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Super Ball IX Rocked, but Does It Have Staying Power?

Posted 5 years ago by phishnet - 151 comments Link:

How well will Super Ball IX stack up when looked back upon?by Mockingbird Contributor Chris Glushko

I was unable to attend Super Ball IX, my first “special” show missed since Halloween 98. By special, I mean anything outside of a standard tour -- festivals, Halloween runs, holiday runs, etc. But thanks to modern technology, I did get to enjoy every minute of Watkins Glen as it happened. Following the festival, I had a conversation with a close friend who attended that went something like this:

Friend: So, what did you think?
Me: Some fun stuff, but I don’t think it will hold up well.
Friend: What do you mean? It was the best weekend ever.
Me: I’m sure it was, but I’m talking about the music.
Friend: But you weren’t there. The weather was perfect. The vibe was amazing.
Me: I’m sure it was. But I can’t load the weather and vibe into iTunes.
Friend: They played for over 4.5 hours on Saturday.
Me: Yes, and Saturday may be the least-interesting three-set Phish show since NYE 96.
Friend: You’re so wrong. You’re just upset you didn’t go.

Well, he was right there. I was upset that I didn’t go. But attendance should have no impact in discussing the music. I’d argue that by not attending you’re likely to be more objective because you eliminate your personal experience from your judgement. There are a million things that can go right or wrong during the live experience. But long after the lights go up, it’s only the music on the recording that remains. If you want to have Phish nerd discussions about the best shows to listen to, then the music is the only universal currency to base these discussions on. It’s about separating the music played from your subjective experience. Otherwise, you might as well argue over who has the best favorite color.

With that said, I spent the last several days re-listening to every note of Super Ball IX to see what’s worthy of regular rotation in Phish listening. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

● The best new jam of the weekend was a surprise to all when Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro played a devastating 30-minute Waves from the 5/26/11 Bethel tech rehearsal. Many folks have already called this the best jam of Phish 3.0. Seek it out at all costs. While we are on this topic, every Phish fan owes a huge thanks to Kevin for the three brilliant From the Archives shows, the projected archive videos Thursday night at the LivePhish tent, and other legendary nuggets of Phish history that slipped out over the weekend. We are truly blessed to have an archivist who loves Phish and loves making fans happy.
● A list of Super Ball IX highlights would be incomplete without mentioning the amazing soundcheck featuring the two outstanding pieces of improv that many fans feel are far superior to anything played during the official seven sets.

Friday, July 1, 2011

● The first set is one of the better first sets of 2011.
Moma Dance and The Mighty Quinn are top versions with the latter arguably the best version the band has played of that song.
Wolfman’s, Gin and Crosseyed are all strong, even if none stood out from other 2011 versions.
Peaches, Life on Mars, and Torn & Frayed provide rare treats.
Simple contains one of the more interesting and longest jams of the weekend with a long spacey outro before segueing into Bug.
● The rest of the show features versions of songs that could best be described as “meh.” It’s not that they are bad. Rather, if my Super Ball IX downloads are a giant gourmet deli, these songs would be the turkey sandwich with American cheese on white bread. They get the job done, but not much more.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

● The first set features two exciting bust outs -- Suskind Hotel and Monkey Man. Otherwise, nothing else in the set stands out for good or bad reasons -- lots of turkey sandwiches to keep with the previous analogy.
● The second set highlight is the return of the original arrangement of Scents & Subtle Sounds -- one of the most well-received surprises of the weekend from fans near and far. The other high point in the second set is some very strong jamming in Stash.
● On the downside, set two has very sloppy versions of McGrupp and Axilla, and an especially brutal Mango Song. The rest of the set is more turkey sandwiches.
● The most disappointing aspect of set two is that it more closely resembles a first set in song choice and flow. Traditionally, three-set shows feature a first set and two second set style sets. The band takes the opposite approach here.
● Set three features an excellent jam out of Golden Age, probably the strongest Tweezer of the year and a goofy yet fun Twist. Unfortunately, the rest of the set features songs played at or below average compared to other versions in 2011. This isn’t to say it was bad, just not something you need to hear again.
● Technically on 7/3, the late-night “Storage Jam” ranges from tedious to downright hypnotic. Although the recordings can not do it justice -- given that it was a small part of larger audio/visual experience -- this is still a must-hear, especially the second half that can be described as vintage Pink Floyd sonic layering segueing into a demented version of Sleeping Monkey.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

● If 7/1 set one is one of the better first sets of 3.0, 7/3 set one is one of the best first sets of 3.0.
● Highlight jams of set one include versions of Mound and Wilson that are among best ever, the first jammed-out A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing of 3.0, the second-best Reba of 3.0 next to Augusta 2010, and a particularly strong version of David Bowie. Rarities include a Soul Shakedown Party opener, the first Forbin’s>Mockingbird of 3.0 with narration, the best Destiny Unbound since Nassau 2003 thanks to thrilling work by Mike Gordon, Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero, and The Curtain (Without).
● Set two features two exciting bust out covers -- the debut of AC/DC’s very appropriate Big Balls and only the second No Quarter played. Light contains a very strong jam that is much better than previous 2011 versions, but still did not reach the heights it hit in 2010. Otherwise, the rest of the set features short and safe “turkey sandwich” versions of upbeat fan favorites, save for a spacey outro of Waves that segued smoothly into What’s the Use.

So does this support the two claims I made shortly after the show?

Will Super Ball IX hold up well in future listening? The answer is better than I originally thought due to sheer quantity of music played. Over the three days, we were treated to a great number of standout versions in places normally not expected. But outside of 7/1 Set One and 7/3 Set One, I don’t foresee the other five sets being on any hard-core Phish show collector’s most-played list once the sugar high from the weekend completely wears off.

Is 7/2/2011 the least interesting three-set show to listen to since 12/31/96? Without a doubt, yes. If you disagree, think of some of the three-set shows that came before it -- MSG and Miami New Years, Halloween 2009, IT, Oswego, Went, Lemonwheel, and even Coventry (the vibe and flubs may have been depressing, but the improv was anything but uninteresting). Remember, if you want to have great shows, you have to have not-so-great shows. If you want to have legendary shows, you have to be willing to admit some shows are weak. Otherwise, everything is “all-hood” and there’s no sense talking about this in the first place. Then again, that might not be a bad thing.

Chris Glushko is a contributor to the and Mockingbird Foundation Working Group who has attended more than 175 Phish shows since 1994. He can be reached on Twitter at @CGlush.

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captsensible Reply
captsensible Agree that Friday July 1 in retrospect, holds up well. I thought it rocked live as well, and that with two covers (in a row) that I dislike--Mighty Quinn and Funky Bitch.
Score: 0
HARRYHOOD213 Very unique perspective and right on.
Score: 0
NigelTufnel Reply
NigelTufnel Agree almost 100%...almost being "the first jammed out ASIHTOS of 3.0" is sort of inaccurate. See 6-19-09. Excellent version that is longer than this one and just as good. Seriously. It's a must-hear. Other than that, nicely done sir.
Score: 2
MiguelSanchez Reply
MiguelSanchez i may take saturday's 3 set show of 8's simply because i'm not a rolling stones fan, and quite simply, the album does little for me. everyone says if i were there i'd sing a different tune...

as for sb9's staying power...

i think this will hold up alright. the first sets of the 1st and 3rd night were both filled with great song choices, excellent playing, and were 2 of the most cohesive sets of the tour. it'll hold up better than 8 but not as well as went. how's that for an answer?!
Score: 2
magilla Reply
magilla very good point in saying that not being there gives you a particularly objective point of view on the music..and if the music is the end all and be all, i think your review holds up! superball was my first festival and my first experience with something of that magnitude, yet never has a show (or run of shows) felt so personal and struck such a chord within me. this festival was a time for me to reflect the past, project the future, and provoke feelings in me that truly took me a little further down this crazy path of self-discovery that ive been following since i was introduced to this band. because of this, even the "turkey sandwiches" provided special moments and instilled inspiration that are revisited each time i re-listen. i was deeply moved by every single set and cant see myself ceasing to listen to the weekend in its entirety anytime soon. but i was there, and im SURE thats the big difference between your points and mine :)
Score: 6
joechip Reply
joechip I think set 2 of 7/3 is a bit better than what you give it credit for. In my opinion, the "Ghost" in the set is only inadequate if you bring the expectation that the song should be the improvisational high point of the set. I think it worked quite well in context if the expectations are removed. The jam established a mood in a coherent way and wound down organically, playing to a natural fact, you could argue that it was a more creative Ghost than a fan favorite version like 12/31/2010 Sure, it's ok to be disappointed when they wind it down and decide to start up Jibboo, but listening back it actually flows pretty nicely for me. And the Light and Waves brought plenty of satisfying exploration later in the set.

Add to that the best "Party Time" yet by a big margin, and you've got a solidly above average set, with unconventional setlist choices. The Meatstick> Faulty Plan closing was a little bit puzzling, but up to that point it was rock solid. And even that "Party Time" may have gone unappreciated because the placement seemed so weird, but it seriously ripped.
Score: 11
tmwsiy Staff Reply
tmwsiy Great review, but I do agree with @joechip: I thoroughly enjoyed 7/3 Set II and thought it was a well put together set, with the exception of the STFTFP.

I assume (do you?) that Phish knew Kevin played the Bethel Waves on the FTA? And if so they simply have to know the reaction it got. And if that is the case: It took Big Balls to pull it out knowing the expectations would be monstrous. Though, of couse, nothing ultimately like Bethel's version, I thought it was soaring, confidant, and enjoyable.

I too, enjoyed listening at home and thought overall it was a great festival. Handful of low points but that's what you get with that many hours of music.

I also wonder why there has been so much debate lately on if you can review a show without being there. Jesus Christ, haven't fans been doing that since the beginning of time? I used to have tape listening parties, and we'd rehash shows from a few weeks prior, what's the difference? People getting all bent out of shape and possessive over the shows they were at. Does not compute with me.

Nice job Chris.
Score: 9
Josh006 Reply
Josh006 The Superball stands out due to a confluence of factors. SCI's Electric Forest festival attracted most of the hardcore wooks, bringing some purity (and space) to the phest. 30,000 is an IDEAL number... The scene, IMHO, inspired the band. Jam segments are found in new places, and the spirit of those jams differs from most performances. Jammed out Destiny Unbound?!?! Super free-spirited funk Friday and Saturday, reminiscent of '97, and following the Storage Jam, Sunday's jams were just plain spacey. Your friend has a point about "being there"... True, the "lasting power" may or may not stand amongst the masses, but the 30,000 phans there will generally hold that experience pretty high up on their "top shows" list. Promise you that.
Score: 11
Josh006 Reply
Josh006 Oh, and let me just say, that Scents and Subtle Sounds may have been the highlight of that whole weekend for me... Then again, certain "influences" might have influenced me somewhat in that judgement, if you catch my drift.
Score: 6
Alumni Reply
I agree - it's disappointing when they wind down a Ghost early, but it's even more disappointing when they never wind it up.

If that counts as a creative version, that might be the most stinging indictment yet of 3.0 Ghosts. ;)
Score: 0
ThinMan Reply
i've been listening to 7.3 II alot recently and through Party Time the set is just as good as the first set. I mean really, really good - the segue into and execution of No Quarter and segue out and execution of Party Time is pure bliss but then the set begins to just become hits...the call to bring out Ghost is brilliant, but then the song putters out and then I just feel Trey hits us (in Jibbo and Light) with more of the same jamming we heard in the DWD...

The Waves > What the Use saves the set from going off a clif, but damn Trey - throw in a ballad...Lifeboy needed to come out right there - not Meatstick
Score: 3
mayday Reply
Your article fails to acknowledge that a good amount of people relisten to a show to relive the experience of being there. While you point out that you can be more objective to the actual music by not being there, you still lack the ability to let the music bring you back to the incredible live experience that sbix was. I will get far more enjoyment listening to that Tweezer or Reba again than i ever will listening to an all time great version of a song i didnt experience live... But to each their own.
Score: 18
Alumni Reply
@tmwsiy said:
People getting all bent out of shape and possessive over the shows they were at. Does not compute with me.
If there's been one constant for me, from the early-mid 90s until today . . . that is it. That problem was always with us . . . it's with us today . . . and it's still going to be a problem whenever Phish starts touring again (after the rest of this summer).
Score: 1

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