There were so many ridiculous jams and highlights from Red Rocks that it would be very easy to overlook one of the best pieces of the weekend. Wedged in the middle of the tour’s first set, Phish dove deeply into “Stash,” obliterating any single piece of improv that we’d heard in ’09. While first sets of tours can often be disjointed (though this one flowed better than most) there is usually at least one jam of note- but they are not usually like this. Interestingly, the band has used “Stash” in each of their three tour-opening sets at Hampton, Fenway, and Red Rocks as their initial dip into psychedelic lava. It seems that Phish likes to warm their chops on their revered classic before digging into further improv. The previous opening-set versions have been legitimate, type one-ish jams- but this time things would be different. Expecting another “warm up” jam, Phish threw down a twenty-minute odyssey, and after four days of bliss, it deserves to be revisited.
Placing “Stash” in the middle-to-latter part of the set, the band got some songs under their belts before pulling the pavement from under their nails. Commencing the jam as the day’s light faded, we were headed into darkness in more ways than one. As they opened the door to the evening, Mike led the band, thumping ominously- foreshadowing his leadership throughout this jam, and his all-world playing throughout the weekend. As the band worked through the initial part of the “Stash” jam, you could tell that something was different from June- they were flowing, and didn’t seem to be in their own heads so much; they were shredding as if sharing a brain. Glued together and pushed by Gordon, they built their way into a nasty jam where each member contributed to the greater whole.
Fishman began to bring the jam off its linear course, dropping his driving beat in favor of softer, more shimmering rhythm. Trey quickly took the invitation, following Fishman outwards, with Page and Mike not far behind. After the music built into a cacophonous brew, Trey and Page charted a different course, adding a melodic direction to the improv, and at this point the jam really took off.
As the band soared into completely original territory, previewing the monstrous weekend we were about to have, we also got a taste of how well Trey and Mike would play together throughout the stand. When Trey and Mike are complementing each other as well as they were at Red Rocks, it’s hard for the band to go wrong. Both of them offered innovative ideas, and fit them congruently in place with each other. Their musical conversations were precise and creative, leading to jams we never saw coming- and this “Stash” was the first. Leaving the song’s structure completely, the band reached inspirational places that swept us away into a weekend we will never forget. Once reaching a point of pure improv, the band wove a tapestry of beautiful darkness- a musical paradox that some of the best Phish jams embody. Gradually increasing in tempo, the exalting piece reached an enormous peak led by Trey’s rolling melodies before the band seamlessly- and dramatically- crashed back into the “Stash” jam.
Carving away at the song’s final build, the band didn’t simply jump to the lick. Instead, they took their time to peak the composed “Stash” jam before wrapping up a monumental segment that had us staring at each other in disbelief. What had just happened? Was this now the deal? We would soon find out that yes, in fact, it was; and this “Stash” in Red Rocks’ initial set was the first to let us in on that that little secret that we all discovered in Colorado- we have our band back again!
7.30.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)