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. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    heavily distorted? i don’t hthink anyone in the history of music cared more about their tone than zappa. the man wouldn’t play if it didn’t sound right to him

  2. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    zappa was even using the wha wha pedal before jimi

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    I like the opposite

    Metheny’s tone for instance puts to me sleep within seconds

    just a taste thing

    Zappa = genius, even tho I don’t listen much anymore

    second both Hot Rats and We’re Only In It For The Money – Money is much more on the humor/parody side of things, and has very brilliant and influential album production. Hot Rats is just the shiznit.

  4. albert walker Says:

    Jerry is probably the only rock player that pulled off the clean tone
    he just played those slightly driven twins or deluxes, small fenders
    hated when hed distort out in the later years, cheesy pedal
    you got to play a heavier tone in a Phish setting
    specially a 4 piece playing that style of music
    it depends on the style of music you are playin

  5. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    yep not a big fan of metheny’s tone either, scofield has some great tone.

    i’m not a huge fan of zappa’s work with the mothers of invention, it’s hilarious and ingenious stuff but i’d rather him just shut up and play his guitar

  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    that probably has to do with jerry playing the guitar more beautifully than anyone, ever

  7. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    (except maybe duane)

  8. MOonSHaKe Says:

    I am a massive Zappa fan and for anyone who really likes the music of Phish, please do yourself a favor and indulge in Zappa’s catalogue for about six months and get back with us…

    Some of my favorite Zappa albums:

    Jazz From Hell, One Size Fits All, Joe’s Garage, Zoot Allures, The Man From Utopia, Overnite Sensation, Hot Rats, etc. etc.

    On a Zappa-esque note… a friend recently told me about Dweezil Zappa doing kind of a tribute deal with some of the original Mothers of Invention. My friend said Dweezil’s live show is incredible.

  9. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    saw dweezil twice in TO, both times it was amazing. first time was better just because steve vai was there shredding with him

  10. albert walker Says:

    I hear you man not to many rock guys I did playing just songs
    production though, arrangements, just the sound compared to what other bands were doing
    very hip for the time and I’m not a rock guy usually
    can’t listen to it all the time but I don’t listen to much over and over
    his ability to parody without sounding stuipid or cheesy with the amazing musicians, just never been matched

  11. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Moonshake, everything Tom Robbins has done is great


    It’s on my library list. I usually go ballistic in the library and borrow way too many books, then keep re-checking them out until I finish all of them. But once I finish the ones I’ve currently got, I’ll get Tom Robbins. I believe Lycanthropist already mentioned a few titles. Speaking of Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five is really good, but Breakfast of Champions is my favorite so far

  12. voopa Says:

    Love all eras of Zappa, but I have a particular affinity for the Flo & Eddie era (Fillmore East, Just Another Band From LA)…the 1988 big band was great, but Zappa didn’t take enough solos…Broadway the Hard Way, Make A Jazz Noise Here and The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life are all great sounding documents of that tour.

  13. Mugician Says:

    Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.

  14. Mugician Says:

    Moonshake, check out Short Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and get your mind blown.

  15. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Albert Walker: Completely agreed, except the part about not being a rock guy.

    Dancing Fool: with Steve Vai!!? That’s splendid! Definitely got to check this out. Zappa always picked the best musicians for his band.

  16. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Mugician: I’m copying this all into a text file and saving it to my desktop, I’m on it! Thanks for the suggestions, cheers =^)

  17. Lycanthropist Says:

    Vonnegut Suggestions:

    Cats Cradle

    @ fool

    glad you liked it!

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    everyone I know who has seen Zappa Plays Zappa says it’s great

    esp with Vai obv.

  19. larry bird flu Says:

    was not at the gorge but i can say that the vibe at hartford the whole night from band, audience, everyone was just electric. it was truly something to behold.
    and as far as reading goes dont sleep on fear and loathing on the campaign trail 72, i try and read that book at least once a year, and always end up coming close to peeing my pants from laughter

  20. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Mug, for more nature writing (including some good “desert” stuff) check out these:
    Slickrock (Abbey – Hayduke Lives and Monkeywrench Gang are good novels of his too)
    Desert Notes/River Notes (Barry Lopez -I highly recommend Arctic Dreams as well -but that’s not desert)
    The Man Who Walked Through Time (Colin Fletcher – first “modern” man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon)
    A Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold – this book pretty much started the genre)

    I could really go on for a while with “nature” writing recommendations. My brother got me hooked on this stuff when he was getting his masters in Creative Writing. Let me know if you want more suggestions. I led a book group while living in Denver based entrely on “journey” themed nature books (novels and non-fiction). These can all be found in any decent library.

    As for Zappa, The Grand Wazoo has one of my favorite [Zappa] guitar pieces (Eat That Question) and Overnight Sensation would pretty much be one of the best albums I could imagine as the costume at Festival 8, but unfortunately we know that ain’t happening…

  21. halcyon Says:

    Some of my favorite readings have been by Bukowski. He is honest, raw, funny, sad, disturbing, and beautiful. Recent reading recommendations include The Ballad of The Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein, The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Predicatbly Irrational by Dan Ariely, Freakonomics, The Devil in The White City, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

    Currently I am reading Touching My Fathers Soul: A Sherpa’s Journey To the Top of Everest by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first to summit, and this book is an account by his son.

    Happy Reading.

  22. larry bird flu Says:

    @ AW there was acctually a documentary about roky and his mental illness that came out a few years ago, how the state of TX fucked him up.
    i know the col. isnt around right now but that excerpt from the war novel was some most excellent reading
    and as far as reading goes, i also highly recommend the tender bar by j.r. moehringer. beautifly crafted memoir, hits home for any child of divorce.

  23. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ dancing –

    email me at lycanthropist.kelly AT gmail DOT com… I would love a more detailed review of your thoughts about the jams…

  24. stash Says:

    MOonSHaKe Says,

    check out the Zappa plays Zappa DVD/CD box set. Sick stuff.

  25. Summer98 Says:

    Great Lit discussion here. And Zappa taboot!!

    Haven’t read a lot of fiction in the past couple years but I got really into Edward Abbey before moving into non-fiction: Monkey Wrench Gang, Hayduke Lives, Good News.

    Can’t go wrong with Tom Robbins, read them all at some point (a fellow north westerner):
    My fav’s:
    Still Life, Jitterbug Perfume, Another Roadside Attraction, Fierce Invalids

    I’ll also put a nod in for Vonnegaut. Lot’s of great sounding suggestions here though, I’ll have to put the nonfiction down.

    1: Hot Rats, 2: Overnight Sensation, 3: Shut up ‘n play

    But really, all Zappa is great. It can get a little over the top sometimes but the music is always first rate. The live shows with Ruth Underwood on percussion and vibraphone, etc are pretty crazy.

    Zappa is a huge influence for Phish and I could really see them do an album at 8.

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