Phish sounds great in 3.0. Trey can play his songs again and has enthusiasm and energy that parallels that of the mid-90’s. The rest of the band might be playing the best the have ever played in Phish’s history. However, there is one thing that seems to be missing from the formula. Trey has easily been the weakest link, musically speaking, in 3.0. I’m not talking about his flubs–flubs have always been there (probably not quite as much), I’m talking about his desire to absolutely destroy every song he plays. From the beginning of Phish, all the way until 2000 (even some of 2003, looking back), Trey would attack every song he played–from Maze, Llama, Chalk Dust, Poor Heart or Buried Alive in their composed sections and/or structured jams to more improvisational songs like Down with Disease, You Enjoy Myself, Ghost, Harry Hood or Piper. Remember when Mike complained of Trey playing too many notes in Bittersweet Motel? That’s part of what I’m talking about.
A lot of people talk about his youth playing a role in this–I’m sure that is part of it, however, he really isn’t that old and it certainly isn’t keeping the rest of the band from being at the top of their game (looks at Mike). Trey used to slay every single song that would allow for it to happen–back when he spent less time smiling at the audience (yes, he always has, but not like he does now) and more time with his glasses hanging on the tip of his nose while looking at his pedals. Trey always had something to prove–what does he have to prove now? In 3.0 he has been so focused on proving to the fans that he can play the songs he wrote again–coming out in 2009 with Fluffhead off the bat. Obviously this is a great thing, we want Trey to be able to play the songs that made Phish great. But to me that’s not enough anymore. I want Trey to murder the songs again. I want less aimless guitar playing and more patterns (you will see what I’m talking about shortly), patterns he would discover while the band is jamming, allowing the rest of the band to catch on to. The patterns he would find with his guitar allowed the band to communicate much easier with him, helping create better segments of full band improv. I feel as though the band has trouble communicating musically with Trey now–they seem unsure what he is going to do next. You can often hear this with Fish drumming past Trey, when Trey takes a sudden turn away from the rest of the band (and I’m not just talking about when Trey ditches a jam and forces another song upon everyone).
I feel people must be reminded about this aspect of Trey that made Phish who they are. It’s not just one specific era of Phish, it spanned the shorter songs of early days, the blazing rock of 93-96 and the funk of 97-98, arguably all the way until the hiatus. So, when people say “this is just how he plays now, he plays differently in each era and year”, you can say, “no, I’m talking about a core attribute to Trey’s playing–not his tone, effects or length of jams”. This is far more important than any of those three things.
I am going to provide a few clips from the past that highlight Trey attacking songs and creating patterns for the rest of the band to build off of. It was a blast editing these clips. None are longer than 3:00, most being between 45 seconds and 1.5 minutes. Each one is worth listening to the entire clip, I cut it so everything in the clip is important. I hope you enjoy analyzing this as much as I do. Show downloads will be provided under each sound clip
4.18.1992 – Stanford University – Llama
Llama is a short song that has the small jam segment of Page going first, then Trey. Llamas actually lost a lot of their potent swank towards the late 90’s (see 12.13.1997–guitar never really takes off), but here is a clip of Trey really bringing the instrumental part home. Kinda weird how this song is a bust out when it’s played now. I kinda like it. Remember, this clip (along with the others) are not to point out how a song should be played, but rather to show you Trey’s inherit intensity.
4.18.92llama by ragingmobofjoggers
Download – Soundboard
12.12.1992 – The Spectrum – Split Open and Melt
Again, I don’t want to bring up how a specific song has changed, but this is a song that’s really suffering in 3.0. The jams make me wonder what they are thinking sometimes. There are a lot of high-octane 90’s versions, though. This is an odd but intense ending to the always unusual improvisation. These jams are usually only enjoyable to Phish fans, the type of stuff outsiders go “what the hell is that” to.
12.12.93soam by ragingmobofjoggers
Download – Soundboard
8.13.1993 – The Murat – Bathtub Gin
This is in the middle of a huge jam–Trey just reprised the Gin theme and after the band exits the theme, Trey takes off a top Mike’s poppin’ bass. Listen to the communication here. Trey absolutely soars through this. Side note: this show is sick. A must have in any fan’s collection.
8.13.93gin by ragingmobofjoggers
6.13.1994 – Memorial Hall – Stash
Stashes have been improving since 2009 each time it’s played. The song is made to carry tension throughout the majority of the jam, ending with an explosive release of energy before going into the closing lyrics. The band has been great at establishing the tension in the song this year, just not the releases (Trey). Check out the tension in Mike’s bass in the Telluride Stash.
In this clip, Trey is red hot and playing his guitar so dangerously he should be arrested. This clip has a lot in it–Trey attacking the song, and then finding a pattern that Fish listens to. Then, towards the end, Trey wails along with Fish after catching onto Fish’s pattern before going into the end. Note the different effects and sounds Trey uses, not just one tone/sound throughout the jam like he does so often now. PURE INTENSITY! It’s all about Fish and Trey locking up here. Side note: this is one of my favorite shows, Fish is on fire the whole thing.
6.13.94s by ragingmobofjoggers
6.18.1994 – UIC Pavilion – Divided Sky
One of Hidden Track‘s questions on their Summer Tour Survey (that I reposted here) asked fans’ feelings on Divided Sky in 2010. 20% of the people polled said they could do without the song despite it being one of Phish’s staple songs. I still love hearing the song, however, I can understand where people are coming from in this 20%. In this clip the band is sprinting towards the end of the song, Trey absolutely attacks this monster and wrestles it to the ground. Divided Skys are always beautiful, but Trey can’t seem to really get his guitar around why this song used to make everyone go so nuts. This song used to showcase Trey’s ability to wail intensely. Fishman is unbelievably hot in this version, too! Side note: the second set in this show is ridiculous.
6.18.94DS by ragingmobofjoggers
Download – Soundboard
6.15.95 – Lakewood Amp. – David Bowie
This clip is the very end of this Bowie’s epic jam–after twenty minutes of twisting and turning through full band, balls to the wall improvisation, Trey seamlessly rolls into the end trilling segment. The end of Bowies now are so forced by Trey it can be painful sometimes. Sometimes he just stumbles into the end. No 3.0 versions contain unstructured improvisation, something this song was once so well known for. I even took the list of the best Bowies off the “Summer Tour Jams” list on the right side of this page because they are all so alike now. In this clip, listen to the energy going into the end, the way Trey perfectly rolls into the end and the way Trey soars out of the second “lull” in the end segment before going back into the typical trilling. Sorry David Bowie, Trey just killed you with his axe 🙁 I review it here.
6.15.95bowie by ragingmobofjoggers
10.21.1995 – Pershing Auditorium – Good Times, Bad Times -> Tweezer Reprise
Trey loves playing Tweezer Reprise now, more so than he always has–I am convinced that he forced that Jones Beach Tweezer into the crammed second set so he could end the tour holding up his guitar after stomping around the stage and doing little head bobs. Is there energy there? Of course, but after you listen to this clip you’re going to remember the real intensity behind the song. This absolutely out of control and unfinished Good Times, Bad Times segues seamlessly into one of the most high energy Tweeprises ever.
10.21.95gtbt by ragingmobofjoggers
12.02.1995 – Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Tweezer
As Tenacious D would say, this Tweezer blows doors down. I wrote a bit about it here . This Tweezer might contain Trey’s ability to attack a song within a purely improvisational setting at it’s best. Don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart, soft skin (face melting) or get anxiety–it’s TRAGING (trey-raging) at its best! Side note: this is the best Tweezer ever–bring on the debate!
12.2.95tweez by ragingmobofjoggers
8.14.1996 – Hersheypark Stadium – Reba
Reba is contains one of the most improvisational feel-good jams out of any songs Phish plays. Rebas have been solid in 3.0, but nothing where Trey completely loses his mind to the music, no versions where you don’t know if you should dance like a hippy or jump and scream at the top of your lungs when Trey’s guitar peaks. Alpine’s version this year is 3.0’s best, but Trey still didn’t attack it.
This clip features Trey leaving his body behind to take the entire crowd on an absolute adventure through heavenly skies (yea, I know it sounds extreme, I like it–leave me alone). Trey is relentless, all the way until the end. Side note: this show contains outstanding versions of Reba, Stash, Wilson, Tweezer, YEM and Runaway Jim. A must have.
8.14.96hershey by ragingmobofjoggers
12.11.1997 – Rochester War Memorial – Down with Disease
The Down with Disease made famous by Bittersweet Motel. I asked my friend if this was even fair to bring up–he told me “sorry Trey, everything is fair game”, and he’s right. This monster DwD has Trey absolutely shredding everyone’s faces off. People that never heard of Phish have been blown away after seeing this clip, “how could I never have heard about a guitarist that can play like that?”
Download – Soundboard
12.29.1997 – Madison Square Garden – Crossroads
In this five minute rocker, Trey shreds coming out of the lyrics and hits a peak that leaves everyone’s jaws on the floor. You can hear the collective scream after it happens.
12.29.97crossroads by ragingmobofjoggers
12.31.1997 – Madison Square Garden – Weekapaug Groove
I know–“OPT that is the best ‘paug of all time, it’s not fair to compare Trey to that!”–wrong, it’s fair because he was the one who did it. Also, this clip isn’t the whole 15 minute jam, just a clip of some of his most intense song attacking there is in this version–the intensity is not contained to just this one version. Again, note the different sounds and effects Trey goes through while playing. Just when you think Trey is losing it, Trey goes WHAAAAAAA! Knocking MSG on it’s ass.
12.31.97paug by ragingmobofjoggers
7.30.1999 – Fuji Rock Fest – Down with Disease
Trey shreds again in this 1999 version of DwD with precision and style–much different from its 12.11.1997 counterpart, this one sounds more refined and well rounded with a more robust tone, proving that it doesn’t matter what era it is for Trey to be balls to the wall.
7.30.99dwd by ragingmobofjoggers
Download – Soundboard
12.04.2009 – Madison Square Garden – You Enjoy Myself
A promising sign: The You Enjoy Myself from 2009’s MSG run might be the closest thing to old school Trey in that he build’s off of Mike’s initial pattern in the jam (before this clip starts), eventually mixing in his own patterns that Fishman catches on to–all while he is taking the song to the next level himself with darting leads. Trey peaks about as hard as he can before going into the Bass & Drums segment. This is an excellent jam that can stand up to most 90’s versions of the song. Keep it up, Trey!
12.4.09yem by ragingmobofjoggers
I want to finish by reiterating that I love Phish, I had a blast this tour and I am beyond happy that we have a healthy Trey back with energy and excitement. I just feel that if this last aspect of Phish fell into place, Phish could be better than they ever have before–considering how ripe Page and Mike are right now.
I love Trey more than anything, Trey basically helped raise me during my most formative years (a lot around me may argue that’s a bad thing, haha). Trey is the most exciting, energetic and humorous guitar player ever–I only write stuff like this because I care for him so much. See you on Fall Tour, Trey–I’ll be going nuts from beginning to end for you, again.