Phish’s Summer Tour 2010, Continued: Great Songs, Less Jamming, But Does It Matter
Yes, there were a lot of bustouts in the last several months, not only of new covers (e.g., “I Am The Walrus”) and old covers (e.g., “Quinn the Eskimo”), but also of Phish rarities (e.g.,“Fuck Your Face” and “Lengthwise”). So in claiming that there has been less jamming on this tour than in previous tours (generally speaking) is not to say that Phish hasn’t been great this year, or that they must play a 30 minute version of “Backwards Down the Number Line” or “Tweezer” in order for them to be true to some bogus notion of who and what they once were and/or are supposed to be today. It is just curious that so few of even the band’s most customary vehicles for improvisation ever soared off the road previously traveled this Summer into risky, potentially transcendent, territory. After all, Trey proclaimed in an interview during the so-called “second hiatus” that he’d give his left nut to play “You Enjoy Myself” again, and now that he’s playing it again, where is the version of “YEM” that, instead of sounding more or less like every other average-great “YEM,” champions the greatest versions in Phish history? (Did Trey actually give away his left nut!?) On the other hand, as the immortal refrain of “Bug” goes, “It doesn’t matter.” Like Trey, we still love “YEM.” It is a welcome addition to any set of Phish.
And, no, I am not going to engage in speculation that Trey’s sobriety is somehow responsible for Phish’s failure to perform something along the lines of the Orlando Stash (11/14/95), Nassau Tweezer (2/28/03), Deer Creek Cities (8/10/97), Providence Bowie (12/29/94), IT Ghost (8/3/03), St. Louis Reba (8/16/93), Dayton Tube (12/7/97), Alpine Piper (7/19/03), West Valley Mr. Completely (7/15/03), Riverport Gin (7/29/98), and so on. And I am not so disappointed by Trey’s occasional flubs that my perspective on the shows in 2009-2010 as a whole is unreasonably biased. As auricularly painstaking as winnowing out the flubs and setting them aside may be to some, if you can’t still have any fun at a Phish show, then what are you doing there? And while it may not have been clear at Hampton last year, it has since been established, with extreme prejudice, that Phish — and sober Trey — can improvise in a transcendent manner, channeling IT and the Almighty Hose in full force. This may not occur as often as it once did, but we’re blessed that IT occurs at all. And no matter how tired you might be of hearing Phish play “Fluffhead” (Hampton opened with it last year and Phish have played it 17 times since), don’t forget that the first online Phish community in the early 1990’s — an e-mail list, the precursor to Rec.Music.Phish (“RMP”) — used the song’s title as a giddily quirky, exclamatory roll-call of sorts, which carried-over somewhat into RMP.
Given the apparent emphasis during this tour on The Song, it is befuddling that Phish didn’t play most of their newest songs this month after debuting them in June. It was nice to hear Show of Life and Summer of ‘89 again, but the absence of Page’s wonderful Halfway to the Moon (not to mention his Beauty of a Broken Heart, which debuted last year) was regrettable. Mike’s Idea and Trey’s Dr. Gabel didn’t get played this month, either, and they seemed to have potential as well, even if they needed a lot of practice after their debuts in June. Is it also too much to hope for that Mike’s “Voices,” from his solo album The Green Sparrow, gets adopted by Phish and makes it into Phish’s setlists soon? The song grooves.
While Phish’s emphasis on songs rather than improvisation this year may be unfortunate to some, love for those songs (including their new ones) continues unabated, as is obvious at any Phish show that one attends. You don’t even have to leave home in order to discern the immense popularity of Phish’s music in 2010. Just take a cursory skim of the diverse, vibrant online communities of Phish fans (like those who comment on Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts, or users of PhantasyTour ), which consist in part of those who listen to every note of every show and see as many shows as they possibly can, as was true on RMP 16 years ago. Though such diehard fans can be quite critical of Phish’s music, their yearning for another show that makes them want to share it with everyone they know and love in an unduly spirited, frivolous effort to spread the Gospel According to Trey, Mike, Page and Fish, is understandable — at least to anyone crazy about something they love. Those obsessed about music want the bands we love to outjam themselves and blow us away, so that we can fall in love with their music all over again. Or at least so we can justify to ourselves and our significant others why we continue to care so much about what they play and when and how they play it, whether we spend the coin to attend a show, or just “couch tour” by listening to a show-in-progress on our PC or phone via Hoodstream – while simultaneously following the YEMblog tweets.
As jaded as you may feel you’ve become over the years about Phish’s music, hopefully you’re pleased that the band is doing just fine. And we are very fortunate, of course, that they’re still playing at all. While the $60 ticket prices this Fall may be a far cry from the $8.50 that a Phish ticket cost at a club in Boston more than 20 years ago, their shows are still more than worth it, and one can’t help but be excited about seeing them again soon. The quality of Phish’s music has always been paramount to the overall experience, of course. Just listen for yourself. And as predictable as part of the setlist may be, so long as they continue to put on a great show, we will be there, and it’ll be up to us to enjoy ourselves. FLUFFHEAD!!!!
[Author’s Note: The following comments on Phish’s August shows are the two cents of someone who only attended the Greek shows and who has heard too much Phish for his own — or anyone else’s — good. Just check out the setlist of any recent show on Phish.Net and, if you like it, download it from LivePhish, or Kevin Hoy’s incredible Spreadsheet, and you’ll likely be pleased. In other words, rely on the following critical noobtardery at your own peril.]