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. Mugician Says:

    Type III, good stuff! Thanks for the suggestions.

    God I could go on forever and ever about the desert…

  2. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Mug, there are places in the deserts and canyons of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona that have changed me in ways I cannot fully fathom. Dreams there are unlike anywhere else and the perception of the passing of time can be at once slowed down and sped up. I am not talking about any experiences influenced by drugs or anything like that, just by the forces at work in the natural world. I can only imagine what it must have been like to live there like the Anasazi and other tribes. It is clear that they understood the magic of the places they found.

  3. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Alright everybody… this was my first time posting here, even though I’ve been reading Mr. Miner’s reviews since beginning of this tour, and I just want to say this was a good bit of fun. I will be around tomorrow, my shift at the office is over now and it’s time for me to go home and hang wit da wife. Cheers =^)

  4. guyforget Says:

    Now, i’ll apologize in advance for doing this, but i had to, as some of you know, i’m the biggest proponent of not using the C word on this site.

    I just listened to the beginning of The Curtain from C****try, then I listened to the RR Curtain.

    So tragic and so awesome at the same time.

  5. BrandonKayda Says:

    Since Zappa was brought up….

    Frank Zappa is DEFINITELY in my top 3.


    Hot Rats is great, but IMO One Size Fits All/Joe’s Garage/We’re Only In It For The Money/Freak Out!/You Are What You Is are my favorites. One Size Fits All is a great Jazzy/Prog Rock record. Complete with now-classics like Andy, Florentine Pogen, Inca Roads, etc. Of course, the bulk of this will be on the next 3 on that list: Joe’s Garage, Freak Out!, and We’re Only In It For The Money

    A lot of people overlook Joe’s Garage as just dirty humor and sex jokes, but it is a lot deeper than that. Joe’s Garage was about Zappa’s hate of censorship. The whole theme about “making music illegal” really brings it home. Not just to mention the story, but the playing in that album is incredible. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Keep It Greasay,” time signatures are off of the fucking map. Also, listen to the drumming in “Fembots in A Wet T-Shirt” during the Wet-T-shirt contest bit, pretty tricky rhythm to keep up.

    Also, that album just has about everything. I mean, look at Watermelon In Eastern Hay, one of his greatest solos recorded IMO. Keep It Greasy is a crazy jazz song with time signatures that are off the map. Luciele is reggae, Joe’s Garage is just rock, etc. It is definitely one of his finest albums ever.

    “All we did was bend the string like WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH…..”

    Freak Out! is also one of his greatest. It starts out with “Hungry Freaks, Daddy!” which is one of the greatest social commentaries put to song. From there, it goes into a half hour or so of straight doo-wop, obviously tounge-in-cheek, but doo-wop it is. From time to time there are crazy moments (Brain Police) but for the most part, so far the album is pretty pedestrian (for Zappa, which says a lot. The average humble tv servant in a brown suit; maybe a blonde who takes phone calls, would be scared)

    Then, out of no-where, “Trouble Every Day” comes again with it’s bluesy biting social commentary, and the whole album goes to hell with sound collages, 12minute freakouts, acapella tunes, etc. The “Hungry Freaks” have arrived indeed. The album ends after the 12 minute “Return Of The Son Of The Monster Magnet,” and we pick up our brains that were just melted on the floor.

    “More trouble coming everyday”

    Finally, “We’re Only In It For The Money” is one of Zappa’s greatest social commentaries; it goes against everything that was “in” at the moment. He took the “Summer of Love” and flipped it right on it’s head with this one. What this album lacks in flow/melody it gains in biting social commentary against the hippy movement. With lyrics such as “I’m completely stoned, I’m hippy and I’m trippy and I’m gypsy on my own; I’ll stay a week and get the crabs and take the bus back home. I’m really just a phony but forgive me cause’ I’m stoned” and “Every town must have a place where phony hippies meet, psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street,” this album raised a lot of controversy at the time.

    There are also some dark moments, including “Concentration Moon” and “Mom and Dad,” which lashed out at the parents during that time. There was also an outrage on the ______ shootings that occured.

    Overall though, this album, while not being as solid musically, was his overall peak at social commentary. After this album, Frank went on to write more jazz-oriented (though not strict “Jazz” albums, those came in the 80’s.) We’re Only In It For The Money will be remembered for it’s lyrics.

    “What is the ugliest part of your body? I think it’s your mind”

    Other highlights:

    A good album to mention would be “You Are What You Is,” it is very diverse in musical styles, and the biting commentary is still there. Some people call it his “White Album”

    “Bongo Fury” is also a good mention. This was a live album Zappa did with Captain Beefheart. There are a lot of extended blues jams (Advanced Romance, Muffin Man) and this is a good guitar album. “Muffin Man,” one of his most well-known anthems, closes this album with a bang.

    “Muffin Utility Research Lab”

    Of course, I cannot mention Zappa live albums without mentioning his greatest IMO, “Roxy and Elsewhere” This album is more jazzy than “Bongo Fury,” but that does not detract from it’s quality one bit. Some more of his well-known compositions reside on here, including “Village Of The Sun->Enchinda’s Arf->Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing,” the latter two being extremely complex compositions which blow my mind to this day, specifically “Enchinda’s Arf” Pick this one up if you haven’t already.

    To add on to some more beginner Zappa albums, “Apostrophie/Overnight Sensation” are a MUST. MANY of Zappa’s well known compositions are on here, such as: “Cosmik Debris, I Am The Slime, Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, St Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast, Camarillo Brillo, etc” This two are a great way to dive into his massive catalouge.

    I don’t own his late 80’s-early 90’s stuff, and am missing quite a few others, so this is as far as I will go with album reviews.


    If you ever get the chance to see these guys, don’t miss it. Their band is incredible, and Dweezil has definitely nailed his father’s sound to a tee. They play many of his trickest compositions, such as “Inca Roads, Village->Enchinda->Don’t You Ever…”) and there is a lot of improvised jamming throughout a lot of his compositions. Their average time is about 2hr40mins a night. If anybody is interested, I have a good amount of bootlegs from their tour this year, and I will be willing to burn/send copies to anyone if they wish. Email me at bkayda at gmail dot com. I also have a few Zappa bootlegs (5/1/88, 10/31/76)

    There is also the arguement that Dweezil/Zappa Family Trust are “Only In It For The Money,” and while this may be true, the music is absolutely stellar. So, if you have the $80-100 to drop on a ticket, be sure to go.

    Oh, and one quick thing. I want to mention “Baby Snakes,” which is a live DVD/misc DVD Zappa made. It is 3 hours long and it is awesome. The animation by Robert Bickford in the film will BLOW YOUR MIND.

    So, there it is, my favorite Zappa albums. Anybody who is new to Zappa should check all of this out, and please let me know what you think. If you would like to ask questions, feel free to email me at bkayda at gmail dot com. Frank was a genius, and his legacy will live on.

    In his words, “PLAY MY MUSIC”

  6. Lycanthropist Says:

    nice post Brandon.

    definitely going to have to go back and listen to these albums

    Baby Snakes is the most dangerous thing to watch on acid. Incredible shit man, will really truly blow your mind.

  7. John Says:

    BrandonKayda, that was quite the post on zappa. Camarillo Brillo was almays my favorite song of his off my favorite album of his.

    Thanks for the tips from you guys last night on jams. So many standouts, but man was I blown away from that Gorge Sally! A whole bunch of you said it had a crazy jam and while I was listening to it for the first time I thought you guys might have been referencing Trey’s solo before the vocal jam so I thought the vocal jam was the end and it was gonna kinda fizzle out. I thought well that was cool… kind of a let down from what I’d heard, but when they jump back into that jam… holy shit. Nuts. I was literally blown away, the only other time I felt that way was when I heard the 06/11/94 YEM. Thank you guys so much.

  8. John Says:

    By the way I wanted to ask you guys if any of you knew of any 2001’s that Phish has played that really… break away from the mold. I know the Went 2001 is crazy, but is that really the all time tops? Are there any crazy Type II ones?

  9. BrandonKayda Says:

    there is a 1998 (or 1997) 2001 at the gorge that is 25mins long…the set is:


    CRAZY weekapaug. HUGE funk jam, no “sharin in the groove” reprise

  10. Lycanthropist Says:

    i like the 2001 from the Island Tour

  11. Mugician Says:


    Dude. Really, go to Goblin Valley in Utah. That place will blow your mind. Goddamn I love it out there. It’s usually not that crowded, but it’s insanely hot in the summer… I’m talking 95 degrees in the middle of the night. Crazy place though, super intense energy all throughout this place.

  12. BrandonKayda Says:

    7-17-1998 is the exact date

  13. Mugician Says:

    Speaking of epic, incredible jams… Tweezer from ALO remains the be all end all of Phish Mind Phuck for me. Absolutely insane from start to finish.

  14. BC Says:

    Whoever gave the tip earlier for the Albany hotel – thanks. I just booked a room for $85 in case the rumored tour dates are true. Holiday Inn Express on Broadway walking distance to the venue.

  15. Mugician Says:

    By the way, Type III, I was asking the other day, are you the one with the Arches advice? I’m headed down that way in mid September and would love to know where to go. Trying to avoid the developed places. Doing backcountry stuff, and would like to know where I should go for good backcountry camping out there.

  16. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Mug, Arches isn’t my forte though I have been through there. Most of my time has been spent investigating Canyonlands, Butler Wash, Cedar Mesa (I’m still looking for the Red & White House), and the like. Unfortunately, living in Massachusetts these days impedes my ability to get back there as much as I would like.

    I’d definitely defer to others on the Arches area, but I have some sources if you are really stuck for where to go (my brother was a backcountry ranger in the Needles District for a few summers and has pretty extensive knowledge of the region). Shoot me an email if you want to chat offline on this topic:
    b(underscore)crossen(at)hotmail dot com

    Only one mantra for that part of the world: Don’t Bust the Crust!

  17. BrandonKayda Says:

    Hey I’m glad you liked the Sally John, that was one of my favorite jams

  18. butter Says:

    My daughters (7) new favorite song is Ocelot. She asks me to play it over and over, luckily I have at least 5 versions. We had to google “Ocelots” and review pics and stats.

  19. Mugician Says:

    Type III, youssagottadamail.

  20. beepaphone Says:

    @ Brandon thank you so much for the Zappa post. People always tell me that I would dig it, but never new where to begin.

  21. beepaphone Says:

    new stuff wise, heard stealing time first time live at Bonnaroo and it took only the opening riff to hook me. It would be a good place to put those murky, intense jams from Mike’s Songs circa 94-96 that have been so elusive.

  22. BrandonKayda Says:

    No problem, Beeb. That is why I posted that.

  23. BrandonKayda Says:

    Speaking of Mike’s Grooves, does anybody know of any good 09′ versions? I have been listening to the 11-22-97 Groove too much and I need to come back to reality.

  24. beepaphone Says:

    Thats a great one….I listened to a good one this morning, though its ’98 so slightly more abbreviated. 6/30/98 Grey hall, Copengagen. Mikes>Swept Away>Steep>Paug

  25. BrandonKayda Says:

    I really like the 2001->Mike’s->Weekapaug set. That is over an hour right there. The Weekapaug has this CRAZY sped up funk jam, no outro

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