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

Tags: , ,

547 Responses to “The Transformation of “Sand””

  1. butter Says:

    Toots and the Maytals, still tours too

  2. JMelby Says:

    @SW a few pages back

    Those big cheers at the first jam of Sand are sadly for the glowsticks more than the music. We were in the corner where they all were flying from and remember thinking that I wish people would cheer that hard for the music and not those f’n things. ‘Cuz to me that jam was pretty hot and worth the cheering.

  3. DukeOfLizards Says:

    C’s get degrees

    ^ don’t forget this statement’s corollary, “it’s not the grades you make, it’s the hands you shake.”

  4. SillyWilly Says:


    i would love to Burning Spear.

    I keep trying to prep myself for the stark reality that when I graduate in ’12 I’ll probably have to move wherever I can get a job, and that might mean a random county public defense office in WI or IL

    but the equally stark reality is that the music available in Chicago just blows away the rest of the midwest

    dear Cook County:

    I don’t mind going to jails every morning to screen people. In fact, I really like it.

    Please hire me.

    yours so very truly,


  5. Calpain Says:

    @Aquaman- half way through and it is raging hard, good looks!

  6. Aquaman Says:

    Don’t forget coastal Indiana.

    Portage and Lake County, IN…this means you!!

  7. kayatosh Says:

    $$$ article today, miner. Very well written and the analysis is spot on.

    It inspired me to spin the telluride sand (8.9.2010). I have the pa deli mike audience tape and mike sounds particularly crunchy and bumpin. It’s mike who spearheads the groundbreaking effort, but all four shine.

    time to read what you cats have to say. peace.

  8. Aquaman Says:


    I know at about the 40:00 mark she really gets going.

    Glad you like it. I will share more, I promise.

  9. Robear Says:

    underground Hip/Hop rec of the day:

    ‘Blue Scholars’ duo from Seattle.

  10. butter Says:

    seeing Burning Spear, and Toots and the Maytals when i was your age Silly @Reggae on the Rocks was a life changing experience

  11. Robear Says:

    @ Harry Hood. I’d like to apply for a job with your company. One question though:

    Is it one of those jobs where you work 5 days a week? 8 + hours / day?

  12. angryjoggerz Says:

    I second Burning Spear live. Also, if you get a chance, Lee Perry and Mad Professor both kill it, especially together.

  13. whole tour! Says:

    FROM ENCORE PARK – ALPHARETTA, GA (FACEBOOK PAGE): ” We are working on Phish & more! We will begin announcing shows one at a time very soon. Please stay tuned!”

    several people mentioned phish on their page yesterday and this was their response! 3 nights….get ready!

  14. Spasm Waiter Says:

    @Robear- Positive vibreations coming your way man. Hang tough.

  15. kayatosh Says:

    kwl: “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”

    ^^^^ no wonder I’m digging jibboo’s so much more in 3.0. sand, on the other hand, as miner noted, is like two different beasts between the 99/2000 classics and the sand of today. I like em both.

    verno (referencing pg. 2 comment): don’t stop listening to full sets/shows, even as you are drawn to the highlights style of listening. bioth styles are useful. nothing lazy about spinnin a whole set or show. I find I pick up on a recommended tune (like telly sand) today and listen through until it’s no longer working for me. there are times when i roll
    right into the next phish show.

    jtran: “2/20/03 Waves > Simple, Jibboo $$$” Your steady pimpin has me on the lookout. love 2003 waves. stickin by my waves ho – 2.15.2003, until I hear 2.20.

    silly; graduated top 50% of my law school class while livin with a fine female (now my wife) and partying down regularly. What in the world was going on w/ the bottom 50%? they couldn’t have been doing less than me. C’s get degrees, indeed.

    re. reggae: it does seem the golden age of reggae has come and gone along with its greats. Thankfully we have some $$$ recordings.

    Had the honor of seeing Bunny Wailer live in crested butte, CO. Have seen Toots – Jamaican james brown – and Spear. Spear made me cry anytime I saw him. awesome.

  16. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Melby- I gotcha. I was so impressed about the staccato funk cheer. I don’t get the glowstick deal., expecially kids who cruise around collecting as many as possible. “Dude, the band is playing! Put your glowsticks down!”

  17. butter Says:

    crazy peak exp. also was seeing Burning Spear on the Jam Cruise, floating on the Caribbean Sea, dancing in the front row with the band’s wives

    they see us completely being blown away, dancing and grooving with us and one wife leans over and whispers “it’s a lot more powerful when they aren’t playing in Babylon”

    with a big ole smile “i’m getting that”

  18. kayatosh Says:

    nice, butter. I heard that bunny is very selective about where he plays in babylon. US shows are very rare for him. He likes the mountains and apparently the open sea.

  19. Jtran Says:

    Getting out of the early 2000s

    6/29/95 starting up now

  20. bhizzle Says:

    My bro and my mom saw The Wailers last Friday (?) in Durango. Both said they enjoyed themselves. I’d have to say their opinions are biased based on their crew being bugged out…The last ime I saw them, maybe a year ago, I was really dissappointed.

  21. kayatosh Says:

    8.9.2010 tweezer has got to be one of the harshest moments in 3.0 history. like unexpectedly getting hit in the face with a wet eel as your enjoying a soothing jacuzzi.

    Ears perk up as I hear something very tasty coming form the tweezer – an organic, mike led reggae/funk and trey staccato and then it quickly crumbles and falls apart into boogie on. boooo.

  22. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Selecta- I didn’t know Mikey Dread passed. He was great,

  23. snowbank Says:

    Very interesting post today Mr M. I look forward to re-listening to the evolution now. I remember thinking the song sounded very different very quickly but couldn’t put my finger on it… probably cause it isn’t played very much.

  24. Mr. Palmer Says:

    “like unexpectedly getting hit in the face with a wet eel as your enjoying a soothing jacuzzi.”

    ^^ funniest thing i’ve read in a while.

  25. Robear Says:

    lol, kaya. in the moment, i rolled with it. kind of expecting a return to the ‘tweezer’ theme after ‘Boogey On’. On listen back, it’s all-time bad. Wait, I don’t listen to it anyway 😛

Leave a Reply