Last week I looked at three of the six original recordings that Tom Marshall has recently released via Twitter and SoundCloud. After determining some songs improve under Phish’s musical direction (“Hydrogen” and “Silent in the Morning”), it seems other songs lost their true sentiment (“Nothing”). Tom and Trey’s original recordings of “The Wedge,” “Walls of the Cave,” and “Backwards Down the Numberline” were solid bases to build upon which Phish took full advantage of. These buds blossomed when they were refined in the studio and have become well known songs in the band’s rotation. Although these tunes required Phish to flesh them out, the original recordings display Trey’s musical talents and Tom’s idiosyncratic, yet emotionally charged, lyrics.
“The Wedge,” another stellar tune off Rift, is composed of three underlining characteristics: a structured, yet soaring, guitar solo, Fishman’s unconventional drumbeat that touches every “corner” of the set and lyrics inspired by the rhythm of Neil Young’s “Pocahontas.” This original recording is so impressive because it was solely composed by Trey. Not only is Trey playing the bass here, but apparently he is the mastermind behind the atypical syncopation in the song. Fans have always loved Trey for his virtuoso guitar work, but this early recording of “The Wedge” demonstrates his song writing ability; specifically Trey’s noteworthy rhythmic talent. In retrospect, its not so surprising that Trey composed the rhythm to “The Wedge,” considering Trey also handed Fish the rhythmic structures to “Limb by Limb” (check out Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Doves) and “Walls of the Cave.” I don’t want to come off as a kiss-ass, but this an impressive snippet into the mind of Big Red.
As Tom points out, the original edition of “The Wedge” contains an “interesting overdubbed solo” that “carried through to the studio version.” Although the solo is short and sweet, it set the table for joyful live moments. Even though the studio version of “The Wedge” does not possess the same vigor that live versions emit, the Rift recording is clearly an evolved adaptation from its original form. Page’s organ undertones add to the melody of the song and allow Trey to enhance the song’s theme. Mike’s basslines are more apparent and Trey’s unusual rhythm has morphed into a classic Fishman beat. On the original recording Trey strictly used a high-hat sound to play the beat; on Rift Fishman keeps the beat on the high-hat but includes the toms, snare and bass drum in the mix.
Aside from different takes on the intro, live versions of “The Wedge” do not vary much. During “The Wedge’s” first two years on stage the song featured a few different intros ranging from the guitar chords to Fishman’s drum beat and piano at beginning the song. Earlier versions of “The Wedge” are also shorter and do not have the extended guitar solo section like the current form of “The Wedge.” As the band has matured, so has “The Wedge.” What used to be a rarity in the middle of a set is now a song entrenched in the rotation that produces danceable moments (check out 6/3/2011). For the better part of Phish’s career “The Wedge” was a live rarity having only been played at 3.5% of Phish shows (54 times total). One would think the band has avoided the highway to the great divide; however, “The Wedge” has made 18 appearances since 2009.
Backwards Down the Number Line
“Backwards Down the Number Line” is not my favorite 3.0 song, and when it’s played I have thought of all the other songs I’d rather hear in its place, yet “Number Line” is an important number in Phish’s catalog. Tom points out that “this one was the one that reunited” him with Trey during Trey’s Drug Court stint in upstate New York. Trey closed himself off from the world and did not communicate with anyone. In 2007, Trey’s father encouraged Tom to touch base with him. So Tom emailed Trey the lyrics to “Number Line” and two hours later received a message from saying “Oh my god.” A phone call ensued and Trey played Tom the song that would reignite their friendship. As Tom puts it “our writing conquered the chasm,” and because of that, this original recording of “Number Line” is a little eerie.
Although there were many factors that brought Phish back together, “Backwards Down the Number Line” played a major role in reuniting Trey with his old life and Phish. “Number Line” is song about friend’s revisiting a promise they made (to share songs with each other on their respective birthdays). Tom is trying to remind Trey of their friendship and their youthful innocence that has taken a back seat to recent hardships. “Number Line” ends with a positive and uplifting message where Tom is telling Trey when the time comes for him to rekindle their friendship, a time where Trey has a “different point of view,” Tom will be there for him.
Despite having emotionally charged lyrics, “Number Line” has a poppy feel to it; possibly because it expresses Trey’s renewed outlook as a result of Drug Court and Tom’s birthday poem. The original track is rather basic with a straightforward drum-machine beat, Trey on acoustic guitar and vocals. The chorus features repeating electric guitar licks and Trey backing himself by singing “all my friends, backwards down the numberline.” Although the original recording is raw, I can’t begin to imagine the emotions Tom felt when Trey played him this recording. Regardless of your thoughts on “Number Line,” this song holds a special place in Phish lore.
As the opening track on Joy, “Backwards Down the Number Line” sets the table for an album compiled of songs with personal meaning for Trey, Tom and Phish. Joy’s version of “Number Line” is noticeably livelier than the original recording and opens with a brief guitar/drums intro before heading into the first stanza. Page’s work on the grand piano and organ add a delicate touch while Mike’s basslines help flesh out this uplifting tune. Fishman’s ride-cymbal based drumbeat holds steady throughout the track and carries the song from the lyrics section into the celebratory guitar solo. In the original recording Trey sings the backing “all my friends, backwards down the numberline.” On Joy Page (with a little help from Mike) sings backing vocals. He has a sweeter and smoother tone than Trey which adds a nice finishing touch to the studio version.
Live accounts of “Backwards Down the Number Line” do not typically venture far from the studio take; however, on occasion “Number Line” has produced some delectable improv. “Number Line” debuted as a Trey solo song, but when Phish reunited the tune was triumphantly played on 3/6/09 during the first night of the Hampton run. Most subsequent live accounts of “Number Line” resemble its first ever playing at Hampton, but 8/16/09 (which smoothly transitions into “Twenty Years Later”), 6/12/10 and 8/17/2010 are must hear versions for any “Number Line” fan because of the dark and spacey improve that seeps out of the song. While most versions have straightforward type I jamming with joyful guitar licks and euphoric peaks, “Number Line” is an emotional song with type II potential. So next time you hear “Number Line” think of its lyrical importance and hope for some of that type II magic.
Walls of the Cave
Written during a dark time for the United States, “Walls of the Cave” simultaneously serves as a heartbreaking allegory and a source of comfort following 9/11. According to Tom, Trey agrees with fans whom interpret “Walls of the Cave” as a tribute for the World Trade Center. Tom says “WoTC” is probably a somber homage to the WTC attacks, but it was “unintentionally on purpose.” Either way, “Walls of the Cave” is another emotionally charged tune that has attempted to console fans in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy.
Tom and Trey wrote/recorded “Walls of the Cave” in a “dark and miserable hotel” near Newark Airport (only stone’s throw away from Manhattan) during a rough period in Tom’s life. What started as a poem for Tom’s son that reads like an epitaph for his “own grave,” naturally grew into a musical composition pieced together by Trey. Despite the bleak circumstance, Tom says “we knew how to write and record” – a cathartic process for the life-long friends. The original recording of “Walls of the Cave” is unpolished, like the majority of the Tom tracks on Soundcloud, but once again displays Trey’s musical talents. Tom himself says he is always “impressed by Trey’s piano” skills, one of Trey’s favorite compositional tools, on the intro. Although I don’t want to seem repetitive, Trey’s talents shine throughout the original recording of “Walls of the Cave.” From the piano intro, to the building guitar chord to the various drum patterns, the musical segments of “Walls of the Cave” are entirely written and pieced together by Trey. Even though “Walls of the Cave” sounds like four sections patched together to make a song, the composition is a fluid piece of music that was refined and enhanced during studio sessions.
Phish entered the studio to record Round Room with a desire to record tracks in an organic manner. The band rehearsed and recorded in a room facing each other and the majority of the tracks on the album are “live” takes. Aside
from the “appropriate” band member playing his respective part on the song, Round Room’s version of “Walls of the Cave” does not dramatically vary from Tom and Trey’s original recording. Although Page and Fishman refine Trey’s piano chords and drum parts, the Round Room adaptation stays true to the original. On Round Room Page’s playing shares the lead with Trey’s guitar playing while Mike adds notes behind the piano and guitar leads to deepen the sound of the track. The biggest difference between the original and Round Room recording is the extended outro jam; a section of “Walls of the Cave” that delivers the only live improv the song has to offer.
Like the rest of the recordings Tom released, “Walls of the Cave” does not typically offer extended jams live. “Walls of the Cave” appropriately debuted during the third set of Phish’s return to the stage on 12/31/02 at Madison Square Garden. Only a few miles away from the remnants left by the mass destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, “Walls of the Cave” hit the stage only fifteen months after the greatest domestic tragedy in American history. The band played “Walls of the Cave” several times during the fall 2003 tour (the most memorably “2.0” versions occurred on 2/14/03, 2/28/03, 6/19/04 and 6/24/04 – a version that featured a Disease-like jam). After opening Coventry weekend, the “writing on the walls of the cave” disappeared during the hiatus and throughout 2009. “Walls of the Cave” resurfaced on 8/13/2010 in Noblesville, Indian and has been played six times since. Ultimately, “Walls of the Cave” is a modern Phish composition (much like Fluffhead or YEM) backed by Tom’s poignant lyrics that will always evoke the names of those we couldn’t save.
All in all, Tom’s releases on Twitter and SoundCloud have been very insightful and given fans a chance to learn about the duo’s writing process. Thanks to Tom, we now know more than ever before how brilliant Trey is. In the end, Phish’s writing process begins with Tom and Trey, but without the band’s cohesion and musical chemistry many of these tunes might not have grown into the complete and polished songs fans so deeply adore.
Here’s to Tom, his lyrics, his contributions to Phish, and the release of more original recordings.