Bringing the Past Into the Future

“If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.”

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

When Phish steps into the next stage of their career in a little more than a month, they are bound to discover new styles of musical expression. With a foundation year behind them, one would imagine that Phish will start down the path of reinvention this summer, forging a new sound for 2010. As the band evolves, and their music takes new forms, they will incorporate elements of their past endeavors, a trend throughout their history. Building upon the previous year’s stylistic successes from their onset through Summer 1996, Phish hit the reset button in Fall ’96, beginning a completely new evolutionary arc for the late ’90s.

When re-listening to 2009, one quickly notices that Phish’s musical high points were truly sublime, with several jams that can hold their own among highlights from any era. And when listening more closely to the band’s playing through the year, one can identify elements from each of the band’s evolutionary periods throughout their career. Incorporating all the styles of their career into the building blocks for the future, 2010 will be a year that not only springboards off 2009, but every phase of the band’s career.

12.30.09 (W.Rogell)

Starting off last year with a focus on straight-forward jamming, Phish came out of the gates conservatively, making sure they had their footing before trying to run. However, one element of their playing stood out right from the beginning of Hampton – their precise execution of composed sections, as well as their full compositions. Turning their glaring weakness of 2.0 into an immediate strength of 2009, Phish opened the era with two of their most complex pieces in “Fluffhead” and “Divided Sky.” Evoking memories of the early-’90’s, when Phish ran through fugues like wind-sprints, their precision and prowess on their multi-part compositions stood out all year long. The complex sections of their larger pieces also became revitalized as the year wore on, and tackling the openings of pieces like “Reba,” “YEM,” and “Bowie” became second nature. Sure, there were speed bumps along the way, but Phish’s precision and accuracy became a strong suit in 2009.

Bonnaroo - (G.Burwell)

By the end of fall tour and in Miami, Phish began playing compact, full-on jams that more resembled the fury of the mid-90’s, an approach I labeled “musical density.” The band started to improvise in a more concentrated manner, offering many original ideas over a shorter amount of time. Jams that illustrate this retro-style include Miami’s “Piper,” “Ghost,” and “Back On The Train, “Charlottesville’s “Light,” and MSG’s “Disease > Piper.” With a take-no-prisoners approach, Phish annihilated these pieces with fast, thematic communication, leaving no time for loops, vamping, or repetitive funk chords. This emerging sound that featured shorter, too-the-point, jams evoked memories of the band’s most adventurous improvisational era from ’93 to ’95, albeit not quite as insane. Nonetheless, the band integrated similarly tight, no-nonsense communication that characterized a point in their history into their modern soundscapes.

Through this compact style, and by trimming the fat off their musical excursions, 2009 Phish piqued the interest of more than a few old-schoolers who had lost touch with the band during the the late-90’s era of groove, or during the post-hiatus era of abstract exploration. Phish sounded like the band these fans had loved through the mid-’90’s, pushing the boundaries of experimental rock while retaining a focused intensity to their playing. They could once again tear though “Foam,” had no problem shredding “It’s Ice,” and Phish music shifted back towards the form that made them famous to begin with. But not without brushstrokes of their latter years.

Miami '09

While Phish certainly didn’t focus on funk grooves last year, they did use certain vehicles to reach those swanky places. Though reined in quite a bit, their danceadelic style shined through many times throughout the year, and perhaps none more brightly than Red Rock’s “Tweezer.” After a relatively groove-less June, when Phish dropped this version (still illegal in some states), they let the floodgates of groove crash open in an all-out rhythmic explosion. All year long, but from August on specifically, versions of “Ghost,” “Wolfman’s,” and “Tweezer” routinely explored gooier territory, incorporating ideas of ’97 and ’98, but never delving nearly as deep into the musical molasses that defined those years. (Perhaps the most direct reference to this era came in the methodical funk turned ambient “46 Days” from Detroit last fall.)

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

The percussive jams that dotted so many setlists last year, growing out of “Rock and Roll,” “Piper” and “Drowned,” also represented carry-over from the late ’90s. Once Phish learned the polyrhythms of Remain In Light in 1996, this type of jam immediately jumped into their repertoire the next show with 11.2.96’s “Crosseyed > Antelope,” and remained in their bag of tricks all the way through, refined throughout the years. These sparser and faster grooves of ’09 brought back the feel of ’99 and ’00, as well as some post-hiatus adventures. Additionally, the many ambient interludes and amorphous jams that popped up throughout the year can be directly traced to the aural experiments that blossomed in Fall ’98, and fully developed in 1999. Using ambient textures and “amoeba-jamming,” Phish brought a new sound to the table that fall; a sound they resurrected more than a few times last year to varying degrees of success. Some standout examples include Deer Creek’s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” The Gorge’s “Sneakin’ Sally,” SPAC’s “Number Line, and the latter half of Miami’s “Tweezer.”

Thus, as Phish forges a path into the future, their past is undeniably coming with them. But just as these musical elements from different years were incorporated into 2009, a new direction awaits in 2010. Just what that will be remains the mystery of the summer. Answers await only 36 days away.


Jam of the Day:

Piper > What’s the Use?” 9.11.00 II

A stellar nugget of Phish2k.




12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Megaupload

12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Torrent

Here’s the completion of the stellar New Year’s 1998 run. Somehow, this one has skirted the archive. The most mellow of the four evenings still carried some legit highlights, specifically, “Disease > Piper.” The first set brought the bombastic beginning of “Chalk Dust,” “BBFCFM,” “Wilson,” and peaked with the surprise, set-ending “Reba.”

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Wilson, Roggae, Sparkle, The Moma Dance, The Old Home Place, Sample in a Jar, Frankie Says, Maze, Loving Cup, Reba

II: Down with Disease > Piper, Prince Caspian, The Squirming Coil > Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Grind*, Possum

*debut, w/ Tom Marshall

Source: Schoeps CMC641 > Lunatec V2 > Apogee AD1000 > DAT


509 Responses to “Bringing the Past Into the Future”

  1. Mr.Palmer Says:

    How come when you put a new download into itunes, they screw the song order up on you? They were in correct order initially? Frustrated.

    Shitty day all around. That fat fingered fuck on wall street cost me a lot of dough today. Wife just dropped on me that she has to go out to dinner for work, and i got solo kid duty.

    All i want is a stiff drink and ‘bane the night away.

  2. Leo Weaver Says:

    So I’m spinning Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder for the first time…you fellas should give it a spin, great stuff. I’m sure it’d get AW’s stamp of approval.

  3. snowbank Says:

    Okay, I have what I believe to be my first ever request of phish.

    Dear Phish,

    Please try a song with a dramatic acoustic lead in ala led zepplin or Heart’s Crazy on You. It is campy but I think we could all use a little old fashioned dramatic build up.

    I will post an example of what I mean in a separate post.

  4. snowbank Says:

    HEre is an example of a song with an acoustic lead in:

  5. Chuck D Says:

    like an acoustic version of the intro to My Friend, My Friend?

  6. Robear Says:

    palmer, i have the reverse midas touch when it comes to trading. i can let you know what i’m doing, then just play the opposite.

    if i’m not mistaken, got to ‘Preferences’ from the iTunes drop down menu.

    then click the ‘Advanced’ tab. then make sure ‘Keep iTunes Media Folder Organized’ IS checked

    solo kid duty’s fun. and exciting with a stiff drink and bane!

  7. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    maybe this is my swiss cheese memory acting up again but didn’t My Friend My Friend used to have the acoustic intro you are seeking?

  8. snowbank Says:

    I Was thinking a cover but there are sooo many phish songs that could get the treatment it is making my mind spin.

  9. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I guess my mind is intact on this one. chuck-firmed!

  10. Robear Says:

    it did TIII. they played it that way on 8/11/93. miner had it up the other day.

    think they did it for 11/16/94 as well. i’m pretty sure i fell on my ass when trey switched

  11. Robear Says:

    check that, 11/14/94


  12. snowbank Says:

    Or something like Tesla’s love song:

  13. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Yes, of course. I have probably seen the acoustic intro several times with devos being one…

  14. voopa Says:

    Trey did The Horse w/ an acoustic a couple times in ’93 too.

  15. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Thanks Robear. I just checked and that “keep itunes media folder organized” is indeed checked. Must be something else. hmm….

  16. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    @TIII, damn so close. Only a total noob wouldn’t know a hobbit from a nelwyn. Back to school at the Vale for me.

    Wait…just wiki’d it, not even the right planet. Clearly I’m out of my depth here.

  17. snowbank Says:

    Love is all around you… love is knocking

    Anyway, the more I think about it… Antelope or bowie would be my preference. One of their epics. It would be, in my perfect world, a new minute long intro rooted in the main melody.

    Now I think I just want phish to cover tesla’s love song. I could see us all singing “love is all around you” and then trey wailing out. Anybody else? Or is it just me?

    Love will find a way…

  18. snowbank Says:

    I am going to check those shows.. thanks for the tips…

  19. Robear Says:

    okay palmer, when you have itunes open, look across the top, it says Name Time Artist Genre sections. maybe more, maybe less. you can change these, btw. you want ‘artist’ to have priority, so click on that. if it gives Name priority, it will put them in alphabetical.

  20. Mr.Palmer Says:

    nah, that just flipped the order to reverse alphabetical. Not my day. Its just a few shows that i manually loaded a few days ago. weird. I can’t even figure out how to fix the order. My brain is fried. Thanks Robear!

  21. snowbank Says:

    usually what you need to do is add the file name and sort on that. The other option is to manually enter the track #’s. It’s not something that iTunes does well. Drives me nuts too, if that is any consolation?

  22. Robear Says:

    iTunes wars. you’re not the only one. hang in there.

  23. bouncin fan Says:

    I love tesla

    Especially their slow cuts

  24. snowbank Says:

    thank you bouncin for ending the silence. It was a brutally honest silence.

    I loved the tesla acoustic album. I think that was the last album I was into before I got my first dead tape.

  25. Mr.Palmer Says:

    my battle with Itunes is the least of my problems. thanks for the help. Wife’s dinner just got cancelled. 3 kids abusing mr. palmer has been avoided for the time being! Yay. Now…about that drink….

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