After writing about how Phish should consider using new jam vehicles in the upcoming tour, I started thinking about all the 3.0 songs that never really blossomed into any real improvisational springboard. The band has mostly relied on 1.0 standards to carry the creative weight for a show. Most of their 3.0 songs have been around for three years now. When you look at other years the band has released albums, usually at least one or two songs from that album finds a voice within the following three years–this doesn’t seem to be the case with their Joy and Party Time songs.
They first tried to get creative with a 3.0 song at Bonnaroo in ’09 when they extended Kill Devil Falls to nearly 15 minutes. While the result wasn’t spectacular, it certainly was interesting. The next attempt came at Red Rocks with an eerier version of the song; since then, the song has been forced back into its Chalk-Dust-Torture-ish sound and position in concerts.
Just a week after Red Rocks, with a completely random mid-week stop in Chicago while crossing the Midwest to get back to their safe haven of the Northeast, Phish played a largely uninspired and poorly-structured show at Toyota Park. One of the few redeeming qualities of the concert is they jammed out Backwards Down the Number Line for the first time. Until that moment, the song was strictly a soaring, feel-good rocker–many were wondering what this do-good song would sound like when it eventually broke out of its cookie-cutter mold. That night we got our answer.
Number Line is the most confused song in the bunch. It just can’t seem to find its own voice. The band has put the song literally into every possible position they could: it’s served as a show opener, mid-first set rocker, first set closer, second set opener, second set jam, second set closer, and even an encore. The song also didn’t know if it wanted to be an open-ended journey or a closed-ended rocker (both of which are awesome). It seems that the band is done experimenting with the song seeing as there have been no experimental versions since 2010. One of the most impressive takes on the song comes in a 1-2-punch of 3.0 songs: 6/12/10’s Number Line -> 20 Years Later (below).
That brings us to the next 3.0 song, Twenty Years Later. The song has only been played once in 2011 which happened at the very beginning of the touring season at Bethel. With an entire year passing since they’ve played it, one wonders if they’ll even play it again anytime soon. While not many people expect the song to carry any real improvisational weight, it does serve as a perfect landing pad after dark and engaging jams akin the video above.The beginning of the song is eerily comforting with a sort of embracing feel. One of the best versions came the first night of the NYE run in 2010, Trey gave us a face-melter at the Centrum in the middle of the second set after lulling us down to earth after a psychedelic Seven Below > What’s the Use? >. The roof was blown when Trey bust out his wah pedal for a portion of the guitar solo (which he doesn’t use very often anymore).
A song that I, for whatever reason, mentally pair with 20 Years Later is Stealin’ Time from the Faulty Plan. I feel like a lot of people brush the song off–probably because the song has been quite tame and cookie-cutter since its debut at Jones Beach in 2009. The way Trey’s Ocedoc absolutely snarles out of the jam’s gates is impressive (and, yes, also face-melting). Why doesn’t he go somewhere with it? With the way Trey has been playing most of 2011, he could certainly give the song some serious legs to run with.
Undermind is a song with unbelievable potential too. While Undermind was on 2004’s Undermind album, the song wasn’t played live until Hampton in 2009 (3.0). Since its debut in Virginia, I dreamed of the funkiness the song could offer in a jam. We finally got an extended version at UIC last year and it’s one of the best highlights of the entire era. I pray that they continue to use the song to jump-start creative improvisation. The song’s ending opens the band up to amazing musical potency.
Light. What about Light, right? I think I just made a poem. Anyway, this song was obviously written for the sole purpose of having a new open-ended song to spawn extended jams. Sure, there are some good versions: the Greek’s from 2010, the tour-opening 6/11/10 version of Light -> Maze, and the almost-composed jam at the Gorge in 2009. But considering how many times they’ve played it, there are really few versions you’d go back and listen to. Many of the jams feel discombobulated and uninspired. Ghost, like Light, was written pretty much only to have an open-ended jam song but the former never seemed to have that creative block once the song slipped into the abyss of improvisation. Through 2010, I was giving Light time to grow into its skin–but it’s been three years now with little improvement. I’ve pretty much given up on the song and am looking towards what I consider to be THE song of 3.0:
When Steam dropped for the first time at Blossom on 6/4/11, people’s jaws dropped. I remember thinking it was probably some sick and unusual jam coming out of the unorthodox rendition of Possum. When the slow lyrics came in, it was obvious that we were in for a treat. The song was immediately accepted by the community. It has a structure that can contain a jam with a closed-end or be open-ended, it’s slow and lurching body is a petri dish for spawning funk and darkness but can easily transition to dark rock like at UIC and MSG, the lyrics are unique and not as literal as nearly all the other 3.0 Trey-written lyrics are, and it’s unlike any other song in their arsenal–it has its very own voice. Steam evokes a certain feeling; its sound alone changes the tone of a venue. However, we have yet to see an experimental version. All versions have been good–as good as they can get in a 10-minute span. NYE 2011’s was the most memorable because of the silly on-stage gag with the things floating in steam but I think the best is probably the debut at Blossom. I think the segue into and out of the song is fantastic, it served as a sort of foggy oasis in the middle of a fantastic second set. Also, Blossom’s is the ONLY version that includes Trey’s digital delay loops after he sings “in steeeam…”; when they played it the next time at MPP a week or so later, the loops had been removed from the song. I hope the loops return as it adds a great element of sound, perfect for the feeling of the song. Steam has the capability of carrying almost an entire set on its back if they really go for it this summer.
It’s been three years for most of the 3.0 songs now, it’s time for them to speak up and find their place in phishtory. We know what Tweezer, Down with Disease, and Ghost can do–let’s see what Steam, Undermind, and Number Line can do.