Phish Vs. Widespread Panic - Do you agree with these assessments?


David D's Take:


  • I am a musician, and I have very wide and diverse tastes in music, but I have never understood the appeal of either band. And I’m not trying to start a fight here, just giving an outsider’s opinion. Sometimes the nature of the live setting: the volume and immediacy, the energy of the crowd, can make maybe-mediocre music seem a lot more potent and meaningful. This is the bottom line with “jam bands”— it’s really all about the experience of the shows, and I can appreciate that. For the fans this gets translated into the recordings— you are reliving that experience, and don’t get why playing the live recording for your non-fan friends doesn’t do anything for them. I grant that both bands are talented musicians and performers, and god-bless-them for making a living with music, but it’s not like their songs have become standards that people cover with regularity outside of their fan base.

    meyers davis
  • I am a musician and have seen both bands dozens of times, including a HORDE show that they both performed at. There are a number of differentiating factors between the two bands but I will primarily focus on three for the sake of simplicity. Just for reference, I used to live 15 mins from Red Rocks and saw every one of Panic’s annual throw-downs for nearly a decade as well as travelling out of state multiple times to see their performances. Conversely, I started seeing Phish in 1992 when I was 15 and have seen them play at MSG alone 56 times. I am an East-Coaster who spent 20 years living on the West-Coast (and Colorado) but returned home to Upstate New York a few years ago (just before the Baker’s Dozen).
    First, the fans. Panic’s fans embody that southern hospitality and charm… until the whisky and cocaine hit and their angry, self centered inner child starts showing. Phish fans (and these are huge generalizations) are mostly college educated teachers and professionals that let their psychedelic freak flag of their youth fly a few times a year. Many are pretentious know-it-alls who need to take their anxiety meds before the show starts.
    Secondly, the musicians themselves differ quite a bit. Again, Phish are all college educated music majors and it shows. The “leader” of the band has been clean and sober for 14 years and has a clear focus on his craft. Their drummer holds a political office in the state of Maine. While Panic might be less of a drunken, dope fueled mess then in past years, the vibe remains. I was a huge fan of Mikey’s playing and an even bigger fan of the former frontman for Jazz is Dead. Jimmy Herring is a “wizard” of sorts but has clearly had to dumb down his playing to blend in with his bandmates. Dave Schools is one of my favorite bassists and I think he is as good as Mike Gordon but maybe with a little more soul, if that makes sense. JB’s stage persona is quite different than who he is off stage. It’s an act. For that reason alone, I think Panic lacks a degree of authenticity.
    Lastly, the music. Both bands are great at what they do and have legions of followers who swear by them. There are even a few fans evolved enough to enjoy what both bands have to offer. Having said that, I think that Widespread Panic is an overrated southern bar band that got real big and sound the same basically every song. Some people may assert that all Phish songs sound like the same noodle-jamming throughout their shows. And it may to the untrained ear. Phish music is (sometimes overly-) complex and if you can follow it, takes your mind on a ride of crescendos and decrescendos like a rollercoaster. They are the masters of tension and release. They can build such an abundance of musical “chaos” that once they open the floodgates can have you swimming in a smooth soul-satisfying funk that can be found nowhere else. Widespread Panic is not without their charm but once I took a step back from the drunken, cocaine and “molly” fueled debauchery, I realized they are just a Southern Blues band that got way too big. Phish I guess is for the most part a more refined sound and scene, especially in their later years. Their creative musical genius is still going strong after nearly 40 years. It takes great creativity and discipline to play 13 back to back shows without repeating a single song. I guess I am a bit biased as I look for more than “just a good time” at a show. As a musician, I listen closely at the technical aspects of the performance and find that while Panic might rock hard in 4:4 timing all night, Phish will blow the mind and melt the face of the attentive listener.
    I hope that you’ve found my analysis and compare/contrast of these two Jam-Band giants helpful and informative.

    Bill Millar
  • The Macon show Melissa is referring to was in 2006, not 2015.


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