Monday, January 14, 2013

The Top 11 Phish Jams of 2012

           2012 was certainly an excellent year for our favorite band. Each of the first three years in Phish’s 3.0 era are peppered with highlights and exciting/funny/generally Phishy moments. Even the most hardcore haters can at least admit to that. Phish will always be Phish, and if 3.0 has taught us anything it’s just that. However, Phish is not always outstanding Phish. There’s a difference here and it’s in the band’s very best years that we tend to see outstanding Phish on a more regular, if not nightly, basis. Enter: Phish in 2012.
            Following a well-documented lackluster 2011 NYE Run and a "lighter touring year" on the horizon, it appeared as though 3.0 might be headed towards a rut. That is, until Summer 2012 came along and put all doubts to rest within a week. Who knows if the band caught wind of its less than stellar reviews and came out with a renewed sense of purpose, but in any case they delivered this year in just about every facet. From the bustout-seekers to jam-buffs to high-energy fanatics, most every phan can find something to love about Phish in 2012. Personally, I found it most encouraging that Phish was outstanding on many, if not most, nights this summer. When compiling my forthcoming “Jams of the Year” list, it was easy to find a thrilling jam/moment in nearly every show. The same can simply not be said for the last three years.  With that in mind, 2012 was somewhat of a revelation for Phish and it’s my pleasure to bring you the Top 11 (I just couldn’t narrow it down to 10) jams of the year. That’s what you’re here for anyways.

**Disclaimer** This list is my own and is in no way a definitive assessment of the band’s playing in 2012. We all love Phish, but not for all the same reasons. That’s what makes them so amazing. So please please don’t think that your opinion is somehow any less valid because your favorite jam is missing from this compilation.

Photo by Andrea Nusinov

#11: Light (8/19 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA)
            In the midst of perhaps the best set of summer ’12, the year’s second best Light was played and treated phans in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to an intensely unique jam. Wasting little time in the soloing post-refrain section, the band dove into a cool funky calypso groove. Very cool stuff but nothing epic…. yet. As the jam seemed to be winding down and ripe for a segue, Trey and co. opted instead to persist onwards and forge a build/peak that can only be heard to be believed. Using the framework of Tweeprise as a mold for the build, Phish harnessed every last drop of energy in that arena and unleashed it all at once in a single epic moment that meshed seamlessly into Sneakin’ Sally. 

#10: Tweezer (8/26 - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Charlotte, NC)

A dark-horse version to be sure, there are some truly incredible moments in this Tweezer that simply must be heard. It’s not a long version but the jam is too gorgeous to not be included in this list. A perfect example in proper usage of the “whale-call,” this Tweezer would most certainly be the year’s top version if not for 12/28’s monster. Wholly underated and wildly improvisational, give this version a listen right

#9: Rock and Roll (8/24 - Oak Mountain Amphitheatre, Birmingham, AL)

            This particular week of the summer was a very busy one for me and it really wasn’t until about a month ago that I was able to look back and check out what Phish had to offer on their latest trek through the South. Long Beach’s monster version and the general epic-ness of the Dick’s run probably overshadow this Rock and Roll jam – but they shouldn’t. In fact, it hangs tough with the best of the summer and arguably reaches the heights of the 8/15 version despite being almost 10 minutes shorter. Come for the Live and Let Die teases, stay for the gorgeous outro.

 #8: Carini (12/30 - MSG, New York, NY)

            As Trey began the fierce leads of Carini, one could sense that it was primed to blow up. Placed in a heavy-hitting slot on the most storied night in Phish’s extensive NYE run repertoire, expectations were understandably high. And fortunately Phish delivered in a big way with one of the darker jams these ears have ever heard. Phish may be entering a “Golden Age” in which the band’s general happiness and good vibes reign supreme, but this jam illustrates their continued willingness to plunge into dark musical depths and search for uncharted territory. This one isn’t exactly easy to explain so just seek it out if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez
#7: Piper (7/8 - SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY)

            On the last night of Leg 1, Phish threw down a nearly 2-hour, marathon second set, highlighted by this simply stunning Piper jam. Building off a pattern found in the Light jam from earlier in the set, Phish forges an utterly cathartic peak here that is nothing short of jaw dropping. And what’s more, rather than calling it quits after the peak, the band dives back into the jam for an additional few awesome minutes before finally arriving at a tripped-out, chant filled (always a good sign) outro.

#6: Birds of a Feather (6/15 - Bader Field, Atlantic City, NJ)

            So much phenomenal music has been played by Phish since this jam that it seems to get overlooked when reminiscing on gems from summer ’12. However, a gorgeous jam and the best segue of the year (-> Back on the Train) propel this Atlantic City beast into the upper echelon of 2012’s finest. Check out Fish’s subtle change in beat at 10:46 (AUD recording, might be different on the LP recording). One of my favorite moments from Leg 1.

 #5: Runaway Jim (8/31 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO)

            Part of the glory that’s associated with the FuckYourFace show is that Phish was essentially forced to jam in order to properly execute their prank. In my opinion, the song that saw the most benefit from this phenomenon was Runaway Jim. The jam, spanning just over 20 minutes, covers a lot of ground from funk to bliss and it never feels as though the band was playing to just take up time. Mike mixes in some particularly nasty bass licks in the funk section and the later portion of the jam features some really impressive playing from Trey. More Jim jams in 2013 please!

#4: Rock and Roll (8/15 - Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA)

            Amidst the now (in)famous “Bieber show,” Phish dropped a 25-minute psychedelic odyssey right in the face of the band’s newest fan. The fact that this jam isn’t even really that talked about anymore really speaks to the brilliance that Phish delivered to us this year. This multi-faceted aural journey reaches the 20-minute mark without losing any composure and its final 4-5 minutes are simply wild, tripped-out Phish at its very best. The Ghost that follows isn’t too shabby either.

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

#3: Sand (9/2 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO)

            In a year brimming with outstanding Sand jams, the Dick’s version stands tall as the best. Following a typically fierce jazzy solo from Trey, the band began to break form around the 9-minute mark. In a matter of minutes Phish had plunged into a murky whale-call effects jam that eventually bled into a more up-tempo butter jam and a solid peak that is somewhat reminiscent of the Light from the night before. The jam fades and returns to the Sand theme before transitioning very well into Ghost.

#2: Tweezer (12/28, MSG, New York, NY)

            After a phenomenal Wolfman’s Brother closed an otherwise uneventful opening set, many phans had high hopes for the second frame of night 1. Leaving last year’s run in the rearview, Phish brought the goods in a set opening Tweezer that stands alone atop 3.0’s many versions. Beginning with a hard-edged groove (similar to Dick’s ’11) the band then works their way through a few minutes of stunning bliss jamming before a slick bluesy jam emerges and builds to an awesome Gin-like peak and a crafty ->Maze. In my opinion the absolute runaway jam of the run, this Tweezer competes with the very best of 2012 and lands at the #2 slot.

#1: Light (9/1 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO)

            And at #1, standing alone as Phish’s best jam of 2012 is…none other than the “Dick’s Light.” Sure, the first few minutes of the jam are fairly sloppy and aimless but I’ll be damned if the last 10 minutes of this masterpiece aren’t the best Phish you’ve heard in quite some time. Hose in its purest, most magnificent form. A Phish jam for the ages (and it seems to get better with each listen!). Let’s hope we get some more of this goodness in 2013!!!


            6/7 – Boogie On
            6/22 - Twist
            7/1- Fee
            7/1 – Light
            8/19 – Crosseyed and Painless
            8/28 – Limb by Limb (so hard to leave this one out)
            8/31 - Carini
            8/31 – Undermind
            8/31 – Chalkdust
            9/1 – Golden Age
            9/1 - Caspian
            12/30 – Down with Disease

If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading and not giving up on this site despite its unannounced 10-month hiatus! I’ll do my best to crank out some more Phishy material before tour resumes but in the mean time I’ll wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!

-Andrew Spears

Photo by Dave Vann

Monday, March 5, 2012

2nd Annual The Phish Experience March Madness Pool

So I totally dropped the ball on my NYE Run reviews (no pun intended). I know this. My deepest apologies. Anyways, the time has passed and the mission's clear, Summer Tour 2012 is upon us! The MSG run is in the rear view and a nice looking Summer lies just down the road for our favorite band. But before we hit the dusty trail and march towards Worcester, we'll have to indulge in the excitement of perhaps my favorite sporting event: The NCAA Basketball Tournament. It is indeed that time of year again and I'm happy to announce the 2nd Annual TPE March Madness Bracket Pool! I'm hoping for a few more players than last year's admittedly dismal showing. So please join and may the best phan win!

Here's the link

P.S. If enough people join, I'm sure I could figure out a prize for the winner.

-Andrew Spears

Monday, January 23, 2012

Phish 12/28 Review: Home Sweet Home To Me

It may be over three weeks since the lights when down at MSG, but it's never too late to review Phish, is it? Well regardless, here I am. Now before I start the real reviews, I'd like to address the run as a whole and its controversial reception. Call it a rant if you'd like, but 140 characters wasn't going to cut it, especially when we're talking Phish.

I'll cut to the chase. In the end, I actually do believe that by a slim margin, NYE run 2011 was better than NYE run 2010. Shocking, I know. Was it as good as Dick's? No chance. UIC? Nope. Bethel, probably not. But it was a damn good time with an array of musical highlights and, spare a few musical hiccups (::cough:: Axilla ::cough::), top notch playing. In my opinion, better than last year. And let me just say this, while I may be a bit of a "fluffer" at times, I'm not opposed in any way to criticism of a band we all love. I have no problem with people who point out, for example, that this summer's Alpharetta run was disappointing. It was. That doesn't mean it wasn't a blast. With that said, regarding this past NYE run, I honestly struggle to understand the hate on the run as a whole. It's completely fair to say that Phish dropped the ball on 12/31 (no pun intended), and I'd probably agree. But what bugs me to no end is when people come out and say things like "Phish was terrible tonight" and that "the band was battling Trey for all four nights." No disrespect to those people, we're all entitled to our opinions, but in my view that is just nonsense. If the rest of the band was really that annoyed with Trey, I'd like to think that at least one of them would have the balls to say something. For example, Trey royally screws up Axilla. What does Mike do? He shoots Trey a look that says, "Get it together." What does Trey do next? He takes the band through an incredible Piper jam. A jam that, I might add, I find more engaging and thrilling than last year's "Holy Ghost." I find it truly sad that my Twitter feed has exponentially more tweets about the butchered Axilla than the standout Piper or awesome 2001. But I guess that's just the way it goes.

This run wasn't perfect, I'll admit it. The Light>Golden Age segue was awful and a third set Alaska>Velvet Sea might be the musical and situational equivalent of a hard kick in the balls. But I digress. My point is this, expectations were just too high going into this run. It doesn't matter if they've been together for 28 years, 3 months without playing and only few days of practice will not yield a UIC or a Dick's run. I'm in a band myself, it just doesn't work like that. But enough of this nonsense. You can listen to the whole run and form your own opinions, here are mine.

Let's begin, naturally, with the 28th. The first Free opener ever kicked things off in style and as the Garden floors began to bounce up and down, all of us truly felt the feeling we'd forgot. A fitting opener for me for many reasons, namely the fact that this was my first Phish show in over 6 months. The longest such gap since I've been seeing the band. Anyways, the set pushed on with a rare Glide and an excellent Possum. Interesting sidebar: I was with a friend this night who's only two Phish shows happen to also include the only two Glides played in 3.0. The Garden, myself included absolutely erupted during Cities and as the band locked into an airtight groove at the onset of the jam, you could almost feel that this would get "the treatment." And boy did it ever. Trey has been laying down the slickest of riffs in Cities jams as of late and this version kept up a lovely 2011 trend. Then just when it seemed like this one might stay inside the box, Page hops over to the clav and they dive into a groove that even Trey couldn't resist. You know it's good when that happens. With a few minutes left, the groove slips into a more ambient soundscape before fading out into Curtis Loew. 

The perfectly executed Lynyrd Skynyrd cover is a great landing pad and not to mention, an awesome tune. This white hot set slowed down a bit for the Stash jam that, despite a nice peak, didn't quite hit home with this fan. Not to worry, Contact and it's pure, energetic fun was next. As I stood there, watching MSG grooving and jumping around, I couldn't help but think, "Yup, this is, at its core, a children's song about car tires." Awesome. A crowd-favorite Sample, tight KDF, and yet another "glory-Gin" rounded out this exciting and rust-free opening set.

I'll spare any meaningless set-break stories and dive right in to Set 2. The Birds opener was sweet to be sure but lacking in any real substance, the set really got going amidst the ass-kicking opening chords of Carini. A sublime, quintessential dark-to-light jam emerged from Carini, the last few minutes of which embody one of my favorite types of jamming for Phish in 3.0. Glorious, delicate Phish at its finest. Sounded a bit like an extension of the Dick's Tweezer. Expecting a MFMF type of landing pad, we'd have to wait a little longer as Tweezer emerged out of a silky smooth segue. If you haven't listened to this Tweezer, please do so immediately. The funk is so thick in the beginning of this jam, it's insane. As Miner would say, this is some "certifiable Grade-A Phish crack." It's unfair how badass this Tweezer is. I'll channel my inner @CoventryMusic and put it this way: if the Dick's Tweezer is my wife, then this Tweez is the filthy hooker that I cheat with. (Of course, we're talkin 3.0 here). Sure it doesn't last that long, but it wipes last years MSG version clean off the map in my opinion. The first three or so minutes of the jam may even be enough to out-gun 12/29/09, if we're talking NYE run Tweezers. Anyways, say what you will about this latest NYE run, but I think we can all agree that Carini>Tweezer is a winner.

Much to my dismay, MFMF eventually did follow and provided, if anything, a chance to catch my breath. A rowdy R&R followed and brought with it a nice funky breakdown with some great Page-Trey work. A slick >NICU taboot. The gratuitous Bouncin gave way to a patient Hood that had some excellent early interplay and a superb 3.0 peak. Sure I can think of a few better set closers that Bug, but then again, after a great two set doesn't matter ;). Especially when a Tube, Rocky Top, Tweeprise combo fills the encore slot. Thanks as usual guys, see you tmrw. 1 down, 3 to go.

Look for my 12/29 review in the next few days, I promise not to rant. Thanks for reading, and here's to a Vegas run for April Fools!

-Andrew Spears

Saturday, December 17, 2011

NYE Mini-Preview: What Can We Expect?

Seeing as my last post was in October, I’ve been meaning to get to work on a NYE preview for quite some time now. But, as we all know, sometimes there simply just isn’t enough time in a day. With finals and end of semester festivities in full swing at the University of Maryland, I hardly had the free time to sit down and preview what’s sure to be a special four nights in the Big Apple. However, as I sit on a packed train home to CT, tuning out to Hamton/Winston-Salem ‘97 for about the hundredth time, it seems as good a time as any to write about Phish.

Phish’s Summer ‘11 was surely a glorious one. A jam-packed 1st leg gave way to SuperBall IX and it’s legendary Storage jam before the boys wrapped things up with an excellent second leg, culminating in three stellar shows out west and the bands first gig in Vermont since Coventry. Summer ‘11 showcased a band at its best. Phish, and Trey in particular, showed an increased willingness to take musical risks and cross borders into depths never before explored in their over 27 year existence. Sans a few TreyDD moments, most notably in Leg I (I’m looking at you PNC Ghost), our favorite guitarist demonstrated a ferocity not seen/heard since 1.0. Throw in a few awesome new covers, a promising new tune, a new jamming style, and a theramin and you’ve got one hell of a tour. Exciting stuff indeed, but we’ve all heard enough about the summer, let’s talk NYE!


1.) No rust.
Even though Phish hasn’t been on stage in well over 3 months, I really don’t expect the 28th to be a show to shake off the rust. If we look at the past few tours/legs, it’s easy to see that the band hasn’t been feeling the effects of long layovers. Bethel1 was solid and nothing too special, but the Waves soundcheck jam from the day before sure was. After not playing in almost 6 months, the band arrived in the Bethel, NY and dropped one of the defining jams of summer and 3.0 as a whole. Additionally, after a month off between SuperBall and Leg 2, Phish played, in my opinion, the best jam of 3.0 in the Gorge’s Rock & Roll>Meatstick. These tour/leg/run opening shows are not to be overlooked. Don’t be surprised if we see one of the more massive jams of the NYE run on 12/28.
2.) A big “Steam” jam
This new tune is just asking to be taken out there and I'd have to imagine that Trey and the guys realize this as much as we do. The Summer gave it some room to stretch, but “Steam” is definitely ready for its close up. I can't think of a better place for “Steam” to get the jam-treatment it deserves than at MSG. The thought of the band emerging from the literal steam and landing in a psychadelic, thermin-laced journey gives me chills. Which reminds me....

3.) More theramin jams
Perhaps my favorite musical development over the summer was the Page's resurrection of the theremin. Not only is it an incredibly cool instrument, but it adds an entirely new dimension to each jam that it pops in to. I feel like the theramin is one of those toys where once you start playing it, you just always want to use it. I'm really hoping that's how Page feels and that we get a healthy dose over NYE. Maybe in a YEM jam? That would be epic.

4.) An old cover or two brought out from the vault
Covers are without a doubt a huge aspect of Phish. Seeing "No Quarter" creep into the semi-regular rotation was awesome in so many ways, but the band didn't bring back too many retro covers this past year. I'm expecting that to change during this upcoming run. 4 shows is a lot of music to play without repeats so we should surely see some rare tunes make the setlist. I saw someone on Twitter the other day predicting a "La Grange" bustout somewhere in the run. Personally I think that's a great call, but regardless of what song it is, I'd definitely like to think that the boys will reach into vault and pull out some throwback goodness. I mean, who thought they'd play "Sabotage" again? Come to think of it, I could see them playing that over NYE just to redeem themselves after the Dick's version.

5.) The NYE gag will reference OWS and each band member's “houses”.
The whole “Page's house” joke from this summer was a true theme of the tour. Similarly, in the bands touring absence, Occupy Wall Street has been a real theme of this past fall. This might even be too predictable, but I can very much visualize an NYE gag in which each member of the band “Occupies” another members house and something probably awesome happens there. What that “thing” is is anyone's guess, but I suppose that's the point. Anyways, if that turns out to be the gag, you heard it here first.

So I was going to include my NYE Wishlist here as well, but as it stands this train is nearing my stop. Normally I'd pick up where I left off tomorrow, but considering I'll be passed out for days on end to compensate an entire semesters worth of sleep deprivation, it's probably best that I wrap things up now.

Well, regardless of what happens (or doesn't) over the course of Phish's NYE run, it's going to be one hell of a good time. We all know that. This year marks the very first time that I have tickets to a full four night run and I'm not sure that I can put my excitement into words, especially because ¾ nights I'll be in 100-level or floor seating. At the moment, I'm fairly calm about it all, but I know that the second I round the corner and The Garden is in view—it's go time. Buckle up, phanners, I'll see you all in 11 days.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Andrew Spears

P.S. Look for my reviews for all 4 nights within the first few weeks of January. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

TAB Review: 10/13/11 Silver Spring, MD

The Fillm re (Photo: Trey)
As soon as TAB tickets went on sale in late July, and I saw that they’d be stopping roughly half an hour outside the University of Maryland campus, of course I picked one up. I arrived at the door of the newest Fillmore at around 4:15 and was the fifth person in line. Rail spot secured. After meeting some great people and engaging in extensive NYE planning talks, the nearly four hour wait was over.  Before we knew it, Big Red was taking the stage with the rest of his impressive septet. Before I dive into the review, I will say that riding the rail right in front of Trey is truly a surreal experience. He really does interact with those in the first few rows and I actually found myself engaging in brief conversations with him throughout the course of the night. He feeds off our energy and we certainly feed off his, it’s incredible. Witnessing T-Money jump around like a madman to the finale of First Tube from literally five feet away is simply indescribable.
Anyways, the band stepped out and opened with a tight “In The Wee Wee Hours” then dropped into the night’s first highlight, “Gotta Jibboo”. I’m sure you all understand this already, but it’s important to emphasize how awesome “Jibboo” sounds with horns. They just add that extra “umph” to the song that, frankly, is missing from Phish’s versions. Trey has been playing out of his mind recently and that trend certainly held up at this show. He laid down original riff after original riff in this “Jibboo”, and the result was a silky smooth and remarkably tight jam. Next up, “Alive Again”, one of my favorite’s from Trey’s self-titled debut album. Trey and Ray fed nicely off each other and a cool plinko-ish jam developed before Trey took over with an excellent, very Santana-esque solo. 

“Money Love and Change” followed, showcasing Jennifer Hartswick's sensational vocals and the horn section’s seemingly new-found ability to improvise alongside Trey's relentless (in a good way) soloing. I haven't listened to much of TAB's previous tours but I have tuned in to quite a bit of this current one and the horns are clearly adding a new dimension to the jams. They're now providing excellent and not overpowering backing to Trey within the jams, not the just the song. It's fantastic. This was on full display during the ML&C and would continue throughout the entire night. The smoking ML&C gave way to a bluesy “Burn That Bridge”, a song that I've enjoyed live at both TAB and Phish shows. Sure it's a bit corny, but Trey slays his solo and just admit it, the chorus is as catchy as they come. It's good, clean first set fun. A tight “Burlap Sack and Pumps” was crushed with ease and original Giant Country Horns member Russell Remington obliterates his solo. Next up, one of my favorites, “Push On 'Til The Day”. This is a great tune to hear live. Trey was totally loving it and the crowd "happily lapped it up." There was less improvisation in this jam when compared to the nights other heavy hitters, but even with that said I'd argue that it was Trey's best soloing of the night. I've said it before and I'll say it again: straight up relentless.
    Next, with the crowd in a frenzy, TAB takes on “Alaska”. Oh. While played quite well, this song just doesn't do it for me and I know I'm not the only one. I'm really not sure what Trey sees in Alaska. Not to worry though, a set closing one-two punch of “Tuesday” and Led Zep’s “Black Dog” gave this thoroughly impressive set the conclusion it deserved. If you haven't heard Hartswick tackle “Black Dog”, do so now. It's awesome, especially in person.
Official Poster
Set break gave us a chance to catch our breath and recap the first frame while protecting our coveted rail spots. Roughly a half hour later, the lights dimmed and the first chords of “Sand” welcomed in the second set. Game on. Another tune that's great for TAB, this “Sand” was sweet. The early portions of the jam featured typical bouncy soloing from T-Money and excellent work from Ray. As this “Sand” progressed and Trey's licks became heavier, the horns again add some welcome improvisation and this time Trey catches on, resulting in a huge guitar and horns finish that is rather excellent. Pure heat.
A pleasant, yet standard-as-they-come “Valentine” came next and was followed up by probably my favorite TAB original, “Drifting”. I love this song so much. Literally every time I hear it, I'm put in a good mood. I guess that's the power of awesome music. Anyways, this version, while not particularly noteworthy, will always be "my first Drifting" and thus will always have a special place in my heart. Also, I couldn't think of a better place to hear it than five feet away from those playing it. Definitely a show highlight for me. “Simple Twist Up Dave” turned the energy dial up to 11 as Trey and Ray just smoke the shit out of this version. As was the case all night, Big Red and Ray interacted wonderfully here as Trey threw down a series of complex rhythm chops that we're immediately answered by the organ in downright raging fashion. Almost chaotic at times, the jam is held together nicely and it straight rages. I can't really think of anything else to say, just check it out. It's also peaked quite well as Trey lays down one nasty riff after another, one of which was fairly similar to the epic lick from the UIC Waves. Smokin’ version.
“Liquid Time”, one of the better 3.0 compositions, was next in line. Without a doubt this song should be played by Phish. That is all. After a nice clean take on “Liquid Time”, the band started up “Pigtail”, a recent Trey/Tom collaboration that didn't fare too well with Phish but suits TAB just fine. With that said, the song still frustrates me. There are parts that I really enjoy, but other sections are simply too poppy. “Pigtail” will never be a Top-40 single, so why try to make it one? Nevertheless, after all our Pigtail’s were dipped in ink, the band dropped into the unquestionable jamming highlight of the night, “Mr. Completely”. In this version Trey leads the band through a very funky series of key changes with each one showcasing a solo from a different band member. Russell’s flute slaying was particularly awesome and whenever I listen to it I can’t help but think of that hilarious scene from Anchorman. Eventually the jam develops into an old school start-stop funk clinic in which Trey takes a back seat to let Ray and the horns groove out. It’s phenomenal and includes legitimate full band improvisation that I truly did not expect from a TAB show. If you buy or DL this show, and I suggest you do, definitely seek out this jam first.
TAB (Photo: Trey)
A few nice takes on “Ether Sunday” and “Magilla” took us in to a great version of “Night Speaks To A Woman”. Trey’s solo here is incredibly delicate and thoughtful, one of his best on this fine evening. The horns pop in towards the end of the jam with a great catchy phrase before a vocal refrain wraps things up. A fiery “First Tube” closed out the set in explosive fashion but we were left with just a few moments to catch our breath before Jen took center stage for a thrilling rendition of the Gorillaz tune, “Clint Eastwood”. Not a favorite song of mine, but Hartswick’s vocal efforts are certainly impressive. A fun combo of “Heavy Things” and “Sultan’s of Swing” officially mark the conclusion of a truly excellent evening. I was thoroughly impressed with TAB. Trey’s chops/dexterity continue to improve while the rest of the band is really contributing, not just taking a back seat to the wonders of the OceDoc. Riding the rail sure didn’t hurt either. In short, if TAB expanded their repertoire a bit and varied setlists, they’d be a band worth traveling far and wide to see, but as it stands, seeing one or two shows a tour will surely get the job done.
Thanks for reading! Cheers and bring on NYE.

-Andrew Spears

Friday, July 29, 2011

Retro Review: 7/26/98 Starplex Ampitheatre, Dallas, TX

Leg I gave us some truly great material, but I can only listen to so much of a given tour. I've probably exhausted all the highlights from Leg I already, and then some. So now, with just over a week (!!) until Leg II, I've found myself settling back in to my typical Phish listening regiment: lots of 97-00, a solid amount of 94-96/3.0 stuff, and occasional dips into the very early years/2.0. However, with such a short amount of time between exhaustion of Leg I goodness and onset of Leg II fire, I figured this would be as good time as any to write another retro review. After much debate, I settled on a show that celebrates both Kuroda's birthday and mine. For what it's worth, I chose this show over 7/1/97 and 11/19/97, mostly due to the quality of the recording. Anyways, 7/26/98 is of course from the legendary Summer of 98, but yet is a show that I'd heard very little of. Other than the phenomenal YEM, this is a gig that's flown under the radar for me and probably many others, considering the truly epic shows that surround it. Regardless, let's get to music shall we?

Phish in 1998 (Photo: Danny Clinch)
7/26/98 opens with potentially my favorite Phish song (depends which day of the week you ask me), Birds of a Feather. The version is short but sweet, and I absolutely love BOAF in the opener slot. To be honest, it's shocking to me that the guys don't open more shows with this tune. Next up comes another cover, in a summer chock full of them. You Better Believe It Baby is a fun song for sure, but seeing as it's quite repetitive, I'd say this rendition was just too long. Clocking in at over 8 minutes, this is pretty long for a song with literally no jamming section. I guess one phan was less than pleased with Phish's opening two tunes when he yelled out, "Play something old!" I always find it funny that even back then, people would complain about new tunes that in time end up being crowd favorites. Could Kill Devil Falls be the new Birds of a Feather? Probably not, but you get the point. Anyways, Bowie was sure to satisfy that fan's request and as it would turn out, be quite a good version as well. While some people go crazy for the Bowie's that get really out there and totally stray from song structure, I actually prefer them to be a little bit more inside the box like this one. Mike just owns this rendition and totally controls the pace and direction of the jam. Page and Fish catch on and accent Mike's lines as Trey lays down delicate riffs before bringing the jam to an average, yet thrilling peak.  A fairly short version that manages to accomplish quite a bit, I'll throw this one on the iPod for sure. Seek it out if you like crisp, traditional Bowie's.

Following Bowie comes an oddly placed Frankie Says. By no means one of my favorite Phish songs, I rather like this song when it's segued into from a dark or ambient second set jam, however, as a stand alone tune in the fading light of a first set, it just seems off. No worries though, a well placed Reba pops up next and is very reminiscent of other '98 versions but that doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Trey and Page steal the show here and some of the riffs that they lay down are just so excellent. Others not so much, but there are moments in this Reba that are pure bliss. The jam segment in Reba might be my favorite of Phish's, so for me it's hard to find a Reba I don't like, but either way this one is good and certainly has its moments. The set closes with the rocking one-two punch of Funky Bitch and GTBT. Both are well played and dominated by Trey's raging guitar work. Overall, good first set. Short though. After the lull of Frankie Says, the set's energy spikes and a string of well-played, well-placed songs round things out. Bowie and Reba are the highlights for me. Onward.

Portland 1998
In keeping with the rock theme that developed throughout Set 1, Phish opened the second frame with ZZ Top's La Grange. Played for the first time in 90 shows, to my ears the version shows no signs of rust and is ripped in typical '98 Trey fashion. As I listen I can't help but think how different this song would sound with Trey's current tone. I'd definitely like to see it dusted off in 3.0, seeing as it hasn't been played since '99.

After the rocking La Grange, Phish jumps into an early second set YEM. Once the jam kicks in, the band takes the typical YEM bass line for it's biggest and sickest ride ever. This YEM is just so phenomenal. Really one of my favorites. Typifies the classic Summer '98 laid back funk and demonstrates the bands ability to patiently and willingly ride out a particular groove without it ever getting boring or repetitive. It's really incredible. I mean, Mike literally sticks to the exact same bass line for 6 or 7 minutes, with very little variation and yet the jam only gains awesomeness. The band, as a unit, plows through starts, stops and a variety of different funk segments as Fish destroys his set with original beats and incredibly creative fills that perfectly complement Page's clavinet mastery. Disclaimer: you will lose your shit during parts of this jam. I know I do.
Phish w/ Neil Young October 1998 (Photo: Jake Blakesburg)
Played for the first time by Phish, Neil Young's Albuquerque emerges out of the YEM vocal jam and is a great landing point for the phenomenal jam that preceded it. The soft, yet gritty feel to Albuquerque segues into and contrasts perfectly with the great, short Simple that would follow. Nothing wild and pretty strictly Type I until the outro, the jam is mellow and relaxing. Trey and Page are spot on and add emotion to Mike's grooves and Fishman's excellent work, specifically on the cymbals. This Simple ultimately fades into some engaging ambience and is generally quite similar to many 3.0 versions. After the outro dissolves, the boys jump right into a very well executed Bold as Love and finish up the set with a rousing Sample In A Jar. Definitely a good set with some very awesome moments and great flow, however, both sets were also definitely short. Maybe I'm spoiled by Phish's recent marathon 90+ minute sets, but I couldn't help but feel like there should be more music to review. Many shows, especially on this last tour, are a whole 30+ minutes longer than this gig. Sure this show's second set flowed better than some from Summer Tour 2011, but I'd rather take an extra half hour of music, even if that means I get an Alaska.

Anyways, back to '98. A fun PYITE>Bittersweet Motel encore wraps things up on 7/26/98. Verdict? Really fun first set with some good jams in Bowie/Reba and some great rockers in Funky Bitch/GTBT. Second set had excellent flow, one awesome jam, and a fun encore, but not too much exploration. Overall, I'd say this is an average Summer '98 show, very enjoyable but not on the level of some shows that Summer.

Well then, this is me signing off until after Leg II. I'll have a recap of the tour and my Top 10 Jams of Summer '11 up sometime this fall. I also just bought a ticket to one of TAB's fall gigs, so expect a review of that as well. Finally, as always follow me on Twitter (@andrewspears1) for my quick thoughts on Leg II and all things Phish. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of tour folks, I'll be listening from the couch.

-Andrew Spears

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer 2011 Leg 1/Superball IX Recap & Review

Well, it's July 7th and Leg 1 has officially come to a close. With the Superball stage and campgrounds dismantled and packed away, it'll be another month before we hear more new Phish, but luckily, the most recent tour/festi left plenty of musical goodness to tide us over until the Gorge.

Right out of the gates, one could sense that there might be something special about this tour. With a strong opening set at Bethel 1, highlighted by a ripping Wolfmans>Walk Away and a legitimate jam on Kill Devil Falls, Phish sent us a message right from the get-go. The rest of the Bethel run (maybe not Night 3) kept up this trend of the band's patience and willingness to jam, and not to mention how incredibly well each individual member is playing. In just the first two shows alone, the band laid down some serious tour highlights. The Waves from 5/27 continues to be one of my favorites from this Leg, a DWD that, in my opinion, is completely underrated, also gets quite a few spins, as do other first set highlights 5/28 Halley's, Cities, and Bathtub Gin. Some of the best versions in this era and again, were only two shows in! Also, the recently released Waves tech rehearsal jam only adds to the awesomeness of this run. Before the band even hit the stage for the first time, they played what some might consider the jam of the tour and possibly 3.0 as a whole. This Waves is the real deal. Taking the Round Room tune on a 30 minute journey in and out of some hard-edged psychedelic grooves, this is easily a contender for best version ever. Expectations, for me at least, weren't incredibly high for this Bethel run, but I imagine they'd have been quite different had I snuck into the venue on Thursday and heard this Waves first.
"The 5/26 Waves jam was this big!" (Photo: Dave Vann)
 So, following the Bethel throwdowns, the two night stand at PNC was an interesting one. The first night was totally solid, as the band crafted worthwhile jams in both After Midnight and Drowned. The latter spent a good amount of time in interesting territory and doesn't get the recognition it deserves. People haven't been giving this run a lot of credit because of the second night's "ripcord" fest, but these people forget how good a show the first night was, and also what an awesome tour highlight No Quarter was. Seriously, No Quarter is fucking sick. So, sure the second night fell a little flat, but there are definitely some good jams/moments to be found and again, the quality of playing was phenomenal (minus 5/31 Divided Sky).

Anyways, any doubts in the band's ability to patiently craft extended jams were absolutely flattened in the second set at Pine Knob. After a well-executed first set, the band dove into DWD to kick off set two and built a jam that is nothing short of stunning. Capped with an A Love Supreme jam, this DWD, clocking in at over 24 minutes, is most definitely one for the ages. And whats more, a blazing and actually well-placed Fluffhead followed. Now, I like Fluffhead and I understand its significance, but these days it's simply played too much. It no longer adds anything to a set and should really be set aside and brought out only a few times a tour, preferably after a jam like the Pine Knob DWD. After a jam like that people are ready and willing to hear Fluffhead, but I doubt I'm alone when I say that Fluffhead isn't among my top choices to hear following a mid second set Alaska. Regardless, we weren't done after DWD>Fluffhead at Pine Knob and the following Bowie was incredible as well. The rest of the show was great too, with a fun 2001 and a ripping GTBT.

As it turns out, the rest of the midwest run was phenomenal as well. Blossom's second set really had it all. A cool and very promising new tune in Steam, a plinko jam in Sneakin Sally, and a sublime Hood>Have Mercy>Hood. In my opinion, one of the best complete sets this tour. Great flow, great jams, and as always, great energy. The Riverbend show was also fun and featured a good Tweezer, a shredding C&P, and an excellent YEM.  So after a day off, the band heads back north to Great Woods where they played another quality gig with more great playing from all members and some exciting jams, most notably a fantastic Rock and Roll. For more details on this show, check out my full review. 

Classic Red (Photo: Dave Vann)
Next the band traveled back to New York for their first show at Darien Lake in a few years and laid down a show with plenty of bustouts and a second set filled with fairly contained jams that were still very awesome, so not to worry. One jam that really sticks out is the late set, What's The Use? filled 2001. I wasn't at this show but I can only imagine how fun it was, and that's without mentioning that as a ticket-holder you got to spend your day at an amusement park for free. Roller Coasters->Phish, doesn't get much better. Anyways, at this point the tour has already cemented itself as probably the best of 3.0 thus far with more worthwhile jams and all around shows than any leg since the comeback, especially if you include the 5/26 Waves. 

On the heels of yet another Camden show, one could sense that we'd be treated to night full of open ended, loose jamming. Unfortunately that didn't really work out. Other than very well played first set highlighted by an incredible Curtain (With), the show sort of lacked direction and as a result, the second set suffered from flow issues. However, it's hard to complain too much when the band is playing so tight. For the following Merriweather shows, both were similar in a few ways. Most notably, both had very strong first sets and fun second sets that put energy and rock at a premium while not focusing as much on jamming. This worked out quite well on the first night, but when the second night featured more of the same energy based jams and less flow, it left a little to be desired despite one of the better encores of the tour. Again though, I wasn't there and I'm sure these shows were still an absolute blast. Highlights from the Merriweather run shows include R&R-> Albuquerque, Piper, Sand, Wolfmans->Boogie On.

I'll be quick with the Alpharetta shows because, unfortunately there just isn't much to say. The first night was just okay even though it did feature one of my favorite mini-jams of the tour in Light Up or Leave Me Alone. If you listen to anything from the Alpha run, check that out, it's very sweet. Anyways, if not for the ripcord pulled in Carini and DWD, the second set opening Carini->Sand->DWD could've been a true tour highlight. The segment is still cool but Trey's impatience hurts these jams, plain and simple. The second night also had the opportunity to be an epic night but just didn't get there. It's hard to blame the band for the nights flow issues because of the intense storm that cut the first set short, but Phish is notorious for playing great shows in crazy storms (7/22/97--enough said) and when this didn't happen, it was just disappointing. I'm in no way asking for another 7/22/97, but this show just didn't really have IT. Say what you want about myself and many others frustation with this show, but the truth is, I have such high expectations of Phish right now because of how well they're playing and as a critic of the band, if I didn't express disappointment every once in a while, I'd have no credibility. 

Anyways, speaking of IT, welcome to Charlotte, NC on June 17th, 2011. In a classic Phish show, the boys not only brought Gamehendge to NC, but they also put on their jamming faces for the first time in a few outings. It's funny how quickly any doubt in Phish can be erased. An excellent Weekapaug and well-executed Forbins->Mockingbird highlighted the opening frame of this show, but it was the second set that made this one. The band launched into Rock and Roll and delicately built a beautiful jam that bled into just the second Ghost of the tour. And what a Ghost it was. Rivaling and probably surpassing the "Holy Ghost" from NYE, Trey once again led this one with some stunning guitar work. Building the jam to a glorious peak with creative, patient, and original leads, the jam then lands in a Page and Mike led funk session for a few minutes before fading into Free. My description isn't very in depth so pick up this jam and give it listen for yourself, it's not gonna disappoint. The band then drops into a great mid second set Reba. With Phish's current style, I'm definitely an advocate for more second set Reba's, they seem to fit in really well. Next came more Phishiness, this time by way of an Icculus>HYHU>Bike>HYHU>Chalkdust. The narration was hilarious, as was Fish on the ole Electrolux, and the placement of Chalkdust here is excellent. A standard YEM and a Wilson>Loving Cup encore rounded out one of the better shows this tour, tons of fun and some truly great jams.

Fish. (Photo: Dave Vann)
Before we get to the tour closer at Portsmouth, I'll briefly discuss the Raleigh show. After a solid first set, nothing special at all though, Phish dropped a fairly song-based second set. Been Caught Stealing was a nice bustout, Caspian had a pretty nice jam, and SOAM got seriously out there. Most consider the SOAM to be the highlight here and I suppose I do too, but it sort of seemed like the band got so deep in Type II that they couldn't quite find their way out. Props for the attempt, though. Decent show, nothing huge.

The tour closer in Portsmouth was definitely a fun one with some great moments and some great jams. The phamily reunion Harpua, Brother opener was great and it was pretty darn cool to see three generations of Phish on the same stage. The rest of the first set was solid with a nice take on Timber and a heartfelt (although poorly executed) tribute to the late Clarence Clemons in Thunder Road. The second set had a few good versions of Crosseyed, WOTC, and Slave and then a heavy hitting funk session in Sand. A locked in guitar solo from Big Ern and a full on funky start/stop outro jam make this one a must here. Definite tour highlight. Light, despite being short, also had a cool jam.

And so, after a Julius encore, Leg 1 had come to a close. All in all, I really enjoyed attending and listening to shows this tour. There are some seriously great jams to be heard and I can't say enough how tight and crisp Phish sounds these days. Sure we'd all love a few more jams like the 6/3 DWD and the Waves tech rehearsal jam, but as long as we're still getting otherwise great jams and some awesome moments, I'm more than happy. And now off to Superball IX.

The fun kicked off on June 30th, and as phans were settling into their campsites, Phish played an awesome soundcheck. Highlighted by free form jams that bookended this mini-set, the band again demonstrated their ability to really jam when no one is around. That's not to say they can't produce awesome jams in the presence of thousands of fans, but it is certainly interesting to note that two of the more exploratory and successful jams this tour were from soundchecks.

Uh.. (Photo: Dave Vann)
Well, the shows that count for stats purposes started a little over a day later and the opener of Superball IX was...Possum! In what I consider to be an obvious dig towards the recent Possum hating, Phish opens with the most played song of tour, once again demonstrating that Phish has, and always will, do whatever the fuck they want. I could sit here and complain that they don't play enough 25 minute jams, but the truth is, they don't care. As we now know, if they wanted to play really long jams, they could, but they choose not to. To be honest, that's fine with me as long as these shorter jams pack a powerful punch, and they do indeed, so all is well.

The set rolled on with top notch versions of Moma, Gin and especially Wolfman's, as well as some nicely played bustouts in Peaches, Torn and Frayed, and the very rare Bowie cover, Life on Mars. Overall, a very well played opening set of the festi. The second set was well played as well. Opening with a cool free form jam that brought us back to the previous day's soundcheck while foreshadowing the next day's secret set, the band then tore into yet another ripping Crosseyed. Other second set highlights include Sand and the ambient Hendrix-infused Simple jam. Overall, with a great first set and a solid second, this was a good show, nothing mind-blowing, but well played with a few worthwhile jams. All you could really ask for, I suppose.

Day/Night 2 of SuperBall IX brought phans A LOT of music. Three mega-sets and one hour long late-night set later, and us phans had plenty to talk about, but let's start with set one. The first set was entirely song based but did feature some fun takes on Camel Walk and Timber as well as some cool new tunes in Gordon's Suskind Hotel and Monkey Man by the Rolling Stones. Overall, as a listener, nothing too special, but I'm sure it was a total blast for those in attendance. Grab some dinner, hit the Port-o-Potties, check out the Ball Square and report back for the second set in a few hours.

As expected, Trey introduced the winners of the Runaway Jim 5K during none other than Runaway Jim and the set really started with a nice (although a little sloppy) McGrupp. By the way, major props should be given to Ethan McBrien who won the 5K with a time of 15:23. That is incredibly fast. Well done, sir. Okay so, after McGrupp came more stand alone tunes including the first secret language in years after Birds. An excellent Stash held down the middle portion of the set while Scents & Subtle Sounds and Antelope rounded things out. Well played set for sure, but for what many consider to be the "money set" of the weekend, it left something to be desired. Luckily, the next four sets (including the secret one) were absolutely phenomenal. The supposed last set of day two was definitely sweet. Kicking things off with a hardcore plinko version of Golden Age, the set then led into a solid Caspian, a thus far very underrated Piper jam, and a classic "festival sized" Tweezer. It may be fairly short, but it is fucking sweet! Mike's bass is turned way up and a funked out jam ensues. I'm a Tweezer guy, so of course I would have loved to see this one stretched out a little further, but it's 11+ minutes packed in enough goodness to leave me more than satisfied. The rest of the set continued on highlighted by a stretched out Twist and a meticulous Harry Hood. Awesome set. But we weren't done yet!

Congrats Ethan! (Photo: Dave Vann)
At around 1:45 AM, Phish emerged inside one of the art installations called "USA Storage" and played an hours worth of Whatever you want to call it, weaving in and out of avant-garde psychedelic noodling and groove-based synth jams, the band treated those in attendance to easily the most exploratory jamming of the weekend. Definitely a highlight, especially for those who stayed up to witness it. Also, props to Phish for bringing back the late-night set and playing some truly transcendent stuff while they were at it.

Late-Night Madness (Photo: Dave Vann)
As the sun began to set on the final day of Superball IX, Phish opened with Soul Shakedown Party to kick off what would become the best show of the festival. The Curtain>Forbin's really got things started and the first true Forbin's narration of 3.0 perfectly explained the wildness of the Storage jam from the night before. Now that the fun was out of the way, Phish could really focus on jamming for the remainder of the 100+ minute set. A semi jammed out Destiny Unbound was well played as opposed to some other recent versions and after a BBFCFM, Phish dropped another heavy metal Wilson. This one was also partially jammed out and could very well be the best version of Wilson ever. Next up was Mound, which, again, had a little extra mustard on it and was about as well executed as Mound can be. Another rarity and my favorite tune from Undermind, ASIHTOS, followed and included a very cool and purposeful ambient jam that stretched the song out to around 11 minutes. Definitely worth a listen, but what is a MUST listen, is the following Reba->Bowie. One of the better Reba's I've heard in a long time and one that blows away the Utica version, in my opinion. Not to mention the whistling ending and the odd jam that develops at the end. Truly excellent. At this point the set has already cemented itself as an absolutely incredible one, but the shredding, exploratory Bowie that follows is only the icing on the cake to one of the best sets in years. Trey's playing is near flawless in the Bowie. Sick sick set.

Big Balls appropriately opens set two with Fish on vocals before diving into DWD. Similar to the Bethel version, the jam blends funk with rock then lands into some ambience and a segue. However, that's not to say this version is formulaic, it's totally original and quite cool actually, one of my favorites of the weekend. Plus, who could argue with a segue into No Quarter? Another awesome rendition of the Zeppelin classic ensues and Page and Trey just slay this one. Party Time->Ghost->Jibboo keep the energy up with well played, inside the box jams before Light kicks in. A truly wonderful Light, the jam finds its mellow vibe quickly and the band rides it out nicely with some phenomenal interplay woven in. In this era, these are probably my favorite type of jams. More of the same in the Waves that followed, whose jam led to ambience pretty quickly and sort of resembled the Simple from a few nights earlier. A ->What's the Use? is next and just adds to the phenomenal song choice of not just the set but the show as a whole. Great stuff. The set ends with a few standard versions of Meatstick and Stealing Time, a fitting a capella Star Spangled Banner, and a ripping First Tube amidst fireworks. And so, after four days of glorious music, the Superball had come to a close. So, what's the verdict? Well, I hate to review shows that I wasn't at, but I can't help but rave about the quality of these gigs. Each night was very well executed and the band demonstrated incredible creativity and looseness from start to finish. There are plenty of memorable jams, and the secret set was truly an incredible moment. I can't even begin to explain how excited I am about Phish right now. The band is happier than perhaps ever, the fanbase is cooler and more unified than ever, and the music reflects both these things. Thanks for reading, long live Phish and bring on Leg 2!

-Andrew Spears

WHAT?!! (Photo: Dave Vann)