Originally penned as a nostalgic poem by Tom Marshall to Trey, “Backwards Down the Number Line” has been an enigma ever since joining Phish’s live rotation. Presented as the virtual theme song of the band’s comeback year, one foresaw the catchy single developing into one of the band’s newest jam vehicles. But only twice during 2009 did Phish take the song outside the box, favoring standard versions that rode the coattails of Trey’s guitar solo to the closing refrain. When Blossom’s “Number Line” transformed into one of June’s most impressive jaunts, 2010 seemed like the song’s coming-of-age year. But for the rest of the month and throughout August, Phish unveiled benign version after benign version – until Jones Beach. While much of the post-tour hype has centered on The Greek and Alpine Valley stands, perhaps, the most focused and dynamic “Number Line” ever has flown under the radar. When revisiting the centerpiece of Jones Beach’s stellar two-set opener, the virtuosity of this metropolitan adventure leaps from the speakers.
Each time Phish took “Number Line” outside the box before Jones Beach, they made distinct musical shifts, stepping away from the song’s feel-good textures into something wholly different. But when Phish drove their modern anthem on a tour-ending trek, they took the song’s theme and rhythm into the ether with a more fluid start-to-finish excursion than ever before. The band played through the initial composed jam with a more relaxed feel than many of their routine, shreddier versions. While trotting this linear path, Phish began to peel away layers, forming a variant musical plane while keeping one foot in the song. Trey wove an original melody that pulled the band with him, beginning to drift from structure; but it wasn’t until he cut through the music with power-rhythm chords that knew we knew were in for a ride.
Without altering the cadence or flow of the jam, the band slipped into smooth, piano-laced, percussive patterns filled with creative ideas. As Trey’s offerings morphed into earnest leads, Mike and Fishman locked up, collectively steering the low-end of the music like a race car on rails. As the rhythm section destroyed the pocket, Trey and Page collectively colored the top half of the music. With all band members on the same page, they collectively crushed an original piece that still retained roots to the song. But those roots would further disintegrate as Trey threw high-speed, medieval melodies from his blazing Ocedoc.
Phish settled from this fire into a sparser groove with Page tickling the Fender Rhodes and Trey coloring the aural painting as Mike stepped up to take the lead. Aside from the awesome whole-band interplay, the highlight of this jam from this juncture is the mind-altering beat science of Jon Fishman. Slaughtering intricate breakbeats as the band melted into the cosmos, Fishman shone during the latter half of this jam, continuing his personal excellence over Leg Two while anchoring a masterful section of Phish’s newest “urgent ambient” playing. Amidst insane rhythms, Trey hit a triumphant melody that led the band into a surreal peak into the future.
Trey, Page, and Mike engaged in a tight, melodic exchange over Fishman’s hyperspace, as Phish collectively slaughtering their experiment. Trey began a weeping lead over the mind-numbing, percussive pocket that led the band into an entire peak section of the jam. Twisting his phrasing to liken The Beatles’ “Norweigan Wood” melody, Trey added a musical reference to this golden sequence of four-minded mania. Taking this part to the top floor, Phish moved at warp speed while remaining firmly glued to each others’ ideas. Fish continued his inhuman work while Trey brought us to the promise land.
While the summer’s final shows at Jones Beach were littered with highlights, nothing over the four sets reached the unique improvisational genius of “Number Line.” Perhaps a sign of things to come, but more likely a rarity, Phish crafted an east-coast excursion that earned a place on the top shelf of 2010.
Jam of the Day:
“Number Line” 8.17.10 II
The improvisational peak of Phish’s final stand of Summer 2010.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
8.15.2010 Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI < Torrent
8.15.2010 Alpine Valley, East Troy, WI < Megaupload
In another rowdy show in Wisconsin, The Ocedoc’s flame never went out as Trey tore apart night two. “Ghost > Theme” and “Piper > 2001” highlight a second set filled with hits. Additionally, a scorching “Bowie” punctuated the opening half.
I: Tweezer, AC/DC Bag, On Your Way Down, The Divided Sky, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Water in the Sky, The Moma Dance, Farmhouse, David Bowie
II: Ghost > Theme From the Bottom, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, You Enjoy Myself > Piper > Also Sprach Zarathustra > While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Character Zero
E: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, Cavern, Joy, Tweezer Reprise
Source: Schoeps mk21 (FOB) > kc5 > cmc6xt > Sonosax SX-M2 > Mytek Stereo 192 ADC > Tascam HD-P2 (24/96)Tags: 2010, Jams, Summer '10