I've been arguing back and forth about this for a while. I feel that 2009 is pretty much a standard year for Phish. No it's not 1995 or 1997, but if you throw those years out, there's little to complain about with 2009.
People's perceptions are skewed because 2.0 was very atypical and no one listens to the average 1.0 shows so the exceptional shows seemed closer to the average than they ever were. Tape trading used to be annoying enough that no one had every show right after it was played, so again people only tracked down the exceptional. With a few exceptions, if you listened to every night of any tour, you'd hear a whole bunch of standard shows and the 3 or 4 standouts.
When's the last time you listened to the spring 1994 run up and down I-5, other than maybe 5/27/94? How often does summer 99 make it into your rotation? Hell, I saw a 6 show run in fall 95 that had a pretty good "Harry Hood" and the only "Keyboard Army (Reprise)."
No, 2009 hasn't been the best year in Phish's history. However, I think you can make a case that it's in the top 5. It's definitely behind 95 and 97 and 94. 2003 is probably better as it had the 2004 jams but didn't quite fall into flub world. After that though, any other year is pretty arguable.
Phish came back after a 5 year break and played shows that were more consistently interesting than most of their career and people focus on the fact that they aren't at the peak of their powers. I don't understand that, but I'm someone who saw 14 shows of Phish in 1990, so I guess I can put up with average shows better than most.
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