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. Mr.Miner Says:

    they play and play until the rational act of groove-making warps into something unexpected…at which point they honor that unexpected opportunity. The honor is great because they and we have no idea when it will come again.

    ^^ I like this…

  2. Jay Says:

    can’t wait for RR either! I have never been to RR and am so psyched. The vibe there, which is so important, should be way past cool.

  3. Mr.Miner Says:

    summer 1995 which was a rock n roll era of Phish

    ^^ Summer 1995 was one of the more experimental, abstract, and psychedelic time periods of the band’s history- certainly not “rock” by my working definition,

  4. Al Says:

    ^ fall 1996 was more of a rock groove era…

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    Great discussion so far today, starting with Miner’s post and moving forward. Heartening to see intensely felt and thought-out dialogue with a positive vibe.

    thx @halcyon for the great vid post.

    @Wax – glad you like the Mos. On multiple listens I definitely feel that it is not as great as BoBS which is IMO one of the finest hiphop albums I know of, but it’s very good, and the middle eastern samples and flava make it real interesting. I think New Danger is half of a brilliant album and half filler – the good stuff is incredible, come on – and TOTALLY agree on “Sex, Love and Money” which not only has the heaviest backbeat I think I’ve ever heard, but also the coolest flute sample in rap history ;o

  6. Jay Says:

    fall ’95 was when they really, conscientiously, moved away from the raging, R&R, send up of the past 4 years. If you came on board in ’95, rock and roll band would be the furthest thing from your mind.

  7. Mr.Miner Says:

    SOAM- Fenway and GW were really solid shows….don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade 🙂

  8. voopa Says:

    “Sex, Love and Money”

    Word. Bomb track.

  9. Wax Banks Says:

    @MrCompletely and @nonoyolker –

    @Wax – glad you like the Mos. On multiple listens I definitely feel that it is not as great as BoBS which is IMO one of the finest hiphop albums I know of, but it’s very good, and the middle eastern samples and flava make it real interesting. I think New Danger is half of a brilliant album and half filler – the good stuff is incredible, come on – and TOTALLY agree on “Sex, Love and Money” which not only has the heaviest backbeat I think I’ve ever heard, but also the coolest flute sample in rap history

    I’m with you both, I prefer BoBS without question. Partly that’s familiarity (it’s the hip-hop album I’ve listened to most), partly intensity, partly Mos’s squandered goodwill. He sounds so much more intense on the old album, out to prove something, and it makes for raw and intense art. The new stuff feels ‘revitalized’ rather than ‘vital,’ which is great but not essential, y’know? As for The New Danger, I like three or four or five tracks, but every single rock track bores me stiff. It’s like a good rap album welded to an unsuccessful rap-rock hybrid experiment. I admire him for trying and he’s got chops and vision, but he got the rock stuff wrong somehow…

    (And I didn’t mention it yet, but today’s is the best Miner post in a long while, to my (biased) eyes. Admirably precise and generous. Just sayin’.)

  10. Albert Walker Says:

    I guess I said that wrong and since I did most of 95 I guess I should know better

    I meant pre ambient, funk trance era
    what I would say more traditional Phish (pre 97)
    I meant heavy, psychedellic, rock
    not the 91-93 rock but still not dance, funk, trance based
    my mistake should have stated better

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ gotcha….

  12. Matso Says:

    @ Wax –

    I love that Stash and I love that set, probably for the same reasons as you do. (7.2.97 was one of only two Europe shows I saw and I was right in front of Mike for the entire show – easily a top 3 Phish experience, perhaps the top experience. A man next to me howled like the wolf at a full moon after the Free encore; I felt the same way)

    Re: Type II – as with all genres or taxonomic schemes, the lines are difficult, nay impossible, to draw clearly. What matters is that the jams (from time to time) approach Type II. For example, there are a number of Stashes, Bowies and Rebas from over the years where they may even just emphasise a melody or rhythmic variation without changing anything esle, but it’s done as a group, before slipping back into the regular arrangement. It’s probably not quite Type II, but the divergence accounts for why these are usually stellar versions (eg. Reba from 7/6/94 or 10/31/94 or the 10/10/99 Stash).

  13. Albert Walker Says:

    supporting this look at 12-31-95

    this is a great show but almost all rock based
    not really left the structures much but intense, tight focused, playing
    if I was at this show for my first it would more resemble a traditional rock show then other shows post 96

    From the Mike’s to the Reba, Forbin’s to Drowned it’s rock based
    I still feel the band was more rooted in rock n roll during this phase

  14. snigglebeach Says:

    Just gotta chime in.

    I am a bit surprised at this Coachella rumor.

    First, I am a little surprised they are even playing a Halloween show. Seems that the band has shied away from doing what you would expect. To schedule a show for Halloween puts a ton of pressure and expectations on the band.

    I am also shocked that they are playing it on the west coast in the middle of no-where. and is that even a site where they have regular concerts???

    I guess the only thing that makes sense about it, is if it was on the east coast, it would turn into a massive ticket catastrophe. Kinda glad i don’t have to sweat getting a tik for the next biggest anticipated show in decades. Whenever Miner gets on board a rumor, i tend to think it is probably more fact than rumor, but i will believe this when it is official. sounds like a pipe-dream for u west-coasters to me.

    That close to tiajuana sounds like a recipe for mayhem.

  15. sumodie Says:

    “I saw Phen and GW and loved IT!!! I remember after ashville everybody totally forgat about the week before. Then after Deer Creek we forgot about Ashville. Then after Alpine we forgat about DC. I’m sure you See where I’m headed w/ this. Just keeps getting better!!”

    That’s why this tour was so successful, imho, and why I have such a good feeling about the future of Phish 3.0. This is not your usual band on a reunion kick -this is a band living in the present and working to make dangerous magic. The future is VERY bright indeed.

  16. Mr. Completely Says:

    As an example to illustrate some of the points people have been making, let’s compare two “No Royalties” jams: the Crosseyed from 7-29-03 and the one from Alpine.

    The first several minutes are quite similar. They both roll straight ahead in a Crosseyed theme for about 5 minutes and then start to (intentionally) break down. At that point they diverge.

    The Alpine jam melts into a Siket-esque ambient space that ebbs and flows for about 4 minutes before the start of DWD. It’s really quite nice and weird but overall it’s very straightforward: Crosseyed > Crosseyed jam > meltdown > space > DWD.

    The Star Lake jam, however, takes a sudden left turn when they break it down. And why? Because the Trza lays back. A little after 6:00 he steps into a choppy rhythm part and the beat breaks down nicely – but Page steps forward, plays a lick on piano, switches to clav, Mike picks up a thumping groove, and the jam starts to build again.

    From there, even though at this point it’s still kind of Crosseyed-esque, we’re in new territory. And it leads to a LOT of jamming: the new groove builds to a big, transcendently shreddy peak, which then descends down some into a nice unique groove segment around 10:30. From there we get another wonderful ensemble jam created when Mike mirrors a short phrase Trey plays (around 11:45), it builds into a great melodic improvisation with Trey playing long, intricate, unhurried phrases with an absolutely beautiful tone dialed in. This full-band segment is amazing, Page is magnificent on piano, Mike and Fish are both firing on all cylinders, and everyone is listening to each other beatifully, as you can hear in the constant ebb and flow. Then *that* jam builds and peaks AGAIN, this time in big, explosive, resonating walls of sound around 18:00. Then, finally, we get a spacy descent out of the jam – unfortunately into Thunderhead, but whatever.

    Then they follow all that up with one of the sickest Brothers you’ll ever hear, and much more of course…admittedly, 7-29-03 is one of those sui generis Phish shows (a little shoutout to all you english majors out there) – just meaning one of those crazy nights that’s so off the hook it’s not really fair to compare it to anything else before or after, it stands alone. But, I think it illustrates pretty clearly what we’re talking about here. It’s that second stage (that leads to the 3rd and later phases) that is *for the most part* missing from these June shows.

    That being said I agree that 1) overall the shows are great and very encouraging and 2) I expect we’ll see more growth into a fully developed 3.0 open jamming style over the next couple of tours.

  17. Albert Walker Says:

    @ Miner

    psych rock or kraut rock are too genre’s of rock that are extremely psychedellic and experimental

    I guess being a vinyl record collector I don’t think of just Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin, or Black Sabbath

    you add Syd Barrett, Can, Hawkwind, Faust, Moby Grabe, and the13th Floor elevators and you get where I am going

    I think I just have a broader def of what I consider Rock

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    “The new stuff feels ‘revitalized’ rather than ‘vital,’ which is great but not essential, y’know? ”

    Yes. Very well put. I think he thought to himself “Damn, True Magic was weak, the kids are all calling me a Hollywood sellout, I need to make a real rap album to get my cred back.” And to his credit, he did. But Black On Both Sides is a testament, a treatise, a major work of modern urban art, a defining statement. I guess it’s normal that most artists only get one of those, but I can’t help but hope for more from him.

    My iTunes Mos playlist basically goes:
    – All of BoBs
    -3 to 5 songs each from all his other albums, including Black Star
    – 20 or so random songs that aren’t on albums

    …I always hope for another album that’ll end up on there intact, but instead I get another 4 or 5 songs. Which is 4 or 5 more than any other rap album released this year by anyone not named “Doom.”


  19. Albert Walker Says:

    have to spin that Black Star this weekend
    have not heard in ages that shit was dope though

  20. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Albert – my perspective – genres all exist as a kind of spectrum, you know?

    Centered in the Wheel of Rock you have “pure” rock, which we might say covers the territory from the Rolling Stones/Led Zeppelin.

    Further out from the center in one direction we have spacey or experimental rock – the Pink Floyd axis.

    Another direction is the Axis of Metal.

    The Punk Axis bores me, but you can’t deny its existence. Sonic Youth is somewhere between punk and experimental, for example.

    There’s the Country-Rock Axis, the Funk-Rock axis – the 1970s Meters, perhaps, defining the limit at which something can legitimately be referred to as Rock in any hyphenated sense – etc etc etc etc.

    I think Miner is talking about Rock close to the center of the Wheel of Rock, and you’re talking about the broader scope. Just a semantic thing.

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Albert Black Star is dope but Black on Both Sides is better – really

  22. msbjivein Says:

    “Just a little Patience Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh”

  23. Albert Walker Says:


    kind of left hip hop after the peak in the mid late nineties
    have to check it out
    never listened to mos def solo mostly Kwali

  24. msbjivein Says:

    “All we need is a little Patience AHHhhhhhhhh”

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Albert check it out and let me know what you think. If you like Black Star you are almost certain to dig it.

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