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. butter Says:

    oh my god …. i still don’t have my Joy Box

    just got off the phone with dry goods said 1-2 days

  2. chefbradford Says:

    Asked for the Joy Box for Christmas/birthday, mainly because I want the bonus CD. Please let us all know how it is, butter! Hope you wake up to UPS knocking on your door tomorrow

  3. Selector J Says:

    Thanks, chef.
    Ideally, I wanted to get the crowd of people moving by on the other side of the barricades, too. However, I had to prioritize: the okay shot vs. the perfect shot + confrontation with cop on the brink of losing his mind.

    Jeez Butter. That sucks.
    I’m starting to wonder if those Joy Boxes weren’t just some elaborate hoax.

  4. voopa Says:

    That pic is hilarious, SJ!

  5. halcyon Says:

    I heard the same people producing the Joy Box were also producing MMW’s Radiolarians Box Set. Both box sets had “production” issues. Whatever that means. I just received my box set after being delayed as well. It came about 1 month late. At least they had the courtesy to let me know it was delayed. I still feel your frustration Butter. Hang in there! Patience is a virtue! At least thats what I remind myself 😉

  6. BingosBrother Says:

    Best pic evah Selector!
    Live Further stream for those interested.

  7. jdub Says:

    Re:2001 in Ghost, it may have been talked about and I missed it today but there is definitely very strong hints. At about 11:30 into the song they could have easily shifted into ghost and it would have been a fine transition. This is clearly an example of choice by the band to keep pushing, I’m curious which member kept the tide from turning. Mike seemed like he was ready to drop but the groove kept on going. Ghost featured a heavy Birds tease around 13:40, this time it was Trey ready to drop but again the groove kept on going. Perfect example of where the band is right now. Able to weave in and out of themes rather easily, and then making a group choice to follow a lead on the fly, all the while keeping things very tight and on point.

  8. gus Says:

    yes! I just looked at my schedule and starting after christmas break I have my music theory class! I’m looking forward to that so much…I really don’t know that much at all. I just am good at picking things up.

  9. jdub Says:

    edit: easily shifted into 2001

  10. butter Says:

    i ordered it 9/1…if i have it on time for the plane trip to Miami that would be great….
    at least they are playin again…ha ha

    MSG was beyond great

  11. jdub Says:

    @Gus, nice work on the piano, thanks for posting

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    good luck @gus –

    im certainly a bit envious of your ability lol

    keep it up!

  13. Selector J Says:

    I’m remembering more and more how it went down the more I think about it. (I was racking my brain, why didn’t I try at least one more? How did they see me? There were all kinds of people moving by, I could have snapped another discreet one, for sure.)

    Now I remember…
    Flash goes off… Oops.
    Cops look right at me.
    Motion, ‘come here.’

    I felt bad for them but… man, that’s a once in a lifetime photo opportunity.

  14. jdub Says:

    Making up for lost time today on the board, one more thought on dancing. People were discussing not to long ago doing the kirk gibson at key moments. I had not experienced the kirk gibson before but at MSG I found myself kbing all over the place, I’m wondering if it is phishgroove09 pulling out the kb in me or maybe the music in general is affecting me different as I have aged. I dunno, but damn, that move is so perfect at times.

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    envious cause i have been playing for 15 years and you got it going on so young..

    again nice work man.

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    although it is very odd to see it backwards! lol

  17. chefbradford Says:

    Lycan, how are things? Any more late nights?

  18. jdub Says:

    @selectorJ, I caught the end of your show last night. I’m not normally into dub, thanks for giving me an easy reason to expand and listen to something other than Phish these days.

    That photo is fucking hilarious.

  19. Lycanthropist Says:


    no not in the last couple of days..

    been going into work early early (5am) to finish up for the semester…

    got a weekend full of gigs this weekend. so i am sure i will be seein the sunrise at least one night 😉

  20. jdub Says:

    How often do you gig Lycan?

  21. gus Says:

    thanks guys, i really appreciate the input. this is kinda new to me, recording stuff and putting it online. I’m glad it’s worked out so well. already have more than 300 views on youtube…

    @lycan – so you play piano? any other instruments?

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    well lately it has been pretty often..

    just depends i guess but I would say anywhere between 3-10 shows a month…

  23. gus Says:

    oh wait. i just remembered your bands. totally blanked, sorry.

  24. Lycanthropist Says:


    yeah i can kinda tool around on a guitar but nothing fancy.

    been focusin on keys for a long time.

    click on my handle and stream one of the This Side Up shows to see what I am workin on.

    man I can’t say this enough, but to be able to pick Fluffhead up by ear is an amazing feat…
    with some proper training under your belt you could be a force to be reckoned with.

  25. SillyWilly Says:

    Howdy, all, looks like im in for the night. Blizzard in Madison.

    exam post-poned.

    this means only one thing: chillin’ with the cats on phishthoughts.

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