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. whole tour! Says:

    2.0 was plenty phishy for me. full of phishyness. 2003 was a great year. pop in 7.30.03 camden….and look in my eyes and tell me that wasn’t pure tits. ‘scents >jam > you ain’t goin nowhere’, ‘lonesome cowboy bill’, ‘spock’s brain’,’on your way down’! that’s just the first set. i don’t blame trey for living the rock star life and 2.0 was full of decadant debachery, but gosh darned it i friggin love 2003 just as much as 09.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    @R1, a fair opinion, but I tired of most of those Black Star tunes after several years, but still listen to BoBS straight through. In 2000 I would have called them equal. Respiration is still one of the alltime great hiphop tracks though.

    I love all the love for Mos here. He’s coming back to PDX before long…fucking Roseland shithole though

    All those underground mc’s are dope, no need to rank ’em. Right now I’m on a Doom trip cause of the current album.

  3. kts Says:

    Here’s a question, is it that Trey isn’t leaving enough space to let the more exploratory jams develop, or is it that the other 3 musicians aren’t stepping up to allow them to happen? IMHO, the trouble isn’t that Trey is directing them into straight-ahead type-1 rock jams–that was normal even in 2.0–its what’s happenning after that. A lot of the jams are still devolving into ambient space, from which theoretically anything could happen. But normally nothing does-either the “ambient” jam peters out or they transition into the next song. Is that a conscious decision, or an inability to do something more? I don’t know. On a couple of occasions, I seem to recall that Fishman in particular killed-off promising jams prematurely.

  4. Albert Walker Says:

    Haiku de tat
    Freestyle Fellowship
    this is a west coast crew I’ve found to always do very interesting stuff even lately

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    “Haiku de tat” LOL great name

    Aceyalone comes thru here regularly but I haven’t been yet

  6. Albert Walker Says:

    that’s my call to you to check out Haiku de tat is nasty

    LA crew with Aceyalone, Mikah 9, and Abstract Rude

    heady, positive, herb laced, sick flow
    only 1 or 2 records you will be blown away

  7. Jay Says:

    AintNoTele Says:
    “All the mouse heads in my lab just exploded, what a mess…”

    Hilarious! They should put a warning label on that jam!

  8. whole tour! Says:

    there’s a mouse staring out of a window

  9. msbjivein Says:

    Ok you guys totally lost me…………………………

  10. Jay Says:

    @kts, I think it is Trey (or Fishman) that is nipping these jams when he feels they are starting to stray into navel gazing noodling territory. Not slamming these 2.0 kinda jams as many produced some amazing music but I feel that is not where they are at right now.

  11. msbjivein Says:

    Ain’t no time to stash the Gumbo……..

  12. Jay Says:

    @msb, see AintNoTele’s post previous page about the 7-2-97 stash.

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    following this Phish improv styles + hiphop discussion while listening to banjo and dobro solos on Will The Circle Be Unbroken is about to make my head explode from over-eclecticism

  14. R1 Says:


    don’t forget all the jazz talk

  15. msbjivein Says:

    Albert & Mr. C lost me. Not that I was in the conversation… I was trying to follow it though.

  16. Jay Says:

    @msb – ahhh. gotcha. Sorry, exploding mouse heads always confuse me so I just thought…

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    @msb, summary, if you’re interested in hiphop:
    – try Black Star and Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides. If you like them, try the new Mos album.
    – Also Dr. Octagon and MF Doom are great, creative hiphop, plus several others as mentioned variously. Doom has a current album that’s killer.

    the rest of it is rap nerd talk

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I’m jumping into this conversation admittedly late, but I have to comment on the whole length/type/quality/whatever discussion about the jams.

    I was reading the setlist comments on the other day (you know, where they tell you how long since they played the last Highway to Hell, mention teases, etc.) and for the Star Lake show there was the long description of what happened at the encore when they messed up two different a capella songs before bailing. On paper it looks like they did Grind, Hello My Baby, and then whatever else, but the description is far funnier. Type II Jamming is great, but I appreciate the humorous side of the whole thing as much as the exploration. Some of my favorite phish moments are when they surprise you with secret language or trey tells a story or Fishman dons the Elvis cape or whatever. Yes, the “jam” is what brought me there but the whole thing is what matters.

    I am not implying that those looking for more Type II jamming or exploration are missing anything or wrong in any way (perish the thought!) just that sometimes when you are looking for one thing you miss everything else.

  19. msbjivein Says:

    I was following till the very end. I’ll check out some of those thanks. The”Fat Beats” is what got me interested. Speaking of fat beat. Did anyone notice Fish’s Breaks come out a lot more last weekend?? Check Alpine Cross eyed and Piper for Fish break beats. SICKNESS.

  20. Albert Walker Says:

    Dr. Octagon is one of Kool Keith’s several aliases
    for a while every album he made was under a different name

    Black Elvis
    Kool Keith
    Dr. Octagon
    as youngster he was in the Ultramagnetic MC’s

    for a beginner I’d check out Dr. Octagon (alien gynecologist from Jupiter in the year 2000)

    or Kool Keith Sex Style

  21. Albert Walker Says:

    correction from the year 5000

  22. Jay Says:

    what is a “break beat”?

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    was just listening to weekapaug from NYE 91, so damn good

    my favourite hip hop album is outkast’s aquemeni, one of the few hip hop albums i still listen to more than once a year

  24. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    ^ultramagnetic mc’s are great

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    Mos Def primer:
    “Respiration” by Black Star, w/Talib Kweli and Common. Song that made Kweli and Mos famous. Only decent verse Common ever rapped in his whole life. An answer to the violence of the 90s.
    “Umi Says” – an incredible, unique jazzy jam – the version from Chapelle’s Block party is also great – a wonderful lyric
    “Mathematics” – my favorite lyric of his, with fantastic fan-made video. Dope-tacular!
    “Sex, Love and Money” – kind of distracting voiceovers in the vid, but crazy beat – love the bass drum

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