Photos by Chris Paul
IT has been contended by some that the consistency and strength of their October 2010 tour demonstrates that Phish is finally, truly “back” from the hiatus. But no matter what you think about the (inconsistency of) the music at Hampton in March 2009, Phish was definitely “back” there and then. After having not played a show since August 2004, they performed ten hours of music over three nights, including a ton of songs that we love — and they played most of them well. In light of the Coventry experience, they were also very cathartic shows. And while there may have been no “best versions ever,” Phish’s music and its spirit were absolutely “back.” All fans seem to be thankful for that, as we are that they’re STILL “back” today, and playing shows as fantastic as many were on their October 2010 tour. If you are having trouble containing your excitement for what Phish has in store this New Year’s run, join the club.
To suggest that, until October 2010, Phish was somehow not themselves — but some other, crappier version of themselves — during the remarkable musical highlights of 2009-2010 is also unfair. While on a show-by-show basis, the October shows do seem to have been more consistently well-played than the shows on every previous tour since 2004, this is nevertheless arguable, and there haven’t been many tours since then in any event. Musically speaking, Phish shows are typically “great” when compared with the shows of other rock bands, and even their own. They have always been a remarkably consistent band, even while playing different setlists every night, which is partly why tens of thousands of their fans routinely see multiple shows on a tour. But as excellent as some of the shows in October were (and as impressive as every version of “Carini” was in October), few of the jams that were played reached the musical peaks that fans typically refer to as “among the best” or “must hear.”
For example, the “Seven Below -> Ghost” at Albany last year on 11/28 is considered by many to be up there with Phish’s top jams from any era of Phish and, in my opinion, little performed in October reached a similarly transcendent plateau. Of course, I also consider the set-closing Camden “Tweezer” from 6/7/09 and the “Cities” jam from the Greek on 8/6/10 as two of Phish’s top jams from 2009-2010. So, if you don’t find those jams among the most compelling of Phish’s jams in recent years, then do your blood pressure a favor and stop reading this now, because you’ll likely be exasperated by a lot of what I say about this tour. I also listen regularly to vintage top Phish jams from the past. Jams like the 8/10/97 Deer Creek “Cities;” the 8/10/04 “Birds of a Feather;” the 11/30/97 Worcester “Stash;” the 7/29/98 “Bathtub Gin;” the 8/7/98 Walnut Creek “Ghost;” the 11/19/97 Champaign “2001;” the 2/25/03 Phili “Theme from the Bottom;” and so on and so on. So, as much as I love Phish’s music, this necessarily makes it difficult for me to sing the praises of a version of a song that, to me, sounds at best like just another typically fun, “above average-great” version of “insert song name here.” (And, for example, if you haven’t heard every version of “Tweezer” and “You Enjoy Myself,” you’re probably going to view versions of the song played nowadays differently than someone who has.)
It’s also impossible to listen to a show “in a vacuum” or “disinterestedly,” and I don’t pretend to be “objective” (as if that were possible). When I listen to Phish shows for the first time, I can’t just disregard the host of spectacular Must-hear Shows that take up part of the space where my more-useful mind should be. I love Phish’s music and have heard almost everything that circulates. I think it’s brilliant as a rule, hence my use and abuse of the “average-great” concept. I also download every show from LivePhish, even though I know that more often than not, I’m only going to listen to its songs once or twice. Bottom line is that I am just another fan with a perspective that may be wildly different from your own. Please take my two cents on the music of the October shows as nothing more.
What’s with all of this first-person back-story? Just how insecure are you about your opinions on the current state of Phish’s music? While some of you are familiar with my opinionated remarks on Phish’s music online going back to 1994, others are not. I felt compelled to contextualize the opinions below with at least some background on how I approach Phish’s music. Why? Back in August, I was abused for being both overcritical, and not critical enough, in my review of Phish’s Summer tour shows (see my two cents about the shows of that tour here, especially the Comments). The flames of me personally by cowards hiding behind anonymous logins are entertaining, but for the sake of The Almighty Icculus, folks, it’s just my two cents. You can take pity on me for being unable to appreciate a show as much as I did back in 1993-1995, but believe me, I still try to do so as best I can. In any event, since no one specifically took issue with any of the versions of songs that I “Recommended” be listened to from the Summer tour, I apparently did something more or less right. And it’s in that same frivolous spirit that I belatedly offer up my $0.02 on Phish’s October 2010 shows here, with links to the Phish.net setlist of each show for ease of reference. Thank you for reading them.