Preview: Phish at a Fork in the Road

Musically, last summer was a little uneven but fairly solid with the band playing especially hot at Camden, Bonnaroo and Alpine Valley in the first leg and Red Rocks and Hartford in the second leg. The fall featured the insanely awesome Exile on Main Street set in Indio and outstanding shows in Philly, New York and especially Albany. Having its touring legs back after a full slate in 2009, it would be nice to see the 2010 Summer Tour be the start of the next phase for the band. Something new – or the return of something old and great – seems to be in order.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Trey said its too early for a new album so some of the new songs they’ve been working on will be worked out on the road. While Phish fans are typically skeptical about new songs, last year saw the addition of several hot tunes including the absolutely funktastic Undermind, the jam-friendly Light, Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan and Kill Devil Falls, which was stretched out over 15 minutes at Bonnaroo. It would be nice to see the simple Tomorrow’s Song, played solely in Albany in 2009, added to the regular rotation as well.

Phish fans are just about all in agreement that it’s time to mix up the cover selection. While most fans love and respect the band’s classic rock cover repertoire, which includes Loving Cup, Good Times Bad Times, Day in the Life, Rock and Roll, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Frankenstein and Drowned, it’s time to mix it up. The Classic Rock Cover > Tweezer Reprise encores have become a bit stale. Good Times, Bad Times was played four times in 2009, each time as a predictable encore. A Day in the Life had six 2009 appearances, all but one as an encore. Great songs but even mixing up the placement of them could give them a fresh feel.

[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]

Last May, the band brought back The Ballad of Curtis Loew at Fenway Park and then in December Soul Shakedown Party in Miami. But those were one-time appearances. In the fall, the Exile on Main Street covers popped up occasionally – Torn and Frayed in Cincinnati, Shine a Light at the Garden and in Miami – but it would be nice to see even more songs from Exile, and other previously played musical costume selections, in the rotation. The one cover that did seem to work it’s way back into the band’s good graces was VU’s Oh! Sweet Nuthin, which was played well at Shoreline, Merriweather and Philly.

It feels like Phish is at a crossroads this summer. I’m not quite sure how many forks in the road there are for them to pick from but I see the following basic options:

A. Come out this summer, play scorching shows every night, mix up the set lists and add some new covers and jam-oriented new songs to re-establish themselves as the Alpha-Ass Kickers in Touringville. Old fans would have to come and see for themselves and hopefully young fans would be inspired to come and see them. Because the reality is that Phish desperately needs young fans. As those that shelled out thousands of dollars for tickets and merch from the mid ’90s – 2004 are mostly cutting back to 1-5 shows instead of 10-15, another group needs to step in and spend that money and buy those tickets.

B. A Gimmick. This band has been all about the gimmick from day one. From Fishman’s dress and the vacuum to the unveiling of the location and album for their Halloween show last year, these guys love a stunt. So maybe they bring back the fish tank setup. Or tour with the horns. Or play a new cover every night a la 1998’s Summer Under the Covers. Or the “album show” has become popular – so maybe they start playing their albums (or other people’s albums) from start to finish on special nights. Something different that gets people excited or back into those venues would be a major boost.

C. Continue playing mostly the same songs from last year’s list, with a new tune or bustout or two sprinkled in every five or six shows, and continue to slowly lose what was once your core fan base because it’s just not worth it to drive four hours each way to hear Divided Sky for the 35th time, even if you love Divided Sky.

This summer will go a long way towards determining which of those options Phish will follow for the near future. Or maybe, as they’ve done before, they will surprise us and come up with an option D that we haven’t even thought of yet. Whatever lies ahead, the band needs a strong summer showing. Starting Friday, we’ll see what they’ve got.

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15 Responses

  1. I hope they do mix it up. You are exactly right that it is tough to travel time and time again to hear the same songs over and over again…especially when I have to fly from FL to the Northeast to see some shows.

  2. I’m one of those guys cutting back shows to just a few a year unfortunately. I definitely helped carry the torch back in the day.

    One of my favorite gimmicks was the chess games of 94 95. Brilliant and fun.

  3. Hampton was not sloppy. Maybe rigid at times, but a great return for a band who had not played a proper show in 5 years and with Trey going through hell and back to realize where he needs to be happy.

  4. oh my god you people are crazy. hampton was so sloppy. so many mistakes. errors all nights. shows were fun but the band got much better after hampton last year.

  5. I’ll have the A please. As for option B, no horns, no albums (unless it’s their own), and switch up the tired classic rock covers. That being said, July 4th will be my first show since 1.0 so I’ll be grinning ear to ear even if they give me a C (or D)!

  6. G-Rob is right…Knoxville is actually the largest arena in the entire country. It holds over 25,000 for basketball. Add at least 3k for concerts. The place was insanely huge. I had to laugh when I read that. Basically ruins the credibility of the article. Asheville was small (although not an arena) and I think you will see the boys playing venues around this size outside of the northeast more and more in the coming years.

  7. Completely disagree with having the shows in small, indoor venues during the summer. I love the lawn in the summertime! It’s better to be on the lawn than not at a show at all due to high ticket cost.

  8. what a whiny article. dont like phish, then dont go see them. you are complaining WAY too soon. they’ve been back for 40+ shows. stop dictating what you want out of the band. they owe you nothing.
    seriously, i expect much more out of glide than this shit

  9. I agree with certain points – adding in some smaller venues would be nice. But, why not smaller outdoor venues? I think the whole venue gripe is just so…who cares? As long as Phish is playing it is a good venue.

    About the direction, yes they must shelve some covers. Rock and Roll and Drowned were played to death last year. Always good and interesting, but, it would be nice to see them change this in 2010. I would like to see more TAB material in its place. Plasma or Money Love and Change comes to mind.

  10. Well, it looks (to me at least) like the boys have chosen Option A. In four shows in four different cities, Phish has debuted three covers and two original songs, and they have yet to repeat a song. Can they make it five with no repeats?

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