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. Leo Weaver Says:

    yep, that’s the first thing I noticed about that Sand. I’ve always liked the tunes that allow him and Fish to get in that pocket (I think) you guys talk about…I’ve always called it “holding down the bottom end.” And when they’re there, Trey can Page can do almost anything they want over the top and it’s great. But what’s best is while in the pocket, they both make those slight but effective shifts, changes, fills, runs, etc, etc. I’ve always known the Cactus was an incredible musician, but he’s REALLY been showing off this tour. I talked to Robear at MPP and we both agree that as a whole, the band is using all the tools they’ve picked up along the way and are honing them and using them in new and evolved ways. I think Mike is a perfect example of this on the individual scale…I’m hearing things out of him I’ve not heard before, at least not to the extent and complexity.

  2. c0wfunk Says:

    @mr c I had some very fun guitar hero times w/ the fam night before mpp – I see why you enjoy .. Playing basslines on easy is actually very hard because so much of the groove is missing!

  3. Leo Weaver Says:

    guess I should pick up some Guitar Hero…just gotta get that little gray box first 🙂

  4. c0wfunk Says:

    Fwiw that “pocket” is what is sometimes missing in pre 96 (ish) phish..

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    @c0w – yes, playing on Easy (or now Medium) is often harder than Hard on songs I actually know, because my hand wants to play what I know should be there…

    depends on how good the charts are too, really a lot of variation there

  6. Jay Says:

    I think I love the “phishyness” a lot as I fell in love with Phish when it was all about phishyness (’90 – ’92). I saw more than half of my Phish shows in that time frame. Back then, it was all about that (narrations, gamehenge, secret language, vacumn solos, etc…). Loved the stage silliness juxtaposed with the seriousness in craftmanship. Still do.

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    I’m out kids – great chats today .. Checkout the jam if you get a chance..

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Leo, I grew up a video gamer and totally burned out on the whole thing when working at a computer game maker in the late 90s…but I fucking love the Wii. I don’t play a lot of different games, but GH/RB, Mario Kart, and World of Goo are all really fun in different ways. And Mario Galaxy is a trip.

  9. Chuck D Says:

    Marshall –

    How’d the simul-listen go last night? How many participants did you get?

  10. Chuck D Says:

    Ever played Mario Galaxy? Ever played Mario Galaxy on weed, man?

  11. Mr. Completely Says:


    yes, I have.

  12. Leo Weaver Says:

    yeah, we’ve been thinking about picking up a Wii…my sister used to work for PC World magazine and tried to turn me onto the system before they came out (3 years ago maybe), was telling me all about it and how much time the guys in the office were wasting “testing” it for their upcoming reviews…all the guys there gave the system mad props and I’ve heard nothin but glowing reviews from everyone since…

  13. Leo Weaver Says:

    ok…out for a while…gotta to teach the neighbors about an upcoming rezoning petition in the ‘hood…

  14. Marshall Says:

    @ Chuck D – not sure … I think one (me). 7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch starts in 5 minutes for anyone interested. (It’s basically just listening to the same show at the same from cyberspace).

  15. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern

  16. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky

  17. pebbles Says:

    I’m finally owning the fact that Gorge 1 and maybe RR2 were better shows than Hartford, as far as the recordings go.

    Being in Hartford was really freaking special, though. I went with some horribly jaded former fans who bitch about Phish all the time. Two of them couldn’t even stand up any more during the second set– they were blown away.

    I haven’t felt that good in, or leaving, a venue since 97.

    Anyone want to clue me in to the humongous nitrous objections people seem to have? What is it about nitrous that ruins lots for you guys?

    I personally think it is really funny, and kind of like the carnival-like atmosphere produced by watching a bunch of spunions run around with dozens of balloons. I’ve never seen anyone get violent when high on nitrous, either. Is it just the unconscionable profit that has people hating? or the litter issues? Are some of you too weak to resist the hippy crack and hating for that reason? Am I missing something?

    Because, frankly, the lawn/in-park lot at SPAC was the shit whether or not there was a constant *ppsssssssssssssssssssssss* providing the aural background, and I still had a blast.

  18. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus

  19. Mr. Completely Says:

    I love the word “spunion”

    *love* it

  20. Gin Says:

    I’ve never been to a 3 set show before, and am wondering how each set is typically comprised, i.e. in a 2 set show, the first set is mostly non-jam songs w. a Reba/Divided Sky/SOAM thrown in, and the second set is mainly jam songs.

  21. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, Poor Heart

  22. pebbles Says:

    @Gin: forget about “typical” where 3-set shows are concerned.

    The third set can be completely ambient, or feel like an extension of a second set (see, for example, the Tower jam from IT, or Set III of the second night to illustrate these points).

    However they play it, a third set of Phish is blissful, if somewhat exhausting.

  23. pebbles Says:

    sorry, set III of the second night of Oswego

  24. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, Poor Heart, SOAM

  25. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, Poor Heart, SOAM, The Lizards

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