A guide to Phish's on-stage hand signals, from Drunken Bar Swing to Pork Tornado

Categories: Phish

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Eric Gruneisen. Full slideshow.
You're not a real fan until you know the hand signals. These fine folks definitely know the hand signals.
When a band doesn't rely on a set list, musicians often find other ways to communicate on stage during the music. Phish, a band utterly reliant on improvisation, has gotten particularly good at this. In fact, the band has created a whole non-verbal language to let its members know what song to go into next.

We've put together a collection of hand signals that have been caught on tape and created a handy guide and naming system so you can figure out what they're doing up there. Some of the signals make sense, others...are a bit of a stretch. So we've also graded each of them, from one to ten Mike Gordon fight bells. For the uninitiated: More fight bells are better. They're like cowbell in that way.


Song it signals: "Bug"
When it was used: 7/3/12 at Jones Beach (:21 mark)
Name of hand signal: The Farmhouse Fly Swatter
How to do it: Put left arm out. Raise right arm. Bring right arm into downward thrust, aiming right palm directly at left forearm. Smack left forearm with right palm as if killing a bug on said arm.
How much sense it makes: Nine fight bells. It is the exact motion you would use to kill a bug if it was stinging your arm.


Song it signals: "Cross Eyed and Painless"
When it was used: 8/19/12 at Bill Graham (:02 mark)
Name of hand signal: The Jerry Lewis
How to do it: Raise hands to sides of face. Stick out both pointer fingers, with remaining fingers in a fist. Take fingers from both sides of face, point them towards each other in a horizontal direction. Bring fingertips closer until they touch in front of your nose.
How much sense it makes: Ten fight bells. The action of the fingers causes you to actually cross your eyes, thus perfectly pantomiming the first part of the song title.

Song it signals: "The Curtain With" When it was used: 7/27/13 at The Gorge Name of hand signal: It's So Stuffy in Here How to do it: Put hands down, palms facing up. Curl fingertips in, then raise hands up about five inches. Bring closed fists together in front of chest. Pull fists apart from each other. How much sense it makes: 9 fight bells. It looks like you are opening a window, then opening a curtain. One point was taken off for the unnecessary window part, the curtain pantomime is understood on its own.
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44 comments
Eric Bosch
Eric Bosch

Fact: haters suck. So does this "article". ^ Thanks for the chuckle Christy. See you this summer!

Christy Articola
Christy Articola

Actually the definition of lingo implies it is shared by a group of people. A hand signal trey used once does not for that definition

Sean Dolan
Sean Dolan

Awesome to see mildly offended white people defend one of the lamest bands around.

Emily Shivy
Emily Shivy

Thank you Westword for inspiring me to stop following you with your stupid articles written by people who are great at writing top ten lists. Stop pretending you know what you're talking about and pay people to write pieces that people want to read.

Ossama Hussein
Ossama Hussein

we get plenty of hippie and even punk, can we get a legit hip hop fest?

Nicholas Richter
Nicholas Richter

Another pathetic attempt by westword to pretend they know what the hell they're talking about.

Jeremy Coss
Jeremy Coss

They really aren't playing all the festivals this year. That's outkast

Christy Articola
Christy Articola

Also only about 1% of westword readers are interested in the subject matter so I find it really strange

Christy Articola
Christy Articola

I love phish. This article is terrible. Just like it was last time you posted it. No offense to the author but a one time movement to indicate a song on one occasion does not make it "lingo"

Sean Dolan
Sean Dolan

HI... As an editor/writer of a magazine dedicated to how much Phish suck... I'd like to let Westword know that a majority of the people at these shows just go to score drugs and party. Because it's actually impossible to like this crap unless completely out of your gourd. Christ these dumb shits don't even know who Ozric Tentacles are.... Please endeavor to research the complete suck of this band before posting inaccurate articles.

Keith Morton
Keith Morton

Love me some hand signs "INSIDE" of the one and only Andrew Baldwin ;-)

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin

Keith Morton Drew Ericson Josh DiGello Kenny Munroe Sarah PlantsFlowers

Christy Articola
Christy Articola

As editor/publisher of a magazine dedicated to phish (Facebook.com/sttflow, surrendertotheflow.com) I always appreciate westwords heavy coverage of phish. However, this article makes it sound like these are engrained in phish culture, rather than the truth, which is "One time Trey told Page what song was next by doing this motion." Still, a cute article. But these are not common hand signals. Also, it's kind of an overly specific article for a large publication like westword - I'm willing to bet only about 5% of your readers are interested enough in phish to be interested in this article, but I suppose it helps to expand your readership far beyond Denver metro, so, good strategy I suppose :)

Cory Upton-Cosulich
Cory Upton-Cosulich

red rocks was like a game of charades. great journalism, thanks for the scintillating read!

theuglypig
theuglypig

what a horrible waste of time reading this tripe was.

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

Lol... this is hilariously well researched. great job

Robby James
Robby James

I smell dsgp dates coming this week. See ya Labor Day!

yodownmuthalicka
yodownmuthalicka

I know Ozric Tentacles, douchebag. Been into them as long as Phish. Trey is a far more talented guitar player than Ed (he's actually my friend). So, have a nice cup of STFU with your elitist opinions and all. What a joke.

phxmark86
phxmark86

@yodownmuthalicka  Anonymity is your friend here, dude, b/c your words would equal missing teeth if these words were spoken in person.sean and I would put you upside down in a trash can and piss on you if you had the balls to actually claim these words. Coward

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