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:

    @ Mr. C- your posts are always welcome knowledge! You are a psychedelic guru 🙂 (You should have caught some Phish in those years though 😉 )

  2. SOAM Says:



  3. msbjivein Says:

    As long as you appear in a cloud of dank smoke I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. LOL!!!

  4. Mr.Miner Says:

    If anyone can ABSOLUTELY not torrent these Downloads of the Day and want them (and can get them nowhere else)- please email me and I will provide you with a direct ftp link….

  5. SOAM Says:



  6. SOAM Says:

    Just blowing some holy

  7. msbjivein Says:

    Is he worse than Fish SOAM?????

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    Anytime I start feeling arrogant or whatever I put on some 93-98 Phish and repeat the mantra YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THERE, DUMBASS

    if anyone knows there whereabouts of Derek Gregory, the 90s fob taper, I’d like to get back in touch. He basically forced me to get back into Phish. And introduced me to my wife. Pretty big hookups.

  9. SOAM Says:

    ooh-too close to call

    if we could sew their mouths shut-we’d be in business

  10. SOAM Says:

    Derek is camping on Amy’s farm-waiting for the double decadenal field trip-he’s got recorders in the trees and plays air guitar and serenades chickens in his spare time-fyi

  11. sumodie Says:

    @ Mr. Completely’s comment:

    Not surprisingly the Yoruba also use the psychoactive plant, Iboga, in their spiritual ceremonies (Ibogaine is the active ingredient).

  12. Mr. Completely Says:

    great clip of Mos doing Doom

    “he rhymes as weird as I feel”

  13. Jay Says:

    @MrC said – “like not seeing Phish between 1992 and 1999, because they had “obviously plateau’d.””

    All I have to say is “Ouch!!!!! That must have left a mark.”

  14. Jay Says:

    Jesus, Piper from Alpine is off the hook.

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    If I’ve gained any smarts, it’s because I’ve already made pretty much every mistake in the book.

    That’s one of the bigger ones.

  16. Jay Says:

    I can sorta see the plateau “feeling” and if they never morphed in ’95 and again in ’97, and again in ’03 then you would have been right 😉
    But damn, even that plateau was so much fun and so much better than anything else out there. I kick myself for missing Big Cypress and most of ’03 though.

  17. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ I can’t see any plateau “feeling” b/w 92-1999.

    Constantly evolving and changing every single year….

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    well but I didn’t even see the ’93-94 peak which is pretty different from the 90-91 shows I saw. sheesh.

    I’m finally listening to the Alpine Piper again. One reason I didn’t get it the first time through: I was listing to the SBDs and couldn’t hear Mike, so the second half of the jam sounded really random! LivePhish FAIL!!!!

    This is really creative. It’s not peaky, but it is exploratory. The very end is pretty random but whatever. And yeah, Fish is drumming in a kind of ?uestlove breakbeat style for a lot of it, great call on that.

    That jam was a “step 2” but they never got the great melodic idea that could have led to step 3 and beyond.

  19. ColonelJoy Says:

    @Wax and others,

    7-2-97 is the pinnacle for me. I was level with the stage, more or less, and if not careful, found myself leaning on Page’s Rhodes. It was very strange being there, because when Trey looked over at Page, well, he was looking at me too, your Colonel, and while I had sinned plenty before that point, I’d never really felt sinful, and at about the moment Trey goes into that sick ass run, I had to leave that spot because I was losing it….my wax feathers had melted….fuck that was a great jam

  20. Jay Says:

    hence the word ‘sorta’ as the evolving was there of course, just not in very big ways as summer ’95 and summer 97

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    great post colonel. I love those deep moments. you were obviously very lucky to be there for that.

  22. R1 Says:

    ^Mr. C – glad you’re digging that Piper, per our discussion

  23. Mr. Completely Says:

    @sumodie that is some strong stuff with heavy mojo. Just a step below ayahuasca on the ritual/sacred psychedelic mindfuck scale. Categorically NOT a recreational drug.

  24. Wax Banks Says:

    @Albert Walker

    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

    I see what you’re getting at, I think.

    Maybe one way to think of it is – would this improvised groove make sense in the context of a straight-up rock tune? Think of the climactic jam in the 12/31/95 Weekapaug, with Trey playing those clean noodly guitar lines over a very slow start/stop backbeat. It’s ‘Type II,’ it’s way out from Weekapaug, but it’s definitely still a rock groove.

    I feel like Phish didn’t know how to play arena rock until (surprise!) they started playing arenas. Pre-94 the music could get down, it had rock energy and the basic language, but it always had this wild-cabaret vibe, like the boys grew up on rock but were playing alien-nerd showtunes. (Is Devo rock music? Would you say They Might Be Giants play rock?) After ’95 they had their sound nailed down, could convincingly play great big bellowing cock-rock tunes at last. Up through NYE ’96 it’s very much rock improvisation. It’s the sound, the accents.

    (I suspect that some of the difference is Fish’s new drumming styles post-Remain in Light. The minimalist approach helped him immensely, helped everyone in the band to stop blaring and start blending (in new ways). Fish’s feathery 97-99 drumming is just unbelievable – light, fleet, delicate, complex.)

  25. jahvolunteer76 Says:

    @Mr. Completely.

    You seem to interested in Psychedelic culture of many persuasions. Have you been to Burning Man? If not you should go. It is psychedelic consciousness manifested in a physical reality.

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