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 setsĀ  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. chefbradford Says:

    12/29/98 may be my favorite 2001 ever. Insanely good

  2. lot rat Says:

    I dig 4/5/98….just a 10 minute build and one sick peak.

  3. Robear Says:

    Portland will be a tough ‘shorter’ 2001 to beat, me thinks.

  4. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    no i was saying i changed my mind! that i liked spac 04 on the relisten! geez.

  5. gus Says:

    @Robear – agreed. that 2001 from portland is top notch. especially the first like 30 seconds or so after the first ‘chorus'(not really sure what to call it) are prefect, i got the best AUD source and it sounds AMAZING

  6. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    for 2001’s i always go to 12/6/96 which is a classic show but a super funky 10 minute dance party of a 2001, OR the great went of course! 22 minutes of pure funk!

  7. gus Says:

    I think the great went has to go for my all time favorite.

  8. Robear Says:

    @ gus, me 2, re: the aud source. (MG 210 16-44)
    bone shaking mike bombs. very patient, feels longer than it is.

  9. jay Says:

    I really like the 2001 from the Island run. There is like 7 min of funk and they have not even approached the song yet!

  10. ma Says:

    all good here.

    just in my opinion, that’s sacred ground and you’re dismissing the twist.
    enjoy it becasue it’s good, not because people say so, but because YOU say so.

    and yes, it’s that good!!

  11. Neemor Says:

    Want to clearly hear the difference between a tired/drugged out band and a clean/happy one?
    Listen to the Scents from MSG and the Scents from SPAC ’04.
    Different bands.

  12. EL Duderino Says:

    The “battle” between the two different styles of type I vs type III merit this in depth discussion. Maybe their just getting older. Sobriety has something to do with it of course. The proficiency issue was a major bummer during the ’03-’04 years and Fishman has stated that they needed to regain credibility and when I say/mean credibility, not just a loose open ended jam band but people who are masters of their instruments/craft. Now this correlates to their age maybe, as they get up in years doing something really well may mean more to them at this point in their lives than an opiated feeling of 30 min excursions give. I do believe that there will always be extended jamming with these guys and hell yes there should be, it just won’t be as frequent as some of us may like. Whatever the case may be things are on the up swing and not the downturn which is good for all of us.

  13. lot rat Says:

    I really like the 2001 from the Island run. There is like 7 min of funk and they have not even approached the song yet!


  14. Leo Weaver Says:

    some of these 2001 recs bring back good memories…where are my headphones??? ahhh….better

  15. flarrdogg Says:

    beep- Live Phish Volume 4: 6/14/00. The 2001 is one of my personal faves. That whole show is outtasight!

  16. flarrdogg Says:

    Sorry for the double post about Fukoka. Playing catchup again. Damn life interfering with my phishthoughting.

  17. flarrdogg Says:

    Also- for you Twist lovers out there, relisten to the one from Fukoka. WOW-been too long since I’ve listened to this show. A revelation. Seriously.

  18. chefbradford Says:

    BOTT, Twist->Jam->Walk Away->Jam->2001

  19. Leo Weaver Says:

    @mitch (if you’re still around)…we’ll hold it down for you. what a dick

  20. ma Says:

    my love for the spac twist has nothing to do with a love for twist…..
    it has everything to do with a love for where they take that song…
    as we’ve all mentioned, getting lost in a tune and having no idea what song u are listening to can’t be understated.

    i’ll stop now…take care!

  21. flarrdogg Says:

    ^ For real, chef. One of my favorite shows…of any era. Have you listened to any of the other shows from Japan- there are some real gems in there. 6/16 from Osaka is fierce, too. Man, that would have been incredible to have seen them in Japan- especially playing at such a high level.

  22. Marshall Says:

    To whoever it was that said that they have kept it a secret from their wife that they have internet friends, so she won’t laugh at him for having internet friends. Booooo!

    This ain’t no “chat” room. It’s almost 2010 and in the land of E-mail, txt mssgng, Facebook, #Twitter, the Internets, and Inter-webs, making friends via the “online” world is no longer taboo. These technologies are making the world a smaller, more intimate place.

    I’m having lunch with Leo W. tomorrow and it’s because of this site. So, back to my point … friends are friends … doesn’t matter how you meet.

  23. ma Says:

    well said

  24. Leo Weaver Says:

    hmmm…since there’s no new show to dl, think I may have to go find those Japan shows now…thanks @flarr!

  25. Selector J Says:

    Miner, you’re spot on today. I think a lot of people are wondering the same things. I mean, Phish knows what awesome sounds like, right?

    Thanks to everyone tuning in last night. Hope you liked the Scratch tunes. I could have easily gone another hour or ten with those. I was kinda hoping the trendie rock* chick would call in sick…

    Just got shot down for Spring support not once, but twice, in a one hour span. Back to the drawing board. Feel free to send good vibes this way (also accepting cash). C’mon, pronoia!

    *totally just made that up. patent pending.

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