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)


Tags: , ,

415 Responses to “Regional Differences”

  1. Jahvolunteer Says:

    sorry to hear more folks didn’t show up. The Yoshi’s shows were mostly sold out, but not completely, which is why it is rare to see the Zorn crew outside of NYC and Europe, because they are adored in Europe and paid very well.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    I had that thought before.


  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    that was a big reason the promoter I worked for went out of biz

    he booked what he wanted to hear, not what PDX crowds will pay for

    saw some amazing shit though – from Sex Mob to the Tibetan Monks to electric Herbie Hancock, etc

    we paid them well, just didn’t get the money back 😮

  4. Jahvolunteer Says:

    PDX is an Indie town for sure with a dash of hippieness. Isay this of course without having visited 🙂

    I do like the Dandy Warhols quite a bit.

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    the jazz crowd here is pretty regressive, too.

    lots and lots of hippies but mostly into real hippy stuff – we made $ on Keller and Yonder and stuff like that, and lost it on jazz and real bluegrass

  6. Jahvolunteer Says:

    what was the venue?

  7. Little Buddy Says:

    Radiohead keeps coming up and I must chime in. I’ve caught them on each of their last 4 or 5 tours in the U.S. and I find their live show to be VERY impressive. Worth checking them out or giving them another chance if they ever tour again. They might not tour anymore because their hung up on the carbon emissions thing (get a freaking bus that runs on veggie oil!).

    I know Thom Yorke is sort of a love him or hate him kind of a guy, but still worth a another $50 since they don’t overcharge for their shows.

  8. MOonSHaKe Says:


    Interesting about MMW. Not the first band to do this.. Do you remember a band named Lake Trout? They originally sounded like any wanna-be jam band, but I think they started listening to some new and interesting music because all of a sudden they started to do some progressive/psychedelic rock in the same direction as Helios Creed. Then they, like a lot of other bands, sort of vanished into the ether, sort of like MMW, well at least, as far as I was concerned. But I have been out of the loop for quite a while now.

    Mr. Completely:

    Moonshake is a CAN song. I can’t remember which one off hand, though.

    Anybody like early Residents? Most of their new stuff is really annoying, but Duckstab was great.

    Anybody like the new Annimal Collective? Most of their early stuff was really difficult to listen to but Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion were quite enjoyable to listen to.

  9. voopa Says:

    Looks like Lake Trout has a new album out next month…yay!

    I dig The Residents…Duck Stab is just fantastic!


  10. voopa Says:

    Whoops, that Lake Trout news is from last year.

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    I like Animal Collective – not as original as their younger fans think they are, but still interesting, and I think it’s great that a band like that is as popular as they are. They’re *huge* in PDX.

    @JahV – it was in a nice little club & bar, out of business now, called the Snake and Weasel. The Briggan & Kenny improv show I mean. In a good neighborhood and everything. We put on stuff everwhere from little places like that to the Roseland, Crystal Ballroom, Aladdin, and Horning’s Hideout.

  12. albert walker Says:

    Interesting how the different energy on the two coasts can have such a dramatic effect on the music produced by the band

    it is easy to grasp how they would effect song selection, but influencing different styles of jamming is a little more difficult to comprehend

    when I listen to RR-Gorge and then the east coast run the differences are so apparent

    I guess it shows how important the collective energy of the crowd plays in to the band’s performance

    great write up Miner

  13. Jahvolunteer Says:

    @Mr. C I assume “We” is the promoter you work for or are?

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @lycan, just listened to ‘medicine daughter’ from 09.08.08. sounds awesome, and great quality too. what strument do you play? and what kind of guitar does your guitar player play

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    i play keys and he plays some sort of epiphone i believe

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    thanks for listening DaNcInG – check out some more if you are interested!

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @lycan, no problem, i actually really dig it. is there a way to download that whole show at once (not one track at a time)?… keys sound great on this track too, really jazzy

    how come no one has given a shout out to MMW and S

  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ dancing fool –

    we been proppin MMW all day – lol

    if you have an AIM or Yahoo IM?

  19. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    i know but no one mentioned MMW and SCOFIELD

    will an email do? not sure what AIM or IM are

  20. Mr. Completely Says:

    @JahV- “we” = the promoter I used to work for. out of biz years ago. active mostly from 99 thru early 2000s

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    Scofield = maybe the nicest famous person I have ever met

    a kind soul

  22. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    has anyone heard of Basia Bulat? she is amazing

  23. Lycanthropist Says:

    yes Scofield is amazing.

    AIM and YahooIM are free Instant messaging programs, and I can do direct file transfers with those programs. i.e.- sending whole shows (folders) at once. Otherwise its each song download only. Sorry…

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    i think i have burned through 3 copies of A-Go-Go

  25. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    true, i’ll just download single tracks then

Leave a Reply