On the Way Upwards, The Colors Come Back

lighting geometryThe size, sound, and shape of the Phish experience combine to provide pure sensory overload.  From the crisp candy grooves invading your ears to the elusive smell of that dank nugget, to the magical glow of the stage lights- Phish heightens of all your senses to create a fully human experience.  One of Phish’s sensory factors that has been touted for years has been the lighting work of Chris Kuroda.  Often called the fifth member of the band, his skills at improvising lighting as the band improvises music has given Phish another x-factor, enhancing their one of a kind live experience.  As impressive as his technical abilities are of cuing lights based on the band’s musical signals, his ability to dictate particular moods for particular songs has been his most consistent contribution the vibrancy of Phish.

Jamie Huntsman

photo: Jamie Huntsman

After seeing enough shows, one begins to realize that Kuroda’s lighting movements and “hits”, while impressive, are somewhat formulaic.  Sure, he is “improvising,” but his “moves” are fairly consistent within all composed sections.  While not downplaying his skill, I feel that his larger contributions come neither in the crashing of the whites during “Can’t I live while I’m young?” nor the precise flashes of his beams according to Trey’s riffs.  Rather, the true value of Kuroda is the way he provides aura to the music by coloring the magical sounds of the band with moods, providing theatrical hues to Phish’s dramatic improvisation.  Throughout the band’s career, Kuroda has grown inseparable of the Phish experience, lending his own artistic take on Phish jams.  Providing a psychedelic tapestry of saturated shades and crackling color to the mind-bending music, the lights of Phish have become legendary.  Constantly basking in such a rich spectrum of color was like opening the door to Oz each and every evening.

As Phish’s career developed, so did the mood-matching of sound and color.  As songs debuted and began to grow, so did Kuroda’s ideas of what colors complimented each improvisational texture.  While always open to on the spot creativity, songs began to take on signature colors.  Often dictated by the musical emotions expressed within, the lights enhanced the mood of the jam without altering it.  As classics and new songs alike took on colorful qualities, Phish shows lived and breathed in a different way, painted by the brush of five- not just four- artists.

The Primary Colors of the Phish Palate

508846215_91247b586dLight Blue / Turquoise

Often used in more delicate sections of uplifting improv, this color connotes majestic wonder.  Light blue is often used in more mellow songs as, something like “Dog-Faced Boy,”  or “Mountains in the Mist” to achieve a sense of serenity.  A color that almost always appears in the opening segments of YEM, this shade is unmistakeably Phishy.

Routinely used in: Harry Hood, Theme From the Bottom, Scents and Subtle Sounds, Antelope (intro & ending) , YEM composed section, Runaway Jim quiet part,


Pink / Yellow

Chris Clark

photo: Chris Clark

These two lighter colors are often used in unison with more blissful, melodic sections of music.  Pink is the quintessential color of the Reba jam, while Yellow often defines Slave.  Characteristic of many melodic songs, such as Tela, this combination is soothing to the eye and to the soul.  Not only reserved for silky segments, these colors often wash upbeat, happy rock jams as well.

Routinely Used In: Reba, Slave, Tela, Fluffhead, Down With Disease, Piper, Lizards, McGrupp, Runaway Jim, Limb by Limb, Silent in the Morning


105669810_eed8dc93dcDark Blue / Purple

These colors signify mystery and darkness.  Used in deeper, eerie and exploratory jams, these are the shades of Bowies and Tweezers.  When the band digs in for a slow, dark psychedelic portions of their shows, these colors of the unknown always seem to reoccur.  A signature look of more ambient and space textures as well, when covered in purple, things are usually going in a favorable direction.  Never relegated to only one type of music, these darker hues can often accompany improvised slower ballads, like Velvet Sea, Bug, or Friday.

Routinely Used In: David Bowie, Tweezer, Split Open and Melt, Antelope, Ghost, Stash, Twist, Velvet Sea, Sand, Maze, improvised madness



Representing adrenaline, excitement, and pure bombast, red is used with songs that rev up the entire audience.  Generally deployed during more aggressive improvisation such as Mike’s, in the Phish universe, red means “Go!” And go full throttle.  Take no prisoners.  Choose your cliche- but when the band is ripping in-your-face jams, it’s often fire-engine red enveloping the stage.

Routinely Used In: Mike’s, Free, Birds of a Feather, First Tube, Axilla, Frankenstein, Punch You In the Eye, Tweezer Reprise



105670261_b38cc20d14White is the color of the ultimate peak of dramatic set closers and high-paced rock jams.  Used almost exclusively at the climax of a verse or a jam, the whites are reserved for those “planned out” roof-bursting moments.  Examples of such verses are the chorus Golgi and the scream in Possum.  Examples of “composed” rock peaks are Chalkdust and Maze. And the whites also come crashing at the end of virtually every set.

Routinely Used In: Loving Cup, Golgi Apparatus, Chalkdust, Character Zero, Sparkle, Possum, Maze peak, Weekapaug, Taste

These myriad examples of color represent a small spectrum of the Phish rainbow.  While always combining and improvising, Kuroda developed a new way of running lights.  Always enriching the experience, colors of light became synonymous with types of music as Kuroda became Phish’s own visual artist.  Setting a psychedelic trend for other to follow, his use of lights revolutionized the Phish experience and became inseparable from the shows.  Lending a sense of fantasy and imagination to the music, the lights provided the glue for color and sound to morph into one.

What are your opinions on colors and songs?  What are you’re fondest lighting experiences? Respond in Comments below!



Symphony Hall -  Springfield, MA

Symphony Hall - Springfield, MA

12.30.92 Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA SBD < LINK

Good old 12.30. So many amazing memories from this date.  This show came early in string of standout shows on one of the Phishiest days of the year.  Check it out in crispy soundboard fashion. Enjoy!

I: The Landlady, Sparkle, Split Open and Melt, Esther, Chalk Dust Torture, Fluffhead, Paul and Silas, Reba > I Walk the Line > Reba, I Didn’t Know, Timber Ho > David Bowie

II: Axilla, Rift, Bathtub Gin, You Enjoy Myself > Auld Lang Syne > You Enjoy Myself, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY, Possum, Big Ball Jam > HYHU > Love You > HYHU, Take the A-Train, Llama

E: Ride Captain Ride, Sweet Adeline

THE NEW “TAG CLOUD”: If you haven’t noticed, I’ve tagged all the posts on Phish Thoughts by subject.  In the lower right hand column on the home page, you will see all the terms in various size fonts.  The size of the font corresponds to the number of articles about that subject, so now you can search the archives by clicking any of the tags (or by using the search bar.) The search bar is effective when looking for particular “Downloads of the Day” which are always active. Cheers, and happy searching!

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18 Responses to “On the Way Upwards, The Colors Come Back”

  1. shpongleyez Says:

    very nice one! worth the wait, mr. miner. love kuroda – essential to the phish experience – and love that you used a theme lyric as the title. best themes as a subject? i would love that, too.

  2. Al Says:

    Best “Theme”? Check out Virginia Beach 1997/07/21 and Seattle 1996/11/27. Also check the Cologne one from 1997/02/16, nice Trey solo part (soaring)! THANKS Mr. Miner for this fabulous Website!! Suggestion for a new Weekend Nugget Topic. Hidden gems in Phishtory: like 96/10/18, 96/07/24 (Pre-show), 95/06/19 etc.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better. Well done!

  4. Jacob Says:

    I saw the Black Crowes at the Louisville Palace in Oct.07, and about midway through the show, thought to myself, man, some of these lights look really familiar. Deciding to get a beer (and walk by the light board) there’s Chris.

    After the show we shot the breeze about the World Series(he liked the Rockies), Louisville and the Black Crowes. He was really cool, and the thing about Chris, is that since no one was coming up to him, when I did, it was like we were boys from back in the day. He was really friendly, and that’s a moment I’ll always remember. So, when Phish rolls around to the Midwest (3 nights at Deer Creek, please), I’ll have to stop by the light board and say what’s up.

  5. Matso Says:

    A few lighting bits I love:

    1. The opening section of Maze (before the lyrics start and it really rages) – if I remember correctly, stage is bathed in deep blue with green or white spots exploring the stage and audience

    2. the beginning of the Antelope jam proper (when Trey plays those awesome few licks before they improvise properly) – again, lots of blue with green circles exploring excitedly all over the place (different from the spots as the light isn’t filled)

    3. 2001….

    Personal memories – for some reason, the NICU opener at MSG 12/29/97 has always stayed with me in terms of the lighting. The colours were in the Light Blue / Turquoise
    category above and I remember feeling so happy in them and thinking that there was nowhere else I’d rather be right then.

  6. ben f Says:

    hampton, when kuroda lights up the section directly behind the stage & nothing else.

    a non-light noteworthy moment, great went hood. trey asks chris to kill the lights so we can just look at the moon. then, the glowsticks. for good or bad, it was pretty cool that first time.

  7. Jon Says:

    Nice post…I was fortunate enough to sit right in front of Kuroda at my last Phish show (Alpine 2004), and it was a real pleasure getting to see up front just how hard he (and the entire light crew) worked during the show. Love the Dark Blue/Purple.

  8. kbill23 Says:

    a circus of lights, where dreams can take flight!!!

  9. themanatee Says:

    expertly expressed miner. love how you explored the palates in relation to specific colors. you are flowing…like psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote about…check it…psychological studies on being in the “zone”…its beautiful. and I feel that from you miner.

  10. VelvetSeaWader Says:

    i love the red during Carini as well =) makes it real intense!!
    my fave is dark blue/purple..so seductive and you can actually feel the color through the riffs!!

  11. tubeopener Says:

    one moment that stands out for me was Alpine Valley in summer ’99 it was kuroda’s birthday and the band gave him a “light solo” where the band was silent and Kuroda rocked the lights. they also let Kuroda pick the encore for that night which was Glide, Camel Walk, Alumni Blues, Tweeprise.

  12. JahManShitOnFly Says:

    Thanks for putting up Springfield.

  13. Rupert Says:

    My favorite moments are when CK does the 360 vertical circles (I think they are often white and during YEMs) which get faster and faster and faster and faster.

  14. Rob Says:

    Thank you for providing a great site that is a nourishing part of my daily diet of Phish.

    Been thinking a lot about the Lemonwheel lately. I remember the subtle lights that accompanied a great evening sky (as well as a great setlist) providing me w/ heavy doses of elation. Go Limestone 2009!

    The purples, pinks, and yellows that accompany a triumphant Slave float my soul through space.

  15. play_it_leo89 Says:

    Two shows with Ride Captain Ride in as many posts…very nice!

    Just great, great stuff about Kuroda.

  16. lanser Says:

    during the icculus encore in madison 11/20/94. I thought some serious shit was going down… and it was.

  17. Powder Lips Says:

    I love when Chris keeps it pretty dark and sort of roboticly turns on sections on white/yellowish beams, the Reba machine jam from 10/29/98 at the Greek comes to mind. The old strobe light fog machine during Mikes jams also used to get me pumped.

  18. Jen Says:

    my first show 🙂 lot’s of love <3

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