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. KfL Says:

    gum is not biodegradable. who knew?

  2. Selector J Says:

    I know, KfL! Ain’t that some shit?

  3. willowed Says:

    Breast exams

    Nice Selecta – taking the show to the next level!!!

  4. butterflyeffect Says:

    no wonder my gum compost pile hasn’t been working!

  5. EL Duderino Says:

    For me… when you get big tunes in the first set like Sand, it can be a big indicator of a huge show ahead

  6. HarryHood Says:

    Just thought I would share this nice tidbit of news about the company that I’m currently working for (Draker Laboratories). I had so much bad news last year that I enjoy sharing some good news…….

  7. jdub Says:

    What’s up BB! Been way too many hours and have been neglecting my Phish/BB addiction.

    Nice rundown of Sand this morn’ Miner.

  8. HarryHood Says:

    Oh, and make it a point to check out our website if you are in the hunt for a job and would like to live in Burlington, VT. We have a bunch of openings and will have a bunch more throughout the year…… Not to mention that the building we are moving into next month is shared with Phish Dry Goods……..

  9. HarryHood Says:

    @ Jdub

    I know where you are coming from man. I’m starting to feel like I’m becoming strictly a lurker.

  10. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Groovin your show Selecta.

  11. butterflyeffect Says:

    @Dude I’ll take Sand in either set. Sometimes I get nervous if a nice Sand goes up in the first, like, can they follow this up? Could also do just fine with a Waves > Sand to open the second set!

  12. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Nice crowd reaction going into the first jam on MSG Sand. They know.

  13. angryjoggerz Says:

    Watch out, badman riddim showdown gwan.

  14. BTB Says:

    HHood: Congrats

    I almost spit my coffee out b/c I thought it read “turkey monitoring systems” 🙂

    good stuff

  15. verno329 Says:

    Great piece Miner. I love the retrospectives on particular songs like this. Invites me to go back and listen to particular versions to follow their progressions throughout the years.

    Incidentally, this board has helped change the way that I listen to Phish on a regular basis. I have always been one that listens to entire shows, or at least entire sets, and not picking and choosing songs from individual shows. This is due to two things. First and foremost is, admittedly, laziness. I just want to be able to start a playlist and then not have to mess with it and have continuous music without me having to do anything else but listen. And second is that I like to listen to a whole set to get the flow and vibe for the set. But after checking out so many people’s different tour compilations and such I’ve really found myself enjoying listening to Phish in a different manner than I had before. I still listen to whole sets most of the time but I have begun making my own tour picks to spin and share with some of my friends who don’t grab everything like me.

    It’s like a whole new Phish 🙂

  16. angryjoggerz Says:

    Selector J is killing it, as usual. This BB of ours has some cool cats up on it, much respect.

  17. Aquaman Says:

    So @AJ, how did you kick off the new year?


    Also, is today the actual day? I think it’s tied to the lunar calendar, yes?


  18. angryjoggerz Says:

    Today is the actual day in USA, yesterday in China (13 hour dif). So far I have had some coffee, called in to say there is no way I could get to my office (both cars plowed in) and took a shower. No acrobats so far.

    Yes, it is a lunar thing, so the date changes from year to year. This year it is pretty early.

    I really wish I was sitting with a big hot plate of homemade jiaozi (dumplings), some veggies, some baijiu and my family and friends. That is the way to do it up Chinese new year stylee.

  19. Aquaman Says:


    I think I got it.

    In the Chinese calendar, winter solstice must occur in the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

    Which makes me more confused as according to the lunar calendar, today is the halfway point between no moon and full moon in 14 days.

  20. EL Duderino Says:

    GD would always throw down in Oakland for the Chinese NY

  21. EL Duderino Says:


  22. angryjoggerz Says:

    Huh. Now I am confused too. Either way, I still want dumplings.

  23. lastwaltzer Says:

    I had dumpling soup the other night, dope.

    Cypruss Sand, also dope.


  24. butterflyeffect Says:


    Honestly I’ve never tried to wrap my head around the lunar calendar. I just celebrate shit when the Chinese celebrate shit.

  25. kenny powers Says:

    @ Miner

    typo near the end of the 3rd to last paragraph:

    “melodic piece of music with a shuffle beat that, had nothing to do with the at all.”

    i’m thinking you meant to say something like “nothing to do with the song’s main structure at all”…?

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