Spring ’94: The Birth of “Psych Jazz”

Phish 1994 (Unknown)

Phish 1994 (Unknown)

In their heyday, Phish advanced their style of play on a tour-by-tour basis, constantly refining their past while adding facets to their game. Their progression through the groove paradigm of the late-‘90s has been well documented on this site, but the first peak of the band—the years between 1993 and 1995—followed an evolutionary path as well. New Years Eve ’93 in Worcester was the culmination of Phish’ early years. Demolishing The Centrum with arguably the most impressive performance of their career to that point, Phish had peaked out their musical style. 12/31/93 represented the apex of the band’s tight and frenetic “speed jazz” approach to jamming. Most often within song-structure and communicating far more like jazz musicians than the psychedelic rock colossus of later years, the band had honed this style from their earliest days, and it came to a notable head during 1993’s Summer Tour, specifically in the month of August. But after the year came to a close in Worcester, Phish had to find a new path. In a very similar dynamic to their year-end show at Madison Square Garden only two years later, the walls of their musical style could be pushed no further, and the band needed a new focus. The answer to this year-end dilemma of ’93, interestingly enough, would put Phish on a road directly to December 31, 1995.

1994 T Shirt (Pollock)

1994 T Shirt (Pollock)

As the band stepped into the touring year of 1994, in was inhuman to think they could jam any tighter or faster than they had in ’93, so it was time to loosen up. Just a bit at first—and then a whole lot more. Phish’s “speed jazz” jamming of ’93 could be generally described as pushing a musical structure as far as it could possibly go within it’s boundaries. In 1994, the band traveled an outward path, loosening up first over Spring, more over Summer, to Fall where all structure would be obliterated. Along this path towards abstraction, Spring ’94 represented the beginning of the “contortion of structure” phase that intensify throughout the Summer. During Spring tour the band was just starting to bend structures, while their playing was still clearly rooted in the jazzier approach of their previous years. As they took their first steps towards musical deconstruction, Instead of “speed jazz,” Phish began to play “psych jazz.”

With this shift, the band became more adventurous. They were more likely to fully leave a set course of a jam to pursue a sonic tangent. Jams often carried abrupt, stop-start cadences, and carried angular feels. These were the days of centering “Antelope” and “David Bowie” in the wheelhouse of the second set, jams that spurned intricate, conversations with band members playing closely off each others phrases, either repeating or responding to each other in the jazz tradition. There were no effects, no soundcsapes, just straight playing.

11/94 (J. Commentucci)

11/94 (J. Commentucci)

While pointing towards the open-jamming that would infiltrate the band’s live shows in the Fall of the same year, the playing of Spring ’94 was still only months removed from the band’s year-end shows of ’93, and things don’t change in an instant. And therein lies the beauty of this tour. It sounds like balls-out, classic Phish, but with a dash of exploration sprinkled throughout.

Come November Phish would be undertaking, long-form jams such as the Bangor “Tweezer,” Bozeman “Tweezer,” Minneapolis “Bowie,” Providence “Bowie” and many more iconic explorations. One can clearly trace this outward progression from the beginning of Spring ’94, through Summer and Fall, all the way to Summer  ’95—Phish’s most abstract tour. This Spring, they were just scratching the surface of this direction, and for this reason I can see why this tour holds a special place for purists. And the tapes don’t lie.

Today I have put together a Spring ’94 “psych jazz” playlist. (I will do another for Summer.) These jams illustrate the first step away from structure in Phish’s movement towards becoming the most proficient, whole-band improvisers of all time.

David Bowie” 4.13.94 II, New York, NY

A late-second set “Bowie” from the first of three nights at the Beacon Theatre.



Run Like an Antelope” 4.14.94 II, New York, NY

A ferocious, centerpiece “Antelope” that set the tone for the many versions to follow on Spring tour.



David Bowie” 4.17.94 II, Fairfax, VA

“Bowie” jams have started to expand already, as the band many versions early on in tour.



Bathtub Gin” 4.18.94 II, Newark, DE

A short, but sweet “Bathtub Gin” that jumps out of theme.



David Bowie” 4.24.94 II, Charlotte, NC

And this “Bowie,” from the Grady Cole Center, was the version to which all the others were pointing.



Tweezer” 5.7.94 II, Dallas, TX

The Bomb Factory “Tweezer” represented a big turning point in the band’s willingness to let things move far outside the box.



Run Like an Antelope” 5.8.94 II, Bee Cave, TX

Phish’s mojo was still working the night after the Bomb Factory, as evidenced by this centerpiece “Antelope.”



Split Open and Melt” 5.13.94 II, Tempe, AZ

A “Melt” from the desert



Run Like an Antelope > BBFCFM > Antelope” 5.16.94 II, LA, CA

The now-legendary “Big Black Furry Antelope” from LA’s WIltern Theatre.



Tweezer” 5.28.94 II, Monterey, CA

Spring ’94 ended at Laguna Seca Daze festival along the central California coast. Phish played two-setters each night. This was the “Tweezer” from the first night.



Split Open and Melt” 5.29.94 II, Monterey, CA

And the “Split” from the tour-closer.

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Phish-1994-05-29-Split-Open-and-Melt.mp3] Tags: ,

2,138 Responses to “Spring ’94: The Birth of “Psych Jazz””

  1. phishm Says:

    I can’t wait for Phish to play again. They make me feel normal. I sit here late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning getting down to bliss. I feel like nobody else is. I love it when they are playing. Everyone is blissing out and the universe all of a sudden doesn’t feel like a suck hole anymore. Until then. So close I can almost feel it.

  2. the Baker Says:

    Cheers to that phishm !

    I don’t know how I’d Bake alone w/out a smorgasbord of live phish thru out my shift…

    The famed 20-Oxy4 SPAC Amazement is up on the Arch.Release;
    6/19, 5-song 2nd-set w/ 32min PIPER &
    6/20, 4-song 2nd w/a near 20min -7 to begin…& Paige’s dad, Jack on “Bill Bailey…”, for a Father’s Day treat, taBoot !
    ^Get some

  3. BingosBrother Says:

    Ain’t got nothin at all…

    Happy 6/22/94 homies

  4. phlorida phan Says:


  5. RoosterPizza Says:

    Three Mob fuck heads were jawing to my wife in Japanese today in broad daylight as we were walking and minding our own business. My wife: “Don’t do it, they have guns.” Bright side was that they referred to me as a big dick American. And still, somehow, I feel as though I am less of a man. Racism’s real folks, and it’s as fucking nasty and dirty as always.

  6. sumodie Says:

    For some serious Sunday morning facemeltage, spin Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket – In a Dutch Haze (Live at Roadburn 2012)


    Heavy Blanket is the latest band fronted by local rocker, J Mascis. Never listened to his Dinosaur Jr output but this live set with Earthless has got my attention

    Earthless meets Heavy Blanket opens for Sleep at Boston’s HOB, Aug 24.

    Is Fuego inadvertently ushering in my delayed stoner metal phase…?

  7. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Happy 20YL to 06.22.94, a classic show in so many ways

  8. sumodie Says:


    First reviewer talking about his giant buddy, randall, is a good read

  9. MiA Says:

    Friend from Minneapolis came down. Go so Rooster’d I fell into the toilet and broke it at 3 AM. MrsMiA was very congenial considering I broke a toilet.

    Amazingly… No hangover. Yet.

  10. Stoney Case Says:

    Timber Ho!

    More smoke em, less drink em

    Hiked to the worlds largest incense cedar yesterday. Hiked through a catastrophic forest fire to get there. Good day.

  11. MiA Says:

    Exactly Stoney.

  12. MiA Says:

    Shopping for toilets after a night of drinking…


  13. MiA Says:

    I’m close to swearing off alcohol forever. Just puff.

    Incense Cedar is beautiful. Sounds like a great hike.

  14. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    When Donna does that “I’m being stabbed” death scream after a sick Playin’ jam. I mean WTF? It’s like the human version of the whale. I’ll never comprehend it. I’ll bet that freaked the fuck out of countless spunions back in the day.

  15. xpun Says:

    6-22-94 on lp app. Although it keeps skipping songs in the second set when I try to play. Theres some good points. theres some bad points. It all works out

  16. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers on TRide Bluegrass stream. $$$ Sun aftn music. Lookin fwd to streaming GSBG during USA match.

    Happy summer yall.

    Fracking hilarious MiA. Buds >>>> hops etc.

  17. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    Been digging some Telly streams this weekend JG. Love GSBG and they’re Phans taboot!


  18. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    As for the LP App…I love it but it’s so past due for an overhaul.

  19. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    Trips. USA USA USA.

  20. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Awesome pic w/ Paul & Anders. Thx Random 😎

    Fucking hate when LP App skips to next song typically mid jam. Fix the bug already Phish Inc.

  21. BingosBrother Says:

    LP app been horsing jams for years. It can’t wrap it’s head around 6 22 94.

  22. BrandonKayda Says:

    11-14-95 Stasheca helped me get through a part of the 4 hours of yard work I did today. Still have to finish the backyard tomorrow.

  23. bobby weird Says:

    Soccer: where it is cool to suck your thumb on tv after a goal. Says everything right there.

  24. Jerome Garcia Says:

    GSBG TRide w/ match on mute straight protip. USA score already gatdangit!

  25. Jerome Garcia Says: