Bringing the Past Into the Future

“If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.”

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

When Phish steps into the next stage of their career in a little more than a month, they are bound to discover new styles of musical expression. With a foundation year behind them, one would imagine that Phish will start down the path of reinvention this summer, forging a new sound for 2010. As the band evolves, and their music takes new forms, they will incorporate elements of their past endeavors, a trend throughout their history. Building upon the previous year’s stylistic successes from their onset through Summer 1996, Phish hit the reset button in Fall ’96, beginning a completely new evolutionary arc for the late ’90s.

When re-listening to 2009, one quickly notices that Phish’s musical high points were truly sublime, with several jams that can hold their own among highlights from any era. And when listening more closely to the band’s playing through the year, one can identify elements from each of the band’s evolutionary periods throughout their career. Incorporating all the styles of their career into the building blocks for the future, 2010 will be a year that not only springboards off 2009, but every phase of the band’s career.

12.30.09 (W.Rogell)

Starting off last year with a focus on straight-forward jamming, Phish came out of the gates conservatively, making sure they had their footing before trying to run. However, one element of their playing stood out right from the beginning of Hampton – their precise execution of composed sections, as well as their full compositions. Turning their glaring weakness of 2.0 into an immediate strength of 2009, Phish opened the era with two of their most complex pieces in “Fluffhead” and “Divided Sky.” Evoking memories of the early-’90’s, when Phish ran through fugues like wind-sprints, their precision and prowess on their multi-part compositions stood out all year long. The complex sections of their larger pieces also became revitalized as the year wore on, and tackling the openings of pieces like “Reba,” “YEM,” and “Bowie” became second nature. Sure, there were speed bumps along the way, but Phish’s precision and accuracy became a strong suit in 2009.

Bonnaroo - (G.Burwell)

By the end of fall tour and in Miami, Phish began playing compact, full-on jams that more resembled the fury of the mid-90’s, an approach I labeled “musical density.” The band started to improvise in a more concentrated manner, offering many original ideas over a shorter amount of time. Jams that illustrate this retro-style include Miami’s “Piper,” “Ghost,” and “Back On The Train, “Charlottesville’s “Light,” and MSG’s “Disease > Piper.” With a take-no-prisoners approach, Phish annihilated these pieces with fast, thematic communication, leaving no time for loops, vamping, or repetitive funk chords. This emerging sound that featured shorter, too-the-point, jams evoked memories of the band’s most adventurous improvisational era from ’93 to ’95, albeit not quite as insane. Nonetheless, the band integrated similarly tight, no-nonsense communication that characterized a point in their history into their modern soundscapes.

Through this compact style, and by trimming the fat off their musical excursions, 2009 Phish piqued the interest of more than a few old-schoolers who had lost touch with the band during the the late-90’s era of groove, or during the post-hiatus era of abstract exploration. Phish sounded like the band these fans had loved through the mid-’90’s, pushing the boundaries of experimental rock while retaining a focused intensity to their playing. They could once again tear though “Foam,” had no problem shredding “It’s Ice,” and Phish music shifted back towards the form that made them famous to begin with. But not without brushstrokes of their latter years.

Miami '09

While Phish certainly didn’t focus on funk grooves last year, they did use certain vehicles to reach those swanky places. Though reined in quite a bit, their danceadelic style shined through many times throughout the year, and perhaps none more brightly than Red Rock’s “Tweezer.” After a relatively groove-less June, when Phish dropped this version (still illegal in some states), they let the floodgates of groove crash open in an all-out rhythmic explosion. All year long, but from August on specifically, versions of “Ghost,” “Wolfman’s,” and “Tweezer” routinely explored gooier territory, incorporating ideas of ’97 and ’98, but never delving nearly as deep into the musical molasses that defined those years. (Perhaps the most direct reference to this era came in the methodical funk turned ambient “46 Days” from Detroit last fall.)

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

The percussive jams that dotted so many setlists last year, growing out of “Rock and Roll,” “Piper” and “Drowned,” also represented carry-over from the late ’90s. Once Phish learned the polyrhythms of Remain In Light in 1996, this type of jam immediately jumped into their repertoire the next show with 11.2.96’s “Crosseyed > Antelope,” and remained in their bag of tricks all the way through, refined throughout the years. These sparser and faster grooves of ’09 brought back the feel of ’99 and ’00, as well as some post-hiatus adventures. Additionally, the many ambient interludes and amorphous jams that popped up throughout the year can be directly traced to the aural experiments that blossomed in Fall ’98, and fully developed in 1999. Using ambient textures and “amoeba-jamming,” Phish brought a new sound to the table that fall; a sound they resurrected more than a few times last year to varying degrees of success. Some standout examples include Deer Creek’s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” The Gorge’s “Sneakin’ Sally,” SPAC’s “Number Line, and the latter half of Miami’s “Tweezer.”

Thus, as Phish forges a path into the future, their past is undeniably coming with them. But just as these musical elements from different years were incorporated into 2009, a new direction awaits in 2010. Just what that will be remains the mystery of the summer. Answers await only 36 days away.


Jam of the Day:

Piper > What’s the Use?” 9.11.00 II

A stellar nugget of Phish2k.




12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Megaupload

12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Torrent

Here’s the completion of the stellar New Year’s 1998 run. Somehow, this one has skirted the archive. The most mellow of the four evenings still carried some legit highlights, specifically, “Disease > Piper.” The first set brought the bombastic beginning of “Chalk Dust,” “BBFCFM,” “Wilson,” and peaked with the surprise, set-ending “Reba.”

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Wilson, Roggae, Sparkle, The Moma Dance, The Old Home Place, Sample in a Jar, Frankie Says, Maze, Loving Cup, Reba

II: Down with Disease > Piper, Prince Caspian, The Squirming Coil > Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Grind*, Possum

*debut, w/ Tom Marshall

Source: Schoeps CMC641 > Lunatec V2 > Apogee AD1000 > DAT


509 Responses to “Bringing the Past Into the Future”

  1. bouncin fan Says:

    In Greece

    Hairdressers receive full pensions and early retirement for working with hazardous chemicals as do radio broadcasters for dealing with bacteria on microphones

    Only 1000 people declared more than 100k in income tax. No one ever charged with tax evasion.

    Fuck Greece

  2. snowbank Says:

    mmm the warm blanket of socialism…

  3. garretc Says:

    @Mr. P

    If you don’t have the track listings entered for the songs then itunes tends to not keep them in order… Maybe that helps?

    And I have to say, 7/29/97 at Desert Sky has what has to be the runningest Antelope I’ve ever heard! Are there any other Antelopes like it? If yes, in what shows might one encounter such a rare beast?

  4. Selector J Says:

    I feel ya, Mr. P. iTunes pulls that crap on me, too. One of the programs most annoying bugs. You would think that one of their countless updates would eventually fix it.

    I’ve yet to figure out a solution that works consistently. Sometimes sorting by ‘album’ will line it up. Sometimes sorting by ‘track’ will do the trick. I’ve tried manually reentering the track numbers in the ‘Get Info’ but that doesn’t seem to matter. Once my album name on the new track had an extra space (or something like that) which was screwing it up. Copying/pasting the older album name fixed that one. Wish I knew the best way to fix it.

  5. Gratefulcub Says:

    Sitting on a huge rock in central park, Miami tweezer, 70 degrees and breezy. Pure bliss.

  6. ChefBradford Says:

    Garrett, I don’t think I’ve heard that Antelope, but one of my favorite, craziest ones ever was 7/16/94, Sugarbush (heh), VT.


    Simpsons signal, screaming, absolutely insane jam

    one of the early Live Phish releases

  7. Robear Says:

    wrong computer again, bouncin’ fan!

  8. ChefBradford Says:

    Robear, what’s the Split you recommended to Lycan a few days ago?

  9. Robear Says:

    laguna seca daze from ’94. I think we figured it’s 5/29. i think they’re in miner’s archive. listen for the exchanges between fish and trey around the 5 mark. trading leads. that’s the beginning of the end, if you will 🙂

  10. ChefBradford Says:

    Dammit. Is anyone else still having problems with

  11. ChefBradford Says:

    Thanks, if I can’t get it to work here at work, I’ll just download it when I get home

  12. neemor Says:

    There’s no way I can Kung Fu this evening, which you know by now.
    I need you to keep an eye out for Mango as he can get a little zany sometimes.
    And as far as keeping an eye out for you, well…I’m worried for New York.

  13. garretc Says:

    You should definitely check it out @Chef! 20 minutes long, the first half consisting of fiery nonantelope psychedelia followed by the band realizing “oh yeah, we’re playing Antelope, that’s right!” and proceeding to tear it up. Musta been the desert spirits or something!

    And I saw that Sugarbush one being touted on here recently, so now I can’t not check it out! I’ll get to downloading that after class!

  14. Selector J Says:

    Mr. P:
    Two work-arounds I just remembered:

    1) Give all the tracks on the album a disc number (e.g. disc [1] of [1]) and then sort by ‘disc.’ Seems to have worked every time so far.
    ::knocks on wood::

    2) This one’s more obvious but just copy all the songs on the album to a playlist and then you cn order them however you damn well please.

    Both a bit annoying to have to do but both are less annoying than having to listen to out of sequence tracks!

  15. ChefBradford Says:

    Will Kung Fu be streaming tonight?

  16. garretc Says:

    Ah neemor, the resident Antelopexpert! See above comments/requests regarding the Desert Sky ’97 Antelope…

  17. neemor Says:

    Desert Sky ’97 is a classic.
    We got to talking about the nutty Sugarbush ’94 Catapulting Antelope the other day, on LP2.
    That whole show.
    One of my fave reviews of any show was in either the Companion or the Almanac about that show, kid reviewing it had taken waaay too much L and lost his face for a while.
    Good stuff.
    “Your cat got hit by a comet.”

  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    got some new Chance Fisher for you guys:

    04/24/2010: Zorba’s Greek Tavern, Starkville, MS:

    I: Five Senses > Medicine Daughter, Aluminum Boy, Sun Guy, Apple Pie, Sane, Jam > Cosmic Dirigible

    II: Everyone Here, Broken Key Chain, Two Eyes, High and Dry, Jam


  19. ChefBradford Says:

    phiSHows seems to be working now. If it keeps up, I’ll…whoa! See what you mean, Robear! I’d like to see Fishman back up to this level! Anyway, if it keeps up, I’ll check out that ‘Lope, Garrett

  20. ChefBradford Says:

    Lycan, how was that funk jam last night? Was it recorded?

    re: next Thursday— if I’m not stuck working that night, I may be able to swing that show. It’ll be a hit and run though; I’m def working Thursday morning and Friday night

  21. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Thanks SelectorJ! I’ll figure it out.

    Desert Sky ’97- don’t sleep on the Twist, Gumbo, or Ghost either. under-rated show. Great show

  22. garretc Says:

    Right on Chef, you won’t be disappointed! Comes down nicely into Velvet Sea as well, so stick around for that transition!

  23. garretc Says:

    @Mr. P

    Definitely a keeper show! Gumbo gave me a “what song is this again?” this morning, I swear I heard some almost-Smooth Criminal teases from Mike in that Ghost, and Twist up next for my walk back from class!

    Great show

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    word @chef

    you know we would love to have you. BTW that show starts at 7 and gets done at 10.

    as far as the funk jam..

    my overall reaction is a meh..
    too many guitar players on stage…
    not enough real funk
    as soon as a group improv would get good, the main guitar player would just start playing some random song that didnt fit within the context of the improv.

    anyway… had fun, but i know it could have been better..
    on a positive note, i got enough new ears interested in my playing to come check out TSU next Saturday!

  25. ChefBradford Says:

    Glad to hear you stirred up some interest. I’ll let you know if it looks like I might be able to head that way next week

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