Jamtology! Grateful Dead v Phish tourney results

July 18, 2020 by

GRATEFUL DEAD - Workingman's Dead - Amazon.com Music

A classic album shakedown! With the 50th anniversary of The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead upon us, we thought it would be fun to see how that classic stacked up against something from the second greatest jam band of all time – Phish. I recruited local Phisherman Michael Turner as guest chooser to select the most appropriate Phish studio album to engage in this friendly.  My man went with Billy Breathes. According to Michael, “It’s Phish’s toned-down, semi-acoustic album. Probably their equivalent to Workingman’s.” So there you have it… let’s spread a bit of Jamtology!

Billy Breathes - WikipediaIt’s definitely two different eras here: Workingman’s was released in 1970 and Billy came out in 1996. But Phish learned the jam-band ethos from The Dead and other groups who presided over dynamic and communal live events that inspired a fiercely loyal, itinerant fan base. Granted, the live setting is most definitely the preferred method by which to dig on these bands. But Jerry’s moved on to kinder bud and the 2020 Phish tour was a victim of the pandemic. So fuck it. Let’s celebrate a classic American studio recording along side a great Steve Lillywhite-produced effort to reel in the live Phish magic.

Since Billy runs 13 tracks to Workingman’s 8, we did a couple preliminary play-in polls on Twitter with six of the Billy tracks that Mr. Turner considered deeper cuts. (I do want to stress that all 13 tracks on Billy Breathes had an opportunity to make the field of 16.)

Each Round 1 match pitted a Dead tune against a Phish tune, and it wandered off from there. In the top half of the bracket, eventual champion “Uncle John’s Band” was dominant, frying up two Phish tunes before turning on their own compadres. I was bummed that Phish’s “Taste” couldn’t get a little in this half, and that “New Speedway Boogie” couldn’t make it off side one. Still, hard to argue with “Dire Wolf” in the Final 4.

The Grateful Dead - Uncle John's Band | Releases | Discogs

In the bottom half, the title track to Billy Breathes made Phish’s strongest bid for the Final 4, blowing away The Dead’s “Easy Wind” before being left at the station by “Casey Jones.” “Casey” eventually tooted his whistle all the way to the finals. While it helped with my troubles to see The Dead’s “Cumberland Blues” in the Final 4, I was saddened that “Character Zero” off Billy Breathes came to naught.

Frankly, it was no surprise that Workingman’s Dead ultimately dominated this little exhibition, with “Uncle John’s Band” taking home MVT honors (most valuable tune). Workingman’s is a treasured American recording by a generation-defining group. Billy Breathes is a winner for losing in this one though, and we thank the good guys of Phish for helping us commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of Workingman’s Dead. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go ball that jack.

Results are expressed in %.

Final Four

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