[The views expressed in this article do not necessarily comport with the views of any of the many volunteers who help run this site and manage its content. The author of this post is also not in control of his faculties, and you the reader agree to hold Phish.Net harmless from any and all liability for this blog’s contents. If this article appears TOO LONG and you DON’T want to READ it: Trust show ratings at your peril, as there is no truth in them. The only truth is in you.]
IT is well-known that users can and do rate Phish shows on this site by awarding them one, two, three, four or five stars. A logged-in user simply views a setlist’s "permalink page"—for example, this beauty right here—and, behold! Beneath the setlist in the section headed “SHOW RATING,” you the user are invited to provide “Your rating:” of the show by clicking on one-to-five blank stars that fill-in the moment your mouse hovers over them. If you’ve already rated the show, one or more of the stars will be filled-in and not blank when you first view the section. And after you’ve rated a show, you can change the rating with ease, if you wish, by hovering a mouse over the stars and rating the show anew. The “Show Ratings” section also states the number of times the show has been rated by unique users and its “Overall” average rating out to three decimal places, with one point calculated per star. One of the greatest musical performances in the history of music by any group of musicians in recorded history, for example, is currently rated an average of 4.761 by 1400 users.
What is less well-known or even understood is how much Phish the Typical Fan Who Rates Shows on this site has actually heard, or seen. How many users of this site who rate shows only rate shows they’ve attended? How many users who rate shows on this site have heard every or nearly every circulating note of Phish—all shows in Phish history, the recordings of which stream on Relisten.net or Phish.in or LivePhish—and thus wield a judicious sense of what characteristics constitute an above, below, or “Average Typically Great” Phish show? A few hundred perhaps?
It is thus forgivable that some (perhaps you yourself) find this site’s “Show Ratings” to be at least hilariously if not outrageously unreliable, often so grossly inflated that it’s prudent to distrust and disregard them with the most extreme prejudice.
The ratings of shows are no doubt also biased due to mischief by countless, ignorant users who never actually listened to the show that they rated; for example, 10/26/85 Goddard College has ten votes and a 4.5 rating, even though no show was performed on that date. (And yes, I agree with you: if I could, I would terminate the accounts of not only the ten users who rated that show, but also any users in the database associated with those ten users’ IP addresses or Phish.net accounts in any way, shape or form.)
Why take show ratings seriously at all, when the act of rating a show is inherently subjective? Attendance bias is real, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and a person may get IT with respect to Phish’s music, or be transfigured by gloriously transcendent and spine-tingling BLISS, upon hearing even an ordinary version of a Phish song for reasons unique to their life and perception. For an example of this, one need look no further than the magically miraculous significance of the show-closing-but-otherwise-standard “Antelope” last Saturday at Dicks to @Scissortail, as he beautifully explains in his recap of the show for this blog. Or to my experience in finally getting IT with Phish’s music—almost four years after I first saw Phish—during a perfunctory “2001” at Wolf Trap. Or to your experience upon hearing ____ at a show after you’d chased it for years and years. You’d forgotten how much the song meant to you and, upon seeing it for the first time, you were awed and SURPRISED BY JOY! Perhaps you got your first “Bouncin’” or “Sparkle” or “Army of One” or “My Soul”!!!!!!
But as we all know (if we possess critical thinking skills exceeding that of pond scum), as subjective as our perception necessarily is, we can still be mindful of our biases—negative and positive—and exercise restraint when awarding stars to and “rating” a show which is, after all, a work of art. And undoubtedly the “top rated” shows are rated highly by fans for compelling reasons, including that they contain remarkable, well-above “average-great” versions of songs.
And rating shows is often fun, isn’t it? Like dancing about architecture, rating improvisational musical performances can be and usually is very amusing—even readicculus! Reducing a transcendent musical performance that infuses and uplifts your soul, that fills your consciousness with multi-colored, brilliant phantasmagoria, and that MOVES YOU TO TEARS to, simply, “five stars” ? lolz
I have rated the show at which I finally Got IT with Phish’s music, 7/17/93 Wolf Trap, only one (1) star. Why? Because after having listened to and analyzed Phish’s music for 34 years, I think it deserves only one star.
Here’s how I rate shows using this website’s (silly and capricious) five-star rating system.
Five Stars: An exceptional Phish show for the era in which it occurs, whose musical highlights are likely to be appreciated and lauded by fans forever. These shows don’t simply involve jamchartworthy, if not legendary, “must hear” versions of Phish's most popular improvisational songs, they are praised by fans for “flow” and song selection and, yes—by fans who were in attendance—for the lights, the scene and (gasp) the “vibe” as well. They are “complete shows,” too, in that not only are many if not all of the set openers and closers and encore strong, but there’s also no weak “quarter” (think of the first set as having a first and second quarter, and the second set having a third and fourth quarter).
Many if not most of the “top rated” shows on this site that have ratings of 4.5+ are absolutely worthy of five stars as I hear them, though many are overrated or underrated to be sure as well. For example, I’d give 8/10/97 Deer Creek five stars simply because it has a spectacular “SOAM” and a magnificent, hear-at-all-costs “Hood” in the first set, and the sickest “Cities” in Phish history and a triumphant “Bowie” in the second set, and it’s also a very spellbinding show overall, even for 1997, arguably Phish’s greatest year musically speaking—despite having a twisted theramin-ized “rotation jam” (!) in it and a “Cavern” encore lol. Even Trey’s banter at the end of “Hood” and the first set is “must hear”!
8/10/97 is not simply “complete,” it is completely bananas—a masterpiece of a PHISH show. At this time it has been rated by 277 users and only has a 4.531 rating on this jamband website. Anyone who rated this show (or Cypress for that matter) less than five stars is an ignorant and deaf chode who sucks at Phish so profoundly that they should be forced to listen to 8/15/09 MPP’s mid-second set “Alaska, Let Me Lie” nightmare on repeat until they projectile vomit, then have their ears slowly hacked off with a rusty oyster fork as 10/25/16 Grand Prairie’s mid-second-set “The Line, Tide Turns” is blasted at them at a volume that ruptures their ear drums, and then be boiled alive in a giant cauldron of oil accompanied by 12/31/16 MSG’s late third set “555, Ocelot,” before being drawn and quartered and burned at the stake, with their ashes scattered at sea at least three nautical miles from land in regulatory compliance with the Clean Water Act!
I think the Saturday 9/2/23 Dicks show—which inspired me to write this post, along with the other recent Dicks shows described below (and along with the oxycodone I’ve been advised to consume every four-to-six hours for purposes of pain management, as I had surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in my right ankle and I’m in a cast and mostly on my back for at least three fucking weeks)—is arguably worthy of five stars, since it’s going to be among the best shows of the year, and it features the longest known encore in Phish history. But I say “arguably” because even though it has a strong “AC/DC Bag” and fantastic fourth quarter (“46 Days” > “Howling” > “Piper”), it isn’t an exceptional show start-to-finish, in that the first set was “average great” after the unquestionably jamchartworthy show-opening “Fluffhead.” So, I’ve given 9/2/23 Dicks
Four Stars: A show that is or will likely be among the finest of the year (or at least the tour!), given its improvisational musical highlights. For me, such a show must have at least a few stunning musical performances—in context. So for example I’d give 6/7/09 Camden four stars even though it contains only two strong, well-above-average versions of songs in it, the “Sand” and “Tweezer,” because it also has a pleasant old-school first set setlist AND a four-song encore AND it occurred during a very inconsistent summah terr in a (comparatively) ok-fine-satisfactory year for Phish. And, in a welcome coincidence, 6/7/09, which has been rated as of now by 228 users, is rated 4.167 stars on this site—a justifiable, reasonable rating for one of the better shows of 2009.
Three Stars: A typically great Phish show, or “average-great” show if you will. The show features consistently strong playing by all four band members, and at least a few noteworthy improvisational performances that make at least some songs played at the show worth relistening to. Think Friday Dicks 9/1/23, which has above-average jamchartworthy versions of “Wolfman’s,” “Sand” and (show-closing!) “SOAM,” but none are monumental, magnificent, “must-hear” performances in the history of these songs. (Fwiw, I’m a sucker for “Halfway to the Moon” and think that, given Trey and Page’s interplay in this stellar version, it should make its adorable jam chart—but I must convince the jamchart team of this or it won’t happen.) This show is, unsurprisingly, grossly overrated as of now with a 4.344 rating. Disgusting. You people should be ashamed of yourselves.
Anyway I bet if you were at the Friday Dicks show you can justify giving it four stars if you thought “the vibe” and lights were great, not just the music. But a typical Phish show has a great vibe and Chris is nearly always a wizard-genius behind the lightboard. And a typical “average-great” Phish show also has enjoyable (and popular) song selection and at least a good if not gorgeously smooth “flow” song-to-song in each set, too. And any vet will tell you that the vibe or “energy in the room” of a Phish show (or other musical concert for that matter!) is often electric (whether you feel it or not due to your own shit), and when the vibe is more than average-great, as it was for example on 12/31/02 and 3/6/09 and yes even 7/28/21, or less than average-great or even ominous as on 8/14/04, it’s palpable to nearly all in attendance. It’s thus asinine to factor the vibe into rating a typical show, as it’s not an objectively musical characteristic of the performance that is verifiable on the recording, inarguably differentiating the show from others on a typical tour.
But if the vibe is truly transcendent and omnipresent, unequivocally influencing everyone’s perception of everything—positively or negatively? In such an Event, factoring the vibe into rating a show you attended has a rational basis, and is defensible to those sufficiently wretched and bereft of hope to care about “Show Ratings.” Giving Cypress five stars is a no-brainer of course, but what about shows with a spectacularly good vibe but meek music like 3/6/09 Hampton (which has a sweet setlist but arguably only one musical highlight in its “Fluffhead" opener, given everyone's expectations), or a show with a murky, morbid vibe and music that at times is “must hear” marvelous and at other times all-embracingly atrocious, like Coventry? What does it even matter?
Two Stars: A wee bit below an “average great” show, in that while there are some musical highlights (e.g., a version of a song worth relistening to, or a bust-out or two), and songs were generally performed professionally, the show for whatever reason(s) just wasn’t as “typically great” as Phish tends to deliver night after night.
For example, Thursday Dicks 8/31 is a two-star show imo. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Trey to take the stage given James Casey’s death only a few days before. It makes me physically ill (more than I already am now) just thinking about it, and I didn’t even know the lovely soul all say James Casey was, is! (Colon cancer almost killed my dad twenty years ago and I’ve been getting colonoscopies regularly ever since.) 8/31 opened well with a strong “Carini” (likely to be jamcharted), but otherwise the show was typically average-great, average-wonderful, average-enjoyable, average-“solid” Phish, at its best. The “Ruby Waves” is cool to be sure, and “Tweezer” is mesmerizing at times, and exceeds 22 minutes(!), but in the context of the last decade—which has borne witness to many awe-inspiring, lengthy versions—the improv in the 8/31 “Tweezer” is a mixed-bag.
As is par for the course for “Tweezer” nowadays, Fish, Mike and Page expertly accompany Trey’s lead soloing, and his soloing-phrasing is fluid most of the time (because of course it is, it’s TREY, after all!), but imo you can hear Trey’s mind wonder at times, you can hear him try to find a theme, and as beguiling as the band’s collective improv gets it doesn’t ever really click or gel imo; there’s certainly nothing that approaches full-band transcendent “hose.” It’s like “average-albeit-GREAT Tweezer jamming,” which is why I’m not recommending it be jamcharted as an above-average version of the song (in this era!). Compare it with the 8/5/23 “Guy Forget Tweezer” and I’d be surprised if you didn’t find that version’s improv to be much more enchanting, more vigorous, more sublime. And yes yes I realize how subjective and absurd this sounds, especially if this 8/31 Dicks “Tweezer” is your favorite version and the greatest musical experience of your life, and that’s FANTASTIC, very glad to hear it, but imnsfho based on having heard every version that circulates this isn’t a “Tweezer” I’d recommend anyone listen to, unless the only versions they’ve heard were performed in the early 1990’s I guess, as this one would then blow their mind lol. I hope this helps contextualize why I believe 8/31 Dicks deserves no more than two stars despite having a 22 minute “Tweezer” in it!
And 8/31/23 is currently overrated at 3.854 on this website. Users who rated 8/31/23 five stars should be patted on the head in as pitifully condescending a manner as is practicable, and have their privilege to rate shows on this site suspended until after they have submitted a PDF of a handwritten essay of at least five-hundred words to [email protected] entitled, “How I Intend To Stop Sucking At Phish, Or At Least To Stop Overrating Phish Shows.” Users who rated 8/31/23 three or four stars are asked to reconsider, and just pretend for a moment that “Show Ratings” matter even though they don’t matter at all, because I get it, it’s extremely difficult not to give at least three stars and an “average-GREAT” verdict/rating to a show with a fucking twenty-two minute “Tweezer” in it. I mean come on! We sure are spoiled by "20+ Minute Jams" these days, aren't we? Sigh.
How emotionally drained do you think Trey was when he collapsed into bed after the 8/31 show!? Imagine having to do your job in front of tens of thousands of people a mere three days after losing someone you love, particularly a colleague who made you a better musician and person. (!) How would you then feel if you heard the next day that some rando supposed fan on the internet, who can’t even hold a guitar properly much less play it, rated your performance “two stars”?
One Star: Phish showed up to play, and play they did. But for whatever reason(s)—e.g., heartbreak, weather delay, food poisoning, some shithead on the rail negatively vibing the band and everyone around him—or for no appreciable reason at all, the show had few if any musical highlights and wasn’t one of (or was very unlikely to become one of) the better shows of the tour—or year. It was simply a well-below “average typically great” Phish show within the context of its tour and era.
And there’s nothing wrong with that at all whatsoever.
The show’s flow and song-selection may have all been delightful in your opinion and in mine as well. We love Phish’s music, and Phish routinely performs great shows worth every penny to have attended. They’re professionals. And while the music is not always gonna be “must hear” or “best ever” of course, and sure at times I’ve wished Trey had rehearsed playing certain songs before playing them in front of thousands of fans or—even better—learned to play other band members’ songs at least as well as his own, being present at a show is a blessed event itself for which we are and should always be grateful.
I give thanks all the time for Trey’s sobriety, don’t you? We know never to take Phish for granted, and that the show we’re seeing might be our last.
That said, Sunday 9/3 Dicks? Easy one-star show. It was largely played well to be sure, and typical average-great versions of songs abound. But there weren’t really any musical highlights, except for the jam in “Everything’s Right.” And will this version make its jam chart? Probably not, given how many truly remarkable performances there have been of the song to date.
When I listened to Trey in the 9/3 “Hood” for the first time, I nearly burst into tears at the beginning of the jam segment, as you can hear emotional fragility in his tentative playing—was James’s death weighing heavily on him? Listening to it a second time now, with Trey’s love for James in mind? I’m crying.
After first seeing Phish in my sophomore year of college on 10/6/89 (a show that does not circulate on tape and never has, which five turd-burglars have rated), and after trading Phish tapes and listening to their music for years, I nevertheless didn’t truly get IT with Phish’s music until just over 30 years ago on 7/17/93 at Wolf Trap, the only time Phish performed at that venue. As explained in a review I wrote decades ago, I got IT during a straightforward version of “2001,” only the second version the band had ever performed, as it had debuted the night before on 7/16/93 at the Mann.
In the context of 1993 (a thrilling year for Phish), Wolf Trap’s only musical highlights were (1) good versions of “Reba” and “Tweezer” (which are worth your time to listen to, especially if you’ve not listened to much from 1.0, but they aren’t jamcharted as they’re not exceptionally strong for 1993; although I’d take this 7/17/93 "Reba" over most versions since 1.0!); (2) a “Leprechaun,” as that instrumental was only performed three times in Phish history—and only in July 1993; and (3) Fish “playing” an hilariously out-of-tune acoustic stringed instrument (I hesitate to call it a “guitar”) during the all-hallowed composition that is “Faht.” If one considers this 7/17/93 show in its context—summer 1993—it’s among the least impressive musically, worthy of one star. But to me? That one star will forever be shining, and I couldn’t care less how the show rates “Overall.” And nor should you. $0.02.