We sit amidst the six-year anniversary of Phish’s two week comeback run in the Winter of ’03. As investigated earlier this week, Las Vegas was the springboard for the rest of a phenomenal run that restored our faith in the Phish. Despite the many highlights from this fortnight, there were two half-hour jams that were talked about, listened to, and revered more than any other pieces of music on this tour. These two excursions came to represent all that was right in the Phish universe, signaling that Phish’s improvisational prowess was as healthy as ever; their desire to musically evolve was still ingrained in their ethos. In a two-part- Friday / Monday- series we’ll check out these two jams- Cincinnati’s “Bathtub Gin” and Nassau’s “Tweezer.” Today- the “Gin.”
The Cincinnati weekend marked the halfway point of Phish’s short winter tour, and as the only other weekend stand besides Vegas, these shows drew fans from all over the country. People needed to see for themselves a reinvigorated Phish, and the they would not be disappointed.
As the band came out for their final set of the weekend, everyone’s juices were flowing. Dropping a fierce “Tube,” the band and crowd leapt into the fray together. An infectiously-paced and funkified jam set the tone for the rest of the set; the best was yet to come. As the band ended their escapade in groove, Trey morphed directly into the intro lick to “Bathtub Gin.”
Wrapping up the composed section, the band got ready for take off and the crowd roared in anticipation of what was coming. Trey wasted no time in getting started painting some initial melodies onto the musical canvas. But it wasn’t until a couple minutes in, when Mike dropped a heavy groove, that the improv really took off. Fishman was right with him, and Phish moved directly into some outright dance rhythms. This initial section of improv was characterized by robust rhythms and gorgeous melodic leads by Trey that fit congruently into the musical space. Yet this uplifting section seamlessly transformed into something far more exploratory and adventurous.
Like Lewis and Clark exploring the west, the band were on a mission of their own, discovering their new direction for this chapter of their career. Growing more aggressive and piano-heavy, the jam began moving away from its “Gin”-themed improv into some distinctly post-hiatus grooves. Trey’s un-compressed edge provided an interesting juxtaposition against his bandmates’ slower offerings. Then, as if a race horse cracked by the whip, Phish sped up the jam into double-time, creating a totally different, and more aggressive, musical feel.
The band carried a rhythmic gallop into this section of improv, tearing into some enthusiastic full-on playing. The driving textures of this jam shifted when Page began playing his clav, lending a pseudo-electronic feel to the music. At this point, the band seemed to hit a place of contentment as they slowed down their pace, peeled away some layers, and dove into a less distorted, mellower musical pond.
Switching vibes all together, the band united in a more abstract place, bringing the improv even further into the unknown. This is where the jam got extremely interesting. With almost no beat, Trey began playing, and teasing, the “Gin” lick over a greatly divergent- almost electronic- backdrop. With Page using extreme effects through his keyboards, Fish creating a shimmering, cymbal-heavy beat, and Mike playing a bizarrely melodic bass line, the band entered some other-worldy territory. Meanwhile, Trey continued playing forms of the “Bathtub” melody over this demented Phish-tronica canvas. Phish was molding incredibly unique music, with Page going off in directions unheard before. Creating an “alternate” version of the song, their improv remained as connected to “Gin” as it was divergent- a wholly new musical experiment. This was one of those times that Phish took a big risk, and overwhelmingly succeeded.
As Trey played some repetitive licks, signaling to wrap it up, the band and crowd emerged from being immersed in some deeply “other” Phish. Finishing the jam collectively, and with authority, the band oozed back into a slowed down version of the song’s ending. Flabbergasted, everyone exchanged looks of wide-eyed amazement as the band took a minute to collect themselves before decompressing with “Friday.” While many shining moments developed over the week from LA to Chicago, this “Bathtub Gin” was the most divergent and defining musical portrait of the first half of tour.
(All photos from Cincy 2.22.03)
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.6.96 Civic Coliseum, Knoxville, TN < LINK
With Phish about to return to Knoxville this summer, I thought we’d travel back in time to their last performance in Tennessee’s metropolis. This show took place during the first week after Halloween’s “Remain In Light” performance- when the shows on tour really started to take off. The second set is held down by a large “Mike’s Groove,” while the first is bookended by “Split” and “Bowie.” Check out this under-circulated nugget from Fall ’96
I: Split Open and Melt, Cars Trucks Buses, Fast Enough for You, Taste, Train Song, Poor Heart, Punch You in the Eye, Billy Breathes, David Bowie
II: Wilson, The Curtain > Mike’s Song > Swept Away > Steep > Weekapaug Groove, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar, Funky Bitch
E: Rocky Top