DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE WILL GET YOU PUMPED FOR PHISH. DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE AT WORK.
As far as I’m concerned, Bethel 2011 is where Phish finally got their groove back. There were flashes in the pan during ’09 and ’10 but, when Phish took the stage at Bethel Woods over the last Memorial Day weekend, my jaw finally dropped. Trey was a new guitarist, the band was locked like never before in 3.0, and they were all having fun. And this was just the opening of a tour!
Many of you know that Online Phish Tour had been considerably skeptical of Trey’s playing and the band’s ability or desire to jam before Bethel. Those three nights changed a lot for us. Not only were they being more creative, they were just NAILING tiny things that make the difference; listen to how powerful Mike is going into Gumbo for instance (snippet below)–it’s little things like that that came back.
It was so fitting that Tweezer opened the weekend, and tour. The high-energy opener was almost as big of a statement as opening 3.0 with Fluffhead. It was apparent that the band was really hitting their stride when they flawlessly segued into Walk Away from a nasty Wolfman’s Brother. The BOTT, Waves and Caspian captured the early-summer magic in a bottle, each creative in its own way. The following night opened with an even more unexpected song: Theme From the Bottom.
In only the third song of the show, Trey was ready to showcase his resurrected chops. Somewhere in the middle of Cities, Trey absolutely snaps. Go listen to it now if you’ve forgotten this gem (I can get a clip up later–for some reason the clip didn’t save properly to the backend of the site meaning I cant embed it). You can almost pinpoint the moment Trey’s body is overcome with the greater power of music…the greater power we know as “IT“.
The following two songs are almost equally as special in that they were absolutely unique. Halley’s Comet was jammed out for the first time since the Fox Theater in ’09 and was truly hypnotic…and this is only four songs in. The following Jim had an extended middle part that threw people for a loop too.
This already-amazing set comes to a screaming finish with the now-famous Bathtub Gin -> Manteca -> Bathtub Gin; Manteca being played over a Golden Age-ish jam. What a night…and the show was only half over. The second act brought Makisupa with the unforgettable “Page’s House” nonsense that would go all summer long (and hopefully longer) before diving into a complete funkfest of a jam (albiet shortly) and eventually closed with an absolutely scorching David Bowie.
Many 3.0 Bowies were cookie cutter and often felt like they were stumbling into the usual ending. This Bowie, the first of the year’s, was snarling–like they should be. I wasn’t at the Bethel shows, but I remember hearing it the day after on my iPod and rewinding the finish literally five times–at least. I had not heard Trey going for IT so hard since their return. It brought chills to my spine and got me more excited than ever to see them just days later. Listen below to the Bowie finish:
This was the weekend that set up the narrative for the rest of the best summer since 2003 and arguably since 2000: Excellent playing, inside jokes, and musical risk taking. The references all summer long back to Bethel were not only the obvious “Page’s House” screams, but also in the quality of playing. Without Bethel’s inspiration, would we have been graced with the insane tension/release chops from Trey in Darien just nights later? Listen to a clip below:
Or the violent shredding that came from the Ocedoc also at during the Darien 46 Days? Snippet below:
While we’re discussing Darien, which gets little attention because it doesn’t have any BIG jams, let’s also discuss the Hood. The Hood is another song that, like Bowie, had trouble finding its footing in 3.0 (Read our article from last year: The Return of Bliss in Phish’s Holy Trinity for a look into the songs ‘lost’ to the era before 2011). Below is a clip of the end of the Hood from this show and shows just how different of a band Phish was in the beginning of 2011 compared to ’09 and ’10; it doesn’t come to an ‘explosive’ peak, but Trey releases a river of notes that makes even the non-phans weak at the knees:
And, if it weren’t for Bethel, we certainly wouldn’t have had the monster Suzy Greenberg from Great Woods last summer where Trey asks Page to take us to his house resulting in a swampy romp through some sick envelope-filter Mike-bombs. Listen to the snippet below:
Phish was already in full stride early on in the first leg of the summer tour thanks to Bethel. After they dropped the most unique and improvisational Possum of the era at Blossom, Trey reprised a similar jam in the Character Zero that closed the very same set, making it the most unique and improvised Character Zero of the era as well. Listen below:
I think a lot of people might have forgotten just how expectation-exceeding Bethel and the following tour was last year. Last summer, Phish gave us gem after gem. After two years of inconsistent playing, They were finally back in lock-step all the way through the Vermont flood benefit on 9/14. Just take this snippet of Trey’s insanely smooth lick during the UIC Waves:
The lack of a fall tour, the largely forgettable NYE run, and the break since NYE has many people excited for Phish, but forgetful of the progress that was made last summer.
With the unique venues they are playing this summer and the fact that their quality/jamming progression has largely been linear since Hampton ’09, there is no reason to be anything but ecstatic about the upcoming tour opener at the Centrum.
Check back for day-after reviews of every show, duh.