Selection: “Crosseyed and Painless>Light->Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley>Crosseyed and Painless”
Memo’s “Other Jams” Memo: Great set 1 ending of “BOTT, Jibboo>Roggae>David Bowie”
From Andrew Hitz:
In my opinion, Phish is one of the greatest chamber ensembles, from any genre, to ever play music. Bold words for sure. But as with many of us, I have a couple hundred hours of favorite moments that could be submitted as evidence to back up this assertion.
If Phish had stayed retired in 2004 they would have gone down in history as one of the most successful, creative forces in American music history. Thank God they didn’t! The 3.0 era has provided us with some truly inspired moments to add as evidence for the lofty assertion above. Not inspired or great for 3.0…Just great, period. End of sentence. Some of that magic went down last August 19th in San Francisco, an evening that will still be talked about in Phish circles 20 years from now.
The second set opened with “Crosseyed and Painless” which has become more common than it used to be of late. Over the years, the band has tells, like a bad poker player, when a great jam may be on the horizon. The 1:36 mark is one of those very subtle tells. Fishman, right out of the gate, is very creatively, and subtly, messing with the vocals. There is a little extra pep in his step. Again, 3:57 has Fishman’s rap exploding to a mini-release long before the jam segment even starts. He follows this up with some very crisp, machine gun-like snare fills under the chorus and we are ready to roll.
I maintain that the greatest jams in Phish history are almost always driven by Fishman. When he is at his assertive, communicative, aggressive self, Trey is always right along for the ride. When those two are together, charging full steam ahead, we are all headed to that place. Fishman’s playing at the first peak (8:07) is him at his busy best.
The 8:50 mark would have been a very logical place for this jam to end and segue into another song. Instead, they stuck around to show us one of the traits that separates them from so many other bands. Each of the four of them has an incredible ability to either step into the foreground or background musically. This ego-less ability to provide musical space at any moment for your colleagues must make Phish an exciting place to call work.
The second half of this “Crosseyed” jam is a perfect example. Every member of the ensemble steps into the foreground at some point and into the spotlight. Mike at 12:14, Trey at 14:10, Fishman at 15:22, and Page throughout in very brief flashes. Every member also steps way back, sometimes stopping completely, at some point in this jam. This opens up a world of possibilities for instrumentation (or lack there of.)
The over 16 minute “Crosseyed” eventually drops, very organically, into “Light.” This segue did not have a high degree of difficulty but it still gets major points for patience. Phish plays seamlessly from one composition into another so frequently that all fans, myself included, can take it for granted. Talk about communication.
Before we go any further I must issue a warning: If you’ve never heard the end of this Light before, are in public, and don’t like to cause a scene, please hit stop and conclude this listening session once you’ve reached a socially safe place. The last two minutes of this Light will probably make you get up and dance, smile from ear to ear like a deranged asshole, look to the sky like an evangelist, and otherwise be a rabble-rouser. You’ve been warned.
Some Light jams take a little while to settle in and get interesting. Not this one. It is humming along from the word go and features some beautiful and soaring “Crosseyed” teases from Trey (23:21.) The 24:00 minute mark briefly has an almost “Timber (Jerry)” feel from Fishman. As with the “Crosseyed” jam, each member takes their turn in the spotlight. Page is very heavily involved in this “Light” jam. The rhythm section is so locked in that in all honesty, Trey and Page could be doing just about anything and this would be incredible.
27:13 features one of those Trey guitar riffs that seems like it should have been a song all by itself year ago. Most of us would kill to stumble on riffs like this one. He plays it for a little while and then simply moves on. 28:30 is where the shit starts to get serious. Real serious. Trey riffing over the completely locked in duo of Fishman and Mike with Page rhythmically comping on the B3.
Many of the greatest Phish jams in history feature masterful displays of tension and release. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically, etc. This Light jam features one way that a lot of rock bands rarely ever explore which is through orchestration. Harkening back to the great classical orchestrators like Hector Berlioz or Gustav Mahler, messing with who is and isn’t playing at any given moment is an incredible tool in the tension and release game. The end of this “Light” jam is a textbook example.
Approaching the 29:00 mark we are all systems go. Everyone is humming along with some amazing communication between Mike and Fishman over an absolutely nasty Trey riff accompanied by some impressive Page comping. And then at 29:52, the bottom drops out. Everyone stops on a dime except for Page who continues with his comping. You can instantly hear the room get energized and focused. Talk about having the audience focused.
The rest of the band doesn’t stay out for long at all, but the effect is overwhelming. All three of them of them come in with very simplistic and focused riffs. The band feels the energy in the room, knows they are about to lay waste to everybody and everything, and yet patiently await the precisely right moment to pounce. That only comes from experience.
Each member’s playing gets a little busier, forging forward without being overly anxious. At 30:20 Trey starts hinting at “Tweezer Reprise” with a slowly ascending riff. The crowd swell at the 30:45 mark is one of my favorite moments of this jam. The reason why we spend every possible vacation day, drain frequent flyer accounts, max out credit cards, and regularly abandon our families is about to happen and everybody knows it. You can’t replicate that anticipation, that energy. And knowing it is impending is the greatest feeling in the world.
At 30:54 Fishman switches from his already crescendoing high-hat to the snare drum to drive Bessie into the barn. Everything goes BOOM at 30:59. These are the moments we chase. These are the moments that Phish delivers with more regularity that any other chamber ensemble I’ve ever heard. This band is special and we are all lucky to be alive at the very time in history that these four guys are making music.
At this point, they are playing with house money for the rest of the show. You can do just about anything after the end of that Light jam and still have the place buzzing when you finally stop playing. The segue into “Sneakin’ Sally” is masterful and comes almost immediately after the “Light” jam, lending an “is all of this really happening?” vibe to the whole thing.
While the “Light” jam is the crown jewel here, don’t sleep on this “Sally.” It features a very slow build in intensity with all four taking turns driving the ship. The 40:45 mark sees things start to get serious and begins the final climb of this glorious 45 minutes of music. 42:20 is a “does anyone have any questions?” moment that’s executed to absolute perfection. Just after the final build peaks, Trey drops on a dime back into the “Crosseyed” lyrics which makes the crowd go apeshit. This is followed by an accelerando lead by Fishman to get us right back to where we started in “Crosseyed and Painless.”
This entire segment is perfection. Glorious jamming, patiently nailed segues, masterful communication. The end of the “Light” jam is *IT*. The end of that jam is why you’re reading this blog post. The end of that jam is why I’m writing this blog post. The end of that jam is why we’re all so damn happy to be alive.
Is it July 3rd yet?
Drew grew up in Boston and now calls the Washington DC area home. His friend Russell got him a 15th row center ticket to 12/31/93 on a whim and he promptly lost his shit. Drew drove 10 hours each way to his 2nd show and has seen 160 more to date.
Drew travels the world playing his tuba with Boston Brass as well as solo playing and teaching engagements. He has a new album out called “The Low Brass Stylings of Andrew Hitz & Lance LaDuke.” He also maintains a blog about music at andrewhitz.com and knows way too much about sports.