My two cents.Really love what you had to say in this post and I agree with all of it. I tried to articulate the whole "Jerry dying before our eyes" bit a couple years ago and got soundly criticized for it, but I agree with you, obviously. Saw my first GD show in '81. Went to a boatload of shows on the East Coast over the decade of the '80's. Never went to see them in the '90's because by '89 I couldn't take it anymore. Everyone was bragging about their "renaissance" but I didn't hear it. Jerry would sleepwalk through much of the first set (with exceptions, of course) and just didn't have the physical energy to pour out with any consistency or endurance. The Dead were really pretty much cooked after '82. They were on fumes after that. People who were digging the scene may disagree, as there were a lot of young college kids (I was one of them!) who got into the band during that era. The Dead were the "thing" in those days. Everyone wanted to go to a show and find out what the buzz was about.
Deadhead since '89. Phish vet since '92. Saw the Dead 12 times (once with Brent, 11 with Vince). Jerry was literally dying on stage from '92 on. Loved the music dearly (still do) and loved going to the shows but knew it was something (much) less than what it used to be. Actually disappointed at several shows I attended, and I'm not one of those guys! I can't listen to anything post '90 now because it's really just terrible for the most part. I only say all of this because I know what it is to watch a band crumble.
Now to Phish. Saw about 15 shows between '92 and 2000. Started going again in 2011 and have seen another 12 shows. Phish today is as relevant and imaginative and plain old fun as they've ever been. Period. I'll grant that Trey is no-longer the gunslinger he used to be but that's ok. Michael Jordan went from holy-shit-did-you-see-that-dunk machine in the first half of his career to dead-eye jumpshooter in the second half. Just as effective and just as deadly. Trey's doing the same thing and he's still at the top of his game. And as far as I'm concerned, neither Mike, Page nor Fish have lost even a half-step, in fact they could be on steroids because they've all gotten better as time has gone on.
Bottom line, I watched the Dead fade away. Phish is picking up steam and going to their shows is a fucking treat, even though not every one is truly epic. And they're still writing great new tunes. I was there in '92-'93 when tons of songs were played back to back nights because they didn't have all that many (and several were awful tunes that thank god are no longer in their repertoire). I pull out shows from '11 just as soon as I'd pull out a '97 just for the great variety, not to mention growth in playing.
So quit yer whinin', feel free to critique versions of this vs. that - that's what we do. As someone who absolutely loves '90s shredding machine-gun Trey, stop with the whole they ain't what they used to be. Some nights they're better, some nights they're worse. Grow up and enjoy.
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