Ventura: An Glimpse Into the Glory Years—Pt. I

The Ventura Box Set

The Ventura Box Set

Since about 1999 or 2000, I’ve been a jams-only listener. The immense amount of full-shows I’d spun previous to that combined with the transition from analog tapes to CD-R’s (and eventually digital files) resulted in me excerpting shows’ highlights more and more for my listening pleasure. Through these mix tapes and simply pressing skip the in the car, my habits of listening to Phish gradually changed. I no longer needed to spin entire shows time and time again. Most often I had been there and witnessed the start-to-finish flow, but even if I hadn’t, I no longer needed to hear the straight compositions. When spinning shows, I wanted to hear the meat, the tracks with significant jamming. When I got my advance copy of the upcoming Ventura release, however, I decided to listen to both shows start to finish, and in doing so, I was able to put a finger on the central difference between the Phish of then and now—non-stop intensity no matter what. Within the Ventura shows of 1997 and 1998, the band is focused and fully dedicated to each and every song, not just the highlights, and it makes all the difference.

Many people who only know my Internet persona think that I exclusively value Phish’s type II jams, and that I—for all intents and purposes—sit down and twiddle my thumbs for the rest of the show until they happen. Though such improvisation is unquestionably my favorite part of Phish—especially modern Phish—while listening to both Ventura shows, I realized why my take on 3.0 Phish can, at times, sound so type II centric—the band’s type I vigor is gone. Listening to Ventura ‘97’s “Chalk Dust,” I was blown away by the intensity and creativity contained in this piece of music that was bursting at the seams. Listening to Ventura ‘98’s “Makisupa,” I remembered that the song once had immense musical value beyond it’s current use as comic relief. The band is knee deep in dub grooves while Trey paints gorgeous melodies atop the irie textures. Listening to ‘98’s “Prince Caspian,” I was taken by how Trey annihilated his solo like it was a matter of life or death. And as I continued to listen to the type I jamming that dominates the ’98 show, I realized how glaringly the modern incarnation of Phish is missing this type of playing from their arsenal, causing shows—and particularly first sets—to drag when they aren’t engaged in type II jamming.

Ventura Liner Notes

Ventura Liner Notes

Phish can still weave freeform (type II) adventures as well as ever. They are master improvisers of the highest degree and have honed their craft over the course of 30 years. Anyone who doubts their improvisational acumen is fooling himself and needn’t look any further than the jams of Dick’s and MSG for proof. I fully see the band’s virtuoso jamming of the second half of 2012, to continue on an upward curve in 2013, but will the band pick up the slack from rest of their show? With members pushing 50 years old now, Phish reminds me of the crafty NBA veteran, think Kobe Bryant, who can play an awesome game at 75 percent and then go balls out in the fourth quarter and win the game. Phish now plays their contained (type I) jams with precision, but with very little intensity and creativity. Then they beast out in their open improv to save the show. To illustrate this type I fall off, think of songs like “Stash,” “Bathtub Gin,” “David Bowie,” “Reba,” “Mike’s,” “Weekapaug,” “YEM,” “Wolfman’s” and “Antelope”—ya’ know, the (former) goods! In the landscape of modern Phish, these songs are mere placeholders, reminding us of what used to be. No longer does the band even play quasi-memorable versions of any of these songs—only once in a blue moon. But with their improvisational skills at an all-time high, they drop pieces that steal the show and completely legitimize it. Think 12/28’s “Tweezer,” BGCA’s “Crosseyed > Light > Sally,” or 9/1’s “Golden > Caspian > Light,” or 9/2’s “Sand > Ghost > Piper.” Other than these segments, these shows, (with a 12/28 “Wolfman’s” exception) are pretty straightforward with little replay value. And this is why I most often focus on their creative jamming in my show reviews.

Ventura '98 Promo

Ventura ’98 Promo

If they played a “Chalk Dust” like Ventura ’97, I’d write about it! If they played a “Halley’s” like Ventura ’98 (which was run of the mill at the time), I’d write about it! Shit, if they played a “Cars, Trucks, Busses” with the zest of Ventura ‘97s, I’d write about it! But they don’t. Rarely is anything from a show worth chronicling other than type II jams and bustouts. As I’ve mentioned before, set crafting has gone the way of the wind, and without type I action, what else is there? To be clear, I absolutely believe Phish’s sublime improvisational passages make their shows worthy in full, but how great would it be if they could carry the rest of the show too?

To further my point, aside from the monstrous “Bathtub Gin” that opened the ’98 show and a “Drowned” jam that opened the second set, this show is dominated by type I jamming the whole way through—and it’s a great show! The band can’t pull that off any more (see 12/29/12). Their sustained intensity and type I creativity just isn’t there anymore (and setlists cannot carry shows no matter how outlandish). Worth mentioning, in a summer when laid-back funk ruled the scene, Ventura ’98 is a show that skirts the style all together—a complete and utter anomaly in a groove-dominated tour. “Gin” gets into a wee bit of danceable jamming, but after that, there is no funk, barely any open jamming’—and it’s a great show because Phish is utterly relentless, killing every single moment. They don’t cool down, they don’t lay back, they attack each piece as if it was the last they’d play, and the difference is as clear as night and day.

Quite obviously, my biggest take away from listening to these Ventura shows is their start-to-finish intensity; they pose such a stark juxtaposition to modern performances. Fans get so worked up about the amount of jamming that Phish does nowadays, many citing that they’d like to see more. Except in extreme cases, however, I don’t think that’s the main factor bringing some shows down. Unless we are comparing the band to the jammiest periods in their history, they are improvising at about the same rate as ever. But it’s what they are not doing in the rest of the show that cause modern Phish performances drag at times and make fans jones for the oncoming adventure. Maybe this summer, the year of their 30th anniversary, the guys will put it all together and play complete shows like the ones gracing their new box set? Their jamming will certainly be there, but what about everything else?

Tune in tomorrow for some more specific thoughts about the Ventura shows, themselves!

Ventura Liner Art

Ventura Liner Art


Winged-music-noteJam of the Day:

Bathtub Gin” 7.20.98 I, Ventura, CA SBD

Here is a sneak preview of the release! This “Gin” paved the way for Riverport’s classic a week later, as the jam morphs through many of the same stages.




The Ventura Box Set

The Ventura Box Set

I have three Ventura Box Sets to give away for free! If you’d like to be eligible for this contest, please write two haikus—one that captures the essence of each show. Email these haikus to by Wednesday at 8pm Pacific and I will post the three winning entries on Thursday or Friday! Make sure you adhere to proper haiku format or your entry will be disqualified.

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291 Responses to “Ventura: An Glimpse Into the Glory Years—Pt. I”

  1. roberto luongo Says:

    come on MIA

    how many other professional musicians you know would play a song from their catalog 30 times without learning a simple bridge (Theme)

    at least Destiny he just gave up and realized how terrible it sounded.

    how many times did he miss Sugar Shack? you think he just can’t play it? he didn’t give a fuck to learn it.

    let’s call it what it is

  2. roberto luongo Says:

    no outro guitar solos in Ya Mar, and pretty much DIvided Sky and YEM

    it’s like we’re all their just to hear the songs for the first time.

    like you just want to hear divided sky. doesn’t need to have a soaring solo.

    as the great Robear once said “pause in divided sky longer than outro solo”

  3. Guyute711 Says:

    Everyone seemed to love 2012 and I came away feeling pretty underwhelmed aside form Dick’s which was obviously great. I saw 6 shows prior to that and I would say 2 were pretty darn good shows. I thought 2011 was a much better year. I can’t help but call the band out though. It’s not that I hate them or think they suck I just expect more. I shouldn’t be more passionate about the music than the players. The drive of the band is what set them apart from other bands. Having said all that I hope they tear this year up and I miss it all. It will give me something to work towards in the future.

  4. Luther T. Justice Says:

    G$ is no dick rider!

  5. Guyute711 Says:

    TAB still sucks though.

    Listen to the Sugar Shack from the Egg. That’s how that song is supposed to be played. You would think Trey would have enough respect for Mike to learn it.

  6. tela'smuff Says:

    well Sugar Shack sucks, so i don’t blame him.

    for the record, i’m not a Trey dick rider. maybe at times a dick teaser. just enough to give him a chubby.

    again, it aint gonna be what it once was. 2012 was really a great year for Phish with enough highlights to play for hours on end. i guess the opinion of many would be more Phish touring, less side stuff. i imagine that leads to more unhappiness creatively speaking for the band, thus eventually no band. logic astounds.

  7. phishm Says:

    I also feel that what vibe we bring to the show is what we get out of it. They aren’t capable of playing it without help from the more knowledgeable fans. They seem to play a feeling a lot of times and it gets trumped when everyone in the crowd moans when they don’t get the song whey wanted. Just close your eyes and get into the music. You will be rewarded. They still have it and can play it, but they can’t do it alone.

  8. roberto luongo Says:

    we were literally almost laughing at ourselves that we still waste money and go on tour puffin dabs late night after BGCA #2

    and then BGCA #3 happened

    so it goes

  9. tela'smuff Says:

    i also got very lucky last year. Rust Belt run was one for the ages. Dicks wins every time. Had i got a run of OKC’s i’d probably be done with Phish.

  10. Guyute711 Says:

    At least Mike doesn’t sing songs about Joy’s incredible clothes tela’s.

  11. [an unrelated] Wilson Says:

    i’m reminded this morning that I can read through 5+ pages of this and pretty much KNOW how everyone is going to respond. It’s a nice feeling, like sitting down at the cafeteria during the school day and having the couple people there that you actually had something in common with.

    At this point, I can safely asume that tela’s or mia will say something that comes generally from my point of view. luongo will say something that I think is valid, but I would quickly want to qualify/modify it .. i could go on…

    seems like today’s post lands in the same field of discussion we have running up to every tour now; expectations vs reality, time, age, cost, reward, things quantifiable and things not. it’s also always interesting to compare a snapshot of where the phish clan is before a tour, as opposed to afterwards. fun reading.

  12. MiA Says:

    LB to BGCA run was good too.

  13. Luther T. Justice Says:

    I’ve always thought of you more as a tugger tela’s.

  14. MiA Says:

    Let the “I’m not going on tour and wouldn’t want to be anyway!” hatred begin!

  15. tela'smuff Says:

    i make no excuses for Trey’s terrible songwriting. i don’t go to listen to lyrics. i go for mutherfuckin jams kid, and they brought plenty last year. deal with that reality.

    G$ – you fucking flew to Denver on a whim, last minute, to catch a band you weren’t feeling? to catch Trey, all lazy up in that bitch? really? 😉

  16. Luther T. Justice Says:

    G$ is becoming a dick puncher.

  17. MiA Says:

    dick rider > dick puncher

  18. Guyute711 Says:

    This is in the final phase before tour area. A lot of grumbling before fresh music hits and everybody calms back down.

  19. Guyute711 Says:

    Dick’s slayed, I saw in that first night what I had been looking for. The trip paid off. The rest of the year didn’t. I don’t have the cashola these days to take chances and hope unfortunately. So it goes.

  20. Luther T. Justice Says:

    So you’re a dick gambler?

  21. MiA Says:

    Dick Hoper.

  22. Guyute711 Says:

    No, I’m just a dick. You haven’t figured that out yet?

  23. tela'smuff Says:

    Dick Flayer is more of a Game of Thrones vibe.

    i’m most def a tugger @luther.

  24. Luther T. Justice Says:

    Maybe. But I think you’re the Champaign of Dicks

  25. Luther T. Justice Says:

    Poor Theon

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