It’s been only five weeks since Phish capped off an outstanding first portion of their summer tour (which I called their “best in a decade“), but is it just me or does it seem like it’s been forever since SPAC? Tomorrow, the band will hit the stage again, to begin the second leg of their tour at Long Beach Arena in Southern California, and will likely play their final shows of 2012 until December. So, I figured it was the perfect time to take a look at what we can expect from Phish over the next two-and-a-half weeks, that hopefully allows them to build on the foundation they laid down earlier this summer. Of course, if this band has showed us anything over nearly 30 years, it’s that just when we think we have them figured out, they do something completely unexpected so bear that in mind.
[All Photos by Parker Harrington]
Although the second leg of this summer tour is a mere sprint, as opposed to a marathon, with only 13 shows in 19 days, contrasted to a much longer first leg, there are some extremely interesting points to be looked at. Most notably, the schedule does not bode well for the faint-of-heart traveler. With only two multi-night runs on this leg (San Francisco and Denver), Phish will hit California to kick things off before commencing a whirlwind cycle through the Midwest and Southeast for a week. That, along with the itinerary of the band playing six never-before-played venues this run (Long Beach Arena, Starlight Theatre, Chaifetz Theatre and The Zoo), means the unexpected and anticipatory factors are very high on everyone’s radar. Toss in the fact that some of the shows are taking place in late August in some of the hottest locales in the country (Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma, to name a few), and these shows are poised to heat up – literally.
- Previously: A Look At Phish Summer Tour Leg Two Venues
But, as we’ve all seen throughout the band’s career, they tend to reward those diehards that brave the elements and make insane treks to follow them with some special surprises. (Um, Limestome, Maine, anybody?). This leg, with such a small snapshot, and basically concluding a banner year thus far, is sure to be no exception. So, now that the logistics have been addressed, let’s take a look at what we can expect musically from the boys.
The questions on everyone’s minds are certainly fair: can the band keep the momentum going that they built up earlier this summer? Will it take them a while to get going? With only 13 shows and 2-multi-night runs, will the quartet be able to gain any “steam?” And finally, will the announced webcasts of the Bill Graham shows in San Francisco put the kibosh on Phish’s return to the city where the Grateful Dead once (and still) ruled? Ah, the beauty of conjecture allows us to debate and hash out such ideas.
Musically, 2012 was nothing short of a revelation for Phish. Not so much in the style that the band played, but more in my eyes, it has been the year to date, that the fans have been waiting for since their return in 2009. There weren’t just good or above average shows once every few nights, but every night seemingly offered up some aspect of the Phish repertoire and persona that allowed fans to walk away extremely happy. The playing overall was top tier for this era, the humor that defines the band and separates them from so many others returned with a vengeance for the entire tour and that infectious attitude permeated from the stage and into the audience on a nightly basis. While I expect the band to try and carry that torch over to this late summer run, I wonder if different venues each night in foreign locations will allow them do so as easily? It will be a tough task for sure, but I feel the band might be up for the challenge to help punctuate a landmark summer.
One way I feel the band could help do so would be to introduce some new and fresh material to the fold. With Page McConnell telling Rolling Stone that the quartet expects to enter the studio this fall, the one thing missing from the past few years in the land of Phish is a slew of new tunes. Sure, they busted out some mega rarities this past summer in lieu of debuting new material, and I’m sure that theme will continue this leg (Spock’s Brain, anyone?), but I feel an injection of some never-before-heard original debuts would take things to a whole new level.
In addition to some fresh material, I’m also hoping that the band goes completely off the wall in a few aspects this second leg. Start with the crazy setlists and bustouts that they’ve brought forth this year and take it to the Nth degree. Realize that each show will be the only footprint (in most cases) that they will get to leave on a certain venue/city, and go all out. In other words, don’t play it safe – anywhere. There are 13 proper shows remaining until December. That’s not a lot for the final five months of the year. So go for IT. Build upon what you’ve created and take it DEEP! Explore, delve and be creative. Make a statement that the early summer wasn’t just lightning in a bottle for the 3.0 era.
We’ve all wished for greatness out of Phish since their return, and now that we’ve consistently seen it, I’d say “great. Now show me more.” We wouldn’t be Phish fans if we didn’t have a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude that came from seeing the band constantly raise the bar throughout the ’90s. I challenge the band to dig deep and lay it all out on the line. This short, but intriguing second stint, in my eyes, is a statement time and turning point in the band’s next chapter. With some new tunes, greater risks and more jams, the band could not only break – but shatter – new ground for the next few years of Phish lore going forward. The choice is up to them.