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. DaNcInG fOoL Says:


    here is a much simpler and more concise explanation of modal jazz.

    take miles’ so what.

    the prgression is d dorian, d dorian, modulate up to d sharp dorian, and then back to d dorian. any instrument can play whatever the hell they want as long as it is within this scale.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    thanks a lot Wax, I’m glad I checked back. I’m going to listen to a few of the specific things you mentioned over the next day or so, to attach the concepts to concrete examples.

    I’d be curious as to your thoughts in this context on the 10-31-98 Wolfman’s jam; it came up earlier, and is a favorite of many people’s, including mine, and while perhaps not entirely sui generis as a late-90s phish jam it’s certainly a distinctive example of the band playing unusually far “out”

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    @f0ol – but I don’t know what “dorian” means in any functional sense. I know it refers to a mode. But a concrete understanding of what that means in practical terms is what I’m trying to grasp. notes and chords and keys, I get that, but the modal relationship between them is something I have always understood only in vague, even metaphorical terms…since he gave specific examples (even threw in a Dark Star for me to hold on to), I think I can actually learn from this…

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    very VERY interested to hear anything on the subject of the techniques or methods of improvisation by anyone who actually does it, of course…I just checked the tuesdaynightjam.com site to see if c0wfunk was actually up to some of that ole improv while we speak of it, but nothing’s up…

  5. Mugician Says:

    Anyone here heard of the Zen Tricksters? Or as they’re currently called: Donna Jean and the Tricksters.

  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    the dorian mode is just basically a scale within a scale. dorian is a minor scale. but it’s technically the same as E phrygian, F lydian , G mixolydian, A aeolian, B locrian and C ioanian

  7. neemor Says:


    I saw Donna and the Tricksters at Gathering of the Vibes two years ago….I think in Bridgeport, Ct.

    Nothing to write home about.

    Besides nostalgia.

  8. neemor Says:

    I gave a good listen to that Wolfman’s today 10-31-98…definitely different.

    I still love the 7.13.99 better,(really any solid 98-99 Wolfman) it (they) just move(s) more for me.

    I think Wolfman’s is one of their most overlooked jam vehicles although as I think back, they generally stand alone, not true “catapults’.

  9. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    so basically so what is d minor, d minor, d sharp minor, d minor

  10. tubeopener Says:

    I just think of modes as starting the same scale on a different tone. In the key of C – start on the 1st note in the scale, i.e. C, you have the Ionian mode. Start on the second note, i.e. D, that is the Dorian mode. D Dorian and C Major both have the same notes. It’s just the difference in the intervals between the notes that denotes a particular sound to a mode. It can be confusing but it’s fun to learn.

  11. voopa Says:


  12. Wax Banks Says:

    very VERY interested to hear anything on the subject of the techniques or methods of improvisation by anyone who actually does it, of course…I just checked the tuesdaynightjam.com site to see if c0wfunk was actually up to some of that ole improv while we speak of it, but nothing’s up…

    (taps microphone) (clears throat)

    What, you think I picked this shit up from books?

  13. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    and actually the reason ‘so what’ is called so what is because this kind of improvisation is a lot easier and less complex than the jazz that was being played before with all the key changes, as opposed to staying within one key the whole time except for a few bars where you modulate up a half step

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @wax, what do you play?

  15. voopa Says:

    “I just think of modes as starting the same scale on a different tone.”

    It’s easy to do that, but you shouldn’t. Modes shouldn’t be attached to their relative key..it’s hard to do, but liberating when you break away.

  16. neemor Says:

    Miner, thanks again for the write up today.

    Well done.

    As far as other bands, styles, etc.

    Ever since I found Phish in 93, I’ve had what people mostly consider a very close minded take on music.

    One of my most common phrases is that I’ve found the best, why listen to anything else?

    I understand that there are other bands that have done things in the past and a few that still break ground nowadays, and I do go to see some other live bands (The Breakfast, IndoBox) when it’s convenient…but I really feel that statement to hold true.

    I just know that Phish holds so much of everything, so many styles, genres….it’s hard to take time out to see bands that might either hit or miss when I know what Phish can and does provide every time out.

    My musical base was set up early with all types of classic rock, but now…I just feel like there isn’t anything new happening that will blow me out of the water like Phish does.

    I used to like to go see Uncle Sammy or Ulu, the New Deal, etc. But more often than not, it didn’t satisfy.

    I truly don’t feel like I’m missing out.

    Is that really close minded or simply realistic, I feel the latter.

  17. Wax Banks Says:

    here is a much simpler and more concise explanation of modal jazz.

    take miles’ so what.

    the prgression is d dorian, d dorian, modulate up to d sharp dorian, and then back to d dorian. any instrument can play whatever the hell they want as long as it is within this scale.

    I tend to think the mode-labeling schema is more burden than gift in such discussions; also I can never remember their names; also I don’t think ‘simple’ applies to the nomenclature of music theory pretty much ever. (Theory as anything other than a playing/listening tool is masturbatory, so I’m trying to explain some theoretical terms without relying too heavily on jargon.) And ‘whatever the hell’ is very definitely not an accurate description of the very coherent solos on Kind of Blue. 🙂

    Modal improvisation is ‘easier’ in that fast arpeggios are a pain in the balls and hard to make interesting, but playing tastefully is no easier in a modal setting than it is over rhythm changes, you know? I’m pretty sure Coltrane was living proof of that – I adore his music and his craft, but the man left good taste behind more often than his legacy-keepers tend to admit. (Miles saw that shit early on.)

  18. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    “And ‘whatever the hell’ is very definitely not an accurate description of the very coherent solos on Kind of Blue.”

    thanks for pointing out to everyone that i was exaggerating

  19. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    people seem to get really defensive when it is pointed out that something so good is actually less complex than something else.

  20. Wax Banks Says:

    @dancing fool –

    Sax/clarinet primarily, though neither in a while. Several other instruments recreationally. I fail to make time now. I’m very definitely not a working musician or anything, never have been (barring the usual complement of bands in college) but what I know about music theory comes from many many hours at the piano figuring out progressions and assembling pieces of music.

    By Way of Back in the Day: I played keyboards for a few months in a slim live version of the Flobots, and wrote/played some horn parts on an early album by Johnny 5 (Onomatopoeia). Those were the days. Come to think of it, the bassist in that Flobots iteration is the dude who was dissatisfied with the Fenway show.

    I don’t wish to overstate credentials here: as an actual musician I’m a rounding error above zero. I just mean when I yak about this shit I’m referring to playing experiences along with listening experiences.

  21. neemor Says:

    In that vein,

    Check out Tim Palmieri.

    Guitarist for The Breakfast (Formerly the Psychedelic Breakfast). Mainly a Ct based band, but tours a bit now.

    Probably the best true guitarist I’ve ever seen. I mean that.

    Facebook, myspace, etc.

    does this thing called ‘Beatles A-Z’ where he (and several excellent guests) play, over the span of five nights, the ENTIRE Beatles catalog A-Z.
    Every song.
    He plays some of the most sublime and perfect segues of all time. The man’s a genius, and for those of us that live for segues….he’s unmatched.

    I’ve seen him play (just one of many instances) something like Cocaine>Legalize It>Heroin just for kicks during his solo/acoustic weekly shows at ‘Bar’ in New Haven Ct.

    Last show I saw, he whipped out one of their classic psychedelic romps through their original ‘Rufus’ (think Harpua)>Peaches en Regalia>Pygmy Twylyte>Peaches>etc.

    Blew the roof off and never a sour note. If anyone’s interested, let me know.

  22. Wax Banks Says:

    people seem to get really defensive when it is pointed out that something so good is actually less complex than something else.

    Less complicated, certainly. I don’t know that I agree with ‘less complex.’ Certainly it’s richer in melodic terms than most jazz of its time.

    I’m off to bed. Sleep well, all.

  23. neemor Says:

    And their drummer reminds everyone of Fish.

    Stumpy little machine with arms and legs.

    Bass player is grand, too….just a great band to see for anyone in the tri-state area.

  24. neemor Says:

    Was it something I said?

  25. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    “Less complicated, certainly. I don’t know that I agree with ‘less complex.’ Certainly it’s richer in melodic terms than most jazz of its time.”

    by less complex im talking about the changes. miles’ and trane’s solos were complex as fuck. and yeah the solos are richer in melody, that’s the whole point of modal jazz.

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