If “Backwards Down the Number Line” represented the joy and exaltation of Phish’s return this summer, “Light” has now become the band’s philosophical statement and their most significant new jam vehicle. Emerging as a central piece of Phish’s musical evolution this fall,”Light” not only pushed the limits of the band’s improv, but carries strong lyrical meaning as well. Rife in Buddhist allusion, Trey speaks of separating from one’s thoughts, the divine within us all, and embracing the shining possibilities of the moment.
I see the future is less and less there / and the past has vanished in the air. / I’m left in the now with a wondrous glow / I think I’m still me, but how would you know?
These lyrics, while describing Trey’s personal journey, could be read as a metaphor for Phish coming to grips with their new musical persona. Firmly planted in the moment, the band seems less concerned with the future than ever, and have consciously distanced themselves from a troubled past. But this process has led to a bit of a musical identity crisis; although they feel great playing, and that is certainly most important, just where they are headed remains undefined. But each time Phish takes the stage, their happiness and their inner light fuels the power of the moment. In a vocal round likening a group affirmation, the band sings:
And the light is burning brighter now (Obstacles are stepping stones) / And the light is burning brighter now (That guide us to our goal) / And the light is burning brighter now (fences are filters) / And the light is burning brighter now (That purify our souls)
As the versions of “Light” built throughout this fall, its musical platform began to infuse a new sound into the band’s improv. Beginning in Cincinnati, the band segued into “Light” from “Tweezer’s” gnarling fifteen-minute excursion in groove. Combining their classic vehicle with their newest launchpad (a segue the band has favored since its Fenway debut) Phish upped the ante with the first indoor version of “Light.” Cranking the intensity level to eleven, the band elevated the intensity and potential for the song during it’s first fall outing. With a small dose of cathartic exploration, the band began to hint at new direction – then promptly segued out of the song.
Skipping the next few shows, “Light” emerged in the bizarre position of first set-closer on Albany’s first night. The song’s first and only stand-alone version seemed oddly placed, but the version certainly built upon Cincy’s succinct outing. Morphing into a deep-space ambient excursion for nearly three minutes, Fishman began a drone beat that would have pushed the band into a truly engaging plane. But as soon as he kicked in with this rhythm, Trey called for setbreak. While not an incredibly compelling version, Albany’s jaunt illustrated Phish’s willingness to take the song to far out places, following their summer statements at Bonnaroo and The Gorge.
But the final three versions of tour, all played in relative proximity, unearthed some of the deepest jams of the fall. Broken out in the second set of Portland as the only exploratory piece in the frame, the band took a bold step outwards with this run-through. In the first far-reaching version of the tour, Phish got into some full, albeit brief, type-II playing that moved from the uplifting into hard groove, landing in a pool of amorphous jamming. This exploration seemed to re-awaken Phish to “Light’s’” interstellar abilities, and they obviously liked what they heard, featuring the song in two of their final four shows. These subsequent versions at MSG and Charlottesville would build upon Cumberland County’s centerpiece, leaving us with two of the most compelling musical segments of tour.
Phish showcased “Light” in their very next show as the unquestionable jam of the night, using the piece to kick off a three-day New York affair. Once again, crafting a magnificent highlight, this jam suggested a new improvisational direction. Combining ferocious playing with an experimental milieu, the entire band pushed each other into the most significant jam played over The Garden’s three nights. Transcending the song’s emotional build quickly, Phish turned to hard-nose textures, entering creative, type-II territory for the duration. Led by abstract bass offerings, Trey played quicker rhythm licks over a poly-rhythmic beat and Page’s piano leads, turning this into an original piece of art. Changing to more melodic offerings, Trey brought a spiritual element to a jam, which at this point, has gathered a momentum and life of its own; one of those living, breathing musical organisms. Entering into a driving, yet abstract, exploration, Phish organically immersed themselves in IT. Adding some snarling licks and themes to the mix, Trey led the band into a new-sounding piece of music that continued to grow. Fishman and Mike locked into a intricate rhythm that provided a complex backdrop, allowing Page and Trey to actively create an engaging, interwoven top half. The most successful and exploratory jam of tour besides Albany’s “Seven Below > Ghost,” this version of “Light” arguably highlights the song’s young life.
The final fall rendition of the song came in the tour’s final show, and the third-ever combination of “Tweezer > Light.” This time, Phish blended their swampy dance odyssey, rather abruptly, with their newest standout, as Trey’s eagerness to get into “Light” took over. But when they got there, another ethereal journey materialized, this time moving into some of the most psychedelic textures we have heard in this era. Without a morsel of hesitation, the band soared into one of the song’s most creative outings. Evolving into an eerie spacescape painted with groove and melody, they passed through a segment that strongly suggested “Dave’s Energy Guide.” Between New York’s excursion and Charlottesville’s abstract mind-fuck, the band left no doubt that about their current experimental focus lies in “Light.”
As Phish winds down their comeback year and will continue to forge a path into an unknown future, one can surmise that their music will evolve into places we haven’t yet imagined. Using 2009 to set a foundation for what lies ahead, the band has given us recent glimpses into new improvisational realms through the lens of their newest jam vehicle. If the playing that has characterized “Light” throughout the fall is any indication of future endeavors, this song holds many a musical pilgrimage in store.
Jams of the Day:
Fall’s two peak versions of “Light” came in powerful improvisational combos.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
12.5.09 John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA < Megaupload
I: AC/DC Bag, Chalkdust Torture, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, Old Home Place, Cavern, Funky Bitch, David Bowie, The Wedge, Bold as Love
II: Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free, Sweet Virginia, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, Run Like An Antelope
E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise
Source: (FOB) Neumann ak43’s (nos) > lc3 > km100 > V3 > 722 > @24/48