Three of a Different Kind

Atlantic City (Andrea Nusinov)

Atlantic City 2013 (Andrea Nusinov)

In a fall tour where so many facets of Phish’s game stood out, perhaps the most significant was their improvisational diversity. Phish is known for never playing the same show twice, and—more specifically—never playing a jam the same way twice. But on this tour they took this concept to a new level. Most often through history, Phish has focused—more or less—on one style of play at a time. Therefore, within a tour—say Fall ’97—most “Ghosts” will bare a sonic similarity, as the band was honing in on one sound, in this case, James Brown-esque groove. In the 3.0 era, however, focused pattern has not been their modus operandi. Instead of magnifying one style of jamming at a time, the modern era has been all about improvisational diversity, as Phish routinely and proficiently plucks jamming styles from the entirety of their 30 year history. Before coming back in 2009, the band had done all their pre-requisite course work: the fundamentals of the late ’80s, the intricate compositions of the early-’90s, the lightning quick “speed jazz” of ’93, the advent of free-form jamming in ’94, the psychedelic sorcery of ’95, the groove reinvention in late ’96, multiple stages of funk in ’97, the advent of ambient jamming in ’98, the ambient-layered sound sculpting of ’99-’00; the grungy, dissonant exploration of post-hiatus. Phish had learned it all. In this era, however, they have access to all of these learned styles and more as they their jams no longer liken case-studies, but referenced, master works. And on fall tour, this methodology worked wonders as the band’s jams—even within a single song—varied greatly, providing the ultimate smorgasbord of Phish delicacies.

Atlantic City (A.Nusinov)

Atlantic City (A.Nusinov)

This fall, the band played three versions of just about every major jam vehicle, and by comparing the three, the incredible diversity of Phish’s current jamming will leap off the table. My favorite reference point in the Phish universe is “Tweezer,” and so let’s start there. The band’s first “Tweezer” of fall came as part of Hampton’s instantly legendary third night performance. Once the guys pushed through a set of whammy-laced grooves, they took a sharp left turn for the dark side. Phish favored a loose, grungy and highly-effected sonic palette, as the music likened a descent into Hades. This ominous march became more and more intense—a harrowing segment of musical mania that pushed further and further into abstraction. Sounding as if they had been burrowing through the earth, the band—finally—popped through the darkness into the tranquil, deep sea where they floated hundreds of feet below the surface. And thus began the majestic final segment of the jam—a truly holy exchange. Needless to say, in Hampton, Phish put the lens of the exploratory and psychedelic side of their game, and came out with quite the result.

The next “Tweezer” came exactly one week later, on Sunday night in Hartford, Connecticut, and it was a totally different story. Whereas Hampton’s was loose, Hartford’s was tight. Whereas Hampton’s was quintessential “evil” Phish, Hartford’s was uplifting. Whereas Hampton’s was distorted and dissonant, Hartford’s was silky smooth and melodic. And whereas Hampton’s got abstract, Hartford’s grooved ’til dawn. You catch my drift? These two “Tweezer” jams couldn’t really be more opposite. Such utter diversity between versions makes any comparison a matter of apples and oranges. Hampton’s version felt perfect in the old, shoddy Coliseum, while Hartford’s uplifting groove exercise fit congruently with the most wide open dance floor of tour. As Mom used to say, “There’s a time and a place for everything.” And she’s never been more right than in Fall 2013.

Atlantic City (G.Estreich)

Atlantic City (G.Estreich)

“Tweezer’s” final outing came in Atlantic City’s fall tour finalé, and it was, perhaps, the most unique of them all. This version focused exclusively on rhythm, as each member used their instrument in percussive fashion rather than offering any melodic leads. Many times this is how Phish jams start before moving into a second section of more conventional playing. But Atlantic City’s never made that jump, instead undulating between varying rhythmic textures. This made for an extremely danceable version that entered some decidedly unique late-jam grooves. While this “Tweezer” developed in concept throughout, never did anyone look to build the jam vertically or melodically, as Phish remained a growling, mechanical dance factory for the duration of tour’s final jaunt. This excursion, truly, bears no resemblance to either Hampton’s or Hartford’s, making the trifecta of fall “Tweezers” about as different as three Phish jams can get.

If we were to draw roots of these “Tweezers” into Phish history, they would certainly touch several different eras. Hampton’s version references the growling abstraction of ’03 and ’04, Hartford’s nods to the funk era of ’97 and ’98, while Atlantic City’s is a bit tougher to trace—some combination of the intricacy and innovation of ’94 with a sonic palette of ’99-’00 and beyond. While musical genealogy is hardly a precise science, the overall takeaway is that Fall 2013 was comprised of a hybrid of improvisational styles from throughout the band’s illustrious career. And what makes Phish such a special band is that they are still creating at this stage of the game, forging new pathways nightly, all while referencing tricks learned over a Hall of Fame career. The result of this is a Phish tour that is more dynamic than ever before, as nobody knows what style of jam will spring from what song on any given night. In past eras, as unpredictable as Phish has been, one could know—more or less—what style of jamming they would witness when they walked through the arena doors. These days, however, with’s the band’s ever-diversifying improvisational tendencies, it’s just not that simple. When extrapolating this trend to every jam vehicle in the catalog, the possibilities contained within any current Phish show become limitless. Through the years, the band has taught us to expect the unexpected, but in this, their thirtieth, year, Phish has once again redefined the meaning of “unexpected.”

11.1.13, Atlantic City (Jake Silco)

Hampton Coliseum (Jake Silco)

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368 Responses to “Three of a Different Kind”

  1. joe Says:

    my sentence structure has been worse than normal lately. not intentionally trolling the grammaticians who inhabit the board. I’m just losing whatever ability I had to write coherently.

  2. ren Says:

    He uses the drill at the end of the song Wingsuit…no?

  3. Spasm Waiter Says:

    He used it throughout the tour, I nnoticed. @Joe- I didn’t realize that it was an old gadget of his. the streams make it easier to see all the nuances of that shit. Someone mentioned the use of a weight that Page uses to hold a note while he travels to a different part of his rig. That is badass next level shit.

  4. DavidSilver Says:

    Speaking of tools, stoneys 8/10/97 set 2 has a theremin jam following GTBT. What a set, man. Would love to hear this one remastered.

  5. sumodie Says:

    Terrific DIY first-person-perspective action flick (5 min long):

  6. garretcorncob Says:

    Sounds like there was a bit of drill action at the beginning of the AC Piper maybe too.

    Just finished listening to the AC Disease, yet another very solid jam that would have killed in most of 3.0 but feels a bit flat in Fall ’13. Tasteful move into Piper as well.

  7. Stoney Case Says:

    Phoam you’re passive aggressive. You made this personal by saying I live to shit on people’s good time. You made it personal saying it’s your job to keep me in check. You have been twisting and misusing words.

    Who the heck do you think you are? I suggest keeping my name out of your posts.

  8. Stoney Case Says:

    DS! I requested that show be released last time I talked to Shapiro! Had a great convo about that show and recent releases.

  9. garretcorncob Says:

    All I know is that Stoney has done nothing but shit on my bad times.

    I too thought the Wingsuit set was promising but a bit rough around the edges. Have to figure those songs are at best sketches of what comes up on the album, given the lack of studio effects, multi-tracks, supplemental instrumentation, etc. Probably pretty close to what they’ll be like in future live contexts though, minus a few re-writes and some tightening up.

    That being said, have only spun it once. Maybe I’ll go back to it now that this Piper just wrapped up.

  10. phoammhead Says:

    fuck off, stoney.

  11. phlorida phan Says:

    ^I think you mean Snow!

  12. phoammhead Says:

    no, and i meant the dipshit was baloney, too. sorry, snow.

  13. vapebraham Says:

    your job around here is by self description to make sure we don’t get too high enjoying our recent and current phish

    ^^^ quite the opposite for me. Stoney’s presence here is uplifting, educational, and inspiring. The man knows his phish and many other things, and i greatly appreciate his input. A troller or flamer he is not.

    my job is to make sure you don’t get get away with not looking the fool doing it.

    ^^^ is this a double negative? i’m probably lost, but I think you just admitted to the very offense for which you condemned stoney.


  14. phoammhead Says:

    ever heard of sarcasm or irony, vaper

  15. sumodie Says:

  16. Stoney Case Says:

    Keep it up Phoam. You expose yourself more with every comment. Hard to converse about anything beyond beer and buzzes, council?

  17. tela's_muff Says:

    I for one am happy @vape could wake up from a yoga nap to settle this. $$$ mediation.

  18. phoammhead Says:

    stay classy, stoney

  19. vapebraham Says:

    I’ve heard of both, sir, but which is it — were you being sarcastic or ironic? If the latter, I don’t see it.

  20. garretcorncob Says:

    Moderately interesting article on Rick Rubin that could have been amazing with a bit more length and depth:

  21. Ulysses S. Wingsuit Says:

    May I recommend a nice spilff and a listen to the Dubisupa on today, it’s 16th birthday?

  22. sumodie Says:

    first 2013 Albums of the Year list that I’ve come across:

  23. vapebraham Says:

    ^^ now that’s presidential diplomacy. Well done, U.S.W. I concur.

  24. vapebraham Says:

    re. wingsuit. agreed that the material is a little raw, but i like it a lot. I find it more musically interesting than Joy and i prefer the overall tone of the “album.”
    WAN is a big hit with me. 555 also $$$.

  25. garretcorncob Says:

    Yeah vape, that’s the biggest thing for me, way more interesting than Joy.

    I mentioned it before, but a solid 4 or 5 songs on Joy are fairly straightforward blues rock numbers (Ocelot, KDF, STFFP, Alaska, others?), whereas none of the Winsuit tracks are.

    I love that. In the middle of WAN right now on my second listen through of the whole thing. Liked them all so far. Fuego’s lyrics/vocals aren’t my favorite, but the instrumental parts are killer. All the other songs so far I’ve had no problem with. Love the groove that kicks off The Line, wish that showed back up, but still like the rest of the tune.

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