The Phish and The Whale

6.24.10 - Camden (Graham Lucas)

As Phish rebuilt their foundation throughout 2009, their playing retained a sound rooted in the past, without truly pushing  into original territory. By the end of the year, a compact style of jamming emerged in which the band assaulted their audiences with a plethora of musical themes in a short amount of time – in short, musical density. But as we waited through the first six months of 2010, the question lingered of how this style would be applied, or rather, “When would Phish discover a new sound?” Never known for resting on their laurels, Summer 2010’s opening leg seemed ripe for the band to put one foot forward, and sure enough, that’s exactly what they did.

6.24.10 (G.Lucas)

Trey has historically been the leader of Phish, directing the band’s improv and defining their sound with his guitar tone. Whether firing out machine gun licks in the mid-90s, rhythmically narrating groove epics in the late-’90s, or seething dissonant, uncompressed leads in the post-hiatus years, Phish’s sound has flowed from their front man’s style of play. This summer, Trey honed the use of his whammy pedal, introducing a tone that the community has affectionately embraced as “The Whale” for its likeness to the underwater calls of Earth’s largest mammals. Using pitch bending to reach multiple notes instead of hammering each one with separation, Trey featured this subtler, laid back style from night one of summer tour, and his use of the whale has only grown more tasteful since then. Fusing his “whales” into lighter, upbeat jams like “Reba” or “Hood” as well as darker pieces “Ghost,” “Tweezer,” “Light” or “Bowie,” Trey illustrated the versatility of the tone, and its ability to make psychedelic contributions to all sorts of sonic palettes.

6.24.10 (G.Lucas)

In a symbiotic relationship, Trey’s minimalist whaling allowed Mike to step up and carve out the direction of jams, often providing the lead melody and rhythm simultaneously. Creating more democratic jamming, all band members could present their ideas more readily, while Trey listened and complemented them masterfully. Swooping out of the background, Red often switched gears amidst jams, transforming into the six-string juggernaut we know and love. And when he did, the rest of the band already had vested ideas in the jam, creating a more dynamic interplay, specifically in structured jams. By bending his leads rather than crushing them, Trey’s whaling lent a subtle, impressionistic style, and less in-your-face guitar – a humbler style of play that coaxed his band mates fully into the mix.

This combination of musical factors converged throughout summer’s opening leg, beginning to mold the band’s sound of 2010. In Chicago’s tour opener, the two most significant jams, “Light” and “Ghost,” showcased this stylistic shift that would continue through the month. Many resistant fans soon embraced the whale as Trey employed it more tastefully, and before tour reached its halfway point, inflatable orca whales were being tossed around the front of pavilions in comedic homage to Trey’s new tone. With Mike firmly at the center of the band’s new improvisational fabric, his eclectic and virtuosic chops have never been so apparent. Playing better than ever, Mike has emerged as the silent assassin of Phish, providing ridiculously original leads to virtually every jam. Collectively, Mike and Trey have led the band’s experiments in their emerging sound of 2010.

7.3.10 (W.Rogell)

At the same time, Fishman has stepped up his game, enhancing the band’s ever-changing rhythmic pocket, improving upon what many saw as a drawback in 2009. His drumming has been super crisp, and his unique melodic sensibility – with which he often mimics and responds to Trey’s licks – has returned, bringing another level of nuance back to Phish’s music. Page has been notably down in this summer’s mix, but his playing has been spot on, often comping Mike and Trey, while at others times, joining them in a triple-helix of melodic harmony. Hopping to his piano amidst many jams, Page often contributed a retro feel to the music, while at other times, his sonic textures launched Phish jams into space.

During June and early July, Phish made strides of creativity, chipping away at a new sound that will no doubt evolve as the year progresses. As expected, the band has begun to change again, and in the world of Phish, change has been the one constant throughout the years. While setlists didn’t contain the expected influx of new originals, the sound of 2010 developed within the context of older vehicles. When Leg II picks up in less than a month, it will be interesting to trace Phish’s musical progression along these lines and beyond, as the band continues to forge their path of the modern era.


Jam of the Day:

Rock and Roll > Free” 6.26.10 II

This sublime piece of improv presents one ofthe defining jam of tour.




6.26.2010 Merriweather Post Pavilion. Columbia, MD < Torrent

6.26.2010 Merriweather Post Pavilion. Columbia, MD < Megaupload

Official Merriweather Poster

On Saturday night of tour’s peak weekend, the band dropped one of their strongest performances of the summer with a second set to rival any. “Rock and Roll” and “Tweezer” provided two of the month’s most memorable highlights, while you just can’t mess with “Wolfman’s,” “Slave,” “Reprise” combo that closes the frame.

I: Crowd Control, Kill Devil Falls, AC/DC Bag, Sugar Shack, Tube, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea*, Stash, Backwards Down the Number Line, NICU, 46 Days, Suzy Greenberg

II: Rock and Roll > Free, Fast Enough for You, Sparkle, Tweezer > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Wolfman’s Brother,  Slave to the Traffic Light, Tweezer Reprise

E: Show of Life, Good Times Bad Times

*Debut, Neutral Milk Hotel

Source: Schoeps mk4v> KC5 > M222 > NT222 > Aeta PSP-3 > SD 722 (@24bit/96kHz) (Taper: taylorc)

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990 Responses to “The Phish and The Whale”

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  1. Lycanthropist Says:

    yay first!

  2. Lycanthropist Says:

    excellent write up Miner.

    way to really nail the Moby Tone with words.
    if anything the whale provided me with fun opportunity in character development.

    I really enjoyed watching the progress of Trey’s new tone over the tour and it is now become fully integrated in to the sound and has led to some other worldly improvisation.

    Here’s to more Moby in 2010!

  3. mittens Says:

    I’m on couch tour this year but from what I’ve been hearing the use of the whale has been awesome. I love the new texture it adds to the sound and like miner says allows Mike to take the lead.

    Thanks for all the write ups Miner. I wait until I can get the soundboards to listen to the show and I read your reviews first. I think I’m going to disagree with it and then you hit the nail on the head. Ex. 2nd night Spac standard fare. I thought Walnut Creek was the heat though.

    Cheers to a great first leg everybody. You all are lucky motherfuckers to catch this tour.

  4. Lycanthropist Says:

    spac 2 maybe standard fare but the drowned > swept away > steep is stellar.

    hershey gets better with every listen.

  5. Lycanthropist Says:

    sitting in NOLA airport with no sleep.

    wish i was heading to Phish. Oh well.

    at least hershey set 2 is helpin me pass the time

  6. willowed Says:

    This is a great read Miner. This new tone has really opened up the opportunity for the two headed monster attack.
    Gordo has been a beast in 3.0 and even going back into 2003-2004. While big red was having his prblems back in those days Gordo was always the constant destroyer.
    This new two team (Gordo, Trey) lead is going to work quite well for phish in the future.

    I dig it!!!

  7. willowed Says:

    Spac 2 is not standard fare. It has great flow. The theme of the night was dance party….they delivered that.

  8. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    mornin all

    nice article, miner. very well thought out premise backed with solid examples. it’s great to be able to talk about all of this stuff while it is happening rather than relying on the “remember whens”

  9. mittens Says:

    Really, SPAC night 2 has great flow? I thought the first set was uber fun to listen to. Brother with their families on stage and the whole 1st set smoked but Swept Away>Steep, Makisupa just killed all momentum for me. Not to mention that’s some of the worst stage banter I’ve ever heard from Trey. “Hey look it’s Mike, Hey over there is Page” To each their own but I thought that was one of the weaker 2nd sets of the tour.

  10. willowed Says:

    I disagree completely mittens. Makisupa always adds Phishy moments to shows and Swept Away Steep which is rarely played was played masterfully. Also how can Makisupa kill the moment when it’s followed by
    Piper 2001 YEM…..That’s just not possible.

  11. willowed Says:

    Then they lead you into the night with a Frankenstein encore.
    As you know….Frankenstein gets the motor running whenever you hear it!
    I would say the momenum started at Makisupa.

    Then again, no one is right or wrong here. Different people search for diferent things. This show delivered for me, maybe not for you…no biggie!!

  12. mittens Says:

    I know what you mean, I didn’t think it was possible either. For me, it dragged down the momentum. I wasn’t their. My opinion shouldn’t count for much.
    This whole tour has been friggin’ awesome though eh Willowed?

  13. willowed Says:

    Need to run to work…I will check in in an hour or so!

  14. mittens Says:

    Plus I just misused their.

  15. willowed Says:

    It sure has. Off the charts good!!

  16. whole tour! Says:

    we all win!

  17. mittens Says:

    I’ve been hearing reports back similar to Miner’s that a lot of people are unhappy about the lack of jamming. Stepping back though the whole dam show this year is a giant jam.

    Is it just me or are they busting out the hose more than ever before? I’m mad that Trey cuts a jam short and then 3 minutes later they’re jamming on Chalkdust. Go figure.

    As much as I like the Trey led Jamming, this new style keeps the tension release jamming going like nothing the Phish community has seen since the 97′ 98′ era. I think their is a lot to be excited about for 2nd leg tour.

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    totally random question. when you pholk hit up the hotels for albany shows, which ones are good/close/cheap? no reason, just need to visit there some time soon and was curious…

  19. angryjoggerz Says:

    I like the whale, now I know. I was never a big fan of the too in your face Trey playing, in fact it was part of what held me back in the past. Now the band seems more balanced.

  20. Kenny Powers Says:

    T3 – I stayed at the Hampton at the bottom of the hill. $100 per night, 5 minute walk to the venue and an even shorter walk to the local bars.

  21. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    thanks, KP!

  22. KWL Says:

    hmmmm, sounds fishy t3po…… cough up those fall rumors you’re sittin on!

  23. c0wfunk Says:

    another really innovative trick Trey is playing with the whammy is using it to redefine his bag o’ licks -> he seems to be working it ever so subtly in the middle of many phrases to which is redefining his tonal structures and taking his modes to a whole new place.. This is the playing confused by many as “out of tune” at the beginning of the tour, but obviously dude knows what he’s doing and it’s another trick he’s using to build tension. In the first hood of the tour (can’t remember where .. got a blank space..) this technique led him to a fresh new riff that he used to peak the song out with..

    Antelope from ATL is a good example of this type of thing and he’s been doing it in Char 0 also among other places.

    Also – I mentioned this the other day but never got any feedback. I thought I read on here at one point that the guitarist from Rage is a noted user of the whammy pedal – can anyone confirm / deny this? Pretty cool little connection there if so.

  24. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    nothing to see here, KWL. keep moving. keep moving. nothing to see. I said move along, sir!

    ::totally changes subject::

    I thought it was cool that they included Kuroda’s kid in the Brother gag for father’s day. CK5! CK5!

  25. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Halloween in Albany- Thanks T III….. 🙂

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