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. ColonelJoy Says:

    Yes, Mr. C….I am thinking of 9-19

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    12-6 deserves a listen in the most relaxed and receptive state of mind possible 😮 yeah, around 20′ for the theme sounds right

    yep, done with hijack

    Phish = awesome

  3. ColonelJoy Says:

    Even with all the great shit that went down while I was here…..Indio is the perfect first show back….wouldn’t trade it for anything…

  4. ColonelJoy Says:

    I wonder if I’ve listened to 12-6…is that cleveland?

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    wow Colonel, good stuff

    @lycan tyler23rh at comcast dot net – but I have wasted some time this AM and need to bury myself in work for rest of day so be patient

  6. Lycanthropist Says:

    Colonel Joy, that is a pleasure to read, and left me hanging for more…

    Glad to see you are having time to tap into your creativity over there.


  7. Mr. Completely Says:


    yes, that’s it

  8. MOonSHaKE Says:

    gavinsdad: What a hidden gem of a show Asheville was… I’ve said it before in an earlier write-up that was so winded I would doubt if anybody bothered to read it (it went over the three shows I’ve been to thus far on this magical mystery tour), Asheville was perfect. Small venue, indoors, general admission, themed first set (Fishman’s journal), nice bustout (Lengthwise), and an epic second set (Soaring Ghost, Amazing Fast Enough for You, Dark and Dirty Maze). Not to mention it was as laid back as you can expect an East Coast show to get (Asheville is the bees knees)

  9. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ Mr. C – fair enough no rush..

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    PARTY TIME!!!!!

    I’m out for a bit y’all

  11. ColonelJoy Says:

    I think I’ve cracked the nut on my writing….making something that is somewhat artful, but with commercial appeal…to an extent….you should read my first book…the funniest book ever written….to funny for agents and publishers…so far

  12. nonoyolker Says:

    @ Colonel – 6 days left?!?!? FUCK YES BUDDY!!! You deserve home. Wish you nothing but the best on the trip back!

  13. dyda Says:

    fuck yeah man, safe travels

  14. ColonelJoy Says:

    I wonder what other nuggets are on Party Time? I wish I could say I was excited for Joy….but I ain’t….

  15. Jay Says:

    I absolutely loved Asheville! Outside of the RR shows, it is my favorite show I attended. Party atmosphere in town, Phamily atmosphere in the venue. Not oversold so lots of room. Just absolutely perfect.

  16. fat bastard Says:

    colonel- reminds me of ‘the quiet american’ by graham greene

  17. SOAM Says:

    Punch >Bag is a double whammy opener-love those 2 back to back to open.

  18. ColonelJoy Says:

    again, thanks for the vibes…you guys have been great….miner and friends have made the last few months fly by much easier

  19. SOAM Says:

    When you hear the new tunes live-you will be very excited-20 years, KDF, Ocelot and BDTNL and Stealing Time are all really great tunes-I don’t do studio anything and I’m excited-shit Joy is even a pretty good tune.

    We want you to be HAAAPPYY-THIS YOUR SONG TOO!

  20. SJC Says:

    Punch you opener just felt like such a throwback. Great opener for the band to get a real feel for the energy level in the place. It was electric for sure.

  21. ColonelJoy Says:

    Check this shit out….first paragraph from my first novel…unpublished

    “Ein, zwei, drei, Scheissa! Ein, zwei, drei, Scheissa!…One, Two, Three, Shit!” Those were the first words implanted in my father’s virgin mind. Balancing precariously on the porcelain throne of shame, my four month old father, Ronald Bonaparte, listened intently to my grandmother’s shouted commands as she taught him to poop into a toilet. “Ein, zwei, drei, Scheissa!” My Grandmother, Stephi Bonaparte, was not pleased with her only child, and while shouting, Grandma held aloft a large bratwurst—the likes of which were common in her native Bavaria—threatening to strike little Ron with it at any moment if he failed to drop a load. The bratwurst throbbed and glistened in Stephi’s hand, and occasionally spilled drops of grease from its pores onto the floor.
    While Ron was not yet close to being fully potty-trained, Stephi had to admit that the infant was showing considerable improvement. Indeed, at least now the little dude could sit up right on the pot. And even if Grandma had failed to produce a proper BM out of Dad, at least he impressed his pre-school teachers—whom were familiar, but not quite enough with German—with his ability to count to four in a foreign language.
    Some children are born from the bond of love, others from arranged marriages, and still many more from unfortunate, miscalculated one-night stands. Not my father. Ron Bonaparte was a special one, created from the most legitimate of motives, my grandmother’s humble desire to yield a super race.

  22. ColonelJoy Says:

    @Obese Asshole,

    I haven’t read that Greene one…I think I’ve only read The End of The Affair or whatever it is called…I do need to read more of him…

  23. fat bastard Says:

    colonel- that could go anywhere. what is that 1924 germany?

  24. fat bastard Says:

    his most famous is the power and the glory

  25. ColonelJoy Says:

    @ fat bastard….let me give you the next paragraph or so…

    Ten years before my father’s birth, in the early autumn of 1939, as Grandma clutched the railing at the bow of the immigrant ship, America’s phallus beckoned her. While the early morning fog of New York Harbor shrouded the rest of the skyline, it couldn’t hide the seven-year old Empire State Building. The mega structure seemed to pull Stephi toward it, her ample bust momentarily becoming more upright even, as if reaching out from the great ship, grasping at the defining encounter that was the goal of her journey. New York’s mist didn’t dampen—it only magnified the Empire’s electric lights, which are still left on all night for the sake of both safety and spectacle. As water will do, in its suspended state it also bended the light, diffracted it, and as Stephi fixed her stare toward the skyscraper it pulsated like a blood-gorged organ, matching the rhythm of her body which rocked seductively on the ship’s deck, oh so gently to the timbre of the harbor beneath.
    In a trance, Grandma reminisced on the past and dreamt of her future simultaneously. Looking back toward her childhood in Bavaria, Stephi saw herself marching blonde, blue-eyed dolls around her parent’s backyard, where her dad looked on smiling, comfortably tucked in dark green leder hosen, pipe tethered to his lip which bounced to Wagner hums kept in cadence by metronome fingers that danced against leather-bound Nietzsche prose.

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