The larger story of Phish is not complete without a continued search for the time and space to host the Long Gig. Dreamed up by the band in their halcyon college days as an event in which they’d lock the doors, without warning, of a venue, thus trapping their fans inside, and playing for hours, possibly days, in an effort to see the psychological impact their continued playing would have on their music and that of their listeners. They came close to creating the time/space for the LG with their millennium festival Big Cypress, peaking with a 7hr set from midnight to sunrise. The music that emerged from Quadrophonic Toppling as well as the 35min minimalist take on Roses Are Free is some of the most experimental music the band has ever performed live in front of a paying audience.
Nearly twenty years later, the band took another stab at the Long Gig concept, booking Madison Square Garden for three weeks straight, playing 250+ unique songs, experimenting with larger show-based themes and letting the suspension of time & space during the Summer of 2017 dictate their jamming. It’s not untrue to suggest that the Summer 2017 tour was a celebration of everything Phish had spent the previous 34 years working towards in much the same way Big Cypress was eighteen years earlier.
The tour began with a five show warm-up in Chicago, Dayton, and Pittsburgh. The band used this week of touring to experiment with bustouts and extensive jamming, to confirm for them that their strategy at MSG would produce quality shows and music. The Simple from July 15, the Ghost from July 18, and the Mr. Completely from July 19, in particular, showcased a band pushing their music beyond any standard thematic close, searching for the unknown brilliance only possible if they just kept playing. The three weeks at MSG finds Phish in their ultimate comfort zone, as jams emerge from songs never before known for their improve - It’s Ice, Sample In A Jar, Lawn Boy, Taste - and the band allows the tongue in cheek humor from the Baker’s Dozen to inspire covers and bustouts of long forgotten songs.
The run from July 23 through August 1 among their strongest in the modern era. Full sets and shows delivered with precision and a wisened sense of setlist construction and communicative improv. Jams off Crosseyed & Painless, Tube, 1999, Chalk Dust Torture, Blaze On, Drowned, A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing, and Golden Age represent the apex of the tour, and some of the most important jamming of the last decade.
When they closed out the tour in Denver over Labor Day 2017, they used the first night of the run to announce that the wins from the tour were going to only inspire them to continue searching through improvisation, as the second set from September 1 proved to be one of the best sets of the entire year.
While there are some to rightly wish we could hear 1990’s Phish in a Baker’s Dozen environment, what’s always proven special about the run at this point in Phish’s career, is how much they had to draw from for inspiration to make the run complete, as well as the loving fan service offered to everyone who’d followed them through the highs and lows of their career. Perhaps the run would’ve served better by a tighter band, a quicker Fish, a more polished version of Trey, etc. But for a band, nearly four decades in their career, to string together a tour that equally celebrated everything that made them special, while also pushing themselves forward, is as inspiring as it is impressive. There’s really no tour quite like Summer 2017 in Phish history, and one can only hope it’s successes drive the band forward in ways we cannot imagine for decades to come.