Memo’s “Other Jams” Memo: “Saw It Again>David Bowie” Set One Closer, “Sand->Roggae”, Rare “Fluffhead” encore
From Dave Calarco:
Evil Phish—the type of music that disrupts your reality—was once the focal point of many jam-only mix tapes of my younger days. I would excerpt the dirtiest, hairiest, most belligerent music from a particular tour and weave it together like a macabre narrative. Despite the band’s upbeat adventures and blissed out peaks, I was always drawn towards the their darker excursions that challenged the listener with abstract tangents, unpredictable as to where they would next turn. When buried in the quagmire of one of these Phish tales, the band reaches places of the psyche not often accessed in every day life.
In one form or another, Evil Phish thrived through the mid to late ‘90s, finding its own form and expression in every year from 1994 through 2000. And I don’t need to introduce the nether-wordly focus of the post-hiatus sound—dark music for dark times. But the modern incarnation of Phish has been decidedly joy-focused and, as a result, their music has been defined by good feeling. The impetus of the band’s reunion seemed to be a realization of the guys’ eternal friendships and an appreciation of all they had been through together. Now that they had made it out the other side, it was time to come full circle. It isn’t a surprise that their improvisational passages of the modern era have most often reflected this good feeling, and Evil Phish has become an endangered subgenre of their music.
When a glorious “Down With Disease,” driven by notably cathartic melodies, kicked down the door of Cincinnati’s second set last summer, one couldn’t imagine the places the music would travel before the night concluded. An out of place “Guleah Papyrus” and a smoking rendition of “Kill Devil Falls” set the table for the main course of the Midwestern evening—“Twist.”
Ironically, the previous week I had been talking about how the modern “Twist” was turning into another compact jam that never left its form. Gone were the days of launching off the song into anything but a contained, jazzy exchange—and, consequently, gone were the monster versions. From it’s debut in ‘97 through 2004, “Twist” birthed some of the band’s most spectacular jams—the Island “Twist” 4/2/98, the Fukuoka “Twist” of 6/14/00, the Camden “Twists” of 7/4/00 and 7/30/03, and the SPAC “Twist” of 6/20/04, to name a few of the best. But since the their return in ‘09, the song hadn’t gotten the type of improvisational love it garnered in its adolescence. Thus, when an out-of-nowhere ambient outro of “KDF” spilled into the former springboard, the set seemed to be flirting with a song-based affair.
This “Twist” jam, planted firmly in the middle of the second set, carried a bigger sound than usual right off the bat. Amidst the song’s conventional textures, Trey began to push the music towards darker waters, but it was when Page switched to his organ, painting an immediately eerie backdrop to the jam, that the music took a turn for Underworld. Trey responded to the shift in tone with a delicate, descending melody that opened up the jam and sent the message that something special was ensuing. Ominous ideas bubbled out of the onstage cauldron as Fish backed the experiment with one of his subtle, abstract beats. At this juncture, the whole band committed to the darkening direction and they locked up within this milieu.
Backed by loops and drenched in effects, this jam became an instance where—in the live setting—you stopped noticing what sounds were coming from whom, as the band produced a canvas greater than the sum of its parts. A hypnotic wall of sound emerged from the stage, and Gordon began to tickle the now-legendary melody from Jesus Christ Superstar’s “Trial Before Pilate.” In fact, this is the lick that comes into the film as Pilate’s men begin whipping Jesus before they crucifying him.
(See 3:55 in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVB8QBurhV0)
Trey instantly jumped on this musical idea, repetitively echoing the melody and quickly turning it into the theme of a seething psych rock jam. Now, this was some evil fucking Phish!
As they moved out of the “Trial Before Pilate” jam and back towards “Twist’s” theme, Trey continued to unleash raw licks that maintained the skull-fucking tone of the piece. Uncharacteristically, Red exercised patience, allowing the band time to build into the end of “Twist” instead of harshly dropping the lick when he was ready. This final facet of the jam makes it, truly, a flawless piece of improvisation as the band smoothly returns to the theme and ends perfectly.
Only in the past couple runs—Dick’s and MSG—has Phish gotten back to routinely playing jams in which everything goes right, creating seamless pieces of music from start to finish. In this “Twist,” arguably the most prolific and complete jam of 2012’s opening leg, every single thing went right. From take off to landing, the vicious journey into the dark side went off without a hitch. Nobody needed to wait for the tapes to know this one was an instant classic. A staple of Leg One, and a true aberration in the sonic spectrum of present day Phish, the Cincy “Twist” gave us a glimpse into the band’s sorcery of old through a distinctly modern lens—not to mention the most significant piece of Evil Phish in memory.
From Dave Calarco:
Dave Calarco is a former high school history teacher, turned blogger/author, turned wook. One can catch him dreadlocked this coming summer tour slanging sexy Beasters pre-show on Shakedown and offering the Mexican Red-Hair after the show when nobody can see. In his author years, he wrote a great book about Phish that is still on-sale for only $29.99—Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts—and will be a fixture of your coffee table for years to come if you so indulge. Filled with full color photos and essays on everything in the Phish universe, it the perfect accompaniment to any summer tour vehicle.
My favorite “Ghost” is Radio City. It’s the only correct answer to the question.