The Axis of Phish

Leg One 2012 (M.Stein)

Anyone who paid attention to Leg One of summer tour can attest to the incredibly fresh and dynamic jamming on display throughout. Improvisational passages covered insane amounts of ground in a limited time frame, while still moved fluidly between ideas. Though laced with a distinctly modern sound, jams throughout tour, simultaneously, carried a retro feel. The main reason for all of this was the re-emergence of Phish’s central axis: Trey and Fishman.

Traditionally, before the onset of the groove era in 1997, Trey and Fishman formed the improvisational backbone of the band. Fishman had a propensity to follow the ideas of his lead guitarist—an unconventional style, as drummer’s usually lock with their bassist to form the “pocket. Fishman’s co-leadership of jams pushed Trey out of his comfort zone and into original territory. And this unconventional cooperation produced unconventional results—Phish music as we knew it through 1995.

And then came The Cowfunk Revolution of 1997. As the band focused on groove-based playing for the next several years, Trey and Fish moved away from their improvisational partnership. During these years of rhythmic focus, Fish and Mike—with his new Modulus bass—linked up to form the deepest pocket Phish fans had ever heard. Instead of a consistently “moving” in a jam, the band “settled” into funk vamps as Trey, with loops and rhythm chords, and Page, with clav patterns and keyboard effects, painted the top of the music. All of a sudden, the dynamic of Phish music changed completely, ushering in a new wave of fans while many older heads grew disenchanted.

Leg One 2012 (M.Stein)

This summer, however, the axis of Trey and Fish has returned in full force. When listen to any of the jams from Leg One, one can hear Fish following Trey around time and time again. This musical dynamic, not only explains the retro feel of modern jams, but also their density, as the pocket never settles. Profoundly changing the sound of their music and enhancing the adventure of their jams, with their return to their early improvisational ways, Trey and Fish have completely revitalized the band.

When Trey stepped back from a jam this summer, and began to add effects and tonal color, Fish couldn’t fall back on the pocket—because a stable pocket was never there in the first place. More often than not, Fish shifted with Red, morphing into more abstract, minimalist textures, while coaxing fresh ideas from Mike and Page. When this movement happened smoothly, the band showed a clear intent to explore spacier and non-drum directed soundscapes. Many of tours most stunning jams stemmed from these instances—Cincy’s “Twist,” Deer Creek’s “Back on the Train,” Alpine’s “Light,” and Jones Beaches’ “Golden Age” provide but a few examples. At other times, however, when Trey downshifted within a jam, Fish seemed to lose his musical “marker.” If Page or Mike didn’t step up with a new idea quickly, the band’s engine sputtered and lost momentum, sometimes falling prey to ambient fade-outs or abrupt endings. Examples of these alternate occurances—in varying degrees—can be found in Cincy’s “Down With Disease,” Blossom’s “Piper,” Jones Beach’s “Tweezer,” and SPAC’s “Roses Are Free.” All told, however, this new-school/old-school communication has brought the band to new levels of improv over Leg One, and with a little polish, could really shoot their playing into the stratosphere come Leg Two.

The Trey-Fish axis has been central to Phish jamming from the beginning. The quirky and symbiotic musical relationship between the guitarist and drummer has always created a palpable motion within jams—the music was always going somewhere now. That time-warped adventure resulting from dense improvisation has returned in full bloom this summer. Distorting minutes into lifetimes while covering a wide spectrum of feels, 2012 Phish jams are as efficient as ever. Riding the foundation that brought them to prominence, inspired with new ideas, and playing as well as ever, the band is smack dab in the middle of making this summer one of their most memorable yet.

6.7.2012 – Worcester (Chris Klein)


Jam of the Day:

Ghost -> Boogie On” 6.7 II, Worcester, MA

In honor of @RobsGonePhishin, who almost wrecked his car while raging too hard at the wheel to “Boogie On.” Glad things worked out, buddy, we’re glad, glad, glad that you’re alive!

[audio:,] Tags: ,

544 Responses to “The Axis of Phish”

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  1. chris Says:

    Great article Miner. Density is such a fitting word, because its true, even short ja-ms pack a seemingly much larger punch. I remember rocking out to the awesome tweezer from jones beach and feeling like they just played a 13 to 15 minute jam. I was shocked when i checked my livephish app. after the show and saw that it only clocked in at 10 + minutes. I didn’t realize this was because of the trey/fishman influence. I am a jam guy and post hiatus has a special place in my heart. It’s bothered me a lot ever since the return that they don’t extend jams like they did during that era. Well all my gripes were washed away at jones beach. The music in that venue(at least from where i was standing) sounded so damn good that i just surrendered to the flow. This is not becuase the acoustics of jones beach but the current sound and musicianship of the band. They’re sound is just so good right now. It didn’t matter to me that they played rockand roll > julius > torn and frayed. I danced my ass off and got lost in those jams. While i still hope they start getting the itch to explore more in jjams i’m more than happy with what they’re putting out. some of my favorite phish jams ever came out of this tour.

  2. marcoesq Says:

    Great piece miner. Trouble sleeping can lead to first comment.

    If leg I again holds true for setting up II, we are in for quite a treat. So excited to check some new fresh venues to hear this new fresh music. So much good new music. I think fish will reemerge yet again as the MVP of leg II. Now that they’ve started to develop some themes and patterns through the first 19 shows, i think they’ll be able to fall back on some of these to push them through what would otherwise be ambient dissonance fade out.

    Good time to be a fan

  3. willowed Says:

    Love the write up Miner.

    I never understood while the older heads grew disenchanted with the new direction in 97. It’s not like the Phish walked away from the Trey Fish style that made them who they were thru the early 90’s. They just added a new element and direction.

    Back in 97, I thought you had the best of both worlds, a new direction led by the Gordo Fish pocket with cool new effects, along with the old style psychadelic jamming that made Phish who they were.

    I feel when people talk about the 97 era, they tact as if Phish completely left the old style and every show was cowfunked. Obviously that was not the case.

  4. Robear Says:

    Nice. Alf is Miner. Miner is Alf.

  5. Kevin Says:

    Willow – Yeah. I dont understand how you could get disenfranchised by the direction of 97. Just like I dont understand how you could get disenfrachised with 2012. They sound great.

  6. MiA Says:


  7. Selector J Says:

    Morning, folks.

  8. ThePigSong Says:

    Thanks for the learnin’ Rooster, I guess I was trying to translate a mix of Chinese/Japanese.

  9. MiA Says:

    Of course…

    Late 60’s early 70’s. 220, 221. Whatever it takes.

  10. Selector J Says:

    ^Selector, radio, 7am, and numbers just don’t mix.

  11. Robear Says:

    So, what were they doing in 09, 10, and 11 @ Alf and Miner?

    East coast posting timz.

  12. Robear Says:

    how do we listen to Sel J on a Windows Computer?

    it asks me if i want to ‘save’ or ‘open’ a .pls file.

  13. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    DL quicktime player

    quickest, easiest way to do it.

    there are others too, like if you have itunes on your cpu you can find kvrx in the college radio stations

  14. kayatosh Says:

    axis: bold as love. nice ALF inspired article, miner. This idea really explains what we’ve been hearing in the 2012 summer jams. Many of us have remarked that the band recently sounds more old school — crisper tone, tighter playing, freer flow of ideas, lively intra-band communication, multi-themed jams — like they found that secret sauce from 93-95 and ingested IT again. Gone are the 20+ minute plodding jams in favor of something more clever, profound, and spirited.

    good times.

    selector! jah praises.

  15. kayatosh Says:

    robear use the open function. browse programs. winamp works for me. any media player should work.

  16. Shred Says:

    93 to 95 was the highest peak. Several others throughout time but none as high.

    Jams were good for this tour. During the scripted parts of songs Trey’s tone was often off key and the songs weren’t tight. Tela + McGrupp were not played well. Type I jams were sloppy. Trey took a step forward with patience and a step back with missing notes he always used to hit. Sure integrate Floyd, Dead and Zeppelin into the jams, they should since they can + I love the set the controls for the sun in twist, but don’t forget that you are Phish. We like the jams far out and sick but then come in and nail the song. Everything in it’s right place. That’s why 93-95 was so hot. I’m beginning to think it’s related to Trey’s not so new ax. I think he is slow to master it.

  17. kayatosh Says:

    here’s that 8.2.93 show TIII and I were referencing. It has the heavy metal jam w/ guest vocalist->sparks->curtis loew. check it.

  18. kayatosh Says:

    big up, selector. hail HIM.

  19. willowed Says:

    IMO back in the early 90’s we’re talking about a younger Phish that was bursting with energy. Personally I feel those 93-95 Lopes, Splits and Bowies that were bursting with creativity was a product of their youth and practice. They played jams full throttle and with reckless abandon. Where they communicating on stage? Sure, sometimes. Most of the time I think Trey was shredding and he was like “Keep up with me boys”

    This time it’s different. Where as Trey just shredded jams back in 93-95 and the others just tried to keep up, we find Trey listening and paying attention. Picking his spots if you will. That’s why I enjoy the 97 era. It moved from Trey ripping to a Mike created pocket where Trey picked spots and created soundscapes and funk licks.

    Now where at a point where we’ve seen the combination of the two. They’ve cut out the noodling and open space. I like this style very much because they are laying back, listening and shredding all at the same time. Now that is communication!

    So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t buy all this total band communication talk back in the early 90’s. I just think back then they threw shit against the wall and some things stuck.

    Now they place shit on the wall and paint a picture.

    I rambling. I have to get back to work.

  20. RoosterPizza Says:

    Pig song, you could also have been dealing with hiragana and kanji together. Japan adopted kanji from China but use itvquite differently. Kanji is out of my skill set as of now. I will direct those questions to AJ.

    These write ups and listening back to leg one are getting me really excited for next month! Can’t wait!

  21. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    after the selecta show, check out Rubblebucket blowing up Jimmy Kimmel last night

    Came Out of a Lady

    Silly Fathers

    their TV debut.

  22. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    respectfully, oh 97 Funk Kid, I have to disagree. the amount of practice that they put into listening to each other in the early 90s is kind of staggering. that was exactly what it was all about for them. yes, there is the youthful shred-energy which permeates the whole thing but at no time while it was happening did it ever seem like they were just flying by the seat of their collective bright colored pants.

    I will agree with you that the cowfunk brought in a patience that wasn’t there before, being willing to sit in one place and explore it rather than moving rapidly from one idea to another.

    I think the distinction is in intent.

  23. alf Says:

    great piece 😮

  24. MiA Says:

    Yes it is a great piece.

  25. kayatosh Says:

    agree w/ willowed that the phish of today represents an amalgam of past phish styles. However, I cannot agree w/ willowed’s questioning of how much they were really communicating on stage during the early to mid 90’s. The band’s co-listening was at its highest levels back then. Yes, they were throwing stuff against the wall to see if it would stick, but they were doing that collectively and listening intently to each other. The jamming was the most egalitarian in that golden era.

    spinning that 8.2.93 show now starting w/ Gin. spin that Gin folks — 11 mins. of musical density w/ a multitude of seamlessly woven ideas. trey and fish in lock step w/ tempo shifts, melodic theme shifts. $$$.

    Fish was a beast in the early to mid 90’s. some of the best drumming you will ever hear.

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