Three of a Different Kind

Atlantic City (Andrea Nusinov)

Atlantic City 2013 (Andrea Nusinov)

In a fall tour where so many facets of Phish’s game stood out, perhaps the most significant was their improvisational diversity. Phish is known for never playing the same show twice, and—more specifically—never playing a jam the same way twice. But on this tour they took this concept to a new level. Most often through history, Phish has focused—more or less—on one style of play at a time. Therefore, within a tour—say Fall ’97—most “Ghosts” will bare a sonic similarity, as the band was honing in on one sound, in this case, James Brown-esque groove. In the 3.0 era, however, focused pattern has not been their modus operandi. Instead of magnifying one style of jamming at a time, the modern era has been all about improvisational diversity, as Phish routinely and proficiently plucks jamming styles from the entirety of their 30 year history. Before coming back in 2009, the band had done all their pre-requisite course work: the fundamentals of the late ’80s, the intricate compositions of the early-’90s, the lightning quick “speed jazz” of ’93, the advent of free-form jamming in ’94, the psychedelic sorcery of ’95, the groove reinvention in late ’96, multiple stages of funk in ’97, the advent of ambient jamming in ’98, the ambient-layered sound sculpting of ’99-’00; the grungy, dissonant exploration of post-hiatus. Phish had learned it all. In this era, however, they have access to all of these learned styles and more as they their jams no longer liken case-studies, but referenced, master works. And on fall tour, this methodology worked wonders as the band’s jams—even within a single song—varied greatly, providing the ultimate smorgasbord of Phish delicacies.

Atlantic City (A.Nusinov)

Atlantic City (A.Nusinov)

This fall, the band played three versions of just about every major jam vehicle, and by comparing the three, the incredible diversity of Phish’s current jamming will leap off the table. My favorite reference point in the Phish universe is “Tweezer,” and so let’s start there. The band’s first “Tweezer” of fall came as part of Hampton’s instantly legendary third night performance. Once the guys pushed through a set of whammy-laced grooves, they took a sharp left turn for the dark side. Phish favored a loose, grungy and highly-effected sonic palette, as the music likened a descent into Hades. This ominous march became more and more intense—a harrowing segment of musical mania that pushed further and further into abstraction. Sounding as if they had been burrowing through the earth, the band—finally—popped through the darkness into the tranquil, deep sea where they floated hundreds of feet below the surface. And thus began the majestic final segment of the jam—a truly holy exchange. Needless to say, in Hampton, Phish put the lens of the exploratory and psychedelic side of their game, and came out with quite the result.

The next “Tweezer” came exactly one week later, on Sunday night in Hartford, Connecticut, and it was a totally different story. Whereas Hampton’s was loose, Hartford’s was tight. Whereas Hampton’s was quintessential “evil” Phish, Hartford’s was uplifting. Whereas Hampton’s was distorted and dissonant, Hartford’s was silky smooth and melodic. And whereas Hampton’s got abstract, Hartford’s grooved ’til dawn. You catch my drift? These two “Tweezer” jams couldn’t really be more opposite. Such utter diversity between versions makes any comparison a matter of apples and oranges. Hampton’s version felt perfect in the old, shoddy Coliseum, while Hartford’s uplifting groove exercise fit congruently with the most wide open dance floor of tour. As Mom used to say, “There’s a time and a place for everything.” And she’s never been more right than in Fall 2013.

Atlantic City (G.Estreich)

Atlantic City (G.Estreich)

“Tweezer’s” final outing came in Atlantic City’s fall tour finalé, and it was, perhaps, the most unique of them all. This version focused exclusively on rhythm, as each member used their instrument in percussive fashion rather than offering any melodic leads. Many times this is how Phish jams start before moving into a second section of more conventional playing. But Atlantic City’s never made that jump, instead undulating between varying rhythmic textures. This made for an extremely danceable version that entered some decidedly unique late-jam grooves. While this “Tweezer” developed in concept throughout, never did anyone look to build the jam vertically or melodically, as Phish remained a growling, mechanical dance factory for the duration of tour’s final jaunt. This excursion, truly, bears no resemblance to either Hampton’s or Hartford’s, making the trifecta of fall “Tweezers” about as different as three Phish jams can get.

If we were to draw roots of these “Tweezers” into Phish history, they would certainly touch several different eras. Hampton’s version references the growling abstraction of ’03 and ’04, Hartford’s nods to the funk era of ’97 and ’98, while Atlantic City’s is a bit tougher to trace—some combination of the intricacy and innovation of ’94 with a sonic palette of ’99-’00 and beyond. While musical genealogy is hardly a precise science, the overall takeaway is that Fall 2013 was comprised of a hybrid of improvisational styles from throughout the band’s illustrious career. And what makes Phish such a special band is that they are still creating at this stage of the game, forging new pathways nightly, all while referencing tricks learned over a Hall of Fame career. The result of this is a Phish tour that is more dynamic than ever before, as nobody knows what style of jam will spring from what song on any given night. In past eras, as unpredictable as Phish has been, one could know—more or less—what style of jamming they would witness when they walked through the arena doors. These days, however, with’s the band’s ever-diversifying improvisational tendencies, it’s just not that simple. When extrapolating this trend to every jam vehicle in the catalog, the possibilities contained within any current Phish show become limitless. Through the years, the band has taught us to expect the unexpected, but in this, their thirtieth, year, Phish has once again redefined the meaning of “unexpected.”

11.1.13, Atlantic City (Jake Silco)

Hampton Coliseum (Jake Silco)

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368 Responses to “Three of a Different Kind”

  1. weekapaug Says:

    The Kuroda cam video of the Reading YEM just blew me away during the vocal jam. Thanks for the link Mr. Palmer!

  2. plord Says:

    MiA, nice call.

  3. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Great analysis, Miner. Can tell you’re getting your groove back. Super pthoughts throughout this fall tour. Thanks!

  4. phishm Says:

    I gotta wonder. Is there no conversation going because it’s Tuesday? Has everyone ran out of words? I would type something up, but it would be perceived as a 1.0 thing. Just sitting here listening to some Phish not worrying about anything else. Hope everyone out there is doing what they wanted to do at this hour whether it be sleep, sex, music or a combination of things that please one. If not then that sucks. Hope you do something fun soon.

  5. phishm Says:

    My bad. It’s now Wednesday. Carry on.

  6. little umbrellas Says:

    This is what PHiSH will play right before the NYE countdown at MSG:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASzFs4_4kvk
    synth jam included.

  7. little umbrellas Says:

    also, still lovin this, Louie CK’s: ‘Hilarious’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGDPme0JN5g

    Louie CK5. there, i said it.

  8. phishm Says:

    I like Louis CK, but the subtitles were kind of a turn off then when the lip movements didn’t match the actual words it became unbearable. Other then that I like him. Funny dude.

  9. phishm Says:

    Try this out lu. You’re a musician. Tell me if these guys are any good. I think they are, but that’s only by ear. Also looks like a fun party. Young crowd however.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-pJ-bmdg7o

  10. phishm Says:

    And on a Phish note, should be heard by all means. Love this show.

    http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/2003-02-20/seven-below

  11. little umbrellas Says:

    Def noticed the massive crowd response to the USSR plord. palpable even on resin.

  12. DavidSilver Says:

    Asse Festival

  13. Vapebraham Says:

    When? Today?

  14. George W. Kush Says:

    @Joe, re:Fish. His outside stuff includes Pork Tornado, Everyone Orchestra, and some good stuff with Jazz Mandolin Project bitd.

  15. C. Clavin Ball Says:

    Some days you deliver the mail and some days the mail delivers you, you know what I mean? And some days are full of the Phish while others we have to go searching.

    Today, my friends, is somewheres in between. I was just saying to Normy that you’d think a month like November would have history like no other, what with all a the fall tours and thanksgiving runs and whatnot over the years, and he said “sure, yeah, but summer’s where it’s at for heavy touring” and I said, no way fall has the most shows. well, I still need to sharpen my pencil and go do the math (or talk to that caped guy out west or something) but I suspect I’m right as always. But I digress.

    There’s only five shows to talk about today so we might as well get into it. The first is from the old Campus Club down in Providence back in 1991. Now, I’m not really welcome in Rhodey right now after an incident I had back in March with some highfalutin writer about the current state of affairs with the great U.S. Postal Service all on account of some unkind words he wrote, but that’s neither here nor there when speaking about the little show our friends Phish played some 22 years ago today. Being a club date back in those dates you get mostly what you’d expect but there’s also a special appearance by a favorite guitarist of Trey’s (on fretless guitar, no less) in the middle of the second set. Ok, it’s Fish, and he sucks, but what are you gonna do. There’s also a sit-in by Gears for the Cavern closer and Magilla>Brother encore.

    The next year they were up to playing theatre dates and found themselves at the Palace in Albany, NY. This is a tape many of you probably had at one point – I know I did. The entire show is replete with teases (including some Johnny Cash and the always hilarious Spin Doctors tease) and has the fiery playing and phishy antics that made nights like this one a can’t miss Friday night back in the day. I bet you didn’t know that this show includes one of the ten performances of I Walk the Line. Yes, it’s true. There’s also an appearance of the Dude of Life on the very 90s tune that shares its riffs with a very notable and popular Phish song. check out the sbd of this one (sans encore) on that wonderful phishtracks webpage place.

    In 1994 Phish would play Wisconsin twice, once during the early part of summer tour in Milwaukee and the other on this date in Madison. That summer date ended up being a notable day indeed, what with that whole high profile celebrity slow speed televised police escort chase thing they had out west, which Phish so wonderfully interwove into their show that night. 156 days later they would play a much different show but one with its own highlights. This one marked the final stop on the Rev. Mosier Mini Tour, as he joined the band on stage for four acoustic songs in the first set, including a beautiful take on If I Could along with a few bluegrass standards. Before I get too long winded (ha ha), I should mention the BIG Bowie in the second set here. Perhaps not the biggest in length or girth, this one makes up for it with the grandeur of its jam. There’s also a nice second set Reba and an encore Icculus that tips the hat back to that OJ show some five months previous.

    Four years later the band would be in the home stretch of a 28 show Fall Tour. This date would find them arriving at The Mothership ™ for the first night of what everyone would come to know as Hampton Comes Alive. Say what you want in terms of comparison to other stops at this venue, but there are notable highs to be found here amongst the mid-tour mehs of this show. This show has the difficult task of being held up against the majesty of the previous year, but take the time to check out the Gin, the massive bustout of Quinn (1,149 shows), and perhaps to cringe at the Jiggy one more time. Plus you get yet another Gears visit on Cavern in the encore.

    The final entry for today’s date happened just four years ago at the US Bank Arena (nee Firstar Center, nee The Crown, nee Riverfront Coliseum) in Cincinnati, OH. Incidentally, did you know the sad history of this venue? Yeah, so back in 1979 The Who were playing a show here and while they were doing a late soundcheck the overly anxious crowd rushed the gates thinking the band was on stage. Apparently they were using GA seating for this show and there was a limited number of entrances being used due to union restrictions or something as well. The end result was the tragic loss of eleven lives and more injured. Further concerts that year at the venue were cancelled and GA seating policies here and at venues across the country were changed, ushering in the reserved floor era for many years to come. WKRP in Cincinnati even did an episode about the staff being distraught about their role in promoting the concert. But all of that is just background to lead us to the show that marked Phish’s return to the venue in 3.0 on this date. Mr. Miner wrote a nice recap of that night which includes a second set that bears re-listening, what with the bevy of jams and segues therein. And while it may not hold up to what the band is doing now, it was a stepping stone along the path that got us all here and past that long, dark period where nothing of Phish remained.

    So tip your glass for yet another day full of quality Phish memories.

  16. George W. Kush Says:

    ballin, Calvin.

  17. chris Says:

    Nice anecdotes there Calvin. ..

    I’ll soon be pumping some phish. Been on such a huge 3.0 kick this year I think I’ll be finally dipping into some 99 and 2000 (7 26.99; 9.17.00, a bunch of other 99 segments on the table) but I’ll be slipping in some fall 13 as well. I’m addicted to the phishcrack from the last 2 years.

    Btw-7.26.99 has another 15 min theme

  18. Ulysses S. Wingsuit Says:

    There’s a bunch of JMP on bt.etree…some with Fish, some w/Trey, some w/both or neither!
    http://bt.etree.org/?searchsss=&cat=86

  19. George W. Kush Says:

    Good find, Ulysses.

  20. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Excellent work, postmaster. On an unrelated note, Picasso Moon is a terrible song to wake up to. itunes FTL.

  21. DavidSilver Says:

    Hampton Gin is fantastic.

  22. vapebraham Says:

    I probably pamped it before, but it deserves another shout out:

    http://bt.etree.org/details.php?id=561122

    jerry, merl, vitt, fiero, and kahn 11.3.73. The recording is pristine and the playing . . . well it’s merl and jerry at the height of their powers and the drumming kicks ass. still 12 seeders. grab it now.

  23. George W. Kush Says:

    VW, I bet waking up to cheesy Weir is like waking up to Shine. You just want to punch yourself in the noggin back to sleep and reconsider your taste in musicians.

  24. neemor Says:

    More Clavin

  25. vapebraham Says:

    well done, cliff. that business about 11 dead at the who show is chilling. that 11.20.94 show sounds tasty, but not in the kayarchives, which are far less complete and accessible than this newfangled phishtarcks that you kids use these days.

    spinning this 11.3.73 garcia saunders in its entirety. holy improvisational gold! $$$. jerry! flute!

    I intend to find some delicious phish after this historic show. herb all ize ing + green tea and fresh ginger. keeps a person healthy and wise.

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