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:

    @butter, etc.

    Here’s a review and photos from the Fillmore MMW show:
    Good photos and meh review…par for the course at that site…

  2. flarrdogg Says:

    re- Gorge Jams- all the aforementioned are great, but Light may still be my favorite of the weekend. So beautiful.

  3. SillyWilly Says:


    thats great news!

    I’ve just had a great four days and that was the exclamation point.

  4. voopa Says:

    Gorge Gin is my vote for jam of ’09

  5. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Gorge Gin is stellar

    Goodnight folks. Great post from SillyWilly tonight

  6. SillyWilly Says:

    Robear, do you know what organizations we’ll supporting at those venues? its probably way too early, but I wouldn’t mind getting some reading done.

    Also, theres a good group of environmental law professors here at UW, and I’d like to talk to them and understand some of the legal/lobbying issues going on.

  7. SillyWilly Says:


    thanks, man. i haven’t been on the board with you in a while. hope things are going well.

  8. Lycanthropist Says:


    really thanks dude.. that hit home for sure.

  9. flarrdogg Says:

    voopa- uncle tomish perhaps, but I went in with no expectations having not seen him in several years and that dude was straight getting down- I think the old theatre he played in up here was maybe a part of that. Jazz alley is a pretty streile/ dinner theatre environmet.

    corinna encore was perfection.

    Uncle Eb- Glad you sorted out any manhood questions that may have been plaguing you this week. Looking forward to meeting up someday.

    Gorge this year was so good. My first shows since Coventry. What an affimation that all was right in the universe!


  10. SillyWilly Says:

    Well, I hope I can meet you some day. and I really hope I can hear your bands live.

    The good news is I can always take out more loan money. I mean whats another 1 when Im 100 in the hole?

    Maybe I can grab my girl and take that spin around the South I’ve been wanting to for awhile.

  11. Lycanthropist Says:

    wed love to have you silly

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    chicago isnt too far

    and i am working on doing some gig swaps with a band from there too

  13. SillyWilly Says:

    my girls moving to chicago in three weeks. its only two and a half from madison.

    i really hope that works out.

    how does that work, Lycan? do you have to talk with promoters, or do you generally talk with other bands?

  14. Lycanthropist Says:

    well i got a friend of the band heading it up so its kinda wishy washy

  15. SillyWilly Says:

    i guess those are general questions? you guys probably have to be guaranteed some kind of income to make the trip worthwhile, right? or are you more interested in getting your name out to more markets?

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    well we mainly just try to cover our gas and expenses

    we dont ever plan on making money on the road… just getting by.

    but the bottom line is we have to make something.. we cant afford to spend the money on gas and wear and tear on gear. dont mind not making anything, but dont like going into the red.

  17. neemor Says:

    I left off on P.15…should I read back or spend my time in the present??

  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    there is some good stuff there.

    and some pages will read fast as we were having a listening party

  19. SillyWilly Says:


    well, if ya’ll make it to chicago, maybe I can help out with a meal or something. invite you guys to my girls place and cook a dinner.

    haha. it might save you a little money at least.

  20. Lycanthropist Says:

    you will never meet a band that would turn down a free meal 🙂

  21. Lycanthropist Says:

    per Bk’s request

    a buddy and i are gonna get all baned up and give the Gorge 09 highlights a run through

    whos stoked? this guy.

  22. SillyWilly Says:

    I wish I knew more people in the bar scene around Madison. People would love you guys here.

    anyway, keep me posted about coming to Chicago.

  23. Lycanthropist Says:

    you out there tonight?

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    my brain is still rattling from that piper.

    that was some seriously abstract phish

  25. SillyWilly Says:

    i listened to that Piper the other day driving to Chicago. Looked down and I was going 95.

    that would have been a bad ticket.

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