As we turn the page on a new chapter of Phish history, one of the most exciting facets of this era is the plethora of new songs that were introduced in June. As we begin our reflections on the past tour, I thought that their new songs would be a good place to start. Showcasing diverse songwriting and various musical styles, the band has come out with a slew of new material- with more waiting in the wings. Let’s take a look at each song one by one, in the order of their summer premieres.
“Ocelot” - debut: 5.31 Fenway Park I
Unveiled as the first new song of tour, many fans had heard the band’s rehearsal of this piece at The Centrum from the previous night, which somehow made it to the internet. A playful song that evokes memories of the ’70s folk-rock tradition, “Ocelot” hopped into rotation from day one. Trey’s lyrical melodies complement the the song’s loafing, casual grooves, creating a catchy piece that would stick in your head far after the show was over. Growing in improvisation each time out, the band stretched the final Deer Creek version into a real jam. Expect much more to from “Ocelot” in August- “Won’t you come out to play?”
“Light” - debut 5.31 Fenway II
Debuted as the landing point of Fenway’s colossal tour-opening “Tweezer,” “Light” was the one song that I really anticipated making the jump from TAB to Phish. Sped up from its Trey Band incarnation, “Light’s” jam has adopted a feel of a new-school “Piper.” With soaring guitar work and full-band improvisation, the Bonnaroo version, which emerged from “Rock and Roll’s” ambient jam, provided one of the weekend’s highlights. An open-ended jam that even found its way into some funk grooves at Manchester, it seems that “Light” has limitless potential. I have a feeling that this could develop into one of 3.0’s shining stars.
“Time Turns Elastic” - debut Fenway 5.31 II
This controversial opus was showcased on the first night of tour, and played several times throughout. Certainly a great piece of music, its place in a live show is questionable, in my opinion. As soon “Time Turns Elastic” started, we knew we were in for nearly twenty minutes of straight composition. Appearing in the middle of three second sets, “Time Turns Elastic” played the role of vibe-crusher more than once. But when placed as a first set closer at Alpine- coming out of “TMWSIY”- it worked much better. If Phish is going to continue to play this song, which I’m sure they will, they need to be extra-selective about where they place it in a show. A complex musical accomplishment, this one seems better suited for at-home couch listening than at an energetic, psychedelic Phish show.
“Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” - debut 6.2 Jones Beach I
“I got a blank space where my mind should be”- centered around this intriguing refrain, this heavier song became an instant favorite when they broke it in the second show of tour. Featuring a slower pace and ominous feel, “Stealing Time” seems like an ideal launchpad for dissonant, psychedelic improv. Throughout June, however, this song remained largely in the box, with it’s final version at Deer Creek extended with some blues-rock, guitar led improv. This piece won’t remain shackled forever, and when the band finally steps to it, the results could be astonishing.
“Kill Devil Falls” - debut 6.2 Jones Beach II
Sounding distinctly like a TAB piece, “Kill Devil Falls” is essentially two songs in one. First, we have the straight ahead rock and roll composition, that to be honest, leaves a bit to be desired. Yet, when the verses end, the band enters a segmented jam that sounds almost identical to a “Birds of a Feather” jam. (In fact we were sure they were soundchecking “Birds” at Fenway while they played this.) Once its improv section began, this song heated up considerably, with its most exploratory and enticing version coming during Bonnaroo’s late-night set. Producing one of the standout “type-II” jams of tour, Trey clearly loves this song, and we have only begun to hear the places it will go.
“Twenty Years Later” - debut 6.5 Jones Beach II
With a chorus that approaches the sound of an “indie” Phish song, “Twenty Years Later” features engaging lyrics and layered vocals that almost sounds like a different band. The song then progresses into a heavier section reminiscent of “I Saw It Again.” Clearly a reflection on Trey’s journey over the past two-decades, this song seems more autobiographical than any other. Only played this one time, we have yet to see what really in store for this one. But after only one version- I like it.
“Let Me Lie” – debut Great Woods 6.6 I
Originating from Trey’s solo album Bar 17, Phish transformed “Let Me Lie” into their newest ballad- just as predicted. A poignant memoir about recovery and resilience, this one also contains metaphorical imagery about Trey’s trials and tribulations. A gorgeous composition, the rest of Phish really fills out this song in the way that TAB could never do. Appearing a second time as an interlude amidst Deer Creek’s monster second set, this one will be a 3.0 staple before all is said and done.
“Sugar Shack” - debut Camden 6.7 II
One of the songs that I wish we had heard more often, Mike’s newest contribution to the Phish catalog made an impressive debut in Camden’s second set. Combining quirky changes, segments of groove, and carnival-like guitar lines, “Sugar Shack” is one of the most unique songs of the new bunch. Only appearing once during June, we can only hope that this gets pulled into rotation come the second leg of tour.
“Joy” - debut 6.7 Camden Encore
Played only twice this June, “Joy” is another new ballad, describing the emotional plight of a woman and her connection to the outside world. The lyric, “We want you to be happy, because this is your song too” also carries figurative meaning for the entire audience, as we are all a part of this great Phishy experiment. An outwardly emotional song, this one will probably gain mixed acceptance in the larger Phish community. I think it’s great.
“Alaska” - debut 6.9 Asheville II
Another TAB > Phish transplant, this may be the least interesting of the June debuts. A comical blues-rocker with a guitar-based “jam,” this one appeared twice in three shows, and then we never heard it again. As any Phish song, its jam has potential, but the composition of “Alaska” falls a bit flat.
“The Connection” – debut 6.19 Deer Creek I
It was a complete surprise when the band broke out “The Connection” towards the end of Deer Creek’s first set. Off of the band’s last album, Undermind, this song never made it into a live show in 2004. The debut of “The Connection” came off quite well, with catchy hooks and Jerry-esque noodling. More proof that any song is fair game this time around, “The Connection” is a welcome reminder of its wholly-underrated album whose 2004 release was squeezed in just before Phish called it quits. It will be interesting to see how this song develops come August.
Eleven songs made their Phish debut in the band’s first tour back on the road, most which will find their way onto their upcoming album, Joy. Differing in musical quality, most all of these songs hold great potential for improvisation. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what these songs will grow into, as Phish mostly played basic templates this tour. As they embark on a new era of their career, Phish has ushered in their most impressive batch of new songs in over a decade, adding a distinctly fresh feel to their ’09 setlists; and I foresee even more debuts in August. Stay tuned – to Red Rocks and beyond!
What do you think of the Phish’s new songs? Respond in Comments!
PHISH’S NEW ALBUM: JOY
Yesterday, a story on Rolling Stone.com broke some new information about Phish’s forthcoming album, now officially titled Joy. Later in the day, Phish.com issued a small news release about Joy, with an official track listing. A clear theme about the passage of time and a reflection on life runs through the album, starting with “Twenty Years Later” and concluding with “Time Turns Elastic.” The only song hasn’t been played live is “I’ve Been Around.” Look for the album some time in August.
1. Twenty Years Later
2. Backwards Down the Number Line
3. Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
6. Sugar Shack
8. Kill Devil Falls
9. I’ve Been Around
10. Time Turns Elastic
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
6.21.09 Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI < TORRENT LINK
Set II contains some of the tightest and most exploratory improv of the run.
I: Brother, Wolfman’s Brother, Funky Bitch, The Divided Sky, Joy, Back On The Train, Taste, Poor Heart, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Time Turns Elastic
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Down With Disease > Bug > Piper > Wading In The Velvet Sea, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Slave To The Traffic Light
E: Grind, Frankenstein
Source: Schoeps CCM4V’S(din) > Lunatec V2 > Benchmark AD2K > Sound Devices 722 (24/48) – Recorded by Z-Man