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. SOAM Says:

    The bottom line is this-every athlete and performer love to strut their stuff in front of a full house-it is clear that the east coast has way more phans than west coast (Demographically influenced but still) anf there is a little more juice flowing in a performers veins for the this-and just like the east coast shows are intense-high energy and beautiful-the west coast shows are spacier, a little chill and more stretched out. I found it amazing that I could not give my 2 extras away at Darien-yet the next night at Hartford-they were going for a 100-and hard to find.

  2. SOAM Says:

    and boy-there are alot of Skids out in Buffalo-Darien mind as well be Canada or Texas

  3. A_Glide Says:

    Hey Miner, how ’bout a little JOTD?

    I sure hope Miami rumors are true. 03 was such a blast.

  4. MOONSHAKE Says:

    SOAM: there’s very little rhyme or reason to it. Darian is also in the North East, and as you and others said, you couldn’t give extras away. Hartford and Merriweather were tough to get into. Do you know whether Saratoga was easy to get tickets for or not?

  5. Powder Lips Says:

    defiently like the chiller vibe and plethera of dance space out west, nice that the gorge and RR have Ga sections up front. Shoreline also seemed less hectic and more spacious.

  6. Mr. Hand (Formerly JBailey) Says:

    I hope these Fall Tour rumors are true. I’ve heard similar dates tossed around.
    I already booked my Hotel in Albany for Fri and Sat. $81.00 a night. What a deal!! Holiday Inn Express on Broadway. 1 minute from the venue!!
    Once they officially announce the dates I see these same rooms jumping to 160.00.
    Reserve now!!

  7. Chuck D Says:

    Having GA up front is big. It allows a lot of true phans that have a dedication to bringing the energy to get up front and hang with their extended crew, not just the people they bought tickets with…

  8. dominocan Says:

    These obnoxious drunken people you are referring to are the gawdy jew guinie frat boys that plague the whole country. Anywhere you go they will be there….colleges in the midwest, phish shows in new england, they are everywhere.

  9. voopa Says:

    “you can pick a Gorge tape out of an audio lineup”…LOL!

    This post is precisely why I convinced my (now) wife to fly to NY with me to catch the end of the Fall ’99 tour…you can hear the difference between locations on tapes (12-13-97), and I knew that I had to catch shows near the band’s homebase, preferably at the end of a tour, to get the full Phish experience.

    Glad we did that…10-7 through 10-10-99 were 4 of the best days of our lives. I hope it happens once again.

    Not that we haven’t had our share of great shows out here…I haven’t seen everything, but I have 3-22-93, 5-27-94, 8-6-96, 7-15-98 and 10-7-00, among other classic shows, under my belt.

  10. Kenny Powers Says:

    Fascinating post Miner, and also brings to mind the regional difference when they’ve played abroad in the past. That would actually merge two big environmental differences: being in a TOTALLY different place as well as going from 20,000+ arenas to 800 person clubs in a matter of days/weeks. That’s gotta have a huge effect on the boys and the way they play.

    It would make sense that the shows would be more rocking and/or silly at small clubs, bringing them back to their late ’80s/early ’90s days, and when playing an arena they’d want to hit those soaring notes that cut through the huge space and really create a large scale spectacle-type environment.

  11. Kenny Powers Says:

    to follow up to my last post, I think they did a great job balancing all styles this tour, being more chatty and raucous while also throwing in moments of cosmic space…regardless of the venue du juor.

  12. beepaphone Says:

    IMO talk of undesirables at shows seems a little exaggerated. Sure west coast/smaller venues/higher ticket costs will weed out a lot of fairweathers and such, but even at Bonnaroo, I was able to enjoy 2 unobscured Phish shows (Sans Bruce ;)). The entire experience is always a blast regardless. The only thing that ever got to me this tour was cringing at Toyota Park as I watched glowsticks hum right by the band members. The frattiest of frat boys and such arent always that bad. I’ve seen seen people that look as though they mean to be at DMB, but dance in anticipation of every change in fluffhead.

  13. Chuck D Says:

    oooOOoo. The proposition of a Euro tour makes me salivate. What size venues would they play over there these days?

  14. Lycanthropist Says:

    yeah a european tour would be nice.
    would like to see how 20 yrs, Stealing Time, and #Line gets treated over there

  15. Comrade Says:

    The only Euro shows i caught were Prague 98 – but i would say at least 80 percent of phans were Americans

  16. Chuck D Says:

    I would think that more Euros would have heard of them by now, but I saw the New Mastersounds (from England) the weekend after Hampton and was kicking it with them after the show. I asked them what they thought of Phish and they basically said they had never heard of Phish until they got to America. They only listen to them when other people play it for them and they dont get IT (self admitted). They had an appreciation for their improv abilities, but that was basically the extent of their recognition…

    So it’d probably be at least 50% American, probably closer to 75%.

  17. gavinsdad Says:

    insightful post miner…over all these years the farthest west i’d been, until I saw the gorge shows this summer, was Colorado (and the bulk of those shows came when i first started seeing the band). Columbus in 2000. But for the most part it’s been up and down the east coast with NYC/Jersey/Philly being the core of my shows (according to zzyyzx how do you spell that?).

    so getting out to the Gorge was a “one off” for me and seeing it put into the context of miners post, and having been there *and* having listened to the shows now (gorge day 2 on the ride to work this am in fact) i can say that there was a distinct difference in energy and playing, the whole experience in fact, than what i’d experienced on the east coast.

    you know how you have fleeting memories of shows? i remember being caught in the snow and traffic getting to new haven NYE run in 93…we had a slight bumper kiss and then just getting in the venue was finally time to exhale but then all around me was this swirling mass of LATE northeasterners trying to get situated during the Jim..then they threw down the Peaches. i just feel like in indoor arenas on the east coast the energy is palpable right 30 mins before the show…like wasps in a hive…waiting for the band to come on a pop the pent up bubble and give us some release. i like the east as i’ve been doing shows here for years, but christ did i enjoy that vast expanse at the gorge and the “meditative” vibe of the shows…it’s only miners comments (and all of yours over the past week) about the “thoughtful” Hood that made me see it as very distinct….very…west coast.

    anyway…i grew up in N. jerz, moved away, but am back here now in S. jersey (spitting distance from philly) and me and my whole crew couldn’t be more laid back. that is unless we’re slam dancing in the camden trench ;P

    good topic miner.

  18. JerryTimber Says:

    As much as I hate the US Bank Arena ( Firstar Center, The Crown, The Coliseum ) I hope those 2 rumored Cincy dates hold true.

  19. Lycanthropist Says:

    its very interesting to see how the collective consciousness of this board has gravitated toward this subject of polarizing the bands sound. I do believe this must be unique to Phish. I can’t think of any of my other favorite bands who’s sound can be so dividedly different from show to show, from coast to coast. The beauty of Phish and their ability to swim in any stream they are thrown in is what sets them apart, no doubt.

    Man I love these guys.

  20. butter Says:

    Mr.Miner – great write up on geographical influences of what went down this last month!!! Grateful Dead tours used to experience the same west vs east tendencies exactly. One major difference though is Phish has the whole Gamehendge saga, which they saved their heavy hitters of for the easties.

  21. JP Says:

    Great post gavinsdad. As a masshole who’s lived in WA for the past 10 years, with phish experiences in all regions of the US and with a first show in worcester 97, I totally get both your east and west coast assessments and observations – 100% right on.

    And I have to agree with the opinion on the G1 Hood – very emotive.

    Nice post today Miner. So glad you (and gavinsdad!) were at the Gorge!

  22. phishnin Says:

    Yeah, I prefer indoor East shows by far.

  23. dyda Says:

    you too soam? i miracled someone my extra darien and had to pay $40 to get in to hartford. go figure. might have had something to do with hartford being right downtown and on a friday night. also, can’t go expecting to get miracled the next night or else it isn’t really karma then, is it?

    besides, from what i saw of the scene there it was a decent enough deal. probably confused a bunch of people/scalpers cause i turned down like half a dozen tix. people asking $80 to start. HA! and man it took forever for people to get into that place. show didn’t even start til quarter to nine. which is part of the reason why i think the yem was cut short. it ended at exactly midnight.

    agree about the peeps in western ny. not my favorite bunch (kinda rude and pushy and YOUNG) but there were a decent amount of canucks and i liked seeing that. the hartford crowd seemed like mostly boston area folk. but i wouldn’t really know cause that was my first time in new england and also the furthest east i’ve ever been.

    saw someone selling a ‘read icculus’ bumper sticker leaving the darien lot. who’d’ve thunk it…

    oh my god was the darien lot set up poorly. didn’t get out til close to 2am. spac (west lot across 50) however was a total breeze getting in and out of. found a meter in downtown hartford a couple blocks away so that was nice too. but is it just me or is that town set up in a kind of confusing way? i mean i was admittedly in a bit of an altered state after the show so that may have led to my 5 minutes of confusion (cause i didn’t simply retrace my path back to the car) but i mean it was a good altered state. it was the kind that only comes after having seen a show that you know was the shit. i guess my mind was blown to a degree. (got a blank space…)

    going to a show kind of on a whim>first set forbinbird>the peak in the ghost>psycho killer bustout>crazy siezure dancing (i was cracking the fuck up the whole time while others were no doubt scratching their heads>catapult (are you kidding?)>icculus (mind blown)

    i overheard someone say “i am totally confused right now’ during the vocal jam.

    and i mean what needs to be said about the icculus speech? you’ve all heard it by now. so appropriate. ‘put down your iphones … we’re going to have an illiterate generation pretty soon.’ also trey’s tone of voice when he said ‘you know, i see you kids out there…’ hahah. seriously though, when was the last time any of us picked up a fucking book? i like to read but don’t do so nearly as much as i know i should. THE book, yes. but just books in general…

    also the nirtous at all three (darien, hartford, spac) was out of control. i see people getting hassled by authority for nothing but these clowns are allowed to shell their wares on a friggin highway overpass with a cruiser within sight and not get in any trouble. fucking assholes. i would seriously like to go around popping all the balloons i see.

    oh, so yeah i totally decided to go to hartford since i was camping outside saratoga and it was pretty close. and why wouldn’t i drive for an hour and a half instead of sitting around in the woods? actually i was getting kinda miffed with the rude kids at darien setbreak and a fellow pittsburgher noticed and struck up a conversation with me. helps to wear that penguins cap. he and his friend were also hardcore phans. one told me that he had talked to trey during the previous day’s soundcheck and that he was working on harpua and sure enough they delivered a couple nights later. they convinced me to go to hartford too (not like that was a hard sell) but needless to say i am sooooo glad i went to that one. hands down one for the ages. i think deer creek may compete but for different reasons.

    always managed to find cool peeps to chill with. not like i was expecting that to be an issue, but it was nice how on this run we really all did seem to gravitate towards each other. must just all like to get as far up and close to the center on the lawn as possible. made for a much more enjoyable second set seeing others around me not so much just as into it but more because they were following the changes and not missing any of the cues. you know, right in time with the band and not reacting a couple seconds after something big.

    cracked me up how the more casual fans go nuts for the composed sections of say ‘suzy’ but hardly move during the IMPROV. i mean whatever works for you, but i’ve heard it hundreds of times and am going to conserve my energy for the spontaneous material. sure it’s a little harder to dance to sometimes, but really now, if you follow the band’s music you should be able to keep up with the changes when they’re jamming.

    got into spac at 6 as the gates opened. oh, a note about that place. as nice as it is, it sucks so far as people being able to get in and out of the entrance on 50. i went around and used the gate by the artists’ gate. much less of a hassle. talked to some kids not yet 20 who were going to their first show. that was cool. they knew their shit too which was refreshing. one had on a ‘llama’/(camel cigs) shirt. hehe. lucky guy. told him that would be the opener and sure enough…

    anyway, got to stand on the lawn rail dead center with the one video screen just a little to my right so it was as prime a spot as you can get for lawn. the rain. haha. oh the rain. that was a little phishy baptism for some. i didn’t mind it at all. led to several good lyric references throughout the night. was almost totally dry by setbreak. called ‘twenty years later’ and ‘r&r’ for the second set. how about that ‘#l’ it sure has blown up since opening the second set back at hampton.

    ah, so this has gone on quite long enough. i hope there was some sense of order to this post cause i sorta just put down what came to mind as i was writing. sure there are plenty of other little stories that i forgot. i understand why they don’t play darien very often now. spac’s lawn is tiny so far as the section that can actually see the stage. NY-I90 sucks. go with 86 instead. much nicer. MA drivers are insane. i though NY was bad…

    oh, guess i should comment about east v MIDwest since that’s all i’m qualified to talk about. alpine was i think the best overall scene so far as a much more relaxed vibe. couldn’t really say about deer creek cause i only got there in the nick of time.

    oh shit, best little story only just came back to me. left my spot on the lawn at hartford during the encore to get a start on the crowd. stayed on the fringes until it was over then headed back the way i came which happened to be closed off somehow. well it was because that’s where the tour buses leave. kinda got pinned against a fence as they drove past, but it did allow me the opportunity to pump my fists and chant ‘read the book’ as the buses left the venue and drove past not five feet away from me. hope someone was looking out a window and saw me…

    see you in indio

  24. Kenny Powers Says:

    here here, Lycanthropist.

  25. JP Says:

    Nice call butter – I do think G1 would be the stand out best show of 09 (with all due respect to RR and 8.14) if a Tela had snuck into the Light jam.

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