looks like my setlist book

Check it out.

I love Phish song setlist abbreviations. Wow. That might be the dorkiest Phish-related thing I’ve ever said…

One of the fun things about’s “J-card mode” is that it captures the spirit of setlist notating. This is, as anyone who’s ever been to a Phish show with me can attest, something that I do religiously. I love the “writing down the setlist” aspect of Phish shows. I’m so stoked for that next song, my book and pen are always at the ready during those last few notes of the previous tune. There’s an exhilaration to writing down a song that you’ve really wanted to hear for a while – as if the very act of writing it down makes it real.

8/10/04 - Abbreviations on PYITE, BOAF, and H2. Short titles on "Theme," "Wolfman's," "Mike's," "Weekapaug," "Makisupa," and "Hood."

Essentially, it’s the live archiving of the memory, the actuality of song selection. Derrida would have some interesting things to say on this, no doubt. When Phish does a bustout or plays a song that I’ve never heard live before (as happened at my last show, New Year’s Eve, with “Weigh”), there are three things that preserve the moment into the future. One is, of course, my memory, which is the most special, visceral, and personal. Another is the recording of the show, which allows me to rehear and essentially relive the moment. Third is my setlist book. All three are important, and since it’s all about the music, it’s the former two that really count. But there is no physical representation in memory, and likewise, there is nothing that connects me to the recording. The only thing that is a physical account of the fact that I was there and heard it is the setlist book. I think that’s why I love it so much.

Character Zero

The other aspect, more germane to this post, is the fact that setlist writing has its own language, its own flow, and its own energy. When you’re dancing your face off and they segue into “Back on the Train,” you don’t have time to write “Back on the Train.” I just throw a “GBOTT” on there – nodding to the original title of the song – and keep on boogie-ing. Bluegrass music is way to much fun for dancing to write out “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own”; MMGAMOIO is much quicker and easier. Plus it’s very personalized, something that a commenter has already noted. On my first tape that I ever owned, I accidentally misspelled a song: “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters.” (Give me a break, it was my first tape). And I remember that when I dubbed that tape for my friends, they insisted that they replicate the misspelling. It was just part of the setlist, part of the show, part of that physical representation of that tape.

3/7/09. "Character Zero" set II closer. Typical.

One of my favorite things that I do is the way I write the song “Character Zero.” I think I saw someone else do it on a J-card once: I use the empty set symbol, basically a zero with a slash through it. I love it because it not only looks cool sitting at the bottom of that second set, but it also represents more or less how I feel about the song – there’s just not much there (it’s fun, it’s high energy, but when I hear it as an encore, I feel like I can take off early. That came around to bite me in the ass on 6/19/10, when they followed the “Zero” encore with the fourth “Tweeprise” in 2 days).

Why do I try to kill you?

Finally, I love the abbreviations and short titles because they’re our code, our secret language. We use it on bumper stickers, we craftily make license plates that look like random assortments of letters but it’s more like an inside joke. There was a car that we followed for more than 1000 miles back in 2003, basically keeping pace with them, which was Missouri plates “DVDSKY.” If you’re out there, we were the Green Tacoma with the University of Gamehenge license plate border.

For all these reasons, I’m stoked has decided to introduce J-card mode as a toggle option for setlist viewing. I can actually read the setlists faster this way! And to honor it, I’ll give my all-abbreviations fantasy setlist:

8/6/11 Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, NY
E: TMWSIY*->H2**, ø

*First time played without Avenu Malkeinu
**First stand alone Hydrogen since 10/7/99

Actually, that’s a pretty good looking show! The Seven Below gets really heavy and intense and breaks into BBFCFM. I bet the CTB->GBOTT is super funky :). And that Disease->Birds->Jesus Left Chicago is a mindbender!

Here are a few more examples from my own setlist books that draw heavily on abbreviation and short titles. I can feel memories from behind.

10/23/10. Beer + whiskey affects my handwriting. BBFCFM, HYHU, DwD, My Friend^2, and my self-penned "Meatprise."

7/8/03 - Lots of good ones here: MSO, LxL, and FEFY. Plus, set opener predictions in the upper right. We were all wrong.

2/28/03. I love the "Destiny!" with exclamation point. BOAF, GBOTT, plus some short titles in "Bouncin" and "Walls."


~ by Jake on February 6, 2011.

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