Postcards From Page Side: “Some Good Points, Some Bad Points…” – Phish In The Social Media Age

As we find ourselves in the midst of arguably the most-highly touted Phish tour since their return at Hampton in 2009, fans are often overloaded with info – before, during, and immediately after the shows. Between certain outlets, such as this one, and social media sites, such as Twitter & Facebook as well as the instant gratification of smart phones and official (and sometimes unsolicited) webcasts, fans are allowed to surf “couch tour” at home, while never having to fire up the VW Bus in the driveway.

[All Photos From Burgettstown by Michael Stein]

While these attempts serve to satisfy the insatiable hunger of the Phish masses, there all also some negative points that may in fact hinder the overall experience and take away from the long legacy and lore of certain shows. In short, fans are programmed to only think about the most recent shows, and develop a “what have you done for me lately” attitude that is a true double edged sword with rewards but also pitfalls and perils.

For anyone that knows me, or follows me on Twitter (@BrianBavosa), they know that 99% of my tweets are music, or more-than-likely, Phish related. I try and give my honest-to-goodness, 140 character opinion of a show, as it’s happening, in real time. While I feel this is in part my obligation as a journalist, fan and someone who’s seen the band almost 300 times, it sometimes can even hinder my own experience in a very, very, very small way. Yeah, I know. I can simply not do it, but my Phish FOMS gets to be at an all-time high during the in-show period, seeing what my friends at the venue, or across the country on their couch think of what they are seeing/hearing. On the other hand, it’s a sensory overload of sorts, much like Chris Kuroda’s light show, and in my opinion, the core essence of every rabid Phish fan to begin with. But, don’t let my in-shows tweets fool you. I still know why I’m there in the first place and don’t let Twitter dictate my show-going experience as a whole, but rather enhance it.

It’s great to be able to digest critiques, or be alerted to teases/quotes in songs immediately that used to take months to identify in the earlier days of tape trading, but it still spoils the surprise sometimes. It’s like a 6 year-old knowing what’s waiting for him under the Christmas tree without even opening his present: satisfied he got what he wanted, but takes all the excitement and adrenaline out of the journey of getting through the wrapping paper. A true quagmire.

Look at the end of 2011 for a perfect example. The three-night, Labor Day Weekend Run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver was praised by many as a spectacular run of shows, including the now infamous “S” show, which many fans called just a few songs in. A show of such epic proportions that took place in the ’90s would have been something of much greater lore. Fans would’ve had to wait weeks or months to get their hands on the tapes from a friendly trader through a B+P (blanks and postage), once the taper got home and transferred the show from their DAT deck. (Sound like a foreign language? Trust me, once upon a time, it was the vernacular).

Such shows as the ones from Dick’s set the stage for the New Year’s Run at MSG, and had fans’ expectations running wild. But, as I stated in these here electronic pages – gasp! – the band fell flat. And…for six months, that’s the bitter taste that many had in their mouth in the world of Phish. And so it goes in the age of 3.0 and instant gratification.

Fast forward to this summer. Shows are blowing up, fans are buzzing, Twitter is going wild and MSG is a long-forgotten distant memory. (Oh, how quickly we forget!). The concept of a “sleeper show” is all but extinct. The days of getting a random tape, with only handwriting on it and allowing your own ears and brain to form their own judgement are over. Now – it’s all but predetermined for you, almost before it happens. Hell, call ME the nostalgia act these days, but I can say I miss the days of four hours of uninterrupted solace at show, with nothing to remember it by, but your own experience – not that of thousands of others. (Which is just one reason why the AC shows ,with no cell service, was so nice).

In the end, I’m as guilty as the next guy. I’m someone that loves being in the action – at the show, on Twitter, writing my night-of review to be published immediately as I did for many years, or chatting with the fan next to me (between songs, of course). But I also long for modern-day teenagers in the burbs, for that experience of discovering the wonder of Phish and other bands, through their own distinct journey and at their own pace. It’s like the argument for vinyl or CD’s versus iPods. Again, I happen to love both, but the former are things of the past and being left behind in the dust ever more each day.

But readers, Phish just destroyed Blossom this past Sunday with the Tweezerfest, and for now, all is well in Gamehendge. Until the next time when, god forbid, they screw up a song, repeat Possum or don’t jam enough – and everyone on Twitter says so.

Check out more of Michael Stein’s photos from Phish at First Niagara Pavilion…

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10 Responses

  1. Amen brother. A lot of times I feel overwhelmed by all of the info, and sometimes I feel out of the loop. It is up to the individual, to make a stand and turn off the computer or cellphone.
    That being said, there is nothing greater than being able to listen to every single show of the tour the day after.

  2. I agree with a lot of your sentiments here, however, I think people always have talked about shows right after the gig. I get what you are saying about the in the moment tweeting/texting/instagraming and how people get the feedback of others instantaneously, but by the same token, people have always talked about shows. Be it before, during, or after – there have always been very strong opinions about shows from the fans. Trey even acknowledges this himself in bittersweet motel, “I think people get on the internet and talk about how it was a bad show.” So there has always been some chatter about if this is a show you should listen to or not.

    That being said, I agree that people will form their opinions based on others from twitter and such, where as I grew up listening to shows and trading with friends to form my own opinions. However, most of the shows I listened to were on recommendations from friends.

    I guess what I am getting at is that there are always opinions on shows that get passed along. I guess it used to be, hey – here is this cd/tape from that show last week, you got to take a listen to, @ilovephishstix saying this jam rocks while the jam is going on. I guess its just the evolution of opinions being passed along from tape to twitter?

  3. Phans have talked about shows immediately in
    person and online (dating back to newsgroups) but obviously the pace, immediacy and volume is much higher nowadays. Personally, I never use my phone until a show is over and then only if I need to check in with someone. I also don’t talk to friends and neighbors between songs (or during) and maybe that us old school but the only way I like to enjoy a show is to experience it for myself. I’ll find out what others think after the show or sometimes a quick chat at intermission. I think those not at the show could wait for feedback from those at the show but I assume many folks are eager to hear in real time since we live in an interconnected world with indtant gratification. Maintain some sort of intimacy for shows not webcast or streamed other the cup on a string sound. No matter though as to each their own as long as nobody is negatively impacting the show for others.

  4. As somebody who enjoys “calling” a Phish show while I’m there be it through my own Twitter feed or on behalf of other well known feeds in the past I don’t feel like my “live tweeting” a show as it happens at all detracts from my being in the moment and taking in what I’m hearing and seeing.

    In fact I like to go back after the show and read through my timeline so I can “revisit” that exact moment when the tweet was sent. What was I thinking right in that moment when “machine gun” Trey was burning through Bowie, Page teases Eleanor Rigby, Mike debuts a new piece of equipment or Fish boots the intro to Poor Heart?

    I agree with a previous poster who commented this is just the next evolutionary step. While I certainly do appreciate and look back fondly on the days of Blanks and Postage and the excitement that you get when that tape or CD would finally show up in your mailbox the ability to hear and comment on what you might have just witnessed a few hours ago while it is still incredibly fresh in your mind is an asset that I think many fans enjoy, myself very much included.

  5. Really evocative post, Brian. Well done. Just seeing the phrase “blanks and postage” brings me back.

    I was a latecomer to cell phones and didn’t have one until right before Coventry. (Which I didn’t get into after spending 24 hours on Interstate 91, but that’s a story for another day.) So my experience with cell phones and Phish is entirely based in the 3.0 days.

    I’m really divided on this issue. On the one hand, it’s incredible to be able to follow along on Twitter from home while a band’s performing in some other city. And it’s great to be able to check Twitter from a show if, say, there’s a song I don’t recognize.

    On the other, I think I do personally miss out on a lot if I’m on my cell phone during a show. I tweeted a lot during the SPAC ’10 and Super Ball IX shows (well at least until my cell battery died on SBIX day two). Did the experience lessen my attention on the band in the moment? Absolutely. Did it lessen my overall enjoyment of the experience? I really can’t answer that.

    I haven’t made up my mind, but I’ve been debating leaving my phone in the car when I go to SPAC next weekend.

    Another aspect of technology that Brian gets at is the ability to listen to a show for the first time without having others’ opinions cloud your own. Or even knowing what the setlist will be. I remember when the Hampton ’09 shows first started hitting the Internet, someone released a series of audio files with no song info — just one huge file for each set. That’s how I listened to them the first time, and I really appreciated that experience.

  6. Good article.

    I cannot get out and tour these days with a wife and child at home. With that being said, I am grateful to follow along at home and listen to the show a few hours after it ends via the Phish app.

    In my opinion, the downside to technology is all of the negativity that can come with it. It baffles me how many negative reviews there are on any given night after a show. I do not see why some people even bother attending a show if they are so filled with negative energy. I also fail to understand how so many fans who claim to have seen x amount of shows since 199x can be so critical of the younger generation who is turning on to the band.I get so tired of reading about “noobs”, “wooks”, and how much better things were 15 years ago. I for one am glad there is a new generation who is taking an interest in something I have been so passionate about over all of these years. It is no different than when I was a teenager seeing my first Grateful Dead shows. As far as “wooks”, I see a lot less of the negative energy in the lots these days that was typical in the late 90’s and early 2000’s

    All and all,there are times when I miss hearing about shows through word of mouth and the excitement a getting new shows in the mail. On the other hand, the ease of access is keeping me involved in the scene while not having the opportunity to hit the road and go on tour anymore. I am so happy with the direction the band is going right now and with easy access to each new show it only increases my anticipation for my next live experience. While I am attending the show, I will not be using my phone but instead taking in the moment. In fact, I don’t tweet,use Facebook, or any other form of social media anyway!

    Last comment, I can’t wait for the Denver run!

  7. You are forgetting the fact that you can TUNE OUT. Why are you tweeting at a Phish show? Of course it’s going to ruin your experience. I tend to avoid Twitter and other sites when I’m at home during the show and download it and make my own opinions. No one is forcing you to waste your time on PT or Twitter or whatever. Your sense of overwhelming information is your own fault.

  8. Great article, Brian. I remember scrolling through rmp for even the setlist from the previous day. Nowadays, I am listening on my couch or while at the show sending short msgs to those at home. It is just a different animal. As an aside, the important thing is the band’s fun loving spirit along with the quest for musical madness is surely back according to my eyes and ears. My anticipation for the next show is once again child-like. Color me impressed

  9. great article man. I must say I dont do entire tours anymore but I LOVE the element of surprise. So I really really try to stay away from the net weeks or at least 1 week b4 i go to shows. no setlists no reviews no anything. It is VERY difficult but I do it. Ive been to over 100 phish shows since 95 so I really work hard at not finding any info out till after my tour run is over or if I didnt do any shows like a NYE run or a halloween run i will follow and check out the setlist and skinny but i like to review the show myself bc what is epic to one isnt epic to another. ALSO ive stopped going to the bathroom or food or leaving for anypurpose till setbreak bc I dont want to miss a thing. Last time I went pee in the middle of the show it was at Cliffords Ball over 105 shows ago and I totally missed fee which when i was 16 it was my fave phish song. Over 100 shows later I still havent got another fee!

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