First off, thanks to Memo for the opportunity to write this entry.
In all seriousness though, how am I supposed to write a blog entry about a Phish jam from last year while still basking in the post-coitus-like-glow of the Fare Thee Well (Santa Clara) concerts? Was the rainbow fake? Did Trey do too little or too much? Would Jerry have approved? Cool stage setup, amiright?
Ultimately it’s not my place to write those blogs. Instead, I’m supposed to write about a jam from SPAC, so here’goes.
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen hundreds of acts in concert, in venues all across the country, but SPAC is still like a home venue to me. I grew up in Upstate New York and went to college in Albany, so for a good chunk of the aughts, without fail, I’d get up to SPAC once a Summer for something. My first show there was Trey band in ’01, and my most recent was Saratoga Jazz Fest a couple of years ago. It’s a special shed to me, a lot of my friends, and to post-breakup Phish: they’ve played 12 shows there since 2009.
While I wasn’t in attendance for this run, there’s one jam from the 4th of July set in 2014 that struck my fancy, and I think captures the band in the midst of a transitionary period. “Fuego” opening up the second set, had only been played 3 times prior to this version: the first was its debut as part of Wingsuit during Halloween 2013; second was the bold position as first song of 2014 at the MSG New Years run (following Auld Lang Syne); and then its 3rd performance was at the 2014 Summer Tour opener in Mansfield.
“Fuego” was received with acclaim from fans beginning with its first performance. The song itself reminds us of the best of their technically proficient, through-composed works, and has two sections built in for the improvisatory fire we demand of Phish. The first jam section is a guitar solo in double-time, smack dab in the middle of the composed song (in this version, 2:22-3:57). The second jam section is extended and open ended, beginning at the end of the last refrain (6:09). For this post, I’m going to focus in on this section.
The jam section starts with Trey taking the lead. He repeats the “Fuego” motif around 6:40, and then again at 6:55-7:14, the second time around in harmony with Page. The jam steers back into a Trey-led improvisation, with Mike and Page filling in the gaps in Trey’s noodling. Overall this jam is slower, with a relaxed pace, foreshadowing an ambient direction that will follow.
Around 8:25, Trey starts switching on pedals. The octave harmonizer and chorus effect is particularly noticeable at 9:00, and then throughout most of the rest of the jam, Trey uses delays and loops to fill in space and provide a bed for everything else to lie on top of. The wah pedal makes this especially psychedelic.
We see the first shift in the groove occur at 9:15 when Mike hits a pedal point (that’s a music theory term where you sit on one fundamental / bass note while harmonies are voiced on top of it and independently of it…). A little meandering follows. At 9:40 Mike’s sound gets wetter, funkier, octave harmonies, and shortly thereafter Page switches to keyboard (still scattering in a tasteful piano lick here and there). During this group improvisation, Trey settles into more of a rhythm guitar role, rather than leadership role.
At 10:50, Trey teases an ascending line. They don’t dwell on it then, instead choosing to let things get more sparse, but this ascending line will come back in a few minutes as a main motif.
Fishman keeps the pace going, never speeding up, or slowing down. Dynamically, we’ve already been through loud and soft, but now even as we’ve gotten into the spacier part of the jam, he hasn’t let up the time. This forward momentum is the underlying foundation and energy that causes the jam to evolve. At 13:00 he’s just on his toms, still keeping up the pace.
At 13:40, Trey re-introduces the ascending steps motif, but this time for realz, and it leads into a full on ascending steps jam. By 15:30, you might be forgiven for thinking that they might segue into “What’s The Use?”. By 17:00 it’s even more like “What’s The Use?”. Maybe it’s a bliss jam? Maybe it’s a relaxed bliss jam?
During this jam, Trey isn’t a machine gun, rather his soloing is stripped down to just a couple of intervals / trills… major seconds, minor and major thirds. Then on to ascending chords. It’s very bare and basic, the guitarist using the least amount of energy for the maximum result.
using the most amount of energy for the least result:
At 18:10 Trey power chords through the motif, Mike quickly abandons it, we get a resolution at 18:20, and by 18:30 the ascending steps motif is no more. The next minute or so is an ambient cool-down as Mike leads us into “DWD”.
This jam shows us a band in transition, taking out one of their newest jam vehicles for a test spin. The pace is relaxed, and the jam really focuses in on one idea for an extended period of time, playing with it more dynamically and rhythmically. Tension and release are the pleasure points here, not maniacal shredding of parts.
One might argue that this isn’t the best version of “Fuego” from the Summer tour, and they’d be right, and that’s kind of the point. However, this version paves the way for ones to follow. What’s most special about it to me though is that we get to see the band interacting and exploring with each other on new material in a way that we once saw with earlier Phish, and in this version we see some early returns on the joy that is sure to follow.
this is what all future Fuegos will feel like:
(LawnMemo editor note…This is Nick’s Gif, not mine. Please send all hate/love tweets to his twitter)