- by @SufferingJuke -
Coming off the transitionatory year of 2014, Phish 3.0 was in flux for the first time since late 2011. Sure, the Wingsuit experiment had led to Phish’s most exciting album in a decade, and sure, their Fall 2014 Tour ended on a high note with a trio of great shows in San Francisco followed by an excellent run in Las Vegas - their first since 2004 - which featured the much lauded Chilling/Thrilling Halloween Costume, but there were still lingering questions in early 2015 about how much more the band had in them. Had we seen the band play their best shows of 3.0 in late 2012 and 2013? Was there even anything more the band had to prove?
Then Trey played Fare Thee Well.
Billed as the final show for the Core Four of the Grateful Dead, as well as a celebration of their 50th Anniversary, Trey got the call in late-2014/early-2015 to play Fake Jerry across five shows that summer. What followed was a listening & learning project that would not only transform Trey into a legitimate emulator of Jerry’s tones and ideas and melodic communication, but would inspire Trey to his strongest & most creative playing since the Summer 2003 Tour. The half year he spent preparing for these shows is among the most important acts of all of 3.0.
In addition, while we’d seen pictures in the spring of 2015 of Trey and Tom retreating to North Carolina for a writing weekend, fans had little expectation of a new batch of songs debuting that summer. This was a time in Phish 3.0 where it was still relatively rare for the band to debut batches of new songs. From Summer 2011 until Wingsuit, Phish only brought one new song to the fore, Steam. Following the release of Fuego and the shock reveal of the Chilling/Thrilling tunes, most went into 2015 expecting another year of development for the Fuego & C/T tunes. Thus when the band opened their two-night run in Bend with seven brand new songs - five of which are still in the Phish rotation - it immediately injected the tour with a freshness that would carry through its five week run across the US.
Almost immediately the Summer 2015 tour felt like renewal. It was unexpectedly exciting out the gates. Songs like Blaze On, No Men In No Man’s Land and Mercury felt like Phish songs from the jump, and the second set from July 22 flowed with ease, which saw the band make thematic and unique setlist choices, while jamming in new and inventive ways in the Simple. In their first Shoreline stop since 2009, they strung together a near-perfect second set anchored by a Blaze On>Twist>Light trio that sounded far removed from the rhythmic and chunky jamming of the previous three years, here we were in an ethereal and atmospheric space you could get lost in.
When they arrived on the east coast on July 31, the band and fanbase alike was energized and ready to explode. With three weeks of tour dates through some of their favorite cities and venues, armed with new songs people actually wanted to hear, plus the scattering of C/T jams that were slowly being unveiled, there was sensible hype surrounding the tour, the likes of which many hadn’t felt since the band departed Hampton in October 2013. They subsequently engaged in three weeks of peak touring few had heard from the band since the late-90s.
The Atlanta run is packed with energy - 7/31 is arguably a top 5 3.0 show - and next-level jamming in Ghost, Kill Devil Falls, Martian Monster and Tweezer. In Nashville the band performed an incredible act of fan service, jamming Mike’s Song for the first time 7/14/2000. The midwestern run of Blossom on August 7, with it’s expertly played second set & monumental jamming in Chalk Dust and Tweezer, and Alpine - especially bustout heavy show on August 9 - showcased a band only picking up momentum. When they made the main tour’s final turn ahead of Magnaball, they graced Philadelphia with yet another stand-out second set on August 12, while Merriweather Post got the zany seguefest show of the tour on August 15.
The tour proper ended with the band’s tenth major festival, Magnaball. One could write an entire series of essays on the reasons Magnaball was so fantastic, but I’ll just say this: it’s up there with very few runs from 3.0 - Gorge 2009, Dick’s 2012, Randall’s 2014, Vegas 2016, Baker’s Dozen Night’s 3-9 and Vegas 2018 - for its ability to equally summarize the best parts of the current era, while elevating the possibilities within the era beyond expectations. The massive Gin to close the festivals first set combined with the top tier Set II, the perfect feel of the entire second day which combined ideal weather, sage setlisting, and jamming in 46 Days, Tweezer>Caspian, Blaze On, Light and Cities settled people into a high quality getaway with Phish. When they played their most accomplished late night set in 12 years, the Drive-In Jam, it only elevated the approach of the tour to another level. The festival closed with sleek jamming in Down With Disease, a near silent What’s The Use?, and a You Enjoy Myself encore that summarized the gratitude felt between both band and fans alike.
The Dick’s run in Summer 2015 felt like a coda in ways it simply hadn’t in previous summers. Yet even here they brought the lessons of the summer with them, as Blaze On, Golden Age, Twist, and Down With Disease jammed in focused and thematic ways that would help drive the band’s best jamming for years to come. Much like the Magnaball encore, the Dick’s 2015 THANK YHOU encore capped the tour in the best way possible.
Renewal was the theme of the tour. In much the same way as Summer 2012, most entered Summer 2015 with a certain degree of skepticism about the band’s motivations and need to continue outplaying themselves. By Labor Day it was clear that not only was it worth it to continue on this journey with the band, but that there were sure to be even bigger and better surprises to come.