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. kayatosh Says:

    first puff + august 93 = stylin.

  2. willowed Says:

    TIII- they played so much and the number of shows on tour were just so staggering back then. If they were connecting and communicating 20% of the time, that would still seem like a shit ton.

    I just feel there is a lot more “all over the place sloppy” type jamming back then that is covered up by full throttle maniacal pace speeds. We just don’t want to admit it because people hold the past in such high regard. Knocking the tradition of early Phish is like sacrilegious or something.

    And in no way am I trying to knock it early Phish. I just don’t like that people are saying that Phish is so good right now (2012) because they are back to playing the early 90’s style. I disagree with that statement. It’s a combo of all styles over time.

    I’ve always said, and maybe I’m wrong, it’s easier to make mistakes during an all out shreddy Loper that’s going full speed than a slowed down Ghost with open space. Just my opinion.

  3. alf Says:

    phishthoughts mid ter assignment: miner’s picks august 93

    have fun out there kids

  4. kayatosh Says:

    ^^^^ cut it out willowed, you’re beginning to sound like a noob. : )

    what people are hearing that reminds them of the early to mid 90’s is the free (and rapid) exchange of musical ideas and the smooth/seamless shifting btw. these ideas.

  5. kayatosh Says:

    thanks for the reminder re. the Miner Book, alf. need to consult the Aug. 93 section.

    gin->makisupa->MMGAMOI, dog log->laGrange.

    ^^^ hot. required listening.

  6. kayatosh Says:

    willowed: the other distinction that needs to be made is btw. 93 and late 94/95. the high speed shred you speak of came later — late 94-95.

    I am a 93 head, b/c I prefer the jazzier, lighter, clean execution 93 style to the high speed hendrixian shred fests of late 94/95.

  7. Shred Says:

    1993 was sloppy? What band are you listening to? G-d Street Wine? When did you start seeing Phish, 2003?

    Nothing sloppy about 1993.

  8. willowed Says:

    I truly enjoy all eras. My favorite Phish is happening now.

  9. willowed Says:

    Wait this isn’t a Spin Doctor’s board?

  10. kayatosh Says:

    very little slop in 93. and trey’s fingers were at peak jedi levels. fish’s drumming at that time – sick.

    willowed does make a good point about the band being younger back then, and, as a result, you can definitely hear more exuberance, whimsy, crispness, and energy in the earlier stuff.

  11. Shred Says:

    While we are all glad they’re playing this is not a peak of Phish. Trey needs to get it together.

  12. willowed Says:

    Phish is like sex.
    When you were young, you can have a ton of it. Multiple times on and on. Are you good at it? Probably not. Sure you’ll have some good moments because your young and dumb and can go for days.

    When you get older, you become more strategic. You know where to go and what to do. Your mission can be accomplished in 10 minutes where as when you were young, it took all night and you probably didn’t accomplish your goal. Well maybe you did, but she didn’t.

  13. Yalta Bait Says:

    Phish youths.

  14. Dorn76 Says:

    Fuck Troy!

    (beat ya to it, Palmer)

  15. MiA Says:

    I think it’s Trey’s tone and (overall) the band’s tone that helps have that nostalgic sound also. They are all just components. And there are probably 5-10 components.

    Melodic jamming really helps.

    Let’s not get crazy though. This isn’t the jamming from CCCC Halley’s in ’99, or Deer Creek in ’98 or Halley’s in ’97 or …

    I love current Phish, and they have the potential to put on a hell of a show.

    Really coming out and trying to play the best “If I could” (or whatever) each night, is admirable, and I am nostalgic for that kind of Phish.

  16. kayatosh Says:

    i beg you cats to listen to this segment as well from that 8.2.93 show:

    heavy metal jam->sparks->Curtis Loew

    heavy metal jam comes out of mike’s. the mike’s is alright. but the jam is awesome. the notes the guest vocalist hits are staggeringly high. quickly it becomes sparks — a fishman showcase. then curtis loew. trey showcase in curtis.

  17. Shred Says:

    10 minutes says it all. Try warming up. You set them up and I’ll knock them down.

  18. Dorn76 Says:

    I think we all agree that ’93 was a peak for both Phish and The Spin Doctors.

  19. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I don’t like your analogy, willowed


  20. marcoesq Says:

    Phish sex

    Phishy sex

  21. kayatosh Says:

    willowed see pg. 394-95 of miner’s book. re. 93.

  22. MiA Says:

    Phish today is like a giant purple rubber disco ball with peanut butter stuck all over it…

  23. Selector J Says:

    things just got weird…

  24. tela'smuff Says:

    as i was working the night away, i threw one of my favorite albums on for a little inspiration. i owe Fish for turning me onto this band, and it got me thinking how this could be a pretty incredible album for the boys to cover. it would allow the Axis to shine.

    Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun.

  25. butter Says:

    great musical conversation breakdowns, Miner

    Axis of Phish….love it

Leave a Reply