OPT Sloth Blog: Breaking the Ice on the Ice Breakdown

From The Sloth Blog

Breaking The Ice On The Ice Breakdown

The Rift album contains some of Phish’s best songwriting and lyrics to date. It really comes together in what I think is the bands most unified sounding album ever released. If I had to pick one highlight to play to someone who had never heard Phish before it would have to be, It’s Ice. This complex, tightly composed song is tied for longest on the album with Maze, at 8:14 and features amazing musical performances by every member of the band. Page, whose work on the keys really showcases his talent, sings Tom Marshall’s brilliant story of a man slipping through the cracks in the ice.. metaphorically, of course. Along with Mikes Benny Hill bass line, Treys chromatic roller coaster of licks and augmented seventh chords, and intense, syncopated drumming by Fishman, this song really wails. Early Ices also feature Fishman standing on his throne doing “the Fishman dance”, and anytime you get to see Fish dance it’s worth the price of admission. (see videos below) Always a crowd pleaser, this song can vary in accuracy and even sometimes speed, but otherwise rarely strays from the composition. However there are a handful of Ices that standout small jams worth listening to. So please lunge in and join me here, under the icy cracks, as we explore the breakdown section of this excellent Phish song.

The “breakdown” is the section after the 1-2-3 counting chords and descent into a whomping G7 chord. Jams during this section are usually based off the G7->Bb7 vamp, and even simpler, just G minor. They go back into the song by raising that a whole step and a half step (Bb7->Db) and busting into the ascending section after the chorus. It is a unique section, which most often features a slick Page solo and varying drumming by Fishman. Before Page acquired the baby grand in 1993 (the first show was the start of the 1993 spring tour, 2/3/1993) McConnell used a combination of either the Yamaha CP-70, Hammond Organ (starting summer 92′) or his Fender Rhodes.
On Rift, Fishman is counting four using two different pitched wood blocks, or something of the sort, from 5:23-6:22. A good example of Trey’s rich, clean tone is the chords he strums during this part of the jam. Page throws in some little piano lines here and there while eerie, ambiance howls in the background. It would be a good sound clip to play during a scary movie, when the group of _____ enter the abandoned _____ for the first time to rescue_____. At 6:23 the band kicks it up a notch and Fishman loses the wood blocks for a tight, funky beat. I really like pattern he has going on the kick drum here, and the riff Page plays right from the start. The song goes back into the ascending section at the 7-minute mark, which leaves the grand total of the album breakdown only about 1:37.

The debut of Ice occurred on 9/25/1991 (Trey informs the audience of this after the opening lick) which is about a year and a half before the song was released on Rift. (2/2/93) The breakdown is fairly standard featuring a nice solo by Page on the Yamaha and good chord work from Trey. It differs from the album version mostly by the drumming. Fishman starts the jam with no wood blocks, playing a beat similar to the main theme of the song.

It was 36 shows later, on 5/1/1992 at The Rave in Milwaukee when Fishman first used the wood block intro to the Ice breakdown. This Ice clocks in at 10:21 and features some nice Page and Fishman during the jam. It is also slower than most live versions, and is also more ambient which is also similar to the album version. I wonder if they finished recording Ice for Rift around this point and decided to play it true to the album version. Since this version, it has basically begun with the “tic tock” on the blocks, and Page on the baby grand.

Ice Cubes

These versions are some of the standouts in the history of the tune. They may not have a spot-on performance in the composed section, but the breakdown is above average.
3-17-1992 2:56 

This breakdown is short, slow and groovy, with Page on organ and good funky chord work by Trey. It is a good example of a solid early Ice breakdown.

3-25-1992 2:50

Another good early jam which starts with Page sustaining a G minor chord on the organ and it sounds like Page briefly teases “first call” (the bugle tune most often associated with a horse race starting) on the electric piano at the same time.  The band locks in on a nice little riff for 16 bars before Trey breaks off into some funky vamping chords while Page plays a soaring piano solo. Fishman is on the ride cymbal for this jam, highlighted by Mike and Page, and the band emerges from this breakdown seamlessly.
3-22-1993 3:40

If you haven’t heard this show before just stop reading this and listen to it immediately. This Ice breakdown is where the Gamehenge saga begins, with Fishman keeping the Ice theme on the wood blocks while Trey narrates the beginning of the story. There isn’t a jam as Trey wastes no time in starting the narration and they segue into Lizards without completing the finale of Ice.
5-08-1993 2:58

This is one of my favorite shows of all time and even the Ice jam is one of the best ever. Trey sets the theme with a four chord progression over the wood blocks for four bars. Page starts soloing as Trey switches it up with a tease of a section of King Crimsons, Discipline. Fishman busts into the slick Ice drumbeat and they continue on this theme before Mike and Trey hook up beautifully into a Manteca tease. Trey and Mike decrease volume and Page and Fish follow down to almost nothing. Then a snare hit and they all break back into the ending chords of the breakdown. It pales in comparison the the rest of the show, but is a small piece of what makes it so great the whole way through.
8-26-1993 3:19

An ambient start with crash symbols and eerie organ chords by Page which almost sounds like the “As The World Turns” theme. Solo now, he immediately hops back to the top and plays a run of very fast, very eclectic arpeggios, before falling to a complete halt and a snare hit. Now Page and Fish are working together, with Fishman only on the wood blocks. Then as Page settles on a chromatic, ascending pattern, Trey mimics him and Mike enters shortly after, Fish switching over to the hi-hat. Out of nowhere Trey uses his half step hammer on to alerts the band and audience of a “secret language” signal coming up. (This is a hammer on from 17 to 18 on the high E sting, A->Ab, for all you guitar players.) Very quietly Trey plays “The Simpsons” theme and of course a “DOH’” echos throughout the concert hall. Page starts another riff with Fishman responding with two open hi-hat hits before his snare signals the end chords. A cool jam, with a bonus Simpsons signal. If you’re into secret language check out..
8-28-1993 3:40

Page starts with a full head of steam in this jam, which is a very erratic, energetic one, including three secret language signals. Page solos for a few bars with Fish accenting, even laying down a little jazzy beat on the ride cymbal for a few seconds. Trey jumps in accompanying Page and Fish in a wild ten second jam before Fish and Page take over again. Then, on cue they stop to silence and Fishman brings the band back to the end section with the slick signature beat. Surprisingly this ends again after a couple bars (kind of the theme of this jam) and Trey signals the band for some secret language. They proceed to do the random note, all fall down, and oom pa pa signals in succession, chill out shortly, and go into the ending of the jam. Even the ending chord progression is interesting and includes some nice syncopation and what almost seems to be a “charge!” tease by Trey.
4-4-1994 4:23

This breakdown starts with Fishman briefly on the wood blocks but that he quickly aborts this for some nice hi-hat work. Trey and Mike enter the jam right away with some interesting syncopated patters mimicking Page on the baby grand. They build the tension for a while before Page breaks it down and Trey does some multi- string bends and volume swells. Although not documented anywhere, Trey plays a riff very close to The Beatles, “Hey Bulldog”. This riff continues with some good old rocking out by Trey before he switches to a clean tone and starts the G7-> Bb7 chords signaling the end of the jam.
4-08-1994 8:29

This version is significant not only because it has one of the most intense Ice jams ever but includes the first ever digital delay looping by Trey. I’m not talking about the two octave, high pitched DDL’s that are signatures of jams in 99′ and 2000, most notably (and still used in) Gotta Jibboo. (See OTP blog on these for an excellent analysis of the rise and fall of the spacey DDL’s) These are the loops which were made famous to listeners, for lack of a better term, by the jam out of Mike’s Song on NYE 1995 to end the second set. The jam left Trey solo, creating these dancing delay loops, layering one over the other, continuing through set break and into the Time Factory beginning of set 3. The jam starts with a Page riff using the G triad and the crowd clapping along keeping the beat. Shortly after Trey starts with the looping and the clapping, along with the rest of the band, fade out. You can hear the crowd react to the new sound Trey is experimenting with, but they don’t last long and Page brings the jam back with the same low riff he started it with. Fishman starts up on the wood blocks and Trey cleanly vamps over the G minor chord. Tension starts to build and Fishman breaks it with a double time shuffle beat which starts a fast paced, intense jam. The build up even more tension out of this and it starts to resemble an Antelope jam. Trey is wailing at this point and there are a couple mini explosions before sailing smoothly back into the end of the jam. My favorite Ice jam of all time, this is a must hear.
4-15-1994 3:30

This breakdown is highlighted by an awesome Page solo high up on the baby grand again, with Fishman really working the hi-hat. Trey sprinkles a little of his new found digital delay obsession from seven days earlier but it’s sparse, and they end the jam shortly after.
5-22-1994 3:05

A great example of early “funk” sound from Trey. He really lays down some thick wah chords during Ice breakdowns in 94′ and 95′ and this is one of the earliest I can remember, if not the first. They all get involved in this one, and don’t hold back. Fishman has beautiful syncopation and the entire jam is filled with great rolls. Page is crisp and clean, lines running all over the place. Trey is nasty the entire time, his growling wah chord work and gritty bends are enough to make this Ice as it is. Mike is the MVP here, with impressive runs high up on the neck, flying all over the fretboard. He and Page really sync up well and Trey’s wah work ties it all together. Just when you think they may go a little ambient for a couple bars Fish’s snare hit snaps them back into the groove. Page breaks it down solo for a few more bars with Fish working the hi-hat now. Trey enters shortly after with some more dirty funk chords and signals them into the end chords. Even right before the end, Trey switches on the tremolo and chromatically brings them to a climax before the ascending section starts. One of my favorite breakdowns.
9-20-2000 9:30

Ice really dropped off after 1995 and after 96′ there have only been 20 performances of the song. (Four in 97′, three in 98′, zero in 99′, six in 2000, three in 2003, zero in 2004 and four in 2009) This one of the six during the year clocks in at 14 minutes long with an over nine minuet breakdown! By far the longest ever, it contains an interesting jam with Trey noodling over some nice drum work by Fish, using the whammy pedal tone he fell in love with around 99′. It starts low and, as the Phish Almanac puts it so well, bubbles up from the underwater segment to a spacey funk jam. At around the 4:50 mark of the jam they sink back down to silence and the crowd lets out a nice cheer, acknowledging this epic Ice. They continue on with some ambience and for the last couple minutes Fishman isn’t audible at all. The song is unfinished, and segues into Wading, which I didn’t include, so go download the show if you wanna hear it!

More Layers Of Ice
    While this is a good collection of It’s Ice jams, there are more above average versions out there. Any from 1992-1995 are worth checking out, being the peak of Ice performances in general. Also, a few performances use the breakdown section to segue into another song, sometimes returning to finish Ice as well. In 1995, on 10-29 and 12-30 (both shows worth checking out in full) the band debuted the “Ice sandwich” with Kung as the “meat” both times. This didn’t occur again until 1997, at the legendary Ervin J. Nutter Center show on 12-7 when they segued into Steep and Swept Away and again once more on 7-28-98-> Lengthwise, before finishing the Tune. Like I mentioned earlier, since 1996 the song has only been played twenty times, but some of those dates include 12-7-97, 7-28-98, 5-32-00, 7-4-00, 7-10-00, 1-2-03 and 3-7-09 which are all standout shows.
  A handful of Ice breakdowns also include various teases, 8-28-93 and 8-26-93 are reviewed above but check out 8-24-93 for a cool “I Feel The Earth Move” tease by the whole band and 12-31-93 for a Peaches En Regalia tease by Trey. One other version to note is 7-01-95 with Fishman on the Electrolux vacuum and Mike on electric drill. If you weren’t already a fan of this great Phish song and often find yourself skipping it due to lack of a jam section, think twice, and don’t break the ice. Whatever that is supposed to mean.