Down, Down, Down…Melt
“Split Open and Melt” is undeniably one of Phish’s most unique songs. Blending the lines between funk, fusion and Phish, the song stands out as one of the band’s most original compositions. “Melt” contains several extremely complex sections as well as a very odd time signature, making the song very difficult to play. Perhaps the most intense, and aggressive of any Phish composition, “Melt” has paved the way for some very heavy jams in the past. Featuring an intense, dark jam that dives down into the depths of exploratory jamming, “Melt” always makes for an interesting listen. However, the band has admittedly struggled with the song’s complexity. As Mike mentioned in a recent interview with Bass Player (click here to read the interview):
“Songs such as “Foam” and “Split Open and Melt” are intense; I have to memorize each song like a story because there are no consistent time or key signatures. The rhythms are easier to remember than the melodies. The instrumental section of “Split Open and Melt” is a good example of how I have to bounce around. As soon as something appears to be regular—such as a whole-tone scale—there are some chromatic notes added in that make it irregular.”
To be honest, there are SO many good versions of this song. Most notably, 7/15/92 from Charlottesville, 4/21/93 from Columbus, 12/14/95 from Binghamton, and 12/31/99 from Big Cypress, the list goes on. The jam from from Columbus was featured on their studio album Hoist, coming after the song “Demand” (check out this great article on it from a few months back on Phish Thoughts). There are so many other magical versions of the song. In ’94, just the jam portion was played after “Demand”, similar to the version on Hoist. These two versions from 4/14/94 and 6/26/94 are both smoking hot, exhibiting the fierce jam in the context of a different frame.
However, the “Melt” from 6.11.94 at Red Rocks sets itself apart from the rest. The composed section is played at a faster tempo, and is nailed perfectly. The “Melt” jam is generally one of the best displays of Trey’s shredding abilities, and this version is no different. He noticeably takes a step back and lets the gritty beat emerge from underneath. As a result, Trey delivers some ripping lead lines while letting Mike lay down a heavy bass groove. The jam heads outside as they fully exploit the unique rhythm and chord changes in the song. Mike locks into a very outside groove, with phrasing reminiscent of Dave Holland in Miles Davis’ band. In a ’94 interview with Steve Silberman (read the interview here), Trey had the following to say about the song:
“We just discovered how to play Split Open and Melt, because it’s got this really weird time change that was throwing us off. But that one on Hoist at the end, that was the first time it clicked. Split Open and Melt went from being a big pain in our butt to like, this was it, this was how you play Split Open and Melt. For the next year, it was incredible. We played one at Red Rocks…. It was just screaming. That had gotten to that point from the one on Hoist, from Columbus, Ohio. That was the night that it broke through. I actually, this is what happened: The one at Red Rocks was the end of the cycle. It peaked, and it never got as good as that again. It hasn’t yet. And this tour, it didn’t have it anymore. It didn’t have the magic. It’s weird. We figured it out, and then it went through this big cycle starting in Columbus and ending in Red Rocks, and this tour, it’s back on the back burner again. We’re not playing it that much.”
After taking the jam to a new level of improvisational discovery in Columbus, the band began to speed up the tempo and use the song as a launch pad for aggressive, outside jams. “Melt” is clearly a vehicle for musical release. Perhaps the best example of this is the version from Coventry, also known as the “blow off some steam jam”. The Big Cypress “Melt” is arguably just as good as Red Rocks ’94, but exhibits an entirely different style of jamming focused more on ambiance. The ’94-’95 phase is marked by dark-horse style improv that lead to unrestricted, yet methodical jams. The ’94 Red Rocks “Melt” characterizes this style in its truest form, and undoubtedly remains one of the best versions of the song to this day.
Listen to “Split Open and Melt” from 6.11.94 from Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Here’s a video of “Split Open and Melt” from 2.16.97 Wartesaal, Cologne, Germany