Are Tour Openers Trending as Must-See Phish?

As most of you know, and have been counting down to, ’s Leg Two kicks off in Southern California on Wednesday night. Not long ago amongst most fans, tour openers were rarely spoken of as significant in the overall spectrum of the music. A show that began the ride but never had a ‘can’t afford to miss’ moment attached. Historically speaking some are significant for stat geeks, maybe a cover would debut (“Mellow Mood” 9/8/00), (“Cover of a Rolling Stone” 2/14/03), or new arrangements (“Water in the Sky” 6/30/98), or new original debuts, ().

Tour openers rarely carried any real weight unless of course you were actually attending the show. Lately however, especially the past two years, has turned the tables. The recordings don’t lie. It’s most likely because the band is fresh off practice sessions. And if sound checks and rehearsals are any indication, it’s probably where the best improv takes place. One of the better examples happened last year — a version of “Waves” at their rehearsal in Bethel that was later released by @Shapsio on a “From the Archives” segment.

There were a few hiccups early in 3.0 (5/31/09 Fenway Park, 7/30/09 Red Rocks, 11/18/09 Detroit, 6/11/10 Toyota Park) but lately, the band has made the opening show of each leg worth paying attention to and certainly worth hearing. No longer do fans have to wait for the band to ‘catch fire’.

Lets take a look back at some recent tour openers and then a look ahead to this week in Long Beach.

The first obvious example is Bethel Woods, NY on 5/27/11. Opening up the Summer with “Tweezer” put fans on serious alert that was ready to go. Later in the 1st, they played a scorching “Wolfman’s Brother”, with Trey already getting started with his tease happy, “Streets of Cairo”. The band then delivered a 2nd set “Waves” that held up all summer long and had fans proclaiming the night as “one of the better tour openers they could remember”. It’d be hard to disagree.