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:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

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

  2. larry bird flu Says:

    have yet to read through all the comments yet, but hot damn miner you nailed the description of that night perfectly! that right there is the reason why i love this band and max out credit cards for them, the energy in the ampitheater, from band to fans and all around that night was downright electric. thanks again for a far more elequoent(sp?) than i could have ever attempted.

  3. Marshall Says:

    7/21/1990 – Arrowhead Ranch

    [Virtual Classic Tweet]:

    First Set: Cavern, Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, Poor Heart, SOAM, The Lizards, Landlady, Bouncin’, Mike’s Groove,

  4. BrandonKayda Says:

    I will be caught up with school, so you guys won’t see me much for the next few weeks or so…looks like some real nice conversation is going down lately.

    I really enjoy Mike’s fills as well, it really shows that he is a seasoned musician to where he can add in little phrases and fills into jams, he is probably one of the best (HORRIBLE thing to say, considering i don’t know all that many bassists) bass players I know because he is very technical but he also thinks outside of the box and can really lead jams when given the chance.

    In other news, I have met some cool people so far this year, i met a 9th grade Deadhead who was cool as shit. I commented his “Steal Your Face” shirt and he mentioned he saw The Dead at the Verizon Center in April, and that his dad had been following them for 30years. Also, I met a guy who is a really chill type of guy, and he has great stories (mostly lsd-influenced, but holy shit the guy is hilarious) He has a great taste in music as well. Dead/Beatles/Zappa. He lives close to me too, so i might end up hanging out with him sometime…

    Anyways, I’m stalling when I should be reading “The Scarlet Letter” for English, so I’m going to head off. I’ll catch you guys this weekend.

  5. larry bird flu Says:

    bk ive been meaning to ask did you ever make it to MPP? i know you were planning on making that your first show, a little behind the times i know but im curious

  6. Leo Weaver Says:

    Mr C, I’m with you on “spunion”…I heard it the first time on the Gorge trip…gives me a good chuckle every time I hear/read it.

    @bk, good luck with your studies…and enjoy your time, soak it all up before it’s gone…you’ll never have it that easy again. best part is you’ve got college to look foward to. and take care of your shoes 🙂

    @marshall…great show!

  7. larry bird flu Says:

    love the word spunion, thats how i snuck into spac was behind a full blown spunion, heady crystals and all

  8. voopa Says:

    re-listening to the 3/7/09 Antelope now…wow! Some nice stuff in there.


    sorry I’m not taking part in your listening-circle-thingy…i usually leave work during the first hour, and while I have discs of the shows you’ve done so far, predicting them and having them in the car would probably not work out…heh.

  9. Wax Banks Says:

    @c0wfunk –

    Jason I heard that fotm section too – a lot like the infamous fotm tease from nye 95 that was oft-debated on rmp… (Drowned jam I think?) … Those intervals are a whole step, while the reba is a half fwiw.

    Nah, Reba and FOTM are built on the same interval. @Mr C –

    albert – isn’t the “one chord jam” style of improvisation basically a Trane invention, or popularization though? I’ve even read Phil (and others) refer to it that way – “Coltrane style one and two chord jamming.” <– I would really like to understand this better

    There were a few dudes playing modal shit back then, but my sense is that Trane was the touchstone modal-ad-nauseam player for a generation. (BTW, wanna hear some serious modal dynamite? MASADA, baby.) One thing about Coltrane’s playing late in his career is that he hardly ‘swung’ in the classical sense, so the audience’s attention was drawn to other aspects of his playing. He was a really out-front improvisor – part of the group, sure, but ‘groove’ was pretty far from his concern for the last 2-3 years of his life, probably more. (I find the 1963 stuff groovy as hell, but after ’65 or so it’s like written rhythms were for touching and sending away.)



    Say you’ve got four notes – GCDG. (The first four notes of ‘A Love Supreme’ follow this pattern; the theme to ‘Star Wars’ is built around the same four.) What’s the key? Answer: there isn’t a key, as such.

    Rather, the four notes suggest a few different ‘tonal centers,’ w/related chord changes.

    G-C and D-G are intervals of a fourth – an ‘open tonality’, i.e. without a particular ‘colour.’ C-E and C-Eb suggest major and minor colours, respectively. (‘Bouncing Around the Room’ is all bright major chords; ‘First Tube’ is basically a single dour minor chord.) G-C and C-G and D-G and G-D are ‘neutral’ in colour; they imply centers of gravity, but they’re not satisfyingly clear the way major and minor thirds are.

    If the pianist is playing a stack of notes like G-C-D-G, the soloist has the option of playing in a few different keys: G, D, and C (major or minor), say, or A-minor or E-minor if he’s feeling puckish. Strictly speaking, the soloist should be thinking here in modes (scales) rather than chords, but leave that extra theory aside for a second.

    If we’re playing ‘My Favorite Things’ in (basically) G-major, and the pianist hits a B-minor chord (B/D/F#), the F# doesn’t necessarily function as the fifth of the minor. Depending on how the soloist plays, that F# can sound out just as colour, a little astringent to go with the lilting G-major chord. Melodically, it has a clear function (it wants to bend upward a half-step into G, our home). It complicates the sound – and the pianist hitting A-C-D-G-A would complicate it in a different way. But as long as the bassist keeps coming back to G-B-D (G-major), the audience more or less knows what’s tension and what’s release. They have a home, you know?

    When Trane solos in ‘My Favorite Things’ (or when Trey solos on ‘Down With Disease’), the other instruments can play any of the notes in the ‘home scale.’ They don’t have any responsibility to a single chord, only a tonal center. If you’re playing around G, B-natural has a specific meaning (usually: ‘This is G-major’), B-flat has another (‘This is G-minor’). Moving between the two can be unsettling.

    Trey’s jam/solos, like Trane’s, are generally modal; unlike Trane’s they’re decisively, effectively one- or two-chord.

    Listen to the 12/30/93 ‘Mike’s Song’ for a jam on a blues (minor) scale, which evolves a second ‘center’ (the fourth) to become a two-chord jam. You don’t hear Page banging out all kinds of weird inversions and odd centers behind Trey – you hear one chord (plus some shades), then two.

    The richest Phish jams often end up in keys only hinted at by their starting places. Think of 7/2/97’s ‘Stash,’ which goes from that dark minor-scale jam to a major-scale jam to a clear major chord progression, then out into ‘noise’ (i.e. no center of any kind), then back in to ‘Llama’ (a straightforward blues). The transition from minor to major to chords is a little discombobulating – for a while there’s truly no center, a rare thing in Phish’s music overall. I think it frees the band up, frankly.

    ‘Reba’ and the various ‘Mind Left Body’ jams allow the band real modal freedom. They’re akin to what the Dead were doing with ‘Dark Star,’ where you’d often hear Garcia playing (essentially) a fifth above his chordal bed, creating that same open effect by contrast. ‘Dark Star’ is built on a major-minor seesaw that’s about as open as you can get; hence (in part) its variability.

    I’m sputtering out and tired so I’ll stop. Anyway I’m trying to make the twofold point that (1) there’s actually a lot to a Phishy ‘one-/two-chord jam,’ and (2) as with the conventions of contract bridge, once you’ve got the basic idea down you don’t need theory to ‘get it,’ so much as attentiveness and a willingness to trust your senses. 🙂

  10. Wax Banks Says:

    Fucking tags!

  11. Lycanthropist Says:

    wow seems like i missed out on some good stuff..

    i want to weigh in on a few things (the “reba jam”, bk’s determination to his studies, Mr. C’s fine analysis of First Tube) but i feel im too late to the party.

    spunion! haha

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    well it looks like wax did it for me!

    thanks man

    i was to tired to try and put theory into basic words…

    good job

  13. Leo Weaver Says:

    nice banks…great and clear explanation for someone who knows just a little music theory (but not nearly enough to put it in words quite like that)

    @lycan…I’m with you man…missed all the discussion today. Didn’t get on til around 5 and haven’t had time to catch up thru the pages…

  14. Lycanthropist Says:

    yeah i know and play the theory, but haven’t ever tried to explain it before.

    it all works in my head, lol

    leo holla if you wanna check out some music

    lycanthropist.kelly (at) gmail (dot) com

  15. Wax Banks Says:


    I’m listening to ‘Dark Star’ now to refresh my brain. The basic vamp is built on two ‘open’ fourths. It goes:

    A-A (i.e. boom boom,) (D-E) (ba-dup) G E-G G-A

    What’s happening in there?

    The center is A, initially, so with the notes stacked atop A you have:

    A D E G A

    The various players suggest a few different combinations: A-Emin, A-G, A-D (sometimes), A-Bmin, etc. Phil plays a big role in implying the chord progression – if goes A-E, whatever everyone else is playing, you’ll feel A-E (think ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra,’ a little). If Phil hangs out on E, the whole band might fall into an Emin vamp. If Garcia’s diddling around in D or Dmin, A and E take on this floating quality, not quite moored to the soloist (or vice versa).

    It’s a far more open-ended tonal space than most Phish music, more directly in line with the droning modal jazz of which Coltrane is the best-known 60’s exponent (with Miles Davis’s mid/late-60’s/early-70’s groups his darkening cousins).

    Garcia liked to throw in a few ‘flatted ninths’ in this opening, i.e. the second note of the scale cut in half. That pinched, nasal quality it has. Trey has been embracing the flatted ninth this summer, notoriously in the Jones Beach Hood as it approached climax (it’s the top note of the ascending ‘Eastern’ scales he kept playing, seemingly out of place).

    The flatted ninth has an eerie, open quality in this context. It turns the upper half of the blues scale into the lower half of a new blues (i.e. diminished) scale, elevated above the home key by an ‘open’ fifth – how much more airy/spacey can you get!

    Anyhow, there are a few more connections for you. Again, these aren’t complicated concepts, really – it’s a matter of using them tasefully. There’s the tough bit.

  16. Wax Banks Says:

    Er, tasTefully. ‘Tasefully’ would be some other fucking thing entirely!!

  17. voopa Says:

    Well put.

  18. Wax Banks Says:

    As for doubts about the ‘Reba jam’ at Hartford, it’s soloing in the style of ‘Reba’ over typical ‘Reba’ accompaniment and feel and mode(s), in the actual goddamn key of ‘Reba.’ It is, in short, a ‘Reba jam.’

  19. Leo Weaver Says:

    @lycan, you’ve got mail…

  20. Wax Banks Says:

    (You can hear the specific moment when Mike and Trey happen to arrive at the Reba change – it’s 11:52 into the SBD track, and thereafter they’re pretty clearly playing the jam segment of the other song. I tend to find tease-hunting mostly a fool’s game, but this is a straightforward self-quote. I imagine I missed the discussion of the quote, and can’t be bothered to go back and search, but there you are.

    The cutoff and jump into ‘Wilson’ was a travesty. Just 15 seconds before, my good friend with 40+ shows under his belt, dissatisfied with Fenway and thinking of quitting the band altogether, had looked over and sighed, ‘I’ve been waiting five years for this moment.’ The pain and frustration on his face after that ‘segue’ was heartbreaking.

  21. NRM Says:

    Hartford was defintiely94 -95 but older and wiser. MPP had its good moments but feh. Not to mention that venue always has its weird experiencial thing going on. SPAC was home again, so hard to compare.


  22. Mugician Says:

    Whoa. Zen Tricksters talk in there?

  23. Mugician Says:

    I’m totally out of it today.

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ it “technically” may have “like” a Reba jam, but i really don’t think its a self quote…just my opinion…i don’t think any of them were thinking anything about the song…and obviously we’ll never know.

  25. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    this reba jam was just like when they used to do ‘slave jams’.

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