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:

    El dude – good points for sure on 8.8 – def more of a rocker with equally as steller jams (just more rock-i-er jams) in RnR and Wolfman’s. Agree that 8.7 Stash was not stellar, but by the end of the tune, pretty sweet just the same.

    Not a peebles fan, no way! 🙂 My only complaint was that a 8+ minute studio song should def be a 18+ live jam vehicle.

    My thought was that after an interstellar night 1, the band was just so freaking happy and energized that they just tore up Saturday in celebration of the night before. It felt like a huge celebration: shit yeah, we are back!

  2. SOAM Says:

    a.-I’m told night 2 set 2 at Gorge was the best of the west

    b. 8-14-09 was sick-sick sickass show man.

    c. You can’t quantify best show of the tour-music is art -art is interpreted differently by each individual

    d. 8-14-09 was a sick, sick sickass show

    e. did I mention how great 8-14-09 was? perhaps late set 1 of 8-16 and first half of set 2, 8-16 would be highlights thus far-10 shows (Hampton3x, Fenway, JB2 AND 3, Mansfield, Darien, Hartford and Spac)

    my 2 cents

  3. dyda Says:

    that’s really cool about trey meditating too. makes more sense now in context with the harpua narration. and of course the hidden meaning from the spirit guide was ‘it felt so wrong’

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    @El Dude – I also put the RnR up there with the 3 jams from the night before

    I can’t pick between any of them…

    overall 3 utterly unique creative ensemble jams plus what I thought was a really beautiful Hood make that show unbeatable IMO

    I thought the DWD was smokin’, agree re: Pebbles, heard the slop in Stash but still liked it (not close to RR, but still a winner), Possum was maybe the only unique one I’ve heard from the summer with extra interplay, Taste and Fluff weren’t perfect but had volcanic 2nd set energy…Slave didn’t peak as I’d like but was still sublime…

    but I can totally understand being more into the 2nd night based on the RnR alone, not that the rest of the show wasn’t great – it was. That shit’s amazing though.

  5. dyda Says:

    i picked up ‘naked lunch’ on the alpine lot and read it for the first time in the mountains of wyoming/colorado between alpine and rothbury. crazy. having seen the cronenberg movie i thought i had a handle on how nuts it was going to be, but no…

    what blew me away about fear & loathing was the stuff that they could get away with. just flying in the face of society and leaving a wake of dumbfounded onlookers. gave me more confidence so far as screwing around with people in a playful manner that probably comes across as somewhat insane.

    does anyone know of tim & eric? they have an awesome show (great job!) on [adult swim] and the hartford loops/dancing totally reminded me of something they’d do. it’s just so weird. no other way to describe it. they are just strange people whose comedy probably comes across as something from a mental institution to most folk.

  6. JP Says:

    Love the Icculus rant, that is priceless. Whole crowd is singing along – wicked!

    It is so great that we get to parse hairs over best show from leg 2. Phish Destoys…

  7. EL Duderino Says:

    Don’t forget the Mango opener! The Middle of the Road is one of those quirky Mike tunes that I feel defines his style, another great addition to the new material.

  8. MOonSHaKE Says:


    RE: 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.

    Looks like we’ve got a lot in common with favorite books.

    Really liked everything by Kurt Vonnegut, including Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, and Slaughterhouse Five.

    The Dark Tower Series is definitely excellent, atleast the first four books impressed me. Fifth one was still pretty good, Song of Susannah and the last book disappointed me some.

    I’m also a huge Dostoevsky fan, but Crime and Punishment is my favorite.
    Ever read any other Russian great novels, such as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (sp?) The Gulag Archipeligo or Quiet Flows the Don?

    Nice to see some of us still pick up the flippin book!!!

  9. JP Says:

    Excellent book recommendations Lycan – anything Tom Robbins does is worth looking into it seems, agree also on the Herbert praise.

    Right now reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – fun reading if you have been to India, really captures something of that essence.

  10. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    the rock and roll from the gorge was great but the three jams from the night before were in a different league.

    i re-listened to the stash from the gorge yesterday and definitely heard the slop this time, but it was mostly during the composed part at the beginning. i still think the jam was better than the red rocks one even though it was shorter

  11. bread Says:

    @dyda Tim and Eric are hilarious!! I love that show.

    @Mr. C What is the name of the resort next to Gorge? thanks

  12. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    journey to the end of the night by celine will blow you all away.

  13. dyda Says:

    the mad russian, eh? that’s impressive. haven’t tried tackling any of that yet. how about some james joyce, ulysses?

    going on a bit of a parallel, but since i know some of you are from the bay area, are you familiar with ‘the firesign theatre’? i don’t think i’ve met anyone else in person who knows about them. such timeless comedy. four main albums plus many other skits from their radio show

    waiting for the electrician or someone like him
    how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?
    don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers
    i think we’re all bozos on this bus

    HA! that just reminded me that i heard someone with a bozo horn at spac.

  14. nonoyolker Says:

    @ Dyda – word on ‘naked lunch’. To date, that is the only book I have not finished. I just could not get through it. Rough…

    Re: Vonnegut – LOVE the guy. He is like trashy romance novels for smart people. I just grab a new one when i am not sure what to read. Nice to have the guy to fall back on. My favorites, in some/no particular order:
    Cats Cradle
    Hocus Pocus
    Breakfast of Champions
    Sirens of Titan
    Welcome to the Monkey House
    – personally I think Slaughterhouse 5 is a tad overrated, so DON’T STOP THERE!

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    I forget.

    maybe this?

    This isn’t it, but seems cool too

  16. Mr. Completely Says:



    trippy ass comedy

  17. halcyon Says:

    @ Dancing…Celine is a trip…definitely mind boggling/blowing…

  18. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    ^james joyce’s ulysses is brilliant

    any of you hippies who haven’t read huck finn should get on it now.

    that’s all i’ll say about literature for now.

  19. Pence Says:

    @dyda Wheres my chippy? I fuckin love that. I was yelling it all around the roo. No one understood but me and my bro, and we were laughing our asses off. Trey is my chippy. and when he comes on stage I say..”theres my chippy”. There comedy is genius.

    Dr Steve Brule is a must watch youtube clip from Tim and Eric

  20. MOonSHaKE Says:


    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+)


    First of all, the Hartford show was absolutely fantabulous for a variety of reasons, and the Ghost jammed… but the Ghost in Asheville was much better and darker. Some people might prefer the Ghost at Red Rocks, but that was a totally different one, more upbeat and funky. The Ghost in Asheville absolutely melted face, and it comes through when listening to the show on CD. Trey’s solo starting at around the 10 minutes was like a soaring dragon and the crowd chased it fervently until bringing it to a close, I believe at 16 or 18 minutes… just before a magnamanus Fast Enough for You.

  21. dyda Says:

    oh there were more than a few times when i was just like ‘what! really?’ truly a window into the total insanity of junk. also some of the most subversive satire i’ve ever come across. reading what burroughs wrote while straight (the appendicies) was also very enlightening. yeah, most of these prolific author’s best works aren’t the ones they’re most famously known for.

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    Ulysses is brilliant.

    I read through Finnegans Wake once but – thought I have read enough interpretation to get the idea – I can’t say I enjoyed it. Reading it felt like work.

    Burroughs is a turnoff for a lot of folks. Understandable. Brilliant and insightful guy though.

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @dyda, naked lunch is the novel burroughs was most famous for

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    re: books –

    love to see all the literature talk
    reading is my favorite hobby

    The Dark Tower- The first four are fantastic (although 2 drags out), five is my favorite (but thats do to a personal taste i think). Six is very transitional, basically like Book 7 part 1. The last book is great, but it can be dissappointing if not approached right. Without spoiling it, I will say as you read the Dark Tower, enjoy the journey and dont page grub for the end.

    Vonnegut and Robbins: Two of my favorites. Anything by them pretty much is worth checking out. Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins should be handed out to everyone on their 19th birthday in my opinion.

    gotta love some Joyce.

    I still dig some Hemingway.

    Naked Lunch: I have tried to get through this book several times. I just can’t do it. I read everything all the way, even if I dont like it (I read all of fucking Twilight for gods sake {cause some one promised me i would like it, which i didnt}). I make a point to get to the end before making a judgement. I just could not find a way through the book. I saw the movie and it didn’t help.

    side note: Mr. C – any day one thoughts on Chance Fisher?

  25. dyda Says:

    oh that’s so refreshing to see firesign get some recognition. keep in mind that i’m only 24 so my generation is in the dark on that one.

    talked to a red wings fan in a brock samson shirt at alpine and saw someone with a 21&24 shirt at spac.

    my other thought for a halloween costume would be some tim&eric character. for your health. anywho, did you notice the way that the video screens were quickly cutting between trey and fish during their jerky dancing. total tim&eric technique. ooohh mama..

    or just go as mike with the jew-fro wig, sleeveless yellow day-glo t and rolled up cuff tight purple pants. hey, or just as a giant cactus.

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