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”

  1. Stupendous Says:

    Nice Chuck D!

  2. Stupendous Says:

    and yes, If PCP was involved then it clearly wasn’t his fault!

  3. Chuck D Says:

    does PCP have any positive qualities other than temporary superhuman strength?

  4. verno329 Says:

    @Chuck D I got your back on the 4-8-94 It’s Ice. Its a keeper for sure. And I also agree with you on Lizards. The solo in Lizards is probably one of my favorite composed Trey solos he has written. I love in the 2/20/93 teasefest when he plays the Lizards solo during the Mike’s jam. Killer!

  5. gratefulcub Says:

    “Couldn’t stand”

    Wook 1: “Braaaah, I’ll drive, but someone has to carry me to the car…”

    Wook2: “Bruuuuuh, I’ll carry you, but I’m sleeping in the backseat-odie…”

    Wook 1: “yeeeaahh, but let’s smoke this bowl first for the ride”

  6. verno329 Says:

    @Chuck D also agree with you about Weekapaug. That used to be one of my favorite things about hearing the intro to Mike’s. Knowing that a Weeakapaug was never far behind. And there are so many great versions out there too.

  7. Chuck D Says:

    The American rapper Big Lurch was convicted of murdering an acquaintance and eating her lungs while on PCP.

    ^^ from wiki. not his fault.

  8. Stupendous Says:


  9. hossmaster Says:

    Great write up miner. I’m hungry for summer tour.

  10. jdub Says:

    Cub, llmao.

    So many PCP wacked storries, so many reasons not to do it

  11. Stupendous Says:

    Here’s an interesting ?uestion…

    What are the differences/similarities between a w00k and a juggalo?

    (for those not familiar with juggalos, see Insane Clown Possee)

  12. mrfergie Says:

    simalarity – they both look ridiculous…

  13. gratefulcub Says:

    ^What’s the difference?

    See: Insane Clown Posse

  14. mrfergie Says:

    geez – i can’t spell today – similarity

  15. Halden Says:


    Love of backyard wrestling and murderous tendencies.

  16. Stupendous Says:

    This all started with me & my boy, as we left the Gorge in 09 we stop at rest area and my boy realizes that the dude taking a piss between out stalls is shirtless and sporting a ‘juggalo’ in old english letters tattoo on his upper back. While were all peeing my boy grabs his digital camera and takes a picture of this guy’s tat… The whole ride to seattle after that we couldn’t stop
    laughing…I realized that my boy knew about juggalos, (I knew a lot from managing an indie music store in FL for years…) then I realized that he had watched the same video that promotes the ICP “gathering” that i had seen
    thanks to “Halcyon”? posting a link to the BB… aw man, ive never laughed so hard… uncontrollable laughter…..a must see!

  17. Stupendous Says:

    Theyre late night tents include cage wrestling!!! ha ha ha ha ha
    LLFA!!!! tooo much!

  18. Stupendous Says:

    The difference is at least w00ks have fine tastes in music and party favors..

  19. Marshall Says:

    ‘Paug must be played with the utmost intensity. If they lay off the throttle even a little, then IT doesn’t happen.

  20. Stupendous Says:

    Lets start the PFASMFPG
    The People for a Slow Mike’s Fast ‘Paug Group

  21. gratefulcub Says:

    Good call. I just spent $250k. Fortunately, if it was the wrong decision, it is not my fault. I am on PCP.

    Later folks.

  22. Marshall Says:

    Without the gear shift set to high gear, it doesn’t really impress me that much when Mike starts thumping his bass a the beginning of ‘Paug. When it’s fast, Mike shows that he could get into a thumbthumping battle with Flea and win.

  23. lastwaltzer Says:

    @stupdenous those are to common misconceptions about wooks

    “w00ks have fine tastes in music”: Wooks can’t even comprehend music most of the time and if they could they probably wouldn’t be able to make sense of it anyway.

    “w00ks have fine tastes party favors”: A wook will smoke or snort anything, so much for that one.

  24. lastwaltzer Says:

    @marshall this is why I don’t mind having not caught a paug this year. The philly one sounded like it had promise and then they were like “oh yea its 2009 there is no way we can keep this pace going”

  25. Stupendous Says:

    ^ i hear that, but some w00ks are snobs…
    They’ll ask for a sip of your brew and then turn it down cause its Coors…
    or ask u to puff them down and then ridicule ur shwagg…just sayin’

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