Why Argue Eras?

Summer '96 Pollock T-Shirt

Phish fans are always prone to debate. Which version is better? Which show is best? In fact, debate has grown into the very fabric of Phish culture, for any time there are so many people passionate about one thing, disagreements are bound to arise. These friendly exchanges, inevitably, reach the question of what is the greatest era of Phish? (Especially with you fans of different age groups.)  In a recent conversation about the band, this very question was posed to me, point blank – “What is you favorite era of Phish?” The other two people were able to answer quickly and easily – “December ’95.” However, when it was my turn to answer, the cat ran off with my tongue – I couldn’t really say. I began to go over eras of Phish in my mind, going back as far as 1992, but when trying to look at them side by side to declare a favorite, I simply couldn’t. I thought to myself…”How could I possibly like anything better than December ’95? Or August 93? Or Fall ’97? Or Fall ’94? Or Summer’95? Or Summer ’98? I felt like I was in a barnyard, blindfolded and spinning in circles, asked to find the needle in the haystack. What about Summer ’99? This was the unanswerable question. Yet, people spend much time and passion trying to, in some impossible way, prove that one era is the greatest, standing above all others.

Cleveland - 12.8.95 Poster

Cleveland - December '95

Any conversation trying to decipher a “best” era in Phish history is inherently rife with humor for me. Trying to place absolute statements on something as flagrantly subjective as music, while fun at times, is a futile effort. More often than not, the pattern I’ve found with peoples’ opinions is that they love the era they saw the most. So many fans are often incapable of taking themselves out of the equation, resulting in asinine statements like “Fall ’97 was easily the best tour ever,” or “Phish peaked in Summer ’93 and went downhill from there,” or “Phish never got better than Fall ’95,” or “Once the band turned to groove, their music wasn’t ever as good again.” Obviously I could think of any number of useless perspectives I’ve heard argued time and time again, but my question here is- “Why?” I understand the fun in debate, and in fact enjoy the exercise myself quite a bit, but at some point, music is music and opinions are opinions, and that’s where it begins and ends. Every single era of Phish, from the 80’s on up has amazing moments worthy of earnest celebration, and in my opinion, Phish has straight killed it from 1992 right through today; killed it in in different ways and from different angles, but they have always been killing it. And to think otherwise is fooling yourself. Sure they lost some steam after Japan 2000, and much more come the fall, but until then, the creativity never stopped cascading, oozing into different shapes and musical incarnations.

Looking at “Tweezer” as the ever-changing lens for Phish’s style of improv over time, how can one truly compare a multi-themed, jam-packed version from Summer ’93 with an ambient, layered space groove excursion from the Summer of ’99? How can one truly compare the extended, abstract experiments in the abyss from Summer ’95 with the dino-funk dance-crack of Fall ’97? Or how can one compare an aggressive, full throttle trip into the underworld from ’94 to the dark, amorphous jamming that characterized post-hiatus? Well, the answer is, not easily. All of these eras are great for what they are – steps on the ever-evolving ladder of Phish. If one traces the band’s career, they will hear elements of the past in each subsequent future, as the band consistently added skills and styles to their musical repertoire; each era building off the last and going somewhere unique. And this is why 2010 holds so much excitement.

Now that the band has their sea legs back, with a full year of back to basics playing under their belt, Phish is primed to step into their next musical era. 2009 will always remembered as “The Comeback Year,” but how will we remember 2010? The band has already progressed through so many styles of improv over twenty-plus years, one wonders how they will carve out yet another, self-referential niche. But, somehow, they always do. With four guys as musically ambitious, talented and passionate as Phish, I don’t believe that they can be content just playing shows and not pushing new boundaries. Many have countered me on this position, claiming that just being “Phish” again will be enough for them. But this band has never been about complacency, and I highly doubt they will start now. So as Phish gets ready to truly launch into their next era, enjoy every moment of  Phish 2010 – it will only happen once. You can debate it later.


Jam of the Day:

Runaway Jim > Makisupa” 7.2.95 II

The beginning the second set at Sugarbush.




8.12.93 Meadow Brook Music Theatre, Rochester, MI < Megaupload

Summer '93 Pollock

Delving a bit deeper into August ’93, here we find a little known show that took place the night before Phish’s well-known visit to The Murat Theatre in Indianapolis. On this night, the band went big on first set pieces, “Reba,” “Split,” deconstructing and annihilating their jams. The band sparked the second half of the show with an odd combination, as “2001” launched into “The Landlady,” highlighting the band’s precision before swan-diving into an action-packed “Tweezer.” This show is another in the long list of Summer’93 offerings that go unnoticed by much of the band’s younger community, and another that provides a snapshot of the band amidst a superb era. (My desktop is once again infected, and likely on its deathbed, so I couldn’t make a torrent for today’s download or post the recent TAB shows. They will be posted asap. For now Megaupload it is.)

I: AC/DC Bag, Reba, Chalk Dust Torture, Guelah Papyrus, Nellie Kane, Split Open and Melt, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Poor Heart, The Squirming Coil

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > The Landlady > Tweezer > The Lizards, The Sloth, Maze, Lawn Boy, Big Ball Jam, Golgi Apparatus, Possum

E: Fire, Free Bird

Source: Source: (F.O.B.) B&K 4011’s


740 Responses to “Why Argue Eras?”

  1. voopa Says:

    Listening to an album I just found out about yesterday…Charlie Hunter, Ernest Ranglin and Chinna Smith: Earth Tones…Ranglin plays on only a couple cuts, but the whole disc is nice…Hunter w/dub is great.

  2. neemor Says:

    Silly, stay out of bars….
    No more than two nights a week….
    Trust me on this.

  3. butter Says:

    thanks for the melodica info Lycan, Uncle E

  4. SillyWilly Says:

    right on, neemor.

    can’t bane in most bars.

  5. butter Says:

    yea, its pretty easy to turn into a fool on a stool, huh Neemor?

  6. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    I bane most everywhere.

    I even found a unsecured utility stairwell with positive airpressure to ensure that no “exhaust” enters the building197 steps from my desk at work.

    Couple that with highly effective japanese eyedrops and we are onto a grat day at work.

  7. joe Says:

    from the delayed reaction files. Gin from the listening party is really nice! (damn ‘work’ getting in way of uninterrupted stream)

  8. voopa Says:

    lol @ Berz!

  9. butter Says:

    nice stealth work Pham

  10. joe Says:

    and surprisingly short for all the twists and turns. almost 09 like I’d say.

  11. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Things to keep in your trunk:

    1. plain white construction hardhat(OSHA Compliant)
    2. clipboard
    3. orange mesh vest w/ reflective markers
    4. earplugs(OSHA Compliant)

    Watching the Holy Grail on IFC.

    The quest has begun….

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    diggin into some MMW

  13. neemor Says:

    “highly effective japanese eyedrops”


  14. Al Says:

    The best era of Phish is the one where your mood and their music is one.

    And that could be every era, actually.

  15. mfauteux Says:

    I had to comment on your piece call ten minues last a lifetime!!You absoulutly captured,in words, the thing that people who arent into this lifestyle COULD NOT even begin to understand. I even printed it out to hand off to certain people that i know who always ask why i love the band, music, and expierience soo much.I am questioned as to why i would want to see the same band 200 times,and this is the perfect explanation,thanks again great article!!!!

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