Thinking Out Loud

9.12.09 - Carnegie Hall (B.Slayter)

One thing that stood out to me at Trey’s performance with the LA Philharmonic on Saturday, was his absolute focus and attention to every minute detail from note of the show through the last. Trey—while usually far more playful and animated—seemed to approach this performance with a sense of respect and reverence. His emotional presence and his incredibly precise playing illustrated a capacity for—dare I say it—perfection. Wrong notes are not allowed in the symphony, and Trey did not hit one throughout the near two and half hour show. The diligence with which he listened to the orchestra and meticulously placed his offerings within the context of the whole, provided a snapshot of an ego-less musician respecting and honoring the music above all else. Trey’s performance was nothing short of breathtaking, and the thought I had later that night was, “What if he brought the same attitude to Phish these days?”

Despite 2011’s musical greatness, which I am the first to tout, the band’s democratic dynamic often seemed unbalanced at times throughout the year. Beyond the well- documented cases of “Rip Cord Red” pulling the string on so many jams-in-progress, there was an overwhelming sense that whatever Trey wanted, musically, was what happened. If he didn’t feel comfortable within a jam, for whatever reason, most often he simply interrupted the musical conversation with the chords of a new song. I’m not quite sure what the orchestral equivalent is to an awkwardly aborted “Ghost” jam, but lord knows Trey would never come close to committing such an atrocity on the stage of a symphony. He just wouldn’t. Has he lost his sense of reverence for Phish? Are jams no longer sacred to him? One can only wonder.

The Gorge '09 (G.Lucas)

While the essence of an orchestra is precision, the essence of Phish has very much been about improvisation. And while the band—no doubt—engaged in many thrilling jams last year, the overall vibe of many shows shifted from a group-mind led journey to to a Trey-led rock concert. When Trey did let go of his over-orchestration of setlists in 2011, Phish played some of the greatest shows of this era. For prime examples of this, see Bethel 1 & 2, Clarkston, Charlotte, The Gorge 1, UIC 1 and 2 to name more than a few shining examples. In these standout shows, the music flowed with far greater vitality and with far more care than the lesser shows of summer. There was no obvious impatience on the part of Trey to get through a certain number of songs; these shows carried an organic movement from beginning to end, a far cry from the choppiness of of PNC 2, Merriweather 1, Camden, Raleigh, Tahoe 2 or UIC 3, among others. One question I’ve often wondered after these less impressive and less cohesive efforts—“Do they talk about the show?”

At one point in his career, Trey, self-admittedly, pored over setlsts for hours each night, making sure that Phish shows had the perfect composition. Then the band executed this plan as a whole. Not to belabor the analogy, but this process sounds similar to his orchestral performance. When looking at Phish shows of last year, there are many instances where it seemed that Trey was trying to execute one plan while his band mates were immersed in another. Was Trey listening as closely to Mike and Page as he hacked the PNC “Ghost,” Alpharetta “Tweezer” or (insert many jams here), as he was to the first chair violin player on Saturday? Clearly not—but the unanswerable that question begs to be asked is, “Why not?”

8.16.11 - UIC (M.Stein)

Looking back over Phish’s most prolific years, regardless of era, there is an unspoken patience between all band members that allowed the music to progress as a single entity—a four-headed, though single-minded, creation. Masterful segues like 7/22/97’s “Disease -> Mike’s” or 6/26/95’s “Disease -> Free” unfolded over the course of minutes as a natural progression of the entire band, not as the impulsive idea of one member. For a while in this era, I could understand the “sobriety makes Trey less patient” line of thinking, but after observing his patience on Saturday—albeit in a different setting—and in shows like 8/5/11 and 8/15/11—I no longer give that theory credence. Trey is still Trey, a master of his craft, and I am convinced that it his mind and lack of attention that get in the way of weaker Phish shows, not his skill set.

One of the most commonly heard laments by fans these days is the ever-present 3.0 gripe, “They don’t jam enough.” In a very candid recent interview given by Chris Kuroda, he even joked about how Phish doesn’t jam as much any more. Jokingly (but not so jokingly) he said “they should look into that,” while then sharing a funny aside about how he and Brad Sands give the band shit about this issue all the time. But he also made sure to say that it was all out of love. Kuroda also hypothesized this improvisational shift wasn’t premeditated, but just a natural extension of who the guys are at this stage in their life. But if we are going with his theory, Mike, Page, and Fish seem at a different stage in their lives than Trey. Either way, with Kuroda’s admission, it’s clear the band is aware of their lessened jamming, but do they care?

As many know, I’m the first to gush over Phish when they are killing it, which—I believe—they are quite capable of doing on a nightly basis. But the shows that feel bumpy or “off” all seem to stem from the attention—or lack thereof—of our beloved six-string assassin. The puzzling factor to me has been how the “on” nights, where the whole show flows well, and the “off” nights, where just a jam or two stand out, are totally arbitrary. This factor makes seeing a couple shows very hit or miss for a fan. While there is a distinct possibility that one will walk out blown away, there is just as likely a possibility that he won’t—an interesting dynamic.

"2001" - 8.10.11 (E.Batuello)

With a full slate of Phish this summer, one has to wonder which side of Trey is going to show up more often—the patient collaborator and sound-sculpter whose playing brings the band to an entirely different level, or the impatient rock star who focuses more on his own agenda and song choice than what is actually happening on stage? With the band’s skills quite polished, and the clear willingness of Mike, Page, and Fish to go deep, we are all waiting to see which way the captain will steer the ship this summer. Your guess is as good as mine.

Just months ago, on September 5th, 2011, Trey was quoted in Believer Mag saying such things as:

I see improvisation as a craft and as an art. The craft part is important. There’s a lot of preparation and discipline that goes into it just so that, when you’re in the moment, you’re not supposed to be thinking at all.

…Musicians come and go and they’re stewards of the music for a brief period of time. But once the music plays — it’s really between Beethoven and the listener at that point. The musicians are there to get their goddamn hands off of it. All that training! Thousands of hours! Sight-reading every day! All so they can get the hell out of the way because nobody gives a crap about them at all. The less you notice them, the better it sounds…

But are these simply sound-bytes that he has programmed in his mind since the mid-’90s, or are these thoughts still the driving ethos of Phish? Sometimes it is hard to tell.


Jam of the Day:

Ghost” 6.15.00 I

This “Ghost” inspired me yesterday, so I am featuring it today. Enjoy the only version from Japan 2000—an uplifting beast—remastered by Kenny Powers.

[audio:] Tags:

361 Responses to “Thinking Out Loud”

  1. Yalta Balt Says:

    youre losing your noodles Gavinsdad.

  2. willowed Says:

    Fantastic read Miner. Loved it.

    It’s funny because going into Denver last summer I was thinking Trey was going to be all gushy and excited since it was the last three days of tour. I figured he would become rockstar Trey and play over everyone and have his own agenda and such.

    Quite the opposite. Confusing for sure.

    I am excited to see what Summer brings.

    Hold on my card for 177 or something. I guess I got my AC 3 pack. Shocker.

    Leviathan – Awesome.

  3. kenny powers Says:

    speaking of Pi – awesome movie. dark and disturbing, but expertly crafted by the same guy who would go on to do Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Black Swan…

  4. Gavinsdad Says:

    And good morning Chicago: 2 hr layover here at midway en route to Austin. Currently enjoying a pint of the black stuff at Reilly’s Daughter.

  5. Robear Says:

    “Love Life, Loathe People”

    ^hoping to have stickers and t shirts ready in time for leg 2.

    Great write up Miner. You summed my Hish 3.0 feelings up almost exactly. I think you laid out the difficulty of being a West Coast fan as well. Kudos, I dont even have to complain!

  6. cwc Says:

    Great timing witht the writeup. I was listening to the Bethel Waves soundcheck on the way to work and thinking to myself why the f they don’t do this more often at actual shows.

  7. litteringand Says:

    Good run on that Ghost KP

  8. litteringand Says:

    I used to think that Trey got off on getting the audience to dance then slowly move them into a trance-like state. I think the opposite is true now

  9. Jtran Says:

    Hey comrades

    Random question: anyone ever experience some sort of eyelid twitching (for me it’s going on with my lower right one). Just read about it and it seems common and benign, but man is it annoying.

    It’s been noticeable since I got back to work after a week away from sitting at a computer. Hoping it just goes away once my eyes readjust…

  10. Jtran Says:

    And great write up Miner. Very thought provoking. Can’t wait to see if they come out swinging in 2012 – I’m pretty sure they will.

  11. SillyWilly Says:

    I get that from time to time, Jtran. I can never figure out the logic either.

    Great piece today, Miner.

    It’s great to hear that Trey was so focused for these orchestra shows. Maybe he’ll just naturally carry that into Phish.

    who knows, though? All I know is I don’t to risk missing many shows if Trey comes out patient and focused this summer

    no one wants to be the hater that misses the magic

  12. stapes Says:

    I’d buy one @robear!

  13. Gavinsdad Says:

    @yalta – not many noodles left my man.

    Nice piece Miner. I usually really try to
    Avoid commenting on the “let’s try to get in Trey’s headspace” convos only because it’s an endless, sometimes stressful, feedback loop. To be honest I’m not really sure what I wanted from the band in 3.0. I never laid it out. I know I wanted fun, I know I wanted to be back with “my people” and I know I wanted to see what they had up their sleeves. Since im generally in the fluffer camp I just like to enjoy the show, stay focused and take in any big moments. In the past three years I’ve caught quite a few but I’ve also been highly satisfied with all the type 1 I’ve seen (Rnr sand from pnc 11 is a decent example).

    If I had to boil it down I’d just say that at their age there are so many variables flying about in real time once they start playing and harnessing the muse doesn’t come as easy to Triz or the rest of them. I think syncing up is also in their mind memory so when they turn the corner or begin to
    Mount a jam, its a very subconscious thing…they can naturally follow that path along (disease supreme). But if there is even one iota of being out of sync its the ripcord or rocking type 1.

    Just think those deep dive portals are fewer and farther these days and harder for these guys to capture.

    My 2 pennies

  14. Robear Says:

    Littering, great thought re trance v dance. Wow.

  15. fitwooh Says:

    Very well articulated, Mr. Miner. Thank you for an insightful morning read.

  16. voopa Says:

    Trey needs to get over himself and start acting like himself again.

  17. kenny powers Says:

    awesome, thoughtful piece today Miner.

  18. halcyon Says:

    Nice write up Miner….thought provoking.

    Reminds me of this section from Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience

    “The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy – or attention – is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.”

    aka Surrender to the flow

    Cooking up a chicken dish first thing this a.m.
    Tomato Sauce
    Olive Oil
    Trinidad Scorpion Peppers

    This is going to be good.

  19. Gavinsdad Says:

    Industry gossip: found out that a guy I know, very high up at superfly (bonnaroo, outside lands etc) just took an EVP job at RLM. I’m going to see him at the RLM party tomorrow where I’ll also be seeing “my source”.

  20. Robear Says:

    Looks like Brandon Marshall landed safely in Chicago. Then was quickly cuffed and stuffed for another alleged incident.

    So happy and proud for Duder

  21. SillyWilly Says:

    Awesome, Gdad

    enjoy Austin and give Selector J and MiA big hugs for all of us

  22. stapes Says:

    @Hal – what’s up with those scorpion peppers?

  23. halcyon Says:

    Some of the hottest peppers on the planet Stapes. Father in law grows them, dries them, and sends them on out.

    I love this Ghost. Great remaster Kenny P. Gordon is just locked in laying down some funky bass grooves.

  24. MiA Says:

    I try to stay clear of those super hot peppers. It’s Luke the plants “defense mechanism” to avoid being eaten. Like a thorn in a way, or edible poison.

    Plant: If you eat me herbivore, your ass is gonna sting for 4 days
    Herbivore: noted. You have me here plant.

    Of course this doesn’t work with our mycological friends.

    Fungi: if you eat me herbivore, you will trip beyond your wildest dreams, plants will shimmer, water will be too bright to look at, and the air will respire for you.
    Herbivore: you go good with chocolate.

  25. MiA Says:

    Like. Not Luke. Lunch, not launch!

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