More than any year since the band's return from its 4+-year Breakup, Phish has earned a special halo of anticipation around the upcoming New Year's Run. As you ramp up for the Run starting on Saturday, here's a handy guide to the highlights of the recent tour, written by nine different contributors.
(Note: the best and most useful part of this post comes after the introduction.)
I recognize that my view of 3.0 is not necessarily shared by all (or even most) fans, but despite my excitement about the return of Phish, I found the first few years of the comeback to be creatively ambiguous at best. And I'm not alone. While 2009, 2010 and 2011 each had their own highlight reels, the notable jams were like isolated oases amid a desert of sadly uninspiring fare. Weirdly, it was as if the creative advances of 1993 through 2004 had never happened. "Ripcord" entered the lexicon. While newly minted fans understandably wanted in on the fun, and jaded oldbies like me learned to focus on the overall experience and reunions with friends (instead of relying on the music alone) to justify the effort and expense of seeing multiple shows, the remarkable sense of surging forward, which had hovered over the band for decades, seemed gone. The tours started to blend into each other, with no linear sense of progress. Even when there was a run of standout shows with a sense of moment, the momentum quickly fizzled.
But in my view, Phish indeed turned a corner in 2012. The band not only produced exciting jams, it did so with enough regularity to start shifting expectations. It was no longer de digeur for a promising jam to be cut short according to the dictates of some invisible countdown. Still, I wondered if it was just another round of the pushing and pulling that had marked 3.0 so far—an advance followed by a retreat, followed by an advance, followed by a retreat. The big question was 2013: would they keep it up?
Yes. Most notably, the Tahoe "Tweezer" finally shrugged off the usual "great...for 3.0" caveats and took its place as an all-time jam. And then, in fall tour, Phish went even further.
Show for show—and by "show" I mean second set, as it's necessary to all but ignore first sets these days when evaluating shows—the Fall 2013 tour featured a level of quality and inventiveness that hadn't been seen since summer 2004. Phish not only ventured into creative, Type II waters, it did so with regularity. Each night felt like an exploration of the unknown again, as it had between 1993 and 2004. (I wasn't there personally until 1995.) The tour took on its own character, building momentum, raising expectations and then reaching them. For the first time since the joke slowly dawned on us in 2009 that Phish was back and healthy—but weirdly stifled on the creative front—it felt like Phish to me. This was not only because of the greatness of the tour (a consistency unseen yet in 3.0), but because it followed upon advances earlier in the year and in 2012. It seemed that the breakthrough was established safely, not just a fragile and tenuous glimpse of what could be.
Almost each night of the 12-date tour featured a major jam that earned quick recognition as "The [venue or city] [name of song]." From The Hampton "Carini" to The Atlantic City "Twist," there's an embarassment of riches. While there are other highlights to be found, I made a list of what I felt to be the singular, top-of-line jams that carried certain shows, and asked Phish.net staffers if they'd write short descriptions of each. (Nine of the shows are represented, and even the three shows left out feature their own highlights that may not be era-defining but are at least worth hearing.)
Note: Though these contributors picked the jams they wanted to write about from the list, this does not necessarily mean that each is the author's favorite from the tour. A few people wanted to write about multiple jams from a show or a whole set, but I wanted to nominate just one Hall of Fame jam per night to emphasize their singularity. (I originally assigned myself the "Carini" from Worcester, but later decided it didn't merit inclusion on the list, especially given the two other major "Carinis.")
As you get ready for the New Year's Run, here's a short-list of Phish's recent achievements. It's enough to give you faith in Phish again. It did for me.
--Jeremy D. Goodwin (@J_D_G)
The “Carini” from the opening night of fall tour at the Hampton Coliseum was one of the best jams the band has ever played at a tour opener. “Carini” has arguably been the jam vehicle that most frequently hits pay dirt for the band in 3.0. The jam starts out with both Trey and Page playing very sparsely and leaving a lot of room for the rhythm section. Some very foreboding rhythm guitar playing, accompanied by some B-3 comping from Page, set the stage for the glorious jam to come. (In the moment, it just felt like something big was going to happen.) Mike then fired up the Meatball, which brought the house down.
Trey leads the jam into the relative major key pretty early on, with Fishman continuing to lead the jam. At about the halfway point of this 16-minute version, Trey stumbles on a lick that just oozes joy—one of those signature Trey licks that makes you feel happy to be alive. This was the point where me and the half dozen other .net staffers who were all gathered on the floor turned and flashed smiles at each other like we were getting away with something. Mike really lays down the foundation for this driving yet blissful jam, enabling Fishman to play a very busy and melodic line throughout almost the entire thing.
Trey briefly goes back to rhythm guitar for just a few moments before getting pulled back by that aforementioned, infectious guitar riff that sounded so good it seemed composed. Page, as he has in so many great Phish jams in the past, starts pounding away rhythmically on the grand which sends the jam on its way to the Promised Land. After the climax of this “Carini” jam, with Fishman continuing his busy and melodic groove, the other three all stumble on a descending riff that they trade amongst themselves. The band finally recalls the beginning of the jam, with Trey and Page both playing rhythm and allowing lots of space. One last funky flare-up brings us to the end of a jam that I will be listening to in 20 years. Not bad for the opening night of tour.
Patience. From the musicians, and required by the fans.
The Hampton "Tweezer" is an exercise in patience. For a majority of its 25 minutes, Phish layers idea on idea, weaving instrument over instrument. But rather than layers that introduce something new with each addition, I pictured the band’s layering of this jam as overlapping ends to stretch out the music linearly. Fishman plays the role of metronome while Mike and Page offer up snippets of funk, allowing Trey to offer counterpoint. Another way to put it is that you can hear the band slowly get from point A to point B -- there is no moment along the length of the first jam where you as a listener are left with an idea of "WTF?" The evolution, or transition, from Trey’s interesting idea around 5:20 plodded along for two minutes before that snippet of “No Quarter” would emerge, followed by Mike’s use of his Lovetone Meatball, smoothly building into that ominous section, which sound like footsteps or heartbeats. The progression is natural, dare I say even-keel.
That all remains true -- until the end. Around the 19-minute mark, after a nice build with Trey wrestling notes and really interesting runs by Page on the piano, after a return to the “No Quarter”-sounding section, the music just dissolves. Peacefully, relatively, not in a chaotic fashion. And what emerges is what I would describe as a “Storage” jam. Or “Tower” jam. Pick your favorite “fourth set” and go with that. Open, airy, loose playing from Fishman. Tones from Page, delicate soloing from Trey, sparse but full notes from Mike. It takes patience -- to get to this point, and to play like this.
Essentially nineteen minutes of “jam.” Fourteen minutes of subtle, linear improvisation that does not offer much in the way of peaks and valleys but is interesting in its progression. And five minutes of . . . decompression.
Phish’s return to Glens Falls was pure fun. It was an absolute blast being able to revisit the tiny venue and the welcoming and friendly environs of the small-town that was similar to so many others where Phish had cut their teeth in the early 90’s. It was literally like walking back in time and brought back a flood of memories. While a movie theater in the downtown area with a neon sign proudly advertising, “Dinner and A Movie” did not portend that old-time classic in the setlist that night, Phish certainly conjured up the spirits of 10/31/1994 with their Set I opener “Back In The USSR” and the encore, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” In between those tunes were a handful of highlights but the real show stopper was the mid-second set “Twist.”
Looking at the setlist on paper, one might logically conclude that the real gems of the night would have been found somewhere in the "Rock and Roll" > "Seven Below" sequence. Given that the relatively straightforward "Seven Below" was followed by "Alaska," hopes were dimming for an exploratory jam. However, "Twist" slowly, patiently emerged and became the highlight of the show and one of the better jams of the Fall Tour.
I simply love the slow, patient groove in the intro and build up- particularly Page’s keyboard. But the real magic happens about halfway into this 14-minute-plus gem. The band builds energy and "Twist starts picking up in volume, pace and excitement but then turns on a dime with the same keyboard led groove from the intro. Trey then takes the lead with precision playing and each individual note perfectly articulated and full of soul and conversation. Gorgeous and melodious, Trey’s guitar is literally singing and beckoning the band and the crowd to follow into a majestic, psychedelic peak. Fish gets a perfect rhythm going to compliment Trey and Page and climbing down from the climax is equally enjoyable as the ride to the top. It was quite a bombastic stretch of nearly fifteen minutes inside the Civic Arena and was another jewel in the Fall ‘13 crown. Listen to the end of the “The Line” from Wingsuit and you’ll hear what gave Trey inspiration for the best parts of the "Twist" jam.
Likewise, it isn’t hard to imagine “The Line” being taken out for deep exploration and a Set II opener slot at some point in the future.....or for that matter, the fourth slot. This glorious "Twist" certainly proves that can be a power slot of the set.
The Worcester “Drowned” is a perfect example of what made Fall 2013 jamming so special—patience. Since the band returned in 2009, we've seen a dramatic cutback in jam length. This is perhaps the single biggest gripe by fans of the band's monster jams from the late-1.0 and 2.0 eras. At the same time, defenders of the more compact 3.0 jamming style often state that they appreciate how the band quickly move to another song when they’re struggling with ideas, avoiding what these fans refer to as "aimless noodling." But what if you are a proponent of this "aimless noodling”? What if part of your joy of listening to Phish improvise is getting lost with the band and then reveling in the energy created as they find their way back, often creating something far more interesting and exciting in the process?
If that's the case for you, then this version of “Drowned” should be right up your alley. The composed section starts off as a train wreck. The band is out of sync and Trey just can't land the right notes and timing. If this version was played in 2.0, those who dislike that era could make it the poster child for why 2003-2004 Phish turns them off. At around the 8-minute mark, the jam thankfully leaves “Drowned” territory and ventures into the land of improvisation. Between 9:00 and 11:00 there is very little going on besides a weak attempt at moving toward “No Quarter.” If this was two years ago, the jam would have certainly ended here.
But then something interesting happens. Trey catches a little groove-on rhythm. Fish adds some depth to the drumbeat, and Page starts pushing the issues on organ. Finally, at around 13:20, it all comes together. The band is in sync, they are flying, complimenting each other like they’ve played this segment 100 times. Then, as icing on the cake, the band turns on a dime around the 16-minute mark, drops the tempo and ends up in a near full-band “Sitting in Limbo” jam—simply gorgeous. And the best part? Without a little patience and “aimless noodling,” they never would have made it there.
You’ve likely heard this “Tweezer” by now, but if you haven’t, be sure to check out both it and the rest of second set. The jam segment means business from its very beginning, with Trey hinting at and then pursuing a melodic theme above, beneath and within brilliant accompaniment from Page, Mike and Fish. This theme grooves along for several minutes awesomely, before Trey repeats a descending riff (no “Mind Left Body Jam” but a similar concept). Then, after a few measures, the jam begins to coast mellifluously along, largely in an enchanting way. Trey hits some chords reminiscent of part of the jam in the legendary 8/10/97 “Cities,” for example, and Page thunders out some chords that hint strongly at more than a few in “Fuego.” But the jam never really peaks, before puttering out, and dissolving away.
As lauded as this set’s “Tweezer” is, the “Golden Age” deserves even more praise, because it is more remarkable a version of “Golden Age” than the “Tweezer” is of “Tweezer.” Don’t miss it. Its jam is FEROCIOUS start-to-finish, and Fish’s drumming in particular is SPECTACULAR. It’s a “top version” of “Golden Age” to be sure. The “2001” in this set is also fierce. Don’t miss this set!
I sat down to listen to the incredibly HQ (thanks to @taper420) audio stream of the Reading show with a small amount of regret that I would not be there. Since this was the show before the Halloween run in AC and was in a small venue filled with many old friends in a relatively out-of-the-way portion of Pennsyltucky, it had great potential to be the "if you snooze you lose" show of the Fall Tour. I was fairly confident the night would be full of special things if not hints at what was to come during the AC run in general and the Halloween cover set in particular. I was pretty certain at this stage in the game that Phish would be covering Traffic's On the Road album so I was intently listening for some teases of "Glad/Freedom Rider" or "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."
Because Phish had no intention of playing a cover album this Halloween, I got something else entirely; but no less engaging. The jam in "Down With Disease" laid the foundation for what turned out to be a very sturdy yet adventurous second set, in what is likely to be the consensus pick for show of the tour. The framework of the jam is constructed with a high-spirited "Xanadu"-inflected rock groove that explores the interior dimensions of the song's composed structure for a solid three minutes or so. Once it reaches escape velocity it explores several thematic constructs that are vaguely reminiscent of both "Twenty Years Later" and "Waves" to my ears. An effects laden transition dissolves into a brief Woo-X-denied "Revival" of the Tahoe "Tweezer" before finding its way into an orgasmic "Easy to Slip" on "The Wheel" denouement toward "Taste" and the remainder of the second set is a celebration of Phish being Phish.
It was a dark and stormy night. (Not really, the weather was actually seasonably pleasant. But for the purposes of this piece it was a dark and stormy night.) The burden of Heavy Things had been lifted. Phish had thrown us all a curveball and debuted their own yet-unrecorded album Wingsuit in lieu of a traditional cover album that already, you know, existed. A trick on some, hopefully a treat for most, this classicly Phishy gambit was now in the books. And after a well-deserved break and recalibration of what had to be precisely 15 minutes, band and fans were ready to bring Halloween 2013 home.
Set III opened with a strong if not spectacular "Ghost." From the initial guitar chunk, the energy in the room was tangibly lighter, with everyone in the room back in familiar, nay, hallowed territory. And when "Carini" came next, it was game on for some slammin, Fall ‘13-vintage Phish. For Carini had undisputedly been a top jam vehicle for several years, so it was no surprise that the band chose He of the Lumpy Head as their primary broomstick on this night.
But the band did have one more holiday surprise in store for us. A costume of a different sort, if you will. For this "Carini," normally dark and heavy, was actually an up-tempo, uplifting "Slave to the Traffic Light" jam in full costume. I was surprised to see any disagreement online that a prominent "Slave"-like jam anchors this song, as it was clear as a Hunter’s moon on a cloudless night to those of us in the arena (or at least to everyone in my neighborhood). But upon listening to multiple sources, I readily admit the masquerade is a tad obscured in the recordings. Below are some rudimentary jam notes. Timings based on the LP recording.
You may or may not agree, but that’s my Halloween story and I’m sticking to it. It happened that haunted night, even if all that fancy scientific recording and playback gear doesn’t totally capture it. We waited in the most sincere pumpkin patch of Set II and were rewarded with the arrival of the Great Lumpy-Headed Pumpkin. In its essence, the meat of this pumpkin is essentially a two-chord jam. And it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a trick or a treat.
There are Phish jams that are like bouquets -- fistfuls of flowers, each bud a movement or section or idea, all of them clustered together to form a thing of many colors, but often a single, unified character. The Tahoe "Tweezer" jumps to mind as a recent example. My wife has characterized these types of jams as a tour through the rooms of a decorator showcase house, each new chamber designed by a different artist who contributes to the grand vision, and I like that too.
Then there are Phish jams that are like a single perfect flower. Jams that contain just one big idea, but coax out its fullest bloom. Maybe the best known example would be the Went "Gin," but I would include the AC "Twist" in that category. It isn't careening or schizoid or even meandering. There's barely any soloing to speak of. There's just a spare pair of chords hanging on a simple, sturdy frame of rhythm. That something so beautiful can be formed from so few ingredients is a testament to the power of the band right now.
Of course people will remind me that this showcase house really has two main chambers, the second being the "Under Pressure" vamp near the end. But that's a vestigial tail. I love this "Twist" and would gladly marry it.
As much as it's likely to live forever in the shadow of the Reading "Disease," the AC '13 "DwD" is a great, GREAT version; in fact I think I personally prefer it. Following the expected "Type I" rocking, the jam starts to break away from "DwD" at the 7:00 minute mark, becoming rocking, percussive, and moderately dark in tone. I really like the groove in this section, as I'll admit to being a fan of jams with a brooding, twisted or even ominous nature. At 10:46, there's a sudden shift in sentiment, and the jam begins to sound a bit similar to pieces of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. After developing this theme for a good minute plus, at 12:15 or so, the power starts to build. This section is very upbeat in its mood and tone, but it's not flat out, pump-you-up, major mode "Hose" jamming as seen in the Reading "DwD," AC 1 "Carini," and AC 2 "Twist." At 14:20, the jam settles, and we get some more of that A Love Supreme-like jamming as things begin to wind down. But the jam retains a good pulse; it never gets to that spacey song transition place, and the next thing you know, we've -> to "Piper."
So there are really two things that I personally like about this "Disease." First, it has a section of darkish jamming, or perhaps not-upbeat jamming, even if it's only mildly forbidding. Two, while the jam winds up in a feel-good place like many of the jams from this fall, it's not over-the-top for my personal taste. I guess I prefer brief, or more subtle use of the "Hose" than some or most fans do, and this "Disease" feels just about right to me for balance. Some of the other exceptional jams from this tour, from my personal preference perspective, are ones in which the "Hose" runneth over, so to speak. Check it out if you haven't.
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October 21, 1995
22 years ago
Encore: Highway to Hell
 No whistling.
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