The Transformation of “Sand”

12.31.2010 (George Estreich)

Traditionally a platform for extended guitar sorcery, “Sand” made the jump from TAB to Phish at The Gorge in the Fall of 1999. Adopting a similar structure as it had in Trey’s solo band, Phish’s “Sand” showcased a deep, linear groove over which the band largely improvised by adding and peeling away sonic layers and effects. Rarely veering from this structure, the song became a relic of 1999 and 2000—the millennial era—a time when Phish focused on psychedelic soundscapes and dark, rhythmic jamming. Appearing only once in the post-hiatus era as a part of 2003’s New Year’s Run in Miami, Phish doubled that output in 2009 with versions in Camden and Miami. Camden’s version added a surprise element of melody to the groove-based palette, but the song remained a rarity through Summer 2010.

8.9.10 - Telluride (W.Rogell)

A turning point for the song came in Telluride, when Mike broke form and began improvising bass leads while Trey tore into ferocious washes of sound and sustained, uncompressed phrases. Page stepped up and began playing along with Mike’s uncompromising lines before Trey drifted back into a more standard lead role. While Mike, Page and Trey engaged in a distinctly different conversation, Fishman still maintained a driving beat that kept the creativity framed in familiar style. Coming together in a crushing full-band peak, Phish capped the jam without returning to its final musical verse. This version carried something far more dynamic than previous incarnations; interplay that foreshadowed a forthcoming change.

Over the course of Fall and New Year’s, Phish dropped four “Sands”—as many versions as they had played in almost two years since their return. Over these four outings, Phish continued the shift that had begun in Telluride, from a one-dimensional piece into a jam in which all four members play an equal part. Coming off the shelf in the first set of Charleston’s finale, it was this version of “Sand” that kicked the show into overdrive; a show that would set Phish afire for the rest of the fall. Building off Telluride’s version, the entire band—including Fishman—treated the song more equitably than ever before. Trey left space for other ideas in the mix, and before we knew it, Phish was crafting a legitimate four-piece conversation amidst “Sand.” Applying their ego-less jamming that has steadily matured since their return to “Sand,” the band transformed the one-time Trey highlight reel into a dynamic show-stopper.

10.29.10 - Boardwalk Hall (J. Weber)

Phish liked what they played in Charleston so much that “Sand” was moved into the second set only two shows later in Utica, New York. Coupled with Atlantic City’s fall finale on 10.29, these two versions explored the band’s newly-discovered four-piece rhythmic gamesmanship. And both resulted in fall tour highlights that reached places previously untouched by “Sand.” Utica’s knee-buckling version featured more powerful exchanges than Charleston’s and broke into a second segment that provided a groovy bridge to “Theme From the Bottom,” while giving us a preview of the open jamming we’d hear from the song in Atlantic City. “Sand’s” curtain call of the season came in a scintillating centerpiece on the first night of Atlantic City. Following another mind-numbing and equitable excursion, Phish skirted the song’s typical ending and landed in a slowed down, melodic piece of music with a shuffle beat that, had nothing to do with the song’s structure at all. “Sand,” the ultimate contained jam, had finally broken down its doors into open, uncharted territory. Eventually leading into “Carini,” this version illustrated how far the song had come over fall tour. But we had no idea what was waiting for us on New Year’s Eve.

12.31.10 ( AJ Masthay)

As the opening of “Sand” emanated from the stage at Madison Square Garden, it felt like the theme music to a prize-fighter’s entrance. Shit was about to go down, and everybody in the building knew it. Bursting out of the gate with his signature staccato licks featured prominently over the New Year’s Run, Trey began the jam as he would any other in history. But with 2010’s improvisational transformation, the rest of the band reacted completely differently than in years past. Instead of providing a canvas for Trey’s crack rhythm licks, the band joined right in! Echoing and improvising off of Trey’s infectious lines, the band members engaged in a selfless symphony like none heard in the song’s history. Page, Mike, and Fish were all playing some form of Trey’s stacatto licks, transforming the jam into one of the danciest and most impressive jaunts of the song’s career. The band members all left space for each other to continue and finish each others’ musical ideas, and the jam quickly turned into one of the most intense high “Sand” had ever provided. And as Trey released from his syncopated patterns with a jazzy lick, the band followed right along, sailing fluidly through the second half of the song with communication just as jaw-dropping as the first. And then without wasting a moment, Phish seamlessly returned to the final chords of the song in a flawless rendition.

It is a fruitless attempt to compare “Sands” from 1999 to “Sands” of 2010, as the band’s intent for the song has now completely changed. That being said, each spin of the New Year’s version continues to floor me with its precision and perfection. Along with Big Cypress’ middle of the night romp on the other end of the spectrum, I believe these to be the song’s crowning achievements. The former version is 40 minutes and the latter is 10—timings that are signposts of vastly different eras. Cypress’ odyssey represents the peak of the original “Sands,” while MSG’s represents the peak of a whole new style. But when all is said and done, with Phish’s new focus on equitable “Sand” structures, the song’s brightest days may yet lie ahead.


Jam of the Day:

Sand” 12.31.10 II




4.27.1991 The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York SBD

FLAC Torrent (via etree), Mp3 Torrent, Megaupload < Links

4.27.91 Poster

I played roulette with for today’s download. I chose a year, closed my eyes, and clicked the mouse. So here we have it—The Capitol Theatre, a very Phishy stop in 1991. This was the band’s third of seven shows at the venue between 1990 and 1992. Enjoy the Thursday SBD treat. (Note: The FLAC torrent is an AUD new to circulation.)

I: Sweet Adeline, The Asse Festival, Runaway Jim, Cavern, The Landlady, My Sweet One, Reba, Llama, The Lizards, Suzy Greenberg, Stash, Golgi Apparatus

II: The Curtain > Possum, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY > Mike’s Song > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Fluffhead, Tweezer, The Squirming Coil > Wipe Out > Tweezer Reprise

E: Bouncin’ Around the Room, Good Times Bad Times

*Aquarium Rescue Unit opened

Source: DSBD / FLAC: akg 451eb’s

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547 Responses to “The Transformation of “Sand””

  1. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Laphraoig 10 yr and 2/20/03 out (north) west here. After all the hype the last couple days.

    What’s up, wolf?

  2. BrandonKayda Says:

    Hey @Tzara’s

    What’s up?

  3. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Hey bk– just listening to the 2/20/03 tweezer. Didn’t realize the highlights were in the 1st set on this one so skipped to tweezer. This is dank though, I love it. Listened to the Nassau tweez earlier today and it didn’t grab me as much.

  4. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    It’s not even that late, where’d everyone go? I think I saw where EllJefe was in on the free jazz party. We should think about what we can listen to. Should start with a couple classics I think, stuff everyone should hear. Got ideas? I know I picked Ayler’s Spiritual Unity last time.

  5. Mdawg Says:

    Hello BB! I just dug my laptop out from under the snow and wanted to pop in and say that Sand is truly a welcomed addition to the rotation. I loved this song in 1999-2000 and now that it has the twists and turns that Miner mentioned there is nowhere but up for this tune.


  6. Mdawg Says:

    I came by this link for a DL of CRS – Child Rebel Soldier for any hip-hop headz…

  7. BrandonKayda Says:

    Yeah @Tzara’s

    How does Wednesday night sound? Trying to pick a week night…

    Good idea regardless

    Bout’ to spin AW’s “no whitey” mix

  8. BrandonKayda Says:

    Cecil Taylor – Looking Ahead!
    Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
    Pharoah Sanders – Karma
    John Coltrane – Meditations

    Just trying to think of some “classic” avant-garde jazz records

  9. BrandonKayda Says:

    Coltrane – Live at the Village Vanguard Again! is good as well – there is tons of great stuff, just a matter of spacing it out.

    I definitely need to pick up some Ayler. Spiritual Unity was great

  10. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Meditations (or Ascension if we really want to go out there) might be good. Love the stuff where Pharoah plays. Bitches Brew might not be free enough. That’s a good Cecil Taylor record, but Nefertiti, or Unit Structures might be a little more “realized.”

    I like Meditations or some such ‘Trane record though. I’ve kind of shelved him recently for some reason. Actually don’t listen to that much of this stuff lately, so this would be good. Wednesday’s good to aim for, if we get a confluence of interested people some night though, we could improvise (which would be fitting.)

  11. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    The other essential Ayler, by the way, is “Live at the Village Vanguard,” which is now compiled with live at the village gate as a two CD set, “Live in Greenwich Village.” Amazingly uplifting stuff.

  12. BrandonKayda Says:

    Thanks for the rec – I’ll try to pick either Live in Greenwich Village or Nefertiti up this weekend.

    Hmm…would there be any Miles we could use? Just curious, because he steered left from free jazz and went into guitar heavy funk in the later years instead. Not sure if that would be free-form enough

  13. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Yeah, for me he always bad-mouthed the truly free guys. Your probably closest with Bitches Brew. Or Dark Magus or something. He always needed modes, or he didn’t think it was real jazz. And he needed control, which free jazz specifically avoided in favor of the idea of “pure” inprovisation.

  14. neemor Says:

    Nice little interview with The Dude.

  15. Tzara's Ghost Says:

    Alright, I’m out. Good chatting.

  16. BrandonKayda Says:

    Yeah I agree with that. He was just opposed to the scene that was forming i guess.

    Have you heard Coltrane – Live In Seattle? It’s late 60s Coltrane and it has Sanders/Tyner – 2 hours in 6 songs on 2 discs. Pretty out there stuff.

  17. BrandonKayda Says:

    Later @Tzara’s

  18. butter Says:

    RE: Kevorkian remasters


  19. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Boy. Man. I bought it again.

    What up Tghost? I’ve been real busy with school, but planning on coming down for DBT and Galactic in March. I was sure Trey was gonna play the Paramount or Moore. Seattle gets the shaft again. Holler.

  20. butter Says:

    Zigaboo this saturday in Oakland at the New Parish

  21. EllJefe Says:

    Tzara and BK- Just got a DVD from the Library called Musician. Its about Ken Vandermark. Cool Avant-garde improv saxophonist. Its about how he plays and makes a living playing about the most uncommercial kind of music. He wn the MacArthur fellowship in 99 and brought a 10 piece free jazz band from Holland to tour the states w/ some of the money. Seen him a couple times, good stuff. Can’t wait to watch. 3 am prolly too late to crank this.

  22. Jtran Says:


    Went to a benefit show last night at Higher Ground with Page and Fish making brief appearances. Page sat in for 5ish songs in the first set, Fish for 1 in the first and about 3in the second. It was funny seeing these guys sing Quinn in a non-Phish setting.

    Page sang Stuck in the Middle With You, $$$. Great > to Taxman taboot. Pretty good music otherwise as well with Russ Lawton, Ray Packowzski and Bob Wagner (local guitarist) leading the way.

    Shot of Page:

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