Summer 2011: OPT Readers’ VS My Thoughts

Nearly a month ago OPT featured a series of polls focusing on both legs of this year’s summer tour. I’ve taken a handful of results to discuss and match with my own opinions (for all results click here).


Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2011

Summer 2011 boasted the most unique and inspired playing we’ve seen since 2.0. Trey returned to Bethel with improved chops, more direction and better communication with his on-stage peers than the years before. Songs like Reba, Slave and Hood shined once again. As you read on, you’ll be able to see my votes by the bolded answers within the poll images.

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Let’s discuss Tweezer first. We’ve seen two different roles for Tweezer this year. The first role is its usual: an improv springboard. The second role isn’t as popular however: the setup song. Seemingly starting in Telluride last year with the six-minute Tweezer that drifted into Boogie, Phish have been using the song as a quick setup to another song lately. The most obvious example of this was probably Alpharetta’s when it dove right into a poorly-placed Julius. While Riverbend’s was a quick one too, it contained far more interesting playing before reaching its final destination.

As you can see from the poll to the left, the Dick’s Tweezer is the OPT-Reader favorite. A good version indeed. This jam was one of the best examples of Trey playing delicately and thoughtfully–something he hasn’t been doing well in the last two years. The communication between the band members is wonderful throughout the song with Page’s additions being favorites. I think this was also the longest Tweezer of the year.

Like many of you, I enjoyed the SBIX jam that worked its way into a snarling and swanky swamp of improvisation. It showcased one of the more unique jams of the entire year. It is probably my favorite jam of the entire festival

Where the readers and I part ways is UIC. The UIC jam, albeit Page’s cool DEG teases, really isn’t special. I think this is a clear case of short-term memory of the phans. On the contrary, while I’m being critical of those who picked UIC Tweezer as a favorite, one of my picks will probably generate similar feelings. I think the Outside Lands Tweezer is the bomb. It’s a linear type-I jam–nothing too crazy–but it comes to a beautiful and intense peak that featured something I like to call a “wobble peak”.

As I explained in the OL review, “Trey finds a niche inside of Fish’s pulsating beat and works from there.  The seemingly-innocent noodling transforms into, for lack of better words, pure psychedelic rock.  It’s a series of waterfalls of notes and mini-peak after mini-peak.  Towards the end, Trey uses the style that he’s  used in a few other jams this leg (including the peak in the Tahoe Ghost) where Trey makes a series of mini-bends in his strings to give his notes a sort of eerie/ghostly sound”.

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Down with Disease is another song that has found two roles in 3.0. DwD is either a 10-min rocker to open a show/set up another song, or it’s an open-ended journey.

The two favorites were obvious: Pine Knob and UIC. Both versions pushed the 25-minute mark and featured some of the most impressive improvisation we’ve seen since June of 2004. Both versions have been talked about non-stop since they were played; there isn’t much more I can say that you don’t know.

I think the third-best version is Essex’s. The hometown version released a hurricane of explosive notes before steamrolling into one of the smoothest and most impresive funk-fusion jams they’ve laid before us this era.

As I described it in Essexy Evening with Phish, “Trey plays a throbbing chord over Mike’s bulbous licks before Fish starts breaking the beat apart into one of the most impressive jams they have laid down this era.  Then comes Page on the organ–wow.  Everything locks around nine minutes into pure musical sex.  After the intense-funk jamming comes a blissful euphoria–it reminds me a lot of the 11/14/98 jam after the Tweezer peak.”

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Ghost had an obvious outcome as well. There was no doubt the Dick’s Ghost would be the favorite here. Trey’s impressive chops mixed with the fact that they bust out Guy Forget in the middle left few others that could come close. 

The next best version is also clear: Charlotte. Charlotte’s was good for similar reasons the NYE version was . They both contained soulful darting leads by Trey, both with a twist of 3.0 hose.

I think having “UIC” in the title causes many fans to think irrationally. Why else would UIC’s get nearly double the votes than Lake Tahoe’s rock adventure? UIC’s Ghost was shorter than the Tweezer Reprise of the same night. Both PNC and UIC Ghosts could be wiped off the Earth and no one would notice–or care.

I’m not sure which version I like more out of the top two. Both are great for different reasons. I suppose I’d have to go with Dick’s just because of how explosive Trey is in it, Guy Forget, and the playful ending to the song where Trey lets us all know that the Ghost is, in fact, Guy. While Charlotte’s jam is very inspired and beautiful, I feel that there will be more of those jams to come, kinda like how most Gin’s are glorious in 3.0; we love and appreciate each one, but one doesn’t really stick out too much farther from the rest since we’re so used to that quality and style of playing in the song now. My ‘problem’ with Gin now is that they are all glorious. That sounds really bad, doesn’t it? Let me elaborate.

My favorite [normal] Gins were probably UIC and Dick’s. Both are tear-jerking reminders of Trey’s ability to create emotional, full-band climaxes within the structure of a short type-I jam; however, that’s the route the song takes, almost exclusively, every time it’s played. Aside from Gorge ’09 and Bethel ’11, can you think of a Gin that has ventured outside the box relative to another?

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Another song that is becoming more and more typecast is Crosseyed and Painless. Not to say that the song is ever bad, it’s just that they are not using it as the improvisational centerpiece they once reserved it for. Nevertheless, Crosseyeds differ enough from one to another for mention.

The bolded “nTelos” to the left is an accident–I meant to choose Hollywood’s. I figured SBIX would be the favorite considering it had that unusual and eerie jam that led into it, but I love the way the Bowl’s tore face off. Trey even stepped on the wah for a bit. Also, Trey used the pedal that he used during the 7.6.98 Ghost when he stuck his tongue out; when it sounds like his guitar is slipping up out of water.

The UIC version is certainly notable considering that the entire second set of the respective show is themed around it. “Still waiting” came out in nearly every subsequent song.

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If Crosseyed & Painless and Gin didn’t venture far out of the box, Rock and Roll did enough for both of them. Obviously, the epic Gorge version was going to win, that is like the Packers playing the Bears. What else can really be said about it? As the Pine Knob and UIC DwDs were, this RnR has been discussed plenty. I’m more interested in the runners-up.

I figured Dick’s would get second place. I’d argue that Merriweather should get the two-spot though. I love how the jam goes into the bubbly noises before seguing perfectly into Albuquerque.

As I described it in the Merriweather review, Pure Heat, “At first it sounded like a type-I rocker, but it slowly dipped into psychedelic type-II territory.  Trey plays like he’s about to go into a digital delay jam like NYE 95′s during Mike’s–while there are layered “bubbly” sounds in the background.  Serious stuff.”

I voted PNC’s to be my third choice because I love how off-the-chain Trey gets during the jam. Sure it’s a closed-ended, type-I , 10-minute version, but it displays Trey’s [at the time] new-found finger dexterity.

Dick’s wasn’t that great. Sure, it went into the cool-on-paper Come Together, but the actual jam wasn’t very impressive.

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After two years of finding Slaves nearly-unmentionable, I think it’s now important enough to discuss the poll results. Slave is a song that has definitely found its beauty once again. Trey had trouble with the jam’s required patience, peak building and peak execution in 2009 and 2010 until the NYE 2010 version–after that, nearly every Slave in 2011 has been as beautiful as the song should be.

I think the best two versions of the year have been Dicks’ with Essex’s at a close second-place. UIC’s was good, but isn’t worthy of the 2nd spot (again, just having UIC in front of the title gives it immediate credibility.

As I described my favorite version from Dick’s in the review, Something Special, “Slave, longer than most versions in this era, featured one of the longest notes Trey has held in 2.0 or 3.0.  After “the note”, came a glorious flurry of notes the lead up to what I’d consider the best version of Slave of the past three years–it’s absolutely heart-wrenching.”

It’s all about the note Trey holds during the Dick’s Slave jam.

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Along with the list of songs I polled readers on, I added two polls that served as ‘wild card’ ballots. Songs that had exceptional versions, but are not always special, made this list.

Golden Age was the favorite of the first leg as a wild card. Yeah, I think the jam is cool, but I think it’s overrated. I think the Sneakin’ Sally from Blossom, the Bethel Halley’s Comet, and the Pine Knob Bowie are all far more interesting.

I’m surprised that the Camden With edged out the extended rendition of After Midnight. Even though OPT’s Poster Nutbag masterbates to this Curtain every night before bed, the jam out of Midnight makes it unconventional and goes places deeper than the Camden 1st-set closer goes.

Halley’s definitely deserves its position on this leader board as it gave many of us what we had been dying for for two years–and extended Comet. It also was exciting because it was a first-set jam–something that seems to be more elusive in this era compared to previous eras.

I think the Bowie from Pine Knob suffers greatly from the massive Bowie within the same set. This 17-minute Bowie is a fine example of improvisation. It’s also one of the only (other than Utica) extended versions of 3.0. It’s the one of the only extended/playful intros of this era too (again, other than Utica’s). While 2011 has been a great year for Bowie (relative to its weak performance in 09 and 10), this version takes the cake.

The Blossom Possom also suffers from being out-shadowed by other highlights in a set. This very experimental Possum is one-of-a-kind and truely improvisational all the way through the finishing lyrics. The jam was so successful, the band reprised it in the Character Zero that closed the very same set. So why doesn’t it get the attention it deserves? Probably because the outro jam goes into their new hit song, Steam. Also, the set contains one of the best Sneakin’ Sallys of this era, along with a Hood > Have Mercy > Hood sandwich for the ages.

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The second leg featured some really impressive wild cards. Everything was fair game for improv on the second leg. Gosh, just thinking about that leg makes me drool.

UIC had the top three picks–impressive–it shows just how unpredictable and exciting that run was. Undermind and Waves, the two winners, were connected with the beautiful segue of Waves -> Undermind. It’s crazy that the best two wild cards were back-to-back like that. The third place pick was from the first set of that show–wow.

I had trouble deciding between the explosive by-request set closer (Alumni) and the Dick’s Piper and the Dick’s Scents (stop laughing). I suppose the Slave-esque jam out of Scents just struck me the right way; however, it’s about even with how amazing the jam out of Alumni was.

It’s crazy that a Limb by Limb made the list. Again, it’s a UIC song and features one of the most oddly-placed jams of the year. The mid-song jam based off of some of Trey’s ‘plinko’ funk got me thinking they weren’t going to return to the song during the moment.

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Now comes the biggie. What was the best jam of 2011’s summer legs? Voters were allowed to pick 4–that way jams other than Gorge RnR and Pine Knob DwD would get votes.

I actually agree pretty close with the readers on this. While I didn’t actually pick the Dick’s Tweezer, I can appreciate it reaching number 4.

Since this is supposed to be best jam though, I think the UIC DwD needs to be on the leader-board. Also, while the Bethel Gin is epic, I don’t see the improvisation as impressive as the first three places (and UIC Disease).

Arguably, the SBIX Storage jam should be in first place. Depending on how you look at it, it either captured or started a large part of what the jamming style of 2011 is based on. The Rock and Roll from the Gorge was a form of Storage jamming for instance.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t cover all the polls that our readers participated in–if I did, it would be too long for anyone to keep their interest. Again, if you’d like to see the results of all the polls, please click here.

It’s very exciting to me that this year’s series of polls included far more highlights and far more debate over which is best–it’s always a good problem when there are too many highlights to choose from (so many that I couldn’t discuss them all here).

If Phish can capture just half of the magic they honed this summer tour at Madison Square Garden over New Year’s Eve, we might be in for a run that makes UIC, Dick’s, and Bethel look like a String Cheese run at Riverbend in the rain.