Holiday Wish List—Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 10th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

Now that we have experienced the New Year’s run and spun the tapes several times, let’s go back to my wish list and see how Santa treated me…

1. “Waves”: This majestic song debuted at MSG on 12/31/02 and hasn’t returned to the The Garden since. Given that we’ve only heard one version this year (Deer Creek) and it was magnificent, I’m pulling for a big time “Waves” over the Holiday Run.

GRANTED—When the band dropped into “Waves” as the second song of the second set on the 29th, I thought we were bound for glory, But after a stellar guitar solo, the band pulled up into an ambient washout and moved into “Caspian.” Nonetheless, the played the song, albeit with severe case of blue balls coming hand in hand.

2. The “Tweezer” of the Year: Though there were many quality “Tweezers” this year, especially on the second leg of summer, Phish has yet to throw down a colossal 2012 version. Here’s hoping we get a mega-”Tweezer” filled with the funkified urban grit of New York City.

GRANTED—Phish dropped far and away the best “Tweezer” of 2012 on the 28th. Taking the jam far into the unknown and on a psychedelic joyride, the band granted my most sought after wish with the best “Tweezer” of 3.0. I’ve been spinning this one non-stop since the run ended. What a treat!

3. Unexpected Jams: We all know the band will jam “Rock and Roll,” “Disease,” “Light,” and “Piper,” and I can’t wait for each. But I also wish to be blindsided by one or two jams from unexpected vehicles a la Worcester’s “Roses” or Atlantic City’s “Birds.” The songs that these jams stem from are irrelevant, it’s all about the element of surprise.

DENIED—No surprises jams popped up over the run, as all chunks of improv stemmed from familiar places. Interestingly, the band didn’t jam two of the shoe-ins mentioned above, leaving “Rock and Roll and “Light” out of the spotlight in New York City.

4. New Material: Just yesterday Mike posted a picture of himself playing bass in The Barn. What if, in addition to routine practice, the band was polishing off a couple new songs? It’s high time for some fresh setlist material, and though it’s doubtful we’ll see any during a year-end run, a kid can dream, right?

DENIED—No surprise here, as Phish stuck to their catalog less three surprise New Year’s Eve covers. Last year, Trey spoke about an impending album for which now they band now has six months to record before tour begins. With Trey’s Broadway musical about to open and a TAB tour rumored for the spring, let’s hope this still comes to fruition. Joy is now four years old and the band needs a new album to refresh their rotation—badly.

5. A Fully Realized “Twist”: After working this jam during Leg One, including one of the standout excursions of 2012 in Cincy’s “Twist,” the band shied away from exploring the song during Leg Two. Carrying such profound improvisational potential, it would be a shame to see another standard version of “Twist” over the Holiday Run.

DENIED—When the band inserted “Twist” into a prime spot on the 28th, right after “Tweezer > Maze,” I had grandiose visions. Phish proceeded to played a solid but contained “Twist,” bookending the song with “Little Drummer Boy” teases to the delight of all. An intense, connected jam fit into the contour of the night, but it won’t make any holiday highlight reel.

6. Smooth Segues: This year featured a host of silky segues, from “Sand -> Nellie Kane” to “Light -> Sally” and “Lighteca” to Sand -> Ghost.” Hopefully the guys will take their time between songs and merge some with stunning fluidity—an element that always ups the ante of any song pairing.

DENIED—The MSG shows featured a few smooth song pairings in “Tweezer > Maze,” “Ghost > Piper” and “Theme > Fluffhead,” but the guys never executed a legitimate segue, let alone a silky smooth one. It seems that segues come out when the band is more in the groove of a tour and playing together more often.

7. A Jammed Out “Crosseyed”: Phish has featured this Talking Heads cover as part of their rotation for the duration of this era, but seldom have they used it as a jam vehicle. The band has been more inclined to springboard into high-energy rock and roll from “Crosseyed” than into any sort of adventure. Bill Graham’s version, however, reminded us of the profound depths the guys can plunge with this song, and hopefully over the Holiday Run we see another such rendition.

DENIED—Surprisingly, “Crosseyed” didn’t make an appearance at the Garden, and to be honest, I’m glad they left in on the shelf rather than playing a standard rock version.

8. A “David Bowie” With Teeth: It would be great to see a revitalized version of this once-prolific jam that has turned rather stale in the 3.0 era. Chances of this, however, feel like they are slim to none.

GRANTED—Out of the blue, Phish threw down one of the better “David Bowies” we’ve heard in this era to close the second set on the 28th. Capping the night with a gritty and intricate run through of their early classic, the band infused notably energetic interplay into the jam. While no modern “Bowie” has evoked the ethos of its mid-90’s heyday, the version on the 28th was just what the doctor ordered—and it holds up quite well on playback.

9. “Wolfman’s” or “Bathtub Gin” In Set Two: Both of these songs have turned into tame, unidirectional first-set jams. I hope to see the band place one or both of these under the spotlight during the main event, as each song has been begging for some love for quite a while now.

HALF-GRANTED—Although neither song made a second set, they were both placed in slots of prominence as first set closers. “Wolfman’s” grew wildly creative as they left the song’s generic groove for more dynamic funk jamming. Then, of course, they seamlessly folded “Little Drummer Boy” deep within the jam and came out of it with an unconventional blues build before hitting the top—an awesome version all around. “Bathtub Gin” was the half of the wish that wasn’t granted. Many fans dug the energetic, guitar shred-fest on the 29th, but this version was far to similar to all the other ones from this era to get me too excited. Enjoyable? Sure. But extraordinary? Far from it.

10. Passion: Whatever happens at MSG and whatever songs are played, let’s hope the band comes with a serious intent to blow the room apart. Madison Square Garden is a venue of great legend in Phish history, though the band hasn’t treated the round room to a full-on musical assault in this era. Let’s hope this run contains that elusive MSG show we’ve been dreaming about since the band’s ’09 return.

GRANTED—If one thing is for sure, the band delivered all four shows with passion. Even the contained rocker on the 29th was delivered with zest and energy, especially after setbreak. The guys were having a blast on stage for the duration of the run and their happiness and energy oozed through every selection, from  “Tweezer” to “Character Zero.” My football coach used to say, “Whatever you do, do it full speed,” and there’s no doubt Phish adhered to that philosophy. This wish was largely in reference to the 2011 run in which the band seemed go through the motions, and they couldn’t have been more different in their delivery this time around.

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Gauging the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 8th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

Boasting incredible highs amidst a lot of well-played music, MSG’s 2012 installment was certainly a good time. Phish bounced back from a poor showing last year at the Garden, and considering the four months off between performances, they sounded practiced and polished. The band was sharp as they closed out a year widely considered to be their strongest since their return, however, their daring side only came out in spots. The risk taking that prevailed over the past two years was curbed significantly, amounting to less than one serious jam per set and leaving the run feeling fairly clean. When Phish did jump into the unknown they met with incredible success, begging the question of why they didn’t make the leap more often. Phish played most songs with strength and precision, though setlists were, generally, composed of standard rotation songs with very few surprises. And while the band fed off the big city energy—a hallmark of MSG shows—when looked at in the context of 2012, the holiday shows didn’t necessarily hold up to the year’s best offerings. To highlight the run, the band dropped three jams—“Tweezer,” “Down With Disease” and “Carini”—that belong on the top shelf of this era, but when it came to putting together whole shows, the guys fell a bit short.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

It’s not surprising that this era’s most musically complete holiday runs—2009 and 2010—followed fall tours. Without being in the groove, or at least in close proximity to a run of shows, it’s tough for Phish to step on stage for four days and crush. It’s also not surprising that the band played less-than-spectacular run in The Garden, a once-legendary venue that has hosted mostly middle-of the road shows throughout this era featuring stellar moments here and there. Over these four nights, the highs were, undoubtedly, quite high, but the band played a lot of filler throughout the run where it felt like they were on cruise control. Included in these parts were four first sets that didn’t bring much to the table aside from “Stash” and “Wolfman’s” on night one, and a solid, though far from amazing, “Bathtub Gin” on night two. With a week of space separating us from the year-end run, let’s look back at the four-night flow.

The band came out of the gates with a bang on the 28th, setting hopes and improvisational expectations fairly high for the next three nights. A very solid opening show featured a six song second set, a gorgeous 20-minute “Tweezer” that immediately jumped out as the strongest of the year, the most creative take on “Wolfman’s Brother” in quite some time, and a strong supporting cast of “Stash,” “Maze” and “David Bowie.” A “Little Drummer Boy” theme ran throughout the show illustrating the band’s playful side and giving the show a dose of holiday cheer. After the dust settled on the four night run, an argument could be made for the 28th being the most balanced and complete shown of the run.

12.29 (Shelly Siegel)

The second night at The Garden fell incredibly flat on these ears, effectively crushing any momentum built on the 28th. With nary an attempt at any true improv, each song translated as a painfully standard rendition. “Golden Age,” although jammed a bit, didn’t hold up to the many standout versions of the year, and when Trey bailed out of a potential “Waves” jam in the second slot of the second set for “Prince Caspian,” one got the feeling that it would be one of those uninspired, song-based shows. And that is precisely what transpired. The 29th holds virtually zero replay value, and even the highest point of the night—“Bathtub Gin”—relied on linear, guitar-led shredding. While this type of show may work for some, in my opinion, it translated as one of the band’s least impressive efforts of the year. The clunker on the 29th left the fate of the Holiday Run hinging on the 30th. And Phish came through in droves.

12.31 (S. Siegel)

The second set of the 30th was —easily—the set of this Holiday Run, featuring 40 minutes of sinful improvisation balanced by stellar versions of “Slave” and “Harry Hood” to cap things off. The meat of the set—“Disease > 20 Years Later > Carini”—was the one time in New York that the band constructed a phenomenal run of jamming. Over the course of 2012, multi-song sequences like this one comprised many of the year’s overwhelming highlights, and this chunk of dark music echoed the times when the band really built a passage that amounted to more than the sum of its parts. Both “Disease” and “Carini” hold up as their respective versions of the year, while “Carini’s” ominous psych-rock textures—about as rare in recent Phish as a great “YEM”—could be championed as a jam of the era. Most of the creative improv of 2012 has focused on uplifting themes, thus this segment of the 30th stood out that much more. Although Trey made one of the most head scratching, vibe crushing and out of place calls of all time with “Number Line” out of this mind-bending story, one couldn’t really complain after such extensive theatrics. And to resolve the supernatural meat of the set, the band served up glorious versions of “Slave” and “Hood,” both of which featured incredibly dynamic work by Trey and hold up as blue-chip versions of the era. When all was said and done, the band had dropped one of the top sets of the year that didn’t take place in Colorado.

12.31 (S.Siegel)

Throughout history, New Year’s shows have often been musical afterthoughts of their respective runs, and since the return, only 2010 showcased a New Year’s show that was the best of its run. This year, after the 30th, one hardly expected the band to match or top their masterful performance—and lo and behold, they didn’t. The first and third sets of the 31st were both well played and incredibly straightforward, highlighted by high-energy rock and roll. Though par for the course, those sets are usually sandwiched around some substantial music in the second set, but this year’s main event featured only one memorable song pairing in “Ghost > Piper.” The fourth consecutive New Year’s Eve “Ghost” reached sublime planes of harmonic interplay and “Piper” contained torrid, full-band jamming at a break-neck pace, but for three sets of music, a twenty-minute takeaway is fairly slim pickings. This show was very fun, no doubt, and had the run included a bit more meat, it would have fit congruently. New Year’s Eve was very fun experience and certainly didn’t fall flat like the 29th, but as the memories fade, it will hold little replay value.

Aside from the few centerpiece jams of MSG—which were undeniably awesome— 2012’s Holiday Run was relatively tame. The highs were quite high, but when considered as full two-setters and a complete run, the shows fell short of 2012’s best offerings. If one gets off on tight, high energy Phish, there was plenty of that to go around, but if one is questing for adventurous jamming, the run had just enough to make it palatable. For whatever reason, there seemed to be a prevailing sentiment in the community before these shows that the band was going to host a blowout in the Big Apple, returning MSG to its legendary status in the pantheon of Phish venues. And while the run certainly didn’t disappoint anyone and contained enough timeless moments to be considered a success, it won’t go down in history as eternally memorable.

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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A Garden Party

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 3rd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

MSG 2012 (Graham Lucas)

Since New Year’s Eve, many people in the online Phish community have been making meaning of the band covering Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” to open the final show of the year. Though investigating the origin of the song, one can find potential significance in this seemingly out-of-the-blue selection.

Ricky Nelson became a childhood star on the 1950s television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was set in 1950s suburbia and conveyed an idyllic image of American family life. Nelson started his music career by playing songs on the popular show, and in the late ‘50s he branched off from his family’s sitcom and formed an early era rock band. Nelson became one of rock and roll’s first teen idols and became known for his excessively clean cut image. Between 1957 and 1962 Nelson charted 30 Top 40 hits, more than any other artist besides Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Garden Party (1972)

Though Nelson continued to record albums, his success was stymied by the British Invasion of the 1960s. Consequently, he gravitated towards country music, becoming a pioneer of the country rock genre. After his change of tune, however, Nelson reached the Top 40 only two more times in his career—once in 1970 when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and for the final time in 1972 with “Garden Party,” a song written in reaction to the following incident. Nelson performed as part of a “Rock and Roll Revival” concert at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971, sharing the bill with other early rock legends, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, among others. Nelson emerged on stage looking different than his fans remembered him, sporting the ’70s fashion of  bell bottoms, a purple velvet shirt and shoulder-length hair. Though he began with his older classics, Nelson soon played his new country-rock material and was subsequently greeted with boos from an audience who didn’t approve of his stylistic shift. He left the stage mid-set and didn’t return for the show’s group finale. Nelson wrote “Garden Party” in disgust, documenting this experience. Confident in his new musical direction, the lyrics of “Garden Party”—“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”—became his personal creed.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Fast forward to December 31, 2012. Phish decided to debut Ricky Nelson’s song in Madison Square Garden 26 years to the day of the plane crash that took Nelson and his band from the world. While the move was a clear nod to the American legend, Nelson’s “Garden Party” clearly held parallels to Phish’s experience in the modern era. Phish has always endured a hypercritical fan base, something that Trey, himself, noted in 1997’s documentary, Bittersweet Motel. The level of public critique has only increased in 3.0 due to the onset of Phish blogs, podcasts and the always-expanding use of Internet discussion forums. As a burgeoning population of seasoned fans all have particular ideas on the way Phish shows should be played, band analysis and criticism has reached a high point in this era. Whether it’s more bust-outs, not enough funk, a lack of a second jam in “Mike’s Song,” the need to shelve “Time Turns Elastic” or playing less songs per 90-minute set, everyone has an opinion on the band’s performances and isn’t shy about sharing it. The fact that Phish fans care so much about what form the band takes is a testament to their undying passion, though I’m sure if the band members ever tuned into the omnipresent online discussions, they’d be quite amused by the copious demands. Sometimes, a sentiment in the fan community is so widespread and intense that it’d be nearly impossible for it not to get back to them. Some modern examples of this are the ardent endorsement of 2011’s Super Ball festival and the overall disappointment after the lackluster Holiday Run of the same year.

12.31.12 (J.Herzog)

Perhaps Phish’s inclusion of “Garden Party” was their own coy response to their rabid fan base, embracing Nelson’s motto of being true to themselves in the face of any and all critique. By following up “Garden Party” with “Possum,” a song that is universally considered to be overplayed in this era, and “Roses Are Free,” a song from which everybody and their mothers have called for more jams, it’s hard to ignore this probability. While “Garden Party” may have been a playful musical retort, it’s quite dubious that the maneuver represented anything more than that towards their fan base—a loyal cadre they have consistently gushed over for the duration of their careers. Phish has enjoyed one of the famous love affairs in music history with a fan base that would travel to the end of the earth to see them perform. More likely than a jab at their loyalists, “Garden Party” was positive affirmation of their own place in time. The message didn’t feel like a defensive “Hey, quit your bitching!” but rather a mature statement saying, “Everyone is welcome to have opinions, but we are here to please ourselves. Take it or leave it.” Understood in this regard, such a statement simultaneously frees their fan base to be critical and allows the band not to worry about it at all.

In all likelihood, the cover of “Garden Party” had a bit to do with several aspects of the night—the fact that Phish had, literally, created a garden out of the Garden for New Year’s Eve, the 26 year anniversary of Ricky Nelson’s passing and a tongue-in-cheek comment to their feverish fan base that Phish will be Phish. And in the end, though fans will be fans, I don’t think there is anyone who really wants them to change. If they are happy, we are happy and if we are happy, they are happy. This has worked for 30 years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

12.31.12 (Richard Lawless)

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Golf Shots in the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 2nd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.31.2012, MSG (Jesse Herzog)

If any holiday embraces the theme of good times and fun, it is New Years Eve. For their fourth and final show of 2012’s Holiday Run at the Garden, Phish manifested this theme through three sets of high-energy rock and roll. Remaining largely within song structures, the band treated 20,000 fans to a rousing performance while infusing humor throughout the final set of the year. Playing with authoritative command, the band shook the World’s Most Famous Arena for over three hours highlighted by a golden sequence of “Ghost > Piper” in set two. After letting it all hang out on the 30th, the guys got back to polished rock music in their 2012 swan song and showed that even an improvisationally contained show can bring the house down.

12.31 Official (J.Flames)

Upon entering MSG on New Year’s Eve, fans were greeted by a floor and stage covered in Astroturf while “actors” dressed in country club attire were spread throughout the floor playing an array of lawn games such as mini-golf, badminton, and croquet. Additionally, the stage was covered in plant life with trees, shrubs, and assorted flora providing the feel of a true garden. Phish musically referenced their surroundings right off the bat with an out-of-the-blue opener of Ricky Nelson’s 1972 song, “Garden Party,” inspired by his experience at a Madison Square Garden concert. Through the lyrics to the song— “it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well / you can’t please everyone, so you gotta’ to please yourself”—it was clear that the guys had were going to have a blast in their year-end finale, and their musical confidence oozed from their high octane performance all night long.

The meat of the show transpired, as usual, in the second set with an eye-popping run of songs that were connected quite smoothly, though only “Ghost” and “Piper” were given room to breathe. Continuing their modern era New Year’s Eve tradition, “Ghost” transformed into the improvisational centerpiece of the night. Sparking the jam with hard-edged playing, the band united in a section of groove that saw all members contribute equally to the mix. Before long, however, the guys followed Trey’s lead out of conventional territory into an uplifting plane of harmonic convergence. Sprouting patient and soul-caressing leads, Trey spearheaded the most transcendent passage of the evening. Cascading guitar melodies brought the jam to its peak while coaxing spot-on piano accompaniment from Page. Reaching a plateau of creative reverie, the guys had, once again, sculpted a phenomenal New Year’s Eve “Ghost” to go along with the standout versions from ’09 and ’10. A mellow denouement to the jam brought the music smoothly into “Piper.”

12.31.123 (Jeff Thomas)

Juxtaposed against the beautiful music of “Ghost,” Phish blasted off into a full throttle version of “Piper.” Trey carved out gritty leads amidst a musical fury in which the band connected as well as they did all night. This high-speed chase upped the intensity of the second set and never relented as the band flexed their improvisational muscle throughout this torrid rendition. Trey’s leads and rhythm chops stood out at the guiding force of this voyage as he dictated the path and tempo with Fishman tightly glued by his side. When the jam did finally come to an end, the guys only took a moment to merge with the most prolific song of 2012, “Light.” Placed in the middle of the New Year’s second set, a monster version of the seminal jam felt imminent. Trey took a spectacular solo within the contained portion of the jam—something he did in virtually every selection of the night—but when the time came for the band to spring into the ether, they, instead, relaxed into an ambient washout and revved up “2001.” Keeping the setlist moving where it might have benefitted from a bit more improv, the guys closed the set with a run of “2001,” “Horse > Silent,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” none of which separated themselves from average versions. The second set, however, featured non-stop action from start to finish, and a certain flow to the action, fitting the vibe of the show congruently.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Who knows what prompted the band to create a golf-themed third set of New Year’s Eve—perhaps it’s a hobby of their golden age (Trey and Page’s at least!) or perhaps it was a natural extension of “Kung’s” runaway golf cart marathon that was actually staged during “Chalk Dust”—but as usual, the band took it the extra mile. None of my friends nor I picked up on the golf-themed setlist in real time, but when I saw a tweet about it after the show it seemed hilarious that we hadn’t noticed. “Sand > Wedge,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wilson,” “Lawn Boy,” “Driver,” and “Iron Man” made up the post midnight set, all with a golf references right in their titles. Later someone noted that “Party Time” (Par-Tee Time) kicked off the comic-laced set, leaving only “Tweezer Reprise” as the only non-golf related song in the set, but what an exclamation it made for the midnight hour! Following a rambunctious golf cart marathon within a compact “Chalk Dust,” the band, with assistance of their trusty New York City dance troupe, counted down to midnight. And after the tradition of “Auld Lang Syne,” they busted into their most adrenalized song in their catalog (which had been looming since the 28th) to ring in 2013, “Tweezer Reprise.”. Complete with strobe lights, dancers and a diva, Carrie Manolakos, belting out vocal melodies alongside Trey, “Reprise” created quite the midnight festivity!

“Tweezer Reprise” (J.Thomas)

Once the balloons had dropped and hugs were exchanged throughout the crowd, the band kicked into 2013 with a scorching dance session in the first ever third-set version of “Sand.” Though the show’s final set played out without much jamming, the band managed to throw three entertaining curve balls into the stanza with the debut of Steve Miller Band’s seventies anthem, “Fly Like an Eagle,” a rearranged, a cappella version of “Lawn Boy,” and the first full version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” with Page playing the role of Ozzy Osbourne. Once again, fun was the pervading theme of the night.

Page recognized the onset of Phish’s 30th anniversary year during the encore, a year that allegedly holds a large touring docket the band. But this night was about finishing 2012 in style. This New Year’s show ended what was unanimously heralded as the band’s best year since their 2009 return, and in the heart of New York City on a stage they have made their home, Phish delivered a robust and celebratory performance. Thirty years deep and still going strong—only the Phish from Vermont.

I: Garden Party*, Possum, Roses Are Free, Rift, Sample in a Jar, Alaska, Mike’s Song > Walk Away, Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero

II: Birds of a Feather, Ghost > Piper > Light** > Also Sprach Zarathustra > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself^

III: Party Time, Kung > Chalk Dust Torture > Auld Lang Syne > Tweezer Reprise^^ > Sand > The Wedge > Fly Like an Eagle*, Wilson, Lawn Boy#

E: Driver, Iron Man##

*debut, **Auld Lang Syne tease, ^Birds of a Feather tease, ^^With Carrie Manolakos on vocals and backup singers, #a cappella, ## first full performance

12.31.12,  MSG (Richard Lawless)

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A Sterile Saturday Night

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on December 30th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

Shows like Saturday night’s at Madison Square Garden leave me scratching my head, wondering what, exactly, the band was intending to do. Following an opening night that laid the groundwork for a stellar run, the guys came out on one of the holiest days of the Phish calendar, 12/29, and barely attempted a lick of open improv. Following Denver’s revelation and a monumental “Tweezer” on the 28th, one had to expect at least a chunk of musical risk-taking on night two. But with one sonic body blow after another, they guys made it a point try absolutely nothing. There is no doubt that they played their songs quite well, and nobody can take that away from them, though we expect Phish to play their songs proficiently at this stage of the game. However, if we are calibrating shows by their level of cerebral engagement—music that enraptures one’s wildest imagination—12/29 was the least impressive of the year by leaps and bounds.

12.29.12 Official (J. Flames)

Before going any further, let me state—once again—that I go to Phish shows to see them jam; to witness the band weave musical memories in real time. If I wanted to listen to Phish songs, I could throw one of many CDs to happily meet that desire. But shows are supposed to be something more. Phish shows are the times when we have the privilege to be awed by the superhuman powers of the most magical musicians on earth. But there was nothing magical about last night at all. With little rhyme or reason, the guys sculpted a piecemeal setlist that possessed no direction or vigor whatsoever. I would love to write about the improvisational highlights of the show but there were none. Zero. Zilch. A few minutes of bland, quasi-connected, atmospheric funk out of “Golden Age” represented the band’s only attempt at any sort of jamming. Even songs like “Rock and Roll,” “Reba,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Waves” that almost always feature exciting improv were delivered in straight forward and unspectacular fashion. There were plenty of high-energy moments—specifically “Suzy Greenberg” and “46 Days”—but those are meant to be the supporting cast, not the lead actors.

The concern that now comes into play for this Holiday Run is whether the 28th will wind up as the best show of the run, just as it was a year ago. It felt like Dick’s provided a pivot point in the development of modern Phish. It seemed that the guys had their hearts rededicated to sophisticated musical experimentation, and that the “hit or miss” aspect that has annoyingly pervaded 3.0 was a thing of the past. But after last night’s song-based snoozefest, that all seems like wishful thinking. Perhaps the 29th was just a bump in the road, but by anyone’s standards, it felt virtually inconceivable that the band would pull out such a performance on Saturday night at the Garden. But they did. And there is nothing to do but smile, put it behind us, and comeback on the 30th for a massive bounce back night of improvisation.

I: Crowd Control, Mound, AC/DC Bag, Rock and Roll, Sugar Shack, Reba, Halley’s Comet > Limb By Limb*, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Bathtub Gin**

II: Golden Age > Waves > Prince Caspian*** > Boogie On Reggae Woman, Suzy Greenberg, Bug, Cavern, 46 Days

E: The Squirming Coil, Grind, First Tube

*Follow the Yellow Brick Road tease
**”Susie Q” quote from Fishman
***Unfinished

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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Opening the Freezer

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on December 29th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

On the first night of their highly anticipated 2012 New Year’s Run, Phish stepped onto the Garden’s stage and stunned their audience with an era-defining rendition of “Tweezer,” invoking the improvisational spirit we witnessed in Denver just months ago. Showing no signs of rust from their extensive off-season, the guys backed up the night’s monstrous centerpiece with highlights of “Wolfman’s Brother” and “David Bowie,” not to mention rock solid play throughout the show. Watching the band play with such polish and confidence on the first night of the run brought unbridled enthusiasm not only for the music that went down, but for the limitless possibilities that the next three nights now contain.

Official 12.28 Print (J.Flames)

Following a straightforward opening set, less a stellar “Wolfman’s” closer, Phish could hold back no more and tore open the universe at the start of the second with a free-form, to-die-for “Tweezer” that needs to be heard to be believed. The band connected the many movements of this masterpiece with a criminal smoothness, resulting in an ego-less and sophisticated musical adventure that is beginning to define the new contour of Phish jams. Harnessing the egalitarian improvisational gusto unveiled in the Rockies over Labor Day weekend, Phish played a jam in which nobody dominated while different members stepped up to lead throughout. Courageous, utterly refined, and woven with meticulous precision, this “Tweezer” proved that the music of Denver was no mile-high fluke, but a legitimate turning point in the course of the band’s modern chapter. Trey’s playing, a topic deserving of its own paragraph, was defined by both confidence and cooperation, leading when he saw fit and stepping back just as effectively in other parts of the jam. Moving from a soaring beginning to a bass-led, bliss-laden middle, onto an more minimalist, melodic section before finishing in a profound sonic convergence, this fully-realized jam brought a bit of everything into the mix, vividly illustrating why we go to such lengths to see Phish perform. Astounding in every sense of the word, “Tweezer” was the stuff of musical reverie and provides a gem of 2012 that can only be rivaled by Dick’s “Light.” And if this happened on night one of the run, there is unquestionably more to come. Wow!

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Though this spine-tingling exploration stole the show, there are other points of note as well, first and foremost, the guitar showcase of one Trey Anastasio. Shining bright all night long, Trey played masterfully in all milieus without ever dominating jams. Assertive yet deferring at the perfect times, Trey’s leadership stood out around every corner in both sets. With scorching solos in “Maze” and “Theme,” carefully integrated offerings in “Stash” and “Twist,” dirty, rhythmic swank in “Wolfman’s,” and minimalist guidance in “Bowie,” Trey’s discerning aesthetic was a huge takeaway from the first night at MSG. Armed with a seemingly limitless arsenal of evolved techniques, he was up to any task last night, and something tells me the next three nights won’t be any different. It has been a long journey for Trey to reach this point of proficiency in the modern era, but he has truly arrived once again.

Improvisationally speaking, “Wolfman’s” and “Bowie” provided the other high points of the night. Using the former as a first set closer, the guys took “Wolfman’s” in a more original direction than they have in recent memory. Splashing into atypical funk textures, they passed through “stop-and-go-ish” type jamming before moving further away from structure and into a seductive exchange in which Trey infused the progression of “Little Drummer Boy.” The whole band immediately picked up on the holiday spirit, as they integrated the song into the jam without ever losing the groove. Then, on a dime, they melted right back into the funk. But instead of jumping to the song’s ending, they guys infused a blues build into the jam that creatively returned them to “Wolfman’s.” Taking a bow and moving into setbreak, this piece got their creative juices flowing after a high-energy opening frame—and you know what happened next.

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

Closing the second set, “David Bowie” provided the other musical high point of the show. The band united in a gritty conversation that built in intensity throughout, giving the audience a glimpse into the song’s ethos. A sinister tone pervaded the jam and the intricate exchange never lost momentum, as Phish stamped a strong conclusion on the night with a revitalized version of a song that has lost its way in recent years. In between “Tweezer” and “Bowie,” the guys sandwiched some intense jamming with “Maze” and “Twist,” but neither moved outside of the box.

If the band had just played “Tweezer” and walked off stage, it would have been plenty to satiate much of the Garden’s crowd last night. But supporting the monumental jam with high-energy selections and two bounce back jams in a couple of classic vehicles, Phish delivered a very strong opening course to their four night extravaganza. And as we look forward to nights two, three and four, the questions are out the window and only excitement remains.

I: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Moma Dance, Funky Bitch, Army of One, Tube, Stash, Nellie Kane, Kill Devil Falls, Free, Wolfman’s Brother -> The Little Drummer Boy -> Wolfman’s

II: Tweezer -> Maze, Twist* > Theme From the Bottom, Fluffhead, David Bowie

E: Bouncing Around the Room, Good Times Bad Times

*Little Drummer Boy teases and quotes

12.28.12, MSG (G.Lucas)

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Ten Holiday Run Wishes

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on December 12th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

12.30.10, MSG (Graham Lucas)

1. “Waves”: This majestic song debuted at MSG on 12/31/02 and hasn’t returned to the The Garden since. Given that we’ve only heard one version this year (Deer Creek) and it was magnificent, I’m pulling for a big time “Waves” over the Holiday Run.

2. The “Tweezer” of the Year: Though there were many quality “Tweezers” this year, especially on the second leg of summer, Phish has yet to throw down a colossal 2012 version. Here’s hoping we get a mega-“Tweezer” filled with the funkified urban grit of New York City.

3. Unexpected Jams: We all know the band will jam “Rock and Roll,” “Disease,” “Light,” and “Piper,” and I can’t wait for each. But I also wish to be blindsided by one or two jams from unexpected vehicles a la Worcester’s “Roses” or Atlantic City’s “Birds.” The songs that these jams stem from are irrelevant, it’s all about the element of surprise.

4. New Material: Just yesterday Mike posted a picture of himself playing bass in The Barn. What if, in addition to routine practice, the band was polishing off a couple new songs? It’s high time for some fresh setlist material, and though it’s doubtful we’ll see any during a year-end run, a kid can dream, right?

5. A Fully Realized “Twist”: After working this jam during Leg One, including one of the standout excursions of 2012 in Cincy’s “Twist,” the band shied away from exploring the song during Leg Two. Carrying such profound improvisational potential, it would be a shame to see another standard version of “Twist” over the Holiday Run.

6. Smooth Segues: This year featured a host of silky segues, from “Sand -> Nellie Kane” to “Light -> Sally” and “Lighteca” to Sand -> Ghost.” Hopefully the guys will take their time between songs and merge some with stunning fluidity—an element that always ups the ante of any song pairing.

7. A Jammed Out “Crosseyed”: Phish has featured this Talking Heads cover as part of their rotation for the duration of this era, but seldom have they used it as a jam vehicle. The band has been more inclined to springboard into high-energy rock and roll from “Crosseyed” than into any sort of adventure. Bill Graham’s version, however, reminded us of the profound depths the guys can plunge with this song, and hopefully over the Holiday Run we see another such rendition.

8. A “David Bowie” With Teeth: It would be great to see a revitalized version of this once-prolific jam that has turned rather stale in the 3.0 era. Chances of this, however, feel like they are slim to none.

9. “Wolfman’s” or “Bathtub Gin” In Set Two: Both of these songs have turned into tame, unidirectional first-set jams. I hope to see the band place one or both of these under the spotlight during the main event, as each song has been begging for some love for quite a while now.

10. Passion: Whatever happens at MSG and whatever songs are played, let’s hope the band comes with a serious intent to blow the room apart. Madison Square Garden is a venue of great legend in Phish history, though the band hasn’t treated the round room to a full-on musical assault in this era. Let’s hope this run contains that elusive MSG show we’ve been dreaming about since the band’s ’09 return.

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Jam of the Day:

Mike’s Song” 12.31.95 II

Speaking of full-on musical assaults…

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2-08-Mike-Song.mp3]

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Cover (AJ Masthay)

PHISH THOUGHTS BOOK HOLIDAY SALE!

Need a holiday gift for the Phish fan in your life? Now you can get Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts—660 pages of love—for only $29.99! The hard cover book features hundreds of essays in a unique choose-your-own-adventure format and over 250 full color photographs! Delivery only takes 3 to 4 days from the date you order, so head over to the book site and order one now! (shipping and handling fees apply)

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Reinvented, Redefined

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on December 6th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

Don’t want to be a painter ’cause everyone comes to look

*****

If you’ve been following Phish circles on social media lately, perhaps you’ve taken notice of some cool images that have been making the rounds. Photographer and Phish fan, Andrea Nusinov, recently started AZN Media, a company specializing in social media advertising that is driven by the philosophy that a unique, artistic image will generate more attention and response than conventional photography. Her Phish-based images have been making a wave in the community with innovative takes on her own concert photos. Using the lastet photoapps, Andrea has enhanced her photographs to create the thought provoking and visually engaging imagery that I share with you today.

If you like what you see, be sure to follow AZN Media on Instagram and Facebook! In addition, Andrea hosts a Facebook page for her Phish images and you can follow her, personally, on Twitter. Enjoy! (All photography and enhancement by Andrea Nusinov. Click images to enlarge. Above: 12/29/09, Miami)

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The Webcast Effect (6/25/10, Camden)

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See my face in the town that’s flashing by (6/19/12, Portsmouth)

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The Helping Friendly Book, first edition (6/19/12, Portsmouth)

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It takes a few moments of whirling around (6/12/11, MPP)

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Slip into the dark of night as I attempt to stay upright (12/31/11, MSG)

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Trapped In Time (6/15/10, made entirely from pics of earlier shows)

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We wandered ’til we reached a bubbly spring (12/30/11, MSG)

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Time is a treasure here cuz it flows in every direction (10/24/12, TAB)

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http://instagram.com/aznpics

http://www.facebook.com/aznphishpics

http://www.facebook.com/aznmedia

http://twitter.com/andreanusinov

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Jam of the Day:

Moma Dance” 2.26.03 II, Worcester, MA

Today’s selection is hand-picked by Andrea, herself.

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/1.06-The-Moma-Dance.mp3]

 

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AJ Masthay’s “The Terminal”

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , , on November 12th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

“The Terminal” Sketches – AJ Masthay

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Amidst 2012, a year when official Phish posters seemed to dwell in the uninspired, fan-turned-professional artist, AJ Masthay, has continued to crank out some of the more visually stunning and thought provoking prints in the scene. Using time-honored techniques in a field that is becoming increasingly digital, AJ’s hand-carved, linoleum block prints have gained widespread recognition over the past few years with hallmarks of brilliant colors, thick coats of ink, and bold-eye-catching imagery. I recently caught up with AJ to discuss his transformative year and his upcoming MSG quadtych, “The Terminal.” (Click on images to enlarge.)

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MM: It’s been a year since we sat down to talk. Your 2012 work has been hailed as some of your best work to date. You knocked your Phish series out of the park and picked up some official work for Further tour. How has your printmaking progressed over 2012?

AJM: 2012 was big for me, no doubt. The biggest change on my end was finally taking the plunge and pursuing my career as an artist full time, Feb 29th – Leap day – was my last day putting on the collar shirt and tie. Knock on wood, it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I now have the luxury of devoting every waking moment to creating art and growing Masthay Studios.

2012 was also a year of refining techniques for me. I consider myself a craftsman, you know old school apprentice and master shit where you live and breathe your craft and strive for perfection. The more disciplined you become, your work will naturally become more refined. I created a new registration system for my Vandercook press this year allowing for much tighter alignment between plates. This is critical for achieving the kinds of detail you see in my recent works, specifically all the Furthur pieces from both the summer and fall.  I’ve been printing for almost 20 years now and it always amazes me how much there is to still learn.

Let’s talk little bit about your second consecutive New Year’s Run quadtych! Moray eels, pigeons, a robot and Grand Central Station—what was your inspiration and vision behind this year’s prints?

12.28.12 (Masthay)

Let me start out by saying I love creating the triptychs and now the quadtychs. The size of my work is limited by the size of the bed on my printing press, about 15″ x 22″. The print sets give me the freedom to stretch my legs and flesh out larger compositions while still working within those constraints. Being born and raised in Connecticut, I’ve had the luxury of going into the city pretty much whenever I felt like it, and 99% of the time that meant hopping a train and heading to Grand Central. It’s just one of icons of Manhattan and with the shear volume of people coming through that beautifully ornate terminal, most anyone living or visiting the City will have some type of emotional connection to the space.

So I had my environment chosen, now to develop the cast of characters and story that will take place in that environment. An MSG new years run has a certain amount of nostalgia for me, like that old hat that just feels right when you put it on. We’ve all been trucking into the city for so many years now, there’s a comfort and familiarity to the whole experience and I love that. This is where the robot comes from—it is a direct reference to the Harpua story from 1997 (Lost in Space robot, pentagrams, and udder ball) but it also represents nostalgia and all the amazing experiences we’ve been blessed with [in that building].

There is a definite darkness to the eels in these prints. Was there a specific message you were trying to convey through the eels?

12.29.12 (Masthay)

Ahh, the eels; the eels represent so much it’s hard to know where to start. On one level the eels bring a fishiness to the prints, representing sea creatures so often associated with the band. But these eels aren’t in the ocean, they’re in Grand Central Station, and they’re emanating from a smashed disco ball—a NYE 2009 reference. If you look at the emotion being portrayed by the eels in each pane or vignette of the quad, you’ll see the emotion that I personally feel I go through during these four-night runs. In the first pane the eels are curious and inquisitive, checking out the robot and wondering how things will progress in this run. The eels are obviously comfortable in their environment. In the second pane they are fully engulfed in the RAGE. The rage continues in the third pane but the hunger becomes more and more evident—both literal hunger and the hunger for things to come. Finally, the full on face melting of New Year’s Eve and just being slayed by the greatest band on earth. Darkness—maybe emotion—absolutely.

This is the third consecutive MSG holiday run—has it become increasingly hard to think of geographically relevant imagery, or do you have ideas just waiting to come out?

That’s’ the beauty of New York City, there is so much to work with, the difficult part is tying it into MSG and the shows. Being able to do that and make it all feel natural, not forced, is where the creativity comes into play.

This quad looks a bit more detailed and refined than a lot of your previous prints. Is this a natural progression of your work?

This is partially the natural progression I spoke about earlier, implementing new techniques to allow for greater detail and better registration, but is also a direct result of choosing an environment like Grand Central Station. The place is stunningly beautiful, as ornate as any Newport mansion, but meant for all to utilize and enjoy. I also purposely did not hold myself to a certain number of colors on these, I think there’s something like eleven total colors, some of which will be, literally, mixed on the prints by layering. I Facebooked a message a few days ago saying “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this,” and the shear number of colors on these quads is what I was referring to. It’s going to be challenging, but that’s part of the fun.

I really love the 29th print with the train and the eels bursting out of the image, as well as the gas masked train conductor alluding to last year’s “MSG Rapture” quad. Do you conceive the central imagery of each print individually and then figure out how to combine them, or figure out one scene in totality and figure out how to split them up?

12.30.12 (Masthay)

These print sets typically start out with the larger composition, feeling out the flow throughout all four prints and how they will work as a set. Once that is laid out, the true challenge is developing the composition within each pane so that they can each stand on their own as an individual work of art but also as a part of the whole. There’s give and take throughout the entire process and I go through A LOT of erasers. If you ever get the opportunity to check out any of my original sketches in person, you will see evidence of this process. I see the sketches as a living, breathing entity, constantly changing and growing throughout the creation process. I try one thing, feel it out, and if it works, great, if it doesn’t feel quite right, erase and try again. Many artists use thumbnail sketches or preliminary sketches to work these things out before touching the final piece. Personally, I love the rawness of doing things on the spot, my own personal version of free form jamming I guess, but in a visual context as opposed to audio.

I love how you’ve integrated the show info as tiny details to the print that fit right into the Grand Central motif. How concerned are you in allowing that info (date/locale) to be seen clearly or do you just make sure it’s on there somewhere?

How I handle the text is determined on a print by print basis. Obviously on commissioned work for bands the text needs to be front and center, so sometimes its nice to treat these unofficial pieces more like art prints, almost downplaying the date and venue information. Yes, it’s in there, but it’s not the defining factor of the image nor does it need to be understood to be appreciated.

What’s going on in the NYE print? Is the clock electrocuting the eels or vice versa? Or is that up to the eye of the beholder?

12.31.12 (Masthay)

I love telling stories in my images, but what I don’t do is completely lay out the narrative. I leave that up to the viewer, allowing them to connect to the piece and develop that narrative for themselves. What one person sees could be a completely different story from the person standing next to him, I love that. Is the clock electrocuting the eel or vice versa? I’ll let you decide, but what I really wanted to capture is the energy that is December 31, 2012.

How can people get a hold of this year’s prints? Will they be for sale soon?

Prints will be available for purchase this Friday November 16 at 12 noon EST on MasthayStudios.com. In keeping with Masthay Studios New Year’s Run tradition, I will be documenting the entire process of creating the editions, but this year it’ll all be through Facebook and Twitter with separate content on each. You can look forward to lots and lots of photos of the creation process along with some commentary from yours truly. This is a unique opportunity to actually see your prints being made, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to “Like” Masthay Studios on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Jams of the Day: 

Memories from MSG 2011.

Carini -> Tweezer” 12.28.11 II, MSG

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/phish2011-12-28d02t05.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/phish2011-12-28d02t06.mp3]

Piper” 12.30.11 II, MSG

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/phish2011-12-30d02t03.mp3]
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Election Music

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on November 5th, 2012 by Mr.Miner

One Nation Under a Groove (Thepin Stash)

Not to trivialize today’s important election, but if you’re a fan of great Phish, there is really only one choice. Just look at recent history. Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the beginning the band’s first peak era. Clinton served two terms through 2000, watching over’s Phish’s glory years, and at the end of his term, Phish called it quits for the first time. George W. Bush, arguably the biggest buffoon to ever sit in the Oval Office, was sworn in at the beginning of 2001 and served two terms during which the band managed to crank out merely 1 and 1/2 years of opiate-laced jamming in ’03 and ’04. Enter Barack Obama in 2009. Less than two months after the Democratic victor was inaugurated, Phish came back at Hampton Coliseum and entered the Golden Age of their career, playing their tails off for the last four years. So here we are at the political crossroads of 2012. Under a Democratic White House, we experienced ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’12. Under a Republican watch, the band came into their own during the late ’80s and early ’90s, and graced us with ’03 and half of ’04. Those are the facts—and the choice is yours. Vote wisely, my friends!

On Election Day 2012, I bring you three choice cuts from each of the past four years. And here’s to four more years of Democratic Phish!

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Bathtub Gin” 8.7.09 II, Gorge

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/phish2009-08-07d3t01.mp3]

46 Days” 8.15.09 II, Merriweather

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ph2009-08-15t18.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ph2009-08-15t19.mp3]

Back on the Train” 12.30.09 II, Miami

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ph2009-12-30t16.mp3]

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Simple” 8.6.10 II, Greek Theatre

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/ph2010-08-06t12.mp3]

Reba” 10.19.10 E, Augusta, ME

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/ph2010-10-19d3t04.mp3]

Ghost” 12.31.10 II, MSG

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/ph2010-12-31t17.mp3]

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Down With Disease” 6.3.11 II, Clarkston, MI

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ph2011-06-03t13.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ph2011-06-03t14.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ph2011-06-03t15.mp3]

Rock and Roll -> Meatstick” 8.5.11 II, Gorge

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ph2011-08-05t14.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ph2011-08-05t15.mp3]

Tweezer” 9.3.11 II, Denver, CO

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ph2011-09-03t12.mp3]

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Twist” 6.22.12 II, Cincy

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/2.05-Twist.mp3]

Undermind” 8.31.12 II, Denver, CO

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/1.07-Undermind.mp3]

Light” 9.1.12 II, Denver, CO

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2.03-Light-1.mp3]

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…With Liberty and Justice For All (Seeyoutheredesigns)

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