More Webcasts—Meh.

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

One of the most anticipated runs of summer just got a little less intimate, as Phish announced that they will offer official webcasts for all three sold-out shows at San Francisco’s historic Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. No longer will the shows take place behind closed doors for the 7000 lucky souls in the building, but they are now pay-per-view commodities that can be purchased and watched with any Internet connection. When I speak of my distaste for webcasts, the most common retort is, “But what about all the fans who can’t make it to the west coast?” Well, what about all the west coast fans during Atlantic City? What about all southern fans during Deer Creek and Alpine? What about the Midwestern fans during Long Beach? That’s life! The point of a Phish concert has never been to allow as many people as possible to “tune in.” The fact that shows happen in small arenas in random cities across the country, inaccessible to those not in the building, is actually part of the magic! Phish just spent a month touring the east coast and Midwest, and they will provide soundboard downloads within an hour of every show’s conclusion—is that not good enough? Is nothing sacred anymore? The Phish experience once represented a personal quest one had to undertake to reap the spiritual spoils of the live experience. Now anyone can eat Doritos and take bong hits on their couch while watching the first Phish shows in San Francisco since 1994 (less the ‘98 Fillmore show) like a TV sitcom—and that cheapens what Phish is all about. It is one thing to webcast high key shows like the New Year’s Run, Bonnaroo or the Vermont Flood Benefit, but leave the regular tour stops for the fans on tour. What’s next, a month-long subscription where one doesn’t have to leave the confines of his own home to witness what goes down on stage for an entire tour? I sure as hell hope not, even as I face the impending reality of not seeing every show.

6.20.12 (M. Stein)

Beyond cheapening the Phish experience, webcast shows, more often than not, don’t hold up, musically, to the rest of the shows of tour. Take Leg One as our most recent evidence. Phish webcasted the Portsmouth and Jones Beach shows, and three of those four were among the weakest of tour. Both Portsmouth shows and July 4th illustrated a propensity for a lot of songs and very little jamming. In these three shows—combined—the only out-of the-box improv came in 6/20’s “Hood -> What’s the Use?”, 7/4’s “Twist,” and the very ends of 7/4’s “Tweezer” and 6/20’s “Rock and Roll.” That’s it. Other than those passages, the band cranked out never-ending setlists that did little to engage the psyche of the audience. Was there quality playing and tight, “type I” jamming? Of course! This is 3.0—there is always quality playing and tight, “type I” jamming. But those elements don’t make a show or we’d all be heralding the first night of Portsmouth as the best show of tour.

In webcasts of this era, it’s fair to say that the band has tended towards more more songs and less jamming than other shows of tour. In 2011, the first night of Tahoe and Dick’s stellar three-pack—the ultimate counter-example to any “webcast effect”—appeared to put this theory to rest after it had gained momentum over ’09 and ’10. But with six of the last eight webcast shows being suspect, perhaps the idea bears reexamination. There are often standalone highlights in webcast shows, for example, 7/4′s “Twist,” 12/30/11′s “Piper,” or Alpharetta ’11’s “Disease -> Maze., but more often than not, these uber-public performances pale in comparison to their surrounding shows. I am far beyond the point of trying to figure out why webcast shows don’t always explode, but going on empirical evidence gathered in this era, they usually carry a different vibe.

(Terrell Shaw)

Yesterday, in an extended, multi-party Twitter debate on this very subject, long-time fan, critic, and Phish.net guru, Charlie Dirksen tweeted: “no doubt that Phish is self-aware that their webcasted gig’s audience is larger than they can ever fully know.” And it’s this enhanced self-awareness—potentially taking the guys out of the moment and altering the course of setlists and shows—that is all I’ve ever hypothesized (and been derided for). Perhaps the guys “play to the webcast,” or maybe they just think about it at times, but something about these shows often feels a little different. In all circumstances, Phish’s music reflects the environment in which it was created, responding to such variables as venue size, weather, location, and crowd vibe. How is a webcast to an unknown audience of thousands not another similar variable?

There is no doubt that webcasts benefit the community by allowing a greater audience to share in the groove—but is that groove diluted? Wouldn’t one rather listen to a mind-numbing show an hour after it ended than watch a mediocre one? Almost every other show of Leg One, besides Portsmouth and July 4th, absolutely smoked. In case you forgot, they included, Worcester, AC, Riverbend, Star Lake, Blossom, Deer Creek, Alpine and SPAC. The one glaring exception? A gimmicky Saturday night affair with virtually no second set jamming at SPAC that was broadcast on Sirius. Is this just another in a long line of coincidences? Maybe so, maybe not.

What is the take away from all this? Who knows, but get your ass to Long Beach at all costs!

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Jam of the Day:

Run Like An Antelope” 7.3 II, Jones Beach

A nugget from the only high-quality, webcast show during Leg One.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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545 Responses to “More Webcasts—Meh.”

  1. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    @sumo, yeah I got the email last week

  2. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Delivery status information is not available for your item via this web site. A return receipt after mailing may be available through your local Post Office.

  3. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    One thing is for certain, phish will play concerts in a little over a week.

  4. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    and women’s beach volleyball is good to watch!

  5. coldgreentea Says:

    Dancing Fool:
    Good point. Dick’s was the tour closer, though, so maybe it had some special significance that the band wanted to share with as many peeps as possible. They were great shows, weren’t they? (So were UIC as well, though not quite as awesome as a whole imo). Think they’ll webcast Dick’s again this year?
    Anyone know how to automatically refresh the page? I’m not seeing recent comments until I manually refresh (using Firefox).

  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    guarantee dick’s gets webcasted this year

  7. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    but yeah, it is mostly the sold out shows they webcast, i just really thought san fran was too intimate and special for it like UIC was.

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    the webcast will be the downfall of Phish tour. Mark my words…once the tour is webcasted, its over, imo…

  9. ThePigSong Says:

    coldgreentea, it’s a message board, not chat room. Refresh is a must, command + R or just make a useless comment like I try to do.

    Glad I took off after this morning, but the trolls here are so good at what they do, esp the regulars.

  10. sumodie Says:

    df, may be time to call ptbm tomorrow….sucks you don’t get online tracking info

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    some fans really have no perspective with which to assess the situation and react out of emotion. I realize I invite it, but I think most people are missing the big picture….

    and @peoples phrunt feeling a little sad about yourself today? ;)

  12. Mr.Miner Says:

    phishtix can cancel your order and have em at will call for you @df

  13. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    oh cool miner. this happened to me for ac too but i ended up getting them just in time. I’ll give it till Friday.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    “the webcast will be the downfall of Phish tour. Mark my words…once the tour is webcasted, its over, imo…”

    ^i hope so @miner, i got shit to get on with in life!

    @stapes – you f’in been lying to me man! i told you i hate hippies! i should have known with that Steal Your Face patch on your pants. hilarious. you closeted SCI loving hippie custy chad. endless amounts of hilarity today.

  15. P.S.H.S Says:

    Namaste shall forever remind me of a great episode of lost, and a little nepalise man who loves the guatemalans that I work with. He yells “Guatemala!” every time he sees us with much enthusiasm.

  16. ThePigSong Says:

    Had a scalper call one of my bosses this morning, said I was extorting him. Good story for another day maybe.

  17. bobby weird Says:

    @stapes, tough gig knowing you can incite hatred based only on your physical appearance at a Phish show…. Who knew that was possible?

  18. TreasureReprise Says:

    I don’t think the band will stop taking musical risks as the number of webcasts increase. They live for just that. Plus the webcasting audience is paying for a Phish show, the jamz will come and consistently be part of the program as history would suggest in the webcast era (4.0).

  19. the peoples phrunt Says:

    The everlasting spoof is rather absurd isn’t it? No room for sadness that is for certain. Doritos & bong hits, maybe, but sadness, I think not. Phish tour was so ’94 anyway. Live in the now. Lovenlight mr.miner…lovenlight…namaste.

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    im erasing so many insulting comments I think I’m just gonna turn the section off for the night. That ok with y’all?