Phish Funk in 2012


Trey getting there | 6/16/12 (Ashly Covington)

I’m surprised that there is very little talk about the funk Phish has been playing since DCU. If I were asked to describe it, I’d probably say the guitar has elements of Trey’s playing from 1999 and 2000 mixed in with his plinko-ish 3.0 style. The reason I mention the earlier years is because for the first time in 3.0, he’s been playing more as part of the group and laid back rather than over the band/at the forefront. Trey finally seems comfortable enough to just sit back and be one of four, rather than the one that plays over three. This was apparent with the 2001 from Centrum and the beginning of the Centrum’s Boogie jam where Trey sat back and let the rest of the band form a foundation for him to jam on. He’s realizing that he doesn’t always need to be soloing, less can be far more when you’re playing perfectly-placed chords.

The funk, aside from Trey’s guitar, is resembling the ’97 funk in some places though. Don’t shake your head–it does. Take the most glaring example: Atlantic City’s Tube. Trey brought back the stop/start style of jamming (I pray to God that it continues). In the video below, please go to 2:37 to cue it up right before Trey uses his first hand signal to tell Fish to stop and let him, Mike and Page do [what I’ve always called] a funky breakdown. After another one between him (Trey) and Page, Trey misgiviously looks to Fish and uses his picking fingers to point behind him to Page, giving Leo his very own ‘funky breakdown’! When is the last time they did this? This style of jamming was everywhere in ’97 and in parts of ’98. Will this continue? Will they build off of this?! I think they will. Also note that Trey steps on his wah pedal right before ending the jam–if Trey busts out his wah pedal more often and for longer periods of time in this type of funk jamming, we’ll have full-scale cow funk on our hands.

It seems that Phish is moving away from the crack funk of 2010 and 2011. The super tight, caffeinated grooves that almost always surfaced in Wolfman’s Brother and other funk powerhouses seem to have given way to a breezy summer relaxation that hasn’t been seen until now. The Wolfman’s Brother from Atlantic City was slower than the other 3.0 versions and featured Mike slapping his Modulus rather than picking it with one of his filters on. The jams in general seem more relaxed and organic too. It’s as if Phish (mostly Trey) has finally relaxed. Take the slow and patient Gin from DCU. Earlier in the era, Gin would have immediately gone off on a guitar-solo-rock trajectory after entering the jam (each one so similar it’s hard to remember which is which); this year, they slowed things down and took their time to build towards the top.

This patience can be seen in a lot of the jams we’ve experienced so far. From songs like the Bonnaroo Number Line, where Trey patiently places thoughtful notes before coming to a blazing head, to the Bader Light where Trey immediately sinks down and meshes with his bandmates after a shorter-than-usual Light ‘solo’ (the string of notes he usually plays while entering the Light jam) before blowing into Manteca.

However, this article is about the funk jamming and another great example of this stop/start/’funky break down’ playing also emerged in Bader’s Boogie on Reggae Woman. In the video below, please go to 4:30 to see Trey signal to Fish and Page that they would be giving Mike a solo. The reason this is so cool is because Trey is taking the ’97-style of jamming and mixing it with Mike’s 3.0-style of playing. I’ve said many times, “think of what ’97 would sound like if 3.0 Mike went back in time”. Here you can get somewhat of an idea!

There was a sort of stop/start jamming in Bader’s dirty-ass take on 2001. This, however, is more of a punctuated drumbeat than the traditional stop/start style–funky as hell, nonetheless.

I’m not sure if this style of funk will continue emerging this tour, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t. It doesn’t seem like these examples of stop/start jamming are isolated incidents–they seem to be a symptom of a general shift of a musical mindset in Trey. It’s the mindset that’s at the core of his patient guitar playing in DCU Gin, ‘Roo Number Line, and AC Heavy Things. It’s at the root of nearly all things good this tour so far. It’s as if the band has summer fever once again.

And so do I.

For some more awesome pictures of 6/16 like the one at the top, check out A Photo Groove.