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. Mr. Completely Says:

    great post by miner – musical density as number of ideas or distinct themes per unit of time – love it

    looks like I might have to read back if we’re telling wook stories, priceless stuff

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    also: travelling for business sucks ass.

    but, Stanford campus is cool…haven’t been there since the Frost shows in May of ’89 and I can’t say that those memories were entirely clear in my mind

  3. Leo Weaver Says:

    Hey Mr. C…no doubt re: bus. travel. always hated it, glad I don’t have to do it much any more. There was a little ‘You Might Be A Wook If…’ thing going today…pretty funny stuff really.

  4. joe Says:

    cute japanese women curlers (I need to get out more)

  5. Selector J Says:

    “a w00k in boulder offered me “a million year old seashell” to sleep on my couch for the night.”

    In mocked admiration: Wow, dude. An extant species… Early Pleistocene. That’s like a whole epoch ago.

    Stupid wooks.

  6. garretc Says:

    Huh, how about them apples… About midway through the class I just got out of I realized “Wait a minute… 7/8/78 @ Red Rocks…? That couldn’t be the same Red Rocks GD show that was included in that stack of Phish tapes my gov teacher gave me last year, could it? Could I have been listening to one of the best shows ever that whole time w/o realizing it?” Of course, I was in class so I couldn’t check, but, now that I’m back in my room I looked, and, sure enough! 7/8/78 on cassette!

  7. Leo Weaver Says:

    The last 3 minutes or so of the Miami Tweezer is what I imagine walking on the moon with lucy sounds like.

  8. Stupendous a.k.a The Beasel Says:

    Leo mean walking on the moon by the Police on L?


  9. BTB Says:

    “Million year old sea shell”…HAHAHA

    Wow. I mentioned Wooks on page 2 today and you guys goofed on it all day? Haven’t read the posts but I am sure this qualifies as epic, bruh.

    I might have to make a set lists for this

  10. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    @leo. Just listened to tweezer on the treadmill. Apt description, though I didn’t feel 1/6 my weight unfortunately.

  11. BTB Says:

    “Next summer, we’ll rating shows based on density.” – Robear’s astute observation of the day. Right on man, vocab is expanding. We’re going to be confusing people at the Waffle House the next morning…all talking about how dense that MELT was last night.

    @CAL – I was fortunate enough to catch “Dinner and a Movie” and “It’s Ice” in 2009…both times I got really excited b/c I don’t SLAM those tunes much, but love them. Dinner and a Movie at Darien got me so stoked!

  12. joe Says:

    just got a text from my girlfriend saying that the russian nemisis figure skater looks like the lead singer of Def Leppard. – spot on!

  13. kayatosh Says:

    smokin “push on til” opener at 2/9 show. holy horns! and ray — down and dirty on the clav. trey playing guitar like he’s dancin on hot coals. doesn’t want to touch any note for too long, too damn hot. relentlessly driving music. talk about good workout music.

  14. kayatosh Says:

    like this 2/9 tape a lot

  15. Leo Weaver Says:

    @t-ghost…heh, at least you’re on the treadmill 😉

  16. verno329 Says:

    Looks like I need to clean some room off the ole HD for the newest round of the ’76 Project over at bt.etree

    I wish they did the Phish ’94 project this way instead of one at a time.

  17. Mitch Says:

    Confirmed sighting of 5th finger during push on. Lights were going nuts but I saw it!!

  18. Halden Says:

    @ Dude

    That 7/8/78 RR show is Beautiful

  19. garretc Says:

    Interesting interview with George Clinton over on the AV Club, especially for the Phish love he throws out…

  20. BTB Says:

    everybody see ALL GOOD FESTI lineup? I’m not a fan of “jam bands” as many of you know, but I’m definitely thinking about hitting up WV that weekend. Best lineup of the summer IMHO

  21. Robear Says:

    Can anyone guide me to a download of the Lemonwheel Ambient set?

  22. Prince Nabby Says:

    Just passing though, as I’m still on functional blackboard hiatus until my Trey shows, but I have to say that Miner’s post today was brilliant. One of his best, in fact. I say this, because he managed to articulate something that I had been *feeling* all through 2009 but had been able to put into words. Having this concept of density at my fingertips, I now start to see all sorts of applications and examples come to mind, and I’m shunting everything through the density paradigm. It’s clearly only one facet of what makes a jam compelling, but it’s a compelling concept nonetheless. Kudos, Miner!

  23. Prince Nabby Says:

    had NOT been able to put into words . . . sorry

  24. Halden Says:

    Lemonwheel Ambient

  25. Halden Says:

    Lemonwheel DL available on the spreadsheet

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