Category Archives: Phish

My Thoughts on Phish as 2012 Closes

MSGIt’s been a year since my last blog post. A year. A lot has happened in that year, my life is very different than it was as I wrote “My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes.” I’m a different person, and the things that make me happy have changed significantly. But here, as 2012 closes, I’m finding myself writing something I simply never expected to write. See, I didn’t order the Phish MSG webcasts. As I’ve been slaving over the forum, crumbling due to the site’s size and several less-than-optimal code routines, I’ve been thinking something I’ve just not had the guts to say out loud: I just don’t care that much about Phish anymore.

I looked over the setlists for the last three nights, and I’m sorry to say, they just aren’t that interesting to me anymore. They look totally tired, many of the songs being a total snoozefest for me these days. Friday night included this opening combo: Stealing Time, Moma, Funky Bitch. I would’ve slit my wrists if I went to NY and got that threesome. The set was rescued, song wise, by Stash, Nellie Kane, and what I’m told is a fantastic Wolfman’s, the problem is, I just don’t even care enough to check it out. I hope I get the interest to check out the Tweezer that everyone says is “one of the best of 3.0,” but the fact is, I’m beginning to realize that I just don’t like 3.0 Phish that much.
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My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes

The following ramble goes on for far too long.  It’s been building inside me all week.  I’m sorry to burden you to even read it.  You don’t have to.  But I’d love to hear if any of you have the same inner conflict I do.

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Phish Wish List Redux

Just about a year ago I posted my “Phish Wishlist.”  I’m heading up to 3 shows in Atlantic City this weekend, so it’s time to update and revisit this list.

What can I cross off this list since then? Two songs: “Dinner and a Movie” and “Walk Away.”

So I’ll start off with the remaining songs:

  • Destiny Unbound
  • Camel Walk
  • Brother
  • Scents and Subtle Sounds
  • A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
  • Glide
  • Harpua
  • Spock’s Brain
  • Have Mercy
  • The Lizards
  • Crowd Control

Then I’ll add songs I want to see as of now:

  • Alumni Blues > LTJP > Alumni Blues
  • Gone

I don’t think I’ll get Alumni or ASIHTOS because they were played last night, and Camel Walk, Lizards, and Brother were ALL played on Sunday.  But I do have my fingers crossed for something fun.

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Conversation with a Two Year Old

Jillian: Daddy?
Me: Yes?
Jillian: Dora sings Camel Walk.
Me: She does?
Jillian: Mmm-hmm.  And Benny sings Icculus.  And Tico sings Timber Ho.  And Isa sings Mockingbird.
Me: Really? What about Boots?
Jillian: Boots sings…. Timber Ho.
Me: Who sings Harpua?
Jillian: Uh… Cinderella.
Me: Cinderella sings Harpua? What does Sleeping Beauty sing?
Jillian: Icculus.


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Phish Tickets

Yesterday, I scanned in dozens and dozens of old concert ticket stubs. Phish, when you order via their “mail order” system (now an “online ticketing system”), often provided custom designed tickets. Here are a few fun ones. Click on any thumbnail for a full size view.

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Nothing Is Permanently Retired

At about one minute fifty-five seconds and without any jam, a fairly faithful replication of an album version of a song shouldn’t be a setlist standout. But, by many accounts, the 12/31/09 offering of “Demand” is a notable and curious point in a long setlist. It’s notable not because it was flawlessly performed (although it was inarguably done justice), not because it contained inspired playing (but fun, sure), but rather, because it hasn’t been performed since November 1996, over 13 years ago. Having been shelved for so long – and very likely to be stashed away again for some time – makes the performance special. But why? Why does it matter, why do we enjoy ourselves so much if Phish plays one of their rarer songs rather a well-jammed version of than one of their more common songs?

At heart, I’m a stats geek. Maybe not like Zzyzx, but certainly I’m interested in the stats. I’m incredibly interested in Phish setlist construction, and hope that one day I find myself in a situation where I can interview Trey about it. “Why,” I would ask, “does a song like, say, Camel Walk, only appear every 50-some-odd shows? Is that intentional? Why premiere Glide II only to drop it seemingly forever? Are there ever permanently retired songs, like, perhaps, No Dogs Allowed, Dear Mrs Reagan, and Jennifer Dances? Can we ever expect to see Eliza again?” I would assume that, like most musicians, Phish collectively enjoys playing some songs more than others, but is that reflected in the setlist? If they don’t like a song, why would they play it at all… or write or perform it at all? Maybe it’s purposeful that they “create” rarities? I wonder, do they maybe love playing Harpua, but intentionally not overuse it so that its appearance heralds a special show? Why not just unleash a hose of rarities during a tour knowing it would make fans very happy[1]? Unless these some songs are purposely rarities? Will Alumni Blues ever rejoin the setlist as anything other than a super-rarity?

What about common songs? Is Trey aware that AC/DC Bag has opened no fewer than SIX shows since November 1? Did Phish decide to showcase Kill Devil Falls more times than any other song off of Joy because they feel it’s the best song, or was that just coincidence? Are they purposely playing songs like Llama less frequently, or are they simply not remembering it during on-stage setlist construction? Will Time Turns Elastic get its due, in time, when it is a rarity?

In the end, the whole debate is, at the same time, pointless and essential; it is, one on hand, irrelvent, and on the other, the heart of what makes Phish so interesting. If they played rarities all the time, they wouldn’t be rarities and a large part of the fun of Phish shows might be lost. But we all go to see them play, and even songs of which I’ve personally grown a bit tired, such as Stash, still manage to steal the set from time to time, most notably night one of Festival 8. It’s not so much what they play as much as how they play it. I’ve learned that even Character Zero, once you get past the lyrics, can be just as interesting a jam vehicle as Mike’s, YEM, Jim, or Bowie. And yet, I’m still kind of hoping for a bust-out. Despite that, certain songs – for me, Moma, for example – are a bit of a letdown, because I’d rather hear something else I like better. I suppose if I have to hear a jam, I’d rather that jam stem from a song I’ve yet to hear live than a song I’ve heard 10+ times before.

When I look at the NYE setlist, I think the highlights, musically, were Ghost, Rock and Roll, and Piper, three fairly common songs. I also think Demand was awesome (mostly given the infrequency of its appearance?), and Swept Away into the most uncommonly jammed Steep I’ve ever heard is a high point, largely because it was an especially unique performance. So it’s a mix of both quality jams, song frequency, and performance uniqueness that made this fun. A prior night of the run included Gotta Jibboo > Wilson -> Gotta Jibboo, again, two fairly common songs that provided a notable highlight as well. It’s not just about rarities, that much is certain.

But why should we care about stats, right? What good are stats anyway? All they do, one might argue, is allow you to measure your own satisfaction comparatively, an expressly non-Phishy attitude. What good is seeing Buffalo Bill or Brother if you don’t like those songs as much as, say, Divided Sky or Possum except that one can say they’ve seen a rare song?

I think the conclusion is that it’s a mix of all of that: great jams, cool people, uniqueness of an individual performance, and the fact that the setlist remains an unknown all provide a different dimension of interest, and it’s all of that that can make a Phish concert so fun. It’s not about comparison to others’ shows, but rather, a comparison to my own show history: a re-affirmation of the fact that I can keep seeing the same band without ever tiring of the process. As much as I love the great jam, there’s still a moment in between songs when I’m jumping out of my seat with excitement that the next song could be something crazy.

[1] I realize that there were scores of rarities this tour, but I’m talking a total blow-out, something like “Set 1: Brother, Alumni Blues, Dog Log, Glide, Anarchy, In a Hole, She Caught the Katy, Sparkle[2], Have Mercy, Harpua > Buffalo Bill“.

[2] …Just seeing if you were paying attention.

This post originally appeared on the blog.

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Phish “No Thanks” List

In the vein of the Phish Wishlist, here’s a list of my least favorite Phish songs.

Lawn Boy
Army of One
Character Zero

There aren’t many Phish songs I don’t like… in fact, I don’t even dislike all of these, but these are the songs that I like least/want to hear least. Character Zero, for example, is a song I used to like, but now I’m just tired of it and hearing the opening riff at a show is always a bit of a downer until the song part is over and the jam part begins. Got any least favorite songs?

And don’t say Time Turns Elastic!

Phish Wishlist

Given the recent setlist madness, I decided to compile my Phish Wishlist.  Here are the 13 songs I most want to hear played live, in no particular order:

Destiny Unbound (36)
Camel Walk (50)
Brother (17)
Scents and Subtle Sounds (7)
A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing (11)
Dinner and a Movie (10)
Glide (8)
Harpua (23)
Spock’s Brain (64)
Have Mercy (141)
Walk Away (21)
The Lizards (4)
Crowd Control (13)*

The number following each song is the average show gap between performances since the debut.  As you can see, given the number of shows I currently attend each year and the number I expect to attend in the next few years, it’s increasingly unlikely that I will see… well… ANY of these songs live, ever.  With each passing show, many of these number are increasing just a touch to the right of the decimal point, and the odds I actually see them go down inversely.  Even Lizards, which is still really low, is deceivingly so, given that it was so overplayed in the “old days” and underplayed these days.  In fact, ZZYZX’s stats say the odds of me not seeing Lizards in 35 shows is 0.0%.

I realize that with NYE being my only remaining show this year, any of these showing up is unlikely, because Phish has a history, for several years now, of not  going too crazy on NYE, but rather, doing that in the nights leading up to NYE.  Expect a Harpua on 12/30, and another set of standards for NYE.   The most likely candidates to show up on NYE? I’d have to bet on Lizards, Scents and Subtle Sounds, or Dinner and a Movie before any of the others.  But I’m expecting none of them.  Sigh.

* Edit: Add this song after the fact
Anyway, know that if I catch any of my wishlist on NYE, I will go nuts.

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Making the Case: Time Turns Elastic

Trey Anastasio’s masterpiece “Time Turns Elastic” was written for an orchestra.

That’s what they tell us, at least. It was performed with the New York Philharmonic in September of 2009. A video surfaced, Trey playing TTE alone, acoustically. And then there’s the Fenway debut.

Somehow, we find ourselves here in November, a few short months after the song was released, and many Phish fans, not just the next generation, are calling TTE the worst Phish song ever. I hear “Time Turns Molasses.” I hear “Time Turns Craptastic.” I hear “Time… to pee.” But why? Why do so many fans hate this song? Why don’t they see what I do in TTE?

I think it’s for a few reasons. Firstly, this song took me a while to “get into.” It’s a long song with many distinct sections, and most people, I honestly think, don’t take the time to listen to it to not only ingest it all, but to even get to know it all. Much of the instrumental part of TTE, I think, is really easier to appreciate as a musician. Counting out some of the bits are a challenge. Many people think the song rambles on for too long aimlessly. Yet I can’t see any section of the song I’d want to trim out. Every bit is great. It’s said that Phish took something like 283 takes to get this track right. I believe this, there are a lot of intricate bits to the song that would be a challenge to capture in one 13 minute chunk.

Which leads me to argument 2 against the song: it’s not been “nailed” yet live. All of the performances thus far have ranged from “pretty lackluster” at worst to “decent” at best. I was excited to get my TTE at Festival 8 only to have it crush under the weight of itself. I love the song, and I’m willing to give Trey the benefit of the doubt and say that the cold air of night one of Festival 8 was responsible for so much of the fudging, but it was hard to hear the climax of the song, “The Carousel,” be executed so sloppily. Having said that, poor live execution does not a bad song make.

Clocking in at over 13 minutes (for the studio version, at least), and usually closer to 18 minutes live thus far, TTE is a big commitment in a set. So it seems reasonable to assume that, in time, Phish will tire of a song like that in regular rotation. When TTE becomes more of a rarity, more like a McGrupp, I bet people will start to think it’s more interesting to hear the song performed live.

The third argument for Time Turns Elastic is that it’s actually a suite of several smaller sections, which, as songs, aren’t nearly as tough to swallow. The song is arranged as follows:

Movement 1a – Song At Dawn
Movement 1b – Ruby Shaded Sea
Movement 2a – Submarine
Movement 2b – Landslide
Movement 2c – Rays Of Blue Light
Movement 3a – Silver Sound Shower
Movement 3b – Hilstorm
Movement 3c – Funnels
Movement 3d – Carousel

courtesy of Mr. Miner

Image courtesy of Mr. Miner

Surely, most would agree that the intro and the outro are the most identifiable and the easiest to digest at first glance. It’s just parts of the middle that require some patience and some re-listening. If these parts were played on their own, they wouldn’t be hated.  So narrow it down for me: it’s obviously many smaller bits pieced together: which is the part(s) you don’t like? It can’t be all of them, because the odds of Phish writing so many greats songs and then 3 you hate all coincidentally stitched together are pretty much nil. So those who hate TTE probably aren’t talking about the entire song, but rather, some bit of it.

If anyone has the gall to say “it’s too stretched out,” I’d tell them “you have no place at a Phish show.”  These same people would soil their pants for a 20+ minute jam of 46 Days, Down With Disease, or Split Open and Melt.

Not everyone has to love every Phish song.  Not every fan has to love TTE.  In fact, I understand and concede that TTE is not for everyone.  But it’s annoying me that it’s simply becoming “cool” to not like TTE or to call it the “bathroom break.”

I’ve heard stories that when the Grateful Dead debuted “Terrapin Station,” many fans were unsure of how to receive it.  It wasn’t bluesy, it didn’t rock, it wasn’t a ballad, and it was long.  Years later, many of us regard Terrapin as one of the band’s masterpieces.

I think that many new fans, those that got into Phish during the post-breakup phase, are the ones most vocal about disliking TTE.  And many of them, I do in fact think, are simply naive noobs.   Some have a “kinda” fair argument: I like the song, I don’t like it live.   To them I say: many songs took a while to find their right incarnation and place in the Phish repetoire. Water in the Sky, Shafty, Limb by Limb, Black Eyed Katy/Moma, Tela, and many more went through revision before it found its sweet spot.  On the whole, I don’t think TTE is getting the love and patience it needs and deserves, so I’m making the case.

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