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Published: 2010/12/13
by Charlie Dirksen

Phish’s October Tour In Review

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.

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Comments

There are 25 comments associated with this post

Alex December 28, 2010, 16:50:33

Charlie, As always, these columns are much appreciated. Please keep up the good work. I consider myself a very serious fan, but rarely have time to listen to every show. I appreciate being pushed in the right direction in terms of recommended listening. Finally, while I agree with you on Utica, Manchester and this year’s fantastic costume selection, I was sad to see Stash->Makisupa from 8/7/93 not mentioned amongst all time Stash renditions. I might suggest you give that another listen my phriend. Hope to see more of these in 2011!

Jay M December 21, 2010, 23:58:10

Great reviews of all the shows. Having heard all the shows already, I still found it very informative and interesting to read your “2 cents” although I was surprised by some of the things you said, but I won’t get into that. I just wanted to mention a error I noticed. Under the review of the 10/19 Augusta show in the short explanation of Type 2 jams, you mention a Chalk Dust from 8/9/94 (no show on this date), and I’m sure you meant the one from Hampton on 8/9/04. Just wanted to clear that up b/c that version was my first Phish song I ever witnessed, and I love that version. Everyone should hear it. Keep up the good work though.

Blooby December 18, 2010, 06:40:46

You are this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62T9ESyOtJo

kyle December 20, 2010, 11:28:20

Charlie, Pretty much spot on. Im an old timer too I guess (1994) and it was just different back then. They were younger we were younger but it seems like since their return almost every tour has got consistantly better. We cant expect the Boys to be the same in 2010 as they were in 1993. I mean come on I was 13 then and I am 31 now if I havent changed since then please shoot me now. My fav set and again like you this is just my 2 cents was set 2 of Manchester the Makisupa into night nurse was amazing and the first set although choppy was bust out city at the start then kinda faded a bit. My gf is a 3.0’er and she hates it when I act Jaded like oh man YEm closer again to her it is all good and she has only been to 12 shows. So I have stopped being Jaded and started seeing it through her eyes. Not every show is great or even good but it sure as hell beats seeing green day do a75 min set including the encore. To me Dead Heads have become so Jaded it is tough to even see a show with them anymore. Just Look at Phil and Jill going after fans. Not that I approve but he is 70 for christ sake. If someone can do their job the same at 70 as they did when they were 25 I will give them a ticket to NYE

Wes T December 14, 2010, 13:55:55

Charlie,
I appreciate your review and I think you were mostly spot on. I’d say that Mr. Minor has a tendency to fluff every show regardless of how good it is, so it’s nice to see an honest critique from such an informed fan. With that being said, I’d have to argue that you missed the glory of night two in Charleston. I don’t know exactly what shows you attended, but your review in Charleston definitely comes off as a “I wasn’t in Charleston, it sounded ok on tape, but man the shows that I saw in person up North were way better”. We will always be guilty of considering the shows we attended to be superior or at least more memorable that those that we missed, but I expect better from you, regardless of if you made the show. So leaving out the excellent venue, beautiful weather, friendly crowd, and the GA seating that made waltzing down to the 10th row easy, I’d have to say Charleston holds up exceptionally well when compared to the remainder of the tour and Phish history as a whole. First off the setlist is fantastic, and I’d say that’s pretty important when reviewing a show. You can pick highlights, but if you’re going to give it an overall rating, it would seem odd to ignore that this show is filled to the brim with songs that most fans love. I also realize that you’re pretty stingy when it comes to recommending highlights, and I’m certainly fine with that, but I think a good deal of fans would consider the Crosseyed and Painless to easily be one of the best performances of the tour, if not the best. I’m not sure if you are for or against the ambient dissidence before the composed lyrical reprise, but I’d have to say that it was perfectly placed, and had the entire crowd grinning at the sneaky return of the “still waiting” refrain. From there the entire second set flowed exceptionally well. In my opinion the You Enjoy Myself was significantly better than most 3.0 versions, with a number of licks that remind me of the incredible 6/11/94 version. In any case I appreciate the honest and thoughtful review, and I enjoyed reading it, I guess I was just a bit disappointed that you seemed to skim over such an exceptional show. One more thing, not sure you gave enough note to the excellent David Bowie performances. I assume it’s because they do not stack up to performances of yesteryear. But compared to 2009, I’d say the song has gone from consistently underwhelming to potentially great once again.

jumanji December 14, 2010, 12:42:06

Been following them since Hampton 96’, when I attended University of Maryland. Fall 2010 was the first time i did an entire tour. I agree with much of this article, ie(Colorado was just blah, and the final 9 shows cranked up in intensity)
Many people were complaining about tickets,travel, and song rotation, and I’m just glad its not 2006, and they are touring!!!

Earlytimes December 15, 2010, 15:19:09

Thanks you for pointing out the highlight of the Utica show. The last minute and a half of Have Mercy is one of the greatest things I’ve heard out of the band in years. I may be jaded as well, but I can remember a time when stuff like that was a possibility from the band on a nightly basis. Hopefully we’ll hear more

Tagalong December 15, 2010, 16:39:59

Nice article Charlie! I didn’t catch any of this falls shows but have seen 11 shows since the reunion and am enjoying seeing the band again. Honestly, I stopped delving so deeply into analyzing the music and the playing so thanks for taking up the cause. While I do think the band has changed, so have I. It;s been a long good road from where my car was parked on the interstate after Coventry to where I/we are today. Things had to change….isn’t that just a part of life? So I may not be able to catch as many shows as before and I do have more personal obligations, but when I can I go and dance and listen and enjoy the moment. If you don’t like a Phish show you are at ask yourself “Who is better tonight and where are they playing?” if you have an answer, you are better off not seeing phish again. I didnt see the Dead until the 90’s out of choice. And as much as friends who were heads said “They use to be better” My answer was I liked tonights show…....dont know what they did in 77 (at the time I didnt) but a Tuesday night in 93? It was a damn good time!

Steve December 15, 2010, 19:46:20

I give your reviews of the October Phish shows, average but not by much. I caught Providence, Umass and Manchvegas. Floor for all 3. Highlights include Providence Rift, Julius, and the spooky Sanity that built up the run for Halloween. Umass was a good time. Manchester had some gems but the 1st set was
up and down temp wise. 2nd set got the crowd fistpumping. Good to hear alot of songs you don’t always catch. Show of Life encore was appropiate from my standpoint. “Its been perfectly planned
Its completely insane
Its a revolving cast
But its the same old game”

Charlie Dirksen December 16, 2010, 23:25:03

Thanks again to all of you for taking the time to comment on my two cents on the tour! I’ve responded to some of you in the comments on this site, but I’ve responded to more of you at this link (http://charliedirksen.blogspot.com/). I hope you find my comments helpful in clarifying my opinions on this tour and on Phish’s music in general. I also hope you all have a safe and happy holiday… and that you’re able to see some PHISH in a few weeks, either via the webcasts or in Worcester or NYC!!

Fluffhead December 13, 2010, 12:34:06

thank you very much for responding, i would agree that each show specially for those in attendance is great, at the same time there have definitely been shows as of recent that had incredible setlists with a lot of songs played but with little extended improvisational sections (like 10/15/10 for example), if you had to recommed a show or two (for phish 3.0) where the band took more risks and there was a good amount of improvisation which would those be.

Charlie December 13, 2010, 18:03:13

@JohnJWood: Is it really you?? It must be! What a pleasant surprise, thanks for reading any part of my two cents. I am astonished that you thought a typically great version of “Fluffhead” was the musical highlight of the 10/11 show, though. Man, I thought I could be jaded. But I don’t think you’re being fair to me about the second-set opening Golden Age Piper Camel Walk, since, as I put it, the jamming in them “wasn’t so inventive as to warrant a recommendation.” You really expected me to call an average version of “Fluffhead,” that ALWAYS consists at most of like a minute or two of Trey improvising in a solo, the musical highlight? In any event, as you say, mileage varies, and it looks like we agree that it wasn’t a show with anything worth recommending, eh? I have to ask whether you’ve listened to anything that I’ve recommended from any tour in the last two years, though. It’s easy to be highly critical of Phish these days when you’ve only heard a show or two, but I think that’s unfair to a band who changes the setlist every night and improvises in quite a large number of songs. If you don’t want to make the time to listen to more, understood… and I hear where jadedvets are coming from in criticizing Phish these days and share some of those gripes, but on the other hand, I disagree strongly that “Phish has a serious weakness at songwriting.” They certainly don’t have the lyrics of Robert Hunter and The Grateful Dead (of which I am very fond as well, as you know), but the lyrics of many of Phish’s songs are still wonderful in my view. Sure, the lyrics of some of their songs are silly, I find them entertaining (at least most of them), and the music is and has always been more fundamental to me than the lyrics anyway. I am digging what Phish is doing now, thank you, and will enjoy it to the fullest. Best regards to you, John.

djcampfirepants December 13, 2010, 15:39:59

Thanks for doing this Charlie. I always enjoy your two cents on Phish past, present, and future.

andrew December 13, 2010, 15:37:41

While I agree with the overall gist of this Fall review, what I feel might be missing is the sense of a sea-change in the band’s playing; maybe not so much as something that came to fruition in terms of fully executed shows, but as a pontential sign of things to come. I’m thinking of Trey’s playing in particular, and especially on 10/30 and his work in the Bowie and BDTNL jams (neither of which were really mentioned here). He seems genuinely inspired, innovative, and technically more sound than he’s been in over a decade. The encouraging signs from this past tour should be enough to get any vet going. I caught a smoker of a Reba at my first show that Charlie mentions here (7/6/94), and I can say without reservation that the 10/19/10 encore is certainly a contender amongst the best. That’s more than enough to get any vet going as far as I’m concerned. Not because we’re necessarily talking all-time take-no-prisoners start to finish shows yet, but because the possibility is at least there. Tune in in a fortnight; the Centrum rarely disappoints.

Rudy December 13, 2010, 15:54:03

I don’t envy your efforts to review an entire tour of Phish shows. The difficulty is seperating the uniqueness of the event from the listening experience the fans are left with. There simply isn’t enough time to listen to every show from opener to encore. Even if you could, certain performances of songs, sets, or shows percolate above the others and become legends. I think that is the struggle in performing a tour review. The purpose is not to denigrate those performances that were genuinely enjoyable, but ultimately unspectacular, but to put a spotlight on the special performances…the ones that will ultimately define Phish at its very best. Nice work.

chriscalarco December 13, 2010, 11:35:16

The Sands played in october were the most creative versions ever-first time with full band improv – other than a few of course in 99, but really?

Fluffhead December 13, 2010, 11:51:06

Since every show you review seems to either be an average or an average-great show, I was wondering in your opinion has the band played an outright Great show since the reunion?

Charlie December 13, 2010, 12:18:14

@chriscalarco: I assure you the recent versions of “Sand” were not the “first” versions with improvisation involving the entire band and not just Trey. See, e.g., Phish’s 12/13/99 Providence, 12/16/99 Raleigh, Cypress, 7/14/2000 Polaris, 9/9/2000 Albany, and particularly TAB’s 10/24/06 Fox Theater… and heck, even the TAB version on PLASMA. Most TAB versions of “Sand” feature excellent accompaniment, and aren’t necessarily “Trey-led” the entire time. Also, frankly, if someone is a big fan of “Sand,” they should check out every version in my view. They shouldn’t give a damn if someone recommends it or not. The versions of “Sand” from October are certainly worth hearing, but I listen to everything and tend to think of all Phish as worth hearing at least once or twice — so what do I know. @Fluffhead: I apologize for once again failing to be clear. PHISH PLAYS GREAT SHOWS. That’s what they do. An “average” Phish show is an “average-Great” Phish show. As for Phish shows that are absolutely “above-average” — or “outright Great” if you prefer — from October in my view, see, e.g., Guyutica, Manchester, Augusta and 10/30. Thank you for commenting.

Anonymous December 13, 2010, 14:20:06

I’m probably the “some” who have “contended” that Phish was not fully “back” until the recent run, and have to respectfully dissent from the heroic, but wrong, defense of 3.0 Phish. It probably goes back to YMMV, but an “average great” Phish show which is one of the forgettable shows doesn’t really count for much in my book. Yeah, it’s a fun time, I see my friends, it’s a good night out and a good entertainment value, but having a few minutes of the flawless execution and jaming in many eh shows prior to this summer is not the Phish of 1993 or 1997 or Big Cypress or the Worcester Jim or any of the other superior pre-hiatus shows. I went to Hampton and about 15 other shows from 3/09 to 6/10 on top of my ~70 pre-Hampton shows and was starting to feel the deja vu of 90s Dead after being a Deadhead since the 70s, a certain kind of notional, paint by numbers, phone it in nodding to their previous greatness. Where maybe one in five shows would be “really good” instead of the predictable “Good ol Grateful Dead” singalong. Before this summer’s SPAC, Utica and AC, I was resigned to “the world is still a better place that Phish is playing again” and you would get about an hour per tour of good old crunchy off the hooks improvisation. So, I’m one of the people who say “Phish is back” in their full glory, and yes Virginia (and new fans), there was something missing prior to this late summer and fall. I don’t give much credit to a band competently playing their songs in public. I want a show. I want rock and roll and jamming. And Charlie, I’m sure you told people over the years, “you can’t judge Phish from their studio albums, you need the live show experience”. That does not sound like the many apologists last year and early this year who would attempt to convince themselves and the rest of us that a show chockablock with Trey’s introspective adult ballads like Joy, TTE, Friday etc. wasn’t “fun” and we were there to see Phish, not James Taylor.

reiley clark December 13, 2010, 14:31:33

“email me for a list of 50+ versions I can recommend” – Here’s my recommendation: Respin 10/16 with a head full of the quality fluff going around and a small LED light show in your living room and get back to us. :)

sumodie December 13, 2010, 14:50:55

That was your best 3.0 tour summary yet -glad to see you’re still on the bus. Fall tour was gloriously fun and the best 3.0 Phish yet. P.S. The 10/30 & 10/31 entries of your Recommended Listening list look screwed up -may want to fix that.

Dogoneblog December 13, 2010, 16:20:19

Great review Charlie, as always.

John J. Wood December 13, 2010, 16:56:43

Charlie, if you call “Golden Age -> Piper -> Camel Walk” the highlight of the 10/11 show, as far as I am concerned you are not listening carefully. However, this is from a person who is simply not into the band anymore — and the first hour of the second set was a good reason. YMWV, but most of the songs in that second set — as songs themselves — are painfully mediocre material. Most of the jamming was repetitive and went nowhere fast. “Fluffhead” saved that set from being a total waste, and had more energy than anything that the preceding hour. This was my first Phish 3.0 show, and I left not needing to see another one for a long time. I have long felt that Phish has a serious weakness at songwriting, and many of the songs I have simply outgrown. To me, the best music is the type you grow with, and that starts with great lyrics instead of cute catch phrases which eventually lose their shelf life. YMWV, and if you are digging what this band is doing now, enjoy to the fullest. I wish Phish the best on their third chapter.

Mike December 13, 2010, 19:18:24

Was at all 3 AC shows. My thoughts: 10/29 – Agree with the first set being kind of inconsistent (although My Soul and Axilla >Rift were sublime and I dug the Cities jam), but the second set, Prince F’erpants notwithstanding, was top notch. Sand was one of the top jams of the run, Piper, though short, packed quite a punch in its 6+ minutes, and the Theme was sweet as well. The Slave/Fluffhead/Loving Cup three-pack that closed the night was undoubtedly the high point, but there was some great stuff elsewhere as well. 10/30: Completely agree about the TweeZeppelin being overrated. I’m surprised you didn’t give much thought to the Tube because I felt it was the best 3.0 version thus far. The songs that have held up best on tape for me are: Foam, CDT>WLL>CDT, Ha Ha Ha, Walk Away, Wolfman’s > Undermind, Tube, and David Bowie. Everything else is decent to good but doesn’t particularly stand out to me. 10/31: Agree about almost everything, but the third set seemed kind of mailed in to me, which is understandable because they were probably tired. BOTT, Jibboo, Wilson, and of course Julius are all worth hearing, but the Hood peaked way too early without any buildup. Incidentally, my favorite performance from the tour seems to be the 10/16 Curtain With. Possibly the best-ever version of that song, and it has gotten quite a bit of play on my iTunes.

Raydog December 14, 2010, 08:35:17

pretty spot on review of fall tour. I felt the band turned a corner the second nite of SC. The band is getting tigher and tighter. Next year should be a hummer.

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