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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Phish 2012 All-Stars

In honor of the NBA All-Star Game tonight, I give you my All-Stars of 2012. The qualifications to be an All-Star are simple. If the song was a consistent thrill to hear live, with original and innovative jamming separating almost every version, the song was an All-Star. There were plenty of special moments during the year, but here are my 10 All-Stars divided into "two teams."

1. Light
Notable Versions:
-9/1: Dicks The most beautiful jam of the year.
-6/23: Star Lake Sandwiched in a glorious Mike's Groove.
-8/17: SF One of the best sequences of the year, and the beginning of true improvisation segueing to Sneaking Sally.
-7/8: SPAC
-7/1: Alpine Valley

2. Tweezer
Notable Versions:
-12/28: MSG The Dick's Light of the New Year's Run
-6/10: Bonnaroo Huge highlight from Tennessee.
-8/26: Charlotte Found before Harry Hood in a long Set 2 Mike's Groove
-8/17: SF

3. Golden Age
Notable Versions:
-7/3: Jones Beach This and Sand made a powerful punch.
-9/1: Dicks Part of the stellar second set on night two.
-8/25: Atlanta
-6/24: Blossom

4. Carini
Notable Versions:
-12/30: MSG The Devil is coming to take your soul, part two.
-6/7: Worcester A dark one for the ages that comes right on the first night of music.
-6/30: Alpine Valley
-8/31: Dicks

5. Sand
Notable Versions:
-9/2: Dicks The culmination of a year's worth of fantastic Sand's.
-7/3: Jones Beach Izabella!
-6/8: Worcester We knew this song would be special after it kicked ass to start the summer tour.
-6/29: Noblesville


1. Chalkdust Torture
Notable Versions:
-8/31: Dicks Exploring where no man has gone before.
-8/25: Atlanta Amazing segue to What's the Use. Huge highlight from the second leg.
-8/28: St. Louis

2. Down with Disease
Notable Versions:
-12/30: MSG The Devil is coming to take your soul, part one.
-7/7: SPAC Blistering baby making music.
-8/17: SF
-6/22: Cincinnati

3. Piper
Notable Versions:
-7/8: SPAC Best Piper of the year.
-9/2: Dicks Another fantastic version in the glorious second set on night three at Dicks.
-12/31: MSG Abrupt but still hits that peak.
-6/15: Bader Field

4. Ghost
Notable Versions:
-9/2: Dicks The most kick ass way to end a summer tour.
-6/7: Worcester The most kick ass way to start a summer tour.
-8/15: Long Beach
-7/1: Alpine Valley
-12/31: MSG

5. Twist
Notable Versions:
-6/22: Cincinnati A top 10 highlight of the summer.
-12/28: MSG The little drummer boy twisting his way through New York City.
-6/15: Bader Field
-7/4: Jones Beach



1. Rock n Roll
Notable Version: While Beiber was dancing, the band was exploring the depths of Rock n Roll, making a bold statement about the level of play they'd be putting forth going forward.
-8/15: Long Beach

2. Limb by Limb
Notable Version: The biggest surprise of the summer for sure.
-8/28: St. Louis

3. Runaway Jim
Notable Version: Good to hear this one pushed longer and longer.
-8/31: Dicks

4. Undermind
Notable Version: Awesome way to end the first set of the FUCK YOUR FACE show.
-8/31: Dicks

Saturday, February 16, 2013

5 Things I'd Like to See in 2013

As we all anxiously await what plans Phish has in store for 2013, I'll take this opportunity to mention a few things I'm hoping to see in this big 30th year.

1. Starting the Summers Indoor- I think last year's start in Worcester was huge for setting the tone. Phish played an incredible Ghost->Boogie On that all fans should memorized in their head by now. They kick started the whole year with a Buried Alive opener and reprise encore. There were also amazing jams like the Roses are Free. Phish is always fueled by the energy of playing indoors, and I think opening the summer indoors would be a perfect start to their 30th year. Here's to wishing they play Nassau Coliseum, 10 minutes from my backyard, once again.
Nassau Coliseum

Gorge Amphitheater

2. Return to the Gorge/Vegas- Last we heard at the Gorge was another outside Boogie On, featured as part of the best sequence in 2011, Rock n Roll-Meatstick-Boogie On. After taking a year off from the Gorge, it's time to return there for some fantastic August music. Additionally, it's been a long time since Phish played in Sin City. There's no better time to revisit an old friend than in the band's 30th year, a year that will undoubtedly be special.

Vegas Baby Vegas
3. Fall Tour/Halloween- It's been short touring years recently but there needs to be a Fall Tour and Halloween this year. After a two year break, it's time for some music when the leaves fall. It'd also be interesting to speculate where Halloween could be. My picks are Atlantic City again, Boston, Brooklyn or Atlanta.

4. Build on 2012- They need to keep with the momentum of the jamming they produced all summer long. When the summer first started, it seemed like no matter the show there was always a special bright moment in each show that truly stood out and made each show unique and special. By the time the second leg started, the band had built on the momentum from earlier and produced the most inspiring music in years starting with the Rock n Roll epic journey in Long Beach and culminating with Dick's. It's time to keep building forward and hit a new peak in 2013 of Phish music.

5. Ode's to Phishtory- We got a glimpse of what could be in store for this year when Phish staged a runaway golf cart marathon at MSG. They set out to stage one in Kung over twenty years ago and now, they finally did one in reality. I hope that throughout the year, Phish continues to bring more songs, more stories and more memories to life as they celebrate 30 years of magic. Whether it's Gamehendge, in depth Harpua's, more improvisational sets, themed sets or just pure original jamming, there's no doubt that 2013 will be a special year of Phish.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Phish A.D. (After Dick's): Analyzing the NYE Run

It's now been a little over a month since the boys played MSG for the New Year's Run, an absolutely crazy thought. In the interim, we've learned that Page will be playing Jazz Fest with The Meter Men, Trey will have more shows in April with TAB (booooo) and that there will finally be a new album, although it seems that a "new album" idea has been tossed around every winter now for a while.

But now after having plenty of time to digest the run to the fullest, it's fair to revisit the four nights and do what Phish fans do best: analyze, discuss and debate. In my opinion, Phish 3.0 will be looked at with one simple turning point, Dick's. Phish before Dick's and after Dick's (A.D.) could very well have different jamming styles. But with only four shows, there is hardly a large sample size for debate.

Therefore, it's up to us to look at the New Year's Run and find a few takeaways from each show. What can we expect in this 30th year of Phish? What has changed? What evolution has the band gone through this year, if any? These are all viable questions to ask, but with few shows played we must look at each night of the run to find any legitimate answers and comparisons.

Now this is totally based on preference, but I thought the best show was the 28th, followed by the 30th, the 31st and then the 29th. What comes into play when choosing the "best show?" Song choices, flow of the set, patience and improvised jamming and the "wow" factor of each show.

Much like basketball or football, a Phish show can almost be broken down into four quarters. The first is a chance to set the tone, the second is a chance for more developed jams, the third a place for the meat and potatoes, and a questionable four quarter that can go in any direction (think the difference between JB 1 and 2).

Without question, the best show honors has to go to the night with the best set, the best flow and by far the best jamming. The 28th started out simple. Between a Stealing Time opener and a plethora of standard songs, one may have though by the time Kill Devil Falls was played that this show was nothing but a warm up. But as soon as Wolfman's dropped, everything changed.

The Wolfman's was one of the few jams of the run where I felt the band ultimately said to themselves "alright this one we jam." There are so many different distinct patterns and progressions that ultimately when the boys finish off the Little Drummer Boy fun and move to the climax, we are almost on another planet. Trey rips this song a new blues asshole and shreds this thing back to the Wolfman's funk. This jam set the tone for the rest of the night, which was stellar to say the least. The flow from Tweezer to Maze to Twist to Theme to Fluff to Bowie is the stuff of dreams. The 28th by far takes the title for best of the run, and if you still haven't decided to listen to it, you are wasting your time.

Next best was the 30th, or otherwise known as When the Garden Went to Hell. After the lackluster performance that was the 29th, a giant question mark stood atop the band as we anxiously waited all day and night to see what type of band would come out for second half of the short run.

When Runaway Jim opened the show, I instantly thought of the fantastic version of Dick's. Instead, this song was a standard Jim opener that we've seen in 3.0 over the years. But this first set was the best of the run, a combination of great song choice and some really great music. The highlight of the set to me was the three headed monster of Ocelot, Ya Mar and Horn. All played really well, for different reasons, and all three together made a fantastic sequence in the first set. We had killer blues Trey, fun Mike and Page on Ya Mar and perfect band execution on Horn. As for the second set...well let's just say it was different.

Down with Disease->Twenty Years Later->Carini is the stuff of the devil. Patience shined through as the boys decided to let go of any restrictions and explore these songs like never before. The highlight was Carini, a jam that could have exploded in any which way, I thought Cross Roads, and captivated the audience for over 10 minutes. The second half of the show was more of a fourth quarter than a second half as they switched over to fun and jumpy Number Line and Julius before calling for improvisation with Slave and Hood. The 30th, while not as perfect in flow as the 28th, was just if you are measuring patience and improvisation.

The 31st comes in at third because it lacked any jam that was similar to the 28th or 30th. On New Year's Eve, the band played three sets with plenty of songs for musical exploration. To name a few you could have hoped for a meaty Mike's, Weekapaug, Birds, Ghost, 2001, Piper, the summer MVP Light, Sand and YEM. Instead, we got no meat, but a lot of potatoes. All of the jams had passion, they were fiery, they were energetic. But all of the jams were missing that one quality that elevates the songs from jams to epic odysseys. That being said, the flow of Set 2 was impeccable if not for a butchered Horse->Silent in the Morning. I have and will continue to say that if they cut out that sequence in favor of more jamming on ANY OTHER SONG OF THE SET, this set would have easily taken over as best of the run.

In last place comes the 29th, a show that received a handful of harsh criticism from fans. I will admit I was crushed when Golden Age ended so quickly in favor of a Waves that ended ever quicker than the Age. The show felt rushed. It was your Saturday Night Special, a night for fans of quick songs, Trey led jams and rock n roll. This was definitely not the 30th in terms of jamming, and it definitely lacked the flow of the 28th. When AC/DC Bag and Rock & Roll are played together in under 15 minutes, you can sort of tell what type of night it's going to be. The Gin was fire but ended quicker than anyone hoped for. The second set was about the ripcord and Trey-DD, moving from one song to the next. What sums up the 29th best? A 9 minute killer 46 Days finale and a First Tube encore. Those two songs can explain what type of night the 29th was.

In looking at Phish A.D., we can see three different styles played over the four nights.

1. Complex jamming with intense flow and energy
2. Jukebox Phish rocking from song to song
3. A combination of 1 and 2

If 1 best symbolizes the 28th and 2 best symbolizes the 29th, then the 30th is 1 with a little 2 and the 31st is 2 with a little 1. All in all, it will be fun to guess what type of Phish returns this summer and what Phish will be the dominant one going forward. My guess is 1 and here's why.

Following Leg 1 of the summer tour where the focus was on song selection, bust outs and fun play, Leg 2 focused more on intense jamming. Just think of the following sequences:
-Long Beach Rock & Roll
-SF Crosseyed-Light-Sally-Crosseyed
-Atlanta Chalkdust
-Charlotte Tweezer
-St. Louis Limb
-Light, Caspian, Sand, Ghost..etc from Dick's

There was an obvious conscious effort to explore more, and it all culminated with the jams that stand out from New York: Tweezer, Wolfman's, Bowie, Carini and Disease. The boys showed they still have the ability, and the preference, to play shows like the 29th if they so please. Will that be the dominant style looking ahead though? I don't think so.

Phish has made too much of an effort to explore this style of jamming @TheBabysMouth calls the "cubism era." I think it's fair to say we all hope that this is what continues.

Friday, February 1, 2013

20 Years Later: Rift in Retrospect

The below article was edited by @TheBabysMouth and @Phish_Forum with additional assistance from @jameskam17. It has been cross-posted at and

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary tomorrow, Phish’s 4th studio album Rift,  holds a special place in the hearts and minds of band and fans alike. Encased in a certain amount of mystery and intrigue, Rift is a conceptual album in that the entire album relates a succinct narrative. Paired with vivid artwork of New York artist David Welker who Phish collaborated closely with closely and the stylistic variety of the albums’ tracks, Rift was and remains a crucial album in Phish’s oeuvre.

The relative peace and quiet of the studio setting allowed the band,and most especially Trey and Tom Marshall, the opportunity to stretch their creative muscles when heavy touring was still the prime directive. We shouldn’t be surprised then that such a creative effort. Phish oozes ideas on the micro and macro level. Always have, and always will.

20 years later, much of the material produced on Rift remain not only staples of Phish’s repertoire but fan favorites too. This is a testament not only to the durability of the songs on Rift, but to Phish’s career-spanning commitment to song evolution. For those who don’t know, Rift describes, in song, a single night of dreaming for a certain man. The album tells the story of the narrator’s growing “rift” with his girlfriend, with each track delving deeper into the relationship, discussing various aspects of their life together, the mistakes they made, the feelings their relationship induced and ultimately what led them to break up.

Stylistically the album is a study in diversity. The up-tempo title track “Rift” opens the album with a manic vibe, only to pump the brakes as the soft cadences, dulcet tones and vocal harmonies of “Fast Enough For You” begin. As we hear the “man” restlessly sleeping, Fishman intones the simple lyrics to “Lengthwise,” his sole compository contribution to the album. The empty space of the song, almost Syd Barret-like in its oddness, serves as a perfect precursor to the true meat of the album, “Maze.”

Is there a more synesthetic Phish song then “Maze?” The song, the title, the lyrics all contribute to a feeling of discombobulation. Haven’t we all at one point or another gotten lost in a “Maze” at a Phish show, desperate to touch solid ground and escape the sinister voices mocking our navigational missteps?

As a tribute to Rift, we invited various community members to send in their thoughts, recollections, feelings and memories to their favorite songs on the album. One thing that quickly became clear as submissions came pouring in was how often various songs were described as “quintessential Phish.”It speaks to the grandness of the Phish project that so many different people can say this and for it to be true, every single time.

Is “Maze” the quintessential Phish song? Or “Rift, The Wedge, Weigh, Mound, It’s Ice, Sparkle?” The truth is they are all quintessential Phish, once again proving Phish’s ability to reveal the fungibility of all music,  Everything bleeds into everything else. It’s all connected. Just like the songs on Rift.

We hope you enjoy and for old time’s sake, whip out the original album and give it a spin.

Rift -- @lazylightning55
I was 20 years old and it was March 14th, 1992 at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC. As “Reba” finished, I told my gang at the back of the floor, that I was going to the rail for a bit. Then Trey began playing this series of notes over and over. Jon and Mike then came alive - which created an opening that felt like a herd of horses were running downhill, right at us. Trey looks at Page, gives him the 1-2-3 and boom: LAST NIGHT..

Trading lines ever so deliberately each lyric appeared as if in a speech bubble above the stage, perhaps a consequence of extra curricular licking earlier in the evening. So many messages we were being fed to us at once as the first verse came to a close. Horses came rollicking around for a bit again until SO MUCH,
which brought more mind messages from Trey and Page until finally Trey persuaded my soul to ignite emerged out of the darkness directly into a pool of glossy relief. Trey then began his assault on the first solo-- a blistering run of variations on this perfect melody.

Fish and Mike just keep humming along. Page finishes up and Trey takes over, taking us on another adventure thru the Rift, pickin' away and progressively getting faster in a big solo. Page makes everything quiet for a couple of seconds. He then reminds us of the terrible night and the band finishes.

What an adventure it was, and still is; a wonderful rollercoaster of dark & light. Emotions, like passion and confusion. Speed and silence, peaks, ledges, and ignition!  Rift can fire us up like very few songs. Hear it any way you'd like, the song “Rift” remains one of Phish' best short stories, all thanks to Trey and Tom Marshall rhyming at one another in a room. A dynamite track to kickoff an album which, Twenty Years Later, holds tight as one of Phish' best and most complete albums.

Fast Enough For You -- @Phish_Forum
Is there anything worse than the feeling of woeful inadequacy and helplessness--that time is inexorably slipping away? “Fast Enough For You” captures those emotions of a failing relationship in a somber fugue that rivals the depth and breadth of any other “slow” Phish song, e.g., “Lifeboy,” “If I Could”. Expectations are like stones heaped upon the back in a burden becoming unbearable. And it is the realization of those fears and the failure to meet other’s expectations that make this song so heart-wrenching at times. We can all empathize with “Fast Enough For You,” whether from personal experience or the emotions evoked by the lyrics and melody.

The first and only time I caught “FEFY” live was on the first night of the two-night stand in Cincinnati Fall ‘09. After Phish’s return earlier that year at Hampton, some good summer shows and Fest 8 for Halloween, I was gripped with anticipation for Fall Tour. I tend to think of Summer Tour as a nice bit of practice for the real deal once Phish heads indoors for some fall shows. I was with my best friend and my brother on tour again and I finally felt great again. Phish tore down Cincy those two nights, and in marked contrast to the song’s sad style, I will always associate “Fast Enough For You” with great memories.  

Lengthwise Pt. 1 -- @ThisAlbumSucks
Jon Fishman’s contribution to Rift is a song so special Phish decided to include it not once but twice on the album. “Lengthwise” is a brief interlude that serves as a segue into that terrible night’s more harrowing dreams and as a segue out into the dawn. Lengthwise is more chant than song, similar to “Kung.” The repeated phrases “when you’re gone I sleep diagonal in my bed / when you’re there I sleep lengthwise” gnaw at the brain, the stress of which opens the rift that leads into the labyrinthine “Maze.”

Maze -- Billy Reuben @TheBabysMouth
At over 8 minutes, “Maze” is the longest song on Rift. It is an uptempo track beginning with snare rim clicks signifying the hot breath of time upon the neck of the narrator who is in this first part if his dream. Lyrically “Maze” concerns the narrator’s subconscious fears of embarrassment, duress, and public humiliation. This “shame”is the result of the narrator’s failure to find the object being sought in this allegorical maze with an audience who laughs at his misfortunes. Musically “Maze” conveys a futuristic and electro-hellish game show accentuated by the b2 chord (Flat 2) just before resolving at the end of each verse stanza. Tritone intervals are used again and again producing maximum demonic tension in the angular and bold dominant 7 chords. The chorus expresses a frantic realization not only of being trapped but the added recognition of an inability to overcome a challenge. This signifies the narrator's inability to overcome his navigational shortcomings and a resulting sense of futility causing his inner voice to become negative and taunt him.

The first guitar solo expresses an unbridled hostility in an attempt to muscle out of this hedged-in groove. As Trey’s solo winds its way, it beats against the walls of the labyrinth in desperate search for an exit, creating more and more tension. Page’s organ solo, easily one of his strongest on any Phish studio record, launches sinister waves of leslie-inflected chromaticism over Trey’s first dissonant and then choppy accompaniment. The organ solo conveys the sense of being chased through the maze by a serpentine alien monster and turning corners in attempts to evade a confrontation. Finally as the progression reaches the dominant or 5 chord the alien beast is inadvertently met head on as Trey’s molten guitar solo portrays this gruesome creature rising to it’s full sky-scraping height baring it’s razor-sharp slime dripping fangs at the narrator who is frozen in fear. This second guitar solo is Trey’s strongest and most evocative effort ever recorded in the studio and proceeds the sophomoric tongue-in-cheeky ending riff which conveys a sudden
video-game like departure from the “Maze.”

SPARKLE -- @Phish_Forum
Coming on the heels of “Maze’s” descent into madness, a reprieve emerges in the form of “Sparkle.” But, like many tracks on Rift, what at first listen may seem to be an upbeat number, “Sparkle’s” lyrics tell a different story. The worried lover is being battered by building pressure. The dread of popping the question is compounded by a conversation with Ed and having to humble himself to Luce and Lil. Being confined in their worlds and subject to their expectations induces confusion and shame. And as the mind comes undone, he falls apart descending into gales of mad laughter.

The tempo of “Sparkle” steadily rises throughout the song. Each line is like the turn of a screw which continues the crescendo. The pressure steadily builds until melody breaks down and the lyrics become jumbled gibberish. Only one thing to do: laugh and laugh and fall apart.

HORN: @phishinhippie
I've always believed that the album Rift was written as a reflection of the narrator's inner turmoil. "Horn" tells the story of a committed lover who cannot let go despite the toxicity of the relationship. This lover intoxicates him like a "Rhine wine,”, and although she leaves him "forlorn,” he inevitably will continue to pick her up "at 8 as usual.” Whether this relationship is of a romantic nature or other is for the listener to decide for themselves. Despite its melancholy tone, I think "Horn" is a beautiful song.

The Wedge via Secret Cable from “PhishyLeaks”
“The Wedge” paints a picture for you instantly; one of a land of recognition and self-awareness.  A beautiful song that has continued to grow and transform in the live setting every year since it’s debut. A lively beat from Fishman and you’re off towards one of the more underrated FUN parts of a Phish song. We’ve had the blueprints for our pyramids forever and here we are, ready to peak all over them. The four headed monster is strong now. The great divide comes, as it always does – all, harmonizing and funkiness from the Chairmen, Trey’s professional subtleties of bliss, laced everywhere. The evolution of “The Wedge” reflects the lyrics and vibe of the song. Time and experimenting intros led us to 12/31/12. On this day, it was time for “The Wedge” to continue its path upward. A lively “I get it” jam was added as a gift; and it was edible. Truly astounding notes from Trey, and we are left with afterglow and the knowledge of just how far we’ve all come, together.

My Friend, My Friend -- Zachary Cohen @TheBabysMouth
The early acoustic strums of “My Friend, My Friend” produce a blissy pillow of sweet melodies that invite the listener to recline upon. Don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security, because this song is not your friend. Or at least not the kind you want on tour with you. As the swinging jazzy chord changes roll by, the slightest intimations of something dark and sinister lurk just at the edge of things. But just as you start to suspect something rotten is afoot, the roll and swing of Fishman’s cymbal snaps and Trey’s acoustic string strikes keep things grounded in the familiar.

And then, there it is, an utter tonal and rhythmic change, we’re now in Satan’s bed chamber as he prepares for a feast. He’s hobbling around in a scarlet kimono of the deepest darkest red as the nasty lyrics and minor melodies provide the soundtrack to Wilson’s Gothic chemistry lab, hidden in the catacombs underneath Prussia. As the song builds, musical dynamite is spread all over the tracks, the self-destruct button is revealed, and then, Page’s chords point the way home. “He Lights the Fuse.” The choral deconstruction and Trey’s absolutely wicked solo narrate the journey through to hell and back ending back on the soft pillow where this whole thing began. “MYFE!”

WEIGH -- @CaptainDan
“I’d like to cut your head off, so I can weigh it…..whaddya say?”

That is pretty much exactly how I picture a Mike Gordon lucid dream starting. “Weigh” is one of my all time favorite Phish tunes as the song encompasses so much about the band that is special to me: its jazzy feel and sound set against awkward, yet hilarious lyrics. I can’t help but smile  when “Weigh’s” introductory notes drop.

Weigh gives each band member an opportunity to shine in the spotlight, even for just a few moments.  Whether its Fish’s playful balance of the bell on the ride cymbal and the snare, or Gordon dropping a few key bass bombs when he sees the opportunity, it all fits together like clockwork. When it is Page’s turn to take the reins he delivers some beautiful work on the ivory that transitions to one of the rare times where a guitar solo is layered with another. And although some interpret the lyrics as being malicious in nature--given their graphic content--I tend to find them more inquisitive. I think Mike would actually like to “Weigh” some weird things, which I am totally OK with.    

All Things Reconsidered -- @ThisAlbumSucks
An instrumental track bridges the weirdness gap between Mike Gordon’s two contributions to Rift. “All Things Reconsidered” is a variation on NPR’s All Things Considered theme music. Short and sweet, ATR often served as an instrumental interlude between two weightier songs in its heyday from 1992-1993. Last performed live by Phish on 2/23/97, “All Things Reconsidered” is annually mentioned as a potential bustout. True to its live setlist function, the album version of “All Things Reconsidered” is a brief respite from the slasher song “Weigh” and the macabre “Mound.” In fitting with the theme of introspection throughout Rift, “All Things Reconsidered” opens the final 1/3 of the album, which features arguably some of the most introspective songs in Phish’s repertoire--”It’s Ice, Mound, and Silent In The Morning.”

Mound -- @MikeHamad
“Mound” is dimension-rich.

Clap along, on the two and four. If you successfully make it through the opening (doubtful), your hands will meet on the first and third beats (try it!). There's a reward for getting it right: you get to pass from one dimension (two-four) to another (one-three). (Not literally, but fun to propose.)

In two-four (0:32-0:44), a bunch of bros are hanging out, drinking beer somewhere.

In one-three (0:45-5:55), there's an old man, and a mound. There's a deceptively large amount of information in this minimal place, and struggle; between stability (those steady drums) and decay (that incessant guitar syncopation); between campy sing-along chorus and perfectly choreographed, tight-harmony verse, one that would lose little of its impact -- perhaps it would gain more muscle mass -- if it were sung a capella; between the Caribbean and Appalachia. Between American post-war blues and British psychedelic folk. Between linear counterpoint and parallel motion. "At the last hill, he realized he'd circled back around." You can imagine the response from a Greek chorus: "Round a back circled, round a back realized."

It gets interesting before it gets dull. (It gets dull, but later). Some examples:

3:20. Mike plays the folky verse melody, Trey the syncopated prog-reggae, Page the blues shuffle, Fishman the Appalachia.

3:35. Four distinct, colorful objects hang down from a mobile above a crib.

3:48, the "time, time, time..." part of the instrumental section. “Mound” has rewind-able time, pointing backward, into the old man's past, never spelling out for us what happened; static time, the eternal struggle between us broken old men and this unkind, treacherous world; and free-flowing time, jumping around at will, now forward, now backward, constrained by none of the shackles found in conventional pop lyrics. Mike baked a certain chance-music element into the instrumental section, some parts of which have never made musical sense to me, and that’s totally fine: Trey makes musical sense, to a fault. Mike is nomadic and unpredictable.

3:56. The plant outgrows the planter.

4:21. Mike, Trey and Page fall in line together behind the syncopation. (It doesn't last; they fall out of phase again.)

4:34. One-three, or two-four? Fishman has to pivot, to hiccup, to adjust his steady beat (try it!). We lost a sixteenth note along the way somewhere. (Is THAT what's in the mound?)

That textural third verse. Clean arpeggios; color-note organ, no real chords, very spare. Bass, far less busy than before, a pillow shoved down its throat to get it to shut-the-fuck-up-please. Wide-open cymbals, open throttle, no dampers. Mike's voice, hovering in reverb. Meat falling off the bone.

The ending is dull. You've heard the best parts of the song, and you know it. Songs end -- everything does.

“I was inspired to do something of my own that was written out,” Mike told me when I interviewed him in 2011. “I remember I spent a couple of weeks every day all day on my Rhodes keyboard and I was experimenting with a lot of different concepts. I was taking melodies and making them come back around on a different instruments. The only thing I didn’t know was how to make something playable. I thought, Well, Page [McConnell, Phish’s keyboard player] has ten fingers. Then I discovered that [guitarist] Trey [Anastasio] had never written a fugue with more than one note for each hand... So this one must be pretty hard. It wasn’t written for playability... It’s certainly one of the hardest Phish songs.”

Postscript: I was at the debut of “Mound,” in 1992, in Portsmouth. I'm proud of that. I was with my best friend, Jon Sweeney. He's not alive anymore. “Mound“seems like it has always been around and isn't going anywhere.

IT’S ICE -- @Jameskam17
One of my personal favorite songs from Rift is “It’s Ice”. The Tom Marshall poem was frequently played live from ‘91 to ’94 before slowly fading in favor of newer material. By the time Phish Destroys America (Fall ‘97 Tour), “It’s Ice” was a rarity. Since returning to the stage in 2009, “It’s Ice” has only been played live twelve times and only once in 2012 at Bader Field. Regardless of its apparent shelving, “It’s Ice” will always hold a special place in my heart.

The song, like each track from Rift, was written to place the listener directly in the song. The music not only creates characters, but moods too. Like “The Lizards, Tela” or any other song from TMWSIY, “It’s Ice” transports us from listener to active participant.

From start to finish “It’s Ice” has several tight, cohesive composed parts, but also has sections that emphasize Phish’s antics and moods. In a way, “It’s Ice” is one of the most complete Phish songs.

The beautiful signature guitar riff starts the song before transitioning into Page’s voice. Page is absolutely perfect for this song as he tells us about a skater who is conflicting with his reflected image on the ice. The vivid imagery paints a ridiculous picture for us, and the chorus then takes that picture and lets us hear what we think we are seeing. Trey and Page sing back and forth, echoing the reflective souls skating on the ice, before playing music that slowly tries to pull us down. The music here reflects the lyrics more than ever. “My double wants to pull me down” is followed by descending riffs, just fantastic stuff. We hear this struggle constantly between what’s above the ice and what’s below. The music is impeccable and consistently evokes the battle between the skater and the image, more and more as the song progresses, stressing that the battle is getting harder and harder. Along with “Maze,” this song was built to jam upon. The tune is so catchy it will stick in your head all day.

But before we get dropped into a bottomless abyss, we get a classic Phish move, or rather, a Fish move. A slow build features Fish atop his seat when live, doing the Fish Dance before we are finally thrown under the ice. We are sinking, we are falling, we are helpless. But soon after the boys bring us back up for one last breath, and struggle, to finish off the song. “It’s Ice” is just too complete and too perfect. Between hilarious antics, fiercely composed sections, and beyond vivid imagery from the music and lyrics, “It’s Ice” will always be a quintessential Phish song, and a favorite for many for many years. Oh, by the way did I mention that all in all, it’s just an awesome song!! Might be time for this one to come off the shelf.

Lengthwise Pt. 2 -- @ThisAlbumSucks
Before the dawn breaks, the chanting of “Lengthwise” again repeats in the sleep-muddled mind. The dream sequence is near denouement, but not before one more round of worry over his lover’s absence from their bed. The hazy thoughts overburden the jilted mind just as it awakes.

The Horse>Silent In The Morning -- @ClayMaddox
“The Horse > Silent in the Morning” has always been one of Phish's prettier pieces and a standout track to close the album in true coda fashion. Many of the musical elements of the album are woven into the final piece. The gradual surge that builds on Trey's minimal, yet escalating guitar line is vintage Phish. The multiple vocalists and chorus in canon are the essence of how Phish music works and touches our emotions. What starts as a lone acoustic guitar line and typically Phishy introspective lyrics in “The Horse” becomes a cyclical wave of tension and release in “Silent” as the song rises to a peak and fades away. After the chaos of the album and the underlying tone and message of confusion and loss, this song brings resolution with the morning sunrise.

While not the most rocking bullets in Phish' arsenal, this combo is one of the deadliest because whether you like Phish for the virtuosity, the introspection, or the unique approach to songwriting, this album and this song contain those elements in spades.

"Brings me to my knees"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Night IV: December 31, 2012

***Before Reading: There will be many more in depth posts about each of the individual sets in the near future. This is the last of my 4 part series evaluating the 2012 run show by show. There will also be post(s) in the future taking a step back and judging the run as one whole, not as four pieces.***

And just when it seemed like things were starting to heat up, it was already New Year's Eve.

Three days had passed, 57 songs were played and several big hitters still remained on the board. Big jams like Tweezer, Down With Disease and Carini were now just moments from the past. All that was left was one more show. One more night in 2012, a year that will forever be remembered as The Return of IT in Phishtory. 

This Phish show was not like other New Year's Eve shows, especially 2011, in that multiple themes dominated the band's performance. For a few hours, everything was put into perspective about Phish since their return in 2009, and what exactly "3.0" Phish is. And this story doesn't begin with an Oom Pah Pah, but instead, with a Garden Party.

Walking into MSG for the fourth straight night becomes routine and ordinary. You try to avoid as many crowds as possible, ditch the security guards and head straight into the arena. You get inside, find your seat or your friends, and wait. The stage is often the same. Page, Trey, Mike and Fish, all in a row, with the blue lights turned on. Only this time, things were different.

Trees surrounded the stage. Plants, bushes, hedges, whatever you want to call them, filled the stage. Grass turf covered the stage and floor. This was going to be a real Garden Party.

The band took the stage and began to play Ricky Nelson's Garden Party for the first time. To make a widely known story short and sweet, the song was about Nelson's experience playing the Garden to a crowd of booing and displeased fans who were unhappy with song selection. While Phish fans never boo, there are plenty who are often discouraged with song selection. 

The boys played the song to perfection, with Mike leading the way on vocals. The boys sang together the chorus, the most important lines uttered since 2009, "You can't please everyone, so you gotta please yourselves."

Phish has so many different styles, different inspirations and different songs. It's nearly impossible to find two people who agree on every issue regarding Phish. That's the best thing about Phish and the fan base. The passion, the energy, the debate and discussion. While I may go to every show hoping for Izabella or Split Open and Melt, someone else may be going to hear Gumbo or Ya Mar. One can be hoping for a 20 minute Tweezer, the other can be hoping for a 3 minute Old Home Place. 

But we often forget about what the band wants. That's what this was about. 

There are so many times after a show where we ask and look back, wondering things like "Why was Alaska played in the second set?" or "What was the point of Show of Life?" without not always asking "Why did the band want to play that song at that specific time?"

Garden Party answered that all for us. It was this song that helped remind everyone, whether on the couch or in person, that we aren't always going to get what we want. They have so many fans wanting so many different things, if they can't please everyone they might as well please themselves.

And that's why they went straight into Possum next.

No song was hated on more, maybe Show of Life, than Possum this year. The song is played all the time and never deviates from the standard A-B-A structure. It's fun, it's a rocker, but it's repetitive. But what Garden Party reaffirmed for us was, who cares? This is what Phish wants to play.

If they are having fun, we are having fun. If they are jamming, we are jamming. If they are grooving, we are grooving too. While we will always debate and discuss Phish, we will always appreciate the fact that they are actually playing live music again. The fact is, they are going to play what they want to play.

And so Possum came. And in my opinion, this was the best Possum I've ever heard. Maybe it was because of what it followed, maybe it really was that much better, but this song had energy and clarity to it. It felt right.

Possum did seem to have an extra thrill to it. The band had been waiting for this moment all run and that added anticipation definitely help make this song rock extra hard. It sounded like there was a little MLBJ towards the beginning with Mike's bass progression, but ultimately the song went straight into Possum and it totally delivered. 

The next song played was Roses are Free, another song that ultimately gets a handful of complaints for not being jammed hard enough. Of course, this version did not have an extended jam but this song did kick total fucking ass. The boys were going hard on this one and someone in the front throwing roses in  the air during the chorus made it an absolutely beautiful sight to see.

Next was Rift, which got me thinking that perhaps this would be a Garden/Nature themed set. Garden Party, Possum (a creature that could be found in a garden), Roses and Rift all got me thinking to a themed Garden/Nature set. Rift was nicely played from start to finish.

Sample in a Jar continued with the theme before the boys played Alaska. Now anyone who knows me knows I joke about this song, calling it the Pretzel song (Pretzel, a Pretzel, I think I'll grab a Pretzel!), but the guys to my right were beyond psyched to hear Page play the opening notes. I remembered Garden Party and embraced the song nonetheless. Whether that was the reason or not, this version seemed to be one of the better versions in 2012. This version was similar to the Ocelot from the night before, providing a comfy cushion for Trey to sit back and rip a beautiful solo. 

Following Alaska came the Mike's that we all had been waiting for all run. Some fans who were hoping for a mega bust out Mike's with a second jam and an epic, multi-set Mike's Groove, were let down. Still, Mike's was a great portion of the first set and, while it didn't stray from what has become a standard and normal Mike's Groove, it was fun for everyone.

Trey dove head first into the solo. The song had some really nice moments when it slowed down and it seemed like there was potential for a left turn. The jam started to pick up around 6 minutes in but before anything transpired, Trey ended the song in favor of I Am - No! In favor of Walk Away!

Walk Away had a cool intro and was a much better fit to keep the energy high. While it was a little sloppy to start, the jam kept building more and more, with Trey sounding a little like Derek Trucks. 

Mike was fantastic of course to begin Weekapaug and the jam had real potential to start. They landed on a really unique pattern and Mike started to play with some funky space effects. One last Character Zero ended the set on a high note. The set was a fun filled high rocker with some fun moments. A much better start than last year's disappointing New Year's Eve show.

Now, with seven sets down and only two sets remaining, how would the boys finish off the year?

The second set on the 28th and 30th featuring intense jamming and exploration while the 29th was more straight forward rock. The 31st would be remembered as a combo of both.

The set started with Birds of a Feather, a song that can either be explored and expanded upon for 30 minutes, or a song that can start, peak and end in a span of 7 minutes. In this case, this show would feature the latter.

The next song, which has become something of a tradition on New Year's Eve, was every one's favorite for the gag and arguably the most sought after jam of the run. Slowly, the boys crept into Ghost.

Ghost was an absolute beauty, but in my opinion, was cut too short.

At 4 minutes into the jam Mike started playing this really funky groove. This was the start of the meaty jam. The jam stayed pretty steady until Page took a turn for a real nice solo at about 6:45 into the song. The groundwork was laid for a big jam. Lots of Page dominated the song. Trey at one point lands on a particular note at around 7:50 where we lift off and begin on our galactic journey. This was the turning point for the jam.

Ghost continued to build momentum and by the 11th minute had fantastic potential for a real out of this world original jam. But after a long wail from Trey the jam slowly mellowed out and began a space transition that could have exploded in any direction. There was really nice play again from Mike. The jam ultimately could have breathed and kept exploring but instead transitioned into...Piper!

Piper had a quick buildup with lots of energy. Trey wasted no time starting the song but he was tight. The highlight of this jam came at around 8:10. Trey started with a building rock groove higher and higher until a huge explosion and peak. There were great peaks and buildups in the Ghost > Piper. Like Ghost though, Piper could have went much longer. This time though Piper went into the MVP of 2012...Light!

Light had giant shoes to fill. The most talked about jam since Dick's, Light had huge expectations for a prime jam in the run. How would the band respond to the first time playing it since the masterpiece? It was going to be a "let down" of sources no matter what. There was just no way the first Light played A.D. (After Dick's) would be better than the September jam.

The major highlight was a fun ALS tease, but aside from that nothing special happened. Light was a great jam and now together, Ghost > Piper > Light was shaping up to being a real beautiful segment of music.

When the jam ended in favor of space, the garden exploded, anticipating 2001. When Fishman kicked into that drum beat there was an insane amount of energy in the crowd. Trey and Page were absolutely destroying it to start. However, as with most 2001's of this era, there wasn't a very long jam. The song was absolutely funky as hell with unbelievable grooves and fantastic peaks. The segment of Ghost > Piper > Light > 2001 was a fantastic second set, and could have been the entire set on its own. However, with plenty of time left, the band played on.

The jumped into a huge buzz kill, Horse > Silent in the Morning. Had they cut this out for 10 more minutes of jamming earlier, this set would have been the best all run. A classic YEM ended the set, really cementing the YEMSG name. YEM never gets old, no matter how short Trey's solos are and how short the jam is. I still get excited hearing the intro and watching them on the trampolines. YEM was fun as hell and a great end to an awesome set.

In between Sets golf players came out on golf carts and hit balls into the crowd, hinting at the future stunt at midnight. The boys came out around 11:30 and started off with Party Time. Played to fill time, Party Time was a perfect song for the occasion.

The lights were then turned off and Trey grabbed a golf club and started waving it around his head as the band did Kung! The gag was Kung and the boys actually staged a runaway golf cart marathon.

I'll save the discussion about the gag and the meaning behind it for another post, but I will say it was hilarious watching a bunch of professional dancers who've never listened to Phish before dance around to Chalkdust Torture.

So the boys did Chalkdust, rang in New Years and finally played the Tweezer Reprise we'd all been waiting for since night one. As they played Tweezer Reprise, golfers hit balls and balls dropped on the crowd with strobe lights. Singers came out to sing along with the band.

The next song was Sand! Another standout from Dick's, this song was similar to Light in that it had huge expectations in the A.D. era. Everyone was primed and ready for a 20 minute epic. Sand had no real jam to it but Trey played fantastically well on guitar. It sounded like the jam was ready to expand when the band dropped out for The Wedge.

Immediately I had thoughts of 2011 with the Wedge following Disease and hoped that this set wouldn't be like last year's. The Wedge took a turn left at around 6:45. It was amazing to hear this song played this way. The song slowly faded into...Fly Like an Eagle!

An unbelievable unexpected song. At this point I had realized Sand, Wedge, must be the Golf set! Only Phish would do something like this!

Fishman was awesome and Page nailed the ending to the song. Hearing the boys sing time keeps on slippin into the future was beyond epic. Next the lights turned off and the monitor in the center of MSG turned on. We saw grass and a golf ball with only one word.


The boys played Wilson with ferocious energy and passion. They ended the set with an a Capella Lawn Boy that was really put well together. I could have sworn Freebird was coming, but I actually enjoyed Lawn Boy a lot. That ended the Golf Set. Par-Tee Time, the Kung gag, Sand, Wedge, Eagle, Wilson and Lawn Boy.

Or so we thought.

The boys came out for one final time. They started with Driver, before stopping to start over. A mulligan. How amazing.

After Driver, Page came out and talked with the crowd about the band hitting 30 years and that they were really excited for a big year. As are we Page.

But Page asked the crowd who he was, and told us exactly who he was. An Iron Man! The boys ended the year with Iron Man, ending the Golf Set and ending the 2012 Run on an exciting, hilarious and fun note.

It's often hard to judge a show of this capacity but 2012 New Year's Eve was all in all a really great Phish show. No it didn't have any of the amazing jams like Tweezer or DWD. But it was special.

The first set had some real meaning as well as fantastic play with fun song choices and hard rock. The second set had unbelievable flow, and if not for the 28th, it would have been the best flowing set of the whole run. The themed gag set was a ton of fun and a fantastic ending to a great run.

All in all, the run was one of fantastic jams, fun times and unforgettable memories.

Was it better than Dick's?

No, but it was still fantastic. Phish is always fantastic.

I do think this was a major turning point going forward. 2012 was a huge year for Phish. With the 30th anniversary up next, I can only hope and expect bigger and better things to come.

Highlights: Ghost > Piper > Light, 2011

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Night III: December 30, 2012

Night three would be the most important night of the run for several reasons. Following the black and white cookie that was the first two nights, Phish needed to make some sort of statement as to what type of run this would be remembered as. Fierce exploratory jams with the style of night one or short hard rockers played in the style of night two. On the anniversary of some of Phish's best shows ever, and a personal favorite in 12.30.97, the show will be remembered as more 28th than 29th due to some killer second set jamming and some great sequences in the first set. Overall, the 30th took care of business the 3.0 way. The first set was the most complete out of all the first sets and the second set features this style of "Dick's" jamming that many crave.

The boys opened up the 30th with an all-time favorite, Runaway Jim. The last Jim performance was the epic second set opener in the FUCK YOUR FACE show from Dick's. With more recent openers the other two nights, Stealing Time and Crowd Control, it was refreshing and promising that the band opened with Jim. The song was very quick and very tight. Had Mike's section been extended the boys could have really played this song for a while and let it breathe. That being said, it was the strongest opener yet and a good indication of tight execution.

Cities was next. Cities was exceptionally excellent in 2011 so hopes were high for this year's performance. It had the chance to really take off but as soon as anything could have transpired the song was ended abruptly and awkwardly. The cut definitely made many anxious as to whether we'd be treated to long jams or quick hits. It led to Divided Sky which was sloppy at times.

The first real highlight of the night came with Back On The Train. This song is a great opportunity to take a few seconds and just really listen to each guy on their own. You can truly appreciate the talent and skill of everyone in their own unique way. This version long and meaty.

Ride Captain Ride was a nice change of pace and fun song before a killer Ocelot. Ocelot was a real treat and has really become the perfect jam vehicle for Trey to sit back and slowly build while leading the jam. While some of the Joy songs played this run were always downers, Ocelot is one of the few that continues to bring inspiring jamming on a consistent basis.

The fun and mellow Ya Mar was next which featured Trey screaming to the crowd, "Who's gonna play it for you!" to which everyone replied, "Leo!" Great work by Page indeed during Ya Mar and Mike had a great solo before Trey quickly shied away from any chance at a jam.

Horn was perfectly played but after My Friend My Friend was played incredibly sloppy it was turning out to be a half and half set. Some fantastic songs, some sloppy versions, some interesting song choices. A short Run Like An Antelope ended the first set with similar energy and grooves to the Gin of night two rather than Wolfman's of night one. A really fun Shakedown Street tease was a brief highlight before the song peaked. Trey wanted no part at a funk jam as he quickly got to the vocals before the set ended.

The first set was a really good, potentially the best first set of the run. It had real smack and some fantastic songs. The question would be though would the second set live up to it's ancestors from second set pasts on the 30th?

The second set roared to an amazing start with one of the best versions of Down With Disease in recent history. Like Tweezer from the other night, Disease stretched out real long, close to 20 minutes and reaching all different walls of exploration. When the jam got started there was real beauty with Page and Trey playing in response to one another. The key to the jam was patience. No one was rushing anything and everyone was letting notes develop. Trey started to take everyone on a journey with whale calls and passionate grooves around halfway in. At about 12 minutes in the band lands on a really funky groove that had potential to become a whole original piece. This part of the song is just absolute golden. This is some original improvised and connected Phish. This is the truth.

At 14 minutes the jam takes a turn for the quiet. Fishman starts lightly playing only his cymbals as Trey wails and Page treats everyone to piano. Mike's playing sounds like there could be a potential for a really dark jam to emerge out of this sequence. The energy started to slowly build back up again higher and higher. At one point the band drops out and all that's left is Trey on a rocking solo with Mike then playing space funk behind him. Page comes in on piano and what's formed is a sickly funky space jam with real energy. Trey starts shredding now that Page has found a melody to stick with. The jam then ended and slowly faded into Twenty Years Later. Could the band have kept playing Disease for another 15 minutes? Of course, but it was a nice transition.

Next was an absolute fire Carini. Another absolute highlight and will remain along with Tweezer and Disease as the biggest highlights of the run. There was some really dark jamming and segments that sounded like Crossroads. However, while fantastic and a must listen, the jam felt short and went from the darkest of times into the happiest in Backwards Down the Number Line. Now unlike Ocelot, this Joy song seemed out of place and unnecessary. We were just in the middle of an incredible jam segment and now heading into the "fourth quarter" we were getting Joy standards.

Number Line was actually played really nicely though. The Julius that followed was with another time for Trey to shred and star. Julius is like Back On The Train as you can listen to each band member at times really all doing great things with their instruments.

The set ended with a beautiful Slave to the Traffic Light. When the set ended many guessed the encore would be Harry Hood. Hood it was. The combo capped off an unbelievable second set. Six songs with high energy and stellar jamming. Disease/20 Years Later/Carini was the stuff of golden gods. The show could have ended there but instead the boys wanted to play one more, and so they played Show of Life. Did they need to play it? No, but Phish is just playing what they want at this point, and it was very evident in this show especially with the Twenty Years Later in between the epic jams of Disease and Carini.

The 30th is right up there with the 28th in terms of flow and jamming. Phish needed to show what type of run this was and they decided in favor of jamming and improvisation. The patience and flow from the 28th was evident on the 30th. Oh, and never sleep on a Sunday show.

Now, with only one night left and 6 sets down, how would Phish close it out? Many expected somewhat of a let down. What would soon occur was one of the most interesting and unusual New Years Eve show in a long time.