- by @SufferingJuke -
Thirty years. It’s a landmark achievement for any relationship, let alone for a band that built literally everything they’ve ever done from scratch with their own hands. Through ups and downs, perseverance, overcoming challenges set, and pushing themselves forward through incredible ambition, reaching this marker of longevity isn’t necessarily the goal, but a landmark that should be celebrated all the same. From the very end of 2012, the band made it clear they intended to celebrate the year once they hit the road. Whereas in 2003 they focused only on a four-night run of shows, nearly all of 2013, and especially the Fall Tour, was a direct celebration of all that Phish had accomplished since 1983.
They’d reached a new creative peak just one year earlier. While much of 2009-2011 was reserved for foundational rebuilding, 2012 had been a standout year for Phish. Their June run featured more unique songs than had ever been played before in a single year, and the experiment seemed to energize the band to dot their setlists with even more creativity than fans had been used to, and to push their jamming to new heights. In August, they continued to push their jamming further, as displayed by the Rock & Roll from Long Beach and the outstanding Crosseyed & Painless -> Light -> Sally -> Crosseyed segment from San Francisco. All of this came to a head with their second annual Dick’s Labor Day run. To this day, it’s still one of the finest runs of 3.0. The Fuck Your Face show on August 31, which pushed their jamming & show construction past all expectations, the Light on September 1, and the Sand -> Ghost -> Piper segment from September 2; it’s a run that’s still revered to this day, and offered for many, the clearest reassurance that Phish was about to enter a another sustained period of creative brilliance. Closing out 2012 with four nights at MSG, both the Tweezer from 12/28 and the Down With Disease -> Twenty Years Later> Carini segment from 12/30 built off the work of the previous summer, segueing the band into their 30th year on a high.
In the summer, the band battled the weather with performances that felt locked-in from the start. They changed their stage set-up and Mike got a new haircut. They were listening to each other with more patience and space, and looked ready to move into their third decade with a youthful mindset. Notably, July 5 from SPAC, the second set on July 12, July 14 at MPP and the second set of July 21 all focused on classic setlist construction, innovative jamming, and a celebration of all things Phish. When they moved west for the tour’s conclusion, they played perhaps their most locked-in music since the previous August. July 27 from the Gorge sounded like what one would assume a proper Phish live album would. July 31 from Tahoe featured their longest jam since 2003, in a take on Tweezer that would bring us the woo’s and some of the most celebrated playing of the era. Their three-night run at Bill Graham is essentially without flaw as they brought rarities, jamming, and fluid setlisting to bat. As the tour concluded, even a sub-standard Dick’s Run couldn’t halt the anticipation for the looming Fall Tour. A two week run up the east coast. Reminiscent in locale and seasonality of their fantastic Fall 2010 run, both of which harkened back to Fall 1995, when the band used smaller venues in familiar haunts to drive them to be at their best.
The tour opened in Hampton, their first three-night run in the storied venue since their return in 2009. On the first night they played a version of Carini that couldn’t have been more different from the haunting take on the song from December 30 of the previous year. A joyous, candy-filled jam, it ushered in a tour that would reflect its joy emitted across its entirety. On the run’s third night, October 20, the band played a second that that still holds up to this day. The Tweezer stood in polar opposite to the joy of Tahoe, here exploring the sounds of the underworld, with Trey emulating the sonic experimentations of Ira Kaplan, before it concluded with a prelude to Wingsuit. Later in the set, Golden Age pushed against its seams for the first time in its history, Piper segued to Takin’ Care of Business which seemed to summarize the entirety of Phish in this era, and 2001>Sand>Slave closed the set with classicist refinement.
The band returned to the Glens Falls Civic Center for the first time in nineteen years, opening with Back In The USSR for only the second time since Halloween 1994. The first set felt like a holiday show in its tension, focus on impactful songs to the band’s overall songwriting evolution, and expectations built up by the community. All this came to a head with a gorgeous take on Twist midway through Set II. A reflection of where the band was improvisationally at this time, Trey was focused on crafting singular ideas, reacting to and guiding his bandmates all at once. Their weekend run at the Worcester Centrum was as close to a focused 30th Anniversary Celebration as any shows played during the year. Night one felt plucked out of the mid-90s with its song selection, energy, and over-packed second set which spilled into a four song encore. The second night began with the same approach, but fused with the jamming qualities of October 20 in a 30+min segment based around Drowned>Light that seemed to channel 1998 throughout. In both performances, the band showcased the best parts of their past as they dually reflected on where they’d come, while taking the first steps towards what their next evolutionary leap forward would be.
The final two shows prior to Hallowen only built on where the band was at in October 2013. On October 27 they honored the passing of Lou Reed before playing joyous takes on Tweezer and Golden Age. Two nights later, on a Tuesday night in Reading, Pennsylvania, they played a classic Night-Before-The-Night-Show. With the entire fanbase focused on the looming Halloween run in Atlantic City, and with rumors buzzing about what album the band would play, the band threw down one of their defining shows of the tour and the entire era. Set II opened with a Down With Disease that matched the joy emitted earlier in the tour through Carini and Tweezer. Later, Twenty Years Later jammed with focused precision, leading to a jam based off China -> Rider before Piper and YEM closed out the set. Encoring with Reba for the first time since October 19, 2010 offered one last bit of significance to the show and tour before moving to its ultimate conclusion.
In Atlantic City, the band played their third Hallowed show of 3.0, and their seventh since initiating the Album Costume in 1994. Whereas in previous years, they’d selected an album from one of their musical heroes to summarize the sound of the era, while pushing their own evolution forward, and with the fanbase engaged in constant discussions online about what album they might play, the band pulled the ultimate zag. A move that would clash with the hopes and desires of the fanbase, their October 31, 2013 performance would ultimately define what the entire thirtieth anniversary was about, and what the band would use to guide them into the next era: their songwriting. While it’s still a controversial show within the larger fanbase, their performance of a debut album, Wingsuit - which would become Fuego by the following summer - displayed an incredible amount of trust, risk-taking, and love for their larger fanbase, and the music they’d been crafting for the previous three decades. More than anything, the Wingsuit set has projected Phish into a sustained period of creative revitalization. Since 2013 they’ve released two albums, debuted two more at further Halloween shows, all while Trey, Page and Mike have released a plethora of solo material. To say the Wingsuit set changed Phish 3.0 would be a massive understatement. Following the set, the band threw down a standout segment of music in Ghost>Carini, which joined the Twist from November 1 and the Theme From The Bottom, Down With Disease and Tweezer from November 2 as statements on how energized the band was by their experiment.
Closing the year with a four-night run at MSG wherein which the band would only play original material built off the accomplishments of Fall 2013. A tour that was expected to celebrate thirty years of Phish, instead it projected them into the future. As Phish a move as any. Always looking forward in celebration of their past.