Disclaimer: I go to shows to have fun. I don’t take notes. I dance, I drink, and I’m probably writing this hungover. I don’t use a thesaurus, I call em’ like I see em’. This is what I thought.

After just over a month on the road, Phish wrapped up the first leg of their summer tour at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center with three different shows that could each be a legitimate “show of tour” contender. Phish has been kind to Saratoga Springs, performing generally memorable shows during stops in 2009 and 2010, before skipping the venue in 2011, but this is the band’s first ever three night run at the shed. The unique aspect of SPAC is it’s balcony – it’s the only amphitheater Phish plays with a balcony and it has a tendency to rumble and shake during the high-energy sections of the show. These three shows really show just how consistent Phish has become this tour. There was rarely a night off, each show had some highly requested song choices, Phish classics, and exploratory jamming that is bound to make any phan happy.

07/06/12 @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Night one started off with a particularly rousing Runaway Jim, which has been consistently good, this tour, yet never was given the breathing room to really show what the band can do with the song. A solid Heavy Things>Back On The Train>Funky Bitch segment kept the energy going strong until we were slapped with the first of many awesome memories from the weekend. About a minute and a half into Tube, the band seems to take a turn into what seemed to be the beginning of some heavy improv. Could we finally get our first real jammed out Tube in seemingly forever? Nope, the band steers directly into Psycho Killer for the first time since Hartford 09! The energy Psycho Killer brings to a set – in the middle of Tube no less – really is incredible. The crowd feeds off the band creating a moment of real rock and roll ecstasy.

Another great Fishman segment saw the drummer bust out Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie for the first time since ’99 in the middle of Hold Your Head Up, but nothing really matched the energy of the Tube segment until the set closed with Light Up Or Leave Me Alone. The classic Traffic cover closed a set for the first time ever, and it seems like the band went balls out for the occasion. Definitely a must listen.

As usual, if set one brought the songs, set two brought the jams. After a standard Chalk Dust Torture, a fantastic Carini arose full of dark undertones and high peaks. Carini has recently become a song you can trust the band to go all out on, evolving into an eight-minute jam over the past month. Keeping the same sort of dark themes, Carini evolved into yet another funky Sand for our second awesome jam of the set. After relatively routine walkthroughs of Roses Are Free and Punch You In The Eye, we stumble into what is possibly the highlight of the show – an absolutely rippin’ and tearin’ Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley. I think this one may hold up to last year’s rendition at Blossom, which many considered to be the jam of the 2011 summer tour. There were many points throughout the song that felt like it was about to end, but instead Fishman or Trey would keep it alive for another rip through, turning the energy up each time. Eventually the song had to come to an end, but only to segue into a fantastic Ghost that kept the jam train running.

After a entertaining run through of Suzy Greenberg, we were hit with another slap in the face with another absolutely monster Run Like an Antelope to close the second set. Both Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life came on stage to provide some alternative lyrics (“been you to have any spleef”). After the killer Antelope in Jones Beach, it was great to see the band bring the same energy to this one as well. The band went into a relatively routine and expected Loving Cup for their encore, and while the song definitely gets it’s share of flack from many fans, it really is great way to end a rock concert.

Set 1: Runaway Jim, Ocelot, Heavy Things, Back on the Train, Funky Bitch, Tube -> Psycho Killer -> Tube, Hold Your Head Up[1] > Cracklin’ Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Paul and Silas, Horn, Corinna, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone

Set 2: Chalk Dust Torture > Carini > Sand, Roses Are Free > Punch You In the Eye > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Ghost > Suzy Greenberg > Run Like an Antelope[2]

Encore: Loving Cup
[1] Psycho Killer quotes and “tucking” references.
[2] Crosseyed and Painless tease; Tom Marshall and the Dude of Life on vocals; Lyrics changed to “Been you to have any spleef.”

Performers: Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, Tom Marshall (Guest), Steve Pollak (“The Dude of Life”) (Guest)

Notes: Psycho Killer was played for the first time since August 14, 2009 (127 shows). HYHU contained Psycho Killer quotes and references to tucking. Prior to Cracklin’ Rosie, Fish was introduced as Friar Tuck. Cracklin’ Rosie was played for the first time since December 10, 1999 (279 shows). Antelope contained a Crosseyed and Painless tease. Tom Marshall and Steve Pollak (aka the “Dude of Life”) sang the lyrics to Antelope. The lyrics to Antelope were changed to “Been you to have any spleef.”

07/07/12 @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center

The band took the barbershop quartet formation for the beginning of night two, starting us off with an acapella Grind. Besides for some fun covers like Torn and Frayed, Cities, Peach En Regalia, and Good Times Bad Times, this first set felt like relatively standard Phish show. There were fun songs like Moma Dance and Bathtub Gin, some Phish classics like Maze and Golgi Apparatus, but it didn’t really pack the punch of Friday’s first set.

The second set, however, brought enough Phish magic for the whole show. The requisite Down With Disease second set opener (of six appearances in 2012, four of them were second set openers) started off strong before developing a unique and familiar jam about half way in. But this was to be no jam, it was instead the first emergence of the Violent Femmes’ classic Blister in the Sun, it’s first appearance since July of 1998. After ripping through the first verse, the band pushed right back into high gear to finish off a thundering second half of Disease before pushing into a fairly standard Boogie On Reggae Woman. For one of the first times this year, Golden Age felt fairly routine, without much of the improvised gold featured in some of the more stand out versions this year. Backwards Down The Number Line featured some fun nods to Blister In The Sun but segued into Prince Caspian before anything really got going.

From this point on, the show was just straight fire. A fantastic run through of Scent of a Mule featured a reprise of the first verse of Blister in the Sun, creating the kind of fun “themed” sets that fans remember forever. The ensuing Mike’s Groove featured three awesome jams. A very solid Mike’s Song segment, and then a curveball with Contact taking the usual I Am Hydrogen spot. This was only the third time Contact followed Mike’s Song, which hasn’t been done since 1995.  It seems like the band put a little more energy into the normally mellow song, with Trey ripping a solo towards the end before the segue into Weekapaug Groove. The band dedicated the encore to the recently deceased MCA of the Beastie Boys before busting into Sabotage to end the show.

Set 1: Grind, Possum > Golgi Apparatus, The Moma Dance, Torn and Frayed, Rift, Cities -> Maze, Lawn Boy, Peaches en Regalia > Bathtub Gin, Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Down with Disease -> Blister in the Sun[1] > Down with Disease[2] > Boogie On Reggae Woman > Golden Age -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Backwards Down the Number Line[3] > Prince Caspian[2] -> Scent of a Mule -> Blister in the Sun[1] > Scent of a Mule > Mike’s Song[3] > Contact > Weekapaug Groove[3]

Encore: Sabotage
[1] First verse only.
[2] Unfinished.
[3] Blister in the Sun teases (Trey).

Performers: Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon

Notes: Blister in the Sun was played for the first time since July 9, 1998 (390 shows). Both appearances of Blister in the Sun consisted of the first verse only. Down with Disease and Caspain were both unfinished. BDTNL, Mike’s Song and Weekapaug all contained Blister in the Sun teases from Trey. Sabotage was dedicated to MCA.

07/08/12 @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Based on the two previous days, there were a lot of expectations for night three. The venue felt slightly emptier, as it was a Sunday. Set one featured some fan favorites like Camel Walk, My Soul, and Gumbo, but the real party started with, well, Party Time. This song has become a great way to honor special occasions or to just get the crowd dancing and instigate a party. The song worked to perfection here, with a version that, for a new song, could probably be ranked among one of the “best ever”. It was an interesting placement in the middle of a set, but the crowd fed off of it and it really picked up the entire atmosphere of the venue.

The set’s other highlight would be the ending segment, which is definitely worth a re-listen. The band played one of the more clean and solid Split Open and Melt’s this tour, with some really nice interplay all around. The song has a tendency to get sloppy at times, but this one was tight and held together perfectly. SOAM eventually segued into the ZZ Top Classic La Grange – the first one since 99, getting another highly requested bust out off many fan’s lists.

Axilla as an opener is a great way to get a set pumping, as it is really chock fill of energy, and any song that encourages the crowd to yell something usually results in fun. Another fantastic Light took the second set jam spot, and I don’t think anyone expected less from the way the guys have been killing this song this year. The following Twist was nothing to write home about, and was definitely overshadowed by the following Kill Devil Falls. Like Light, this song has recently seemed to be getting some extra attention. This version quickly picked up some energy and featured some top notch jedi shredding from Trey. The ensuing My Friend, My Friend was a welcome sight but generally short and standard. Swept Away>Sweep brought the energy down a notch before we were hit with a legendary Piper that ripped all over the place while the boys showcased their improvisational skills. Piper and Light have both been jammed to the high heavens this tour, so to get both in this set was a real treat. The Piper was definitely one of the highlights of the night and might be the best one of the year.

Free, while short, felt like it was a little more inspired than usual. It was a good example of a jam not needing to go on forever to capture the essence of the song. This one was a straight up rocker. Kung made its first non-acapella appearance in nearly two years and was a fun little treat before Fishman’s drums signaled the beginning of what would become an especially beautiful Harry Hood. Cavern could have been the end of the show, but Fishman brought us into David Bowie, giving us one more signature Phish song to close the set. Before the encore, Page spoke to the fans, thanking everyone involved for a great tour – and what a tour it was. What could the band possibly give us for our last song of the run? You Enjoy Myself, in hindsight, was the only appropriate choice, given that the band’s signature song was only performed one other time during the entire first leg of the tour.

And that’s all she wrote for leg one. It would be tough to argue that this run of shows wasn’t the best run since the band’s return in 09. Nearly every show felt like a grand slam. I don’t think there was one show that won’t hold a special place in my heart for at least one moment. The Saratoga run was probably the highlight of the entire run, providing just a little more than the Atlantic City run, but at this point we’re just picking hairs. These are the times that you stop comparing shows and looking up set lists and arguing about them with your friends. This is the time that you reflect on all the amazing music we listened to over the past month, how grateful we are to be able to experience them, and take a deep breath and relax. At least until the next run.

Set 1: AC/DC Bag > My Soul, Camel Walk, Sample in a Jar, Wilson > Party Time, Gumbo, Nellie Kane, Driver, Foam, If I Could, Split Open and Melt > La Grange

Set 2: Axilla > Light > Twist > Kill Devil Falls[1] > My Friend, My Friend[2] > Swept Away > Steep > Piper > Free > Kung > Harry Hood[3] > Cavern > David Bowie

Encore: You Enjoy Myself

[1] Theme from Jeopardy! tease.
[2] No “Myfe” ending.
[3] Kung quote.

Notes: La Grange was played for the first time since September 22, 1999 (301 shows). Kill Devil Falls contained a Jeopardy! theme tease and Hood contained a Kung quote. My Friend My Friend did not contain the “Myfe” ending. Page thanked the fans and crew for a great tour prior to You Enjoy Myself.