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. voopa Says:

    Oh, and of course, A Love Supreme. Om is another “out there” excursion, if you can find it.

  2. mike Says:

    “I haven’t listened to much Coltrane, but dig some of what I have heard. You seem well-versed…. what are your top 1 or 2, must-have albums or sessions?”

    A Love Supreme is the masterpiece, one of the finest albums ever. It’s all one album-length suite, and approaches perfection. Coltrane called it his “gift to God.” Jerry absolutely adored Coltrane, played his riffs all the time. And I’ve always loved the late 50s Miles’ band with Coltrane in it. Miles was always at his best when he had the greatest musicians pushing him, and no one did it like Coltrane. Well, except maybe Bird. That late 40s stuff with Miles and Bird is unbelievable.

  3. wanderin Says:

    @ youenjoy99

    John Coltrane “A Love Supreme”

    Miles Davis “In a Silent Way” “Bitches Brew” “Sketches of Spain”

    Miner —> Great writeup today
    Forum —> Great discussions today

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    well good calls by voopa, as I have noticed is his habit.

    The thing about Trane is that he went from being merely the best sax player of his generation in ’60 to the weirdest and heaviest motherfucker on the planet by ’65. So that covers a lot of territory.

    Giant Steps essentially the end of the old-school “bebop” style of jazz. If you like classic sounding jazz with really fast intricate solos you’ll dig that.

    My Favorite Things is a very good album overall, but the title track is just brilliant – Tranes final solo on that is a perfect melodic jam. You could just buy the title track from iTunes and see what it’s like.

    Impressions contains the masterpieces “India” (just about my favorite weird jazz tune) and the title track – worth buying individually as well. Also Afro Blue, Crescent and Spiritual are great standalone tunes.

    A Love Supreme is my favorite album of all time. In fact it is my favorite work of art by any artist in any medium thru history ;oP – srsly though. It gets better every time I listen to it. The perfect blend of virtuosity and spiritual feeling. It has one drum solo too many, and the little chant sounds kinda funny, otherwise I think it is the perfect album for when you’re in a wordless mood.

    Once you’ve heard a little and decide you like Trane, Live at the Village Vanguard 1961 4cd box set is a great pickup. You can often find it used for cheap since it’s too heavy for most people. It’s right on the edge between weird and melodic – exactly in the comfort zone for me, and probably a lot of you all as well . This is my second favorite Trane album after the above.

    Once you hit later stuff (1965 and after) the music becomes very very VERY aggressive and difficult – dissonant, screaming, etc. Either you’ll love it or hate it. The Live in Japan and Live in Seattle albums are good examples. Strap your shit up tight and brace for impact.

  5. Mr. Completely Says:


    some Trane vids

  6. jay Says:

    bowing to Mr. Completely’s breath and depth of musical knowledge.

  7. wanderin Says:

    Stellar Regions and Interstellar Space by Coltrane were cool too.

    Miles and John Lee Hooker The Hot Spot Soundtrack –> gritty, smokey, 70’s detective style music.

    I used to mix up Phish’s “speed jazz” with some of Coltrane, Miles, and others….tasty mixes

  8. voopa Says:

    Thanks, Mr. C! I really enjoy your posts. I should have mentioned the Miles albums that Trane was on…best are Kind of Blue (of course – get the recently released 50th anniversary edition), Relaxin’, and Someday My Prince Will Come.

    Another great one is Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Beautiful take on In A Sentimental Mood, and the closing track is one of the best and most accessible jazz tunes ever, The Feeling of Jazz.

    Also check out Branford’s performance of A Love Supreme on DVD. That shit is hot!

    Good call on the Stellar pair too, wanderin.

  9. whole tour! Says:

    my favorite coltrane album: blue trane

    amazing shit….friggin love it

    for more quality jazz….you can never go wrong with any jimmy smith/ wesley montgomery collaboration. essential tunes.

  10. Mr.Miner Says:

    heady discussion!

  11. wanderin Says:


    Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes = Good Stuff.

  12. Cactus Says:

    Mr. C

    Just listened/watched your first Coltrane video post of My Favorite Things. Not even sure what he was doing at the 4:40 mark, it sounded like he was pulling notes from different dimensions and rearranging them at the same time. Really, really far out stuff.

  13. Cactus Says:

    Oh yeah…I forgot to mention that I loved every second of it.

  14. wanderin Says:

    Al Dimeola John McLaughlin Paco de Lucia

    Friday Night in San Francisco

    Tune in Turn On and Drop Out…this is amazing stuff. Each artist plays their guitars through different channels that allows for some great exploration of their distinct styles

  15. whole tour! Says:

    right on wanderin! that’s one of my go to jazz albums.

    heady indeed!

  16. Harpua Says:


    I’d like to read that paper before it gets cut to 10 pages, if you’d be willing to share it. Email me at strummer356@aol.com

  17. voopa Says:

    Yes! Friday Night in SF is fantastic!

    @ whole tour! – you mentioned Donna under the piano earlier…I checked the Long Strange Trip book, and she recalls it first hand…it was in France during Europe ’72…she claimed that she & Keith were freaked about being thrust into the scene. At one point she said “Oh shit, I have to sing soon!” and recovered (if you can call her contributions “recovery” LOL).

  18. Kevin Says:

    Can’t wait to hear the new music this summer. Undermind was pretty amazing start to finish. Fresh and Grooving. Loved it

  19. fluffced Says:

    I love the jazz talk guys, I am very new to jazz (last year or two) but I really enjoyed Pat Matheny trio’s “Day Trip”

    Back to the Phish, I’ve been searching and cant seem to find downloads for The Gorge 1998 styley.

    I am absolutely loving the 1997 gorge shows miner put up this past weekend (and that gumbo video from 98!) The 1998 Gorge shows would really hit the spot for me, if they are already on here I’d love a link to which page. If not I suppose this is a request 😉

    Thanks miner, You are the man!

  20. fluffced Says:

    Wow, Not really sure if those coltrane videos make me want to pick up my guitar… or just put it away for good. Either way, Amazing playing from Coltrane and his crew.

  21. Jesse Says:

    speaking of dead shows and comparisons to phish if you havn’t heard red rocks 1978 (july 8) get it now!! some of the most original playing on that show and it has a terrapin encore which fits perfectly with this post (although it’s probably the worst part of this show)

    and coltrane live in japan is ooooooh so good with an hour long version of my favorite things

  22. Jesse Says:

    that should say july eight

  23. Frankie Says:

    You’re talking about jazz and nobody’s mentioned Grant Green yet? Well then…

    I HIGHLY recommend Live @ Club Mozambique, very fusion-y and an excellent listen, front to back.

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    Friday Night in SF, what a crazy album, if you’re an acoustic guitar player you might want to stay away, it will make you weep

    glad you all liked the Trane

  25. Jesse Says:

    friday night in san fran is pure gold, that blues lick by mclaughlin after the pink panther tease is amazing, the crowd goes nuts (6:05 into short tales)

    if you guys haven’t heard quicksilver messenger’s album “happy trails” get it NOW. pure psychedlic crazyness, i guarantee you will all love it

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