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

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422 Responses to “Musical Density”

  1. Marshall Says:

    From the youtube videos I’ve seen of the Trey shows, it doesn’t seem like they’ve been overrun by wooks. In fact, I saw a whole bunch of collared shirts in the Sand video where the lights had gone out.

  2. Marshall Says:

    The clocks on Olympic hockey coverage are counting down. I thought hockey clocks counted up? Or is that soccer?

    Regardless, whichever sport it is, I don’t get why the clock counts up? I end up having to do math in my head.

  3. garretc Says:

    It’s soccer, Marshall, but I couldn’t tell you why…

  4. Halden Says:

    If you are watching on an american channel maybe they compensate. International Hockey clock Count up.

  5. Chuck D Says:

    the concept of “extra time” in soccer has always bothered me a bit. if you want to keep track of the time people waste on out of bounds, free kicks, ect, then stop the clock. dont make up an arbitrary number around 3 and call it “extra time” because your favorite team is down a goal.

    (i love non-american soccer btw; mls is getting better, but its got a LONG way to go)

  6. Halden Says:

    RE: Hockey

    Go Canada Go

  7. kayatosh Says:

    dude: thanks for the heads-up on 7/8/78. forgot how much I like this show on this auspicious date. peace good lovin

  8. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    @Chuck D

    just think of it as liquid time instead of extra time.

    “time is a treasure here, ’cause it flows in every direction…”

  9. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Wow, you all are providing an important public service here. Before today, I knew only a few things about wooks, i.e. they like to juggle sticks and mostly subsist on rolling rock and discarded veggie burritos. But now I really feel like I could defend myself in case of wook encounter, whereas before I would be standing there with no beer and a dreadlock shrapnel in my eye and no idea what really happened. Thank you black board!

  10. garretc Says:

    Or just think of it as Party Time!

  11. Marshall Says:

    “You’re gonna love my nuts.”
    — Vince, Slap Chop

    That guy is awesome.

  12. Leo Weaver Says:

    Auspicious…such a good word. Thanks @kaya. I’ll go download that show now (thanks @dude for the heads-up).

    I’m listening to 2.13 II TAB…and keep hearing TTE all over the place. Especially in Love is Freedom and Flock of Words. Lots of the same chord structures…or it could just be me.

  13. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Sometimes at a Phish show I thought I might have seen a wook, but perhaps now I realize it was just a bicycle courier, or a barista. Now I feel bad for wook profiling.

  14. kayatosh Says:

    weavs: 7/8/78 has my favorite minglewood and i don’t particularly care for that tune in general. jerry power. GD78, think phish 98

    spinnin 7/8/78 w/ two little kiddies runnin round and thinking about the dudes partying in nyc right now, preppin for trey $

  15. BigNasty Says:

    @leo- same here.
    I was spinning goodbye head and thought the same thing about the composed back half of that tune.

  16. Leo Weaver Says:

    Cool…looking forward to spinning it…tons of folks moving it right now, should be done in just a few more minutes. Maybe tonight’s music choice…should pair with the olympics and neemsbane. just fine.

    Thinkin’ about the fellas in NYC myself, wish I were there. But I’ll have TAB in a little less than 2 wks, really looking forward to it!

  17. BigNasty Says:

    *2/14 show

  18. Leo Weaver Says:

    @bignasty…OK good. glad I wasn’t the only one to hear it. Trey’s gonna make us like TTE one way or another 😉
    For the record, I do like TTE (with the right placement and if very well played)…I really enjoyed it at MSG.

  19. voopa Says:

    Can’t wait to hear the upgraded 7/7/78…one of my first tapes, because my friends knew what’s up.

  20. Chuck D Says:

    what is “cushion convector”?

  21. kayatosh Says:

    penile erector

  22. SillyWilly Says:

    i agree with Mr. Miner: Love is Freedom could be a big Phish song this summer.

  23. Leo Weaver Says:

    mudrat detector

    @silly…definitely. kinda forgot it wasn’t Phish for a second during the jam.

  24. SillyWilly Says:

    Yeah, Leo, id love to hear what Mike could do with the bass licks and the piano part could get really weird with Page and Trey messin’ back and forth.

  25. Selector J Says:

    re: extra time
    I’ve always thought of extra time as being very English. The game ends at an appropriately polite moment. Buzzer beaters are dramatic but rather rude. And I think the fact that they don’t stop the clock on the scoreboard is more of a relict of the days before clocks on scoreboards than anything else. On the field, the amount of time is much less mysterious since the ref will typically tell the players how much time is left if they ask.

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