music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Phish – A Live One

August 18, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



I wasn’t planning on talking Phish this week, instead considering looking at their history of Phestivals next week, but, with the news of the cancellation of Curveball, I got into a little bit of a Phish mood on Friday. I didn’t have the time to go through their various Phestivals they way I would have liked to, so, instead I’m going to once again offer up my look at A Live One. A Live One, more than any other single album or show, acted as a catalyst to propel Phish to the heights that they reached in the 90’s and beyond. By 1994, Phish was making an incredible name for themselves as a live band. They were enjoying tremendous success in the wake of the 1992 HORDE Tour, and they had recently signed with Elektra records. They were harnessing the power of the early internet and had a nationwide following fueled by the tape-trading culture. They were moving out of theatres into larger venues, and they had a following that you had to see to believe. What they didn’t have, though, was a live album. The band remedied this by taking some of the best performances from their 1994 tour and turning them into A Live One, an album that is considered not just one of Phish’s best live albums, but one of the best live albums of all time.

This album really was a watershed moment for the band. There were plenty of potential fans that couldn’t really get into Phish’s studio work or who weren’t connected to the tape trading community. A Live One captured some of the best moments from a spectacular tour and wove them together in a cohesive way. The album opens with “Bouncing Around The Room,” one of Phish’s most easily accessible songs. It’s a song that’s hard to listen to and not bob your head along with the beat. This short and simple song is offset by a follow-up of “Stash.” In the first two songs, the band showed off their songwriting sensibilities along with the more classical arrangements. Both sides of the band get ample representation throughout the album. Phish in no way tried to water down their live performances on this album to gain a wider audience. Instead they showed a variety of what they were capable of and trusted that the audience would come to them. Which, of course, they did.

The New Orleans flared “Gumbo” shows another fun and playful side of the band. The breakdown at the end by the Cosmic Country Horns is perfect for the song and almost screams “Party on Bourbon Street.” The “Montana” jam that follows is a short segue into a classic “You Enjoy Myself.” Even though the two are from different shows (and the “Montana” jam wasn’t originally paired with a YEM) the two go together well. “Montana” is more of a trippy jam while YEM is one of the classic Phish instrumental compositions. This is the first song on the album that shows how Phish is able to put together extended songs with improvisational pieces as well as very structured movements. It’s the first (and best) example of how Phish is willing to completely ignore any traditional rules of rock music and do whatever they want. Of course, it’s also one of their most well-loved and most played songs. While this isn’t one of the longest versions of YEM (just over 20 minutes), it’s one of the best and most well-known versions that the band has done. I definitely wonder what folks new to Phish thought when they heard the YEM vocal jam for the first time.

The first album ends with another pair of great songs. They go away from the abstract into an absolutely rocking “Chalkdust Torture” and a great “Slave to the Traffic Light.” Both songs included solid improvisational jams woven within the songs, again showing how the band can mix up traditional rock songwriting with the craziness that they do so well. I’m a longtime fan of “Chalkdust Torture,” and this version is one of my favorites. As for “Slave to the Traffic Light,” it acts as a great substitute set closer for this double album.

“Wilson” starts off the second disc by ramping up the energy level even more. The crowd for this song is extremely energetic, and the band absolutely feeds off of that for the song. The “Tweezer” that follows is a half-hour long tour de force, taking what can sometimes be a somewhat straightforward song into a variety of different directions. The initial breakdown (or wild destruction) of the song at about 4 minutes in is just a foreshadowing of the directions the song would go. 11 minutes in brings a very cool, slow, thudding type of jam that leads into some very odd directions. By the time the song is halfway done it doesn’t resemble the beginning part of “Tweezer” at all and the jam has become a truly unique thing. By about 20 minutes in, the song disassembled into a “noise jam” with Fishman and Gordon holding down a steady rolling beat. What’s most impressive about the song, however, is how effortlessly they transition back into the main riff with about 2 minutes left. After over 20 minutes of improv, the band is so together that they bring it right back to where it all began. You don’t have to love jam music to appreciate that talent.

Of course the band changes directions again for “Simple.” The straightforward riff and song are offset by very clear and very abstract lyrics. It’s classic Phish and it works very well. Each song is multifaceted, and this is one of the most obvious examples of that. Simple fades into “Harry Hood.” While I’m not a big enough Phish fan to rank this among other versions of the song, I’ve been told that this is one of the best “Harry Hood’s” that the band has ever done. F rankly, I’m not about to disagree with that. Page, Trey, and Fishman work together to create a layered extended jam that moves through multiple styles and arrangements. “The Squirming Coil” closes the album with the best and most passionate piano solo on the album. Trey gets highlighted more than any other member of the band for this live collection, so it was nice to see Page get to send the band off with this song.

While this might not be considered the best live Phish release, it was the first, and it was a benchmark moment for the band. They were able to get their live performances, the lifeblood of the band, into record stores and out to fans and potential fans. After HORDE and signing with Elektra, the band was ready for a big move, and this was it. It wasn’t long after this that Phish was headlining arena and ampitheater shows across the country. The rest, of course, is history. It’s not surprising that a Phish, a band that made their mark early on with live performances, used a live album as a major stepping stone. It’s also not surprising that they were willing to take so many chances on the album, from having a half-hour “Tweezer” to including multiple previously-unreleased songs. And, in hindsight, it’s not at all surprising that the album came out as well as it did. Phish has been doing things their own way since day one, and A Live One is another shining example of how well that works for the band and the fans.



Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. add dates
Bob Weir’s new Wolf Bros. project added more dates to their tour. The group, featuring Weir, Jay Lane, and Don Was, have announced a full tour running October-November.

October 16 Reno, NV—Grand Sierra Resort and Casino
October 18 Los Angeles, CA—The Theatre at Ace Hotel
October 20 Santa Barbara, CA—Arlington Theatre
October 22 Portland, OR—Keller Auditorium
October 23 Seattle, WA—Moore Theatre
October 24 Missoula, MT—Wilma Theatre
October 26 Salt Lake City, UT—Eccles Theater
October 27 Albuquerque, NM—Kiva Auditorium
October 29 Denver, CO—Paramount Theatre
October 31 Chicago, IL—Chicago Theatre
November 1 Chicago, IL—Chicago Theatre
November 5 Nashville, TN—Ryman Auditorium
November 6 Louisville, KY—Palace Theatre
November 8 Syracuse, NY—Landmark Theatre
November 9 Port Chester, NY—The Capitol Theatre
November 10 Port Chester, NY—The Capitol Theatre
November 12 Washington, DC—Warner Theatre
November 13 Philadelphia, PA—The Fillmore
November 15 Boston, MA—Boch Center Wang Theatre
November 16 Boston, MA—Boch Center Wang Theatre
November 18 New York, NY—Beacon Theatre
November 19 New York, NY—Beacon Theatre

Ween announce 12 Golden Country Greats shows
Ween will celebrate their 12 Golden Country Greats album with a pair of shows. The band will team up with The Shit Creek Boys for a pair of shows on October 16 & 17 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.


August 17-19
Wellston, VA
Dawes, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Larry Keel, Steppin’ In It, Jon Stickney Trio, The Crane Wives

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crow, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Waterloo Festival
September 7-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Otiel & Friends, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

Colorado Kind Festival
September 14-15
Planet Bluegrass
Lyons, CO
The String Cheese Incident, The Motet, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Drunken Hearts,

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Billy Strings, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine, The Lil’ Smokies

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Hangtown Music Festival
October 25-28
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth (3 Nights), The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled By Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Pimps of Joytime

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Panic en la Playa Ocho
January 25-29
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA

Bender Jamboree
April 11-14
Plaza Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Billy Strings


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!