IT is not always easy to review a Phish tour. You are not going to please everyone all of the time, or perhaps even most of the time. The stronger your opinions, the hotter the heat. And “capsule reviews” of shows rarely do them the justice that they deserve. Even weak Phish shows -- or “below average” as compared with other Phish shows -- are still great rock concerts, involving a super vibe, excellent musicianship, and sensational lights and sound, particularly on this tour, which featured new, and amazing, light and sound systems. We have a blast at Phish shows. Period. That’s why we bother to attend them, at significant expense, often on multiple nights on any given tour. And, thankfully, Phish’s Summer tour ain’t over yet.
In sum? The tour has been pretty good so far. “Phish 3.0” continues. I respectfully disagree with those who think Phish’s music has changed in any meaningful way this year. (Please re-listen to the mid-to-late October 2010 shows, and the NYE run, especially the 1/1/11 MSG show, for perspective.) Trey may be using the Digitech whammy less often, and the sound and light shows may be better, but I don’t hear anything dramatically different, show to show, than what we’ve heard from Phish in the last year. There have not been many debuts, nor have the newer songs (from the album Joy, or otherwise) been played much if at all. But what this tour has arguably lacked in novelty, it has made up for with improvisations like the Bethel2 “GoldenGinTeca,” and the Pine Knob (Clarkston) “Down with Disease,” as well as entertaining setlist calls -- many of them thanks to fans bearing signs -- including “Daniel Saw the Stone,” “Instant Karma,” “Buried Alive,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” “Icculus,” and “Bike.” The “Bathtub Gins” and “Rebas” from this tour also have been consistently marvelous, and all are worth a listen.
If you can only download a few shows (ideally from LivePhish.com, so that some of the profits go to The Mockingbird Foundation), pick up Bethel2, Clarkston, Charlotte, Blossom, Portsmouth, Bethel1, and/or MPP2, for reasons explained more fully below. Only $9.95 for MP3’s, folks. That’s less than the cost of a good beer at many of the venues that Phish plays.
I feel I need to preface the remarks below with a “disclaimer” of sorts, particularly because a substantial number of users of Phish.net first saw Phish in 2009: I love Phish’s music. Please do not be discouraged by criticism, and please don’t attack your fellow fans for choosing to listen to Phish with critical ears. Everyone isn’t like you and doesn’t hear like you. Your opinion is what matters! I am at least as glad as you are that Phish is back playing for us at all, but that doesn’t mean that they play everything well, or that I have to like it. My perspective is necessarily going to be different than yours, whether you’ve seen ten shows or two hundred.
Honest opinions disparaging the quality of the music are not necessarily “jaded,” either. A truly jaded Phish fan doesn’t attend shows anymore, and certainly doesn’t labor as a volunteer on a Phish website or write about Phish’s music. He or she probably does not even bother to read about Phish! It is possible to love something deeply, but still, on occasion, be disappointed, bored, distraught, or angered, by it. If you would like some perspective on where I’m coming from before you bother to read or skim what follows (which may dramatically increase your blood pressure), I have reviewed Phish tours from recent years on JamBands.com. You can get a more articulate taste of my thoughts on the current state of Phish’s music over there, to see where we differ or jive. (See, e.g., a review of the October 2010 tour, here.)
The following is just my two cents, and I am consciously being brief. I don’t even mention most of the songs played at these shows, likely because they were straightforward, typically good versions of the songs in question. For more fulsome reviews of the shows on this tour so far, please see the reviews on this site, either in this blog or in the “reviews” section under each show’s setlist.
THESE OPINIONS ARE MINE, NOT THOSE OF PHISH.NET. Please, add your own Comments about the tour. Your thoughtful contributions to this site are enormously appreciated!
5/27/11 Bethel1: An excellent tour opener! Very well-played overall, even though the “Wolfman’s” and “Stash” are not very impressive, in my opinion. Highlights: a thrilling, adventurous, must-hear “Kill Devil Falls” (second in length only to the 6/12/09 Bonnaroo version), and a strangely “type II” “Boogie On” jam that segues into a strong “Waves.” The “Crosseyed & Painless” is also worth hearing, especially if you’re a fan of this tune.
5/28 Bethel2: If you can only download one show from this tour, download this one. It’s a well above-average Phish show. Trey solos very soulfully in the (tad slow) “Cities,” making it an unusual, sublime version. “Halley’s Comet” finally features a significant jam in it (after a long hiatus), and even if it isn’t earth-shattering, it’s nevertheless wonderful to get a “Halley’s jam” after what seems an eternity. “Runaway Jim” also has a profound jam, the “Quinn the Eskimo” is arguably the best Phish version ever (no joke, check it out), and the first set closes with the “GoldenGinTeca,” a version of “Bathtub Gin” with a jam segment involving a mash-up of “Golden Age” and “Manteca.” It’s a must-hear “Gin.” The second set is also quite good, with no breaks between songs and very good versions of “Down with Disease,” “BDTNL,” “Makisupa” (with lyrics referencing band members’ houses, which became a running joke on the tour), and “Harry Hood.” Download this show with extreme prejudice. You’ve probably heard other fans claim that this show is among the best all-around shows of 2009-2011. I agree.
5/29 Bethel3: This is a paradigmatic below-average Phish show, as I hear it. There is, however, some spacey “type II” improv in the “Simple,” which eventually becomes enchanting for several measures. So if you’re a fan of Phish’s “spacey jamming,” definitely check it out. This show’s version of “Light” is also quite creative, but Trey’s solo never seems to focus. This version is garbage compared with those from mid-to-late October 2010, especially the exceptional Manchester 10/26/10 version.
5/31 PNC1: Show opens up with an unusually strong “Chalk Dust Torture” (seriously), and the first set features rockin’ versions of “Rock and Roll” and “Sand” (which was dedicated to a fan named Max, who had recently died). Second set begins dramatically with a killer “After Midnight,” which is definitely worth a listen. The “Drowned” in the set, though, has a spacey jam that seems to me to flounder aimlessly in places. “Maze” is great, but then it usually is, and like “Julius,” “Maze” tends to always sound like the best version ever. The set-closing “YEM,” like all of the recent versions, is very laid-back, almost as if there’s a conscious effort afoot not to take the song to new heights. If it will take giving up my left nut to get a transcendent, spectacular “YEM” again, I will consider it.
6/1 PNC2: The “Gotta Jibboo” in the first set is blessed by a somewhat more dandier-than-usual, mellifluous Trey solo, and the “Split Open and Melt” will remind even the most jaded fan of how dark and fierce this song can -- and used to routinely -- get. But this show’s second set took things up a notch, at least in the beginning, with a must-hear segue from “Tweezer” into an astonishingly good cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Although the second set continues with a wonderful foursome of tunes (“Carini,” “Piper,” “Twist,” and “Ghost”), each is oddly cut short. “Ripcord’d.” The set nevertheless closes with a good “BDTNL,” a song which, if you haven’t grown to love (or at least warmly tolerate), you should probably quit Phish now.
6/3 Pine Knob (Clarkston): One of the better shows of the tour so far, Mike’s birthday show opens with a good “Wolfman’s Brother,” and has an unusual first set setlist with a mid-set “Mike’s Groove” and “Tela,” and a set-closing “Wedge.” It’s a well-played first set with an above-average “Weekapaug” and another strong “Chalk Dust Torture.” The second set, however, opens with a stunning 23+ minute version of “Down with Disease,” with distinguished teasing of “A Love Supreme.” It is one of the finest versions in Phish history, and it segues well into a good “Fluffhead,” that in turn segues into a mostly fine “David Bowie.” (If you want to hear an exceptional “Bowie,” with The Giant Country Horns, do not miss the 7/20/91 Arrowhead Ranch version, recently released on MP3, for free, by LivePhish in Live Bait Vol. 05.) Also, the “2001” in this Clarkston second set is short and tight, with Trey teasing “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad” at one point in short order. There is no denying the strength of this show as a whole. It is one of the best shows in the last year. Hear it for yourself.
6/4 Blossom: A fun, well-played first set, with “Fuck Your Face,” and Little Feat’s “Rocket in My Pocket” (debuted on 10/31/10, of course), but nothing to recommend. The second set, on the other hand, features an atypically strong “Possum” (with Trey employing the Digitech whale-whammy pitch-shifter in a spirited, entertaining fashion), and the “When Harry (Have Mercy) Met Sally.” The “Sneaking Sally” jam, with staccato-esque picking from Trey (think 8/6/10 “Cities”) and “Manteca” overtones, is superb, and is followed by a glorious “Harry Hood” that sandwiches a perfunctory (but still good) “Have Mercy.” Trey even teases “Lizards” and “Have Mercy” in the closing “Hood” jam. And then a show-closing “Character Zero” with a “Smoke on the Water” tease, and a “Slave” encore? To say that this show developed well over the course of the evening would be a gross understatement. It is no wonder that many fans who attended this show count it among their favorites.
6/5 Riverbend: This is not a bad show by any stretch, so please don’t get me wrong. It’s played well. “Gin,” “Reba” and “BDTNL” are pretty good in the first set, sure, and they’re worth a listen. And the “Tweezer,” “Crosseyed” and “You Enjoy Myself” are enjoyable in the second. But both the “Light” and “Boogie On” seemed to end much too soon. It’s tough to recommend much from this show. At the same time, this was NOT a bad show, ok? It is just below “average-great,” as I hear it. $0.02.
6/7 Great Woods: I am admittedly a sucker for a “Llama” opener. The first set highlights, as I hear them, are a loose, fun cover of “Instant Karma,” the Phish debut of Al Green's (great) song, “Rhymes” (which Mike has covered before with his band), and a good “Divided Sky.” The second set is fine, featuring some gorgeous, spacey-but-melodic improv in the “Rock and Roll,” and a good “Pebbles and Marbles.” The set also closed with an “Antelope” during which Trey teased several songs that had been performed in the show, specifically “Meatstick,” “Bug” and “Divided Sky.” The jam in “Rock and Roll” is worth checking out if you’re obsessive about keeping track of Phish’s “type II” exploits.
6/8 Darien: I really like the setlists of the shows on this tour, and particularly this one. That said, with the exception of this “2001,” which involves a very cool mash-up with “What’s the Use,” and I suppose the “Weekapaug” (another strong version for “3.0,” with “Golden Age” teases), I am not sure what else to recommend. If you’re a fan of “Golden Age,” check this second-set-opening version out. And if you drool a bit while looking over the setlist, definitely spend the $9.95 for the MP3s. This show certainly isn’t bad, and the second set flows very well. But I am not so sure I agree with the folks who’d place this show above the “average-great” bar. Phish plays great shows, like this one, routinely. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking that this show is slightly above “average great.” And to anyone thinking, “You just can’t bear to place a show with ‘Brian and Robert’ and ‘Fast Enough for You’ in the above-average category,” you’re only half-right. “FEFY” is among my favorite Phish songs, and I thought it was a great call to substitute it for “Hydrogen” in this “Mike’s Groove.” And while this “FEFY” is nowhere close to as gorgeous as 8/17/93 Kansas City or even 6/9/09 Asheville, I love the song. LOVE IT. I wish it and “Lifeboy” were played a lot more often. (“Lifeboy” hasn’t been played since 12/30/09 Miami!)
6/10 Camden: I already wrote a lot about this show on this site, within hours after the show had occurred. It is a mixed-bag musically. You can see my two cents on it here. Having sobered up since writing that piece, I still believe the first-set-closing “Curtain With” is among the finest versions of that song ever performed, given Trey’s enchanting solo. And I still prefer this “Possum” to the Blossom “Possum.” Trey creates some crazy-weird, repetitive, obnoxious, animal-like noises in this “Possum” jam that amuse me. I also really like several minutes of the second-set-opening “Down with Disease” jam, which I’d urge you to hear. I really wish this jam had been taken much further than it was, though, and not prematurely endjamulated. People can shit all over this Camden show all they want, given Trey’s losing battle with the Flubbisaurus in a number of tunes, but I’ll still take a show with a top version of an excellent song (such as “Curtain With”) any day over entire shows like Bethel3, Riverbend, and Great Woods. Your mileage likely does, and should, vary, but I continue to listen to every minute that Phish plays in order to hear top versions of their songs. And I’m still at this game, after more than 20 years, because Phish continues to find a way to move my soul.
6/11 MPP1: Like a number of other shows on this tour, this is a “mixed bag” musically. The beautiful “Reba” and fierce, truly breathtaking, “Piper” are wondrous versions, to be sure, and worth your effort to hear. But while the jam in the “Rock and Roll” begins with a bewildering intensity, it segues into seemingly indiscriminate “type II” improv of the sort that does nothing for me. Also, if you’re impressed by the mid-first-set “Sand” at this show, check out pretty much any Trey Anastasio Band version (at least from the early years of TAB). Or the Portsmouth version, for that matter. I really enjoy “Sand,” but this is not a recommendable version as I hear it. The real highlight of this show came during “Suzy Greenberg,” which is must-hear for all of the ridiculous, hysterical, “WHAT!?”s, primarily from Fish and Trey. A remarkable “Suzy” to be sure.
6/12 MPP2: I was at this show (along with Camden and MPP1) and have taken some lip from Phish.net Working Group members for raving about it, and arguably overrating it, especially its “Loving Cup,” which seemed to me to have “extra mustard.” Just my two cents, of course, but I think this is an above “average great” Phish show, though certainly no Bethel2, Pine Knob, or Charlotte. The first set opens well with seldom-played tunes (“Buried Alive,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and “Ha Ha Ha”), and features a funkified “Wolfman’s -> Boogie On” that is a blast to dance to, as well as a wonderful “Gin > Jesus Just Left Chicago” taboot. While the “Crosseyed” may make you shrug, I think it’s short but very, very fierce, and I’d recommend it. “Steam” is a cool new tune (whether you find its steam-like effects, and the overwhelming use of the fog machines, silly or not), and I’m hoping to hear it go places in the future. While I really dislike its “Light,” the show nevertheless closes well with powerful versions of “BDTNL” and “Loving Cup,” followed by a “Sanity,” “Makisupa,” and “First Tube” encore. Definitely worth the $9.95 for the MP3’s, and an “above average” Phish show as I hear it... even if there’s not a single top version of any Phish song, except, arguably, “Steam,” and, if you’re me, “Loving Cup” -- even though the Charlotte version is also a SMOKER! (And yes I realize that “Loving Cup” is another one of those Phish songs that sounds like the greatest-version-ever whenever you hear it *live*!)
6/14 Alpha1: Trey shreds like crazy in what has to be a top version of “Ocelot” (WOW!), and there are also impressive jams in the first set versions of “Bathtub Gin,” “Kill Devil Falls” and “Light Up.” (Trey does flub-up the composed section of “Light Up” quite a bit, though.) The second set, however, is disappointing. If there are highlights, I suppose they can be found in the jam segments of “Sand” and “Down with Disease,” neither of which I would recommend. The “Sand” jam doesn’t appear to ever gel, and while I thought the “DWD” was going somewhere interesting at one point, it dissolved, rather abruptly and inexplicably, into haphazard wanking. Also, while I like some of Trey’s soloing in the “Bug” in the second set, unfortunately, he either flubs a bunch in it or -- perhaps consciously -- plays in an off-pitch manner, so it doesn’t come across all that well overall to my ears. This is a very lopsided show (like a few others on this tour), with the first set being stronger overall than the second.
6/15 Alpha2: My mother used to tell me (perhaps like your mother), “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” You already know by now that I didn’t take her very seriously on this point, but this is definitely a show where some things are better left unsaid. It was extremely generous of Phish not to call this show off due to the atrocious weather in the first place, of course, and Phish is always better than no-Phish. In any event, check out the relatively short, but tight, “Timber Ho” from this washed-out show for a version that will grab you by the shoulders and shake your skull numb. (But then revisit the 7/14/00 Polaris, 12/7/97 Dayton, and the 11/28/97 and 12/28/95 Worcester Centrum versions, to name just a few, lest you think this “Timber Ho” breaks anything close to new ground.)
Also, when “Mound” shuts down at the end of the first set due to the imminent storm, Trey refers to a song called “Storm” and says that one day they’ll play it. (“We will play that song, but not tonight, because we don’t know it yet. And that’s the honest truth. One of these days. I don’t want to leave. They’re making me leave.”) I hope Trey was referring to the song “Storm” by Tom Marshall’s band, Amfibian, because it is probably my favorite Amfibian song. It is MAGNIFICENT. I strongly urge you to check it out if you haven’t heard it. Phish could do it justice if they took the time to learn it and play it right. I really hope they do. Oh, and the second set of this show closes oddly with “Birdwatcher -> Kung.” Don’t know where that came from, but playing “Kung” (after an excellent segue from “Birdwatcher” taboot) will always boost a show up a peg in my book. A whole peg. Another highlight of this show is when, while the crowd is going wild before the encore begins, Page says, “Thanks a lot. You’re too kind. We’d like to play a song that we know. Thanks.” Hysterical. Love this band!! They blow off steam in the strong “Funky Bitch > Tweezer Reprise” encore, too.
6/17 Charlotte: You’re probably tired of reading/skimming these capsule reviews by now. I’ll be brief. This show opens with a fine “Mike’s Groove,” and the first set contains (among other things) a well-played “Forbin’s > Mockingbird,” a drawn-out ending to a good “Wolfman’s,” and a top version of the first-set-closing “Stealing Time FTFP.” The second set is awesome, and involves intensely sweet jams in “Rock and Roll,” “Ghost” and Reba,” as well as fan-favorites “Icculus” and “Bike.” (I have been hoping to see a “Bike” since 1993 and still haven’t seen one.) Charlotte closes with “You Enjoy Myself,” followed by a top-notch “Wilson, Loving Cup” encore. This show screams “DOWNLOAD ME!” and you should listen to it. Literally.
6/18 Raleigh: Taking my mom’s advice... Raleigh opens with “Cars Trucks Buses” and “Peaches en Regalia.” Even though “Peaches” could have been played a lot better, this was the first show that opened with two instrumentals since (I think) 11/22/92 Cornell, with its “Buried > Oh Kee Pah.” The second set’s “Split Open and Melt” is characterized by an adventure in “type II” exploration, and is the longest version since 11/21/09 Cincinnati. Some fans are very enamored by this “SOAM.” You should hear it for that reason alone. Another highlight of the show is the bust-out of “Been Caught Stealin’,” even though I think it may have been compensation for Trey missing (foregoing?) some of the many notes of “Esther.”
6/19 Portsmouth: Phish sure knows how to end a tour on a high note, eh? This is start-to-finish an above-average show, well-worth the download. You might not be much of a “Harpua” fan, and this show-opening version lacks the sort of absurd tale that makes fans seek out and listen to every version, but you cannot deny how humorous it is to hear a very dramatic pause before Page’s dad says, “Your god damn cat died!” Check out the YouTube video, with all of the dads on stage for this version, contributing lyrics. Wonderful stuff. A family-friendly “Harpua.” And then “Brother!” This is also a well-played show overall, and while it doesn’t feature anything I would consider a so-called “top version,” the second set opens quite well with strong performances of “Crosseyed” and “Walls of the Cave,” followed by a serene-but-short “Slave,” reasonably tight “Fluffhead,” and, finally, a damn good “Sand.” There’s just brilliant flow throughout the show, song to song. The “Sneaking Sally” doesn’t do much before “Light” kicks in, to be sure, but the jam in “Light,” though short, is fascinating. In any event, well worth the coin to download this show -- it’s a great tour closer. Highly recommended.
The Summer Tour continues with SUPERBALL IX, which I hope brings IT for those of you going! Take care of your shoes!
TWO CENTS, now please add your own. Thank you for reading! -charlie