I am torn with emotion over Phish’s first leg of their 2012 summer tour. While there was some amazing improvisation and communication–better than we’ve seen all of 3.0–, there were some forced songs and jam abortions that became greatly frustrating. They’d get my rocks off with an impressive jam or a screaming guitar solo (see: Alpine’s 46 Days), or they would tease me with standard song after standard song–making some wonder if they were more concerned with hitting the 200-song mark than impressive musicianship.
Without dissecting the entire tour too early–that should come next week–it can be boiled down to the leg’s last three shows at SPAC: inside jokes/silliness, impressively layered jamming, long sets, blazing guitar solos, and LOTS OF SONGS.
If you sift through the short/standard/decent versions of songs, there are some serious gems, especially the third night which was all balls-to-the-wall.
Starting on the 6th, Phish played a song-driven show with completely standard and unrelated songs one after another for much of the night. Despite the obvious highlights of the first set in an awesome Tube -> Psycho Killer -> Tube, hot Light Up, and Cracklin’ Rosie bust out, you have to sometimes listen closer for added points of interest. One of my favorite hidden gems is the Heavy Things in the first set–a song I think has been a true treat nearly every time it surfaced in 3.0 because of Trey’s excellent playing–although Trey was setting up his loop (beep beep) for the song before hand, he decided to forego it. For the first time I can think of, Page started the ‘jam’ out of the gates, leading the crew into Trey’s note-filled love affair with us. Big deal? No. But something interesting nonetheless.
The compact Sand was perfectly in lock-step with the summer’s other versions. Hot pocket-jammed funk all wrapped up in a ten-minute package. Fans are drooling to see what Sand could do if it were allowed to breathe ten extra minutes. Unfortunately during much of the second sets at SPAC, like the rest of the tour, featured middle segments of painfully predictable playing in songs that have no place in the middle of the second set…next to each other. The Number Line > Caspian -> Mule in the middle of the second set of the second night was hard to get through when faced with the possibility that the gimmicky Blister in the Sun verse during Down with Disease may be the set’s only real highlight (sorry, but it wasn’t really that great). It turned out that that was the set’s biggest highlight.
The third night featured almost none of the discombobulated song playing. The third night was all business. With a very strong first set Phish treated us to a fantastic combination of AC/DC Bag > My Soul, Camel Walk, Wilson > Party Time, Nellie Kane, Driver, Foam, If I Could, and a stunning closer with the best Split Open and Melt of 3.0 > the first La Grange since 9/22/99. This Melt can be lumped with the other great jams of the run; it features some fantastic tension despite a lack of a true release. Tension/release is something that’s hard to come by this era, so when I hear Phish play like they did during this Melt I get particularly excited. The band, mainly Trey, stays focused the entire time, rather then losing themselves and giving way to awkward and directionless ambiance that often happens during Melt in 3.0. A great version.
The Melt gets added to the other impressive jams of the run, starting with the first night’s PYITE > Sneakin’ -> Ghost. The Sneakin’ jam is converted into a fast-tempo beast after its usual jam segment and goes into a blistering finish before settling down and segueing into a psychedelic Ghost straight out of 1999. Ghost seems to have had impressively diverse sounding jams this tour. I enjoy this one, but my favorite might be one of the era’s shortest versions from Alpine just over a week ago.
There was little impressive improvisation the second night because they were apparently saving it all for the final bash. The 120 minute second set of the third night is must-hear Phish. The stuff dreams are made of. Crafting a perfectly-sewn combination of song and improv, the band blew the crowd’s mind just to make sure they were excited for their second leg coming in about a month.
As soon as Axilla started the final set of the tour, I was nervous that we were in for another barrage of short songs. But my fear quickly turned into excitement when Light started up. Light has been a song that we’ve criticized on OPT since it was first played in 2009. Often the band tried too hard to jam in the song, making the music sound forced and completely unimpressive. We were disappointed that the one song that was made for open-ended jamming in 3.0 was becoming such a letdown. However, 2012 is a different year for the song–each version played this summer has been a fantastic journey of improvisational wizardry. I’d say Light has been the best song of the tour considering the magnitude and depth of each individual jam it’s yielded on different nights. This 14-minute Light took us to special places, showcasing the band’s once-again impeccable sense of musical communication before seguing into another short and dark Twist.
Twist is another song whose 2012 outings can be perfectly summed up by its SPAC appearance. It’s short and it’s fierce. Out of the murky soundscape, Trey counted off to the beginning of Kill Devil Falls. Normally the middle of the second set for KDF is horrendous placement; however, it worked well last night because of its particularly creative ending. Just like the extended take on the song from Dick’s last year, where Trey bust right past the end refrain, Trey continued wailing and let the song sink into truly spacey waters that led us to seamlessly into My Friend My Friend after ten minutes. The twisted song served as a perfect oasis when paired with the tour’s first Swept Away > Steep before diving back into the improvisational madness.
The following 15-minute Piper will probably be looked back as the best version of the tour–and certainly high among the era’s finest. The jam featured a powerful pattern by Big Red during the bulk of the jam. And, as I’m sure you know, we’re all about patterns in jams here at OPT. As the Piper came to its natural conclusion, Free started up that was entirely standard but fit the role of landing pad well. A silly Kung came out of the end and even had some quotes bleed over into the into of the solid Hood that followed.
After what many thought to be the set’s closing song, Cavern, Fishman started on the hi-hat for the best Bowie of the year. Trey, not to have his rock chops go unused in this set packed with a 4-piece instrumental mesh of jamming, Trey launch an air assault on his by melting the crowds face with one of the most intense slayings we’ve seen this tour. Instead of falling into the ending like many 3.0 versions, Trey ATTACKED the ending–as he very well should.
After Page thanked the crowd for the tour, They jumped into the one song that was rare all tour: You Enjoy Myself. It was played only twice this leg, the other being at Star Lake.
Stay tuned for a complete analysis of the first leg and what we think is to come of the second.