As the first leg of Summer 2010 approaches its halfway point tonight with Phish’s ninth show out of eighteen, it seems like a good time to glance over our shoulder at the highlights from the first two weeks of tour. In garnering a full head of steam over the past fortnight, Phish has begun to forge a new sound, debuted a handful of potential jam vehicles, and left more than a few improvisational highlights along the way. Still shying from exploratory playing, the band has delved into a series of pieces that are steps in that direction. With bold musical confidence, Phish shows, once again, carry the intensity that came to define the band in the first place.
The hottest discussion in the community these days has centered around Trey’s refined use of the whammy bar of 2010, better known on internet message boards as “the whale.” As Trey hones his use of this tone, he has forged one of the building blocks of the band’s summer sound. Offering understated, bending notes rather than linear lead lines at the onset of jams, Trey has allowed Mike to lay down the foundation for improv. Dictating the course of jams more than ever, Mike’s dynamic playing has been front and center since Chicago’s opening night. Often leaving “the whale” by the second half of jams, Trey has had no shortage of dizzying peaks and six-string slaughterings. With more precision than we’ve seen from Trey in years, he and Mike have been leading the band as a two-headed monster. Though some may think Trey is overusing his new tone, just go back in history and look at each time he obsessively adopts a new tactic into his arsenal; as they say, practice makes perfect.
So far this tour, Phish has debuted “Show of Life,” “Idea,” “Summer of ’89,” and “Halfway to the Moon” – four new originals written by three different members. Trey, Mike and Page have all added legitimate jam vehicles to the band’s repertoire this summer. It will be interesting what kind of treatment “Idea” and “Halfway to the Moon” get the next time around, as both songs have the potential to grow into chunky pieces of new Phish music. The inspirational “Show of Life” has already begun to find a role as a second-set closer. What will happen with “Summer of ’89” is anyone’s guess; I don’t necessarily see it entering the rotation as a fixture, but stranger things have happened.
Within tour’s first two-weeks that featured mostly structured jamming, Phish has certainly played some memorable impovisational pieces that have pushed beyond their normal confines. Here are some of summer’s most impressive open jams ( in no particular order).
“Backwards Down the Number Line” – 6.12.10 II Cuyahoga Falls, OH
Easily the jam of the tour thus far, Phish connected on another level during this sinister spy mission, improvising as if scripted. Nothing has approached the unique music created within this second set surprise.
“Drowned”- 6.13.10 II Hershey, PA
Opening one of tour’s defining sets, this “Drowned” moved through a segment of more abstract psychedelia before landing in a snapping set of grooves.
“Ghost” – 6.11.10 II Chicago, IL
The centerpiece of opening night, “the whale” surfaced for an initial swim of summer before Trey turned the corner, wailing relentlessly as he emerged from the underworld into a face-melting peak.
“Tweezer” – 6.18.10 II Hartford, CT
Mike and Trey put on a clinic in groove as the band stretched their classic vehicle with mutiple sections of dance rhythms and a unique section based around one lick that Red featured the entire evening.
“Rock and Roll” 6.19.10 II SPAC
This second-set opener brought Phish outside the box, into a flowing bass-led section of blissful music.
“Disease > Sand” – 6.17.10 II Hartford, CT
The don’t make jams any more sizzling than this these days; one of Hartford’s indelible highlights.
“Light” – 6.11.10 II Chicago, IL
The opening jam of summer is still one of the best.
“Bathtub Gin” – 6.15.10 II Portsmouth, VA
An cathartic, guitar-led monster. Trey absolutely shreds this dancy jam to bits.