We’ve officially have entered the final countdown, sitting less than ten days away from Chicago’s summer tour opener. As the pages of the calendar pass into June, the wait is almost over. We are about to experience new Phish again; 2009 is but a memory and 2010 has arrived. And as we step into summer tour, while there is a completely different feeling surrounding the band’s musical potential than last year, some of the same questions remain.
Entering Fenway and Jones Beach at the beginning of last summer, everything was still a question mark. The Hampton shows had been promising, but nobody really knew what to expect as Phish embarked on their first tour in five years. The release of Joy, the album, had been indefinitely pushed back, so we never got a glimpse of the band’s new material beyond Hampton’s “Number Line” and the official “single” for “Time Turns Elastic.” We just didn’t know where Phish was heading, and, ironically, we now enter Summer 2010 with the exact same question.
2009 provided a solid foundation for everything that is to come, but throughout most of the year, Phish didn’t push new musical boundaries while regaining their comfort on stage. Even the best jams of the year didn’t present a clear new direction for Phish music, something that will hopefully emerge this summer. This trend, however, began to change during the final four nights of the year. Phish came out in Miami with a renewed ferocity and purpose behind their music, sculpting a handful of the year’s most efficient and forward-looking jams in “Piper,” “Ghost,” “Tweezer,” and “Back on the Train.” All of these pieces were characterized by dynamic creativity amidst an urgency that pushed the music along with nary a wasted note, fully realizing a shift that began towards the end of fall tour.
But now, as the community prepares to descend on Chicago a little over a week, Phish has no album to promote, and, allegedly, plenty of new material – a combination that would seem to push the band’s creative process. With their communication honed, and their jitters gone, this tour promises to bring a hell of a lot of excitement.
When pondering where the music may move to, I think back to two “Disease” jams from last fall – Cobo and Philly. In each of these excursions, Phish attained periods of layered, lead-less jamming, a potential glimpse into a more mature style. When the band began with this unique “Disease” in Detroit’s tour opener last fall, I figured it might be a foreshadowing of things to come. But experimentation never became the focus of the fall and Miami’s standout playing didn’t follow this pattern either, leaving us to wonder just where the band’s musical magnifying lens will next fall.
Perhaps we can find clues in the many explorations of “Light” from last fall, as the band introduced a new genre-defying jam. An open-ended piece, whose greatest days lie ahead, brought some of the newest-sounding music of last year in many differing versions. Each year from 1993 forward featured distinct shifts in the band’s style of improvisation, and if Phish pressed the reset button last year, new musical excursions should emerge within weeks. Stay tuned to see what happens.
Jam of the Day:
The Cobo “Disease” referenced in the article above.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.30.92 Barrymore Theatre, Madison, WI < Torrent
4.30.92 Barrymore Theatre, Madison, WI < Megaupload
The end of a phenomenal month of Phish music.
I: The Curtain > Split Open and Melt, Fee, Maze, Reba, Uncle Pen, Stash, Rift, Esther, Run Like an Antelope
II: Glide, Tweezer*, The Squirming Coil, My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own, You Enjoy Myself, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Chalk Dust Torture, Cold as Ice > Cracklin’ Rosie > Cold as Ice, Harry Hood, Tweezer Reprise
E: Carolina, Cavern
* w/ Col. Bruce Hampton on Trombone; Aquarium Rescue Unit opened