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. Mr. Completely Says:

    ^^^ wow extremely well put lycan re: MWW – that is exactly right

    @MOonSHaKe – no, stumped me on the screen name

    re: Knitting factory – well I don’t have recs that show their improv chops. It’s about seeing those guys live. We were talking about Masada recently, which is improvsational jazz approach to klezmer based music – much cooler than it sounds – and any of their live albums will at least show you how those guys improvise. You can also search for “live masada” on youtube and get an idea.

    re: Coltrane, I have posted before so I’ll keep it brief
    – My Favorite Things is starting point
    – A Love Supreme is pinnacle achievement
    – Live at Village Vanguard ’61 is improv showcase without being too “out” but has a lot of repeat tracks if you get the whole thing

    re: Miles, again briefly:
    Filles de Kilimanjaro is my favorite of the era, if you like it there are several more in similar vein
    Live at the Plugged Nickel ’65 shows the improv
    then of course, the fusion: Bitches Brew and the subsequent live stuff: Pangaea, Agthartha, Live/Evil and many more

    for both Miles and Trane of these eras, most of the album cuts are 1st or 2nd take over very loose conceptual structures (no tight arrangements) so what you’re hearing is almost all improv.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    Ornette really is true improv and a heavy genius

    I just don’t usually dig his tonality, a subjective thing, no arguing the brilliance

    Rashaan Roland Kirk another brilliant improviser, little known

  3. albert walker Says:

    ornette plays that plastic sax- pretty crazy shit
    wanted to be an OG in all aspects of tone and style
    truly a pioneer
    the project he did with Jerry was very cool

  4. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    my motivations for perusing the old FAQ files are kind of self serving (well, along with the knowledge). I am putting together plans to start a new writing endeavor since my current “professional” gig just doesn’t offer a creative outlet for me. I don’t want to let the poster out of the [nut]bag just yet, but it is phish related.

    you’d be amazed at how many hours you can spend reading the wealth of information out there about the phish from vermont. actually, if anyone wouldn’t be amazed, it’d be the folks on this board!

  5. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ albert –

    did you check out any of my tunes yet?

  6. beepaphone Says:

    moonshake is a great can song
    “baby they don’t mind…”

  7. Mr. Completely Says:

    hehehe my earliest Phish related achievement was writing what became part of one of the faq pages, I wonder if you can figure out which one, it’s kind of obvious if you know my non-Phish obsessions

  8. Jahvolunteer Says:

    @Mr. Completely. 1st I apologize for the other day about making assumptions about your knowledge of Radiohead.

    re: Miles, perhaps my favorite. I love it all, but especially the 65-68 quintet, In a silent way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil (trumpped by the Cellar Door Box set) On the corner, Get up with it, Agharta and Pangaea.

    Re: Masada= Amazing, the quartet of Zorn, Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen And Joey Baron is something to behold and I was very fortunate to catch them at Yoshis in SF in March. I also saw the Bar Kohkba sextet (string trio + Marc Ribot, Joey Baron and Cyro Baptista) and the Dreamers group. I’ve seen Electric Masada before as well in Minneapolis. Rare to see these groups live outside of NYC or Europe so catch them when you can.

    Ornette influenced Zorn heavily, Garcia too so he’s ground zero. Saw his group a few years back as well.

  9. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Mr. C –

    curious on when you saw Radiohead…

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    @JahV no worries about that

    we are in 100% agreement on Miles stuff. listen to the progression from Filles de Kilimanjaro to Silent Way to Bitches Brew – WOW

    I have been listening to an album called Miles From India recently:

    it’s a mixed bag but the good parts are amazing. Cool to hear some Pete Cosey if nothing else.

    Masada is the heat, period. If there’s a better drummer alive today than Joey Baron I haven’t heard him; and if it’s not Joey at a Masada gig, it’s Kenny Wolleson, who is also just incredible.

  11. albert walker Says:

    I caught a quick radiohead set back in the myself
    just remembered

    hate to admit it cuz I really hate this band
    but I saw radiohead open up for U2 many years back
    hate u2 not radiohead

  12. BrandonKayda Says:

    Mr C – You are forgetting about Interstellar Space (Coltrane) Does anybody else like that album?

  13. albert walker Says:

    just realized it was even worst

    they opened for REM

  14. Mr. Completely Says:

    mid 90s? 96? I wanted to see them again after Kid A came out but they didn’t really tour the US I guess? I like that album the most out of what I’ve heard.

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ albert –

    that must have been ages ago!
    I dont know if I would have enjoyed them then..

    However any shows post 2001 are total visceral experience in my opinion

  16. Mr. Completely Says:

    @BK – I don’t recommend the free jazz stuff to people who are just getting into Trane – I like it, but more in the abstract than actually listening to it anymore

  17. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Mr. C –

    They really became something different after Kid A, as did their live show.

    It is a very psychedelic show these days, much more spacy and weird than what you probably saw.

    Perhaps if you get the chance check out some YouTube footage of them from Glastonberry 03

    Or their Bonnaroo set (which most fans call one of their “best performances”)

  18. Jahvolunteer Says:

    Mr. C All three nights featured Baron and the The Dreamers set that I saw played the music of the album O’o which has Wolleson vibes. Kenny’s cool, I’ve puffed and drank Martinis with him, but yes they are the best drummers currently. Electric Masada features both of them on drum sets plus Cyro on Percussion. The Miles Box sets are the best. I have many of them. the quintet, in a silent way and bitches brew boxes are one seamless document of the transistion. Amazing stuff.

  19. Jahvolunteer Says:

    The Gloming Live is pretty tripped out, so is everything in its right place

  20. albert walker Says:

    I just don’t like modern rock
    it was 1995 though

    too much good stuff in the 60’s-70’s I have not listened to yet
    I’m kind of a vintage cat in that respect
    I just feel at this time everything was already done by somebody back in the day better

    I’d rather listen to Jimmy Smith live Root Down then MMW just how I roll

  21. Lycanthropist Says:

    yeah National Anthem is a sensory overload and Where I End and You Begin is pretty damn groovy

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ albert –

    no shame in being a historian…

  23. Mr. Completely Says:

    @JahV we produced a bunch of Knitting Factory related stuff out here in PDX including a great free-improv group led by Briggan Krauss with Kenny W – got to chill extensively with them, esp. Kenny, cool guy. We lost out ass on that show, like 20 people came, but they destroyed the place anyway.

    Kenny made some $$$ off that first Norah Jones joint, good for him

  24. voopa Says:

    OH YEAH that Root Down album kicks ass! Unlike anything else Jimmy Smith has done, which is all great, btw.

  25. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I just feel at this time everything was already done by somebody back in the day better

    very metaphysical and existential of you, albert. the idea that there are no more original thoughts (or in this case musical ideas) is a BIG one to tackle philosophically. tough to get your head around finding resolution on that type of concept…

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