When people talk about Trey’s “digital delay loops” they often are talking about his trademark high to low string of sound he drapes over a venue in songs like Ghost, Gotta Jibboo, Wolfman’s Brother or any other song that gets funky (here is an example from the intro to 7/6/1998’s Ghost ). He used these types of loops in the late 90’s up until Phish’s first hiatus in 2000. When they came back in 2003 and 2004, Trey almost never looped–then comes 2009–His traditional looping has certainly never returned to the frequency of the late 90s, but he has been doing it a bit more in songs like Gotta Jibboo and 2001. Note the fact that I said his traditional looping.
Trey has been experimenting with digital delay loops pretty frequently in 2009. The ones he has been trying out are usually not as punctuated and obvious as his traditional ones so it often falls upon deaf ears (probably the type of people that wear butterfly wings at shows like our friend in Bittersweet Motel).
Sometimes they work out well, like when he loops his guitar riff during the jam of Down With Disease at Madison Square Garden last year and continues playing over it. (at the 17 second mark of this clip he has just looped it and continues playing in a more distorted sound atop it ). This is an example of a pretty successful execution by Trey and the Down With Disease ends up being one of their best jams of the year, and probably the best version of the song for the year. However, in Trey’s attempt to throw in non-traditional loops, it often throws the band off and detracts from the overall jam.
A great example of how this doesn’t always work out is from Festival 8’s You Enjoy Myself. In this clip Trey loops off a repetitive and tinky one note loop. It obviously throws off the rest of the band, including Fishman. Trey realizes quickly that it’s not working, aborts the loop and follows Fish’s drum roll and starts rocking like normal. After that failed attempt, the jam ends up being really good with a fun Halloween themed vocal jam.
Another example of Trey forcing in a delay loop is from 12/29/2009 in Miami during their New Year’s run. Tweezer was one of that run’s and 2009’s many highlights. In this version, immediately after the “uncle Ebeneezer” part, Phish sinks into a thick jam punctuated by their collective chanting over the music. As the jam is getting stronger and more locked in, Trey gets a little too ambitious and tries to throw in a loud one note delay. He aborts the first one somewhat quickly, but you can hear him tinkering around with his guitar more, trying to get one to work–all while the whole band is locked in and raging behind him. He could have just made no sound for the time period and let the rest of the band do their thing. Clip –
Both the You Enjoy Myself and Tweezer cited here are awesome versions of the song, though. Don’t let this commentary let you think otherwise. Also, there are many more examples of Trey doing this all through 2009. Find more yourself and feel free to post the song and date in the commentary below.
I don’t know if I should be discouraged by these awkward musical moments by Trey or be hopeful because it shows he is trying something new and creative. I do feel that Trey sometimes loses sight of what the band around him is trying to do, though. Take 11/28/2009’s Ghost from Albany, NY; the Seven Below>Ghost that opens the second set is a favorite for fans that were waiting for them to bust out some extended improvisation (the two songs clocked in at around 50 minutes), including me. However, despite all the hype behind this Ghost, which is certainly fun and refreshing, I still think it’s over rated. There are a few different occasions where the band finally gets locked into something when Trey goes off on his own thing and forces the band to change as well. In this clip – – it’s towards the end of the song. Phish had just gone through a number of impressive jam segments and it’s coming to a band peak. Fishman is ready for Trey to peak when Trey goes off on this direction-less and noodley tangent. Fish even tries to save him at the 13 second mark in this clip by rolling, hoping Trey will catch on and snap out of what he’s doing. Around the 40 second mark Fish and the rest of the band had little else they can do with Trey playing like that and it all slows down, eventually fading into ambient sound and ending the song (then playing Cool it Down>Gotta Jibboo, which is awesome). The point is, this version of Ghost could have been the hands-down best jam of 2009 if Trey would have gotten off whatever weird tangent he was on and just rolled on top of the band’s support behind him. Mike was clearly on fire in that Ghost and Fishman came out to rock. Page, Mike and Fish were all making for an enormous peak at the end when Trey did what was in the clip, instead of exploding (what he is so good at and what we go to see).
I’m not trying to come off as bashing Trey, but I’m also not going to fluff everything up that he does (like a certain online blogger), that would take away from the times when he really does nail things. It’s still the best Ghost of 2009, with Miami’s in a somewhat close second.
Moral of the story: bring back the old school delay loops!
This Post’s Related Shows:
Set 2: Rocks Off > Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Casino Boogie, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Torn and Frayed, Sweet Black Angel, Loving Cup,Happy, Turd on the Run, Ventilator Blues -> I Just Want To See His Face > Let It Loose, All Down the Line, Stop Breaking Down, Shine a Light,Soul Survivor
Tuesday, 12/29/2009 American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
Saturday, 11/28/2009 Times Union Center, Albany, NY
Set 1: Party Time, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Uncle Pen, Sanity, Foam, Walk Away > NICU, Alaska, Split Open and Melt, Joy, Vultures,Backwards Down the Number Line
Notes: This show featured the first Uncle Pen since July 11, 2000 (129 shows). Ghost contained a tease of Seven Below.