OPT’s Best Phish Run March Madness – South Region

The NCAA Tournament has started and ours is well underway. Today wraps up the opening round as voting for the South region, the “Shit” region, is open. We have some heavy hitters in South regional, and a few that could make a surprising run. I hope you enjoy the final region of the opening round and are ready for some more intense action. In the mean time, enjoy in-depth analysis from me and Zim and vote! I feel like a broken record/a “radio unfriendly” song (because I say the same thing in every post).

Feel free to vote through the weekend for your favorite runs in the East, West, and North regions as well, but once the weekend is up, its time to get serious and begin the Round of 32.


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1. NYE 95 vs. 16. Bethel 11
For many fans, myself included, the New Years Eve run of 1995 represent not just a peak for Phish, it represented the peak.  Meaning from the all the universally adored moments, including the rest of the exalted No. 1 seeds, NYE ‘95 stands above.  The all star jams are second to none:  The Real Gin from Worcester, the 12/30 set one segue fest, and most importantly, the set-spanning Mike’s Groove of 12/21.  Detractors (such as OPT’s Guy Forget) argue that this team relies too much on star power and lacks the depth and versatility to make a long run.  Don’t believe it; this is your prohibitive #1 favorite, even with that other NYE show in the mix.

So does the upstart from ‘11 have any chance to pitch an upset?  Short answer: No.  Long answer: For those special few who value tight playing and jimi-like rock licks from Trey…still no.  But that doesn’t mean this run isn’t still criminally unde-rseeded here, with a stunning Halley’s Jam, a Stash that reveals more layers with each listen, the Golden-Gin-Teca, and Phish’s funniest spontaneous stage moment in over a decade in Makisupa.  Sorry they will be booted so soon.

  • #1 12/28-31/95 (88%, 102 Votes)
  • #16 Bethel 2011 (12%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 116

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2. NYE 97 vs. 15. 7/30-8/2/09
Another classic NYE run versus a 3.0 highlight.  In other words, another looming blowout.  NYE ‘97 packs almost as many highlights as it’s one seeded rival.  A killer Antelope and classic DWD on 12/29, a greatest-ever Bag and Harpua from a stuffed 12/30 and another killer NYE Mike’s Groove.  Furthermore, this run is deep with rare cuts, fantastic moments and well played songs throughout.

These four nights in Red Rocks represent the return of Phish to this most hallowed ground coinciding with the jamming rebirth of Phish.  When the final history of the band is written, this run will certainly deserve mention.  However, these jams may mean a good deal more than they actually deserve musically.  Ghost>Wolfman’s, a shocking Fluffhead>Piper and a beautiful Hood all deserve a re-listen for those who think 2009 had nothing to offer.  But again, this is no real contest.

  • #2 12/28-31/97 (91%, 98 Votes)
  • #15 7/30-8/2/09 (9%, 10 Votes)

Total Voters: 108

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3. Clifford Ball vs. 14. 11/2-11/4/90
This is where things may start to get interesting.  Clifford Ball may be the most underrated run in this whole tournament; it is perhaps the most sterling example of Phish’s musical chops.  But for some, the lack of type-II jamming consigns this festival to a second class citizen.  It’s hard to pick highlights from Clifford, as everything is played extraordinarily well and there are moments of brilliance sprinkled everywhere.  For example, the last couple minutes of Fluffhead are two of the greatest moments of Phish shreddage ever.

On the complete other end of the dial, we have a penultimate example of the loose, wacky, signal-happy Phish of the early-90’s.  They are all over the place here, and it is a buttload of fun.  I loose track just trying to find all the signals in the glorious Bowie intro.  A Manteca>Caravan mash up and one of the most beautiful “lost” Hoods of pre-93.  There’s tons to love here, but it’s certainly a grab bag, and nowhere near the perfection of Clifford Ball.  Perfection is not for all Phish fans, so the early-90’s heads have a case to make, but so do those who see Clifford as a Final Four contender waiting in the weeds.

  • #3 Clifford Ball (87%, 93 Votes)
  • #14 11/2-4/90 (13%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 107

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4. 5/5-5/8/93 vs. 13. 11/6-11/9/98
Two very interesting runs from transitional periods in the band’s period.  This May ‘93 run holds some of the most interesting moments from this period, but that doesn’t mean there’s unanimous acclaim from all fans.  For instance, the YEM featuring the Aquarium Rescue Unit is wildly experimental, as is the Tweezer from the following night.  Some of us love our Phish wild, experimental and free flowing, like the wacky Harpua with professional wrestling references, and don’t worry too much about how well it all fits together.  The energy here is unmatched as well, but it may be missing some of the precision one looks for in a high seed.

On the other hand, this run from the fall of 1998 shows off some of what frustrated fans from that era.  Moments of brilliance, such as that Bag and its exceptional segue into Ghost, are surrounded by playing that had become more staid and predictable by that point.  To be sure, many crunchy jams are to be found in the mix, and if that is what Phish means to you, there may be an upset case to be made.

  • #4 5/5-8/93 (65%, 67 Votes)
  • #13 11/6-9/98 (35%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 103

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5. 7/29-8/3/98 vs.12. 7/19-7/21/91
This match up has upset special written all over it: The perennially underrated summer of ‘98 against the ultimate fan favorite Giant Country Horns run.  That is, until you listen to the 7/29/98 show opening Gin, the 8/1 2001>Magilla>2001>Tweezer, and the monster 8/3 Gumbo.  As Dicky V might have said if he was at any of the shows (or if you had really good acid and like to imagine Dicky V providing color commentary for Phish): You gotta be kidding me, baby!  Another underrated stunner of a run, with all-star talent and a deep bench that could match up well against any opponent.

And then you turn off summer ‘98, decide you don’t really care about type-II jamming for a while, and dance yourself crazy to those glorious horns of ‘91.  Whats amazing here is how fluid the horns fit into all the songs by this point.  The fact that they spent so many shows together already and allowed themselves to be repetitive on the setlists paid off during this undisputed peak.  It’s crazy, tight, and insanely fun.  But are there enough Rudy’s in the bunch to match up with the juggernaughts of ‘98?

  • #12 7/19-21/91 (52%, 53 Votes)
  • #5 7/29-8/3/98 (48%, 49 Votes)

Total Voters: 102

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6. 6/28-7/1/2000 vs. 11.12/2-12/3/97
Here we have a gem from one of the more maligned Phish tours going up against a relative downbeat during perhaps the greatest tour the band has ever been on.  Veeeeery interesting.  We’ve got an outstanding Drowned, a fun Tweeprise-Cavern encore and a nice Mike’s Groove, with tons of other fun moments throughout.  No question, the band was feeling it during this run.  However, those who complain about the lack of energy and inventiveness during this period could find some places to pick apart as well.

So what does a lackluster show from fall ‘97 tour look like?  For starters, it’s got a top-ten Mike’s Groove, a top-25 Bowie and a stop-start funk jam out of possum that would make Mike Krzyzewski forget how to spell his own last name.  So why is it seeded so low?  Lets just say that in such a stacked conference, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  This run, as great as it is, clearly falls short against the powerhouses in its conference.  So what’s it gonna be, the champion from June 2000 or the at large bid from Fall ‘97?

  • #11 12/2-3/97 (61%, 63 Votes)
  • #6 6/28-7/1/00 (39%, 41 Votes)

Total Voters: 104

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7. 7/1-7/3/97 vs. 10. 2/19-2/21/93
One of the more interesting match-ups in the Phish bracket. A run of shows from the summer of ‘97 in Europe against the ‘93 Roxy run in Atlanta. The Roxy run might be enshrined in a box set, but don’t let that fool you. They are great shows, but so too are these shows from Amsterdam and Nuremberg. On one side you have the (likely) drug induced Phish in Amsterdam going off about worms/WormTown and playing dark funky ass shit, and on the other you have sit-ins by Jimmy Herring and Jeff Mosier, and once again teases, lyrical changes, segues and on stage banter amongst the band members.

This is going to come down to preferences. How do you like your Phish? Funky, experimental, and psychedelic or fun, fast paced, quirky and funny? Song filled sets or jam filled sets? Both runs feature Phish in a very loose and comfortable state. This should be a barn burner, I can’t wait to see the results.

  • #7 7/1-3/97 (51%, 51 Votes)
  • #10 2/19-21/93 (49%, 49 Votes)

Total Voters: 100

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8. 4/16-4/19/92 vs. 9. 2/26-2/28/2003
Another interesting match-up in this tournament. Early 90’s Phish vs. the first real tour of 2.0. This is a match-up of contrasting tones, different petals, gear, venue size, lighting rig, jamming styles and types of fan. These two runs couldn’t be more different; yet, here they are squaring in the highly anticipated 8 vs. 9 slot. 2/26-2/28 might be the best run of shows (its only two shows mind you) during the February 2003 tour. 2/26 is a song filled affair with teases, debuts, and lengthy jams. Each member of the band debut a song from their respective side project which added some zest to the show. 2/28 is an outright 2.0 jam fest. Arguably the best show of 2003 (some even say 2.0) 2/28 featured the return of Destiny Unbound (first show in nearly 800 shows) and Soul Shakedown Party. In addition, the band dropped a monstrous Tweezer, took Gin out for a nice ride, and Hooded the shit out of Harry. Might I also add that this might be one of the top five versions of Back on the Train ever.

4/16-4/19/92 are much different shows, but they are as effective. With shorter jams, more songs and antics, these early shows will stand toe-to-toe with February ‘03. 4/16 might be the most complete show of the bunch, but 4/18’s Hood could make a grown man cry. The band must have been loving the California sun during their April trek in ‘92 because these shows vibe in such positive ways. Varying Mike’s Groove (on 4/16 and Mike’s Grove 4/19) offer a great glimpse into the band’s jamming style and interpretation of this classic trio of songs. This should be an interesting match-up. Who will come out on top? A younger, naive, and playful era of vs. a darker, more experienced, and older era.

  • #9 2/26-28/03 (53%, 48 Votes)
  • #8 4/16-19/92 (47%, 43 Votes)

Total Voters: 91

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