Phish

What The Numbers Say About Phish’s Urban Legends

Phish fans have a lot of strongly held beliefs. Never miss a Sunday show. Indoor Phish shows are better than outdoor Phish shows. New Years Eve runs are the best Phish shows to see. But are these beliefs actually true? I decided to investigate what the stats have to say.

(all numbers were scraped from Phish.Net and only include data for 3.0 Phish)

Sundays really are the best Phish shows:

Day Median rating
Sunday 4.145
Friday 4.095
Saturday 4.06
Wednesday 3.86
Tuesday 3.815
Thursday 3.74
Monday 3.735

 

The difference is stark and frankly, quite surprising to me. Weekend shows are significantly better than weekday shows. There are a few reasons why this may be the case. Weekend shows are more likely to host multi-show runs at one venue. If the band is playing Friday-Saturday-Sunday at the same venue, they don’t have to travel (allowing them to be more relaxed), they are used to the venue/sound dynamics, and most importantly, they have much more time to get relaxed and in the zone. The other possible explanation is Phish simply plays better shows on the weekend because the weekend is a more exciting time.  This is part of a much larger question, does Phish have control over when they play well, or is it just a function of randomness?

The next question I wanted to look into is whether Phish shows are better in the fall/winter vs summer. To most Phish fans, this isn’t even a question. Summer shows are more fun, but fall and winter shows are better musically.

At first glance, it appears the numbers support this view:

Median Fall/Winter Show 4.045
Median Summer Show 3.99

But upon further inspection, this seems to break down. One third of the fall/winter shows Phish has played since the start of 3.0 have been part of New Years Eve runs. As New Years Eve shows are ranked significantly higher than regular shows, this biases the numbers. After removing New Years Eve runs from the calculation, summer shows come out slightly ahead.

Median Summer Show 3.99
Median Fall/Winter Show Without NYE 3.93

There is a lot of debate as to what Phish’s best and worst years have been since they got back together in 2009. Some love 2012, while others love 2015. It seems like most people dislike 2016. What do the numbers say?

Year Average Show Rating
2017 4.19
2015 4.16
2012 4.14
2016 4.11
2014 4
2013 4.06
2010 4.02
2011 3.885
2009 3.59

When is Phish at their best? Is it on New Years Eve? Is it at a festival? For Halloween? I decided to compare all special Phish runs and see what the favourites are:

Average Show Rating
Magnaball 4.61
Halloween 2016 4.59
Halloween 2014 4.55
Halloween 2013 4.42
The Baker’s Dozen 4.39
Superball 4.34
New Years Eve run 2016 4.31
New Years Eve run 2013 4.28
New Years Eve run 2015 4.28
New Years Eve run 2012 4.24
New Years Eve run 2010 4.14
Halloween 2010 4.12
New Years Eve run 2014 3.99
Mexico 2017 3.94
Festival 8 3.92
New Years Eve run 2011 3.76
New Years Eve run 2009 3.74
Mexico 2016 3.72

Since New Years Eve 2017 is coming up, and many people are forecasting how good the shows are going to be, I can add the two following thoughts: 1) In the past, there being a fall tour is uncorrelated with the quality of the new years eve run 2) The quality of shows for the year is strongly correlated (.68) with how good the New Years Eve run is though. In light of how great Phish has been in 2017, I would forgot about the lack of fall tour and expect a great run.

For fun, here is a list of the bottom and top five shows of 3.0:

Bottom 5
1 TUESDAY 10/25/2016 VERIZON THEATRE AT GRAND PRAIRIE
2 TUESDAY 06/16/2009 THE FOX THEATRE
3 SATURDAY 08/15/2009 MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION
4 SATURDAY 06/06/2009 COMCAST CENTER
5 FRIDAY 07/22/2016 THE FORUM
Top 5
1 TUESDAY 07/25/2017 MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
2 FRIDAY 10/31/2014 MGM GRAND GARDEN ARENA
3 SUNDAY 08/06/2017 MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
4 FRIDAY 08/31/2012 DICK’S SPORTING GOODS PARK
5 SUNDAY 07/27/2014 MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION

What’s my takeaway from all of this?

What makes Phish shows great is that nobody, including the band, knows what’s going to happen once the band gets on stage. Phish goes on stage and takes risks; whether or not they will be rewarded with a great jam is largely outside of their control. However, I now believe that there is less randomness than I originally thought. Special runs and weekend shows consistently rank better than ordinary and weekday shows. This can only happen if Phish is capable of playing better shows when they want to.

After looking through this data, my advice for making the most out of any Phish trips is the following:

  • If Phish is having a great year, go and see them;
  • Try and maximize the number of weekend runs you see compared to weekday shows;
  • Try and see special runs (ie Festivals or Halloween) over ordinary shows;
  • To know that every show, even if it’s on Tuesday in a horrible venue, could be one for the ages, and that a Sunday show in an amazing venue on a special run can still suck.

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy my crowdsourced ranking of the best and worst Phish songs.