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. halcyon Says:

    Don’t know if you listen to this, but there is a program on NPR called Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. It is produced by American Public Media, anyways they were discussing modern day TV and Parables of life. They were specifically discussing LOST, and Battlestar Galactica for their parables, stories, and thoughts of the shows. It was pretty interesting hearing about Lost and how its a metaphor for these characters being physically lost, and mentally/spiritually lost, and their key for survival was them finding themselves. Pretty thought provoking seeing how much of TV is crap.

  2. Lycanthropist Says:

    Again, very nice. love the hidden tone of the last couple of sentences.

  3. fat bastard Says:

    you can def create a scene. i like it.

  4. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    gee, I feel like I just jumped into a literary convention. takes me back to my Program of Liberal Studies days in college. Nothing like read the “Dead White Males” curriculum…

    Don’t want to bore anyone with [too many] further book recommendations, but I can attest to most of what has already been mentioned. Another one to add to the thoughtful humor heap is Christopher Moore. One of my buddies (Hi, Matt! – he’s a lurker) turned me onto “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff” and his other stuff is good too. Kind of a combination of Douglas Adams, Vonnegutt, and some other influences.

  5. ColonelJoy Says:

    I so want to make money writing rather than warring….

  6. ColonelJoy Says:

    Phish is renaming a classic song…don’t get mad…it has to be done

    Run like Usain Bolt, out of control!

  7. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ halycon –

    I don’t have cable.
    I use my TV as a monitor for my computer and thats about it.

    I can’t stand TV for the most part. With the exception of a few shows, it is all garbage and stupefying marketing.

    However LOST is far beyond an ordinary TV show, at its worst its a great Sci Fi movie, at its best it is an allegory for redemption, philosophy, religion and evolutionary history.

    Referencing many classic literature icons, quoting influential cultural references, delving into every major religion and its belief structure Lost reaches a depth unlike any other promoting infinite avenues for discussion.

    As you can tell, I love this show.

  8. Lycanthropist Says:

    have read “Lamb” and really enjoyed it, picked up “Coyote Blue” the other day. Gonna check it out.

  9. ColonelJoy Says:

    It’s nice to get poss feedback on the writing…as most people I give samples to have been Dan Browned….even though I believe I write quite clearly, without ambiguity…still goes over heads…

  10. voopa Says:

    Summer Tour stats, Part 2

  11. voopa Says:

    Actually, try this link

  12. ColonelJoy Says:


    I haven’t read “Summer Tour Stats, Part 2,” but I’ve heard it’s a masterpiece…

  13. ColonelJoy Says:

    Okay, I must get to bed…read some Cormac McCarthy…here is something from much, much later in the first book…called, btw…No Public Restrooms…

    “Scarlet Stop!” Tom Simmons shouted as he watched his daughter do the unthinkable.
    “What is it, Dear?” Martha Simmons asked, turning her head toward Scarlet. The supportive mother had difficulty yelling at her only child. “Oh my, please, Honey, don’t do that.”
    It was February 7th, 1963, and the Simmons family was busy celebrating Scarlet’s thirteenth birthday. As per tradition, the family, who owned and lived on a three hundred acre horse farm, went riding together through freshly fallen snow in the Maine woods. This year was different, though. Because Scarlet was officially a teenager, the red head, who resembled Pipi Longstocking with braces, received a very special gift, an Arabian stallion named Chester. However, it was becoming immediately clear that Scarlet was taking her ownership of Chester too literally. Maybe she was bonding with the horse, trying to establish intimacy and trust, but unless you’re a breeder—and breeders are never pubescent girls—you don’t touch the horse’s penis. Although it isn’t written anywhere, and never spoken about, horse genitals, however magnificent and curious, are not to be touched. But as Scarlet’s parents called for her to cease the forbidden act, that is just what she did—she held it with two hands, skillfully waving the fleshy hose about as Chester relieved himself, spelling out the stallion’s name in the snow.
    When Tom had first seen his daughter, he had been sitting on a fallen pine with his wife, laying out a small picnic lunch. Scarlet and the stallion were about fifty feet away, and the feisty girl didn’t acknowledge her father’s first shout; she was having too much fun with the penis. After all, Scarlet had never been able to spell her own name out in the snow, with urine at least, and the little feminist was delighted to break the unbreakable gender barrier. Tossing a bottle of sparkling wine into the snow, Tom Simmons jolted upward in shock and trudged through the deep, fluffy crystals toward the crime scene. It was a tiring sprint, and by the time he reached her, it was too late. Tom stood panting, supporting himself against the horse’s torso as he stared in disbelief at his daughter and her work. Finished, Scarlet dropped the cock from her grasp—at least she hadn’t taken off her mittens, Tom thought—and as the great, black penis jiggled about, tethered to the great stud, steam rose up from the yellow signature beneath it, written in clear, perfect thirteen year-old, feminine cursive. The act bestowed on Scarlet a sort of giddy pride, and she giggled as she looked up at her horrified father.

  14. MOonSHaKe Says:


    Interesting about Dark Tower being done for TV… do you know if it is supposed to be a series of movies, a TV series, or a TV mini-series? It would be nice if it came out on HBO, which did a good job with Carnivale and Deadwood… Also interesting to hear the ppl from Lost are doing it. Lost kind of lost me after the third season, but I know how fantastic the show is, judging by what I’ve seen.

  15. whole tour! Says:

    camman, camman
    where have you gone?

    what’s become of camman?

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    what up wt!

  17. MOonSHaKe Says:

    Haven’t read Cormac McCarthy, but I’ve heard he is fantabulous… definitely on my list next time I’m at the public library

  18. whole tour! Says:

    yo lycan
    been diggin the tunes 🙂

  19. ColonelJoy Says:

    This Blood Meridian book is fucking my head up Moon

  20. Lycanthropist Says:

    @ wt! –

    dont wanna clog up board, do you use any type of instant messaging?

  21. ColonelJoy Says:

    Yeah, I stopped Lost somewher is season three….my wife loved it, though, so maybe we’ll get back into it….she just wants to ball jack, i think…

  22. whole tour! Says:

    don’t go back to kill devil falls

  23. Lycanthropist Says:

    jack is one of my least favorite characters on there, although in season 1 and the last season (5) i liked him. just everywhere in between he was a total douche.

  24. whole tour! Says:

    no IM here….i’m on my ps3

    i can drop you some email when i access a computer

    fwiw…i think your band sounds killer bro!

  25. ColonelJoy Says:

    I can’t wait for Season 7 of Curb!

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