OPT’s Best Phish Run March Madness – East Region

Yesterday OPT kicked off our take on March Madness by releasing a bracket of the best 64 runs in Phishtory and analysis of the West region (VOTE HERE), also known as the “Man” region. As explained in the previous post, we did our best to limit the runs to four consecutive shows, but we made a few exceptions. Festivals, New Years Eve runs, and Halloween shows were allowed (Even Cypress!) and runs couldn’t extended beyond one tour.  After countless hours of deliberation we decided on 64 runs that the OPT tournament committee ranked the participating runs and created a bracket. Today’s post offers analysis brought to you by me, Eli, of the East region, aka, the “Boy” region.  So without further adieu, please vote (if you feel so inclined to) and  participate in the debate.

(click to enlarge)


1. Island Tour vs 16. Superball IX
A sixteen seed has never upset a one seed, and it aint hapenning here. The Island tour (4/2/98-4/5/98) comes in as OPT’s overall number one seed. These four shows in the first week of April 98 have it all: cow funk, spacey funk, beautiful jams, soaring peaks, creativity, uncharted exploration, interesting (yet flowing) set lists and new material. I liken the Island Tour to Duke or Kansas; consistently good, fairly deep, great coaching and a prestigious program. The band was wrapping up Story of a Ghost and wanted the hit the road; I think we would all agree they delivered in a big way. I expect Island Tour to make a deep run in this tourney.

Superball IX was a great time, featured some creative jams and laid the ground work for a stellar second leg of summer 2011, and it might make a surprising run at Island Tour (i.e. The Storage Jam), but this automatic qualifier should have a hard time standing toe-to-toe with a major conference caliber squad. I expect Island Tour to take control of this game from the tip-off leaving Superball IX scrambling on defense and struggling to consistently score. In 1989, 16 seeded Princeton nearly knocked off 1 seed Georgetown in the opening round. It was the closest 1 vs. 16 matchup ever; I don’t see this happening here.

  • #1 Island Tour (88%, 166 Votes)
  • #16 Superball IX (12%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 188

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2. 7/21/97-7/23/97 vs. 15. Festival 8
If you’re a college hoops fan then you likely remember the lasting image of a Hampton player picking up his euphoric coach after 15 seed Hampton beat 2 seed Iowa State (led by former Pacer Jamaal Tinsley) in the opening round of the 2001 tournament. While that may not happen here, there is potential. This mid July string of shows in the coastal South are arguably the best from summer ‘97. Although 7/22 at Walnut Creek is the most recognizable show of this run, 7/21 at Virginia Beach and 7/23 in Atlanta, more than hold their own. The summer of 97 had the cow-funk of Fall 97, but the band adapted the style for outdoor sheds – creating a more refined and focused sound. 7/22 feature’s, arguably, the greatest transitions of all time: Down with Disease -> Mike’s Song.

Festival 8 in sunny California was a major highlight during the band’s first year back. An acoustic day set, Exile on Main St., and a total of eight sets over three days, in a festival setting could make a run at the highly ranked 7/21-7/23. The acoustic was fresh and Exile was a great Halloween cover, but a lack of standout jams hurts this 15 seed’s chances at upsetting a 2 seed. Fest 8 is comparable to an automatic qualifying team anchored by two players who are exceptional in conference player, but struggle against stronger competition. Expect 7/21/97-7/23/97 to run away with this game in the second half.

  • #2 7/21-23/97 (83%, 149 Votes)
  • #15 Festival 8 (17%, 31 Votes)

Total Voters: 180

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3. 6/16/94-6/19/94 vs. 14. Hampton ‘09
June ‘94 is a special month in Phish-lore and the run of 6/16/94-6/19/94 is a major reason why. The band was reckless (in a great way). Setlists were merely loose blueprints for jams and antics: as seen during the OJ show on 6/17/94 and the crazy amount of segues on 6/16. The best show of this four date run might be the indoor summer stop at UIC on 6/18, but don’t count out 6/16 or 6/19, they more than hold their own.

Squaring off against the mid June ‘94 shows, is Phish’s reunion run at Hampton Coliseum in 2009. From March 6 to March 8 Phish emphatically announced their comeback to their fans and the music world. The band was tighter than they were during 2.0 and most importantly, they were healthy. Kicking off 3.0 with a near flawless rendition of the elusive composition Fluffhead, first time played since 9/29/2000, proved to everyone that the boys were back. What Hampton ‘09 lacks in creative depth and jamming, the band more than made up for it in lengthy and energy. Don’t let the seeding fool you, I expect this to be a close match-up. Given that we are deep in the 3.0 era many fans might overlook these ‘94 shows and get behind Hampton ‘09.

  • #3 6/16-19/94 (70%, 125 Votes)
  • #14 Hampton '09 (30%, 53 Votes)

Total Voters: 178

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4. 12/11-12/15/95 vs. 13. 6/23-6/26/04
Phish pushed the boundaries of their improvisation during 1995, especially during the later half of the fall tour. The four shows Phish played from 12/11/95 to 12/15/95 are prime examples of their darker and more exploratory improvisation. Songs like Bowie, Stash, and Split Open and Melt began to take on a new identity, while Slaves and Hood’s were as beautiful and soaring as ever. This run of shows has great versions of these songs plus standout takes on Disease, Antelope and a Tweezer with a SlipKnot tease.

This will be a tough matchup for 6/23/04-6/26/04. These shows are solid examples of the overly patient and spacey jamming of Phish’s last 2.0 tour before Coventry, but in the end they are still part of Phish’s darker days. The venue formerly known as Deer Creek and Alpine Valley are always prime destinations for Phish; however, I don’t know if these jams possess enough offensive firepower to keep up with some of the best improv from a stellar December ‘95. The YEM>2001>YEM from 6/25 is interesting and one of the best Walls of the Cave from 6/24 complete with a Down with Disease will help the summer ‘04 shows case, but will it be enough to get the W against some monstrous improv from ‘95?

  • #4 12/11-15/95 (84%, 144 Votes)
  • #13 6/23-26/04 (16%, 27 Votes)

Total Voters: 171

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5. 11/26-12/1/94 vs. 12. 8/4-8/7/96
Fall 94 vs. Summer 96. 94 was a great year for Phish. It was their last year of incessant touring as the band played 124 shows and took a major step from smaller venues to bigger venues and eventually arenas. The music progressed as well as Phish’s jams became more experimental; yet, the band was as tight as they have ever been. The Slave from 11/26 is on A Live One and track Montana is from a Tweezer jam on 11/28, but the real gem is 12/1.

Opposing this ‘94 Fall run is Phish’s legendary Red Rocks stand of 96. While the shows may have not been Phish’s best, there was definitely something in the air, the water, and undoubtedly the PED (Phish Enahncing Drugs) that made fans rage so hard the band wasn’t asked back until 2009. Don’t get me wrong, the Red Rock 96 shows are worth listening to, but can they top a solid string of 94 shows? Either way, if Red Rocks 96 can get away with using “PEDs” then maybe they can pull of this upset.

  • #5 11/26-12/1/94 (71%, 115 Votes)
  • #12 8/4-7/96 (29%, 46 Votes)

Total Voters: 161

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6. 7/23-7/26/99 vs. 11. 2/21-2/22/03
Last year the VCU Rams were the Cinderella darlings of the NCAA tournament. They went to the Final Four as an 11 seed upsetting several quality opponents on their way. Can 2/21- 2/22/03 upset 7/23 – 7/26/99 and begin their quest as 2012’s VCU? Cinci 03 may have been the best two night stand of Phish’s 2003 Winter Tour. Cinci 03 features patient jamming, interesting setlists, and a unique take on a Mike’s Groove sandwich spanning both shows. In the end, they were two above average shows during an (overall) average stage in the band’s career (although their were several highlights during 2.0).

Polaris, Apline Valley, Deer Creek. 7/23-7/26/99. A five song second set on 7/23, a fifteen minute Fluffhead outro jam on 7/24, a wild whacky rage filled with teases and Fishman humor on 7/25 and meaty DWD->SOAM on 7/26. This is a 6 seed that could really make some noise in tournament play. If they can make it past stealthy Cinci ‘03 run, this summer ‘99 run might have a few upsets in their back pocket.

  • #6 7/23-26/99 (70%, 113 Votes)
  • #11 2/21-22/03 (30%, 48 Votes)

Total Voters: 161

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7. 7/13-7/16/94 vs. 10. 7/2-7/6/98
This game is annually one of the hardest games to select. Both of these runs are well above average and definitely worth listening too. Both are anchored by must hear shows: 7. 7/16/94 and 10. 7/6/98. To me, this is a pick ‘em game. Put the names of the runs in a hat. Close your eyes. And pick. Then watch this gut wrenching match-up for some guaranteed first round excitement. July ‘94 vs. July ‘98 (in Europe).

This will probably be an up and down/barn burner kind of game. Two very different styles of jamming separated by four years of musical growth for the band. I like both runs and could easily see either string of shows making a legitimate run in this tournament, but will the slipper fit?

  • #10 7/2-6/98 (59%, 92 Votes)
  • #7 7/13-16/94 (41%, 63 Votes)

Total Voters: 155

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8. 7/19-7/21/98 vs. 9. 11/16-11/19/96
The ultimate toss up game. The 8 vs. 9 games don’t always have the most thrilling finishes, but on paper, this game might be the hardest to choose. Typically, the game is made up of two teams from who in the top half of their respective major conference, two talented mid-major teams, or a combination of the two. Either way, that’s what we have here. A mid-summer ‘98 run of shows with some atypical jams i.e. an interesting segue jam from McGrupp->Disease from 7/19, an extended Makisupa and multiple false endings on Poor Heart from 7/20 (don’t forget the debut of Sexual Healing), and reprise on the jam from Tube from 7/21. Not too mention further exploration on the new tunes off Ghost.

On the other side we have three enjoyable shows from Fall ‘96 that have top tier versions of key songs. “The Note” in Hood from 11/16, a lengthy 2001 and Tweezer with Gary Gazaway on trumpet (among other songs) and a above average version of Gin and a Groove is in the Heart jam in YEM from 11/19. In the end, neither run will overwhelm you, but by the same token, they could respectively upset many runs in this tournament. I except this contest to be a high scoring track meet.

  • #8 7/19-21/98 (51%, 79 Votes)
  • #9 11/16-19/96 (49%, 77 Votes)

Total Voters: 156

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