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. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Dyda-

    I know, I kicked myself when I saw Douglas Adams mentioned so late in the convo. Shoulda been in my initial recommendation post.

    yes the common thread seems to be that people enjoy fiction that is heavily imbibed with metaphysics and philosophy. Speaks good things for the posters of this board IMO

  2. notkuroda Says:

    I’ll give you Crash, but what about the Fly or Dead Ringers? Brilliance!

  3. nonoyolker Says:

    @ Lycan – yeah man, reading those in context was incredible. I can say that Sun Also Rises was most definitely planned. A Moveable Feast was totally by accident, and very cool. I’d recommend that one to anyone.

    @ gavinsdad – “love watching these sub-threads develop day to day.”

    ^ most definitely

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    @nono – those are 2 of my other top 10 Dark Stars you mention, nice calls

    Glad you like the 12-6. It’s super abstract and “jazzy” with very little time spent playing anything that actually sounds like Dark Star. If you like it check out other Fall ’73 ones and 2-24-74.

    sure I have the whole 12-6-73 show. That is the best HC Sunshine, definitely. Unfortunately the every end is cut on the master reel – super harsh – that’s why I don’t use it in my mixes. But I’ll be glad to upload it for you soon. I don’t have it on this computer at work tho.

    Sunshine is a beautiful piece – the third example of a unique style of jamming they developed in 73, the others being Let it Grow and the early versions of Eyes. All those jams have multiple themes and the dynamic of the jam is the tension between the themes, how they switch back and forth between them. Great stuff.

  5. ColonelJoy Says:

    Doug Adams fans (I ain’t really one), would love the Illuminati Trilogy

  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @notkuroda, you would call the fly brilliant?

  7. ColonelJoy Says:

    Mr. C,

    What do you think of 5-11-72?

  8. Lycanthropist Says:

    at colonol –

    love love that book

  9. ColonelJoy Says:

    Great reading here in Iraq…meaning, it is easy to read here…and write, too….less than 6 days to go now!!

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    Rotterdam Dark star is a huge beast. I think it’s the only one longer than 12-6-73. I like all the Europe ’72 Dark Stars…I haven’t listened to 5-11 in a couple years so I don’t remember the details, honestly.

    it’s typically on most collectors’ short list of top Dark Stars though

  11. ColonelJoy Says:

    A Chaplain here gave his “Word of the Day”….and he quoted the entire “Book of Aramaments” thing from Python’s Holy Grail….have to like a chaplain with a good sense of humor

  12. ColonelJoy Says:

    I think Rotterdam is the best Europe 72′ show….that whole second set is just unreal…Pig has great action after the DS, too….

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    Caution jam is my favorite part of any show with Caution in it 😮

  14. dyda Says:

    my first (and only) show of 2.0 was 7.29.03 – yeah you bet i picked up the book after that one. it was nice to resume the continuity on 6.18.09 as my second show (i could quote some number line lyrics cause that was with most of the same crew as 6 years prior)

    yeah, wizard is great just as a novel. i didn’t appreciate it nearly as much until i re-read it though. the use of the mejis dialect creeps into your speech patterns and then gets tweaked in the next book to the calla dialect and then goes straight into the thick new england (NH/ME) accent in six and seven. ‘a’yuah, you can’t get there from here.’

    don’t know if i’m too pleased with abrahms getting DT. king sold him the rights for $19 cause it was more about who he felt would do it justice. still, i’ve never watched lost (although i did read up on it quite a bit yesterday … go figure) and wasn’t too impressed with the new star trek movie. sooo…. some things should be left alone cause they just aren’t meant to be translated to the screen. eh. if it gets more mainstream attention as a result and more people exposed who may then go and read the novels i guess i can’t compain.

    i do recall having this DT/JJ abrahms conversation a while back though.

  15. ColonelJoy Says:

    Mr. C,

    What do you think of September/October 70′ Dark Stars? There is one form the Fillmore East that is just sickness…

  16. fromthetub Says:

    @ Colonel – totally random, but how cool is it that the new album is “Joy”? Almost like they are saying “this one’s for YOU”! 🙂

  17. Stupendous Says:

    The other day i found a note on my work folder that said:
    “2/22/73 GD best show ever! -must have on SBD…”
    Ive yet to listen to the SBD but I got it yesterday…!

  18. ColonelJoy Says:


    Yeah, I am all over the Joy gear…it is awesome…getting matching Ts for the wife, 2 y/o son, and myself….

  19. dyda Says:

    ‘crash’ is one of the few movies of his that i haven’t seen. his style has clearly changed/evolved since the days of ‘scanners’ and ‘the fly’. it’s really more about the overall mood of the piece in his recent movies ‘history of violence’ & ‘eastern promises’ (plus i really like viggo mortensen) check out ‘night breed’ for a cheap laugh. it has cronenberg acting in it as the villain. good stuff.

    how about tarintino, anyone going to see the ‘basterds’ tomorrow/this weekend? also have the ang lee ‘woodstock’ movie coming soon. i like how i was in the upstate NY area pretty close to the 40th anniv. the classic rock station i was listening to was doing an all woodstock performers tribute week.

  20. fromthetub Says:

    Nice one! I think they *are* saying this one’s for you. Indio is coming up!!!

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    I love almost every Dark Star played through 1974, Colonel.

    It’s too bad so little circulates from mid to late 1970. It’s the biggest hole in the canon and from what there is, it’s obvious it was a peak time.

    you’re probably thinking of the 9-19-70 masterpiece with the long silence at the end, that goes into the killer Stephen > NFA > Darkness jam > China Cat jam > NFA and Pig eventually ordering the crowd to go home and fuck someone…epic stuff

    acoustic set from 9-20-70 == my fave by a long way

  22. nonoyolker Says:

    @ Mr C – yeah, the actual Dark Star theme doesn’t really kick in until a solid 20 + minutes in if i remember correctly. Very cool. I only gave it a once over this morning at work, but am planning an after work replay. The 2-24-74 is also sweet, as is 10-19-73 and 11-11-73.

    I heard that the master reel of that HCSS is cut at the end, that’s rough. That song is in the same category as Crazy Fingers for me. Two great songs that have nice structure and you can usually bank on for some beautiful melodic playing. Definitely two songs I seek out for great versions (another great HCSS is 4-2-73 and some CF at the top of my list are: 6-14&18-76 & DP17). Thanks a lot for the future upload, I really appreciate it.

    —-sorry for the GD thread-jack——–back to regularly scheduled phish chatter————

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    eastern promises was a step up for cronenberg for sure, but his earlier stuff is meh

    i hate ang lee’s films sooo much but i think i might see taking woodstock, and im gonna see inglourious basterds becasue tarantino’s movies are fun

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    i dont think Abrahms has it
    i think it is Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff (the main folks behind lost, JJ only did Season 1).

    Being a huge LOST fan that I am, I feel like that they, if anyone, can handle it.

    I think that books 1 and 2 could be combined into one movie/tv season…

    As long as they cast lesser known actors, i think they can handle it.

    LOST is very inspired and influenced by the Dark Tower IMO. Especially, with the time manipulation stuff.

    If you haven’t truly given Lost a chance, I recommend that you rent the first season and carve out some time to fully engross yourself in it. Brilliant storytelling, great character archs, high production value, engaging cinematography, twists and turns, and more brain fucks than handful of acid and a shot of tequila.

    @ Mr C –
    do you have an off board way of contact for off topic discussion?

  25. ColonelJoy Says:

    A little piece of my war novel that is nearing completion….

    “Always happy; always smile; always extend yourself…”

    He said it over and over again just like he had always done back home before meeting a big client. While the reservist from Peoria wasn’t doing his part in The War on Terror he managed a branch for a major insurance company. He had learned always happy; always smile; always extend yourself from the mouth of a motivational speaker sometime in the eighties, when as a rookie agent he was required to attend an industry conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln left no impression, but those words never left Abraham, and he wielded them seriously, with a piety that his peers often found intolerable. The memorable lessons from that speaker had proved invaluable when landing insurance sales, and Major Abraham accredited them to all his success in life, business or personal, as outside of work he applied them equitably between friendships, his two marriages, and even step-parenting. When he decided to join the reserves, at age thirty (for both patriotism and business networking), he saw no reason why the lessons from Lincoln should be abandoned in uniform, and so whomever he met in the Army, superior or subordinate, and no matter how grave the subject or situation, Abraham always smiled, was always happy, and always took the effort to extend himself. A few of his superiors frowned on what they had interpreted as artificial enthusiasm, believing it prevented him from ever achieving a proper officer bearing. This wasn’t the case with his current boss. When Lieutenant Colonel Finch first saw Abraham and the smile, happiness, and indiscriminate altruism, he immediately recognized he had a mission for the officer, and knowing the man wouldn’t remain at his disposal forever, Finch took full advantage.

    And so, per Finch’s orders, the insurance man/military officer waited again, just like he had done the first Thursday of every month for half a year now on Camp Taji, he waited on the side of the dusty street beside his living area, directly on the other side of the concrete barriers—strung together in a long serpentine throughout the base, forming one great blunted, solemn obelisk—that protected sleeping soldiers from terrorists. No matter how many times he did it, he still felt self conscious about it. As unaware of himself as he was inclined to be, Abraham still thought he looked silly carrying a briefcase in camouflage while standing as if at a bus stop. It had to have been conspicuous, but Finch told him not to worry, so he did his best to keep his mind on the good deeds that the Euro was being used for.

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