As Fall Tour progressed, Phish’s improvisational confidence and polish increased and they infused creativity throughout their catalog. The band worked an intricacy into their playing, a complexity of communication emerged that pushed their music in original directions. Energetically diving into fresh takes on old songs, jams rarely became formulaic as Phish dialed in their musical assault of October. Looking back over the tour, many jams fit this billing, as the band forged more than a few novel excursions. Today, we look at two of these unique jams that illustrate the revitalized creativity of the quartet.
“Wolfman’s Brother” – 10.30 I Atlantic City, NJ
Phish magnified “Wolfman’s” throughout the fall, pushing the dynamic funk platform into jazzier conversations. While modern-era “Wolfman’s” had proved consistent from the get-go, rarely did they transcend the song’s syrupy, methodical rhythms. This fall, however, Phish began to improvise more earnestly with their once-cosmic launchpad. Sculpting diverging jams with varying rhythmic palettes in Utica and Amherst, “Wolfman’s” was – all of a sudden – more than eight minutes of predictable grooves. No version exemplified this more than the song’s final jaunt of fall during the first set of October 30 in Atlantic City.
On this night, Phish began to vocally improvise directly out of the song’s lyrics, blending their “collaborative scatting” with their instrumental patterns. Working their voices into the music as another layer of improvisation, the band cooperatively bounced the jam’s direction off their vocal layer and vice versa, in a total merging of ideas. When they finally dropped their voices out, they were left in a percussive labyrinth. All four band members offered short phrases in unison, twisting ideas into a four-way musical braid without any straight-forward grooving. Their improvisational style grew much more akin to jazz than a typical “Wolfman’s” as Fishman’s ever-changing beats and alternating downbeats stirred a complex rhythmic cauldron. Mike, in turn, played unique bass lines that stopped and started in concert with Fishman’s unconventional work. Trey threw in short, staccato lines that grew into angular leads without ever dominating the jam. Adding harder-edged effects amidst this bubbling mixture, he blended within the foursome instead of ever stepping out front. Page killed his clavinet in this piece, playing the keyboard with varying techniques throughout the entire jam, lending a crunchiness to the music. These elements combined to form a different type of “Wolfman’s” altogether – not groove-based at all, while still fully immersed in rhythmic conversation. In a piece drenched in originality, Phish went with the moment and came out on top. And to top off this stellar excursion, Trey got completely impatient and butchered a segue into “Undermind.”
“Tweezer” – 10.23 I Amherst, MA
Phish took the spotlight off “Tweezer” this fall, dropping two first-setters in four total versions without taking any particularly deep (including one laced with a Zeppelin medley). A jam that once provided the supreme springboard into the universe has largely become a vehicle of groove since the band returned. But when Phish dropped another first-set version in Amherst, a differing experiment developed. Trey and Fishman kick-started this version with slick rhythmic interplay that engaged the band in unique grooving early on. But instead of taking this “Tweezer” on a consistently upwards path, Phish ceased the groove in favor of an ambient bridge into a different jam.
As Phish descended into this second sonic pool, they didn’t play within the grooves, but rather danced around them with a series of minimalist offerings. The band hinted at all-out dance patterns without ever dropping into the pocket, creating a differing musical dynamic. Trey gently wove a sublime melodic layer atop this unique musical plane, as Mike offered subtle rejoinders. The band responded with a melodic, smoother-than-usual feel as they eased their way towards more conventional “Tweezer” territory. But even as Phish re-merged with the song’s theme and moved into a peak section, Mike and Fish continued their complex cooperation, stopping and starting all the way to the the top of the jam. Trey openly growled his thoughts within this final section, sticking right with the band in the climax of this unique version. After the band reached the mountaintop, they employed the old-school “wind-down” ending for the second time of the tour, leaving the fresh piece as a stand-alone gem.
Jam of the Day:
“You Enjoy Myself” 10.16.10 II
This nasty whole-band jam punctuated Charleston’s stellar finale that sparked Fall Tour in earnest.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: