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:

    @ Type III PDS: I don’t think anyone would disagree with you -at least I certainly wouldn’t. I think the general consensus is that the band’s humor was greatly welcomed on this tour (though I don’t think everyone understood that T,P,and M flubbed Hello My Baby so Fishman would have to sing Bike).

    Many of us are just hoping that the band also returns to more Type II jamming (especially including smoother song/jam transitions).

  2. Selector J Says:

    ‘Sex Love and Money’ does have that dirty flute sample but, for me, I have hard time putting any beat above one of Premo’s finest. I personally prefer ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ to SL&M, too. I’m not improving my street cred here since these were the singles from BoBS but just try to keep your head still listening to these two. (Impossible.)

  3. larrybirdflu Says:

    “It’s that second stage (that leads to the 3rd and later phases) that is *for the most part* missing from these June shows.” agree with mr c entirely on this. i think we will see quite a bit more of this “3rd phase” in August. I think that it has often been true that some of the best jamming comes at the end of tours, where they are fully locked into each other. which consequesntly makes me very excited for darien–>spac .
    also someone mentioned extra merriwethers i might have one

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    note I posted 4 YT links to Mos vids on the prev pg but the links are awaiting moderation – at some point those will appear for those who are interested

    If you’ve never seen the fan-made YT vid for Mathematics it’s a must-see!

  5. SOAM Says:

    I’m bringing a sheet of Cardboard to my next gig for windmilling and caterpilling (no popping and ticcing-strictly floor breaking right out of Beatstreets.

  6. msbjivein Says:

    @Jay, Break Beat is a style of drumming. Fish has been doing this for years.

    Breakbeat (sometimes breakbeats or breaks) is a term used to describe a collection of sub-genres of electronic music, usually characterized by the use of a non-straightened 4/4 drum pattern (as opposed to the steady beat of house or trance). These rhythms may be characterised by their intensive use of syncopation and polyrhythms

    In the late 1970s and early 1980s, hip-hop DJs (starting with Kool DJ Herc) began using several breaks (the part of a funk or jazz song in which the music “breaks” to let the rhythm section play unaccompanied) in a row to use as the rhythmic basis for hip-hop songs. Kool DJ Herc’s breakbeat style was to play the same record on two turntables and play the break repeatedly by alternating between the two records (letting one play while spinning the second record back to the beginning of the break). This style was copied and improved upon by early hip hop DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore.[1] This style was extremely popular in clubs and dance halls because the extended breakbeat was the perfect backdrop for breakdancers to show their skills

  7. msbjivein Says:

    Basically Fish imitates what a DJ would do on turntables.

  8. msbjivein Says:

    If anyone has a better explanation please feel free to chime in.

  9. SOAM Says:

    Beat it opener-RR’S 1

  10. Phish...Yup Says:

    I hear that SOAM, although that will be old news come RR time.

    Great discussion today fellas. I wonder if Mos Def has any idea that he’s so respected on a hard core Phish message board.

  11. msbjivein Says:

    Around the 4:30 mark of Alpine Piper is a great example of Fish Breaks.

  12. Mr. Completely Says:

    that’s pretty clear I think. A lot of 60s/70s funk and soul tunes have that “break” in them, where the rhythm section goes nuts. DJs realized this was most ppl’s favorite part of all those songs, so why not just build jams based on that?

    side note: in West African-derived ritual trance drumming, the casse’ or break is a sudden derivation from the established group polyrhythm by the lead drummer. The break is said to open a fracture in which the orisha (demigod/spirit force) can enter our reality and “ride” (possess) one of the dancers. The tension between the main rhythm and the casse’ is directly related to the divergent/splitting action of psychedelic art I mentioned the other day – they both function to “break” one’s unitary rational mind and allow higher consciousness to come through.

  13. msbjivein Says:

    Great Side note Mr. C!!!!!!!!!!!!
    “The break is said to open a fracture in which the orisha (demigod/spirit force) can enter our reality and “ride” (possess) one of the dancers. ”
    Love IT!!!!!

  14. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    all this talk of break beats reminds me of one of my favorite “albums” to listen to on the road between shows:

    “Blue Break Beats, Vol. 1-4”

    Amazing compilation of soul/jazz/funk roots music heavy on Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, and others. Definitely worth a listen. If you’ve never heard it, you probably will recognize a bunch of stuff from various hip hop albums.

    Same thing goes for the “James Brown’s Funky People” series. So many samples taken from those albums…

  15. SOAM Says:

    Beat it (hard drugs)

  16. R1 Says:

    @Mr. Completely:

    You the man.

    Love the knowledge you bust on us.

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    those Mos Def links are up on the last page…

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    and….Mr. C drops science on this board daily! Much thanks 🙂

  19. msbjivein Says:

    What I imagine Mr C to look like.

    6’11” w/ white hair and beard. Carrying a staff and wearing a wizards robe. With a three coned cap he wears like a crown. He will grant you three music trivia answers and only three. He arrives in a cloud of dank smoke. Then vanishes to the same dank smoke. Rub your bong three times and think of Phish and he appears.

  20. Mr. Completely Says:

    thank you.

    Techniques of altering consciousness are my life study. Especially as they relate to music. Even more especially as they relate to mass or integrated consciousness in a musical setting.

    It’s great to be able to mention these things somewhere people can relate to what I’m getting at.

    The casse’ is not just a neat idea or a metaphor. It totally fucking *works.*

    Another interesting thing is that it’s said that it doesn’t actually matter whether the musicians believe in the orisha at all. As long as the dancers believe, and the drummers play the right patterns, the ritual works.

    Interesting people, the Yoruba and related folks. Very sophisticated.

  21. msbjivein Says:

    Poof he vanishes in dank smoke……………………….

  22. SOAM Says:

    I’m one minute away from wrapping a fat bat and blasting my ass off

  23. SOAM Says:


  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’m sure some ppl here dread my overly frequent posts. I blame the extraordinarily strong Portland espresso.

    lol @msb, you will be very disappointed to actually meet me.

    I feel like I should now mention the long list of very stupid things I have done to balance things out. Oh, like not seeing Phish between 1992 and 1999, because they had “obviously plateau’d.” That’s a pretty brutal one.

  25. Selector J Says:

    I just found this Mos Def video of him talking about MF DOOM during The Ecstatic studio sessions. hilarious stuff. He also drops some jazz influences and compares De La Soul to Steely Dan, too. Incredible.

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