Part II: The Jams
Now that we have covered and overall feel of the first three days, Dave, let’s cover some of our favorite individual musical moments of the first three days. We can save Halloween for a separate breakdown…
Quite honestly, in the live setting I absolutely loved every moment of this run. I was floored after each and every show and I thought the four nights were the perfect ending to a truly incredible fall tour. But after listening back, I have definitely honed in on a three segments of music that I feel stand out—”Disease > Birds, ” “Piper > Scents,” and “Sand.”
The “Down With Disease,” in my opinion, was the jam of the weekend. Holy shit, was that a tour de force! If one were looking for an example of Phish being more than the sum of its parts, playing as a unified whole, this jam is an easy answer. One of the terms I used years ago that people always remember and say back to me is “bass led jihad.” I’m not sure what jam I was describing when I initially used that phrase, but I guarantee that its low-end work did not approach that of this “Disease.” Mike Gordon absolutely goes beserk in this piece with some of the best bass playing I’ve ever heard. Though the band is a one-minded monster throughout this passage, Mike is clearly at the forefront carving up the jam space with almighty prowess. Honestly, listening back to this “Disease” had my jaw on the floor in awe of Gordeaux’s rhythmic acrobatics. But what is so amazing is how the band locks into these patterns and meets him with incredibly innovative interplay. Fishman unleashes fierce breakbeats that combine with Mike’s bass lines in one of the most unique and advanced pockets of all-time. The rhythmic foundation for this jam is just bonkers. On a tour on which Trey switched up his rig a bit and focused on dialing in his tonal palette, this jam was his crowning achievement. His prolific spectrum of sound within this piece steers the vibe of the music from uplifting and beautiful to dark and dungeon-like. The way in which he manipulates his raw, hard-edged, dissonant tone in the latter half of this jam is the stuff of fantasy, creating a sonic assault that colors the music with a potent darkness. Aside from the notes he plays, which are quite something in their own right, the sound of his guitar is what makes his contributions to this jam so sublime. Meanwhile, Page juxtaposes relentless grand piano patterns into this maniacal alchemy, completing an absolutely surreal sonic puzzle. The thunderous peak of this jam left the building in shambles—truly a master work.
The band coupled their virtuoso exploration of “Disease” with their first wide-open “Birds of a Feather” jam in memory. And the sonic quality of this jam provided the yin to “Disease’s” yang. A jam that focuses on delicacy and nuanced interaction, “Birds” builds into a gorgeous, almost atmospheric plane in which Trey lays down some truly soul-caressing melodies. Fish remains cymbal heavy throughout much of this piece, lending a shimmering rhythmic palette to the improvisation, while Page’s prominent piano lines meet this vibe congruently. Trey once again has his wizard-like tone control on display, this time gravitating towards the more blissful and elegant end of the spectrum. The melodic theme he rolls out as the band collectively elevates the jam is staggering in its emotional beauty. At the end of this piece, the guys lock into some amazing group-wide hits that serve as the icing on the cake. In this “Birds,” Phish hooks into a piece of improv that fully compliments the darker exploration of “Disease.”
10/29 “Piper > Scents and Subtle Sounds”
Though the five song run that started the second set of the 29th provided a seemingly endless passage of standout jamming, the true gems emerged in the combination of “Piper > Scents.” The “Piper” in my opinion, comes in a close second to the “Disease” amongst the band’s prolific escapades of the weekend. In “Piper,” Phish often has a tendency to fall back on relatively stock “Piper-jamming,” but on this night, the entirety of the extended piece burst with original ideas and passed through several distinct themes with notable cohesion. The band is in full annihilation mode throughout this jam, beyond locked-in and reacting to each other as if controlled by a puppet master. Trey offers up well-conceived, on the spot melodic leads for much of the jam as if they were composed. Page alternates between his organ and Rhodes for the majority of “Piper’s” opening half, contributing varying textures and sounds to the wide open space. Mike and Fish create a bouncing, ever-shifting rhythmic backbone to this jam, and about half way through begin to subtly build into a groovier feel while still switching back into their more intricate, driving patterns. This alternating rhythmic quality creates a very cool tension to the music that defines the rest of of the jam until they fully commit to the groove and the piece absolutely explodes. Trey steps to the forefront at this point and unleashes a seething solo over this deep pocket and Page shifts to grand piano, complementing Trey with non-stop leads of his own. The resulting music feels as though it’s bursting at the seams with intensity as the entire arena—band and crowd together—hit a collective peak that was unmatched throughout the weekend.
Then, on a dime, the band drops into “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” Following the lyrical section, Phish wastes no time with any sort of convention, as Trey plays some minor chords amidst the floating textures and the band is off on another path of creation. Mike and Trey progressively move into darker territory as Page plays against this vibe with more typical grand piano lines. Trey gets into some truly masterful abstract playing—snaking dissonant leads that serve to color the entire piece with a menacing vibe. Mike moves into a hypnotic bass pattern beneath Trey’s leads as Page’s lines grow in intensity and vigor, coalescing with the jam’s tone. Fishman is riding the cymbals while like an octopus on the kit, unleashing subtle break beats beneath the surface of the music. Though this jam doesn’t proceed for an incredible duration, the music within is both dense and cerebral. Phish’s momentum built within “Piper” spills right into “Scents,” resulting is another standout combination of full-band improvisation.
Much like “Piper,” “Sand” is a jam that has the propensity to stagnate without the band’s proper attention. In Charleston and Nashville, however, Phish had dropped two particularly active and engaging versions, thus when they unveiled the groove monster in Halloween’s final set, it seemed bound to pop off. And, boy, did it ever! This version fully transcended the typical “Sand” jam and elevated into the cathartic peak of the evening. As the band sets sail into the jam, Trey kicks into unconventional offerings with diverse tones, invigorating the piece with a fresh energy that would only grow throughout the its course. The rest of the band was fully synched in a groove so tight that it felt like it could have been electronically programmed. Mike’s lines began to diversify more and more as time passed and before long the band had left the jam’s usual feel into far more elevated music. Trey pours his heart into a stunning, patient solo composed of long, sustained notes that pulled on the heartstrings of every listener in the building. This jam, once again, finds Page on grand piano meeting Mike and Trey with offerings that had no connection to “Sand’s” foundation. Yet all the while, Fish maintained a crushing groove that anchored the experiment in “Sand’s” rhythmic structure. The combination of all of these facets transformed a usually one-dimensional jam into one of the standout highlights of the weekend and the improvisational apex of Halloween.
All I can do is nod my head in agreement. All three of the jams you talked about are serious business. Your description of “Down With Disease” is so dead on. That sucker is one of the most interesting jams I can remember. I am in total awe of Gordon’s work on that behemoth and I am very happy you put words to it. My head would have exploded had I tried to tackle that. Only thing I got on that “DWD” is what I tweeted immediately after, “Feel like I hit at craps, blew lines of a strippers ass, rented all my friends a limo, the bills won, and I just took a shower after that DWD.”
10/28 “Golden Age”
Dave has thrown me the lob and I am going to my best to dunk home the recap of what is my opinion an all-time jam in “Golden Age.” I have about a 25 minute commute to work and Vegas “Golden Age” has been on my car stereo on repeat for two weeks. I can’t friggin stop. When “Golden Age” dropped live I was questioning whether I was a host on Westworld or just simply the luckiest human being alive. It was one of those jams where time stops, and the entire audience forgets the rest of humanity outside of the arena even exists. Since the weekend, I’ve hit play countless times and sat back in admiration of a jam that covers more ground than a tarp on the floor at Dick’s. Oh, did I mention it has two peaks the size of Everest or Dolly Parton depending on your choice of analogy?
Following the composed section, “Golden Age” springs into it’s usual blissful space and then transitions to an excellent funky celestial soundscape. Mike Gordon is the boss here and then the 10:02 mark downshifts this “Golden Age” Cadillac jam. The smoothness of this first shift is mind boggling. Mike moves his tone into a some crazy EDM, techno, African dance sounding thing. I remember this tone distinctly showing up in the SPAC “Moma Dance” from this summer and launching that jam into the next level. It does the same here. I am left in a full arms-swinging, body-grooving, and an eventually back-aching-days-later trance.
Following the EDM Mike section Trey finds himself and begins lifting my soul into the heavens with every carefully selected note. This is 2016 Trey at his best. He doesn’t machine gun my memory to bits but instead each melody is one that I remember long after the jam has finished, humming continuously in my head to make my day better. Sublime stuff. As with most of my favorite jams, Page is securely on the grand piano during this exquisite section. Then…THE MOVE
At the 15:27 Trey delivers an absolute fucking screamer. The heavenly landscape we painted just a couple minutes ago is about to give way to unreal fiery full band throwdown.
I would describe many of my favorite Phish moments as full band exploration, with deep, dark movements. Well screw that. I cannot hide my love for the these two peaks. By the time this sucker ends I am an emotional crying mess. It takes over my soul, lifts me up, and reminds me of the beauty of Phish.
The patience of Phish, and of course Trey, is on full display here. Much like Ron Jeremy this peak is overwhelming with its length and grand scope. I beg you to listen and to single out each member during the last 10 minutes and try and focus on what they bring to this jam. Every single member is straight killing it.
Trey reminds you whose band it is with the slightest of tonal changes at 17:13 and it results in the biggest moment of this peak. The slightly grittier tone shines produces a diamond of ecstasy. I can only scream out “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!” as them damn tears of love start to swell in my eyes.
Well that was amazing!!! All time jam for sure! Thanks for following along. Miner, you want to take it from here? Oh…Wait…
WE AINT DONE YET!!!!
Much like the Dick’s “Simple” the first jam is incredible, and then they just keep going…This produces one of my favorite feelings in all of Phish. That moment when they move into an entirely new direction and you know it’s officially on. The first movement of this second jam is straight funk. We catch a glimpse of America’s most funky jam band, and least funky funk band. And everyone loses their shit.
Trey decides on the super gritty 2.0 type tone and we are off on another adventure. This is one sexy groove! From the 21:03 mark to the end of this jam, if you want to know why Phish can do things that other bands can’t…listen to Jon Fishman. He takes this thing over and makes my head explode trying to figure out how the hell he is pulling this off. The variety of sounds he injects into this peak is not human, and somehow he still provides a concrete floor for the rest of the band to work.
Meanwhile over at the lead section, that guy Trey is at again. Somewhere in that brain of his he decides that he should try a jazzy, bluesy peaking lead over top of his 2.0 tone. This produces one of the most creative peaks I can remember. I am pretending I am in a kick line while reaching up to the heavens for more.
At the 23:50 mark Trey goes next level, producing stuff I have never heard from him. It sounds like he was abducted by Eric Clapton yet it still feels like Trey. This is a culmination of all Trey’s blues and jazz influenced with the raw power of rock and roll. The crowd eats up every second of it and insane roar comes over the crowd at 24:10 and the swinging good time only ramps up. From there it’s just pure insanity. I stand up and cheer and gush over my life long man crush on Trey Anastasio. An incredible segue into “Simple” provides ZERO rest. Unreal.
The good jams transport me back upon re-listen. Vegas’ “Golden Age” seems to capture everything I felt during the magical four night run. It’s like I am still there, only not losing money.
Placed impeccably in middle of the incredible 29th second set, this “Tweezer” is not for that faint of heart. It reminds me quite a bit of the high octane Atlantic City version of of 2013. This “Tweezer” jam starts off pretty normal and experiments for a few before Mike Gordon makes this jam his own. Around the 5:45 mark things are beginning to take shape and the groove begins. At 6:23 Mike creates the lick the rest of the jam is based around. It’s big, powerful, and catchy as hell. Mike throws this sucker on repeat and we are in a full tribal dance party in seconds.
Coming from the light and fluffy blissful “Scents and Subtle Sounds” this “Tweezer” is everything but. This is a straight valium produced DJ-led club rave. The only beings that can handle this much groove are the zombies from the “Thriller” video. This is a Saturday night let it all hang out type of jam. This is a throw and invisible uppercut followed by a right cross kind of jam. This is an invent a new violent head banging while doing some weird ass hip thing dance kind of jam.
The jam literally sits down in this heart pounding groove for almost three minutes. Trey then goes gritty and angry. Mike is still crushing that same bass line in the meantime. It’s like in Mallrats when Jason Lee starts yelling “That kid is still on the escalator!” For all the chilling Trey did during that groove he is in full on attack mode by about the 8:45 mark. Fish drops a couple killer fills and we are officially next level. LETS GO!!!!! Both Dave and I love the Mike Tyson analogy for this “Tweezer.” Well by about the 9:05 mark it feels like somehow Tyson might transport back in time and knock Buster Douglas the fuck out. Page is hammering the hell out of the grand piano. I bet Yamaha didn’t test the C7 for that kind of impact before production. Chairman of the Blunt Force Trauma is more like it.
And MIKE IS STILL ON THAT BASS LINE!!! By about the 10 minute mark things are completely nuclear. Forget the old “hide the women and children” stuff, this is “hide the future grandchildren” stuff. On my best day at work I might give a solid B+ effort, the height of this “Tweezer” couldn’t be thrown down by many people half Phish’s age.
It’s over in a flash by the 11 minute mark and they fade into an outro that bridges to “I Always Wanted It This Way.” I need a nicotine patch after that and I don’t even smoke. There aren’t many jams that pack a larger six minute punch than that “Tweezer.” It’s placement couldn’t have been more perfect. Full band 100 percent ass kicking power. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2016 Vegas “Tweezer.”
Well you know Dave was letting me write about “2001.” Especially since this is the best version since either Darien ’11 or DCU ’12. With an important slot late in the last set of Fall Tour, this version delivers. One last chance to dance the night away. My favorite song to see live starts off pretty normal. The real magic happens after the first refrain and in the second jam.
Things are grooving along when Trey comes blasting out with a killer lick at the 3:43 mark. This a beauty and immediately draws cheers. Those cheers peter out as everyone finds their dancing moves. Is there anything better than watching Homer Simpson, the Three Amigos, and Blues Brothers in a full funk “2001” dance party throwdown in Vegas on Halloween? Trey is lighting up the mu-tron and Mike is dripping liquid melodies all over this bad boy. Page drops the most perfect raindrops down ever so subtly at 5:53. So, so good.
Trey responds to Page’s raindrops and changes his tone to something that makes me think of an elegant dance bird. A full on “Fame” vocal jam rides the coattails of this boogie. Whether that was planned or unplanned it was cool as hell. From the “Fame” jam things move into more of a spacey evil groove. Some killer “2001” space exploration from Trey at about the nine minute mark. Mike, of course, is full on blasting asteroids while all this exploration is going down. A standard peaking conclusion caps this excellent “2001.”
The tag I wrote for the Phish.net “2001” jam chart reads: “The longest 2001 since the MJ version, and best since Darien 2011. Trey leads out in the second jam and the MGM turns into a DMT paradise. Things get evil, spacey, and the band quotes “Fame” while Mike liquefies the crowd. Monster version fitting of the monster 2016 Vegas run.” That about sums it up perfectly.
Great stuff, Myke! I love your colorful and creative descriptions of the jams and, needless to say, your enthusiasm for these pieces jumps off the screen. That’s what it’s all about, brother! Though I chose not to write it up, I do want to mention the “Light” from the 28th. Following the monstrosity that was “Golden Age,” “Light” has somewhat fallen into the shadows of the Vegas run, but it is truly an awesome jam. In a clear theme of the weekend and the tour, Trey unleashes a host of different guitar tones within this version that drive the direction of the music with a purpose. The band doesn’t spend much time in conventional “Light” territory, and once they break form, they waste no time synching up in a series of dense soundscapes. Mike and Trey play symbiotically off each other, while Fish and Page remain locked into Trey’s offerings. In a true mind-melt, the band members remain completely linked in with each other’s ideas while continuing to push the jam forward with their own. The piece shifts into a more ambient wall of sound in its final stages. Another example of how tight the band had grown come this four-night finale, “Light” plunges some sonic depths that must be recognized.
Part III: Halloween Coming Soon…