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. Selector J Says:

    ^good night all

    oops. I feel like Trey when he skips the ‘God’ and goes to ‘shit’ in YEM.

    “Whoa, God! Don’t get pissed… you’re taking this the wrong way… no, of course, I don’t think you’re shit… You’re God. You’re awesome, dude. I just got caught up in the lights and stuff and you know… My bad, Dude.”

    real last post of evening
    yep. good night all.

  2. Mitch Says:

    well everyone, my beard was super long during phish season kinda like a playoff beard as robear calls it. told the girl id trim it after phish so shes holding me to it now. here goes loooong beard and here comes clean mitch beard. bittersweet. nice to be trim and not have to tame the beard but i really am digging it right now in the winter.

    any other bearded freaks on here with crazy long beards?

  3. whole tour! Says:

    i’m a fan of the bearded clam.

  4. Mitch Says:

    hahaha whole tour.

    ive had a longer beard than ive ever had the past few months training it and shaping it and really letting it grow in nice. now i was so used to it that my normal shorter beard looks funny. and i need a haircut so im top heave and my head looks small. i now know what my dog feels like when we shave him and he gets pissed off. 🙂

  5. gus Says:

    wow. since it’s that time of year again, I’ve decided to break out Jingle All The Way by the Flecktones. That one wins for most creative and unique christmas album. The Twelve Days of Christmas in 12 different time signatures and keys!? you’ve gotta be kidding. there is a bunch of stuff I love, especially Bela’s solo christmas medley. also, linus and lucy is great, too.

  6. SillyWilly Says:

    gus, bela fleck will be in madison on dec. 13th and im trying to find tickets. i love his holidays stuff.

  7. KWL Says:

    and @robear on p15 wins again!

  8. SillyWilly Says:

    i listened to him play on christmas eve last year on npr and that was magical.

  9. gus Says:

    oh wow i can imagine. i would love to see the flecktones live, i haven’t yet, but they never play in massachusetts!!! it pisses me off, and whenever they do (which is rare), it’s far away from where I live!

  10. KWL Says:

    todays jotd & the talk about it makes me think of trey’s new style, guitar pointing out towards the crowd, just walking back & forth across his little space, big shit eating grin (or ‘o’ face), just plain hosing us.

    return. of. the. jedi.

  11. SillyWilly Says:

    i am lucky to live in madison. a lot of cool acts come through here.

  12. voopa Says:

    Been enjoying Syracuse tonight…what a great underrated show!


    That Bela Xmas album rocks!


    I live in Nor Cal. Near Robear, but hours away. Thanks for your kitchen comments..I made similar ones to my wife when we were building it…maybe next time!

  13. Mitch Says:

    neemor won a couple days ago when i wasnt posting, here it is for a laugh:

    That reminds me:
    neemor: “I feel horrible, I saw this girl wearing a name tag and assumed she was a Miner’s PT girl, so I touched her name tag to check out her name. I think I grabbed her boob. She was not there for the meet up.”
    mitch: “Which girl?”
    neemor: “That girl, right there….that’s the one I fondled.”
    mitch: “Sheri….did my friend here grab your boob? He didn’t mean it.”
    sheri: “I didn’t even notice.”
    neemor: “Thanks for clearing that up, Mitch.”

  14. voopa Says:

    I haven’t mentioned how much I like the way Gary has been mixing Fish’s snare drum into the mix…great job! I freaking LOVE how the drums have been sounding! THANK YOU!

  15. mexican cousin Says:

    Just want to add my 2 cents here by saying that I’m all for short songs and more pieces throughout the set if Trey picks it up and brings back the machine-gun rythmic insanity that was early Phish. 6 min. jams can kill as long as they are crunching the shit out of it. Trey used to find amazing lead-rythmic fills in any 6-10 song of yore. It wasn’t about finding new territory, it was pure selfish manipulation/domination of well known standards. Like M.C. escher for the ears.

    The intensity now is this predictable build, build, build rockers. Pop music 101.

    I think Miner’s main pioint is that the only really stellar jams the boys play now are on the expeimental end. They’ve played these short rockers so many times it’s hard to find new territory unless they really take it out there. And Trey doesn’t want to spend the rest of his time on stage just out there.

    Hopefully they will relearn the art of deviation through aggresive forethought. I know “surrender to the flow” and what not, but Trey used to fuck with the flow like a tweleve year old on a musical ant mound. Basically own that shit. Surrender was not an option.

    I hope this makes sense to anyone else besides my-self on the nod.

    ALways enjoy the blog Miner…thanks

  16. voopa Says:

    ^the snare sound in particular. A sound I’ve been missing for a long time now…

  17. Mitch Says:

    so since i finally caught up, i decided to read the msg stuff i missed. gratefulcub, you really think you could get away with this snarkiness??

    Gratefulcub Says:
    December 4th, 2009 at 11:21 am
    Big props to Mitch, not bad for a f’ing Hoosier.

    thats some big balls you got there. p.s. HOO-HOO-HOOSIERS!

  18. Mitch Says:

    … and then i read onto the next page and found resolution like i always do

    coming from Louisville, I like to pretend to hack on “Hoosiers” in the abstract. Just so they can call me a redneck and we can hug it out.

    ya damn redneck. i do love kentucky tho. you guys give us makers mark.

    i’ll stop quoting people like i have been all day since im out of context and not even caught up to make a reference. i guess im acting like donny. out of my element.

  19. gus Says:

    ok. i am tired. good night.

  20. whole tour! Says:

    night gus…

    here’s a round to living in the new “golden age”!

    there are good things around the bend. the new years run. It is a retrospective of the entire previous year, yet it plants the seed for the next. We are witnessing a true birth this december.

    i’m excited.

  21. Mitch Says:

    ok off to bed now. almost 1 and i gotta shower and get up early and still have enough energy for furthur tomorrow night. didnt realize the stream you were listening to was from the same tour even. im that out of it i guess. hope the show was good, i’ll need to check that before going tomorrow night.

    tomorrow will blow without reading this site at work all day. i feel like its my last night before prison. ok, its obviously not as bad as that. work just lags a lot without a great phish thoughts commentary to get you through it, as you all know. anyway, keep on keepin on and i’ll chime in when i can.

    less than 20 days til the miami hoodstream! haha

  22. RER Says:

    Finally got through listening to the last show of the tour all through NoSpoilers. Mr. Miner, can’t thank you enough for doing what you do, listening to the shows on NoSpoilers was the next best thing to being on tour. I felt like a kid again scribbling down the setlist as it happened on whatever napkin or kleenex box was at my side.

    And I have to agree there was far less jamming in this tour in general than I thought there would be. But I have to say, I think from a phistorical perspective, we are just spoiled. The shows from their start to say 1993, had almost no long extended jams. And then even into 94 – 96 they were still far and few between. Phish really stuck to their guns playing rocking clean versions with improv embellished in the composed sections of the songs. I think if we give them another year or two, they’ll start to branch back out again into more lengthy jams, but for now, they’re still relearning material. Take a look at this 93 setlist and how similar much of the timings are to 2009. I’ll take a show like this any day!

    Florida Theatre
    Gainesville, FL

    Disc 1: (72:34)
    -Set 1-
    1. Golgi Apparatus (04:28)
    2. Rift (06:13)
    3. Guelah Papyrus (05:24)
    4. Maze (10:00)
    5. Bouncing Around The Room (03:50)
    6. It’s Ice (07:40)
    7. Sparkle (04:02)
    8. Punch You In The Eye (07:39)
    9. Lawn Boy (02:47)
    10. Run Like An Antelope (11:19)
    -Set 2-
    11. The Curtain (06:17)
    -final song of Encore-
    12. Rocky Top (02:52)

    Disc 2: (79:09)
    -Set 2 cont’d-
    1. Stash (11:53)
    2. Poor Heart (02:30)
    3. Sample In A Jar (05:11)
    4. Big Ball Jam> (03:04)
    5. Ya Mar (06:19)
    6. Mike’s Song> (07:16)
    7. I Am Hydrogen> (02:46)
    8. Weekapaug Groove (07:39)
    9. HYHU>Terrapin>HYHU (12:00)
    10. Fee (05:12)
    11. Llama (04:29)
    12. crowd (02:25)
    13. Sleeping Monkey (06:21)
    14. Amazing Grace# (01:58)

  23. TJ Says:

    I do agree that it is a matter of choice, but I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Trey’s sobriety has anything to do with the jamming/not jamming aspect.

    While Trey’s sobriety has an effect on the band, it is much more likely to be positive: more rehearsal, better ability to listen to what the other bandmates are playing, less self-indulgent playing, picking his spots instead of stomping all over what page or mike is adding etc.

    In recent interviews with all of the guys, there has been much lamenting over the loss of the songs and their structure over time. The songs themselves, as written, eroded over time, and as the jams got bigger, they swallowed up the songs. The improv was why we went, but it went to far in one direction. In 2003-4 they weren’t going through, as mike put it, “The ritual of the song”. The jams were sloppy for the most part and not as creative. The songs themselves were botched. It was not fun or transcendent for us or them for the most part.(Or at least not as fun or transcedent as it used to be).

    The songs are the way into the sick sick jamming. All four of them hitting their parts, listening to one another, playing crisply and on time and going through the ritual of the song is what creates the launching pad for the jam.

    I think what we are hearing now is a band wanting to get up to a high level polish with all of their material, so that they can then take that togetherness into the jam. In order to do that, they need to cram more songs in under show conditions, and school the shit out of them. Three Caverns in four nights? Yup. Schoolin’ it. Another Antelope? Yup, schoolin’ it. It’s not quite there yet.

    That’s the choice that THEY are making.

    Not Trey, saying, “I’m sober and dark Bowie jams bring back bad memories.” That’s just ridiculous.

  24. gregdodge Says:

    thought most of us got over “jam outs” in college. ain’t nothin like a 50 minute dark star, right?

  25. Joe Says:

    I agree with TJ. Phish jams were getting sloppy and not very fun to listen to before the breakup. The energy kinda sucked at times. To say that Phish is not taking exploratory risks because Trey is sober is putting way too much emphasis on drugs over music. We don’t go to hear how drugs make a band jam, we go to hear great musicians create music.

    The point is that the ENERGY is back. The jams are not as long, and like all of us I’d like to hear some exploratory jams, but I’ll take shorter, energetic jams over long, drawn out boring ones where it sounds like the band is wasted and tired. I personally think Phish is tearing it up. Give the guys some time. Time Turns Elastic might not be everyone’s favorite song, but look at it this way- Trey is writing stuff that is more complex again.

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