Wish List 2012

Bethel Woods - (Michael Messenbourg)

Phish had a phenomenal 2011. There is no question about it. Playing creative shows and jamming on a level unseen in this era, the band raised the bar for themselves moving forward. But apart from their playing—the obviously most important part— there are some aspects of their live show that could use a little polish. With some attention to the following departments, I believe Phish shows can elevate on a more consistent basis in 2012.

Diversified Jam Vehicles

When “Light,” “Down With Disease,” “Rock and Roll” or “Piper” starts, everyone knows that we are almost guaranteed an exploratory jaunt. In fact, these songs comprised seven of my Top Ten jams of the year. At the same time, we all know—at this point—that when many other songs start, we are destined for a contained jam (or none at all), with “Tweezer” and “Carini” being two of the few songs that can still move in either direction. As a result, the element of improvisational surprise has largely been erased from Phish shows.

9.2.11 (Lucas via webcast)

In 2012, it would be great to see the band diversify their launch pads and jam out of different songs regularly. This would lessen the predictability of shows and spice up the live experience. With the band’s chops fully in tow after an very creative year, it feels like it’s time to begin switching things up a bit. The jams that stemmed from the aforementioned four songs differed greatly and were prolific, spanning the spectrum of Phish’s repertoire. Thus, it’s not band’s jamming that has become predictable, just where the jams will come from. In all of 2011, the only times the band brought an unexpected song into exploratory territory was Bethel’s “Halley’s Comet,” PNC’s “After Midnight,” Blossom’s “Sneakin’ Sally,” Super Ball’s “Golden Age,” the Gorge’s “Roggae,” and UIC’s “Undermind.” Six times in 38 shows just isn’t that often. Though the band did bring “Waves” back into the improvisational mix this year, there are plenty of more pieces in their catalog that the could be brought back in similar fashion. Additionally, what if they took “Halfway to the Moon” for a ride? And this brings me to my next wish…

New Material

Because 2012 seems like it will be a light touring year, it feels relatively unlikely that we will see a host of new material infused into Phish shows. But in their fourth year of the modern era, the band sorely needs a new batch of songs. Having thoroughly played through their 2009 album Joy during the last three years, 3.0 Phish needs some more originals. If this is truly about moving forward, let’s keep moving. “Steam” represented the sole debut of 2011, a song that holds huge potential. But the rumors of a new Phish album have faded into the background. When the band dropped into “Steam’s” debut in Blossom’s second set, there came with it a freshness; this was Phish in the here and now. We were hearing a sick new music for the first time ever—it was exciting! It would behoove the band to roll out some more originals—including brand new jam vehicles—and bring a whole new element of excitement to their shows.

The Resurrection of Two Favorites

(Jiggs Lot)

In addition to new material, the band really needs to bring two of their most open-ended jams back to prominence—“Tweezer” and “Ghost.” While Phish did throw down two excellent versions of “Tweezer” last year in Denver and Cincinnati, “Ghost” all but vanished from the scene with only one standout rendition in Charlotte. These two songs have traditionally been two of Phish’s most significant and exploratory jams; pieces that could go anywhere and would. And still, each time either of these songs started last year, that was the feeling I got. But aside from these three aforementioned examples—and they were spectacular—Phish never crafted a truly memorable jam out of either. Two of the band’s heaviest hitters should be highlights almost every time out of the gate, but neither has remained as consistent as in the past. The return of these two improvisational behemoths could greatly bolster any show they appear in.

More “Storage Jamming”

After playing a standout late-night set at Super Ball, Phish began to integrate this abstract, often Theremin-laced, style of improvisation into their live shows. As a result, some of the most original and groundbreaking jams took place during the second leg of Summer Tour. Hopefully, Phish will continue to explore this style of jamming during 2012. As in every era in their history, Phish may have found their newest “sound” within these abstract, psychedelic soundscapes. And as they continue to explore this style, nuances and tangential approaches will no doubt develop. “Storage jamming” represented Phish moving forward last year, as one would only hope that this innovative approach is built upon in the year to come.

Setlist Flow

(via Coventry Blog)

Though Phish, far more often than not, threw down shows that flowed quite well last year, they also were prone to some boneheaded calls. For a band leader who, self-admittedly, used to pore over setlists for hours upon hours perfecting the way the show moved from beginning to end, Trey made some questionable off the cuff decisions during 2011. There are two separate—and minor—issues here: the abrupt ending, or cutting off, of jams, and song placement. Let’s look at the first.

Two times last year, deepening “Tweezer” jams (Alpharetta and Super Ball) were cut off abruptly for mid-set versions of “Julius”—talk about deflating the sense of intrigue. Two times “Ghost” got lopped before any sense of a jam really got going (PNC and UIC) in favor of more innocuous songs. Just on New Year’s Eve, when “Disease” settled out of its thematic rock and roll into a murky groove, Trey opted for the fade out. These types of instances were manifold last year, and most often it was Trey barging in with a new idea while his mates were still entrenched in a jam. And the irony of most of these occasions is that another thirty seconds of patience and communication could have allowed the band to merge the two songs with legitimate flow. Why does this continue to happen? I don’t think anyone will ever know.

12.28.11 (G.Lucas)

The second aspect that occasionally plagued sets last year was song placement. No offense to the big guy, of course, but in the case of the two aforementioned “Tweezers,” “Julius” just doesn’t belong in the middle of the second set. Nor does “Guyute” or “Theme” or “Alaska” for that matter, all of which were featured in prominent second set slots throughout the year. In my estimation, finite rockers and intricate compositions don’t make for mid-second set pieces—there is simply no mystery involved. Everyone knows exactly where the song is going. Phish’s most powerful second sets are largely composed of jam vehicles and show stoppers, with natural landing pads, exhales and ballads mixed in. Sure, there are song-based shows where this paradigm flies out the window, but in general, “Julius” works far better at the end of a set as a rocking denouement than wedged awkwardly in the middle. Compositions like “Fluffhead” and “My Friend, My Friend” both which found their way into the middle of second sets during 2011, work far better as a closer and an opener, respectively. And straightforward songs like “The Wedge” or “Alaska” work best in the first set, not the second. These observations seem obvious to me and many others, and thus when they happen live, they seem all the more absurd. (See “Alaska > Velvet Sea” on NYE.) But alas, as I said to begin with, most shows of 2011 flowed quite nicely.

As we wait for the dates of 2012, it seems like the proper time to reflect on the year that was. And though Phish played better in 2011 than either of the previous two years, there are always parts of the show that could be sharpened. If the creative jamming continues to flow, perhaps some of these elements will fall into place. Or perhaps they won’t. But that’s my wishlist for Phish 2012.

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844 Responses to “Wish List 2012”

  1. El Duderino Says:

    sounds great plord!

  2. phoammhead Says:

    would you call that prancin’?

  3. garretc Says:

    Nice, plord.

    I’ve been playing guitar for about 2 years now, getting the actual playing aspect down pretty darn well, but I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to the tech side of things, so I try to pick up what knowledge I can, when I can…

  4. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    i have an infinite sustain pickup that ive wanted to install in my guitar for like 6 years…. its pretty cool actually, its not like a digital sustain it uses a magnet to make whatever string is vibrating continue vibrating.

    however, after i spent like $200 on it (which, in high school, was a lot of money) i found out it was gonna cost like $350 to install and as a result it sat in my drawer for years. even once i decide its worth the $350 to install, my guitar isnt good enough to invest that kind of thing in. true shame.

    and honestly the reason i bought it was because i heard divided sky and i just needed it. i needed gorgeous singing notes without the $10000 Doc.

    sigh

  5. garretc Says:

    @purps

    Come on, can’t be that hard to install a new pick up? Just take out the current ones, do some soldering, done, no?

    Although, see my previous post before considering any advice I may dole out…

  6. plord Says:

    @garret, if you’re getting a sound you like from the gear you got: you’re good, focus on the playing. Worry about your gear when you can play well enough to know for certain that your gear is holding you back, and you can articulate what difference you want to get out of your rig to other, more gear-crazy guitarists.

    If somebody had told me this 20 years ago it would have saved me thousands of dollars.

  7. El Duderino Says:

    magnetic pickups pull the string toward it, bending the string and altering it’s sound

  8. garretc Says:

    Speaking of new pick ups, I need to throw some new ones in my SG. The friend I bought it from took the originals for himself and replaced them with better looking but worse sounding First Acts, and I’m finally ready to upgrade, any guitarists have recs?

    I’m on a broke student budget, so prices need to be reasonable…

  9. El Duderino Says:

    do you gig plord?

  10. El Duderino Says:

    replace ’em with humbuckers garret. that’s what I’d do

  11. RoosterPizza Says:

    Anyone hear have a synth? I got an akai minak about a year ago, and that thing is endless entertainment. Definitely guitar friendly as well.

  12. garretc Says:

    @plord

    That’s definitely solid advice, and advice I’ve very much stuck with so far (although the above mentioned brokeness probably has a huge hand in that)…

    In addition to needing new pick ups (and actually new frets too) I’m looking to grab some effects soon too, ready to start diversifying the sound, but we’ll see how soon I can afford that. Hitting Phish runs from the west coast makes budgeting for guitar toys difficult!

  13. plord Says:

    I dunno Purps, I think the cheap guitar is the one you WANT to sacrifice to experiments like wack new pickups. I did that to a Peavey Falcon, ripped out the active pickups and put in Dano lipsticks. It totally changed the guitar; not better per se, but way different. Plus pulling out the actives left me with like a 5 lb guitar, which is a real relief some days after wearing the 9 lb. Walker.

  14. El Duderino Says:

    Wasn’t Jer’s Rosebud and Tiger like 14 lbs?

  15. plord Says:

    @dude, haven’t played out in years but want to get back into it; I’m only just now starting to find my way through the music scene in VT outside of being in the audience at Higher Ground. Getting the studio unpacked and set up will help, as until now I would have been inviting people over to jam in the living room and compete with the kids and TV.

    @garretc did your SG have HB or P90s in it originally?

  16. plord Says:

    Yeah, Tiger was 13 or 14. Backbreaking, that is.

  17. garretc Says:

    @plord

    I’m not positive, to be honest, although after looking at pictures of both and scouring my brain, I’m pretty sure it had humbuckers

  18. El Duderino Says:

    you can see why he played the “other” SYF guitar at the end. I bet it was a lot lighter

  19. plord Says:

    @garretc drop me an email at palord at the Googly Mail and let me know what FX you are interested in. I may be able to assist 🙂

  20. El Duderino Says:

    98.00$

    http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=en&sugexp=pfwl&tok=4HKfBH5B30ErWjzQCujE1w&cp=10&gs_id=8&xhr=t&q=humbuckers&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&ion=1&biw=1680&bih=929&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=723790839431110528&sa=X&ei=BhkiT_znHdPqtgeR2omiCw&sqi=2&ved=0CF0Q8gIwAQ

  21. plord Says:

    Yeah, that times two would do it.

    Jerry used bone stock Dimarzio Super Distortion IIs. Those seem to be going for about $70 each on eBay.

    Jason Lollar makes a killer low-wind HB pickup but they’re $165 each. I’m not sure (see prior comments) that there is any reason on earth to pay more than that for a pickup. It can get pretty crazy with pickups, everybody and their brother are trying to claim their “hand wound PAF clone” sounds as good as the real deal and are totally worth hundreds of bucks. I’m skeptical.

  22. El Duderino Says:

    garret see what other SG players have in their’s… ummm DT maybe

  23. garretc Says:

    Dang, I was hoping for… cheaper than that… Haha

    But that’s mostly because I had no idea what pricing was like for pickups

  24. plord Says:

    DT plays Seymour Duncan Antiquities but I think he’s done some other mods to his SG if I recall the article I read correctly.

  25. plord Says:

    Well that’s the thing, right? You’ve got cheaper pickups now and you think you need something else 🙂

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