The Contours of Our Lives

861908007_5b4984449aIf you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you’ve figured out that my affinity is for dark, menacing Phish.  The flip side of this musical coin are Phish’s many blissful improvisations, such as “Hood,” “Reba,” or “Slave;” songs that you must lack a pulse to not feel drawn to.  Yet, Phish isn’t just about the peaks, they are about the natural contour of their shows.  When they play a memorable one, the dynamic of the music mirrors the spectrum of human experience.  While the band often accesses the more tender points of life via delicate improvisation, they also do it through the use of ballads.

While many a jaded fan consider Phish ballads time for a “piss break,” they are anything but.  I never really grasped the concept of leaving the room while Phish was onstage; you just never know what could happen, and you miss the full experience.  The band doesn’t play ballads to fill time in the set, rather, they are part of the organic flow of the Phish phenomenon.  Sure, they could play “Tweezer > Mike’s > YEM > Tube > Antelope > Weekapaug,” but then they wouldn’t be Phish (though you phili6wouldn’t see me complaining.)  Phish is about the totality of our lives, not just the fun and exciting parts, but the pensive and reflective ones, too.  Often times, Phish ballads are a central way to access those places in our minds and in our hearts that we don’t readily visit.  But the beauty of Phish’s slower songs exists in their congruency to the universal human emotions that we all feel.

If you keep an open soul to receive the Phish, you have come to appreciate and understand the purpose of these songs.  Several are able to artistically convey feelings of loss, desperation, longing, and fear with rich imagery-laden lyrics.  “If I Could,” expresses the helplessness of someone who cannot meet the needs of their lover, and who futilely tries to figure a way to make things work.  “Wading In a Velvet Sea,” a poignant ballad, both musically and lyrically, exposes a vulnerable narrator who longs for “moments in a box” representing his past days of connection that have long since passed.  “Fast Enough For You,” is another similarly themed song, expressing the loss of love and the inability to recapture times gone by. “Lifeboy’s” liquid music matches its introspective lyrics- “Dangling here between the light above and blue below that drags me down.”  These aren’t “cheesy” themes; this is the fabric of life.

pict0020Using these more melancholic songs, Phish is able to access the parts of our lives in which we have felt such loss and pain; and who hasn’t?  Tapping into life’s universal themes, the band employs these songs as an entry point into our feelings.  Take, for example, “Dirt.”  Its simple melodies and lyrics speak volumes about a human emotion that everyone has felt- the desire to disappear from the madness and confusion that often plagues us in our everyday lives.  Sure, these songs may not be what you or I want to hear at a particular moment, but their rightful place in the arc of a Phish show is undeniable.

However, not all ballads are of somber subject.  Phish has an ability to capture our imaginations with ballads, touching on the more tender side of life.  “Billy Breathes” is the delicate story of a child’s birth told through majestically composed music.  “Train Song” captures the night time tranquility of the countryside as two lovers share one of life’s soulful moments together. “Strange Design” represents life-affirming advice about our struggle to “keep the tires off the lines,” sending the message that whatever trials and tribulations are put in our path, the human spirit can persevere.  “Just relax you’re doing fine, swimming in this real thing I call life.”  These are meaningful life messages that are often lost in fans’ hyped up desires for the next huge chunk of improv.  Don’t worry, that jam will come; but they key to Phish is “the moment,” and these songs are as much a part of “the moment” as any.  Some may not want to accept this as true, desiring more time spent with rocking improv, but those people are swimming upstream, against the natural current of a Phish show.  “The trick is to surrender to the flow,” and these are necessary parts of Phish’s natural flow.

dscf29380The band can also bring us to a place of childhood wonder with their slower songs.  “Prince Caspian,” while almost universally disliked, boasts a fantastic voyage “afloat upon the waves.”  Like a nighttime reverie of a young child, the subject longs for the wonder and adventure of the fictional Prince, alluding to his adventures in Narnia.  Even if you never read “The Chronicles of Narnia” as a child and don’t connect with the lyrics of this song, Trey’s soaring guitar solo narrates the triumphant plot for you.

If you were to go through each and every Phish ballad, you could connect a genuine human experience to each, giving these songs an emotional legitimacy that is often ignored due to their tempo.  Without these interludes between the “Bowies” and “Splits” and “Stashs,” there would be no natural curvature to an evening with Phish.  Countless DJs and other bands can provide a non-stop dance party, but Phish goes deeper into the soul; deeper into what makes us human.  It is this multi-dimensional richness that defines the Phish experience.  If you don’t get what I’m saying, well…just go take a piss.



If you want to kick it to some electronic beats after the shows, the Bay Area’s Symbiosis Events and ArtNowSF are teaming up with The Beat Register to throw down three parties with some eclectic lineups at the Tribeca in Newport News.  Details can be found here. Tickets can be bought here.




I recently switched over to Amazon S3 hosting for Phish Thought’s daily downloads.  In addition to faster and more reliable downloads, a great feature of this service, is that I can generate torrent files with the click of a button.  Therefore, If you have a BitTorrent client installed on your machine, please grab the “Download of the Day” using the torrent link as much as possible.  The torrent link will be right under the usual download link.  It would save me a buck or two if everyone began to use this feature, which would be great since I’m not making any money through this site.  We are also preparing and testing the system for the much anticipated No Spoilers Hampton Downloads, so if can use the torrent today, please do.  If you don’t have a BitTorrent client, feel free to download it the old fashioned way with the regular link.

Why torrent? Two main reasons:

1) It will be faster for you.  The power of a large BitTorrent swarm means you will be grabbing the file from many users – and also from Amazon, as necessary.

2) It will be cheaper for me.  I host these files at Amazon S3 because they are super reliable – this will be key for the No Spoilers downloads.  Unfortunately, Amazon charges me for storage and bandwidth used, so if you can help save me a few bucks, I’d appreciate it.

PS: If you don’t have a BitTorrent client and are feeling adventurous, you could try to download one for free.  Perhaps uTorrent for Windows, and Transmission for Mac.  Or Vuze for either.

PPS: If you don’t know much about torrents, one important thing is to keep your client running after you’ve downloaded the file – that lets you keep uploading to others once you’ve finished downloading



7.11.96 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK DBSD < LINK

7.11.96 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK DBSD <  TORRENT LINK

Europe '96 Poster

Europe '96 Poster

Here we have a DSBD copy of the band’s first headlining gig during Europe ’96.  In between these few shows, Phish would play one-set openers for Santana, prepping the European audience for return tours over the next two summers.  Some of the treats in this show include a rare “Harry Hood” set opener, “2001 > Maze,” first set versions of “Stash” and “Reba,” as well as the UK debut of The Beatles’ “A Day In the Life.”

I: Runaway Jim, Cavern, Reba, I Didn’t Know, Sparkle, Stash, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar

II: Harry Hood > Bouncing Around the Room, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Maze, Lizards, HYHU > Terrapin > HYHU, You Enjoy Myself, Hello My Baby

E: A Day in the Life


138 Responses to “The Contours of Our Lives”

  1. full tour: announced! Says:

    but which angle do you work? i mean everyone knows at setbreak the lines for the bathroom and beer are extra long…

    thats why i usually wait until lights go down for set two…while everyone is running back inside, the lines clear up real fast in the bathrooms at for beer. Plus its always cool to hear the crowd erupting from inside the main area. You can still hear the music…and nothing feels better than strutting inside where your seats are with an empty blatter ready to throw your weight around.

  2. full tour: announced! Says:

    or you could just do what that pissed off NASA astronaut lady did and suit up in some depends for the long haul. She said she wore a diaper so shw wouldnt have to stop for the bathroom…makes sense….lol….in many situations…not just if your some psycho NASA astronaut lady driving in a rage coast to coast.

  3. full tour: announced! Says:

    of course that didn’t stop the guy at big cypress who yelled “shit!” for about an hour standing behind the people next to us. When the sun came up they found out why. The gentleman decided to take a deuce on their blanket sometime during the night. That’s perhaps my only negative image that remains from cypress in an otherwise perfect weekend.

  4. c0wfunk Says:

    man it’s amazing how I really don’t remember those 4th of july shows in 99, though I was certainly there. What I remember most is Page’s dad dancing, the little drummer boy jam after contact, and fishman’s little drummer boy antics (was he wearing a flag diaper or something very strange?)

    discern is a fav of the new songs .. I feel like it takes that driving rolling-feedback solo type thing that came about in summer 99 -exemplified the best in the camden – and molds it into a song that could be a beast if applied in the right situations. Funny thing : I was reading the discern comments earlier on my blackberry at work while in a pretty heavy conversation with a coworker, at which point my coworker started saying the word “discern” literally every 2 minutes in the point he was trying to make.

    And two versions of me is a favorite off of undermind. I think the “two versions of me” are trey’s kids ..

    three oceans away, two children at play, too busy to see, two versions of me.

  5. c0wfunk Says:

    exemplified the best in the camden chalkdust, tweezer, and even fluffhead

  6. full tour: announced! Says:

    @ cowfunk: this might reaffirm some memories!

    that camden show is the sickest shit ever…they were def feeling it that night. The overall sound of the band was so clean, polished, and firing on all cylinders. The live phish sbd gets constant rotation round here!

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    wow that’s quite a picture, thanks! I forgot all about the rest of the guys’ flag costumes.. crazy.

  8. c0wfunk Says:

    a bit off topic, but last weekend I was lucky enough to work stage crew at the Umphrey’s McGee mooged out event that was the preshow to their sold out orange peel gig.. it was a special, 75 person only event, we set up a stage with synths, moogerfoogers, and our local moog guru mixed through effects at the board, and the band came in and played a 30 minute, all improv set and then signed posters for everyone. I’ve not seen Umphrey’s since 2002, but from what i understand, this set was much more funky and “jammy” than their normal repertoire. has the set up for download:

    you may be surprised who gets mooged out in the future..

  9. themanatee Says:

    nutty that we are a week away from the return. i will only be able to make it to the third night but that is a gift I cherish to be able to go at all.

    i also love two versions of me – and I actually particularly like the undermind version, even more than some of the live versions i have heard. Nothing is not exactly a ballad but god damn that song is gorgeous.

    i can’t wait to hear some exploration out of it (there was deer creek 04) but even without experimentation i just think that song is something else.

  10. shpongleyez Says:

    not all phish ballads are created equal…

    manatee, your glam metal roots shine through 😉

  11. TreyPhan Says:

    Thanks Miner. Another great article. I love a sad song.

  12. TreyPhan Says:

    I love Phish’s ballads, and as far as piss breaks go, that’s what set break is for. Believe it or not, at the Big Cypress midnight to sunrise set I didn’t take a piss until after Here Comes the Sun was done playing on the PA.

  13. full tour: announced! Says:

    ^ i specifically remember my big cypress pee break. It was during the later portion of “sand” and i left my spot about 20 rows back DFC from the stage and somehow managed to make it through the sea of humanity to the portilets on the left side of the field. keep in mind that I never left our spot that we grabbed from the afternoon set. While my friends went back to the campsite, i stayed there up front for like 6 hours holding our spot! Was good up untill “sand” when i decided to make the ocean of people part ways. I felt like moses parting the red sea. When i fianlly made it to the jon, I remember going to myself “heres my first number 1 of the new millenium!”. When i exited the portijon i yelled “1st piss of the new millenium” and people in line started cheering….lol…Then somehow i managed to make it back through the thousands of people right back to my spot in time for “quadrophonic topplings.” Looking back, i’m not sure how i managed to make it there and back so fast.

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