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”

  1. PigSong Says:

    You’re funny Silly. I just added Firefly to by instant queue, never heard of it before. Probably should try Battle Star first though.

  2. PigSong Says:

    I have huge annual recurrent exams all week culminating on Saturday, be damned if I haven’t just been napping/eating and BBing.

    You never grow out of procrastination habits I guess.

  3. tela'smuff Says:

    it seems evident that Jer crushed about 5-6 FAT lines before he stepped back on stage for set two. i wouldn’t call this Franklins boring, but frantic, yes. Jerry hasn’t sat on a note more than 1.5 seconds throughout. Phil and Brent try to settle towards the end. overall, it’s like a BDTNL version of Franklins. ha

  4. SillyWilly Says:


    In my opinion, BattleStar is much better than Firefly. But that’s pretty unfair as BSG had 5 seasons (I think) to Firefly’s 14 episodes (I think)

    I’m not someone who tries to make the greatness argument for either one though. So take that for what its worth.

    Plus, I’m nuts.

  5. SillyWilly Says:


    I never understood the old phrase “procrastination is like masturbation. In the end you…”

    And I always say: “What? Felt good?”

  6. PigSong Says:

    I find it almost impossible to sit down and watch a tv series or movie, drives my wife bonkers. Always finding something else to do in a different room or hit the BB. I have the attention span of a 1st grader.

  7. sumodie Says:

    Greensky Bluegrass – July 13, 2012 – Highline Ballroom, NYC

    download mp3 of show here (scroll down for link):

    You’ve heard me say it many a time, nyctaper has a lot of kick-ass live (& legal) recordings, often of bands that don’t normally allow taping. Terrific website for discovering & downloading live music from (newer) bands

    Haven’t spun this one but I know T3 was asking about an AUD from his Greensky Boston show

  8. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Starting this one now… continuing the GD Journey. Gotta love LMA. What a resource for GD music.

  9. GhostPhunk Says:

    Just popped in to see whats up, got sucked into a few awfulsauce YouTube links. Leaving now. Palmer, love your last few days of trekking through the dead stuff. I’ve been clicking on a few shows during the day and checking the heavy hitters.

  10. MrCompletely Says:

    I can see not watching TV at all…but if you watch TV, BSG and Firefly are both great.

    First 2.5 seasons or so of BSG are awesome. After that it goes downhill hard. Has the worst ending of any TV series I’ve ever liked. Hated it 1000x more than the Lost ending.

    Have you seen Serenity yet, @SW?

  11. MrCompletely Says:

    that’s the best unreleased show of summer ’74 Palmer

    pure gold

    there’s a guy on the GD subreddit that does a nice job of posting “On This Day” shows almost every weekday. A nice way to walk through the catalog.

  12. BingosBrother Says:

    Damn, i been thinkin about that meme all day. guess it was funnier for me. not the picture i’d want, but i figured someone would switch it. fuck you guys. now i ain’t postin the pic i took of me and good guy greg. so there.

  13. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    That was annoying. At least I had 11.27.98 to hear between the horribly loud noises. Nothing like subjecting someone with a migraine to a cacophany of pounding sounds

  14. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Wouldn’t open on my phone, bingos

  15. sumodie Says:

    Def check out Battlestar, easily one of my fav TV shows of the past couple decades (yes, the special effects get srsly dialed in by episode ~2 I think, tho the pilot is still great)

    Fantastic script/cast driven show with plenty of action and metaphysical questioning

    FWIW, the last season & esp the final episodes blew away Lost’s final year, another top TV fav of mine

  16. SillyWilly Says:

    Burn the land, and boil the sea, Mr. C.

    And yes, for a TV show, you can do worse than BSG and Firefly.

    Just for general use of the adjective “great” I probably wouldn’t give a TV show great status. Maybe the Prisoner from the 60s. Maybe.

    But my battle is more with TV as media than anything else.

    So yeah I should be more clear.

    Don’t watch TV. If you do, Firefly isn’t the worst.

    Kinda like Organic Dark Chocolate vs. Hersheys. Probably shouldn’t eat candy. But if you do, at least the ODC has some nutritional benefits.

  17. sumodie Says:

    Too funny! Just read your comment, Mr C, you & I had completely different reactions to the end of BSG vs. Lost

    Ah well, there’s always Firefly…great but not BSG/Lost great

  18. BingosBrother Says:

    You do all that shit from a phone? Goddamn!

  19. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Not all, but a lot…

  20. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Sumo- Did you see Fela! in NYC not too long ago? I saw it was coming back for a limited run this summer/fall. Would like to go this time.

  21. sumodie Says:

    For years I used to say I didn’t watch TV, and actually I still don’t have cable nor do I use rabbit ears

    But in the last few years, due to internet streaming, it’s no longer true that I don’t watch TV. I just hold out for streaming or DVDs (and no, I don’t want Tivo)

    HBO started it with the Sopranos and the like, but nowadays there’s often not a lot of separation between quality TV shows and quality feature films (lotsa junk too, I know)

    Maybe streaming TV shows still isn’t watching TV, I dunno

  22. GhostPhunk Says:

    I’ve never been a huge sci-fi guy other than star wars. Hate star trek, bores the he’ll out of me. Then again, I’m not much for fiction in general. However, I’ve never watched BSG, but I’m currently a few episodes into SG-U. 3 episodes more than most keep me. Losing interest a bit now though.

    Watched one episode of that BBC Sherlock thing, was long but pretty good. Again… Fiction not my thing. If I watch tv it’s usually documentaries.

  23. [an unrelated] wilson Says:

    Wanna chime in on something Voopa said back on page 4 (I know, busy day of work). I too wasn’t “ready” for the ’97 phish sound. I was used to the madness and variety of 94/95. But, once i was exposed to it a bit (Hampton) that’s ALL I wanted. Flash forward to when all I wanted was the spacey ’99. My entire relationship with phish has been very much about adapting to, and learning to appreciate what they’re doing, even if it took some time or wasn’t maybe my favorite of their phases. Have listened to all of the ’12 stuff and I find it pretty inspired, actually. They’ve really landed in a nice place. Can’t wait to get leg 2 started. See y’all in Long Beach.

  24. sumodie Says:

    Yes, Palms, I saw that Fela! was returning for a limited NYC run. Not gonna happen for me unfortunately, tho I would go if I lived closer. You should go if possible, even AW was full of praise for that particular musical

    Didn’t I read that Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra was returning to be the backing band again?

  25. Cable Hogue Says:

    Sopranos, the Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men all qualify as great art IMO. Louie too.

    Have gotten more out of all these than any new film I’ve seen in the last 10 years or so. I love movies but for new stuff TV produces more interesting work right now in my view.

    The Prisoner was great too.

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