Written by: Eli Sable
After a summer of ground breaking jams and music that has once again redefined Phish’s sound, it is hard to pinpoint one MVP song from the phab phour’s catalog. Many fans have declared “Down with Disease,” “Light,” Rock and Roll,” “Piper,” and “Golden Age” as the summer’s most consistently profound jam vehicles, while many other tunes like “Gin,” “Tweezer” and “Sand” have turned out stellar versions as well.
The Pine Knob DwD notches in at nearly 25 minutes, contains “A Love Supreme” jam, patiently explores psychedelic textures as the band plays through musical peaks and valleys and arguably stands as Leg I’s treasure. Similarly, the Gorge’s Rock and Roll might be Leg II’s most impressive improvisational piece as the band opened up and played over the scenic backdrop fusing the view and the music as one. This version of “Rock and Roll” features Page on the Theremin and multiple impressive sections ranging from storage jamming to straight shredding. Yet these standout improvisational pieces are not my go to choices from this summer. The song (and set) that I have been repeatedly returning to is the UIC “Waves”. This summer there were notable versions of songs throughout Phish’s repertoire; yet, “Waves” might win the MVP (along with comeback player of the year) as three out of the four times Phish played “Waves” the band delivered some of the most inspiring playing of the summer.
An album often overlooked by critics and fans, Round Room has provided Phish with some well developed material. From the red hot bluesy-funk rocker “46 Days” and the pop infused and somewhat idiosyncratic “Round Room” to the intricate compositions “Pebbles and Marbles” and “Walls of the Cave.” Even the ballads “Anything But Me” and “All of these Dreams” have something to offer in the way of song craft and lyrics. But this summer “Waves” surfaced as a potentially everlasting gem from Round Room.
After debuting during the first post-hiatus show (12/31/02), “Waves” appeared to be a promising song. The tune appeared several times throughout the 2003 winter tour, three times in both 2004 and 2009, but unfortunately floated away in 2010. Phish’s decision to bring “Waves” back into the rotation was one of the many flawless musical decisions the boys made this summer. Written by Trey and Tom, “Waves” is a beautiful dichotomy of light and blissful music and dark lyrics. Like many of Trey and Tom’s songs, “Waves’” lyrics are often infused with imagery and dreamy surrealism. Using words typically reserved for describing oceanic traits, Trey and Tom paint a dark image filled with the protagonist’s ineffective attempts to communicate with his female counterpart.
The first improvisational section of the song (following the verses) predominantly features Trey soloing while the second jam section of the song (after the refrain) drifts away as Trey and Page gently sing “on the wind and underwater.” Simply put, section one is Trey’s time to shine, while section two is a space for the band to explore soundscapes (i.e. the dark-jam days of 95, the cow-funk period, the ambient post-hiatus jams and now the storage jams).
This summer, the first jam section of “Waves” featured Trey’s unprecedented musical acrobatics (primarily unseen in 3.0) He hit peak after peak and nails each note with purpose while Fishman flows around the set with a delicate yet purposeful touch. In a summer that saw the return of Trey’s dexterity, speed, and creativity to the high level that we all expect from him, “Waves” was the perfect springboard for Trey solos and fresh licks. The first section of the jam is all about Trey, but is propelled by a strong backing from the band that is highlighted by Fishman’s flittering of the ride cymbal and effortless fills around the set. Since “Waves” features many of these attributes of Fishman’s playing, it is the perfect platform for Fish to showcase his talents.
The second jam section emerges while the lyrical refrain retreats (much like an approaching shore and another retreating back into the ocean; cheesy I know). As seen this summer, Phish used their Storage Jam techniques to attack ambient jams whenever they had the opportunity. Phish often excels in such an open jam forum and “Waves” is further proof. This section has more room for growth and can produce a variety of sounds, jam styles and has the uncanny ability to transition into an assortment of songs. The end of the Bethel “Waves” laid the ground work for the intro of “Prince Caspian,” while the Superball version of “Waves” set up nicely for the apocalyptic “What’s the Use?” and the UIC “Waves” seamlessly bled into “Undermind” (which might arguably be the best transition of the summer).
One can only hope Phish keeps “Waves” in the rotation and continues to push the boundaries of this diverse song. To me, “Waves” is the perfect song for Phish in its modern state because it features euphoric playing by Trey in a major key, while it exhibits the new style of collective jamming that Phish has begun to master. So as we transition into fall and adjust to the colder air, turn to the warmth of the various versions of “Waves” from this past summer. Starting with the Bethel soundcheck
and ending with the UIC element set:
Ride the “Waves” throughout the fall and winter to keep you warm (or at least until NYE).
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