Since Phish regrouped, fans have been thankful for all the Joy the band has brought back into their lives. From the three night reunion run at the Mothership and Fest 8 to the array of bust-outs and the exploratory jams that helped the boys get their sea legs back, fans were grateful for everything Phish in 2009 and 2010; 2011 changed all of that. So in light of Thanksgiving and the year (predominantly summer 2011) that reestablished Phish’s ownership over their craft, let’s look at eight things we should be thankful for. (Why eight? Because it’s a homophone of ate. And ate is the simple past tense of eat; the activity we embrace on thanksgiving.)
– Superball IX – Phish’s ninth festival was the antithesis of Coventry. Although Festival 8 delivered some memorable moments, primarily the Exile set, Superball IX brought the festival scene back to the Northeast and featured better playing and better jams. Aside from the music, Superball IX was also a huge success logistically speaking. Not only were we graced with beautiful weather over the July 4th weekend, but the festival ran smoothly. The campsites were relatively clean and easy to navigate, traffic was manageable, and the folks of Watkins Glen were affable. In addition Phish brought the What Cheer? Brigade to entertain festival goers, set up a Beers of the World tent (which I hope you took full advantage) and reunited with Lars Fisk and Russ Bennett to design and install Ball Square. In the end, Superball IX was a trouble free weekend filled with seven sets of Phish (plus the hour long Ball Square Jam) that helped transcend Phish over the course of the summer that redefined 3.0.
– The Superball Mound – Although Phish refined their “new” jamming style over the Superball weekend (see the Storage Jam, and the Golden Age jam) and played several standout versions of key tunes in the repertoire, the Trey solo (which replaced Page’s solo) during “Mound” ranks at the top of the musical highlights from the festival. This solo is unprecedented. In other words, as far as I know, Trey has never soloed at the end of the lyrics section. The guitar work is so focused that it seems like it could have been composed; however, I tend to think it was an organic solo that fit the mood. Trey builds the solo by playing patterned licks and building upon the previous phrase of notes until he peaks. Not only is the guitar playing here blissful, but Mike stands toe-to-toe with Trey. The combination of Mike’s basslines and Trey’s guitar playing vigorously announces the arrival of this euphoric climax. I hope the alternate ending resurfaces, but if it doesn’t, it will add to the lore of Trey’s Superball “Mound” solo.
– Three Night Runs – The cluster of shows from the three night runs at Bethel, UIC, and Dicks produced plenty of high quality Phish for fans to enjoy and listen to. Bethel started the summer off in a big way, while the band’s Leg II conclusion in UIC was straight Chicago fire, and Dick’s served as a festive reprise to a summer filled with stellar music and memorable moments. A large helping of my favorite jams from the summer occurred during these three night runs. In addition to the stand-out playing during these three night runs, Phish chose to host them at great venues. The rolling green and serene hills of Bethel, NY (Woodstock) were the perfect accompaniment for a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. Phish has always had a great relationship with UIC and has played some standout shows there (also Chicago is an amazing city to visit during the summer). Lastly, Denver (another must-visit city during the summer months) enabled fans to get away over Labor Day weekend, camp in the neighboring soccer fields and enjoy Phish. Simply put, I am desperately looking forward to more three night runs because the band seems to approach these stands with a purpose but with a relaxed mindset. For some more insight and discussion about three night stands check out this OPT article.
– Golden Age – After debuting on 11/27/09 in Albany, NY “Golden Age” seemed like a one-off cover until the band dusted off the TV on the Radio tune on 10/11/10. The song was shelved for the rest of the 2010 fall tour/NYE run, but reemerged on 6/8/11 at Darien Lake (“Golden Age” was also teased during “Weekapaug” and “2001”). Phish played “Golden Age” six times over course of the summer, but the improvisational highlight remains the type II exploration from Superball. Despite giving fans hope that the song would develop into something more than danceable rhythms, a catchy chorus and an inspiring, yet succinct, Trey solo, the improv section of the tune returned to its former structure. Either way, “Golden Age” is an uplifting song that perfectly fits Phish’s current sound. Adding “Golden Age” into the rotation is a good sign that the band is constantly trying to evolve and grow musically; which is what we should expect. The triplet-laden drum pattern has already become incorporated in Fishman’s playing (check out the 9/3/11 Tweezer). I personally hope the song develops like “2001” did between 96-98, but if it doesn’t, “Golden Age” will remain a welcomed addition.
– Vermont Flood Recovery Benefit – Although I wasn’t among the fortunate few thousand fans who were at this show, I was pleased Phish and their management put this benefit concert together. From Phish’s own philanthropic wing the Waterwheel Foundation to their support of the Mockingbird Foundation and several LivePhish releases whose proceeds are donated to specific disasters, the band has put together a long history of philanthropic work. The Vermont Flood Recovery Benefit concert brought Phish back to their home state for the first time since the disastrous Coventry weekend. Not only was Phish doing a mitzvah (a noble deed), but the energy deriving from their first “3.0” Vermont show was palpable. To me, even though there are a few musical highlights from the Vermont Benefit show (Carini>DWD to name one), the show was less about “music,” and more about what Phish can do for a community. This event enabled Phish to give back to the community and state that birthed them. This show reinforced Phish’s dedication to their roots and sets a positive example for their fans.
– 1/1/11 – Of the three NYE shows at MSG, 1/1/11 was undoubtedly my favorite. Although 12/31 set II delivered top notch improv (Sand, DWD, YEMteca) and arguably the greatest “3.0” jam (Ghost), 1/1/11 was the most complete show of the run. First set opened with a ripping “My Soul,” a plinko-fied “Tube,” the old school duo of “Jim>Foam” and an entertaining “Guelah” before the band settled into “Divided Sky.” The boys busted out “Round Room” then proceed to tear the roof of the Garden with their refined take on “Walk Away.” The “Jiboo>Reba” are another stellar one-two punch before the band closed set I with the fitting “Walls of the Cave.” Set I is one of the most complete first sets the band has played since returning. As good as set I was, set II was that much better. The band interplay during the string of “C&P>Twist>Simple” made for great highlights, but this “Simple” is a must hear “3.0” version. The jam disintegrates into lightly played notes. Then the boys rebuild the jam around a beautiful pattern started by Trey. A funky “Sally” complete with a vocal jam and bombs from Mike, a tongue in cheek “Makisupa” and a swarthy “Bowie” rounded out the second set, before the band returned to encore with “Fee” and “Frankenstein.” Ultimately, in my opinion, 1/1/11 remains one of the best shows of 2011. The jamming foreshadows the high level playing during the summer and kicked off 2011 on the right note.
– The S Show – On the first night of their three show stand in Denver, Phish entertained fans with a “super-scintillating-sensational” show (as Dickie V would say). Every song the band played began with the letter “S.” Clearly this did not happen by coincidence. Tom Marshall wrote on twitter that “it’s nice if people found a meaning for it…because frankly, it was just a funny idea. Trey first mentioned it to me right after the UIC Chicago shows.” However, phans who have been on the lot since the early/mid 90s and have seen countless numbers of shows comment that the show was in honor of Scott Nowak (who passed away on August 27th, 2011), an original member of Phish’s “Green Crew” and a staple in the scene. Either way, the show happened and meant a great deal to a lot of people. Although this was not the most musically ambitious show in terms of ground breaking improvisation, the “Stash,” “Sally,” “Sand,” Scents,” and “Slave” stand out. In addition, the average song gap chart totals at a staggering 54.69 shows thanks to the bustouts of “Sparks,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Sabotage,” and “Sweet Adeline.” Phish once played a set predominantly of “M” songs on 11/15/96, but the S show took this idea to a whole new level. In the end, the S-show conveys that Phish is maintaining their quirkiness and lighthearted attitude while staying committed to musical excellence and commemorating a dedicated fan and respected member of the community.
– Plinko – The new tones, playing techniques, and improv styles each member of the band has grown into during “3.0” fit perfectly into “plinko” jamming. Phish has redefined themselves several times throughout their career by embracing new improvisational styles and new sounds. The band’s recent integration of “plinko” is no different. When Trey dropped the “whale” is when “plinko” seemed to rear its head. While the Greek’s “Simple” and “Cities” from August 2010 aren’t classic examples of “plinko,” they demonstrate how the jamming style began to enter Phish’s playing. Four months later, during the 2010 NYE, Phish displayed their appreciation for “plinko” by using it’s staccato based principles to jam on “Hood,” “Tweezer,” “Sand” “Tube,” and “Runaway Jim.” Phish did not shy away from “plinko” during this past summer as the Blossom Sally, Bethel Jim, Superball Golden Age, Tahoe Light, UIC LxL and Undermind, among many other songs featured “plinko” inspired jams or “plinko” jam sequences. Not only does this new jamming style enable Mike to drop bomb after bomb, but it also allows Fish to float around the set and play atypical rhythms. It truly is a style of jamming that showcases the band’s talents as one cohesive unit and I hope to see more of it. Personally, I really dig “plinko” and would love to see Phish develop and integrate “plinko” like they incorporated “cow-funk” into their repertoire.
– Honorable Mention –
What moments or jams from 2011 are you grateful for?