Since the jam chart team has just published a revised chart for Ghost, we thought it would be informative, and perhaps even interesting (for some) to learn more about the process of updating a major jam chart. Ghost is a cherished, fan-favorite jamming song. Going in to this process, we knew that the results would be closely scrutinized, debated, and that we would draw the ire of those who disagree with some of our decisions, like which versions to highlight.
Why did we even feel the need to tinker with the Ghost jam chart? First, the former Ghost chart was assembled in a hurried and somewhat haphazard manner, part of a much larger effort to introduce a new and improved jam chart format that occurred in December 2013. Second, a quick glance at the (now) former chart gave us reason to believe that the chart was overlooking important versions, and underrepresenting particular years. Consider these statistics: the former chart had thirteen versions from 1997 and two from 1999. Likewise, 2003 and 2004 were represented by five total versions, and we inherently knew that the 2.0 era is particularly strong from a jamming perspective. So we set out to do a comprehensive review of all 133 live performances of Ghost, seeking to ensure that a revised chart did not overlook any strong improvisational versions, and that the final chart would reflect the entire performance history of Ghost, covering the high water marks across all years and eras. The team consisted of Marty Acaster (@Doctor_Smarty), Pete Skewes-Coxe (@ucpete), Andrew Stavely (@Westbrook) and me. Below is a description of the processes we employed:
We at Phish.net were greatly saddened to hear of the untimely death of phan Harris Wittels, host of the hilarious Analyze Phish podcast and writer for Parks and Recreation (among many other comedic endeavors). To remember him, we turned to Nathan Rabin, author of You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me, a memoir of his experiences following Phish and the Insane Clown Posse. Nathan appeared on Episode 7 of Analyze Phish to discuss his book and attempt to help Harris convince co-host Scott Auckerman of Phish's greatness. He is the former head writer for The A.V. Club and currently a staff writer at The Dissolve.
Remembering Harris Wittels
By Nathan Rabin (@nathanrabin)
At the age of 30, Harris Wittels had the kind of credits men twice his age would be proud to claim. He’d written for three of the best, most groundbreaking and beloved sitcoms of the past twenty years in The Sarah Silverman Program, Eastbound & Down and Parks & Recreation, where he was an Executive Producer and could be found in some episodes wearing a Phish tee shirt and playing a hapless guy named Harris.
Harris was an essential part of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast before fusing two of his great loves: podcasting and Phish, into his brilliant podcast Analyze Phish. As if all that weren’t impressive enough for one lifetime he was also a gifted stand-up comedian, talented drummer with Don’t Stop Or We’ll Die, a columnist at Grantland, the coiner of the term of Humblebrag and the author of the book spun off the column.
Yet Harris was so much more than the sum of his incredible credits that it felt maddening and reductive to see obituary headlines that referred to him as a Parks & Recreation producer or Humblebrag coiner because the whole of Wittels was so much greater than the sum of its remarkable parts.
On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, the improvisational rock community lost a brilliant and generous man in Eric Vandercar. While commuting home from work to his wife, his teenage son, and young daughter, Eric’s northbound train hit a car at a crossing in Westchester County, NY. It was the deadliest train crash in the history of the Metro-North line, which is the second most-ridden commuter railroad in America (second only to the Long Island Rail Road).
For several decades, Eric taped and circulated the shows of many bands, including Phish, Grateful Dead, moe., Spin Doctors, The Radiators, and others. Copies of several hundred of the shows that he taped circulate on the Live Music Archive, for example. His love of the music so many of us share in common cannot be overstated. And his generosity in circulating that music was, and continues to be, both magnificent and inspiring.
A "Triple Nipple" refers to any show in which Phish plays all three* of their original songs that refer to nipples**: "Fee", "Punch You in the Eye", and "The Sloth". They've been an item of amusement for decades. But even the FAQ's Triple Nipple page has until recently had the numbers wrong.
Corrected numbers reveal something that's long been elusive, partly because we didn't even know to look for it: There have only been two such shows, such that the next one will be the one, the only, Third Triple Nipple - the cubed cube, the apex of nubbin allusion, the supernumerary of supernumerary shows.
The following reflections on the Miami New Year’s Run come to us from an old time Phish fan who last saw the band on July 26, 1992, at the Big Birch Concert Pavilion in Patterson, NY. On that date in 1992, Phish played a 1-set, 7-song opener for Santana. To underscore the significant gap in time between shows, the last time the writer saw Phish, more than 22 years and 1011 Phish performances ago, Bill Clinton had not yet been elected President. The writer is a musician and bard himself, and here are his unedited reflections on seeing Phish for the first time in 22 years:
"When I think of Phish, I think of phar out melodies and a phuriously phunky rhythm section. If I could I surely would dance till the lights came up and when they did I would shout out loud "Whoo Hoo!". Phunking all right!
Phish is the little band that could. Trey, Page, Michael and Jon, old buds who formed and forged their sound in the little old state of Vermont. They stuck together through the turbulence and turmoil and learned how to make magic. It always begins with a little love, some sweet nectar and a dream.
Now my love does not eat meat, so I am going Phishing. Won't you join me?
Until last fall, every announced tour brought a common lament: "West Coast screwed again." But the data has a different refrain: While the West Coast gets plenty of love, it's the band's home turf that gets routinely shafted - and moreso across the band's history.
The mantra "follow the line going south" did not emerge in lyrics or tour patterns until 1987, following four years solely in New England. By 2014, Phish had abandoned Patriots territory - but they still played Seahawks city.
And last fall was hardly an anomaly. There have been more shows in Pacific states than New England ones in 12 of 23 periods - including 1997 and 2004, in particular. New England has even fallen behind non-US shows in six periods!
As far as we know, Phish didn't play any Monday shows their first two years. And except for some regular gigs in 1988, Monday (and the first half of the week) remained less likely to have a show for most of their history. I know, you're not surprised... But there are two interesting twists in the pattern.
First, the distribution of shows across the week became more even throughout the 90s. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were played 2-3 times as often from '89 to '94. But by '97, Wednesday was just as common as Saturday; and by 2000, even Monday tied with Saturday! Gone were the days of booking weekend gigs at clubs in college towns; Phish could play anywhere, any night of the week.
But since the breakup, weekend shows are, once again, twice as likely as Monday. And now, even Thursdays are slipping away. The aggregate pattern now is fewer weeks, and 5 shows in each of them: Tues/Wed and Fri/Sat/Sun. (Two coming graphs will delve more into the related shift towards multiple-night runs in each venue.)