Metaphyshical Music

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

If “Backwards Down the Number Line” represented the joy and exaltation of Phish’s return this summer, “Light” has now become the band’s philosophical statement and their most significant new jam vehicle. Emerging as a central piece of Phish’s musical evolution this fall,”Light” not only pushed the limits of the band’s improv, but carries strong lyrical meaning as well. Rife in Buddhist allusion, Trey speaks of separating from one’s thoughts, the divine within us all, and embracing the shining possibilities of the moment.

I see the future is less and less there / and the past has vanished in the air. / I’m left in the now with a wondrous glow / I think I’m still me, but how would you know?

These lyrics, while describing Trey’s personal journey, could be read as a metaphor for Phish coming to grips with their new musical persona. Firmly planted in the moment, the band seems less concerned with the future than ever, and have consciously distanced themselves from a troubled past. But this process has led to a bit of a musical identity crisis; although they feel great playing, and that is certainly most important, just where they are headed remains undefined. But each time Phish takes the stage, their happiness and their inner light fuels the power of the moment. In a vocal round likening a group affirmation, the band sings:

And the light is burning brighter now (Obstacles are stepping stones) / And the light is burning brighter now (That guide us to our goal) / And the light is burning brighter now (fences are filters) / And the light is burning brighter now (That purify our souls)

12.3.09 (W.Rogell)

12.3.09 (W.Rogell)

As the versions of “Light” built throughout this fall, its musical platform began to infuse a new sound into the band’s improv. Beginning in Cincinnati, the band segued into “Light” from “Tweezer’s” gnarling fifteen-minute excursion in groove. Combining their classic vehicle with their newest launchpad (a segue the band has favored since its Fenway debut) Phish upped the ante with the first indoor version of “Light.” Cranking the intensity level to eleven, the band elevated the intensity and potential for the song during it’s first fall outing. With a small dose of cathartic exploration, the band began to hint at new direction – then promptly segued out of the song.

Skipping the next few shows, “Light” emerged in the bizarre position of first set-closer on Albany’s first night. The song’s first and only stand-alone version seemed oddly placed, but the version certainly built upon Cincy’s succinct outing. Morphing into a deep-space ambient excursion for nearly three minutes, Fishman began a drone beat that would have pushed the band into a truly engaging plane. But as soon as he kicked in with this rhythm, Trey called for setbreak. While not an incredibly compelling version, Albany’s jaunt illustrated Phish’s willingness to take the song to far out places, following their summer statements at Bonnaroo and The Gorge.

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

But the final three versions of tour, all played in relative proximity, unearthed some of the deepest jams of the fall. Broken out in the second set of Portland as the only exploratory piece in the frame, the band took a bold step outwards with this run-through. In the first far-reaching version of the tour, Phish got into some full, albeit brief, type-II playing that moved from the uplifting into hard groove, landing in a pool of amorphous jamming. This exploration seemed to re-awaken Phish to “Light’s'” interstellar abilities, and they obviously liked what they heard, featuring the song in two of their final four shows. These subsequent versions at MSG and Charlottesville would build upon Cumberland County’s centerpiece, leaving us with two of the most compelling musical segments of tour.

12.5.09 (J.Thomas)

12.5.09 (J.Thomas)

Phish showcased “Light” in their very next show as the unquestionable jam of the night, using the piece to kick off a three-day New York affair. Once again, crafting a magnificent highlight, this jam suggested a new improvisational direction. Combining ferocious playing with an experimental milieu, the entire band pushed each other into the most significant jam played over The Garden’s three nights. Transcending the song’s emotional build quickly, Phish turned to hard-nose textures, entering creative, type-II territory for the duration. Led by abstract bass offerings, Trey played quicker rhythm licks over a poly-rhythmic beat and Page’s piano leads, turning this into an original piece of art. Changing to more melodic offerings, Trey brought a spiritual element to a jam, which at this point, has gathered a momentum and life of its own; one of those living, breathing musical organisms. Entering into a driving, yet abstract, exploration, Phish organically immersed themselves in IT. Adding some snarling licks and themes to the mix, Trey led the band into a new-sounding piece of music that continued to grow. Fishman and Mike locked into a intricate rhythm that provided a complex backdrop, allowing Page and Trey to actively create an engaging, interwoven top half. The most successful and exploratory jam  of tour besides Albany’s “Seven Below > Ghost,” this version of “Light” arguably highlights the song’s young life.

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

12.5.09 (G.Lucas)

The final fall rendition of the song came in the tour’s final show, and the third-ever combination of “Tweezer > Light.” This time, Phish blended their swampy dance odyssey, rather abruptly, with their newest standout, as Trey’s eagerness to get into “Light” took over. But when they got there, another ethereal journey materialized, this time moving into some of the most psychedelic textures we have heard in this era. Without a morsel of hesitation, the band soared into one of the song’s most creative outings. Evolving into an eerie spacescape painted with groove and melody, they passed through a segment that strongly suggested “Dave’s Energy Guide.” Between New York’s excursion and Charlottesville’s abstract mind-fuck, the band left no doubt that about their current experimental focus lies in “Light.”

As Phish winds down their comeback year and will continue to forge a path into an unknown future, one can surmise that their music will evolve into places we haven’t yet imagined. Using 2009 to set a foundation for what lies ahead, the band has given us  recent glimpses into new improvisational realms through the lens of their newest jam vehicle. If the playing that has characterized “Light” throughout the fall is any indication of future endeavors, this song holds many a musical pilgrimage in store.


Jams of the Day:

Light > Slave” 12.2


Tweezer > Light” 12.5


Fall’s two peak versions of “Light” came in powerful improvisational combos.



12.5.09 John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA < Torrent

12.5.09 John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA < Megaupload

John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

I: AC/DC Bag, Chalkdust Torture, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, Old Home Place, Cavern, Funky Bitch, David Bowie, The Wedge, Bold as Love

II: Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free, Sweet Virginia, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, Run Like An Antelope

E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise

Source: (FOB) Neumann ak43’s (nos) > lc3 > km100 > V3 > 722 > @24/48

Tags: , ,

805 Responses to “Metaphyshical Music”

« Previous12345678...3233Next »
  1. myers Says:

    obstacles are stepping stones !

  2. Corey Says:

    Just have to mention the bluegrass additions this time ’round:

    Ginseng Sullivan
    Uncle Pen
    Nellie Cane
    Old Home Place

    Nice to see (hear) these back, if only but a few times.
    Into the jazz catalog in the spring, perhaps?
    How about stretching Cavern, taking us out to halftime with some pulse?

  3. McG Says:

    I still can’t believe they played at John Paul Jones Arena and didn’t unload 1 Zeppelin tune. Awesome tour!

  4. Brian Says:

    I have had mixed feelings about their choices musically. But am happy that they are clearly showing signs of brilliance and joy. I am happier for them in some ways than I am for us, but I also feel very privileged for this opportunity to keep following them and the great moments and joy they have given me.
    As per light, I was thinking about this song the other day, as I was reading that in Christianity we believe that in Baptism, the uncreated Light of God (or grace) is poured into ones soul and purifies it enabling that person to shine brightly and commune with the Holy Trinity deeply from within. And where is God, but the eternal now. Alpha and Omega. Neither past nor future, but also both as the constant loving now. The sacrament of the present moment.
    I am not necessarily arguing that Trey is alluding to this specific spirituality, but for me, it was nice to read your blog post about the lyrics a day after I was contemplating the similarity or personal meaning that I may or may not feel like taking from the song.
    Thanks for your insights Mr Miner.

  5. Jon Bailey Says:

    I remember seeing this song in Wallingford, CT. with Trey and TAB (Prior to the Phish comeback). If I recall they opened up the second set with it. They used this ambient jam to open up the song. From that point on I was like…phish could take this to another level.

    Miner I think you meniotned something like that way back when you heard it?

    Well guess what, we were right and I love it!

  6. Little Buddy Says:

    Nice write up, Miner! Very thoughtful.

  7. Neemor Says:

    Beautifully written, Miner.
    Nice to see that Portland gem get a little love.
    I know it was mentioned that night, but like the glowsticks at MSG, got swallowed by the Monster that is ‘The City’.
    Not being a huge lyric guy, understanding them more as a feeling (if that makes sense), seeing the Light lyrics transcribed truly brings the ‘Buddhist’ revelations to ‘light’, pardon the pun.
    Well done.

  8. Neemor Says:

    The picture of Mike in red with the yellow light behind him is gorgeous, too. Thanks, J. Thomas!

  9. Tom Says:

    I don’t think the band is having a “musical identity crisis”. The pendulum has (intentionally) swung back to the tight, high energy playing of the early to mid-90’s. Back in that era, this was as much a characteristic of their playing as their propensity to extend the jam. A 20 minute Tweezer would be really long in ’93/’94. A super-tight Fluff or Divided Sky would be very normal. As the music evolved, the jams got longer, then funkier. As Miner has poetically posted, by ’97/’98 you had both the tightness and the jams….the pendulum was in the middle of its trajectory. Post-hiatus the pendulum had reached the point where they mangled the compositional part of most songs, avoided songs that were too composed and then would open up the improv. Some called this exploration, others called it noodling. Phish is literally “back”. They have reclaimed what they lost – the insanely tight execution of challenging compositions – and they drop smaller verions of the other-wordly improv when they want to. There is no confusion among the band about their identity. Opening Hampton with Fluffhead was a statement. I imagine Miami will be a bit of the same. I’d look to the opening of the next tour to see where they plan on heading.

  10. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    definite thematic song which the band clearly enjoys exploring. 5 performances over a 13 show run shows that for sure. the open structure to the song (i.e. the ambient, formless intro and outro) lends itself well to the type of exploration the song implies as well.

  11. Little Buddy Says:

    Nice post, Tom.

    I think I agree with you, but I think I could also argue the other side. This fall I saw Syracuse, Alb 1, Alb 2 and MSG 3. These were all very different shows with a different feel to them. Once might say, that this demonstrates a bit of an identity crisis, but I actually like it. You just don’t know what kind of show you might walk into these days. Will it be an old school high energy acid freak out like Syracuse, a classic extended set 2 jamfest like Alb 2, or an uber-energetic rocker with some succinct imrpov like MSG 3. I’m not sure if this would constitute an identity crisis necessarily, since Phish’s identity has rested in their ability to be a bit unpredictable, but I’m enjoying it.

  12. Neemor Says:

    Ever wonder what happens when you flub the composed part in Fluffhead?×

  13. Neemor Says:


  14. Matso Says:

    Unfortunately, I won’t have time to expand on this idea fully in my pitifully short lunch break, but I suspect there might be a connection between the extra emphasis this past tour on the “moment”, which Miner has highlighted with great insight (and which makes the return of S&SS so appropriate), and the relative brevity of some of Phish’s current jams. What follows is first-class cod philosophy, so apologies in advance!

    Whereas the future and the past are characterised to some extent by achievement (ie. this is what I have accomplished or have failed to accomplish or this is what I am going to accomplish), the moment lacks the same type of directionality and purposefulness. To be in the moment, you just need to be. That implies a far more humble state of being.

    Set up in opposition to the grandiose, humility implies smallness. Perhaps part of the Phish experiment right now is to see whether in (relatively) short jams, they can draw out the same experience of the infinite that we all found in the much longer excursions of years past. This is the moment, and it is really deep (the “wondrous glow”), and then it ends. It behooves us all to try and be in that moment too.

    There is a Swiss writer named Robert Walser who celebrated the small, meek and humble. He loved to walk and one of his short stories ends on the line: “We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.”

  15. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    llfa, neemor, l l effing a

  16. jdub Says:

    Excellent topic today Miner, the discussion today should be interesting.

    @Tom, I agree with you completely. I would suggest the music/band is in the opposite state of identity crisis. They have clearly and consistantly expressed themselves musically, evolving the content of the music as the year has progressed. They are very comfortable where they are and it is so fitting that light has become the anthem on all levels. As fat as where are we going with this, the band is focusing on the moment while at the same building blocks for the future. After MSG and seeing what the moment has in store, I like it and think the band does to. They have defined to me what their purpose was for returning and it has something to do with love, reflection, maturity, freedom, etc. Light is gem and wraps all these emotions into a big ball of energy. What form this energy takes in future shows is uo for debate but the identity, intent, and presentation of the music is shining as brightly as ever.

  17. ohhphee Says:


    I always wondered what that would look like. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  18. Little Buddy Says:

    Nice, Matso! Wow!

  19. marcoesq Says:

    great write up miner, you put so well into words what the band is trying to convey with their music and lyrics. (which are words, I know, but…)

  20. jdub Says:

    @Matso, thank you for sharing that this morning. I feel smarter now and it makes complete sense regarding the band’s direction. And the light is shining brighter now.

  21. ohhphee Says:


    That is as fine an interpretation as anything I could think of right now. Finding the eternal in the now is, I think, what most of us who love this band and the live experience with them come to hope for in a show. Well put.

  22. albert walker Says:

    Kind of funny

    Being in the present.
    The here and now are the foundations of both recovery and meditation.

    Two things that have become very important to Trey’s current mindset.

    Makes the whole 3.0 evolution that much more interesting.
    No past hang ups or future master plans.

    Just do what feels right, not worry about how you got there, or where it is going.
    Just follow that light as it keeps growing brighter.

    As fans taking this advice could be extremely beneficial.
    Don’t compare it to fall 97 and don’t worry about Europe 2010.
    Stay in the moment and enjoy every second of it.

  23. ohhphee Says:

    Btw @Miner – Thank you as always for your insightful and thought provoking review today. Without your daily launching pad for discussion, the conversations on this board wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Thanks again.

  24. ohhphee Says:


    nail. head. bam.

  25. Lycanthropist Says:


    it seems like we (well really others, not me as much) have really brought this discussion about Phish’s current state to a head.

    Boiling down to living in the moment.

    I love it.

    Well done guys.

    @aw –

    good to see ya.. expecting an email though 😉

« Previous12345678...3233Next »

Leave a Reply