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”

  1. c0wfunk Says:

    “Stepping back though the whole dam show this year is a giant jam.”

    for me, phish has always been this way. When they’re on they turn on the hose in every tune, type 1, 2, 3, 4, aquatic, land, air or whatever.. It’s not only found in the “open jams” though that’s where it’s most noticeable.

  2. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    this is from his wiki page so take it for what it is worth:

    Morello is famed for his guitar style, which consists of heavy metal/punk hybrid riffs and hip hop-inspired sounds. His guitar playing is also characterized by heavy use of guitar effects, such as delay, modulation, wah, harmonizers, distortion, feedback, and others in unique ways and combinations. The most recognizable effect in Morello’s arsenal is the Digitech Whammy, which helps him create many of his sounds. Matthew Bellamy of the British band Muse has cited Morello as an influence, which can be heard in his use of pitch-shifting in solos.

    To produce his alien guitar sounds, Morello chooses various effects pedals. During his tenure in RATM, he used a Dunlop Cry Baby, a Digitech WH-1 Whammy, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a DOD EQ pedal (set flat and just used to boost the volume during guitar solos or particular rocking moments), and an Ibanez DFL Flanger. Around the time of The Battle of Los Angeles he added a Boss TR-2 Tremolo pedal (which can be heard on “Guerrilla Radio”). For Audioslave, Morello replaced the Ibanez Flanger with a MXR Phase 90. His amplifier of choice has always been a 50-watt Marshall JCM 800 2205 and a Peavey 4×12 cabinet. Though the Marshall is his amp of choice with Rage Against the Machine, he used a Vox AC30 combo amplifier for multiple overdubs on Audioslave’s ‘Revelations’ album. While the Marshall amplifier has two channels, he only uses the overdrive channel, and simply turns down the volume on his guitar to get cleaner sounds.

    In the studio, Morello uses the same setup for the bulk of the guitar tracks. For The Battle of Los Angeles, he also used a few other amps, such as a Line 6 as heard on the clean, spacey intro of “Mic Check”, plus a Pignose mini-amp and a MusicMan “Twin” style amp.[22] During the recording of Audioslave’s last album Revelations Morello experimented with different amplifier setups. For the title track’s solo he split his signal to his standard Marshall 2205 head and Peavey cabinet and a 100 watt Fender Bassman head and an Orange cabinet. With delay sent to one while the other is unaffected the sound is being “ping-ponged” between the two amplifiers. He also borrowed a VOX AC30 amplifier from producer Brendan O’Brien for some tracks.[23]

    Morello’s unique technique and talent led to him being voted the 5th greatest guitarist of the past 30 years in a 2010 BBC poll.

  3. c0wfunk Says:

    guess I could have wikipedia’d myself thanks t3 😉 So the real meaning of kitno is that Trey has always wanted to use his whammy pedal like that guy 😉

  4. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    llfa! yeah, I wish I had confirmation that that was it. I was just playing with KWL. I actually have a non-phish related reason to go there. but nice try.

  5. KWL Says:

    @t3 8)

    @Miner, well done. don’t know how you consistently turn out such high quality pieces–it really is impressive.

    i came to different levels of realization about the whammy at various points during this tour. the whammy truly is the new ‘sound’ or ‘jamming style’ of phish. trey is on the thing literally 75% of the time while he’s playing on stage.

    i don’t think many people realize how much trey has completely transformed his style of play right before our eyes. he is developing something completely new

  6. dogmattagram Says:

    OK, just felt the need to add a little contrary opinion. Over all the wale is very cool. Very few people have been able to use the wammy pedal in an interesting musical way. Tom Morello is pretty much the only one I can think of – I think this had a lot to do with the Killing in the name cover. After many years of using it, Trey has come up with a very original and musical approach without sounding gimmickie. Being a guitar player myself, I completely understand the feeling of getting a really cool sound out of an effect and then wanting to use it all the time. That’s where I think Trey has been for this tour. I think at times he over used it. There were a few times that I was thinking that a jam would really sound better if Trey stepped away from the wale and just playd his guitar. A couple of Stash’s suffered from this as well as one of the Split’s. I forget which one it was but Miner was talking about how good it was a couple times and i just have to disagree. It’s a very good example of this – Trey is off rhythmically and keeps turning the effect on and off as if he knows it isn’t working but he just can’t stop – hopefully someone can help point out which one this was. Anyway, Ithink this miner problem will take care of itself as the novelty of the sound wares off. IMO of course.

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    as far as overusing and novelty – I agree, this too will pass. I don’t think Trey will be taking whammy pedal solos in water in the sky forever (one place it stood out to me as slightly awkward)

    Overall I’m all for experimenting and watched in amusement as he figured where the loops fit in back in the day and now am happy to let him play with this toy.

    I’ve been known to irritate the hell out of everyone in the room while trying to figure out just where my murf pedal fits in


  8. KWL Says:

    and jumping on cow’s point above, trey’s transformation is not as simple as just stepping on this new pedal all the time–he has had to alter many of his phrasings, attacks, builds, etc as he works in bending notes

    the whammy is more of a ‘wave’ style of play, with notes constantly moving and flowing in to one another, as opposed to a more ‘particle’ style of play, with notes as individual entities struck one right after the next

  9. KWL Says:

    @dog, this is how trey works

    jams that don’t work for you are trey working out the kinks. he is learning how to play in a new way

    in 10 years the whale will appear at the same frequency as delay loops appear today (remember how they used to be in every jam?)

    david gilmour was suggested here to me in a previous ‘who else uses the whammy so much?’ discussion, in addition to morello

  10. mittens Says:

    @ cowfunk

    Yeah, when they’re on they’re on but my point is the bass led jamming we’ve seen in 10′ really opens itself to “the hose” like rarely we’ve seen in Phish history. I know what your saying though. But 09′, 94, 95′, 96′ jamming clearly lends itself less to dancing then say Fall 97 molasses funk or summer 98′ right?

  11. BingosBrother Says:

    “the whammy is more of a ‘wave’ style of play, with notes constantly moving and flowing in to one another, as opposed to a more ‘particle’ style of play, with notes as individual entities struck one right after the next”

    Wow. That is a brilliant explanation. Kudos.

    This is why the whale worked for me during Chicago Light. Waves pouring over me, cleansing my soul.

    I’d also like to add that the whale does sound different at the show as opposed to recordings.

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    love the wave v particle thing

    Someone mentioned the other day that Rift seemed “botched” because trey was trying to figure how to work his new style into that old style of solo.. Listening back yesterday I think this is dead on – the solo comes around, he fools around looking and then is just like screw it I’ll just play the old solo.

    As long as I’ve been seeing shows Trey has been looking for ways to break out of these composed solos and his old idiom, and finding new ways to get there. It’s one of the most fascinating things about his playing to me – the evolution of technique + tone + effects and the way the 3 change each other.

  13. c0wfunk Says:

    @mittens I hear ya -> the bathtubs I saw this year, while firmly entrenched in the bathtub idiom featured some amazing hose dancing bass led moments, a la 97 98, but without Trey’s repetitive funk bag. Good things.

  14. dogmattagram Says:

    ooh, I like the wave vs particle analogy. And as far as the whole “out of tune” thing. I never really got this. People who listen to Phish should be used to the sound of dissonance to create tension at this point. Generally speaking, he’s not out of tune, but out of key (or tonality) – which is not a bad thing. Playing notes that clash with the tonality (scale, mode, chord) that the music is in is one of those things that Phish does so well. Trey is using the wammy in this type of very musical way which is why I like it (over all).

  15. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    this is how rumors go wild, you know. I mention I may have some rumored info yesterday, ask about hotels in albany today, and the next thing you know…

    the only city I have heard for sure is Baltimore on fall tour. and the no festy thing. and the east coast halloween thing. but the city for that was wrapped up in a riddle surrounded by an enigma ensconced in a mystery within a labyrinth in the middle of a maze.

  16. dogmattagram Says:

    Yeah, I know it will work itself out. Just wanted to balance out miner’s completely positive remarks a little.

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    t3 I already book nonrefundable hotels based on your obviously factual info bro, stop trying to cover it up


  18. dogmattagram Says:

    Also, I really have to go back and find that SOAM. As I said, miner seemed to love it and I thought it was horrible – specifically because of the wammy.

  19. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    righto, c0w. so have fun living in Baltimore this fall then! 😮

  20. llamalee Says:

    my favorite use of the whale call is GBOTT charlotte. trey do good

  21. dogmattagram Says:

    I don’t remember Gilmore using a wammy pedal. I could definitely be wrong about that though, and I wouldn’t be suprised if he did. It seems like a sound that he would dig.

  22. randomreader Says:

    when trey is locked in & using the whammy the way he wants to – which is to say, tastefully, with complete control, and in a way that really contributes to the flow – it’s really cool to watch him. I noticed this at camden (my first show of the year). The way he manipulates the pedal, he doesn’t just fiddle with his foot – his whole body rocks back and forth, hunched over his guitar, face up and mouth agape in that terrific “surrendered to the flow” expression. I imagine it must bring a sensation of controlling the sound of his guitar with his entire body, not just his hands. And that must be an incredible feeling.

    It was when I finally saw this in person that I realized the new toy was just another in a long line of things Trey’s used not only to reinvent his playing, but to clear his head so that the music can flow and “play itself.” While there are still kinks to be worked out, clearly it is working, and I think the best is yet to come.

  23. Exree Hipp Says:

    Hey you guys,

    If you were wondering where that “new” arrangement of If I Could came from – the one that showed up at Jones Beach in June ’09 and has stuck around a little bit, I think that’s the way Trey always imagined the song. Just saw a reference to it in this interview, which is about ten years old:

  24. lastwaltzer Says:

    “is whole body rocks back and forth, hunched over his guitar, face up and mouth agape in that terrific “surrendered to the flow” expression.”random

    I’m fairly sure he has always done that.

  25. c0wfunk Says:

    taking a cue from trey the other night at the jam, and trying to escape my own personal modes that I get stuck in, I set the moog old school I was playing for crazy space sound mode and then was riding hte volume pedal and the pitch bend knob. Definitely was useful for changing my headspace and getting me out of my box

    @randomreader – excellent observation I noticed exactly what you’re saying. such a different foot technique from his old wah wah riffs too that must take a bit of getting used to.

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