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. snow Says:

    Hi my name is snow and it’s been 15 minutes since i had my last “waiting All Night” listening session.


    I said I’m sorrrry.

  2. Stoney Case Says:


  3. Kaveh Says:

    In other music news:

  4. George W. Kush Says:

    I think I’d rather encounter a shark…

    ug link. sorry

  5. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    i understand what you are saying, vapes. although, i am not anti phish ballad. in fact, i am more open to them now, in 3.0, then i was in the ’90’s. i really enjoy fefy, strange design, billy breathes, dirt, if i could, brian and robert, sleep, swept away, steep, life boy, dog faced boy, silent in the morning… even wading has grown on me. there is a lyrical element in waiting all night that is not my cup of tea, but it is not because trey sounds vulnerable.

  6. Dorn76 Says:

    “Sensible thoughts this AM”

    Words never uttered by Stoney in reference to my posts.

  7. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    I think I’d rather encounter a shark…

    in the early-mid 2000’s i used to go on surf trips every year to central america or mexico. i was talking to a local at a river mouth break and i asked if i should be worried about sharks, he said, “tiburones, no; caiman, si!” and he pointed to the river mouth and made an alligator jaw motion with his arms and started laughing and ran into the water. i was so paranoid and scared while in the water that morning.

  8. vapebraham Says:

    right on, heady. I think live WaN will have more authentic feeling than the studio version. let it grow on ya,.

  9. Kaveh Says:

    This is going to be GOOD:

  10. vapebraham Says:

    i said i’m stoney, but you went so far away

  11. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    ::looks for the super like button to click for kaveh’s post::

    so… no one’s going to tackle the story about the sci kid who tried to burn it all down?

  12. snow Says:

    Fuck Fracking for a living!

  13. Stoney Case Says:

    hey i dig WAN. just meant, don’t drop it at a party, or play it in the work zone with the fellas. more for spinning at home, alone, while posting on miners. or of course, the live setting.

  14. George W. Kush Says:

    OK how many string cheese/arson jokes can you come up with in a row???


  15. George W. Kush Says:

    from the looks of his lip, he needs to take it easy on the fondue, or meth.

  16. snow Says:

    If we are going to talk ballads, I want more Dirts. The UIC elements dirt was so $$$.

    I saw a moray eel scuba diving. True story.

  17. vapebraham Says:

    indulge your WaN in the privacy of your own home.

  18. ren Says:

    If you have stank nuts….does that mean your WaN stanks too???

  19. George W. Kush Says:

    wow. a lot of lurkers here. I have been watching Carini vid for almost an hour and it had 174 views, refreshed just now and it jumped to 260!

  20. George W. Kush Says:

    ren, you might be waiting all night because your nuts stank.

  21. ren Says:

    Funny to think that our banter is entertainment for others….weeding through pages of IPA recs, crass jokes etc. to find the GOLDEN link!

  22. vapebraham Says:

    my favorite YEM 11.28.97. How about yours?

  23. ren Says:

    Nah…I’m addicted to the hetty powders. Gold Bond, Johnson&Johnson, even some Gold Bond Mentholated when I’m feelin it

  24. George W. Kush Says:

    not you obv because we don’t know each other, but people in general “you”
    possibly why Fish was waiting all night and said he was sorry.

  25. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    kushy, that vid was posted up on YEMblog and LL has a bunch of people who subscribe to his youtube page too. but yeah, lurkers be lurkin’

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