Photo by Steven Rood

With Phish set to open a three-show run tonight at Dick’s, here’s another piece originally slated to appear in our Curveball newspaper.

After a year focused mainly on the Midwest and New York City, Phish decided to switch it up. This summer focused on the regions they avoided in 2017: the West Coast, Texas, the Southeast, and the Mid Atlantic. While the geography changed, the question is if the style from the Bakers’ Dozen would repeat.

2017 was marked by extended jams even in the first set and a commitment to minimize repeats. By the third show of the tour, an extended and popular version of “Chalk Dust Torture” showed that they would continue to jam. The Gorge run concluded with a stunning flowing collection of songs, including a unique take on “Split Open and Melt” to close the second set, but by then an interesting pattern was apparent. There were no repeats in the first five shows. While that streak finally ended in the second set of the first night of Bill Graham, a commitment to keep the setlists fluid and interesting persisted throughout the tour.

As Phish moved into California, they treated the Golden State to extended takes on some new songs. “Set Your Soul Free,” debuted four shows prior, was given an intriguing treatment at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. This jam – like a few others on the tour – built on a style that had been developing for years. The 2016 Fall Tour had Mike or Page use an impressive effect as a crowd-pleasing punctuation to a jam. By the Baker’s Dozen., they were combining their new sounds to create ambient soundscapes. This jam had Trey also using effects, but instead of just announcing the end of the jam or getting spacey, Fishman would keep the pace up and they’d use it as melodic building blocks. These effects led to moments such as the 17 minute mark of this jam that don’t sound like anything else the band has done. Three nights later, the other new ensouled tune got its chance to explore; “Soul Planet,” first played on the New Year’s Run, had a multi-faceted jam emerge out of it. As it built to a stunning peak, they made a case that everyone inside the Forum was indeed together in enjoying the jam.

As the tour moved east to Alpharetta, the crowd there was treated to perhaps the best show of the run. Phish have made an effort in the past few years to play some of the second set jam songs in different slots. When “Ghost” appeared in the third slot on August 3rd, fans were expecting a fun novelty, but one that wouldn’t be as improvised as a version appearing later in the show. Instead they played a stunning version, one that started out with a beautiful melodic jam, built to a peak, moved into a funk jam, and then built to another peak. That wouldn’t be it for the night. The second set featured an energetic, fun “Tweezer” and a punchy “Carini” that had an extended play on The Band’s “Chest Fever.” When three of the favorite jams happen in the same show, it’s going to be a popular one.

While Georgia’s run started out with improvisational peaks, it ended with sheer fun. The entire show was a filling in a “You Sexy Thing” sandwich. The Hot Chocolate hit was the first of the donut inspired Bakers’ Dozen songs to return. It opened the show and then ended the second set, making everyone who believes in miracles quite happy. The sense of fun even helped with a miscue. When Trey spaced on the words of the “Fee” encore, he then cracked a joke that they’d play a song that they knew all of the words to, before launching into the instrumental, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” complete with more teases of “You Sexy Thing.”

If there are two things guaranteed to always make Phish fans happy, it’s surprises and segues. The Raleigh show contained both of those with a mid second set running medley of “Runaway Jim -> Run Like an Antelope -> Runaway Jim > Run Like an Antelope -> Makisupa Policeman > Run Like an Antelope.” Moments like that are why we travel to see this band. Sometimes it’s about the spontaneity.

The tour came to a close at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Continuing the themes of the tour, it had odd song placement – “Tweezer” in the first set and its reprise opening the second instead of waiting until the end of the set – some fun jams, and some outright weirdness. The thrilling “Piper” somehow segued into the second version of “Tweezer (Reprise)” of the night, this one a bizarre electronica variant on the song.

As the tour wound down with the – sure, why not? – third performance of “Tweezer (Reprise),” Phish came into Curveball on a high note. Between the summer so far and rare treats such as “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent,” “Harpua,” and “Alumni Blues” still not yet played, there are many reasons to be optimistic for the festival to come.

Tour Skinny:

18 shows
169 different songs played
Most common song: tie “Blaze On” and “No Men In No Man’s Land” (5)
Most common song yet to be played: “Foam”
Longest Song (Live Phish timing): 8/7/18 “Down With Disease” 24:27