We are literally just hours away from the start of another season of Phish. Rehearsals have started and opening day at the DCU Center (The Centrum) in Worcester, MA comes Thursday . I’ll be there to soak in the first sounds of summer along with a few others from the Live Music Blog team and a whole cast of characters. Interestingly enough the show takes place minus the summer sun, and minus the bright stars. We go indoors for the first two shows, giving Chris Kuroda a two-set palette to kick it all off. A very different atmosphere than last year which took place outside on the sacred grounds of the first Woodstock in Bethel, NY.

It’s a hopeful and happy time for the Phish community. Even the fans who have “moved on” will keep at least one eye on the setlists of Thursday and Friday. The water coolers (Twitter/Facebook) will all have something to say in the minutes, hours and days following the shows. What was the opener? Did they cover a song for Levon? Did Kuroda add anything to his light rig? Will this be the summer of “Sabotage” encores referencing the late Adam Yauch? And of course…Did they jam tonight?

Leading up to Phish’s Opening Day, most articles in the scene have focused on the theme of “more jamming.” I’m not a musician but in some ways I think it’s tough for this version of Phish to jam on a consistent basis like they have in years past. They don’t practice (or should I say “hang out”) as much anymore. Years ago, the band literally grew up together and played hours on end, which in turn led to more risk taking and a real WANT to take songs they’ve rehearsed to further realms. To consistently ask for more jams doesn’t seem realistic, and in actuality seems trivial at this point in Phish’s career. I’d be more interested in asking for new songs. The jams with adventurous journeys will come, just not at every show, or even every other show. And that’s okay.

I expect 2012 will be a lot like 2011: Phish comes out of the gate strong, lays a few jams on us early, maybe even a ‘best ever’ ala the Detroit “Down with Disease” Supreme of last year, plays their catalog full of “Sand” and “Steam,” then throws a sleeper show in for good measure and calls it a First Leg. That’s something I’ll be happy with. It’s become cliche now but….I’ll take any show in 2009-2012 over the ones in 2005-2008. Because there weren’t any.

With the tour almost here, a few noteworthy news items have popped up courtesy of Rolling Stone. In last week’s issue, a blurb saying “The Jam Masters plan to break out at least 200 tunes at their gigs this summer. ‘The tours now are more fun and relaxed,’ says keyboardist Page McConnell. ‘The shows just fly by, and the hours do too.'”

At first I thought 200 was a big deal but on further research, it really isn’t that far off from the norm. In the years previous (2009-2011), Phish has been just around that total, and if we are to take Page’s comments as referencing both the first and second legs, well, that’s exactly what the number should be coming in at. So I’m taking it with a grain of salt until I see “Leprachaun,” “Shafty” and the much joked about “Jennifer Dances” peppering the setlists.

The other news from Rolling Stone’s Eric Ward was dropped earlier today in the form of a tweet answering something that fans have discussed for weeks now: Will Phish make another album and when? Well, it looks like they will with details coming in next week’s issue of Rolling Stone. The co-founder of Glide Magazine @eward’s tweet said…

You can’t go wrong with a reference to the Siket Disc as a hashtag. Scott Bernstein of @YEMblog & Hidden Track gave further clarification that this was indeed a quote about a new Phish album and not a solo effort. Score!

I, for one, think new albums are vital to the health of Phish, much more so than extended jams. As long as the band is showing effort to create together, they’ll stay together. With the foreshadowing of Page that the band is taking a different approach to this record than in the past, I’m excited to see what develops. The supposed recording in Fall has a chance at showing fans something they haven’t heard before. It conjures memories of 2002’s first comeback when Phish came to the table with the Round Room album. To me, Round Room is an album much more reliant (as Page mentions) on ‘in the moment’ recording. Songs produced like “Waves” and “Seven Below,” that have exploration written all over them. That free-form creation would be a huge improvement over the more-polished songs off Joy in my opinion. As long as the album includes “Steam,” I think everything will be a-okay.

Steam-y NYE

After Worcester, Phish will take a few days off then head to Tennessee to close out the Bonnarroo Music Festival on Sunday night. That show will hopefully be the first of many Couch Tour experiences this year. I’d guess that Bader Field and the second leg Bill Graham shows also have a chance at some couch tour but those are only guesses. The Bonnaroo performance (two sets) will be streamed at 8pm ET on their official site. Mad Men’s Season Finale has some competition now.

Mike Gordon photo "The view from here" @ Tour Rehearsal Worcester, MA

All in all, the beginning of Phish’s 2012 season is one to be hopeful about. Will the band come out swinging like they did last year with a jam-vehicle in “Tweezer” and showcase a run that lives up to Bethel Wood’s standards? Interestingly enough an article by Coventry Music explains that the band has never opened a US-based Summer tour with the same song. Possum opened the tour in 1995, so we may be safe on that front.

Time will certainly not turn elastic if the band plays it safe like they did on the most recent NYE / MSG run. With rehearsals this week going on in Worcester, one has to hope the band is waiting for the audience to show up to take some chances, not just doing so behind closed doors. I’ve noted it before but Phish’s rehearsals as evident by some of Kevin Shapiro’s releases (Bethel’s Waves Tech Rehearsal, SuperBall & 9/14/11 soundchecks) are some of the best free-form Phish we’ve heard in 3.0. Maybe we should all bring signs this year that say “Soundcheck Jam.” All I ask is that no one requests a Big Ball Jam or I’ll have to join the Jaded Vets club.

Oh, and don’t forget to remind your tour buddies to see a show this Summer…

Phish IS NOT touring this Fall.

Some missed that small blurb after the announcement of the second leg dates. It’ll most likely be another Trey Anastasio Band infused fall with an album release and tour. I wonder if hot off Trey’s Broadway play, Hands on a Hardbody, if we will see a few more performances of “Burn That Bridge” and “My Problem Right There.”

You can follow me on twitter @phortin for my own Phishing adventures going forward. I’ll be at Worcester, Long Beach, San Francisco and Denver. For more detailed set list updates, please follow Scott Marks @bizarchive. He will be hitting 21 shows this Summer and promises to do as much live tweeting as possible. Don’t forget to fill out your “team” on Phantasy Tour. Registration closes tomorrow before the show. Those who pick Tweezer Reprise as an encore should have to forfeit 10 points.