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. Mr.Miner Says:

    Gorge night one is the show of tour- hands down. Anyone who saw them all will tell you that. I’ll write that up at somepoint soon

  2. Danny B Says:

    Been away from the board for while, just got back to work after an incredible week of hanging out with friends and seeing Phish, used all my vacation time, but it was well worth it. Unfortunately I will not be at Indio, I would give anything to be able to go, except my job (losing my steady stream of income would prevent me from going on lots of Phish adventures).

    My Recap:

    Darien lakes- I had the most fun at this show, despite there being lots of “bros” and Frat dudes. The “Bowie” and “Drowned” jams were hot. I had great seats, and the Pavillion was empty, I went a few rows back from my seats and had an entire row to dance. I loved every minute of this show.

    Hartford- A lot has already been said about it, so I won’t go through all the details. It was my hometown show, lots of fun, but really hectic seeing tons of people I haven’t seen in years. Made it down to the Pavillion for second set and had great sight lines for Icculus>rest of show. Lots of fun but it was tough trying to be totally immersed in the music and seeing old friends.

    SPAC- I got there early had plenty of time to relax in the sun, and bask in the last Phish show of the summer. Page was destroying the first set, I’m surprised Miner didn’t mention it, but he was on fire. Second set Number Line jam was fantastic, obviously Harpua was a treat as well.

    All in all I am just so happy to have a positive forum to share my thoughts and experiences, and interact with positive people (unlike PT), hope to finally meet some of you people at a show this fall. If the rumors are true I’ll be at MSG and Miami!!!!!!!

  3. Comrade Says:


    Don’t forget the best T. Robbins book – Still Life with Woodpecker!!!
    (book jacket is designed like a camel cigarette pack)

  4. dyda Says:

    oh right, and i was going to comment on the many ‘coincidences’ that seem to happen surrounding phish. yeah i’ve totally noticed that over the years too. i always just kind of flippantly attributed that to icculus. you know, do right by the book and he’ll look after you… it’s as good a mantra as any other ‘religion’

  5. Frankie Says:

    I’ll never forget the Sneakin’ Sally jam all my life… it just felt like the music was goin’ through them effortlessly… I remember turning to Mitch afterwards and just knowing we had just witnessed the magic that is Phish!

    The friends, the scenery, perfect weather and warm wind… burned forever in my memory!

  6. JP Says:

    dyda – love the posts today man.

    8.7 it is then! 🙂

  7. Mr. Completely Says:

    @dyda good to see you back, nice post

    Love the lesser known Frank Herbert stuff – Under Pressure, Destination Void and the Pandora books etc.

    I am just reading the Tower books for the first time now. My wife loves them. I liked the first one…not reading the graphic novels to avoid spoilage, though they’re beautiful. Just finished a run through many of my favorite comic/graphic novel series: Promethea, Fables, Sandman, and best of all The Invisibles. Fucking killer, killer stuff.

    About to start the new Pynchon book. Should be a good one, and from what I gather it’d be a good place to start reading him. His books are either huge, very difficult prose experiments or lighter, shorter, darkly funny psychedelic but more conventional storytelling and this is definitely in the latter category. Fuck the Pynchon haters, he’s a class A genius and I’m stoked for the new read.

    @butter is right about GD tours having similar dynamic regionally. Phish home base being in the NE makes it even more crazy up there I’m sure, but relatively speaking it was always the same kind of difference.

    re: very best show – I liked the way f0ol put it yesterday – 8.7 “best show” 8.14 “most fun to be at”

    but I think it’s safe to just put those two on the top shelf together and let people decide based on which they were at, or just which style they prefer

    Bottom line is it’s really amazing they played shows of such diverse quality a week apart. Think about that for a second. That’s heavy shit right there.

    kudos to the board for having a discussion of regional diffs without turning it into a homer pissing match, very unusual I think

  8. beepaphone Says:

    Those itching to find some decent auds from leg 2 2009 can do Just try and donate a few bucks to the guy if you download a ton. I guess its not free for him to host all those dl’s.

    Was anyone here at the last Miami NYE run? know the going rate on the lot/online for tickets? I get this feeling that the ticket situation isn’t going to be much better than RR.

  9. JP Says:

    Anyone who was at 8.7 worried that nothing else is going to TOP that…ever?

  10. Comrade Says:

    @Exree Hipp

    the line “Two were charged with second-degree assault on a police officer and two with trespassing.”

    I’m fairly certain that i saw this. 2 young guys in a truck are navigating through the lot to find parking – not a lot of room to maneuver. their truck lightly brushed a pedestrian on the leg – didn’t look like a big deal.

    the guy comes over to the driver and starts yelling at him and reaches through the window and I don’t know tries to grab the keys or tries to grab the driver. Anyhow turns out the pedestrian was an undercover. Meanwhile the under-cover’s partner calls it in and next thing you know – bam – 8 cops are there. the kid immediately surrenders and the entire time he has multiple cops screaming at him and they cuff him.

    lot scene at MPP was not kind.

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    @JP – no

    they just missed me at the later shows, that’s all

    Phish needs to pay to have me on tour 😮

  12. Highway Bill Says:

    ……..the best show of tour should have a set list that supports that claim.

  13. Bodi Says:

    speaking of meditative Hood at the Gorge, my buddies were staying at the resort near the venue where the whole band was staying as well. Amazing place with unobstructed views of the prehistoric panorama across the Columbia. They watched Saturday morning as Trey sat out on his grassy terrace and meditated for at least an hour, I’m sure just soaking in the ancient vibes of the place. The views and the swimming pool surely put the boys in the perfect phrame of mind to unleash a masterpiece of a show at the Gorge that night. That said, I think PHish should do a residence at the gorge, maybe a weeklong run. Let them really build up some psychic momentum as they absorb the Gorge’s energy.

  14. Mr. Completely Says:

    In seriousness, no, not at all. I bet they top it at 8. If there was a way to confirm it I’d bet you cash money they’ll be listening to the Gorge and talking about what was going on there between now and the Fest – same way I think they were listening to like the Ghost and Sand from leg 1 and saying “that, we were almost there, we need to start from there next time and build up”

  15. JP Says:

    Mr C – nice thoughts, I am so so torn on Indio.

  16. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Bodi, cool

    @Highway Bill – but it’s about the improvisational jams. That’s the whole point. I would have written a 100% different setlist:

    8/7 set 2, my pre-show hope list:
    Timber > Sand > Waves > Ocean Sing, Roggae, Ghost > Split

    or whatever.

    But I wouldn’t trade what we got for hardly anything.

  17. cal Says:

    “Gorge night one is the show of tour- hands down. Anyone who saw them all will tell you that.”

    ……………………anyone? bueller? or is miner the only person here who was at every show?

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    I heard that resort was amazing

    wow, is it expensive though

  19. JP Says:

    Nice thought Bodi. If they did that in the spring or fall, they could totally be there longer term and people wouldn’t potentially melt away like can happen in the summer. And some nice hoody weather at night!

  20. JP Says:

    Haven’t heard 8.14, though grabbed a few of the aud files just now – so really can’t say based on listening. However, having seen many a show and having a strong sense of the type of night it was from the reviews and the song lengths and choices made/antics pulled…

    I would never ever ever give up being at 8.7.

  21. EL Duderino Says:

    Mr. Miner, I respect your opinion but would disagree. I was there too and thought night 2 was much better. After the mic stand problem towards the first third of the first set, it took Trey a long while to get his groove back. I definitely agree that the Destiny, Sneakin’ Sally, and Bathtub were outstanding. But the Stash started out horribly and took a long while to recover. The DWD was standard and after them doing it @ Shoreline it was a little disappointing. Possum was good, but after so many that could be considered kinda of a letdown. I feel the Moma was incredibly short and never really materialized into anything stellar. I was never a fan of Pebbles so maybe my opinion is a little biased, but after re listing a couple of times, is still feel that Trey was not playing particularly well.

    Night two on the other hand was front to back the HEAT! Besides Driver and Twenty Years Later (Which is not bad but not my favorites of the new songs), Everything was executed to perfection. The Rock And Roll I feel, is the Jam of the summer and that includes both legs of the tour. The segue into Makisupa is flawless. Alaska had that sweet blues based rock and roll jam that I love to hear from Trey. This is one of the new tunes that I like a lot. The show was much more in the west-coast vein IMO as well.

    This is just my opinion. You know your shit Mr. Miner so I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers. But like I said to Mr. C… It’s so weird how we can come up with so different opinions of those two Gorge shows. Thanks for your insight.

  22. JP Says:

    Would love to see those fall dates. Indoor west coast shows please!

    Miner – do you have any lobbying power on this? 🙂 Thanks for running this site!

  23. BrandonKayda Says:

    As far as books go, I really like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. He’s good at writing really cynical, bitter humor. I’ve read Breakfast Of Champions/Cat’s Cradle.

    I recently read Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. That book is a great look into psychedelics and just wild situations in general. The bit where his attorney wanted him to throw the radio in the bathtub he was in and electrocute him at the peak of White Rabbit was pretty intense. Of course it is not to be taken seriously, but it was definitely a fun read.

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ I wish 😉

  25. dyda Says:

    naw man, fuck the east. west siiiideee. or however that nonsense goes.

    good to be back. i’ve kinda been lurking recently.

    re dark tower – you can take a break between four and five cause that’s where the graphic novels fit into the timeline. sort of. more like you’ll have read the appropriate backstory for it to make more sense and not spoil things too much.

    re 8.7 – only listened to the sneakin’ and light once so far and haven’t heard the gin/hood. therefore can’t really be as subjective. the setlist has just as many nice accentuations (pebbles, destiny, fluff) but from what i recall of those two jams, yeah, you really can almost feel the environment coming through the playing. ha. if that makes sense. you know, some of the passages in that sally jam just conjured the images i’ve seen of the venue. what other band/locale can do that?

    only just saw the flyover footage from shoreline yesterday. that was cool.

    re joy – really stood out to me when it was debuted at the camden encore. glad to have heard it at alpine and equally so as the first darien encore. simple yes, but the message is pure and heartfelt. i dunno, i’m a bit of a sucker for the ballads if they’re placed properly and treated with the right delicacy/care. was actually a little (just a little) excited for anything but me even. there’s also that one verse ‘When we were young we thought life was a game/But then somebody leaves you and you’re never the same/All of the places and people belong to the puzzle/But one of the pieces is gone…’ that juxtaposed against ‘we want you to be happy’ totally embodies phish. yes, there are hard times and painful loss and you need to acknowledge it and not forget but at the same time you have to keep a positive outlook and keep striving for what you know they’d want: you to be happy.

    hey got to see sugar shack and middle of the road too. interesting how those were the only ‘new’ songs at darien/hartford.

    trey did the whole jedi thing with the languedoc’s feedback at the end of first tube which was amusing.

    what was with the clapping at the start of the hartford loops? i thought they were trying to start ‘mound’ for a second.

    saw more than a couple whalers hats/shirts/jerseys too… the whale!

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