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.
In sum? The tour has been pretty good so far. “Phish 3.0” continues. I respectfully disagree with those who think Phish’s music has changed in any meaningful way this year. (Please re-listen to the mid-to-late October 2010 shows, and the NYE run, especially the 1/1/11 MSG show, for perspective.) Trey may be using the Digitech whammy less often, and the sound and light shows may be better, but I don’t hear anything dramatically different, show to show, than what we’ve heard from Phish in the last year. There have not been many debuts, nor have the newer songs (from the album Joy, or otherwise) been played much if at all. But what this tour has arguably lacked in novelty, it has made up for with improvisations like the Bethel2 “GoldenGinTeca,” and the Pine Knob (Clarkston) “Down with Disease,” as well as entertaining setlist calls -- many of them thanks to fans bearing signs -- including “Daniel Saw the Stone,” “Instant Karma,” “Buried Alive,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” “Icculus,” and “Bike.” The “Bathtub Gins” and “Rebas” from this tour also have been consistently marvelous, and all are worth a listen.
If you can only download a few shows (ideally from LivePhish.com, so that some of the profits go to The Mockingbird Foundation), pick up Bethel2, Clarkston, Charlotte, Blossom, Portsmouth, Bethel1, and/or MPP2, for reasons explained more fully below. Only $9.95 for MP3’s, folks. That’s less than the cost of a good beer at many of the venues that Phish plays.
I feel I need to preface the remarks below with a “disclaimer” of sorts, particularly because a substantial number of users of Phish.net first saw Phish in 2009: I love Phish’s music. Please do not be discouraged by criticism, and please don’t attack your fellow fans for choosing to listen to Phish with critical ears. Everyone isn’t like you and doesn’t hear like you. Your opinion is what matters! I am at least as glad as you are that Phish is back playing for us at all, but that doesn’t mean that they play everything well, or that I have to like it. My perspective is necessarily going to be different than yours, whether you’ve seen ten shows or two hundred.
Honest opinions disparaging the quality of the music are not necessarily “jaded,” either. A truly jaded Phish fan doesn’t attend shows anymore, and certainly doesn’t labor as a volunteer on a Phish website or write about Phish’s music. He or she probably does not even bother to read about Phish! It is possible to love something deeply, but still, on occasion, be disappointed, bored, distraught, or angered, by it. If you would like some perspective on where I’m coming from before you bother to read or skim what follows (which may dramatically increase your blood pressure), I have reviewed Phish tours from recent years on JamBands.com. You can get a more articulate taste of my thoughts on the current state of Phish’s music over there, to see where we differ or jive. (See, e.g., a review of the October 2010 tour, here.)
The following is just my two cents, and I am consciously being brief. I don’t even mention most of the songs played at these shows, likely because they were straightforward, typically good versions of the songs in question. For more fulsome reviews of the shows on this tour so far, please see the reviews on this site, either in this blog or in the “reviews” section under each show’s setlist.
THESE OPINIONS ARE MINE, NOT THOSE OF PHISH.NET. Please, add your own Comments about the tour. Your thoughtful contributions to this site are enormously appreciated!
5/27/11 Bethel1: An excellent tour opener! Very well-played overall, even though the “Wolfman’s” and “Stash” are not very impressive, in my opinion. Highlights: a thrilling, adventurous, must-hear “Kill Devil Falls” (second in length only to the 6/12/09 Bonnaroo version), and a strangely “type II” “Boogie On” jam that segues into a strong “Waves.” The “Crosseyed & Painless” is also worth hearing, especially if you’re a fan of this tune.
5/28 Bethel2: If you can only download one show from this tour, download this one. It’s a well above-average Phish show. Trey solos very soulfully in the (tad slow) “Cities,” making it an unusual, sublime version. “Halley’s Comet” finally features a significant jam in it (after a long hiatus), and even if it isn’t earth-shattering, it’s nevertheless wonderful to get a “Halley’s jam” after what seems an eternity. “Runaway Jim” also has a profound jam, the “Quinn the Eskimo” is arguably the best Phish version ever (no joke, check it out), and the first set closes with the “GoldenGinTeca,” a version of “Bathtub Gin” with a jam segment involving a mash-up of “Golden Age” and “Manteca.” It’s a must-hear “Gin.” The second set is also quite good, with no breaks between songs and very good versions of “Down with Disease,” “BDTNL,” “Makisupa” (with lyrics referencing band members’ houses, which became a running joke on the tour), and “Harry Hood.” Download this show with extreme prejudice. You’ve probably heard other fans claim that this show is among the best all-around shows of 2009-2011. I agree.
5/29 Bethel3: This is a paradigmatic below-average Phish show, as I hear it. There is, however, some spacey “type II” improv in the “Simple,” which eventually becomes enchanting for several measures. So if you’re a fan of Phish’s “spacey jamming,” definitely check it out. This show’s version of “Light” is also quite creative, but Trey’s solo never seems to focus. This version is garbage compared with those from mid-to-late October 2010, especially the exceptional Manchester 10/26/10 version.
5/31 PNC1: Show opens up with an unusually strong “Chalk Dust Torture” (seriously), and the first set features rockin’ versions of “Rock and Roll” and “Sand” (which was dedicated to a fan named Max, who had recently died). Second set begins dramatically with a killer “After Midnight,” which is definitely worth a listen. The “Drowned” in the set, though, has a spacey jam that seems to me to flounder aimlessly in places. “Maze” is great, but then it usually is, and like “Julius,” “Maze” tends to always sound like the best version ever. The set-closing “YEM,” like all of the recent versions, is very laid-back, almost as if there’s a conscious effort afoot not to take the song to new heights. If it will take giving up my left nut to get a transcendent, spectacular “YEM” again, I will consider it.
6/1 PNC2: The “Gotta Jibboo” in the first set is blessed by a somewhat more dandier-than-usual, mellifluous Trey solo, and the “Split Open and Melt” will remind even the most jaded fan of how dark and fierce this song can -- and used to routinely -- get. But this show’s second set took things up a notch, at least in the beginning, with a must-hear segue from “Tweezer” into an astonishingly good cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Although the second set continues with a wonderful foursome of tunes (“Carini,” “Piper,” “Twist,” and “Ghost”), each is oddly cut short. “Ripcord’d.” The set nevertheless closes with a good “BDTNL,” a song which, if you haven’t grown to love (or at least warmly tolerate), you should probably quit Phish now.
6/3 Pine Knob (Clarkston): One of the better shows of the tour so far, Mike’s birthday show opens with a good “Wolfman’s Brother,” and has an unusual first set setlist with a mid-set “Mike’s Groove” and “Tela,” and a set-closing “Wedge.” It’s a well-played first set with an above-average “Weekapaug” and another strong “Chalk Dust Torture.” The second set, however, opens with a stunning 23+ minute version of “Down with Disease,” with distinguished teasing of “A Love Supreme.” It is one of the finest versions in Phish history, and it segues well into a good “Fluffhead,” that in turn segues into a mostly fine “David Bowie.” (If you want to hear an exceptional “Bowie,” with The Giant Country Horns, do not miss the 7/20/91 Arrowhead Ranch version, recently released on MP3, for free, by LivePhish in Live Bait Vol. 05.) Also, the “2001” in this Clarkston second set is short and tight, with Trey teasing “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad” at one point in short order. There is no denying the strength of this show as a whole. It is one of the best shows in the last year. Hear it for yourself.
6/4 Blossom: A fun, well-played first set, with “Fuck Your Face,” and Little Feat’s “Rocket in My Pocket” (debuted on 10/31/10, of course), but nothing to recommend. The second set, on the other hand, features an atypically strong “Possum” (with Trey employing the Digitech whale-whammy pitch-shifter in a spirited, entertaining fashion), and the “When Harry (Have Mercy) Met Sally.” The “Sneaking Sally” jam, with staccato-esque picking from Trey (think 8/6/10 “Cities”) and “Manteca” overtones, is superb, and is followed by a glorious “Harry Hood” that sandwiches a perfunctory (but still good) “Have Mercy.” Trey even teases “Lizards” and “Have Mercy” in the closing “Hood” jam. And then a show-closing “Character Zero” with a “Smoke on the Water” tease, and a “Slave” encore? To say that this show developed well over the course of the evening would be a gross understatement. It is no wonder that many fans who attended this show count it among their favorites.
6/5 Riverbend: This is not a bad show by any stretch, so please don’t get me wrong. It’s played well. “Gin,” “Reba” and “BDTNL” are pretty good in the first set, sure, and they’re worth a listen. And the “Tweezer,” “Crosseyed” and “You Enjoy Myself” are enjoyable in the second. But both the “Light” and “Boogie On” seemed to end much too soon. It’s tough to recommend much from this show. At the same time, this was NOT a bad show, ok? It is just below “average-great,” as I hear it. $0.02.
6/7 Great Woods: I am admittedly a sucker for a “Llama” opener. The first set highlights, as I hear them, are a loose, fun cover of “Instant Karma,” the Phish debut of Al Green's (great) song, “Rhymes” (which Mike has covered before with his band), and a good “Divided Sky.” The second set is fine, featuring some gorgeous, spacey-but-melodic improv in the “Rock and Roll,” and a good “Pebbles and Marbles.” The set also closed with an “Antelope” during which Trey teased several songs that had been performed in the show, specifically “Meatstick,” “Bug” and “Divided Sky.” The jam in “Rock and Roll” is worth checking out if you’re obsessive about keeping track of Phish’s “type II” exploits.
6/8 Darien: I really like the setlists of the shows on this tour, and particularly this one. That said, with the exception of this “2001,” which involves a very cool mash-up with “What’s the Use,” and I suppose the “Weekapaug” (another strong version for “3.0,” with “Golden Age” teases), I am not sure what else to recommend. If you’re a fan of “Golden Age,” check this second-set-opening version out. And if you drool a bit while looking over the setlist, definitely spend the $9.95 for the MP3s. This show certainly isn’t bad, and the second set flows very well. But I am not so sure I agree with the folks who’d place this show above the “average-great” bar. Phish plays great shows, like this one, routinely. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking that this show is slightly above “average great.” And to anyone thinking, “You just can’t bear to place a show with ‘Brian and Robert’ and ‘Fast Enough for You’ in the above-average category,” you’re only half-right. “FEFY” is among my favorite Phish songs, and I thought it was a great call to substitute it for “Hydrogen” in this “Mike’s Groove.” And while this “FEFY” is nowhere close to as gorgeous as 8/17/93 Kansas City or even 6/9/09 Asheville, I love the song. LOVE IT. I wish it and “Lifeboy” were played a lot more often. (“Lifeboy” hasn’t been played since 12/30/09 Miami!)
6/10 Camden: I already wrote a lot about this show on this site, within hours after the show had occurred. It is a mixed-bag musically. You can see my two cents on it here. Having sobered up since writing that piece, I still believe the first-set-closing “Curtain With” is among the finest versions of that song ever performed, given Trey’s enchanting solo. And I still prefer this “Possum” to the Blossom “Possum.” Trey creates some crazy-weird, repetitive, obnoxious, animal-like noises in this “Possum” jam that amuse me. I also really like several minutes of the second-set-opening “Down with Disease” jam, which I’d urge you to hear. I really wish this jam had been taken much further than it was, though, and not prematurely endjamulated. People can shit all over this Camden show all they want, given Trey’s losing battle with the Flubbisaurus in a number of tunes, but I’ll still take a show with a top version of an excellent song (such as “Curtain With”) any day over entire shows like Bethel3, Riverbend, and Great Woods. Your mileage likely does, and should, vary, but I continue to listen to every minute that Phish plays in order to hear top versions of their songs. And I’m still at this game, after more than 20 years, because Phish continues to find a way to move my soul.
6/11 MPP1: Like a number of other shows on this tour, this is a “mixed bag” musically. The beautiful “Reba” and fierce, truly breathtaking, “Piper” are wondrous versions, to be sure, and worth your effort to hear. But while the jam in the “Rock and Roll” begins with a bewildering intensity, it segues into seemingly indiscriminate “type II” improv of the sort that does nothing for me. Also, if you’re impressed by the mid-first-set “Sand” at this show, check out pretty much any Trey Anastasio Band version (at least from the early years of TAB). Or the Portsmouth version, for that matter. I really enjoy “Sand,” but this is not a recommendable version as I hear it. The real highlight of this show came during “Suzy Greenberg,” which is must-hear for all of the ridiculous, hysterical, “WHAT!?”s, primarily from Fish and Trey. A remarkable “Suzy” to be sure.
6/12 MPP2: I was at this show (along with Camden and MPP1) and have taken some lip from Phish.net Working Group members for raving about it, and arguably overrating it, especially its “Loving Cup,” which seemed to me to have “extra mustard.” Just my two cents, of course, but I think this is an above “average great” Phish show, though certainly no Bethel2, Pine Knob, or Charlotte. The first set opens well with seldom-played tunes (“Buried Alive,” “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and “Ha Ha Ha”), and features a funkified “Wolfman’s -> Boogie On” that is a blast to dance to, as well as a wonderful “Gin > Jesus Just Left Chicago” taboot. While the “Crosseyed” may make you shrug, I think it’s short but very, very fierce, and I’d recommend it. “Steam” is a cool new tune (whether you find its steam-like effects, and the overwhelming use of the fog machines, silly or not), and I’m hoping to hear it go places in the future. While I really dislike its “Light,” the show nevertheless closes well with powerful versions of “BDTNL” and “Loving Cup,” followed by a “Sanity,” “Makisupa,” and “First Tube” encore. Definitely worth the $9.95 for the MP3’s, and an “above average” Phish show as I hear it... even if there’s not a single top version of any Phish song, except, arguably, “Steam,” and, if you’re me, “Loving Cup” -- even though the Charlotte version is also a SMOKER! (And yes I realize that “Loving Cup” is another one of those Phish songs that sounds like the greatest-version-ever whenever you hear it *live*!)
6/14 Alpha1: Trey shreds like crazy in what has to be a top version of “Ocelot” (WOW!), and there are also impressive jams in the first set versions of “Bathtub Gin,” “Kill Devil Falls” and “Light Up.” (Trey does flub-up the composed section of “Light Up” quite a bit, though.) The second set, however, is disappointing. If there are highlights, I suppose they can be found in the jam segments of “Sand” and “Down with Disease,” neither of which I would recommend. The “Sand” jam doesn’t appear to ever gel, and while I thought the “DWD” was going somewhere interesting at one point, it dissolved, rather abruptly and inexplicably, into haphazard wanking. Also, while I like some of Trey’s soloing in the “Bug” in the second set, unfortunately, he either flubs a bunch in it or -- perhaps consciously -- plays in an off-pitch manner, so it doesn’t come across all that well overall to my ears. This is a very lopsided show (like a few others on this tour), with the first set being stronger overall than the second.
6/15 Alpha2: My mother used to tell me (perhaps like your mother), “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” You already know by now that I didn’t take her very seriously on this point, but this is definitely a show where some things are better left unsaid. It was extremely generous of Phish not to call this show off due to the atrocious weather in the first place, of course, and Phish is always better than no-Phish. In any event, check out the relatively short, but tight, “Timber Ho” from this washed-out show for a version that will grab you by the shoulders and shake your skull numb. (But then revisit the 7/14/00 Polaris, 12/7/97 Dayton, and the 11/28/97 and 12/28/95 Worcester Centrum versions, to name just a few, lest you think this “Timber Ho” breaks anything close to new ground.)
Also, when “Mound” shuts down at the end of the first set due to the imminent storm, Trey refers to a song called “Storm” and says that one day they’ll play it. (“We will play that song, but not tonight, because we don’t know it yet. And that’s the honest truth. One of these days. I don’t want to leave. They’re making me leave.”) I hope Trey was referring to the song “Storm” by Tom Marshall’s band, Amfibian, because it is probably my favorite Amfibian song. It is MAGNIFICENT. I strongly urge you to check it out if you haven’t heard it. Phish could do it justice if they took the time to learn it and play it right. I really hope they do. Oh, and the second set of this show closes oddly with “Birdwatcher -> Kung.” Don’t know where that came from, but playing “Kung” (after an excellent segue from “Birdwatcher” taboot) will always boost a show up a peg in my book. A whole peg. Another highlight of this show is when, while the crowd is going wild before the encore begins, Page says, “Thanks a lot. You’re too kind. We’d like to play a song that we know. Thanks.” Hysterical. Love this band!! They blow off steam in the strong “Funky Bitch > Tweezer Reprise” encore, too.
6/17 Charlotte: You’re probably tired of reading/skimming these capsule reviews by now. I’ll be brief. This show opens with a fine “Mike’s Groove,” and the first set contains (among other things) a well-played “Forbin’s > Mockingbird,” a drawn-out ending to a good “Wolfman’s,” and a top version of the first-set-closing “Stealing Time FTFP.” The second set is awesome, and involves intensely sweet jams in “Rock and Roll,” “Ghost” and Reba,” as well as fan-favorites “Icculus” and “Bike.” (I have been hoping to see a “Bike” since 1993 and still haven’t seen one.) Charlotte closes with “You Enjoy Myself,” followed by a top-notch “Wilson, Loving Cup” encore. This show screams “DOWNLOAD ME!” and you should listen to it. Literally.
6/18 Raleigh: Taking my mom’s advice... Raleigh opens with “Cars Trucks Buses” and “Peaches en Regalia.” Even though “Peaches” could have been played a lot better, this was the first show that opened with two instrumentals since (I think) 11/22/92 Cornell, with its “Buried > Oh Kee Pah.” The second set’s “Split Open and Melt” is characterized by an adventure in “type II” exploration, and is the longest version since 11/21/09 Cincinnati. Some fans are very enamored by this “SOAM.” You should hear it for that reason alone. Another highlight of the show is the bust-out of “Been Caught Stealin’,” even though I think it may have been compensation for Trey missing (foregoing?) some of the many notes of “Esther.”
6/19 Portsmouth: Phish sure knows how to end a tour on a high note, eh? This is start-to-finish an above-average show, well-worth the download. You might not be much of a “Harpua” fan, and this show-opening version lacks the sort of absurd tale that makes fans seek out and listen to every version, but you cannot deny how humorous it is to hear a very dramatic pause before Page’s dad says, “Your god damn cat died!” Check out the YouTube video, with all of the dads on stage for this version, contributing lyrics. Wonderful stuff. A family-friendly “Harpua.” And then “Brother!” This is also a well-played show overall, and while it doesn’t feature anything I would consider a so-called “top version,” the second set opens quite well with strong performances of “Crosseyed” and “Walls of the Cave,” followed by a serene-but-short “Slave,” reasonably tight “Fluffhead,” and, finally, a damn good “Sand.” There’s just brilliant flow throughout the show, song to song. The “Sneaking Sally” doesn’t do much before “Light” kicks in, to be sure, but the jam in “Light,” though short, is fascinating. In any event, well worth the coin to download this show -- it’s a great tour closer. Highly recommended.
The Summer Tour continues with SUPERBALL IX, which I hope brings IT for those of you going! Take care of your shoes!
TWO CENTS, now please add your own. Thank you for reading! -charlie
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Yeah think as far as 3.0 new territory... not sure how much more to ask of the band... Maybe I guess learn to Play Storm... but they seem willing to take more risks while they have really refined the ability to settle into jams quickly and create and finish thoughts efficiently.... I think the timbers the mounds the Kung and icculus harpua following peaches with Corbin mockingbird all rolled into the last five shows is impressive
As well as the smiles on the guys faces during birdwatcher... Whatever this is inthe 3.0 era I like it .... And hope for more but just my too pennies hahaha
Free- where have you gone. I would be lying if I said I was pleased in direction of the song.
David Bowie- Pulled right off the shelf/ needed to kill a couple more minutes before they walked of the stage. Probably explained the 20 second intro.
Makisupa- was extremely fun but certainly not musically challenging
Cavern- A Stock City version
BDTNL was probably the highlight of the second set, and it really is hard for me to make that claim.
Good show overall but definitely falls in the "average great" category for me.
Bethel1 was indeed an impressive opener but I agree that Bethel2 stands w/ anything in the band's legacy. If you're a Zep head like myself, you have to have PNC2 for the No Quarter. Went to Blossom and Darien. Blossom was above average and a lot of fun. Darien was also fun but flow is questionable though. Also picked up Cinci and Charlotte from LP. Might have to get both nights of MPP now.
And while I used to think it was petty and foolish to let setlists and song selection affect how I read a tour, I've come to admit that it's ok that this is part of the equation for me, and that I found myself shrugging about it this tour more than ever. Let me explain a bit further.
I have no problems with any given song being used as a jam vehicle or not. To me it's all about the pace and overall balance of a show, and I couldn't care less where the jams come from, and what other songs occupy the rest of the set-space, as long as it's all in balance. (Side note: yes, I was particularly happy to see Halley's given a little jam treatment again this tour. It was always one of those songs that seemed to follow me around and deliver the type II goods, so hearing it come to life that way again was like bumping into an old friend.) With the band playing so many songs in any given show these days, however, many classics and jam-vehicles get taken out for a spin more often than they used to (often in quick succession). Or at least it seems that way. On the flip side, with so many songs being played in any given show, there's room for dropping lots of one-offs and stuff, which is great. But at the same time these also feel like token novelties sometimes, as opposed to carefully selected and placed rarities.
Anyway an unfortunate result of all this is that shows and tours then start to kind of melt into each other (especially with slightly less jamming); one of the (many) reasons it's worth attending over and over again starts to erode.
Don't get me wrong, this is a subtle thing and I'm exploring it maybe ad nauseum here as an exercise, but I do think there's some truth to it. I believe there are a bunch of songs that would really benefit (and by extension benefit shows, and tours) from "showing up" maybe or two or three times a tour instead of six. Of course the performance is what matters most, but that sense of scarcity also contributes to the overall value and impact. For better or worse, it's part of the mythology for me.
My two cents!
Perhaps more controversially, I think this was a tour that peaked early. If I had to list my top 3 moments, they would be the Pine Knob DWD, Blossom When Harry Met Sally and Bethel2 Gin (and those are also my 3 favorite shows from this tour; Charlotte and Portsmouth, while incredibly fun shows just don't have as many musical highlights). My next level of favorites would include, in no particular order, Bethel1 KDF, GW Divided Sky, Portsmouth Sand, Charlotte Wolfmans and R&R > Ghost, PNC2 Tweezer -> No Quarter, Alph1 Gin > Light Up, Blossom Possum, Pine Knob CDT & Bowie and MPP1 R&R -> ABQ > Piper. Obviously the fact that we got Icculus and Harpua is huge, even if those aren't all-time versions of those songs.
Maybe I'm biased because I was at both Pine Knob and Blossom, but I think I'm more likely biased in what I look for in a show. Shows with the highest peaks and best jamming moments are nearly always my favorites over more "had-to-be-there" shows. You may think that's a silly or impossible distinction to make, which is fine. It just means we'll probably have different favorite shows.
Nothing to say about Dirksen's reviews, which are exactly like all of Dirksen's other reviews. Phish's music has changed so much over the years; Charlie's review vocabulary hasn't. Some folks find that sort of thing charming, I guess?
It's also the best-sung 'Have Mercy' in a while, whipping the October 2010 version. Very nice to hear 'em nail those vocals.
Page uses the Hammond organ *beautifully* to smooth out the segue back into 'Hood.' It's capable, empathetic, adult playing without the ostentation (skillwise) of old-fashioned Phish. Gorgeous work, and a lot more interesting - though harder to talk about? - than the fact that Trey quotes 'Lizards' during the 'Hood' jam.
A few cents more,
Funny, I actually do find Charlie's consistency charming. Maybe comforting is a better word. For what it's worth though, and I think he might agree, his business here isn't so much in music writing as it is in efficient recapping. For those of us that <i> can't</i> (or aren't interested in) listening to every minute of record Phish, it's nice to have someone whose tastes you can even remotely trust to provide a "i recommend this / move along, nothing to see here" guide post-tour.
We all know you're better writer, Wally. And I trust your tastes at least as much as his. (Dare I say that the tend to overlap more often than not?) But your level of dedication towards the common fan in this regard is at best suspect! I'd be all over your tour-recaps as well.
And 6/4 is the one suggested highlight tour I haven't yet heard. Will spin it today. In Charlie's honour, though, can I recommend the 11/12/94 Kent State Hood that I spun yesterday? Pretty nice that one, too.
You're too kind, and I'm embarrassed if my comment came off as puffing myself up. I've found Charlie's reviews handy in the past, but over the years I've become a lot more interested in digging deeper into the music than his brand of reviewing really allows for. I mention the segues just to make the point that comparisons without grounding in certain kinds of musical facts don't scale well as you age as a fan...
It's hard for me to square the "it's all good" vibe of phish fandom with things like giving a numeric rating to every version of "tweezer." Hence some of my acted-out frustration.
I've been saying things like "type II jamming" for a long time. But isn't that a pathetically thin way of describing complex improvisation?!
Ok, done bitching.
And as for me, if I didn't write like Dirksen, I would be someone else -- and likely more charming. You don't have to read what I write, and of course I am not a music writer. I am an antitrust lawyer and I rarely write about Phish/music. But I'd hope there's at least something to be said for the fact, especially in this age, that you can identify me by name, Mr. "Waxbanks." Why I may not write as eloquently as you and many others about Phish's music, I don't post behind an anonymous alias. You can track me down, call me up on the phone, and piss in my ears. See you in Tahoe?
To speak to the "it's all good" vs. numeric ratings predicament--that's why I like complex improvisation! It doesn't bother using words in the first place. (Still, better the latter than wading through 2000 words of swirling sculpting nonsense if you weren't there and just want to know what went down, and which shows to check out.)
Andrew sez -
"For those of us that can't (or aren't interested in) listening to every minute of record Phish, it's nice to have someone whose tastes you can even remotely trust to provide a "i recommend this / move along, nothing to see here" guide post-tour."
The recent prominence of 'Mr Miner' (Dave Calarco) in online Phish fandom drives home the complexity of this matter for me. He and I have had angry words online a few times, partly because until recently I didn't understand his appeal for his readers, which is exactly what you're saying: it's about sharing taste rather than textual worth.
In Miner's case, I get what you're saying: he generally responds well to a specific kind of good show; once you know what he likes, it's easy to tell from his reviews what you're getting in a show. That's true of Charlie's Phish-writing too. That's what's been most useful over the years: Charlie's tastes in Phish have historically been extraordinarily, even weirdly specific (I'm not saying 'narrow,' here, though maybe that word applies too), and by favoring a particular kind of 'hose' jam over the years, he's made it really clear how to find that kind of thing. Our tastes mostly line up around the 'hose,' or historically did so, so I've read his reviews with some interest since the mid-90's even if I find them lacking in some ways. (Miner, by comparison, is a late-90's Phish kid, and his ideal shows seem to be Big Cypress, 6/14/00, etc. In more recent years I've come to share more of his Phish tastes, with reservations.)
Now, Miner is a nightmarishly bad writer. That's his deal. Whatever. Charlie's reviews have a different character entirely: far more taxonomic in aim, 'this version of song XXX is a 7.4 but see versions A, B, and C first.' He's a geek (and a lawyer), obviously, and he writes like one. An abundance of evaluative language with very little description. He writes reference material.
What confuses me in Charlie's case is that most of my other geek-reads are produced by folks who are *expert in their fields.* When I disagree with Charlie about a given show, his reviews have absolutely *zero value* for me; they don't teach. I admit to egotism, i.e. I want to be a 'good writer,' but far more importantly, I value broadly-useful reviews, the stuff that both denotes and *evokes*.
And I think the best kind of debate we could be having, as fans, would differ from reviews like this, as magical incantations differ from recipes. I'm not sure listmaking really moves the ball as far downfield as we in the phish.net have historically convinced ourselves. That's just me, though. As @terms_of_the_dance wants: some other dude's opinion.
(I'd cite John Clute's metallically dense sci-fi book reviews as perfect examples of material that's both reference-worthy (he wrote an encyclopedia that reads much like his magazine work) and unbelievably rich literary stuff on its own. We need more of that!)
OK, done for real. Again, apologies if this is too far off-topic - and too, for talking about Charlie in the third-person when he's 'right here,' as it were!
Fair enough. Though I hope 'nonsense' isn't the only alternative to taxonomy.
I also really enjoyed Camden except for the the end of the second set but hardly had a bad time, just lost a little steam imo. I'm also a big fan of the MPP run and am hard pressed to think of a better 2 day run that the band has put together in 3.0, at least that I've seen.
My favorite Phish writers' reviews do exactly what you suggest -- they denote and evoke. I am a big fan of the Phish writing of Chris Bertolet, Jeremy Goodwin, and Dan Purcell, for example. But they do other things, of course, in their lives, as I do, and unfortunately they don't write about Phish as often as I'd like them to. Of course, we don't always see eye-to-eye on Phish's music, but it'd be weird and boring if we did.
I'll be doing the Hollywood Bowl recap though!
my overall feeling is that there is still no band that seems capable of going to "those places" for me that seem very much on the edge of where music can go - so, i'll stick with listening to as much phish as i can
but i do agree with andrewrose that things are definitely different in 3.0 with some things less desireable for me - song selection/rotation/balance etc could def be improved in many ways - for ex, to me a 7:2 possum to ghost ratio is hard to handle - and def less likely to get type II as well quantity wise - that has to both elevate opinions of the type II we do get as well as sort of make the shows less likely to be complete mind-trips that (at least for me) seemed to be virtually every night 97-99
bottom line for me is that i am overjoyed that phish is back and still capable of full on brilliance - i def disagre with you andrewrose on the charlotte R&R > jam - amazing to these ears, and the ghost is not bad (tho i seriously deeply miss 97-00 ghosts)
viva la phish and again, great review of leg 1 - it seems obvious and essential that we would all get something different from phish's music, and that if all of that music was exactly the same quality to everyone in those exact same ways - then something seriously wierd would be going on - music is way more organic than that and we are all too complicated to be that in lock-step on show impressions
critical ears are a very good thing - phish's music sort of demands it, no??
Can't wait to finish listening to the tour!
I'll keep it brief: I think the Pine Knob Bowie deserves a more enthusiastic description than "mostly fine".
Other than that, thanks for the writeup as usual @Icculus.
The "mostly fine" remark was a summation of my opinion that this Pine Knob Bowie begins with several amazing minutes, just harmonically beautiful and intense minutes, during which I thought the version was going to soar to new heights and become one of the greatest Bowies in Phish history (or at least 3.0). But then Trey started to lose focus -- as I hear it -- and even flub here and there, and employ what I believe is the Digitech pitch shifter in a way that makes me very sad. There's a minute or so in this Bowie's jam where, to me, it just sounds like poop. So by saying this Bowie was "mostly fine," I was copping out of having to explain how disappointing I found it, given how awesome the first several minutes of its jam segment are, and how poor -- or meh -- the rest of it is, in my opinion.
@Monticello23 DTE/Pine Knob is probably my favorite show of the tour, all things considered, so I think I agree with you there. But because the Bethel2 GoldenGinTeca by itself is so great, I highly recommended that show for download, too. I can understand why you'd rank Charlotte, Blossom and Portsmouth higher than Bethel2, though, because they are more consistent and fun shows, in my view as well, than Bethel2, start to finish. But each lacks the awe-inspiring peak that Bethel2's GoldenGinTeca provides. Two more cents.
2. It must take a wealth of insecurities for a cat to come on here and belittle your writing abilities while he keeps picking at the same nits ad nauseum. For the record, you both swing uber-contrarian, and we get the picture. Hope you're not thinking you're CONVINCING anyone of anything.
3. I respectfully disagree with the notion that Phish is not demonstrably better this year than in 2010. Last fall was largely straightforward, rock-out material a la Little Feat with a few improvisational highlights. Trey was much sloppier, less creative and less prone to laying down textural motifs or approachable melodic themes for Mike and Page to take part in. Page was timid and generally stuck to tried and true pathways, rarely taking the lead or pushing interesting counterpoints. Mike was awesome as always.
This year, they're listening to each other much more consistently. Page has awoken from a slumber. They are taking chances, pushing and pulling each other and moving as one mind much better and much more often (aside from the obvious mid-tour type-2 lull) than ever before in 3.0. I'd argue that the best jams of this tour rank with the best of any tour. Would not say the same about 2010.
Yes, Trey is still abandoning jams too soon. Yes, Fishman still often has blinders on and has to be dragged kicking and screaming from the prescribed jam structure. Maybe I just like the full-band boundary pushing more, but to say that there was as much OF it last fall is absurd (yes, I'll give you 1/1/11). There was more of it last summer than last fall, but not as sweet. Gone now is the utter reliance on the rock out> noodle> ambience formula, remember that? There's an increased willingness to stretch out on tunes that were painfully static and scripted the past two years (COME ON, AC/DC and Free and Antelope!!).
That's what I hear, and what I experienced at the four shows I hit this year so far is big-time increased tightness, swagger and communication, an obvious progression over two and a half years. At their best this year, as good as in any previous era. Not so in '09 or '10.
I don't think it's fair to suggest that the members of Phish weren't consistently listening to each other (or that any of them were asleep) in 2010. While there have been spectacular improvisations so far this tour to be sure (spectacular as compared with improv from any era of Phish), IMO there were also many excellent jams last year as well, such as the 8/6/10 Greek Cities (though brief, it's among my favorite jams in Phish history), the Utica Have Mercy -> Piper, the 8/7/10 Greek Light, the 8/14/10 Alpine DWD -> What's the Use, 8/15/10 Piper, 8/17/10 Jones Beach BDTNL (!), the 10/19/10 Augusta Light and Reba, 10/26/10 Manchester Light, 10/30/10 AC's Wolfman's and 2001, 10/31/10's Stash, 12/31/10's Ghost, and other things I'm probably forgetting.
In any event, don't get me wrong. I'm still very pleased with this tour, especially with the Pine Knob DWD and Bethel2's GoldenGinTeca. But I think the chances they've been taking so far this tour have been measured, as in the recent past. Of course, this tour ain't over, thankfully!
Believe me, most of the 2010 jams you mention there set my heart a-twitter at the time; DWD> WTU brought me to my knees on the slopes of Alpine. But going back now and comparing, I have to say that even that, my favorite jam of 2010, sounds like they're on the verge of falling apart, stumbling magically onto something transcendent, compared to the purposeful and patient musical conversations of May/June 2011, and that the consistency and precision and creativity, show to show and song to song, is much, much higher from Trey and Page at least.
I still love many, many moments from 2010, especially that AC Stash. I just don't get much of an urge to go back and listen now, except to compare with 2011 and renew my faith. I turn into a big ol' pessimist in the long offseasons these days, it seems, but Phish keeps getting better, at least in terms of doing what I really want them to do.
But as to your main point, I agree; just having fun and geeking out here. Plenty of lackluster stuff happened this month. A lot of people were gaga over last fall; I thought it was a step backward from summer, just because I prefer unique experimental jams to rocking out, even though overall the band was tighter in the fall and Trey was on fire.
Who knows? Maybe leg two will suck. Maybe I'm just on an optimistic kick trying to will the band to keep getting better. There will always be peak stretches and lulls; it's all about different stylistic shifts IMO, rather than a linear path. That was my original disagreement with Charlie: forget about the rebuilding year of '09, but summer '10 leg one was dominated by the whale and Mike was in complete control; leg two was much more experimental, with a lot of soft, melodic Trey/Mike interplay fading into ambient codas; fall was dominated by Trey, intense high-energy playing but much more straight rock-based jamming; NYE run started off as clumsy as anything all year but by 12/31 and especially 1/1 we saw group improv that foreshadowed what we're seeing now, the willingness to go out on a limb and go deep as a group, although Trey was still pretty sloppy, especially on 12/31, and Page was still not really asserting himself much. I hear significant stylistic differences tour to tour, even though it's all very Phish-sounding.
Generalizing: it gets the point across. But obviously, it's a broad spectrum. There were painfully sloppy and boring shows in 1994 and 1997 too.
Ah, taste. Agreed on all points there. I'm one of those people that loves the 03/04 highlights (though granted there weren't many in 04), so there you go. I'm into the deep experimental stuff, though more many on the ambient side with a nice melodic drive. Have a few 99 jams in that vein that really seem to strengthening their hold on the podium for me and my taste as the years wear on. And that's just me.
I also really like this: "Maybe I'm just on an optimistic kick trying to will the band to keep getting better." Haha, I know that feeling. It's a tough battle. But hope springs eternal with shows on the horizon, don't it?
I didn't follow 2.0 with anywhere near as much scrutiny; i was simply happy there were back. If they played alpine or deer creek i'd be there, but that was about the extent of it. Anyway, as the launching pad for the jams (and the jams themselves) changed starting in 97 or so, the relevancy of the standard "big 3" jam vehicles became somewhat anachronistic. Don't get me wrong, it was great to hear about the glorious 12-6-97 tweezer or 12-30-99 mikes, but the container for the jams had mutated by those years to include songs that would never be reviewed. Chalkdust could go 20 mins and halleys and 2001 were often the meat of the show. If they played mike's that show (after a 25 min halleys) it was often a de rigueur version because it hadn't been played in x number of shows.
I'm right there with ya charlie, in terms of obsessively ranking and categorizing. The irony of course is that the beast known as phish is antithetic to this whole idea. The mind-less mindfulness required of jamming denies conscious comparisons to previous works. Yet, without efforts to do so, the phish catalogue becomes analogous to the amount of data the senses input to the brain without any sort of selective filter. The massive amount of phish shows out there means this community needs unofficial archivist such as charlie to help steer the kids towards the hose.
I think now more than ever this is needed because there is a temporal disconnect between those hopping on in 3.0 and the arcs of phish throughout their career. Not to hate on miner, but this is exactly what i'm talking about. The guy makes a career of hyperbole, makes dick latvala look like an accountant with asperger's. Simply put, if you want to have ANY idea if a show is worth dloading you have to actually do it and then "liquidate." Instead of taping over the xls, the 3.0 method is trimming down to one or two songs on the ipod and handing over the burned show to the less discriminating fan.
I know i'm rambling here, but i swear i'll wrap it up (if anyone is even reading this...lol). I'm just giving charlie a right-on-man for doing this, i thought you dropped of the face of the phish-earth around 2001! The polarization of fans into the jaded vet and the eager noob is a dichotomy that has been around since at least 92-93 on (as many have pointed out), but is particularly acutely felt these days. Let's face it: the cause is a lack of jamming. It's the source of bitter contention and vitriolic pt rants-> name calling. We all love phish and we all love phish jams. When phish doesn't jam-immediate cognitive dissonance. <I love the band and will always stick with them> vs. <man i wish just once theyd launch from that launchpad again> rattles around in all but the most new of the new's brain.
Anyway, this might be futile, but this entire diatribe/manifesto has been aimed at getting kingmoron420 to review some of the jams that did not originate from the old big 3 jam songs. Ahem, island roses. Or god knows how many 2.0 jams that can come from anywhere. I love charlie's analytic style that cuts through the miner-style optimism unbound of the vast majority of responses out there to phish these days. Although you might not always agree with him, you always knew what you were getting- a dependable and focused review whose standard deviation was impressively small. If he really liked version x, for whatever reason, it meant that the score might have been inflated by like .5 and was never randomly uber-enthusiastic. But more than that, by now we know what shows to get or already have them all of 1.0. It was always a joy to read the review *as* you listened to the jam, it made me more focused in my attention and much more appreciative of what i was hearing. Especially when i disagreed with them. I guess this is a call to anyone who is somewhat discriminating to, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, review more songs from 97-2011.