Tag Archives: Phish

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 phish.net blog.

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.

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 phishthoughts.com

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.

Festival 8

Festival 8 CaliIt’s impossible to sum up all of my thoughts and feelings about Festival 8 in a way that would do any justice to my memory of it. I know that to be true, but I’m going to try anyway, because it seems foolish to let this high fade over time, and I want to remember how I feel so next time a festival comes around, I’ll know why I want to go.

I was a little nervous about this one for a number of reasons, because I didn’t want to go on an adventure like this without my wife; I didn’t want to miss my two year old’s first trick-or-treating adventure; I didn’t want to go cross country alone. But a big one was that I didn’t want to go and be alone the whole time. Sure, there were JAM listers who were going to be there, but sometimes you meet people in real life and it’s awkward, and you realize it was more natural when you were just talking to a screen.

I was lucky enough to have found a hotel where two of my new friends were staying, Scott and Elayne. Elayne and I had arranged to carpool to the event. I had softly pre-planned to meet a few people, so I figured I’d bum a ride the first day and then go my own way so as not to be a leech.

I got to the hotel around 5:30 or so, completely mentally drained and exhausted, and Elayne texted me that they were about to go on “an adventure” and “did I want to come?” I knew blowing off the excursion was exactly the opposite of what I wanted the trip to be, so I threw my stuff in my room and headed out with Elayne, George, and their friend Jess. Jess was working on site, so we stopped by to drop her off. While waiting for her pass, I turned to George and whispered, “Hey, isn’t that Brad Sands?” “I don’t think Brad Sands works for them anymore,” he answered, at full volume. Elayne shot him a dirty look and loudly whispered – “That IS Brad Sands!” He was about 5 feet from us. I imagine it was more awkward for him than us, since we were just excited to be there.

We lightly scoped the festival grounds and inadvertantly learned our way around Indio. I was starting to fade from lack of food, so we found an authentic Mexican restaurant. It’s hard to sum up how grea the meal was largely because I don’t know how good it actually was: at the time, it was incredible. The best guacamole I’ve ever had combined with an array of homemade goods: crunky taco shells that were imperfectly crafted from freshly-fried hand-made corn tortillas, strechy and rich queso, thick and hearty chips… it was all perfect. We followed the meal with a stop off at some of E & G’s friends’, where I finally got to meet ZZYZX. Afew hours later, day one was done and all that remained was the festival itself.

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Making the Case: The "Best" Phish Song

This morning, I began wondering to myself: “If asked the best Phish song, what would I respond?” I thought it over, and I have some thoughts.

I’ve pondered over my favorite Phish songs before, and ultimately, I’ve never been able to settle on one. But today, I’ll give you what I think is the “best.”

First, we’ve got to agree on what “best” means. Does it mean most well liked? Most representative? Most iconic? I am choosing to define it as the song that best captures and satiates fans, be they new, old, or even future.

And the runners up are:

You Enjoy Myself
The logical, most obvious select for “best” phish song is the classic You Enjoy Myself. YEM, as we Phishheads call it, was debuted in 1986 and was featurd in more Phish setlists than any other song – ever. YEM includes a structed composed part, a loose jam part, and has led to some incredible experimentation, including the vocal jam. While YEM is an awesome song, a load of fun, and arguably the quinessential Phish song, I don’t think it’s the best, and one of the reasons is that it’s just too chaotic and hard to understand for those new to Phish.

Bouncing Around the Room
I include Bouncin’ only because, unlike YEM, it is quite easy for those unfamiliar with Phish to immediately fall in love with this song. The tempo, the lightweight guitar, and the repeated clear lyrics make it a natural sing along gem. But, most decidedly unlike YEM, it received quite a bit of radio play and became one of the 5 or so songs that college students that didn’t count themselves as Phish heads knew. As a result, many elitist Phish heads began the backlash against Bouncing. It was not unlikely, in the late nineties, to hear the regulars whine when Bouncing reared its head in a setlist. One more legitimate reason to dislike Bouncing was because, like many other songs, it was not a platform for jamming. This made it more of a recital than a participatory exercise. Since the most loyal fans, whether right or wrong, grew impatient with it, Bouncing cannot be the answer.

Chalkdust Torture
Chalkdust Torture was another “famous” Phish song. While the song is pretty much verse-chorus-verse, it served as a jam platform more often than you might expect. Chalkdust featured a catchy chorus and was a setlist regular from its debut right through Coventry. That said, Chalkdust remained popular for its entire run, and was often recognized by non-hardcores, and even featured on several albums. However, Chalkdust is rarely mentioned as one of the more cherished songs.

The Divided Sky
Ah, the final three. It’s easy to make a case for the Divided Sky. First of all, it’s got several sections, many tightly composed. It’s a musician’s wet dream, it’s got emotion, and it’s a fun song. It features all four members at some point. It’s Gamehendge-related. There are so many things that make this a fantastic song. But, like others above, there is rarely much exploration when this is performed live. Don’t let this take away from the song, it’s one of my faves, but any song that doesn’t encompass everything Phish is about can’t be called “best” in my book.

Harry Hood
Hood is the next step from Divided Sky, and also lands in all of the above categories, sans the Gamehendge connection. Harry Hood is one of the most well-liked songs in Phish-story, and when they open a show with it – as they did twice in 1999 – it signaled an incredible evening. I can’t fault Hood on anything worthwhile. It’s a virtual tie, but there had to be a winner, and that winner is:

Slave to the Traffic Light
In my humble opinion, no Phish song is better than Slave to the Traffic Light. Slave, as we call it, has elements of reggae, rock, jazz, ambient, harmony, and more. Slave includes long jams at times, some really long. It’s well liked, it’s been played with frequency, but not too frequent. It didn’t spark the amazing, but eventually annoying glowstick wars, and the end of the song is really something special nearly every time. Slave is not too complex, so even the relative newbie to Phishdom can understand and appreciate it, and certainly will be swinging and swaying by the end of the song. Also, Slave is the perfect set-ender, the perfect song to draw out your energy, calm you down, and lay you down to sleep nicely.

You can throw around several song like Guyute, Fee, The Lizards, The Squirming Coil, or Cavern, but I have to make the case for Slave to the Traffic Light.

Making the Case: The “Best” Phish Song

This morning, I began wondering to myself: “If asked the best Phish song, what would I respond?” I thought it over, and I have some thoughts.

I’ve pondered over my favorite Phish songs before, and ultimately, I’ve never been able to settle on one. But today, I’ll give you what I think is the “best.”

First, we’ve got to agree on what “best” means. Does it mean most well liked? Most representative? Most iconic? I am choosing to define it as the song that best captures and satiates fans, be they new, old, or even future.

And the runners up are:

You Enjoy Myself
The logical, most obvious select for “best” phish song is the classic You Enjoy Myself. YEM, as we Phishheads call it, was debuted in 1986 and was featurd in more Phish setlists than any other song – ever. YEM includes a structed composed part, a loose jam part, and has led to some incredible experimentation, including the vocal jam. While YEM is an awesome song, a load of fun, and arguably the quinessential Phish song, I don’t think it’s the best, and one of the reasons is that it’s just too chaotic and hard to understand for those new to Phish.

Bouncing Around the Room
I include Bouncin’ only because, unlike YEM, it is quite easy for those unfamiliar with Phish to immediately fall in love with this song. The tempo, the lightweight guitar, and the repeated clear lyrics make it a natural sing along gem. But, most decidedly unlike YEM, it received quite a bit of radio play and became one of the 5 or so songs that college students that didn’t count themselves as Phish heads knew. As a result, many elitist Phish heads began the backlash against Bouncing. It was not unlikely, in the late nineties, to hear the regulars whine when Bouncing reared its head in a setlist. One more legitimate reason to dislike Bouncing was because, like many other songs, it was not a platform for jamming. This made it more of a recital than a participatory exercise. Since the most loyal fans, whether right or wrong, grew impatient with it, Bouncing cannot be the answer.

Chalkdust Torture
Chalkdust Torture was another “famous” Phish song. While the song is pretty much verse-chorus-verse, it served as a jam platform more often than you might expect. Chalkdust featured a catchy chorus and was a setlist regular from its debut right through Coventry. That said, Chalkdust remained popular for its entire run, and was often recognized by non-hardcores, and even featured on several albums. However, Chalkdust is rarely mentioned as one of the more cherished songs.

The Divided Sky
Ah, the final three. It’s easy to make a case for the Divided Sky. First of all, it’s got several sections, many tightly composed. It’s a musician’s wet dream, it’s got emotion, and it’s a fun song. It features all four members at some point. It’s Gamehendge-related. There are so many things that make this a fantastic song. But, like others above, there is rarely much exploration when this is performed live. Don’t let this take away from the song, it’s one of my faves, but any song that doesn’t encompass everything Phish is about can’t be called “best” in my book.

Harry Hood
Hood is the next step from Divided Sky, and also lands in all of the above categories, sans the Gamehendge connection. Harry Hood is one of the most well-liked songs in Phish-story, and when they open a show with it – as they did twice in 1999 – it signaled an incredible evening. I can’t fault Hood on anything worthwhile. It’s a virtual tie, but there had to be a winner, and that winner is:

Slave to the Traffic Light
In my humble opinion, no Phish song is better than Slave to the Traffic Light. Slave, as we call it, has elements of reggae, rock, jazz, ambient, harmony, and more. Slave includes long jams at times, some really long. It’s well liked, it’s been played with frequency, but not too frequent. It didn’t spark the amazing, but eventually annoying glowstick wars, and the end of the song is really something special nearly every time. Slave is not too complex, so even the relative newbie to Phishdom can understand and appreciate it, and certainly will be swinging and swaying by the end of the song. Also, Slave is the perfect set-ender, the perfect song to draw out your energy, calm you down, and lay you down to sleep nicely.

You can throw around several song like Guyute, Fee, The Lizards, The Squirming Coil, or Cavern, but I have to make the case for Slave to the Traffic Light.

Today’s Random Thought: A Phish Setlist

It’s been 4 ½ years since I’ve seen my favorite band, Phish, play. In the decade prior, I had seen then about 30 times in concert, across two continents, 4 countries, at least 6 states, almost 200 different songs. Today, for whatever random reason, I was thinking what I might write, if I were seeing them again today and was asked to write the setlist:

Set 1: Carini Had a Lumpy Head, Vultures, The Mango Song, Ghost, Roggae, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Ginseng Sullivan, Water in the Sky

Set 2: Buried Alive > AC/DC Bag, Pebbles and Marbles, Peaches En Regalia, Dogs Stole Things, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY, NICU, The Lizards, Dog Log, Slave to the Traffic Light

Enc: Glide, The Sloth

Yes, the sets are a little long, but this is what I’d like to see… today.

Finally, Something Good!

I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about – Lists of Bush’s impeachable offenses, the ridiculous controversy over Price’s “phallic” halftime show, a billboard that reads the “Hoohaa” Monologues, because, apparently, the word “vagina” is now offensive. But instead of yet another rant, I want to share some good news.

Earlier this week in New York City, a somber Trey Anastasio gave an in-depth interview that discussed his music, his plans, his songwriting, his drug use, and even Phish. It’s great to hear Trey coming back around and feeling good about music. Trey’s new stuff is still great music, but I think we all wonder if he has another “Guyute” in him. We all wonder if, should Phish ever reunite, whether he’s more likely to come up with another “You Enjoy Myself” or another “Jennifer Dances.” Songs like “Pebbles and Marbles” and “Scents and Subtle Sounds” demonstrate that he and Tom Marshall can still write fantastic, epic music. Songs like Mexican Cousin showed that Trey was interested in writing short numbers with a platform to launch a melodic jam session. But songs like “Undermind,” while not bad, per say, were not the same quality, didn’t have the same quirkiness, didn’t capture the feeling the way some of the older songs, like The Mango Song, or The Squirming Coil, or Silent in the Morning did.

Either way, it’s great to see there are still phans out there who are still so connected. This is all good news. In fact, the only bad news is that the comments portion of the page on rollingstone.com has been defaced by a bunch of morons.

Anastasio Charged with Drugged Driving

What a shame. Trey was arrested. It doesn’t appear he’ll do any hard time or anything, but I just wish it didn’t happen. It’s a lot easier to like Phish when they are just a relatively unknown group of jamming hippies with charitable ways. When this stuff happens, they make news and all most people remember is ”Trey the druggie” and “Mike Gordon the child molester.”  It sucks for us hardcore fans. That said, I wish Trey and his family luck in getting through this painlessly.