Selection: “Chalk Dust Torture>Light>Tweezer”
Phish in 2014, to my ears, had two discrete sections. The first section — the first half of Summer Tour — had a style and intent much different from what came later. This was a continuation of the style that began in 2012, blossomed during Summer 2013, and peaked in Fall 2013, through the MSG holiday run and the first half of Summer 2014. This period was notable for the cohesive, extended jamming that was too often absent in Phish’s first few years back together.
By the time the third night of the NYC Randall’s Island rolled around, there had already been a number of these remarkable jams played in the first week of the tour. To list a few: The Mansfield “Harry Hood”, The SPAC “Fuego”, The Mann Center “Fuego”, Randall’s Island “Down With Disease”, “Ghost”, and “Harry Hood”.
With intense rain and storms supposedly on their way over to New York City, we received word from the Phish camp early in the day that the show would start at 7pm sharp. This wasn’t particularly bad news — with Phish firing on all cylinders and two impressive shows on this stage behind them, everyone was eager to get back on the ferry to Randall’s Island for round 3.
Phish, of course, came on stage closer to 7:30pm, and played through a well-constructed set that included “Sand”, a beautiful “Reba”, “Split Open and Melt”, and “Water In the Sky”. The rain never came.
The Tahoe “Tweezer” gets most of the attention when we discuss best jams of the modern era of Phish, and deservedly so. I put the Randall’s “Chalkdust” on the same level and, truthfully, I prefer it. There are countless jams with bigger peaks and Trey shredding through long, epic leads. But there are very few Phish jams, in any era, that match the full band interplay and movement through distinct themes heard in this “Chalkdust”. I believe this is one of the very best jams in recent years and place it among the all time great Phish jams.
Trey was clearly confident, playing bluesy fills during the composed section of the song. After a couple minutes of the standard “Chalkdust” jam, they seamlessly shift in a blissful major key jam with Trey and Page trading leads. After a quick minor bluesy section, Trey switches back to some major rhythm chords and Fishman comes in with a calypso-esque groove. This is my favorite section. The band plays with patience, as Trey alternates between choppy rhythm and light, beautiful melody. Trey comes in with a chord progression reminiscent of the ending to to the Mike’s jam, and they take off in a new direction.
The next few minutes alternate between major and minor chords, with strong rhythmic interplay between all 4 members throughout. Dark and dissonant at times, and other moments of thick funk. Page plays some particularly impressive clavinet grooves throughout.
Around the 20 minute mark, they veer off into spacey territory with Trey adding some echoes over top. Mike, Page, and Fishman settle into a pulsing groove while Trey fills in space with some nice effects. Mike drops a synth drone, and they float off into a serene ambience. Trey plays quiet major arpeggios over Mike’s drone, which creates a sound similar to some parts of IT’s Tower Jam. Trey comes back in with a major progression, and the jam fades to a natural conclusion.
Fishman is the MVP of this jam. He never stops grooving the entire time, but switches up the rhythm and defines the jam. If there is any valid criticism of this jam, its that there is no huge peak. But that’s where “Light” and “Tweezer” come in.
That this “Light” and “Tweezer”, incredible in their own right, were played immediately after this epic “Chalkdust” just goes to show what kind of night this was for Phish. The “Light” jam begins in typical fashion, with soaring leads from Trey before moving into a more syncopated and dissonant section, still typical of “Light” jams. Around the 6:30 mark comes a very peaceful, quiet section, with a complete “St. Thomas” tease from Trey. He leads the band through a descending pattern, a Mind Left Body-ish jam, that Trey and Fishman lead to a high energy, celebratory climax.
“Tweezer” starts with it’s quintessential minor funk jam. Trey plays some low, distorted wah riffs while Fish, Page, and Mike hold down the groove. The band quickly shifts into a major key jam before switching back to a minor funk breakdown. By the 10 minute mark we are back in major key territory, slowly climbing to a relentless peak. This “Tweezer” peaks for nearly 3 minutes. Seriously. Trey’s beautiful trills and soaring leads more than make up for any lack of such in the preceding “Chalkdust”. This “Tweezer” ends with the old-school gradual slowdown on the main riff.
Phish switched gears after the Randall’s Island run, moving from longer exploratory jams to shorter, more precise jams and sets with more songs flowing together. The third night of this run is the type of show that Phish had been building towards for several years.
Jackson Richards lives a double life in NYC as a digital media analyst and as the drummer in The Schooley Mountain Band, an NYC-based rock/blues/psychedelic band.
He’s been hooked on Phish ever since his favorite camp counselor gave him a cassette of Red Rocks ’93.