Monday 08/15/2011 by jackl

THE ESSENTIAL, EXPLAINS-IT-ALL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PHISH AND THE DEAD. YOU'RE WELCOME!

One of Phish.net's most prolific reviewers, W H @waxbanks, has written an insightful piece on his blog (blog.waxbanks.net) comparing the music of the Grateful Dead to that of Phish. He sees them as polar opposites with Phish's music being built around order (or structure) and the Dead's being built around disorder.

With his permission, we are re-blogging his piece on the Phish.net site. p.s. If you're a Dead fan, you may well be interested in his recent piece on tribute bands, particularly Furthur, and I found my self shaking my head in agreement with @waxbank's take on Obama taboot. Good stuff!

Without further ado:

"The home state of Phish's improvisatory music is order (or structure). They depart productively from it, and play against it, entering states of tense, nervewracking disorder. But they always want to resolve, to cohere. Their improvisatory structures (like the two chords of the 'Bowie' jam, with their many modal suggestions) are centers of gravity; that's why they can swing wildly away from them and return surefooted, time after time. Their improvisations are famously architectural and coherent, as are Trey Anastasio's unique full-band written arrangements. The flip side of this strength-in-order is that their experiments in purely Free jamming have rarely been wholly successful, though they've gotten much better at it over the last ~30 years. And for a long time they were afraid to be emotionally wild, preferring intellectual experimentation - at some cost to the overall musical vibe."

The home state of the Dead's improvisatory music was disorder. They were able, on unexpectedly rare occasions, to cohere into well-formed orders within their chaotic musics (cf. the 2/18/71 'Beautiful Jam'), but they were most comfortable in freeform musical spaces ('Dark Star,' 'The Other One,' 'Playing in the Band') because they were accustomed to listening to disorder. The flip side of this comfort-in-disorder is that their formal structures, particularly their practices of song-arrangement, were famously shambolic, inconsistent, and rarely ideally-expressed. Indeed, the Dead's strongest period of pure songwriting (the early 70's country-inflected Hunter/Garcia tunes) is marred by a serious lack of spit'n'polish in arrangement and performance.

Two key causes of this difference are the Dead's average lack of chops,[*] and Phish's early emotionally-withdrawn nerdiness - which respectively pushed the Dead toward expansive Free material and pushed Phish toward hermetically-sealed structures and musical comedy.

The arc of each band was in some ways different, though they shared a destination: the Dead relaxed down to their technical level while sharpening their attack on the forms they had mastered (early-70's knife-edge Free play, late-70's crystalline rhythmic pieces, sparkling joyful 80's worldbeats, ragged balladry throughout); Phish veered toward Talking Heads-style minimalism and sonic experimentation in the mid/late-90's to take themselves out of their heads, then embraced their rock heritage and (ironically) the Dead's naked emotionality in their most recent incarnation.

For the longest time it was enough to say that Phish couldn't do what the Dead did, and vice versa; for the first time, that's no longer entirely true. Phish have finally entered a phase where they can generate the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in. It's for another article/essay to deal with the complicated issue of how Phish's stylistic approach works in tension with this emotionality.

Anyhow there it is. Note that we're not talking about the two bands' respective decision-making approaches, the Dead's lack of a clear artistic vision-leader, Phish's totally different musical heritage, the roles of punk/prog/funk, etc. Another time.

* * *

[*] Lack of chops? Yes. Take out Garcia (with his idiosyncrasies), Kreutzmann (master), and Hart (master in a different domain, weird fit in some ways) and you have the following players: Lesh (very technically limited despite strong intuitive musicality), Weir (brilliant innovator despite technical shortcomings), and the various keyboardists, of whom only Hornsby could match Garcia step-for-step.

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Comments

, comment by safetymeeting
safetymeeting I'd read a book if W H wrote it and look for his little picture whenever I'm scanning reviews/comments.

However, him and I disagree about fall 97. I'm more fond of fall 98, but whatever. Thanks for doing what you do, Wally.

-a fan
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray Wow. Waxbanks should spark some discussion with this one...

The Dead always struck me as traditional songwriters where a large body of their songs had simple chord structures, A/B song structures, and a high level of accessibility for the album versions. While these were often blown to the wayside in concert, the core of the Grateful Dead was Americana music (bluegrass/blues/folk) which they were able to challenge with their live interpretations.

Phish, OTOH, had extremely challenging song structures, often times doing everything possible to keep from having a chorus. Fugues, counterpoint composed sections with little or no lyrics made for a need to work much harder to understand the musical expression in the song. More of how a symphonic piece is appreciated vs an AOR single.

From a live standpoint, Phish always seemed to have more of a Jazz sensablilty than the Dead, focusing more on tension and release than chaos vs order. Having only one or two members dropping LSD at any one time vs the whole band just may have something to do with it as well.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @jackl, thanks for posting this - and @safetymeeting, you're too kind. Note that there are some excellent comments on the original post (http://waxbanks.typepad.com/blog/2011/08/the-essential-explains-it-all-difference-between-phish-and-the-dead-youre-welcome.html).

And the title is tongue-in-cheek. :)

@Dressed_In_Gray said:
From a live standpoint, Phish always seemed to have more of a Jazz sensablilty than the Dead, focusing more on tension and release than chaos vs order. Having only one or two members dropping LSD at any one time vs the whole band just may have something to do with it as well.
For the longest time I'd have agreed 100% about Phish as 'jazzier' - but I now hear the Dead's music as more canonically 'jazzy' in this crucial sense: while a straight-ahead jazz tune might feature a fixed chord progression, it's rare to hear a small jazz ensemble that so strongly favors group coherence, as Phish does, arguably at the expense of individual performers' linear coherence. i.e. The idea of the 'solo statement' doesn't really obtain in Phish's music, as it does in e.g. 99.995% of jazz horn solos. But the Dead, for all their ensemble incoherence, did focus on their players' individual expressivity rather than collective movement.

Phish fly in a flock; the Dead milled about in a crowd. Hence the Dead's tendency to crash into each other, and the miraculous nature of their moments of collective action. We take for granted that Phish will get together every 4 or 8 or 16 bars, even take for granted that they'll spend several bars sweeping up to that climactic downbeat in perfect synchrony. Harder to generate that phenomenon outside Phish's highly-structured, even formalist improvisatory approach.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks (One way to illustrate the Dead's 'jazzier' approach: compare Billy and Mickey's drumming to Fish's. Fish isn't a jazz drummer (though he could be); he's always laying down mile markers and structural indicators as he goes. At their wooliest, Billy K. couldn't even be counted on to have the same downbeat in mind as the other guys. He was a jazz drummer of a kind. I'm not even sure what Mickey is/was. A nerd, maybe? ;v)
, comment by sharininthegroove09
sharininthegroove09 "[*] Lack of chops? Yes. Take out Garcia (with his idiosyncrasies), Kreutzmann (master), and Hart (master in a different domain, weird fit in some ways) and you have the following players: Lesh (very technically limited despite strong intuitive musicality), Weir (brilliant innovator despite technical shortcomings), and the various keyboardists, of whom only Hornsby could match Garcia step-for-step."

100% disagree with that labeling of Lesh and Weir. To call them technically limited is very provinicial, uninformed, and really, just incorrect.

But the rest of the post I enjoyed. Good read.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks
100% disagree with that labeling of Lesh and Weir. To call them technically limited is very provinicial, uninformed, and really, just incorrect.
Since I wrote that post, I've relearned that listening is the most important technical skill. So in a sense I agree with you.

But there's no question that Weir and Lesh simply aren't as skilled on their instruments as the other guys in the band. Lesh is like a slow/weak soccer player who positions himself incredibly well, mitigating some of his weakness; Weir is like a goalie who does capoeira instead of watching the game, thereby fucking up opposing players despite not being 'a good soccer player.' Both were essential to the Dead, and I like their playing. But they were n00bs when the Dead started.
, comment by owldoug
owldoug Interesting breakdown. Musically they are pretty different. Phish is much more technically talented but the Dead are more spiritual and relevant lyrically. Still you have 2 bands that play long songs, play shows with different set lists every night, play different versions of many of the songs each time they play them, play lots of covers often better than the originals, improvise albeit in different ways, and because of this have very devoted fans that overlap quite a bit, and a similar scene. I suspect that many of the phans who are bent out of shape by comparisons, never went to a Dead show.
, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew I always felt Lesh's playing was extremely untechnical but brillantly intuitive in a ornette coleman sorta way. Worked great for the band but never drove the music like Cactus. The Dead always lacked a solid player on the keys and they always did have trouble performing those beautiful vocal and acoustic arrangements from Workingmans/American Beauty. The main simlarity that always struck me when comparing the two bands was simply their approach to musical experience. For the longest time I arranged the bands in my head as extensions of the jazz world, just with rock instruments. The Dead always felt more free form and Phish more along the lines of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew only with a marvellous sense of humour. Both bands let their tunes germinate, grow and sometimes crash in front of their fans which makes them both a lot braver than many acts and both went through such long reaching transitions both musically and emotionally and sometimes the result was painful for the audience and im sure the bands. I've never been a big fan of anything the Dead did after the around 85' but Phish still commands my attention even after 25 some odd years of playing and it still feels like they have other mountains they can climb. Damn fine piece waxbanks, keep it comin'.
, comment by evoshandor
evoshandor Leave Bob and Phil alone!

Stop trying to shoehorn the comparison! Lack of chops? Where did all of you go school? Juilliard? know it all jerkoffs.

p.s. keep political plugs away from Phish.net and on pt where this the rest of the moronic conversations belong.

, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @evoshandor said:
Leave Bob and Phil alone!

Stop trying to shoehorn the comparison! Lack of chops? Where did all of you go school? Juilliard? know it all jerkoffs.

p.s. keep political plugs away from Phish.net and on pt where this the rest of the moronic conversations belong.
Holy shit, did you sign up on phish.net JUST TO LEAVE THIS COMMENT? As Count Rugen would say, 'How marvelous.'
, comment by spaced
spaced Excellent post. I've long thought the same thing, though you articulated it better and put the whole theory into the larger context of the two bands' respective musical universes.

It's occurred to me that this distinction (order vs. chaos) might be the thing that makes me prefer Phish slightly over the Dead. In many ways, I respect the Dead more than Phish. I think it's almost undeniable that the Dead were better songwriters, at least as far as traditional songs go (rather than instrumental prog-opuses). Say what you want about Tom Marshall, for example, but he's no Robert Hunter.

Still, when it comes to being really grabbed by a good jam, I've always been able to connect more with Phish, and I think the underlying sense of structure, of (usually) having a destination, probably has a lot to do with that. As you say though, Phish did at times struggle with an emotional barrenness and an overly geeky sensibility in their early improv, and the Dead never really had to overcome that. Perhaps that's why it took Phish so much longer (IMO) to get really good.

Anyway, when I saw "waxbanks" at the top of the post, I figured it would be a thought-provoking one, and I wasn't disappointed.
, comment by bopapocolypse
bopapocolypse @waxbanks said:
Weir is like a goalie who does capoeira instead of watching the game, thereby fucking up opposing players despite not being 'a good soccer player.'
worth reading just for this quote. lol.
, comment by darkstar74
darkstar74 I agree with the premise: order vs disorder but that's about it. Lesh, to the best of my knowledge, was the only classically trained member of the Dead and I'm guessing he works with more than intuition. I will agree that when it comes to music theory the members of Phish are far superior than the Dead as a whole.

I think Phish has a very hard time reaching the many ranges of emotion the Dead could call upon. Phish is typically not very good at evoking a sad melancholy that the Dead was exceptional at eliciting with songs like Wharf Rat, Attics, Stella Blue, etc etc etc.

Phish is much better at entering the musical realm that boggles the mind though. The Dead had their moments but Phish, night after night, is able to enter a space that brings me to another place entirely.

Either way.....LOVE THEM BOTH!!

, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew I think they exhibit different ranges of emotion. Phish could always bring across more joy from a songs like YEM and many others, darker places with songs like Bowie and Reba and devil-may-care humour with cuts like Contact while The Dead were masters of melancholic reflection best exhibited in something like Morning Dew and pensieve reflection in a song like Wharf Rat and then strait up longing and loss in something like Sugaree. I dont know if anything can match the deep dark abyss of uncertainty and mystery that tunes like Dark Star and The Other One delved into. All's I know is we're lucky so and so's to have so much music by both these bands to examine and harp on. I just hope Phish doesn't stop writing good songs like The Dead did.
, comment by thebubba
thebubba I have no musical depth to comment on any of these insights, but I can say that these are the only 2 bands I have seen live among many bands that when they hit that certain peak in their songs, I have felt my heart and lungs are about to explode and that is when everyone around just has that smile and shaking going on.
, comment by zappafrank1970
zappafrank1970 grateful dead concerts are like baseball games: no 2 are alike. the plays are always different and there is always fresh hope. sometimes the game is an all timer even though the individuals perfomances are sloppy. sometimes every plays great but the team still loses. -- David Gans 1981 from the offical book of deadheads

lesh is one the best bass players of all time. he lays down that solid groove playing notes were they shouldnt be. also the dead always saw themselves as coltrane in a rock and roll band. also comparing the dead and phish is like comparing football and baseball yes both have a ball and the object is to win but 2 completly different sports
, comment by zappafrank1970
zappafrank1970 and note i love both bands very much. but they are differnt in their own right. the only thing i found in common with both bands is the fans the smell of patchouley, garlic grilled cheese after the show, etc. said my peice now ill get out
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @darkstar74 said:
I agree with the premise: order vs disorder but that's about it. Lesh, to the best of my knowledge, was the only classically trained member of the Dead and I'm guessing he works with more than intuition.
Not on the bass - that's my point. He's got overall music technique but he was not a very advanced bassist by any stretch. Fantastic musician, middling technician.
, comment by darkstar74
darkstar74 @waxbanks said:
@darkstar74 said:
I agree with the premise: order vs disorder but that's about it. Lesh, to the best of my knowledge, was the only classically trained member of the Dead and I'm guessing he works with more than intuition.
Not on the bass - that's my point. He's got overall music technique but he was not a very advanced bassist by any stretch. Fantastic musician, middling technician.
I'm not a trained musician so I cannot comment on his bass technique - He was the one who got Mike playing with a pick though...so....his technique can't be THAT bad. ;-)
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @darkstar74 said:
@waxbanks said:
@darkstar74 said:
I agree with the premise: order vs disorder but that's about it. Lesh, to the best of my knowledge, was the only classically trained member of the Dead and I'm guessing he works with more than intuition.
Not on the bass - that's my point. He's got overall music technique but he was not a very advanced bassist by any stretch. Fantastic musician, middling technician.
I'm not a trained musician so I cannot comment on his bass technique - He was the one who got Mike playing with a pick though...so....his technique can't be THAT bad. ;-)
OK, maybe this is a loaded example - but do you remember the 1998 Phil'n'Friends shows with Page and Trey? They did Chalkdust, and embarrassingly, Trey and Page were the only ones to play any of the written arrangement. Lesh didn't even learn the unison part right before the final vocals...which is pretty much a straight descent down the blues scale! As in Guitar Patterns 101.

Meanwhile Trey and Page took, what, a couple of days to learn Terrapin?

And yet it's a good enough version of Chalkdust.

That's the difference between intuition and chops.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks Either way, I'd hope that discussion doesn't distract from the overall point of the piece. Sorry to enjoy this derail so much. :)
, comment by jimithin9
jimithin9 dont be offended not everyone has the same level of musical technicality. its obviously not saying you cant enjoy one or the other, just...mike and page are insane...

i also find it interesting that the reaction to the newer emotionally charged songs seems to be overall more negative. like its a foreign substance injected into phish shows people have to get used to before they can enjoy it. show of life for example is less visceral punch and more "kumbaya", but walking out of shows you hear people say "man, that encore SUCKED" and im guessing many of these are GD fans who enjoy that kind of music!
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @jimithin9 said:
i also find it interesting that the reaction to the newer emotionally charged songs seems to be overall more negative. like its a foreign substance injected into phish shows people have to get used to before they can enjoy it. show of life for example is less visceral punch and more "kumbaya", but walking out of shows you hear people say "man, that encore SUCKED" and im guessing many of these are GD fans who enjoy that kind of music!
Hmm. I think you're right. Here's something else arguable. In some ways there are several semi-distinct strata of Phish fans:

* 'College-rock' types who just wanna smoke a bowl/drink a beer and shake their fists and 'dance' in that lame way I needn't describe

* Music nerds who dig the proggy stuff and the technical side of the jams (overrepresented on online bulletin boards)

* Old-timers who miss the musical-hijinks side of the band (note the reaction to Utica around here)

* GDead hangers-on looking for something like cultural escapism

* GDead lovers looking for that old-time musical uplift

* Late-90's/2.0 types looking for spaced-out music in the vein of the Disco Biscuits (first up against the wall when the revolution comes)

* ...and of course a variety of folks tripping the light fantastic, etc.

Trey's emotionally-direct songs like 'Joy' and 'Show of Life' make a lot of those fan groups uncomfortable. Songs like 'Fast Enough for You' mask their emotionality with wordplay (Tom Marshall can get in his own way, that way), so they're OK, but when they sing 'It's a small world / But we all start out small' it really goes right to the heart of a private emotional experience rather than the music's usual gauzy universality.

That's why I was so bummed out about the rapturous ovations they'd get in 1998 for the dumbest fucking cover songs in existence. (Not coincidentally, I stopped showgoing for a while after Fall '98.) The party elements, the college-rock nostalgia elements, the simple pop elements of the Phish experience seemed uppermost at that moment. The music was amazing in those days but it was...coarsening.

Now Phish play this amazingly detailed, empathetic, emotionally-open music - improvised mainly, but also their written stuff - and you see an enormous amount of complaining online about how they 'don't jam anymore,' etc. But they do jam. Like demons. What's missing, what's mislabeled as 'experimentation,' is that distancing, somewhat abstract element that historically kept Phish on a lower emotional plane than the Dead. They don't parody rock anymore, they just rock. They don't play games with contrast anymore, they embrace it to generate emotional effects. They don't segue as much, they just play the shit out of every song.

The lyrics to 'Stash' are an embarrassment. In some ways, they're archetypal Phish lyrics. (Written a line at a time by Trey and Tom, right? Like 'Cavern'?) Clever, musical, fun to sing along to. But utterly, totally meaningless.

'Light,' on the other hand, is about as close to the bone as Trey and Tom have come, lyrically. 'The future is less and less there / And the past has vanished in the air / And I'm left in the now with a wondrous glow / I think I'm still me / But how would you know?' That's wisdom of a kind. 'Purify our souls / Guide us to our homes'...they're not fooling around, all of a sudden. They mean to mean something.

But I seem to recall a reviewer dismissing 'Light,' on this very website, as 'less a song than a jam segment' or something.

That's straight bullshit - but it gives you a sense of the expectations that have surrounded this band since the early 90's. They always set themselves up as one thing, but as they glide into middle age they're trying to become something else. Of course folks are gonna complain, even Phish fans. Change is the scariest thing in the entire universe.

Even when it's the one constant in the band's history. Even then!
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks I'd note here, too, that Bruce Hornsby was actually able to push the Dead, particularly Garcia and Lesh, into comparatively structured improvisations. Indeed Hornsby is the Dead keyboardist who reminds me most of Page, though Hornsby has stronger chops and Page sometimes recalls Keith Godchaux in his clomping rhythm approach...

There's an amazing but poorly-titled compilation floating out there on the Internet, 'Jamming at the Edge of Magic' (presumably named after Hart's book), featuring sparkling 1988-95 improvisations; the Hornsby segments are the most chromatically interesting and structurally intricate by a large margin. He gave Garcia a great density of material to work with, which brought the best out of the guitarist. Ironically, H is both the jazziest of the Dead's pianists and the most 'post-Dead,' if that makes sense.
, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew The songs of 2.0 that they like to play along with the "Joy" tracks leave a great taste in ones mouth. Theres a maturity there, in the songwriting aspect of it, that makes one hopeful for the next album or batch of new songs. Its been 2 and half years of touring though and only 1 album. Phish needs new material to incorparate into awesome songs like Light and BDTNL. Some of the "emotional" stuff of 3.0 does seem to be reaching a bit, a little overwrought ya know. Summer of 89, Show of Life and the like don't seem to disguise the emotion enough but songs like Light hit the nail on the head.
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE IS A PEDANTIC IDIOT

NO MENTION OF BRENT

I AM A HUGE PHISH HEAD BUT THEY DONT EVEN COME CLOSE TO THE DEAD

TERRIBLE TERRIBLE HORRIBLY REDUCTIVE ASSERTIONS

THIS GUY IS A COMPLETE NO NOTHING WITH INANE IDEAS
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @cobaltsea said:
THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE IS A PEDANTIC IDIOT
You're probably right!

NO MENTION OF BRENT
You're definitely right! Also: unrelated!

In general I don't know as much about Brent's time with the Dead as I'd like to. My sense is that he was a solid player; I love several shows with him, and especially the kind of rhythmic play he could bring to chestnuts like Scarlet > Fire. I dislike his vocals intensely.

I get the sense that Keith was more important to the band's evolution, but Brent was a much better fit with the band overall (and by some measures a better player, period). Still, of all the Dead's keyboardists I'd take Hornsby in a second.

In any case, what is there to say? @cobaltsea, help me here - can you talk a little about Brent in the context of my post? Or did you just come here to misspell things at me in all capital letters?
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea In general I don't know as much about Brent's time with the Dead as I'd like to. My sense is that he was a solid player; I love several shows with him, and especially the kind of rhythmic play he could bring to chestnuts like Scarlet > Fire. I dislike his vocals intensely.

YOU ARE A COMPLETE DEAD NEOPHYTE THIS COMMENT SHOWS.

YOUR SENSE IS THAT HE IS 'A SOLID PLAYER'? GTFOH

YOU ARE PROBABLY UNDER 25. YOU HAVE NOT LISTENED TO ENOUGH DEAD TO EVEN BE ABLE TO TALK LIKE YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO.

WHEN YOU YOUR FIRST PHISH SHOW WAXMAN?

LETS GET REAL

, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew Mydland was a ginger. Need we say more?? Every Dead keyboardist brought something new and different to the band. Brent was a damn fine organ player and he brought a cool dimension to a lot of Dead tunes and that shit was sorely needed in the early 80s.
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea You don't even know know the Dead. Just admit that Waxbanks

, comment by BathtubG
BathtubG Great post, and some nice responses in there too.
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea @cobaltsea said:
You don't even know know the Dead. Just admit that Waxbanks
, comment by ckess22
ckess22 Know nothing or not, I agree completely. That must make me pretty dumb. Back in '98 or so, when I was a junior in high school, a good friend of mine was into Phish. I, alas, was not at that point yet. I said (so ignorantly I can't believe it), "So they just play on and on without stopping?" And he said, "they jam, but with structure." Once I started listening to phish in '01, I realized how correct he was. I have always trusted his opinion in music and his music expertise (which he has a ton of) implicitly. It's good to hear that echoed here. Kudos for the thought about the band. It's what I enjoy so much about Phish and their fans.
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea

If you were in front of me waxbanks I'd punch you on the adams apple

You little Phish fag.

I just saw three Phish shows in a row and was on the rail and I'd still kick your ass for telling people red is blue
, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew jesus dipshit cobalt, you expect someone to stick around just to bandy words with yr dumbass. take that homophobe shit elsewhere candyass.
, comment by safetymeeting
safetymeeting "That's why I was so bummed out about the rapturous ovations they'd get in 1998 for the dumbest fucking cover songs in existence. (Not coincidentally, I stopped showgoing for a while after Fall '98.)"

I think that this was not done intentionally the 'fan the flame' of the frat boy set. I'm sure you've found yourself struck by a song you hear on the radio or just get in your head for some reason and I suspect an element of the reason Phish did those covers in summer 98 comes from this. I also suspect that they chose arguably 'dumb' (note scare quotes, not quote-quotes) songs because why the hell not? The "pornographic virtuosity" (from your review of 8/1/98, one of the first shows to feature a new cover) on display on that tour shows that their heads and hearts were in a place of getting that last 0.01% of their sound from '97 perfected and really being great.

If I ever had a band with the capability to semi-nail covers on a whim, I'd probably play some dumb stuff too. Like "Lime in the Coconut" or something. . .but doesn't the very fact that they have the ability to play whatever they want with little-to-no rehearsal suggest that they're already several notches above metal piece-toking frat boys there to get their gas on?
, comment by Icculus
Icculus Waxbanks, thanks for the very interesting read. A little background about myself: I have been listening to the Grateful Dead since 1983 or so, and Phish since 1988. I have heard most of the shows that both bands have performed. My first Dead show was in 1986 and first Phish show was in 1989. I was introduced to Phish's music by Deadhead friends. I saw a number of Dead shows before my first Phish show. As you know, I used to make a great deal of Phish tapes for people (including you) in the 1990s. I did the same with Dead tapes, though not to the same degree. Deadheads were primarily responsible for building my Phish tape collection at least from 1988-1995.

I believe that you're onto something with the Order/Disorder Phish/Dead improvisational characterization. I think I may agree with you on this score, generally speaking, which is of course the primary point of your piece. However, you really confused me by writing: "For the longest time it was enough to say that Phish couldn't do what the Dead did, and vice versa; for the first time, that's no longer entirely true. Phish have finally entered a phase where they can generate the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in."

What!? Fwiw, in 1989, after seeing Phish live for the first time, I stopped (ignorantly) claiming that Phish "couldn't do" anything that the Dead could do. I saw their potential to do everything the Dead were doing, and had done, even though I had not heard Phish do It yet. They were the best bar band that I'd ever seen at the time. It nevertheless took me several years to truly get "IT" with respect to Phish's music, but, of course, Phish had grown to become spectacular during that period.

That said, your statement that now, in 2011, "Phish have finally entered a phase where they can generate the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in" honestly shocks me. I feel like I must be misunderstanding you. You are talking about a band that, in the early 1990s, was routinely inspiring people -- much like the Dead had done -- to use-up all of their vacation time to go see as many of their shows as possible. Or to drop out of school and see as many shows as possible. Or to do anything to see as many shows as possible. Or, in my case, a combination of that and trying to HEAR as many of their shows as possible as well, and also, in effect, SPREAD THE GOSPEL OF PHISH as far and wide as possible by making copies of their shows for blanks and postage etc.

As far as I'm concerned, Phish was absolutely "generat[ing] the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in" in their music at least as early as Summer 1993, when I stopped seeing as many Dead shows as I could and started trying to see as many Phish *AND* Dead shows as I could... and then by 1995, I opted to go on Phish's Summer Tour in 1995 instead of the Dead's Summer Tour, something I have never regretted, in part because, as you know, in that month there was some spectacular music, including some improvisations in various songs (like Tweezer, Mike's, Jim) that -- as you suggest -- involved "experiments in purely Free jamming..." Phish's fan base was expanding exponentially in the early 1990s because, as I heard it, they were generating "emotional intensity" in and with their music (including their improvisation) that bedazzled and amazed.

Am I misunderstanding you? Are you really arguing that Phish is only today, in 2011, now "generat[ing] the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in" back in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and early to mid 1990s?
, comment by Icculus
Icculus @waxbanks said:
But I seem to recall a reviewer dismissing 'Light,' on this very website, as 'less a song than a jam segment' or something.

That's straight bullshit - but it gives you a sense of the expectations that have surrounded this band since the early 90's. They always set themselves up as one thing, but as they glide into middle age they're trying to become something else. Of course folks are gonna complain, even Phish fans. Change is the scariest thing in the entire universe. Even when it's the one constant in the band's history. Even then!
Yeah, that was me, and you misunderstood me. I didn't mean to "dismiss[]" "Light" at all by saying that it is more of a jam segment than a song. I believe this to be true, and I think it's awesome, frankly. I love the song (and "Light" is obviously a song!).

And of course change is a "constant in the band's history." It's a constant in your history, my history, every human being's history. But I disagree with you that the band is "trying to become something else." I don't think they are "trying" -- I think they necessarily are something else than what they were, since we all change.

Of course, what for the most part haven't changed are Phish's songs. They have the same structures, melodies, lyrics, etc that they always have had, as they must to be recognizable as "Tweezer," "Mike's Song," "Bug," etc etc etc. Some lyrics have changed here and there ("Whatever you CHOOSE take care of your shoes!" ;) , and Phish's improvisation certainly has changed to a degree to be sure, but the songs -- for the most part (not entirely) -- haven't changed.
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea Waxbanks is an Trucking/ uncle john band/ casey jones type of deadhead.

He may know something about Phish but his whole little sophomoric tract scream the fact that he never saw the Dead and is not schooled in their music

His writing is a fluff piece for Phish hidden underneath a broad oversimplified statement.

Oh yeah Trey is a better and more intricate and nuanced guitar player than Jerry.
Nice writing LIL guy
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @Icculus said:
However, you really confused me by writing: "For the longest time it was enough to say that Phish couldn't do what the Dead did, and vice versa; for the first time, that's no longer entirely true. Phish have finally entered a phase where they can generate the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in."

What? (...)

That said, your statement that now, in 2011, "Phish have finally entered a phase where they can generate the kind of emotional intensity that the Dead naturally traded in" honestly shocks me. I feel like I must be misunderstanding you. You are talking about a band that, in the early 1990s, was routinely inspiring people -- much like the Dead had done -- to use-up all of their vacation time to go see as many of their shows as possible...
Charlie -

Thanks for the response. To clarify: I don't mean intensity of emotional experience in the listener, I mean the depth of emotion in the music itself.

Let's stipulate that in some ways Trey is a far 'better' songwriter/composer than anyone in the Dead, and in some ways he still lags Garcia/Hunter in terms of directness and timelessness.

I'd also say, without hesitation, that Phish's mid/late-90's music could regularly reach emotional peaks that really set them apart. The ecstatic release of the 5/7/94 HYHU > Tweeprise; the subterranean terror and blissful calm of 7/2/97; the heartbreaking solo in 'Horn'; the effortless beauty of 6/14/00 Twist > Walk Away > 2001; the cosmic even on 12/6/97 in Michigan. My god, they've moved me to tears at times. No question.

But for pathos, for yearning, for despair, for weary victory, for a sense of deep connection to the creaking brokedown countryside they yearly crisscrossed...you had to go elsewhere. Phish just couldn't do it. They were too smart for their own good, too invested in technique...

I think they broke through in 1997 and started to let their forebrains relax a little. Not entirely, but much more than ever before. At times totally. They stopped being a math-prog-energy-rock band and started living into the music. Things got dark and dangerous, and deep. Finally.

But y'know what? Tweeprise might well be the wildest, most wonderful three minutes of rock music ever played, but it's missing the extra kick that even a dopey, shambolic tune like 'Casey Jones' has. There's a universe of feeling and connectedness separating 'Won't you step into the freezer' and 'Trouble ahead, trouble behind / And you know that notion / Just crossed my mind.'

Phish have always known how to evoke certain emotions in their playing, but until recently they didn't usually communicate (to me) the passage of time, the onrush of all-ending. Y'know? To embrace simplicity and subtlety, and silence (not formally a la 12/9/95 YEM or the ending of 'Prince Caspian,' but emotionally as in 'Mountains in the Mist').

That's what I mean. I think 7/2/97 is one of the two or three best shows they've ever played, because of its silence, its delicacy, its restraint. They were There. And yet Trey's way of being There included BOTH that miraculous 'Stash' and his doofy 'Back of the Worm' story.

I don't anymore think 'bedazzled' is anywhere near as important as to have heard honest truth. But I remember thinking it, feeling it. Feeling I needed to be impressed. I think I used the phrase 'straight bullshit' before; it goes here too. I've stopped caring about being impressed by music. I think Phish have stopped trying. That seems...grownup.

Maybe this is partly to say that Phish have always had an infectious sense of humour that the Dead, as an ensemble, didn't themselves project. (If you can't laugh along with Garcia doing Good Lovin > La Bamba then you're dead inside, but still...) But I don't think self-seriousness covers it, nor is it just the lyrics. Maybe I mean Phish have always had kind of a synthetic edge to them? The Dead seem, maybe only in distant retrospect, to have fallen together and loosely held, like stardust. Phish have never lacked a certain machinic quality. Organizational. Sometimes it produces gorgeous things - 'Esther,' 'Eliza,' 'If I Could.' Mostly it's produced 'Dinner and a Movie,' the awesome-but-relentlessly-brainy 'Bowie' composed section, the rhythmic gags in 'Guyute,' the musical bric-a-brac that is 'Reba'...

Does this make sense? Even if you disagree, am I at least communicating a deep ambivalence (and a second level of ambivalence and guilt about feeling ambivalent at all!) which I've long had about this band I've long loved, desperately and foolishly?

I came late to the Dead, and that's coloured my sense of their music. But it always feels more adult to me. Well, not all of it. (Let's say: after Pigpen died. Death always changes things; it is change itself.) More...earthbound.

Partly it's style, partly time, partly just me. Partly the birth of my son, which has drastically changed how I listen to all this wonderful music, what beauty is, what art is for. Partly it's just late and I need to go to bed. He'll be needing me. And I him.
, comment by easywind111
easywind111 Pigpen would kick all of your asses
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @cobaltsea said:
Waxbanks is an Trucking/ uncle john band/ casey jones type of deadhead.

He may know something about Phish but his whole little sophomoric tract scream the fact that he never saw the Dead and is not schooled in their music

His writing is a fluff piece for Phish hidden underneath a broad oversimplified statement.

Oh yeah Trey is a better and more intricate and nuanced guitar player than Jerry.
Nice writing LIL guy
You're being a dick and I don't want to feed the troll, but (out of a misplaced sense of obligation?) I'll clarify three things:

1) I didn't say Trey was a better guitarist than Garcia. I don't think they're easily comparable, actually. They approach improvisation differently. I greatly respect them both. My relationship with Trey's music goes a lot further back. But 'put away childish things' and all that...

2) This is emphatically not a 'fluff piece' for anyone. If anything it's an attempt to reconcile my very different reactions to the Dead and Phish over the years, and the way they've started to come together for me into a greater body of (merely) music, of fellowship. If anything, this post is saying that their musics aren't simply comparable because their aims and means were so different; but it's possible to open the same heart to both musics. That's important to me. (I only have the one heart, is the thing.)

3) I'm not 25 anymore, big guy. And as I've hyperbolically said elsewhere, 'Uncle John's Band' has the worst vocal arrangement of any song ever written by a nominally professional songwriter. Just atrocious. Ruins a very fine song. Truckin' is a dippy song too. (Is that Barlow's lyric? I'm not his biggest fan exactly.) Says nothing about the jams in either, of course!
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @easywind111 said:
Pigpen would kick all of your asses
No argument here.
, comment by ADAWGWYO
ADAWGWYO I enjoyed reading this parlay of thoughts about my two favorite bands. Thank you.

Phil's got chops. Sure, I can't see Phil playing Weekapaug for shit and I can't see Mike playing Dark Star either. Rock n Roll vs. Classical. Two different "kinds" of chops in my book.

"It's as much about the notes that AREN'T played, as it is about the notes that ARE."

@cobaltsea I suggest you express your frustration in a more productive and respectful manner. Your words will carry more weight. In lamens terms- Don't be such a fucking tool.
, comment by MomaDan
MomaDan any reason Free is capitalized every time? Phish reference?
, comment by cobaltsea
cobaltsea Really repetitive and wordy in every post waxbanks, but the order disorder dichotomy is a somewhat useful lens.

I love Phish but

There isn't a single Phish song that approaches the gravitas of the dead
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod @waxbanks
And as I've hyperbolically said elsewhere, 'Uncle John's Band' has the worst vocal arrangement of any song ever written by a nominally professional songwriter. Just atrocious. Ruins a very fine song. Truckin' is a dippy song too. (Is that Barlow's lyric? I'm not his biggest fan exactly.) Says nothing about the jams in either, of course!
I suppose you've covered yourself by qualifying this as "hyperbolically." but, um, wow. Just wow. I know that isn't any kind of argument, but I kinda don't feel like I need to make one here. Res ipsa loquitur and all that. Also, FWIW, Truckin' lyrics are Hunter.

What sacred cows shall we piss on next? Revolver? DSOTM? Or shall we mix it up a little and go with Kind of Blue?
, comment by JonStraw
JonStraw With the obvious sophomoric exceptions, this has been a very enjoyable discussion, which is what I hope it was meant to elicit. I like and buy the "order vs disorder" viewpoint, especially since the author doesn't attempt to declare one theory as better or more important than the other. 2 roads diverged, I guess. I don't want to tread over some pretty heavily trampled areas, but I do have to put my $.02 on the Phil chops comment. I think that argument has little merit to it after '68 or so. Yes, in '65 bass was a brand new instrument and it did take a little bit of time to master it, but he mastered it in his way. I use that last phrase very intentionally, and that is what I want to talk about since it hasn't been covered yet.

Phil's position in the Dead is structurally different from Mike's job with Phish, and his job has changed over the years whereas Gordon's hasn't. Phish fans have commented about the changes musically between 1.0, 2.0 & 3.0, but in all three incarnations the members have been the same exact 4 people. The Grateful Dead have had 6 different people play keyboards in the band! The band started with 1 drummer (and Billy K is not a jazz drummer, but an R&B drummer), then they had 2, then back to 1, then the 2nd one came back. I would argue that, especially after Mickey came back in '76, they had 1 drummer & 1 percussionist. Keyboard-wise, they had one originally, then added a 2nd who did the heavy lifting, then back to the original 1, then added a different 2nd one when the original one started to get sick, then the original one died so they kept the 2nd one (who was actually the third one, lost yet?) as the only one, which worked for a while until it stopped working, so they swapped the one for another one, which worked for a really long time (in Dead-keys timelines anyway), then they had 2 new guys, and then one of those stopped playing with them. Whew, anyone else confused?

I guess what I was trying to point out with the different incarnations is that while they kept the same name, it is hard to say they were the same band. Musicians & music will always evolve, especially in such an organic environment, but the band had whole appendages fall off and new ones added on seemingly every few years. When almost all of those changes take place in the "rhythm section", and the band also has a "rhythm" guitarist, the role of the bass player is not the same as what it would be in a stable quartet. Phil's style is the direct result of this, and a musician of lesser "chops" would not have lasted so long, much less blossomed. Lastly, comparing the "chops" of a recent liver-transplantee pushing 60 with someone in their early 30's is not exactly apples to apples.

I find it difficult to draw direct comparisons between Phish and the Grateful Dead for another reason. While there was some co-mingling at the end, I don't think anyone would call the two bands "contemporaries". Comparing bands of different eras is an extremely tricky thing to do. I am not trying to bring up the tired "Phish wouldn't have existed without the Dead" argument I have heard too many times to count, since musically Phish is obviously inspired as much by Zappa, King Crimson and the Talking Heads as by the Dead. On stage, there is little musical theory that is shared, but off-stage Phish has borrowed heavily. 2 sets + encore, unique set-lists nightly, and the general feeling that albums are just snapshots in time, whereas the live show is the ongoing story of the bands' life are just some of the ideas that started with the Dead and flowed onto the next generation. For most its career, the Dead were driving in uncharted territory while Phish has been able to learn from some of the mistakes of the bands that came before them, though obviously not all lessons have been learned.

, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @lumpblockclod said:
@waxbanks
And as I've hyperbolically said elsewhere, 'Uncle John's Band' has the worst vocal arrangement of any song ever written by a nominally professional songwriter. Just atrocious. Ruins a very fine song. Truckin' is a dippy song too. (Is that Barlow's lyric? I'm not his biggest fan exactly.) Says nothing about the jams in either, of course!
I suppose you've covered yourself by qualifying this as "hyperbolically." but, um, wow. Just wow. I know that isn't any kind of argument, but I kinda don't feel like I need to make one here. Res ipsa loquitur and all that. Also, FWIW, Truckin' lyrics are Hunter.

What sacred cows shall we piss on next? Revolver? DSOTM? Or shall we mix it up a little and go with Kind of Blue?
Ha!

As if the band's shambolic practice room arrangement of UJB (with its maddening parallel fifths and missed chordal chances) belongs on the shelf with perfection like Kind of Blue and Revolver! HA! :)

DSOTM is overrated self-indulgent nonsense. But maybe this isn't the day for that talk?
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @JonStraw said:
I do have to put my $.02 on the Phil chops comment.
JonStraw, *superb* comment. I think your defense of Phil is more to do with his extraordinary musicality and intuitive responsiveness than any technical ability (which has always been my meaning), but I take your point. And you're right to call out my criticism of his 1999 (not '98, sorry about my earlier mistake) performances. Unfair.
, comment by kevinAreHollo
kevinAreHollo A well-thought out and articulate piece (as usual), Wally, but I have to take issue with something you've been iterating in different posts and threads for several years now.

You constantly harp about the "emotionally-withdrawn nerdiness" and "intellectual experimentation" that, regardless of the semantic labeling, clearly serves as a hallmark of their origin story. It pains me to see/hear someone so damn bright so clearly missing out on what I (and many others, from the looks of the boards) consider to be the band's nadir of both creative and cultural impact.

Why does the experimentation, the playfulness, the technical envelope pushing have to be mutually exclusive of the emotional, the depth, the gravitas? What if those tools (because really, that's what what those things boil down to) could be a roadmap to emotional release?

Maybe it's because I've read most of your reviews or simply because I know where your ears tend to land when it comes to Phish's different eras. But I think you're sorely understudied on the "emotionally withdrawn" years of the band, namely 1991 through 1995.

I think Charlie's response speaks to this (and he was there much earlier than I). There is a spiritual heft to songs like the 4/21/92 Weekapaug, a glorious hallelujah in the 10/6/91 Divided Sky, that easily and wholeheartedly outgun the emotional pull of this latest batch of songwriting. Page's clunkiness? Try the 2/15/91 Ya Mar, it's one of the finest things he's ever done (and a true whole band treat, everyone is on fire throughout).

When I was younger, there were two seminal moments that forever changed the face of music for me. Both happened at Phish shows. The first was the 6/21/94 Split Open and Melt, the second was the 11/30/95 Tweezer. I would hold either of this "songs" up as canonical, spiritual experiences from this band. And what I think makes these particular moments that much more powerful is the RANGE of emotional density that these guys could traverse in one SINGLE song. We're not talking the simple pathos of a lost love, or a dying friend (not that those things evoke simple feelings, but for the argument...). These are the ridiculously complicated sturm und drangish yearnings of a band operating in a post-rock, simulacrum-filled world of Internets and energy crises, of multiple identity disorders and reality TV.

The jazz conversation needs it's own thread, but I think it's interesting that of the two bands, only one of them ever played straight-ahead jazz on a regular basis.

Also, the last few times I've seen Phish they (contrary to 15-odd years of arguing against friends and family) actually DID sound like the Dead. Several times.
, comment by kevinAreHollo
kevinAreHollo *Nadir should read zenith.

Stupid academic dyslexia.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed Interesting discussion, of course it is all wrong.

The real story is that the Great God Icculus went into the future and stole Jerry Garcia's missing finger from Wharehouse 13. He then traveled back in time to give it to Trey with the instruction that he must perform the Oh Ke Pa Ceremony before each show or the flubasaurus will will appear. Thankfully, the cast of Wharehouse 13 are actually secret Phish fans, so they have no intention of recovering that relic.

If you look closely at Trey's guitar, you'll see an Ivory carving, which is actually made from ... Yeah, you guessed it, Jerry's missing finger.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @kevinAreHollo said:
Why does the experimentation, the playfulness, the technical envelope pushing have to be mutually exclusive of the emotional, the depth, the gravitas? What if those tools (because really, that's what what those things boil down to) could be a roadmap to emotional release?
Kevin -

Thanks for this comment. I think my posts tend to get hyperaggressive about Phish's young-time music, partly because so many fans are undervaluing the incredible stuff they're playing now. But I have a hard time articulating exactly what I mean in technical terms (as if those would help anyway!).

Maybe this iamge will make it clearer: the difference between Phish's (say) pre-1995 jamming and their later, deeper stuff is the difference between a great TV show about farming, and a day on the farm. The TV show can do all this work to place the farm in wider social/economic contexts, can give us vivid characters, can even seem far realer than real...but a day's manual work does something to you, to your thinking-body, that the show simply can't touch. I've always been one to prefer the TV show, but the last couple years that's become harder to sustain.

(That's not meant to denigrate fans of the early stuff, though in my clumsiness I'm probably sounding that way.)

There's a moment in the studio version of 'Light' when, over the beginning of that spiraling guitar solo, Trey sings a single sweet note at the octave...nothing but 'oooooh,' a lonely syllabub held as long as he can muster while the instruments start to bang away underneath. That note, the emotion behind it, is something I'm not accustomed to in Phish's studio albums: it's pure. No tricks, no arrangement, no ideas at all. Just the reborn feeling that comes of unself-conscious release.

That moment in 'Light' - and, say, the whole of 'Twenty Years Later,' one of the best tracks Trey has ever written - gives me a feeling, even 'just' preconsciously, of emotional vulnerability and full presence. I think 'Eliza' and 'Billy Breathes' and 'Cavern' and 'Esther' and 'Divided Sky' do express something wonderfully human and humane. I've always admired Phish's efforts on behalf of joy and uplift - and they long ago mastered a rock'n'roll language made to communicate those very things. But their delicacy and sunlit happiness in those early years seemed to emerge, not from ragged weary living, but from a childlike feeling of lightness, of getting away with something.

For me, the old stuff is far better at doing Happy than at living Weary - in place of the latter it often seems to offer (pardon me) sentiment. Does that make sense?

I don't know that I'm actually offering an argument at all here. But this feeling, for me, is inescapable now. And what's weird about it is that Phish's 1993-1995 music has brought me SO MANY TIMES to a place of thrilling heart-swelling happiness...but that tends not to happen for me now. When I listen to that young-time music, I hear the brainwork, a pulsating neocortex so rich with ideas that it can never fully give way to the hormonal rush.

And I continue to think that that transition, from brilliant young players able at times to access feelings far older and deeper than their own glands or big ideas to mature musicians able to join in the Weave, really kicked in around summer 1997. Not coincidentally: when they slowed down, quieted down, and cooled off.

So I'm not disputing your account of the band's early power - they could bring something wonderful to their music from the very start, as even the studio 'Esther' and 'Reba' show - but I think part of that power is the rush of possibility, or something impressive.

Apocrypha: James Joyce, asked whether his was a productive writing day, protesting that while six words' worth of output was reasonable, the problem was getting the words in the perfect order.

Bill Evans:

There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.
Phish's music never lacked for complex composition and textures, back then or now. But the thing that escapes, the hidden term, the truth (time passes; death comes; distant one may as well be beloved other; nothing will save you but you can be saved)...that suffuses their music today, I think. As it suffused the Dead's music. Phish have never been heartless. Far from it. But I think they had to become brainless. And they have. Which is why so many folks insist now on the importance of the fact that they're no longer impressed, when the music says over and over that 'impressed' isn't much of anything at all.

'Impressed' is to look at The Wire and say 'This is a good cop show. Better than that other cop show.' And only that.

Again - I think I'm not really addressing your point. But maybe that's my point: I can't. I can't see the old stuff the way I used to. I can't get past a feeling I have. And I needn't give any of it up, anything that's ever been, to feel as truly as I've ever felt anything that something new, everything new, is yet to come. A new category of thing.

***

The key, here, is that Phish killed it last night, and you might like it. :)
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed On a more serious note ...

The Dead use a completely different rhythm section than Phish. For the dead, the rhythm is anchored my the dual drums and Bobby's chords, this frees Phil, Jerry and (insert favorite keyboard player here) to explore simultaneous leads at the same time. When it works, it can be stunningly beautiful, when it doesn't, it sounds like wind chimes (or disorder). In Phish, the drums serve more as timekeeper, with Page & Mike anchoring the rhythm (order). Leaving only Trey to explore. Lately, I've really been enjoying Light, and the reason is that Page and Mike both relinquish the Rhythm and just head out exploring with Trey.
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor Great blog. I don't go to Phish for certain emotional fixes. I don't expect them to scratch certain itches. As we get older, we need music that caters to different emotions and moods. We aren't all trying to have our mind blown 24-7. When I go to see Phish I want a wild ride and they usually give it to me.

Funny though I was just thinking about Darien Lake and the highlight of the show for me was FEFU. Also, one of my all time favorite Phish memories was If I Could on 6-28-00.
I guess I need more of that now.

, comment by jcmarckx
jcmarckx I totally appreciate your opinion, and agree mostly with your write-up, but you must be out of your mind to not see that Brent matched Garcia perfectly. Brent played in that bouncy style that Garcia had. If you ever saw them when Brent was in the band then you would know that Garcia usually looked to Brent to bounce jammy ideas off of. I came into the Dead in 1985, so I am sort of partial to the Brent era. Brent had the chops and fit Garcia to a T. He is seriously underrated, imo.

Otherwise, great article!
, comment by jimithin9
jimithin9
No tricks, no arrangement, no ideas at all.
i think thats the key difference. they used to never play a song without doing something crazy. and pushing the envelope is why all of us love the band no doubt.

but the difference between emotions stemming from the visceral nature of an intense jam caused by the expression of individuals through the instruments themselves is a very very different thing than a song that on paper is created specifically to be an emotional song.

the creation of by the band and enjoyment of by the fan are not the same thing.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @jcmarckx said:
I totally appreciate your opinion, and agree mostly with your write-up, but you must be out of your mind to not see that Brent matched Garcia perfectly. Brent played in that bouncy style that Garcia had. If you ever saw them when Brent was in the band then you would know that Garcia usually looked to Brent to bounce jammy ideas off of. I came into the Dead in 1985, so I am sort of partial to the Brent era. Brent had the chops and fit Garcia to a T. He is seriously underrated, imo.

Otherwise, great article!
I don't mean Brent didn't complement Garcia, I just mean for pure technique. I'm with pretty much everyone here on that score - Brent was definitely the best fit of any of the Dead's permanent keyboardists, and in some ways a better complement than Hornsby, who was a real showman and natural bandleader in his own right.

This thread has reminded me that I need to spend more time listening to Brent's work with the Dead, and I'm glad to be so reminded. I don't think that changes the argument of the post, though it makes me want to expand on my aside about the band's chops, which seems to have sucked up a lot of oxygen here!
, comment by kevinAreHollo
kevinAreHollo @waxbanks said

Again - I think I'm not really addressing your point. But maybe that's my point: I can't.


'Fraid that doesn't really cut the mustard, bub.

I get it. You're older now, they're older now. You've lived a bit longer, a bit harder, brought new life into this world, relationships have come and gone, couches turned to sofas and a mortgage replaces midterms. All these things I understand. The music, accompanied by a few whimsical and stirring quotes from band members along with Trey's (appreciated) sobriety, these are grown-up times, Obama times, everybody more mature and wizened from life's hard knock lessons.

Here's the thing: the music doesn't reflect that.

Sorry. It just doesn't. And this is where we'll probably have to part ways. Every single time I concede to listening to one of the new tunes I have to turn it off halfway through. People on this board talking about Brent's "cheesiness?" There's a difference between "writing about what you know" and "writing about what you know WELL."

You can't disregard musical composition just because you're now committed to writing about more serious themes!

Let me break that down a bit: if you're going to write a three minute pop song, it damn well better have a hook. I'VE NEVER HEARD A SINGLE HOOK from Trey's recent offerings. On the contrary: if you're going to write a prop-rock epic, it better have all the trappings of that genre as well as a cohesive vision and vehicle for the emotional message of the song. Successful example? Fluffhead. Failed example? Time Turns Elastic. One feels like a seamless suite of passages, the other a pastiche of trite proggy cliches.

Look, I'm not some grizzled vet (ok, maybe a little) who won't listen to anything past 1995. Quite the contrary. But I want to point out that Phish has been doing dark and road-weary for longer than you think, Wally. Look at the insert photos on the back of Billy Breathes. Trey looks like he's been up for three days. Everyone grew weird beards. And they put Billy Breathes, arguably their finest (and most emotionally resonant) moment on tape. Trey even talks about it in the Believer interview.

On the song “Billy Breathes there’s a guitar solo I like a lot. That’s a composed solo. I didn’t labor over it. What I did is, I walked around the kitchen—my daughter had just been born and we were living out in the woods in Vermont. I was in my union suit, chopping wood. I was not thinking about anything, and then I just started singing [sings melody] the first four notes of the solo. I had a cassette player and I’d run over and get it recorded. Then I’d forget about it. And then the next part came. It was a lot of wearing headphones while walking around. Cassette player in my pocket. Change a diaper, go to the store, and whenever I can disconnect from whoever I’m talking to in the room, I’d put on my headphones. So the point I’m making is that it still felt like improv.
He's talking about composition vs improvisation but it hits right where you're hollering from. A guy with new priorities finding ways to fit music into his present tense life. I don't think because they no longer relate to the Golgi Apparatus lyrically, the music should be tedius or trite. David Byrne has been cranking out album after album of wonderfully diverse pop nuggets, all dealing with rather adult themes, and he shows no sign of slowing down. The music is vibrant, danceable, and full of hooks taboot.

You say
I can't see the old stuff the way I used to. I can't get past a feeling I have. And I needn't give any of it up, anything that's ever been, to feel as truly as I've ever felt anything that something new, everything new, is yet to come. A new category of thing.
I say I can't see past the new stuff. The Phish I grew up with and traveled with and went through some heavy shit with was singularly capable (I don't know of any other band that could do this, except maybe Ween, maybe Super Furry Animals) of taking something "juvenile" or "immature" and invoking it (investing IN it) with a supernatural/supercharged/hyperbolic ETHOS. Not pathos, mind you, but something that felt divested of whatever earlier signifiers had marked it as jokey, or fun, or light, and that same thing now becomes dark, and twisted, and full of black magic.

This double-edged sword of signification (the fun is now funhouse, the joke is now on you, pyschonaut) is what makes Phish, well, Phish. When I hear them now, these older bifurcations have been stripped away, the fun songs now just fun, the heavy songs plodding their plotted course towards a (raise your arms and sign along) climax. It's all been dumbed down a bit, partly to ease the struggling musician's aging fingers but mostly because of things like energy, mood, drive, and appetite. It's all different. I respect it, but it's not for me.
, comment by eggcream
eggcream this was a reply from a friend of mine....
As far as "comparisons", they can be silly and futile but its human to do so. This particular piece sound's intelligent but behind the cosmetic literacy of the writing, there's so much underlying ignorance, particularly with regard to the Dead's side of the discussion, that its really a silly premise.
First, the most important thing about any song-based music endeavor is, well, the songs! I don't begrudge Phish or their fans anything. They are authentic and have more artistic integrity than almost any band on the scene today - if that wasn't the case they wouldn't have such a loyal and enduring fan base.
However, the biggest and most important difference between them and the GD, before you get to the altogether flawed "technical analysis" offered here, is that the GD have one of the greatest books of original songs in pop-rock history. On the other hand, Phish doesn't have a single great song - not one classic like Friend Of The Devil, Jack Straw, Eyes, Casey Jones, Touch Of Gray, Truckin and on and on. The Dead wrote 90% of their material between 1967 and 1987 - 20 years. Phish has been in its prime that long now and even I, who have seen them live and know them better than 99% of music fans who are not Phish "heads", can't name one Phish tune that has any of the elements of a classic SONG. You can end the comparison right there.
But lets go on, since the writer bases his argument on other, ostensibly more convenient, basis of what he considers given facts:
First of all, The Dead INVENTED the musical approach that Phish, admittedly in their own stylistic manner, adopted for their band. They would be the first to admit this and indeed they have. This is important on its face. As Dizzy Gillespie said about Louis Armstrong, "No him, no me".
Second, I don't know where this guy got whatever musical training he pretends to have, but he shows his ignorance all over this peice. I won't go into everything, but his lack of understanding of Weir & Lesh's talents as compared to Garcia's are astonishing, particularly given, for example, Mike Gordon's humble attitude about his mentor, the master Lesh. You would never see, say, a Branford Marsalis get onstage with Mike Gordon for example but for the writer to even make the initial remark makes that point a waste of time. Same with Weir - indeed, one of my frustrations with Deadheads is their general lack of appreciation for Weir's musicianship which, in its own way, is the modest equal of Garcia's and Jerry himself would be the first to say so and often did. Meanwhile, perhaps the most revealing comment in this regard was the shallow and ridiculous opinion that the lightweight keyboardist Bruce Hornsby, who doesn't cut it as a jazz guy OR a rock guy - he's basically one of those "pop-jazz" cats who did well to even associate himself with the Dead - is the only one who could, what did he say? "follow" Garcia, as if that's the idea... If this writer ever listened to Keith Godchaux with the Dead, their keyboardist during most of their best performance years, he obviously doesn't know enough about music history to understand the depth of Keith's sophistication and overall talent.
Third, as far as the whole point about arranging and musical structure, again - the song's the thing. The extent of Phish's technical sophistication, like the "prog" bands of the 70's like Yes, are for the most part gratuitous. Complicated for complicated's sake. When the Dead wrote in odd time signatures, they did it because they knew how to genuinely SWING in that realm. They never wrote ANYTHING for the sake of showing off, although they did write some of the most ambitious music of their time.
Fourth, and last for now, is a point that drives me crazy - that Phish has a "sense of humor" that the Dead somehow lack. What Phish lyrics are is plain silly, I don't care how obscure their references might be. Aside from Bob Hunter's wry sense of humor (he's the ONLY lyricist who Bob Dylan, the most underrated humorist in American poetry covered), the Dead could make you laugh out loud with actual, subtle, shadings in their music. Trey is a great guitarist and Phish are formidable musicians, but the personality behind the technicians doesn't have a fraction of the depth of Garcia and the rest of the Dead. I could site examples from here to Timbuktu but I don't have the time nor the inclination as the very fact that this goes so far over this guys head makes it altogether superfluous.
Phish is no doubt an excellent band whether they're my taste or not. They are righteous, adventurous and have been able to carve out a giant following by going way outside of the music industry (for which they of course credit the genius of the Grateful dead for inventing that very model). Nevertheless, The Grateful Dead, more and more (as is usually the case with great art) are deservedly getting their due as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century - on the same level as The Beatles, Picasso, Hemingway, Miles Davis, Bartok, Hitchcock and the other great artistic masters who's art already has and will continue to stand the test of time - that is, to be utterly timeless.
, comment by mcary
mcary Great post and great comments. I have really enjoyed reading all this.
For me I was into the Dead before Phish and had a harder time gettng Phish due to the serious nature of many of the Deads lyrics and the the apparent lack of that in many of Phish's. I have come to realize that they both reach specific parts of my "musical soul." Sometimes the areas they reach overlap, but there are things Phish does that the Dead could never do for me and likewise, things the Dead does that Phish can't. I'm not sure that the following point has been made: It's not that Phish's music is not as emotional as the Dead, but in many cases it is not as "lyrically emotional". I really enjoy some of the "lyrically emotional" songs Phish does but don't think they are hitting Brokedown Palace type territory.
I does bother me how badly these newer slow songs get hated on. I think Joy is a great example, which BTW does have a hook.

Overall I am very, very grateful to have these two Different bands to compare, contrast, and lap up every ounce of musical goodness they serve.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @eggcream's friend said:
This particular piece sound's intelligent but behind the cosmetic literacy of the writing, there's so much underlying ignorance, particularly with regard to the Dead's side of the discussion, that its really a silly premise.
@eggcream - I'm not going to respond to your friend - his errors of comprehension, comparison, and analysis are too big and serious to make it worthwhile. It seems that (like other people in this thread) he thinks I'm pissing on the Dead; that evidently offends him in what's pretty clearly an ego-bruising way, hence the boring ad hominems he's spewing in place of argument, which are uncalled for even where they aren't factually inaccurate.

I didn't wish to make anyone feel bad with this post, though - as I've said over and over in a variety of ways, I've got nothing against the Dead. They really were a unique and powerful band and I've developed a great fondness for 'em. (The 2/13/70 Dark Star was the first music I played for my infant son; I didn't make the choice glibly.) In any case, thank your friend for sharing his obvious enthusiasm, however possessive it might be.

@kevinarehollo - I can try to respond later to your latest comment but I think your last two paragraphs outline an essential, insurmountable difference or distance between us on this matter. I'm not sure whether I can convince you, here - or even what I'd be convincing you of. So for the moment I'll bow out. It's been swell, but there's a lot else to do.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed @eggcream said:
... the GD have one of the greatest books of original songs in pop-rock history. ... like Friend Of The Devil, Jack Straw, Eyes, Casey Jones, Touch Of Gray, Truckin and on and on.
Casey Jones is not an original, it is a re-write of an old folk protest song
, comment by PepkoGranpe
PepkoGranpe @Dressed_In_Gray said:
Wow. Waxbanks should spark some discussion with this one...

The Dead always struck me as traditional songwriters where a large body of their songs had simple chord structures, A/B song structures, and a high level of accessibility for the album versions. While these were often blown to the wayside in concert, the core of the Grateful Dead was Americana music (bluegrass/blues/folk) which they were able to challenge with their live interpretations.

Phish, OTOH, had extremely challenging song structures, often times doing everything possible to keep from having a chorus. Fugues, counterpoint composed sections with little or no lyrics made for a need to work much harder to understand the musical expression in the song. More of how a symphonic piece is appreciated vs an AOR single.

From a live standpoint, Phish always seemed to have more of a Jazz sensablilty than the Dead, focusing more on tension and release than chaos vs order. Having only one or two members dropping LSD at any one time vs the whole band just may have something to do with it as well.
- Actually, your first paragraph is rather untrue, when taking the gestalt of the Dead's repertoire into consideration. Looking at pieces that range from "New Potato Caboose" to "The Eleven" moving on to "Help on the Way" to "Black-Throated Wind" all the way to "Victim or the Crime" you find extremely complex chordal structures, rhythm and melodies that thread through the Dead's catalog. While they did go thru that Americana phase in the early 70's, most of their catalog is quite complex.
, comment by CD_Torture
CD_Torture @waxbanks said:
@cobaltsea said:
THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE IS A PEDANTIC IDIOT
You're probably right!

NO MENTION OF BRENT
You're definitely right! Also: unrelated!

In general I don't know as much about Brent's time with the Dead as I'd like to. My sense is that he was a solid player; I love several shows with him, and especially the kind of rhythmic play he could bring to chestnuts like Scarlet > Fire. I dislike his vocals intensely.

I get the sense that Keith was more important to the band's evolution, but Brent was a much better fit with the band overall (and by some measures a better player, period). Still, of all the Dead's keyboardists I'd take Hornsby in a second.

In any case, what is there to say? @cobaltsea, help me here - can you talk a little about Brent in the context of my post? Or did you just come here to misspell things at me in all capital letters?
"In general I don't know as much about Brent's time with the Dead "

Then stick to things you know. Wow, can't believe this is put on the home page of Phish.net. Very disappointing.
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor @KevinAreHollo - I find myself having many of the same thoughts as you. It is refreshing to see you own your feelings in regards to Phish. I only wish I could be that honest about Phish with myself.

, comment by JonStraw
JonStraw @TennesseeJed said:
@eggcream said:
... the GD have one of the greatest books of original songs in pop-rock history. ... like Friend Of The Devil, Jack Straw, Eyes, Casey Jones, Touch Of Gray, Truckin and on and on.
Casey Jones is not an original, it is a re-write of an old folk protest song
The Hunter/Garcia song "Casey Jones" is a wholly original song, both musically & lyrically, sharing only the same subject as the old folk song "The Ballad of Casey Jones".
, comment by BadMustard
BadMustard I think the OP was being to narrow in describing Phish's early music as lacking in depth and emotion lyrically. To a certain point it is absolutely true. Most of it was done comically, some of it because the music was far more important and I don't think Trey cared much, but mostly I think the percentage of goofiness was so high because of the state of music and culture in America. As Trey talked about in Bittersweet Motel, they were kids from the suburbs and so were their fans. It was not the 60s and 70s, when the Dead wrote most of the folky, lyrically deep songs (no doubt they did their entire career). The world Phish developed in in no way took itself as seriously as the Dead's did and it reflected in the music. I don't think it was because Trey and Tom couldn't write deeper songs, I just don't think they wanted to hear or play deep songs all of the time and the fans didn't care either way, they just wanted to see Phish.

I am not bashing the OP, I think it was a good article. That's just my opinion on why Phish's music wasn't as "emotionally intense," although that is a completely subject opinion to being with.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed I would not describe Casey Jones as wholly original. There is a long tradition of artists reworking American traditional music. Woody Guthrie described his own songwriting as a process where he would choose an existing melody and sing his words to that melody. Both Hunter and Garcia, had a deep love for and appreciation of American traditional folk music, (probably more so for Garcia). To describe the song as wholly original is to deny that aspect of Jerry Garcia's songwriting.

On the subject of the post, it is another difference between the Grateful Dead and Phish. Phish definitely did not draw their influences from Folk Music.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @TennesseeJed said:
On the subject of the post, it is another difference between the Grateful Dead and Phish. Phish definitely did not draw their influences from Folk Music.
On the matter of the Dead's influences, I don't know of an online resource better than http://deadessays.blogspot.com/ . He's got a long essay up now about Charles Ives, which wanders far afield and directly addresses matters of Lesh's musicianship and chops, including his repeated, arrogant, pretentious insistence on the stark limitations of 'four-chord' rock.

Superb resource in any case.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed @waxbanks said:
... long essay up now about Charles Ives, which wanders far afield ...
Quite the understatement :-)

Thanks for pointing that one out. I'm going to give that one a second read when I have more time to consider it in depth. First impression is that the writer see's the universe in a grain of sand.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @TennesseeJed said:
@waxbanks said:
... long essay up now about Charles Ives, which wanders far afield ...
Quite the understatement :-)

Thanks for pointing that one out. I'm going to give that one a second read when I have more time to consider it in depth. First impression is that the writer see's the universe in a grain of sand.
I'm with you 100% - his song-history essays are invaluable but he has that defensive fannish tendency to intellectualize the Dead's intentions and style...still, he's an old hand in a way I'll probably never be w/r/t the Dead, so the encyclopedic aspects of the site are definitely worth checking out.
, comment by jamesbra
jamesbra For me this sums it up best: Along w/ this, it's my opinion The GD just flat out have more soul! It's a more soulful show, music, lyrics, crowd, experience, history and feeling and therefore it will age (the music) better than most. It has to do with ego! Jerry had very little ego, especially when playing. Trey forces crescendo's and jams and explosions and plays canned "hey, I'm a lead guitar player" jams all the time. Boring. With that said, I have tremendous respect for Phish and will continue to enjoy their music for years to come. I just enjoy it more on those rare, rare occasions when they just let stuff happen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but when it does it's far more beautiful and powerful than anything you could have forced or planned. This explanation from an interview with John Kahn's ex-wife sums it up the best: John Kahn was Jerry's solo bass player from about 1970 on.

DI: Right about that time, you remade I'm a Woman.
MM (John Kahn's ex-wife): After a couple of years, I left L.A. I fell in love with John Kahn, who was Jerry Garcia's bass player for many years. He pinch-hit for my bass player, who'd gotten a sudden case of dreadful stomach poisoning. We were opening up that night in San Francisco. He showed up and learned 20 songs in an hour. He was a fantastic musician. One thing led to another, and we fell madly in love. I moved up to San Francisco to be with him. At that time, he had Ron Tutt, who was Elvis� drummer and bandleader. I loved the Garcia Band so much. Donna and Keith Godchaux were in it, and I would go moonlight with them whenever I could. I would show up with my tambourines and stand between John Kahn and Ron Tutt and play tambourine when they did �Mystery Train.� You know, I could just do that for days. Jerry enjoyed having me and eventually asked me to join the band. I did Cats Under the Stars with them and toured with them and had a wonderful time.

DI: What did you learn from working with Jerry?
MM: I learned that it isn't so much the notes or the technical perfection -- because he could flub a few notes, old Jerry, you know -- but the way he played came from the inside. He would start out on a solo and he'd just feel around. He wouldn't just come out of the gate with some rip-roaring, dazzling, fancy licks (Trey); he would sort of meander around and wait until the spirit came together. He would build a stairway to heaven with his notes. It didn't have to do with fanciness; it had to do with waiting for the spirit to descend on him and the band. When that happened, the whole audience would get it. It wasn't about, Look at me, I'm going to do something dazzling. It was more about, Let's all really feel this moment together. I've had very accomplished guitar players since then, guys who could just whip all over the guitar neck. A fabulous black guitarist from Marin County named Archie Williams, a real jazzer, could play any kind of lick -- inside out, upside down, backwards, fast, you know -- and he just didn't get it. There are a lot of other very accomplished musicians who don�t get the �Jerry thing.� They wondered, �How come he�s selling out to millions of people, audiences everywhere, and I�m so good and nobody knows who I am?� I tried to explain to them, it�s because Jerry was not playing from a place of ego. He was not playing to impress anybody; he was playing because the spirit moved him to play. And John was right there with him. It�s really just a tragedy, the whole scene that surrounded them got more and more involved in drugs. It�s a pity because it brought down two of the best musicians I ever heard or got to work with. I miss them dearly to this day. [Stanley] Mouse did a great, wonderful drawing after John Kahn passed away. Jerry�s sitting up on a cloud playing. In the first picture John, with his little hat on, is sort of flying up to meet him with his bass in hand. Then, in the next picture, they�re both sitting on a cloud jamming. And that�s just the way I have to think about them. [laughs]
, comment by HighGearAntelope
HighGearAntelope Agree/disagree with certain parts of the original post. I'll focus on the disagreements. Both bands obviously immensely talented, but Lesh and Weir should NEVER be labelled average, pedestrian, or whatever would you choose. Phil is one of the smartest musicians that's come around in the 20th century. He was on his way to becoming a bad ass trumpter until Garcia said, "Hey YOU - you're gonna be our new bass player!" Phil probably woulda imitated Miles Davis and launched a helluva career in jazz bands. Phil studied and worked with the best 20th century composers and writes his own symphonies. The Dough Boy even has conducted. And he CERTAINLY drives the band. He "invented" what many call "lead bass". LOL. Have you listened to Help > Slip > Franklin's (8/13/75 comes to mind), or "The Roll" into The Other One, or Passenger, or Scarlet > Fire, or...

OK, Weir is harder to defend. Known for NOT being the best slide player, not to mention a big spitter, Weir still played incredible counterpoint to Garcia, especially in 72-74 jams. There are Dark Stars, Playin in the Bands, Bird Songs, etc from that era that many people dig, not realizing that it's Bobby playing a role in a jam that they think is Jerry. Cool little jolts of spaceyness that Bobby laid down often get lumped with Garcia's mystique. And beyond that Bobby still was the MAN, especially once Garcia really started to decline (say '94 and on). Today however, Rob Eaton (Dark Star Orchestra) is the primo Bobby. But Furthur is a different discussion...

The jazz thing amazes me. I've read so much about Phish being labeled jazzier that the Dead, but after 3 or 4 years of listening to a LOT of Phish and finally getting to shows (after close to 20 years of Dead) I still hear MUCH more jazz in the Dead. It seems many say the Dead were more chaotic, spacier, whatever. Agreed. I hear much more real, 100% improvisation with the Dead that I do with Phish. And to me, that's what jazz is all about. The Dead's **attitude** toward music was more jazz that Phish is, even if there were cowboy songs, and country songs, and Dylan songs, etc in the Dead's musical bag. Plus, Eyes of the World with Branford? Pure jazz :)

Big DeadHead? Guilty as charged. But also a Phan for a handful of years now. To oversimplify the differences (which are not as important as the similarities, which include GOOD LIVE MUTHA F-ING AMERICAN MUSIC):

Phish: more composed, higher rock'n'roll-type energy, more off-the-wall lyrically

Dead: more improvisational, lots of midtempo, more rooted & ambigous lyrically

Ciao. Now proceed to the next show of whatever kind you can get to and ENJOY!

, comment by kowphish
kowphish The Phish vs. Dead debate seems to have been much more relevant in 1994 when one band was on the rise and other was in decline and Deadheads were wondering if the Phish musical scene was where they wanted to venture into. For most veteran older deadheads at the time Phish was too abrasive for them or the songs just too silly (Contact) which could never be compared to Robert Hunter's lyrics, which were a big part of the Dead's popularity. But a lot of the mid 80's fans (and especially Touch of Grey era fans) made their way to Phish. There is no real reason to rehash this debate anymore since I suspect many of the Phish fans post-GD (those who never saw the Dead or began to like Phish around '97 or jumped on the Phish wagon in 2.0 or after) probably don't care. So from a nostalgia standpoint it is always fun to read someone's take on the Dead's jamming style as "a journey" and Phish's as "getting there" (I am assuming this is the order vs. disorder theme used here), but other than that and their different styles (beyond the simplistic description of jamband) there really is no comparison. As has been suggested in the comments, the wombs from which these two bands emerged from were completely different, i.e. time, place, environment, etc. that any correlations made between the two bands for me are a coincidence or some of the Dead rubbing off on Phish. Currently my take on the two bands is from the drummer(s) standpoint (when the Dead played with two drummers). This is the most obvious difference for me. The sound and foundation of the drums in each band is completely different and sets up a lot of the style in each band's music especially in their live sound. The other main difference is Phish still can't really play a song, a melodic song, not the way the Dead did, Phish fans may not necessarily need that, but deadheads do.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM sorry if this has already been mentioned, but i had an idea that i didn't want to lose hold of while reading all the way through this (awesomely) long thread. we have to look at historical context (musical and otherwise) if we can even begin to compare the emotional weight of the respective bands without problematic anachronisms. hate to sound all hippy-dippy here, but the world was wiiiide open to new levels of expression when the dead started out; add a fair amount of acid and fearlessness and the love of disorder will bloom. the repression and post-atomic bomb paranoia of the fifties was clearly not resonating with a generation that was stuck with the choice between disillusionment and new creative orders. that it failed to bring established order because freedom itself can never be a guiding unifier (only the prerequisite for its impetus), is the point to me.

the emotional maturity of the dead came after the wildness of the *free-form only* was over, and this is why they needed a late-70, 71, before the glory of 72. the batch of hunter/garcia songs that came out of workingman's etc. came after the chaos of 68-early 70 because they intuited that the unit could not hold without an anchor, and that was precisely what enabled 72-74 to be as amazingly effortlessly spiritual in jamming and emotive balladry. reconnecting with archetypal americana didn't need to be ironic or post-ironic because it was a genuine connection made possible by the symbolic earlier rejection of the roots of the country. the anchor that connected them to reality was in place, and genuine emotional resonance was possible because they had already been through the formlessness of the edge of madness and stepped back to embrace the simple feelings of life.

this is my take on the simpler chord structures and lyrics of hunter that blossomed in an era where the rest of the country was falling into its own brand of disillusioned nixonian-induced chaos. the hippies didn't work, the world didn't change, lets try "conservative" values, watergate/cambodia/inflation/energy crisis/et al.> oh shit that doesn't work either. the dead had the confidence to express themselves in a truly authentic manner because they were truly establishing their own new order in a world whose disorder allowed for it. there needed to be no humor because the genuine seriousness were in the lyrics and the joy was in the music. a good counterpoint is zappa who seethes with humorous satire. his response was the template for phish, just look at the involved composition and humorous release.

the difference between phish and zappa though, was that zappa had already happened by the time phish came into being. so if the world had become post-modernly self-referential and zappa had mastered the art of musical humor through satire, where does that leave phish? the increasing information with no authentic cultural guideposts, the lack of essence or zeitgeist, the deconstruction of art involving the necessity of self-referential creation, all of this leaves a band in a place where there are no wharf rats, casey jones, or scarlet begonias. the "nerdy" self-enclosed response that phish seemed to be having in its formative years were a response to the fact that simplicity was increasingly hard to be true or beautiful. the world had changed in a big way between 1967 and 1987, and it would be almost impossible to compare the two bands without this GIANT asterisk of a post. trey went so far as to creative a fictional narrative to deploy themes of post-modern alienation after failed freedom; you want simplicity and beauty ala the dead, then try out the toure de force of gamehenge.
, comment by metawhy
metawhy The big difference I see between these two bands is the difference between Robert Hunter and Tom Marshall.

Big difference.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @AlbanyYEM said:
sorry if this has already been mentioned, but i had an idea that i didn't want to lose hold of while reading all the way through this (awesomely) long thread. we have to look at historical context (musical and otherwise) if we can even begin to compare the emotional weight of the respective bands without problematic anachronisms. hate to sound all hippy-dippy here, but the world was wiiiide open to new levels of expression when the dead started out; add a fair amount of acid and fearlessness and the love of disorder will bloom.
Your whole comment (post!) is excellent, but I wanna bounce of this part specifically, and cite the musical analogues of the lysergic/ecstatic/spiritual order you're talking about:

Phish came up in a musical world in which: punk rock had flared, snarled, and died; VCRs and cable TV made 'close viewing' standard (as the Walkman did for close (re)listening); the Walkman, moreover, made booming root-downbeat bass a musical imperative for public listening; disco and New Wave music had placed a musical premium on sweeping, swooning old-fashioned sentiment atop ice-cold synthetic beats; Michael Jackson was a long way into his journey from the naked sincerity of 'Just call my name / and I'll be there' to the TV-paternity-scandal freeze of 'Billie Jean / is not my lover' and beyond; rock'n'roll had embraced, discarded, then re-embraced pure bombast as a defining feature; and hip-hop was beginning to assert itself as a close-kept musical counterforce to white pop radio. In other words, the musical universe was totally changed from when the Dead came up.

Add to that a sharp decline in LSD use (due to its illegality not least!), the rise of other drugs and other drug culture, the Nixon/Reagan reaction to the culture wars of the 60's (where is Nixon in the Dead's music?), the widespread shaming of Vietnam era 'opt-out' culture, and the domestication of human dreams like space travel and nuclear power. There was simply no way to embrace a warm-blooded late-60's cultural form like the Dead's music/circus...and Anastasio was never that kind of guy anyhow. In some ways he still isn't - in the Charlie Rose interview he talks about the sidelining of the musical work itself as his biggest Phish-related regret.

My point is that you're right to emphasize the different worlds the two bands came from, but since Phish is in some way a conscious reaction to the Dead among other bands, it's good to throw light on the very specific transformations made to the Dead's legacy, and to the broader legacy of the Sixties cultural revolutions, by the time Phish got together in the mid-80's in Vermont.

I still think it's good to contrast the two bands, particularly given the important overlap between their fandoms (and their similar fan-methodologies).

Good on ya.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @metawhy said:
The big difference I see between these two bands is the difference between Robert Hunter and Tom Marshall.

Big difference.
This is definitely important. One way of illustrating this: 'Backwards Down the Number Line' is a song entirely about itself; there's no metaphorical content, no twist, no imagistic connection to anything but Trey and Tom's relationship. It really is a birthday card, sung. Can you imagine Hunter writing such a purely straightforward, informational lyric, and the Dead playing it straight?

I admire Trey for being willing to do confessional stuff like Joy, BDTNL, 20YL, Light...but yeah, Marshall isn't anywhere near the lyricist Hunter became.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed Interesting contrast of Marshall and Hunter. @lumpblockclod, who wrote the song history for "Light", states that the inspiration for the song was "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Not exactly a book that I imagine Hunter would read. Hunter has many lyrics that reflect the same concept except Hunter emphasizes eastern enlightenment, or chemical induced transcendence. More along the lines of the book "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed For reference, compare the lyrics of "Light" and "Dark Star" same transcendental concept of enlightenment occurring "Right Now" at the time the music is playing. They arise from disparate sources, but have a somewhat similar progression through the lyrics, with a musical expression that is eerily similar: Listen to any random "Dark Star", then any random "Light". Same journey, different vehicle. Much like the difference between Eckhart Tolle and Ram Dass.

Light / Dark
Shall we go? / Am I me?

, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed Or better yet ...

Light grows Brighter / Dark Star Rises
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @TennesseeJed said:
Interesting contrast of Marshall and Hunter. @lumpblockclod, who wrote the song history for "Light", states that the inspiration for the song was "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Not exactly a book that I imagine Hunter would read. Hunter has many lyrics that reflect the same concept except Hunter emphasizes eastern enlightenment, or chemical induced transcendence. More along the lines of the book "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass.
My sense is that the 'Eastern' in 'Eastern enlightenment' is a merely historical term; there are non-Asian traditions that emphasize the radical other-directedness and self-dissolution of what's called 'transcendence,' within different practical frameworks. Hell, I seem to recall that there are radical psychotherapies aimed at self-dissolution, and it doesn't get any more Western than psychotherapy!

In any case, I'm given to understand that Tolle's book is meditation/consciousness alteration/ego dissolution/enlightenment stuff, and Marshall's titular 'light' is radical awareness of the gap between body/brain/mind and the projected/defensive/aspirational ego-Self. That's why 'Light' is such a perfect encapsulation of Phish's musical ethic/aesthetic: it's all about surrendering to a present without occluding time-sense or self-sense. Same with the 'hose.' Same with 'surrender to the flow.' Same with the oh kee pah ceremony. Same with the machinic minimalist clatter of Dave's Energy Guide, the head-clearing decentering circular structure of Bowie's second verse (what a gorgeous piece of musical construction), the dissonant-minor-to-blissful-major-release structure of Reba and Hood.

The songs are musical machines for altering consciousness by suspending self-consciousness. So few solos in Phish, so many four-handed 'jams'; that's the whole point. Not to be a note, but to join the chord, the chorus.

I don't think 'Dark Star' is lyrically profound; it's become something it wasn't through interpretation. It's nice, but somewhat Marshallese. But the music's structure - the rhythm flexible enough to accommodate slow 4/4, quick 6/8, swing, rock; the simple modal jam allowing the band to sway between chord pairings and implied progressions, to build relieving cadences almost anywhere along the chordal circle - is perfect for dissolving expectations. Playin' is the same kind of jam, versus (say) Morning Dew, which can only really go one place...
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks I just said:
I don't think 'Dark Star' is lyrically profound; it's become something it wasn't through interpretation. It's nice, but somewhat Marshallese.
Having said that, the appeal of the 'Dark Star' lyrics themselves is clear: the imagery (fragmentation, passage, dissolution, ascension) is basic 'psychedelic' vocabulary, while the long drawn-out vowels (daaaaark star, reeeeeeeason, craaaash) are well-chosen for their task. It sings readily and well.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert I don't understand the connection between Phish 2.0 and the Disco Biscuits. Whereas 2.0 Phish often meanders and then fizzles (in the best way possible, i'm infinitely more impressed with this period than i used to be. feels way more post-rock and less 'generic jamband'), the Biscuits almost have a compulsive need to keep the forward momentum going. During 2.0 it seemed like Phish was trying to escape their old conventions of jamming whereas the Biscuits approach is so methodical that they sometimes seem to be clinging to their rules.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @nichobert said:
I don't understand the connection between Phish 2.0 and the Disco Biscuits. Whereas 2.0 Phish often meanders and then fizzles (in the best way possible, i'm infinitely more impressed with this period than i used to be. feels way more post-rock and less 'generic jamband'), the Biscuits almost have a compulsive need to keep the forward momentum going. During 2.0 it seemed like Phish was trying to escape their old conventions of jamming whereas the Biscuits approach is so methodical that they sometimes seem to be clinging to their rules.
I'd guess it's three things:

* duration (very long jams all over the place, unmotivated)

* sameness (so, so, so many '2.0' jams sound alike)

* reversal of jam/song polarity (jamming was the point, not the songs)

All of which adds up to fan enjoyment of danceable flow - it all felt like one kind of long jam, at times. Hazy uptempo 4/4 jams, heavy on the effects. Whatever its merits, 'Phish 2.0' was unquestionably the least interesting, least challenging, most danceably groovy music the band had played in their career.

Near as I can tell, the Disco Biscuits' music, while pleasant in the background, is essentially dancefloor electronica played live onstage. I've never once heard them play music I'd call exploratory or 'original.' It's just not their thing. Phish 2.0 wasn't really about exploration either; it was about that gliding, hazy, fluid feeling their long jams so often produce. Trouble was, that was pretty much all it was about (after February).

Plus the Biscuits' *songs* are terrible, their vocals truly abysmal; much in common with '2.0' right there too... :)
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @nichobert said:
2.0 Phish often meanders and then fizzles (in the best way possible, i'm infinitely more impressed with this period than i used to be. feels way more post-rock and less 'generic jamband')
I was just thinking about this comment while listening to the incredible 8/15/11 UIC show, specifically that absolutely holy second set jam:

Sand > Light > Dirt > Waves > Undermind > Steam

This, to me, is an incredibly smooth-flowing hour+ of music. Sand goes through multiple stages before making way for Light, which reaches peak intensity and complexity and dissonant madness all at the same time; Dirt is a perfect palette-cleanser, and the musicians take their time, taking (if memory serves) an extra chorus at the end to distance themselves from the darkness of Sand > Light. Waves is a strummy/textural jam, so the melodic/funky post-lyrics minor key outro has a little extra impact.

And check out how Trey shapes the segue into Undermind...the band's ready for Timber, so he just layers these nice major chords (if I remember right) over their building rhythm, to smooth out what might otherwise have risen/fragmented into the more menacing Timber music. There's no hesitation from the other players, but also no hurry: it's not calm but it's peaceful, if that makes sense.

And, and, and: and Trey doesn't hurry past the FX-laden first half of his solo (he's playing his usual blues licks with a parallel line added a fifth above, essentially layering a knotty modal jam atop a common blues-Undermind jam), segueing smoothly into a more conventional Undermind solo. And then DAMN: the gorgeous Undermind outro jam, which is a slowed-down Undermind chord progression played with unexpected delicacy and reserve, dissolving into the opening of Steam. They don't let go of Undermind an instant too soon, but they also keep the momentum going. The Undermind outro feels like a valediction instead of a distraction; it's part of the progression from the chunky mid-song jam into the chilled-out textures of Steam. It makes perfect emotional/musical sense.

When folks talk about the smooth flow of Phish 2.0, they invariably mean 'long jams that change very slowly.' But the new stuff, at its best, has the same emotional logic, the same sense of elastic time and infinite space...with more variety than any 2003-04 jam ever mustered.

They are peaking right now. I love the IT festival and stretches of Summer '03, but I think the new shows offer up the best, the richest music they've made since February 2003. What a time to be a fan!
, comment by robw911
robw911 Mr Waxbanks,

I'm spewing? You're a writer and THE writer of the piece I responded to. I think I can safely assume you do a lot more "spewing" than I.

However, to "spew" a bit more, let me first point out that the best you could do to address my central point about a song-based musical endeavor needing to be about, more than anything else, umm, the songs, was to argue, I guess to try and invalidate my entire premise, that Casey Jones isn't an original song because the lyric is a retelling (really more of a literary reference used as a vehicle to update) of a traditional tale - a literary tradition you're apparently unacquainted with. The music in CJ, of course, with its deceptively complex arrangement (deceptive because it serves the song rather than to call attention to itself), is completely original. Sensational example of Weir's guitar genius on the studio version, btw, emulating Chet Atkins as he often did with his syncopated chordal attacks and pithy solo in the break before Garcia's more extroverted but no less beautiful reciprocal.

In response to one of your subsequent remarks, it was, conversely, not my intent to piss on Phish ("Piss On Phish" - I kinda like that!) and I went out of my way to give them credit for the major output of good work they've done and the joy they've organically brought to a relatively sophisticated audience. Its YOU who seems defensive here - my dear fellow, if you're gonna put stuff out there without decent command of your subject be prepared to hear back. If I was offended about anything in your piece it was your pretentiousness in attempting to write a serious technical analysis of the Dead's music (in this case in comparison the Phish) without any evidence of depth of musical knowledge or substantial history with the Dead's music - I don't care how many children you listened to Dark Star before anything else after birthin'. This is giving you the benefit of the doubt, because if you really have listened carefully to your share of Dead music and have come to these conclusions on that basis you're worse than pretentious - you are just not much of a musicologist. On the one hand you seem to say I made harsh statements without backing them up (although your inability to counter my first and central point where I cited examples altogether invalidates that idea), and on the other hand you imply that I was long-winded ("spewing" ;) , self-indulgent and defensively subjective. Well, I'm trying to be more substantive this time, ok?

A couple of additional thoughts, if you're still with me: If you really believe Lesh is limited technically, check out King Slomon's Marbles / Milkin' The Turkey from Blues for Allah (it speaks for itself). That's what we call swinging, my friend. In jazz, you can either swing or you can't and if you can't, you don't get to first base. Its the antitheses of intellect because you can't teach it. If you DO know what it means, please hip me to the best example of Gordon swinging you can think of and I'll gladly eat crow and tell you so if he slays me. I saw his band at Brooklyn Bowl two months ago, BTW - nice set, good band leader, improviser & general player but still not a distinctive voice like Lesh, Casady, Jaco and others who you can readily identify regardless of context.

Now, if you really think Weir is inferior to ANY guitarist, lead or rhythm, check out just about anything from Europe '72 (an album on which HE is the star player of the band - not that there's normally any point in making that kind of comparison) and in particular his solo during the segue between China Cat & I know You Rider (that ought to be relatively easy for you to pick out), the undisputed high-point of the album; or his incomparable comping on Epilogue (the jam that transitions out of Truckin') that I bet you've never listened to carefully, if at all. As for Godchaux, on the same album (trying to make it convenient for you here) check out his esoteric but aesthetically gorgeous improv on Prelude (which you've probably never listened to carefully either) which initiates the highly directional jam (that is, with a clear, skillfully paced narrative) that reaches three increasingly intense climaxes before softly landing on the B-list Morning Dew that closes the record. And, speaking of records, for the "record" let me say that I'd much sooner listen to the excellent keyboard work of Page McConnell over Bruce Hornsby any day.

But why don't we just leave it at this- don't take my word for it (like you were waiting for permission); as such a distinguished authority on the music of Phish, you must know the band members personally. Ask them - tell Trey what you said about Weir; Mike what you said about Phil and Page what you said about Godchaux (and, to a lessor extent as far as I'm concerned, Mydland) - in fact, show them the entire piece in person - and see if they don't laugh in your face. If they don't, they're just being polite...

Regards,

Rob

, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown I must say I love the effect of the insult-and-barb-laced screed here ^ which is then punctuated by "Regards..."

It's like, "With all due respect, you daft cunt..."

But don't let me interrupt Sports Chat.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks "However, to "spew" a bit more, let me first point out that the best you could do to address my central point about a song-based musical endeavor needing to be about, more than anything else, umm, the songs, was to argue, I guess to try and invalidate my entire premise, that Casey Jones isn't an original song because..."

Read it again. That wasn't me.

"A couple of additional thoughts, if you're still with me: If you really believe Lesh is limited technically, check out King Slomon's Marbles / Milkin' The Turkey from Blues for Allah (it speaks for itself). That's what we call swinging..."

I think we're running antiparallel here. Let me put the Lesh/Gordon comparison in terms that will hopefully make clear what I mean by 'technically limited': both players started out as n00bs, so to speak, though Gordon was much further along when he joined Phish. At the n00b stage, Gordon evidently decided to get 'good at the bass' and thereafter built a style (in your eyes a non-style?) atop a foundation of very serious all-around technical competence. (He also learned a lot from Lesh.) Lesh decided to build a style around his limited early expertise - by all accounts he was an arrogant prick back then, which goes some way to explain that decision - and while he improved technically as you'd expect any musician to do over several decades of playing, he never came anywhere near Gordon's facility on the bass.

Their respect levels of innate musicality, intuition, swing, and so forth aren't in question here. For fuck's sake, my claim was always and only that Lesh's chops were never what they could have been, meaning he remained 'very technically limited despite strong intuitive musicality.'

"Now, if you really think Weir is inferior to ANY guitarist, lead or rhythm..."

Oh, you do go on. Try and remember, will you, that I originally described Weir like so: 'brilliant innovator despite technical shortcomings.' I share a heresy with a good friend - much more hardcore Deadhead than me - that in some respects Weir is a more interesting guitarist than Garcia. I was excited, back when, to hear him talk about learning about comping/voicings from listening to McCoy Tyner, whose stuff with Coltrane burns in the firmament as far as I'm concerned.

"And, speaking of records, for the "record" let me say that I'd much sooner listen to the excellent keyboard work of Page McConnell over Bruce Hornsby any day."

Interesting. I think Page has come further than any other member of the band, over the years; he'll never be a great soloist but he does really extraordinary things in terms of subtly moving jam tonalities. Hornsby's role in the Dead was 'guest lead,' in a way, so while his chromatic understanding reminds me some of Page's, they just approach jamming really differently.

"tell Trey what you said about Weir; Mike what you said about Phil and Page what you said about Godchaux"

I just repeated what I said about Weir and Lesh. Now do me a favour and try this simple reading comprehension exercise: flip back through this thread and YOU tell ME what I fucking said about Godchaux. Here's a hint: I've said almost as much about leprechauns as I have about Keith.

Regards,
&c.
, comment by robw911
robw911 Ok, Mr Waxbanks (I don't know what else to call you) - we've got it down to a "dull roar" now.

Oh, Mr Bertoletdown - glad you liked that old business world sign-off sardonicism. Another, slightly more antagonistic variation, usually reserved for an even more hostile communique, is "Best PERSONAL Regards..."

1) Sorry I mistakenly attributed the CJ comment to you. But that being the case, you therefore had no reply at all to my main point about the comparative quality of their songwriting, which in the case of two song-based bands, trumps everything else IMO.

2) Look, I'm a musician - a guitarist specifically. I don't make my living from music (I'm currently producing a feature film that you will be hearing about in the coming months) but I started playing in '64 when the Beatles arrived and have been performing on and off since '66. That doesn't necessarily make me more of an authority than you, but could you please try and back this "technical / chops" stuff with some examples (of your own, preferably)? Lesh took up the bass in '65 and two years later played beautifully (technically and artistically) on the first Dead album - check out his graceful and melodic counterpoint on Cold RAS, for example. A year later, on Anthem OTS, one of the most progressive and altogether awesome rock albums ever, he played virtuoso-level bass from beginning to end - check out, for example, the incredible Alligator Jam. Do you dispute the quality of this playing on any basis, technical or otherwise? If so, please explain! Then, in early '69, four years after he took up the bass, Live Dead was recorded which includes some of the finest, most unique, precise, swinging, powerful and melodically sophisticated bass playing of all time. Listen to the prelude sequence of DS, which Lesh essentially leads, or the 4/4 jam overlapping into the 11/4 jam on The Eleven. No technique? What do you MEAN by that? As you obviously now know, I could go on and on and I've already cited the breathtaking King Solomon's example from BFA to which you offered no response. Why? Go ahead - ask Mike if Lesh doesn't have chops, or even didn't after only two years on the instrument. Seriously. Excellent and humble musician that he is, he'll set you strait, post haste.

3) As for Weir, again, I previously cited primo examples of what I and many great guitarists consider to be the most elegant all-around technique in electric guitar history. No response. You think his technique is anything but brilliant on the examples I cited? How then? You CAN'T be a brilliant musician (or "innovator" ;) without having the technique to execute. How would anyone know you're innovative if you don't have the technique to articulate the innovation? It doesn't make a lick of sense, but if you could explain where those "technical shortcomings" are in evidence on the examples I cited, maybe I'd have some understanding of what you're talking about. What do you mean by "innovative" anyway? I know what I mean by it with regard to Weir but I wouldn't expect anyone to just take my word for it - I would, as I have done with you, back it up with the plethora of available examples. And, you shouldn't have to be influenced by the possibility that the man studied Tyner one way or another. You're just as likely to hear Chuck Berry in Weir's playing as Tyner or for that matter Debussey, another name Weir likes to drop. Many musicians name-drop like that, whether they are capable of emulating the source or not. Why would you be excited to hear that Weir learned from Tyner if you don't think he's got the technique to execute? Everybody I met at Berklee said they were Coltrane disciples, but that didn't mean I very often heard him in their playing...

4) Godchaux: I believe what I said was "by inference" - that is, you said, with regard to the alleged lack of "chops" that included "the various keyboard players" (which you would have to admit includes Godchaux, right?) except for the "guest" player Hornsby who was the only one who could "match Garcia step for step" (why would anyone try to do that to begin with?). Since I believe Godchaux was the best of them, I used him as the example. Capice? You're so unaware of the quality of the man's playing that you didn't even realize that you trashed him. And, what do you mean by "chromatic understanding" with regard to Hornsby? Do you know what chromatic means? Are you sure you didn't mean "harmonic" understanding?

Look Mr Waxbanks - you seem like a decent writer, a serious music fan and, I'm sure, a great guy, but you're not an educated or experienced musician and, despite your relative agility with language, you don't demonstrate the ability to back up any of your opinions on what some of us out there consider to be pretty serious musical matters. For example, why do you think its heresy to say Weir is in some ways a more interesting guitarist than Garcia? Not only is that true, but the reverse is also true. So what? Garcia himself explained this very eloquently, but its always been obvious to me and the many serious musicians who love and study their music. But, the question is, do you even know what that means or have the slightest idea how to explain it, or do you simply rely on a composite of opinions from friends you think know what they're talking about to support your emotional need to view and promote Phish in the manner that you do?

I'm not patronizing you when I say that I think Phish is a great band, worthy of their success and the loyal following that in many important ways is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's. However, if you seriously want to build a case such as the one you attempted to make in your piece, know that there are serious musicians who will take you to task for assertively stating what come off as self-serving opinions without the ability to back them up.

Peace, Rob

, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks This will be my last response to you regardless of whether you reply. I'm bored and annoyed and I have no time for people who feel the need, on a Phish website, to say things like 'I'm currently producing a feature film that you will be hearing about in the coming months.'

And, what do you mean by "chromatic understanding" with regard to Hornsby? Do you know what chromatic means? Are you sure you didn't mean "harmonic" understanding?
I did mean 'harmonic.' Apparently my baby son has decided to steal my vocabulary as well as my sleep.

Be careful in future: when you praise someone's facility with words, then say things like 'Do you know what chromatic means,' it makes you seem unserious and juvenile. Which is a darn shame, because you've otherwise given not even a single instant's evidence of being either of those things.

***

I've written several drafts of this comment and can't settle on the right way to go about it.

I realize that it's futile going back and forth with someone who isn't interested in learning about music through discussion - who just wants to win a fight. I dislike that aspect of my own character and it's nauseating to recognize it in your comments here. So my desire to talk about the music (Weir's China > Rider solo (5/3/72, right?) being built out of exciting rhythm patterns, he's a fine rhythm player as I said, but otherwise not leaping out of the headphones for me; Lesh's very very simple/repetitious bass figures on that Dark Star, and his (willfully perverse?) objection to root/downbeat bass playing sometimes undercutting climactic moments in jams; Keith's work on the Truckin' jam (5/26/72?) being really good indeed, and my opinion of Keith being coloured by his withdrawn playing during his/Donna's later time with the band; and Anastasio's own rhythm work with Phil'n'Friends in '99 being a nice illustration of the musical/intuitive flexibility that pure mechanical facility can provide) is lessened. My own compulsion to explain, again and again and fucking again, why the Dead's total inability to play music like Phish's is not a mark against them, just a boring fact about their training and playing style...well, it's outweighed by other desires.

So since you're fond of ad hominems, let's take a beat for those instead. You're projecting your own insecurities on me: talking about 'self-serving opinions' while feeling compelled to mention your job, your music school, your 'experience'; castigating me for vagueness when most of your comments are flat assertions of the Dead's miraculous blah blah; namedropping in order to make a point about the lame predictability of namedropping (and misspelling Debussy, for colour!); harping endlessly on the difference between our respective definitions of chops while falsely claiming I haven't explained mine; and of course building up in your Grand Finale to this...

But, the question is, do you even know what that means or have the slightest idea how to explain it, or do you simply rely on a composite of opinions from friends you think know what they're talking about to support your emotional need to view and promote Phish in the manner that you do?
...which is evidence that you didn't understand my post and aren't actually interested in exchanging ideas about music. You want to be the Big Swinging Dick. That's why you didn't ask about my own musical training, you just (1) presumed and (2) started talking about yours.

OK, by all means, have it: you can be the Dick if that's what you want.

You can reply if you want @robw911, but I don't expect to revisit this thread anytime soon, and I'm not really making any arguments here either - there's probably no percentage for you in replying. Best to just enjoy the weather, the next thing.

I apologize to everyone else for letting this thread get burdened with personal nonsense and namecalling. Apparently I'm a magnet for that kind of thing - which I say in self-criticism, not self-defense!
, comment by metawhy
metawhy @nichobert said:
I don't understand the connection between Phish 2.0 and the Disco Biscuits. Whereas 2.0 Phish often meanders and then fizzles (in the best way possible, i'm infinitely more impressed with this period than i used to be. feels way more post-rock and less 'generic jamband'), the Biscuits almost have a compulsive need to keep the forward momentum going. During 2.0 it seemed like Phish was trying to escape their old conventions of jamming whereas the Biscuits approach is so methodical that they sometimes seem to be clinging to their rules.
This is the exact reason why 2.0 is such a special time. Phish really was reaching for what came next, after the rock and roll peak, the tension released... what was next???

In 3.0 they seem to have regressed back to the old tension and release formula, which is frankly boring at this point.
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray @Dressed_In_Gray said:
Wow. Waxbanks should spark some discussion with this one...
I was right.
, comment by teddymirage
teddymirage phuck* so check it out... i hope this all comes out right~! for one of the very few folks who did 90 % of phish and furthur tour this summer i come authentic to you "kidz". Grew up an ardent dylan/deadhead around phish family. Was drawn deep into the vortex of jerry and the boys at a young age. The difference for me wasTHE DEAD WAS TESTAMENT.. thats how powerful it was.. The message on the surface from hunter was quite easy to comprehend.. ( I would later realize how complex his lyrics actually had so many double and even triple meanings) jerry's playin was something that will NEVER be repeated. Some of my homeboys startin tourin around 96' w/ PHISH. Call it fate.. call it circumstance.. call it whatever but I did not get this Phish at that point in time in my life.
I saw much animosity on furthur lot this summer for PHISH and obviously vice versa. I even saw very confused faces when me and my homey SOLO raged the SAT NITE SUPERBALL STREAM at the shakedown in the Electirk Forest ( cheese/ dub step fest). I wondered why these people could not feel the love we have for them and music in general?! This is Jerry's dream.. sitting up on a cloud, watching it all continue to evolve be4 our very eyes. As I participaed in the Phish festivites this past weekend in Chicago and Phish raged on with a blazing "FIRE".. all i could really think about is what JIMI would say and i got my answer.. GROOVY BABAAAYE haha. Im a machine gun funk, great garcias ghost anomaly who discovered the power and majesty of Phish a little later than some of his peers. Instead of people trying to be so divisive.. maybe they should frickin realize that it is one big family tree. One feeds of the other and THAT IS THE TRUTH. Its odd when you old heads, (PHISH AND GD) feel you need to make snap judgments from that high pedestal you stand on. DONT YOU CATS REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS BEING THERE..... and you have no real idea of the true textures of soul and music that are being shared unless you are there... literally!~ Its not a damn competition. The scene is strong because of us all. We are a team working together.. for common goals of creation and UNITY!@!~ I will always hold GD MAGIK above all as they were the innovators but like my girl shannon told me. TREY IS MY JERRY!@ and shes' fuckin right. Ive felt that Phish gospel more than once. I told my homey Deg1 after Cuyahoga 6/4/11 how i got that wonderful, sparkly, family feeling and it was definetly confirmed in my heart of hearts down in CHARLOTTE NC 6/17/11. I cannot discount my furthur tour.. if you doubt me listen to the end of SPAC 7/19/11 wharf rat> eclipse> MOTM> UJB> VIOLA LEE... the next nite i met a cat that goes by the name UNK.. he asked me for a dollar more than once.. to get himself into the show.. I told him persistence pays off and he definelty agreed as SPAC was his 700th dead family show since 89'.. thats alot of fuckin shows kids! Dead serious is what they call it~ something must be bringing him back again and again.
You can argue technical merits of music til the cows come home.. but like another friend of mine told me a long time ago.. It does no good to debate about music, because, whatever you like is what you like. Music is art, conveying much emotion but on its most basic level... it should just make YOU FEEL GOOD! ( ABOUT HOOD) OR as we continue to "PLAY IN THIS BAND" of merry gods and goddesses... fountains of youth.. frickin unicorns, fluffheads and double rainbows; Just remember.. that it all can coincide under a "brand new crescent moon". the basic truth of the DEAD ( WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR UUUUUUUUUUUUUU KINDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!~?????
I love all of you so very much..... This beautiful family continues to teach us all. Now its time for the earth to die once more as autumn approaches. Death and Rebirth.. the cycle continues above the waves and beneath. I am forever grateful for all of you. and Jerry I know would ask of us "CAN YOU STILL HAVE FUN????!!!!!" XOXO from the desk of darkeststarstillwaiting..... peace eternal
, comment by teddymirage
teddymirage @teddymirage said:
phuck* so check it out... i hope this all comes out right~! for one of the very few folks who did 90 % of phish and furthur tour this summer i come authentic to you "kidz". Grew up an ardent dylan/deadhead around phish family. Was drawn deep into the vortex of jerry and the boys at a young age. The difference for me wasTHE DEAD WAS TESTAMENT.. thats how powerful it was.. The message on the surface from hunter was quite easy to comprehend.. ( I would later realize how complex his lyrics actually had so many double and even triple meanings) jerry's playin was something that will NEVER be repeated. Some of my homeboys startin tourin around 96' w/ PHISH. Call it fate.. call it circumstance.. call it whatever but I did not get this Phish at that point in time in my life.

I saw much animosity on furthur lot this summer for PHISH and obviously vice versa. I even saw very confused faces when me and my homey SOLO raged the SAT NITE SUPERBALL STREAM at the shakedown in the Electirk Forest ( cheese/ dub step fest). I wondered why these people could not feel the love we have for them and music in general?! This is Jerry's dream.. sitting up on a cloud, watching it all continue to evolve be4 our very eyes. As I participaed in the Phish festivites this past weekend in Chicago and Phish raged on with a blazing "FIRE".. all i could really think about is what JIMI would say and i got my answer.. GROOVY BABAAAYE haha. Im a machine gun funk, great garcias ghost anomaly who discovered the power and majesty of Phish a little later than some of his peers. Instead of people trying to be so divisive.. maybe they should frickin realize that it is one big family tree. One feeds of the other and THAT IS THE TRUTH. Its odd when you old heads, (PHISH AND GD) feel you need to make snap judgments from that high pedestal you stand on. DONT YOU CATS REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS BEING THERE..... and you have no real idea of the true textures of soul and music that are being shared unless you are there... literally!~ Its not a damn competition. The scene is strong because of us all. We are a team working together.. for common goals of creation and UNITY!@!~ I will always hold GD MAGIK above all as they were the innovators but like my girl shannon told me. TREY IS MY JERRY!@ and shes' fuckin right. Ive felt that Phish gospel more than once. I told my homey Deg1 after Cuyahoga 6/4/11 how i got that wonderful, sparkly, family feeling and it was definetly confirmed in my heart of hearts down in CHARLOTTE NC 6/17/11. I cannot discount my furthur tour.. if you doubt me listen to the end of SPAC 7/19/11 wharf rat> eclipse> MOTM> UJB> VIOLA LEE... the next nite i met a cat that goes by the name UNK.. he asked me for a dollar more than once.. to get himself into the show.. I told him persistence pays off and he definelty agreed as SPAC was his 700th dead family show since 89'.. thats alot of fuckin shows kids! Dead serious is what they call it~ something must be bringing him back again and again.

You can argue technical merits of music til the cows come home.. but like another friend of mine told me a long time ago.. It does no good to debate about music, because, whatever you like is what you like. Music is art, conveying much emotion but on its most basic level... it should just make YOU FEEL GOOD! ( ABOUT HOOD) OR as we continue to "PLAY IN THIS BAND" of merry gods and goddesses... fountains of youth.. frickin unicorns, fluffheads and double rainbows; Just remember.. that it all can coincide under a "brand new crescent moon". the basic truth of the DEAD ( WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR UUUUUUUUUUUUUU KINDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!~?????

I love all of you so very much..... This beautiful family continues to teach us all. Now its time for the earth to die once more as autumn approaches. Death and Rebirth.. the cycle continues above the waves and beneath. I am forever grateful for all of you. and Jerry I know would ask of us "CAN YOU STILL HAVE FUN????!!!!!" XOXO from the desk of darkeststarstillwaiting..... peace eternal
, comment by teddymirage
teddymirage @teddymirage said:
@teddymirage said:
phuck* so check it out... i hope this all comes out right~! for one of the very few folks who did 90 % of phish and furthur tour this summer i come authentic to you "kidz". Grew up an ardent dylan/deadhead around phish family. Was drawn deep into the vortex of jerry and the boys at a young age. The difference for me was THE DEAD WAS TESTAMENT.. thats how powerful it was.. The message on the surface from hunter was quite easy to comprehend.. ( I would later realize how complex his lyrics actually were... so many double and even triple meanings) jerry's playin was something that will NEVER be repeated. (same goes for Trey..) Some of my homeboys startin tourin around 96' w/ PHISH. Call it fate.. call it circumstance.. call it whatever but I did not get this Phish at that point in time in my life.

I saw much animosity on furthur lot this summer for PHISH and obviously vice versa. I even saw very confused faces when me and my homey SOLO raged the SAT NITE SUPERBALL STREAM at the shakedown in the Electirk Forest ( cheese/ dub step fest). I wondered why these people could not feel the love we have for them and music in general?! This is Jerry's dream.. sitting up on a cloud, watching it all continue to evolve be4 our very eyes. As I participaed in the Phish festivites this past weekend in Chicago and Phish raged on with a blazing "FIRE".. all i could really think about is what JIMI would say and i got my answer.. GROOVY BABAAAYE haha. Im a machine gun funk, great garcias ghost anomaly who discovered the power and majesty of Phish a little later than some of his peers. Instead of people trying to be so divisive.. maybe they should frickin realize that it is one big family tree. One feeds of the other and THAT IS THE TRUTH. Its odd when you old heads, (PHISH AND GD) feel you need to make snap judgments from that high pedestal you stand on. DONT YOU CATS REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS BEING THERE..... and you have no real idea of the true textures of soul and music that are being shared unless you are there... literally!~ Its not a damn competition. The scene is strong because of us all. We are a team working together.. for common goals of creation and UNITY!@!~ I will always hold GD MAGIK above all as they were the innovators but like my girl shannon told me. TREY IS MY JERRY!@ and shes' fuckin right. Ive felt that Phish gospel more than once. I told my homey Deg1 after Cuyahoga 6/4/11 how i got that wonderful, sparkly, family feeling and it was definetly confirmed in my heart of hearts down in CHARLOTTE NC 6/17/11. I cannot discount my furthur tour.. if you doubt me listen to the end of SPAC 7/19/11 wharf rat> eclipse> MOTM> UJB> VIOLA LEE... the next nite i met a cat that goes by the name UNK.. he asked me for a dollar more than once.. to get himself into the show.. I told him persistence pays off and he definelty agreed as SPAC was his 700th dead family show since 89'.. thats alot of fuckin shows kids! Dead serious is what they call it~ something must be bringing him back again and again.

You can argue technical merits of music til the cows come home.. but like another friend of mine told me a long time ago.. It does no good to debate about music, because, whatever you like is what you like. Music is art, conveying much emotion but on its most basic level... it should just make YOU FEEL GOOD! ( ABOUT HOOD) OR as we continue to "PLAY IN THIS BAND" of merry gods and goddesses... fountains of youth.. frickin unicorns, fluffheads and double rainbows; Just remember.. that it all can coincide under a "brand new crescent moon". the basic truth of the DEAD ( WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR UUUUUUUUUUUUUU KINDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!~?????

I love all of you so very much..... This beautiful family continues to teach us all. Now its time for the earth to die once more as autumn approaches. Death and Rebirth.. the cycle continues above the waves and beneath. I am forever grateful for all of you. and Jerry I know would ask of us "CAN YOU STILL HAVE FUN????!!!!!" XOXO from the desk of darkeststarstillwaiting..... peace eternal
, comment by morning_dew
morning_dew It always amuses me to see people write about music. What's the old saying, writing about music is like dancing about architecture? If you get confused, listen to the music play!
, comment by yemenzo
yemenzo The truth is both bands are great! We as fans are lucky that one was there when the other came to an end. Truth be told if both were touring in their prime at the same time i am not sure which i'd prefer to see, luckily enough i don't have to make those tough decisions. Lets all be good phamily and enjoy these good times personally i feel phish is playing better then ever and I'm going to enjoy every minute i can while it last!!!!
, comment by barefootbob
barefootbob I need a valium and a dictionary. whew....
, comment by powerful_pills
powerful_pills "or just misspell things at me in all caps"
hahahahahaaha.

probably the best discussion i've ever read on here. waxbanks always raises the bar for arguments on pnet. great blog, great discussion.
, comment by DriedupGoliath
DriedupGoliath Whew. Just spent about an hour reading all of this.

It's ok to like both bands. Seriously. Trust me.
, comment by MyFellowPrisoners
MyFellowPrisoners Lesh was a classically trained musician at the time the Dead started, but it is true that Bobby was just learning guitar then, and never progressed much beyond basic rythem. What he lacked musically and vocally he more than made up for with sheer passion, however.

@waxbanks said:
100% disagree with that labeling of Lesh and Weir. To call them technically limited is very provinicial, uninformed, and really, just incorrect.
Since I wrote that post, I've relearned that listening is the most important technical skill. So in a sense I agree with you.

But there's no question that Weir and Lesh simply aren't as skilled on their instruments as the other guys in the band. Lesh is like a slow/weak soccer player who positions himself incredibly well, mitigating some of his weakness; Weir is like a goalie who does capoeira instead of watching the game, thereby fucking up opposing players despite not being 'a good soccer player.' Both were essential to the Dead, and I like their playing. But they were n00bs when the Dead started.
, comment by MyFellowPrisoners
MyFellowPrisoners I just think you're DEAD wrong, rob, about Weir and, especially, Keith G as great musicians... Did I read that right> keith was barely proficient at all. Dead songs had to be played very simply for him to keep up. I personally like the simple early 70's style of play with Keith, but my good man... Brent blew Keith away on the keys. I can't believe someone with musical training would go to bat for the musical prowess of either Bobby or Keith -- both of whom I love dearly. Its just facts man.

@robw911 said:
Ok, Mr Waxbanks (I don't know what else to call you) - we've got it down to a "dull roar" now.

Oh, Mr Bertoletdown - glad you liked that old business world sign-off sardonicism. Another, slightly more antagonistic variation, usually reserved for an even more hostile communique, is "Best PERSONAL Regards..."

1) Sorry I mistakenly attributed the CJ comment to you. But that being the case, you therefore had no reply at all to my main point about the comparative quality of their songwriting, which in the case of two song-based bands, trumps everything else IMO.

2) Look, I'm a musician - a guitarist specifically. I don't make my living from music (I'm currently producing a feature film that you will be hearing about in the coming months) but I started playing in '64 when the Beatles arrived and have been performing on and off since '66. That doesn't necessarily make me more of an authority than you, but could you please try and back this "technical / chops" stuff with some examples (of your own, preferably)? Lesh took up the bass in '65 and two years later played beautifully (technically and artistically) on the first Dead album - check out his graceful and melodic counterpoint on Cold RAS, for example. A year later, on Anthem OTS, one of the most progressive and altogether awesome rock albums ever, he played virtuoso-level bass from beginning to end - check out, for example, the incredible Alligator Jam. Do you dispute the quality of this playing on any basis, technical or otherwise? If so, please explain! Then, in early '69, four years after he took up the bass, Live Dead was recorded which includes some of the finest, most unique, precise, swinging, powerful and melodically sophisticated bass playing of all time. Listen to the prelude sequence of DS, which Lesh essentially leads, or the 4/4 jam overlapping into the 11/4 jam on The Eleven. No technique? What do you MEAN by that? As you obviously now know, I could go on and on and I've already cited the breathtaking King Solomon's example from BFA to which you offered no response. Why? Go ahead - ask Mike if Lesh doesn't have chops, or even didn't after only two years on the instrument. Seriously. Excellent and humble musician that he is, he'll set you strait, post haste.

3) As for Weir, again, I previously cited primo examples of what I and many great guitarists consider to be the most elegant all-around technique in electric guitar history. No response. You think his technique is anything but brilliant on the examples I cited? How then? You CAN'T be a brilliant musician (or "innovator" ;) without having the technique to execute. How would anyone know you're innovative if you don't have the technique to articulate the innovation? It doesn't make a lick of sense, but if you could explain where those "technical shortcomings" are in evidence on the examples I cited, maybe I'd have some understanding of what you're talking about. What do you mean by "innovative" anyway? I know what I mean by it with regard to Weir but I wouldn't expect anyone to just take my word for it - I would, as I have done with you, back it up with the plethora of available examples. And, you shouldn't have to be influenced by the possibility that the man studied Tyner one way or another. You're just as likely to hear Chuck Berry in Weir's playing as Tyner or for that matter Debussey, another name Weir likes to drop. Many musicians name-drop like that, whether they are capable of emulating the source or not. Why would you be excited to hear that Weir learned from Tyner if you don't think he's got the technique to execute? Everybody I met at Berklee said they were Coltrane disciples, but that didn't mean I very often heard him in their playing...

4) Godchaux: I believe what I said was "by inference" - that is, you said, with regard to the alleged lack of "chops" that included "the various keyboard players" (which you would have to admit includes Godchaux, right?) except for the "guest" player Hornsby who was the only one who could "match Garcia step for step" (why would anyone try to do that to begin with?). Since I believe Godchaux was the best of them, I used him as the example. Capice? You're so unaware of the quality of the man's playing that you didn't even realize that you trashed him. And, what do you mean by "chromatic understanding" with regard to Hornsby? Do you know what chromatic means? Are you sure you didn't mean "harmonic" understanding?

Look Mr Waxbanks - you seem like a decent writer, a serious music fan and, I'm sure, a great guy, but you're not an educated or experienced musician and, despite your relative agility with language, you don't demonstrate the ability to back up any of your opinions on what some of us out there consider to be pretty serious musical matters. For example, why do you think its heresy to say Weir is in some ways a more interesting guitarist than Garcia? Not only is that true, but the reverse is also true. So what? Garcia himself explained this very eloquently, but its always been obvious to me and the many serious musicians who love and study their music. But, the question is, do you even know what that means or have the slightest idea how to explain it, or do you simply rely on a composite of opinions from friends you think know what they're talking about to support your emotional need to view and promote Phish in the manner that you do?

I'm not patronizing you when I say that I think Phish is a great band, worthy of their success and the loyal following that in many important ways is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's. However, if you seriously want to build a case such as the one you attempted to make in your piece, know that there are serious musicians who will take you to task for assertively stating what come off as self-serving opinions without the ability to back them up.

Peace, Rob
, comment by That_Guy_Chino
That_Guy_Chino The blog was well composed. Despite being huge fans of both bands, I see relevance in the storyline, but don't' support the "lack of chops" sentiments.

However, I do agree that the Four are, individually and cohesively, notches above in musical talent. And that's what makes this an amazing world! We all can share our individual thoughts.

Awesome read man. Follow me @mattybmarcino
, comment by WasteOfTime
WasteOfTime The Grateful Dead was intangible. Phish is definable. Are we going to discuss post-modernism in general? Conscious vs. self-conscious. Do we discuss the technical abilities, the craft, or do we discuss the art. Phish is very crafty and self aware. The Grateful Dead was innate and much less conscious of what was "put out there". This is mid-sixties vs. mid-eighties....

The Grateful Dead live scared the hell out of me at times...Phish has danced me into a puddle on the floor but never cuts too deep. Both powerful experiences but very different.

Phish, body. Grateful Dead, soul. Ivory tower be damned!

.e
, comment by walkinwill
walkinwill Interesting comparisons for both The Dead's and Phish's music. See "Show Of Life" for the first time at SPAC 2010. Trey showed a lot of emotional depth in his singing. Qite "Jerry Like" indeed. Not the usual sappy Trey Ballad,( Anything but Me , Let Me Lie, etc. ,,,)
 
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