Dancing in a Dream

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 17th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Atlantic City [Jake Silco via Phish]

That was a complete fucking blowout. Phish dropped the gauntlet on Sunday night in AC, staging a two-set musical showcase that put a indelible exclamation point on their first tour since Fall 2019. Carrying serious momentum from note one and strewn with improv from start to finish, Sunday night’s show was truly a night to remember. Played with purpose with two beautifully flowing sets of music, the tour closer on the beach illustrated what can happen when all the elements of a show fall into place. This night brought a crescendo to the weekend in in the beach, as Phish appears to be in a superb place as they look towards a brief leg two of summer and a longer fall tour down the road.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s show was the exquisitely flowing fifty-minute suite that kicked off the second set—“Carini > Set Your Soul Free > Beneath a Sea of Stars > Piper -> Carini.” The improv within these jams naturally moved from one to another, covering a vast amount of diverse musical ground. “Carini’s” jam ignited this run with a soaring trajectory, quickly modulating into an uplifting and celebratory plane. The interplay of Trey’s clean, sky-scraping melodies and Page’s triumphant grand piano work led Phish through this promised land. Following its peak, Trey smoothly switched guitar tones, and the rest of the band seamlessly followed him into a more modern section of music characterized by their Summer ’21 sound.

 “Set Your Soul Free” featured shreddy, atonal guitar leads laid over a swing beat from Fishman, that created a musical juxtaposition with the mellifluous “Carini” jam. Phish deconstructed the second piece of this improvisational puzzle towards its end, blending its quiet conclusion into “Beneath a Sea of Stars.” Throughout their career, Phish has always been masters at playing to their environment and this selection provided a lustrous example of this phenomenon. The delicate centerpiece of  Trey’s “Ghosts of the Forest” project fit perfectly on the beach, and even its lyrics, “The lights are flashing and the waves are crashing” depicted the boardwalk and the ocean that lined the two sides of the venue. This gentle passage provided a mellow interlude in the larger musical statement while keeping the improvisational vibes flowing.

However, the most forward-looking highlight of this extended combination began as Phish melted from “Sea of Stars” into “Piper.” Quickly building out of the song’s lyrical opening, the band crafted a high-intensity excursion into a dark, avant-garde frontier. This piece represents experimental Phish at its finest. Peppered with modern tones from Trey, Mike and Page, the jam was driven by Fishman’s uptempo, crash-cymbal-heavy rhythms. But when he subtly slipped into a groove adding a backbeat to his work, the music transformed into some abstract, psychotic Phish grooves—inject this stuff into my veins! The band wrapped up this musical package when Trey smoothly offered the “Carini” lick into this menacing mixture, and the band smoothly segued back into the set opener, completing a spectacular run of a multi-stage musical drama.

Phish continued with “Waves,” the third ocean-themed song in a row, but arguably added one too many songs to the end of the set, wedging “Simple” and “About to Run” in before “First Tube” closed the frame with vibes on high. Perhaps they could have eliminated “About to Run” and jammed “Waves” into “Simple,” adding a bit more cohesion to the back end of the set, but even as it stood, it was all but perfect.

And nothing could be finer than a “Fluffhead” encore, a choice that encapsulated the feeling of the entire evening.

Once again, the band absolutely crushed the opening set of the show, a trend of which I just can’t get enough. It seemed as though Trey wanted a d0-over for Saturday night’s botched version as he started the intro to “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” but as the song hit a point of transition, he faked everyone out by splashing into “Moma Dance,” immediately electrifying the show. Extending the funk number into an earnest, out-of-structure improvisation, Phish had clearly come to play in their concluding show of tour. “Moma’s” jam segued into “The Final Hurrah, before a nasty, mid-set “Mike’s Song” brought the second legitimate highlight of the night. This trio of songs comprised almost 35 minutes of standout, dance-based Phish‚ and the show had just started. And to close out this monster opening frame—”You Enjoy Myself.” A dead mint first set through and through.

I really hope that this Atlantic City beach party becomes a bi-annual affair, as the set up is just perfect and very hassle free. The sound is great throughout the massive venue and it seems that everyone found a spot that they liked. It really worked out great from all aspects.

And thus concludes leg one of Summer 2021. What a run it has been! When Phish announced this summer tour, I really hoped they would come out with a new sound to their improvisation. I had felt that 2019 had grown somewhat stagnant and they needed some sort of sonic shift to keep things moving forward—and, boy, did they bring one! The band sounds refreshed and rejuvenated from their forced time off and the rest of the year—pandemic provided—looks to contain quite a lot of musical adventure. Phish is back to pushing the envelope with fresh-sounding jams and breaking ground with experimental interplay—and this, my friends, is how we like IT.

I. The Landlady, Scents and Subtle Sounds > The Moma Dance > The Final Hurrah,  Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, The Sloth, Roggae, Back on the Train, You Enjoy Myself

II. Carini > Set Your Soul Free > Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > Piper -> Carini, Waves > Simple > About to Run, First Tube

E. Fluffhead, Backwards Down the Number Line

Atlantic City [Andrea Nusinov]

Please Her with a Tweezer

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 14th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Atlantic City [Scott Harris]

Atlantic City has been a destination point for Phish throughout the 3.0 era. From Boardwalk Hall to Bader Field, from “Waiting For Columbus” to “Wingsuit,” the Jersey Shore has hosted its fair share of historic music from the Vermont quartet over the past decade. As the band descended upon A.C. to close out the opening leg of a torrid summer tour, one had to expect that another storied chapter of Boardwalk Phish would ensue.

Though part one of the weekend trifecta shaped up as a strong two-set affair, popping with highlights from start to finish, the lead actor in Friday night’s musical drama was unquestionably the multi-dimensional “Tweezer” that ignited set two in a blaze of glory. This jam touched on so many facets of the band’s musical repertoire, that when assembled as a single piece of music, it created quite a voyage through the galaxy of Phish. However, I have to highlight the journey’s initial section. The band laid waaay back as they dropped into the jam, creating an epically gooey, open air soundscape that I would pay good money to reside in. Fish and Mike lock into a filthy, spacious groove as Trey and Page slowly drip in sonic layers like food coloring slowly spinning into a glass of water. This section—before Trey even plays a lead melody—is the stuff of my Phish dreams. And then when Trey slides into the mix with perfectly calculating leads in his menacing, new-school tone—forget about it. Lemme mainline this shit forever.

“Tweezer’s” jam next progresses through a more conventional, blues-based build which Page continually pushes forward with his Summer ’21 lead synth melodies en route to third movement that brings the jam into quintessential, bliss-drenched Phish groove. At this juncture, Trey drops his modern effects and leads the troops to the top with gorgeous, dextrous soloing, thus completing a truly monumental version of the band’s most revered launchpad.

“Bathtub Gin” provided a strong follow up to “Tweezer’s” set-opening opus, forging a classic-sounding path of upbeat groove collaboration. This jam stretched the song’s boundaries just enough to create a gripping second act of the set. When the the band revved up “Everything’s Right,” it felt like we were on the verge of an epic stanza of music, but as the jam was developing a mesmerizing path, Trey had the out-of-left-field thought that “Possum” should be played right then and there. And so it was. And from that point forward, the set devolved into a hodgepodge of Phish songs that didn’t possess the flow that characterized the rest of the show.

Phish came out swinging to open the night with a high-energy, dance-based first set that was highlighted by the improvisational one-two punch of “Blaze On” and “Wolfman’s Brother.” Both of these jams popped significantly, “Blaze” moving out of structure into open waters while “Wolfman’s” remained anchored in infectious dance rhythms. Providing a near half-hour of top notch jamming at the onset of set one, this song pairing got the weekend underway quickly an illustrated both enthusiasm and intent on Phish’s behalf.

With one show down and two to go, I suspect the Atlantic City set we will be the buzz of the weekend is yet to unfold. As Phish settles into their novel beach environs, their comfort level will only increase, and if tonight’s “Tweezer” is any indication, there are a lot of Atlantic City memories left to be written.

I. Cars Trucks Buses, AC/DC Bag, Blaze On, Wolfman’s Brother, I Didn’t Know, Funky Bitch, Rift, Sand

II. Tweezer, Bathtub Gin > Everything’s Right > Possum, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Rise/Come Together, Harry Hood, More

E. Loving Cup

A Hershey’s Kiss

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 12th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Hersheypark Stadium [Rene Huemer via Phish]

It was one of those nights. As if lifted from a fantasy, Phish played an impeccable show from start to finish dropping two sets drenched with improv that were each experiences unto themselves. It is very rare that the band comes out from note one and never lets up for the duration of an entire concert, but that is exactly what happened in Hershey tonight. Perfection is elusive in any human endeavor, especially one with so many variables as live improvisational music, but dare I say, that show was perfect.

It did not take long to realize that Phish meant business tonight. The opener of “You Sexy Thing” set the tone, but what delivered the message loud and clear was the astounding run of jams that followed. Significant takes on “Wombat,” “Free,” and “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” set up the unquestionable highlight of the first half in “Halley’s Comet.” “Halley’s” jams have become the white whale of the modern era, and tonight Phish dropped an all-timer, easily the most significant version in over two decades. The jam did not take long to launch into uncharted waters, as the entire band cohered in an incredible groove session that smoothly modulated into a blissful plane and absolutely took off in some of the most gorgeous and spiritually uplifting music of the summer.

The band followed up this extraordinary excursion with the debut of Trey’s “Lonley Trip,” a song I immediately fell in love with when it was released during the pandemic. I couldn’t wait for Phish to incorporate it into their repertoire and it, frankly, it was amazing. The delicate and introspective ballad worked especially well juxtaposed with the uptempo improv that surrounded it. The non-stop set concluded with on point versions of “Jibboo,” “Meat,” and “Maze,” which bled into a brief reprise of “You Sexy Thing.” When the band finally came up for air, the set was over and the crowd was left astonished at what had just gone down. And the story of the night had only half been told.

A colossal version of “Birds of a Feather” anchored the first half of set two in which Trey put on a jaw-dropping clinic in guitar tone. As if Merlin paging through an endless tome of guitar sorcery, Trey led this jam with playing that progressed through a myriad of mesmerizing sounds. Page complimented Trey’s outstanding work by weaving in his own arsenal of sonic color while Mike simultaneously synced up with both of them offering dynamic, shape-shifting bass lines. Fishman’s intricate rhythms gave the jam a breakbeat vibe which kept the intensity cranked up for its duration, completing the equation of a thoroughly experimental Phish jam.

Following an interlude of “Bug,” the second half of the set ignited with a fully locked “Light” jam that saw the band playing off each other subconsciously, moving as a single entity through a passage that seemed bound for big things. Instead, however, Trey opted to layer the “Party Time” lyrics over the groove in what has become a common segue over the past several years. The vibe stayed high as the band concluded this sequence and dropped into “Ruby Waves.”

Phish capped the night’s improv with a patiently building, emotionally reflective and rhythmically shimmering version of the “Ghosts of the Forest” crossover. Trey brought this piece to a climactic and rolling peak with emotive guitar theatrics that tied a bow on an astounding night of Phish jamming. “Chalkdust” would provide the cherry on top of a spectacular set of music.

During the encore of “Show of Life,” I was flooded with awe, surrounded by an extended crew of friends filling the spacious dance floor. It is peak nights like these, in which every aspect of the experience falls into place, that makes me step back and truly appreciate the the path we have traveled over so many years. I am eternally grateful that we have all found each other in this time, place and dimension and have been able to share in something so special for so long. It is like nothing else I know, and I can’t imagine life without it.

I. You Sexy Thing, Wombat, Free, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Halley’s Comet > Lonely Trip, Gotta Jibboo, Meat, Maze

II. Theme From the Bottom, Birds of a Feather, Bug, Light -> Party Time > Ruby Waves > Chalk Dust Torture

E. Show of Life, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

Screaming Through Space

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 11th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Hersheypark Stadium [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Coming off a blistering weekend at Deer Creek, Phish landed for a midweek show in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a routing that brought back fond memories of Summer ’96 as the band worked their way across the country up to Plattsburgh, New York for their first-ever festival of the Clifford Ball. Twenty-five years later, tour ends a bit more south in Atlantic City, but the shows in Hershey represent a similar midpoint between two more high-key weekends. In ’96, the band crushed a criminally underrated show in Hersheypark Stadium, and based on the way the band has been playing this summer, everyone had high hopes for the band’s return to Chocolate Town, USA.

The show kicked off with the high-energy couplet of “First Tube” and “Axilla,” a pairing that was promptly followed up by the improvisational highlight of the first set in “Fuego.” The band built a slow and ominous jam from the song that lasted just long enough to satisfy before leading into “Runaway Jim.” The first set as a whole was highly enjoyable and flowed quite well with great song selection. I particularly dug the version of “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” which featured more improv than usual and which set up a groovy, albeit brief, set-closing “Antelope.”

The second set featured two standout jams that had  markedly different feels to them. The set opening “No Man’s” expanded into an impressionistic experiment in soundscapes laced with a heavy amount of effects and tonal colors. Fishman’s drumming stood out in this excursion, as his driving rhythms anchored the direction of the band while Page and Trey used wide brush strokes to create varying textures over top. The subsequent jam in “Soul Planet,” my favorite of the night, had a much more directional quality. Led by Trey’s stellar lead playing, this piece was plot-driven with a clear progression of mini-movements that brought the listener on a complete journey before concluding with a seamless segue into “NICU.” Both of these jams were ultimately successful, but represented two very different improvisational approaches.

A mid-set version of “Joy” felt like it would bisect the stanza’s improvisational jaunts, but following the ballad, Trey, instead, decided to take the show on a song-based route. Everything was certainly well-played, but there was nothing of note to write home about. Many years ago, this type of turn in the second set might have soured me on the show, but I have reached a point in my Phish-going life where I simply enjoy whatever is presented each night to the fullest. As a wise man once said, “Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait…”

Throughout their history, Phish has always had a penchant for crushing shows that directly precede hyped destination weekends. They also have had propensity to follow up lighter shows with far heavier affairs. So considering both of these factors, be on the lookout for a heater tomorrow!

I. First Tube, Axilla, Fuego -> Runaway Jim, Gumbo, Sample in a Jar, Steam, Sugar Shack, Llama, Death Don’t Hurt Very Long > Run Like an Antelope

II. No Men In No Man’s Land > Soul Planet -> NICU, Joy, Scent of a Mule, Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line, The Lizards, Character Zero

E. Rock and Roll

Fun and Then Some

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 9th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Deer Creek [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Phish is a protean music force whose creative genius is delivered in countless ways and in all shapes and sizes. For Deer Creek’s Sunday night finale, Phish applied their improvisational acumen over the course of the entire second set, crafting a unified musical statement that combined serious musicianship, trademark humor and a liquid flow. Seamlessly weaving one song into another with a couple of mashups along the way, the band creating a non-stop journey through the multiverse of Phish. Though the second set was underlined by fun, the music still got quite deep at several points, illustrating the yin and yang of a band that feels unstoppable right now.

A neon-futuristic dance club take on “Bathtub Gin” got the party started quickly after setbreak, as the band undertook an exercise in collaborative groove painted with their new-era sonic palette. As the jam approached the precipice of an ambient movement, instead it dissolved into “Waves.” A super thick groove emerged out of the post-hiatus piece, over which Trey spontaneously began singing the lyrics of “Ghost.” This slowed down, gooey take on the song seemed primed to launch into massive highlight, but at the break in the song before the jam, the band switched directly into the opening hit of “Sneaking Sally,” and this is where the zany mashup madness that would characterize the set began. Singing “Ghost” lyrics over a hyrbid “Ghost”-“Sally” groove the band, essentially, played two songs at once, reeling in an enraptured audience on their edge of their seats to see what would come next.

The deepest parts of the set came next, within a short but hypnotic ambient jam out of “Twenty Years Later,” and an absolutely menacing improvisational passage that emerged out of a late-set medley of “Twist” and “Makisupa.” Following Trey’s one man comedy act in “Makisupa” in which he created a lyrical mashup from all the songs in the set, the band took a left turn into the netherworld, building a dark and harrowing excursion that sounded like a summoning of demons and dark spirits of the occult. The abrupt change of vibe provided serious musical gravity to a lighter set of thoroughly entertaining hijinks-based Phish.

Sometimes when Phish rely on antics and comedy to carry a show, the musical experience can fall flat, but that was not the case on Sunday night, where the band’s musicianship and creativity remained on high throughout the show. The whole second set really felt like one piece of music from “Bathtub Gin” through the end of “Twist,” as the band never stopped playing and everything blended together seamlessly. And when they finally did stop to the roaring adoration of their audience, the band broke out a real treat in the Page-scribed rarity of “Most Events Aren’t Planned.” Capping the set with “More” which blended into the end of “Bathtub Gin,” Phish stamped a special set of musical theatre complete.

And while the second set provided the entertaining centerpiece of the night, the first set contained more than few musical highlights—first and foremost in the retro combination of “Curtain” > “Mike’s Song.” “Mike’s” has had a propensity for the generic in recent years, but this version broke the mold completely. As the band chugged through the well-loved jam, Trey and Page hit a point where they started to soar into major key territory. While Mike and Fish continued to hold down the infectious rhythmic pocket of “Mike’s,” Trey and Page took the top half of the jam to a heart-tugging, heavenly realm. This experiment in musical juxtaposition absolutely slayed and provided a slice of uplifting life music as the show had barely begun. From this point, it felt like it was going to be a special night in Phishland. Subsequent first half highlights came in an abbreviated but filthy “Mercury” jam, a funky and interesting new Mike song called “Casual Enlightenment,” and a ripping, on point set closer of “David Bowie.”

To end the night, Phish laid out a phenomenal version of “Slave to the Traffic Light” that summed up the emotional and communally appreciative vibe of the weekend in Indiana. Amidst pre-show rumors of the tour’s imminent cancellation, the crowd soaked up every last drop of Sunday night’s show, as the days of taking this all for granted are over and done. But this buzz seems to have been nothing more than white noise of the ever-churning rumor mill, as tour moves forth to Chocolate City tomorrow night. Hershey has had a small but special place in Phish history, and with Golden Tickets readily available for the undersold shows it certainly feels like the next two nights may add to its lore.

I. Sigma Oasis, The Curtain > Mike’s Song > My Soul, Weekapaug Groove, Mercury > 46 Days, Taste, Casual Enlightenment*, David Bowie

II. Bathtub Gin > Waves -> Ghost > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Twenty Years Later -> Waste > Twist -> Makisupa Policeman > Twist -> Makisupa Policeman -> Twist, Most Events Aren’t Planned, More > Bathtub Gin

E. Contact, Slave to the Traffic Light

Rooted in the Now

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 8th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Deer Creek [Rene Huemer via Phish]

After playing such a monumental concert on Friday night, one might have expected Phish to come out with a bit more contained affair on Saturday—aka the Saturday night special. But mellow doesn’t seem to be in this band’s vocabulary right now. Instead, they came correct with a Saturday night smoker held down by a well crafted second set that just wouldn’t quit. Flowing with jams of all shapes and styles, Phish displayed the breadth of their musical mastery to a raucous crowd at Deer Creek.

Kicking off the second set, the band dropped a groove leviathan in the form of “Everything’s Right.” After an initial segment that stayed fairly close to the vest, the highlight of this excursion came when Page led the band into into a darker lair that sonically depicted the underground dungeon of Super Mario Brothers. I can’t say enough about Page’s contributions to the improvisational mixture right now. His sounds, textures, and leadership have pushed the band into totally new places this tour, resulting in fresh sounding Phish jams of the likes that we have never heard before. One can find examples of his avant-garde contributions in each show of this summer, and even within every improvisational passage. Combined with Trey’s diverse arsenal of tones and effects, their synergy has been creating futuristic Phish jams. But the future is now.

The band emerged from this underworld into a cleaner improvisational place, finishing the jam with more conventional rock playing in which Trey teased “Simple,” giving a nod to the mind-bender from Friday night. The jam concluded with a sparser funk section that likened a “Moma” groove which bled seamlessly back into the song of “Everything’s Right.”

A vast and spacious take on “What’s the Use?” expanded throughout the amphitheatre, serving as an exhale from the set’s opening fire. This version really struck a chord with me, as the band allowed the music to breathe and swell as if it was its own organic entity. Really stunning stuff here, as the instrumental piece took on an enhanced vitality and provided a level artistry we don’t always see from this piece.

The set revved up again with a vigorous run through “Crosseyed” which featured some high octane playing Trey. His passionate leads drove the band through a triumphant improvisational mid-set frolic, which set up the most creative jam of the night in “Down With Disease.” Following the song’s composed jam, the band locked into a delicate conversation that saw Trey, Page and Mike tossing around ideas like a hot potato. This jam exemplifies one-minded Phish as it’s finest, where their listening and response time is all but non-existent—just a rolling, subconscious flow coming from all directions at once. And then amidst this supernatural exchange, Trey just held a note and the band built an astonishing crescendo around it leaving this audience member in awe.

Although I have focused exclusively on the second set, one of the sublime excursions of the night came in the first in an incandescent version of “Stash.” Phish blew out the borders of the usually structured jam into an awesome improvisational exercise that saw the band in lockstep forming a golden pathway of deliverance. Connecting a section of delicate, melody-driven interplay with one of exhilarating, hard-hitting groove, Phish sculpted the most memorable version of their early ’90s classic in quite some time.

I also wanted to mention the mid-first set coupling of  “Yamar” and “Roggae.” Both rarities were dusted off with particular zest. Trey’s “Yamar” solo really popped with creativity and flow and while his deeply expressive playing in”Roggae” surfed atop an oceanic tide from his bandmates. Both really standout versions.

The energy of Phish feels so pure right now. Perhaps it is that the pandemic has made them realize that nothing can be taken for granted at this point and the rug can be pulled out from under them at any time. It sure seems that they are savoring every moment on stage together and wasting none of them. If the past year and a half has taught us anything, it is that life is fragile, and with the earth continuing to march towards an unknown destiny, the time is now. Phish seems to be living this philosophy, and each and every one of us are blessed to be a part of the equation.

I. Crowd Control, Poor Heart, The Moma Dance, Back on the Train, Army of One, Bouncing Around the Room, Ya Mar, Roggae, A Wave of Hope*, Stash, Cavern

II. Everything’s Right, What’s the Use?, Crosseyed and Painless > What’s the Use? > Down with Disease > Wading in the Velvet Sea, Possum

E. Drift While You’re Sleeping

*debut

We’ve Got a Band

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 7th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Deer Creek [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Wow. That felt incredible. The modern world of webcasts and audio streams is an amazing luxury to have when you are at home, but there is just no substitute for the live Phish experience. That goes without saying, as it is the basis of what I’ve written about for years. But having been away for so long, I forgot the visceral feeling of the music moving through you—the immersive three-dimensionality that envelops your being. It is the most beautiful experience I know.

But what happened with the band? Well, they dropped an absolutely monstrous show anchored by an all- time jam in “Simple” that immediately became one of my favorite pieces of music that Phish has ever played. The second set, as a whole, was dripping with elite improvisation, and the first hour of the opening frame set the night aflame with non-stop action. Phish certainly brought its A+ game to the midwest, and kicked off their trifecta at Deer Creek with an explosive affair.

A show opening sequence of “Carini,” “Wolfman’s” and “Sand” reads like a misprint, but the reality was anything but, as Phish came out of the gates with a purpose. “Carini” quickly transformed into an engaging and uplifting passage that instantly set an improvisational tone for the evening. “Wolfman’s” offered some silky and connected funk playing straying just enough from structure to keep it interesting throughout. “Sand” built upon the show’s opening couplet and elevated into another stratosphere all together, as Trey and Page converged in glorious interplay that brought the jam into gorgeous, major-key territory. Page’s piano work really stood out here, anchoring the groove in blissful pastures before Trey took the piece to the mountain top.

Short but legitimately well-played versions of “We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” and “Tube” rounded out a gripping opening hour of the show. At this juncture, Trey pulled the Delorean out and set the flux capacitor for 1993, resulting in the run of “Nellie Kane,” “Horn,” “Rift,” and Wedge.” The set then concluded with a really hot version of “Walls of the Cave,” and that is something I’m not sure I’ve said before.

But as the bell rang for the main event, Phish came out ready to rumble. And, boy did they ever. Following the set opener of “AC/DC Bag,” the band decided to get the show on the road with a gargantuan version of “Blaze On.” This jam grew unique in that for a long time, the improvisation remained loosely anchored to the rhythms of the song and didn’t posses distinct thematic sections, yet amidst this context, the band was immersed in an elite and free-flowing conversation. In relistening, this extended section struck me as a jazz-based improvisation, not necessarily musically-speaking, but structurally.

After experimenting with alternate tones and effects, Trey emerges with clean, melodic leads, taking the “Blaze” jam into a second stage in which his playing creates a more distinct musical narrative. Following a peak to this section, it became apparent that this would be the jam that kept on giving. The band navigates several more distinct sections ranging from experimental to melody-driven, finally concluding with an extended victory lap in which the band takes the mega long form piece to the top.

Those are a lot of words before getting to the the most epic piece of music I’ve heard Phish play any time in recent memory. Tonight’s “Simple” jam is so astronomically bonkers it had Trey giddily laughing as he brought the band back into the song after plunging the depths of the underworld and the outer reaches of the universe. Fusing space-aged disco, psych-abstraction and seriously heavy groove, Phish crafted a piece of utter lunacy that instantly jumps into the upper-most echelon of all-time jams. I’m not going to even attempt to give a detailed account of this, because frankly it defies any semantic description. It is, in a nutshell, Phish incarnate.

“Harry Hood” felt like the perfect encore for “Simple’s” headlining performance, and the band played a concise and on point version of the hallowed classic to cap off a fantastic evening of Phish. But in a surprise add on, Trey called for “I Never Needed You Like This Before,” which I can see settling into a rocking, set closing utility moving forward a la “Zero” and “S.A.N.T.O.S.”

Damn. What a night. This new era of Phish has quickly become some serious business. As Ron Burgundy said, “Boy, that escalated quickly!” If the current trajectory holds, what is going to be happening by the end of the year? You can save the whales and you can save the toads, but I don’t care if the world explodes…

I. Carini, Wolfman’s Brother, Sand, Lawn Boy, We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains, Tube, Nellie Kane, Horn, Rift, The Wedge, Walls of the Cave

II. AC/DC Bag, Blaze On, Wilson, Simple, Harry Hood, I Never Needed You Like This Before

E. Sanity, Limb By Limb, Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

A Spellbinding Set

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 5th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Ascend Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer]

Every now and then, Phish crafts a perfect set of music. Such statements are filled with top-shelf improvisation from start to finish, contain an impeccable set list, and feature jams that are stylistically diverse, illustrating just how dynamic this quartet can be at the peak of the their powers. On Wednesday night in Nashville, Phish dropped one of these sets. Twenty-four hours after playing a modest show to open their twin bill in Tennessee’s capital, the band returned to the stage and knocked it out of the park in what has to be considered the best frame of music of their young summer tour.

At their best, Phish are master set crafters who create flowing musical experiences that bring their audience on a thoughtfully contoured journey. Their once drill-bit focus on set crafting has fallen by the wayside a bit in the 3.0 era. These fully realized sets still happen, but they are fewer and further between than in Phish’s hey day. A number of variables create requisite flow for such an artistic statement—set list, transitions, jam length, and musical contrast to name a few. Once again, the band’s second performance in Nashville’s provide an illustration of all of these elements.

Phish sparked the night’s musical fire with an incendiary take on “Mr. Completely.” The band members immediately sounded in sync as they splashed into this jam, and they built a spirited journey that ran the sonic gamut from clean, delicate and nuanced interplay to vigorous, heavily effected soundscapes. Navigating this piece with notable patience, the band members listened and responded to each other diligently.

Breaking out of a quiet ending of “Mr. Completely” with a raucous jolt into “Birds of a Feather,” Phish injected some straightforward rock and roll into the set before stepping right back into adventurous jamming with “Ghost.” A creeping version of the late-‘90s groove machine saw Trey feature his Leslie cabinet to voice his contributions, giving the jam a notably eerie feel. Only towards the end of the piece did he pop back into his clean tone as the band began to consider their next move. It sounded like Mike and Fish initiated the pocket of “Bathtub Gin” well before the band moved into the song, but Trey responded with a tease of “Mr. Completely,” possibly suggesting a return to the set opener. Fish then went along with Trey, bringing back the song’s signature rhythm, but the band didn’t commit, continuing their open-ended jamming. Minutes later, however, they executed a smooth group-wide segue into “Gin” without breaking stride.

A fiery, guitar-led group romp through “Bathtub Gin” provided a stark juxtaposition to the more outward playing heard in the set’s opening two excursions. The clean, largely effect-less interplay invigorated the set with an rollicking energy that really hit the spot.

The final hit of “Gin” transformed into the opening hit of a syrupy “2001” with a tempo that likened the slower grooves of Deodato’s original composition and the Phish’s earliest takes on it. The thickness of the groove even translated through the audio stream, which means that shit was pure goo on the dance floor.

But even after all this action, the best was yet to come as Trey called for the set closer of “Split Open and Melt.” “Split” saw quite the renaissance in 2018, highlighted by the mind-bending epics from The Gorge, Hampton, Las Vegas and MSG. And Nashville’s master work belongs right along side these in the annals of all-timers. At its best, a “Split” jam will blur the line between pure dementia and tight cohesion, as its odd time signature, dark tonal color, and penchant for abstraction create a disorienting psych-laced adventure. This version did all that and then some. The set closing jam began with very intricate and connected interplay in which one could easily follow the conversation, though it ultimately reached a symphonic crescendo where the band collectively played one sound, muddying the boundaries of their four individual contributions into a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. This jam popped out of my speakers live, and held up just as well on multiple relistens —this is a truly elite Phish and the perfect exclamation point on a monstrous set of music.

As the first leg of Summer Tour 2021 reaches its halfway point this weekend, Phish has fully regained their footing after 17 months away. It feels like Nashville’s second performance is ushering us into the second stage of this comeback tour, where the sheer excitement of their return of a crowd has moved through the band and they are back to business in earnest. It is an exciting prospect to think of what the next week plus will bring to fruition, especially as they prepare to step into the hallowed cornfields of Deer Creek. The round two bell is ringing and we are here for it.

I. Evolve, Free, Ocelot, My Sweet One, Cool Amber and Mercury, Halfway to the Moon, Water in the Sky, Theme From the Bottom, Suzy Greenberg, Fluffhead

II. Mr. Completely > Birds of a Feather, Ghost -> Bathtub Gin > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Split Open and Melt

E. Character Zero

*debut

***

I am writing this piece in the air as I travel from the Bay to Indianapolis for Deer Creek and beyond. I made my decision before this show happened, but if there was ever anything to support it, this set was certainly it. I will wear a mask at the shows, first and foremost, by choice, but just as importantly, to respect the band’s wishes. If I feel comfortable at these shows, I will also be going to Hershey and Atlantic City. Thus, I am not sure if I will continue writing or at what pace. But it has certainly been fun to revisit this space after so many years away, so I suspect I will continue in one form or another.  Hope to see some of you out there this weekend!

Reentry

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 4th, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Ascend Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer]

After bursting from their pandemic-induced hiatus over the weekend as if shot out of a cannon, Phish exhaled on Tuesday night, playing a solid but unspectacular show to kick off their two nights in Music City. One had to expect some element of a hangover after three monumental efforts over tour’s initial four nights, thus I don’t suspect this is much more than a speed bump in the road of summer tour. Each of the band’s second-set improvisational swings bested the one before, culminating with an outstanding, meditative take on “Light” in which they achieved a fully flowing conversation bubbling with ideas. Alpharetta’s “Tweezer” was a hard act to follow, and while fans were primed to digest another epic, Nashville’s opener saw the band regress to the mean a bit.

Following the peak of its composed jam, “No Man’s” pushed forth into some collectively crafted, space-aged textures, but the jam possessed a searching quality without ultimately cohering in any true direction. “Ruby Waves,” however, was played with notably more gusto and purpose, growing into an engaging and satisfying piece of full-band improv. After a choppy and unexpected mid-set coupling of “Possum” and “When the Circus Comes to Town,” Trey decided to give the band one more swing at connecting—and they did.

“Light’s” jam immediately sounded more cohesive than the band’s previous two attempts, and took off in earnest as Trey then Page echoed an eclectic bass offering from Gordeaux. The band reached a different level of communication in this passage, and the rolling, repetitive nature of Fish’s rhythms and Mike’s bass lines created a cerebral tone to the music. Trey played his best leads of the night within “Light,” providing a current to the jam that carried the listener along an inner path. Phish allowed this piece to breathe, leaving more space in the music than in “No Man’s” and “Ruby Waves,” and, as a result, they were able to step back and really listen to one another.

The band capped the set with a standard run through of “You Enjoy Myself.” I am sure it was fun in person, but from the sidelines—outside of “Light”—night one in Nashville just didn’t pop with the same energy or ideation that we heard over the weekend. But such is the nature of human endeavors. Tours always contain fluctuations in output and while we all wanted to see Phish crank out 25-30 minute jams every night, that felt more like a pipe dream than a real possibility. I predict that night two will be more musically significant as the band ramps up towards their three-night stand in Deer Creek this weekend.

I. Punch You in the Eye, Strawberry Letter 23, Sample in a Jar, Halley’s Comet > Backwards Down the Number Line, Undermind, Divided Sky, Mull*, It’s Ice, About to Run, The Squirming Coil

II. Party Time, No Men In No Man’s Land > Ruby Waves > Possum, When the Circus Comes, Light, You Enjoy Myself

E. Loving Cup

*debut

Back to the Freezer

Posted in Summer '21, Uncategorized with the on August 2nd, 2021 by Mr.Miner

Ameris Amphitheatre [Rene Huemer via Phish]

Anyone following Phish’s first week of tour could feel a Sunday night “Tweezer” coming from a mile away. And given the band’s current proclivity for extended jaunts through their second-set centerpieces, one could only imagine what might happen if these two things collided. When they did, the results were drool-worthy. The band set shifted into high gear and let it rip for over 30 minutes straight, crafting a full-throttle epic that has the Phish world buzzing.

Jams this long usually have an ebb and flow to them with distinct thematic sections and movements, but aside from one gorgeous synth-drenched, quasi-ambient passage early in the jam, this “Tweezer” became a relentless groove fiesta through and through. Fishman really pushed the pace and drove this jam, maintaining hard-hitting, punchy rhythms for a mind-numbing length of time. Coupled with Mike’s otherworldly bass work, the two of them maintained a dynamic pocket for far longer than we usually hear. This foundation of groove provided a playground for Page and Trey to play liquid lead lines and funk-laced dance patterns that kept the vibe at 11 for the entirety of the monstrosity.

Though there are subtle shifts within the jam, once the band is in the zone—which happens after a blatant tease of “Esther” in the 15th minute—they achieve a one-minded flow state for the duration in which they channel groove ambrosia directly from Mt. Olympus. During this second half of the jam, it sounds as if their minds shut off and they reach improvisational zen, allowing the music to move through them from the subconscious realm out into the world.

Much like this “Tweezer,” Phish’s three mega-jams thus far in tour, have been more straight forward and energetic rather than abstract and deep. One can hear the band’s enthusiasm and emotion dripping from each melody, beat and bass line. It feels as though they are trying to make up for time lost over the past year and a half, jamming more with instinct and inspiration rather than calculation or thought. Their impassioned improv is jumping off the stage and translating loud and clear, even through audio streams and webcasts far and wide. It almost sounds like the band members have just been released from captivity and are re-discovering what fun it is to jam together. Wait…

It will be interesting to see how second-sets develop moving forward. Will the band’s improv largely come in these larger-that-life packages or will it become more evenly dispersed throughout second sets to which we are accustomed? I’m not saying one is preferred but just observing a shift in contour. Though their have been secondary jams that have encompassed the improvisational fallout from these main events, aside from “Prince Caspian” these supporting excursions haven’t really reached original places. “Twist” kept the jamming going last night, and was certainly engaging if less than groundbreaking. “Piper,” however, did reached some inventive, collectively-built spaces by its ending. The main improvisation of each past three shows, however, has primarily come via the macro-jams of “Carini,” “Chalkdust,” and “Tweezer.”

Sunday night’s vibe was set early on with the one-two punch of “Set Your Soul Free” and “Reba.” “Set Your Soul Free” reached a blistering, feel-good peak that foreshadowed what would follow throughout the night. A particularly slow take on “Reba” and a creative version of “Jibboo” both featured very patient interplay between Trey and Page and carried the clean, emotive soloing that is quickly characterizing much of Trey’s post-pandemic work. Each also provided cathartic peaks that pointed to the more monumental ones that would come in “Tweezer” after setbreak.

That was quite the comeback weekend for the Phish from Vermont! With a full-slate of shows scheduled for this summer and fall, it feels like the sky is the limit for the band right now, as they are—in essence—just getting warmed up. And if crushing 30+ minute “Tweezers” is what they are doing on their first weekend back, what is to come at Deer Creek, Atlantic City and beyond? Time will tell. But first, a stop in Nashville.

I. Buried Alive > Set Your Soul Free, Reba, My Friend, My Friend, 555, Kill Devil Falls, Gotta Jibboo, Sparkle, Thread, Meat, Run Like an Antelope

II. More, Tweezer > Twist > Piper > Farmhouse, Waste, First Tube

E. Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise