Phish: Summer Tour in Review
July 4 in Georgia- photo by Rick Martinez
As noted above, the June 24 Camden show’s first set was highlighted by Fishman’s triumphant return on vacuum for an “I Didn’t Know” during which many in the crowd chanted “Let’s Go Flyers!” – to which Fish played along on vacuum. The first set also featured a strangely twirling and warbling “Timber Ho,” making for an unusually sinister version. The set closed with a good cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover,” which helped make it one of the more interesting first sets of the tour, even if most of the set’s music was straightforward. The music of the second set, despite a “DWD -> Crosseyed & Painless” set opener, was a mixed-bag, with the musical highlights being Trey’s wail-free, serene soloing in “Nothing,” and the longest, darkest version of “Twenty Years Later” to date. The “DWD” just didn’t do much, and the “Crosseyed” is weak in light of last year’s Red Rocks version. Still, because the set ended with “Harry > Fluffhead > Julius, You Enjoy Myself,” it’s overall a good set and helped nudge this show across the line into the “slightly above-average-great” range.
The June 25 Camden show, however, was unquestionably above-average and one of the better shows of the tour, even though it, too, was musically a mixed-bag. As noted above, the first set opened with bust outs “Alumni Blues -> Letter to Jimmy Page -> Alumni Blues,” that were promptly and shockingly followed by a “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars.” The first set also featured a good cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris;” an excellent version of Trey’s new tune, “Summer of ’89,” which has a gorgeous outro-jam and adorable refrain (“… and we danced all night…”); and a somewhat twisted “Split Open and Melt,” one of the more unusual (but still short) versions of “Phish 3.0.” The second set opened with “Chalk Dust Torture,” and as noted above, it contains one of the tightest and most soulful, wondrous improvisations since Phish returned last year. It is must-hear and is proof that Phish can still bring IT. The set lulled for a bit with trifling versions of “Prince Caspian” (aka “Fuckerpants”) and “Heavy Things,” before picking up with a decent “Alaska,” that took a long time to segue into what turned out to be (as noted above) a stellar, must-hear version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka “2001”). This show was the first anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, and this version featured heavy teasing of “Billie Jean” and a 30-second or so quote of “Thriller.” This 2001 is up there even with the “best ever” versions of the past, like 4/4/98 Providence and 11/19/97 Champaign. (I only wish LivePhish had tracked this Camden version to include the interlude after “Alaska.”) It would have been difficult for Phish to have topped this jam in the remainder of the show, and they didn’t, playing good but not over-the-top versions of “Light”, “Possum,” “Zero” and “Shine A Light,” but this was nevertheless one of the best shows of the tour. If you’re going to download one show from the tour, based strictly on the music, this is probably the one to get – unless you really dislike the setlist.
Although well-played, the first set of June 26 Merriweather, which opened with “Crowd Control” (just as it did last year at Merriweather), does not feature anything noteworthy, beyond the straightforward cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” and a strong “46 Days” — though nowhere close to as strong as the “46 Days” from Merriweather last year. The second set, however, opened well with a version of “Rock and Roll” that included “Type II” improv, venturing from searing rock to repetitive, spacey, aimless noodling, before settling on a catchy theme, reminiscent of Hendrix’s “Who Knows” and Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” but without teasing either song. It’s a pretty cool jam, all things considered, even though it lacks the cohesiveness and beauty of the Camden “Chalk Dust Torture” and Hartford “Down with Disease,” other tour highlights. The second set “Tweezer” in this show is pretty good, and ends in a dramatic, spacey-haze, but it’s still a far cry from the exceptional-for-3.0 Camden and Red Rocks versions from Summer 2009.
The June 27 Merriweather show turned out to be similar in spirit to the 8/14/09 Hartford show from last Summer (you know, the second set of which included “Psycho Killer,” “Catapult,” “Icculus,” and a lot of screwing-around with a “pong”-like effect). This Merriweather show opened surprisingly with “Walfredo” (played by request) and a cover of “Mellow Mood,” but the first set was nevertheless musically unremarkable, despite a setlist that also included “Divided Sky,” “Tela,” “My Soul,” and “Ginseng Sullivan.” The first set did have good versions of “Bathtub Gin” and “Antelope,” but we’ve come to expect that from Phish. On the other hand, the second set – discussed above – included a pretty good “Meatstick;” a lot of “Saw It Again” jamming and teases; a “Piper” whose jam eventually went into a thrilling “Birds of a Feather”-like improvisation; and a decent “Ghost” that segued well into a good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” that in turn segued into a “Saw It Again” jam. The set closed with a good “You Enjoy Myself” and an average-great “Fire,” helping to make this one of the better all-around shows of the tour to be sure – even though it was musically a mixed-bag. If you’re limiting yourself to only a few shows to listen to from this tour, check this one out, too, if only to get a dose of what Phish is up to nowadays.
“Character Zero” surprisingly opened the July 3 Alpharetta, Georgia, show. This marked the first time that a show had opened with “Zero,” which typically ends sets and shows. It was a perfunctory version, but the first set continued to have a diverse, interesting setlist, what with good versions of “Destiny Unbound > Rift,” “McGrupp’s,” “Mountains in the Mist, NICU > Gumbo,” “Strange Design, Sanity,” as well as stalwarts “Gin” and “Antelope.” As far as first sets of Phish go, even though the music of this set was basically “average-great,” this still has to be one of the better sets of the tour given the diversity of the setlist choices (which span almost all of Phish’s years). The second set, though, was pretty standard-going, average-great Phish, except for “Prince Caspian,” which – quite remarkably – concluded with several minutes of delicate, repetitive, mellifluous “Type II” improv, and the “Tweezer,” the jam segment of which shredded well before segueing into an almost “Slave”-like jam for a minute or so.
The tour closer in Alpharetta, Georgia, on the Fourth of July opened appropriately with the “Star Spangled Banner,” which had opened Phish’s Summer tour in 2009 at Fenway Park. Like the previous night, fans were again treated to an interesting first set setlist, with “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” (no narration), “Camel Walk,” “My Friend My Friend,” and a “David Bowie, Gotta Jibboo” closer. The final set of the Summer tour so far proved to be stunningly indicative of the tour as a whole. The jamming throughout the “Down with Disease” set opener through the closing “Weekapaug Groove” is a musical roadmap of sorts describing what Phish has been up to in the last month. While nothing is “must-hear” by any stretch, except for the hysterical cover of “Killing in the Name” during “Harpua” (discussed above), and while Trey’s whale-whammy is in full-effect all over the place, the set is very well-played. The show also encored strongly with “First Tube,” the tour’s most common encore other than “Tweezer Reprise.”