IT did not last long enough! Phish played quite well at SBIX and on the second leg of their Summer tour, and it was tough to see the tour end in Colorado. But Vermont’s misfortune from Hurricane Irene inspired Phish to play a benefit show in Essex on September 14, a webcasted show that raised over $1.2 million for flood relief efforts, and also gave fans, particularly those in Vermont, a special performance. It was Phish’s first Vermont show since Coventry, and one of only a handful of benefit shows that Phish has ever performed. It was also an appropriate way to conclude the Summer’s impressive musical achievements: generously, warmly, and with a familial vibe near the green mountains where Phish began.
Phish has been playing quite well and consistently so in the last year. While some shows have been heads and shoulders above others, and there has obviously been less improvisation show-to-show in recent years than in some years in Phish’s long history, even shows in the “bottom tier” these days are not weak. Even the “weakest” Phish shows musically tend to be damn good rock concerts, with incredible lights and sound. And it is fortunate that, more and more, we have the opportunity to CouchTer [sic] by watching a live webcast of a show. Not all of us can be in attendance when, say, the Dick’s “Tweezer” is born, and so being able to bear witness to its birth, in high quality video and audio, is a supremely beautiful thing. And as great as it is to attend Phish shows, there is a lot to be said for the opportunity to kick back in one’s home, and privately groove, without having to pay $8-$12 for a beer, and without having to worry about whether the deathly-pale, dangerously off-balance, white-hat-wearin’ fratboy in front of you is going to vomit all over your friends. Or his.
Simply put, the state of Phish is AWESOME. We are blessed to be getting the music we are getting, and even more blessed to be getting it quickly and inexpensively show after show. Thanking Phish every day seems appropriate, whether in spirit or by supporting their charitable efforts, such as Waterwheel and LivePhish (which donates a portion of proceeds from download sales to The Mockingbird Foundation, whose volunteers run Phish.net). That said, if you do not want to, or cannot afford to, download and listen to everything, the following $0.02 on the shows from SBIX through Essex are offered for your consideration, in the hope that you will seek out more Phish to download and enjoy.
For anyone unfamiliar with my capsule reviews: (1) this is just my two cents. Your opinions are all that matter. (2) I have listened to almost everything that circulates. This does not mean I am right about anything. It just means I have a perspective that may differ from yours. I did not attend the vast majority of shows this Summer, however, so if you feel this impugns my cred, read no further. (3) These capsule reviews deliberately do not discuss most of the music performed at any given show. For more thoughtful and detailed reviews, please see the show “recaps” on this site's blog (or see links to them below). These capsule reviews tend to focus on the musical highlights and/or lowlights of shows. If nothing is said about a particular version of a song, it is likely because it was a straightforward (average) version of the song. If you disagree, great. Let everyone know why in the “Comments” section. And, lastly, (4) THESE OPINIONS ARE MINE, NOT THOSE OF PHISH.NET. This site is maintained by dozens of volunteers, and we do not always hear ear-to-ear on things Phish... or see eye-to-eye on things Phish, either, for that matter. So, please, don't flame Phish.net when you can flame me. Thank you for your support of this site!
SBIX1 (7/1/11): Call me a “fluffer” if you must, but I find this first SBIX show a peg above-average for sure. Chris Glushko did an excellent job of discussing SBIX’s music on this blog in detail a few months ago, and I mostly agree with him. This first SBIX set features a good “Torn and Frayed,” a great “Gin,” a “Life on Mars?” bustout, a very cool “Wolfman’s” jam, and the best-ever version of “Quinn” in the first set. It is unquestionably among the finest first sets this year.
The second set opens with a bizarre, quirky “Jam,” with intermittent silly laughing and cackling from band members. It is reminiscent of the hysterical “Phish Shreds IT (What Phish Sounds Like To People Who Hate Phish)” YouTube video. Not worth a damn musically-speaking, this second-set opening “Jam” is likely not intended to be taken seriously, which is made all the more amusing because it constitutes the first “Jam” set opener since 10/10/99 Albany (a show with a must-hear “YEM”). This “Jam” is promptly followed by a good “Crosseyed and Painless” with a jam that eventually dissolves into mystical space, out of which springs an above-average “Chalk Dust Torture.” While not flawless, this set also involves a punchy “Sand > Wedge” (golf pun) and a fine “Mike’s Groove” sandwiching a very spacey “Simple” (with Trey teasing “Third Stone from the Sun” repeatedly), a Top Ten Version of “Bug,” and a “Horsilent.” True, the “Joy > Zero” set closers and “Show of Life (E)” may have bothered some at the time, but come on. They are well-played, and if you were at Super Ball IX, your weekend had only just begun, and with a very strong show at that. I bet you got over it. Of course, if you were there, you may have been preoccupied when Phish Archivist, Kevin Shapiro, played the “Waves” from Bethel’s 5/26/11 technical soundcheck on his July 1 archives show on the Bunny. This “Waves” is must-hear, because parts of it, namely, the parts that do not sound like aimless soundcheck jamming, but rather like gloriously melodic music, are among Phish’s finest improvisations.
SBIX2 (7/2/11): A larger quantity of Phish does not necessarily mean more quality Phish. Said a different way, three sets are usually, though not always, better than two. This three-set show is a mixed bag, but there’s still some skillful music in it, of course. SBIX2’s first set features a very good “Ocelot,” and the Phish debuts of both Mike’s “Suskind Hotel” and a set-closing “Monkey Man.” But damn. While the funky, but unfortunately short, “Boogie On” is good, and “KDF,” “BOTT,” and “Suzy” are strong, the unusually slow and brief “Cities” is odd, and Trey’s soloing in the “Timber Ho” makes me want to shoot something. Not to mention a somewhat sloppy take on the Rolling Stones’ spectacular “Monkey Man” to close, and you have a “mixed bag” set.
The “Runaway Jim” second set opener features Trey announcing the winners of the “Runaway Jim 5K,” and it is a good version, as is the “McGrupp's” that follows (though I confess to loving pretty much all versions of it). But this set is also a mixed bag. The jams in “Birds” and “Stash” meander too much, as much as I love these songs. (It is very amusing that Trey played the “Simpsons” signal after “Birds,” though. It was the first signal since 7/3/2000. Frankly, I wish he played more signals, even if he doesn’t find them funny anymore.) The “Heavy Things” in this set is arguably a “top version” of this song, though, no joke. It’s must hear for any “Heavy Things” aficionado. The Pink Floyd-like jam in the brief improvisational section of “It’s Ice” is cool, too, as is the “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” the penultimate song of the set, which began with its original intro section for the first time since IT. The “Antelope” set closer is very good, but you’ve probably heard this version before.
The third set, though, opens powerfully with a fierce “Golden Age,” marked by an explosive jam that is dominated by a chaotic smattering of staccato notes (aka a “plinko” jam). Short, but good, versions of “Piper,” “Tweezer” and “Twist” appear in the set, too. The “Tweezer,” for example, contains a repetitive “plinko”-styled riff from Trey for several measures in it that might grab your ear. The rest of the set and show, as great as the songs are, seem to have been played on auto-pilot. Nothing wrong with this, but nothing to recommend, either.
And then, a few hours post-show, Phish played a bonus set, the “STORAGE JAM.” All should hear it, even jaded vets. It’s brilliant. Every time you listen to it (if you bother to listen to it more than once), you’ll hear something new. Page plays theremin at times, which is fantastic, but every member of Phish employs effects and styles they rarely, if ever, perform. This “jam” goes through several creepy stages, too, as if melting through layers. You may not hear anything you would call “transcendent,” but it is exceptionally weird for Phish. And you’ve never heard a “Sleeping Monkey” encore like this. “WHAT!?”
SBIX3 (7/3/11): If you're a fan of Phish's "spacey jamming," you're going to want to check out a good chunk of SBIX3. The first set is almost entirely "old school" and is remarkably good, including "Forbin's" narration about storage spaces, Mike moving mountains in "Destiny," arguably a "Mind Left Body" tease from Trey in an extended "Wilson," and good versions of "Mound" and "ASIHTOS," which goes intergalactic in its jam. "Time Loves A Hero" is a treat, as is the "Reba," despite its sloppy "whistling" ending.
The second set begins jovially with Fish on vocals for an apropos "Big Balls" bustout. The "DWD -> No Quarter" that follows is most notable for the amazing segue between them. (Once again, thank you, Page!) Phish has covered "No Quarter" quite well this year and if you're a Zeppelin fan and haven't heard any of them, consider them all "must hear." This set also features unusual, pseudo-minimalist, intricate improv in "Light," and a "Waves" that cosmically dissolves into an infinitely dense, extra-ter-textural goo, out of which bursts "What's the Use?." In light of our nation's independence, SBIX concluded powerfully with "The Star Spangled Banner," "Thank you's!" from Trey to all of the incredible people who made SBIX the success that it was, and the fireworks of "First Tube." This show is worth your time to hear.
Gorge1 (8/5/11): Tour openers rarely get better than this. Everything is well-played, with the first set's highlight being a gorgeous "Roggae," the longest version in Phish history, and one that is at least arguably competitive with other “top” versions, like the equally must-hear 7/1/99 Antioch (with Jerry Douglas on dobro, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, and Tim O'Brien on fiddle), and the 12/27/10 and 2/26/03 Worcester versions, to name a few. The second set concludes with common, typically good set-closers, but what soundly pushes 8/5/11 into “above average” territory is the second-set-opening "Rock and Roll," which erupts with a relentlessly bloodthirsty jam, one that is among Phish’s darkest masterpieces. This jam has so much going on in it that it gets better with every listen. It is quite different from the usual heard from Phish in this Velvet Underground cover. This amazing “R&R” is also followed by outstanding versions of "Meatstick," "Boogie On," and even "Farmhouse." And, frankly, the segue from "R&R -> Meatstick" is among the finest segues in Phish history as well. If you can only afford to download a few shows from the Summer, this should be among them. This “R&R” jam may make your “Desert Island Mix.” (Recap)
Gorge2 (8/6/11): If you thought this Saturday show was better overall than Gorge1, I understand where you are coming from (setlist junkie), but given the power of Gorge1’s “Rock and Roll,” I must disagree. Yes, this first set is unquestionably a peg better than Gorge1's first set (“A whole peg!”), with a passionate "Ocelot" and notable versions of "On Your Way Down," "Wolfman's" (with "Heartbreaker" teasing and some fierce Mike), and sortof "Maze" (Page!). And, yes, the setlist is sweet. But Gorge2’s second set, quite unlike Gorge1's, is a paradigmatic "average-great, well-played" set of Phish, as I hear it, with nothing musically exceptional (for Phish, of course). "Tweezer" sandwiches "Caspian" and "Sand," looking mighty good on paper, but "Tweezer's" jam goes spacey awful quick, before a perfunctory "Caspian" begins. "Sand" is quite good, a bit above average, and Trey starts the segue back into "Tweezer" shortly after the jam's climax, which is neat. (This post-"Sand" minute or so of "Tweezer" is simply "Tweezer's" theme slowly dying out into effects.) The rest of the show is played well and is entertaining to be sure, especially "Waste" and "Reba's" jam, and the encore ("Suzy > Sanity > TweePrise") is delightful. But download this one for its setlist, not to hear any "top" or "best ever" versions. (Recap)
Hollywood Bowl (8/8/11): There was speculation pre-show that this one had potential to be stellar, given that the band had the previous day (August 7) off, and that this was a tough, very out-of-the-way show for those on tour to attend. But some shows must be below “average-great” in order for "average-great" to have the ambiguously paradoxical meaning that it has, and this is such a show. Musically, this show is FINE. It's just that so much of it sounds routine. The jams in "KDF," "BOTT" and "SOAM" arguably are highlights in the first set, but I hesitate to label these versions even "average," since at best they stay on a straight, narrow and customary path, given what these songs have done and are capable of doing. The jam in "C&P" in the second set kinda fizzles out after not going too far out there at all, even though the "Carini" second set opener is unusual, in that, far from being its intense and creepy self, its jam gets atypically charming for several minutes. "Twist," "Piper" and the "Joy Groove" are played well, to be sure, but this is par for Phish's course. The frivolity of Fish on vocals for "50 Ways" (which is sandwiched by "Weekapaug") is “must-hear” for those of you who, like me, must hear everything Fish sings. But if "50 Ways" is one of your favorite songs, this imprecise, though well-intentioned, version is perhaps best left unheard. In any event, this show is certainly fun (as all Phish shows are), despite having nothing I'd highly recommend. Please see Chris Bertolet's recap for more info.
Tahoe1 (8/9/11): Very meh-llow first set, the highlights of which were perhaps the rare-ish treats of "Meat" and "Mellow Mood." Second set is, thankfully, far more exciting than the first, with mind-throttling "type II" action in "Light" and even "CDT," which segues into “Slave” of all things. "Light's" jam is quite exploratory and gripping, with “Timber Ho” and “Tweezer Reprise” teasing. It is among the most intense improvisations of the year. This may be your cup of tea, or it may not, but this is inarguably a notable version of "Light" that is recommended. The rest of the show features above-average versions of "Walls” and “Bug,” some great bass from Mike in "Free" and, importantly, the debut of Elton John’s "Rocket Man," which a zealous group of fans had been lobbying Phish to play for years. Though a noble effort, Page's vocals aren't quite right in it, and Trey's slide-work, nice as it is, still doesn't make this a recommended listen, at least as I hear it. In any event, there's also good versions of “Slave” and "Hood" in this very slightly above average-great show. Fwiw, you can listen to Phish.net’s Brian Feller and me speak with Steve Olker about the Tahoe and Outside Lands shows on Episode 31 of Steve’s “Type II Cast.” (Recap)
Tahoe2 (8/10/11): Paradigmatic "average-great" Phish show, at best. This gig is well-played, and includes a "Dogs Stole Things" opener (first version since 7/12/03, 167 shows ago), as well as a good "Stash" and pleasant "Instant Karma!" cover in the first. And while I love the second set's setlist and, musically, it's fine, I wouldn't recommend anything, except the final minute of the jam out of "Jim," that, after a key modulation, goes into a wondrously groovy, "type II" jam with beautiful contributions from Page and Mike in particular. It is horrifically aborted way too soon, however, in favor of "Ghost,” which proved to be very good, with some lovely spacey jamming, but nowhere close to good enough to make up for the aforesaid abortion. In any event, this set is typically great fare from the Phish, but nothing "top" or otherwise remarkable occurs to my ears. (Recap)
Outside Lands (8/12/11): I have nothing to add to my “recaps.” I also stand by my recommendation of this show’s "BDTNL" (above-average Trey solo), as amusing as that is to some of you. And, yes, I am still impressed that the first set contains both "Tweezer" and "Mike's Groove," which is the first time that this had occurred since April 3, 1991. You may be wholly unmoved by what you’ve heard and read about Phish’s performance at Outside Lands, and I don’t fault you for it one bit. But Phish is all about putting on a great rock concert, and this is another one.
UIC1 (8/15/11): Phish was due to play an unquestionably above-average, memorable show, and at the UIC Pavilion on 8/15, they did just that. "JJLC," "Wolfman's," the Phish debut of Mike's "Babylon Baby," a splendid "Reba," and the first-set-closing "Alumni" are features of a start-to-finish powerful first set. And the second set exceeded the first set's might with an intentional effort by the band to play tunes relating to the elements Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. While "Undermind" was an exception to this elementary theme, note the earthy "Timber Ho" references in the strikingly good "Waves" jam, as it segued smoothly into "Undermind." The second set opening "Sand > Light" combo are quite good, too, with the “Light” moving all over the map improvisationally, emanating fire with a similar spirit (at times) to the equally animated Tahoe version. This show is also one of only a few in Phish history to have five songs in the encore position(s), and it is the first show to do so since Amy’s Farm, which had two encores. (6/18/09 does not count, as "HYHU" is more a joke than a song.) See also 10/30/90, which had six songs in its encore. Bottom line, this UIC show is must-hear. Please support LivePhish and download it. (Recap)
UIC2 (8/16/11): This one has received praise for its 20+ minute set-two-opening “Down with Disease,” the jam of which is mesmerizing and stunningly good for quite awhile. Around the 15 minute point, it sounds very much like Trey would lead the jam into “Piper,” but instead, after a few minutes, the jam soars into space, and concludes there. Frankly, as enjoyable as this “DWD” is, Pine Knob from earlier this year is much more potent in my view. In any event, the “Limb by Limb” in the first set goes “type II” for a bit, making it atypical and worth a listen, and the “CDT” and “Walls” are also well done in the first. But the first set closing cover of “Let It Loose” (the only version since 10/31/09) is a bit too loose. And other than the interstellar “DWD” in the second set, and the “LxL” in the first, this show has nothing else to recommend, as I hear it. The “You Enjoy Myself” is the longest in awhile, and Trey utters Darth Vader’s famous line, “I am your father, Luke” at the end of the vocal jam, but it is otherwise a typically great “YEM.” This is an above average show to be sure, but only by a peg. (Recap)
UIC3 (8/17/11): Crazy setlist (take a look), a really WTF type of show, similar, in a sense, to the second sets of Hartford 8/14/09 and MPP 6/27/10. The third and final UIC show of August features the first “Forbin’s” opener since 11/3/89, which was quite a treat, of course, and also unusual, like the rest of the show, which is pockmarked by a host of oddities, like the shortest non-studio “Ghost” ever (3:48); a “C&P” that starts well enough, but goes into space far too soon; a good version of “Tweezer” that’s among the shortest versions in history and is even shorter than the Picture of Nectar version; numerous teases of “C&P” throughout the second set’s songs; a goofy “Makisupa” (with Trey Anhashtasio referring to "Dank Sinatra," "Herby Hancock," "Nat King Bowl", "Harry Chronic, Jr.," and "Van Inhalin'"); “Buffalo Bill;” etc. This is a very enjoyable show, so definitely download it if you are interested in hearing an uncommonly non-serious show. But as for musical recommendations, check out the “No Quarter,” which Phish once again covers brilliantly. (Recap)
Dick’s (9/2/11): If you do not think this one is above-average, you may be a jaded SOB. This “S show,” where all of the songtitles begin with the letter “S,” is no mere gimmick. It is marvelously played (until the “Sabotage” encore). These versions of “Sally” (which gets unusually spacey), “SOAM,” “Sand,” “Simple,” “Steam,” and “Scents” are all at least arguably above-average. (And "Silent" performed without "Horse"!? WHAT!? This had not occurred since 12/13/99.) If you haven’t downloaded this one, perhaps because it has been said, rightly, that nothing is “must hear,” this show is still greater than the sum of its parts. It is unquestionably more entertaining than your typically great Phish show, even if this is, musically, a typically great Phish show. (Recap)
Dick’s (9/3/11): This would be a paradigmatic “average-great” Phish show, but for the facts (as I hear them) that the first set contains a strong “Llama” and a top version of “FEFY,” and the second set features a relatively short, but awe-inspiring, version of “Tweezer,” and an above-average “Kill Devil Falls” (with a second jam segment that eventually dissolves into space) taboot. The gentle “Down with Disease” teasing in the “Light” jam, as it segues into an equally soft reprise of “DWD''s theme, is bedazzling, too. If you like astonishingly good versions of "Tweezer," download and listen to this whole show simply to hear one in its element. Seriously, folks, this "Tweezer" jam is to me what IT is all about. (See official video here.) You've got Page teasing "Green-eyed Lady" in the intro, and then the jam begins with a commanding vibe that the band means business. "Tweezer's" jam proceeds to rage in an exquisitely melodious way, and eventually eases into a gorgeous transition that briefly hints at the Dead's "Lovelight" and the Allman Brothers' "Jessica" before launching into "Golden Age." Look, I know this version is not all that long compared with many other sublime versions of "Tweezer," but it's still competitive with the best. I've even bolded it in the "Tweezer" jam chart and used expletives to describe it. EXPLETIVES! (Recap)
Dick’s (9/4/11): I don’t have anything to add to my recap. Cutting to the chase, (1) the first set opens with the first “Maze” since 12/9/95, an auspicious start; (2) “BOTT,” and especially “Gin,” are above-average in the first, with “Gin” arguably must-hear (though no “GoldenGinTeca”); (3) the debut of Gillian Welch’s folksy “The Way It Goes” (sung by Mike) is quite good, and I hope they keep playing it; (4) the second set is a ton of fun, with the return of (an albeit sloppy) “Come Together,” one of the best versions of “Piper” in the last decade (with a very controversial, purported tease of “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers in it), a lovely “Roggae,” and superb “Ghost Forget > Walls” setclosers. I also proudly stand by my claim in the recap that the Dick’s run of shows is “legendary.” Three shows, each of which is above-average, and each of which has very remarkable attributes. If they bore you, I respectfully submit that you quit Phish. And if you think either the UIC or Bethel run is better overall than Dick's, you are not being unreasonable, but I'll take the Dick's "Tweezer" over the Bethel "GoldenGinTeca," the UIC "Waves -> Undermind" and the UIC "DWD" any day, as the short-yet-towering majesty of the Dick's "Tweezer" is alone sufficient to give Dick's the bump for me.
Essex (9/14/11): Phish raised over $1.2 million from this event to benefit flood relief efforts in Vermont, in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. That's over one point two million dollars. This is Essex's chief highlight. But this gig was Phish’s first Vermont show since Coventry, and while little is “must hear,” it is nevertheless a typically well-played gig. “Alaska” (with Mike and Fish tearing it up in particular), “Gin” and “Wolfman’s” are strong in the first set, as is the first-set-closing “Julius,” which begins in a mellow, swing-jazzy way, before launching into traditional, Trey-shredding territory. “Carini” opens the second set and goes “type II” a few minutes into its jam, after a key modulation. While I am not that fond of this jam, as it seems to meander quite a bit, and several notes that Trey plays are (deliberately, I think, but still) horribly sharp, or (at other times) horribly flat, this is still among the most improvisational “Carini” jams in Phish history (see 2/17/97 and 12/28/98, which are the only versions that are longer). Before "Carini" began, it was also dedicated to its namesake, Pete Carini. It is the improvisational highlight of this show, which is well-played, but otherwise contains no noteworthy versions, as I hear them, except perhaps the “BDTNL,” and a very rowdy “Character Zero,” in which Trey goes insane (with effects) in a good way. (Recap)
Thanks so much for skimming and/or reading any part of this post. This is just my two cents, please, add your own in the “Comments” below, and/or in the “Reviews” section of this site under each show. As for this “Recommended Listening” list, I think this material is worth a listen (assuming you enjoy the songs in question!), even though most are not “top versions,” and a few may not be all that well-played at times, either (e.g., “Monkey Man” and “Rocket Man”).
SBIX1 (7/1/11): “Gin,” “Wolfman’s, “Quinn,” “Simple,” “Bug”
SBIX2 (7/2/11): “Monkey Man,” “Heavy Things,” “It’s Ice,” “Scents,” “Golden Age,” “Storage Jam”
SBIX3 (7/3/11): Download me.
Gorge1 (8/5/11): "Roggae," "R&R->Meatstick->Boogie On > Farmhouse"
Gorge2 (8/6/11): "Ocelot," "On Your Way Down," "Wolfman's, "Sand," “Reba”
Hollywood Bowl (8/8/11): "Carini"
Tahoe1 (8/9/11): "Light," "CDT,” “Rocket Man,” “Walls,” “Bug”
Tahoe2 (8/10/11): "Stash,” "Jim," "Ghost”
Outside Lands (8/12/11): "Tweezer," "BDTNL"
UIC1 (8/15/11): You want to hear this, and not just for its “Waves->Undermind"
UIC2 (8/16/11): “CDT,” “Walls,” “Limb by Limb,” “Down with Disease”
UIC3 (8/17/11): “No Quarter,” “Makisupa”
Dick’s (9/2/11): Download me, too, if only to hear “Sally,” “SOAM,” “Sand,” “Simple,” “Steam,” and “Scents”
Dick’s (9/3/11): “Llama,” “FEFY,” “Tweezer,” “Kill Devil Falls”
Dick’s (9/4/11): “BOTT,” “Gin,” “Roggae,” "Piper," “Ghost Forget > Walls”
Essex (9/14/11): “Gin,” “Wolfman’s,” “Julius,” “Carini,” and “Character Zero”
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