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. George W. Kush Says:

    public shaming and mild torture not sensible??? doh.

  2. shred Says:

    Takes balls to start an album w a 9+ minute track. But only TOOL can pull off a hit single that long!

    Is waiting all night their first single release?

  3. butter Says:

    Further to play a set at Interlockin

    That line up is sick

    Feeling your post back there a few pages GD re: portal

    I’ve had a few other bands take me there over the last few years. Stones, Furthur, Metermen & a few different NOLA collabs

    But yes the Phish are the undisputed portal kings now

  4. butter Says:

    Further to play a set at Interlockin

    That line up is sick

    Feeling your post back there a few pages GD re: portal

    I’ve had a few other bands take me there over the last few years. Stones, Furthur, Metermen & a few different NOLA collabs

    But yes the Phish are the undisputed portal kings now (or key holders)

  5. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    make sure it is instant rice. absorbs a lot better than other forms.

  6. lumpyhead Says:

    crowdsourcing (your fate)

    Gdad 4 pages ago – classsssic.

  7. Stoney Case Says:

    got to spin WAN at home. I dig it. Loved the song live. Great sound from the genre of group ballad.

    Probably not gonna play it at a party or around the work place. Looking forward to some live versions.

    George, sounds good in theory. I think you’re missing my whole argument from the Sterling issue though. With the public humiliation, or Crowdsourcing of your Fate, if you will, we get the type of manipulation we see in the Sterling case. Basically mob rule for personal gain.

  8. Stoney Case Says:

    we don’t do instant rice up in here holmes! great tip though. can totally see that.

    lumpy! great minds. still laughing about that from yesterday.

  9. Stoney Case Says:

    no one wants to work on a thursday, right?

    Here’s a cool quadcopter video of the Royal Gold facilities in Blue Lake, Ca. No, there ain’t no damn lake. Used to be a giant pond for logging mills.

  10. DryIceFactory Says:

    You’re welcome.

  11. Kaveh Says:

    Dave’s Picks Vol 2: Bonus Disc: 07.29.74 = $$$$$.

    He’s Gone > Truckin > NFBM > The Other One > Spanish Jam > Wharf Rat

  12. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    12/5/1997 often flies under the radar because the two shows that precede and the two shows that follow cast giant shadows. don’t sleep on this show. sick ghost opener, the only (that i know) type II julius > the only (that i know) type II slave. shit is so sick. i love it when total randoms, songs that i think would never get the treatment, get taken for exploratory rides.

  13. George W. Kush Says:

    yeah Stoney I see your point and that Sterling case is certainly true to it. I just want the return of public shaming in the town square. Bring some morals and twice-thinking back to some folks. Call me arcane, but we, as a society have eroded our moral foundation enough where that sort of thing shouldn’t be out of the question anymore. This isn’t the 1950’s where the USA is the shining world model for all that is just, progressive, and true. Bring back the pillory and chopping off of hands for theft of bread loaves.

    Don’t swipe my pumpernickel, lest you wanna loose fingers.

  14. garretcorncob Says:


    Where does the personal gain come in? Not a sassy question, just a confused one? Who is personally gaining from the (maybe manufactured) outrage? The mob doesn’t really seem to be, as far as I can tell…

  15. George W. Kush Says:

    Stoked to go hear Shepard Fairey speak tonight about his career. He is originally from here but has never had a gallery exhibit in his hometown until this month. Whether you like or dislike his politics, some of his images are iconic in modern times. Seen comparisons to Jasper Johns in recent articles.

    Watched a cool bio of Tribe Called Quest last night on VH1 Classic. Coming up in my youth, that style of hip hop (Native Tongues crew) was just slick as hell. Preferred Tribe and De La to NWA and Public Enemy. Better beats, deeper thought, smooth as butter on a hot piece of cornbread. Good to skate to in the headphones.

  16. George W. Kush Says:

    Im a poster geek at heart so the Fairey thing was a must for me. Esp at $5 per ticket. Maybe he’ll sign my ass cheek.

  17. Stoney Case Says:

    Garret, the gain? Forcing the sale of a team, that wasn’t previously for sale. Openly lobbying for minority ownership of said team. Feeling and reveling in the power that Crowdsourcing has provided.

    The personal gain is the power to shape policy by invading privacy.

  18. Stoney Case Says:

    welcome to the future!!

    Holy cow! Gadzooks!

    link = self explanatory! check it out!

  19. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    “he sounds vulnerable, which some consider cheesy.”

    jerry garcia often sounded vulnerable- not cheesy. vulnerable and cheesy are not synonymous. i do suppose one could sound vulnerably cheesy. i really think those lyrics to waiting all night are cheeseball, my girlfriend just left me, high school fluff. musically, like i stated yesterday, i think the studio version is very, very cool.

    but don’t listen to me, i honestly think furthur is enjoyable to listen to. my opinions have no merit.

  20. lumpyhead Says:

    mike and page sound great on the waiting all night recording

  21. MiA Says:

    SnubbyBear is now StubbySnubbyBear

  22. vapebraham Says:

    heady: so the lyrical content of WaN is cheesy (i.e., sappy, saccharine)? sure. by that measure so is the lyrical content to most ballady phish songs. To me the lyrics are real.

    or perhaps, like poopG, you also find the way he sings the lyrics to be cheesy, i.e, soft, girly. I hear vulnerability and a step back from machismo.

    you might say all the vocals are also cheesy. phish as the beegees. ok to these ears.

    but the slowmo harpsichord, ice nine mid section is pretty cool.

  23. MiA Says:

    Mike and Page have quite the vocal manipulations though.

  24. vapebraham Says:

    It’s an Ok song. I don’t see many more spins. Bring on the live phish.

  25. Kaveh Says:

    vocal harmony on WAN is what makes it a great song; for me it is has a FEFY feel to it; moreso than Wading feel. I like that quite a bit.

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