As Phish slayed everything in their path during Super Ball weekend, one of the most encouraging qualities to their playing was the diversity of musical directions that their jams encompassed. Proving to be masters of many domains, the band annihilated a variety of musical textures with abandon, illustrating their teeming creativity of the moment. Regardless of what musical style Phish navigated, the common denominator was overwhelming success. The band never got lost amidst their jams and always carried a strong sense of cohesion and intent behind their interplay. Bursting with creativity and confidence like never before in this era, Phish took a huge step forward with their playing at Super Ball. Drenched in diverse jamming, Phish’s ninth festival showcased the band’s full spectrum of improvisational territory over the course of three days.
One of Phish’s styles highlighted at Super Ball (and touched on yesterday) was the abstract psych-scapes that began to appear during leg one. These explorations blurred the line between hearing and feeling music, as they often contained surreal harmonies and possessed a hypnotic effect on the listener. Magnified during the masterful, hour-long “Storage Jam,” this style was also featured with overwhelming success in “Crosseyed,” “Simple,” “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” and “Waves.” In each case, this direction added depth to the show and brought listeners further into the musical unknown while displaying the band’s most recent proclivity.
A second form of psychedelic interplay came in the band’s more intricate and exploratory jamming showcased in “Golden Age” and “Light” and “Disease.” While each of these jams featured variant textures, they shared the commonality of pushing musical boundaries. Coupled with the band’s ambient explorations, these diverse creations graced the festival with genuine unpredictability and adventure. “Golden Age,” perhaps the most innovative jam of the weekend, migrated from rhythm grooves to an alternate plane where Trey and Page collaborated up top in “plinko” fashion while Mike steered the jam from underneath using eclectic bass-lines with punctuated and purposeful notes—all held together by Fishman’s inhuman beats. Along the lines of some experiments from June (such as Merriweather’s “Rock and Roll”) this time, Phish completely nailed the complex puzzle with accuracy and precision bringing the piece to unfathomable depths of percussive interplay.
A similar dynamic emerged in the later stages of “Down With Disease,” as Mike commanded the direction of the jam while Trey picked staccato notes and Page responded to him with short clav patterns. Fishman even followed Trey and Page in this jam, leaving Mike as the sole commander of the low end as he providing a dark and abstract feel to the music. “Light” provided another plunge into psychedelic waters with its most significant version of the summer. As Trey left his guitar solo behind, the band settled into a more collective plane in which musical ideas were passed around like hot potatoes. All band members tuned into each others’ offerings and echoed, comped, or responded to each other with delicate interplay. As the band settled even further, Trey and Mike began to work off each other in a patient exchange, slowly bringing Page and Fish into a picking pattern that soon took a turn for the groovy. Each time the band dove into the void over the weekend, they came out with spectacular jams—an exhilarating aspect of Super Ball.
A Phish festival wouldn’t be a Phish festival if it didn’t contain larger-than-life dance grooves, and this past weekend had rhythms aplenty. The massive, open-air versions of “Sand” and “Tweezer” highlighted this crack-like facet of Phish’s game. While “Sand” magnified the band’s laid-back and swanky interplay under the festival’s blaring speaker towers, “Tweezer” merged Trey’s uncompressed, post-hiatus growl with Phish’s ‘97’s stop/start funk style in a mechanical and tar-thick highlight of the weekend. And as these patterns slowed with the colossal festival sound system, space opened up within the music for precise rhythmic exchanges—most often centered around Mike’s thumping bass lines. In addition to these two danceadelic monstrosities, the band also fired off passionate festival-sized groove sessions in “Moma Dance,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Destiny Unbound,” “Reba,” “Ghost > Jibboo.”
How about structured jamming? When Phish wasn’t experimenting or throwing down ferocious rhythms, they were juicing their songs for all they were worth. Infusing extra improvisational zest into pieces like “Wilson,” “Antelope,” “David Bowie,” Bathtub Gin,” “Party Time,” “Stash,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” “McGrupp,” and “Harry Hood,” most anything the band touched turned to gold at Watkins Glen. With communication honed over a month of playing in June, the band hit the central New York racetrack as a well-oiled machine, willing to let it loose and allow their instincts take over.
Even spicing up their festival setlists with rarities, Phish offered something for every fan. “Peaches,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Life on Mars?” and a shredding “Quinn the Eskimo” came out on day one, while Mike’s “Suskind Hotel” and The Rolling Stone’s “Monkey Man” debuted on day two, a show that also included “McGrupp” and the return of the original “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” The festival finale gave way to the first “Colonel Forbin’s” narration of the modern era (a story about how the entire weekend was a projected reality) into “Famous Mockingbird,” “Destiny Unbound,” “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars,” “Time Loves a Hero,” and the second-ever “No Quarter;” quite the weekend of song selection to say the least!
Thinking back to 2009, when Phish’s jamming stagnated with a formula of high-powered rock and roll that morphed into percussive grooves, only to end with an ambient fade outs, it’s amazing how far the band has come in two years. In 2011—as proven with Super Ball’s musical smorgasbord—the real Phish is back and blazing a new path into the future. With creativity paramount again, the guys showed us why they are still the greatest band to roam the earth.
Jam of the Day:
“A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” 7.3.11 I
One of Super Ball’s most impressive excursions came in the welcome return of this elusive and menacing post-hiatus piece.