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. JMAN926 Says:

    @N. Hoover – I pick/sing Water in the Sky to my 5 month old, and he smiles and starts stompin. Havent tried Velvet Sea yet, but will. He also really digs funk for some reason…

  2. James Says:

    Been a daily reader for about 8 months now and I must say this post is up there in my top 3 favorites. It can be rather difficult to explain in words the incredible feelings one can get from these phish ballads, but you pretty much summed it up perfectly. Its so true how these songs contribute to the overall flow of a set, they can add such dynamic aspects to a show. Anyway, one week from now Ill be in the car heading to my first phish show in 5 years, its a great feeling and I cant wait to see you all there.

  3. contact420 Says:

    ^Well said full tour: announced!,
    Internet bit torrent trading is a god send. The days of the hissy multi gen tapes are over. For rather little money you can purchase externals for cheap. 1TB externals are around 150.00$. It can take 6-8 months to fill the thing, and it’s phun, just like philling an empty bucket.

  4. Jeff Says:

    When was the last time you heard Driver?

  5. cottle Says:

    Quick Question (off-topic):

    On the Hampton Coliseum webiste, there is a blurb stating that tickets will be required to get into the parking lot. Everyone in the car must have a ticket or the car will be turned away…yada yada yada.

    Has anyone ever been to a non-festival show where this has actually been enforced? I’ve heard this warning before, but never actually seen it practiced. I’ve got a Friday, so I’m hoping that I can try to secure a Sat and/or Sun ticket while I’m out there on Friday, but I was just wondering if anyone has ever seen this kind of scenario before. I’m assuming it’s just a way of trying to dissuade 40,000 kids from showing up w/ no tickets. I’m just wondering if I’m gonna have to pull a Ray Caruth and hide in my own damn trunk while the ones who have tickets drive my car in.

    Feedback is appreciated.

  6. Cactus Says:

    @JMAN926 15 month old loves is mesmerized by Halley’s Comet, although it’s not a ballad….the ba-ba-choo, ba-ba choo parts. He loves wading in the Velvet sea too. Although now he wants some faster stuff so I play Beauty of my dreams and Ginseng on my guitar for him. Keep singing and playing to him, that’s all I can say.

  7. Matso Says:

    @ full tour: announced!:

    I also really like Two Versions of Me. I love the gentle rhythm and flow of it and thought this song had great potential (the IT version did it for me). I thought the Undermind version felt a bit too compressed and maybe rushed somehow. I didn’t understand why it disappeared after Summer 03 (I thought we’d have heard it at least once in the 25 shows played after that point).

    Another one I really like and which also disappeared (and didn’t even make it onto Undermind) was Discern. I listened to it again last night by chance. There’s almost an early Pat Metheny vibe to it, and though the lyrics don’t sit easily on the jazzy chord progression, I like it. I think the jam also had much more potential to move into Type II given how abstract it was. Maybe they stopped playing it because it didn’t work so well in the summer amphitheatre setting (or arena). But I suspect if they dropped it somewhere like the Fox, it could work extremely well.

  8. buffalo bill Says:

    Albuquerque, while not a ballad, is a slower song that is always nice to hear.
    Can’t go wrong with some vintage Neil Young.
    Or for some more rockin Neil how about ,Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown, at Hampton next weekend.

  9. Jerrydamule Says:

    Solid, solid post. Downloaded Vuze… so I got that going for me, which is kinda nice.

    Phish’s, and in particular Trey’s, ballad performance has become so polished and poignant over the years. As someone mentioned above, the I “can-hear-a-pin-drop” moment, or the ability to slow the beat down to an almost standstill – in a crowd of 20k otherwise screaming freaks – is attestation of the requisite talent, soul, warmth, emotion, tenderness and humanism needed to melt hearts. (Indeed, Jerry did this to me on numerous occasions, a la Stella Blue.)

    keep bringing the heat

  10. Doc Says:

    One more week!

  11. Madtown Cows Says:

    Great article.

    The slow tunes don’t get nearly enough love from the fans.

    They are an integral part of the gooey, liquid blue stew that is Phish. They are the heart and soul.

    Fast Enough for You was what hooked me on Phish and moves me to this day.

  12. full tour: announced! Says:

    @ matso:

    sometimes its all about song placement. Discern is such a cool, laid back, sublime song.

    The first set in raleigh 2003 had some issues. Mike was sick from hanging out with col. bruce late into the night in atlanta the previous night. Several times during the set trey turned and asked mike if he was ok. At one point on the live phish soundbaord you can even hear trey say “if you don’t feel like playing then we don’t have to…” or something along those lines. Mike was off for the first time i’ve ever seen! Long story short, i think they choose to play “anything but me” and “discern” back to back, perhaps to give mike some down time to recover? Now, I have grown to love both of these songs, but at the time i clearly remember being on the lawn and seeing nearly everyone sitting down during these two tunes. Also, what you said about “discern” getting “lost” in the hugeness of those big ampitheaters was true. Its a cool song, but it just wasn’t making it back to the lawn. Needless to say, mike came back out after set break sounding back in good spirits and health and they tore that place apart. One of the better sets of that run.

    So i’d be eager to hear a song like discern in a small room like the fox…it will suit the song better!

  13. Pencilneck Says:

    pencilneck enjoys a good wading. but it reminds him of a lost love. so it makes pencilneck kinda sad.

  14. SOAM Says:

    let’s go-let’s go let’s go downtown……

  15. Uncle Ben Says:

    It’s funny that this Sheperd’s Bush Empire show is posted two days after all of the DMB talk, because DMB played there the day after this show and it was exactly as minor said, “weak teenage girl music.” I think I missed the Paris show for that. Stoopid!

  16. SOAM Says:

    Pencil-you need to score a taste of me and fishman’s wookettes-make you forget about all those bum trips with other beeatches. Beware though-fish has been known to bust out the electroluxe without warning during intimate relations- and then scream “in the evening I undo my belt “-it’s slightly awkward yet fun.

  17. SOAM Says:

    I have been wading but now I have to pee…

  18. Billy Breathes Says:

    re: Hampton w/o tickets.

    They will be checking your vehicles, one at a time, to see tickets for all passengers in the vehicle.

    No joke. This is not a test. Caution advised.

  19. hawaii Says:

    Torrent worked great – super fast and easy!! Thanks to the 26 of y’all that stayed on to upload….looking forward to NoSpoliers!

    …and excellent post Miner! My favorite “ballad” moments are those that come after a huge jam (e.g. 12/31/95 Weekapaug > Sea and Sand, 11/29/97 RunJim > Strange Design, 11/17/97 Ghost, Trainsong, etc…)…the warm, calming feeling after taking an intergalactic scenic tour is just perfect.

  20. phreakyc Says:

    There is nothing better then hearing Leo sing a nice Lawnboy or Strange Design. I have had so many memorable life experiences flood me to tears during these songs at shows. These slow songs offer reflection time, time to getting into your inness and issness, “to keep what’s important and know who’s your friend” You cannot have an out of body experience during a sick 2001 that jumps you into space unless you have been able to tap into the innerself at some point. I totally agree these songs offer the yin to the others yang!
    Beware of the hairy dude in a dress with vacuum doing some Marvin Gaye!

  21. astroid_crashed Says:

    OK so I am a techno tard when it comes to downloading. In order to get the No Spoilers download do I need to download a certain player or something? Can you please help me out. I really appreciate it

  22. JMAN926 Says:

    @cactus – will do. He seems to enjoy Jack Straw as well. Like Father, Like Son. He did freak out the first time I tried to play electric, so maybe a little longer before I play Danzig for him.

  23. cottle Says:

    @ BillyBreathes….thanks for the heads-up. I’m pretty sure they had a sign to the same effect in ’99 when I was there last, but nobody searched anything, of course, those were different times. In theory, couldn’t one just stub someone into the lot the same way we used to stub folks down to the good seats? Just say, pass them your ticket through the fence, they walk right in, and (hopefully) find you and give you your ticket back?

    Just trying to figure out my gameplan. I’d rather be in the coliseum parking lot looking for an extra than across the street at that old Best Products parking lot (assuming that’s still there) looking for an extra. Still plenty of time. Maybe we’ll find tickets at the hotel, or maybe the kids I’m picking up at the airport will meet someone on the plane w/ an extra or two.
    Fuck it….one show at a time.

  24. SOAM Says:

    Fuck all parking lot Nazi’s -this is still america.

  25. cottle Says:

    Well Said SOAM… and while I’m thinking about it…does SOAM stand for Split Open and Melt or Scent of a Mule? I think I’ve seen it used to represent either one on setlists.

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