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. flarrdogg Says:

    Nice, whole tour. Chairman indeed!

  2. whole tour! Says:

    part two:


    wow! those were the days!!!

  3. whole tour! Says:

    12:25 into the seven below on JOTD = pure bliss!

  4. halcyon Says:

    Thanks for the link Whole Tour, definitely relavant.

    Check out Gus’s vid. Learning it by ear as well.

  5. chefbradford Says:

    whole tour, that -7 has been blissing me out daily since I downloaded it Friday. Check it out at 16 minutes or so, MAN!

  6. jdub Says:

    @whole tour, nice article, it gives us a good perspective on the entirety of the phish community. There is something to be said about the fact that the majority (just guessing on that fact) is not nearly as familiar with the music that we are. I think that knowledge of the music, current and old, makes for a powerful experience when you get a good show but may cause distraction from the moment caused by over analysis.

    Re: main discussion of the day. Someone posted earlier (gavinsdad or robear?) that the tighter composed jam sections all for more intimate dancing with the music. I definitely agree with this. I find that I am most intune with the music at a show when I’m dancing freely and literaly with the notes and sounds. Hearing the composed sections of classics played so fluidly allowed me to flow with music in pure improvisational dance. It also felt like the music would move me involuntarily, giving me distinct music driven body/mind sensation. They are playing the composed sections so fluidly and opening up my dance. The improvisational parts take me there too but a lot of times I find myself staring in anticipation and awe.

  7. whole tour! Says:

    yeah…i’m at the 16-17 min mark now!!!! it’s killer!!! Def the best soaring improv of 2009 thus far. Kinda reminds me of the asheville ghost jam a little bit, just how it kinda just chugs along and trey keeps on peaking after peaking.

    I hope it is a solid miami preview. 🙂

  8. Selector J Says:

    speaking of Miami… very jealous of Miami-goers but just fyi for those unfamiliar with the area:

    I saw a First 48 rerun the other day filmed right near AA Arena in the Overtown neighborhood.

    Note to hippies: Do not wander/drive around west of the venue. Entering Overtown =bad idea.

  9. chefbradford Says:

    Yeah, I love that the song peaks so many times. I haven’t listened to the whole show yet because I keep returning to that song. Sublime and beautiful, love that repeated phrase

  10. halcyon Says:

    @ Lycan….I owe you an email….don’t think I forgot….just been super busy this week

  11. whole tour! Says:

    hopefully i won’t end up on the next season of the First 48. lol
    thanks for the head sup selector.

    Last time…i noticed that as soon as you cross beneath the elevated train tracks west of the parking lots…it does get shady as hell. last time there were some shady characters coming out of the woodwork. fo sho.

  12. whole tour! Says:

    lovin’ this albany ghost w/ the “cool it down” and seven below teases.

  13. whole tour! Says:

    this ghost really is SUPER BAD ASS…and deserves 100% of the hype it has garnered.

  14. voopa Says:


    I know what you mean. When the flubs started happening during every song, every show, I just stopped moving. Looks idiotic to move to something you think goes one way, but gets botched and goes a different (or silent) way instead. “Opening up my dance” – yeah, I’ve definitely been feeling that this year!

  15. chefbradford Says:

    Oh hell, Albany2, set 2, here I come…again

  16. Selector J Says:

    I just remember waiting around for my friend in that little lot across the street (with the billboards in the middle) and being in just complete awe of the depravity that was going on around me. Hippie crack, crack-crack, pimps, (poorly planned) fireworks, fights, fights over poorly planned fireworks, etc. It got ugly. And to top it off, since the lot wasn’t cleaned after any of the nights, there was garbage everywhere (mostly beer bottles and balloons).

    On a positive note, I have a friend from Miami and he says the area is getting a lot nicer. Lots of new construction, like condos, going up (READ: less homeless camps) since 03 but he said it still is not exactly the safest area. So I bet things will be a little less Mogadishu-like.

    Oh yea! Did anyone remember the cops that locked their keys in their patrol car and then were trying to jimmy the lock with a coat hanger? Holy balls that was funny. I’ve got a pic of it somewhere. They were pissed when they saw my camera and motioned towards me. I ran like hell.

  17. guyforget Says:

    after being a slave to 09 Phish, i was listening to some good ole’ 93 tasters lately. WOW. I think I would be going back to those early-mid 90 years if i were introducing a newb. Just had to say….

  18. Mitch Says:

    next time (Trey willing) that i see Trey I’ll drop it casually. If that ever happens again (and I obviously hope it does) I was wondering if you can use your connects with jambands or hiddentrack, would that be a media source? They interview all types. Or no blogs?

    Mr c,
    the 2001 was sooooo apparent to me at Albany I said to my friend WTF? 2001 or not? What’s happening? They are blue ballsing the 2001. He looked at me and said 2001? Like he didn’t hear it. I ignored him and put my space helmet back on cause he really missed that one and that wasn’t the time to discuss.
    I like what you said about it. Fishman knew it worked and kept going with it. I haven’t listened back yet so this is all in my head. I think we need a new lot shirt that said “page said no!” instead of the mike ones. Only this time it’s a good context.

  19. chefbradford Says:

    Ok, so I’m the chief in the kitchen in which I work, and I’m kind of a fascist when it comes to the radio. When I’m working, most of the guys know not to mess with my iPod. So, a lot of the time I’m playing Phish. Albums, SBDs, AUDs, whatever show/song/record takes my fancy. So, while most of them never get IT, a few always do, at least to an extent. So, most of the folks I turn on to Phish get a pretty wide range of aural assault. They’ll generally come up to me and say something along the lines of “Hey, I didn’t think I’d like Phish, but this (insert anything here) is really cool. What else would you recommend?” And then I’ll use whatever it was they liked to point them in a direction. It might be think funk, chunky grooves, a great album, but I’m always glad to get someone on board.

  20. chefbradford Says:

    Mitch- are you talking about the 2001 one tease in Seven Below? I swear, i don’t remember the timing, I think it’s about 11 or 12 minutes, Trey’s guitar is doing that choppy loop thing (I know nothing about guitars or tech), and Fish kicks into the 2001 groove, and then a few bars down it shifts again

  21. voopa Says:

    @whoever mentioned Undermind a few pages back

    I was visiting my tour buddy last week, and the first thing I played for him was Meat > Undermind, since I liked it so much. Then I played him -7 > Ghost and watched his face melt to the floor. What a mess.

    What a great wtf song from out of the blue Undermine is, eh? I’m surprised they never played it during 2.0, considering that it’s basically a straightforward blues tune. Glad they brought it out, especially considering the jams that have resulted! Hardly blues at all! Of course, Phish rarely really “plays the blues*”. Maybe a candidate for a topic some time during tour break Miner?

    *though technically not blues, when I heard the Hampton Hood, I turned to my wife and said, “Why is Trey playing so blue?” Perhaps he was experimenting with the form, perhaps he was getting used to his whale pedal, or maybe he was exorcising. Regardless, I’m glad the jam reverted to it’s more typical bliss>buildup>peak thing over the course of the year.

  22. Selector J Says:

    Here’s that pic of thecops locked outof their patrol car from Miami ’03. Notice the coat hanger.

  23. chefbradford Says:

    voopa– re: Undermind. When the Undermind album came out, I heard the title song, though, this is pretty good I guess. Later on I heard a version by on of Trey’s band that was closer to the 3.0 version and though, ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Then came Hampton, and the Underminds since, and I thought, holy hell this fantastic!

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    @haly –

    no rush man..
    take your time

  25. chefbradford Says:

    Selector, love that picture

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