Now that Phish has wrapped up their best tour since returning in 2009, it’s time to take a look back and rank the shows from worst to first. Why? Because we’re Phish nerds here at phish.net. It’s what we do best.
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A few thoughts before we begin:
- We're looking at second sets and encores only. In a tour full of bust outs, it's too difficult to weigh the first sets with any sort of objectivity. For example, what improves a show more – the best “Wolfman’s” of 3.0 from the first set of 6/16 Atlantic City or the first “Shaggy Dog” since 1995 in the first set of 6/22 Cincinnati?
- Encores can only add value to the set. They never detract.
- Rankings are based on the music that ends up on the recording, not personal live experiences. Debating the best live experiences is like arguing over who has the best favorite color.
- There is very little separating shows within each division.
- Shows that rank 10-15 on the first leg of this tour would probably be top 10 shows for the entire year in 2011 or 2010. This is not so much because the band is hitting new peaks. Shows from last year like 6/3 Clarkston, 8/15 Chicago, and 9/4 Denver would still be at the top of this list. Rather, the difference lies in the consistency of play night in and night out, leaving 2012 with far fewer bottom-tier shows.
- This list is just for fun. In the end, the only rankings that matter are your own. Music is subjective. No matter how hard we try to objectify it, your personal experience and enjoyment means the most.
Now, on to the rankings...
Busch Light Division (you won't find many people requesting these shows, but they can still get the job done)
20) 6/10/2012 Bonnaroo
Golden Age > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Chalk Dust Torture, Carini -> Shafty > Rock and Roll, Alaska > Harry Hood -> Light > Character Zero > Rocky Top E: Show of Life > Julius > Tweezer Reprise
The Meat: Good question. I guess there are a few really interesting seconds as “Carini” transitions into “Shafty.”
The Achilles Heel: Festival Set Syndrome strikes again as little to no risk was taken.
The X Factor: For those who watched at home on YouTube, Alice Cooper was putting on a fantastic show on Bonnaroo Channel 2.
19) 6/19/2012 Portsmouth
Back on the Train > Rift, Split Open and Melt > The Mango Song > Backwards Down the Number Line, Limb By Limb, Shine a Light, Lengthwise -> Maze, Cavern > Fire E: Mexican Cousin > Slave to the Traffic Light
The Meat: Um? Trey plays the “Maze” intro with a toy light saber?
The Achilles Heel: Along with Bonnaroo, this is the only other show of tour that does not feature a jam worthy of a second listen.
The X Factor: Although the “tuck show” lacks meaty play, it is full of banter and fun antics. Fortunately, there was an official webcast so those at home could see the fun since this is definitely a had-to-be-there type of night.
Heineken Division (at least it's not Busch Light)
18) 6/20/2012 Portsmouth
Rock and Roll > Tweezer > Free > Guyute, Birds of a Feather, Harry Hood -> What's the Use? > Wading in the Velvet Sea > Possum E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
The Meat: “Rock and Roll” and “Tweezer” provide a very tasty opening sequence. However, the real action lies in the transition from “Hood” into “What’s the Use?”
The Achilles Heel: If “What’s the Use?” had only gone back into “Hood” instead of “Velvet Sea,” we would have another contender for best moment of tour.
The X Factor: Soft-shell crabs were in season and the venue is right on the Chesapeake Bay.
17) 6/17/2012 Atlantic City
Drowned > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Reba, Roses Are Free > Chalk Dust Torture > Prince Caspian -> Silent in the Morning, Bug > A Day in the Life > Down with Disease E: Gotta Jibboo > Quinn the Eskimo
The Meat: “Drowned” provides the set with a huge lift off. The “2001” is up there with Worcester from the prior weekend as the best versions (not paying tribute to Michael Jackson) since 97-2000, and a mid-second set “Reba” provides a welcome surprise.
The Achilles Heel: All the momentum gained in the first half of the set is obliterated during the “Caspian” through “A Day in the Life” sequence.
The X Factor: A rocking “Disease” closer and groovy “Jibboo” > “Quinn” encore continued the roller coaster theme of this show, closing on a high note.
16) 7/4/2012 Jones Beach
Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer > Twist > Taste > Quinn the Eskimo > Julius > Rock and Roll > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Harry Hood > Shine a Light > Show of Life > Slave to the Traffic Light E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
The Meat: “Boogie On” > “Tweezer” > “Twist” opens the set with fantastic energy, and both the “Tweezer” and “Twist” contain jams worthy of a listen or seven.
The Achilles Heel: The second half of the second set is quite ballad-heavy. Also, it was July 4 and there were no fireworks. America was insulted.
The X Factor: It’s not often that you get a “Hood” and “Slave” in the same set. Unfortunately, they're also the only songs that kept people on their feet in the second half of the set.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Division (not among the elite, but still damn good)
15) 6/8/2012 Worcester
Down with Disease > Sand -> Nellie Kane, Mike's Song > Makisupa Policeman > Weekapaug Groove, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Character Zero E: The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg
The Meat: An solid “Disease” and compact but fierce “Sand” give this set plenty of mustard.
The Achilles Heel: The Mike's Groove is average at best and “Wading” kills any momentum coming off the “Weekapaug.”
The X Factor: Putting aside the Camden 2010 Michael Jackson tribute “2001,” this “2001” along with the Atlantic City version one week later make up the most interesting and exciting performances of this tune since its 97-2000 heyday. Also, don’t discount the “Character Zero.” It might be the most interesting version of this standard rocker since Hartford 1997.
14) 7/1/2012 Alpine Valley
Crosseyed and Painless > No Quarter > Light > Ghost -> Back on the Train > Farmhouse, 46 Days, Heavy Things > Joy, Julius E: Meatstick
The Meat: “Crosseyed” > “Ghost” delivers a thrilling four-song sequence to open the set with “Light” providing the jam of the night.
The Achilles Heel: Following the “Ghost” is a collection of songs that most fans would probably rather not see late in a second set.
The X Factor: This version of “Farmhouse,” a ‘beer and bathroom song’ for many in the 90s, is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
13) 6/24/2012 Blossom
Golden Age > Ghost > Sweet Virginia, Rift > Tweezer -> Walk Away > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Piper > Waste > Run Like an Antelope E: Loving Cup > Tweezer Reprise
The Meat: This is a love/hate set full of “almost” moments in the “Golden Age,” “Ghost,” and “Tweezer.” In the end, the best played pieces of the night were a scorching “Walk Away” and tease-filled “Antelope.”
The Achilles Heel: For as great as “Golden Age” > “Ghost” looks on paper, neither delivers, save for an exciting minute or two in each. In addition, the “Tweezer” is a bunch of different disjointed ideas that never comes together.
The X Factor: This is a classic example of a show that was a blast to see live, but doesn’t translate well to the recording. If this list was a survey of the best live experiences, I have no doubt. this show would be near the top.
12) 7/7/2012 SPAC
Down with Disease -> Blister in the Sun > Down with Disease > Boogie On Reggae Woman > Golden Age -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Backwards Down the Number Line > Prince Caspian -> Scent of a Mule -> Blister in the Sun -> Scent of a Mule > Mike's Song > Contact > Weekapaug Groove E: Sabotage
The Meat: The “Disease” contains some thrilling jamming while “Blister in the Sun” teases throughout the night kept the fun-factor high.
The Achilles Heel: Outside of the “Disease,” there’s not much depth to any of the tunes. The truncated “Golden Age” > “2001” exemplifies this. Also, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a fan with “Number Line” > “Caspian” > “Scent” on their second set wish list.
The X Factor: Thanks to a “Blister in the Sun” infusion, both the “Number Line” and “Scent” are quite fun. And, the “Caspian” is one of the more interesting versions the band has played.
11) 6/30/2012 Alpine Valley
Backwards Down the Number Line > Carini > Wilson > Golden Age -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Rock and Roll > Steam > Piper > Quinn the Eskimo, Harry Hood > Character Zero E: Good Times Bad Times
The Meat: The “Rock and Roll” > “Steam” > “Piper” sequence may be the most underrated segment of the entire tour.
The Achilles Heel: Up until the “Rock and Roll,” an average setlist produced average to below average versions of each song.
The X Factor: Even though the set has no true highs outside of the “Rock and Roll” > “Piper,” it also has no lulls.
10) 6/22/2012 Cincinnati
Down with Disease > Guelah Papyrus, Kill Devil Falls > Twist > Halley's Comet > Sand -> Roggae, Carini > Chalk Dust Torture, Golgi Apparatus E: Fluffhead
The Meat: “Disease” provides a solid opener. However, it’s the “Twist” that will set your stereo on fire – a best of 3.0 version as well as a contender for jam of tour.
The Achilles Heel: Following the “Twist,” the set suffers from a touch of ADD with six more songs played in less than 40 minutes.
The X Factor: “Fluffhead” appears in the encore slot for the first time in nearly 22 years.
9) 6/28/2012 Deer Creek
Mike's Song > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Back on the Train -> Hold Your Head Up > Bike > Hold Your Head Up > Weekapaug Groove > Prince Caspian > Waves > Bug > David Bowie E: Show of Life > Tweezer Reprise
The Meat: “Waves” delivers the jam of the night, but it’s the surprise of a rarely jammed “McGrupp” that elevates the ranking of this set.
The Achilles Heel: “Caspian” and “Bug” keep this set from having any upwards momentum following the Mike’s Groove.
The X Factor: Fishman’s guitar debut during “Weekapaug” adds a fun-factor to an otherwise standard version.
Racer 5 Division (tough to find flaws, but still a level below the best)
8) 6/16/2012 Atlantic City
Crosseyed and Painless > Slave to the Traffic Light > Light -> Manteca -> Light > Theme From the Bottom > Golgi Apparatus > Sand > Backwards Down the Number Line > Run Like an Antelope E: Good Times Bad Times
The Meat: The ‘Lighteca’ is one of the best jams of tour and packed with thrilling improv.
The Achilles Heel: Following the “Light,” the rest of the set is very average with a “Golgi” and “Number Line” that many fans would consider poorly placed.
The X Factor: The transition from “Crosseyed” to “Slave” is simply gorgeous.
7) 7/3/2012 Jones Beach
Chalk Dust Torture, Sand -> Golden Age, Wolfman's Brother -> Walk Away, Bug > Fluffhead > The Wedge > Run Like an Antelope E: Character Zero
The Meat: “Sand” -> “Golden Age” delivers one of the jams of tour and the “Antelope” is a best-of-3.0 version.
The Achilles Heel: “Bug” > “Fluffhead” in the middle of the second set takes away momentum of what had been a very jam-heavy set up until that moment.
The X Factor: High tide was coming in during the show and flooding some sections. Once the “Walk Away” was over, the ocean got scared and the tide receded.
6) 6/29/2012 Deer Creek
Down with Disease > Sand > Twist -> Rift > Bathtub Gin -> Fluffhead > Ride Captain Ride > Run Like an Antelope E: Cavern > Sanity, First Tube
The Meat: “Disease” > “Sand” provides 25 minutes of solid heat to open the set.
The Achilles Heel: “Twist” and “Gin” are cut extremely short. “Rift” and “Fluffhead,” while fantastic songs, take up 20 minutes of prime second set real estate that might be better used on less structured tunes.
The X Factor: “Ride Captain Ride” provides a rare treat. Follow that with “Antelope” and a three-song high-energy encore, and nobody will care about the lost jams from earlier in the set.
5) 6/15/2012 Atlantic City
My Soul, Birds of a Feather -> Back on the Train > Heavy Things > Twist > Piper > Billy Breathes, Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley > David Bowie E: First Tube
The Meat: “Birds” -> “Back on the Train” provides one of the best jams of tour. The “Bowie” set closer also contains a plethora of interesting teases taking it beyond a standard set-closing version.
The Achilles Heel: From “Twist” on, the set lacked any earth-shattering improv. And yes, I only wrote that because I had a blank space in this section.
The X Factor: Outside of the rarely played “Billy Breathes,” there is little to no downtime in this set. Given that even the “Heavy Things” rips; there’s not one bathroom moment.
Heady Topper Division (Vermont's finest)
4) 6/7/2012 Worcester
Carini -> Taste > Ghost > Boogie On Reggae Woman > If I Could, Quinn the Eskimo > Harry Hood > Cavern > Buried Alive Reprise E: Loving Cup
The Meat: Where do you begin? The “Carini” is the best “Carini” in a tour packed with great versions and qualifies as one of the many best jams of tour. The “Ghost” is the best version of tour, and may be the best version since 12/31/2010. Then, you have the scorching “Boogie On” – one of only three jammed out versions in the 3.0 era, along with Red Rocks 2009 and Raleigh 2010.
The Achilles Heel: The “Taste” isn’t perfect, and one can say the set loses some steam after “If I Could.” But we are really nitpicking here.
The X Factor: A beautiful rendition of “If I Could” that in many fans' minds ranks behind only Holmdel 2000 and Greatwoods 1995 among all-time greatest versions.
3) 7/6/2012 SPAC
Chalk Dust Torture > Carini > Sand, Roses Are Free > Punch You In the Eye > Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley > Ghost > Suzy Greenberg > Run Like an Antelope E: Loving Cup
The Meat: “Carini” > “Sand” wets the palate with some nice jamming. But it’s the “Sally” – a top five jam of tour – that takes this set to the next level.
The Achilles Heel: “Punch” is more of a first set tune? There were better “Sands” this tour? “Ghost” could have been longer? “Suzy” didn’t contain the rare bonus third jam? I’m trying.
The X Factor: Start to finish, this was the most high-energy set of tour with absolutely no downtime.
2) 6/23/2012 Star Lake
Gotta Jibboo > Mike's Song > Simple > Light > Weekapaug Groove -> Seven Below, Bouncing Around the Room > Julius > Slave to the Traffic Light E: The Lizards
The Meat: The “Light” through “Seven Below” sequence may be the most thrilling segment of tour. “Light” shows why it’s currently Phish’s top jamming vehicle while the “Weekapaug” is clearly the best version of 3.0.
The Achilles Heel: “Bouncing” > “Julius” mid-second set takes away a good chunk of the momentum coming off “Seven Below.”
The X Factor: “The Lizards” encore makes you forget about the “Bouncing” > “Julius” so you can remember the good times.
1) 7/8/2012 SPAC
Axilla > Light > Twist > Kill Devil Falls -> My Friend, My Friend > Swept Away > Steep > Piper > Free > Kung > Harry Hood > Cavern > David Bowie E: You Enjoy Myself
The Meat: “Light” once again delivers a memorable jam. But for once this tour, it is not the star of the show. That honor goes to a thrilling 15-minute “Piper” that alone would have been enough to carry the set.
The Achilles Heel: Picking out a weak spot of this set is grasping at straws. On setlist alone the “Kill Devil Falls” > “Steep” segment looks to be the low point of the show. But “Kill Devil Falls” ended up being one of the top three versions of the song (with only Bethel 2011 a clearly better version) and “Steep” even contained an interesting outro.
The X Factor: In terms of sheer quantity, there is more exciting jamming in this set than any other of the tour. And then you get to the “YEM” encore.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
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