Musical Density

12.29.09 - Miami (Wendy Rogell)

In the physical world, density equals mass divided by volume, but in the current context of Phish’s music, a concept of “musical density” emerges. This term can be expressed as the number of unique musical ideas presented per minute, and by the end of 2009, this renewed, compact jamming became part and parcel with Phish’s on-stage direction. A facet of the band’s first peak of 1993-1995, this intense style of jamming has come back around in the modern era. This retro style climaxed in Miami, specifically with “Piper” and “Ghost,” where the goal of creating tightly packed jams took on a new life. If hypothesizing on where the band will head this summer, this new style seems to be a first place to look for Phish’s next evolution.

12.29.09 (W.Rogell)

Beginning in Hampton and moving through the first leg of summer, Phish jams weren’t only compact, they were, generally, one dimensional. Focusing on straight ahead rock textures for most of their opening tour, Phish set a new (or, arguably, old) standard for jam length – short and sweet. These jams, while quite compact in length, weren’t very dense in terms of musical ideas per minute, often regurgitating the same ideas for quite some time. Without a lot of creativity, Phish usually took one idea and carried it to a peak for their jams in June. Sure, there are some counter-examples, but this liner jamming remained the norm for the opening half of summer.

Then came the second leg, and the while jams increased in length, they also increased in number of musical ideas per minute. Improv that stemmed from The Gorge and Red Rocks contained exponentially more creativity than the band showed over June, breathing new life into the Phish community. Letting loose on pieces like “Ghost,” “Disease,” “Bathtub Gin,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” “Light,” and “Rock and Roll,” Phish started to expand the number of musical ideas presented, both upping their musical density, and communicating far more creatively in the process. These western shows had a profound effect on fans with their diverse, yet grounded and cohesive nature these jams. The band fluidly moved between sections and musical themes, with little meandering or searching for the next change; things began to happen organically

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

As the band moved back east for the end of summer and into fall, Phish reeled in this expansive jamming, focusing on shorter creations that got to the point more quickly. Excursions such as Darien’s “Drowned” and Hartford’s “Piper” held a lot of ingenious communication, but when one finally got around to checking how long these jams were, they always seemed shorter than remembered; a trend that continued to play out through the contained, high-energy indoor shows of fall. This is where the concept of musical density can actually bend the perception of time. If bombarded with compact, non-stop musical creativity (see Miami “Piper”) the listener feels often feels that a lot of time has passed due to the the many themes and musical ideas they have confronted. Phish no longer waited to get down to business, a key factor in compacting their improvisation. No more vamping over two funk chords while Trey sets his loops and carefully chooses his spot to enter the ultra-layered canvas; no more searching for the sound, Phish now dives right in with the sharks.

In Miami, as jams dropped, unique improvisation commenced instantaneously, providing a stark contrast to the late ’90s and the post-hiatus era, evoking memories of the band’s earlier years. But with the accumulated skill sets the band members have gained over the years, these Miami jams bring the best of all worlds, super-charged Phish experiences. Gone is the dance party vibe of ’97 and the psychedelic search-parties of ’03, and in Miami, Phish provided jams that reached all sorts of stratospheric places in succinct time frames. Even the most expansive jams of Miami – “Tweezer” and “Back on the Train” moved cohesively from one creative idea to the next, leaving no lag time in between sections – and lo and behold – the two best jams of the year.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

But even more illustrative of this retro improvisational trend are “Piper” and “Ghost” from New Year’s Eve’s second set. These two pieces fully realized this pattern that Phish had been building towards throughout 2009 – musical density. When listening to this “Piper” the speed of communication between the band members becomes mind-numbing, as Trey continues spewing new, connected licks with fury. The entire band moves as if four fingers on one hand, together crafting a blistering piece that contains as many themes as many of the band’s more extended excursions of lore. Without hesitation, Phish completely crushed this piece without skipping a beat. Seeming super-human at times, this jam never spirals out of hand, but the controlled abandon that defines this “Piper” is skull-fucking. Moving like an eight-limbed robot, Phish tore through this jam, leaving minds buzzing just to absorb it all. Phish are often referred to as musical super heroes, and this “Piper” backs up this assertion confidently – all in under ten minutes.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

And only a couple songs later came “Ghost.” Perhaps the most engaging jam of New Year’s Eve took us on a prolific journey through many stages, a trek that started immediately as the jam dropped with Mike’s powerful lead. Wasting no time, Gordeaux thumped out a groove that Trey, Page, and Fish locked onto as one, each offering their own layers. Within one minute of the jam, Phish engages in full-on communication and, straight-up, killing it. Gordon continues to drive the piece for the duration of the first half, before he steps back and lets Trey take center stage. All the while, the jam never drags for a second, featuring full-band engagement from note one. Blending improvisational segments fluidly, Phish took this piece from dark and groovy to melodic and uplifting, moving seamlessly all the while. Crafting a signature piece of the weekend, the band took “Ghost” into a quasi-electro plane before melting into a masterfully placed quote of “Auld Lang Syne,” getting everyone ready for party time.

Having had some time to reflect on the year that was, the MSG run truly climaxed 2009 with its high-energy, rock and roll showcase, while Miami’s New Year’s Run welcomed the Phish community to the future. Taking bold steps forward over their nights in Florida, Phish should emerge in June with a new musical landscapes than people grew accustomed to in 2009. Like building blocks of the future, last year laid a solid foundation for Phish to launch from this summer. With dynamic interplay throughout Miami, Phish provided a fresh glimpse into the band they will become in 2010. Regardless of the length of their excursions, Phish’s has clearly enhanced the flow of their jams, something that will be sure to evolve come summer tour.


Jams of the Day:

Disease > Free” 6.26.95 II

Here’s a gem from SPAC, Summer ’95.



Goodbye Head > Jibboo” 2.14 I

A Valentine’s Day highlight from Trey’s band.




11.6.96 Civic Center, Knoxville, TN < Torrent

11.6.96 Civic Center, Knoxville, TN < Megaupload

The week after Halloween, Phish began to gradually chart their course for the funk-laced seas of ’97.

"Phish Wuz Here"

I: Split Open and Melt, Cars Trucks Buses, Fast Enough for You, Taste, Train Song, Poor Heart, Punch You In the Eye, Billy Breathes, David Bowie

II: Wilson, The Curtain > Mike’s Song > Swept Away > Steep, Weekapaug Groove, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar, Funky Bitch

E: Rocky Top

Source: Schoeps MK4’s

Tags: , , ,

422 Responses to “Musical Density”

« Previous12345678...1617Next »
  1. yesyes Says:

    uno, 🙂

  2. Willowed Says:

    Love this write up Miner. Just the other day I was asking what you thought of 2009 and what will this past year mean in the context of Phish. I think you summed it up perfectly.
    Great work today!!
    I know some people did not enjoy the quick “straight to the point” jams.
    I did!

  3. Willowed Says:

    One more quick comment. I waonder if I can use this explanation with my wife in regards to intamacy.
    “It’s not how long it lasts honey, it’s all about the power I pack in those 3 minutes!”
    I don’t see this argument working when it comes to making love to the Mrs. I wish it did though!

  4. Marshall Says:

    Miner – reading this article, it struck me that it probably was rather difficult. What you have is a rather, simple, single idea – the density of the music and what that reveals.

    Going past just pointing out that this jam was short or that jam was extended, you managed to pull deep from the well on this one by pointing out what happens during the “time” that they do jam, whether it’s short or long, and how they get from A to B to C.

    If a short jam can achieve the same “mass” that a long jam does, in less time (i.e. with less volume), then that’s probably a measure of success in band cohesiveness.

    Good writing!

  5. Marshall Says:

    Oh – I was at the Knoxville show you’ve posted. Great Split Opener. I called the Wilson opener during set-break. Overall, not the best show of 1997, but certainly worth a listen.

    Type III – here’s a different Mike’s for your list of different Mike’s.

  6. ridge rat Says:

    Am I asking too much to know when tour dates will be forthcoming?

  7. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    great topic, miner. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion of this one today.

    thanks. not sure when I’ll finally get to that, but keep ’em coming

  8. Foul_Domain Says:

    Morning All.

    Great write-up today Miner. You never seem to disappoint.

    @ ridge rat – not asking too much, but too soon maybe. There are rumors of dates, but rumors they remain. I have a feeling summer tour dates will be announced after TAB tour finishes (end of Feb)

  9. Marshall Says:

    First leg summer dates were announced last January (Hampton had been announced five months in advance) Here we are closing out the latter half of February, with the first show possibly coming up in around 100 days, and no announcement. Don’t understand the logic.

    Are they trying to cut down on the time scalpers have to toy with prices?

  10. gavinsdad Says:

    Kayatosh – tix for tonite are face on craigslist and Sumodie got on on last nite. twisting your arm. let us know if you’re coming up. edlooram AT yahoo DOT com … leave your cell# so we can coordinate with you if you roll up.

  11. Foul_Domain Says:

    For me, the perfect example of Miner’s description of jam evolution in ’09 is Piper. I saw versions at Star Lake, Hartford, Syracuse and finally at Charlottesville in ’09. The jams got progressively better and more exploratory with each show.

  12. pabalive Says:

    Great analysis of 2009 Miner. You gave me a listening direction for today’s workout at the gym. I intend to spend quite some time getting lost on the bike this morning.

  13. SillyWilly Says:

    Great write-up, Miner!

    This summer is going to be a blast.

    107 days til tour.

  14. Marshall Says:

    Btw – love the “jacks” that Kuroda throws on the screens – see first photgraph, above.

  15. lastwaltzer Says:

    Good post, solid points. If they stay on point the summer should bud awesome.

  16. BTB Says:

    Interesting write-up today Miner. “Eight-Limbed Robot” – lol…

    I think your pretty spot on. Just hope the band continues on what they started and we don’t get another, well, ‘rather bland June’ run in 2010.

  17. BTB Says:

    Lastwalter – where was that desert picture taken from your blog? just curious…

  18. gavinsdad Says:

    Miner – forgot to say nice topic/write-up for today. after philly 1, i was trying to describe something about the band and i referred to it as “thickness”. this isn’t exactly the same as the main gist of your post, but i think the term “density” applies to what i saw this fall for sure…they echoed this “thickness/density” at MSG 2 taboot. i happen to really enjoy this type of playing. obviously i’m always looking for them to go “out” but i thought they handled this sort of playing/jamming with real power.

  19. verno329 Says:

    Another great write up Miner! I, for one, don’t mind the shorter jams as long as they have the “musical density” you are speaking of here. A jam doesn’t need to be 20-30 minutes to get us “there” (though if it does that’s not a problem either) as long as it takes some exploration to get us there.

  20. gavinsdad Says:

    Sumodie – if you’re on here today…both and the Terminal 5 website have it as doors @7/showtime @8.

    we’ll be at Bar Nine on 53rd and 9th ave at 6pm if the above somehow changes your logistics. i texted you mi nombre as well.

    travel safe.

  21. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    they are waiting on summer date announcements because mike and trey and touring. if phish dates are announced people are way less likely to see their solo projects. i figure they wont be announced until mid-late march.

    i mean fall wasnt announced until just a few months before because of fest 8. it’s the same idea.

  22. lastwaltzer Says:

    @BTB that was taken in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

  23. BTB Says:

    ^cool. I was thinking Utah, but that makes sense. Tx

  24. lastwaltzer Says:

    @BTB Utah is on the top of my list of places I haven’t been.

  25. sumodie Says:

    @gdad: thanks for the update. glad i was wrong about showtime. got yer email. will aim for bar 9!

    cant believe tm had a ticket last nite. by chance i was also watching spencer tunick’s ‘naked states’. got the tm ticket during the great went naked shoot.

« Previous12345678...1617Next »

Leave a Reply