A Guide to Phish's On-Stage Hand Signals, From Drunken Bar Swing to Pork Tornado

Categories: Phish

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Eric Gruneisen
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, they 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, they have 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 10 Mike Gordon fight bells. For the uninitiated: More fight bells are better. They're like cowbell in that way.

See also: Eight Things You'll See and Hear At Phish's MSG Run


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: 10 fight bells. The action of the fingers causes you to actually cross your eyes, thus perfectly pantomiming the first word 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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