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””

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  1. Bwana Says:

    Just finished some late night photo projects…

    Spun 7.21.98 and 8.3.98

    Pre-Sand days, but I’m all in…

  2. Bwana Says:

    First on the board. That’s a first…

  3. thelot Says:

    check the sand from 6-22-00 for a cool atypical version from that time period.

  4. fLippingBackward Says:

    I <3 Sand

  5. angryjoggerz Says:


    Happy Rabbit Year to all!

  6. JerZ Says:

    Great right up on a great song, Thank you Miner

  7. G-Man Says:

    Great write-up! This exemplifies the focus of 3.0 – musical density (to borrow a phrase). In 3.0 you can’t judge the quality of a jam by it’s length.

  8. butterflyeffect Says:

    you too @AJ and all!!!

    bring on the rabbit!!!

  9. phoammhead Says:

    i like purposeful phish . . . the phish that dives in, rips, grooves, throws down the funk and then looks for another avenue to do the same . . . works for me just fine

    sand is one of my favorites – great write-up MrMiner – on point!

  10. Luther T. Justice Says:

    Sand rules. It used to be Big Foot, now its Godzilla.

  11. Cable Hogue Says:

    Great write-up, Miner. Interesting stuff. Now that you mention it, maybe Sand was the song of the year…Light having fizzled out at MSG and all…Sand showed such an evolution. I remember the Hartford Sand being pretty hot too, before getting the Horse…may have to check back on that.

    One minor edit: 10/29 Sand wasn’t the set-opener. PYITE was played before.

  12. phoammhead Says:

    . . . and i think many of the offerings of this era will be heralded and acclaimed as some of phish’s phinest moments! i’m saying this and i hope we got a long way to go, yet, with phish and our boyz. it’s good to be around these dayz. goes back to the notion that you don’t question it and make the showz that you can. plan for the possibilities and then make IT happen for yourselves – (just) do it! 😀

  13. jonacho Says:

    I think the MSG is a transcendent piece of work – one that will long stand.
    If my entire family grooves out to it I know its good. It gets the 2 and 4 yr old hipshake approval.
    Its the beginning of a new age…again.

  14. bouncin fan Says:

    great piece Miner. def felt that Sand had a different feel when I caught the Telly version and it just kept blowing up from there.

    along with Greek Light the MSG Sand would be the jam I kicked down to old fans to show them what 3.0 Phish is capable of. just amazing kick it with the best jams of any era Phish.

    jumping down from our seats with Butter and Bigjig on the first notes of Mike’s bassline, getting down in the aisle in a sea of security guards throwing kids out and wooks choking out their girlfriends is one of my finest 3.0 moments.

    love me some Sand. with TAB tour around the corner won’t be any shortage of upcoming versions.

    laterz kids
    back to the grind.

  15. KfL Says:

    excellent piece miner, i did my ‘close study’ (as GD would say) of sand a few weeks back, and telly was indeed the turning point, when mike broke out of the repetitive bassline to create full band improv. they never looked back, with AC and MSG a cut above the rest

    listened to a 99 and 03 jibboo last night… and similar story – mike played the same bassline while trey went off (just like tab). this year, mike is starting to break the frame in those songs, opening up huge new avenues for collective improv

    great stuff

  16. Selector J Says:

    Late start this morning but reggae is rolling on the radio show now. Click my name for the link.

  17. Guyute711 Says:

    Reggae Thursdays, I like it.

  18. Guyute711 Says:

    About as big a win as you can get in the regular season last night. Go Cuse!!!

  19. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Morning folks. Great write up Miner. I can imagine all the plows busting MSG Sand in the cab while sanding the roads in the big ice storms we just faced.

    Flowing through the hourglass
    Pushing through the funnel
    Turn once more while racing
    All your siblings for the tunnel

  20. guitarpicker420! Says:

    Great piece Miner. You are definitely on to something vis-a-vis the evolution of the song and the turning point at Telle. Thanks as always for the great insight.

  21. angryjoggerz Says:

    Bo! Uptown top ranking!

  22. angryjoggerz Says:

    Throw your fucking gum in the trash can, wooks.

  23. butterflyeffect Says:

    And stay in school goddamnit!

  24. EL Duderino Says:

    Would you all agree that Sand brings more “weight” when dropped in the first set???

  25. butterflyeffect Says:

    Clearly you didn’t get the memo about Turntable 2 selecta

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