The Diversity of “Drowned”

6.4.09 – Jones Beach (W.Rogell)

In 2009, “Drowned” became a go-to song for Phish, producing high-paced, multi-faceted rock and roll jams. A launch pad that became musically synonymous with its 3.0 alter-ego, “Rock and Roll,” both songs often led the band into formulaic, three-tiered jams that moved from rock textures, into percussive grooves, before morphing into ambient outros. Some became better than others, but in the end, many of these jams blended together. But when Phish first decided to bring “Drowned” into their repertoire, its improvisational course was anything but predictable. Always breaking out of the gates with The Who’s hard-rock textures, throughout its history, “Drowned” created more than a few engaging pools of improv. Below is a short, audio-laced history of the well-loved cover.

Halloween ’95 Pollock

Following the band’s Quadrophenia set on Halloween ’95, “Drowned” first resurfaced on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden as the second set opener. And for the first time, Phish shaped the jam with their own creativity. Following the song’s rocking outro, Phish entered a churning land of piano-led grooves. Focused on percussive playing for much of its first Phishy incarnation, Trey took the lead towards the end of the jam, taking the piece through some dynamic improv and to fruition, (and through an eternally debated, though dubious, “Fire On the Mountain” tease somewhere in the slower ending of the jam). The first bust out of “Drowned” succeeded with flying colors.

Skipping ’96 all together, “Drowned” appeared once in Europe’s Winter ’97 tour, and once at the band’s Waterwheel Benefit in celebration of Phish Food in Burlington during March of ’97. Remaining dormant all the way through December, when the song returned during the latter half of Fall ’97, a new beast emerged. The cover first came back to life in the first set of 12.3.97 at The Spectrum, as the song adopted the straight up funk stylings of the tour, cloaking itself in danceable rhythms for the duration. A perfect example of a song merging with Phish’s present focus, there would never be “Drowned” like this again.

6.6.09 (G.Lucas)

In fact, when the song showed up only a week later in Rochester, New York, the band took the jam 180 degrees in the other direction. After improvising proficiently around the song’s chord structure, Phish hit a point where the charged out of the song, full speed ahead. Eventually slowing into a bluesy and soupy psychedelia, the band jumped ship into an ocean of darkness. The jam crawled with an ominous pace, yet the band remained fully connected; a perfect example of virtuoso playing. Taking this exploratory piece further into the underworld, Trey took the subtle lead on this life-or-death musical mission. Moving away from conventional beats, Phish explored a shimmering realm of ambient playing as Trey continued to play spine-tingling licks amidst this milieu. People always marked Fall ’97 as a funk-only tour, but this “Drowned” is another in a long list of pieces that proves that Phish were at the top of their game, regardless of any number of dance jams. Eventually blending this near-perfect jam into the debut of “Roses Are Free,” the Rochester “Drowned” quickly jumped to the top shelf of Fall ’97 offerings.

Phish continued playing “Drowned” throughout ’98 and ’99 to differing musical places, but more often than not, forming  unique and creative pieces. In this prolific period for the song, some of the more successful versions came at Ventura ’98, Albany ’98, Tucson ’99, and Hartford ’99, peaking with the sacred version in the middle of the night at Big Cypress.

In their final tour before hiatus, Phish threw down an one more instant classic at Darien Lake, and this one became a monster. When “Drowned” appeared as the opener of set II, the band remained anchored to the song for about six out of 30 minutes of pure improv. While Fall 2000 may have been hit or miss, on this night the band most definitely had it. On the course of an incredibly compelling jam, the band passed through periods of subtle groove, textured playing, and outright alien-encounter-psychedelia. Taking the jam on perhaps the most sublime ride of its career, the band delved deep into the dark side of Phish sorcery, crafting, arguably, the defining jam of Fall 2000. This multi-staged organic escapade provided outlandish music where the band allows any connection to form and structure drop away, within subconscious communicative mastery.  Layered realms of space-aged sounds emanated from the circus tents of Darien Lake, as the band dove into the void on this stormy evening. For a true appreciation of this masterpiece, grab the LivePhish release, but for now, check it below, crank the volume, and prepare for blast off.

The Who – Quadrophenia

In the post-hiatus era, Drowned appeared four times, and three developed into legitimate excursions. A blistering rock and roll-based version ended the first set of 6.20.04 at SPAC, while, the band featured a more exploratory and meandering venture a year earlier in Charlotte ’03. In a musical oxymoron, “Drowned” provided one of the highlights of Coventry, late into the third set of the first night with a delicate tuned driving jam, starting from almost nothing at all.

Ever since its inception as a Phish cover, “Drowned” has been a vehicle to diverse improvisational places. Although the improv grew predictable in 2009, “Drowned” still exists as an almost-guaranteed open Phish jam. As the band steps into 2010, and things begin to  move in new directions, “Drowned” will find its niche. Whether in rotation or just guest-starring now and then, when “Drowned” drops, an adventure will follow close behind.


Jam of the Day:

Drowned > Caspian” 12.12.99 II

This dark-horse ’99 “Drowned” from Hartford, CT goes out to my brother, if you’re out there listening.



11.25.98 “Knickerbocker Arena,” Albany, NY < Torrent

11.25.98 “Knickerbocker Arena,” Albany, NY < Megaupload

Sensing a theme yet?

I: Punch You In the Eye, My Soul, Roggae, AC/DC Bag, Lifeboy, David Bowie, Sleep, Driver, Good Times Bad Times

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Golgi Apparatus, Drowned > Prince Caspian, Piper, You Enjoy Myself, Been Caught Stealin’, Llama

E: Something, Guyute, Free Bird

Source: Microtech Gefell 210 > Aerco > SBM-1

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