In Not-So-Heavy Rotation: The One-Offs

6.7.11 (Dave Vann)

On Tuesday, we looked at the most common songs performed on Leg I of this Summer tour.  Today, it’s time to look at the least common.  While there were only six songs this summer performed six times or more, there were a whopping eighty four songs performed only once.  Obviously, anyone who talks about the receptiveness of setlists has to take that into account. Amazingly, only four songs were debuted by Phish this summer, so many of these selections come from deep in the Phish songbook. Think some tunes on this list need to be played more?  Think one time is too many?  Let us know in the comments.

Thunder Road – 6/19 Portsmouth – This Bruce cover was much like the boss’s appearance with the band at Bonnaroo in ’09:  great fun, but not that good.  In this case, however, it’s the thought that counts. What I like about this performance is simply that you can tell how important Bruce was to the development of the Jersey boys in the band.  There’s almost a sense of nervousness in their playing, as if the band was wary of treading on hallowed ground.  By eulogizing fallen sax-man Clarence Clemons, the band is making a bold statement… just not a particularly rockin’ one.

Vultures – 6/11 Merriweather Post – This song has never gotten its due.  Overshadowed by the rest of the tunes that would make up The Story of the Ghost, there have been moments where I felt this song was geared to make a big comeback… but it’s just never cracked the rotation.  I’m not sure why that it is.  This song has everything a Phish song should, strange rhythms, bizarre lyrics, and some peaks that will make you pump your fist.  Here’s hoping Vultures gets better setlist treatment in the future.  Unfortunately, if it hasn’t happened yet… it’s probably not happening.

Taste – 6/5 Cincinnati – I will be blunt here:  one performance of Taste in an eighteen show tour is a crime.  Seriously.  Probably a felony.  When the band was broken up, and I wasn’t listening to much Phish at all, I would occasionally find myself wistfully daydreaming about Page’s piano solo in Taste.  It is, hands down, one of my five favorite moments in any Phish song… and the band is playing it less and less.  I understand why songs like Harpua and Forbin’s are relegated to one-offs for eternity, but to do that to Taste? That’s just cruel.

Army of One – 6/15 Alpharetta – Page has really stepped it up in 3.0.  Ask most fans, and he’s probably the MVP of this era of Phish.  That said, his songs are getting short shrift.  I picked Army of One over Halfway to the Moon simply out of personal preference, and the fact that Beauty of a Broken Heart didn’t come out this summer at all.  Seriously, this is how we’re treating the chairman?  I always found the Dead’s Jerry/Bobby song rotation kind of trite… but if that’s what it will take to get Page’s songs more exposure, well then so be it.

Drowned  – 5/31 Holmdel – This one’s on the list if only because I was completely shocked that it didn’t appear more frequently this summer.  For awhile, it seemed like this one was in the heaviest of rotation, popping up four times last summer alone.  Meanwhile, a song I associate with Drowned, Rock n’ Roll (Halloween cover/frequent set II opener/room to jam etc.) made four appearances this summer.  In a summer that saw nearly half of the shows open the second set with Carini, Down Disease or Birds of a Feather, it blows my mind that Drowned only came out once.

Seven Below – 6/1 Holmdel – A song which seemed destined to become one of the regulars during the 2.0 era has already been demoted, making fewer and fewer appearance since 2009.  In this case, I have a theory.  I think that Seven Below barely qualifies as a whole song, since it’s essentially one riff and a short lyrics section.  Because of this, it works really well when the band is jamming a lot.  It can either be a launch pad for exploration, or a bridge between two songs, as it was during its appearance this summer.  Unfortunately, in a summer long on song-based energy and short on exploratory jamming Seven Below was left, well, out in the cold.

Undermind – 6/8 Darien Lake – This song is in a similar category for me as Taste and Vultures: a song that should be appearing more frequently instead of less.  Two of the first three versions of this tune performed in 3.0, at Hampton and Red Rocks, were standouts. Atlantic City’s version is no slouch either.  What I don’t get is how that doesn’t lead to more appearances.  Undermind seems to have solidified it’s place in Phish-dom as a standout track from an era most fans would like to forget.

Lizards – 6/4 Cuyahoga Falls – No lie, I could hear this one every show.  Seriously.  Every. Show.  We here at Online Phish Tour go thousands upon thousands of words deep, just to try to explain Phish.  Honestly, if you want someone to understand Phish, you’re probably just better off playing this song for them.  This solo still stands as one of Trey’s best composed solos, and there are few songs that perfectly encapsulate Phish.  This is one of them.  I’m not shocked that it’s performed as infrequently as it is, but I don’t think it needs relegated to the same rotation as Forbin’s and Icculus.  There are plenty of first set tunes this one could, and should, replace.

Walls of the Cave – 6/19 Portsmouth – Round Room’s centerpiece track has showed up infrequently in 2011.  Played in the first set on New Year’s Day and the last set at Portsmouth, Walls disappeared for nearly the entire duration of Phish’s 2011 to date. This song’s intricate parts can make it hard to place, but when the band drops it perfectly like they did at Portsmouth it can make a set.

Walk Away – 5/27 Bethel This James Gang classic made it’s only appearance on the first night of summer tour.  Many fans would consider this one of the breakout tunes of 2010, with the addition of an outro segment that goes seamlessly with the current energy-laden brand of arena rock that Phish is pushing.  This is why I find it surprising that this tune made the cut on the first setlist of the tour and then never again.  Now, the band did seem to lean heavily on cover songs at key moments during shows this summer, so it could be a conscious decision to go to originals.  My only question is: if you’re still going to play covers, why not play one you absolutely slay?