A Rare And Different Tune

“So where are you off to for the next two weeks?”

“I’m heading to see some concerts.  You ever heard of Phish?”

“Fish?  Country Joe and the Fish?”

“No, just Phish- with a PH, not an F. Have you heard of the Grateful Dead?”

“You mean Jerry Garcia and those guys?  The hippies? ‘Touch of Grey?'”

“Yeah, them.  Well, Phish are sort of like them.  They tour extensively, never repeating a show, and they improvise on almost all their songs.  But their music is very different.”


phishIf you’ve ever tried to discuss Phish with an innocent bystander over the past couple decades, odds are your conversation went something like this.  Virtually impossible to describe to someone who has never heard of them, the Grateful Dead was often your first attempted reference point.  Generally people understood this comparison, and since their inception it was this constant comparison to the Grateful Dead that pigeonholed Phish as just another hippie band.

The comparison had validity on many levels, as both bands centered their shows around improvisation.  Phish inherited the Dead’s counter-culture that originated in the 1960s and carried it into the next millennium.  Phish were seen as the “new” Grateful Dead- thousands of fans would follow them around the country, hawking goods, creating impromptu parking lot parties, and living outside of mainstream society.  Psychedelic exploration and self-discovery were ingrained in both scenes, causing American culture to view both groups of fans as fringe elements of society.  “Those dirty hippies and their drugs!”- it was very easy to lump the Phish phenomenon in with the trail blazed by Garcia and the Dead.

Yet it was this comparison that Phish could never escape for most of the 1990s.  While their music vastly differed from The Dead, this was often ignored in favor of the cultural similarities.  The mainstream media failed to recognize the importance of Phish early on, and they were generally categorized as just another band with legions of dreadlocked, drop-out fans.  Thus, Phish spent most of their early career steering their band as far away from The Grateful Dead as possible.

space_your_face_f_lWhile The Dead were highly allegorical, using Americana folk myth and heartfelt storytelling to recount symbolic life lessons of an age gone by, Phish created a fantasy land called Gamehendge, formed their concert experience around wackiness and fun, and wrote songs about silly topics with unparalleled musicianship.  The Grateful Dead’s music served as the spiritual soundtrack for a cultural movement, while Phish’s music adopted a more entertaining and light-hearted quality, centered on reinventing what was possible in the concert experience.  Rooted in jazz improv rather than the folk and bluegrass building blocks of Dead music, Phish’s shows possessed a different kind of energy; a faster, quirkier pace squarely centered on mind-fucking fun.  Without judging one band over the other, their show experiences were completely different, and this is what so many non-fans didn’t understand.

Ironically, Phish started as a cover band in college, playing many Grateful Dead songs.  Self-avowed Dead fans, Phish played the music of their mentors, mirroring their songs while beginning to forge their own style.  Yet, as the band began to grow, the Dead and Phish comparisons grew with them- something that Phish wanted to distance themselves from.  No one wants to be thought of as a knockoff, and Phish certainly wasn’t, yet they had work to do to establish their independent legacy, separate from their ’60s predecessors.  Thus in 1987, while still integrating the songs of other artists, they stopped covering the Grateful Dead.  If one thing would keep Phish tied to The Dead, it would be playing their songs, therefore, as newly scribed songs were added to the band’s catalog, the Dead covers slipped away.

savegamehendge-395x561Over the course of the next decade, Phish would continue to forge their own scene, yet the comparisons never stopped.  Especially before 1995, when The Dead’s career came to a sudden halt, many jaded Deadheads and the mainstream media saw Phish as Dead imitators.  But anyone who knew Phish at this time understood that any similarities between the bands centered on the fan culture and parking lot scene; once inside, the concert experiences were wholly different.  Sure, both bands had psychedelic light shows and improvised like fiends, but that’s where the similarities ended.

Phish’s music was so different than The Dead’s music that the constant comparisons seemed absurd.  But these overly-general connections continued, and consequently, the band kept Dead covers, and even songs whose sound resembled The Dead, at arms reach.  During the early ’90s, Phish battled to stay separate from these categorizations, and in the late ’90s, the band finally established their own legacy in the eyes of music fans and the music industry.  Once The Grateful Dead were gone, Phish willingly inherited their rightful crown as heads of modern hippie culture.

"Comes a Time" (R.Minkin)

“Comes a Time” (R.Minkin)

It was at this time that many Dead fans shunned Phish, refusing to “give in” to any other improvisational unit.  Others happily crossed over, realizing the power and uniqueness of Phish, while some fans remained in no-man’s land, refusing to commit one way or the other.  Yet by the time 1998 rolled around, Phish had carved out their own musical niche, and achieved recognition for their own virtuosic music.

During the summer of 1998, Phish went on a rampage of busting out one-time covers of their favorite songs.  Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rhinoceros,” and The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” were some of the entertaining pieces that Phish featured during July and August.  But late on the night of August 9th, things would change forever.

1998-08-09mo3Phish had just finished a tremendous set in Virginia Beach, featuring a summer highlight in “AC/DC Bag,” and smoking versions of “Antelope” and “YEM.”  Although there had been a buzz earlier in the day about the third anniversary of Jerry’s passing and what might happen, nothing had materialized musically.  The same rumors floated around Alpine Valley the summer before on August 9th to no avail.  Thus all anyone expected was a conventional encore before heading north to Star Lake.  Yet what was coming was anything but routine.

As Phish retook the stage for the last song of the night, wide-eyed fans mulled about clapping and killing the moments before Phish restarted.  As the band readied themselves, the crowd quieted, and then, like a dream that could simply not be real, Trey began the opening chords of “Terrapin Station.”  My mind had a mental disconnect, as I knew the song by heart, but didn’t understand how it was coming from the stage.  The melody was so familiar- what was it- “OH MY GOD!”  That thought process took all of about half a second as I rushed into the lower pavilion from the walkway that separated the lawn.  Staring at the stage in disbelief, goose bumps covered every inch of my skin, just as they are right now as I recall this magical episode.  Phish was playing “Terrapin!”  Virtually unfathomable, my ears and eyes certainly weren’t lying as Phish broke out the biggest surprise of the summer.  My eyes fixated on the stage, watching every moment unfold in its grandeur, in possibly the most surreal moment of my Phish career.

phish-1After the show ended, I sat on the lawn outside the venue speechless.  My friend, Patrick, and I looked at each other, but couldn’t manage to speak a word.  The magnitude and symbolic nature of what had just happened was overwhelming.  After years and years of establishing their independence from The Dead’s legacy, they had finally done it.  Covering “Terrapin Station,” one of The Dead’s most revered epics, while a clear homage to Jerry, also represented Phish saying, “We made it!”  They were their own band- Phish was Phish in the eyes of all- no longer “that band that was like The Grateful Dead.”  Comfortable with their own place in music history, Phish now honored their heroes instead of trying to escape their cultural wake.

It was all different now.  Following years of speculation, Phish had finally covered The Grateful Dead in the ultimate announcement of self-confidence and reverence.  Having accomplished their mission that began in the mid-80s, Phish had morphed into, and was recognized as, their own phenomenon; unfettered by genre and driven by their own musical innovation.  Driving off into the summer night, the feeling of awe was undeniable.  Among all of the special nights that comprised Summer ’98, this one stood alone.





5.16.95 Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA < LINK

5.16.95 Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA < TORRENT LINK

Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

In this one set benefit show, Phish took the opportunity to unveil seven new originals, several of which would go on to become Phish classics.  The debuts included “Free,” “Theme From the Bottom,” “Spock’s Brain,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Strange Design.”  In addition, this show features the sole performance of “Glide part II” (aka “Flip”).  In between all the new material, Phish threw down one of the most sublime versions of “Reba” ever played.

Don’t You Wanna Go*, Ha Ha Ha* > Spock’s Brain*, Strange Design*, Reba, Theme From the Bottom*, HYHU > Lonesome Cowboy Bill* > HYHU, Free*, Glide II* > You Enjoy Myself, Sweet Adeline, Sample in a Jar

E: I’ll Come Running* > Gloria*#

Voters for Choice Benefit. *First time played #One verse only; for Gloria Steinem.

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208 Responses to “A Rare And Different Tune”

  1. msbjivein Says:

    @Jay, Yeah, “You wouldn’t understand” or “It’s not for you” probably is a better way to put it. Then again if the folks were into something other than HIP HOP,rap or country I might be more tempted to turn then on. Now if some youngin comes along who’s into The Dead or Umph or Bis but hasn’t heard much phish I would deff try to do my part and pass them a couple bootlegs to see if it’s for them. That’s how I was turned on. A certain someone noticed I was into The Grateful Dead in the early to mid ’90’s and steered me in the right direction w/ a shit ton of Phish bootleg tapes along w/ a fuckin mass amount of old Dead tapes. Changed my life forever.

  2. Mr.Miner Says:

    Exree- great matrix copy of 12.30.93 on here

  3. snigglebeach Says:

    Excellent Post Miner as always.

    And thank you for that Terrapin link. don’t know how that has eluded me all this time. guess i don’t look around enough. first time i have heard that, and OMG that was epic. Right near the end, near the pinacle of that song, it gets quiet for a beat or 2 and it is the quietest i have ever heard. Never at any show, ever, for any-band, has an entire audience been so focused and speechless. Not that i was there, but i could hear it. I am jealous of you folks that stumbled into that show.

  4. msbjivein Says:

    @ Jay, I know fluff probably not the best song to use. i don’t think it would’ve matter w/ these folks. How can you not like fluffhead???

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    @voopa yeah they were there, my wife was right behind em in the pav, and then went to the Greek show after.

    @SOAM sorry you don’t like it but I stick by it. I kept seeing some shows after ’91 out of habit mostly. I caught a few powerful moments, a nice show at Autzen in ’93 for instance. But I wasn’t expecting Cornell ’77 (which imo about the 3rd or 4th best show on that tour btw), I was comparing it to the years immediately before – spring 92 completely blew compared to one year before, much less the shit-hot spring ’90 tour or the insane shows I saw in Hampton and especially Miami ’89 – there’s more energy in the Miami Dark Star than then entire last 3 years of the Dead put together.

    The power of the Deadhead crowd was such that even on nights the band did almost nothing musically speaking, the groupmind was still kickin’. So peeps had great experiences and more power to ’em. Hell, I took a friend to his first shows in Portland ’95, hands down the worst shows I ever saw – and I was seeing shows in ’86 so that’s saying something – and he *totally* got it.

    But by halfway through ’92, Jerry was getting really sick, Phil was mentally checking out – just ask him – Bobby was breaking out really terrible new songs left and right and that guy from the Tubes was doing his nails-on-a-blackboard vocals on almost every song.

    Out of respect for the positive vibe I’ll stop now. But I won’t back off my judgment of those years. I was there. I wish I had been at Phish shows instead, and just hit more west coast JGB for my Jerry fix.

  6. Exree Hipp Says:

    Thanks Miner, yeah I have the matrix copy, but the SBD it is matrixed with is the one with the cass gen in there. Once upon a time I seeded the 5.1 DTS mix of that show to something like a 25 ratio on etree despite it being more than 1.29GB big.

  7. SOAM Says:


    In 93-jerry got on methadone-lost 50 lbs and was pretty sharp until spring 94ish-Remember the photo from Vegas 93-skinny, black tee-gray shorts-shades-smiling. 93 was solid and there were moments all the way to the end-I hear you but only to a point and never complaining.

    JGB 10/31/93 Meadowlands-Werewolves

  8. SOAM Says:


  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    for anyone that would like to hear a real nice GD Terrapin, the finest I ever saw for sure, check out 3/24/87:

    but wait til you can turn it up loud, esp. the fanfare section at the end.

    The most recent circulating boards I heard were Healy’s fucked up out-of-sync matrix mix, not sure if those CM ones are like that, I haven’t upgraded in awhile.

  10. Jay Says:

    @msbjivein wrote:

    “Now if some youngin comes along who’s into The Dead or Umph or Bis but hasn’t heard much phish I would deff try to do my part and pass them a couple bootlegs to see if it’s for them.”

    That why I said trying to turn on the clueless. Definitely try and turn on someone who might just need a nudge in the right direction.

    “That’s how I was turned on. A certain someone noticed I was into The Grateful Dead in the early to mid ’90’s and steered me in the right direction w/ a shit ton of Phish bootleg tapes along w/ a fuckin mass amount of old Dead tapes. Changed my life forever.”

    Now who would do such a dang crazy thing 😉

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    @soam the whole thing just broke my heart. that’s the negativity you’re hearing. I think it’s justified, but it’s not coming from snobby or deadier-than-thou place – it was just real painful for me to go to those shows. So I guess I should stop talking about em huh?

    I’m real proud of Trey and Phish. This comeback they’re doing now is the real final proof that they’re their own band and not just following in the Dead’s footsteps. We don’t need another tragic ending and martyred rock star. Kudos to the boys for passing a test the Dead couldn’t pass.

  12. SOAM Says:

    They do haunt us in a way…

  13. Jay Says:

    @Mr. Completely Says:
    “But I won’t back off my judgment of those years. I was there. I wish I had been at Phish shows instead”

    Nor should you. I was there as well and instead of getting 3 out of 4 amazing shows you were getting 1 out of 4, then the act of touring with them became less enjoyable. Saying that most of the ninety’s was sub par and not worth your time to travel is not disrespectful, it’s just telling it like you see it (and I see it). This is coming from someone who is one of the biggest fans of the dead with over 200 shows under his belt.

  14. msbjivein Says:

    “I’m real proud of Trey and Phish. This comeback they’re doing now is the real final proof that they’re their own band and not just following in the Dead’s footsteps. We don’t need another tragic ending and martyred rock star. Kudos to the boys for passing a test the Dead couldn’t pass.”


  15. Weyoun42 Says:

    Phish is absolutely, hands-down my favourite band, but I don’t let that close my ears to others. I really like moe. and WSP and a lot of the others out on the jam scene. But, my second place jam band has got to be Umphrey’s. If asked for what they sound like, I would say, “Imagine the Allman Brothers band if all the members had grown up listening to 80’s pop, new wave, prog rock and metal.” But, just like comparing the Grateful Dead and Phish is apples and oranges, well then UM is a banana. Similar scene, completely different musical style. Not better, not worse, just different. I don’t care if it’s Phish at Deer Creek, Umphrey’s McGee at the Kalamazoo’s State Theater or Ultraviolet Hippopotamus at the local bar: if I can afford it, I’m there. My budget and responsibilities keep me rooted in place, so instead of being able to follow Phish, I get to check out all the different acts that come my way.

  16. Jay Says:

    I did not see too much Phish 2.0 as it seemed a little lackluster. The energy did not seem to be there. So glad to see them back in old school form. A good place to start/restart. When ever you feel lost, always go back to the beginning.

    3 CHEERS TO THAT!!!!

  17. guyforget Says:

    not to be the bearer of bad news, but phish has only played 3 shows on thier “comeback” and we’re a long way from in the clear. Let’s just hope that Trey and the other guys in the band with habits (we never hear about those) have a better support staff than the Dead did.

    Terrapin is my GF’s favorite dead song, and when i tried to play here Phish’s cover, she wanted nothing to do with it. Completely understandable considering she has never seen either band and think Terrapin is one of the most amazing compositions she’s ever heard.

  18. guyforget Says:

    Also, nice work Miner. Love that first pic!

  19. guyforget Says:

    “the quietest i have ever heard. Never at any show, ever, for any-band, has an entire audience been so focused and speechless”

    ^^ check out some Floyd live DVDs for a speachless, dead quiet audience. you would have thought they gave free labotomies on the way in. 🙂

  20. voopa Says:

    An old hippie friend once told me about a Floyd show at the Fillmore…think it was around the Atom Heart Mother days…he said they had a quadrophonic PA setup, and most of the crowd just laid on the floor for most of the show!

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Jay, thx

    @guy – I agree, I have known many addicts well, it is a tough and never ending road. The most hopeful thing I have heard is the transformation of hte backstage scene – that’s where the vices live. Without delving into gossip I know this is a big reason why they changed their support staff in some cases. But yeah, we’ll just have to keep hoping the best for them. That’s a long summer tour. I’m very hopeful though.

    And play your girl that Hampton Terrapin, yo. Turn it UP and let it ride. The ending just keeps coming, like an avalanche of awesomeness.

  22. guyforget Says:

    Will do completely. she’ll love it.

  23. msbjivein Says:

    @Guy, I also love the Umph. Started seeing them @ The Patio(INDY) for free then $3 in ’98. I always looked at them as a local band until Phish’s 1st hiatus. At that point I finally looked at them as A great band. But I do have to say I went to Hampton and the very next week The Umph played The Egyption room and now i can’t help but look at Umph as a local band again. Their show experience is nothing like Phish’s. The energy at Phish blows away the energy at umph. I know UM are great musicians but their shows just don’t compare to a Phish show.IMO

  24. youenjoy09 Says:

    @Mr. Miner-

    Thank you for touching on a topic of mighty importance to me – the GD/Phish dichotomy. Its all about the consummate musicianship and extended improvisation for me, which both bands provide equally…. and they both possess that ‘extra gear’ that no other bands have. I was thinking you could do a write-up on any venue you have seen both bands, comparing the differences and similarities of the experiences. Anyways, thanks again for your badass work!

    @Mr. Completely-

    I like your takes on most things…..so what are your top 3 shows from the GD spring ’77 tour you were talking about? A few days ago you mentioned your favorite GD tours were fall73, fall72, and summer74…..if you have time at somepoint, i would be interested to hear your top few shows from each of these tours…. I also LOVE this era of dead and enjoy discussing peak moments.

  25. msbjivein Says:

    I mean “Local Band” in the best possible way. UM is still a Great band just not at Phish’s level.

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