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”

  1. vapebraham Says:

    They played a nostalgic set II on NYE and we ate it up — progressivists and classicists alike.

  2. gavinsdad Says:

    ^exactly @ren. Who am I to say? That’s the subjectivity laced throughout all of this.

    Baby who’s to say/that it even matters in the long run
    Give it just a minute/and it’ll blow away

  3. Fly Says:


  4. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Smart and passionate folks on here

  5. ren Says:

    I often embody multiple ideas and traits simultaneously. In my circle of friends I may be considered the ring leader, the sage, the shaman that helps bring people along and get them there…but at the same time I come here to be on the opposite end, receiving and absorbing the knowledge of my predecessors….for which I am very thankful.

    Photography analogy: Sometimes I like to capture the panorama and soak it all in. Sometimes i need a more narrow field of view to pick up on certain details. Using both helps me tell a much richer and more meaningful story. If I’m smart I bring both lenses and are mindful enough to swap them out as necessary.

  6. sumodie 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.”

    I disagree; it’s micro. I think it’s a very personal thought process for each of us

    “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”


    ” 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?”

    That’s a personal perspective only; time moves on and then one decides to act differently, to experience something else. Who am I to judge whether one wants to hit summer phish or to do something else?

  7. ren Says:

    I wasn’t exactly sure I was phrasing things correctly there…I sometimes struggle to get my thoughts out quickly to stay in the convo. Definitely more interested in the questions posed than the brief statement.

    For all the answers I seek I find 2 more questions…which keeps me interested, engaged and mindful/thoughtful. I’d likely be bored any other way.

  8. sumodie Says:

    Perhaps I should choose not to hear Tory’s anguished whale mating at SPAC and instead choose Skrillex’s Bonnaroo SuperJam:

    “The Skrillex and Friends SuperJam will feature Big Gigantic along with special guests Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, vocalist Janelle Monae, indie band Warpaint along with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Zedd, Chance The Rapper and Thundercat.”

  9. tela's_muff Says:

    totally @sumo. most everything i’m stating is from a personal perspective. we’re all on our own trip with this band.

    if Phish had played a summer tour like they had played Fall last year, my perspective may be different. IMO, too many stretches of uninspired rock shows. on the flip side, being there and taking it all in changes everything. but, if the prevailing thought is the band is improvising at a higher level now more than ever, that cements the fact that i’m just personally not tuned in as much as i used to be. again, not suggesting they don’t hook up still. the 3.0 highlights are incredible.

  10. Stoney Case Says:

    Nice to see a new post! Of course it takes a complex indescribable phenomenon and tries to divide into a Fox and MSNBC camp. Kind of an easy out. Yet it has stimulated new discussion, and some great thoughts by MiA, Tela, G’dad, and cutting to the chase, Kaya.

    Cheers! Subbing today. Won’t be able to participate as much.

    Signed up my first credit processing client. Got a nice little check in the mail.

    To Money finding our wallets before we give it all to the Progressive Nostalgia Act!

  11. vapebraham Says:

    phish has delivered great improv, and arguably best of any era stuff, in recent times. However, the regular tunes, the ones that frame the sublime jams, have become banal and trying.

  12. vapebraham Says:

    ^^^ should read ” However, more of the regular tunes, the ones that frame the sublime jams, have become banal and trying.”

  13. itgre Says:

    moments where i would watch trey zoning in on some1 in crowd and reading their vibe..then letting it flow into the music..or still remember at big cypress listening to drum circles then later in night hearing same rhythms coming from fish..always lead me to believe there is much more going on in phish world on so many different levels. energy thru music will most likely be big part of the next evolutionary leap FoRwArD

  14. vapebraham Says:

    and trey does not play nearly as well as he used to. The rest have stayed the same or gotten better.

  15. Stoney Case Says:

    welcome new posters.

  16. ren Says:


    Wish we could all share spliff and kick around the footbag right about now.

  17. ren Says:

    In a deep philosophical mood now…but surrounded by pretty much the exact opposite….and full of too much caffeine


  18. Jerome Garcia Says:

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

    ^THIS! Warms the heart to know you’re keeping tabs on us Miner. Enjoyed the post. Encapsulates the discussion very matter of factly & succinctly.

    Well said MiA & telas. Agree w/ gdad. telas killin it this AM.

    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….

    ^amen gavins.

    Now on to pg 2 of comments…

  19. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Of course it takes a complex indescribable phenomenon and tries to divide into a Fox and MSNBC camp.


  20. ren Says:

    Love the perspective that the Japanese bring to the table:

    They are very Phishy…or is it Phish that are Japanesey?…either way peas in a pod.


  21. MiA Says:

    I live it when phish is hooked up and killing it. I’ve loved that for 23 years. When they aren’t killing it, they made me laugh.

    Why the “tucking” and light saber and that ripping maze are great memories of 3.0 phish.

    We all can feel it when the band is “in the zone” and I’m not nostalgic for it. I just want a practiced band that is trying to get there every show.

    But yeah I do like Trey’s anthemic off time phrasing in ’97 and ’98 a lot.

  22. MiA Says:

    I like Pages Claving in 3.0 a lot too.

  23. dorn76 Says:

    We contain multitudes. As someone probably already said.

    I do note that Miner say’s “dominant” schools of thought. That doesn’t mean they are the only schools. In fact, seems folks around here each have their own syllabus to their own self-selected coursework. As it should be.

  24. MiA Says:

    ^well said. I think Dorn and Sumo have clearly pointed out that we are smart enough to realize there is a continuum.

    Of course, I land in the area of “always right”

  25. ren Says:

    For all the nuances and differences in approach we exhibit I’m always a little surprised and certainly comforted in how much we actually share in common through this one small thread that unites us.

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