25 in 25 of 2016: #11 07/08/2016 Xfinity Center, Mansfield, MA
By Michael Hamad
I attended the Phish show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. on July 8, 2016 with Mike Lavoie, one of my oldest friends. Lavoie got me into my first Phish show, at the State Theatre in Ithaca, New York, another lifetime ago. He’s always fun to hang out with.
Anyway, I’m listening back to the “Ghost” > “Light” from Mansfield now, at my desk, on headphones. I remember digging it live. The PA cut out later in the second set, during “Wolfman’s Brother.” That was different. It made me aware of how big these events are, of the powerful amplification needed for everyone to hear everything.
I’ve heard both “Ghost” and “Light” a bunch; most readers have. “Ghost” is a rock jam in A minor, often with a move to D. “Light” always takes off in B major and goes somewhere else.
The first few minutes of this “Ghost” jam are interchangeable with other “Ghost” jams. That’s not a bad thing. It’s mid-tempo. People dance. They feel it out. Trey plays notes, Page and Mike play notes, Fish plays a beat. Anticipation builds.
Seven minutes in, Mike lands on E (V), hinting at an even darker turn, but it’s not meant to be: 15 seconds later, Trey flips the happy/major switch, trills and all — fine, just fine. At minute 11, Mike bombs us with his fat-pedal thing. We gobble it up.
(If you’re a music theory person, you’ll appreciate this: A (“Ghost”) > E (“Ghost” jam) > B (“Light”) is a sharp-side move along the circle of fifths. I always perceive that as ratcheting up the tension. In music analysis, you can convince yourself that things like that are meaningful.)
The mode switches from B major > minor at about 5:30 into the “Light” jam. (Actually, Page (major) and Trey (minor) disagree, briefly, at around 6:00.) Regardless, it’s time to stretch out; the mode-mixture thing (B major > minor) often precedes a jump to the relative major (here: D major, or III). But that doesn’t happen: Trey tosses in some disorienting whole-tone stuff, around 6:30, and then we’re climbing the peak.
The band spends minute eight trying to figure out where to go next. Trey’s stop-start riffing (along with Fishman’s love of hooking up) portends Woos. There’s a dip at 9:30 (I’m rounding). Mike feels like he has to do something: he hints at F# (10:30), and Trey takes the bait.
Subsequently, Woos happen.
(Theory pause: the move to F# in “Light” is a step even further along the sharp-side circle of fifths trajectory. To recap: A > E (“Ghost”) > B > F# (“Light”).)
There’s another dip at 11:30. Page switches to organ. Mike flips on the envelope filter. Fishman chops up the groove. Trey does the upper-octave whammy-pedal thing. From there to around 15:30 of the jam, we’re building to another peak, which never arrives: the final minutes are for weirdness.
What stands out? Cohesion, communication, patterns established over time, gestures we’ve heard, recombined, scrambled up and woven into in-the-moment sonic tapestries. E and F# are uncommon places for “Ghost” (A) and “Light” (B) to land, but that’s what happens.
File under: 2016 modulating second-set opener jams.
Michael Hamad is a staff writer for the Hartford Courant.