To balance the light, there is there is the dark. And just as the guys were climbing spiritual mountains of ultra-bliss during 1999, another strand of their improvisation was growing more ominous and abstract. Phish’s ambient jamming of Fall ’98 focused primarily on the melodic side of things, with push-and-pull, amoeba-like interplay. In 1999, however, buoyed by the release of “The Siket Disc,” Phish’s abstract jamming—and overall sound—progressed in a much darker direction. The band grew an affinity for sonic layering and dissonant effects, developing what I have called their “millennial” sound. Favoring a drone and hypnotic style of play, Phish moved into their next mini-progression of the late-’90s. Within this context, Trey favored harder-edged guitar work, sheets of sound, and effect-laden soundscapes that veered from his center-stage soloing of years past.
Beginning during Summer Tour while, largely, showing up within single jams, this “millennial” sound became more prevalent and nuanced as Phish moved through their Fall and Winter tours, often dominating the feel of sets and shows all together. Phish music was growing darker in both the downtempo and uptempo realms, a vibe that seemed congruent with the oncoming unknown of 2000 and beyond. As the world crept closer to the turn of the millennium and a potential Y2k disaster, Phish provided an ominous soundtrack to a time filled with shrouded in mystery and speckled with hope.
For today’s playlist, I picked a couple jams from each tour in ’99 so you can hear the progression of the band throughout the year.
“Bathtub Gin” 6.30.99 II, Bonner Springs, KS
It had been six full months since we had seen Phish—the longest stretch of down time in Phish’s career up to that point. And the band greeted us with this 20-minute tour-opening “Bathtub Gin” that touched on their darker, ambient sound that would grow throughout the summer.
“Piper” 7.18.99 III, Volney, NY
The Oswego “Piper” covers a wide array of ’99-esque feels over a near-half hour, but most of all it is an example of how densely layered and hard-edged their sound had gotten to by the middle of the summer. This would be an example of the developing uptempo millennial jamming, without the pronounced dissonance of late Fall and Winter.
“Stash” 9.9.99 I, Vancouver, BC
This “Stash” was the first jam of Fall “99, in the first set of tour. A tale of dark magic, this jam had the venue buzzing at setbreak.
“Tweezer” 9.9.99 II, Vancouver, BC
This “Tweezer” moves from candy grooves into a seething section of abstract, millennial psychedelia.
“Ghost” 9.12.99 II, Portland, OR
One of my top five “Ghosts,” Portland’s massive version moves through some hypnotic grooves into a section of abstract darkness.
“Ghost” 10.9.99 I, Albany, NY
A first-set ambient-laced giant from the Knick.
“Sand” 12.3.99 II, Cincinnatti, OH
Having just re-spun this “Sand” yesterday, I was reminded of its quintessentially millennial qualities. A great example of a lot of what I have described.
“Drowned” 12.12.99 II, Hartford, CT
A dark horse piece of scalding, uptempo, late-99 jamming.
Most thought the band was prepping the Mothership for liftoff, but they faked everyone out after a five-minute sound sculpture. This was the soundtrack to the Hampton reunion video..1999, TTFF