The Fizzlers of 2009

11.21.09 (W.Rogell)

In this young era of Phish 3.0, new songs have already developed into legitimate jam vehicles. Most specifically, “Backwards Down the Number Line” and “Light” began to find their improvisational potential over the summer and fall, respectively. “Kill Devil Falls” boasted a couple standout outings, and towards the end of the year, “Ocelot” began to evolve as well. But while these Joy-era songs have stepped into the rotation, some classic vehicles have downshifted into predictable territory, weighed down by curtailed jams lacking any excitement. Below are four songs that have fallen prey to this pattern, not living up to their famed reputation in 2009.


“Runaway Jim”

One of Phish’s classic songs, “Runaway Jim” grew from a once-contained show-opener into a legitimate launchpad, producing excursions of all types through the years. A song with too many special versions to begin listing, “Runaway Jim” never moved beyond its basic structure in 2009. A song that Phish magnified between 1995 and 2000 with multi-themed jams, “Jim” lost some steam in the post-hiatus era, and has returned to its roots this time around. It seems unlikely that Phish will leave the fan-favorite adventure-less forever, but so far that is exactly what it has been.


“Mike’s Song”

The Gorge '09 (G.Lucas)

At one point last year, I wrote an entire piece on the disintegration of “Mike’s Song.” What used to be a seminal piece of demonic improv, has been reduced to a formulaic build with occasional guitar variations. “Mike’s Songs” of 2009 remained completely linear, with a notable absence of any rhythmic offerings from Trey. Energetic? Sure. Engaging? Not so much. Once upon a time, “Mike’s” sat on my top shelf of Phish adventures. Featuring a menacing opening jam, and an exploratory second half, few pieces reached the ominous levels of Gordon’s original contribution. But sometime along the way, the band castrated “Mike’s,” lopping off its second half, and eventually the funk and bombast of its first jam fizzled into the innocuous version that lives today. Not since 1991 has “Mike’s” been so generic, and even then, the band played it with more purpose. But here’s to “Mike’s” regaining its mojo in 2010. One can only hope.



12.30.09 (W.Rogell)

12.30.09 (W.Rogell)

When “Free” debuted in 1995, some ridiculously psychedelic versions sprouted up in its youth – (see 6.26.95 and 11.22.95, among others.) The song soon developed into piano-led improv as Trey moved to his mini-drum kit for the jam come Fall ’95. “Free” went through a short identity crisis in ’96, as Trey added his more prominent guitar parts recorded on Billy Breathes, but the piece soon became a beneficiary of Phish’s 1997 “cowfunk” revolution. Beginning in Europe that summer, Phish slowed down and stretched out “Frees,” forming a new path for song with Mike’s section of bass bombs leading into a collective section of groove. “Free” evolved with the band through the late-’90s, molding to the contours of their textured jamming. Phish’s explorations of “Free” peaked in ’99 with many standout incarnations, but come ’09, the song fell completely flat. Moving directly from the bass-led section into the composed, guitar-led peak, any “jam” has been all but eliminated. At this point, “Free” has become a landing point for improvisation, rather than a vehicle itself.



6.18 Star Lake (M.Stein)

Not quite parallel to the previous examples, “Gumbo” only developed a jam with the band’s ’97 funk transformation. Always a composed first set song with a ragtime ending, “Gumbo” became a springboard for extensive liquid grooves. Beginning in earnest at Desert Sky ’97 and continuing at Star Lake later that summer, “Gumbo’s” jams began to move with Phish all the way through ’03. An always-anticipated song throughout this era, Phish brought “Gumbo” back to its original form last year. Whenever the song dropped in ’09, it always felt like a huge tease, knowing what used to go down. Winding to an end with Page’s piano instead of oozing into the ether, “Gumbos” have become another casualty of 3.0.


They say the only permanent thing is change, and Phish has always proved this maxim true. In a state of constant musical flux, the band has changed their stylistic focus many times throughout their career. Along with these shifts, certain songs have emerged while others faded, as a necessary side-effect of the evolutionary process. Though, surprisingly, these long-time staples that traditionally transcended eras mellowed considerably last year. One might imagine that these changes are, again, side-effects of an overall progression, but the question that will be answered in 2010 is where that progress will take us.


Jam of the Day:

Runaway Jim” 7.31.97 II

A monster version from Shoreline ’97. This one goes out to AW, who simply can’t find the “Jim” he’s looking for.




7.26.97 South Park Meadows, Austin, TX < Torrent

7.26.97 South Park Meadows, Austin, TX < Megaupload

Summer '97

Summer '97

A straight-up smoker from Summer ’97, with more than a few stellar jams.

I: Limb By Limb, Dogs Stole Things,  Poor Heart, Stash, Billy Breathes, Cars Trucks Buses, Dirt, You Enjoy Myself > Izabella

II: Timber Ho! > David Bowie, Harry Hood > Blister in the Sun Jam > Harry Hood** > Free, Waste, Johnny B. Goode

E: Bouncing Around the Room, Cavern

*Bob Gullotti on a second drum set

Source: (FOB/DFC) Neumann KM140’s > MV100 > DAP1

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1,265 Responses to “The Fizzlers of 2009”

  1. joe Says:

    set 2 from 10/30/09 on sirius jamon tonight. surprisingly good so far. lost in the shuffle of memories of 09, at least until the movie comes out.

  2. Mr.Palmer Says:

    You got it little buddy! I almost forgot too. These guys are growing on me a bit. They are certainly not Phish. Once you accept that, your good to go.

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    “My apologies to the unicorns. I love those guys!”

    me too!

  4. llamalee Says:

    @mr. c, i’ve been a little embarassed to ask but who is that a picture of

  5. leo weaver Says:

    Jdub…you and I were cut from the same mold my friend…can’t tell you how often you type my exact thoughts.

  6. Mr.Palmer Says:

    I’m surprised so many people aren’t familiar w/ the Princess Bride. I guess i’m old. 🙁

  7. Little Buddy Says:

    Mr. P

    I’ve been listening to Wilco for quite a while now. Maybe ten years. Great songwriting and the band can play. Not really any improvisation to speak of, but I still like it. I’ve seen them five times and never left disappointed. Tweedy can act like a bit of a bitch on stage at times, but other than that they are cool with me. I’m not really a fan of the recent album, but the rest are very good. Yankee Hotel and Ghost if Born are among my favorite albums.

  8. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I’ve really been surprised at the number of people who don’t know Inigo Montoya by is mustachioed magnificence alone. I thought everybody has been The Princess Bride by now. Great movie with Marc Knopfler providing the soundtrack. Endlessly quotable.

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’m going to see if I can get through the rest of the night with every post being nothing but a link to a thinkgeek product.

    @llama –

    @neemor – if you like that image, that’s the kind of thing I’m going to try to do with the CK5 images, but a little less abstract. So if you think that image would print OK, then we’re good. I’ll have less washed out whites though, more saturated color.

  10. leo weaver Says:

    Me too Mr. P…generational thing

    @llamalee…go watch the princess bride…we’ll wait

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    nothing to do with age Palmer, all the young folks (early/mid 20s) in my office know the Princess Bride by heart

  12. kayatosh Says:

    so much to read today. finally caught up.

    willowed: thoughts are with you and your kid

    aw: please keep posting; i always look for what you have to say. please don’t split. your tiff with el dude should not keep you from something you enjoy and we enjoy. The feud exchange on pg. 10 + was hilarious, though. but seriously: everybody love everybody

    Mr. c: always wondered what the fallout (from the philzone) was when GD took SBDs off LMA. Thanks for the enlightenment. Figures it rubbed the core fans the wrong way. Take a cue, phish.

    miner monetizing: i hope it doesn’t change the vibe here. this is a unique place and always good convo. i still hope to meet more of you in the real world. I haven’t touched the archive you speak of — it’s all mp3’s right? I just tap into JOTD’s and LOVE them. thank you again. look what happened to the GD when they (over)monetized (see above)

    the premise of today’s post: phish doesn’t jam some of the old jam vehicles anymore. well, ok, but they did jam, albeit in a contained/refined 2009 way, some oldies and a few newies. that said, i would love to hear them dig into a gumbo. 8-3-98 comes to mind as a great gumbo extendo jam.

    bane: good. too good.

  13. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:


    beat me to it! these kids these days with their ipods and dvds must not be using them to watch the classics. I think I watched that movie about 35 times in college. Wait. That’s not right. Make it about 50 times. Became our standard come down film for a while there…

  14. leo weaver Says:

    I felt old typing “generational thing”…

    @T3Po…I like this Droid…may have to go pick one up myself

  15. llamalee Says:

    @mr. palmer, your not old, i’m just not well-educated

  16. jdub Says:

    Right on Leo, looking forward to seeing you again at Hartford (did we meet at the MSG meetup?, I think we did). Funny you said such a thing because reading back today I noticed your posts on critiquing your surounding landscapes, which is what i do whenever I walk into a house and see poorly made/designed cabinetry.

  17. kayatosh Says:

    love the footbell. blew my mind in philly 11/2009.

  18. llamalee Says:

    @mr. palmer, did you by chance dress up in carson palmer jersey with mr. palmer on the back. i remember i thought that costume was pretty clever

  19. Mr.Palmer Says:

    In college no movie got worn out like Spinal Tap. nothing even close.

  20. leo weaver Says:

    Wife’s music choice tonight…it’s been a steady diet of talking heads and David Bowie…ooh, there’s jibboo! She’s pretty awesome.

  21. llamalee Says:

    @T3, i’m an old movie buff but i was raised more on hitchcock movies and such, but i think after i get off work tonight i might have to go rent the princess bride

  22. joe Says:

    really digging the sound of this 10/30/09 set 2 right now.

  23. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Not me, llamalee. I like it though! I assume that was in Indio?

  24. leo weaver Says:

    Jdub…yeah we met but it was a handshake in passing. Looking toward to Hartford! Gcub and I will be coming in from NYC on Thursday afternoon with neemor.

  25. joe Says:

    doesn’t really sound too far off of anything from Miami to my ears. Maybe suffered from expectations not being met for mind blowing awesomeness but pretty good stuff

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