Out of the 84 songs we heard over the three nights at Hampton, only three were new to the Phish catalog. Though the band has over twenty demos recorded for their new album, they broke out only three “new” songs. But the choice of these three songs placed amidst the sacred Phish canon fit congruently with Trey’s assessment of the weekend in Rolling Stone- “Let’s take a step back together- and simultaneously a step forward.”
“Backwards Down the Number Line,” “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” and “Undermind”- the debuted triumvirate- all carry a common thread of reuniting and moving forward. As carefully as Trey worked over these setlists, you can be sure that these three songs were specifically chosen to communicate a message; one of re-found happiness, reunion, and redemption.
“Backwards Down the Number Line” opened the first second set of chapter three, and placed in this significant slot, its meaning cannot be ignored. Originally, the song was a birthday poem that Tom Marshall wrote to Trey while he was living alone in upstate New York. In Rolling Stone, Trey referenced the first time he got the poem from Tom.
As soon as I read it I put it to music. It summed up how I feel not only about Tom but the band and our audience. It’s about getting younger. Let’s take a step back together- and simultaneously a step forward. That’s what these shows feel like. I had to play that song.
Reuniting and moving forward; remembering the past with our sights set on the future- that is what Hampton was all about, and Trey couldn’t have summed it up better. “The only rule is it begins, Happy happy oh my friend.”
“Beauty of a Broken Heart” was the biggest surprise of the three debuts, coming from Page’s self-titled solo album released in 2007. Written as a reflection on Phish’s breakup, there couldn’t have been a more fitting song for the band to adopt as they came back together.
Immobilized I realized
misjudged the situation’s size…
A love supreme, an ancient art
a finely tuned piano part
that plays its notes from stop to start
and hinges on a broken heart…
Though seasons change and seeds may start
the beauty of a broken heart
cannot be seen but in full view
the colors can come back to you.
These lyrics, written as a musing on something that had ended grew new meaning now that Phish is back together. Most literally, the colors have come back to us. This was not only a poignant moment of the show, but also a rare addition from Page to the Phish repertoire. Seeming like the band may try to incorporate their diverse solo material into the collective mix, this could be the beginning of a pattern.
Perhaps the most symbolic debut of the weekend was “Undermind.” The long awaited title track made its appearance in the first set of the last show, foreshadowing what is to come in the Phish world. Tweaked musically, the performance featured crunchier grooves than we were used to hearing on the album. Downplaying melody in favor of rhythm, the song adopted a funk-reggae feel. But as infectious as the grooves were, the lyrics painted a playful picture of where the band is at right now.
Undisturbed, yet undermind
Relocated, not retired
Reprimanded and rewired
Mystified and mishapen
Misinformed, but not mistaken
Rearranged, but not refined.
With the repetitive line of “Undecided, Undefined” leading out of the jam into the end of the song, the message was clear- the future is wide open. A song that seems like it was written and shelved just for the band’s comeback, the synchronicities between its lyrics and the state of the Phish scene are remarkable. Perhaps the most exciting debut, musically, fans immediately foresaw this groove-based vehicle going places come June and beyond.
While new material may not have been the focus of Hampton, the carefully selected debuts conveyed a powerful message. Between the three songs, we can infer a genuine enthusiasm for the band’s reunion and a commitment to forge a new path for Phish. As we move in to summer and will hear more of what “the new” has to offer, understand that it represents where the band is coming from now. Don’t be that jaded fan to knock a song because you never heard it before and it’s not “Tweezer”‘- even “Tweezer” was a new song once too you know.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
8.4.96 Red Rocks, Morrison, CO < TORRENT LINK
With all the Red Rocks madness engulfing the scene over the last 24 hours, I figured we would revisit the epic four night stand that got the banned in the summer of ’96. Here’s night one, with others to follow. Again, please use torrents.
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Funky Bitch, Guyute, Fee, Split Open and Melt, The Mango Song, The Sloth, Maze, Loving Cup
II: AC/DC Bag, Reba, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar, David Bowie, Sweet Adeline, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Star Trek Theme*, Rocky Top
*Page, solo on Theremin.
3.8.09 – Photo: Marc Walters