Spinning In Circles

12.3.09 (W.Rogell)

12.3.09 (W.Rogell)

Energy – the word is thrown around quite a bit in reference to Phish. Oft cited examples are: “That set had such high-energy!” “Time Turns Elastic sucked all the energy out of the room.” “The energy of the show suffered from all the drunk frat boys.” “You could feel the energy in The Garden last night!” Regardless of cultural identity or the number of shows one has seen, one of the defining qualities of the Phish experience how the abstract concept of energy comes to life. Energy depends on the band; energy depends of the fans; energy depends on the dynamic exchange between the band and their audience. As Phish stepped into the arenas of the east, and out of the amphitheatres of the summer circuit, the phrase that best describes the experience of fall shows is “intense collective energy.”

12.2.09 (W.Rogell)

12.2.09 (W.Rogell)

While fall tours have historically cranked the intensity level of the entire experience, Phish’s first fall tour since 2000 was destined to explode in white-hot fire. And if anything characterized the band’s performances throughout the tour, it was the tightly wound, explosive quality of their playing. With the ability to nail their songs precisely again, the band could let loose and allow their soul to flow into the music rather than think about what notes to play. What used to be a given about Phish in their prime, took almost a year to recapture – the subconscious flow of energy into their music. Thought processes seemed to fade away as the band embraced each moment of every song, measure and note. Phish imbued each phrase and beat with a renewed energy and enthusiasm that often resulted in raging, high-energy rock jams. Feeding off the band’s fervor, the audiences across the board responded ferociously, and the famed interplay between Phish and their live audience was reborn in a way it simply could not have been months earlier and in outdoor amphitheares.

12.4.09 (G.Lucas)

12.4.09 (G.Lucas)

Beginning in The Crown, as Cobo carried the feel of a dress rehearsal, every single night was underlined by a palpable energetic interplay between everyone in the building. The band had regained confidence in their playing, and could again pull off the blistering runs of notes and bizarre time signatures that characterized their earlier days, and they were proud to show everyone. Trey played with an abandon we hadn’t seen in ages, tearing apart solos while nailing fugues. Page’s confidence brimmed as strong as ever, as his piano leads often drove the band in certain directions. His bold, melodic theme gets all the credit for pushing Trey out of his comfort zone and kicking Albany’s “Seven Below” into orbit. Mike, as on top of his game as anyone, pushed his own playing to new territories within the context of the band, using more notes and heavier effects, while influencing the destiny of many whole-band excursions. Fishman, who many feel needs to step his game up, still provided more than enough fuel to frame the fire. The result? The incredibly fierce, yet not always exploratory, music that laced fall tour.

This same energy that defined the band’s spirited playing also went into their improv when they chose that route. Whether structured or open jamming, Phish almost always succeeded in shredding most every song they played. When they did take risks, they took them with the same energy that defined their tight compositions and six-minute songs, resulting in some incredibly sublime moments sprinkled throughout the tour. And the crowds fed like vultures off this energy. Peaking with a series of insane moments at Madison Square Garden, this fall will always be remembered for the magnified return of the Phish community’s unbridled energetic interplay.

12.5.09 (J.Thomas)

12.5.09 (J.Thomas)

Cincinatti’s “Split Open and Melt.” Syracuse’s “Piper > BBFCFM.” Philly’s “Bathtub Gin.” Albany’s “My Friend, My Friend,” and the awing “Seven Below > Ghost.” Maine’s “Undermind.” Charlottesville’s “Hood.” These are some of the most unadulterated energetic moments of tour. But there were two moments at MSG that stand up to any collective experiences I’ve witnessed at Phish. Something happened during 12.3’s “Fluffhead” peak, and 12.4’s “First Tube.” Anyone who was there will attest to it, though the actual moments are, literally, indescribable. A simultaneous, religious catharsis of 20,004 people blended together as one glowing ball of light, somehow contained by the bouncing floors and elastic walls of The Garden. Tidal waves of emotion, gushing like whitewater, flooded the mid-town arena in two perspective-altering episodes.

Regardless of the fanbase’s varying opinions on fall’s musical results, nobody can deny that Phish is, unquestionably, into it again. Clearly performing for the love of the game, Trey – specifically – looked like a kid in a candy store all tour long, living his refound dream. The band has refocused their energy on personal happiness and harnessing their emotion through their musical expression, and they are certainly accomplishing that goal. Seemingly carefree onstage again, the comfort and swagger of Phish has returned, and as we prepare to turn the calendar to 2010, that’s as good as an omen as any.


Jam of the Day:

Disease > Piper > Fluffhead” 12.3


The centerpiece of The Garden’s second show.



12.3.09 Madison Square Garden, NYC, NY < Torrent

12.3.09 Madison Square Garden, NYC, NY < Megaupload

headerI: Punch You In the Eye, Backwards Down the Number Line, Axilla, Taste, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Lawn Boy, Time Turns Elastic, Back on the Train, Julius

II: Down with Disease > Piper > Fluffhead, Cities > Free, Halley’s Comet, Also Sprach Zarathustra > David Bowie

E: Character Zero

Source: Schoeps mk41> KC5> M222> NT222> Lunatec V3> SD 722 (@24bit/48kHz)

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529 Responses to “Spinning In Circles”

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  1. jigsawfip Says:

    first post here ever. love this site. awesome cap of fall tour, the energy was nuts!!!

  2. Al Says:

    Any “Bowie” or “Reba” from this tour proves the incredible and well-rehearsed tightness of this band is back. Bowie’s little pauses are sharper than ever. The MSG Reba is noteperfect. The tightest version in a decade – like a clockwork.

    My little to-do-list for the band:
    >smoother and more subtle seques between songs. (Take your time!)
    >introduction of new sound-effects
    >Less predictable openers

  3. Exree Hipp Says:

    Yeah, good point on those compositions. I was really impressed with the Syracuse Bowie opener’s speed and tightness, and the Philly Reba was the best of the year, imo. A big step up from the semi-clunkiness of the early part of the year on those compositions.

    The setlists have at times been amazing and at times been confusing. I again was scratching my head at the late-first-set appearance of a bust out with that Dinner and a Movie. D&M would have blown the place up as an opener imo, along with Peaches from the first night, but hey, I am also not one to complain too hard, especially given the Llama opener I got at SPAC.

    Overall I am psyched with the progression of the band’s chops and agree with earlier comments that Trey and Fishman had regressed in their time off. They needed this style of play to get it all back together, and now I feel they have. This tour was the first one since 2000 that I wasn’t constantly thinking about whether they knew how to play their own songs.

    I think that probably began at SPAC when I was able to listen to them play Guyute without wondering if they’d pull it off. I just raged out at the peak of it all and was glad to be there.

  4. Jon Bailey Says:

    Hey Miner,

    Great write up. I have to agree with you about the Fluff in MSG. I was sitting behing the stage Fishman side and recall looking over at my friend durring Fluff (goose bumps running up my back) and saying, “Is the floor bouncing up and down?”

    When they hit the climax/peak and the lights blinded the Garden, I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight, I had to pick up my jaw from the floor!

    Seeing it from behind the stage was a special moment!!

  5. Marshall Says:

    I didn’t catch any Fall tour shows, but I did catch Hampton nights one and two, and Asheville (all indoors shows), and I was encapsulated inside the “energy” on all three occasions.

    Fish in a shed – the music flows out and over the audience, passing in “waves”

    Fish in a box – the music “bounces around the room” – the energy has no where to go to escape; it must be soaked up by the audience or reabsorbed by the band.

  6. Al Says:

    By the way, this tour also had a musical lowpoint. Albany2, the second half of set 1, right after the butched ending of Split open. Trey wanted to end the song several times but no other band member reacted to his tries to end the jam. I don’t know if he really got angry after that or he just lost his focus. But the setcloser “Backwards down” was a nightmare (>wrong chords all over the place) So during that setbreak they obviously pulled themselves together and came out with the best 45 min. of the tour.

    All MSG shows were a highlight, although there was a lot more potential in the choice of the openers. But I think they prefer to open with musically save choices at the moment.

  7. Marshall Says:

    Miner … I know that you have made compared and contrasted 2009 with 2003 here and there, but is a full-on, in-depth review needed? This is anecdotal, but I would think that people were raving about Phish being back during the bulk of 2003. I was still on my personal Phish hiatus (’99 through ’08), so I was only marginally paying attention. Obviously, things are different with the band right now than what was going in back then (or at least going on in 2004), but I would think that many of the comments that get made about the band “being back” or “back in form” or, in your own words “into it again,” were made by peeps back in ’03.

    Again, just proposing a more in-depth comparison of the two years, in terms of new songs, return to form, stylistic changes, growth during tour segments, song selection (played and absent), risks taken, etc.

  8. Robear Says:

    After the last couple of write-ups by Mr. Miner, I say permission granted on the interview.

  9. Marshall Says:

    Wow … 3:50 am pst, Robear. Is this “late” or “early” for you?

  10. Marshall Says:

    Oh, … on a different topic.

    Had lunch with Leo W. yesterday (second time we’ve met for a beer/eats) … with all the discussion about “virtual friends,” the meet-ups at shows, etc., it finally occurred to me that Phishthoughts is, in fact, a Social Networking website, except that in this case, unlike the FB, MS, and #Tw, people actually do meet in person on this site and get to be “actual” in addition to “virtual” friends.

    Thanks again, Miner!

  11. butter Says:

    Miner – you have out done yourself with this write up sir….i mean you really have an uncanny ability to put the Phish experience into words…..WOW

  12. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Marshall, that’s a good point regarding comparing 2009 to 2003. Personally, my memory is that it wasn’t quite the same because in 2003 it was “hiatus” which implied a return. We had a full five years of “break up” leading to 2009 so there is an energy (yeah, I’m using Miner’s terms 🙂 ) around the fact that they are even playing again that wasn’t there in 2003 (for me at least). In terms of playing, I think there’s no comparison though too. There were some definite hits and misses in 2003 and not the consistent, tight playing written about so well by Miner above. Others may have a different memory though.

  13. Marshall Says:

    @ TypeIII – yes, you are correct about the different nature of the returns (from hiatus vs. from the dead), however there was always that lingering “worry” that the hiatus would turn into a never-announced break-up (at least I remember having that thought and perhaps discussing it with someone). But, your points are very valid and do affect how the two years should be considered.

  14. Little Buddy Says:

    Great essay, Miner! The energy is indeed back. Thanks again for the JOTD’s. The first hour of work is so much easier with some fresh jams.

  15. bhizzle Says:

    I haven’t even listened to the JOTD, but dang!, I am so happy they are back.

    Re: Cuse David Bowie…Upon entering the OnCenter I looked over to my friends and said I hoping I don’t get another Bowie. First fucking thing played… my friends just looked at me with laughter and smiles. It was a decent version and interesting to get it as a first set opener. Looking back now its not so bad to get a Bowie every show. maybe?

  16. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Marshall, yeah I remember that aspect of it but it still doesn’t feel the same to me.
    The difference — for me — was that in 2003 it was kind of like, “oh, okay, they are playing again. Cool.” Some nights you got what you were looking for but others it just wasn’t there (again — for me). Maybe I needed the break as much as they did.
    Now though I am in awe again of their playing and excited to listen to anything I can by these guys (even some of that 2003 stuff that was hit and miss). It could be because I was able to put them on the back burner for a while, go out and expand my musical palette a bit, and come back refreshed with a new sense of appreciation for it.
    Maybe it was my personal state at the time (I moved from CO to MA in 2003 so that changed a lot of things for me then) but I just didn’t feel the same about that return as I have in 2009.

  17. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Thinking about that 1st tube MSG closer and i never thought that song had the capibility to reach such high points. I remeber hearing this song played at almost every classic TAB show i went to in 2000-2003 and it never really left any impressions on me till MSG. Was at the Camden show when they dropped it and it didn’t evan compare to the monster that they dropped at MSG. Phish has the uncanny ability to turn any song into a huge ball of massive energy at any time. Evan when they closed the set with Backwords down the number line, at first i thought what an odd choice but it worked they pulled it off. Phish could turn Lets get it on by Marvin Gay into a set closeing jugerknaut if they wanted!!

  18. cal Says:

    I think you pretty much nailed the concept today, Miner. There’s no denying that the energy is back, and the citizenry and band are basking in it. I’ve seen all the Phish I’ll see this year, but I can hardly wait to see what’s in store next year…Thank God for the tapes, but I am already jonesing hardcore to experience that energy firsthand again.

  19. afroskully Says:

    Total Off-Topic question…

    Did anyone here go to Halloween 96? I remember hearing reports of the last song of Remain In Light (the overload) having some rediculous visual craziness with big TV screens and whatnot. I gave it a listen the other day, and it sounds nuts…like anyone on hallucinegenics would’ve been running out of that room in fear!! I was laughing out loud in the car just listening to it.

    Just wondering if anyone witnessed that set closer and what it may have looked like?

  20. HarryHood Says:

    “Thank God for the tapes”

    ^ WHATS A TAPE!?

  21. Jon Bailey Says:

    @ Al
    I have to agree with you. I know there has been a lot of talk about Albany 2, best show of tour and all that. First set was average at best. Don’t get me wrong, the second set stands alone as one of the great sets in a long long time but in my opinion, MSG 2 was the best of the best when you look at these things as a whole. God, I sound like such a tool.
    Let me make this clear, I get something out of every show I go to. I am always smiling when I leave any venue but the feeling I had when I left MSG that thursday was soemthing I couldn’t stop thinking about.
    Start to finish that show was straight up geek juice.

  22. Marshall Says:

    @ afroskully – I was on the floor, front row in front of Fishman for the Omni Halloween show. Yes, the last song of Remain in Light was pretty strange. Mike was sitting in a lazy-boy chair. There were old-style tube TVs placed here and there. The physical set on stage sort of grew as the song played out. There were probably about 20 people on stage by the time the song was over (band, backup, crew, who knows who). The stage was bathed in red light for the most part, if I remember correctly. It was a long time ago so my memory isn’t that great.

  23. Brimley Says:

    What’s the deal with Fishman that Miner said some peeps were speaking of…? I guess I haven’t had any SBD’s to listen closely to Fish and by no means am I a drummer, so why are people complaining..?

  24. HarryHood Says:

    “Tidal waves of emotion, gushing like whitewater, flooded the mid-town arena in two perspective-altering episodes”

    ^ Perfect. I’ve been pimping the First Tube from MSG since I got back but I couldn’t ever quite put into words how that moment made me feel. Miner, spot on man. Thank you so much for this write-up. I remember looking around me when the set ended thinking, Oh my God, that was fucking amazing. I couldn’t get from my seat to the WW fast enough to see what a few of you from on here had to say about it. Robear’s face said it all. I remember thinking as the peak was building that the people walking the streets of NY that night had no idea what was happening in that round room, but they had to notice the lights get just a little brighter as that first set came to a close.

  25. jdub Says:

    Miner your pitching a post tour no hitter, way to keep the flow going. It is great news that phish is bringing the energy every night and filling just about every song they can with premium high grade fuel. I will never forget how I felt at the peaks of fluff and first tube. Upon seeing my wife for the first time after MSG I tried to explain to her what happened in those moments at the garden, she wanted to understand but having never experienced something like that it really was something foreign to her. I read her the essay this morning and she laughed, some things you just can’t put into words. Miner expressed it about as eloquently as you can. I think as much as phish has been tightening up the music and creating a musical foundation they are also experimenting with and perfecting their presentation of raw energy. It seemed at the garden (my three fall shows)
    they were able to peak out so many songs, some peaks were longer/better than others but the intent was to deliver multiple energetic orgasms each night.

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