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. JP Says:

    @phishnin – that’s just becasue they don’t do enough indoor west coast shows.

    Was anyone on the board at the 9.9.99 show at GM Place in Vancouver? An indoor show with no talkers, an entire row to myself, palpably no pressure on the band or phans, and a straight up super enjoyable show.

  2. cal Says:

    sorry, i know this is off topic, but i’m just listening to spac for the first time…”bdtnl” is incredible, and trey at the end of the jam is pure steve howe, very similar to parts of “the revealing science of God”…i just get so stoked thinking about phish actually doing yes some day (“owner of a lonely heart” doesn’t count).

  3. Lycanthropist Says:

    on the subject of reading:

    if any of you folks are looking for some good reading I have some suggestions:

    Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
    Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins
    Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
    Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
    Slapstick – Kurt Vonnegut
    The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King (will blow your mind if you let it)
    Confederacy of Dunce – John Kennedy Toole
    The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky

    I have more, but that should keep you busy for a while haha.

  4. JP Says:

    great post dyda – I particularly enjoyed:

    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.

    And nice one on the fist pumping! Read the dang book people!

  5. dyda Says:

    new mastersounds are a good act. saw them this summer at all good and enjoyed it. oh, guess i’ll be seeing mike solo before indio too.

    what’s left to be brought back? glide, kung, sass, wotc, some ballads. not much. they really covered almost their entire cataloge.

    before spac we were talking about bustouts and i mentioned ‘guy forget’ and got blank stares. hehe…

  6. JP Says:

    the Gorge crowd was super chill I thought, and I really appreciated no Mr. V. situations (for those of you that have been reading THIS book for a while now).

  7. Schak Says:

    What was your personal favorite show Mr. Minor?

  8. dyda Says:

    frank herbert. not just the ‘dune’ books either. really a seminal sci-fi writer of asimov caliber.

    really like seeing some tower love (19) too. anyone been following the comic series? i was spitballing some costume ideas and a roland-like getup would be so approprite for the desert environment. i’d have to weather the hell out of it beforehand though or else i’d look kind of foolish.

  9. JP Says:

    Miner on best show – tomorrow’s post?

    There is no real way to decide between 8.7 and 8.14 in my mind. Would be a good poll question (but only if you’ve listened to both). Some go for the open jamming majesty, some for the tight as hell mind phuck rockers. Totally subjective, and for me anyway, heavily crowd dependent. The more I get to hear the music, the more I enjoy the show. As Lycan was saying, phish can swim in any river and navigate just fine.

    Admittedly, I have not heard 8.14 – and I can very easily see how that show, that night, would have totally blown your mind.

    So, my questions for 8.14 phans:

    What about the 10 minute Ghost did it for you/how would you describe the Ghost here? (Would prefer my Ghosts to clock in 20+)

    Was the Psycho Killer played well?

    What would you place next to the 8.7 Sally, Light, and Gin from 8.14? My opinion, a top 3.0 show should have top 3.0 “sound” incorporated – what from 8.14 is particularly 3.0 in your opinion?

  10. c0wfunk Says:

    Great post and comments today .. Phish is certainly affected by the geography as well as the venue, as they feed off that vibe like no other. I only saw merriweather this tour, but have heard the rest (cept spac..) And I too am struck by the diversity in this tour. And I think you nailed it – the tour had a strange amalgam of venues, unlike the mostly homogenous tours of years past. I myself prefer northeastern arena phish to most any other, but enjoy myself always.

    Merriweather was such a strange bird of a show – almost a prank on the strange wasted crowd.. (Complete with hahaha) The crowd non-reaction to the crowd control opener steered the show it seemed to me and the setlist was a jaded fan’s nightmare (not to rehash, but I very much enjoyed it..) To contrast personal experiences, when they busted out the unknown kill devil falls in asheville in june, the crowd freaked out and the energy soared. There was barely a reaction to the crowd control where I was sitting in the pav, as though no one was quite sure what to do. This hesitance, and “faking it” set the tone for the evening, and the vibe was so diluted that night, its a wonder they were able to wrestle that magnificent 46 days out of the muddle of energy. Sandwiched between the two shows with so many big time favs, I’m reading some intent into this. Likely irrelevant but we spotted mike cruisin the lots in the golf cart before hand.

  11. Matt Says:

    I wanted to drop a quick note into this thread of awesomeness…

    My first Phish show was in 2003 @ The Gorge. And it changed my life forever. (I lost 175lb’s, I developed a spiritual side to myself. My personal life, my professional life both improved by 10X).
    So, fast forward to 2009. I shit my paints when they came back (not really) but seeing Phish again was awesome (I went to Bonnaroo).

    My kick ass girlfriend was lucky and we got tickets to see all 4 nights of redrocks (face value). Friday night 2nd set was the best set of music I have ever witnessed. Yet, it was not as magical as the gorge….

    The Gorge this year was perfect in every direction. Perfect weather…the vibe was amazing, you could actually feel positive energy flowing though and around every person there.(really) And the music speaks for itself. I brought 6 people to the Gorge who had never seen nor heard Phish. The strangest part for me was the song that hit everyone in my group (myself included) was “joy”.

    Joy is such a simple song, yet, hearing it played at the Gorge sandwiched between a big “Fluffhead” and a monster “Bathtub Gin”, “Joy” hit all of these people around me. I was almost in shock when I looked around and my dear friend’s eyes were full of water.

    So after two nights of Phish at Gorge Again, did I change?

    Yup. I really, really feel different.

    I feel connected to something much bigger then myself. I feel “Alive Again” and I know that the Gorge + Phish did it. (I go to the Gorge A lot, its 3 hours from Seattle, Phish is by far the best band you could ever see there)

    So, I agree with you Mr. Miner. Phish plays cosmic journeys @ the Gorge. Do you more connected to the universe that surrounds us after seeing Phish @ the Gorge?

    I know I do.

    Music is Magic!

  12. voopa Says:


    I don’t think you can compare 8-7 and 8-14 that way…there’s no jam on 8-14 that can compete with 8-7, but the 8-14 vibe is unparalleled.

  13. JP Says:

    great post Matt – your description of 8.7 synchs with mine too – Joy was really really lovely there and everything was indeed perfect. That is awesome about what 2003 did to you!!! I was there too – loved loved loved the Round Room from night 2.

  14. Exree Hipp Says:

    Oh nos, the local Fox news affiliate has us figured out… The last line here is priceless:

  15. JP Says:

    How would you describe that “vibe” voopa – is is tough to parallel a “vibe” sometimes because to each his own, right?

    That’s kind of what I come back to on deciding between the two, totally subjective and therefore unique to each ear (iand therefore, sort of meaningless).

    Not to stir up the pot, but as Matt just expressed – the “vibe” at the Gorge was fairly “unparalled” in my experience as well.

    I just love that the band totally OWNS wherever they are. It was so good to see them up on that stage.

  16. notkuroda Says:

    Love that post Matt. My friend and I(also a Matt) had a discussion about how Phish created modern day magic, how there was an energy that surrounded these events that goes beyond explanation. I had “coincidences” happen to me that weekend that I believe go way beyond coincidence. Because things happen everytime I see Phish. Sometimes small, sometimes they’re all out miracles

  17. dyda Says:

    yeah jp, that’s why i said deer creek (for me) but for different reasons. hartford didn’t have as much 3.0 jamming, but the energy and setlist were so powerful. i didn’t mind the 10 min ghost cause the peak was built so well. no fluff at all in that version. the psycho killer was more for the novelty and ‘where the hell did that come from’ value. it devolved into the weird dance contest pretty quickly. i heard that it was in response to someone in the front row. trey kind of mocking them going ‘ok, i’ve seen you there dancing your ass off all night, let’s see you dance to THIS!’ not sure if that person was getting annoying/overly exuberant or if it was just trey being trey (i’d like to think it’s the latter). anyone else notice how trey kept turning the loops back on and off while dancing to the B&D? ‘does anyone else love this song as much as i do?’

  18. JP Says:

    Did anyone else participate in that random CK5 appreciation shout out on 8.8.09? Agree with notkuroda that there was just something special going on at the gorge this year – very good crowd energy.

  19. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    that’s awesome: “Pot smoking is common at Phish concerts”

    great way to end your police blotter report. very 8th grade essay writing. I can imagine the editor scolding the writer to remember to sum up the major point of the story before ending.

  20. Birddog Says:

    I would say that the Hartford show was less about band wide improv (not that it wasn’t there – see Piper) but Trey was ON FIRE. Birds, Stash, DWD, and especially Ghost he developed the threads well and stuck the landings. And then all the Gamehenge madness just got things that much more fired up.

  21. JP Says:

    Will definitely get 8.14 at some point and will listen to the ghost with that in mind – thanks dyda. 6.19 looked like the top show of leg 1 for sure to me. Would have loved to hear an ASIHTOS at the gorge.

    Did the 8.7 DWD mess with anyone’s head as much as it did mine? First I’m like “say wa?”, then laughing (and getting psyched) to myself thinking they are just going to TOTALLY take the gorge out there immediately with a return the Shoreline DWD from 8.5, then going “damn, they tied it up already”. On second listen, you can practically feel the energy popping off those notes though – west coast “tight” jamming style?

  22. Mr.Miner Says:

    downloads returning tomorrow. got to gather some good aud sources….

  23. JP Says:

    I was really psyched to see BOAF played and thanks also for the thoughts on Trey’s playing style Birddog, it is clear to me that 8.7 and 8.14 have definitely been entered “in the fucking book”. 🙂

  24. Frankie Says:

    Great Hartford Madness video on youtube for those of us who missed it…

    Enjoy! …then get away from the computer and pick up THE BOOK!!

  25. dyda Says:

    water drinking is also common at phish shows. WHY IS THERE NEVER ANY MENTION OF THE NITROUS?!?!?! i find that to be a much more harmful problem. molly, sass, etc as well. nope we’re still fixated on the devil weed. fucking pathetic. actaully i’d say that if you want to go looking for a problem then more than anything it’s drinking to excess that is the biggest concern. (won’t knock that though cause we need to sell $8 cups and make a profit)

    another story from spac. not once, but TWICE the meds had to remove someone from the crowd on a stretcher. what the hell are you idiots thinking/doing that gets you to that point? really sad. seriously during the extended bowie intro not ten feet to my right and then again sometime in the second set not ten feet to my left. wow.

    funny story from darien. two full beers spilled. almost caused a fight. careless jackasses throwing random elbows means wasted money even wasted moreso. and the dude was being cool and gave up his beer to replace the one that he accidentally knocked out of someone’s hand. then that one promptly got dumped. and tempers flared. i just shook my head.

    kinda like the why would i sit in the woods when there’s a phish show not two hours away. why would i drink or pay to excess to do so when there are plenty of other occassions. watching sports maybe? plus i don’t know if you noticed but it was humid and hot as hell at darien. not the best weather for drinkin. who was it that said they saw all kinds of people with water bottles? i get what was being implied by that comment (E) but for me it was a matter of being the most sensible beverage for the moment.

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