Note: This review was co-authored by @lumpblockclod and @jwelsh8. So, if you don't like it, it was the other guy's fault.
Heading into the final night of SBIX, expectations, as they tend to do for Phish festivals, were running high. The previous three nights had produced some outstanding highlights along with some stretches of relatively uninspired setlist calls and, in the opinion of some, timid execution. The highs were undeniably high: an outstanding soundcheck capped by a jam that would have been the highlight of nearly any other show from the first leg of summer tour and a wildly experimental “secret” fourth set on Saturday. The lows were punctuated by two song-oriented sets on Saturday that failed to deliver much in the way of adventurous improvisation. Nevertheless, Phish has always been a band that can turn on a dime and a strong show on Sunday would likely win over even the most jaded among us.
“Soul Shakedown Party” opened the show, continuing the parade of covers this weekend. Only the sixth since its debut in Amsterdam 14 years ago, and the second of 3.0, Phish wanted to make sure we all felt welcome at their Holiday celebration. "This is my invitation / I've got the special vacation." “Soul Shakedown” is usually a harbinger of good things to come and so it would be tonight. “Bag” followed with a rough beginning, but energetic ending, after which we got the first “With”-less “Curtain” since 2000. So “Scents” has its intro back, but “The Curtain” has lost its “With.” Trey giveth and Trey taketh away. "Curtain" was played quite well, with the whole band in synch and hitting all of the cues.
Ball Square has a building labeled USA storage. It has 4 sides, each with some doors. Some of them were open over the weekend for various art thingies.
After the show What Cheer played by one of the sides, drawing people in. Then a lot of mist came out of the roof of the building. And then a guy on stilts in a patriotic outfit started walking around.
Then after all of the lights at Ball Square went out and an announcement went out over the PA that the power was out and therefore the factories would no longer be able to make their product, which is the ultimate product. Then for some reason I didn't quite get, it suddenly worked and a box was handed to the stilt guy who put it on a ramp which carried it up to the roof of the building and dropped it over. Sometime during all of this, music started playing over the PA and after a few minutes it became apparent that it was Phish. Doors opened so we could see inside, but all we could see was silhouettes due to screens blocking our view as the band member you could see from your side played; each one had their own house, so to speak.
The jam went on for an hour or so, started out very dark and mainly effects based, but sometimes Floyd-esque. There's an amazing 4-5 minute section about a half hour in that really does sound like Pink Floyd. It then went into another sound effects jam before they started playing the most bizarre version of Sleeping Monkey ever.
There was a lot of confusion going around with people thinking that they chose the wrong spot to stand in - no one could move to a different side since due to the location of the secret set, What Cheer attracting people, the timing of the set (not long after the show) and the rumor getting out, it was easily the best attended secret set (note that the Lemonwheel 4th set was not secret. It was announced from the stage) - because their view was blocked, not knowing that that was true for everyone. Moreover the speakers were surrounding the building in a circle, pointing in, making it sound like the music was coming from behind the crowd instead of in front of them, a very surreal effect.
It was very weird and very cool, easily the highlight of the weekend so far.
WATKINS GLEN, NY – Before we get to the action, a moment of congratulations to the winners of the 420th running of the second Runaway Jim 5K: 1. Ethan McBrien 15:23 / 1. Katie Harrington 17:19 / 2. David Cook 15.35 / 3. Finn McCool 15:55. Queue “Chariots of Fire"! Congrats to everyone who ran and came out to support the runners!
First set kicked off with “Tube” at 3:30 amid hot but otherwise perfect weather with hundreds of beach balls rocking the field. Short but sweet as has been the recent trend, but no less punchy. A standard reading of “Kill Devil Falls” keeps the energy meter pegged before settling in the new first-set workhorse, “Ocelot.” The 32nd performance of this tune with every one to date occurring in the first set, was any song more of a lock for the afternoon frame? Nothing earth-shattering but a perfectly groovy, languid version.
WATKINS GLEN, NY – Would “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” be trite? Yeah, sorry. SBIX. Three days. Great spot. Typical Phish festival goodies at every turn. A stunningly beautiful day with most everyone settled in camp, while later arrivals and day-parking folks navigated a sometimes thorough and laborious intake process.
By all accounts SBIX has attracted a significantly smaller crowd than the then-lowest attended Phish Festival 8 (initial estimates are hovering between 25 - 30,000; no official word yet). The excitement and enthusiasm of those who did make the trek more than compensated for the smaller numbers, spirits lifted further by the spacious and easy accommodations once inside. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of fans are tuned in to the action virtually via the The Bunny on SiriusXM and livephish.com as legit couch tour kicks into high gear. Ball. All. The. Time.
An outstanding, insightful new interview with Trey is now available in the July/August 2011 edition of The Believer magazine. An exceprt:
"Yeah, since Phish came back, I’ll just walk around backstage and ask everybody, “What do you want to play?” and people will say, “Oh, I want to sing this or that, ” until I have thirty or forty songs on a piece of paper. It’s like the writing. The set lists are all over the place. A mess. Then we go out onstage and just forget about it. We give a set list to Chris every night and he just laughs and rips it up. We never even play the first song."
In my life, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be an early and long-time follower of two of the world’s greatest rock bands, The Grateful Dead and Phish.
Sometimes, people ask me what the biggest difference was between “following the Dead” and “following Phish”, and I tell them it’s the deep and lasting friendships I’ve made with Phish fans from around the country.
And I also add how a bunch of those friends came together to do some wonderful things as a group: publish a couple of well-received and sold-out editions of a book about Phish that the band liked enough to sell in its store, formed a charity that has donated over $620,000 for music education programs for underserved kids, and refurbished the Phish.net website for Phish 3.0 as a monster up to the second Phish historical performance database, all still as non-commercial and “by phans, for phans”, as it was in 1994.
And the reason for any difference -- between the Dead and the Phish -- had nothing to do with their music or the fans of each band.
Impossible as it may seem, and old as it may make you feel, Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro curated his first "From The Archives" show at The Clifford Ball. Nearly 15 years later, a Phish festival wouldn't feel like a Phish festival without "FTA", and the fanboy with the gig every other fanboy would gladly kill for can still deliver the goods.
Before I get down to the biz at hand, it bears repeating that just last week - and perhaps not coincidentally - Phish released Live Bait #5, a themed compilation of choice nuggets from Phish festivals dating all the way back to 1987 (Ian McLean’s Party at Connie Condon’s Farm). If you haven't picked up LB5 yet then get off your ass and do it now. It presents Phish as a band of seasons, a band of eras, and a band of epochs, whose evolution has been punctuated, among other things, by big balls.
And now, a super ball.
Tonight's Superball IX "From The Archives" show blasted off just like a Phish show - about 45 minutes behind schedule - and your intrepid Phish.net reporter stayed up past his bedtime to capture all the action. Here's how it went down on The Bunny...
One can’t begin to discuss even the cursory history of Phish without mentioning the role of tapers and the taping community. After every show and tour, hundreds of padded envelopes criss-crossed the country and helped spread the gospel of Phish in a fashion similiar to the way bits & bytes travel the Internet now. From one to one trades, to complex trading trees, to blanks & postage offers, to taping parties, Phish tapes were constantly circulating. At the root of every chain and the beginning of every trade, was a taper who selflessley put recording the shows above all else.
Initially, it was with baited breath that people waited to receive tapes to even find out what was played last week. Likewise, with the arrival of a fresh batch of tapes it was an opportunity to hear a debut, to hear what all the buzz from a particular show was about or to hear a new cover torn to shreds the first time. As time went by, and set-lists become disseminated quicker through the internet, tapes were no longer needed to know what was played but rather as the first opportunity to listen to the magic that was happening elsewhere in the country. Though tapes have long since been replaced with digital, setlists are instantly updated live-time at current.phish.net or m.phish.net, LivePhish has the show available for download within an hour of the show ending, and you can stream the show as you leave the parking lot from the Phish app, there still exists an incredibly energized and dedicated taping community.
some of the taper rigs from Mansfield, MA 'Great Woods' Picture credit: Parker Harrington
Monday? Time for the Mystery Jam. As usual, we will be playing for an MP3 download courtesy of our friends at LivePhish.com / Nugs.Net. The rules haven't changed: you need to correctly identify the song and the date to win. Post your guess in the comments. One guess per person per day (with the second “day” starting after I post the hint). The hint will come on Tuesday and the answer will be posted on Wednesday. Good luck...
Tuesday Hint: Choda is probably closest.
Wednesday Answer: In a bit of near-Instant Karma, Pauly7917 is our winner, correctly identifying the 9/20/00 "It's Ice." Nice work, Pauly! Be honest though, how long many times did you check your entry before hitting "submit"? The Blog should point out, however, that while it may be a bit misleading to call this a hint-aided victory (since there wasn't much of a hint), the MJ did stand tall for over 24 hours which seems like the Blog's best showing in months. See you all next Monday.
IT is not always easy to review a Phish tour. You are not going to please everyone all of the time, or perhaps even most of the time. The stronger your opinions, the hotter the heat. And “capsule reviews” of shows rarely do them the justice that they deserve. Even weak Phish shows -- or “below average” as compared with other Phish shows -- are still great rock concerts, involving a super vibe, excellent musicianship, and sensational lights and sound, particularly on this tour, which featured new, and amazing, light and sound systems. We have a blast at Phish shows. Period. That’s why we bother to attend them, at significant expense, often on multiple nights on any given tour. And, thankfully, Phish’s Summer tour ain’t over yet.