Exploring Bonnaroo

Bonaroo 6.12.09 (D.Vann)

Bonaroo 6.12.09 (D.Vann)

Capping Bonnaroo with a full two-set Phish show, the band entertained last nights’ festival audience with creative jams- both old and new- and a guest sit-in for the ages. Using an explosive first frame and an exploratory second, Phish put an exclamation point on Bonnaroo 2009.  And what a show it was.

The first set opened quickly with the old-school combo of “AC/DC Bag” and “NICU” before the band loosened up with the emotive and extended dance-grooves of “Jibboo.”  Ernest jumped right into his guitar acrobatics early on, foreshadowing a big night for himself and the band.  After a a drawn-out, dancy intro, the band nailed “Punch” for the first time since their return, but the real fireworks of the first set got started with “Bathtub Gin.” The band used a spirited and creatively-phrased “type-I” jam to reach the first huge peak of the show, again with Trey taking front and center and leading the way.  The Phishiest segment of the set, however, began with the chunky, open-air “Tweezer” grooves which lead into a “Horse > Silent” interlude, and was capped by a smoking “Antelope,” that stood out as the improvisational highlight of the set.

Phish and Bruce (@seisenstein)

Phish and Bruce (@seisenstein)

Yet when crashing the presumed set-ender to a close, Phish didn’t leave the stage as Trey approached the mic. Telling the anecdote of seeing his first concert at Jadwin Gym in Princeton, NJ, he spoke of a three-hour show that captured his imagination of what a live concert could be. He then welcomed his boyhood hero, co-Bonnaroo Headliner, and subject of his story, Bruce Springsteen, to the stage. With wide-eyed smiles, both guitarists used “Mustang Sally” to acclimate to each other, and to allow Bruce to get a hang of the Phish. After concluding the standard, Bruce said, “Let’s give this a try,” as they entered his 1984 dark-horse song “Bobby Jean” off “Born In The USA.” A gorgeous composition that that “was considered a musical breakthrough for Springsteen during the recording, with its more accented rhythm and near dance groove” (WIki), it was the perfect selection for the collaboration. Capping the set with “the best “Glory Days” ever,” Bruce turned the soloing over to Red who annihilated The Boss’ hit with his signature licks.  It was a completely surreal experience to hear Trey shred amidst Bruce’s hit from our childhood- a total collision of worlds- it was awesome.  As the song ended with a colossal peak, the lights came on rather abruptly- set break. Phew- they were playing two sets! We all began to wonder if the Phish / Springsteen blowout would be the conclusion of the festival- and as good as it was- thank god it wasn’t.

6.12.09 (D.Vann)

6.12.09 (D.Vann)

What came next was one of the most risk-taking jams of the tour as the band took Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” from a high-octane rock excursion into all-out ambient psychedelia, traveling a most adventurous path along the way.  Delving into some arrhythmic dissonance, the band created the darkest and most ominous portion the show before segueing slowly into “Light.”  I thought before the set that the band would feature a new song as a vehicle for the second set, and this was IT.  While the jam was introduced at Fenway’s tour opener, the band chose largest stage of tour to blowout one of their best new songs.

6.14.09 (@jms6248055)

6.14.09 (@jms6248055)

Embarking in some fast pace improv throughout most of the “Light” jam, the band then slowed down, taking it farther out there, landing in some ending in some “Manteca”-sounding funk.  Emerging out of the experimental”Light,” and capping the exceptional set opening trio, was a slowed-down and dirty “46 Days.”  Not necessarily the song you’d expect at this point, the band killed the festi-sized version; and following the incredible run of improv that had just occurred, the blues-rock served as oddly natural landing point for the first part of the set.  The band took little time to launch into a majestic “Limb by Limb” that served as a congruent soundtrack to the liberating outdoor atmosphere that Bonnaroo provided.  With as much space as anyone could want, Phish threw down an incredibly danceable show, allowing everyone to take full advantage of their vast surroundings.

Following “Limb,” the band slowed things down towards the end of the festival with a strangely placed, yet poignant, “Farmhouse” that wound up working quite well as the set’s cool-down song.  A late-set “Number Line” provided some additional new spice to the mix before Phish turned to a regal “Prince Caspian.”  A quintessential late-set version saw Trey dive into a monstrous solo as the late-night crowd soaked it in.  But instead of rolling into the final guitar chords of the song, the band dropped into a blistering “First Tube” that ended the set in a never-ending blissful peak.

With a “Suzy,” “Reprise,” ending, Phish closed the show on the highest of notes, making every Phish fan who decided to make the trek to Manchester’s massive gathering glad that they did.  After playing to the audience on Friday, Phish decided to do what they do best last night, and they created one of the most improvisational and engaging shows of tour.  On top of their game, Phish was the clear main draw of the weekend- and the only band for which the festival turned off the obnoxiously bright, massive neon “Bonnaroo” sign that graced the top of main stage.  In the end- as the crowd thinned out throughout the last day of the festival- when the second set started, the environment was soley focused on Phish.  And under the wide open Tennessee skies, they provided us with another memory along the yellow brick road of Summer ’09.  Next stop- The Fox!

I: AC/DC Bag, NICU, Gotta Jibboo, Punch You in the Eye, Sparkle, Bathtub Gin, Character Zero, Tweezer > The Horse > Silent In The Morning, Run Like An Antelope, Mustang Sally*, Bobby Jean,*  Glory Days*

II: Rock & Roll > Light > 46 Days, Limb By Limb, Farmhouse, Backwards Down The Number Line, Prince Caspian > First Tube

E: Suzy Greenberg > Tweezer Reprise

* w/ Bruce Springsteen

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459 Responses to “Exploring Bonnaroo”

  1. ds77 Says:

    These reviews never say anything but ‘Phish played wonderfully tonight, ooo la la!’ How about a truthful review once in a while?

  2. Wax Banks Says:


    3.0, on the other hand, I think if you listened to much of it blindfolded, you would guess you were listening to 03′-04 Phish…..if you didn’t know any better….Do you get the same feeling, Wax Banks? I ask you because you seem to notice the same stuff I do in the playing.

    Of the three big ‘eras’ of Phish (we can divide eras into periods, like with the dinosaurs!), I think 2.0 and 3.0 sound more alike than 1-3 or 1-2, certainly in mechanical terms, but 2.0’s jamming had a lot in common with the old stuff, and 2003 stands as this amazing halfway point, where the band hadn’t fully taken up the new balls-out-rock vibe, was still holding on to some of its muted-funk vocabulary. I’m not 100% about this comment – grains of salt at the ready!

    I’d say Trey’s approach has changed, and the band has changed around him (correlation, not necessarily causation): he doesn’t sink into jams the way(s) he did from about 97-03, but rather dominates the sound a la the early/mid-90’s. Alternately ‘busier’ and ‘bluesier,’ if that makes sense. I’m guessing this is a combination of the other musicians’ specific desire for strong Trey leadership, his own solo experiences, and some increased improvisatory friction in the ensemble. He’s more tasteful than ever, but less…psychic. And less interested in ‘just get into the groove and see where things go.’ I suspect Mr Completely has it right on this score – as the ‘first set’ songs have improved, the ‘second set’ tunes have gotten a touch more restrained.

    I hear this shift most clearly in tunes like ‘Tweezer,’ ‘Wolfman’s Bro,’ ‘Gin,’ ‘Suzy,’ and (alas) especially ‘2001’ – starting in 2003 they began to shift from big open-ended fields for improvisation (specifically funk in most cases) to more complex, fully-conscious, busier group improvisations. Take the 12/1/03 or 6/19/04 Wolfman’s, or indeed any post-hiatus version – chunkier and less muted sound, denser conversation, more staccato Trey, busier/more melodic stuff from the vastly-improved Mike, more aggressive Page tones, and Fishman doesn’t drop immediately into his Meters/James Brown mode. Way, way less space. We’ll never get a Champaign or Great Went Wolfman’s again. That’s a huge change from the late-90’s style. (And I suspect that’s why some of the Farmhouse/TAB songs got much less play after the hiatus – they were only/always dance-jam showcases.) The model for funk climaxes has shifted from Wolfman’s/Sally to the older Tweezer model, or ‘Loving Cup.’

    ‘2001’ has been compacted as well. It doesn’t breathe as it used to – but is in turn less monotonous. I love the lightning-quick space-funk of yore, and ‘2001’ just feels…well, a little clattering, a little clumsy even. A lot of the funk sounds like it’s been stitched together from parts. The easy fluidity has vanished.

    But the payoff is that they’re obviously listening very closely to one another as Matso said. The jamming feels very present and scrupulous. That’s exciting as a harbinger of things to come, but I’ve found it difficult to ‘bliss out’ listening to the new stuff. The new jams tend not to pool, gather, and cool out like the 2.0 and late-1.0 jams did. And there’s very little ‘holding pattern’ material right now. That’s kind of awesome, but exhausting. Check out the extraordinary 25-minute ‘Chalkdust’ from IT: the 2.0 version of ‘Type II’ jamming, not definitively abandoning the Chalkdust groove at any point as I recall. That’s 25 minutes of uptempo 4/4 cock-rock, giving plenty of space for the band to gather its attention. (Listen around the 14-minute mark as they build intensity, open up space, prepare to lunge. Or a few minutes later, as Trey deliberately focuses just on the time signature, changing the colour and time of the jam slightly, before the up/down/up to the climax.) They’re not playing on that scale right now; the multipart jams like the mighty 2/28/03 Tweezer or the Worcester ’97 ‘Jim symphony’ (or, Jesus Christ, the organic-whole 6/14/00 second set) just aren’t appearing.

    That’s how I’d know the new stuff wasn’t the old stuff. The great late-1.0 and 2.0 jams didn’t move monotonically. In engineering terms ‘monotonic movement’ means movement in a single direction without change – e.g. Obama’s approval ratings rose overall over the campaign, but not monotonically, as they took at hit at certain points. It doesn’t mean ‘one note,’ just ‘one direction.’ A ‘Type I’ jam is generally developed monotonically – moving upward, getting louder, getting more intense, etc. ‘Hood’ and ‘Slave’ are beloved feel-good jams in part because their development is always easy to understand, and they always end with a bang. (Remember how the phish.net complained about the 12/30/97 Hood > My Soul blueballs?)

    Phish 3.0 is currently jamming in a monotonic kinda way, and I’m waiting for the band to get confident enough to take the crazy turns that characterized the best shit back in the day. That confidence will come. Maybe not on this tour, OK, but in time. They’re too hungry to settle for ‘playing the repertoire well’ forever – look at 1994, 1997, 1999, 2003. Given enough time they’ll start tearing shit up.

    Anyhow, ColonelJoy, to recur to your question: respectfully, I think you’d be able to tell the difference sonically, but stylistically there are big differences between the new stuff and the old stuff, even between 2.0 and 3.0 – and even as a jam develops I think it’s possible to see both continuities with 2003-04 and the unique qualities of 2009. I’m hoping for some blown-out ‘Type II’ jams later this summer, which (I’m guessing) would likely have way more in common with 2.0 than 1.0. So I’m with you halfway.

  3. gho2it Says:


    The truth is that people are caught up in the vibe so a flat song or whatever just doesn’t matter….the dead could still pack staduims through the 80’s and 90’s….that’s what is so special about this band. It’s not a performance as much as a vehicle to take you somewhere else. That’s IT and that’s what everyone is magnetized to whether your mind realizes it or not.

    Hopefully if you were at the show you were swept up in the vibe….you aren’t listening for dropped notes, flubbed lyrics, or assuming that the band is ‘mailing it in’, or whatever else people pick up from the tapes.

    I realized after Asheville that the tapes are there to help see the evolution and to keep you fresh on what’s happening with the band. They aren’t there to bring the experience home to you.

    Like Thurston Moore so wisely said: listening to music on headphones is like the fluorescent light of music…..you have to be present to FEEL the energy

    You don’t go to a party and have fun, and then talk about how the hosts didn’t do this or that correctly the next day..

    Please take a lesson from tghe wisdom SOAM…..it’s all about the boogie…..free your ass and your soul will follow!!!!

  4. Wax Banks Says:


    I don’t doubt some great jams- but please- give me solid shows- or better yet epic runs to compare to 2009.

    2/25 through 2/28/03 is a hell of a run, and that Worcester show might even be stronger than the famous JB throwdown. 2/20 is excellent, and of course 2/16/03 in Vegas features the first segue-heavy set of the welcome-back tour.

    In summer, IT is chock full of highlights – the best stuff (to my ears) comes in the soundcheck, Tower Jam, and all the big tunes from 8/2/03 III through the end of the festival (’46 Days’ is the canonical version). Special emphasis as per DFool’s comment below.

    There’s also the assortment of big scary/crazy jams Miner has already highlighted here – the long tunes on 7/30 and 7/31/03, the canonical 7/25/03 Hood (indeed that whole second set is great), and the heavy shit from 7/9/03 (damn that Gin!).

    I enjoy the Anniversary Run shows but they’re far from essential.

    6/19/04 is on par with any show since Big Cypress, though the jamming is all of a piece – three hours of pure triumphant fist-pumping rock awesomeness, but maybe that’s not your cup of tea. That’s understandable. I won’t insist on any other 2004 shows in their entirety, and the August shows are all disposable, but people love those June shows. Both SPAC shows and 6/26 II are huge.

    @Dancing Fool

    dont know who said this but WHAT?? you’ve obviously never heard IT (festival), Rock N Roll> Seven Below> Scents> Spread it Around> Bug is one of the best sequences in Phish history

    Goddamn right. Being around for that set is one of my best Phish memories, even if ‘Spread It Round’ is a doofy little song. Bold setlist in particular – all those new tunes!

  5. msbjivein Says:

    As for the Phish 3.0 doing 2.0 ambient jams. I think a lot of these 2.0 jams this tour have been almost forced. They haven’t come naturally but maybe a couple of times. Take the Hood @ JB1 for example. That ambient jam comes naturally IMO. A lot of the others seem forced like some from Knox. (Waves especially) At the end of Waves they were like ok this is a 2.0 song lets do an ambient jam here. And it really didn’t go anywhere. Anyone else noticed this w/ the 2.0 jams in 3.0 Phish??

  6. ColonelJoy Says:


    Thank you, Ghost Writer!

  7. ColonelJoy Says:


    Like I’ve been saying, and getting ire for it, 3.0 ambient is sounding like 2.0 ambient….nearly analogous. JB Hood was quite organic, and the day after it happened, it was….the best ever

  8. hooks Says:

    i actually yelled “shut the fuck up” because, yes, people were booing Bruce. i haven’t listened to roo yet. at the moment, i’m only going on physically being there. if i may elaborate from earlier… i have no disregard for anyone who enjoyed bonnaroo more than me, 1st of all. there are thousands of people there. in addition to big fans, there’s lots of new fans, strictly casual fans, and people there just because they happen to be at the roo, and maybe want to see what all the hype’s about. does not fuckin bother me. i simply find it interesting how these kinds of atmospheres affect phish on stage. they are unbelievably sensitive to the impulses from their surroundings. it’s fascinating how they respond and work through things going on to try and get to something real. they are up there working after all, it’s their job. my opinion, from my perspective, fishman didn’t seem comfortable a portion of the time, and my gut feeling was that of wide-eyed concern for what was going to happen. it’s the glue that holds it together, and affects the sound and level of tightness and punch in the music. you know… so that’s just me. i play drums – now reduced to dabbling, don’t have time for it currently. music runs in the family – so I’m not the last word… but its within my nature hear it that way. i’m super interested to hear the recordings now after this discussion. i guess, for some positives: i was definitely glad when they got wild and ambient in Rock and Roll, among other things they did. I definitely noticed the patient jamming style last week that people have mentioned here. believe me, there were times when I was clapping and yelling. that said, the Fox should be so sick after this weekend. the best quote from the weekend was Snoop Dogg: “I said are you ready for some motha fuckin phish?!!”

  9. msbjivein Says:

    I think when they were high these type 2.0 jams came very naturally. But now they have to find a different ways to get there. It is obvious that they will find IT one way or another.

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    As for a whole show from 03, you could do a lot worse than 7/29. Well played first set with great setlist, huge jam in Crosseyed…I for one never listen to any Harpua more than once but I know I’m in the very small minority on that.

    The Crosseyed jam – which I think I will refer to as the “Crosseyed -> No Royalties jam” from here on out to mock livephish.com, considering the first 5 minutes (arguably 10) of the “jam” are blatantly still Crosseyed) – is really pretty great, too.

    Wax, don’t you think that a lot of classic Phish jams across eras are monotonic up until the peak, and then shift themes afterwards? Certainly this No Royalties jam does that.

    2-16-03 has a lot of slop in it but also some epic moments of improvisation. There’s a groovy ensemble improv after piper, after they re-quote the Disease riff AGAIN, that’s pure candy – it was a triumphant moment to be sure.

    Chalkdust from IT is a think of beauty.

  11. msbjivein Says:

    Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!!!! You were hearing Bruuuuuce not Boooooo.
    At Camden Trey even said he thought the crowd was yelling Bruuuuuce when they were yelling Tuuuube. I wasn’t there but I know people weren’t booooing. The Bruuuuuuuuuuce chant is totally normal.

  12. ColonelJoy Says:

    @Snoop Dogg

    Yes, I’m ready.

  13. hooks Says:

    I’ll settle for some Bruuuuuccee and some Boooo mixed together. which is sorta funny… i’m telling you, a few different times, i overheard a few talking about how bruce was lame, and then scoffed and so on. or the worst show you could see, was what one guy said. some people weren’t liking the guy… a friend that was with me was like, “no its bruce, not booing”. but it kept going on, and he heard it too.

  14. verno329 Says:

    agree with Mr C that 7/29 is a great example of Summer ’03 at its finest for the entire show. The 7/25 Hood deserves all of the accolades it gets. There are many other examples of great ’03 shows from the spring as well. The tour closer in G’boro is a smoker as are those Cincy shows. But overall I will definitely take the ’09 stuff over anything 2.0 related.

  15. ColonelJoy Says:

    This Fox Theater Tweezer from 94’….14.5 years ago…..quite ambient in an organic 94′ kind of way.

  16. msbjivein Says:

    I’m not a Bruce fan either. But I never would’ve booo’d The Boss.

  17. Jay Says:

    @Mr – Chalkdust from IT is a think of beauty.

    Love this version of Chalkdust! In fact, the whole last disc in the DVD is smokin.

  18. msbjivein Says:

    Best Sneakin Sally I’ve heard was from 7-23-03. The Jam is outta this world. it’s like a 15min Sneakin.

  19. Jay Says:

    Those who boo any guest of the band’s are immature in my book. Don’t like it leave but the show is not all about just you.

  20. msbjivein Says:

    I was listening to Chalkdust from Big cypress on the way to work. All I can say is WOW!!!!!!!! WOW!!!!!!

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    I just did a quick 3 mile run to that Crosseyed ->No Royalties jam earlier this morning and man, is that thing ever going in the jogging playlist – tons of energy AND interesting too

    love Trey playing the full-on Adrian Belew shizzle during Crosseyed (the actual song) – no one can sound like Belew, one of the greatest outside guitar players in history, but the Trza takes a fair stab at it. cool stuff

  22. Pence Says:

    anyone see a link to a SBD of any of the last 3 shows? knox>roo?

  23. hooks Says:

    exactly, that’s why i yelled shut the fuck up at those people… completely disrespectful and immature, i mean, gimme a fuckin break. on a side note, I know I was pumped to see Max Weinberg during the portion of Bruce’s set that I caught. we just need Conan in the comedy tent….

  24. bryant Says:

    Bruce sounds like boo … trust me

  25. Mr. Completely Says:


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