Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
Anyone who has ever seen Phish can attest to the overwhelming, high-octane experience of a Phish show. To try and sum up the experience of an entire Phish tour in a short article is tremendously difficult to say the least. This summer, I was able to spend a month on the road, seeing every show of the first leg. Some shows blew my mind, others were simply a lot of fun, and some were just not very memorable. I heard songs I really love, songs I thought I would never see, songs I see too often (Possum), and songs I do not enjoy. Some jams were long and well drawn out, and others were short and sweet. Each venue had positive and negative qualities, yielding completely different experiences.
New York/New Jersey Run:
The tour opened with a three-night run at theBethelWoodsCenterfor Music inBethel,NY. The venue was expansive and beautiful, close to the originalWoodstockgrounds. The sound was great, the weather was nice, and the vibes were positive. Short of the drama with the Yasgur’s Farm campground, the BW experience was one of pure fun. The tour opening song was Tweezer and the run ended with a Tweezer Reprise. Highlights of these three shows include Kill Devil Falls, Bold As Love, Carini, Waves (Night One), Halley’s Comet->Runaway Jim, Bathtub Gin with heavy Manteca teases and quotes, Makisupa Policeman (Night Two), Oh Kee Pa->Suzy, and Meatstick (Night 3). Night two was the most well played show and my favorite of the three. It became clear after the second night that the band was trying to follow a new path. The second sets all contained fewer songs on average than the last two years. There was more of an emphasis on the jams, and it was clear that Fishman and Page had been practicing…a lot. Gordon had obtained a new effect kit for his bass, and his bombs were stronger than ever. At one point, I was literally moved by his bass. What was on everyone’s mind after BW was the hope for a continuation of the jams. We all wished for longer jams and shorter setlists.
The band left Bethel Woods and headed toPNCBankArtsCenterinHolmdel,NJ. Here, the band played a two-night run. The venue was fairly nice with good sound even on the lawn. The heavy police presence as well as a few other factors created a somewhat less positive vibe. I personally thought the first night was the first great show of the tour. The energy was high, the songs were jammed hard, and the setlist was great. The only big problem was Trey’s major flub during the composed section of Divided Sky. I did not think much of night two save for a few moments. Highlights of the run include Chalkdust Torture, Rock & Roll, Sand, Tube, After Midnight, Drowned, Maze, You Enjoy Myself (Night One), No Quarter, Twist, and Backwards Down The Number Line (Night Two). The After Midnight and Drowned of Night One were jammed particularly well. I remember thinking that the band was certainly heading down the path I had hoped for after BW.
The Midwest run began at Pine Knob (nowDTEEnergyMusicCenter) inClarkston,MIon Gordon’s birthday. My initial impressions of the venue were extremely positive. The employees were nice, the shakedown was very free, and I did not witness any negativity in the fans. The first set of the show was not very impressive, save Tela and The Wedge. The second set was another story. This was one of the better Phish sets that I have seen. It opened with a 25-minute Down With Disease—the first jam over twenty minutes since Fall Tour 2009. This jam was the apex of the summer jams. Sadly, it was the longest jam of the tour. The rest of the set, although not necessarily impressive on paper, was amazing. The band took songs to completely new levels. After looking at the setlist, I realized that this show could have been taken from the mid-90s—certainly Gordon’s birthday wish.
The second show of the Midwest run was at theBlossomMusicCenterinCuyahoga Falls,OH, nearCleveland. The show was spectacular. Once again, the first set was not extremely impressive, but it had its moments. Fuck Your Face, Rocket In My Pocket, and Tube, were all highlights. The second set was where the magic occurred. Beginning with the now-bustout Birds of a Feather, the set was off to a great start. Even Possum, a song I usually hate, impressed me. The debut of Steam was a great success. This was the first time I became attached to a new Phish song the first time it was played. The set was extremely funky and dark, and I would recommend playing it in its entirety.
The final show of the Midwest run was at theRiverbendMusicCenterinCincinnati,OH. The highlights of the show were the first set Mound, Taste, Reba, and Jiboo. The second set had the highest energy of any show of the tour at that point. The Carini opener as well as the Crosseyed and Painless took the set on a dark, energetic journey. Fans were dripping with sweat after dancing hard throughout the set. It was one of the more memorable sets of the tour.
The Northeast Run began at Great Woods (nowComcastCenter) inMansfield,MA. It certainly was a long drive from theMidwest. The venue was pretty terrible. Police did not allow any sort of shakedown and there was a very negative vibe throughout a lot of the crowd. Thankfully, this did not spill over into the show. As a whole, I thought the show was excellent. It opened with Llama, one of my favorites. Instant Karma by John Lennon was played, as well as Rhymes, a cover that Gordon plays in his band. The second set included many cool moments. The Mango Song, Bug, Pebbles and Marbles, Meatstick, and Run Like An Antelope, were all extremely well played. Antelope included heavy Meatstick teases, as well as some Bug and Divided Sky teases.
The second show of the run was at the Darien Lakes Performing Arts Center inDarien Center,NY. If you have never been to this venue, please go. The venue was on the same grounds as a resort and theme park, and the concert ticket came with free passes to the theme park. My friends forced me to go on a roller coaster for the first time ever, which was terrifying and fun. TheDarienexperience was very fun, and the show was amazing. Certainly was the bustout show of the tour, Nellie Kane, Buffalo Bill, Mellow Mood, Ride Captain Ride, Dog Faced Boy, and It’s Ice were all highlights of Set One. Set two began with Golden Age, which was subsequently teased throughout the set. This show was particularly fun and extremely entertaining, even from the lawn. All the negative warnings I had received about the venue prior to the show were proven false.
Phish then set sail to theSusquehannaBankCenterinCamden,NJ. This is my least favorite venue Phish plays. Why they continue to play a venue with such a sketchy scene that never yields sold-out shows is beyond me. Nevertheless, the show was fun. It was not the best show of the tour but not the worst. Highlights of the show included a Rocky Top opener, Scent of a Mule, The Curtain With, Down With Disease, and a Bold As Love encore. The band’s time atCamdenwas short-lived, and I was not the slightest bit upset to leave that venue.
The tour then took us to Merriweather Post Pavilion inColumbia,MD. Following in the footsteps of the first leg of summer 2010, Phish played the best show of the tour at this venue (night 2 once again). I am not sure the reason, but it appears that something in the air at this venue forces the band to play fantastic shows. The first night’s highlights included a Daniel Saw The Stone opener, Vultures, Birds of a Feather, Wilson->Sand, On Your Way Down, Tweezer, Waves, Rock & Roll, and Albuquerque. Highlights of the second night included a Buried Alive opener, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Ha Ha Ha, Wolfman’s Brother->Boogie On Reggae Woman, Jesus Left Chicago, the entire second set, and the three-song encore. These shows were extremely fun and entertaining, the weather was manageable compared to the year before, and the environment was welcoming.
The Southern Run kicked off with a two-night stop at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre atEncoreParkinAlpharetta,GA. The first night was a pretty impressive show. Highlights included a Dinner and a Movie opener, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Carini->Sand, Maze, and Meatstick. All in all, the show was fun and enjoyable. Night two was another story. In the midst of a severe storm, Phish left the audience hanging. During the first set, the band was forced off the stage during Mound. Upon their return, they finished Mound and continued on with the most mediocre set of the tour. We all thought we were in for something special after dealing with such a mess, but the band failed to live up to our expectations.
Phish then took the stage at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Charlotte, NC. This was my 50th show and I was hoping for something special. The show opened up with Mike’s Song, and the first six songs were all generic. I was dismayed, expecting a terrible show. The moment I felt there was no hope left, the opening notes to Col. Forbin’s Ascent were struck, and I jumped up from my seat. A great Scent of a Mule followed later in the set. The second set began in a similar fashion. Nothing out of the ordinary was played for a few songs, but the jamming was better. At the end of Reba, Phish segued into Icculus, the song I wanted to see the most. Trey gave a comical narration before the band played Hold Your Head Up->Bike. The show itself was not particularly amazing, but the bustouts made it worth it.
The next night, Phish moved two hours down the road to Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion inRaleigh,NC. Opening with Cars, Trucks, Buses, the show was off to a good start. I finally was able to hear Peaches en Regalia, my favorite Phish cover. Highlights of the show included The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Twist, a Prince Caspian with a very interesting jam, Esther, Been Caught Stealing, and a very well-jammed Split Open and Melt.
As the tour closer, Phish played a Fathers’ Day show at nTelos Pavilion inPortsmouth,VA. For the Fathers’ Day gimmick, the band had each of their fathers say a verse of the narration during the Harpua opener, then had their children sit in a large bathtub during the ensuing Brother. The show contained a lot of high-energy songs. Phish playedThunder Roadas a nod to Clarence Clemens, the saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen, who had passed away the night before. A lot of songs were played inPortsmouth, which left little time for jamming. The band still seemed to make it work during Walls of The Cave, Slave to the Traffic Light, and the best Sand I have ever seen.
All things said, the tour was a lot of fun. Unlike 2009 or 2010, there were no shows I hated, and there were some that will remain in my playlist for a long time. My only wish would be for more diverse setlists and longer jams—the wish of any fan. On an eighteen-show tour, it would be nice to not hear Backwards Down the Number Line or Possum seven times each, but I wont complain too much. It appeared—at least fromBethelthroughDetroit—that Phish might be pushing forward into a more jam-focused style of playing. We can only wait for the next run to see what happens.