Thursday, December 12, 2013

Phish Jersey Numbers - Part 2

Note: This is part two of an eight part series.  For the introductory post see Phish Jersey Numbers - Introduction

Obviously many songs in Phish's catalog have been played the same number of times.  This series of blog posts will try to take a look at those songs that were played the same number of times and try to determine which of those is the "best" song to have that number.  A quick note on the "best" designation: Like all subjective things, best will really depend on the person doing the picking. My definition for best will be a little bit of favoritism, personal reflection, what I believe to be popular opinion, and most Phishy of the songs being compared.  Covers will be considered on equal ground as originals. In reality, it's a crapshoot.

Times Played: 121
Songs Under Consideration:  Big Black Furry Creature From Mars, Guyute, Scent of a Mule

Another difficult competition between three songs that all have a lot of history.  And even more so, all three songs are inherently "Phishy".  BBFCFM is the original metal song in the repertoire.  When debuted it was originally played in a set closer or encore role but has changed into more of a bust out recently. But it doesn't compete well with the other two songs on the's a bit too much of a novelty.  I'm a big fan of both Scent of a Mule (and its duel) and Guyute.  The insertion of the Marimba Lumina into Mule bumps it up a bit but it really has to be Guyute. I'm a sucker for long songs with composed sections. And when the band nails it, everyone knows that they're in for a real treat.
Winner: Guyute

Times Played: 119
Songs Under Consideration: The Curtain, Ghost

One important thing to note here: this is a Withless Curtain.  Which really makes this no contest.  Curtain is a wonderful song and I love it as a second set opener (especially with a > into Tweezer or Bowie).  But there can't be any other choice here but Ghost.  It's really unfair for it to go against any song that's not Tweezer or Bowie or another upper echelon song.
Winner: Ghost

Times Played: 114
Songs Under Consideration: Tube, Moma Dance

Funk! Tube is probably the ultimate Phish-tease.  When in 97 or 98 it was played, you had a good 8-9 minute funkfest usually.  But since then it's gotten back to its 4 minute or so roots.  And always leaves crowds wanting more and ruing when Trey comes back in with the closing licks.  But then, at SPAC in 2013, there was a brief but realistic moment of hope that it was coming back. It may have only ended up being 7 minutes or so, but it happened!  Moma Dance as a funk song and jam has always been well received and gives Fish a chance to stretch his vocals which is good in my book (he's pretty underrated when he's actually trying to sing).  But I actually really prefer Black Eyed Katy over Moma (bring it back!) since it's all funk groove.  I think that's enough in my book to push Tube to the top.
Winner: Tube

Times Played: 106
Songs Under Consideration: Halley's Comet, Mound

I really like Mound and would love to see it at a concert in the future.  It's a great first set song and although it's not jammed out frequently (barely at all really) it still always brings a smile to my face.  And in contrast to many older songs, it actually is getting played more in 3.0 than in the previous 14 years combined.  Halley's, like Tube above, is probably the other main Phish-tease song. When Halley's is jammed, it has exceeded 20 minutes a handful of times but not since 1999.  Additionally, the Hampton 97 version is viewed as a highwater mark by many in the community.  So, although Halley's seems to be more in the "Type 1" wheelhouse currently, it has to get the pick here.
Winner: Halley's Comet

Times Played: 94
Songs Under Consideration: Mango Song, Makisupa Policeman

Makisupa Policeman. The first Phish original. As the only real reggae song in their catalog it stands as a one of a kind treat amongst the hundreds of possible songs played. Sure there's been some Marley covers through the years but I think it says a lot that the first song that the band played (and by extension, probably one of the first Tom and Trey wrote) is a reggae song.  Mango Song will always have a special place in my heart since it was the first (along with Dog Log) encore I saw at the first night at IT.  I liked the song before then but that certainly elevated it into the stratosphere.  Very Phishy lyrics too. Just unbridled fun to sing and rock out to.  All that, coupled with my relative dislike of all forms of reggae, make it the choice here.
Winner: Mango Song

Times Played:89
Songs Under Consideration: Axilla, Paul and Silas, Twist

Not really a competition here at all.  Axilla is a very fun rocker and Phishgrass is fun with Paul and Silas (and it kicked off an amazing set on Fall tour this year) but seriously? It has to be Twist.
Winner: Twist

Times Played: 86
Songs Under Consideration: Back on the Train, Birds of a Feather

Now this is a good head to head competition.  I actually think both of these songs are pretty similar. Birds debuted on the Island Tour in 98 and was an immediate fan favorite. Back on the Train, in my opinion, started as a standard Type 1 song but in recent years has found its legs as a nice, usual set 1 short jam song.  So, in current days, it seems like both of them usually run 8-9 minutes with Birds falling more on the rock scale and BOTT on the bluesy scale. I prefer blues so I'm going with Back on the Train but I'm sure there could easily be made arguments on the other side.  And that's ok.
Winner: Back on the Train

Times Played: 82
Songs Under Consideration: La Grange, Peaches En Regalia

First cover only battle!  Both songs are usually point perfect covers in the band's catalog and remain well within their ZZ Top and Zappa boundaries. Amazingly, La Grange has only been played 10 times since 1995 so it seems to have fallen out of favor a bit with the guys. Peaches, on the other hand makes a handful of appearances in most years (although none in 2013 yet, YEMSG maybe?).  The fact that it's still played and that it was prominent i one of my favorite shows (6-18-94) elevates it to the top.
Winner: Peaches En Regalia

Times Played: 80
Songs Under Consideration: Carolina, Sleeping Monkey, Tela

Starting with Carolina, it's going to take a lot to get an a capella song chosen over a song with instruments so, although they're fun, it's not winning this competition. Sleeping Monkey and Tela though are two of my absolute favorites.  Throughout the years, I think that Sleeping Monkey is one of the songs that the band bustouts in an encore or a set closer role when they know they've played a good show (I think the same thing about Rocky Top and Have Mercy). And Tela, the beautiful (and wrongfully accused) lady and most elusive of the Gamehendge saga. As a standalone, instead of as noted with Sleeping Monkey in the encore role, I think Tela has to win. I love the fact that it was, supposedly, the first song Trey wrote for someone else to sing.  I think it's beautiful.
Winner: Tela

Times Played: 79
Songs Under Consideration: Jesus Just Left Chicago, Walk Away

The first Phish CD I was given (and thus, my entry into the Phish foray) was Slip Stitch and Pass so I immediately was blown away by the Wolfman's-> JJLC on that record.  I've always been a large blues fan and the way Phish jams out the song a little bit with blues progressions always makes me happy.  Walk Away is perfectly serviceable as a cover but really unless it's paired with Tweezer, it's not my favorite by any stretch.  Jesus Just Left Chicago in a landslide.
Winner: Jesus Just Left Chicago

Ten more songs done, more to come shortly.  Here's the summary so far:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Phish Jersey Numbers - Part 1

Note: This is part one of a seven part series.  For the introductory post see Phish Jersey Numbers - Introduction

Obviously many songs in Phish's catalog have been played the same number of times.  This series of blog posts will try to take a look at those songs that were played the same number of times and try to determine which of those is the "best" song to have that number.  A quick note on the "best" designation: Like all subjective things, best will really depend on the person doing the picking. My definition for best will be a little bit of favoritism, personal reflection, what I believe to be popular opinion, and most Phishy of the songs being compared.  Covers will be considered on equal ground as originals. In reality, it's a crapshoot.

Times Played: 339 
Songs Under Consideration:  Foam, Squirming Coil

And right out the gate, this will probably be one of the hardest and most fun choices.  Both songs have been obviously in the catalog for well over 20 years with Foam debuting on 10/29/88 and Coil on 1/20/90.  Foam has stayed relatively constant over the years in terms of length but it's one of the quintessential Phish songs: weird lyrics, highly composed, intricate playing.  But I think I'm going to pick Coil.  For one, those versions from 1994 and 1995 just continued to grow and grow which is awfully nice.  Two, I've never seen Coil live in the shows I've attended so that elevates it a bit in my case.  Three, Page's outros are some of Phish's prettiest work and when it ends a first set, there's not much better.  And last, I'm a sucker for songs that are major label debut CD openers. The songs that new people that are getting into a band hear first.  
Winner: Squirming Coil

Times Played: 297
Songs Under Consideration: Llama, Split Open and Melt

Fun fact about Llama, it's a bit of a rarity now.  In 3.0, Llama has only been played at 7 shows. Seven!  I've been trying to slowly make my way listening to all Phish concerts and back in 92/93 it was played so much and was such a rocking tune every single time. I also spent many hours trying to five star the song in rock band on expert (and not getting anywhere close.) But really it had no shot going against Split Open and Melt. Melt is one of the great improvisational songs in the catalog.  It crushes Llama with relative impunity. 
Winner: Split Open and Melt

Times played: 243
Songs Under Consideration: Fluffhead, I Didn't Know

Fluffhead, also known as the song that Phish refused to play in 2.0 much to the chagrin of most of the entire fanbase, is another one of the Phish staples.  Crazy lyrics tell the story of a man with hair of fluff that he glued to his head. Pretty simple stuff really.  Not a huge jam vehicle due to the composed style of the song, there is still nothing quite as cathartic as when the Arrival section starts post the dissonance of Bundle of Joy. I Didn't Know, on the other hand, is a Fishman-lite tune written by Nancy Wright (for Phish) with lyrics just as ridiculous as Fluffhead (and Nancy's other song for Phish, Halley's Comet).  IDK is a pretty standard song without much change (other than the vacuum or trombone solo) but the 4-17-92 version is stellar and worth a listen.
Winner: Fluffhead

Times played: 206
Songs Under Consideration: Slave to the Traffic Light, Landlady

The story on Landlady is a bit unusual.  It was pulled out of Punch You in the Eye originally, recorded for A Picture of a Nectar, played 206 (!) times in five years, was played concurrently with PYITE for about 2 of those years, and then disappeared completely. And Trey and Mike get to do a good dance during the song which thankfully remains to this day.  Slave is, in my opinion, among the five best Phish song and Trey's soloing is some of his best work.  The version on A Live One is perfect.  Again, this one isn't even close.
Winner: Slave to the Traffic Light

Times played: 166
Songs Under Consideration: Character Zero, The Sloth

The Sloth is a Gamehendge song so that gives it a lot of weight.  And it is probably one of the best songs to sing along to (THEY CALL ME THE SLOTH!).  But it's probably my least favorite Gamehendge song which is a bit like picking your least favorite child, it's still good and you're happy it's in your life. But it's no Lizards.  Conversely, Character Zero, is not one of my favorites by any stretch. It's a good rock closer but there are many other songs that fit in that role that I'd rather hear.  The Gorge version from 2013 is pretty awesome though.  But if I'm picking, I'm going with history and Gamehendge.
Winner: The Sloth

Times played: 123
Songs Under Consideration: Limb By Limb, NICU

Limb by Limb has some of the best lyrics in any Phish song in my opinion.  Very nice imagery and very clever wordplay. And that jam.  The band doesn't always take it out for a spin every time but when they do, it's a world beater.  The SPAC 04 version is killer and it was part of the first set of Phish I saw live at IT.  NICU is another song that doesn't really get jammed (although that would be awesome) and is played relatively the same way most nights.  But the fun in NICU is listening to the song as it was originally debuted.  Played 12 times in 1992 and then shelved for almost 250 shows, the song as originally constructed is very different.  And definitely worth a listen.  But Limb By Limb has it beat out by a nose due to those jams. 
Winner: Limb by Limb

Times played: 122
Songs Under Consideration: Colonel Forbin's Ascent, Fly Famous Mockingbird, Taste

Three songs!  But obviously there's a pairing here. And as these are stats, Taste that Surrounds and Fog that Surrounds aren't included.  So this is Taste without the fun Fishman vocals.  Taste is a fun song and one that I think is a bit underrated.  Some of those versions from 97 and 03 are truly wondrous versions and they get lost in the shuffle of other highlights from those years.  But it's not really fair to put it up against Forbin's and Mockingbird.  And how to decouple those songs?  Mockingbird has the great Trey soloing and is just a beautiful song that can sometimes really soar (bird pun!) but Forbin's has the actual meat of the Gamehendge vocals. And the term shit-ass.  If I'm picking, it's close but I'll go with Forbin's.  I think that if I was ever to catch this Live, that's the part I'd be more amped to see.  But it's very very close.

Winner: Forbin's

More 10 song chunks to follow.  Summary so far:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Phish Jersey Numbers

As a Phish fan that is not attending any of the NYE YEMSG shows this year, I have every reason to look forward to 2014 as the next big thing.  Coming off of a fall tour that exceeded expectations, pushed the envelope, and has the band poised for a huge NYE run (plus with a new album on the way) the future hasn't been this bright for The Phish in a long time it seems.  But when looking forward constantly (and always looking forward to the next big thing) you can sometimes lose sight of the past and what the band has done.  So, on the thirtieth anniversary of Phish, it seems like a good time to look back and try to offer a retrospective of sorts and hopefully in a way that hasn't been done before.

One of my favorite sports blog posts is when a writer goes through and selects, for each jersey number, who the best player is that wore it. So the writer needs to decide to try to rank jersey number 32, they would have to decide between Magic Johnson, Marcus Allen, Karl Malone, Jim Brown, Sandy Koufax, etc.  What a choice!  Magic was one of the greatest basketball players ever but Jim Brown was the best (in my opinion) running back to play in the NFL.  And Koufax's peak over six years was unrivaled in any sport.  To relate this to Phish, I wanted to go through the number of times each song is played (since there's 20 days or so before things change again) and try to identify the best and greatest Phish songs for each quantity of songs played.   Now clearly some of the songs have been played a unique number of times, and thus are default winners. That list is included here:

So these songs are out.  This will leave 70 values left that have at least two songs matching so we'll break those up into some other blog posts.  Obviously, once it gets down to less than 30 or so that's where things will get real interesting as the number of 2.0 and 3.0 songs escalate.  First post of 20 songs coming shortly.