IT did not take long for the powerful energy from Phish's SPAC shows in July to juice "leg two." In August and in early September, 2012, Phish once again performed several shows, and a host of improvisations, that are as "must hear" as the highlights of their 1580+ show career. While there were a few performances that were seemingly through-the-motions, the brief tour concluded incredibly well in early September at Dick's in Colorado. Fans have every reason to be optimistic about the music of the New Year’s Run at Madison Square Garden (12/28 - 12/31/12).
DISCLAIMER: What follows are blurbs of notes about the MUSIC of the shows on leg two. They deliberately do not try to discuss all of the music of each show in detail, most if not all of which many of you have already heard. These remarks are consciously terse and they are intended for other Phish fans curious about the views of another fan who has heard a lot of Phish’s music. In other words, read no further if you're offended by often-dismissive ineloquence. You may (and arguably should) confidently disregard anything said below with which you disagree with extreme prejudice, because YOUR OPINION IS ALL THAT MATTERS when it comes to Phish's music. This is only my $0.02 on the "leg two" shows, and if you find anything below clueless, condescending, and/or douchey, then please COMMENT. Thoughtful commentary is great for the site, and reflects well on our community. Thank you!
8/15/12 LONG BEACH: Folks are still bringing up the second set of this show when reflecting on the Summer Tour, and for good reason. The first set of Long Beach, like its Stash, is good, arguably even a wee bit above-average for recent years. Stash and Gin, for example, follow their typical Trey-led jam structure, and while both are far from perfect, Gin has several measures of hose-everyone-down Trey shredding at its peak (see Gin at 8:30-9:15 of the LivePhish track). The Quinn is a top version (though not as good as SuperBall) and closes the set well. The must-hear second set opens with a fantastic Rock and Roll that includes a gorgeous jam or three over its often magical, diverse, 25-minute improvisationally-blessed course. The Ghost that follows is excellent (listen for Trey’s brief Dirt tease, and Fish’s near-Dirt drum-line at its end), similar in part to the deservedly popular 12/31/10 Ghost. This Ghost is up there with the finest versions of 3.0, in other words. Hood is great taboot, in that Trey employs a somewhat hooty, unusual tone for much of it, making for a pleasant change of pace, even if the jam kinda falls apart at one point before patiently climbing back to a peak. The show also ends with high energy, in the form of GTBT and Julius. It was/is an impressive tour opener, and great to see in light of the SPAC3 “leg one” tour closer from July.
8/17 BGCA: Though it features good versions of Sand and Slave, the first set is unremarkable (“average at best”). The second-set-opening DWD’s jam is pretty good, though not worth B&P’ing for. Birds, like the rest of the second set, is fun and brief. Tweezer, like DWD, is smart-tight-sweet for most of its jam, but it eventually devolves into aimless, WTF-improv. It’s still worth a listen, if only for Mike’s melodic contributions in particular in the final few minutes. (And it should go without saying that if you’re a big fan of Tweezer, you should try to listen to every version. Every. Single. One.)
8/18 BGCA: It’s not often that Phish performs a show where the first set is consistently stronger than the second, but this is one. Wolfman's is a blast, with everyone contributing equally to its intricate glory. The set overall is well-played, even though there’s a very sloppy return to the closing composed section in the SOAM (it is nevertheless still one of the more focused and patient versions in recent years). As for set two, Golden Age and Piper didn't do much before they were ripcorded. Trey just sounds off (to my ears obviously) in the Mike's. And while Simple is charming for awhile, Trey began to employ (deploy?) the whale-calling pitch-shifter, and then the jam just floundered about in a haze. BDTNL has some surprising flubs in it; Carini is a perfunctory version that ain’t much better; Wilson is meh; ‘Paug is short and far more on the messy side than normal; and even 2001 is meh. And while I love Fluffhead, the opening of this version is sloppy enough that I left the floor of the BGCA during the show, which is not at all something I ordinarily and customarily do, particularly during Fluffhead! It’s a Phish show, after all, and I’m usually watching and loving it through the end. Not tonight. Loving Cup (E)’d.
8/19 BGCA: What a difference 21 or so hours makes. This show has wonderful “flow” from song to song, and set to set. If an old friend asks you for a recent Phish show for them to listen to that may give them a good feel for Phish 2012, consider giving them this one. While the first set doesn’t contain anything you should rush to check out, Reba is serene, Free is paradigmatic of the majesty that even an average-lengthed version of Free can be, and Bowie closes the smoothly well-played set quite well. The second set’s Crosseyed is routine-powerful for awhile, but a mesmerizing jam eventually develops, and a remarkably beautiful Mike-Trey melodic theme occurs. Crosseyed also sandwiches both Light and Sneakin' Sally, and this Light is easily one of the top versions of the song. It contains an OUTRAGEOUSLY SICK jam for several minutes that should be played AT HIGH VOLUME and it RAISED THE GOD DAMN ROOF OF THE BGCA. It’s the sort of jam worth having flown across country to see LIVE, in other words. Serious TweePrise-like tension and release and buildup in this Light, too, with a slick segue into Sneakin’ Sally (which is an awesome version as well). If you still haven’t heard this show, you’re in for a treat. Download it.
8/22 KC: If you’ve ever read a "review" of a show and the reviewer, who appears to have significant experience of Phish’s music, simply says, “it was an average, typically great Phish show,” this is more likely than not EXACTLY the show he or she has in mind. The first set features an excellent, slllooow Skin It Back (one of my favorite Phish covers, so glad this was brought back!), and has a pleasant, but imperfect and short, Gin, and even a very good Antelope set closer, too. And the second-set-opening Tweezer has a pretty, Theme-like jam in it for a spell. Mike’s is ok, BDTNL is ugly in part, but whatever, I love this song. Heavy Things is fine, but If I Could is a lovely version of the tune (must-hear if you’re a fan of it, for sure). Weekapaug, like Mike’s, is average-fine. And while Harry is largely its gorgeous self, it doesn’t really peak, which is odd (but hey, it’s ALL HOOD!). If this KC gig is among your favorite Phish shows, you are BLESSED, because there is a hell of a lot of past and future Phish that you’ll really enjoy hearing.
8/24 OAK MOUNTAIN: So this was Phish’s first time at this venue since 9/28/99. A well-played first set, the highlights of which were Page sending Lawn Boy out to the fans “sitting right up along this edge” who couldn’t quite see him at the piano, and Trey saying “we’d like to send this next song [DWD] out to the people over there, on the tiny strip of lawn, this is for you, right over there. We love you guys.” Seriously, though, the set concludes well with a good Julius, Cavern and mighty While My Guitar Gently Weeps (worth hearing). Trey’s solo in it just had to make some new Phish fans! Second set opens well with a strong Rock and Roll (featuring an obvious Live and Let Die tease/jam in it for a few measures) that segues into a lovely Lizards. Though only ten minutes, Sand is quite fierce (definitely check it out if you’re a big fan of this tune), and the short Twist that follows has a fun and very obvious Oye Como Va jam in it. If you’re a big fan of Santana’s Oye Como Va, this particular version of Twist is absolutely worth a listen (don't be fooled by its brevity).
8/25 ATLANTA: A very long time ago I wrote that every version of Julius sounds like the “best version ever” when you hear it at a show, and Maze has always been a song like that, too, with grippingly powerful tension and release and terrific rock and roll as well. But this first set’s Maze arguably smokes a little more (just a scosh) than most if not all typically-hot versions of Maze that you’ve heard. Second set opens strong with KDF, and while the Golden Age that follows is largely powerful as well, it somewhat abruptly and surprisingly fizzles out, even though there’s a good segue to Free out of its dark, creepy, and spacey closing jam. Light has been shining brightly this year and there’s a delightful jam in this version to be sure, even though as a whole it’s no BGCA or Dick’s. It is nevertheless still worth hearing if you're really into this song. Also, the CDT in this second set contains an exceptionally good jam (in part) that foreshadows the spectacular 8/31 Dick’s version. CDT’s jam also smoothly transitions into WTU, even though both songs weren't being played at the same time. WTU and Joy are very beautiful, and hey, look at this, another version of Antelope that more or less returns to its former, ferociously tight glory! This is a consistently "great" show, though only arguably "above average-great."
8/26 CHARLOTTE: Funky Bitch is getting a ton of play these days to be sure, but this mid-first-set version is particularly tight. This first set is a mixed bag, what with a messy Alumni (still love the tune!) and My Sweet One (with some fun banter before it), but the Bundle of Joy section of Fluffhead is very amusing, thanks to Fish in particular. Bowie closes the set well, too. The Crosseyed to open the second set is pretty good, especially when Trey repeats a riff for several measures in a way that made it seem like he'd be leading the jam somewhere mind-blowing. But, no. The jam just plateaus and then drifts into yet another spacey interlude before McGrupp sweetly begins. While McGrupp's Page-driven jam is wonderful, Trey is sloppy in the transition back to the composed coda (which he also does not nail). Mike’s Song is meh (through the motions) once again, but this Tweezer is DAZZLINGLY GOOD. It’s short but stunning, as I hear it, and among the more bewildering versions from recent years (and listen for Mike’s brief tease of Cars Trucks Buses). Harry is nice, but Trey can't gel or focus and appears to noodle about… and there's even a flub in the coda. Weekapaug is average-fine. The set-closing Suzy Greenberg has so many Crosseyed teases from Trey in it that it was somewhat odd that they didn’t just decide, after Page’s solo, to break back into Xeyed for a Reprise. A rare appearance by BBFCFM in the encore position is cool (this song never fails to amuse me at a show), but perhaps not all that surprising when you consider that it has often followed error-ridden tunes at shows (sometimes immediately after an error), and this show had more flubs in it than most shows -- it may even rival 6/10/11 Camden, when Trey was repeatedly spanked by the flubasaurus. In any event, Tweezer is highly recommended.
8/28 ST LOUIS: Reba’s jam is nice but, as has become par for the course in recent years, just does not peak all that well, and then Fish comes in to conclude the jam at what seems like too early a time. Sigh. I love I Didn’t Know and wish Fish (as Trey notes, the “John Coltrane of the vacuum cleaner”) whipped out and sucked his vacuum more frequently than he is permitted. Fish’s performances on vacuum are a tribute to Phish’s greatness, and more importantly, they’ve helped distinguish Phish in a humorous way from every other touring rock act in the history of music. Unfortunately, at the beginning of Peaches, Trey flubs so much that Zappa would be FURIOUS with this version. BESIDE HIMSELF WITH RAGE. Sample also has flubs from Trey (and hey, not that I really give a damn about flubs, because I sincerely don't, but they (1) are usually an objectively observable and obvious phenomenon even to people without any musical training, and (2) they do matter to some people, particularly musicians who perform professionally for paying audiences -- and members of those paying audiences). The Sloth, Camel Walk and Possum > Quinn, however, are a welcome relief and help to close the set well.
This St. Louis show is an easily above-average Phish show, though, because of the second set’s improvisation. The CDT is odd, in that after an ok-at-best jam and the typical closing composed section, Fish thinks they're going to end the song (as did I), but inexplicably Trey starts soloing and a new jam develops. It is not a planned "second jam segment" at all, and improvisationally it kinda meanders along. It's a very good jam, but nevertheless not must-hear... even though this version easily makes CDT’s jam chart, and it segues very smoothly into Frankie Says. Frankie Says contains a short but precious jam that segues somewhat abruptly into Undermind, after Trey sounded like he'd wanted (at first) to head into Sand (listen to Trey especially at 4:45-4:49 (LP timing), when he quickly and briefly teases Sand's main riff). Undermind is quite good and Trey can't help but start teasing Sand again, employing various effects, and Sand somewhat clumsily transitions out of an unusual guitar-effect-heavy (but not blaringly so) conclusion to Undermind. Sand is pretty awesome in part, with Trey employing an envelope filter effect I believe, during a milky syrupy solo at times. The jam peaked really well, and then mellowed into the coda, when Trey just started up Walk Away. (It’s a -> though not that awesome).
LxL begins normal enough, but Trey basically ventures into the twilight zone early in the jam, soloing in a seemingly haphazard way, at one time sounding like he wanted to play Sand again. The other band members continued to play LxL while Trey kinda aimlessly farted around before more clearly signaling to the others that he wanted to “type 2” the SOB. And off they go exploring improvisationally in a manner that you must hear for yourself. It is worth comparing the first few minutes of this jam with the final few minutes. The progression from aimless dogshit to SICK HOSE is fascinating! It's reminiscent frankly of certain jams in 2.0, including at Coventry. Hear this LxL at all costs. The St. Louis show also ends with a good Julius, Page playing especially well in 2001, and a pretty good YEM, despite Trey’s flubs in the opening composed section. (I could probably hear YEM at every show, flubbed by Trey or perfect.) Trey solos quite well in the brief, but very strong, YEM jam, and Mike is typically fierce during the “bass and drums” section before the good vocal jam. No question, this is an above-average Phish show thanks to the second set’s improv. That said, it certainly lacks the consistency-of-greatness of all three Dick’s shows and BGCA3.
8/29 OKC: Trey notes before Wilson how "excited" they are to be playing at this venue in OKC, implying that they’d been trying to play here for years. The first set is fine, meaning it’s well-played, but there are no take-aways (nothing that needs to be heard again). It is at least arguably a below-average set of Phish, since I think it’s fair to say that even an average-great set of Phish has at least something worth hearing a second time, even if it’s a version of a jamming tune that merely approaches the realm of “top versions” rather than entering it. But listening to this set, it’s like Phish made a conscious effort not to jam for more than a few minutes at a time in any given song. The second set isn't much more exciting. The jam in Twist in the second set gets improvisational and becomes melodically enchanting for a very brief period of time before the closing lyrics kick in. It is “jam chart worthy” but not all that impressive in light of leg two’s other highlights. Light’s jam is fairly cool, while it lasts, but Hood? Sigh. This show is as meek as 8/31 is strong. There’s just an ENORMOUS disparity between the musical merit of OKC and the next show, 8/31 Dick’s. OKC is/was the Bonnaroo of leg two.
8/31 DICK’S: Although the end of the opening composed section is crappy, this First Tube show opener is must-hear, and frankly it is alone more musically inspired in its jam than the entire OKC show. While not perfectly played, its jam is FEROCIOUS. An almighty version. WOW. And then, amazingly, Phish rock the crap out of Carini, which eventually contains a GORGEOUS jam that needs to be heard. The mid-first-YEM is pretty good but gets memorably awesome what with its “WE LOVE DICKS” vocal jam. And Undermind!?!? A stupendous version, easily among the finest versions in Phish history. Christ, what a FIRST set!
The second set opens with Runaway Jim that jams intensely well and segues into Farmhouse. Farmhouse is performed beautifully, and then just after its routine ending, a JAM begins that soars majestically for quite some time. (More WOW.) Even though under Phish.net setlist roolz, this JAM should be noted in the setlist itself because it followed the typical Farmhouse ending and was not a jam within the song Farmhouse (Farmhouse also ended normally), the Phish.net Working Group has made an exception for this show. Why? Because the first letter of each consecutive song of this show spells out FUCKYOURFACE, and no one wants to be “the guy” who makes it spell FUCKYOURFJACE instead. (Though I admit to taking several weeks to consider whether or not to be “that guy.”) CDT’s jam is melodic and magnificent and holy crap can you believe they continue to jam this well in this damn show!?!? It is almost like a drawn-out Hood climax for several minutes! The set then atypically closes with Emotional Rescue and FYF, and the show concludes with (pun intended) a Grind Meatstick encore. There is no question that this show deserves to be mentioned among "the best" shows since Cypress, and I wouldn't fault for a second anyone who believes that this is the best show (two or three sets) of 3.0, other than to say that ranking already "top" or "best" shows against each other is an arguably foolhardy endeavor, given the danger of weighing unequivocally-amazing jams against each other. For me, though, "best shows" are determined by the volume of improvisation that seems to me to "click" and sound like melodious, composed music or almost like it. It isn't necessarily about length of jams, it isn't necessarily about song choices, it isn't necessarily about "flow." It's about how much of the show is so improvisationally transcendent or powerful that many people (not only me, but many others who share a love of Phish's music) RAVE about this version and that version or that version as being "best ever" or "top" etc.
9/1 DICK’S: The Antelope opener is old-school-excellent and thus among the top versions in a long time. It is followed by pretty good versions of BDTNL and Tweezer, and then Fluffhead comes in with even higher energy! These four songs comprise a wicked good start to this show. The set then mellows a bit (for Phish) and, overall, winds up being “average-great” so to speak. Second set is must-hear and compelling, however, with a tight Golden Age, and an enchanting jam in Fuckerpants that you may enjoy even if you’re not a fan of the song. Light proves to be breathtakingly good, and is certainly competitive with the finest versions of Light that exist, including the BGCA and SPAC3 versions earlier in 2012. Definitely check it and this set out if you haven’t yet done so! Many consider this Light to be among the finest jams in the last ten years and I do not disagree, as part of this version is transcendent. Boogie On is fun to be sure, but then the set kinda coasts, even if in an “average-awesome-Phish” sort of way. Mike’s Song is fine, and No Quarter is sweet, coming just before a ‘Paug that is more impressive than it has normally been in recent years. The set thus ends with nothing unusually strong for Phish, but given the Golden Age, Caspian and Light, you still ought to hear this set if you haven’t yet! And the Sleeping Monkey (E) is a blast if only given Trey’s comment about Fish’s banana.
9/2 DICK’S: First set opens with Cars Trucks Buses which is always great to hear. And it’s a fun first set setlist to be sure (e.g. Nellie and Ride Captain Ride), but nothing noteworthy. A good Gin is its musical highlight. The second set, on the other hand, contains a masterpiece improvisation in the 24+ min Sand, that segues smoothly into a very good Ghost. This Sand really needs to be heard to be believed and like the Light from 9/1 and the Carini, Undermind and CDT from 8/31, the jam in this Sand should count among any “top 20 jams of 3.0” list. This is also a great set overall with Piper, 20 Years Later, Lizards and a set-closing Hood that features substantial “thank you” and other banter at its end.
Leg Two thus ended with three above-average (if not well above-average) shows! It is thus no surprise that those who have heard them can’t help but be very optimistic, not simply about the New Year's run at MSG, but about Phish’s future in general. See you at MSG? $0.02.