Musical Density

12.29.09 - Miami (Wendy Rogell)

In the physical world, density equals mass divided by volume, but in the current context of Phish’s music, a concept of “musical density” emerges. This term can be expressed as the number of unique musical ideas presented per minute, and by the end of 2009, this renewed, compact jamming became part and parcel with Phish’s on-stage direction. A facet of the band’s first peak of 1993-1995, this intense style of jamming has come back around in the modern era. This retro style climaxed in Miami, specifically with “Piper” and “Ghost,” where the goal of creating tightly packed jams took on a new life. If hypothesizing on where the band will head this summer, this new style seems to be a first place to look for Phish’s next evolution.

12.29.09 (W.Rogell)

Beginning in Hampton and moving through the first leg of summer, Phish jams weren’t only compact, they were, generally, one dimensional. Focusing on straight ahead rock textures for most of their opening tour, Phish set a new (or, arguably, old) standard for jam length – short and sweet. These jams, while quite compact in length, weren’t very dense in terms of musical ideas per minute, often regurgitating the same ideas for quite some time. Without a lot of creativity, Phish usually took one idea and carried it to a peak for their jams in June. Sure, there are some counter-examples, but this liner jamming remained the norm for the opening half of summer.

Then came the second leg, and the while jams increased in length, they also increased in number of musical ideas per minute. Improv that stemmed from The Gorge and Red Rocks contained exponentially more creativity than the band showed over June, breathing new life into the Phish community. Letting loose on pieces like “Ghost,” “Disease,” “Bathtub Gin,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” “Light,” and “Rock and Roll,” Phish started to expand the number of musical ideas presented, both upping their musical density, and communicating far more creatively in the process. These western shows had a profound effect on fans with their diverse, yet grounded and cohesive nature these jams. The band fluidly moved between sections and musical themes, with little meandering or searching for the next change; things began to happen organically

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

As the band moved back east for the end of summer and into fall, Phish reeled in this expansive jamming, focusing on shorter creations that got to the point more quickly. Excursions such as Darien’s “Drowned” and Hartford’s “Piper” held a lot of ingenious communication, but when one finally got around to checking how long these jams were, they always seemed shorter than remembered; a trend that continued to play out through the contained, high-energy indoor shows of fall. This is where the concept of musical density can actually bend the perception of time. If bombarded with compact, non-stop musical creativity (see Miami “Piper”) the listener feels often feels that a lot of time has passed due to the the many themes and musical ideas they have confronted. Phish no longer waited to get down to business, a key factor in compacting their improvisation. No more vamping over two funk chords while Trey sets his loops and carefully chooses his spot to enter the ultra-layered canvas; no more searching for the sound, Phish now dives right in with the sharks.

In Miami, as jams dropped, unique improvisation commenced instantaneously, providing a stark contrast to the late ’90s and the post-hiatus era, evoking memories of the band’s earlier years. But with the accumulated skill sets the band members have gained over the years, these Miami jams bring the best of all worlds, super-charged Phish experiences. Gone is the dance party vibe of ’97 and the psychedelic search-parties of ’03, and in Miami, Phish provided jams that reached all sorts of stratospheric places in succinct time frames. Even the most expansive jams of Miami – “Tweezer” and “Back on the Train” moved cohesively from one creative idea to the next, leaving no lag time in between sections – and lo and behold – the two best jams of the year.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

But even more illustrative of this retro improvisational trend are “Piper” and “Ghost” from New Year’s Eve’s second set. These two pieces fully realized this pattern that Phish had been building towards throughout 2009 – musical density. When listening to this “Piper” the speed of communication between the band members becomes mind-numbing, as Trey continues spewing new, connected licks with fury. The entire band moves as if four fingers on one hand, together crafting a blistering piece that contains as many themes as many of the band’s more extended excursions of lore. Without hesitation, Phish completely crushed this piece without skipping a beat. Seeming super-human at times, this jam never spirals out of hand, but the controlled abandon that defines this “Piper” is skull-fucking. Moving like an eight-limbed robot, Phish tore through this jam, leaving minds buzzing just to absorb it all. Phish are often referred to as musical super heroes, and this “Piper” backs up this assertion confidently – all in under ten minutes.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

And only a couple songs later came “Ghost.” Perhaps the most engaging jam of New Year’s Eve took us on a prolific journey through many stages, a trek that started immediately as the jam dropped with Mike’s powerful lead. Wasting no time, Gordeaux thumped out a groove that Trey, Page, and Fish locked onto as one, each offering their own layers. Within one minute of the jam, Phish engages in full-on communication and, straight-up, killing it. Gordon continues to drive the piece for the duration of the first half, before he steps back and lets Trey take center stage. All the while, the jam never drags for a second, featuring full-band engagement from note one. Blending improvisational segments fluidly, Phish took this piece from dark and groovy to melodic and uplifting, moving seamlessly all the while. Crafting a signature piece of the weekend, the band took “Ghost” into a quasi-electro plane before melting into a masterfully placed quote of “Auld Lang Syne,” getting everyone ready for party time.

Having had some time to reflect on the year that was, the MSG run truly climaxed 2009 with its high-energy, rock and roll showcase, while Miami’s New Year’s Run welcomed the Phish community to the future. Taking bold steps forward over their nights in Florida, Phish should emerge in June with a new musical landscapes than people grew accustomed to in 2009. Like building blocks of the future, last year laid a solid foundation for Phish to launch from this summer. With dynamic interplay throughout Miami, Phish provided a fresh glimpse into the band they will become in 2010. Regardless of the length of their excursions, Phish’s has clearly enhanced the flow of their jams, something that will be sure to evolve come summer tour.


Jams of the Day:

Disease > Free” 6.26.95 II

Here’s a gem from SPAC, Summer ’95.



Goodbye Head > Jibboo” 2.14 I

A Valentine’s Day highlight from Trey’s band.




11.6.96 Civic Center, Knoxville, TN < Torrent

11.6.96 Civic Center, Knoxville, TN < Megaupload

The week after Halloween, Phish began to gradually chart their course for the funk-laced seas of ’97.

"Phish Wuz Here"

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

Source: Schoeps MK4’s

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422 Responses to “Musical Density”

  1. ChefBradford Says:

    Lycan, glad to know you had a great trip, and glad to see you back around here. I’ve been kind of quiet on the BB lately.Ran through some CF today. The “National Anthem” cover is stellar, man! That song is one of my favorite RH tunes for sure

  2. Lycanthropist Says:


    good to be back here on the BB..

    i am sure i missed a lot of good discussion over the weekend..

    any word on this weekend?

  3. ChefBradford Says:

    I can’t get away for Saturday or Sunday, unfortunately. I’ve got Friday off, but have to be at work by 8am Saturday. No chance you guys will do a surprise gig Thursday? *nudge, nudge*

    I only say that because I’ll be off Friday and Thursday, a kid owes me a favor b/c of Mardi Gras

    Oh well, I’ll definitely make my way to see CF AND TSU at some point, f’damnsure

    I really wanted to see Love when I went to Vegas, but it was still fairly new, and tickets were waaay expensive. Can’t remember the name of the one we did see, but it was the show that appeared in “Knocked Up”, and it was absolutely incredible, in every way

  4. Lycanthropist Says:

    Love is mind melting

  5. ChefBradford Says:

    Holy crap, I’ll bet! I was blown away by _____, but to see something like that with the Beatles’ music? Fuck!

  6. ChefBradford Says:

    Oh yeah, I haven’t checked my e-mail lately, but if you haven’t sent me the ordering info for shirt/CD, shoot it to me at your convenience, and I’ll make an order this week or early next

  7. YborCity Says:

    I’m re-listening to the IT festival this week, and I have to say that I absolutely love those shows. They were the first Phish shows I ever listened to — I got them when I was 13 from my cousin.

  8. Lycanthropist Says:

    Listening to 2-13 right now… so far soo good

  9. ChefBradford Says:

    Ybor- the IT shows were my 2nd and 3rd, and thus hold a special place in my heart. That. Ghost. Is. Bliss. Totally locked in, multiple peaks. Glad you’re enjoying!

    Some very kind people sort of took me in that weekend, as I’d made the trip solo, with almost no experience with that type of thing.

    Definitely a wonderful series of memories

  10. ChefBradford Says:

    Lycan, from what I’ve read, the 2/13 show is the show of the tour thus far.

    I’m curious to know what you think of the big “Love Is Freedom” from whichever show (it was a JOTD a couple days back). Everyone loves it, apparently, but me

  11. Lycanthropist Says:

    listening now @chef..

    so far not digging the lyrics..

    decent R n B groove, nothing special thus far..

  12. Lycanthropist Says:

    ok Tweezer meshed with Simple now..

  13. Lycanthropist Says:

    diggin the jam all though it really just evokes Tweezer and Simple a lot.

    but Trey has got some nice work going on here.. nice build

  14. ChefBradford Says:

    You got it in one, Lycan. I bought Trey’s “Shine” album when it came out, and while I like many of the songs on the album, “Love Is…” is not one of them. I said this a couple of days ago, but…I love the silly lyrics. I love the good ballads. I love the nonsense poetry put to music. But the lyrics of this song are so god-awful cheeseball hippy-drippy-generically terrible that I just can’t stand it. Folks are hailing that jam as sublime, but it’s just Bad Song>Tweezer phrasing>Simple Twist Up Dave

    Can do without.

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    well i gotta say that the jam is very good…

    but thats whats good.. not the song IMO

    but i am diggin the vibe of this alot..

    dont need it in Phish land though

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    on that note i am off to bed
    night BB

    good to be back

  17. ChefBradford Says:

    People are hoping for “Love Is…” to make it to Phish, I’d rather see “Simple Twist Up Dave”, or “Greyhound Rising”, or “Valentine”

    Or “Sweet and Dandy”, “Ooh Child”, or “Ether Sunday”

    And I’ve been surprised by how many people haven’t heard Trey’s studio work. “One Man’s Trash” is mostly forgettable, being more a collage of demo-level tracks, but his eponymous album is truly excellent

  18. ChefBradford Says:

    Good to have you back, my friend. Hope to catch up with you more soon

  19. Mr.Miner Says:

    ok Tweezer meshed with Simple now..

  20. whole tour! Says:

    relates to musical density:

  21. Mdawg Says:

    This is a great write up Miner! 2010 will bring the pain!

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