Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

Merriweather 2010 (T.Wickersty)

Song requests via signs has always been a part of Phish show culture. But ever since Trey adopted the moniker of the “all-request band” early this summer, honoring more than a few audience member’s calls, the number of personal billboards has grown exponentially. Standing at the back of the floor in Alpharetta, as Phish took the stage for the first set of their final show, the sheer number of signs was absurd. What has always been a fun band-audience interaction has caught like wildfire this summer, causing seas of cardboard cavorters.

This 2010 craze started in Portsmouth, Virginia, when Phish came out on a sunny evening and a “Tube” sign immediately caught Trey’s eye. Everyone in the intimate amphitheatre saw Trey’s shifting attention, and began to chant, “Tuuuuuuuuube!” A minute later, an asteroid crashed into nTelos Pavilion, and “Sign-Mania” officially began.

7.3.10 (W.Rogell)

Two shows later in Hartford, Trey preceded the “Sleeping Monkey” encore by announcing that they were playing it for a guy who held the sign throughout the previous night. After this second vocal acknowledgement that Trey is reading these signs, fans began flocking to the front holding placards of all shapes and sizes. Varying from the standard Sharpie-on-poster-board to elaborate, cut-out and painted wooden song titles, Phish fans unleashed their renowned creativity in this renewed endeavor.

Without hanging out up front at every show, it is impossible to know how many setlist choices were actually influenced by fans signs, but there were certainly more than a few. In fact the central theme of Merriweather’s second night – summer’s most well-loved set – was sparked, believe it or not, by a sign. A group of fans had traveled for multiple shows carrying a “Saw It Again” sign on wooden dowels, and finally, on Sunday night in Columbia, Maryland, their wish was granted in the biggest way. Segueing from one sign-inspired song to another, Trey brought the band from “Meatstick” into “Saw It Again,” the latter becoming the well-known foundation for a Phishy escapade.

This tour-long interaction between Trey and the audience came to a peak in Alpharetta on July 3rd. Not only did Trey respond to a sign calling for “McGrupp,” he reached down, pulled the sign on stage, and held it high before starting the rarity. After watching Trey egg on his fan base, and the ludicrous amount of signs on the 4th of July, something tells me this trend isn’t coming to a screeching halt. But just think, every time Trey responds to a sign, he could have been on the verge of dropping “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” So there are two sides to this coin.

If fans are going to continue bringing signs to Phish shows en mass, we might as well set some guidelines for this fanboy behavior. If you’re going to be that guy or girl who jumps up and down trying to catch Trey’s attention with your artwork, here are three things to consider.

"Tela" Sign During "Tela" - 6.27 (G.Lucas)

1. Don’t mess with peoples’ experiences. – If you’re sign takes four people to hold properly due to its outstanding craftsmanship, maybe it’s not the best idea to bring it onto the floor at a GA show. Additionally, until they make transparent poster board, if Trey doesn’t choose your song, put down your sign and try harder next time!

2. Consider the entire audience. – Bring signs that will benefit everyone! For example, a “Crosseyed and Painless” or a “Cities” sign could payoff for the entire audience, because if Trey chooses to recognize either, the show will immediately elevate. On the flip side, don’t bring a sign for “Waste” just because it’s your girl’s first show and it’s her favorite song off Billy Breathes. Trey is so happy these days, it could catch his eye and make him ditch “Ghost” for his heartfelt ballad. Seriously.

3. Know what’s going on. – With a little setlist research, you can avoid looking like a total noob. Dial up your trusty Phish website to see what the band played at least the night before, and leave those signs at home. Make sure the over-sized cardboard you choose to carry to the show, through the lot, by security, and around with you all night at least has some relevance.


Jam of the Day:

David Bowie” 6.19 II

This “Bowie,” in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above all other 2010 versions.




6.19.2010 SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY < Torrent

6.19.2010 SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY < Megaupload

6/19 SPAC Pollock

The opening night of SPAC, featuring one of the “Rock and Rolls” of Leg I, and the freshest “Bowie” to hit the streets in some time.

I: Tweezer Reprise, Chalk Dust Torture, Funky Bitch, Runaway Jim, Ya Mar, Sample in a Jar, Axilla, Fluffhead, Bathtub Gin, Suzy Greenberg

II: Rock and Roll > Free, Backwards Down the Number Line, Halfway to the Moon* > Prince Caspian, Joy, David Bowie, Show of Life

E: The Squirming Coil, Character Zero, Tweezer Reprise

Source: Neumann U89i > Grace Design Lunatec V3 + Neumann KM184 (DIN ) > Grace Design Lunatec V2 > Oade Concert Modified Edirol R-44

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798 Responses to “Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs”

  1. Luther Justice Says:

    AW speaks the truth. That Forbin was a total mess…and it fuckin sucked.

  2. phoammhead Says:

    I’ve heard miner say that he’s direct . . . if “don’t bring signs” was what he wanted to say, he would have said it – he realizes that this is going to happen and he wanted to put some things out there to help people realize the impact of the signs they bring and how it affects other people . . . . otherwise @aw . . . i think you might be right . . .

    i personally don’t care and it was part of the GD scene back in the day as well . . . but, i agree – don’t mess with other people’s experiences . . .

  3. c0wfunk Says:

    One more thing… The sign culture began in 95 or so when trey made a remark in an interview somewhere that he would play a sign song request and thought it would be funny. Then in dec 95 iirc there’s a show where he dedicated the encore to the guy w a sign but said “it has to be a sign of something we want to play” and they played fire. Not sure what the sign said tho. From then on arena balconies were peppered with sign banners.

  4. Luther Justice Says:

    I love it when I work my ass off to find pav tix and someone holds a large sigh in front of my face for most of the show. I don’t need to see the band or CK’s work. Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

  5. phoammhead Says:


    Why don’t you tell them “what’s up, fool, you better pull that sign down or I’m gonna shuv it up your arse!”

    I don’t have any problem telling someone around me to “shut the fuk up” or “you better get rid of that sign” if it’s interfering with my experience . . .

  6. Seif Says:

    My Sign Story:

    I was at 2nd night of Camden, probably 15-20 rows back, center. There were these 2 guys with a sign that we just couldn’t figure out from being behind them (they were about 2 rows in front of us). The sign was 3 pieces that were cut into a few letters each.

    We could tell that it started with a “T” and it looked like it ended with an “R” but no one around us could make out the whole thing as the middle letters were all together. Finally, at intermission we got them to turn around and show us the sign.

    A guy behind me said “no f*ing way they are gonna play ______!” Well, eat shit negative guy…no one was more pumped than these two guys when Trey started playing “Thriller.” And we were all pumped for them. It was a great moment. Did Phish see the sign? Who knows? But it was a very cool moment for everyone around those sign guys (and a very cool moment for everyone in the venue who had no clue that these guys had a Thriller sign.

  7. Themanatee Says:

    Tesla song ? Nope. CCR song – go back to five man acoustical jam and listen to Jeff Keith’s classic banter when they finish the song – “an old song called signs, signs. I wish we did write that one, but – we didn’t ” what an incredible album

  8. McGGGGG Says:

    Give him the glow stick justice to the back of the head!

  9. SillyWilly Says:

    Good morning, kids!

    Better get this out of the way, right off the bat:

    I don’t like the signs either.

    I hate keeping track of things, so Im always intrigued by kids who can carry that cardboard around for hours.

    How are you going to puff if you’re lugging around 5 sq. feet of cardboard?


    I just woke up from a dream where I convinced Trey that Phish needs to play the Barrymore again in Madison.

    Not even remotely feasible, now, but it was a dream.

  10. phoammhead Says:

    I think the crowd at The Greek in California is gonna be chill, chill, chill and I can’t wait – with that, I’m out for a while – catch ya’ll laterz.


    Have a great trip to Disney Land – yooohooo!!! 😀

  11. albert walker Says:

    Young phishies will do as they please

    But if I brought a 5 ft wide Liberty sign to a Dead show as a 19 year old kid id expect to take some shit

    Shits gotten out of hand

  12. tela'smuff Says:

    i am under the belief that Trey is taking cue from his idol, The Boss. At Sprinsteen shows, it is common practice to bring signs, although it is mainly for cover songs. Bruce will collect a bunch of the signs, and then they’ll play one or two of them. Phish saw this take palce at Bonnaroo and I’m sure we’re left with an impression.

    i have no problem with the sign thing. it’s fun, and as long as people can be cool about not blocking views, what the harm? Other than the sign being for Waste (but it made that guys night didn’t it?)

    lastly, @AW, i’ve listened to that Forbin’s a couple times and it didn’t strike me as sucking. I’ve never in my life heard someone complain about a Forbin’s!

  13. SillyWilly Says:

    “Run away, run away, run away, run away

    its a song I heard the ocean sing…”

    songs stuck in my head now.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    god, my grammer and spell checking sucks. i have to type fast at work, i swear i’m not an idiot! 😉

  15. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    mornin’ all

    I think I’ll skip this sign convo… not really my bag.

    Tesla song ? Nope. CCR song – go back to five man acoustical jam and listen to Jeff Keith’s classic banter when they finish the song – “an old song called signs, signs. I wish we did write that one, but – we didn’t ” what an incredible album

    nope. not CCR. That would be the Five Man Electrical Band. Hence, the title of Tesla’s album.

  16. Themanatee Says:

    Carrying a sign to a phish show would not be very fun for me. Totally flummoxed if I buy a pre show poster . Just don’t like tracking things during a phish show. have to agree with miner that the spac Bowie is the best one to hit the streets in a long time. As far as oceans goes on some level it feels like they are still processing the 2004 spac jam as it has been only played once ? Since then – maybe twice if I am missing one other than Knoxville oh and deer creek. Two cool versions to be sure but i think the specialness of the space version has had an impact of standing above that rabbit hole , admiring the view and sighing – preparing for another journey. One of y favorite phish jams of all time.

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    @tela I’ve been trying to figure too what has had rob and aw all up I arms about that forbins. Note perfect? Naw. Botched beyond enjoyment? Not remotely

  18. albert walker Says:

    Whatever tela

    Trey botches that shit bad
    Misses every change
    Keeps falling out

    Every kid in our section thought it was rough
    Low point of set

    Very difficult song they’ve always had trouble with but that one was hard to take

    Couldn’t wait for it to end.

  19. BTB Says:

    3. Know what’s going on.

  20. Themanatee Says:

    Oooh thanks @type III , droppin knowledge . Appreciate it.

  21. BTB Says:

    Live, I couldn’t really tell the Forbins was botched. I was raging too hard.

    On relisten it’s a little rough I guess. I’ll check it out again.

  22. albert walker Says:

    Great post
    Needed to be said
    I’ve said my piece

    Have a good one

  23. BTB Says:

    That Face Melting Sparkle sign guy was a total weirdo – fuck that guy 😉

  24. BTB Says:

    For the record, I only flashed that thing when Page/Trey looked up and not during songs. I know how to make an absurd request w/o pissing the troops off. Only flashed it a couple times.

    Oh, and Harry Hood’s little girl is on the way this morning!!! Be thankful BB, today is a good day!!

  25. sumodie Says:

    Maybe folks should start adding times to their signs:

    “15 min Moma”

    “20 min Free”

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