Once in a while, Phish will play a jam where every note falls in the right place. Fluid and flowing in the subconscious state, the band becomes a model of musical efficiency, using each note with intention; nothing is superfluous. The music is channeled directly from the source, untouched by human error. Each tone, texture or sound has a purpose, and there is no part of the jam that isn’t completely coherent. When all four members peak together for twenty minutes, the results can be glorious. A jam can- no doubt- be outstanding without this level of perfection, yet every now and again a version of a song pops off in such a way, leaving you amazed that four humans just created it. There are many examples of this phenomenon, and 12.29.98’s “YEM” is one of them.
Punctuating arguably the best set of the ’98 New Years Run, Phish morphed into a robotically-precise groove machine, transforming Madison Square Garden into an all-out, end of the year, dance party. This “YEM,” from its first note to its last, never missed a beat; a model of collaboration. With communication like none other, this version sounded like you were listening to a record.
The initial composed portion was played almost impeccably, at a pace where every note of every arpeggio could be heard with crystal clarity. Moving into the blissed out soundscape- the calm before the storm- the band never faltered, providing divine harmonies, yet moving through the passage with direction and a subtle sense of urgency. As Phish moved into the next compositional segment, followed by the song’s mid-point build, they were firing on full throttle, without getting ahead of themselves for a second. The pace of their playing was discernibly patient, yet fierce at the same time. As Mike played a series of melodic lines behind Trey’s massive sustained peak, The Garden was cleared for take off- and that is exactly what it did.
From the initial funk drop though the end of the song, the band’s playing was flawless. Moving through the lyrical segment and Page’s solo during the trampoline section, the band was clearly locked in and ready to explode. And then Trey and Mike jumped off. Communicating with mind-bending efficiency, the ensuing jam sounded completely rehearsed.
Beginning a clinic in Phish grooves, Trey initiated a crack-style rhythm pattern that Mike immediately backed with “The Way I Feel’s” bass line. As the band moved into the jam, every member’s phrases were offered as complements to each others’, clearly listening as hard as they were playing. Collectively switching patterns at the drop of a hat, or more literally a single snare hit, the band progressed through a catalog of dance patterns. The music jumped from the stage with such vitality as a living breathing entity. Dynamic and bursting with a controlled energy, this version showcased the band not only at the climax of a standout show, but at the end one of the peak years of their career.
Artistically building out of the funk, the jam gained a head of steam, driving forward like a freight train, with every member crushing it while fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. Page’s lines leapt from his grand piano, Trey painted colorful strokes across Mike’s oddly melodic musings while Fish surfed a wave of precise beats and incredibly tight rhythms.
The peak and the post-peak sections maintained 100% engagement by all, and were good to the absolute last drop. With each band member at the top of their game, this version of their seminal piece provided a snapshot of what 1998 Phish grooves were all about. An archetype of efficiency, this “YEM” represents the type of jam that emerges when everything clicks and no notes are wasted.
LISTEN TO 12.29.98 “YEM” NOW! < LINK (Roll over, click play)
3.6.09: Photo: C. Taylor Crothers
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.10.93 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL SBD < TORRENT LINK
Taking it back exactly 16 years, here we have a SBD memoir of Phish’s performance on this day in 1993. In Chicago, the band threw down a hot show, with a big “Mike’s Groove” strewn with humor, darkness, and an interlude of “Great Gig In the Sky” holding down the second set. In addition, local blues artist, and multiple-time Phish guest, Sugar Blue, joined the band for the final four songs of the second set.
I: Runaway Jim, Weigh, Sparkle, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil, My Friend My Friend, Uncle Pen, Chalk Dust Torture, Lawn Boy, David Bowie
II: Lengthwise > Maze, Bouncing Around the Room, Rift, Glide, Big Ball Jam, Mike’s Song > Great Gig in the Sky > Weekapaug Groove, Funky Bitch*, Help Me*, Hoochie Coochie Man*, Cavern*
E: Amazing Grace, Good Times Bad Times
*With Sugar Blue on harmonica and vocals.Tags: 1998, Jams