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. bouncin fan Says:

    No doubt Robear. Caught Izzy Vibes a bunch before Apple left. Sad when the original trio broke up.

    Probably my favorite roots vocal group I got to catch live. A shame the days of being able to catch groups like Culture and Israel Vibration are behind us. Such great live music.

  2. P.S.H.S. Says:

    p.s.h.s. sans sand list: show i saw/sand played,
    gw 09 / camden
    10/19 / charleston & utica
    10/26 / 10/30
    but the five others seen in 99 including big cypress help ease the pain

  3. Mike in Austin Says:

    @robear – will think of positive thoughts for your friend. Best wishes.

    We have a Szechuan place here in Austin that is the most authentic food I’ve had outside of Chongquin. Great spicy flavors.

  4. Selector J Says:

    Cristal Wulf Strikes again.
    Nassau Roses works as a title, I think. Anyoneknow how to change the “More info” on a mac? Trying to cover all digital tracks so that this stuff may never get erased.

  5. P.S.H.S. Says:

    saw Culture and Israel vibration at Adirondack festival a few years ago, very lucky

  6. SillyWilly Says:

    yo, bouncin’

    the wailers are playing madison on tuesday.

    bought the ticket for 25$

    what am I in for?? do they still put on a good show.

  7. bouncin fan Says:

    OG Izzy Vibes were done in 97

    Joseph Hill passed in 2006

    so sad

  8. Aquaman Says:

    @Elec. music fans

    This post is by now means meant to take people away from Selecta’s show.

    That said, if you have some work to get done today. I am finding the mega concentration zone while listening to this mix.

    Misgrashun – Sarah Goldfarb Promo Mix

    Nothing like free house music done well. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes. Good length for say, whipping off a chapter in your new book (@Miner 😉 )


  9. Aquaman Says:


    No shizzle. My best man is the smartest guy I know. He graduated #2 from UT Law. I guess he felt the pressure as his Dad graduated #1 back in the 60’s

    He is constantly reminding me that it is pronounced, Law-Y’er. Not Loi-‘er as many people say. People don’t practice Loi.

  10. Mr. Palmer Says:

    no wonder law-yers get a bad rap. 🙂

  11. Selector J Says:

    There’s been on-and-off rumors of Izzy Vibes getting back together so there’s hope for that, at least. Too many reggae musicians are passing away at an early age. Sugar Minott, Joseph Hill, Mikey Dread, Brent Dowe, and Alton Ellis all died within the last several years. None of them were that old except maybe Alton who was just 70. (The rest were in their 50s).

    Not to mention all the ones that passed away in the 1980s like Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Prince Far I, Marley, Tosh, King Tubby, etc. To paraphrase Black Star “It’s kinda dangerous to be in reggae.”

    :pours out a sip of some ital roots tonic:

  12. Selector J Says:

    Which Wailers, silly?
    Original Wailers or The Wailers?

  13. SillyWilly Says:



    #2 in his class at one of the best law schools in the country is awesome.

    Law school is graded 100% on a curve, so when a prof gives an A they gotta give a C (or worse….but they don’t like failing kids because drop-outs don’t donate that alumni $$)

    so in my class of about 210, I’m weighing in at about a solid 105-110.

    and i did learn last semester exactly the minimal amount of work needed to get a C+.

    My name is SillyWilly and I’m here to remind you:

    Cs get degrees.

  14. Aquaman Says:


    I just dumped a sip of coffe on the cube floor……..

    BANG CRASH! (whoops! Slipped!)

    Oy, my bad back! I need someone who practices Loi!/

  15. Aquaman Says:


    C’s get degrees.

    ^ Story of my life.

  16. SillyWilly Says:

    @Selector J

    Family Man Barrett is supposed to be there?

  17. Calpain Says:

    @Aquaman- nice link, enjoying it

  18. Robear Says:

    @ bouncin’, I saw the trio ‘I-Vibes’ at the ’96 ‘Reggae on the River’. moving show, to say the least. really blown away.

  19. Aquaman Says:


    It’s putting the pep in my step this AM. Major work getting done.

    I love the way she builds the mix up.

  20. Selector J Says:

    That’s The Wailers Band. I prefer them but I guess they’re both a little nostalgia acts.
    I just think Familyman deserves to carry the torch since he’s the primary arranger for all of the originals.

    @aqua Sorry for this indie crap playing. Went to random play before the >piper. My bad. I’m all packed up and headed out. Thanks for listening, BB crew.

  21. Calpain Says:

    @Aqua- I am still in the downtempo stage…

  22. st8 of mind Says:

    Bonus disk is the total bomb. That whole GD release is unreal. I got one of 10,000. originals.

  23. SillyWilly Says:


    What are some good live reggae acts that I could see?

    chicago’s obviously my best bet geographically, but what are some acts I should be on the look out for??

  24. butter Says:

    Miner – great piece

    AC Sand: that moment when they squeeze into open jamming is soo surreal, like Sand just birthed a new song after all the sick versions of Fall

    MSG Sand: in the middle of a set filled with Trey acrobats, what discipline for him to sit back and let the full band conversation develop, really balances the set, and makes it all time keeper great, with that Sand

    *PYITE opened set 2 of AC 1, Sand 2nd song

  25. butter Says:

    have you seen Burning Spear Silly?

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