Where Is Phish Heading?

Hampton '09 (J.Volkhausen)

From the Hampton reunion through Fall 2010, I saw Phish clearly immersed in a growth process. In 2009, their improvisational formula remained high-speed rock into sparser percussive grooves and, eventually, morphing into an ambient outro. Obviously this was not a rule and the band’s best jams of the year veered from this pre-set path. But most did not. New Year’s Run in Miami provided a creative breakthrough for the band, and their jams grew more creative with dense musical interplay. As the band members’ skillsets continued to improve over June ’10, Trey’s whale calls provided the musical trend of a solid, but unspectacular, month that was sparsely speckled with serious jamming. The Greek and Alpine Valley provided peaks of August—a tour filled with far more creative improv than June—largely due to Trey’s new Ocedoc. Showing diversity and mastery in their best jams, these passages also went in several directions. From the Greek’s “Light” and “Simple” to Telluride’s “Piper,” and from Alpine’s “Disease -> What’s the Use” to Jones Beach’s “Number Line,” the band illustrated a propensity for taking their primetime explorations to various places. And by the end of August, all members were up to speed on their instruments. Thus when Fall Tour 2010 started, fans were eager to hear what would develop.

10.30.10 (D. Lavery)

Fall Tour was, in many fans’ opinions, the band’s most accomplished run of shows in the modern era. Catching fire in South Carolina, Phish tore through the remainder of the short tour (less Amherst), and featured many revitalized and creative jams. Some examples of fall standouts include South Carolina’s “Crosseyed;” Augusta’s “Reba, a version that sits among all-timers; Providence’s “Rock and Roll -> Carini;” Manchester and Augusta’s “Lights;” Utica’s entire show; Manchester’s “Ghost -> Mango,” Amherst and Atlantic City’s “Stashes;” Atlantic City’s “Sand -> Carini.” and the awesome Halloween costume, Waiting For Columbus. But more than individual jams, a super-charged consistency returned to Phish shows, a sense that every single night meant an adventure, and we didn’t know where it would go; a feeling that had yet to grip a stretch of performances this era. And as the band concluded Fall Tour, fans—at least my friends and I—were genuinely excited about the future.

1.1.11 (A. Seper)

Though New Year’s run didn’t include too much jamming, when the band went deep, they arrived at some golden pastures in “Seven Below -> What’s the Use?,” “Harry Hood,” “Ghost,” and “Simple.” The matter at hand no longer seemed to be if Phish’s jams would be successful—this group was arguably the best of the year—but rather how frequently the band would take risks. When they did over New Year’s Run, they generally garnered positive results. And even when the band didn’t magically gel as in the aforementioned pieces, we were still left with something as awesome as the “Tweezer” from the 30th.

So Phish can jam again. I think we call can agree on that, though the frequency of such excursions leaves something to be desired. But further than that, what I’d like to see develop this summer is a new style of jamming—a new context in which to take risks. Now that things are back to where they need to be, its high time the band hone in on a style and begin to explore it.

12.31.10 (G.Estreich)

In yesteryear, this is what.Phish.did. From 1992 though 2003, one can argue (fairly easily) that there were significant stylistic differences from year to year, if not tour to tour! In a nutshell…1992 brought their first truly great year of jamming, in my opinion. 1993 saw the wildly creative and tightly connected “speedjazz” era. In 1994, the band took this type of aggressive communication and began to apply it to more exploratory jams, discovering the improvisational abyss by Fall Tour. Summer ’95 saw extended, abstract explorations of the dark side brought to the forefront of the stage, as Phish challenged its audience nightly with improvisational cliff dives. Fall ’95 saw a peak—and synthesis— of all that came before it, and the band climaxed the year in a fierce December that many agree to be one of its most creative— and accomplished—months of all time.

Allstate 2000 (Pollock)

The style of ‘95 spilled over through Summer ’96, while the beginning of Fall saw the band endure a transition to larger arenas. Though once Halloween occurred in Atlanta, Phish had found their new direction and began a transition to groove. 1997 brought The Cowfunk Revolution, progressing from the raw unpasteurized summer variety to the more refined disco-funk of fall. In 1998, Phish added ambient jamming to the mix—four-part equitable and abstract conversations—often of the melodic variety; and the funk became laden with spacier musical landscapes. In 1999, Phish honed in on its “millennial” sound sculpting with dissonant, layered and textured jamming. Their improvisation moved in two new directions, aggressive and abstract, as Phish crafted hard-edged, dark music rooted in groove as they edged toward 2000. After Big Cypress, the “millennial” sound spilled into the following year, though the band began to lose steam, in earnest, once Fall Tour came. Whether you love it or hate it, the post-hiatus sound needs no introduction, and that brings us to now.

Summer 2011

What will Phish become next? What is their intent? With the skills to go, virtually, wherever they want in terms of musical direction, will they choose to focus on a particular style? Will they continue to pump out dense, high-quality jams that don’t necessarily focus on one type of music? With so many shows scheduled for this summer (and Colorado on the brink of announcement) the band has plenty of stage time to go down any wormhole the choose. Upon the band’s return at Hampton, Mike spoke of their intention to reinvent themselves in this modern era, and though they have played their last six months quite well, this transformation has yet to occur. If it is going to happen, it would seem that this summer is the time. With their consistency back in tow, and their skills gleaming, it only comes down to what the guys want out of their concerts. Trey has traditionally said that it is boring to be musically safe, and much more fun to take risks. Well…2011 is upon us…we can only hope that he still feels the same.

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1,443 Responses to “Where Is Phish Heading?”

  1. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    That should be cool, BK. I’ve been distracted too. Last week at the job, then off to Italy and France. Weird and good time. I would be up for some free jazz in 30-45 minutes if you’re game. Have to find something that we both have access to. Ideas: Sun Ra, Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1, Coltrane Expression, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Fanfare for the Warriors. Or something on the way out, like Andrew Hill (RIP) Point of Departure.

    Open to anything I can easily stream too.

  2. Frycanthropist Says:

    Fantasy Fans:

    I am sure this has been mentioned before, I and I am even more sure that I am definitely late to the party with the book series, but Game of Thrones is a pretty epic series that I have just started reading.

    Just finished book 1 this evening and was impressed with the level of depth that lies within the political intrigue and history surrounding the world of the book.

    This is a very brutal and harsh series, but explores a lot of old mentalities and codes of ethics.

    It is currently being made into an HBO series that follows pretty close to the plot of the book and is equally if not more gritty.

    Not for the faint of heart, but definitely full of taut drama.

  3. garretc Says:


    Just grabbed my first AEC album earlier. I read George Lewis’ book about the AACM and wrote a paper on it for jazz history, so I figured I should pick some up. “Fanfare For The Warriors” is the one I grabbed.

    I’d join you guys for the listen if I wasn’t busy falling in love with all this classical music I grabbed. I’m glad to say that I feel I waited exactly the right amount of time in my music listening life to dive into classical. I’m ready for it now

  4. Sedin Sisters Says:

    can’t wait for sunday!

  5. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Wow, sounds like we have something to talk about at the Gorge. I love the AACM. Check out Anthony Braxton, especially For Alto (solo alto sax) and his mid-’70’s quartet with, well, George Lewis.

    What classical are you getting into? When I read you listening to Dvorak earlier, I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real classical discussion here. For me it starts with Gould’s Goldberg Variations and the late Beethoven string quartets.

    For now, though, it’s Cecil Taylor, Indent–solo piano cyclones

  6. garretc Says:

    Well, since I decided that I’m finally going to stop just liking the classical I hear and actually diving into the genre, I wrote down every famous composer I could think of of the top of my head, then grabbed a cd of their work at the library today. I ended up with works by:

    Debussy, Berlioz, Bartok, Haydn, Mahler, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Bach, Dvorak, Faure, Mozart, Prokofiev, Stockhausen, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich.

    So far I’ve spun Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, and Dvorak, and I had some Beethoven previously that I’ve been spinning. Doing Mozart right now.

  7. garretc Says:

    I can bring my copy of the Lewis book up with me if you think you might want to check it out. It’s a pretty hefty tome of jazz history scholarship, so it leans a little more towards an academic feeling, but if you’re interested in the AACM this is pretty much everything you’d want to know short of in depth musical theory analysis.

  8. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Cool, garret, thanks. I could let you borrow one or two from my shelf. Or check them out at the library: The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958, by John Litweiler, and Bebop and Nothingness by Francis Davis, which is a collection of essays on different musicians and movements. Good stuff.

  9. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    That’s a good survey on the classical, and very diverse. I don’t know what Haydn would have thought of Stockhausen for sure. I know I don’t understand him. Let me know what you think. Love Shostakovich though. And Mahler. Mahler is like a brooding Dark Star sometimes for me.

  10. garretc Says:

    My favorite so far was the Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto #1 in F# Minor. Really great. I realized one of the reasons I like classical so much is because I’m quite fond of musical genres that can scare me musically, and classical can do that.

  11. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    It’s good to have a view of being “scared” that is broader than just minor chords, played viciously. And I agree. For me the late Beethoven quartets are full of awe. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 is terrifying. It’s about a massacre in St. Petersburg in 1905 though, so that’s understandable.

  12. tela'smuff Says:

    Game of Thrones is awesome. Watched all four episodes last night. love it.

    11-4-98 Gin is off the charts. getting into Jtrans ’98 Fall Mix. Late night work with Phish soundtrack. $$$

  13. AintNoTele Says:

    Just got home from Garage a Trois. If you were ever into fugazi or anything of the sort you will be into this. Hardcore at time and face melting psychedelia at others, I loved it

  14. tba Says:

    Glad to see Game of Thrones getting talk as I mentioned it this afternoon, the imp, is he the guy from jackass? He looks so familiar and his royal accent is a bit cheesy but it works. Lots of daddy didn’t love me as much in that series, but as I said it works and is a strong new show. HBO is by far the best station for non sports shows, not even close. nurse Jackie is awesome too on Showtime, but a rare non HBO good show.

    Anyway not that it matters much as many of us are married, past the molly years, but watching Utica, I froze the frame, and literally could not find one chick. That is one problem with GA it seems the women don’t like to be pushed by the kidz. Phish must get a bit weirded out by the all guy thing, they have to one would think, and I think it led Trey to party so he just became oblivious to the idiot factor at shows. Yes I sound like a snob, but sorry kidz need to pull it together. At Dead shows, different scene different band YES, hate to compare, but at the same time I was taught respect by older heads at Hampton 86′ when I was a bit of a young newb, and one guy was nice, pulled me aside and said dance like a freak, it’s all good, but mind the other folks brother, but he said it with a smile, and I listened. Still plenty of times I was a drunken idiot, and had to learn. I am just as human as the next person, just older unfortunately now :<) Frankly, it's not about picking up chicks, and we have gone over it, but the ratio is so bad it really detracts sometimes. I was at a show in Worcester on the 29th of December and this weird guy had his shirt off and literally followed us down a row when there was so much room to dance, but he insisted on sweating on us, probably was gay not that there is anything wrong with that part, but the annoying behavior, it's getting a bit much at times. My wife's birthday is great woods, and she said she wants to give it another chance :<)-heard that so many freakin‘ times, almost don‘t want to hear it, kidding, some day she will get it, and used to like them in 97, and is 10 years my junior, but I know the kidz are going to get on her nerves. I know how to deal with it, where to hang as to avoid, but I really wish the too many dicks on the dance floor theme-thank you flight of the concords-would lighten up. I don‘t understand why women are not into Phish so much as other bands. Especially widespread where their concerts I love but it is a technical jam down with herring going on mad runs very hard to dance to at times, but I love Herring's style-guy is sick. I hear Phish, and if I can’t at least sway I can’t enjoy. Of course I‘ll never fully understand women period, and gave up, as they are just smarter, that‘s right, why fight it, women are smarter that‘s right.

    OK so my post is not a happy good lucky one tonight, but let‘s try and keep the scene a good one, with fun and respecting others, save creature from Mars where anything goes, that is a given. Christ I‘ll throw a shoulder into my wife during Creature and then dive on her :<), some traditions must be honored. :<).

  15. tba Says:

    oops sorry for the buzz kill post, you guys were talking about some really intelligent discussion, and I had to bring up the age old obvious, but we have learned to deal with it, subject. It’s almost taboo it seems. my bad.

  16. tba Says:

    By the way Fugazi = garage a Trois. Is not the latter The galactic drummer side project, I saw them at Jazzfest way back in the day, speaking of nice ratios, and that was not a parallel I w
    would have drawn. Sounds like they have evolved big time, I need to check it again, thanks. night all.

  17. voopa Says:


  18. BrandonKayda Says:

    Sorry Tzara’s, fell asleep last night

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