The Path of Joy

Indio (G.Lucas)

As summer tour slowly approaches, it is natural to speculate what lies ahead for Phish. With new Anastasio / Marshall material expected, as well as other new Trey songs (e.g “Show of Life, “Liquid Time”), one wonders how their last batch of songs will pan out. While Joy gave us “Light” and “Backwards Down the Number Line,” it remains to be seen if any other songs from the band’s 2009 comeback album will have a lasting impact on shows.

After Joy’s two jam vehicles, no other song from the album provided serious repercussions in 2009, unless you compile all the minutes of show time that “Time Turns Elastic” ate up. While often incorporated into first sets, “Ocelot” still has yet to transform into something greater. Phish has stretched the song out within its playful structure more than a few times, but never used it to explore new territory. Miami’s version provided the first glimpse of something slightly more creative, hinting that “Ocelot” may yet come out to play. But without a second set version to date, the intention to push the piece outwards just doesn’t seem to be there.

Trey and Tom (Relix)

“Kill Devil Falls” speckled ’09 setlists with healthy doses of innocuous, straight-forward rock and roll. Although Phish twice took the song into original terrain, and Bonnaroo’s version provided one of June ’09’s highlights, the jams hardly had to do with the actual song. The composition essentially ends before the band revs up a rock groove, rebuilding the piece into a quasi-“Birds of a Feather” jam. While some may enjoy the blues-rock textures, the song adds little to the overall contour of a Phish show. When the desire strikes Trey to play “Kill Devil Falls,” “Birds” would be the more engaging choice to reach a similar musical plane.

The statute of limitations has almost expired on “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan.” When the band debuted this song at Jones Beach last summer, it seemed they were unveiling the next dirty jam vehicle into the mix. And each time Phish played the song throughout the year, everyone kept expecting the next version to be the one that took a jump into the dark side. But Phish never as much as hinted at jamming this “Stealing Time.” Every single rendition likened the album version, and at this point, the song slides in below “Character Zero” in intrigue and improv. Trey seems content keeping this one as a boisterous first setter, but I’ll be the first to celebrate an extended jaunt through the blank space were my mind should be.

Jones Beach '09 (W.Rogell)

Aside from Joy’s title track, a poignant ballad which works quite well as the landing point for jams, “Time Turns Elastic,” is the album’s only other piece that Phish infused into 2009 setlists with any regularity. Unfortunately, Trey’s meticulous orchestral composition bombed horribly as a rock song, chewing up valuable set time with anti-climactic, over-indulgent prog-rock. The composition works beautifully in the symphonic setting, but by the end of the year, whether smoking a spliff or taking a piss, many fan adopted accompanying activities to enhance the near-twenty minute lull the song represented during a show.

“Sugar Shack” and “Twenty Years Later” appeared five and four times, respectively, but neither song did much when they showed up. “Twenty Years Later” provided a surreal landing point for SPAC’s “Number Line” Philly’s “Disease,” but the song itself remained a straight composition. This piece, however, illustrates the fact that a well-placed song doesn’t have to be a jam vehicle to enhance a show. Perhaps the band will play place a greater focus on “Twenty Years Later” in 2010, but it doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario. While a clever and catchy song, “Sugar Shack” never found its niche in 2009, unable to jive with its surroundings songs. Probably best used in the first set, Phish placed it in Camden’s second set and Indio’s third set, doing nothing for either frame’s continuity.

12.29.09 (W.Rogell)

“Light” provides the glaring exception to this jam-less trend, emerging as one of the year’s most diverse and dynamic vehicles for improvisation. Providing both a philosophical and musical ethos for Phish’s modern era, the band merely scratched the surface of this song’s potential during fall tour; more intergalactic journeys coming soon. Interestingly, “Light” didn’t really fit into the Americana, blues-rock vibe of Joy, and it transformed into the most psychedelic piece off the album by far. “Number Line” took two notable jaunts last summer, but its significance completely disappeared once fall rolled around. The de facto theme song of 2009, “Number Line’s” 2010 destiny is unbound.

While Joy excited the community as Phish’s first album back from retirement, most of the songs provided little improvisational influence on 2009 Phish. Some of these event-less singles may prove to be more in 2010, but when the dust settled last year, Joy’s songs didn’t contain very sharp teeth. While providing solid musicianship and quality songwriting, the pieces often left improvisational gaps in Phish’s live show with similar, vanilla incarnations. Although we have yet to see the best these Joy’s songs have to offer, more rhythmically-angular and musically-open songs would be a welcome addition come summer tour.

It was Joy to reunite in 2009, but something tells me that the mystery of 2010, looming only a month away, will be far more riveting.


Jam of the Day:

Free” 6.30.99 II

From the opening night of Summer ’99, a “Free” the way they oughta’ be.




5.17.94 The Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA < Megaupload

5.17.94 The Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA < Torrent

The Arlington Theate

An under-circulated show from Spring ’94.

I: Suzy Greenberg, Maze, Mound, If I Could, Scent of a Mule, Ginseng Sullivan*, Dog Faced Boy*, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil

II: Runaway Jim, Glide, Tweezer** > Lifeboy, Uncle Pen, Big Ball Jam > Sample in a Jar, Hold Your Head Up > Love You > Hold Your Head Up, Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Highway to Hell

*Acoustic and without microphones

** w/ Earache My Eye jam (Cheech & Chong)

Source: AKG 461

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606 Responses to “The Path of Joy”

  1. El Duderino Says:

    I put that up there Palmer

    I thought it was funny.

  2. gratefulcub Says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, as I often am….but, isn’t JOY unique in the fact that all of the songs debuted on the album?

    To steal a quote from our good friend Mitch, by the time they played Piper in the studio for Farmhouse, they knew exactly what they were doing. The original musical density, “How do we take 16 minutes and put it into 5?”

    I could still see many of these songs growing into something else. I for one hope it is Ocelot, but that is only because I am still holding onto the hope that some of the funk returns, even though I know those days are over, never to be seen again.

  3. El Duderino Says:

    @ gcub

    I would be happy if they brought back the 15 minute Wolfman’s

  4. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    @ cub – BDT#L debuted at Hampton, and by TAB before that before the album was released (although i’m not sure when the recording sessions were). But I think your point is that the album was written for recording, essentially, as opposed to being written to be performed, and then later recorded.

  5. gratefulcub Says:

    I would too dude. Wolfman’s is a chameleon of a song. My buddy who isn’t really into Phish, loves Wolfman’s. It’s a nice little short blues rocker with catchy cute lyrics. Wait, it is a 30 minute psychadelic journey through Halloween. Or, is it a 15 minute groove with danceability?

  6. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    Thanks for adding to the spreadsheet LW.

    I’m not a Google Docs expert, so pardon the simplicity. I know that much more can be done with it, but at least it has been started.

  7. Rob S. Says:

    The only show/TTE I saw this year was Fenway – I personally like the Phish version, and was happy to see it performed live, and thought they played it well. Just putting another POV out there, since I hate to see it trashed.

    One other comment – I didn’t love Phish 3D. I didn’t make it into the costume, because 3D always gives me a headache – the songs before that point were weak, which surprised me since listening to the shows back in the fall I loved them… The novelty of moving around the stage (which was def. awesome) wore off – I would have liked to see a break from the ‘concert’. Didn’t help that there were only like 4 people in the theater – would have been cool to have some atmosphere.

  8. gratefulcub Says:

    Forgot Hampton was before the release. But yes, that is basically what I was getting at. Also, in the past, they would write a song, play it on stage, it would naturally evolve into something else, and THEN the studio version would be made. The timing this time around screwed up the natural evolution pattern of a Phish song. They were almost rushed into regular rotation at shows before they were ready.

  9. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    Wasn’t Round Room completely recorded before the songs debuted? Undermind might have been as well.

    I was out of the scene when those came out, so I’m not sure.

  10. gratefulcub Says:

    “Correct me if I am wrong, as I often am”

    That wasn’t a throwaway line 😉

  11. HarryHood Says:

    I was hoping all summer that Ocelot would blow up into something huge. I’m also a big fan of the funk.

  12. HarryHood Says:

    Not the funk that needs to be showered off though

  13. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    I’ve actually wanted to go back and compare the debut dates of all album songs to the release date of the album, so discover exactly which songs were subjected to the treatment you describe, GCub. Not hard to do, but tedious.

  14. lastwaltzer Says:

    I think this “jam” talk brings up a good question “what constitutes “blowing up”?”

    Too me length has nothing to do with it, its all about bringing something new to the tune.

  15. Mdawg Says:

    2010 will be Party Time

    lots of stuff off of the album still to be played! (If I Told You, Birdwatcher, Liquid Time, etc.)

  16. Mr.Palmer Says:

    WSP on CNN- house band this morning? Talking about BP spill FYI

  17. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Tenn flood actually

  18. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    @ LW – i can’t say for sure, but BOTT definitely “blew up” in Miami. And the ignition point was 5:00 to 5:30.

  19. rick Says:

    Liquid Time is the best thing Trey has ever written, I think

  20. lastwaltzer Says:

    @Marshall, it certainly did. I guess what I was just getting at was that a tune doesn’t need a long jam to constitute blowing up. In a way I’d say that Ocelot has blown up from its original arrangement, it just hasn’t had a 20 minute jam tacked onto it.

  21. lastwaltzer Says:

    @rick I’d liked it better when Dire Straits did it.

  22. Stupendous Says:

    Morning All

    I too look forward to more space and looseness on all improvisational
    spaces the boys decide to attempt

    The Piper on Farmhouse was a live cut, right?

  23. sumodie Says:

    If you still don’t know what Stones song the PH will perform on Thursday’s Jimmy Fallon show, then look here:

  24. Dbone Says:

    “blowing up” is a good question for debate. I can’t try to define it all right now – maybe miner could do a post on that one – but i will say there’s, to me, a difference between having a jam simply begin out of a composed tune and a mind blowing jam develop organically from a composed tune. The latter is more in line with “blowing up” for me. Light *first* blew up at the Gorge for example (and again at MSG and some times in between). The blow up has to involve the song being the catalyst that allows a new and unique jam to develop, not just some jam that they play which could come out of DWD, rockNRoll, drowned, or any number of other songs once they reach that point where everyone gets a little quieter and waits for the next musical idea to develop. this isn’t saying that when that happens it doesn’t produce some great grooves, but if we want to get technical about it, that’s my take.

  25. KWL Says:

    hmm… should I look at Sumodie’s link or be surprised on thursday night? decisions, decisions…

    what up BB?

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