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. jdub Says:

    they really know had to land you after craziness like that piper, very nice ending

  2. jdub Says:

    Japan fungus is the rumor I’m starting, some wacky energy they have over there in Japan.

  3. Lycanthropist Says:

    been a while since i listened to a guyute to be honest

  4. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    7:45 mark great jamming on this Rock and Roll jam

    See them starting to break away already

  5. halcyon Says:

    It is Tokyo JDub…..That city is surreal. They probably spent a good day watching all the wacky characters in Harajuku, and at all the record shops in Shibuya. Both of those places bring out the creativity in people. I was a witness to the madness of those two parts of Tokyo a few years ago, and highly recommend everyone to go there.

    Those that have been there can attest.

  6. Mr. Palmer Says:

    I am a fan of Guyute, probably in the minority, but its always welcome.

  7. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Mellow jamming at 10:30

    This is great

  8. jdub Says:

    Have never been to Japan, must get there at some point. Is the population density of Tokyo one of the highest on the planet?

  9. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Laid back funk groove at 11:30, with Page leading the charge

    This really is fantastic. I suggest you guys give this a relisten whenever

  10. Lycanthropist Says:

    so guys I am excited about Chance Fishers upcoming show on Thursday.

    one of the original crew is gonna be back in town for the night. He moved to Portland about 3 or 4 years ago. This guy was there at the beginning. He is one of my longest dearest friends.

    He wrote the words to Cosmic Dirigible. Is the subject of Sane. Provided us with our first heckling. Sang Birdsong with us once. Was our sound guy for a short bit. Lived with us for a while. He was an intregal part of the formative years of Chance Fisher to say the least.

    HE hasn’t seen us in those 3 years he hsa been gone, and I am very excited to have him here to see CF with the new tighter sound.

    sorry for the hijack, but it should be a pretty great night

  11. halcyon Says:

    Plus J-Dub….while there are serious fines and penalties over there if you get caught, there are some exotic delicacies to be found over there 😉

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    yeh i like guyute too,

    i guess i just sort of forget about it sometimes

  13. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Sounds like it could be coming from a Japan 2000 Disease right now

    Very organic space-groove jamming

  14. jdub Says:

    I like the album version of guyute, it’s flawless. Something they don;t do often with the song in a live setting.

  15. halcyon Says:

    JDub … It is packed, and Shibuya has the busiest intersection in the world, it also has over 1000 record shops, some as big as 200 sq feet. DJ’s, jazz cats, album collectors, music lovers come from all over the world to shop there. My good friend who is from and lives there has a telephone book just for music shops!

    Yet, there are neighborhoods there that are some of the most quiet neighborhoods you will ever see in a city that large.

  16. halcyon Says:

    CF coming to Colorado this year?

  17. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:




  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    i believe so haly

    probably late summer

  19. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Out of the groove back into the theme….fucking brilliant. Trey is going off right now

  20. jdub Says:

    Haly, that sounds like a very energetic place. On top of all the zany energy flowing there, the Japanese have a deep root in zen buddhism which is the polar opposite to what you described shibuya. Those must be the quiet neighborhoods you spoke of.

    Onto Heavy Things, my favorite Phish pop song. This was actually really good at MSG3

  21. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Smooth segue into Makisupa….fantastic

    I’d put this Rock and Roll in the ‘top 5 list of jams’ for 2009. Incredible

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    im on sand right now

  23. halcyon Says:

    Sweet. I work a rotating schedule, so if you can give me a few weeks notice, let me know. If I am on nights, there are no guarantees, but I can manipulate my work schedule. My other coworkers know I travel a lot and see lots of shows, plus my boss is very flexible. Maybe we can get KWL, Chuck D, and perhaps some other Co BB’ers to the show.

  24. jdub Says:

    just getting into sand, behind on that last post.

    I am streaming individual tracks because I like to make my life difficult, causing delays in the flow.

  25. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Sand here 3 min. in. Heavy things was great at msg. i concur

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