jam platforms, one would conclude that some new ones will take their place. But out of Fuego’s songs, which ones will they be?
I believe that “Fuego” will be one of the bands central jam vehicles this summer. I see it opening—and/or being centered in the wheelhouse of—second sets throughout tour, and extending into diverse improvisations. I foresee the jam coming out of the end of the song—as previewed on New Year’s Eve—and I predict that it will be a completely open-ended affair (much like “Light” has been for the past five years). They changed the title of the album and put the title track first for a reason—“Fuego” is the new school Phish scene and will expand as soon as it is played.
Additionally, I see “Wingsuit” becoming a significant piece in the band’s live repertoire. Whether the jam opens up at first or debuts as a guitar-solo based piece is the biggest question in my mind right now. Regardless of how it starts out, I bet we see the jam open up a couple times before tour’s end. Though “Wombat” is the clear stylistic outlier on an otherwise cohesive album, I foresee it’s funk jam growing legs this summer. The song has the feel of a first-setter, possibly replacing “Moma Dance” with something a more open-ended. But if ever they decide to place “Wombat” in the second set, the band could take the silly piece for a ride.
The other track that has a possibility of developing a jam is Mike’s “555.” But every time I say that I balk, because when is the last time a contribution from Gordon has blown up. Keep thinking…”Simple” perhaps? It’s been a while. Just saying, I’d give “555” about a less than 50% chance eclipsing guitar solo status. But I’m pulling for more out of this song, because its dark and funky feel give it all sorts of potential. Perhaps this is the one! On a similar note, will Trey finally release lift the shackles from “Halfway to the Moon” from its status as first set filler? Talk about potential! Ever since its debut at SPAC 2010 I have wished it open up, but its inclusion on an album won’t likely change it’s live placement.
The other tracks from Fuego won’t likely be more than solid first-set songs or late-second-set ballads. Maybe, just maybe, Phish will play a one-off jam out of “The Line” or “Waiting All Night,” but seeing as they rarely play one-off jams out of anything these days, this seems a tad unlikely. Jams aside, however, expect a serious influx of fresh music into the rotation, as Phish has never been shy to push their new material!
Trey and the Echoplex
For the last four shows of the year, Trey brought an Echoplex on stage with him, and used it extensively in jams throughout the Holiday Run. The Echoplex is an analog tape delay unit created in 1959, that creates many of the effects that Trey’s pedals have digitally mimicked over the years. Remember the final stage of the Carini jam on 12/29, the one where Trey was rocking the Garden and improvising off his own licks with massively dissonant delay? That was the Echoplex. My sincere wish is that Trey brings this unit with him on tour this summer. It brought tremendous nuance and creativity to several jams over the holidays, and with a month on the road, I can see Trey getting even more controlled and inventive with the unit.
Everyone’s eternal hope is that Phish brings more to the table in first sets than a series of singles. Even “Stashes” “Gins” and “Antelopes” have been far to innocuous to truly add any spice to opening frames when they do appear, so in what lies the answer? I am not sure. But as everyone knows, when the band truly delivers two sets of smoking music—think 11/1/13 Atlantic City or 8/31/12 Denver—shows become far more elevated affairs. I guess it boils down to predictability. If the patterns of first sets become utterly formulaic, how does the band want the fan to approach them? The new material should help, but some good ol’ creative jamming—whether of the type-I or type-II variety—would do a whole lot more.
Sail On, Sail On
Phish has hit a legitimate stride over the past two years. 2012 and 2013 provided the payoff for the three rebuilding years that preceded them, years that have plentiful highlights in their own right. Summer 2013 brought a flood of creativity from the band, as they approached some old jams differently, and generally infused fresh sounds and directions into their open jamming without relying on many conventions of old. It truly felt that every show brought “new” music to our ears, in a way that even 2012 did not. This trend continued over Fall Tour, when virtually every second contained a cohesive narrative, something that had been still missing from several summer shows. Phish’s set-craftsmanship came to a modern peak over Fall ’13, featuring such flowing second frames as 10/20 Hampton, 10/26 Worcester, 10/27 Hartford, and 10/29 Reading. This trend continued over the Holiday Run, as all second (and third) sets flowed well after the night one’s choppy affair.
My overarching point here is that Phish need not tweak to much in their live show. They are doing just fine. If their continuous evolution of 3.0 continues, we are looking at what should be one of the band’s best tours of the modern era. And there is no reason that anything should slow them down.