Summer 2003: A Return to Glory

Phish 3.0 is around the corner.  In two months to the day, many of us will be traveling to the beautiful hamlet of Hampton, VA to set up camp for the weekend.  2009 is here, and with it, butterflies of excitement and a sense of anticipation is filtering through the community.  As we prepare our psyches and souls for brand new technicolor journeys, let’s take a look at some high points of Phish 2.0

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

In a comeback that lasted only a year and a half, Phish managed to play a fairly heavy schedule, creating some real monster shows within the year of 2003.  The winter run got the band back in the saddle, and though ripping from the onset in Los Angeles, once the band hit mid-tour in Cincinnati, they were once again firing on all cylinders.  Capping the tour with their renowned run through the Northeast, blowing up both Worcester and Nassau to the fullest, Phish was now prepared to undertake a full summer tour.

Summer ’03 is when the band hit their post-hiatus peak.  While Miami was outstanding, and the Summer ’04 run was even better, if not all-too bittersweet, Summer ’03 is when the band truly felt IT again.  Everything was back in full swing this summer.  The Sammies and veggie burritos flowed freely once again, and we went on a nostalgic tour of Phish’s most beloved summertime amphitheatres.  However, while the feeling of being in front of the Phish may have brought recollections of previous years, the music was most definitely evolving to a new place.

7.26.03 Atlanta

7.26.03 Atlanta

Integrating more exploratory effects and layered textures into their music, “space funk” took on a whole new meaning.  No longer as raw and unadulterated as ’97 and ’98, the band’s playing grew more refined and their jams took on completely new directions.  Exploring rhythmic psychedelia through both minimal groove and layered soundscapes, 2003’s music soon possessed a unique sound. Growing a host of new material from Round Room and beyond, songs like “Seven Below,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” and “Walls of the Cave” began to work themselves into rotation, along side more classic numbers.  Yet, more than anything musical, that innocent purity of Phish had returned.  As big as the scene may have been, the vibe in the shows was that of old.  Phishiness had returned, bringing the dynamic of the unknown to the stage each and every set.  The excitement was back, and every day you awoke with the question “What will happen tonight?” Everybody felt it.

As Phish traversed the nation, once again climbing up to Limestone, they left behind a trail of phenomenal music.  Songs were jammed out differently, new songs took center stage, and Phish vitality was reborn.  Reinvigorated, at least for the moment, the band was fully dedicated to their craft this summer, something that would be gone in just one year.  By the time the weekend at “IT” had concluded, Summer ’03 had taken a place next to the most well-loved tours in Phish history.

Below is a recap of seven epic jams from the Summer of ’03.  Because I only possess official SBD releases for these shows, I cannot post these songs on site.  However, you can download each track from and put together the compilation yourself.  Unable to write about all the magnificent music that took place in the Summer ’03, I’ve included an additional list of Summer ’03 highlights.

“Seven Below” 7.13 The Gorge

The Gorge '03

The Gorge '03 - Brian Spiritsano

Hailed as one of the lasting high points of the summer’s improvisation, this late set jam on the second night of The Gorge signaled loud and clear that Phish was back and as good as ever.  This sublime improv began firmly rooted in the melodic template of the song before twisting into a more overtly psychedelic realm.  Trey’s post-hiatus uncompressed and dirty tone was on full display, typifying his more aggressive and edgy playing of ’03 and ’04.  Before too long, the band had left any semblance of the song’s structure in favor of more cosmic exploration.  Entering an eerie space, the band took the audience on a delicate stroll down a sinister and ambient musical roadway. When all was said and done, calls and texts flew around the nation about the most exciting and terrifying Phish jam since their return.

“Scents and Subtle Sounds” 7.30 E Center, Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

One of the most significant musical developments of the entire summer tour was the debut and evolution of Trey and Tom’s post-hiatus masterpiece, “Scents and Subtle Sounds.”  A stunning composition musing on the power of “The Moment,” this song instantly turned into a crowd favorite with its intricate sections, lyrical brilliance, and soaring improvisation.  The first versions remained contained within an uplifting musical structure, not dissimilar to “Harry Hood,” but once Camden rolled around, the song had developed into a legitimate improvisational vehicle.  This 30-minute performance steeped in blissful and surreal jamming, still exists as the defining version ever played.  Reaching psychedelic planes that would remain untouched by the song until the band returned to Camden the following summer, this rendition stood out immediately as both inspiring and exploratory at the same time.  Truly a jam for the ages, words can only go so far in describing its regal nature.

“Split Open and Melt” 7.22 Deer Creek

7.22.03 Deer Creek

7.22.03 Deer Creek

Another defining moment of the summer happened during the middle show of Deer Creek’s three night stand in the form of “Split Open and Melt.”  Forging the jam’s fierce trail, the band hopped into some driving patterns, immediately building musical momentum.  The thickness of the music beefened, as Trey’s exploration turned towards the dissonant and distorted.  Similar to much of his post-hiatus playing, his guitar’s dark path into the center of muddled dementia really stands out as the needle pulling the musical thread through the fabric of this jam.  A fantastically evil voyage that turned much slower about half way through, the entire band turned their vicious improv into something far more settled and grooving.  Taking the audience on a bass-led section of slow rhythmic playing, Phish created a multi-faceted monster out of this jam.  Watch out for evil seething guitar venom as the music descends into the center of the earth.

“Harry Hood” 7.25 Charlotte, NC

7.25.03 Charlotte, NJ

7.25.03 Charlotte, NJ

With all the changes in post-hiatus Phish, none were more intriguing than the emergence of “Harry Hood” as an enhanced jam vehicle.  No longer confined to its uplifting chord progression, Phish used their classic song to explore new uncharted places.  Gradually growing in depth from its first performance at Chula Vista to its colossal version at Camden, “Harry Hood” developed into something far greater than ever before.  “The Charlotte Hood,” would come to symbolize this transformation.  On this night, Phish created a twisting tale that passed through many segments of improv, moving far beyond the song’s conventions.  As the jam built upwards, it also built outwards, winding up in an uptempo groove-fest that you might expect from a “Bathtub Gin.”  Moving into a boisterous and shredding section, it was very easy to forget what song the band was playing this time.  A strong wave of distortion preceded the final peak of the song– a truly revolutionary version of “Harry Hood.”

“Twist” 7.30 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ

7.30.03 Camden, NJ - Alex Phelan

Typifying the raunchy and abstract quality of post-hiatus psychedelia, this monster “Twist” opened the second set of one of Summer ’03’s best shows.  Gently sliding into the jam via regular “Twist” textures, the band soon painted with a much more aggressive palate.  Entering some of the most masterful improv of the post-hiatus era, this jam illustrated the crushing jaws of the monster that was ’03 Phish.  The band navigated an extended period of jamming that is not for the light-hearted, letting it all hang out in Southern Jersey.  This jam is one ’03’s finest moments.  Read more about this night here!

“Mr. Completely” 7.15 West Valley, Utah

7.15.093West Valley, Utah

7.15.03 West Valley, Utah

Pulling off yet another Utah surprise, Phish busted out one of Trey’s most popular solo jam vehicles, as most fans skipped the show and made their way from The Gorge directly to Sandstone.  Anyone making that decision missed one of the danciest jams to come out of post-hiatus Phish.  Taking off on a thirty-minute joy ride, the band lit up the Southwestern sky with musical fireworks.  Featuring some absolutely nasty playing, Trey led the band and audience alike through this exercise in groove.  The only time Phish has ever touched this song, it turned to gold.  A certain summer highlight, this one boomed though everyone’s rides for the rest of tour.

“Crosseyed and Painless” 7.29 Burgettstown, PA

The Gorge '03

The Gorge '03 - Dan Gareau

Perhaps the jam of the summer, this set opening odyssey was pure Phish.  Transcending the musical path of the Talking Heads cover, Phish used the song’s rhythm as a springboard to some purely spiritual music.  Hitting a subconscious musical stride, the band was clearly tapped in on this night, channeling IT directly to our ears and minds.  Showcasing a plethora of textures and feels, this jam was one of those where everything was in the right place.  The band chugged along the tracks as one, leaving a vibrant wake of beautiful psychedelia.



Wolfman’s > Scents (debut) 7.7 Phoenix, Harry Hood 7.8 Chula Vista, Ghost 7.12. The Gorge, Tweezer 7.17. Bonner Springs, Antelope 7.17 Bonner Springs, Disease > Catapult 7.18 Alpine Valley, Twist 7.18 Alpine Valley, YEM 7.19 Alpine Valley, Gumbo 7.22 Deer Creek, Scents and Subtle Sounds 7.23 Deer Creek, Antelope 7.23 Deer Creek, Drowned 7.25 Charlotte, Bowie 7.25 Charlotte, Piper 7.26 Atlanta, Ghost 7.27 Raleigh, Harry Hood 7.31 Camden, IT (a lot)



SUMMER ’09 RUMOR MILL: With Rothbury just confirmed for 2009, don’t be surprised to see Phish make a two-night headlining appearance a la Bonnaroo.  I heard about this far before the festival was firmed up, and I think it is likely.  From what I’ve heard, Rothbury was a great time last year.



9.11.00 Great Woods, Mansfield, MA < LINK

Great Woods Amphitheatre

Great Woods Amphitheatre

In a year that gets dogged on all too much, there are a bunch of fabulous shows. This installment from the first night of Great Woods is one of them.  With a perfectly flowing second set that never stopped, Phish slaughtered the ending segment of “Piper > What’s the Use > YEM.”  A unique collection of songs comprise the interesting first set on a night that stood out as one of the strongest from the first leg of tour.

I: Roadrunner*, The Moma Dance, Rift, Brain and Robert, Vultures, Horn, Beauty of My Dreams, Ya Mar, Stash

II: Chalkdust Torture > Twist > Piper > What’s the Use? > You Enjoy Myself

E: Good Times Bad Times

*(Jonathan Richman and the) Modern Lovers cover from the album “The Modern Lovers”

29 Responses to “Summer 2003: A Return to Glory”

  1. themanatee Says:

    gotta love summer 03.

    especially the fact that they decided to go completely unconvential in hood jams. a pretty big statement. the gorge seven below was downright scary. truly there are emphatic jams in almost every show.

  2. check out the gin from 7.9.03 at shoreline. the band communicate between each other with such perfection its downright CREEPY. Pure magic

  3. The Chalkdust from Camden 07/30/2003 was quite unusual and really going strange ways. But they brought it back to the song’s ending. Unbelievable. Check it out. Also worth a listen: Wolfman’s Brother from Camden 07/31/03 (really rockin’) and definitely the best Birds of a feather in years: Deer Creek 07/21/03!!! That’s a no-brainer!

  4. I think Summer 03 ushered in a new style for the band just as 97 and 99 did. Every show that summer was good, if not great.

    Minor – shocked you put up that SOAM from DC. To do that jam justice, the >Free should be in there as well. The SOAM was nice and dark just the way I like em, but the transition into Free was well played, and that was my favorite version of Free, period. Trey just rips into the final build up in the jam.

    BUT, my personal favorite and in my opinion most underrated jam of Sumemr 03 (although you did mention it) is the Gumbo. That is a thing of beauty!

  5. nonoyolker Says:

    BIG Summer ’03 fan. The boys definitely returned with some seriously focused creative energy. For a really beautiful version of Scents, check out the 2nd night at Alpine. Not a monster 30+ min exploration, but a nice, tight version. My favorite to date.
    I agree on selections from IT being simply stated as “A LOT”. That weekend felt like the culmination of a return to greatness.

  6. Shoreline Gin all the way! What a way to close the comeback set at that venue.

    And while we’re on Gin and Trey’s un-compressed distorted tone, how about the Cinnci version with the Mr. Completely jam from 2.22? Sick return out of the MC jam and insane toying with the Gin theme.

    I label the DC one as SOAM->Jam>Free. The jam has a similar chord progression as The Great Curve and is a distinct jam of its own as Fish moves away from the SOAM beat.

    Good to hear about Rothbury. Much rather check that one out than ‘Roo. And of course, All Good, but that’s practically in my back yard and not nearly large enough to facilitate Phish. Going to be a busy summer…

  7. There were definitely some solid shows in ’03 but to situate it among the best Phish tours ever is absolutely crazy in my opinion.

  8. i think in terms of energy and creativity provided by the band during the Summer 03 run it can easily be considered one of their best Summer tours. it is easily better than 96 and 2000 (although ’00 had some great moments). 95 summer had some hot nights, but some average nights as well. I think 99 was better and I’ll give 97 an edge, although I just finished listening to the full 97 Summer run and while it had some definite highs, there were some blah shows mixed in. I’m not well schooled enough on 98. Anything pre-95 I’m not including, but 94 Summer was epic.

  9. Hear is to a great unpredictable 09′ . We have a Dead tour, 10 night stand with warren and the allmans, and of coarse a mouthful of Phish.

  10. The Deer Creek Antelope brought the fire. I was about 12 rows back and next to 2 women in their 50s or 60s probably who were season ticket holders at Deer Creek who had never seen Phish or heard their music. I just leaned over and told them at the beginning something along the lines of it was gonna be on and they’d need to get ready to run out of control. Those old ladies were great and we were jamming and acting like we were running.
    I listen to that one a lot. I also really liked the Alpine YEM and Possum.

    And of course 7.29/30, need I say more?

  11. The Down with Disease>Catapult sticks out as the best from the ’03 Alpine run, but I always thought the ’04 run at that venue was superior. Maybe it was just the fact that the end was kicking in at that point…or what we thought was the end.

  12. snigglebeach Says:

    Thanks for this Great Woods show. One of the my favorite shows ever. The vocal jam in YEM was simply mind-bending. Kuroda had the lights perfectly timed, and when it was over, while i was standing dumb-struck my buddy asks “Did we just travel back in time?”

    That is one Phish moment i will never forget. Been looking for this show for ages.

    The road runner opener is a classic as well.

    Keep up the good work this site really is sweet.

  13. though by many, not considered a “jam”, on that magical Burgettstown eve, the Jibboo was a climatic short masterpiece, that made the 7 dollar Starlake priced beer worth every penny. A sister to the “Brother” performed 2nd set.

  14. The Mr. Completely will blow your mind

  15. shpongleyez Says:

    That article doesn’t confirm Phish at Rothbury. Not nay-sayin’, just sayin’…

  16. waiting for full tour announcement Says:

    the three night southern run in 2003 of charlotte, atlanta, and raleigh was the HEAT. Charlotte and atlanta were on fire. 1st set in raleigh was pretty rough because mike was sick, but trey must have puffed him down with a fat rock of nug at setbreak cause second set from raleigh literally was the “FIRE”!!! I’d say summer 2003 ranks up there with some of their greatest tours…the energy was there and if you hit any of the shows that tour you felt “IT”. Here’s to summer 09! –still waiting

  17. jerrydamule Says:

    an argument could be made that seven below was the anthem of the summer, getting the nod every 3rd show or so. Does anyone here agree with the mule that seven below is the absolute mac dad, both in terms of its jam vehicle launch pad status and the catchiness of the composed section. I immediately fell in love with that twangy melody the first time I heard it. sometimes, twangy=good

  18. i agree with AL…Chalkdust from camden was great…this and hood were true phish journeys

  19. I’m watching 7/31/03 as I type this :o) I love summer 03. All the jams you mentioned are sick. The only one I’d add is the Chula DWD

  20. ^^fact…i left it off bc the Alpine one is sicker, but agreed.

  21. DFB/Kayak Guy Says:

    Glad to see summer 2003 getting some love. Certain people online seem to hate everything post-hiatus, but there was magic in the air summer 03, that was gone by Thanksgiving.

    You made some great calls (though the DC 46 Days is strangely missing). I just odn’t understand how NOTHING from IT made your list (Ya Mar, RnR, Ghost, Chalkdust, Reba, etc.). Will IT Jams be getting their own post this week?

  22. contact420 Says:

    The band hadn’t practiced/rehearsed seriously since ’98 and they never captured the level of tightness after the hiatus. I think that it mostly felt good to hear live Phish again. But to be able to change into anything at the drop of a hat hadn’t happened at all, that’s what made Phish great, it was how tight they were together, exceptionally tight. Drugs usually get in the way Trey has admitted to that. I want them to take it more seriously this time so we can babble how good ’09 was!

  23. I’m a big fan of parts of summer ’03, but IT was not as great in my eyes. Easily their worst festival up until that point. Maybe I’m just bitter I missed the control tower jam….

    Like someone else mentioend, they weren’t at tight in ’03, but everyone already knows that (yes, they played Harpua, but they didn’t do it justice). It was a different sound. But things like the DC Gumbo and the Crosseyed, which I just watched in full on youtube, are just as good as anything else out there.

    And I agree, the Camden Chalkdust and Scents are money. You also have to love the My Friend My Friend opener. I’ll have to relisten to that Twist…but I remember the Hood ending being ultra extended.

  24. John Campion Says:

    Wow and here i was thinking the whole time that I was the only one that thought “IT” was just ok. Fun time YES! But a tiny bit over rated to me. Just one mans opinion. Can’t wait for Summer 09 dates! 🙂

  25. My singular favorite jam of the summer was Gin from Alpine-1st night. Right around 7 minutes and 40 seconds in, Trey gets in this groove that culminates in one of the single sweetest notes I’ve ever heard. I still get goosebumps every time I hear this note and the jam goes into overdrive. I know this isn’t a huge long jam or big psychadelic breakout like IT Waves, but that one note makes this song my favorite of the whole tour. This was the track told me the Trey was pretty much ‘back’. That he could play what he wanted without being constrained by the loss of manual dexterity that was doggin’ him for a long time, IMO.

  26. Thunder Ridge Says:

    No mention of 7-9-03 Shoreline?! Possibly the best all around Post Hiatus Show? YEM opener. Surreal Gin closer. The Twist->Scents is erie improv at it’s best… and then they follwed it up with Mike’s->Hydrogen->Weekapaug.

  27. Wolfmans,Waves,Tweezer,YEM from ATL was sweet.

  28. tom rigas Says:

    the possum and friday from deer creek 7-22-03 are hot fire. The possum rages with fury and friday is an introspective beast with some might fine high wailing points

  29. Charlotte Gin… not bad at all. Last great jam i saw them play…
    until Asheville. 😉

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