If the first round gave us a healthy dose of surprises, the second round was about as bland as could be. All but one of the higher seeds won, and the one lower-seed winner – NYE ’93 over Japan ’00 – is hardly an upset.
Furthermore, we saw no down-to-the-wire match-ups this time around. Fans’ preferences were clear. Most of the time, those preferences were for big shows over big jams. Thus the Halloween/Dark Side run from 1998 defeated a Summer ’97 run that had far more epic improvisation, but in a much smaller spotlight.
Similarly, the New Year’s ’97 run, which featured two classic shows, one good-but-not-classic show, and a clunker, crushed the jamtastic Amsterdam/Nuremberg run from that July.
The one exception to this rule was 12/5-7/97, which won handily over the NYE ’94 stretch. This is hardly an upset, though: Dayton ’97 has been officially released, and the previous night’s show from Auburn Hills is one of the most popular shows in the band’s history. And though New Year’s ’94 includes a historic Bowie from 12/29, the average fan can name little else that transpired over the four-night stand – save, perhaps, for the hot dog.
Round 2 also saw the elimination of the only remaining pre-93 run, as well as both post-99 runs. Other than Big Cypress, every run occurred between 1993 and 1998. This includes 6 runs from 1997, 3 from 1993, 2 from 1998 and 1995, and one each from 1994, 1995 and 1996.
What do we have to look forward to in the Sweet Sixteen? With a narrowed field, some real heavy hitters will be challenging each other. Though many of the higher seeds will surely cruise to victory, others could be complicated.
In the Shit region (aka the South – what’s the big idea there, bracket designers?), NYE ’95 and 5/5-8/93 both have special places in Phish lore, along with a ton of great music, but one has to imagine the 1 seed will pull through. The region’s other match-up is really a toss-up: though I personally prefer the jamminess of NYE ’97, I could easily see other fans preferring the energetic but less exploratory Clifford Ball shows.
The Man/West quadrant pits two NYE heavy hitters against each other, with Big Cypress taking on New Years ’93. Both amazing runs, but it’s hard to see Cypress going down this early. In the bottom half of the bracket, the second week of December ’97 goes up against the third, in a fascinating battle that could easily go either way.
In the Boy/East, a roaring run from December ’95 will give the Island Tour its first real challenge, but like Cypress, the 1 seed is the clear favorite. A couple very different summer runs meet up in the 2-3 pairing, with the jam-heavy opening trio of US Summer ’97 taking on the heart of June ’94.
Finally, the God/North bracket has what could be the most interesting 1-4 showdown, and the least interesting 2-3. The former sees the Great Went taking on some of August 1993’s finest, while the latter pairs 11/21-23/97 – with the newly-released soundboards echoing freshly in everyone’s mind – against the excellent but slightly less loved shows surrounding Halloween ’98.
But as the number of teams gets lower, the stakes get higher, so these will be fun to watch. Be sure to vote.