Phish Should Look to New Jam Vehicles

9.4.11 (Dave Vann)

With a full summer tour just days away, it’s time to think about a serious issue: what will the jam vehicles of choice be? Since their return in 2009, they have focused heavily on the stand-bys like Down with Disease and Tweezer along with now-commonplace covers like Rock and Roll and Drowned. It would be a nice change to see Phish rely on different songs to carry a show this summer; one of the reason’s 8/15/11 is so fantastic is because it relied on atypical songs to carry the show.

Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2011

It seems that the band has little interest in experimenting with any 3.0 songs. After some of the extended versions of Number Line in ’09 and ’10, they seem to have lost interest in the open-ended format of the song in 2011. There are also 1.0 songs that used to get far more stage time; songs like Bathtub Gin and Wolfman’s Brother have been compacted into tight little packages within first sets. While both songs usually pack quite a punch, neither veers far from their respective 3.0 formats. The 2.0 songs are almost being totally ignored. After Walls of the Cave was dropped from the shelf at Deer Creek in 2010, the song got some air time in 2011, but never experimental like many of the 2.0 versions. Scents and Subtle Sounds has been confined to a 7 minute ditty, same with Pebbles and Marbles (when it’s even played). Those three songs boasted upwards of half-hour jams in 2003 and 2004–why are they being so limited now? Waves is really the only 2.0 song that has legs at this point.

While many of the Tweezer and Down with Disease jams have been wonderful the past year (take the 9.3.11 DwD -> Tweezer I’m listening to right now), it begs an eyeroll when the band opens every fourth or so second set with Down with Disease, Tweezer, Rock and Roll (a song they have been moving into other roles), etc. Last year, the most-used jam vehicle was Down with Disease with Tweezer being in a close second. Again, both obviously great songs–they just should be able to become creative with other songs. Get Back on the Train was played almost as much as Tweezer last year, but only a couple are really memorable–Bethel’s probably being the best. Why don’t they take that for a spin more often? We know they can, so why save the improvisation for the usual suspects? Wolfman’s Brother, Gin, and Piper were all played about the same amount last year–each song has a very rich jam history during 1.0 and 2.0–what happened in 3.0?

05.31.2011 (Dave Vann)

Wolfman’s Brother, no doubt, is still a complete dance party when he rears his head. The style of funk Wolfman’s has created this era has been fantastic–I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but why not see where that funk can go? When I think of Wolfman’s Brother, I think of jams like 7/24/98, 1/3/03, and 6/25/04–each totally different. When I think of 3.0 Wolfman’s Brothers, they all seem to bleed together–all good memories, but not any specific versions that stick out. The same goes for Bathtub Gin (minus some exceptions like Gorge ’09 and Bethel ’11) and Piper. What happened?

Okay, fine, I’ll accept that Gin, Wolfman’s, and Piper have just found a different place in a show–then why not change around what other songs’ jobs are! Trey has done a good job in 2011 changing what Rock and Roll does in a show. Up until 2011–well, actually NYE 2010, Rock and Roll was primarily reserved for the second set opening spot. I think Mr. Miner actually even pointed out that like every single Saturday show in the summer of 2010, Rock and Roll opened a second set–hilarious. Mostly starting at MSG on 12/31/10, the song became a closed-ended flame thrower. The next time it was played, at PNC on 5/31/2011, it was placed in the first set, had a closed end, and Trey absolutely shredded it again. Since then, the band seems to prefer it being 10 minutes and rocking rather than an open-ended experiment.

The main point is Phish should move some songs around this summer–we’re not asking for new songs, just new life in other songs. The jam during Undermind on 8/15/11 was so wonderful–I had been hoping for that song to be jammed out since its first 3.0 rendition. While the jam was NOTHING I expected to come from that song, it made it that more exciting. It was also exciting at PNC when they took an After Midnight stroll. If we can’t pinpoint where a jam will emerge, we’ll be on our toes the entire show.

05.31.2011 (Dave Vann)

This all being said, I have been listening to 9/3/2011 from the Dick’s run the entire time I’ve been writing this. I have not listened to the show since late last year. I knew it was good from the moment the notes were being played, but it is even better upon relistening again. I have been finding more and more shows in 3.0 that look like they will stand the test of time and words can’t describe how refreshing that is. The Down with Disease -> Tweezer is such a thoughtful, patient and gorgeous jam! The following jam in Golden Age is quite stunning. I also totally forgot about the Kill Devil Falls, when Trey blasts past the usual ending and they jam a bit longer–what a night.

BRING ON THE CENTRUM!