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. Neemor Says:

    It was something.

    Very Phishy.

  2. the_dude_abides Says:

    The Hartford show was special to me for so many reasons. I was introduced to Phish completely by accident. My uncle had found a case of CD’s at the Knight’s of Columbus hall that he was a member of. After several weeks in which noone claimed them, he gave them to me. For the most part they were horrible hair metal bands like Dio and Dokken, and no that’s not a joke. Snuck in there though was A Picture of Nectar – and it was not like anything I had ever heard. It was just so, not what I was into at the time, but I kept going back to it. Eventually one of my friends older brothers found out I was listening to it, and told me that studio Phish was not real Phish, and he handed me a tape. This was about 94 or 95, and he just kept handing me tapes whenever he saw me.

    Fast forward to 1997 – November 26, the night before Thanksgiving @ the Veterans Memoral Colliseum – aka The Hartford Civic Center. I finally saw them for the first time and It just clicked – I got IT and never looked back. I went to shows whenever I could afford to, and I found that at shows was when I was the happiest.

    Unfortunately the last show I was able to attend was Hartford 2000, and shortly after Coventry I, like many, felt that an amazing chapter in my life had ended. It was like having your first love walk away, and I knoew I’d always look back fondly, and wistfully, but I wouild never feel like that again.

    Three years ago I met the most amazing woman, and I’m happy to say that we are now engaged. Try as I might to explain Phish to her, she never really got it. She didn’t understand why I would track setlists as they happen, or why I would download shows right away and listen nonstop. Once the summer tour was announced, she did everything possible to make sure that we got there.

    For me Hartford was where it started, and where it felt like it ended, and then where it was reborn. On the Phishiest show of the tour, my fiance got IT. She understood what It was about. During Mockingbird she just looked at me and said “This is beautiful”. We’ll be attending more shows, but nothing will ever compare to that moment when the two loves of my life fell into synch.

  3. Neemor Says:

    I had mentioned yesterday that you can hear Trey tease the Psycho Killer groove early…it’s like you can hear his mind at work.

    Listen 8:24 of the Ghost Jam.

  4. c0wfunk Says:

    Abe, I have to agree that, on tape, music alone, this show is overrated. But by all accounts there was something special and phishy going on that we’ll never hear on tape (were u there? I was not). And the show certainly has historical merit as the return of the prophet … Trey made it sound so spontaneous out of that pong rant but I have to wonder if the forbins icculus double whammy was planned. I’m still wondering if this was the first storyless forbins ever – to my knowledge it is.

    Honestly I’ll probably end up listening to merriwether more, due to its uniqueness and the fact that I was there (and the fact that I’m physically addicted to tte but that’s a whole other topic) .. I’m probably the only one though

  5. Neemor Says:

    I guess I’m missing what’s being called ‘overrated’.

    There’s no 27 minute AC/DC Funk jam, but the entire first set is extremely well played.

    The second set has some gorgeous jams, crazy antics and a dance contest.
    The bust-outs are as heavy as they get, also and see Miner’s post for the feel of the show.

    What is overrated again?

    The lack of a four song set, I think.
    I just don’t think that this is the same band that pulled off four song sets, guys.

    This show IMO is perfectly rated for what it is.

  6. Neemor Says:

    I think some of us got accustomed to the Disco Biscuits during the break and are looking for something else, I really do.

    But this is Phish.
    Different beast.

  7. SOAM Says:

    Miner-you are truly out of your tits-but in a good way. If phish don’t give you season tickets for life their nuts..I mean wow, man.

  8. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    The four song sets never struck me as particularly “phishy”.

    This show exemplifies what phish is about – warts and all. Yeah, there aren’t any “epic” jams that will hit legendary status but the sum is greater than the parts, as most phish shows are. If you go in looking for something, chances are you won’t find it. But if you go in with no expectations you will be surprised by what does transpire. It is for this reason that I don’t get too involved in “calling” songs or saying things like “I really hope they play X tonight”.

    I am content to write down the setlist as it comes, noting any particular highlights that I experienced with my oh-so-unique method of adding what I determine at the time to be the requisite number of exclamation points.

    I wasn’t at Hartford, but I can tell you that there would have been a lot of ink on my page from this show both because of the playing and the antics. Oh, the antics…

  9. AbePhroman Says:

    No, I get the point of the article.

    The only thing I will listen to from that show is probably the Slave.

    There have been many well played sets this summer better than Hartford but they played Icculus so it gets blown out of proportion.

  10. c0wfunk Says:

    Hm I see your point, neemor certainly, and I’m not among those clamoring for 4 song sets and 27 minute jams. I also don’t much care for show vs show arguments, BUT I just don’t see this as “best show of 2009” as many are saying. Maybe the best one to be at, but on tape I’ll take rr2 or or gorge1 if I have to rank.

    This assertion that the forbins was flawless is a little off as well – there are a few treyless moments for sure, and by 2009 standards it’s actually a bit off to my ear. Psycho killer, while fun, is kind of a mess as well. (Obviously I’m nitpicking here which isn’t usually my style, so …..

    But yes, perfect, phishy, epic, classic.

  11. Robear Says:

    Nice one Birdog. THe crowd absolutely erupted as the mass of people exiting the lawn and pavilion converged at the vending area of the venue.

    The worst thing about the East Coast scene and venues was the Nitrous. WTF, the cops are too busy shaking down kids for a little cheeba to stop the huge Nitrous mobs? Come on, that has to change.

    CowFunk, be careful attributing comments to people that work directly for Phish. Just sayin’.

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    And I’m *certainly* not one of those who got used to the disco biscuits (rank amateurs to my ear)..

    Type iii we see things in a similar way so “hear hear” to your comments – but my point is that the “antics” do little to enhance a show’s recorded value.

  13. c0wfunk Says:

    @robear – word will keep a lid on .. Was a precoffee post and probably a bit too open (Where’s that damn edit button?)

  14. Robear Says:

    ; )

    I love info. too, though.

  15. c0wfunk Says:

    For the record though he just has rumors like the rest of us!

  16. ColonleJoy Says:

    The show is rated appropriately

  17. MakisupaSecurity Says:


    We been waiting for your follow-up thought on Hartford. Im glad you gave the show the full thoughts treatment it deserved.

    Hartford is what I needed after Fenway and Great Woods. Both were a lot of fun but they were missing something, both shows were satisfying but left me with a bit of a jonse. After Hartford I was laying on my back in the hotel room and beaming at the ceiling, letting the events of the night fully sink in. Good times, good times.

    You are so right on about the “feeling” of the show as opposed to the actual music. Phish is back, and if anyone had any doubts all summer, this cleared the air. I’m also glad you didn’t blast Trey for putting the guitar down. He’s already proved his worth, he was relaxing and having a great time with us. I loved it, it felt personal. Its so great to see Trey in good form. I truely believe we are witnessing a kind of renaissance for the boys. Hopefully the fan mania will simmer down a bit and tickets will be easier to get for the die hards again.

    In the IT documentary Fishman said he wanted to prove that they ARE a great band worth listening to. They proved it yet again. Phish is still relevant, they can still do it, and they will for some time.

    The only real bad thing about this show is its making me regret more and more that I can’t make it to Indio 8. Hopefully a summer festie in New England will be a reality next year.

  18. ColonleJoy Says:

    If you haven’t heard the Antelope from 7-29-97….you better get on it, kid

  19. c0wfunk Says:

    Col glad to see your jadedlevel has decreased as the band’s comfort level has increased!! You got your internets all straightened out? You lined up for festie 8?

  20. ColonleJoy Says:


    Limestone is on next summer for sure, I imagine

  21. ColonleJoy Says:


    Yeah, no more work…waiting for a flight to kuwait, just lounging at the Morale Lounge…

    Yes, I am unjaded, as everyone should be…

    I got a free condo at Indio!! 3 miles from the venue. got plane tickets….window for heady nug consumption will be open wide

  22. c0wfunk Says:

    Wow limestone .. That would be a dream. The lemonwheel was a defining point in my life – in fact the gumbo – sanity is like the center point of my life – there is a time before and a time after. Let’s collectively visualize that happening and manifest it as a reality next summer!

  23. Robear Says:

    Colonel, I’ve been practicing my aim all summer. I’ll hit your window, dead center, when I see you.

  24. Chuck D Says:

    Who is the “Nana” that Mr. Minor speaks of?

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    Awesome col – can’t wait to hear your reactions after .. Welcome to the other side… So are you done with your service or on hiatus?

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