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. bobby weird Says:

    “Cam Newton has already accomplished more in his career at his age than Tom Brady’s scrunchy hair ever could.”

    ^ now this is rich… the guy has won 20 out of 42 games. sub 500. i’ll take my scrunchies and SB rings thank you.

    funny guy!

  2. Stoney Case Says:

    JG, the waterwheel heads jumped on from Arcata through Denver. Good Times. Gotta get me some shows DL’d.

    talked to my manager last night, put in ANOTHER request for Audio-Only streaming of shows. My suggestion was, charge an extra $3 over the mp3 price, offer the fans a live Audio-Only stream, plus mp3 download for one low price.

  3. sumodie Says:

    stream Goat’s forthcoming live album here:

    http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/goat-live-ballroom-ritual-album-stream-exclusive

  4. DavidSilver Says:

    Good point sumo. There wasn’t any phish analysis bitd in my parts of the woods. You didn’t think about iy. You did it, had fun and moved on to the next show. 3.0 is different in that way. Good or bad, I don’t know. Good points and bad points. Too much brain and not enough balls on occasion.

  5. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Yes Please re audio only streams. Come on Phish Inc. Listen to your phanbase. This is what we want. I would buy the audio only stream for most if not all shows.

  6. Arty Rankin Says:

    1. adjective
    2. ejective
    3. injective
    4. objective
    5. surjective
    6. bijective
    7. prejective
    8. subjective
    9. dejective
    10. rejective

  7. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Thx sumo! I would LOVE to see Goat live.

  8. Stoney Case Says:

    as a phan BITD, I definitely recognized stylistic and jamming similarities within the years and tours. Discussed with the voice in my head, and a few close friends. Didn’t discuss online at the time.

  9. Stoney Case Says:

    as a phan BITD, I definitely recognized stylistic and jamming similarities within the years and tours. Discussed with the voice in my head, and a few close friends. Didn’t discuss online at the time.

  10. Stoney Case Says:

    ^SEE! fucking serious

  11. DavidSilver Says:

    Few close friends = different voives in head

    Goat!

  12. DavidSilver Says:

    Goddangit

    Stoney, gimme a filthy funk rec from one of your voives!

  13. dorn76 Says:

    Whoa new Goat! Ballroom Ritual is a fantastic name.

  14. Stoney Case Says:

    8/10/97 Cities @ DS

  15. Stoney Case Says:

    do we know when Trey really began to work on HOAHB in earnest?

  16. GoingSouth Says:

    After reading back and listening through 10.31 set II again, my thoughts:

    I could see WAN as a set II, song 4 landing pad, much like Wading. It’s intro leads well to ‘ambient jam’ -> WAN.

    Fuego and 555 are begging to be drawn out, and Wombat already has the beginnings of a rhythmic jam built into the end.

    To me, YNK fills the same role as, say, Sugar Shack. Great dance tune, mid-to-end set I.

  17. Kaveh Says:

    Morning BBers…dusting off Dick’s Dust this morning…

  18. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Thanks rankin. I got my “jectives” all confuselered.

  19. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Formal wear or costume REQUIRED at upcoming Arcade Fire shows. http://www.jambands.com/news/2013/11/19/arcade-fire-confirm-dress-code-for-2014-tour/

    I will NOT be going to the 4/10/14 Austin show. I will instead be enjoying Old Settlers Music Fest w/ the likes of North Mississippi Allstars Dr Ralph Stanley Robert Randolph Shinyribs Peter Rowan Elephant Revival Donna The Buffalo & others.

  20. little umbrellas Says:

    love that cities Stoney…. Viola Organista!

    Thank you Sumodie. blasting Goat as we speak. has been a while.

    WAN, very Phishey.

  21. little umbrellas Says:

    Hey, I can call my ma from up here.
    Yo ma, get off the dang roof!

  22. dorn76 Says:

    Arcade Fire jokes write themselves.

  23. phlorida phan Says:

    Listening to Sirus online, and what do I see playing on the 70’s channel, yup, Leo Sayers Long Tall Glasses. Now I just need to here that Twist.

  24. buddysmyles Says:

    @Shred Thanks for thee Heady Tip! I would love to do the 30th, please show up to work for me monday & tuesday morning so i can make it happen! I m from VT & would gladly procure some Heady Toppers to make a single NYE ticket happen! Cheers

  25. Stoney Case Says:

    lilumb, y’all need to bring one of those bad boy organista’s to Oaktown!

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