Perspectives on Phish

MSG '13 (Ken Scelfo)

MSG ’13 (Ken Scelfo)

I see two dominant schools of thought in analyzing Phish history—the “classicist” and the “progressivist.” Allow me to elaborate. The classicist school believes a certain historical period represents the band’s best work. They believe that Phish caught lightning in a bottle during this era, and that the rest of their career simply doesn’t hold up to the playing in this one. Maybe the year is 93? Maybe ’95? Maybe ’97? But the argument is that there are are tangible boundaries of time that bookened the band’s most proficient era. The progressivist sees things on a continuum, and views the changing of Phish music as an evolutionary process. This evolution entails retaining improvisational elements of the past while integrating new ones to form a more advanced whole-group ethos. The progressivist sees 3.0 Phish as the culmination of this process, an era in which the band has integrated their entire past with new elements in forming some of the most virtuosic music of all-time. The classcicist will argue that the modern era is nothing but a watered down version of the band’s glory days in which Trey could play more notes per second and melt-faces with his more technically proficient guitar playing. The progressivist will see Trey’s step back in ’97 and discovery of rhythm guitar as a huge advancement of the group ethos, and a stepping stone towards Phish’s more free-flowing, communicative jams of the late ‘90s and beyond. The classcisist attaches to his past era as if represents an age that can never be matched—energetically, musically, scene-wise—you name it; it was better then. The progressivist sees the evolution of Phish as continuous through 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. He believes that the modern era represents the full realization of Phish’s hall of fame career. The classicist comes to modern shows for nostalgia and flashes of what used to be. I think you see the difference by now. In fact, I’m sure you have already thought of five friends that fall into each camp. There is that much of an unspoken—and spoken—divide in the Phish scene in relation to the past. And this divide represents the proverbial elephant in the room in so many unproductive Phish debates.

7.14.13 (A.Nusinov)

7.14.13 (A.Nusinov)

This is not a new rift in the community. It has always been there. In ’97 there was a camp of fans who became disenchanted with Phish’s change of pace—literally and figuratively. These fans longed for the speedier, guitar-led jams that they had grown up with and couldn’t wrap their head around the fact that this change could actually represent evolution and not destruction. Many of these fans missed ’97, ’98 and ’99 only to kick themselves later. Many stayed away until 3.0! If one is so caught up in glorifying an era or style of the past—or the past at all—he will, necessarily, not value the present nearly as much as someone who believes (read: understands) that the past has led Phish to their more evolved music dynamic of toaday. Many of these fans still see the 3.0 era as nostalgia and whatever-era-in-the-past as inherently untouchable. But that’s a fool’s perspective. Listen to the jams of 2012 and 2013 and try to tell me that they aren’t the among the most egoless, democratic conversations of the band’s 30 year career. You can’t. Everything has led to now.

12.29.13 (J.Silco)

12.29.13 (J.Silco)

Phish’s improvisational skills are at an all-time high. They may not play the fastest or the funkiest that they ever have, but their jam-to-jam diversity, creativity and consistency is unmatched at any other point in their career. The guys routinely code-switch between improvisational feels, refuse to get stuck in any stylistic rut, and jam with an unparalleled level of democracy. Simply put—Phish are the smartest musicians they have ever been. One would be hard-pressed to argue that point. Perhaps they don’t practice like they used to and don’t nail all their compositions (though they’ve been doing better in this area), perhaps they don’t play with the speed and ferocity of 25-year olds at age 50, and maybe they jam slightly less than they did once did. Phish’s improvisational ideas, however, are as creative as ever and when they do open things up, the results—as proven over the past couple years—are most often sublime. Perhaps modern Phish isn’t one’s favorite era, but anyone would be hard-pressed to argue against the evolutionary thread that is evident throughout the band’s career; a thread that has led us to another high-water mark for the legendary quartet from Vermont.


Winged-music-noteJam of the Day:

Twenty Years Later” 10.29.13 II

[audio:] Tags:

1,261 Responses to “Perspectives on Phish”

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  1. little umbrellas Says:

    Space is the place. Perspective’d.

  2. little umbrellas Says:

    Just finished listening to the JFDiease. Hope we’re all listening to the same band here, cause that is some fresh Big Easy Voodoo listening. Toss in the other highlights, I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t be amped on Phish’s upcoming year. Coming out the gate with open improv at a festi check. Dirty South Heat Fantasy.

    There’s gonna be so much good Phish coming out, I won’t catch any summer tour, but I am amped to hear the jams on replay.

  3. IrieWalton Says:

    Nice to see you back around these parts, Miner!

    Some good thoughts there and a whole lot of stuff to chew on until summer tour, which can’t get here fast enough, it seems.

  4. butter Says:


  5. Jano Says:

    Agree!!! Grettings from Peru!!! See ya all in Dick’s this year!!

  6. Berkeley Head Says:

    Miner nailed it!

    I shall call myself a “perspectivist,” as I’m able to see and enjoy through all perspectives. An independent if you will.

    Tonight I’m having “classicist” tendencies. Nostalgia perhaps.

    By tour opener I’ll be in real-time.

    When I was living the 95-2000 era it was all just Phish to me. I remember my chick came back from Europe and was like “Oh my god! Phish is a funk band now” I remember thinking “Huh?”

  7. Berkeley Head Says:

    But I’ve never enjoyed Phish more than I do now…. And I’d like to think it’s because I didn’t really peak in 95 either.

  8. Frank Says:

    Ok, but that still doesn’t tell me how I should feel about the jazz fest set!

  9. Berkeley Head Says:

    And it’s still just all Phish to me… (but man did that guitar sound good in 95 or what?!?)

  10. Gavinsdad Says:

    Like someone said before…Miner was always been the lurkiest lurker.

    Been thinking about “the kid who had tapes” as the modern griot. The person who passed down the oral narrative but in chromium oxide form. Much has been said about this person but its still T3 who blows my mind…creating mystique and viral stickiness around shows is a type of art form. Only now do I see what a crucial role this person played. There was always a kid pushing a tape.

    Unrelated to Miners post but something I’ve been Pondering. Kinda related only because in 95 I feel like there were still “tapes” but mebbe by then it was CDs.

  11. Gavinsdad Says:

    You’re welcome:

  12. Dorn76 Says:

    Welcome back, Professor. Excited to audit this “Perspectives” course!

  13. MiA Says:

    Glad to see Miners post. Although I think he’s creating a straw man “classivist” argument, or doesn’t understand another nuanced position in there.

    Discussing phish in this board has always been on the verge of sublimely ridiculous without accusations and labels that pre-define people.

    I still think it’s better than most.

  14. Spasm Waiter Says:

    I am more of a clavinetist.

  15. tela's_muff Says:

    yeah, nice new post, but i agree with MiA’s point as far as the straw man goes.

    i see it both ways. i don’t think their improv skills are at an all-time high, but i absolutely understand the nature of Phish and how it’s about moving forward and evolving. i still say in this debate, it’s a matter of taste as far as what an ear is looking for, and 3.0 Phish is more about the escape from daily life. i approached Phish back in the day with my 12-sided dice and a dungeon master guidebook, now i’m walking in with a couple ipa’s in my back pocket. meaning, it’s not so geeky and serious to me the way it was. i think Phish looks at it the same way. the take it serious as far as they know what it means to them and us, but they approach it musically much more like a rock show, a lot more carefree. no question they catch lightening in a bottle with great improv/jams (all of ’13 fall). anyway, i think most of us here understand the evolutionary process, at the same time, i think we understand that certain eras of Phish just hold a special place that likely won’t be topped. it’s natural. we move forward while keeping a eye on the past. either way, interesting post Miner and look forward to the discussion this one brings.

  16. MiA Says:

    ^agreed Tela’s

  17. tela's_muff Says:

    i certainly don’t want to put off others strong perspective. totally respect the perspective Miner brings. really, Gdad nailed it for me yesterday. some people are fighting the truth on what Phish means to them now. i have slowly come to the realization that it’s not for me what it once was. i’ll still rage a show, i’ll dance in Stapes kitchen until midnight to X jam, i’ll spend 3 days listening to nothing but shows from DeerCreek, but, it’s changed for me. i missed a lot chasing the band for many years and now i’m ok with not doing that and spending more time with family and spending money on other things. is it Phish’s evolution that caused this, or is it mine?

  18. ren Says:

    Miners back in the game!

    Glad to see an new post. Happy Friday my ninjas!

    Great discussion here over the past few days. While it sometimes feels like we run around in circles we are really just affirming our love for this band, this experience and a particular and quirky zest for life that we all share.

    Now I just need a show to go to so I can put all this in practice!

  19. gavinsdad Says:

    we move forward while keeping a eye on the past

    ^well said telas…I think this is an approach I need to keep in mind. But I know for me I was never that much into pedestals and I for one am still learning about the past.

  20. Faht101 Says:

    You can always go back but you can’t go back all the way – Bob Dylan

  21. ren Says:

    some people are fighting the truth on what Phish means to them now

    ^While I can see this perspective it seems a bit macro in view.

    Haven’t we always been and forever will be chasing truth? Does Phish’s meaning for you have to evolve? Can’t Phish’s meaning to you change from year to year, tour to tour, moment to moment…even with the span of 1 show (especially when rainbows are involved) without there being some ultimate destination? Does it have to be a linear progression?

    Often in life I think we try and apply too much “sense” to a world that often doesn’t make any. Phish can really epitomize this notion for me at times…in some moments they are so Phishy and quirky they make little to no sense…in others I can’t find anything that makes more perfect sense.

  22. gavinsdad Says:

    is it Phish’s evolution that caused this, or is it mine?

    ^youre killin telas….this Is really the crux of what I personally look at re: phish when I’m not just plain old listening to their music. Feel like after many years you always have that external reflection thing going on.

    I got real weird on stoney yesterday via text. Beyond phish’s music, I am ultimately invested in the macro level alchemy that happens between fans and band at a show. I am always assessing the feel of a crowd and where we “go” collectively during a show. So the music is key for me but the transcendence is everything….sometimes we don’t get there but I’m loathe to spend any energy blaming trey for not making it happen. Just a personal quirk of mine and how I’ve always been….both GD and phish.

    And to Miners post….I think there is a maximum amount of grey between the two outlined camps and I’d love to hear his thoughts on how that is manifested in our fanbase and or “how we listen”

  23. sumodie Says:

    Miner, nice observations!

    I view the classicist and progressivist descriptors as two peaks along a spectrum /bell curve. Not stand alone isolated categories

    The fanbase isn’t either/or, although as Miner says many of us can be grouped into one or the other category (I’m a progressivist)

    Full band improv does seem to be at an all time high

    In any case, a thoughtful post to satiate the rabid BB masses

  24. vapebraham Says:

    How is the predominant use of an out-of-tune, seasick guitar tone progressive or evolutionary? Feels more like regression to shittier playing. And how is playing more straight, blues based rock tunes — alaska, kdf, zero, 46 days, ocelot, julius — evolution? Feels more like laziness.

    I like the perspectives of tela’s (carefree and rockish today vs. nerdy, proggy, and cultish BitD) and gdad’s (accept what is or find a new hobby). No matter how you parse it, there is an inherent element of nostalgia in seeing modern phish, whether you were a fan in the early 90’s or not. We go for the fun

    good to see your post, miner. thought provoking stuff.

  25. ren Says:

    Always enjoy seeing these sage thoughts from Gdad, Telas and the like.

    “sometimes we don’t get there”…..I bet there’s at least 10 nOObs in attendance TOTALLY getting there at that same instance.


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