The Victor Disc – Revisited
In February of this year, one of the greatest Phish gems was uncovered, providing a look at the band in a context we had never seen before. The Victor Disc is the result of a recording session from 2002 in New York, and is perhaps one of the best glimpses at the band in their true improvisational form. This session provides a behind-the-scenes look at Phish in a stripped down, unpolished studio setting. Something that is rarely heard by fans. Today we revisit this treasure that was discovered earlier this year.
The Victor Disc was recorded on December 19, 2002, while the band was in New York to appear on the Tonight Show with David Letterman. Trey and Page went into a studio after midnight and decided to call Mike and Jon in for the session. The disc was named after the sessions engineer, and the result was over two hours of music, featuring 10 instrumental tracks, with a very loose form of jamming.
Following a similar path to the outside jazz that defined Miles Davis’ early 70′s music, the jams lack structure. The tracks are built up through a collective interplay of musical patterns and phrases. Providing a look at Phish in a setting that we have rarely seen them in, free-form studio jamming, The Victor Disc reveals the magic Phish is capable of in the studio.
This recording session brings us inside the world of Phish, and shows us way the band jams when there are no ears present but their own. Without any boundaries, the band jams as a unit, moving through numerous musical pathways. In a 2003 interview with Rolling Stone, Trey hinted at The Victor Disc becoming the band’s next album. He described the night of 12.19.02 as follows:
“I called Mike — he was in bed,” Anastasio says later that day, after the Letterman taping… He couldn’t wait to do it. “It’s all a leap of faith — four guys leaping out of an airplane with one parachute…Last night, we were still playing at six in the morning, and I’m thinking, ‘Boy, I should go to sleep. I gotta do Letterman tomorrow.’ But we were cranking it out.”
For years after the session, the legend of the recordings grew. Three tracks from the session surfaced sporadically (“Lazy in Red”, “Den of Iniquity” and “Bubble wrap”), giving a glimpse at the magic that had taken place on that winter night in New York. However, these tracks hardly display the true magic that ‘Victor’ contains. In February, the full disc was leaked spreading around the internet like wildfire. When finally, we heard what we had been waiting so long for, all expectations were more than satisfied
Previously, in a studio setting, the band had rarely been able to capture the essence of their live performances. The Siket Disc was the best example prior to ‘Victor’. However, the music on that disc is largely focused on psychedelic exploration with multi-layered effects. Heavily engineered, The Siket Disc was Phish’s attempt at something completely different. The Victor Disc is similar in a sense that it is different, yet it is also noticeably Phishy. The music sounds familiar, yet new. Mixed with a heavy dose of jazz, the band creates an open, free-form type of jamming that is one of, if not the best, studio recordings they have produced.
A far more successful attempt at free-form music than Trey’s Surrender to the Air, The Victor Disc remains open, yet tight. Containing numerous outside sections, often reminiscent of the spacey jams in “The Other One”, the music weaves in and out of chaotic jumbles. However, the chaos is simply a sign that the band is attempting to add more to the jam, and while it doesn’t always work instantaneously, given time, the chaos can become beauty. The Victor Disc contains a great deal of this chaotic risk taking, and out of it rises some incredible melodic sections that make the journey worth while. At very few points on the disc can a lead instrument be identified. Each member fits in as a component of the whole, collectively developing the jams. Mike and Page are noticeably louder, giving their roles a larger presence on the recording.
Each member’s playing on The Victor Disc complements the others’ playing perfectly, providing textures and interesting contrasts. Page, who plays mostly just Piano on the recordings, adds a strong jazz feel. His use of chords and harmonies is reminiscent of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk
at times, especially in “Guantanamo Strut”. “Lazy in Red” is perhaps the most similar to a ‘normal’ Phish song, whereas the rest delve into a differently familiar style. “Sky Train Wand” provides a very jazzy texture mixed with some very Phishy jamming. “Guantanamo Strut” begins as an intense jam that enters into some of the bands most melodic playing on the disc. “The 35 Minute Jam” is a totally free look at the band unleashing their improvisational prowess. The entire disc is packed with incredible musical peaks, that I thoroughly enjoy.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this disc, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did the day it was leaked. Finding a rare treasure like this does not happen very often. The Victor Disc is a true gem.
Listen to “Guantanamo Strut” from The Victor Disc.
For a detailed explanation of each track, read Mr. Miner’s article on The Victor Disc here.