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. chefbradford Says:

    I’ve heard tidbits from the 99 Japan run, but nothing else from 2000. It’s hard for me to find decent sources, as torrents generally don’t run well on this aging, aggravating computer I have

  2. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    @flarrdogg – that’s in my top 10 jams ever i’d say. plus, afterwards they go into fukuoka jam>walk away> fukuoka 2. amazing. so much… peace in that set. just peaceful music making. fukuoka twist is on my list of jams that i only let myself listen to a couple times a year so i dont ruin them for myself. along with 7/10/99 chalkdust, cypress split, island tour twist, and 7.2.97 stash. some others.

  3. flarrdogg Says:

    Don’t forget about the fancy new Phishthoughts Audio Archive (shameless plug). There are a few shows from Japan 2000 in there- including 6-16.

  4. flarrdogg Says:

    ^purple- I have jams/shows like those too (Denver ’97 comes to mind) that I don’t listen to often for fear of wearing them out for myself. Special occasions only! That Japan show is also in ‘that’ category. Word.

  5. chefbradford Says:

    Camden 99 Chalkdust=pure, summery bliss

  6. Davey Says:

    I first noticed the predictability of Phish when everytime I heard a Tweezer I KNEW for an absolute FACT that a Tweezer Reprise would be in the encore. Not once, one time, did Phish play a Tweezer without Reprising it in the encore during all 3 tours. I guess I’m not one to complain about getting a reprise but it got a little old knowing my encores.

  7. chefbradford Says:

    Also has a seamless -> into Roggae

  8. Little Buddy Says:

    Davey – Tweezer Reprise never comes to the encore party alone, so there is at least some element of surprise, right? I love Tweeprise, whether I know its coming or not.

  9. She Divides Says:

    @ Davey…actually at Philly2 (11/25/09) tweeprise was the Set II closer.

    Not sure this really changes your point but just jumped out at me since I was at Philly2, and would have been even happier if they’d played several more songs in Set II and more than a one song encore (which was Oh! Sweet Nuthin’)

  10. ma Says:

    hampton saw reprise 2 days later

  11. mittens Says:

    I really hate when I know that one of Phish’s coolest numbers is coming at the end of the set. I’d rather get a zero for an encore.

  12. Selector J Says:

    @Davey, As a unrepentant Tweeprise groupie, I have had this discussion with a good friend of mine and my response is:

    yea but how many double or even triple encores did you see that included the Tweeprise? It’s like a bonus song that rages (not to mention you just got a Tweezer). And it’s a perfect way to end the show, imo. really brings closure to an evening of rock.

  13. Mitch Says:

    I really like the comments on page 10. Good stuff. I like Erics comments and also how aw puts us in check that these are hard songs. Both sides of the coin. Let’s not forget who were dealing with here. Phish. The big dogs. This isn’t little league and even if they are having fun, I know they wanna jam too. It’s what they do for crying out loud.

    I also vote that we all get in on the 2001 tourney and help vote. If all of this has been discussed I’ll catch up on the next few. I’m notorious for being behind lately. Used to be 300 comments a day. Now we get hundreds – thousands.

  14. voopa Says:

    2001: 7/17/98

  15. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    i recommend you all check out the video gus posted earlier of him playin fluffhead(w/ travels) its quite impressive

  16. Davey Says:

    Yeah, like I said… not complaining. I like a Reprise. I’m just a little….. UGH about it. I dance my ass off during Tweezer then when I hear the Dun dun… da da da dun dun dunnnn of the Reprise I kinda get …… deflated.

  17. Leo Weaver Says:

    @davey…are you SERIOUS? I’m sorry bro…

  18. Little Buddy Says:


    Ouch, dude!

  19. flarrdogg Says:



    Come on, dude!

  20. Selector J Says:

    Yeah, like I said… not complaining.

    I know you weren’t, just highlighting all the good that comes with a Tweeprise. You’re certainly not alone. Diff’rent strokes, I guess.

    I spend my Tweeprises wearing a stupid grin and trying to jump in unison with Trey all the while reminiscing on how sick that Tweezer from earlier was.

  21. Selector J Says:


    Made my day. Thanks. Perfect way to end the perfect show.

  22. whole tour! Says:

    good article from yem blog about phish fan Vs. fandom:


    good read.

  23. whole tour! Says:

    so….this little thing called miami is coming up soon. lol

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    interesting article for sure and somewhat relevant to today no?

  25. whole tour! Says:

    Holy shit….watch page at the start pf the bathtub gin. It looks like it is sped up, but he’s just going nuts:


    97. the bomb schizzzzzz.

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