Is Phish in the modern era finally ascending musically to where they were in the late 90’s? Are we back to staking claims to the best jam band on the planet? Phish returned to the stage in Hampton, VA just over three and a half years ago, albeit with training wheels on — now they’ve literally “dicked” their way to the front of the can’t-miss-category with summer’s second leg, and more importantly three-straight shows in Colorado full of absolutely stunning musicianship. 8/31/12, 9/1/12, and 9/2/12 will be talked about with the greats. Maybe never surpassing them, because history is history, but at least nestled alongside.
Vary rarely in the post-hiatus era do universal opinions form so quickly after a set of shows. However, after the legendary “Fuck Your Face” show on Friday the 31st, The 23 & 24 minute versions of “Light” and “Sand”, and two of the three shows containing six-song sets, it seems unanimous. Phish is breaking new ground in 2012 leaving most to question if the future can actually become brighter than the past. To say otherwise would deny Phish’s rightful return at being the best rock and roll band on this planet.
The sets from Colorado are full of more Type II must-hear versions than one can name, and at times even remember. It’s easier to just look at Phish.net and stare. There were glimpses of IT, (the magic jaded vets long for) early on in the second leg especially with the Long Beach “Rock and Roll -> Ghost” and Bill Graham’s Sunday night blowout. Some even said it was being harnessed earlier in short bursts in 2010 and 2011. Early examples could be “Seven Below” -> “Ghost” from Albany ’09, “Cities” and “Simple” from The Greek in ’10, “Down w/ Disease” in Detroit ’11, and the “Rock and Roll” from The Gorge in ’09 & ’11.
Yet even with those awesome pieces of music being displayed, the band never seemed to settle into creating several masterful sets in a row. The closest for this era came in 2011 with UIC’s first night and then the best three night run (non-festival) up to that point at Dick’s in 2011. It’s actually quite interesting to look back on last year’s Colorado run, as it still holds up musically on re-listen with interesting jams, teases and varied song selection.
Comparing the 2011 Dick’s run to the most recent 2012 Dick’s run is fairly telling of how far Phish has come in just 12 months. A long way as far as improv is concerned. The “S” show compared to the “FYF” show is where 2012 hits a homerun. High soaring Type II jams push the 8/31/12 show to extreme heights all bundled within the “F.U.C.K.Y.O.U.R.F.A.C.E” spelling. The “S” show remains historic for obvious reasons but was completely leapfrogged and rightfully so. Just like Live Music Blog pleaded and predicted Phish would do hours earlier. We shouldn’t take credit, but we will.
The second and third shows of the respected runs are very similar in style and substance. Although the “Tweezer” from 9/3/11 is a gem, the second night of Dick’s this year probably produced the best version of “Light” in the songs short, but often played, history. It was some of the most engaging music of the weekend and dare I say belongs in the upper echelon of Phish. Yes, I’m sure several paragraphs are being written by experts on the new territory this jam reached on Saturday. Then the “Sand” played the next night is the longest version in history beating Big Cypress in ’99. Not sure many thought that would happen. The “Sand” delivers so many different themes it’s hard to keep track. There are elements of “46 Days” and “Gin” included with the “Sand” but the segue is where this one earns a gold star. Good luck figuring out where the “Ghost” begins. When the 1-2-3-punch of “Sand”->”Ghost”>”Piper” concluded, we had just witnessed almost 50 minutes of top shelf Phish.
Historically, to put the Colorado run in perspective, Phish hasn’t played two six-song second sets in the span of three shows in a very very long time. It’s unheard of in the 3.0. Our crack team of stat experts is still working on the numbers of the last time it happened. (*Update: from @PeteLikesPhish, 7/19/03 & 7/22/03 + 7/25/03 along with SPAC ’04 if talking post-hiatus, not post-breakup.)
Frankly what Phish accomplished over the weekend will be remembered as a true awakening for the community years from now. We can trust the band to deliver IT. Dicks ’12 opened up a few more taste buds we thought dried up with 1.0 & 2.0. The Type II conquests are back, let’s just hope they stick around through New Years and into the future.
Up next, Madison Square Garden!
The first “Emotional Rescue” since September 30, 2000
“The” Caspian Jam -> Light :
The Best Segue of 2012? “Sand” -> “Ghost”
The No Quarter Groove:
On a closing note, I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Jack and Liz of @PartyTimePins for putting me up in their Boulder, Colorado home for the second straight year. It was a pleasure taking in the shows, sounds and sights of Colorado with you!