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”

  1. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Ok… change of subject… what other kinds of psychedelic bands do all of you here with Mr. Miner’s crew listen to?

    1> The Ozric Tentacles
    2> Gong
    3> Helios Creed
    4> Hawkwind
    5> Chrome
    6> Octopus Project
    7> Can
    8> Dan Deacon
    9> Butthole Surfers
    10> Eat Static
    11> ZubZub
    12> Porcupine Dream

    Do any of these bands ring a bell?

  2. Lycanthropist Says:

    I was fortunate enough to discover dan deacon at a small bar.. man that is some good stuff.

  3. whole tour! Says:

    4:20 est

  4. Lycanthropist Says:

    Medeski Martin and Wood
    Bill Lazwell
    Man Man
    Cancer Conspiracy
    The Most Serene Republic
    Tim Fite
    Explosions in the Sky
    Sigur Ros

  5. whole tour! Says:

    420 + red rocks Tweezer = 🙂

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

    Dan Deacon, yes

    Can is among the most influential bands ever

    familiar with 1,2,3,4,9 – not my cup of tea but I respect it all (well, I find gong a little silly)

    for me, psychedelic = improvisation and dissonance

  7. whole tour! Says:


  8. voopa Says:


    I’ve head OF most of them, but only heard a couple. Tentacles are great, and I love me some Surfers…I also liked the the Surfers side project, The Jackofficers.

  9. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Mr c – you have mail

  10. Lycanthropist Says:

    MMW – truest improvisational artists ever

  11. albert walker Says:

    have to love Hawkwind
    great psyche rock

    how about 13th floor elevators
    this shit is in a fuckin Dell commercial now
    used to very cool underground Austin psyche rock

  12. MOonSHaKe Says:

    blah Porcupine Tree

  13. Little Buddy Says:

    Tortoise – sometimes repetitive, but I’ve seen them blow it up too.

  14. whole tour! Says:

    Meatpuppets fucking rock
    psychedelic hardcore

  15. BrandonKayda Says:

    Butthole Surfers are awesome….that is all I can say.

  16. buriedalive san fran Says:

    i’ll weigh in here, and say that although i live in the bay area i really envy the east coasters because you get so many shows that roll through. it’s tough here – indio is 7 hrs, gorge is like 8. shoreline was great and all, but it wasn’t enough!! i’d take the douche bag lot scene any day for the chance to see a bunch of shows of my favorite band. i’m not even a hippy, i like phish because i like to rock out and get hosed by trey. that’s what it’s all about.

    i’ve seen a few shows in the northeast and think they did feel like a more intense scene. my absolute best phish memories have been concerts in the desert & mountains: red rocks, palo soleri in new mexico, desert sky in arizona, even chula vista in san diego. there’s nothing better than a deep gin while the sun goes down in the west. i bet indio is going to be amazing, hope to make it. be well.

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    meat puppets! nice! I vote yes! crazy shit

    I think the knitting factory scene guys are equal to MMW as improvisers in modern era – guys like Briggan Krauss, Joey Baron etc – they can basically throw together a random band of any 3-6 of those dudes and blow it up at a moments notice

    historically Trane and Miles had a few bands that did OK in that area, not even digging deeper into the jazz catalog. mid 60s Miles quintet and original (McCoy Tyner) lineup Trane quartet are the very peak IMO.

    not taking anything away from MMW, who I dig

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Cliff Clavin Dept.:

    I was perusing the old FAQ on the other night and found the listing on the origination of the term “Hose”. I always had an idea of what it derived from, but the actual story is better:

    Trey and Mike explained the Hose in an NPR radio interview in the Spring of 1994, just after Hoist was released, and referencing remarks by Santana, who reportedly told them “When you guys were playing, I was picturing the audience as this sea of flowers, the music was the water, and you guys were the hose.”

    there’s a lot more on the subject here:

    i know this is kind of off topic (but then, everything seems to be today…) but interesting if you haven’t heard it before. this probably lends more to yesterday’s discussion, but whatever. call me a little late.

  19. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Mr. Completely:

    Any recommendations???
    and btw>
    Any idea where my screen name comes from?


    Thanks for the recommendations… I never really got into Radiohead, but I do like Sigur Ros… aside from Bjork, I’m trying to think of another good musicial group from Iceland…hmmm

    I have heard MMW… I remember they didn’t do too much for me… but that must have been early 2000s I’ll give ’em another spin…

    Everybody Else:

    Never heard of either JackOfficers or 13th floor elevators… I’ll have to check them out


    if you’ve never heard Ozric Tentacles you should definitely listen to them if you like music that is simply psychedelic and very well played… just don’t expect to much diversity from album to album… and I’d get something from late 90s early 2000s definitely prog/space rock at its finest

  20. Lycanthropist Says:

    MMW during 2000-2002 was their direct intention to play difficult music to listen to. They were tryin to ween off a large jamband crowd that attached to them after Combustication came out. I dont think they are directly opposed to the scene as they continue to play festivals and such, but they wanted to make clear that they were avant-garde jazz guys..

    However they made their point and have loosened up and gotten back into some nice thick funk, while seamless blending in their benchmark avant garde style

  21. Jahvolunteer Says:

    Juat relistened to 8-7-09. oh shit. Now that is sublime. The jams from this show are beyond incredible. The Sally>Jam, Light>Taste and Bathtub are all first rate. The fact that they threw a poignant Joy and tight Fluffhead in there to top it off with a Harry Hood makes me understand my buddy’s text message to me the next day after as he reported to me. “Best show ever, Tears and goosebumps” Now I was fortunate to be at Red Rocks and there are many great jams from that run, but tI feel like weeping after hearing it.

    As for Psychedelic music that I enjoy:

    MMW, John Zorn (many projects, Electric Masada especially) the Boredoms were one of the best psychedelic shows I’ve seen. Check out Super æ and Vision creation new sun. I believe the boys may have been listening and influenced by these albums in some way.
    I just saw Sonic youth too, mesmerizing…

  22. albert walker Says:

    truest improv- Ornett Coleman
    big influence on Jerry and MMW

    13th floor is 60’s Austin Psyche rock
    lead guitarist Roky Erikson plays into our Syd conversations from days back
    a little too much L back in the day with crazy tendencies= bad combo

  23. Jahvolunteer Says:

    MMW has its roots in the Downtown scene, and essentially has one foot there and one foot in the jam scene. Dig the downtown scene of Zorn, Marc Ribot, Cyro Baptista, Joey Baron it is some of the best music around and not as well known as it ought to be especially amongst folk in the Phish scene. i highly recommend it.

  24. Little Buddy Says:

    Ornett Coleman = THE MAN! Nice call, AW!

  25. Pence Says:

    @Type III, what a wonderful link, thanks for sharing

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