Much has been made about the repetitiveness of the first leg of Phish’s summer tour. Every show, the band reached deep into their bag of tricks to feature one-offs and covers, but there are quite a few tunes that seemed to pop up with extreme frequency. Two songs, Possum and Backwards Down the Number Line, appeared seven times. Four more songs, David Bowie, Kill Devil Falls, Run Like An Antelope and Suzy Greenberg , appeared six times apiece. Every show this summer featured between one and four of these songs. While many setlist watchers may groan about that, at different points this summer the boys made sure that even their most common songs got uncommon treatment. I’ve gone through all of the performances of 2011’s most played songs, and picked the version that I liked the best. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
Backwards Down the Number Line – 7 appearances in 18 shows (38%)
Check Out: 5/28 – Bethel Woods, Bethel, NY – Summer tour kicked off with a bang in Bethel, and this 3.0 staple got its biggest workout of the whole summer. As the tour wore on, BDTNL was used more for the tune’s sing-a-long qualities than its ability to break mold, which is what makes Bethel’s version so refreshing. Sandwiched between Free and the Makisupa that gave us the “house” meme, this version stretches its legs and proves to be an exercise in improvisation and risk taking, instead of an emergency landing spot for a jam gone awry. Complete with a Dave’s Energy Guide tease, this version, the first of the summer, becomes the go to version for 2011.
Also appeared at: 6/1 – Holmdel, 6/5 – Cincinnati, 6/8 – Darien Lake, 6/12 – Merriweather Post, 6/17 – Charlotte, 6/19 – Portsmouth
Possum – 7 appearances in 18 shows, 38%
Check Out: 6/4 – Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH – 3.0’s most frequently appearing song, the trademark E-minor shuffle that opens this tune can send the most mildly jaded fans heading to the bathrooms in droves. While the band, especially in the second half of the tour, seemed to strain to make each version full of energy, none tops the version they dropped on Ohio. This Possum finds the band toying with the traditional build-up by letting it descend almost to nothing-ness before Fish’s snare roll snaps everybody back on point. I hope that this version becomes as much a part of the Phish vernacular like the “Went Gin”. Why? Because I think “Blossom Possum” is a really, really fun thing to say.
Also appeared at: 5/27 – Bethel, 5/31 – Holmdel, 6/7 – Great Woods, 6/10 – Camden, 6/14 – Alpharetta, 6/18 – Raleigh
David Bowie – 6 appearances in 18 shows (33%)
Check Out: 6/3 DTE Energy Music Theater, Clarkston MI – This Bowie is the landing pad for a sequence that could be the summer’s hottest piece of improvisation. Closing out a scintillating Disease > Fluffhead > Bowie sequence that clocks in at nearly an hour, this Bowie is what you want out of Bowie. It’s the summer’s longest version, clocking in over sixteen minutes, but that’s not because it’s limp and loopy. Instead, this version is like a muscular beast dashing towards its prey. Personally, my favorite part of any Bowie is the rapid fire closing sequence, which this version just devastates. It’s as if the band knew that they had to close the preceding hour of improvisation with a number that would pack a punch, and this version is a knock out.
Also appeared at: 5/28 – Bethel, 6/7 – Great Woods, 6/10 – Camden, 6/15 – Alpharetta, 6/19 – Portsmouth
Kill Devil Falls – 6 appearances in 18 shows (33%)
Check Out: 5/27 – Bethel Woods, Bethel, NY – Like it’s partner on Joy, BDTNL, the standout version of Kill Devil Falls comes from its first appearance this summer. As the penultimate song of the first set, this is the only version that stretches its legs. It doesn’t really break through the song’s framework, but Trey takes the solo for an extended turn alongside a delicate Page piano part. While not significantly expansive, the vibe is upbeat and entirely expected in the first set on tour’s opening night. Kill Devil Falls never got the same amount of exercise the rest of the tour, appearing exclusively in the first set until it’s final appearance Raleigh. Eventually, this one is going to really break through, but this summer it was pretty much used as filler.
Also appeared at: 5/27 – Bethel, 6/1 – Holmdel, 6/4 – Cuyahoga Falls, 6/8 – Darien Lake, 6/14 – Alpharetta, 6/18 – Raleigh
Run Like an Antelope – 6 appearances in 18 shows (33%)
Check Out: 6/4 – Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls OH – Antelope appeared this summer exclusively as a set closer, four times in the first set and twice in the second. The theme this summer in Antelope was teases, oftentimes of songs Phish had performed earlier in the set. I’m partial towards the Blossom version, because the teases are directed at the band themselves, each member getting his own Esquandolis family solo. When Kuroda gets his own solo, you know it’s a special version of any song. This one isn’t just a gimmick either, as the band blazes through each section with aplomb. The summer’s longest Antelope, this one doesn’t really break it’s framework, but it does let it’s Phish flag fly, which is more than enough for me.
Also appeared at: 5/29 – Bethel, 6/7 – Great Woods, 6/11 – Merriweather Post, 6/14 – Alpharetta, 6/18 – Raleigh
Suzy Greenberg – 6 appearances in 18 shows (33%)
Check Out: 6/7 – Great Woods, Mansfield, MA – Suzy’s a fan favorite and, of all the songs on this list, it’s frequency seems to get the least flak from the fans. Page played like an all-star this summer, and his playing during the breakdown in this tune reflected that. That said, no version this summer really got out there. Bethel’s version was the only version to include Suzy’s partner, Oh Kee Pa Ceramony, but that’s not my choice. Instead, my choice is Great Woods version, but for an unlikely reason. Suzy shows up as hurried encore at this show, but it seems fitting: no show featured more of the songs on this list than Great Woods. That said, the two the band left out were BDTNL and Kill Devil Falls. I guess they always go old school at Great Woods.
Also appeared at: 5/29 – Bethel, 6/1 – Holmdel, 6/7 – Great Woods, 6/11 – Merriweather Post, 6/15 – Alpharetta, 6/19 – Portsmouth