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 pushingΒ  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,Β  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. brother Says:

    bitter…..table for one…….yeah, i hear ya C. I thought boozer would have done the trick this year. trevor ariza last year. then that would have been a championship team. shaq was a joke. i saw that coming from here to phoenix. i just wanted him to be something he obviously is not. jordan, your throne will be secure for a while.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    @BK – just because they share the same roots doesn’t mean there aren’t significant differences. For instance there was an amazing series on NPR called “what makes it great?” that did a piece on Somewhere OVer the Rainbow that analyzed the symbolism of the specific note choices in the song and how they resonante with the lyric. It was a stunning piece, unfortunately the audio isn’t online anymore…

    Tinariwen’s motto is “simplicity is freedom” – many of their songs share a very similar monochordal blueprint – the beauty is in the details and how they form a whole…

    not saying it isn’t interesting that the same structure underlies so many songs, in fact it’s fascinating that a single progression can support so many ideas….

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    e.g. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” as ur-example of the same idea – same chord progression and even the same bass line (I think) but different melodies

    to the non-musician, rhythm and melody are what matter, not the underlying progression

  4. BrandonKayda Says:

    @Mr C

    Of course that’s true – I wasn’t trying to look down on them or anything like that, although re-reading my post it can come out that way. I have to articulate my thoughts better I guess. Somewhere O’er The Rainbow is an incredible piece of music – it’s such a beautiful song.

    I, too, find it interesting how a single progression can support so many songs, which is the reason why I’m gonna be doing this at some point. Pretty cool how the simpliest progression can still sound beautiful with ideas incorporated within.

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    @brother – I can’t tell you how glad I am it seems Danny Ferry won’t be the new Blazers GM

    you want to blame someone for this fiasco…he’s your man

    he flat failed

    one of the best players in the world and a rich owner in a mood to spend big to win now, and over the last few years he accomplished nothing.

    Shaq and Jamison?

    come on.

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

    ah cool @bk

    I do think that’s incredibly interesting

    it did sound a little like you were sort of laughing about it but I hear where you are coming from

    I mean, if you do it cleverly it definitely CAN be quite funny! but it should be done with respect, and it sounds like it will be

    making art that connects with people out of simple parts is a real gift

  7. Frankie Says:

    Mr.C- I would go with Uninvisible. IMO the most danceable MMW of late… Sick rythm section with vintage keyboards, Antibalas horns and Col. Hampton guessing… Was my favorite record a few years ago but i haven’t listened to it in a while…

    Check it out!

  8. Selector J Says:

    I know nothing on the technical side of music but hanging out with musician friends years ago… similar conversation (I think) and they said Farmhouse and these songs were really similar, too:

    ‘Under The Bridge’ RHCP
    ‘No Woman, No Cry’ BM&W

    Might be possible medley additions?

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    thanks Frankie

    I can borrow the Radiolarians set, maybe I will just grab that one tomorrow at the music store

    I’ll be down there picking up the Miles Cellar Door box set, what’s another $15?

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    my head is totally spun out from Black Beauty earlier today


  11. BrandonKayda Says:

    @Mr C

    The laughing comment was more towards the idea of me singing “Poker Face” or something like that, not so much the idea as a whole. It seems like this kind of thing has been done before though, but whatever. I’m pretty excited about it (so long as nerves don’t stop the whole thing from happening πŸ˜‰ )


    Sounds cool, I’ll have to check those tunes out. Haven’t listened to RHCP in like 5 years. Not too familiar with Bob Marley’s material to be honest, never got into it. I’ll definitely check it out though. Thanks

  12. Frankie Says:

    There is a Miles Davis exhibit in Montreal all summer that i have to check out called We Want Miles!

    What is that Black Beauty you’re speaking of Mr. C? I’ll check it out…

  13. Uncle Ebeneezer Says:

    @ Mr. C, just bought my first record player and some vinyl last night and my receiver doesn’t have a phono input, so I need a preamp…any idea on a fair price for something simple and used?

  14. Uncle Ebeneezer Says:

    I second the Uninvisible call…first track on that cd was part of a mix I got at the first bonnaroo, never heard MMW prior to that but it hooked me for sure…also check out “End of the World Party”

  15. Selector J Says:

    No coincidence that “Under The Bridge” was the song that put RHCP over the top.
    And ‘No Woman No Cry’ might be the most famous Bob tune ever. In the running, at least.

    As for the ‘never got into Bob Marley’ bit… 😯
    Do you play guitar or something? πŸ˜‰

  16. Frankie Says:

    πŸ™‚ @Selectah

  17. Selector J Says:

    Hey by the way, Frankie.

    I’ve got a few files in the mediafire for a friend to sample for her wedding (can’t get married on the beach without reggae, right?)
    So I threw together several songs real quick (somewhat randomly) and put it in the:
    “A1 Rub-A-Dub wedding for Emily” folder.
    3 files all together.
    The one labeled ‘Reggae A’ is an early-ish reggae collection. I think you’d really dig it.
    Reggae B is more mid to late 70s rootsy and Reggae C is late 70s to early 80s dancehall-y. You might dig those, too.
    The first one seems right up your alley, though.

  18. Frankie Says:

    Thanks a lot buddy! Like I said earlier, can’t listen to too much reggae these days in the heat… Thanks! πŸ™‚

    I just discovered a new compilation called Black Man’s Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti, which is a collection of old african music that influenced Fela Kuti… really digging it… Check it out if you like anything in between Orchestre Poly-Rythmo & Fela Kuti…

  19. sanchothehutt Says:

    Selector, I know this will sound weird…but I did get into Bob, before the Doors, Floyd, et. all, but I’m really not a fan of reggae. I don’t know how to explain it, even to the majority of my friends, but it just doesn’t speak to me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob, but most of the other stuff, Tosh etc., I’m just “meh” about.

    Perhaps you fellas could point me in a direction to some artists I might like??? I love the breadth of knowledge on this board. For my money though I’d rather listen to Fela than any Jamaican stuff I’ve heard. I know. Apples and cumquats, as Mr. C would say.

  20. sanchothehutt Says:

    Nice, Frankie. I’m going to check that out. Posted my Fela comment before going back and reading yours. Glad to see another fan (though I bet there are MANY on this board)

  21. BrandonKayda Says:

    Fela Kuti – Zombie is incredible.

    That is all.

    Goodnight everyone

  22. sanchothehutt Says:

    I have seen Femi a couple times at Summerfest. It’s not the same, but that sick Afro vibe shines through, and I’ve seen many midwetern jaws agape at the power of it.

  23. Mr. Completely Says:

    great point about those songs being successful for a reason @selector! well said


    Black Beauty is Miles at the Fillmore ’70, on the bill with the Grateful Dead, those often-discussion shows. for me this is the perfect blend of the three sides of electric 70s Miles – full band grooving, shredding solos and avant space noise breakdowns.

    Cellar Door is a 6 disk set from the same year….as I recall its much weirder


    @uncle Eb, I have seen some great prices on used midlevel gear at Fred’s Sound of Music on Hawthorne…other than that I dunno.

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    peak era Fela is the absolute shit for me

    I’ll have to look for that “influences” disk, sounds real interesting.

  25. Mr. Completely Says:

    fwiw Sancho, I have found some really good reggae through this board, where both Selector and Albert Walker are major gurus of the genre. however, it’s still not really my thing. I certainly have found more to like, but I can’t say I really love any of it.

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