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. ren Says:

    Happy Happy Revise! Hope you and yours in the mitten fared well during those storms

  2. Gavinsdad Says:

    Pork Bun and Asahi (with Ren). Thanks boss.

    And yes, more Revise at shows. A beacon of good energy.

  3. Rob Ford Says:

    But catfish has the same number of syllables as blues jam

  4. phlorida phan Says:

    50 shows in 4 yrs, pretty good. I just it 25 in Hampton in 10 yrs. Florida’d I guess. Happy Phish Day anyhow Revise.

  5. ren Says:

    Yes, lunch with Gdad definitely the highlight of my week….and yes, I know its only Wednesday.

    Old man winter starting to poke around NYC today. Will be a nice night to catch up on some Breaking Bad

  6. Ulysses S. Wingsuit Says:

    The local alt-pop station is advertising a multi-band concert happening next month. They’re calling it “Electric Christmas”.

    I think they have no idea what that really means.

  7. lumpyhead Says:

    This place still rules

  8. ren Says:

    Can’t wait till my friends are electric on the GA West side and triangles are shifting on the floor….or rafters….or wherever really

  9. ren Says:

    I think the best thing about this past Fall will be arriving to MSG with a full cup. I sincerely have no expectations for the upcoming run…too many variables and unkowns to factor in anyway.

  10. DavidSilver Says:

    Lily thinks your avatar is the coolest lumpy. Electric He Man ftw. Currently viewing a great cartoon called Sanjay and Craig. Dank show.

  11. ren Says:

    Rob Ford- what was that new album you were pamping a few days ago? The one you confirmed that AW was into (obviously thats why I’m interested now)

  12. DavidSilver Says:

    If you ever find yourself irie and among children, Adventuretime is one of the trippiest new toons ever made. Just wacked as fuck. Good times.

  13. phlorida phan Says:

    ^What time is it?

  14. Rob Ford Says:

    Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

  15. DryIceFactory Says:

    Is it just me or is Monica bound to find it’s way into freaky, dark 2nd sets? Think the Sneakin Sally slot on 10/25/13

  16. phlorida phan Says:

    ^this is who I thought Lumpy’s avatar was, now I know it;s he-man, doesn’t look anything like it.

  17. dorn76 Says:

    Mmm, pork bun.

  18. Rob Ford Says:

    Do dark second sets still exist?

  19. sumodie Says:

    Chicago nite 1 had a very dark set 2 this past summer

  20. ren Says:

    Thanks Ford! And the place with the pork bun is pretty legit. Newish in our nabe:

  21. RoosterPizza Says:

    Every time I listen to Dick’s Antelope, it sounds like a car horn going off outside my place at 1:29.

  22. ren Says:

    If you’ve hit the wall and need a little pick me up…Dicks Tweez is a straight up shot of adrenaline! I remember capuera dancing it out next to Berzerker…I think I had to duck a few times

  23. snow Says:

    Happy Phishaversary Revise!

  24. snow Says:

    My 17th phisaversary was 11/9.

  25. RoosterPizza Says:


    I love me some late set Tweezer. That 2001>Tweezer at Dick’s was a throw down. I cracks me up that we never really interact on here, we never really talked at Dick’s, but we fucking danced it out on night 3.

    Back right speaker


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