Returning To Their Roots

6.18.09 Star Lake

6.18.09 Star Lake (M.Stein)

One of the most glaring facets of this June’s tour was the succinctness of Phish’s jams.  Part of this can be attributed to feeling each other out again and getting used to jamming off each other again.  Yet, as the tour grew on, Phish continued to take more musical risks (Star Lake’s “Disease,” Deer Creek’s “Oceans > Drowned > Twist,” and Alpine’s “Crosseyed > Disease,” and “Piper”), but their jams remained tightly directed and based in rock textures.  After spending the years of 1997 to 2000 exploring many types of groove-based playing, and 2003 (’04) with looser, psychedelic jamming, it appears that Phish may be returning to their roots as progressive rock improvisers.

Without judging this transition, it is simply an observation of where I sense the band’s music may be moving.  Many fans hopped on the bus during the late-’90s, and associate Phish with tar-thick funk grooves amidst all-out, nightly dance parties- cue the much-loved tours of Summer 1997 through Fall 1998.  Yet, as we readjust ourselves to Phish 2009, it seems that the rhythmic focus of the band’s jamming has been left behind in favor of more directed rock improvisation.

6.21.09 Alpine Valley (C.Smith)

6.21.09 Alpine Valley (C.Smith)

If we sample some of the best jams from this tour- Camden’s “Sand,” Asheville’s “Ghost,” Bonnaroo’s “Kill Devil Falls,” Deer Creek’s “Twist,” and Alpine’s “Crosseyed”- a definite pattern emerges.  As these jams start, the band busts out of the gate and goes straight to work, attacking the music right away instead of allowing things to settle and come to fruition.  This represents a divergent theory of improv than the late-’90s exploration of wide-open soundscapes, patiently allowing things to evolve one idea at a time.  This method also veers from the looser, drawn-out psychedelia of the post-hiatus era.  The results of this shift were shorter, more compact, jams that peaked with high intensity.  Whether the jams were of the “type I” (far more frequent in June) or the “type II” variety, the same pattern held true.  Phish wasn’t specifically taking time to discover those far-out mystical planes we love so much- though they did get there a few times.  Instead, they were diving right in, going for the jugular of their pieces- not unlike their style of the early ’90s.  (Even the tour’s longest dance jam, Camden’s 22-minute “Sand,” was primarily guided by forceful guitar leads rather than rhythm licks.) I am not comparing the insane music of ’93 and the jams of ’09, but rather the method in which Phish approached their improv of each era.  With sixteen years in between these times, the music can not possibly sound similar, but the band’s intent seems comparable.  Trey affirmed this position when discussing the new album with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke: “The shortest path to intent is what makes rock rock, and there is a lot of that here.”

6.21.09 (C.Smith)

6.21.09 (C.Smith)

When logging on to after the shows, it was surprising to see jams that felt much longer labeled as ten minutes or under.  But this speaks to the density of the band’s improv and the amount of  musical ideas presented in a compact fashion.  While not always bringing their music “out there,” this playing resulted in dynamic jams that contained focused communication, fiery results, and sublime peaks.

Though it’s hard to predict what Phish 3.0 will turn into after only one short run in June, if this tour was a foundation for the next, it seems that their musical direction is veering towards their former style.  To support this, we can look at their newest songs played throughout the tour, offshoots of several rock traditions- a far cry from 1998’s The Story of the Ghost or 2000’s Farmhouse. Again, I am not here to say this is bad or good- I’m just reflecting what I’ve begun to see and think.  Some fans may be turned off by this musical shift and some may love it- but in the end, I believe Phish will continue to reach those places in our souls in whatever way they see fit.


6.18.09 (M.Stein)

As stated previously this week, this tour was definitely part of a process, and not a destination.  Any observations made of the band during this first run-through may not totally hold true come Fall, or even August, but a trend began to grow during June.  Even their best ambient jams had a strong directionality to them and had a purpose (see Jones Beach’s “Ghost” or Alpine’s “Crosseyed > Disease”).  Maybe I’m reading too much into these first shows; maybe Phish will come out with some thirty minute abstract explorations at Red Rocks- who’s to say?  With such a protean band, predictions are near impossible to make.  But if you want to listen to twenty-minute funk excursions, your best bet is to pull out those ’97 bootlegs, because it appears that cow-funk is a thing of the the past.  Knowing Phish, their progression through this era will likely surprise us, and I, for one, can’t wait to see how they will spin their new psychedelic tales.  One thing I know for sure, if Phish is into it- and they certainly seem to be- the results will be rewarding.



Official Camden Poster

Official Camden Poster

6.7.09 E Centre, Camden, NJ < TORRENT LINK

The first truly great Phish show of 2009.  Monster “Tweezer” closer. Full moon.

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Fee, Wolfman’s Brother, Guyute, My Sweet One, 46 Days, The Lizards, The Wedge, Strange Design, Tube, First Tube

II: Sand, Suzy Greenberg, Limb by Limb, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Sugar Shack*, Character Zero, Tweezer

E: Joy*, Bouncing Around the Room, Run Like an Antelope > Tweezer Reprise


Source: Shoeps mk4v / Taper – unknown

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267 Responses to “Returning To Their Roots”

  1. sumodie Says:

    The 3 states in black are just to make a jack o lantern face……

  2. cottle Says:

    yeah, Coachella’s been the buzz for a hot minute now.

    I guess this means I can cancel the rooms I reserved two months ago for Albany. No way I can do a west coast Halloween. 🙁
    C’mon East coast Fall tour and NYE!

  3. phatty mcgee Says:

    Holy shit holy shit

    Phish hosting their own festy = YEEESS!!

  4. Stupendous Says:

    @ sumodie- I live in south of tampa florida where MAPS used to be based on, the “MAPS” house was designed by a New College of Florida Student (school my gf graduated from). It was designed to be the most psychedelic house known to man at the time…been to many festivities there…even met Rick Doblin….early member/founder/architecht/chemist??? pretty kind peeps

    About Halloween Vid- Eerie ambient trey-loop phish puddle….Mmmmm
    very haunting…

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    Indio Halloween
    Miami nyrun
    Thanks/dec NEastish (other 2 are pretty def.)

  6. Mr.Miner Says:

    Reserved an rv and hotel for Halloween- based are covered. Phish festi- can’t wait!!

  7. whole tour! Says:

    got room for one more?
    i’ll get the RV for the miami gigs, being from florida.

    it’s gonna be tough to make it out to the west coast after this summer, but it would be sweet!

    Going out to buy lottery tickets. can’t win if you don’t play!

  8. Stupendous Says:

    2/16/03 sick golden lady awesome round room sick DWD
    2/21/03 Mikes>Free>Waste>2001>Hood….Wow
    2/28/03 pretty epic tweezer and destiny bust out

    IMO the best of Phish 2.0 came out in the ghost from IT, the 46 days, the soundchecks and tower jams aswell…but thats what i seek for in the band beyond their wonderful catalog of compositions

    ..and as far as people talking about Phish not “jamming” in the early days, and compare it to now (09) they’ve been doing ambient improv since the cliff ball havn’t they? I think there even might have been a stronger element of patience and space in the early days as there is now…im not judging comparing or hating, but observing, even more so in the real early days…Union Federal?….I know peeps are comparing 09 to 93-95
    but i see it a different way…. I see a band that is always moving forward and is not going to be interested in reaching an epic plateau in a birds “Jam” ala Oswego 99 or a blissful funkfest of a halleys ala 11/97, but a band interested in breaking new ground…oddly enough i feel like the real gems from tour 09 were the little details like the jam in destiny from fenway… the rework of undermind & if I could…and of course the new material…not certain I saw a band that was wanting to keep exploring on old material, but because they are phish and they are a “rock” band they maybe feel as if their obliged to play those songs for the crowd.
    I was lucky enough to attend Camp MMW 08 and J.Medeski explained that they (MMW) are not that kind of “rock” band that will keep playing bust outs and bringing people solely on the guess of what will be played or wanting to hear that one song ….and to be honest(somewhat off topic but,) Ive seen mmw a lot and most shows have always been full of new material, which im not familiar with at the time, yet it never has ceased to amaze me. Thats what a band like that derrives energy from…they play for themselves so it makes them play good and be enthused, keep things fresh….This is what im seeing in phish now more than ever…
    looking back the bowie’s and reba’s and even YEM’s (IMO) dont make the cut unto highlights….do not get me wrong im PSYCHED for gorge and i have non but love and faith in this band….im just saying i wouldnt mind them focusing or being passionate more so on what they want to do and not feel like they have to play bowie or YEM…or take it back to 93 or take it back to 97….
    I think we need to watch out for undermind….could be the next seven below

  9. whole tour! Says:

    greensboro 03 was my first show back after the haitus. It was phish’s triumphant retaking of the south. people were beyond psyched to have to boys back.

    I was thinking that Asheville was going to be more like greensboro 03 in the fact that it was my first show of 3.0. While Asheville was the sickness, it wasn’t until the next night in knoxville that i had flashbacks to greensboro 03. The entire crowd was PUMPED! I have come to the realization that phish playing larger arenas is THE BEST! More people = bigger party = more energy for the band to feed off of. I also really dug the sound in knoxville. The hugeness of the arena and the octagon shape really helped with the sound. Asheville was tiny and the show was loud, with no where for the sound to be absorbed but the eardrums. Something about the “cavern” like aspect of knoxville that bounced the sound around nicely. Asheville was a special show, but knoxville felt more like i remembered from a show like greensboro 03.

  10. snigglebeach Says:

    I can handle missing a Halloween festival, if i get a 3-night thanksgiving run at Worcester Centrum (DCU). That would be a fair trade. assuming i could get tiks. Just kills me, that i could see a halloween show (which i never have) without having to sweat the ticket process. I guess you West-coasters had it coming.

    Every day my job just seems less worth keeping. time to get creative.

  11. whole tour! Says:

    in this job market, you better hold on to that jobby job. they are real tough to find.

  12. energywillout Says:

    Maybe they (trey) are not as high as they were a few years ago and so jams are shorter and denser. I don’t mean that to sound snide, but that’s what i’ve been thinking since hampton

  13. empire Says:

    dam what a surprise!! I am falling asleep here…then I decided to listen to some phish..put on ghost from alpine..nice version opened up mr.minor>link to halloween!!!

  14. lot rat Says:

    booyah! anway i can get a babysitter onsite? We’ll be there anyway…7 hours drive…..good times

  15. Phish...Yup Says:

    East coast fall run before halloween in cali, yes please.

  16. Pence Says:

    Holy Fuck, Holy Fuck, my life is back on track

  17. converter Says:

    returning to my own lame pursuits: beer, beans+rice, knitting maB, and netflix instant queue – o an i better clean or hubby will pout

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