A Phishy Affair

Hartford 8.14.09 (Drazin)

Hartford 8.14.09 (Drazin)

The last time Phish was around, during the “post-hiatus” years, there were many magnificent  musical moments- contrary to popular myth- but something was missing.  Throughout the band’s past, they had not only put on great concerts, but laced their performances with humor, antics, musical jokes, and a general zany energy that defined a Phish show.  As the years wore on and the band got deeper into unhealthy habits, this energy- this Phishiness- began to fade, a clear sign that all was not well in Gamehendge.  As 2003 turned to 2004, Phish’s spirit was waning, and after a three-night stint in Vegas, things were clearly spinning out of control.

Hartford (A.Hill)

Hartford (A.Hill)

And then Coventry happened.  We were forced into a distinctly un-Phishy ending to the greatest chapter of our lives, and it just didn’t feel right. But alas, sometimes, as Nana said, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”  But the fates wouldn’t have it that way, and five years later we found ourselves back in the kingdom of Phish- but would it be the same?

After so many unknowns were answered at Red Rocks and The Gorge, Phish sailed back into New England in a triumphant homecoming.  When the band quit in ’04, Trey said he feared becoming a nostalgia act, thus when returning in ’09, we knew things would be forward-looking.  With a forthcoming album, more heartfelt and mature songs, Phish has entered a new stage of their lives and of their careers.  But on one special night in Hartford, CT, the band showed everyone that they haven’t lost touch with the spirit that inspired them from the start- Phish still had their Phishiness.

Hartford 8.14 (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

Though their renewed musical spirit was on display throughout the second leg, one wondered if their early days of Gamehendge narrations and allusions were simply a relic of a bygone era.  But when Phish opened Hartford with four songs that could have been pulled from their college days, a different energy to the show began to emerge.  “Punch,” “AC/DC,” and “NICU” got the party started, but it wasn’t until the dramatic drop into “Colonel Forbin’s” that we knew something special was at hand.  As Mike’s bass crisply cut the thick summer air, the band delved into their classic saga of the Gamehendge hero.  Clearly practiced, the band confidently and cleanly moved though the composition, with Trey even giggling as he mentioned “Icculus, the prophet.”  But as the time came for the first narration of 3.0, the band transitioned directly into “Mockingbird.”  Likely a by-product of their rehearsals, they bypassed any storytelling for a soaring run through “Mockingbird”- a gorgeous piece of music that is so much more than a mere bust-out.  By nailing the old-school composition, the band dosed the crowd with that Phishy energy, and when they dropped the first “Birds” of tour, the place exploded.

Hartford (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

In a torrid session of improv, Phish crushed the only version of “Birds” this tour; a rendition that veered from the song’s direct path due to dynamic interplay between Mike and Trey, subtle rhythmic shifts, and powerful piano leads.  While not getting into ‘type II’ territory, this was nonetheless an enthralling escapade.  Coupled with another strong version of “Stash,” these two dark jams anchored the old-school set.   “Stash” moved into some dirty psychedelia, led melodically by Page, as Mike and Trey created a cacophony of effected sound.  Trey climbed out of this sonic dungeon with wails that conveyed emotional desperation.  This piece is some seriously dark Phish, and easily throws its hat in the ring with the best “Stashs” from this tour.  Sidestepping any melodic interlude for a straight trip into the center of the earth, this is a dark-horse version that hasn’t gotten its due credit.

8.14 (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

The same early-era energy oozed into the second set, but not before Phish crafted the most enchanting- albeit oddly aborted- piece of music all evening.  Transforming the “Disease” jam into a percussive ride, and then into a slowed down musical medium, Trey infused the piece with stunning melodies as the band hit a mellow groove that oozed spirituality.   People have called this a “Reba jam, ” but that assessment is a mere attempt to label an incredibly improvisational segment of Phish that really had little to do with the song.  Could the music have been drawn from a spaced-out and slowed down “Reba?”- sure, but in my opinion there was no musical allusion going on there.  Instead, Phish was flowing in some of their most magical improv since The Gorge, which is why it was incredibly disorienting and flat-out wrong when it was abruptly cut off by the coarse opening of “Wilson.”  Trey had to be the only person in the entire venue thinking that dropping “Wilson” amidst this delicate jam was the right call, but ironically, he is the only one who matters.  What could have been a stunning summer highlight of  “Disease > Slave ” had Big Red been patient and used the five minutes of “Wilson” to bridge the two noble songs, turned into “Disease > Wilson > Slave,” which wasn’t too shabby either!

Centering “Slave” in the second set, Phish built perhaps the summer’s most climactic version of the usual set-closer.  A joy to hear as a focal point, “Slave” ascended with meticulous and creative offerings from all in a blissful melange of harmony and melody; a mid-set emotional peak.  Without skipping a beat, Phish slid into “Piper,” continuing the uplifting vibe of the set.

8.14 (A.Hill)

8.14.09 (A.Hill)

On this night, “Piper’s” break-neck jamming would reach another level of connection and interplay as the band trounced through the shredding piece with spirit and innovation- getting to some truly unique musical places.  Initially led outwards by a catchy Trey lick, the band turned the rock textures more rhythmic, creating some fast-paced whole-band patterns, as they completed each others’ musical thoughts with an awesome proficiency.  In the most dynamic segment of the set, this “Piper” continued on its driving path, cushioned by completely unique bass lines, and led by slicing and dicing guitar acrobatics.  Naturally arriving in “Water in the Sky” out of a more ambient section, it was cool to see Phish moving organically and landing wherever they landed, regardless of song or placement.

Hartford (A.Hill)

8.14.09 (A.Hill)

The non-stop nature of this set continued with the long-awaited return of “Ghost,” which had not heard from since the tour-opening highlight at Red Rocks.  Pumping the amphitheatre with more energy to the point of implosion, Phish tore into the jam with an opposite feel of Red Rocks’ wide-open funk; this time favoring more a more intense, driving course.  The band locked into some on-point improv, with Trey making guitar runs all over the place.  The consistent rhythm allowed him and Page to create some searing leads, directing the forceful jam to the top with their two-part creativity.

But when they arrived at the top of the blistering piece, Trey sat into a hard rhythmic riff that brought the band seamlessly into “Psycho Killer!”  Having been played over the PA before the show with lyrical accompaniment by many fans, one has to believe the band caught wind of this and playfully worked in the song for the only time since Dayton ’97.  But when they finished crushing the Talking Head’s song, the antics began.

Dance Contest (D.Vann)

"Dance Contest" (D.Vann)

Trailing down into a digital pattern that sounded more like a futuristic video game than music, the band sustained the pattern as Trey began poking fun at a kid in the front row who continued gyrating to the bizarre sounds.  Out of the joke came an impromptu Trey vs. Fish dance contest to the same music to the amusement of all.  The band had already ripped so hard, that any fun asides seemed completely appropriate- and Trey continued the side-show by beginning the lyrics to “Catapult” over the same backing texture.

Hartford (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

As he continued to banter over the strange rhythm, he turned the course of his narration as soon as the band began the chord progression to the rarely played homage to the god of Gamehendge, “Icculus.”  As soon as the song was discernible, the audience responded with an ovation.  Trey began talking about his youth, when there were no video games and technology, and comparing it to the present with us “crazy kids out there with [our] iPhones and [our] DVDs, listening to [our] auto-tuned music; it’s all machines!” Then, in the line of the night, he said, “But what I want to ask you is, when was last time that one of you  picked up a fucking book?!”  Exploding the amphitheatre with his comical splicing of present day culture and Gamehendge lore, we hadn’t seen Trey this animated in ages.  It wasn’t the fact that they were playing “Icculus” that was so exciting, it was hearing that passionate voice we had heard on our earliest analogs scream about the fucking book!  That’s what mattered!  Trey was feeling his history, basking in the culture he created, and subsequently feared and ended twenty years later.  His  spirit was back; after all the legal entanglements, addiction, and rehab- we had our hero had returned!  We had heard him play like a maestro throughout the tour, but rarely did he say anything. As he continued his absurd and extensive rantings, it was like being reunited with an old friend- a spirit we hadn’t felt in ages.  It wasn’t about the bust-out- it was about passion, a old-school passion we never knew we’d see again.  It was about The Book and all its symbolism.  It was about being reconnected to Phishiness again.

Hartford (Drazin)

Hartford (Drazin)

As the band closed the show with a “YEM” that was more antics than improv, it didn’t seem to matter.  Though I would have liked to see a huge blowout “YEM” to cap the night as much as anyone, Phish had left it all on the table in a series of high-spirited, non-stop jams.  So when Trey began to shimmy to his band’s groove instead of add to it, everything was relative to the special evening that had just unfolded.

Among all the musically significant shows this past tour, Hartford represented something unique; something special.  No doubt the music was great, but more than anything, that Phishy spirit that grabbed our imaginations at some point on our lives, and ran away with it, was back in effect.  Walking out of Hartford into mild summer eve, it felt as if the Lizards had wrestled The Book away from Wilson- and Errand Wolf- if only briefly, and all was right in Gamehendge once again.


Winged music noteJams of the Day:

“Piper > Water In the Sky” 8.14 II


“Ghost > Psycho Killer” 8.14 II




8.14.09 Comcast Center Hartford, CT < Torrent

8.14.09 Comcast Center Hartford, CT < Megaupload

3823520005_82f4aeb7e6After searching for a great AUD source, this is the best I could find for now.

I: Punch You in the Eye, AC/DC Bag, NICU, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Birds Of A Feather, Lawn Boy, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Middle Of The Road, Character Zero

II: Down With Disease > Wilson > Slave To The Traffic Light, Piper > Water In The Sky, Ghost > Psycho Killer > Catapult > Icculus > You Enjoy Myself

E: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Source: Schoeps MK4 > KC5 > CMC6 > Sonosax SX-M2 >  Apogee Mini-me(aes out@24 bit/96khz) > COAX > Edirol R-44 SD-HC Card > USB > Soundforge 8 (tracking,resample/dither to 16bit/44.1khz) > FLAC(Taper – Andy Murray)


Hartford 8.14.09 – (Photo: Ryan Gilbertie)

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436 Responses to “A Phishy Affair”

  1. Marshall Says:

    To me, music is something that gets passed around like other things get passed around – its meant to be shared. In high school and college my primary source of new music was my friends and their discoveries. Likewise, I passed on whatever I discovered completely on my own. The older I get the less time I spend listening to and talking about music with friends – simply part of getting older I guess. Therefore, I’m glad that Phish exposes me to good tunes that I enjoy. Thing is, I still pretty much enjoy Phish’s version of the cover – it’s not like I’m dying to go out and get the actual studio album by the original artist. So often, Phish takes what someone else did, and in true Phish form, when played live, they make it way better. IMO. So, whether I knew about it or not, beforehand, is really immaterial.

  2. Mugician Says:

    AW is right in that the Reba jam is a very simple progression, and it used all the time by every “jam” band that ever lived. The cool thing about it is that it can go to some really crazy places, and you can play some pretty amazing stuff over it – the reason it is a “jam” band groove is because most “jam” bands (in my experience) are not usually very talented, and never take the groove anywhere.

  3. ColonelJoy Says:

    I need to revisit the Vegas Wolfmans for sure….maybe one of the first things I play on the new stereo…after Mahler’s second symphony, of course…

  4. Marshall Says:

    Phish is not a jam band. Phish is a band that can and does jam.

  5. Stupendous Says:

    Ooh ooh I like this topic “The Reba Jam” of 09
    the curtain with’s jam and rift are the same song…
    Same with KDF & birds…
    But almost every inspired improv jam from this second leg landed on a subtle but evident rebaesque progression….like its been said b4 not quite the reba chords
    but something that could very easily be one of the tangents the guys get to by bar 14 of the turnaround loop to the begining of the progression….now im losing ya i know…its hard to explain….but anybody think this is weird?
    was;nt there just one reba in this second leg? and reba jams all over???

  6. Mugician Says:

    Mahler is nuts.

  7. Robear Says:

    Allright Colonel, we’ll set it up @ Indio. Rafting on the Salmon and Klamath River that time of year.

  8. Marshall Says:

    Whoever it is on here that’s shopping for stereo – the bulk of your money should be devoted to speakers. Not saying the receiver/amp isn’t important, but its the production of the sound that matters most. B&W makes great speakers, even of the sub/satellite variety. A tad bit expensive, but you might find some previously loved ones for a deal.

  9. Mugician Says:

    It’s not the chords, it’s the intervals Stupendous. It’s funny that Reba is used as the reference point here, when the “jam” has been around since long before Phish.

  10. Marshall Says:

    If it’s just the “jam,” then why don’t I hear “Reba” in other band’s extended jams?

  11. Robear Says:

    Around the 17 minute mark, the “Save The Date” jam begins. Way to spice up our morning, Mr. C and Lycan. I haven’t listened to this Wolfman’s through since, well, some time in the fall of ’98. Missed the show, but my friend got a good bootleg copy afterwards. I came out of my ‘hiatus’ from seeing the band at the Cincy show in early November, ’98.

  12. Mr. Completely Says:


    – “With” just means with the extra jam segments. There are 2 parts to the With jam, the slow Rift part, then the super awesome part that I think of as the “spinning” jam.

    – Rift originally had different music set to the same lyrics, if I remember right? Isn’t that right, smart phish people? When the With section was (mostly, or for a long time) dropped from the Curtain, the slow part was sped up and re-arranged into Rift as we know it.

  13. Robear Says:

    ^THX Marshall, the Colonel and I have been looking for audio advice, tips. I’ll take yours to heart.

  14. Marshall Says:

    Does anyone want to join in for another try at a Virtual Classic Phish show tonight?

    Tonight’s selection is 7/21/1991 – Arrowhead Ranch. This is one of the shows with the Giant Country Horns and a show that was traded heavily on cassette. Find it on your computer and press play tonight at 7pm eastern/4pm pacific. Then go back to discussing whatever you were discussing.

    Here’s Miner’s page that contains the link to the SBD … http://phishthoughts.com/2009/05/08/weekend-nuggets-arrowhead-ranch/

    Remember, this isn’t streaming, so if you want to join in the collective fun, press play at 7pm.

  15. Robear Says:

    Now that was frickin’ halloween inspired jam to be sure!

  16. albert walker Says:

    90% of rock is based on the three chord I, IV, V structure
    there really are not many variations to it

    most of Phish jams are one chord or two chord jams
    very simple structures
    it is what they each play that blows up the jams

    that’s why this music can be fun to play, easy for anyone to just jump in

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    Marshall cuz its not just what notes are played but who plays them and how – for instance makisupa and lovelight have the exact same bassline notes but sound nothing alike

  18. Marshall Says:

    @ cowfunk – I hear ya and understand what you are saying.

  19. albert walker Says:


    I’ve always said that part of With when the tempo picks up and it starts spinning is the most beautiful thing ever
    I love that section so much
    Almost brought tears at red rocks

  20. Robear Says:

    Hey Marshall, sorry I missed last nights virtual fest. I was at the 1996 jazzfest to see Phish. I then moved up to Nor Cal and didn’t see a show until november of ’98.

  21. Marshall Says:

    Robear – People were talking a couple pages back about how they love the afternoon sets from the festivals. Well, Jazzfest was a pre-festival afternoon set (at least I think it was still daylight when it ended – maybe it was dusk). Daytime buzzes are great.

  22. c0wfunk Says:

    And when you are done with the sync show come check out tuesdaynightjam.com to hear great examples of the above chord structures and see what we do with them… (Sorry couldn’t resist a plug)

  23. Stupendous Says:

    @ Mug
    word!…i have no theorical vocab just good ear & rhythm…
    intervals sounds right…

    That fast part or the spinning part ‘is’ the reba chords though…right?

  24. Stupendous Says:

    ^^^ fast part from “with” i meant to say

  25. albert walker Says:

    I perfer the 1step down interval

    Fire on the Mountain or its evil twin Meatstick

    same interval but going down and back up
    instead of up and back down

    the rhythem and nuances are what makes all the difference

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