Thinking Out Loud: The Flow of Ideas

10.29.13 Reading, PA (Andrea Nusinov)

After years of listening to Phish improvise, I wanted to document some patterns. While all band members—clearly—listen to everyone else in the band in a circular flow, I have found that each member has tendencies and patterns in the general flow of ideas onstage. Here’s what I have to posit about the general flow of ideas during a Phish jam:

Page to Trey:

The flow of ides from Page to Trey is perhaps the most easy to hear  live and on tape. Very often—and more than ever these days—Trey picks up on subtle melodies and lines that Page plays and turns them into prominent parts of his own line, and often the entire jam. One of the most significant and easy to hear examples of this pattern from ’13 is the Tahoe “Tweezer’s” “Woo” section. As the band headed into a change, Page blocked out a five chord melody on piano two times. Trey echoed that melody on his guitar, and—immediately—that subtle piano melody had transformed into the main vamp of the oncoming “Woo” section of the jam; the melody that you recognize as that part of the “Tweezer.” But in the mix of each and every jam, Trey picks up on what Page is doing, often mimicking parts of his phrases or his exact line as part of the developing exchange. Even a casual listen to recent jams—such as the wide open part of Dick’s ’13 “Sand’—will provide plenty of examples of this interplay.

Trey to Fish:

10.18.13 (Jake Silco)

Trey and Fish are, historically, the backbone of Phish, and it is their uncharacteristic dynamic that often makes Phish music sound unique. Very rarely in bands is the drummer keyed in on what the guitarist is doing, as they are most often concerned with the bass player. However in Phish, beyond forming a pocket with Mike, Fish gets many of his ideas by following Trey’s lead. Fish will actually echo guitar patterns on the drums, dropping his beats in a sing-songy way, in a very unique use of the drum kit. This directional flow of ideas from guitarist to drummer is a dynamic that most bands don’t have, and provides an extra layer of connection within the music. Fish is a rare breed, one who can be deep in the pocket, echo a rhythm lick from Trey, all while telling a joke about his favorite beer, but very often, a jam’s directionality comes from Fish following Trey, and consequently Trey being pushed even further.

Trey to Mike:

Beyond being locked with The Greasy Troll at all times and offering his eclectic Gordeaux bass lines, Mike is often very focused on Trey’s playing. Mike is known to echo Trey, though he more often plays counter-melodies and fills around Trey’s playing. The close connection between Trey and Mike is also not the most common in bands, where guitar and piano generally take care of the top while bass and drums provide the bottom. But the way Mike incorporates Trey’s ideas into his own offerings instantaneously, makes the most hooked up jams pop with a whole ‘nother level of adhesive. And when Trey’s ideas are woven into Mike’s unique bass lines their effect is not just connection, but enhancement.

10.31.13 (J.Silco)

Mike to Page ?:

This would complete the pattern as I would like, but I’m not sure that I can back it up like the others. Page most often converses with Trey, often exchanging ideas like a game of ping pong, but does Page get ideas right from Mike? Hmmm. Page often blocks out chords to fill out the empty spaces in Trey’s grooves, giving his offering some relationship to Mike’s bass lines. By helping define the patterns of grooves, Page is most definitely sculpting in collaboration with Mike, but I’m not sure Page is responding directly to Mike’s notes regularly enough for me to complete this neat and tidy pattern. Do you guys notice a flow of ideas from Mike to Page? Other than Trey, who do you guys hear Page getting ideas from?



Jam of the Day:

Twist” 10.18 II, Hampton, VA

One of very few unposted jams from fall tour. This one showed us that this tour was gonna be different. Trey continuously hits a signature lick from “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” in the depth of this one.

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