There is nothing quite like being at a Phish show when they play a brand new improvisational song. I’m not talking about the live debut of a track that has already been released on an album- I mean a song that no one has ever heard before- period. We get so used to Phish’s regular song rotation, that when they unfold a new beast right before out eyes, the experience can be quite powerful. Traditionally debuting songs at beginning, and often in the first show, of a tour, Phish is never shy in getting their new material into their setlists. The power of hearing a polished piece with a new jam for the first time can be one of the greatest thrills. In Phoenix, the first show of Summer ’03, the band gave us one of those moments.
Following an awkward four night comeback run over MSG and Hampton, and a better winter tour, Phish had four months to prepare for summer tour, and prepare they did. Coming out with a typically odd first set of tour at Cricket Pavilion, the second is where our story begins. Second set openers generally go two ways- a short introductory song that leads into something big, or, more often than not, a song that develops a significant jam itself. This time, it was the latter. Phish dropped a gooey-thick “Wolfman’s” to open the set, and to get the summer going in earnest. Moving along with more pace and intent than most versions, this “Wolfman’s” complemented the sweltering summer evening. As the jam progressed, the band retained as much respect for the space in the music as they had for any of their notes, resulting in an interesting “minimalist” type jam.
Moving into darker, slower, and more layered psychedelia, Phish began opening another door underneath the desert stars. Gordon and Page added overtly mind-melting effects to Fish’s sparse beat and Trey’s melodies turned into sound effects. Having moved from the liquid dance floor into the lair of the beast, the band took us deep on a journey into a sonic dungeon.
As all of the band’s effects morphed into a collective dissonance, out of the murk Trey began to delicately narrate a musical fairytale. The band subtly joined in, Fish wish an eerie beat, and as the lyrics began, they sounded like secret instructions. Perfectly fitting the verse with their accompaniment, Phish created a magical aura of a fantasy land with the beginning of “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” and the lyrics were so clear and poignant. Like opening the wardrobe, Trey sang:
If you would only start to live
One moment at a time
You would, I think, be startled
By the things that you would find.
Wrapping up their psychedelic verse with,”For if you do it right / You’ll find the moment never ends,” they hit a transition into a completely new part of the song. With searing guitar licks, and meticulous composition, this piece was providing one of those moments its lyrics described. It was like dancing to magic; something you’d never heard before engulfing your soul, and as the vibrant lyrics led us into the void, the improv was an overdose of bliss.
As the band layered their mystical vocals at the onset of the jam, it felt as though we were ascending to heaven. To hear something so utterly gorgeous that had never touched our ears was completely overwhelming in the most amazing way. Like opening up a new universe, the band crafted an uplifting and driving jam that oozed spirituality. It’s not every day that Phish debuts a piece of music with the power and grace of “Scents,” so when you’ve seen the band for years and a brand new dynamic piece of music leaps off the stage the way it did that night in Phoenix, you are left staggered; sucker-punched by your own quest for the ultimate. And there is nothing better.
Considering Phish’s album isn’t finished yet, it seems highly improbable that it will hit stores before summer tour begins. That being said, given Phish’s pattern of debuting songs at the very beginning of tours, Jones Beach could be the site of many moments like the one just described- debuts of pieces that have never hit public ears. (I think Fenway will be reserved for the anthems.) We know the band will be coming to tour with over twenty new songs in the mix, and we are guaranteed to bear witness to many pristine vehicles for exploration. Moving into summer, this prospect of so much new material excites me the most. Phish will never stop playing their classics, but what remains to be seen is what songs will be the classics of chapter three.
What big “true” debuts did you manage to see?
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.20.93 Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH < TORRENT LINK
When I posted 4.21.93 this at the beginning of the week, someone who attended the show had made the recommendation and request for night one of the stand. Ask and ye shall receive. Enjoy some more shredding ’93 and have a great weekend!
I: Runaway Jim, Weigh, Sparkle, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, Glide, Uncle Pen, Lawn Boy, David Bowie
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Fluffhead, Sample in a Jar, Big Ball Jam, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY, My Friend My Friend, Llama, You Enjoy Myself, HYHU, Whipping Post, Golgi Apparatus
E: Funky Bitch, Amazing Grace