Blurring the Rail – Phish, Us, Hosing, & Everyone Else

(Dave Vann)

I feel bad for people that only like normal music.  I read the local paper everyday, and I read most of their concert reviews.  Janet Jackson recently played nearby and I read the review Janet Jackson works up a sweat, skimps on song length.  What stood out to me about the concert–with face-value tickets of up to $175.00–is the following:

From start to finish, Jackson’s show Sunday at the Milwaukee Theatre lasted 97 minutes, including a music video introduction, a couple of video montages and an extended band and dancer roll call.

97 Minutes.

That’s the average length of a Phish set in 3.0.  The point of this article isn’t the fact that Phish play longer sets than most other performers–there’s a lot of great live acts that don’t play over three hours a night–this is just the tip of the iceberg of how fuckin’ good we have it.

Page at Jets game 2010 (via @YEMblog)

When a person goes to see their favorite act, Janet Jackson in this case, they go with the understanding that they will be part of a crowd that’s there only because someone famous will be on stage.  Most people know that the famous person they are going to see doesn’t necessarily want to be there, and that nearly every concert before or after on the respective tour will be nearly identical.  They are attending (in most cases) to say they saw that famous person in front of them and their friends.  They know the songs won’t sound better than the album they come off of–in fact, chances are the songs will be worse or abbreviated versions.  But even these points are not the main point behind this article.

The reason Phish is special is because they blur the line between the fans at the concert and the ‘famous’ people at the concert.  We are not there so we can have the story of seeing our favorite performer play our favorite song in front of us.  We are not seen as a nuisance to the people on stage, simply going through the motions of a concert until the pre-determined setlist is over.  We are not a separate entity from the band, divided by a rail.  Phish blurs the that rail, they blur the line between the fans and the performers.

The examples of Mike frequently talking to fans in the parking lot, Trey welcoming photographs when seen on the street, Page is attending Jets and Mets games, and Fishman being spotted at the Woodstock Museum with his family merely support my larger point.  The larger point is that their concerts are special to everyone there–including Phish.  The energy from the rabid crowd floods the stage, and the energy from the band hoses down on us.  We are lucky because we have a band that sees their concerts as events as special as we see them.  One of the most beautiful and symbolic images is when Phish is playing in an arena, say MSG or Hampton, and the crowd surrounds the stage, placing them in the middle of us.  The symbolic setup turns real when the band, along with the crowd, reaches musical, spiritual, emotional, and absolutely raging pinnacles–sometimes multiple times a night.

Mike Alpine 2010 (P. Brotherhood)

When Janet Jackson takes the stage (I really don’t mean to pick on just her, especially after her unfortunate–and ACCIDENTAL– wardrobe malfunction), she goes into it like we go into a meeting we don’t really want to attend but have to because it’s what pays the bills.  When Phish take the stage, they’re there because it’s the only place they want to be (most of the time), like us.  We don’t pay to receive a concert, we pay to participate in one.

But what are these musical high points that combines the the energy from both entities, phans and band, into one explosion; what do I mean when I say there are times in Phish concerts that blur the rail separating phan and Phish?  Hose jamming.

To refresh some minds and inform newer phans about hosing, quotes Trey as follows:

… where the music is like water rushing through you and as a musician your function is really like that of a hose. And, and well his thing is that the audience is like a sea of flowers, you know, and you’re watering the audience. But the concept of music going through you, that you’re not actually creating it, that what you’re doing is — the best thing that you can do is get out of the way. So, when you are in a room full of people, there’s this kind of group vibe that seems to get rolling sometimes.”

It’s the point when we come together with the band and form something not experienced anywhere else in the Universe.  Phish is great at producing funk jams, rock jams, tension/release jams, and space jams, but WE are great at producing hose jams.

Once at Deer Creek, I remember hearing a pavilion ticket checker say to another, “Jesus, I’ve never seen this many people dancing at a concert before.”  I thought to myself, “you have no clue–this is only the second song.”

7.24.08 Trey in NYC (S. Horowitz)

What are some hose moments?  It’s a relative question.  To me, whenever the improvisation matches the energy of the crowd on a given night, or the crowd helps grow a jam past what the four members of Phish could accomplish alone.

The following examples are simply my opinion and obviously open to discussion below.

The first that comes to my mind is the 9/22/99 Gin from New Mexico.  After the Gin found a mellow-but-driven groove, one of the most unique and glorious jams followed.  After Trey started noodling, his body dissolved into nothing but a carbon-based conduit to what was happening around him.  The jam reaches a heavenly plateau of musical epiphany quickly with guitar leads that were aggressive and punctuated but not at all forced or abrasive.  At one point in the jam, the crowd simultaneously erupts into cheers.  Why did they erupt–nothing spontaneous happened at that exact moment.  They erupted (and it can be heard on the recording around 14:05) because they all realized that something really special was taking place.  Something they were participating in.  A reaction that a decorated nipple falling out couldn’t even yield.

Two things helpful in defining a hose jam at a show you were not at:

  • the inability to define what the jam sounded like or Phish genre it would most likely fit in
  • a cheer breaks out mid-jam for no obvious reason


While the whole jam certainly isn’t considered a hose, it gets started by the band matching the crowds volcanic energy.  The short segment of what I consider flirting with a hose jam (yes, I am ready to defend myself on this) can be found in a version of Ghost I wrote about in my first list of Jams that Capture Summer. When the crowd’s energy finally broke through the Atlanta heat separating the band and the phans, a very messy and very funky hose jam erupted.  It is one of the few hose jams that can be categorized into a genre: porno funk.  The combination of bass, synth, guitar and drums created a potion of music so foul, so ill-tempered, and so sexually-deviant, you should be put in jail for playing this around anyone younger than 18 and, for good measure, any grandparents in the vicinity.  You better tuck your pants into your socks when you walk into the short clip below so you don’t get any improvisational cum on your ankles.

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Ghost is no stranger to the hose.  One of the most recent and best examples of a hose is the 12/31/10 Ghost.  Like the New Mexican Gin, it’s hard to explain what it sounds like.  One of the most unique hose jams, and certainly one of the most famous, was the Ghost from 7/4/99.  While some may argue that this isn’t a hose jam because it doesn’t seem to reach any sort of musical peak, I’d argue that the hard-to-define jam reached a new place in our musical awareness.  Just listening to the jam is so mentally stimulating it can leave you feeling like you’re high.  The music was a snapshot of the mood and energy of the crowd.  A short clip that does the complete version no justice can be found below.

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Those are just a few off the top of my head.  Of course there is Great Went Gin, the 8/13/93 Gin from the Murat Theater (which I think is amazing), a handful of the 94-95 Bowies, and the fan-favorite “Real Gin” from 12/29/95 (that many people consider hose, but I disagree and think is overrated) that are worthy of citation when discussing the topic of hose jamming too.

I really do feel bad for most people.  I feel bad that fans of MGMT (like iPort) had to be disappointed attending their pseudo-headlining show for Outside Lands Festival because the band seemed like they didn’t want to be there.  I feel bad for DMB fans that will see Ants Marching as an encore multiple times if they go to more than two shows (at different venues) in a row.  I feel bad for fans of pop stars that need to rearrange their plans because their idol came down with another sore throat and had to cancel half a tour.  And I feel bad for Janet Jackson fans coughing up $175 to see less than 85 minutes of actual music.

The funny thing is that most of the fans listed above will never understand what I’m talking about.  The more you try to explain it to them, the more distant from it they become–they nervously laugh at it.  They think our passion and excitement is a joke.  It’s not.  It’s a joke that their excitement is based off what particular “hype man” is joining their favorite rapper on stage for a 60-minute set full of abbreviated hits.

Tickets are cheap for Dick’s this weekend.  It’s not often you can pay $90 for three life-changing experiences in a row.

Never forget how lucky we are.