Thursday 09/05/2013 by bertoletdown

PHISHING POLL THURSDAY, V4: FIRST SETS OF SUMMER


First sets matter.

Above all else, the first half of a Phish show is about the band stretching, getting their sea legs, reading the venue, and establishing a connection with the audience; ideally, a feedback loop of energy that can turn a second set into something truly special. And sometimes, a first set is worth well more than the price of admission.

Summer of 2013 boasted some genuinely excellent first sets full of unpredictable song choices and spirited playing. This week, instead of suggesting a handful of candidates, we're giving you the whole shooting match -- all 25 first sets from Bangor to Commerce -- so you can tell us your favorites without having to cut through the staff's bias to get there.

As usual, do the thumb thing, but remember that the good stuff happens in the comments. This is a meaty topic, and we look forward to the dialogue!

Phishing Poll Thursday, vol. 4: Best 1st Set Summer Tour '13

Shows for your perusal, courtesy of PhishTracks:

7/3/2013 - Darling's Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor, ME
7/5/2013 - Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
7/6/2013 - Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
7/7/2013 - Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
7/10/2013 - PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
7/12/2013 - Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, NY
7/13/2013 - Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
7/14/2013 - Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
7/16/2013 - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta, GA
7/17/2013 - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta, GA
7/19/2013 - Northerly Island, Chicago, IL
7/20/2013 - Northerly Island, Chicago, IL
7/21/2013 - Northerly Island, Chicago, IL
7/22/2013 - Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, ON
7/26/2013 - The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA
7/27/2013 - The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA
7/30/2013 - Lake Tahoe Harveys Outdoor Arena, Stateline, NV
7/31/2013 - Lake Tahoe Harveys Outdoor Arena, Stateline, NV
8/2/2013 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
8/3/2013 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
8/4/2013 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
8/5/2013 - Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
8/30/2013 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
8/31/2013 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
9/1/2013 - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO

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Comments

, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod To my mind, MPP2, SF1 and Dick's2 stand out above the others. There are a few other solid sets, but a lot of completely forgettable ones. 'Twas not a good summer for the first set at all, though it did get better. Both Gorges, Tahoe1 and Dick's1 were also pretty enjoyable.
, comment by n00b100
n00b100 Here's the thing about the first set - 97-04 spoiled the hell out of us. Those are, in my estimation, the only years in which Phish really went *deep* in their first sets, to the point where some of them (11/17/97, 6/28/00, 8/9/04) are indistinguishable from what we all consider to be second set constructions. That's obviously not to say that first sets from other eras aren't worthwhile - first sets from the early-90s are either fun, energetic, or both (be honest - how many first sets from 1995 are *you* listening to over second sets?) and first sets from 3.0 are also fun and energetic, if not quite deep - but the idea that first sets are anything other than the band getting ready for Set 2 is only based on those 6 years. Once the genie's in the bottle, etc.

I think that perception negatively colors 3.0 first sets, basically because how do you go back to the farm after you jam for 40 minutes in the first frame? To me, you can always find something to appreciate in 3.0 first sets, especially this year - either a song you don't hear much of these days, or (if you're lucky) a jam like the MPP Stash or Dick's Gin. There's a good deal of worth about that, even if you don't end up saving those sets.

To the question at hand - I think all 3 Dick's first sets are worth hearing, but I'd say the 8/31 Gin makes that the first set of the run. MPP2 is the clear winner if you base it on improv; Gorge1 is the best constructed and ends with a quite nice Melt.
, comment by ninebyframe
ninebyframe MPP2 speaks for itself, but I think Dick1 was the best of the summer, and the best I've seen. That set reminds me of 10/31/94 I in that I think it's an instant classic, and it's superior to its set II (in the case of 10/31/94, set III) sibling in spite of how much of a run for its money it was given.

Not surprised to see JB at the bottom of the list, this phan wouldn't trade all the riches in the world for those soaked 1.5 hours. ASITOS will always be my favorite version, 6/20/04 notwithstanding, because in this case Gang, you really did have to be there, with the waves lapping at your feet (I was Mike side orchestra) and you had to want it as badly as I did.

There's a lot more to these recordings than the notes played, IMO.
, comment by lexmcglock
lexmcglock 7/19 Chicago was the best first set I saw out of my shows this summer. (Chi + Gorge). Will be hard for it to climb the ladder here with ye old storm.
, comment by n00b100
n00b100 Obviously meant "once the genie's out of the bottle", not in. I definitely flunked that cliche test.
, comment by paulj
paulj @n00b100 said:
Obviously meant "once the genie's out of the bottle", not in. I definitely flunked that cliche test.
That's okay...n00bs are not expected to use cliches properly. By the completion of the Fall tour, though, you'll be held to a higher cliche standard.
, comment by PersnicketyJim
PersnicketyJim @bertoletdown: is Ranker tracking the number of vote reversals or switches users are doing? That is are they watching us root for certain selections? What about votes per user?
, comment by Just_Ivy
Just_Ivy I had to go with MPP2, as well. The only thing better than getting Stash'd (and It's Ice'd and SOAMule'd...) in that 1st set was being blinded by the Light in the second :)
, comment by smoothatonalsnd
smoothatonalsnd Dick's 1: Ghost opener, Icculus, and Esther. Did I mention....Ghost opener?!?

Even though it was played like an opener rather than its usual feel (rock and roll version, around 10 min., no seriously deep exploration), the energy in the crowd and the feeling of a Ghost opener are something really special and rare. Regardless of whether or not the show delivered on the promise, after that Ghost opener, I didn't care.

I remember saying during setbreak on night 1 "They've already played Icculus, and they opened with Ghost! This weekend is already worth it." If a first set can make you say that, well then...
, comment by HotPale
HotPale S.F. 2 - Grind, Weigh > Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Lengthwise -> Maze, Sample in a Jar > NICU, Mound, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Driver, Timber (Jerry) > Axilla, Bug > Possum, First Tube

San Fran 2 takes the cake. Okay...Weigh, Lengthwise> Maze, Mound...they went Rift heavy on that set and that is ALWAYS welcome...look back and notice that many of the best sets had a Possum and ending the set on a First Tube...I could have walked out of that show at set break and been content!
, comment by Kindofblue76
Kindofblue76 I've now officially listened to every show from the summer; most importantly/recently the 3-night run in Colorado (still mind blowing). That marked #82, 83, and 84 for me. I've read the reviews and criticisms of all this summers' song choices, song placements, length of sets, length of jams, set comparisons from one night to the next, the tour of this year vs tour of that year, this version of Phish.whatever vs. that version of Phish.phuckyou, and all I can say is that if you're with me or see me at a show...that is the happiest moment of my life...always. I never compare and I'm always grateful. They annually repress the negatives of my persona and expunge the pure joy in my soul every single time I see them play. I just wish that from the couch, floor, stands, etc., that people will never forget how extremely blessed and fortunate we all are to have had the pleasure of such a mind blowing and radically progressive/exploratory musical experience during our lifetimes' that Phish has given us over the last 30 years...and they show no signs of slowing down! - until the next time....
, comment by ThinMan
ThinMan I will admit it...I love 1st sets. Many times the first gives me so much more satisfaction than a run of re-treads in the 2nd, particularly in 3.0 when they have really struggled to come up with anything clever in the 4th quarter (squarely looking at Boogie, Rocky Top, 2001, etc...)

SF1 takes it for me. Free, Meat opener, Vultures, Roggae > Sand > Circus (what a 3 song run), one of my favorite moments from the entire tour is the Half The Way To The Moon from SF (absolutely shreading). And a sweet Golgi.

I also gotta mention what an incredible moment the Secret Smile is from Gorge - absolutely perfect, and the McGrupp piano solo > Curtis Loew was brilliant

, comment by thebabysmouth
thebabysmouth Gorge 1, i don't even remember it and haven't listened back since the immediate days after. But I do remember just absolutely loving the set through and through. Timber, the Melt, Possum was ROCKING.

I'd give a very close second to 8/31/13. Buried Alive opener...game on. A tight bag and then one of the better wolfman's of the Summer. Yarmouth > Fee > Halfway had tremendous flow, and a great way to counter act the opening three tunes. A major league mountain peak of Bathtub, a stupid Mound that had me off kilter in the best way, and then a super insane Lope that had me remembering the tour opener in Bangor.

So yeah...
, comment by FACTSAREUSELESS
FACTSAREUSELESS Bangor gets absolutely no love here and that's criminal. As a stand-alone sampler of classics, it was well played, groovy and I keep listening to it. I love the Bangor show.

Also loved MPP2, Gorge 1+2, Tahoe1, all three BGA shows, Holmdel, SPAC2 and SPAC3.

Sorry, can't buy the Dicks1 as a top first set. Ghost and Icculus were nice but c'mon. Dicks2 was much better.
, comment by ColForbin
ColForbin Unlike the ballad one, this one was funny in that I didn't feel compelled to rank anything down (well, except Jones Beach, but that was hardly the band's fault, and they more than made up for it in the second set).

My top 3 were MPP2, Gorge 2 and BGCA1 (I like the old school tunes they played, even if it didn't flow all that well).

It is amazing how much song choice matters for me in first sets. They can play standard great versions of songs I am lukewarm on and I'll hate it, but if they play standard great versions of songs I love, I am over the moon. It is a little disappointing that long jams are a more of a rarity in first sets these days, but that is the nature of the beast.
, comment by ThinMan
ThinMan @Facts

Couldn't agree more about Dick's1&2. 1 suffers from a mediocre Heavy Things (doesn't quite snap like most), Lawn Boy in general does nothing for me and I can't stand this arrangement of Easy To Slip (never like MGB's version).

Dick's2 crackles from the start...Buried Alive is damn good as is the Wolfman's -- great start. Yarmouth > Fee > Moon smokes, (well Moon is good, but Trey seems lost the whole song). I also think the Gumbo > Antelope is a great 1-2 punch to close the 1st

And a quick mention of the Faulty Plan > Theme > Suzy from PNC -- smoked
, comment by skr213
skr213 At the end of the first set SF1, I told my buddy "I think that might have been the best first set I've ever seen." But I didn't trust my opinion at the time because we all have been to those shows where *at the time* we think it was amazing, and then we get home and listen to it and it wasn't really that great. But I think my initial assessment may have been correct this time.
, comment by TwiztAround
TwiztAround Of the 26 Phish shows I've been to, I've seen 11 "3.0" shows. MPP2 is very close to if not the best first set I've seen in 3.0, the only thing that rivals it is 7/2/10 Charlotte. Buried Alive > Bag opener is one of the sickest things I've seen the band play. For those of you who haven't heard it, definitely worth checking out. Mike's work in the Bag speaks for itself. Overall that 7/2/10 show was fantastic.
, comment by NickSalv
NickSalv I think Tahoe 1 should be a little higher on that list, just way too low. Sure, there's no standout jam, but every song is performed to a T; just very solid playing and great communication by all four of them. And I will argue that's a top 5 Gin of 3.0. Yes i said it, and GinTeca was waaay overrated... Of course, I'll give the top version nod to Gorge '09, and I have yet to hear the Dick's version which I've been told is also a good one.

Anyway, right out the gate you can tell the boys are having fun with it; it's like '93 with that crooked vocal jam leading into a drunken jam of sorts. Eventually it stabilizes, and once they get going, it just picks up speed. Trey is seriously on fire throughout. And the other three didn't play like bums either...

Take another listen to that set. Wolfman's is above average, Tube gets funky as hell. Also listen to Cities: it's quite short, but you have to hear the boys complementing each other throughout. So smooth. And a first set Birds is a ton of fun.
, comment by Banff
Banff Night 2 Lake Tahoe was he best show by far. I bet 1/2 the people voting were listening or watching from there couch and have no clue .

The mothership never took off at Dicks this year. Night 1 was best out of the 3 even though the fans had to beg for Icculus by hiring a plane. Night 2 it sounded like the band was playing to a metronome and Highway To Hell > Tweprise would of have been a much better choice then On the Road Again. I never recovered from the huge cliff Phish dropped me off. Night 3 , Song I Heard The Ocean Sing opener was super buzz kill to start things off. Also the crowd at Dicks sucked, I saw a bunch of lame shit go down. I hope Phish returns to Red Rocks in the future. Stick a fork in Dicks, It's done !
, comment by Phart_Door
Phart_Door Wow, first set at the Bowl is getting no love. I was there and it was pretty good. Great energy and a fun SOAM. Overall an average set, but definitely not worthy of last place.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM @n00b100 , while I agree with most of what you say in terms of jams in the first set, I just think the quality of playing was particularly sharp in the pre-97 days. Now I'm not going to idealize that era as some kind of magical and pure utopian auditory gold, but for the most part the band was incredibly tight, emphasizing dynamics which to me is the heart of the feeling evoked by the standard songs. Knowing when to wail and when to step back, perfectly on the beat. I guess the point is that even without a big jam, just plain phish songs were played in a much tighter fashion than 3.0.

Now I'm not saying phish can no longer play like that, just that they do it far less consistently these days. So necessarily there is more emphasis placed on jamming in the first set because beyond playing well, what else is there that makes a set stand out? Bustouts I suppose. Personally, I don't require a big jam in the first set to make it work, just solid playing. Finally, song choice matters. With a more limited rotation, *when* the songs are played matters even more. Some of the unevenness of the first sets this year are not mainly due to lack of jams, but rather somewhat unimaginative or uncohesive set flow combined with lackluster playing. With the strides made the past couple of years in making truly cohesive second halves, this just seems like the last hurdle to get past on the way to consistently great entire shows. Which again, I'm not saying the band did every single time out in past years, just a standard more frequently met.
, comment by FACTSAREUSELESS
FACTSAREUSELESS @AlbanyYEM said:
@n00b100 , while I agree with most of what you say in terms of jams in the first set, I just think the quality of playing was particularly sharp in the pre-97 days. Now I'm not going to idealize that era as some kind of magical and pure utopian auditory gold, but for the most part the band was incredibly tight, emphasizing dynamics which to me is the heart of the feeling evoked by the standard songs. Knowing when to wail and when to step back, perfectly on the beat. I guess the point is that even without a big jam, just plain phish songs were played in a much tighter fashion than 3.0.

Now I'm not saying phish can no longer play like that, just that they do it far less consistently these days. So necessarily there is more emphasis placed on jamming in the first set because beyond playing well, what else is there that makes a set stand out? Bustouts I suppose. Personally, I don't require a big jam in the first set to make it work, just solid playing. Finally, song choice matters. With a more limited rotation, *when* the songs are played matters even more. Some of the unevenness of the first sets this year are not mainly due to lack of jams, but rather somewhat unimaginative or uncohesive set flow combined with lackluster playing. With the strides made the past couple of years in making truly cohesive second halves, this just seems like the last hurdle to get past on the way to consistently great entire shows. Which again, I'm not saying the band did every single time out in past years, just a standard more frequently met.
I agree with you and again, we're back to the subject of tour schedule, aren't we? Alas, the problem may not be rectifiable in the current tour environment.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM For sure, all these issues are interwoven. Family, career and sanity can be a delicate balancing act for everyone in life in general. I can totally relate. I'd honestly prefer *less* phish shows (heretic!) with more practicing taken to really polish the shit out of the sound. If there are only so many hours they can spend away from their families, then this seems to me to be the best compromise. While we all agree that they're having a hell of a lot of fun, it seems naive to me to assume they don't still look at their body of work with a critical and unsatisified eye. Like any consummate musician, which they undeniably are.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM Edit: watch out for the straw man!! Aggghhh!
, comment by phunky58
phunky58 the Tahoe first set with wolfman's , jibboo etc.. should be in the top 5 without a doubt. I forget if it was the first or second night. but that was definitely a top 5 first set of this run imo. though I definitely can't argue with mpp2. I was lucky enough to be there and it was top notch with it's ice, scent, and the Stash of tour (which was also up there with one of top jams of tour). But Tahoe needs more love because it deserves it bigtime.
, comment by Stephen
Stephen As I sit here listening to the 1st set off my free download of the 2nd night from Commerce at Dicks -- the only show I went to this summer -- I have to say it was really great! I knew it was when they did the newer jams like Yarmouth Road + Halfway to the moon. The buffet of vintage Phish songs were cool as well, such as The Wedge, Halley's Comet, and Wolfman's Brother. Overall this 1st set was on par with their 2nd set that night, in my opinion.
, comment by RunawayN02
RunawayN02 @FACTSAREUSELESS said:
Bangor gets absolutely no love here and that's criminal. As a stand-alone sampler of classics, it was well played, groovy and I keep listening to it. I love the Bangor show.

Also loved MPP2, Gorge 1+2, Tahoe1, all three BGA shows, Holmdel, SPAC2 and SPAC3.

Sorry, can't buy the Dicks1 as a top first set. Ghost and Icculus were nice but c'mon. Dicks2 was much better.

The tour opener did sound great. I do believe you can feel the vibe when you listen to the recording. GIVE BANG-BANG SOME LOVE!
, comment by RunawayN02
RunawayN02 SF1 was my other fave set... Besides MPP2 but thats a given.
, comment by FACTSAREUSELESS
FACTSAREUSELESS A belated post but I must say that the the two Tahoe shows are ranked way too low. They both were at least the equal to Dick's2 and certainly superior to many of the 1st sets ranked above them. Did people listen to Tahoe2 in it's entirety or just the Tweezer? The whole show is great.
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