Control For Smilers

7.30.09 Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

7.30.09 Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

There were so many ridiculous jams and highlights from Red Rocks that it would be very easy to overlook one of the best pieces of the weekend.  Wedged in the middle of the tour’s first set, Phish dove deeply into “Stash,” obliterating any single piece of improv that we’d heard in ’09.  While first sets of tours can often be disjointed (though this one flowed better than most) there is usually at least one jam of note- but they are not usually like this.  Interestingly, the band has used “Stash” in each of their three tour-opening sets at Hampton, Fenway, and Red Rocks as their initial dip into psychedelic lava.  It seems that Phish likes to warm their chops on their revered classic before digging into further improv.  The previous opening-set versions have been legitimate, type one-ish jams- but this time things would be different.  Expecting another “warm up” jam, Phish threw down a twenty-minute odyssey, and after four days of bliss, it deserves to be revisited.

7.31.09 (B.Carlson)

7.31.09 (B.Carlson)

Placing “Stash” in the middle-to-latter part of the set, the band got some songs under their belts before pulling the pavement from under their nails.  Commencing the jam as the day’s light faded, we were headed into darkness in more ways than one.  As they opened the door to the evening, Mike led the band, thumping ominously-  foreshadowing his leadership throughout this jam, and his all-world playing throughout the weekend.  As the band worked through the initial part of the “Stash” jam, you could tell that something was different from June- they were flowing, and didn’t seem to be in their own heads so much; they were shredding as if sharing a brain.  Glued together and pushed by Gordon, they built their way into a nasty jam where each member contributed to the greater whole.

Fishman began to bring the jam off its linear course, dropping his driving beat in favor of softer, more shimmering rhythm.  Trey quickly took the invitation, following Fishman outwards, with Page and Mike not far behind.  After the music built into a cacophonous brew, Trey and Page charted a different course, adding a melodic direction to the improv, and at this point the jam really took off.

7.30.09 (G.Lucas)

7.30.09 (G.Lucas)

As the band soared into completely original territory, previewing the monstrous weekend we were about to have, we also got a taste of how well Trey and Mike would play together throughout the stand.  When Trey and Mike are complementing each other as well as they were at Red Rocks, it’s hard for the band to go wrong.  Both of them offered innovative ideas, and fit them congruently in place with each other.  Their musical conversations were precise and creative, leading to jams we never saw coming- and this “Stash” was the first.  Leaving the song’s structure completely, the band reached inspirational places that swept us away into a weekend we will never forget.  Once reaching a point of pure improv, the band wove a tapestry of beautiful darkness- a musical paradox that some of the best Phish jams embody.  Gradually increasing in tempo, the exalting piece reached an enormous peak led by Trey’s rolling melodies before the band seamlessly- and dramatically- crashed back into the “Stash” jam.

Carving away at the song’s final build, the band didn’t simply jump to the lick. Instead, they took their time to peak the composed “Stash” jam before wrapping up a monumental segment that had us staring at each other in disbelief.  What had just happened?  Was this now the deal?  We would soon find out that yes, in fact, it was; and this “Stash” in Red Rocks’ initial set was the first to let us in on that that little secret that we all discovered in Colorado- we have our band back again!


7.30.09 (G.Lucas)

7.30.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)

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499 Responses to “Control For Smilers”

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  1. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    alas miner, i must fully disagree with you; the stash was 18 minutes and 37 seconds, not twenty minutes

  2. Mugician Says:


  3. Mugician Says:


  4. Mugician Says:

    Nope… impostor is what I meant.

  5. Matso Says:

    Yessir. Seeing the 18 minute timing on this one on LivePhish made me salivate and this Stash did not disappoint. It’s the first jam I listened to from the RR run and still one of the best. Any doubts which festered in June were extinguished as I closed my eyes, turned up the volume and got lost in the intricacy of a 3.0 masterpiece. The only thing I would add to what Miner has said is that it features some perfect use of the whale sound by Trey.

    As we’re about to hear some more new Phish tonight, the time for initial reflection on RR is brief. So I’d like to say a few things about the RR SOAM and Antelope before we move on in case Miner doesn’t come back to them later and because I think these jams are at risk of being overlooked, and in the case of the SOAM, unfairly maligned (a lot of the other RR jams speak for themselves and don’t need any such advocacy).

    As a general comment, these jams represent a true return to risk taking, something which Miner has noted in the context of a number of different jams from the RR run. In these two, there is no shredding or funkified pay-off; the pleasure is in listening to how the structure mutates and how the emphasis is on the quirky and angular as opposed to the direct and familiarly rocking.

    There’s a lot of risk in abandoning musical comfort zones (incidentally, the dark pleasure that Miner mentioned in the context of the Stash is, for Phish fans anyway, a sort-of comfort zone too). Whether you altered your mind beforehand or not, these jams almost force you to adjust your belief in what it means to be musically pleasurable if you’re going “get” them. It doesn’t always work (sometimes it just sounds like a pattern of notes) but Phish can sometimes pull it off through a combination of commitment (you can’t look back when you jump overboard) and imagination (swim, boy, swim).

    It’s really a trick they perfected about 16 years ago and played on us so memorably in the same two songs and at the same venue in 1993, which is to say that these two jams look forward and backwards at the same time. I know, that sounds a bit ‘time turns elastic’, but there’s a practical demonstration here. The two most enduring jams from the first time Phish played at Red Rocks in August 1993 are in SOAM and Antelope. Everyone knows those two (or should) and so knows how they work stylistically (it’s been described as a lot of things by people like Miner and WaxBanks but none of the monikers sit quite right with me, so I’ll just assume you know what I’m talking about).

    What we had last weekend hearkens back to both of those moments and signals that the band will now bring their additional experience and musicianship to bear on a style of jamming that they evolved out of and arguably never really returned to. That’s not to say the 93/94 approach completely characterises their jamming in 2009. Rather, my feeling is that they’re inspired to revisit some of those older modes and can now bring new ways of playing to revitalise them.

    I think the Antelope speaks for itself and if you like this style of jamming, you’ll like this Antelope. They get a bit lost and the shredding peak before the Marco Esquandolas drop is forced, but you should be able to follow them down the rabbit hole if you listen closely.

    The SOAM, on the other hand, is a slightly tougher order, but I prefer it. I haven’t heard the SBDs, but I would suggest getting an AUD for this one so that Mike is right in the middle of the mix. Whatever you do, don’t lose Mike in this one. He is the key to understanding what Trey is doing. And then it will be plain and obvious how Page and Fish slot in around them. At some point in this jam, the playing starts to be defined by a principle, which is to say something which is not a distinct pattern and not quite a motif either but just a loose agreement about how they’re going to respond to each other. And for much of the jam, they play a variety of descending lines, side by side, on top of one another or in follow-up. In the same way that Roger Federer can bend the pace of a tennis rally (slowing it down, then accelerating), the boys make it sound as if they’re sitting back and just watching how the other gets from the top to the bottom of the line before doing tumbling down in the same direction, all the while needing to keep the whole thing hurtling forward at break neck speed in front of a live audience of thousands.

    I appreciate this isn’t an exhaustive Dirksen-style review or even very specific, but as I said above, it’s just some impressions. We can of course compare the results in both cases to earlier versions and decide which we prefer. But as Mr C mentioned the other day, a four show run like RR needs to be considered in the round as a suite and not necessarily on a show by show, set by set basis. While both the SOAM and Antelope will stand up to a lot of other SOAMs and Antelopes, they are best appreciated in the wider context of RR and the return to form of the best fucking band ever.

  6. notkuroda Says:

    wow Matso, nice work man

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    that’s great matso, thanks for the time you spent on that. I’m going to riff on some of the themes but stretch it out into a “type 2 post” 😉

    Abandoning your comfort zone is a difficult thing for musicians, and never more difficult than for these 4 guys – who have a crowd full of critics who know what to expect and certainly know what they like – and each likes it in a different way. By the end of phish 2.0 the band had morphed into a place where their greatest comfort zone was actually outside of the songs – the best moments in 04 had nothing to do with songs and were when the structure was gone and they were blindly flying through that fugueish chasing each other and quoting each other space. They got so comfortable there that innovation slowed and even the furthest out jam was a place we all knew. So when they came back it seemed they made it a purpose to get comfortable inside their song spaces again. Hampton and June both featured a return to tight phish, an homage an recognition of the past, while still pushing and peering into the future.

    What we’ve seen this weekend is a return to comfort *outside* the songs. In my life as a completely improvisational musician I’ve seen many people encounter this space. It’s one of my favorite things to watch a musician who is used to song structure and predestined chords to finally let go and play the music of the moment. Sometimes the moment falls apart, sometimes it transcends into something more beautiful than we could have ever planned. “Mistakes” often blossom into the best jams of the night.

    The other night I was at a local brewery down by the railroad tracks and I seriously vibed with an ambient jam all around me -> the train was going by keeping a steady rhythm, throwing out some brake noises every few moments getting a harmony going… the air conditioner on my other side was holding down the mids and creating some thickness, and all around the conversation bubbled and swelled, making melody everywhere.

    Music that conjures that moment, where everything clicks and sounds amazing and musical, despite what you *know* as music is about being comfortable enough in your space and with your instrument to let go of everything you’ve practiced and learned. Being able to achieve this in front of 30,000 rabid attentive fans is no small feat and has only been pulled off successfully by what – 2, maybe 3 bands in all of amplified music history?

    or maybe I’ve been free-form jamming for too long and have totally lost my bearings. It’s hard to tell!

  8. Dr SF Jones Says:

    @ c0wfunk- i totally get what you are saying. and i like the analogy of the train and ambient sounds. that happens to me sometimes and i really dig it.

  9. stash Says:

    this stash takes on a much brighter and happier sound than any other stash i’ve heard. usually stash scares the heck out of you. this one starts off a bit like that, but at about 12 minutes it just says, come on in the water’s fine.

    i can see why some people may not like it, as compared to the frantic scary version of years past.

    i love page’s vocal fade at the beginning of the jam – it just floats away into the abyss.

  10. afroskully Says:

    back in the early 90’s I was able to “geek out” on phish with only “” as a medium. this was before real email for all you youngsters.

    I love the fact that this forum exists. Just wanted to put that out there.

    Furthermore… I think the style of jamming that everyone is so happy about now is all about one common denominator: listening.

    All 4 of them are back to that level of listening to each other that makes those inventive jams so much more enjoyable than the drone-stay on one chord stuff they were doing a lot of in the last 90s and 2.0. I couldn’t be happier after listening to 3 out of 4 RR shows thus far.

  11. Marshall Says:

    With Gordo’s band playing the month of September and Fest8 firmly planted around Halloween, is the informed thinking theses days now of the opinion that there will be no full-blown Phish arena Fall tour? Are we likely looking at a couple of short holiday runs only? I was really hoping for a more extensive run, especially through the south (Atlanta, Charlotte, etc.).

  12. nonoyolker Says:

    @Afro – I totally agree with the notion of the band really listening to each other at the begining of this second leg. To listen, you need patience. That is the main indicator, to me, that phish is returning to the band i fell in love with: their jams seem to have patience again. They aren’t forcing melodies, they aren’t abandoning jams prematurely, they are taking the time to feel a jam out and letting the music flow. That is something that really troubled me about Hampton and the first leg. The lack of patience. This idea of feeling a jam out is evident in the jam of the day and really set the tone for the whole weekend.
    Regarding this Stash, I also went straight for this jam on Saturday morning. Trey started to whale tone around min 9 and i got worried… But he wrangled it back in, the band forged ahead, exploring a new jam and refused to let the flow disolve into nothing like some others would have in the first leg. Overall, a very good version and an encouraging start to the second leg.

  13. smegma Says:

    Great post and comments today everyone. This really is a good site with intelligent and interesting people contributing. I too am a musician that focuses heavily on improv. There really was some beautiful stuff that happened at RR and it has clearly made us all very happy!
    To add to the list of possibly overlooked songs: I know that Mike was killing during the whole run, but the bass work on chalkdust is worth a re-listen. Seriously, it’s a continuous river of bassy goodness from beginning to end.
    One more thing: I mentioned a while back about Trey’s use of the tremolo effect in which he attempts to match the tempo of the song. This was done very successfully during 7below (a couple minutes before they go into 2001)

  14. easo91 Says:

    OK, I vote to remove SOAM as an acronym. Whenever I read it I think scent of a mule, and so I started thinking I missed it when listening to red rocks. Is there anyway we can get people to refer to the songs as mule and melt respectively, because I always seem to assume the wrong song when people use SOAM.

  15. EL Duderino Says:

    You want something done and done right? You call Billy Clinton!!!

  16. c0wfunk Says:

    I usually use so&m or “melt” and “mule” cuz the 2 soam thing has always confused me too

  17. Matso Says:

    @ smegma –

    “a continuous river of bassy goodness from beginning to end”

    Nice. I feel that way about the whole RR run.

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    since Melt came first, it should get the moniker, but if needed they can always be done as


    I personally usually write them down as “Melt” or “Mule” but usually the assumption is Melt when you see SOAM since it is the bigger vehicle and the one that came first.

    /I could be totally off base here

  19. c0wfunk Says:

    I haven’t gotten tracked versions of rr yet and I must say I’m enjoying my second run through blind.. It’s like the days of analog tapes – hit play and let it roll.

  20. punkmug Says:

    @Miner. YES! Thanks for bringing more love to this wonderful Stash.

    @Matso. YES! That Antelope renewed my love for a song that had been growing a bit tired for this poor soul.

  21. Comrade Says:

    I can’t but help use SOAM for split. it could be that scent of a mule is one of my least favorite songs ever though…

  22. EL Duderino Says:

    How about Split Open And Mule? does that help?

  23. EL Duderino Says:

    Or how about this? Scent Of A Melt? You guys like that one?

  24. fat bastard Says:

    listened to guyute from 3rd night last night and i forgot how that song makes me shadow box

  25. cal Says:

    this really goes to show how many avenues phish has taken over the years, how many different things people grow to love…i much prefer the asheville “stash” to this one; it gets so purposefully eerie, and even though it ends sort of limply while this rr one ends more triumphantly, i’ll take that deep interplay over soaring trey lines almost any time. i think this “stash” is good, but it doesn’t blow away any of my favorite jams from the first leg.

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