A Matter of Choice

12.6.09 (J.Thomas)

12.5.09 (J.Thomas)

With the holidays just around the corner, and four shows left in Miami, Phish is on the brink of completing their first year back on the road. And what a year it has been! With an action-packed fall tour that gained serious momentum in Albany, the band brought hints of deeper musical exploration. Taking the first half of tour to acclimate to indoor arenas once again, when the band hit Albany after Thanksgiving, they were ready to take off – and that they did. Throughout the second half of tour, Phish showed an increased willingness to take risks, something that will be integral in the long-term musical success of the band. Trampolining off fifty-minutes of a deeper magic from the dawn of time, Albany’s “Seven Below > Ghost” pushed the band deeper into the creative fabric of their music over tour’s final week. Creating some of fall’s most indelible explorations at Madison Square Garden, with “Light,” Disease > Piper,” and “Seven Below,” and at Charlottesville with “Tweezer > Light,” Phish began to incorporate more open jamming into their shows.

12.6.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

But aside from these aforementioned jams, and some excursions sprinkled throughout the first half of tour, Phish – and particularly Trey – seemed to make a conscious choice in favor of more songs and less extended improv. Several jams during fall, even some of the spectacular ones, got the kibosh a bit too soon, cutting off potential dreamscapes. At profound musical moments, when Phish would formerly launch into sacred improv, more often than not they launched into their next song. And after witnessing the ease in which the band went nuts in Albany, it’s certainly not a matter of ability or polished chops; it’s a matter of choice.

12.6.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

Many have wondered if taking musical excursions close to, and over, the edge, brings back unwelcome memories and feelings of Trey’s days of indulgence. For as long as anyone can remember, the improv, the exploration, the drugs, losing himself in the power of the music – it was all part and parcel of Trey’s grand experiment. But now sober, and seemingly happier than ever, one has to wonder how his state of mind translates to the direction of Phish’s music. The band has displayed a greater intentionality behind their playing throughout the fall, featuring many blistering and creative type-I playing. Examples of this standout style can be found in almost any version of “Hood,” “Stash,” “Antelope,” “Slave,” “YEM,” “Limb,” “Reba,” or “Mike’s.” Explosive, rather than exploratory, playing has defined these songs, while only recently has “Light,” joined “Down With Disease” as the only guaranteed, open-ended psychedelic jaunts, with “Piper” and “Rock and Roll” not far behind. These patterns create an interesting dynamic at shows, one where almost everyone knows when jams are coming based on song choice. Dare I say Phish, the band that made the the wacky and unknown famous, has become a bit predictable? With surprises more often coming in bust-outs rather than improvisation, the band, while spicing up their setlists, has toned down their amount of jamming.

12.6.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

This evolution is quite interesting, because when the band does choose to explore new ground, they almost always arrive in transcendent musical passages that elicit boisterous ovations from the entire crowd, all knowing they witnessed something significant. Detroit’s “46 Days,” and “Disease,” Cincinnati’s “Rock and Roll > Ghost,” Syracuse’s “Drowned,” Philly’s “Disease” are all earlier examples of this from fall. With first sets  reserved, almost exclusively, for songs, compositions, and type-I jamming, Phish has limited the time-frame of their experimentation to the second half of their shows. But with increased musical risks during the last week of tour, and their enhanced comfort in the arena setting, signs seem to be pointing in the right direction. On the flip side, a tour that I thought would bring us many openly-improvised sets like Albany, brought us only one. That is not to say Phish didn’t play some great shows, they absolutely did. Things clicked on the first nights of Cincy, Philly, and Albany, and at Charlottesville and MSG, forming some stellar evenings.

But the question that still begs asking after almost a year is “What will Phish 3.0 become, and where will their music evolve?” Though Fall didn’t represent a massive step in any one direction, the band now seems at home in all its settings – amphitheatres, arenas, and festivals – and have a solid foundation on which to build upon. With three tours of sober playing under their belts, Phish may be on the verge of something bigger. Hinted at throughout fall tour – specifically towards the end – Phish’s spirit of exploration is alive and well, but the question lies in how often they will choose to don their musical moon boots and trounce off into the cosmos.


Jam of the Day:

Seven Below > Ghost” 11.28 II


The most cohesive, brilliant, and thematic improv from Phish this year.



11.28.09 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany NY < Torrent

11.28.09 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany NY < Megaupload

11.28.09 Albany (S.Kelly)

11.28.09 Albany (S.Kelly)

I: Party Time, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Uncle Pen, Sanity, Foam, Walk Away, NICU, Alaska, Split Open and Melt, Joy, Vultures, Backwards Down the Number Line

II: Seven Below > Ghost, Cool It Down > Gotta Jibboo, Let Me Lie, Wolfman’s Brother, Julius

E: You Enjoy Myself

Source: Sennheiser MD441U x2 set 1: 45deg./42cm set 2: 60deg./58cm, Nakamichi CM700/CP701: straight ahead, Sennheiser e602II: straight ahead > Edirol R4Pro ( Oade preamp mod ) @ 24/88.2

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653 Responses to “A Matter of Choice”

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  1. myers Says:

    the fall shows were spectacular. energy, happy, healthy. can’t ask for more. Make every song you sing, your favorite tune !!! 3.0 now > future. not marty mcfly’in.

  2. freshtracks420 Says:

    Haven’t been able to keep up with the goings on around here much lately, but glad to hear that the fall tour ended in fine fashion…Can’t wait for the New Years run…9 sets of pure, unadulterated PHISH…and hopefully some sweet weather!!! Hope that alot of the regs around here will be making it down to south Florida as well. Just out of curiosity (as I was not at the last Miami NYE run), what kind of parking is there at American Airline Arena? Do many people drive…or use the available public transportation?

  3. Weldon Says:

    Could not have said it better myself. This tour brought great playing, but also optimism and like you said, a foundation to build on. I think that Phish, specifically Trey, is still getting back into the groove they so masterfully shared in. Trey still fights his demons, but he’s the kind of guy that can do anything. It’s only a matter of time before the music takes it to the next level.

  4. BlackamoebaVoidBoy Says:

    Always love the posts…

    I’ve often wondered about Phish’s musical direction these days as well. Certainly feels very blues based at the moment… with bright shining gems sprinkled throughout. With Indio’s tribute to the Stones, various cuts from “Joy” as well as many other standout songs this year, I must say it feels like they’re trying to find a new direction or at least recreate a solid foundation…. I personally thought Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland would have been a brilliant choice this year (maybe next).

    My personal affections for Phish began 11.17.97 (well, before that…) and the transcendent playing of that time…. 4 songs to a set…. 5 songs to a set…. Perhaps in reflection, the boys felt it was a little too indulgent. Do I love the jams? Hell yah! Got to love them. But when you wake up in the middle of a 30 minute odyssey looking for dry ground… well, in the end, it may have been a little too much… specifically when the music loses focus. Tighter concise jams have now emerged more than ever.

    The drawback, if they hold back, is that many a great musical gems (IT) may never emerge (I’m thinking of “Headphone Jam” from the Undermind sessions). Ok, so the boys don’t want to head back into the mire. Good point about Trey needing some sea legs before venturing back out into the void. Maybe it brings him back a little too close to demons he’s still trying to get a handle on etc., but I digress.

    In the end, the “new” Jam must have purpose. Where I’ve found the most recent “joy” is watching the song emerge and then blossom into exciting shapes. Surprises are fun. But, I did fear that the final first set of the fall tour felt like the first set of Indio… bookends if you will, but somewhat predictable(?). Fits the context of the music… but are the surprises are drifting away some? I hope not. I don’t think so. I personally do not want to see the jam coming… Not knowing what’s coming is where the excitement is. And the band know’s it too, they can feel it from the fans when “IT” emerges. But the musical risks…. is it really the reason their not jamming? When Trey flubbed Reba at Indio… the audience cheered… point being, the audience is there with the band. It was as if the audience said, “Don’t be afraid to take the risks. If you fall, well, we’ll pick you up again” (Loved 12/4’s “run like a naked guy”)… hah. Now that’s audience participation.

    In the end, I feel their testing the waters… rediscovering the magic that made them happy to play… happy to jam in the first place. A lot of “growth” this year with a clear distinct effort not to revisit the past without learning from it. I admire their courage to relearn their music and really, really pay attention to the details…. they will come out of this stronger and we will all smile when they do… I’m smiling now. This has been an incredible year of music… flubbs or not.

    Thank you Mr. Miner.

  5. Baxter Says:

    I had a lot of phun at the shows I went to (Albany, Portland). That is what it is all about, if you ask me. It is so nice to have Phish back together, they are the greatest show on Earth.

    Thanx for the tunes Mr. Miner!

  6. Robear Says:

    Awesome write-up, and launching pad for discussion, Mr. Miner.

    Clear progression from:
    “Can they still jam?” to “They can jam when they want to”

    My take is simple, and painful.

    Simple, because the band seems to be saying, “Take a chance on us by hitting an out of the way show, with tons of extra tix, and we’ll take a chance on you, with some open ended playing” (Gorge, Detroit, Albany, C’Ville)
    Painful because I missed all those shows.

    I remember the easy days, when Phish played ‘short jams or long jams’, but we sure called all of it ‘Jamming’ 🙂

  7. Al Says:

    First of all I have to say that I’m glad the fall tour is over because all this downloading, updating my iPod, burning CDs and creating covers was really stressful!
    No, seriously. I think the most noticable sign of life is that the “joy” of playin’ is back. Jams like Seven Below>Ghost, Rock & Roll, Dwd (MSG) and many more proove that they are able to take a ride. The reason for the many shorter jams is that when a jam starts to get boring they just end it. In the old days, I think synthetic substances made them hold up a jam for another 15 min. although most of it might have been just “pissing into our ears”. Now, 12 years later and completely sober, they simply go to the bathroom to do that. The stage is the area for real purpose and fun.

    I’ve listened to a lot from this fall tour and i must say, musically there is a huge progress. Mike tends to lead jams – he opens doors to new key & harmonies. And I don’t have to mention Trey’s guitarplain’. He improved sooo much. Obviously he really practised for this fall tour. Compared to his guitar playing in Hampton, this is completely another level.

  8. prosin Says:

    I guess Miner never listened to pre 94 Phish. If it’s not a 1/2 hour long song Miner thinks it sucks….

  9. until you run out of supplies Says:

    extending phish jamming is an interesting thing. on one level you are listening to the band have sex with each other, a four way orgy at the core, with nowadays up to 20,000 or more gawkers. being the symbiotic relationship that it is, at its best it is an orgy of 20,000 all smashing their sexual/spiritual energy together. tension, release, slow down, speed up. what is strange is, at its best, a beautiful new born baby is born right on the spot and we all stare in awe at it, rightfully so. and sometimes, phish will just keep going, having twins/triplets/quadruplets/quintuplets maybe in one jam. like sex it can be carnal or spiritual, physical or metaphysical, all depending on mood and perspective. ever see trey’s o-face? ever hear that TAB is like listening/watching trey jerk off (think solo)?

    that is the jam aspect of phish. this fall tour, the sex was real good. i personally attended philly 1, maine, and msg 2 (got the flu after msg2 and ended up missing msg3 which i had tickets for. puking and diarrhea will do that to ya). if i had to pick only pick one of the three that i saw i would pick maine because it was like tantric sex and with positions (songs) that just do not happen all that often because the wife just can’t be expected to do reverse cowgirl/anal/piledriver/chicken cutlet/angry pirate/the gekko/what have you, every night.

    still, like sex and like pizza, even if it’s bad, phish is good

    shows i personally wish i would have went to: cinci2, albany1, and VA.

    of course, every single show there are songs AND jams that i would have like to have seen

    my personal list:

    detroit: mountains in the mist (seen it at IT and didn’t appreciate the song at the time)
    cinci 1: fast enough for you (just a perfect song)
    cinci 2:ginseng sullivan, albuquerque (apparently i’ve seen alburquerque at pnc 2000 but i was noob so i don’t remember. i was all stoned and fell asleep at the show because pot and long jamming don’t really mix, BUT once you’ve taken the L you understand and even if you don’t take L anymore the walls have been broken down so you still LOVE the long jams)
    syracuse: BBFCFM; people either love this or hate it; i LOVE LOVE IT!
    philly 1: was there, GOT MY MANGO!!!!
    philly 2: train song
    albany 1: golden age, tomorrow’s song, fire encore
    albany 2: uncle pen, walk away, 50 min jam sandwich + the HYSTERICAL placement of ‘cool it down’, song title says it all
    portland: was there, ALL TIME FAVORITE SHOW for me
    msg1: peaches en regalia and that antelope
    msg2: was there
    msg3: scents and subtle sounds (although i saw ’03 and ’04 camden and ’04 camden is probably my PERSONAL favorite all-time jam. had a personal experience where i was, to quote paul simon, ‘spinning in infinity’) and ‘shine a light’ sans gospel singers must have been interesting. plus, what are the chances they EVER play this song again? i’d bet that’s it.
    charlottesville: old home place, funky bitch, bold as love, and SWEET VIRGINIA in VIRGINIA. COMPLETLEY changes the song, got to love that phish is like L, set and setting baby!

    and after a measley 42 shows between 99 and 2009 i am retiring from phish. it just plain costs too much to see them anyway, for me, and i’m not just talking about in a monetary sense. of course i’ll still keep up with their shows/games as they are my baseball/football/hockey/basketball etc, but i’m going to step away gracefully. i leanred a lot phish, thank you. it feels good to step away on my terms as opposed to the way it felt at coventry.

    “waiting for the time where I can finally say, this has all been wonderful, but now i’m on my way!”

  10. Tale of Two Planets Says:

    Props on the site Miner! You’re my one guaranteed website hit of the day. I don’t have much time to follow the comments but it’s great to see all the discussion and thought I’d drop my two cents for once on this one.

    Just think it’s apt to interject that this may be the “new direction” and in reality is not anything new. The shows and set lists and new and old material alike is all fresh but lets not forget that the days of Phish coming on stage and going type II for hours really only truly began in earnest 1997. The years thereafter certainly brought more focus to open ended jamming and less to assembled sets of directed and intense composition and defined jam-scapes. Those times were grand. But so were the times that led up to that and what we’ve seen this year. Major type II vehicles popped up here and there in the “olden-days” and these were sublime amazing and special moments but the focus was on focus.(for lack of better terms) That seems to be the trend these days. I love off the cuff, off the rocker exploratory jamming but this current style is as much about Phish to me as that. In many ways this is more akin to the Phish I grew up with than the Phish that I came to know. Lastly to make the point Albany blew my mind and was by far some of the best improv of the year but lets take it waaay back to the beginning and listen to that Hampton Tweezer it was so concise but SOOO purposeful. It brought the doom. It just did it in ten minutes.

  11. Al Says:

    ^ don’t agree. I don’t think this is Miner’s point of view.

    It’s a fact that musical & improvisational progress – a new style – shows itself in the middle of nowhere within a free jam. The Band simply hasn’t had the time to find a NEW door to enter new territory. The fall tour was GREAT. We shouldn’t expect a new style / era (like the funk of 97) in their first year of reunion. It’ll grow naturally.

  12. jdub Says:

    @prosin, not to be negative in these glory days, but that is clearly nit what miner thinks. You probably feel what everyone here, including miner, feels. The music, energy, health of band and fan base has never been better (surely it’s been as good). It has been said before, Miner particularly likes the open jams and that is all he is expressing.

  13. mattc Says:

    thanks for the great reviews. here is the 4 mic version, http://bt.etree.org/details.php?id=530487. not sure how it sounds compared to the 2 mic 441.

  14. jdub Says:

    On a positive note, The outpouring of emotions from this board is impressive, some folks have summed up what is going on very eloquently. Phish is shooting for the stars this time. They want to be able to deliver transendant moments wrapped in overtly symbolic and extremely tight music. I would assume that they cleared a hurdle for themselves at the end of fall tour. They will come out for NYE with stuff that we will dream of. I like that miner mentioned their explorations are almost always transendant at these days. These moments may become more frequent as they evolve with their music but they will be patient and only deliver top grade stuff. Most importantly they are delivering the love and energy with purpose. If you see them now a days with an open heart and ears you will be filled up with this love and energy.

  15. Al Says:

    There are awesome MSG photos on phish’s “from the road” website. Check them out. Maybe you’ll find yourself in the crowd….

  16. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Here we go again over analyzing every detail. I know its fun and we all love are band so much that we spend every waking moment analyzing and critiquing there every move. Why this? Why that? Let the boys be boys! Its 2009 and we all just need to be thankful that were able to be jamming to the greatest show in the world. Weather they are throwing down 20min jugerknauts or 20 songs in the 1st set it don’t matter. Just be happy!!!! I can’t get enough right now, need more phish!!! You guys keep saying the same things over and over, there just getting there jamming legs back. Bull shit we are 40 shows into the year. This is the Phish 3.0 if you don’t like it your crazy!

  17. Lycanthropist Says:

    the jamming is there..

    just not in extended format..

    there has been countless creative moments within the tour.

    Just look at at any Undermind from this year. Each one a mini-Type II excursion.

    They just aren’t WANTING to get into 30 min odysseys every night.

    They are enjoying being a rock and roll band. From top to bottom.

    They are definitely ABLE to do it as seen in Albany.

    But this is the 3.0 sound guys. If 2.0 was about the full exploration of Type II, then 3.0 is the full exploration of being a full out rock and roll band.

    just my .02

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    This is a sure fire springboard post. Great topic for discussion, one which may end up with differing opinions needing to come to some form of compromise.
    While I am a huge fan of the open jamming (just look at my screen name), I am also just as big a fan of the pageantry that is Phish. I was reading an old show review the other night on phish.net (7.29.03) and one thing that stood out was the notion that at heart these guys are grown up theater dorks. I don’t mean that negatively at all. But when I look at how they are crafting the setlists for shows these days it is apparent that this is still very true.
    Take Portland for example which contained very minimal amounts of open jamming but had a very definite thematic direction in the song choices and playing. This show was a great rock out with Mike as the central proof to the everlasting spoof.
    I guess my point is that one of the things I believe they are consciously doing right now is playing a lot of the rarer songs everyone has wanted to hear for years and years (and hopefully that at least one of them has wanted to play again). We are still in the formative phase of Phish 3.0 (IMO) and I believe they are trying to reward all of us for hopping back on board the boat. The playing has been superb (again, IMO) and they are having a blast.
    Albany hinted at what we hope/believe/know is the inevitable in the continued evolution of this phase of their career. As a whole the tour stacks up well because — outside of some songs getting significant repetition throughout the Fall — they have opened up the catalog and shown that there are no boundaries. Expectations are for the closed minded. Patience will pay off for us as they build further on this wonderful foundation.

  19. Mitch Says:

    Yo robear. Made it home safe I see. Did you just get the inet fixed or were you in Charlottesville? My Sally and funky bitch decided to come out and the tweezer>light was a keeper too. Your prediction that Charlottesville would be money seems to have been correct albeit with multiple repeats that seems to have pissed off a lot of people. Not me tho, rest of the show raged so it’s no dif than MSG 1 with a few repeats. Anyway more to come, gotta shower.

  20. Afroskully Says:

    Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on and shoobie doobie doo…

    Personally, I am enjoying the hell out of this band right now. A lot more than most of everything I saw in 99 (except oswego), ’00, and ’03-04 (except 2/03 nassau). I liked what i saw in 94-97, where only once in a while you were going to get treated to some 25 min+ exploration. It was a special happening. The consistent 4 song sets didn’t do it for me. But then again, that’s just me.

    Kudos to miner for keeping an interesting dialogue here and for getting us even more excited for this group that we have loads of love for. But this quote… “Dare I say Phish, the band that made the the wacky and unknown famous, has become a bit predictable?”… i don’t quite get. Yes, the setlists have all had a lot of similarities towards the end of fall tour. But what about that 2nd set in syracuse (esp. BBFCFM)? What about the -7>ghost? MSG’s Light and Piper>fluff, Albany’s TV on the Radio tune? What about any of that is Not wacky and unknown?

    I feel like Phish 3.0 = finding a middle ground between exploratory fun spontaneous jamming and straight up Ripping Rock band. Not sure if they’ve 100% found that middle ground yet, but ’09 sure has been a lot of fun watching them evolve into what they want to be.

  21. Little Buddy Says:


    Very nice to meet you ever so briefly at MSG3. Finally got me one of those “Robear hugs” I’ve been hearing about.

    Nice write up, Miner. The issue of how Phish is choosing to construct its shows is interesting indeed. While there may be some element of predictability as to where the jams may fall, there is no predictability as to what songs will be played. So, while I’m really there to get lost in my own head and this is typically easiest during -7>Ghost escapade, its nice to walk in to a show and have no idea what they might play. Peaches, Glide, Curtis Loew, tunes from Exile, etc. I’ll take a tight 30 minute “Type II” exploration over a bust out any day, but since this is the first year back after 5 years away, it sure has been nice to hear such a great variety of tunes (very new and very old) and to hear them played impeccably. I’m really looking forward to the next round of Phish originals that we get in 2010 as well. Life is good!

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    the more songs they play live, the better rehearsed and more diverse they are gonna be.

    It will be easier for them to go out into the ether as they go on, but as I said, its obviously not a lack of ability.

    It has something to do with their personal choice right now. And I for one think they are exploring something that is NEW to them and its the thematic and controlled rock show.

    They are getting into show construction and making sure they the get to everything the had planned for the night.

    Again this is just my opinion.

  23. HarryHood Says:

    Seriously, lets not start bashing Miner for a write up that sums up exactly what his feelings are and what I can safely assume is shared by most of us here as well.

    A bunch of us had this discussion at MSG, but my take on the lack of extended jams is that the band, and Trey specifically, was just downright embarassed by how things ended in ’04. Sloppy playing, forgotten lyrics, etc. I’m sure a conversation was had before their return about focusing on re-learning old material and playing right and tight each and every time they took the stage. I don’t think backstage conversations involve the guys saying, “Hey, lets go out and play a 45 minute Tweezer”. Maybe that’s where they were at in ’96, but it isn’t where they are at now. This tour is about happiness and redemption. It’s not about getting high and noodling for an hour on one tune. It’s obvious that they can still blast us off into the stratosphere, and when they do, it’s remarkable! When they head off into the unknown now, it’s at the right moment and when they are locked in and ready to do it. They aren’t just jamming for the sake of jamming. Personally, I’ll take a few solid 20+ minute jams a tour over many sloppy 20+ minute jams any day. It’s just more of a challenge to catch that one or two shows where it happens. And more extended jams will certainly come with time. Once they feel comfortable that they are playing with the precision that they are working so hard for, the jams will most definitely come.

    Just my two cents.

  24. stash Says:

    I think Miner has brought up a good point. This is all a matter of choice – and it has always been. When we go to a show – we must all make a choice to be taken by the music. The band does as well.

    Prior to the 97, 98 tours – phish was not the cow phunk band that we knew. They were a prog/jam/rock band. Taking elements of floyd, genesis, the dead, and creating a new sound. Taking a jam out is a matter of choice. WHen you have a bood buzz on – there is nothing better than a funked out tweezer or ghost. But, there was always a choice. Choice and discussion.

    Sneakin Sally at the Gorge – planned (sounds fresh).
    Sneakin Sally in VA – planned (sounds flat).


    I have really enjoyed listening to the first sets of this year. They are focused on songs and i like phish songs.

    Just some thoughts.

  25. HarryHood Says:

    Happiness and Redemption Tour ’09

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