IT is not a science. The exquisite transcendence that one can experience when moved by music, such as during the concluding sections of the July 31 Tahoe "Tweezer” for example, is not quantifiable. But whether you enjoy music with, or without, analytic doses of dates, timings, ratings and stats, Phish's Summer Tour gives you plenty to ponder, and even more for which to be enormously grateful.
PHISH’s 2013 Summer Tour is arguably their most improvisationally inspired tour, generally speaking, since 2004. I say “arguably” only because, similar to the second half of last summer's tour, which concluded with three excellent shows at Dick's, nearly every show this year-- Phish's 30th year together --contains a jam worth repeated listenings. This bounty of jamtastic versions of songs is impressive, and it almost (kinda sorta) includes every version “Hood,” “DWD,” “Tweezer,” “Crosseyed & Painless,” “Bathtub Gin,” "Light," “Sand,” “Runaway Jim,” and “Rock and Roll” performed to date in 2013. It is also notable that all of this music occurred while lighting-genius Chris Kuroda employed a new lighting design, and sound engineer Garry Brown operated a new, warm, analog soundboard. Even this tour’s announcement video is worth checking out, if you happened to miss it.
But to those contending that we've entered “Phish 4.0,” or that Phish's music today is incomparable with, or “not even close to," their playing in recent years, I disagree, as does (for example) the 8/5/2011 Gorge “Rock and Roll.” Reckless hyperbole is not credible, as are the often ludicrous claims of “best ever” this and “best ever” that, ridiculous if only given Phish’s vast history of magnificent performances of their originals and a ton of covers. It is arguably even insulting to Phish’s illustrious career to suggest that everything that they’re playing now is “better” than it was in the past. They were brilliant musicians “then” (pick a year!) and they're brilliant now. The genius of Phish's work 20 years ago isn't “better” or “worse” than their genius now. IT is what IT is, and we should be grateful that they're playing as well as they are, but at the same time, not betray a profound ignorance of Phish’s distinguished musical history-- a history that includes transcendent improv in nearly every year of their playing.
That said, I agree that Phish is even more worth seeing today than they were last summer. With versions of songs as deservedly revered as Tahoe’s “Tweezer,” PNC’s “C&P,” BGCA’s “Runaway Jim,” Hollywood Bowl’s “Harry Hood,” and others discussed below, how can one not be excited about Phish today!? I also agree of course that they've changed in the last year, just as you and I have as well. Page and Mike appear more eager to engage their arsenal of instruments and effects these days, and even Fish is now playing a “marimba lumina,” at least in “SOAMule.” No question, Phish is still a powerful band, capable of bringing IT on any given night. And while Phish is not the same band that they were, they are still the Phish from Vermont. So, if you’re not planning to see the shows at Dick’s on Labor Day Weekend, or those on the Fall tour, I hope you reconsider, after listening to some 2013 Phish, and that IT changes your mind.
DISCLAIMER: I will say say something that disappoints you immensely in the show-blurbs that follow. But whether I do, or do not, one or more of the following is true: (A) you're awesome, and I thank you for reading my TWO CENTS; (B) you're foolish and trust strangers on the Internet; (C) all that matters are your own opinions, even if you're deaf; and/or (D) you only like to read fluffpieces about Phish's often glorious, but sometimes imperfect, music, so do yourself a favor and skip what follows. Because I will desecrate the music at least in part, and I will not change my often profane and limited vocabulary to mollify your fragile sensibilities. I also write for folks who have not heard every note of the tour (or every note that circulates in history), and so I necessarily compare and contrast and color, and I have biases that you may not have. If this troubles you, please skip this.
You can also assume that if I don't comment on a song in a particular show-blurb below, it's because I thought, when compared with every other version of the song that preceded it in Phish history, I thought it was fine. If that show’s version of “Maze” or “Funky Bitch” or “Golgi” or “Rift” blew your mind, making the show among your personal favorites, that’s wonderful! I may have been relieving myself (hopefully in a bathroom) during that very same show while your mind was being expanded exponentially. So be prepared to disregard me with extreme prejudice, as appropriate.
7/3 Bangor: The lengthy soundcheck (a pseudo-rehearsal) includes a superb, must-hear jam that a taper reorded (may he be forever blessed) and it is available on the spreadsheet and Youtube. The quality isn’t ideal, of course, but the jam is musically more impressive than the show’s highlights. The tour opener overall is a “greatest hits” extravaganza, with some “loose” playing from Trey at times to be sure, but great playing in songs like “Wolfman’s” and “Antelope,” for example. I recapped the show for this blog only a few hours after it occurred, and don’t have much to add to that blog post. I still enjoy the “Golden Age” jam, and the patient segue from “Rock and Roll” into “2001,” and the “Antelope” and pleasant “Hood.” (And, of course, the “BDTNL,” that I fluffed the crap out of in my recap.) But this “Antelope,” while deserving of the praise it receives, really only deserves it when compared with other 3.0 versions. See this handy chart for more information.
7/5 SPAC1: The first set of this, perhaps the most overrated show in the history of Phish, is noteworthy for the debut of the reggaefied “Yarmouth Road,” written by Mike Gordon and Scott Murawski. And while the “Cities” jam is good, it was cut short, sadly, as Fish began the hi-hat intro to “Bowie.” (nice segue into “Bowie,” though) The “Bowie” also features a very pretty jam about 8:30 into it, but unfortunately, Trey floundered a bit toward the end.
People rightfully love this second set, because loving Phish is always right, and good. But I don’t. The debut of “Energy” (a cover song, by the band “The Apples in Stereo”) to open the set has a jam that is a harbinger of great things to come in “Energy” jams later on in the tour, though it itself is ok. Trey’s use of the pitch shifter to make his gorgeous Languedoc guitar sound like a flat slide whistle bothers me quite a bit during both this jam and in this set in general. And Trey ripcorded the “Energy” jam into “Light,” the jam of which is dazzling in part (Trey flubs a bit in the composed section, and also noodles around a bunch, sounding great at times and not-so-great at others). The last four minutes of the jam, though, are quite enjoyable, before Trey begins “Mango” somewhat oddly. It’s a poor segue into an ok-at-best “Mango.” “46 Days” is its typically tough self, and I LOVE the improvisation in the spectacularificient segue into “Steam.” This segue is easily the highlight of this show. Just a sensational segue and why, on any given night, Phish can be among the Greatest Rock Bands In The History Of The Universe.
Sadly, though, the jam in “Steam” is exceedingly difficult for me to listen to. I just cannot tolerate Trey’s deliberate, heavy use of the pitch shifter to make his notes go flat flat flat flat and sharp and flat flat sharp sharp flat. I FIND THIS PAINFUL TO LISTEN TO. Thankfully,Trey rarely employed the pitch shifter after the first week or so of tour and thus, unsurprisingly at least to me, Phish performed some of their finest music in the last decade. If Trey had just played his guitar straight and not used the shifter during the jams of the “Steam” and “Drowned” of this set, they would easily have been well above-average versions, given their overall spirit and the prowess of Mike, Page and Fish. But it was NOT TO BE.
All my whining aside, it would be wrong not to “recommend” the “Steam” and “Drowned,” given their wide appeal, and if only because they’re “must-hear” examples of how ugly Trey’s guitar can sound while Mike, Page and Fish play brilliantly along. A gentleman told me in an email that if pained by the pitch shifter, I should just listen more closely to Fish, Page and Mike, and bask in the glow of their musicianship. And he’s right. So, in conclusion, the average-great “Slave” at this show, like pretty much every other one this tour, is a delight. And I concede that I’ve written a lot about an purportedly overrated show, which necessarily shows its merit, and my reckless hyperbole. But please, make no mistake: by “overrated,” I certainly don’t mean “bad” or “average-meh” by any stretch. SPAC1 is overall, unquestionably, an above-average Phish show. It just ain’t anywhere close to even a Top 100 show, were I to make the crazy-arrogant effort to create such an easily-attackable list.
7/6 SPAC2: Trey played the opening composed section of “Chalk Dust” better than in Bangor. And this is a well-played first set, with a recommended “SOAM” set closer that, while proceeding in “type II” fashion for most of its jam, is a mixed-bag of greatness (sounding disjointed and directionless, in part). I’d rather hear risk-taking like this than not hear it, but sometimes improv doesn’t sound all that great. Good “BDTNL” second set opener to be sure, but the “Tweezer” that follows (as much as it pains me to say this because I love Tweezer) is disappointing. It doesn’t do much before being mightily ripcorded. “Sand,” on the other hand, is very good, and I LOVE the jam in it about 6-8 minutes in, and I think this minute or two are worth your time to check out, and help make this version above-average for Phish versions of the song. Page in particular is top notch in this “Sand.” I would’ve been soaked-through with sweat at the show after dancing to this. Can’t keep still re-listening to it now for the umpteenth time!
You probably already know that this SPAC2 “Carini” is very strong, arguably a top version. Its jam takes off and becomes an uptempo monster, HOSING EVERYONE DOWN, and Trey's use of the pitch shifter in it is tolerable at worst, and fantastic at best, because he uses it moderately. This is a thrilling, must-hear jam, and is easily the highlight of the first four shows of tour as I hear them. There is also a true segue into “Architect” from this “Carini” jam, and I really enjoy Trey's solo in this “Architect” taboot (he uses the pitch shifter moderately and tastefully IMO). He plays this version of "Architect" like he’d been itching to play it for quite awhile. You can hear his passion in it. This “Boogie On” is loose (Trey got hit with a water balloon during its composed section), and Mike and Page win the jam. An easily “above-average great” show, this one, though not by much.
7/7 SPAC3: First set is well-played, but in a “through the motions,” sense. “LxL” has a very cool little jam in it, after a bit of a key modulation shortly after the 6 min point, which is atypical and cool to hear. Mike in particular tears it up. And the “Walls” is good in the first, though I confess to being partial to this song and pretty much love every single version. The “DWD” second set opener’s jam segment “goes type II” in rather short order, and is entertaining to be sure. I don’t think its jam really gels into anything, except maybe around the 11 min point, when Fish plays a “Seven Below” rhythm, and slowly, the jam eventually begins to sound like it’s going to go somewhere groovy, and it does for several minutes, but then it just dissolves away, as if Trey got bored, and then he begins “Ghost.” “Ghost” has a lot of staccato/plinko action, and is very good (albeit shorter than I’d prefer), with a quick “Guy Forget” vocal from Fish at 10:06 (LivePhish timing). “Piper” is forceful, too, for most of its entire jam, but a minute and a half before it concludes, it mellows-out fast, with Page largely leading the way and Trey accompanying him. A great segue into “Wading” to be sure.
Look, I really like this setlist, what with well-played versions of “Antelope,” “Meatstick” and “YEM” to close the set, too. You’d be nuts if you complained about this set, of course. This show is GREAT, in a Phish sense of the word, but I’m having trouble recommending much in good faith, since I think even the show’s several highlights are mixed-bags, like its “DWD,” “Ghost,” and “Piper.” This “YEM” and “Antelope” wouldn’t have gotten a second listen from me 15 years ago. Yes, Mike’s solo in YEM’s "Bass&Drums" section is damn good to be sure, but the jam never peaked! And “Antelope” was average-great. I’ve listened to them a couple times now and I definitely wouldn’t recommend them. If they helped make this the Greatest Phish Show That You Had Ever Seen, your opinion is all that matters. I beg for your mercy in the Comments.
[It was at this point in the tour when Toronto was postponed due to the extreme flooding there. My heart goes out to any of you affected by the last-minute show cancellation. Just an awful thing to happen and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, even The Notorious ‘lope G.]
7/10 PNC: Drew Hitz (@Tweezer on this site, @Drewphish on Twitter) reported that there was a spectacular jam out of a new Mike tune at the soundcheck of this show, and it was later determined to be "Say Something" (debuted later on in the tour). Really hope Kevin Shapiro and Phish will release it one day. Page is awesome in the “Llama” opener. I LOVE LLAMA OPENERS! The jam in this “Gin” is average-fine, pretty good, but, well. On the whole, this first set is just not as good as Phish usually play, even in first sets. It’s very similar in this sense to SPAC3’s first set, which also needn’t be heard. “Crosseyed” begins normal enough, but then cools down into an enchanting groove, during which Trey, for several measures, hints at (ajamakinto) his style of jamming during part of the must-hear “Viper,” the 2/16/03 Vegas “Piper” (as accurately noted by must-follow @local_mountain, an often hysterically-funny Phish fan on Twitter whom you’ve almost certainly never heard of, but he is one of the funniest, smartest guys I’ve ever known and have yet to know). At this point in the tour, this X-eyed jam was my Favorite Jam Of Tour, and I must have listened to it 20+ times.
The highlight of this set’s “Hood” by far is Trey’s trilling in the intro, that references back to one of the high points of the “C&P” jam. “Hood” is kinda messy at several points (Trey), and so there’s no way I’d call this an above-average version, in light of the ton of “Hoods” Trey has wondrously and consistently soared in o’er these many years. This is remarkable, in a way, given that “Hood” has largely been very well-played all year. And while this “Sand” is very good, I don’t like it as much as I like the SPAC version, because just after Trey starts really grooving, he ripcords the crap out of it into “Light.” And as awesome as “Light” is for several minutes during the jam, with a brief “Manteca”-like riff for a measure, and Mike in particular BRINGING IT, and Trey’s and Page’s “Maria” teasing while Mike rages, the jam weirdly just… falls… apart… right after all that awesome, dissolving into nil… and then Trey starts chording and kicks into “GTBT.” It is a hearty version, what with some fierce Trey soloing, even though it’s relatively short, and Trey’s a bit too loose in the opening composed section. “Slave” is fine and average-great for most of it, but then it ended poorly, which over the course of “Slave’s” history, has not occurred often. It’s also unusual in that “Slave” (like “Hood”) has largely been better-than-average this year. But IMO this isn’t even an average version overall. This show’s “Possum” is pretty good, though. All things considered, hear this “Crosseyed,” and the “Light” too, I suppose.
7/12 JB: Kudos to all of you who made it through the entire show given all the rain!!! (including those of you who didn’t leave covered areas during the second set, despite the poor sound and non-view) Anyway this is what I call a serious Jekyll and Hyde show. The first set is, at best, through the motions. (Trey is a mess at times.) It’s fine. Even “Reba” isn’t all that great, given Trey’s use of the pitch shifter, and I love “Reba.” And the “Bowie” closer? As good as some of the “Bowie’s” are this year, this one takes awhile to get going. I really enjoy Fish’s drumming in particular in this version, in part because he also speeds up the rhythm in the jam segment, helping inspire Trey to peak the jam. But the set overall just isn’t very great. I have no idea what happened to them during the setbreak, but what a difference a break can make.
As you probably already know, the second set is praised by all (all with ears). Among the most consistently strong sets in recent years, it begins with a “Rock and Roll” that takes a few minutes to gain steam, but once it does, it RAGES and keeps on going for awhile, before cooling off, for a minute or two, when “2001” kicks in. Wish every second set opened up with energy and power like this! And OMG the “Tweezer -> Cities -> Wedge” needs to be discussed as a shining, triune GEM! While each version standing alone is certainly above-average (even though each is perhaps on the short side), given the spectacularly magical segues and overall flow between them they, together, create a MUST-HEAR TRIO! I especially LOVE the last couple minutes of the “Tweezer” jam, which HOSE EVERYONE OFF, with Page pounding out an admirable theme, and then Fish starts up the “Wedge” drum line but Trey starts a segue into “Cities!” Fish then cannot stop playing the “Wedge” drum line off and on throughout “Cities,” which is AWESOME!!! Page even teases the heck out of “Dave’s Energy Guide” in the final minute of “Cities.” WHAT A GOD DAMN SET OF PHISH PEOPLE!!!!! Just check it out. You’ll get it figured out. Still freaked out.
7/13 MPP1: I was lucky enough to see seven shows this summer, and the MPP’s were two of them. People like to tease me, as they may tease you, for "overrating" shows that I had just attended if I praise them in a manner they deem too substantial. It’s kindof inevitable, frankly, if you’re honest about it. We spend real money to see show after show. Phish is an incredible band, we love Phish, and we are there to have fun. We want the show to be among the finest we’ve ever seen or heard, we are with our friends (whether physically or spiritually or both), and it’s a rock concert for fck’s sake. So if you’re not enjoying yourself overall AT ALL, then maybe you’re just not that into Phish anymore. All that said, this is a weak, demonstrably below-average show with absolutely no redeeming qualities at all whatsoever. It is a POS.
Seriously, though, first set is well-played with a pretty good “KDF,” I guess. And the set ends with “SOAM,” so that’s always a good thing in my book, even if it’s not worth hearing again. Second set opens with “DWD,” surprising no one, but proceeds to surprise the crap out of many, because the jam gets out there real good (it’s a jam-chart-worthy version for sure), and they actually return to the traditional “DWD” outro/coda for several measures before Trey begins “Free”! The rest of the show is very well-played, and I especially love this “Hood.” Very delicate, melodic playing from Trey, and a patient, charming build-up to the peak. Practically a divinely-inspired version AFAIFC. LOVE IT… Trey even teases “Divided Sky” in it as it peaks, and peaks, and PEAKS! It’s not perfect to be sure, but this “Hood” is must-hear in my view. Set closes well with a pretty good “Mike’s > Simple > Groove,” though there’s too much questionable usage of the pitch shifter in them by Trey for my taste. But hey, look, a “GTBT” show closer! Well, every show can’t be above-average.
7/14 MPP2: This show deserves the love. It is one of the most consistent shows start-to-finish of the tour. This first set was easily the most inspired and well-played of the tour up to this point. (Ok, so I’m guilty of reckless hyperbole, again.) The first set “Stash” coasts along for a bit, when Mike repeats a melodic riff at one point, seeming to encourage Trey to begin soaring melodically on his ‘doc. Given that a lot of “Stash’s” in the last decade have been through-the-motions, this one stands out. “SOAMule” features Fish on the marimba lumina, and is entertaining, as is the “It’s Ice,” that features Mike producing an engaging effect during the brief “Ice” Page-driven jam segment (as is customary). I have to recommend this “Ice” even though Trey isn’t smooth in the return to the composed coda. Trey very quickly teases “Stash” at 1:04 in what is a short-but-sweet “Tube.” “Antelope,” like “Bowie,” has basically returned to its former (average-great) glory, and it puts an exclamation point on this consistently sound first set.
“Golden Age” is pretty good to begin set two, with an off-key “Third Stone from the Sun” tease from Trey in the brief jam segment that occurs before the “Don’t you falter” lyrics. This version’s real jam kicks in about 7 mins in with a key modulation, and it’s very good. At one point Mike repeats a bass line for a couple measures that could help drive the jam into “Gypsy Queen,” and Page joins in for a bit, but Trey doesn’t engage (though he does hit ONE “Gypsy Queen”-like chord). Oh well. No serious peak to the “Golden Age,” but it is still a great version all the same. The “Twist” that follows is remarkable in that Trey actually does NOT tease “Oye Como Va” at all in it. Page arguably plays some “Oye Como Va” chords here and there, but this is typical for “Twist.” Trey tells it straight. Love this tune, and love “BDTNL,” too.
About seven minutes into “Light,” its jam segment gets repetitive with “hey hole” improv (sortof), and I began to go bat-sht-crazy about twenty feet or so out from Mike in the pit, punching the air. The next five minutes or so of this “Light” are recommended. Mike seems to lead everyone around with ferocious playing shortly before Trey begins a “start stop” jam that, were it to occur today, would undoubtedly feature “WOO!'s” from the audience. The jamming is off-key and NASTY, to be sure, but the band hoses everyone down, listening intensely to every note each of them are playing. This jam is why Phish improvises with the best musicians on the planet. This is must-hear Phish, and a tour highlight. The segue into “Boogie On” is also outstanding. The set-closing “YEM” is quite good, despite the fact that the jam never peaks. Fierce grooving by all. (At one point Mike cleanly teases “Things TMYGH,” as he often does in “YEM,” and has often done beginning in July 1998.) The “Loving Cup” encore kicks ass, even moreso than the near-legendary version that last closed an MPP show. ALL HAIL THE MPP LOVING CUP ENCORE.
7/16 ALPHA1: Very enjoyable second set. This show is all about the “third quarter.” The set-opening “Rock and Roll” just COOKS. It’s an ASTOUNDING jam, with Trey employing the pitch shifter in a moderate, near-perfect fashion, when Mike starts a slow, steady, “Heartbreaker” riff on bass that Trey hones in on, and a very slow, very dark, groove develops. Trey laughs at himself for singing some “Heartbreaker” lyrics deliberately in a quirkily-high register, and atrociously, but he is quickly forgiven, because as ugly as this “Heartbreaker” quoting was, the jam that follows it IS SOME SICK PHISH, folks. The jam that segues out of the messy “Heartbreaker” measures is spine-tingly good, with Mike lettin’ loose that dirty, wet, fuzzy effect and just JIMINY FRICKIN CRICKETS KILLS IT. I LOVE THIS SHT!!!! I want every show to get this dirty-funky at least in part. Wish it cooked for a lot longer than it does, though. Trey starts up “Makisupa” not long after Fish teased it, and it's a great segue to be sure. This version is notable for Trey’s improvised lyrics (“I’m lookin’ down at the front row here. This girl is smokin’ hot. But then I looked back a couple of minutes later, and she's smokin’ pot.” ::crowd roarz::).
“Chalk Dust” is not perfectly played, but its jam is still largely stellar, and must-hear, mostly because of Mike, who just continues to kill this set. The jam is atypical (“type II”) and unusually melodic, with some beautiful phrases. Mike plays lead bass basically for the whole thing. This is a truly charmed version of “CDT.” Fun “Wilson” and “Tweezer” (with “Heartbreaker” teases in the intro), but “Tweezer’s” jam is quite brief, when “SITM” segues into the picture. It is, however, still very good, with Trey tearing it up the whole time, much like early 1990s versions of “Tweezer,” in a sense.
7/17 ALPHA2: First set features the Phish debut of “Frost.” The second set’s “Drowned” has a short but powerful jam, and it segues very well into “Water in the Sky.” And “Energy's” jam snakes along for a few minutes before “going type II,” in that the jam kinda falls apart into nothingness, but then, steadily and ominously, with massive contributions from Mike, things begin to sound like the band would hit a peak and start raging again. But instead they segue masterfully into “FLUFFHEAD!” A must-hear segue even though the rest of the “Energy” jam was merely “solid” as I hear it. “Piper” is short but wicked sharp, a chaotic version full of sturm und drang, which makes the fragile segue into the ballad “FEFY” all the more insane. I bet no one called “FEFY” to follow this “Piper.” I am a huge “FEFY” fan and have been since 1993. Like “Lifeboy,” it speaks to my soul in a way that defies reason, demanding that I always be profoundly prejudiced in its favor. Dig this “2001.” Got IT to this song on 7/17/93 (many years after my first Phish show) and it will always be special. “Mike’s” is fine, and “Wedge” is a bit rough but I love the song. “Weekapaug” is good-ish, I guess, but Trey uses the pitch shifter to make a flat, whiny sound too much. Nothing wrong with an average-GREAT show at best, amirite.
7/19 CHI1: I recapped this one for the blog a few hours after the show, since I was fortunate enough to make it to Chicago on my way home from the east coast to SF. I also really wanted to thank TJ Catalani of Rock Bottom Brewery in person for their generous Mbird fundraiser all weekend! This is a good first set. I really dig Trey's soloing in “LxL,” though I concede I could be flufftarded about it. No pitch shifter. Just Trey soloing WELL over expert accompaniment from Mike, Page and Fish. Don’t miss the “Caspian” that lasted only a few measures before the show was stopped due to an oncoming storm. (A storm that, had it been as mighty as feared, would have obliterated the “venue.”) Page’s “Oh, to be Prince Caspian” message to the audience just before asking them to leave due to the "major storm" on the way, is the show’s most hysterical highlight. Evacuat'd. I hereby dedicate this absurdly long blog post to anyone who evacuated in more ways than one at Chi1.
7/20 CHI2: The band graciously announced that they would play a three set show because of the cancellation the night before. To say folks were excited going into this show would be a gross understatement. Most of the time, it’s farcical to remark on the vibe of a Phish show being great, because it’s a Phish show, and the vibe of almost every Phish show is GREAT. There have certainly been exceptions. Similarly, at times, there really have been shows with exceptionally positive vibes, of course, e.g., in my limited experience: 10/31/94, 12/31/95, 12/31/02, and 3/6/09. (I’ll let those of you who have seen hundreds of shows speak more about such exceptional-vibe shows.) I wasn’t at this show, but my guess is that given the announcement of three sets, the pre-show vibe was exceptionally strong.
The music, however, was not “exceptionally strong.” This is a GREAT Phish show. But it isn’t exceptionally great. You can flame the piss out of me and say, “you just had to be there” all you want, and/or contend this is necessarily an above-average show because three sets of Phish is more than two sets of Phish, and more Phish is always better, and we don’t get three sets often. While I agree that three set shows are usually better than two set shows, and often are not even fairly comparable to two set shows, I just don’t think this one is one of those. I enjoy the jamming in parts of the “Golden Age” and “Piper,” and the ending of “Theme” smokes, which is atypical and thrilling to hear, and this jam segues into “Weekapaug,” creating a very unusual start to ‘paug. And given the state of ‘paug in recent years, this is a good thing. (And this is a fine, albeit short, ‘paug.) And most importantly, this “Slave” is a stunning, must-hear version of the tune as I hear it. And the “Ocelot” has a great deal of extra gourmet-mustard, and it, too, is Recommended Listening.
7/21 CHI3: The “Dinner” opener was played for a fan with a sign that referred as well to “172” (the number of shows the fan had seen without seeing “Dinner”). This beneficent act to reward a creative fan was a highlight of the first set. The “Gin,” which has an arguably above-average jam for recent years, is worth a listen (though not a “top version” by any stretch). The first set ended with an “Antelope” that was aborted due to an approaching storm. (a reprise of “the approaching storm” from 7/19/2013)
A lot has already been written about this second set, given the (!) “Energy” opener, very good “Ghost,” and a “Harpua” with cast members of Second City in the roles of faux-fans. I realize that some didn’t care for it, and that there were (are) awkward/trainwreck parts, but I think the “fans” (tornado chasers!) say some hysterical things, in context (e.g., “THIS IS THE BEST NIGHT OF OUR LIVES!”). And I think I need to turn Trey’s “YOU GUYS GOT TO GET OFF THE STAGE” comment into a ringtone. I really don’t want to spoil this version for someone who hasn’t heard it yet. So, like it, or love it as I do… this is a must-frickin’-hear “Harpua.”
7/22 TORONTO: Since this show was postponed due to flooding, many thought it would be the bee’s knees. It wasn’t, but it still has a version of “DWD” (and maybe “Bowie”) that is worth a listen, and it is a well-played show, no question. “DWD” has a delightful, focused, melodic theme from Trey for a few minutes, and I highly recommend it. “Tweezer” starts slowly, but builds steam steadily and peaks quite well. This said, while this is a consistently good show, the “DWD” jam is its only clear winner.
7/26 GORGE1: The Gorge would be my favorite outdoor venue if it was a lot easier to get to, and from. It has an awe-inspiring view for the audience. It is a “must-see” venue to be sure, so I urge you to go if you’ve never been, no matter who is playing. Or even if no one is playing. I love the “Wolfman's” jam in the first set. The “Happy Birthday” to Kuroda in the set is a nice touch and noteworthy as well. During “Wilson,” Trey once again lobbies for Seattle Seahawks fans to start a “Wilson” chant at games (Russell Wilson is their QB, for now). I never get sick of “Tube” but I do wish it’d be jammed-the-f-out more. “Secret Smile” is what it is. Love “McGrupp,” as it is among my favorite tunes, and Page is his usual great self in it. But Trey at times is, uhm, too loose. “Loew” is fine, and I enjoy it in a first set. The jam in “SOAM” meanders around for awhile, aimlessly. And doesn't really stop. But I really dig even meandering “SOAM” jams and far prefer a closer like this to a lot of other first set closers, even though this version isn't special. Anyway, a pretty good first set when compared with a number of others in the last year or three.
The “C&P” that opens the second set has a curious “type II” jam. It tells a story of sorts, but as terrific as it is in part, it never really peaks. It does hint at a peak in its final two minutes, when it sounds like it might segue into “Ocelot” or “Tennessee Jed.” And with the glory of the Gorge as this jam's physical backdrop as it was being created, I neither doubt nor impugn the awe of those who witnessed this jam unfold. But after repeated listenings, I am not too keen on it, even though it must be recommended for its creativity and vitality. It is just really annoying that Trey ripcords the groove into “Twist Around,” just as one may have expected the jam to begin to peak. It's like Trey turd-burglared the audience, with its most-engrossed members left only to speculate about the hose that could have flushed forth from the stage.
The rest of the set is well-played. The “Twist” jam is oye-como-vatacular, and even heads into space for a few minutes (there is no return to the theme and customary coda), and it segues a bit roughly into “Steam,” after Treigh and Fish let out some ouuu's (mysterious vocalizations). “Bowie” and “Hood” are great, and the “Character Zero” is worth a listen for the howling at the moon by the band. So it's no wonder why some noobtacularly fluffed the crap out of this show. The combination of well-played, often-psychedelic rock, and the transcendent physical beauty of the must-visit Gorge, makes for a memorable experience. Love the setlist, too, especially “Hood” and “Bowie,” but even “20 Yrs Later,” “Mango,” and “Bug.” Yes, “Bug!” I AM A FAN OF “BUG.”
7/27 GORGE2: This “Architect” has a jam segment I like better, so much better, than a number of other versions. I'm a huge fan of “Curtain” with “WITH,” and “Say Something” (a new Mike tune with quirky/unqiue vocals) has the potential to soar in its jam, even though this version doesn’t. Very novel first set, and it ends well with an above-average “Ocelot,” and then “After Midnight,” which is a bit sloppy in the intro (and is no Cypress), but so what. ‘Tis a memorable closer, done with respect for J.J. Cale, its (amazing) songwriter, who died the day before on July 26.
This second set has received high praise because it is powerfully played, and who doesn’t LOVE this setlist!?!?!? However, that said, it’s a set similar to certain others (e.g., 1/1/2011-2 MSG) in that while it is great straight through, it’s arguable whether there are any “top versions” of anything. “DWD” is very good, and the “Undermind” is an atypical, above-average version for sure, with a “type II” jam that has a “Timber Ho” groove for awhile, that concludes with a texturally-blessed few minutes (the dropout 12 seconds before “Light” kicks in on the LP version isn’t great, though). “Sneakin’ Sally” has a good vocal jam and an unusually extended jam. It, too, is easily above-average. I also love to get “2001” and “Walls” and “FLUFFHEN?!” and then “Antelope” closes the set! So while I don’t think any of these versions are “must hear” (though hearing Trey inquire “Fluff-HEN??” in “Fluffhead” still cracks me up every time I hear it), this set as a whole is about as gigantic a set of Phish as can be without having anything “must hear” in it. If that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t. Notwithstanding this, the set is still worth your time to download.
7/30 TAHOE1: The soundcheck of this show circulates and is pretty amusing, with a “Buffalo Bill” mash-up that includes goofy references to “Jet” (a song by the band Wings). This show was immediately overshadowed, of course, by the mountainous “Tweezer” that enveloped Tahoe the next night on July 31. But when appreciated as a whole, this show is among the most consistent of the tour (like MPP2, Gorge2, BGCA1, etc.). It begins well with “Wolfman’s” and “Jibboo,” and the “Gin,” while not perfect, still has a captivating jam that helps close the set well with “Tube” and “Walk Away.” The “TweePrise”-like ending to “Walk Away” appears to be here to stay, and it can be a mind-blowing set closer. In fact it really should close sets more often. Until this show, “Walk Away” had not closed a set or show in nearly twenty-two years (10/18/91 GAMH). This “goes beyond all possible bounds of decency, and [should] be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
Set two's “Golden Age” opener is pretty good, but there’s a somewhat abrupt “segue” into “46 Days.” This is an exceptional version of “46 Days,” however, with a boldly funkadelicious, must-hear outro jam that eventually segues into “Boogie On.” LOVE IT! Sure, this segue isn’t as smooth as perhaps it could have been, but the jam of this “46 Days” is worth your time to check out. “Boogie On” is fine, and Trey plays a lot of notes in the “Ghost” (it isn't a textural version), the jam of which never combines into anything transcendent. It's fine. Notably, though, the jam concludes with a return to the original closing theme/coda of “Ghost,” which is NOT common anymore, and then Trey leaps into “Carini,” which is enjoyable. “Piper” is short but drives urgently for the entire jam. Nice Page-led segue into “Wading.”
The set concludes in an unusual and very appealing way with the first ever “Mike’s Song > Slave.” This led to the first ever encore beginning with “Weekapaug,” another frickin' awesome occurrence, and this was also the first time since 1990 that “Weekapaug” had even been in the encore at all! This version doesn’t disappoint (even though I wish it had been much longer than 7 minutes!), and neither does this show, which I urge you to download. It’s easily worth your time and coin to get, and I hope you do so, ideally from LivePhish (a portion of proceeds from LivePhish sales benefit The Mockingbird Foundation, the 501(c)(3) whose volunteers manage this site).
7/31 TAHOE2: First set is “solid,” in the parlance of our times. Love to get “BOTT,” and the little jam in “Ice” and the “Yarmouth Road” are also pleasing to hear. The set-closing “Stash” is surprisingly meh, however, especially when compared with the strong MPP2 version.
As you’ve no doubt heard and/or read, the 36 minute and 16 second, second-set-opening “Tweezer” is among the most titanic versions of “Tweezer” ever performed. The improvisation in this version is also, when viewed as a whole, among Phish’s finest improvisations generally. It certainly isn’t perfect, though. For example, after only a few minutes, the jam cools down quite a bit, and frankly sounds like it could get ripcorded. But Mike stomps on the fight bell for several measures, and Page also gets more active, and soon everyone jams on a repetitive Joe-Walsh-like, hard rock theme (which is nice, but nothing even close to as sweet as, e.g., the Camden “Tweezer’s” theme). Then after this jam putzes out, Fish appears to threaten a segue into “Bowie” with one swish of the hi-hat, and the jam could have easily ended here (~19 mins in) as well. And had it ended here, well. It would still be a “must hear” version of “Tweezer,” in fairness to it, but not even a top 20 version, in my opinion (which is not, and never will be, humble about “Tweezer,” as this chart attests).
But thankfully this “Tweezer” didn’t end there. The jam takes off, and proceeds to visit some phenomenally fascinating places for the next seventeen (17) minutes. I could spend a lot of time “reviewing” this version of “Tweezer” ad nauseum, as I used to do in the 1990's, when I was young and spent my nights in rioting and wantonness, but suffice it to say for now that the stop-start jam that led to all the “WOO’ing” from the audience WAS LED BY PAGE McCONNELL, ladies and gentlemen!
And, yes, I have read some complaints online about this “Tweezer.” That it is overrated, and not as good as everyone seems to think, because, for example, if you examine its various sections, Phish jams in a manner that they’ve jammed in elsewhere in recent years… or, said another way, Phish doesn’t do anything, mechanically-speaking, in this “Tweezer” that they haven’t done elsewhere. But even assuming arguendo that I agree that the first 19 minutes of this “Tweezer” are merely above-average great, and not demonstrably above-average, no Phish improvisation should be criticized by divorcing its constituent parts from each other! What about CONTEXT? The totality is what matters, THIS IS A WORK OF ART WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. This is IMPROVISATION that, quite frankly, often sounds like melodious, composed music – the BEST KIND OF IMPROVISATION, because it doesn’t sound like a bunch of guys screwing around. Improv can be horrendous! It seems asinine in my view to, say, call a work of Picasso “overrated” because he used colors and shapes and angles and even ideas in a particular work that he’d also used in a number of his other works. So to anyone who sincerely believes the Tahoe "Tweezer” is “overrated,” with all due respect, your Phish IQ is noobtarded. Why? Because this “Tweezer” is IT, that's why. And IT is, and always will be, incapable of being overrated… even if your ears are too full of poop to appreciate IT.
The rare jewel, “Tela,” follows this “Tweezer,” which is a lovely placement, even though it’s not perfect. And the “Twist” that follows it has the energy of the “Tweezer” and is a must-hear version that ends with “WOO’s” taboot! “Antelope” and “TweePrise” also have the “WOO’s” as well. HEAR THIS “TWEEZER” AND “TWIST” WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!!!
8/2 BGCA1: “Free Meat”! “Meat” hadn’t followed “Free” in a set since Portland in ’98. First set also features a very good “Vultures” (for 3.0), nice “Roggae,” super “Sand” (once again this tour!), an above-average-great “Reba” (seriously, this one is worth a listen, even if it ain’t perfect, and even though there’s WOO’ing in the “bag it tag it” coda), and easily the best version of “Halfway to the Moon” ever, must-hear for fans of this tune, as the jam is sweet and peaks quite well, FINALLY. All of this helps make this first set unquestionably among the most consistently energetic first sets of tour, with an even more unique than normal setlist taboot.
And the second set is nothing to sneeze at, either. There is yet another “DWD” jam worth a listen (its jam is quite tenacious at times), “Farmhouse” has a breathtakingly serene solo from Trey in it (a “top version” for sure), the “Seven Below” is stupefying... I mean where the f did this come from!? It’s easily my favorite version since Albany (11/28/09), and the “WOO’s” during the stop-start jam add to its charm (even on my 10th listen to it, or so). “Theme” is good, “Hood” is better, and then “Stealing Time” is frickin’ GREAT, because it ends in a bizarre, drawn-out, pseudo-cacophonous way with creative repetition of the “Got a blank space where my mind should be” lyric… and some deliberately-silly “Woo’s” at the end of it from the band, to which the crowd responds. Ridiculous. “Coil” set closer, and the first-ever “Walls of the Cave” encore. WHAT A SHOW! Highly recommend this show for listening to all the way through.
8/3 BGCA2: Things are kinda loose in the first, which has a very unusual setlist. Mixed-bag musically. (And by “mixed bag,” imagine a modest-sized bag of Halloween candy obtained after a few hours of trick-or-treating that has a handful or two of Reeses peanut butter cups, Baby Ruths, and Charleston Chews, but also some tiny boxes of raisins, Now & Laters, Smarties, a couple apples, Bit o' Honeys, and pennies.) Love to get “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” “Driver” was played for the folks holding up the giant “Driver” signs, who were inspired to do so because one of their friends, a huge fan of “Driver,” had recently died. This beautiful gesture by this guy’s friends makes me proud to be a member of this community. (Of course, I suppose I should say now that if I die, and any of my friends consider holding up “FOTM Tease” signs at a future show in my memory, I hope they reconsider. Because I can honestly say that I WANT PHISH TO PLAY WHATEVER THE HELL THEY WANT, which is why I’ve never held up a sign at a show. If what they want to play isn’t what I want to hear, that’s entirely my problem, even though, sure, I wish Phish would start covering “Echoes” and “Starship Trooper.”) “First Tube” closes the set well.
“Rock and Roll” is JUST MUST-HEAR SICK!!! IT RAGES for several minutes, and then cools down as Mike steps out front for a few measures, and the jam begins to gradually, and severely, HOSE EVERYONE OFF in a mellifluously stupendous manner! This jam is what IT can sound like, and IT more than justifies all of the expense of show-going. I only wish It lasted much longer than It did. Didn't take long to be dialed-down, and then Trey began “Steam” (no real segue, Trey just let one of his sounds repeat on a loop as he began “Steam”). The jam segment of “Steam” is absolutely hear-at-all-costs for fans of the tune. It is exactly what I'd hoped this song would become upon hearing its debut. RUN, DO NOT WALK, to check it out! “BDTNL” ain't bad. Trey teases Zappa's “Apostrophe” briefly in “Mike’s” (“Apostrophe” would be quite a cover!), which is good enough, as is the first “Hydrogen” since Jones Beach last year. Trey teases “I Know What Boys Like” briefly at 2:48 in “Weekapaug,” after toying with that theme for a measure or two. “2001” has WOO's. LOVE THE “SLAVE”!!!
8/4 BGCA3: First set is fine, and closes well with a “Pebbles and Marbles” that has an almost-“DWD”-like jam in it. Second set and encore are MONEY, and everyone loves money. “Energy” blasts the second set wide open, its fierce jam reaching a “Weekapaugian-like” state of urgency as Fish picks up the rhythm. And the “RUNAWAY JIM” THAT FOLLOWS IS HUGE! It is yet another “type II” behemoth that should be heard to be believed. So glad to see “Jim” get jammed-the-f-out more often nowadays. This version sizzles for awhile before simmering down, as Mike employs a number of effects, and then Trey abruptly begins “Carini.” This is a short-but-loud version with some “LUMP-HEAD!!” lyrics sung in the spirit of “Fluffhead.” At 6:28 of the jam (LivePhish timing), fans of the 6/7/09 Camden “Tweezer” will hear Trey play a familiar, badass riff for two seconds. No joke.
“Wedge” is good and the “Light” that follows it has a decent jam that ends in a highly unusual way, with Trey, Mike and Page basically making croaking-like, click-clacking noises and Fish on woodblocks. Trey also sets off some effects for a few measures that remind me a bit (just a bit) of “digital delay loop jams” of olde. In any event this is a strange jam to be sure, and Fish begins “Bowie” as it slowly sputters out. Another “Silent” sans “Horse” follows a fine “Bowie,” and the set closes well with “Meatstick,” “Quinn” and “YEM.” (Another “YEM” jam segment that doesn’t peak… Mike’s great work in the B&D section doesn’t count as a peak.) The “Sanity” and “Bold As Love” encore is my favorite encore of the tour, not because it’s perfectly played, but just because.
8/5 HB: You’ve heard about this “Harry Hood” and you should believe the hype, insofar as its improv strays very much from the ordinary and customary course for “Hood” (it “goes type II”). There have been a number of other “Hoods” in the past that have been highly improvisational, and you can read notes about them in the jam chart. Right from the start of this “Hood’s” jam, it’s clear Trey and the band intend to thank Mr. Miner in a very passionate and original way. A stop-start jam with “WOO’s” from the audience develops about mid-way through the jam, which eventually builds and peaks like no “Hood” ever has, but then the jam slowly cools down into a more spacey interlude… and the traditional closing “Hood” coda concludes the version. It is an atypical, largely compelling and endearing version that is absolutely worth your time to hear. It also helps show why you can feel good, good about this summer tour, and about Phish in 2013!
If you’re going to Dick’s, or on the Fall tour, YOU ENJOY YOURSELF! Thank you for reading my $0.02. Add your own, please, to the Comments below.
7/3 Bangor: Golden Age
7/5 SPAC1: Light, Steam, Drowned
7/6 SPAC2: SOAM, Sand, Carini -> Architect
7/7 SPAC3: DWD, and Ghost, I guess
7/10 PNC: C&P, Light
7/12 JB: Rock and Roll, Tweezer -> Cities -> Wedge
7/13 MPP1: DWD, Harry Hood
7/14 MPP2: Stash, Ice, Light
7/16 ALPHA1: Rock and Roll -> Heartbreaker -> Makisupa > CDT
7/17 ALPHA2: Energy, Piper
7/19 CHI1: Limb by Limb, Prince Caspian
7/20 CHI2: Theme -> Weekapaug, Slave, Ocelot
7/21 CHI3: Gin, Energy, Harpua
7/22 TORONTO: DWD
7/26 GORGE1: C&P > Twist, Character Zero
7/27 GORGE2: Undermind, Sneakin’ Sally
7/30 TAHOE1: Wolfman’s, Gin, Walk Away, 46 Days
7/31 TAHOE2: TWEEZER, Twist
8/2 BGCA1: Reba, Halfway to the Moon, Farmhouse, Seven Below, Stealing Time
8/3 BGCA2: Rock and Roll, Steam, Slave
8/4 BGCA3: Energy > Runaway Jim > Carini, Light
8/5 HB: Harry Hood