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!

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544 Responses to “The Axis of Phish”

  1. MrCompletely Says:

    The value of art is only tangentially related to the medium of its presentation. Your statement about music being inherently greater than TV is nothing more than a projection of your own value system onto objective reality.

    It so happens I share your opinion in general.

    That doesn’t give it any objective meaning…there is a fairly strong argument to be made that Sesame Street has done more good in the world than all the music of the last 100 years put together…but that doesn’t mean I want to watch Sesame Street.

    Louis CK is making something pretty close to Art in the TV medium.

  2. Mr.Miner Says:

    When the planet is being murdered, art that doesn’t strive to address the murder is unforgivable.

    ^ true indeed. touche. but really, a political band?

    The Clash is a political band.

  3. Robear Says:

    they quietly support ‘’. those pesky do-gooders who try to convince fans that their vote matters.

    that could be indirectly political…..

  4. Robear Says:

    who is Louis C.K.?

    what is Reader Reader Pumpkineater?

    C, I need to come visit man. my head is all spinning from 39 years of life, and some crazy shows I just caught on Coast to Coast AM.

    I need some clarity.

    SillyWilly is speaking in tongues tonight. I can barely keep up.

    I think he just popped a PVC mattress.

  5. BingosBrother Says:

    LCK def making ART. See me w/ GGG C?

  6. SillyWilly Says:

    Word, Robear. Thanks.


    I think emotions are much more complicated than that. You can feel hate and love, joy, anxiety, and despair all at once.

    I got enough room in here to love you, and hate Monsanto/DuPont/Walmart.

    In fact, if I didn’t care for some people, then I wouldn’t hate those corporations. Id have no reason for the hate.

  7. MrCompletely Says:

    any countercultural or rebellious phenomenon is political art by that formulation. pretty low bar to clear, but I can see that perspective.

  8. MrCompletely Says:

    that’s a crazy set of pix @bingos!

  9. BingosBrother Says:

    True SW. I’ve found that time spent hating is fruitless, and time spent loving never regretted.

    Coast to coast can mess me up sometimes too. Shadow People episode still gets me.

  10. BingosBrother Says:

    Thats me and Bombino up in that mutha too. Great birthday.

  11. Robear Says:

    b-bro, you look like a mash-up of all my favorite friends in life. i’ll make Alpine next time.

  12. MrCompletely Says:

    i definitely don’t agree that all art has to be political at all

    in fact I don’t agree that all art needs to fit any single criteria whatsoever, nor is art subject to the opinions of any given person or group

    unless you define “political” so broadly that any act of beauty is an act of resistance…which is a valid view…

  13. Cable Hogue Says:

    TV is capable of producing great art just like any other medium. The commercial restraints/compromises aren’t really much different from those in other media. The signal to noise ratio may be higher, but if there’s a work of art other than “The Wire” from the last 20 years that functioned as a more incisive and comprehensive critique of American society and institutions, I’m not aware of it.

    Art for art’s sake is ok too. That’s what Phish is to me. Gang of Four, Boogie Down Productions, Mighty Diamonds, Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Fela and Africa 70…that’s political music. And I like all that too.

  14. MrCompletely Says:

    @robear remember that the Vision of Beauty and the Vision of Sorrow are both equally always true, that’s all

    all the fucked up shit in the world doesn’t cancel out all the awesomeness

  15. MrCompletely Says:

    yeah I’d think @SW would be all about The Wire actually

    have you not seen that, SW? you should. it’s unquestionably Art of the kind you’re looking for.

  16. BingosBrother Says:

    Thanks rob, thats one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard.

    Super down with the act of beauty as resistance.

    “A big back has a big front.”

    Larry muhfuggin Diamond

  17. MrCompletely Says:

    @robear do you really not know who Louis CK is?!? He is an actual no kidding genius working in the medium of comedy. The modern successor to George Carlin.

    He has a show. It’s brilliant.

    He has also become a model for DIY entertainment production in the Internet age. He produced his own video special and sold it online all in-house and made $$$bank$$$ with no compromises.

    More interestingly, almost all the tickets for his upcoming tour (all of them, except for a few venues he couldn’t make it work with) are sold direct to the fans with no fees or charges – and he has shadowy plans to invalidate any scalped tickets he can track down.

    Also he is fucking hilarious and very insightful. Louis CK is the real deal.

  18. MrCompletely Says:

    “signal to noise ratio” is an apt and accurate description of the problem with TV as a medium @cable, well said

    it’s not that there’s nothing good on

    it’s that there’s also 700 channels of crap on

    plus yeah I think there’s a lot of TV, like a lot of music, that I’d call just Mostly Harmless. It’s not super insightful or political or Artistic in a serious way, but it’s fun and interesting and not inherently degrading or stupid.

    I do agree that I prefer audio media to video in general but thats just a personal preference

  19. Robear Says:

    i only know the name because of you cats. LMGTFmyself.

    i saw his picture on the front of a magazine on the plane.

  20. PigSong Says:

    I thought about listing a top three along with Sopranos, if I did The Wire would have been next. Very powerful show for a simple minded guy like myself.

    I’m only vaguely familiar with Coast to Coast, wish there was a free podcast to dig a little deeper.


  21. Robear Says:

    okay, he’s big, and i’m behind, the redwood curtain, as usual.

    how about a link for an introduction? too many to choose from on google

  22. MrCompletely Says:

    and seriously…@silly…I am not trying to make any kind of point or anything

    you should watch The Wire really really for real

    I have only seen parts of it. But it is definitely Art and it is definitely political and it is about crime and the legal system and society and how some problems can’t be solved.

  23. garretc Says:


    I think you’d dig his “everything is great and nobody is happy” bit he laid out on letterman (I believe) a few years back

  24. Robear Says:

    i barely watch any tv. i find there are more great shows to watch than I have time for.

    Breaking Bad
    ::must now check The Wire::

    i’m almost over watching sports, too. that will free up tons of time. especially on saturday, sunday, monday, and sometimes thursday in the fall

  25. PigSong Says:

    WTF Podcast had a decent few interviews with Louis CK

    It’s too old so requires a subscription, but you can easily find it on the google/trackers if you try. I thought it was a decent intro to LCK, just have to get over Marons (self admitted) self absorb-sion (made that word up) and general bitchiness.

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