Regional Differences

Darien Lake (E.Dailey)

Darien Lake (E.Deily)

Phish’s playing has always been influenced by their surroundings. Whether comparing indoor and outdoor shows, amphitheatre and festival gigs, or east coast and west coast shows, the differences in their musical style are striking. Without judging the bands’ different styles, one can certainly hear the difference in a Gorge show versus an MSG show- and if you can’t, well, you’re just not listening.  This past tour was distinctly divided by region, with seven western shows, one in the Midwest, and four in the Northeast, and when perusing the musical highlights of each, stylistic differences certainly emerge.

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Opening at Red Rocks, the band entered a surreal, open-air atmosphere filled with very few extraneous fans who didn’t care about the show.  Between the stunning geography and the band’s ability to play to the stars, Phish blew up the wide-open, energetic and focused environments with jams of the same qualities.  As soon as Phish stepped on stage at Red Rocks, we heard a different in style from June- more relaxed, more patient, and more exploratory.  While this shift certainly had to do with the band’s enhanced comfort level after their first tour, there is no doubt that the laid-back environment lent its influence to the many amazing jams throughout tour’s first four nights.  Allowing more space in the music for their notes to breathe, the band’s musical characteristics of the weekend were illustrated in jams such as”Ghost > Wolfman’s,” Drowned > Crosseyed,” “Tweezer,” “Antelope,” and “Disease,” to name a few.  Make no bones about it, things changed over the five weeks off, but Red Rocks had a lot to do with the musical theatrics we witnessed over the four nights.

Shoreline 8.5 (W.Rogell)

Shoreline 8.5 (W.Rogell)

The scene shifted to the Bay Area for one night- the birthplace of the psychedelic revolution.  Busting out Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Taking Heads, and Los Lobos covers, Phish used Bill Graham’s classic amphitheatre to give a nod to many of their musical predecessors, regardless of their regional roots.  Featuring a multi-faceted and exploratory “Down With Disease,” Phish donated their own nugget of psychedelia to the historic shed.  Capping the show with intense excursions through “Maze” and “Mike’s,” you could tell we were no longer out in nature.

The Gorge (W.Rogell)

The Gorge (W.Rogell)

As we moved up to The Gorge, Phish settled in for two nights at the glorious venue; a site where they have historically played differently.  Featuring slower tempos and less notes, Phish has always allowed their music to bellow over the majestic and open-air surroundings; so much so, you can pick a Gorge tape out of an audio lineup.  The natural awe of the venue often gets soaked right into the band’s music, resulting in patient, other-worldly jams.  This summer’s first show in George, WA. was a perfect example of a “Gorge Show.”  Featuring patiently cosmic improv all the way through, this show sounded like a Gorge fantasy, with more than one of the tour’s best jams coming during night one.  The “Sneakin’ Sally”- which might just take the cake for jam of the summer, the “Bathtub Gin”- which isn’t far behind, a exploratory-turned-calypso “Light,” a first set monster “Stash,” arguably the most soulful “Hood” of the summer and a soothing “Slave” encore- this one is hard to hold a candle to.  But it wasn’t just that the jams were amazing, they were distinctly wide-open “Gorge-type jams,” and if you’ve listened to the band’s history at this venue, you understand what I mean.  These aforementioned jams would never happen at a tightly packed east coast shed- they are of a completely different vibe. (And vice-versa, the Chiacgo “Carini” or the Darien “Drowned” wouldn’t ever happen at The Gorge.)  “Wolfman’s,” “Antelope,” and “YEM” brought this style the next night in a distinctly less-Gorgey, but excellent, Saturday night show.  Interestingly, but consistently, Phish plays to different vibes in different parts of the country.

Toyota Park, Chicgo (D.Vann)

Toyota Park, Chicgo (D.Vann)

When the band jumped ship from the west coast, we all experienced a bit of culture shock, landing in the gritty surroundings of Toyota Park on the South Side of Chicago.  A far cry from the beauty of the west, the venue was large and sprawling like the city itself, creating an incredibly impersonal feel.  The stage was massive and removed from the crowd, and the crowd was once again infiltrated with frat boys and dirt-surfing hangers-on that plague mid-west and east tours.  After a week pure bliss, the band and the people on tour had to adjust to the urban jungle, and not surprisingly, Phish’s show wasn’t the most cohesive.  Feeding off the over-sized soccer stadium, the band played some standout jams, but the artistry of the setlist left something to be desired.  Dropping the biggest “Number Line” up to that point, a bombastic “Carini,” a spirited “Jibboo,” a solid “2001 > Chalk Dust,” and an impressionistic “Hood,” the music was all there, but the songs just didn’t fit together well and the set was discombobulated- much like the venue itslef.  We were all glad to hop into more familiar surroundings as we made our way to Darien Lake.

Hartford (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

During the last four shows of tour, Phish swam back into their Northeast zone of comfort, hitting up four amphitheatres they had played many times before.  And as the music began to flow, there was an increased urgency and force behind in most of the jams, a noticeable difference from the wide-open textures of the west coast.  The standout improv was still there, but in a completely different vein.  Listen to the Darien “Drowned” and “Antelope,” the Hartford “Birds,” “Disease,” “Piper,” and “Ghost > Psycho Killer,” the Merriweather “46 Days” or the SPAC “Numberline” and “Rock and Roll,” and you will notice a more driving intensity behind the music giving it a more full-on feel.  Just comparing the Red Rocks and Hartford “Ghosts” illustrates my point quite well.  By no means am I saying one style is any better than the other- I love it all- but I am noting a musical pattern that is consistent for Phish.

Trust me, if you offered me a night at MSG or a night at The Gorge,  I would defer the decision to someone else, because each are separate but equal monsters.  While this geographic pattern of musical styles has always held true for the band, the differences in playing were accentuated this past tour as we hopped from region to region with no “connecting” shows in between.  In any tour that touches different corners of the country, one will hear different incarnations of Phish’s sound, as they adapt to their physical surroundings along the way.  People will always have opinions and preferences about each style, but you can’t have the yin without the yang, and therein lies the beauty of Phish tour.


“Makisupa Switch-Up” – The Gorge 8.8.09 (Photo: Eric Battuello)


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415 Responses to “Regional Differences”

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  1. beepaphone Says:

    I cannot wait to see how an arena show transpires the way they’ve played since RR

  2. Baxter Says:

    I dig your analysis sir. I always find it hard to put in words the different vibes between geographical locations, it comes from many things, the people, the weather, the landscape.

    No download today? Can’t wait to get Hartford MP#’s tracked out. Thank you so much for your services, you deserve a Medal!

  3. Highway Bill Says:

    great topic……their are differences. After this tour I got the feeling that Phish, on the whole, is taken a bit more seriously in the NE.

  4. HarryHood Says:

    @ Highway Bill

    I’m not sure if they are actually taken more seriously in the northeast than anywhere else. I would say that they may in fact be taken more seriously on the west coast than up here in the NE. I think it’s more about cultural differences and the overall concert experience from region to region. A friend and I were discussing how much more drinking and partying goes on at a show at SPAC compared to venues further south or west. There really seems to be this intense atmosphere up here where pounding beers and partying with friends is more the reason for going to a show than the band itself. I honestly believe that a majority of people at the SPAC show couldn’t have cared less if Tom Petty was onstage or Phish. I would have to say that most people who make the trek to Red Rocks or the Gorge are true phans who are there to see the band and not just in need of a place to get smashed away from their parents.

  5. HarryHood Says:

    ^ Just read back what I wrote and realized that it sounded more negative than I intended. The SPAC show was great and there were certainly a ton of true phans. If you heard how the crowd reacted at the beginning of Harpua you would know what I mean……. I’m just stating that there seems to be an over-abundance of obnoxiously drunk kids that show up at a SPAC show in comparison to other places. They come off as rabid phans, but in reality, they are just drunk screaming kids.

  6. stash Says:

    There is a difference.

    Maybe on the East Coast there is a pent up tension that has to be released. While in the mid west and west coast, things are a bit laid back. Any artist will be influenced by their surroundings. Phish plays to the weather all the time (if a bit predictable) and it’s great.

    What amazes me is the amount of people who don’t even go to show, once they are in the show. They just hang around like they were at the mall.

    To each their own. I do what and I do, respect others, listen, and enjoy.

    Again, “Thank you Mr. Miner.”

    Chocolate Cake for breakfast anyone?

  7. afroskully Says:

    so glad i live on the east coast. =)

    Hey…did any of you guys hear about (or partake in) the “phish after party” up near saratoga? A trumpet playing friend of mine just told about this gig he played in some huge empty field near SPAC that apparently was sponsored (unofficially) by phish that just ended tues night/wed am. From what he told me it was an internal thing (no advertising), and there were shuttles/buses that took a whole slew of people from SPAC out to this field.

    sounds pretty damn cool…

  8. tim Says:

    anyone notice the stealth release of backwards down the number line this week on itunes

  9. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I agree about the regional differences, having seen the band in all corners over the years. Another thing I think was going on for the Late Summer Tour is that the energy and tension increased as we approched the end of the tour, building up to the end at SPAC. Thus, the laid back/phamily feel of the westie shows gave way to the pace and expectation of the eastside final run. Plus there were more Jersey folks there. 😉

  10. Marshall Says:

    @ Miner – no second-leg download-of-the-day? Was looking forward to a repeat countdown as you did with first leg.

  11. AbePhroman Says:

    Gorge or MSG? MSG MSG MSG MSG


  12. Tom Says:

    As a Vermonter, I love the feel at West Coast shows. Back in the early to mid-90’s, when Phish were selling-out bigger rooms on the East Coast, we’d head West for some space. At that time, except for places like the Warfield, most West Coast shows were 90% kids from the East on tour. The interaction between the band and crowd have always been an integral part of the Phish experience, but when everyone’s 3,000 miles from home, there’s an elevated level of excitement, appreciation and mutual respect. All that said, the energy back East is unrivaled, reaching it’s apex at MSG. Which is better? It depends what you’re into.
    I love them both. Thanks for the good work Miner.

  13. MOONSHAKE Says:

    There are too many variables for what causes The Band to play differently at different venues and different parts of the world. I definitely know the band feeds off the atmosphere of the venue, from the scenery to how grateful the crowd appears. I don’t have much to throw on the plate here because I’ve never seen Phish on the West Coast, but I will share some brief observations on what I did notice on the East Coast at the three venues I saw them this summer.

    1> Asheville, North Carolina

    Ok, so as I said, I’ve never seen Phish on the West Coast. But, for anyone who knows about Asheville, the mountain town is like West Coast on the East Coast. Very laid back, superb scenery, and a lot of cool folks.

    a> this venue was my favorite type: indoors, small venue, general admission

    b> the phans here were very grateful to be seing Phish, and although a majority of the crowd were younger and not as experienced, I didn’t see any Frat-kid types and there were also quite a few aging phans there to pay their respects and have their passion for Phish re-ignited

    c> Phish likes what they see and feel, and decide to play to a theme for part of the first set (Fishman’s journal)

    d> Phish hoses Asheville for the second set with one of the best Ghosts I’ved ever heard, then a massive Fast Enough for You and a dark and dirty Maze

    ***note: this show was really overlooked by alot of folks, and that is a shame because it was top-notch

    ****most-important note: this was the absolute loudest Phish show I have ever and probably will ever see. When I left the convention center, it was like a bomb had exploded and it took me until a couple hours later before my full hearing came back

    2> Hartford, Connect-a-cit

    I’ll go ahead and put it out there that I was not expecting to get into this show. I didn’t have tickets, and I felt for certain I’d be shut out. Turns out, by some miraculous twist of fate, I ended up in the Hooters box seat section (***note: there were no hooters there)

    a> complete opposite of Asheville: large, outdoor ampitheaters are my least favorite venues because they aren’t loud enough, the light show isn’t as fantastic when its not contained in walls, the only general admission section is the lawn, which I was thankfully not forced to watch the show from

    b> crowd from what I noticed walking in (I found it greatly odd that an ampitheater be placed downtown) seemed pretty cool. Noted that after such a long absence, the tour kids who used to follow Phish religiously are now a thing of the past, they either aa. got jobs, bb. died, or cc. are just getting out of rehab. Not too many frat boy types. Most looked to be younger kids who had a genuine interest to see The Band. This did not last once I got miracled to the Hooters box seats. There were only a few folks in this section, and they didn’t have a clue what Phish was playing, what was or wasn’t a bustout, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t picking through the LivePhish SBD after the show. But apart from that, BLAH, I mean YAH.

    c> a lot of fake tickets going around at Hartford, and not an easy show to get into. Considering the non-mail-order tickets were LiveNation, not Ticketmaster, I’m not surprised that alot of people got ripped off. Fake Ticketmaster tickets are easy to spot, but LiveNation must be a new thing, because I had never seen these large carboard cut-out tickets before until Hartford.

    Which leads me to another babbling point…

    This new generation of Phish heads not only have forgotten what it means to really “tour”, but also how to go to a show without a ticket and find a way through any method necessary (without doing anything violent such as gate-crashing) to get inside. I remember in the ‘goold ole’ days’ (God I feel old now) friends on the lot would get in through all sorts of ingenious methods, such as finding a ticket-taker who stopped really looking at the tickets too hard because he/she is overwhelmed by the number of fans, and my friend would hand last night’s ticket stub (properly palmed) and the ticket-taker would just rip the ticket stub in half (easy peasy parchessee) and my friend would waltz in side doing the proverbial ‘happy dance’

    d> did notice a massive amount of N2O at this venue. Silly wabbits.

    e> Phish decided to hose Hartford, and thank goodness they did. The traffic up through New York and Connecticut was mind numbingly stressful. But why did they choose to do so? Not sure… this venue didn’t carry any really special vibe or anything… but again, I’m glad they did.

    3> Columbia, MD

    Here we go again, doing whatever I possibly could to get in to the pavillion section of the ampitheater. I really despise ampitheaters so much because of the lawn that the only salvation is to get to the pavillion through any method necessary (of course, again, except gate-crashing)

    a> I made it in the show as soon as Phish were about to play the first song. I saw Trey and Mike (I think) discussing it before breaking out the Crowd Control opener (I’d never heard of this song before that night) and I noticed this…


    ***check most-important note for Asheville show IT WAS LOUD

    b> A lot of frat boy sorority girl-types here as well this was also not an easy show to get into and despite no one having an extra ticket I was asked such intelligent questions such as “Do they really play a different show every night?”

    Within moments after parking…

    aa. noticed a nasty fight break out, with a group of police standing looking the other way like good sheep

    bb. two lizards hog-tied by another group of cops in a different area

    then after entering show…

    cc. a woman unconcious (sp?) and lying on a stretcher mounted to an ATV, and this was during the first song, if you’re reading this, if you’re even alive, kudos to you for making it to the show, CONGRATS

    dd. a massively overweight couple sitting between my friend and I once we got to 10th row, pavillion, who not only did not show a single emotion that I could see, and only stood up to waddle past and purchase ampitheater food (nachos and cheese one time, pizza the next). some serious Phish heads here folks…

    c> After destroying Hartford, Phish played an underwhelming show at this venue, and to be honest with you, after the vibe I got from the scene, I can’t really blame them.

    If you made it through all of this, welp, I’d like to say you’ve got more patience then I do. Bring on the Fall Tour and Indoor Venues!!! Cheers!!

  14. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Love the dirt surfers comment, funny shit!!

  15. HarryHood Says:

    I have to defend the Jersey pholks I guess……. A guy who was sitting behind me at Darien was from Jersey and he ended up buying my extras and driving up to SPAC. Good guy. Definitely more chill than most of the locals for sure.

  16. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    oh, I was totally kidding about the Jersey pholk. They get a bad rap. I really can’t talk as I live in Massachusetts (transplant – not a native!) and the Massholes are a special breed unto themselves…

  17. ColonelJoy Says:

    Who’s got my fall tour dates?

  18. SJC Says:

    These were posted as rumored dates yesterday (straight from the top) –

    Winter 2009
    11/18/09 – Cobo Arena – Detroit, Michigan
    11/20/09 – US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    11/21/09 – US Bank Arena – Cincinnati, Ohio
    11/24/09 – Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    11/25/09 – Wachovia Center – Philadelphia, PA
    11/27/09 – Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    11/28/09 – Times Union Center – Albany, NY
    12/2/09 – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    12/3/09 – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    12/4/09 – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
    12/5/09 – John Paul Jones Arena – Charlottesville, VA
    New Years Run 2009
    12/28/09 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    12/29/09 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    12/30/09 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL
    12/31/09 – American Airlines Arena – Miami, FL

  19. sumodie Says:

    Very insightful post today, Miner -thank you.

    These geographical differences are one reason I’m so psyched for Festival Eight to be in Cali -I’ll be curious to see how how the desert of SoCal impacts our musical vibes.

    Gorge or MSG? A tough one, though thankfully the season of the year will always make the decision for us!

  20. Adam R. Says:

    Where is my Chicago date! I guess I shouldn’t be greedy, we had 4 area shows this summer.

  21. cal Says:

    thinking back on toyota park, i can definitely agree with the analysis that it was a different mood than the west coast for sure, but i just felt it was a more ebullient, party-time show spiked with some of the most evil moments of the tour. i guess the ebb and flow struck me as “roller coaster” rather than “disjointed”. but a part of it, i’m sure, is just that i was getting so much of what i personally wanted all packed into one show, and i was surrounded by lots of cool people (as far as i could tell) rather than douchebags.
    but i love this overall discussion; almost all of my phish shows over the years have been in the midwest, so i haven’t spent much time analyzing the regional differences, but following this tour so closely day by day, it’s been really obvious. and i think miner pointed out the largely enhanced potential for darkness in indoor venues; i’d never thought about it before, but just thinking about shows i know by heart, that is an undeniable statement…maybe because it’s “dark” right from the first note of the first set?

  22. Birddog Says:

    I started seeing Phish on the west coast in college in ’91. Shows were so small then that I think everyone was a real “phan” – I moved to Vermont in ’96 just in time for the Clifford Ball (one of my best weekends EVER). At that time things seemed way less mellow, but then again I had never see a show bigger that 15k or so. It wasnt until the following year at the Great Went that I really noticed the drunk frat boy/pharmied our dirt surfer scene and it was a real turn off. Despite that the music always pushed past those minor annoyances (Great Went has seen some heavy playtime on the ipod over the years).

    Fast forward to Hartford, first show since Coventry. The scene was as obnoxious as I had ever seen it and my expectations were very low. Some drunk chick almost puked on me during NICU and I honestly considered walking out. The Forbin–>FFM was good but it wasnt till the Birds that Trey really started unloading and once again the band made the scene irrelevant.

    I got pretty misty during the Ghost – it meant so much to me to see that they had indeed returned and once again the music was capable of getting past all the bullshit that surrounded them (at the show AND in their life as a band). East coast shows always blow me away for this because half the time the crowd is such a downer. That said I’m really looking forward to a west coast vibe Halloween.


  23. nonoyolker Says:

    Great write-up Miner! God bless our boys, so talented that their music reflects the surroundings and regions in which they play. They assimliate to the environment. Very cool.
    Definitely a huge difference between cultural mores of the east and west coasts. Having grown up on the right coast, i am used to the urgency in playing, but man I love hearing shows from the left. Listening to a nice, relaxed Gorge show like night 1 really tickles my synapses. However, being at a rocking show like Hartford also gives me peak satisfaction. It is enjoyment on both ends of the spectrum. (I think Gorge 1 and Hartford, while entirely different, were the two best shows played this year, just one dudes opinion). I think that the boys feel the urgency of the east coast mentalilty when they play and the jamming is more immediately intense. West coast shows are a bit more relaxed and patient. Both reach peak intensity, though through different methods.

  24. MakisupaSecurity Says:

    New England phans

    I think the pent up tension thoery is right. I used to tend bar in a hotel in RI and we’d get travellers from the midwest and south, many would talk about the differance in attitudes and personality with the people around here. One guy put it well, he said its like everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder and trying to get their shoulder a little further ahead than yours. So I think when Southern New Englanders finally get to a place where they can relax and do as they will we get a little crazy.

    I definately see how the music reflects that at a show, the Great Woods shows usually have a more rocking feel than most. I think the Foreplay/Longtime they played when they were finally allowed back in the venue spells it out.

    Funny thing about Providence, RI though, which is just short of a half hour away from Great Woods, the shows here tend to be funkier and spacy. While trying not to only use Island tour as an example, which was basically a kick start to thier heavier funk syle, is the legendary ’94 show with the mind blowing Bowie. I think this has a lot to do with the gothic feel of the old city. H.P. Lovecraft lived here and a lot of his horror stories were set in or around Providence. RI is also the home of legendary jam band Max Creek. If you’ve ever seen Creek show in their unofficial home venue, The Living Room, you know what kind of craziness comes out of this city.
    ( on a side note, Mike Gordon played here with Scott Murowski of Creek a few years back, it was a trip to see Mike in such a small venue! )

    New Jersey is the farthest south I’ve gone to see the boys, I guess that can’t really be considered “the south”, but in tapes and such I can see a definate differance in the choice of songs and style of jams.

    Also Stash brought up the people that go into the show and don’t even watch it, that gets frustrating, so many die hard fans are ticketless because of selfish party heads that scoop up the tickets. I’ve never had so much trouble getting a ticket in my life. I’ve NEVER been turned down in mail order or online presale. This year was impossible. I dont know how those of you that made it to every show did it, but if you care to lend some tips I’m all ears.

    sorry to all of you that hate long posts 😛

  25. MOONSHAKE Says:


    Couldn’t agree more about getting past all the BS. I think that is one reason I really loved the Asheville show, being on the East Coast but yet having a completely West Coast vibe. Just ask anyone who was there.

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