Phish has now played almost two years straight; we now are able to reflect on Phish and what songs have been made into memorable musical moments and just what direction Phish is moving in. Phish’s 3.0 style of jamming features less extended jamming and more dense jamming. While not many songs have explored extended or blow-out-style jams in this era of Phish, there are certainly some. However, if you were asked any time between 1997 and 2004 what songs you would expect in 2009/10 that would carry the improvisational weight to be, most would probably answer “Down with Disease”, “Ghost”, “Bathtub Gin”, “Tweezer” and “Wolfman’s Brother. Which two songs are incorrect? “Bathtub Gin” and “Wolfman’s Brother”.
Both “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Bathtub Gin” have been anchors in Phish’s setlists since 1996 and 1993, respectively. By 1997 the two songs usually contained the headlining jam any night one of them was played; this continued through 2004. The two songs had moved into the category of ‘jam vehicle’, along with “Ghost”, “Down with Disease”, “Tweezer”, “David Bowie”, and “Drowned”. When Phish debuted both songs at Hampton in 2009, the two songs seemed to take on specific roles, rather than spring boards for open-ended excursions.
“Bathtub Gin” rarely went past ten minutes in 2009 and wasn’t very impressive. It was type-casted into a first-set centerpiece, played with little inspiration. “Gin” was played in the first set every time since the band’s return except for three shows: Fenway, Gorge and Deer Creek 2010. While Fenway’s tour opener was understandably standard, the other two were bust-out versions–hinting that they should probably continue putting this song in the second set. The song didn’t have a memorable version (in my opinion) until 8/07/09 at the Gorge. For some reason, the Gorge “Gin” stands tall among any other version between the two years of 3.0 Phish. Phish went into completely uncharted territory with this version, twisting and turning with Fish carefully listening to Trey–Trey playing over interesting loops. Eventually the jam rolled into “Hood”. The day after this version, I had thought that the song finally hit its improvisational stride, unfortunately it was just a flash in the pan.
While 2009 featured the most impressive “Gin” jam, 2010 is able to boast the most consistently well-played versions. After the soaring version in Portsmouth early this summer, Phish seemed to turn the version into a sort of template for the song. The 2010 style of “Bathtub Gin” features Trey taking darting leads out of the gates, each ending up being a sort of punctuated, mini-hose of a jam. Almost each end with us being supported on a swelling wave of Trey blissfully peaking before snapping into the finish, allowing Fish to roll into the end of the song–usually clocking in no longer than 11 minutes.
One 2010 version that contained a bit of a different style of jam was Fall Tour’s “Gin” from Maine. Trey took a more laid-back approach while Mike soloed on his Q5, weaving in and out of the forefront.
I would like to see them go in a few directions with “Bathtub Gin”: Opening shows with it, ending first sets with it, and/or placing it in the second set. When I think about “Gin” opening shows, the first thing that comes to mind is 7/20/98 at Ventura Beach. The Ventura Beach “Gin” is a stunning masterpiece of the directions the song can go, touching upon just about every style of playing in their improvisational war chest.
“Wolfman’s” is a song that has actually evolved quite a bit in 3.0; it contains a jam segment that builds off of the funk it’s known for but sounds completely reworked. First off, let’s talk about the density of the “Wolfman’s” jam. The dense jams have been featured in more and more of Phish’s songs since their return, putting two or three layers of jamming on top of one-another, turning 30 minutes of jamming into a 10 minute knock-out punch. For me, the dense jamming style started during “Wolfman’s” from Red Rocks in 2009. It was a break-out version for the the song and, what we would later realize, their jamming in general.
It was not immediately apparent that the Red Rocks-style “Wolfman’s” began a growing trend until this year’s summer opener at Toyota Park. Toyota’s version sparked a fire underneath the song. It was a refined take on the style they had coined the year before, making it apparent that they had been practicing. Mike took the early lead with Trey building up steam behind him and Fish rolling along. That version, one of this year’s finest, became the blueprint for what the song was now going to be like. Each subsequent take on the song contained the same extremely compact improvisation that was fresh to everyone’s ears.
While Phish finally had a new type of jamming to give to the world, there were two problems: it was not long enough, and only “Wolfman’s” contained it. When I say that it’s not long enough, I am not arguing that we need more 30 minutes versions that we saw in 1997 and 1998; I am simply saying that eight minutes of this glorious new “cow funk” is not enough. While 15 minutes isn’t very long, historically, for the song, 15 minutes of this style would be an all out bassilogical warfare of funk. During Broomfield’s dance-party of a rendition, many fans reported seeing the security and staff turn around during the jam, as if wondering “what the fuck is going on in this place?”.
The other weird aspect of this style of jamming is that, unlike the funk from 1997, this era’s funk is almost exclusively contained within “Wolfman’s Brother”; with the exceptions of a few jams (Hershey Park “Drowned”, Mansfield “Sneaking Sally”, etc), Phish is irresponsibly isolating this funk. Like a sheltered child, this impressive style of playing cannot flourish to its fullest potential unless it sees all parts of the show and different types of songs.
I want the new-age of “Wolfman’s Brother” go grow in length. I want them to continue with the vocal jam they have injected in a few versions (Utica’s was AWESOME). I want them to move the song out of the first set and focus on it being a larger jam vehicle in the second. I would die if they finally opened a second set up with it (as in, I would LOVE it). I want Phish to get comfortable enough with this style so they are able to go in and out of it, between rock and funk seamlessly–allowing for mind-blowing jams to once again grace the stage.
On the heels of the best tour of 3.0, things cannot be any more promising going into the holiday run. I have no worries that the points I brought up above will change going into the future–Phish (mainly Trey) is noticeably more and more comfortable in each tour, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Remember to check out the new OPT Message Board to discuss this and other Phish/fun topics.