Monday 02/01/2016 by ucpete


Welcome to the 209th edition of Phish.Net's Mystery Jam Monday. The winner will receive an MP3 code good for a free download of any show, courtesy of our friends at / Nugs.Net. To win, be the first person to identify the song and date of the mystery jam clip. Each person gets one guess per day, with the second “day” starting after I post the hint. A hint will be posted on Tuesday if necessary, with the answer to follow on Wednesday. Good luck!

Clue (11:30 AM ET): A ten song second set? Well, it certainly ended on a high note!

Answer: A moral victory for the blog this week, making it to the second day, but first time winner @highhat takes home a code good for a free show download from Tune in next week for MJM210!
All-Time MJM Results
All-Time MJM Results

Monday 02/01/2016 by phishnet

BEST OF 2015

[Editor's Note, SP] – For the third consecutive year, the working group has set out to rank the top ten shows of the year (with MSG - but not Mexico - being included as part of the 2015 "year" despite bleeding into 2016). I think we’re past the part where we talk about the merits of ranking shows. We are past that, right? Ok, good!

Just how good was 2015? Summer tour sits alongside fall ‘13, as the consensus choices for best tours of 3.0, (though fall ‘13 was a mere twelve shows, albeit twelve incredibly strong shows). It's been argued that Magnaball is one of the greatest Phish festivals ever… at least the best since IT or, for those of you with 2.0 animus, Big Cypress. Similarly, setting aside fall ‘13, you probably have to go back to summer ‘03 to find a tour as strong as summer ‘15 and, for the 2.0 haters, maybe summer ‘99? Is that even possible? Phish just wrapped up their 32nd year and they're still playing shows that can be mentioned in the same breath as those from their “prime?” Yes, it's a good time to be a Phish fan. Generous numbers of webcasts make it possible for fans to experience growing numbers of shows in real time. The band just wrapped up a dream run on the freaking beach in Mexico. Most importantly, the music is as great as ever. Fellow Phish fans, the state of our union is strong!

And now, we rank. Much like last year, we had a clear top four (and, unlike last year, a unanimous #1). After the top four, things got a little more muddled. All of these shows feature at least one tentpole jam; but it seemed like shows with the strongest jams and best supporting cast in the second set had weakest first sets (and vice-versa). Before we start, though, a word about shows #11-14. MSG4 1/2/16, MPP1 8/15/15, Magna3 8/23/15 and Alpine2 8/9/15 are all stellar shows. In fact, looking back to 2014, it wouldn’t be surprising if each of these shows would have found a home in that year’s top ten. Alas, hard decisions had to be made. So enough with the participation trophies and let’s move onto the Best of 2015...

10. 8/4/15 Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN - Drew Hitz
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

The brand new Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville had been open less than a week when Phish performed there in early August. Reports were that the venue was very intimate (only 6,800 capacity), had phenomenal acoustics (it was designed primarily as the summer home for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra) and had incredible views of the Nashville skyline and the famous bridges over the Cumberland River. Both the venue and Phish's performance exceeded all expectations.

The first set was well played, but the reason this show made our top ten list is because of the “Mike's Groove” in the second set. Backstage before the show, Trey was reminded of the second jam in “Mike's Song” and asked if he wanted to "break Twitter tonight" by playing it for the first time in 15 years. Trey responded with a smile and said "I'd love to," and the rest is history.

“Mike’s Song” – 8/4/15, Nashville, TN (video via LazyLightning55a)

The stellar “Mike's Song” is followed by one of the better version of “Piper” in 3.0. That was followed by the only “Crosseyed and Painless” of 2015 which segued masterfully into a phenomenal “Weekapaug Groove.” Within the first two minutes this “Weekapaug” featured “Crosseyed” teases, as well as Trey uncharacteristically slowing the whole thing way down while laughing through the lyrics. This laid back dance party eventually gave way to a full blown type II heavy metal section that set the place off. This fourteen-minute version closed with the triumphant return of the “Weekapaug” theme featuring more “Crosseyed” teases and a “Slave” encore to end the show.

Coming 20 years after the famous Mud Island “Tweezer,” this show proved the old Phish adage that you should never miss a weekday show in Tennessee next to a river.

9. 8/7/15 Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH - Martin Acaster
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

When we are ranking Phish performances, we all have our own criteria for what makes a given show great. My criteria are pretty straightforward. If I was there, it is automatically going to be considered one of the best shows ever! I feel that first sets are just as important as second sets. I like when Phish plays songs that I like. I like when they play those songs really well. I enjoy when they drop unexpected teases in strange new places. I love when they remind me why they are the world’s most accomplished cover band. “Tweezer” and its glorious “Reprise” is the greatest thing that happened in the history of rock and roll. Any “Tweezer”... all the “Tweezers”... and their respective “Reprises” are life-affirming experiences. I really dislike Phish playing shitty bluegrass. Given these ranking criteria, you can better understand my overrating of the 2015 gig at Blossom – I had it as the #2 show of the year on my ballot. However, without this highly subjective grade inflation, the most impactful show of the year (and I wasn’t even there) likely wouldn’t even have made the top ten for 2015, thereby rendering this exercise essentially worthless. Seriously, this show changed the course of history, people!

The opening sequence of “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” through “Roses are Free” is just about as solid a start to a first set as you could expect. “ASIHTOS” is absolutely manhandled by Fishman, Page drops a “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” vibe all over it, and Trey’s solo ties a nice “Slipknot!” on the running rigging. Fishman’s techno-triphammer assault continues through “My Sweet One” which is keyed by some tasty Page funky-tonk. The already high energy level is ramped up into the crunchy flange fest of “Wilson.” Love the tone there, Trey. With “Timber (Jerry)” we are now at four consecutive songs I like that have been played really well. This set is crackling with life so far. I love Ween. I was sad when Ween broke up. This performance of “Roses are Free” though itself fairly pedestrian helped to get the band back together! Thereby making this the most impactful Phish show of the year… regardless of what follows.

It is therefore fitting that the trio of songs that ensue inarguably represent the low point of the show. “Rift” in particular is a total Trey’n wreck, but if you ignore the flubby fingers and concentrate on the sick beats from Fish you will get through it. “Ginseng Sullivan” is a personal nightmare… but over soon enough. Yes, I love this show even though it contains Phish playing a shitty bluegrass song. “Moma Dance” is unfairly but almost universally reviled in certain fan echo chambers. However, this “Moma” is atypically slow and funky with a mild “Tweeprise” flavor. and considering the version that was recently played in Mexico may represent the inflection point in the trajectory of both the song and the first set of this show. “Wingsuit” soars skyward with a patient Floydian fire, “It’s Ice” brings a funky “For The Love of Money” tease, and “Bathtub Gin” has a volcanic peak to send us into halftime with a comfortable lead.

”It’s Ice” – 8/7/15, Cuyahoga Falls, OH (video via Bobby Scharff)

The second set of this show does not let up on the gas, ever. Solid song selection and flow from start to finish. When the mid-set “breather” slot is occupied by “Makisupa Policeman.” you know The Boys took the stage looking to kick some ass. The “Chalk Dust Torture” opener is pumped and jacked and the jam eventually veers down the road to “Paradise City.” With the recent announcement of the Axl and Slash reconciliation, this obviously helped to get the band back together! Thereby making this the most impactful Phish show of the year… regardless of what follows. Naturally, what follows is the best “Tweezer” of the year. Dark, angry, yet melodious. Picture Slipknot playing “Fuck Your Face” while Lexy Panterra twerks in front of the Fountains of Bellagio. Fully satisfied already, the rest of the show is pure gravy. “Lizards” is not perfect… but who cares… it is a treasured gift every time it appears. “Makisupa” reveals that Trey likes to don a cape while he hits the strawberry bubble gum goop he puts in his vape. “Ghost” is another Fishman drum clinic. He is unquestionably the recipient of my 2015 MVP vote. “Harry Hood” goes all Rutherford the Brave’s “Energy Guide” and ignites the smouldering “Tweezer Reprise” set closer. Having flipped the order on a typical “Good Times Bad Times” > “Tweeprise” encore, the “GTBT” proves to be the shreddiest of the two songs on this particular evening, and Fishman once again serves notice that if Page, Plant, and Jones ever want to get the band back together! He is more than capable of taking Bonzo’s throne behind the kit.

M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P!

8. 9/6/15 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO - David “Zzyzx” Steinberg
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

Beloved Phish shows come in three forms: those that have bustouts, those that have great jams, and those that have antics. The final Dick's show of 2015 started out with the former – the first stand-alone performance of “The Landlady” since 1994. While parts of the song are played in the middle of “Punch You in the Eye,” this is song is a common stats clogger for many – I have received many a complaint to have that song removed from their most commonly played but not seen list – and while the song isn't played well, it served as a sign that this show might not be business as usual.

While the rest of the first set is interesting with an unusual mid set “Seven Below” > “Caspian,” “Saw it Again” randomly popping up in the middle, and a rare “Birdwatcher” towards the end, the second set is where things start to cook. “Down with Disease” goes into a euphoric jam, one of those beautiful jams where a theme gets developed and builds. While nothing else in the set touches that peak, the glory of that moment seemed to infect the rest of the evening. Everything else is played with just a little extra energy. The jams are short, but they’re all joyous, one of these sets that is perfect for a run, or that first nice day of spring.

”Once in a Lifetime” – 9/6/15, Commerce City, CO (video via LazyLightning55a)

Due to a late start and a long set break, Phish were bumping the curfew when the encore started. So when they started up the “Tweezer Reprise,” everyone figured the show was over. However, the band didn’t leave the stage; instead there was an Ooom Pah Pah. “Harpua” is always a fan favorite, but this one was especially fun, one that weaved in and out rare songs (including two that hadn’t been played since the mid-‘90s) and ending with a one time cover of “United We Stand,” as Trey talked about how much he appreciated the scene we have built. When the news started to circulate that this encore was spelling out “THANK YOU,” there was nothing but stunned smiles to be seen.

This isn’t a Phish show for those who prefer the dark psychedelic nights. Rather, this is a concert of the light, one that works to remind us that the world is indeed filled with amazing moments. You’re welcome, Trey. You’re quite welcome.

7. 12/30/15 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY - Dan Mielcarz
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

An obligatory “Sample” opener feels obligatory. “Free” opens up a bit (but only a bit) more than usual, with a chill little jam featuring some great interplay between Mike and Trey. “Simple” includes some fun fills by Trey, and the classic MSG cheer at the skyscraper line and then the short jam morphs into “Back on the Train.” A long discussion between songs leads to “Waiting All Night,” a great song off Fuego, but not exactly a dance party. “555” has some vocal detractors, of which I am sometimes one, but this version brings a little extra in a dark type-I jam. “Roggae” follows, and a raging solo by Trey made this the highlight of the first set. “Dogs” and “46 Days” close out a fun, but completely ordinary first set.

There was a time when a set two opening “Chalk Dust” would be a mere prelude to the real jamming vehicle to follow. But not anymore – what an amazing time to be alive! Interestingly this jam starts out with a descending phrase from Trey that seemed like the tune might end up being a straightforward type-I version, but instead quickly launches into a driving funky jam. Trey latches onto a hunk of melody that is close to but not quite “Third Stone from the Sun.” This is no mere Trey wankfest, though, but a jam where you could listen four times in a row, focusing on each band member, because they were each at the absolute top of their games. The jam progresses through several distinct sections, with Trey’s guitar tone going from porno funk to mutron to distorted hard rock, Page switching from clavinet to piano, and Mike dropping meatballs to the great joy of the 20,000 in the house. Towards the end of the jam, the band heads into a triumphant major key section before following some delay loop noise on a slide into “Ghost.”

This first half of the “Ghost” sandwich is notable only for its short length, leaving the crowd to think “that’s it?” and then “what the heck is this?” as the debut of “Can’t Always Listen” played out. A simple AAB 12 bar blues, with some heartfelt nods to Grateful Dead riffs, “Can’t Always Listen” will hopefully find a happier home in a setlist, as opposed to its slightly jarring debut. The “Ghost” reprise contains some more interesting jamming, and a silky segue into a straightforward but uptempo “Waves.” As the chill spacey “Waves” outro fades out, the opening notes of “Bathtub Gin” take its place. And what a “Gin” – an ecstatic, breathtaking hose jam that nearly reaches Great Went heights. A surprising fourth quarter “Mike’s Song” is next, with only a single jam, yet a good enough one to get the entire arena bouncing, which perhaps led to the unusually placed “Bouncing Around the Room.” At the show I figured on a standard but fun “Weekapaug” to close the set. It certainly starts off that way, but then an uptempo tease then segue into “What’s The Use?” happens. The dynamic range on this “WTU” is just astounding – and for a rock band playing in the world's greatest arena it is otherworldly. The quiet part will give you chills, and the crescendo will blow your mind. I’m so happy to have this song back in regular rotation. The resolution on the final chord and launch back into “Weekapaug” is epic. The “Zero” encore gets a zero from me, but after that second set, they were playing with house money.

”Weekapaug Groove” -> “What’s the Use?” -> “Weekapaug Groove” – 12/30/15, New York, NY (video via Phish)

Given the strength of the second set, why isn't this show ranked higher? First sets matter, and even though I pointed out a couple interesting parts, there is really nothing there to truly recommend. And while the awesome moments in the second set were indeed awesome, they don't quite reach the rarefied air of some of the jams in the shows ranked above this one. But if you love set two and think it was one of the best sets of the year, I won't argue.

6. 7/31/15 Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood, Atlanta, GA - Dan Purcell
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

Never let it be said that the jaded vets of are unable to see beyond superficial setlist deficiencies, like the fact that this consistently stellar show opens with a generic "Prince Caspian" and closes with an unremarkable "Character Zero." Forget about it; if that kind of thing bothers you, just hit the skip button and start with song number two, 2015's Rookie of the Year "No Men in No Man's Land." This show doesn't quite hit the peaks of our top four, but there is barely a down moment in the three hours between the Prince sinking below the waves and the inevitable arrival of the Man Mulcahy. It's so consistently productive that one breathless recapper temporarily lost his mind and anointed it the best Phish show since Big Cypress or something.

Comparisons aside, there's a lot to love here. Some members of our panel rejected the glorious, patient, "Manteca"-flavored "Kill Devil Falls" as a true, set-making tent-pole jam, but while it might never achieve the soul-vibrating peak of the Magnaball "Bathtub Gin" or "Tweezerpants," it still spits hot fire for 20 solid minutes. (For my nickel, Jon Fishman can play that "Manteca" beat all damn night.) But whatever, this second set can't stop and won't stop. "KDF" finally yields to 2015's longest and most productive exploration of 2014's Rookie of the Year, "Martian Monster," providing further proof that, when Phish switches instruments, that usually means it's a good show. No flies on the ensuing "Twist," either, which segues into a good, exploratory "Back on the Train" and then into an unusual (and above-average) fourth-quarter "Reba."

“Martian Monster” – 7/31/15, Atlanta, GA (video via LazyLightning55a)

If you want to argue that 2015 was the best year of the band's 3.0 era, the best support for that position would be the return of productive first sets and the high percentage of all-action, no-letup fourth quarters. This raging Friday night in humid north Georgia could be your Exhibit A on both scores. Nobody talks about it anymore in light of the stunning Magnaball and very good MSG versions, but this was the night when the band finally remembered how to chug unself-consciously from the jug of "Bathtub Gin." Never before in 230-some performances had Phish closed a second set with "Gin," and this one brings arena-rock thunder worthy of a vintage "Antelope" or "Bowie." Likewise, the first set's three-hole gives us a wonderful "Ghost" that shreds its way into your heart and closes with a hot old-school "Mike's Groove." Until the band reviews, practices, and nails the charts for the "Mike's Song" second jam in F major that @tweezer is currently preparing, the end of the first set is probably the best place for this warhorse. The "Mike's" intro turns what could have been a tempo battle between Trey and Fish into a hilarious, stop-time quasi-reggae fakeout that is quintessential Phish, and the concluding jam is intense and steamy. Even normally standard tunes like "The Moma Dance" acquit themselves well. It may not have mustered the height quite cracked our top five, but it was as wide as anything we heard from Phish in 2015.

5. 7/24/15 Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA - Phillip Zerbo
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

The 7/24/15 Shoreline show is a remarkable and yet curious gig – it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. As was the case with the show ranked immediately below, here was a show that opened with “The Line” and closed with “Character Zero” yet still made the 2015 top ten! Obviously a lot of great music must have happened in the middle, though it didn’t happen early. The first set was plagued by a lack of flow and uninspired play, with nothing to recommend for subsequent listening outside of the “Reba,” and even that is a stretch. Even songs that usually sparkle (“Undermind”) or that were stretched out a bit (“Kill Devil Falls,” “46 Days”) fell flat.

When the band opened the second set with only the second performance of the then-brand new “Blaze On,” there was little hint that the situation would quickly improve. But improve it most certainly did, and in a hurry. After dispensing with the song proper, the jam out of “Blaze On” was pure fire. Trey soared early on with inspired and active leads, with Fishman driving the steam engine. About ten minutes in they returned to the song’s chorus to seemingly signal the end, but instead of wrapping up they tacked on another four minutes of swirling exploration let by Trey and Page, finally setting up “Twist.” Phish was clearly intent on going deep, as they shed the confines of “Twist” early – within four minutes of the opening notes, the song proper was a distant memory. The early part of the jam was edgy with tension, before briefly hinting at the “Twist” theme about nine minutes in. As was the case with “Blaze On,” instead of resolving to the song’s conclusion, Page let the way to major key bliss and sent the jam sailing into delightfully familiar and sunny territory, building to a soaring pinnacle.

”Twist” -> “Light” – 7/24/15, Mountain View, CA (video via Phish)

A solid half hour of glorious improvisation under their belt, this set had already more than wiped clean any disappointment from the first set. But Phish was far from done, as the opening notes of “Light” signified that this thrill ride did not require a pit stop. The “Light” takes a little longer to shine than did “Blaze On” and “Twist,” but by the seven-minute mark they had found their stride, coalescing around the most thrilling jam segment of the show. The collective flow of ideas in this set and the “Light” in particular was seemingly endless. “Joy” doesn’t always flow well in a second set, but it was a perfect interlude in this spot, after the joy ride of the first three songs that stretched over 45 minutes. Plenty of modern day Phish shows have a spectacular third quarter, but then tend to protect the lead and go into cruise control and coast to the end. This performance would definitely not follow that script. Instead, “Harry Hood” put pedal to metal with an invigorating, exploratory 15+ minute sprint to the finish. A completely unnecessary “Cavern” was tacked on, but the blowout win was solidly in hand.

Shoreline was an uneven performance to be sure, but when it contains a power hour of artistic greatness with four legitimate top tier jams in a single set, we can all walk away feeling good. Even with the dead weight of the first set, Shoreline is well-deserving of top-five 2015 status.

4. 8/21/15 Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY - Dan Purcell
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

It had been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time since Phish had truly rocked our worlds at a festival, in a musical sense. Both Festival 8 in the California desert and Super Ball IX in upstate New York had glorious weather, carefully manicured festival grounds, and infinite delights to pass the time while the band wasn't playing, but the music was not exceptional Phish. And the festival before that was so star-crossed that many fans won't even speak its name. Before this summer, you had to go back to IT in 2003 for a Phish festival that pretty much everyone would agree delivered Phish music at the absolute highest level.

That changed in a hurry on the opening night of Magnaball, and over the course of that weekend the band's tenth festival quickly earned its place on a short list of its very best. The big development of summer 2015 was the resurgence of first sets, and this show almost certainly had the best first set of the year. The "Bathtub Gin" closer seemed like it was about to falter about eight minutes in, only to be served a massive dose of rocket fuel by Jon Fishman, who proceeded to lead the band through the greatest version of that song in over a decade. And "Gin" was just the capstone on a set that was excellent from the get-go. Not just a "Simple" opener, but a "Simple" opener that jammed, pleasantly, melodically, circuitously, making clear the band realized they had all night. Rarities abounded, with "Simple" leading into "The Dogs" and the "TMWSIY" > "Avenu" > "TMWSIY" sequence I am fated never to see live. But the most welcome bustout was only the second instance ever of Mike Gordon's whimsical, fragile, and always welcome "Mock Song." This version sported a special verse calling out Phish festivals past and present, but hopefully that's not a sign that the song will go back on the shelf for another twelve years.

”Bathtub Gin” – 8/21/15, Watkins Glen, NY (video via LazyLightning55a)

The second set is better, as per usual, but not by much. The "Chalk Dust Torture" opener doesn't quite approach the great versions from the song's summer 2014 revival, but it is consistently captivating, first flirting with "Twist" and then (in a recurring theme that weekend) with "What's the Use?" before settling into a garden-variety (i.e., funky, nasty, ass-shaking) "Ghost." Eventually the "Ghost" groove morphed into "Rock and Roll" via a slightly clumsy segue (GSAC 6/29/00 it wasn't), and after throwing down hard "Rock and Roll" dwindled into the signature tom-tom roll that begins "Harry Hood." Does that sound any good? Other than "Waste," which should never be played by anyone, the set is notable for consistent, interesting, exploratory jamming without a down moment. The band even segued one of its newest songs, the incredibly promising Nawlins boogie "No Men in No Man's Land," into one of its oldest, the always-welcome set closing "Slave to the Traffic Light," with its chord progression that conjures the rising sun. A double encore sent the fans back to their tents, or yurts, or luxury condos, happy and sated. They'd need to conserve their energy for the next night's marathon.

3. 12/31/15 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY - Jeremy D. Goodwin
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

One of the great takeaways from 2015 is the return of a creatively vital New Year's Run. Though this annual fixture on the tour calendar has featured ever-more focus on creative and entertaining spectacle, and it's always draped in a feel-good, reunion vibe, musically speaking the shows have tended to be more anticlimactic than exclamatory in 3.0, even as the overall baseline for great shows has gotten more impressive. So it's a great treat to see two shows from the 2015-16 New Year's Run on this top ten list, with the other two shows at least in the top 20 dicussion as well.

12/31/15 was cruising along as a pleasant but low-stakes endeavor when things suddenly shifted gears in the second set. Midway through the set, “Kill Devil Falls” emerged in an extended version. Though sludgy and not terribly interesting, it at least signaled that the band was willing to work outside the box. This bled into a standard but fiery “Piper,” and then a standout “Twist” to close the set. “Twist” offered a head-fake toward wrapping up before stepping back out for some more action; it featured the sort of soaring, simple guitar phrase that Trey put at the center of many memorable jams in 2015.

”No Men in No Man’s Land” > Auld Lang Syne” > “Blaze On” – 12/31/15, New York, NY (video via Phish)

The third set showcased the two most joyous Phish debuts in some time. It opened with a 21-minute “No Man In No Man’s Land,” performed (mostly) at a provisional stage near the back of the floor, and its last ten minutes represent some of the more experimental music Phish has played in a proper set in some time; for several minutes it is a cousin to the “Drive-In Jam” from Magnaball. Following a brisk “Auld Lang Syne,” a standout “Blaze On” marched fans into 2016, with a very active lead guitar part from Trey throughout its upbeat jam. Next came a short “Carini” and a focused “David Bowie” that had a touch of the 1992-era fire, closing out the suite of great music that had begun in the second set with “Kill Devil Falls.” Though bookended with essentially low-calorie material, this impressive chunk of music gives 12/31 a solid place among the year’s top shows.

2. 8/12/15 The Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA - Chris Glushko
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

Five song second set. Nothing bad ever comes from hearing those four words. The five song second set is a statement. It’s the band playing at the top of their game, and knowing it.

The first set is solid, but far from spectacular. However looking back now, there is definite foreshadowing of something special to come in set two – the “Martian Monster” jam in “Free,” a rare extended “Cities,” one of the best jams you’ll ever hear in the middle of “It’s Ice,” and Trey… um… losing his shit during “Character Zero.”

The second set begins with an excellent and rare set-opening “Bathtub Gin” that contains a spectacular flurry of notes through Trey’s favorite toy of 2015, the Mu-Tron envelope filter. If you are familiar with this “Gin,” one can only assume you’ve replayed this moment several hundred times by now. The “No Men in No Man’s Land” that followed is the clear best version of summer 2015, containing three separate peaks. “Twist,” the show’s centerpiece, embodies one of the many ways Phish was different in 2015 compared to 2014. During several sections of the jam, any band member could have ended it. But all four patiently held out for new ideas, and the result is a 20-minute masterpiece that should make every fan’s top jams of 2015 list. “Scents and Subtle Sounds” is played with its proper intro for the first time since 2011’s Super Ball and contains the finest improv in any version since the song’s glory days of 2003-04. To close, a heartfelt type-I “Harry Hood” and old-fashioned “Loving Cup” encore.

”Scents and Subtle Sounds” – 8/12/15, Philadelphia, PA (video via Phish)

For many jaded vets, describing the best Phish sets of the last several years often required a “for 3.0” caveat… until August 12, 2015. The second set from this night requires no such designation, making its way into the record books as one of Phish’s finest sets from any era.

1. 8/22/15 Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY - Steve Paolini
Official LivePhish Soundboard * Audience Recording

This one was unanimous. It’s rare for Phish fans to uniformly agree on a favorite show, but here we are. Every single one of the editors who participated in this exercise felt this was the best show of the year and, I’m guessing none of us felt it was particularly close. It’s pretty amazing and maybe even more so, given that the afternoon first set is devoid of anything that warrants a second listen. Harsh? Maybe. But true. And, ultimately irrelevant, as Phish was poised to unleash two of the strongest sets of the year.

The big question with three set shows is, are they going to play two “first sets” or two “second sets”? BITD™, this was never really a concern, but by 2013, it proceeded quickly from concern to trend to norm. Second sets from 7/2/11, 12/31/11, 12/31/12 and even 7/20/13 all failed to distinguish themselves. NYE 2014 reversed the trend but when the set opening “Wolfman’s” and “Halley’s” each stuck to their 3.0 form one couldn’t help but wonder, was this going to be another first set in second set’s clothing? An exploratory, if serene, “46 Days” put those fears to rest. A quick trip down the number line and “Tweezer” effectively announces that there’s no need to worry, we’re deep into second set country. Similar to the “46 Days,” this version starts out almost airy and boundaryless. This is music befitting of the open field in which it is being played. The jam patiently builds to major key bliss before turning spacey and then, oh goddamn it, Trey, seriously? “Prince Caspian”? Now? “Caspian” follows its usual course but then, instead of ending… well, Little Lord Caspian straps on his big boy pants and becomes a man. The cathartic jam that follows could just as easily be called “Tweezer” as “Caspian.” It’s a true mashup… known to many as “Tweezerpants.” It will also be known to many – and rightfully so – as the best jam of summer tour.

”Tweezerpants” – 8/22/15, Watkins Glen, NY (video via notmkdevo)

The gravy set begins with a mood setting (as in “we mean business”) “Meatstick” before shifting gears to “Blaze On.” The new song does not disappoint in this high-profile slot, offering up still more atmospheric, introspective, yet completely engaging improvisation. The end of the “Blaze On” jam actually hints at the storage jamming from four years prior, before smoothly shifting gears into “Possum.” “Cities” is next and features a “Mind Left Body Jam” in addition to its usual funky fare. “Light” provides yet another extended jam and at this point, the only question is whether this is the best or merely the second best show of the year? There’s arguably more to love here than in the exquisite 8/12/15 Mann show, though certainly more filler. I probably come out on the side of “Tweezerpants” and Magnaball, but reasonable minds can differ. But then this happens:

”Drive In Jam” – 8/22/15, Watkins Glen, NY (video via LazyLightning55a)

Game, set, match, Magnaball. Someday we may be brave and/or stupid enough to attempt to rank best shows of all-time. 8/22/15 will be part of that conversation. Best of 2014 Best of 2013 Best of 1997

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