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”

  1. GuitarPicker420! Says:

    First off, @prosin, that’s not what Miner said at all. Miner prefers more psychedelic excursions is all. And Mr. Icculus, analyzing what the boys are doing is what the point of this board is.

    That said, I think that Miner is dead on when he argues that the boys are consciously choosing to not go into really long jams. I think the basic issue is that they don’t want to fall into pissing in our ears. The fact is that MANY of the really long jams have long periods of crap or at least just vamping that don’t go anywhere. I think that the boys are really conscious of a jam that doesn’t seem to be developing and want to move on before it becomes a wank-fest. Now we all know that some of the greatest moments come after journeys into the darkness, but I think that Phish is just reluctant to waste 10 minutes getting there anymore. Plus, they have a huge catalog and they have to play a fair number of songs each night just to keep the rotation up.

    As far as predictability, I am not worried about the jams as much as the song selection. AC/DC Bag opened up 4 times out of 13 shows, almost one show in three. Chalkdust was the opener twice and followed a Bag opener 2 more times. Further Possum opened a set twice and Punch opened up 2 different sets. Antelope closed a whopping 5 sets this tour!

    Not to get into a Dead v. Phish discussion, but the lack of setlist predictability is one of the things that really bothered me about the Dead near the end of their run. You basically knew what the opener was if you paid any attention at all, knew that if Jerry had the opener that a Bobby blues number would almost certainly follow, unless Bertha was the opener, and then you would probably get Greatest Story. Then you would probably get at Jerry tune off of Europe ’72, then the Bobby country song, somewhere late in the set would get you the Bobby covers Bob, and then one of a handful of 1st set jammers. Second set was equally predictable with the handful of songs used as openers, handful used as segues into drumz, 5 or so Jerry ballads to choose from, etc. The surprises came when they deviated from that formula. I would HATE to see Phish become that formulaic. The jams will come because they play well, and I appreciate jams within the structure of a song, after all most of my favorite jazz numbers clock in at less than 10 minutes too!

    As always YMMV.

  2. bhizzle Says:

    “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.” – what is this story of the running naked guy. Also, amen to this statement.

    Finish this statement:

    “First of all I have to say that I’m glad the fall tour is over because…”
    the jam of the days are back!

    “Bull shit we are 40 shows into the year. This is the Phish 3.0 if you don’t like it your crazy!” – amen

    If you asked Phish do you think they’d be able to tell you the definitions of the terms Type I & Type II jamming?

    “and so on and so on and shoobie doobie doo…”

    For an original statement I am glad to see more of the Exile tunes coming out since 8.

  3. Lycanthropist Says:

    btw ~

    great discussion starter miner. ive only been echoing your thoughts this morning. The choice POV is spot on IMO.

    i certainly wouldnt mind seeing some extended improv come out of some different songs: mikes, sand, birds, etc.

    yet MSGs DWD is magnificent. so i guess i straddle the fence

  4. ohhphee Says:

    I personally love the direction this band is heading. That direction is FURTHER. When it was first announced that they were coming back, there was discussion amongst my friends as to whether they just needed the money. Rock and Roll lifestyle, nice cars, etc. I argued that I didn’t think that was the case, but I couldn’t be 100% sure. Alot can happen in 5 years – to fans as well as to the band. Well. After a mini-tour and two full tours, I think it is apparent and without a doubt, in my mind at least, that they are back, they are happy playing together,and they are here to stay. ::crosses fingers:: The pure bliss that comes through in their music is something that I think we all could use a bit more of lately. Let’s face it – things have been a little shaky in the world at large lately, and many of us lost a bit of that magic that we felt when they were around last. I know I feel it in the music, and I know a lot of others feel it, too. The rest is just details. Here’s to many more years of Phish and that magic we could all use a little bit more of.

  5. Lycanthropist Says:

    great point OhhPhee!

    the bottom line is that the direction is forward… and doesn’t seem to be heading toward an end date anytime soon.

    I’ve said it before, but it is very obvious to me that they aren’t just going through the motions. They are fully embracing each song… getting to know it.

    They are having a great time up there.

  6. jdub Says:

    Is there any way to get miner an interview with the boys. I’d love to read their perspective on what their intent is. These discussions are great and I am sure there is a lot of truth to our hypothesis but it would be utterly epic to wake up to an interview with the boys and hear it from the horses mouth

  7. Neemor Says:

    “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.”
    I think this sums up Miner’s Point Of View in one sentence.
    His views clearly come from a place of love and care and he wishes nothing more (as we all do) that this is lasting and sustainable.

    I’m not in it only for the Type II or ‘Open’ jams, listening to YEM from MSG3 brings it all back for me, but I get what is being looked for.
    Key is: It’s here, somewhere, we’ve seen it.
    It will come more and more, I have no doubt.
    This year is all about getting comfortable again and watching Trey from First Tube MSG, they clearly are.
    The Jedi has returned.
    The band interplay is there.
    I heard it in that YEM last night.
    They all sound great.
    I (we) thought that it would take summer tour maybe, possibly by Indio, but it looks like it’ll be the full year.
    I, for one, am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
    I know I owe them at least that much!
    Good morning, all!

  8. Brimley Says:

    Brilliant idea JDubski…I think Miner DESERVES to get a chance to interview the boys…The question would be, is that something Miner would be interesting in trying to set up…?This website is more than proof that he’s legit though…Regardless, Miner you’re the shizzle..

  9. chefbradford Says:

    Only stopping in before work, wanted to say a couple of things. Someone yesterday made a good point: Trey very clearly has a lot more to say now than he used to; hence certain song choices. As for the Albany -7: it’s been living in my stereo, and every time I listen to it, it gets a little more blissed out. Have a great day, all

  10. Mdawg Says:

    Miami will be great

    2010 will knock our socks off!

  11. VTsnowboarder802 Says:

    choice it’s amazing…

    I wonder if the time period of introduction to the band influences choice…

    Case in point, I was introduced to the band prior to a lot of the far out exploratory years. I prefer a tight rock and roll show vs. a 4-song second set. Portland was right on for me – tight playing, mini-jams that stuck within the general structures of the songs. I disagreed with Minor’s review of the show that showcased Light as the high point, for me in that moment in time, I thought it was one of the lows of an otherwise exceptional rock and roll show.

    It seems a lot of people got on post-97, and prefer the exploratory mindset. Most of my friends fall in here, and they echo the sentiments of a lot of what I’m hearing on here, about predictability and lack of exploratory jams.


  12. until you run out of supplies Says:

    *i thought of this and want to extend the metaphor on page 1…a 20+ min jam is like a female multiple orgasm.

    that’s it, carry on, toodly-doo skadoot skadoot 🙂 🙂

  13. chefbradford Says:

    2009 already blistered my feet

  14. Birddog Says:

    For the most part I have been very happy with the amount of jamming. Its the times when things are just starting to sound really cool and then they go into the next song that leaves me scratching my head.

    I will say that second set of MSG 2 was a high point for me for the tour (I was at Albany 2 as well). While the DWD –> Piper contained the only deep space exploration, the WHOLE SET flowed together really well. Piper into Fluffhead, Cities into Free and especially Halley’s into 2001 were all superb transitions and they never lost that super spacey feel the whole time. Not to mention that Trey was ON FIRE – listen to the Fluffhead jam and Bowie. To me this really summed up the best of 3.0 – tight jams, musical cohesion and no fluff (aside from Fluffhead). People forget that in the 30+ minute jams there is usually alot of aimless noodling to get to the sweet spots. This set contained none of that but was still extremely psychedellic.

  15. notkuroda Says:

    nice writeup, I think this is a dead on assesment of Phish sound right now. However, what I noticed about C’Ville was a crucial piece of the puzzle falling back into place. Red is BACK. His playing right now is getting close to the machine gun days of 94-95. I think one of the things holding these 4 guys back is the fact that Mike and Page have spent the last 5 years working on becoming better musicians. Trey and Fish have not, and their playing regressed. I don’t think all 4 of these guys have been on the same page. I think Fall Tour was one step closer. I’m pleased with the fact that they are working hard on their band dynamic, nailing their catalogue with energy and precision. I think the longer jams will come, but not to the extent where we’ll have a -7>Ghost every night. I think the band is doing a tremendous job of mixing up the show experience, and the big jams are going to come on “big jam nights”. I agree with Miner that this has to be a conscious decision on the band’s part. They have to say to each other, that no matter how aborted a jam may get, that they just keep going. I think they’re very afraid of letting the energy out of the room, and entering “noodling” territory. Fine with me.

    PS, Cville was a lot of fun. The floor was really mellow, the naked guy was on fire, and I really enjoyed the “greatest hits” setlist. First time I really heard Divided Sky played like it should be. And the 10 minute Bowie in the first set is one of my favorite Bowies in a loooooooooong time, evil Trey at his best. Tweezer>Light provided a dance party groove that slowly pulled you out of the molasses and into the heavens. And again, it was the best I’ve heard Trey and Fish play all year. Miami is going to be the sick bullshit

  16. notkuroda Says:

    “Is there any way to get miner an interview with the boys.”

    I say we start a campaign of systematic badgering(with Miner’s permission). Like everyone on the board emails Red Light incessantly until they grant the interview just to make us go away.

  17. jay Says:

    anybody snap any pictures of the meet-up Mitch put together in NYC at the Blarney Stone?
    would be cool to put some names to faces.

  18. msbjivein Says:

    What were you doing this time last year???

    Me, Getting pumped for the Derick Truck’s Soul Revival NYE show in ATL….
    THAT’S FUCKING LAME AS SHiT!!! (No offfense DT But..)

    This year I’m going to see Phish in Miami!!! My point is, Don’t take any of this for granted. And remember… The next show is the best show!!!

    PHISH ON!! Phish Heads!

    Great write up Miner! This will spark some good conversation for sure.
    Dig IT!

  19. cvilledsection315 Says:

    I know this might sound crazy, but I think Phish may have moved beyond jamming as the main intent of shows…. and i don’t know if it will ever come back. They evolved from pure composition with little jamming (aside from the planned builds in Reba, Slave, Hood etc) to almost pure jamming (Tweezer, Ghost, Melt, Stash). I don’t mean when the songs were written, I’m specifically thinking of how they were played live. I fully agree with Miner that the band is probably shying away from extended jams because of the feelings they evoke, but I don’t think we should necessarily desire or expect them to return to that point. If this is Phish sober (and happy), I’m very excited. Just like Oh Kee Pa-> Suzy is a part of phish HISTORY, perhaps the extended jams are a part of phish HISTORY.

  20. gavinsdad Says:

    Miner – run your game. great write up.

    i come to this board to let you guys talk it out, especially on this particular topic. to reinforce my position again…i’m a take it as it get it guy. don’t have the analysis chops you all have…i’m more of a cheerleader. i was always a dance type guy and this stuff certainly makes me dance. in the first set of msg 2 i thought i was seeing type II extensions but i guess they were only type I. see? i’m not really a good one for this.

    i wonder if my foundation with the band (1990-94) helped to forge my outlook on this band. i didn’t have the choice to choose an era. i came in on the tight prog plus wailing type 1 and lived thru the bands additional phases.

    3.0, in the 8 shows i saw of it, is coming on thick. i think the thickness and tightness is apparent. seems my focus has been on these two areas, as opposed to the exploration aspects…i’m going to continue to rely on you guys and miner to point this stuff out to me. another reason i dig this site is the jotd or the dotd plus all of your encyclopedic knowledge of the shows. i’m fuller for being on here.

    sorry to stray away from the main topic. i too saw trey reign in a few tunes. i’m not that out of it. but i was just sitting there waiting for the next tune to begin.

    this year was fun. if they keep rested and don’t have a burnout touring schedule on ’10 we’re in for it.

  21. ReidIcculus Says:

    I’m starting to get this feeling, that by early next year, if not already, people will pretty much be done with the Boys again, except the fans. This was a crazy year of rebirth and redemption. They were all over the news, the net, even the radio! Now, they are “old news” again, which is perfect. Like Big Red has said before, they thrive when no one is paying attention, and that’s what’s around the bend. After Miami, if they do decide to go to Europe in the Spring, then come back for a summer tour or 2, it will be old hat, and THAT is what excites me the most. I keep getting this feeling like we are about to go back in time…when in 97 and 98 they were traveling across the pond, picking up new sounds and bringing them home to flesh out. I could totally see this thing of ours ramping up to a 2012 show of Big Cypress proportions. I think the growth that we saw all year, the comfort that is built show by show, will pay off with threats and hopes beyond compare. I still think it’s on…the best is yet to come.

  22. SOAM Says:

    I think that Trey and Co are so excited they are trying to maximize their out put per night…He has alot of songs he wants to play-geez-sometimes close to double the amount of old school sets-so they are in a play 10-12 songs a first set-no real strectch out mode and then play 8 or so where 2 get stretched-it still probably a little new to them and Yeah-Trey is a completely different headspace-especially if he dont partake in anything!!(which I just cant’ fathom)-he probably wants to sing more and jam less right now but there will be lot’s of phases to this incarnation and the current one is very natural-I mean-some believe-or feel that 30 minute jams with no drugs are useless-ot tough to create/stay interested-I don’t know-

    Minor-one thing I notice is that you really are a “jamming-exploration type of guy”-so much so that you don’t really even review first sets-me Im probably a little to ripped but I dance my ass off in the first set-you love the jams but probably need to get in touch with the “first set”-gicve it a little love-I thought at Albany the first sets were good because there were alot of unique-less played tunes-same with Portland-in short-let the first set into your heart brother….

  23. BlowMe Says:

    I understand the argument. I am a huge fan of the 99′ space pyschedelic jams, but there is an undercurrent of darkness and evil to them. The new jams are very very bright and alive with joy. They just don’t have the evil demons in them anymore. And that’s cool with me.

  24. Neemor Says:

    Do you have any additional room at the homestead for one more?
    Just tell the wife that I was a mistake from your past??
    Whaddya say?
    I have a man crush on you, for real’s!
    Sort of.

  25. Neemor Says:

    I think it’s the backpack!

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