Phish sets, in particular second sets, have been known to take on personalities of their own. Flowing through songs as though the setlist was rehearsed, the set is played in a narrative-like fashion, unfolding as it is played. These sets are packed with type-II improv, as the songs exist merely as launch-pads for outside jams. Diving into the depths of musical discovery, the band takes the set along for the ride through a journey of psychedelic exploration. Some of the most famous set personalities have been released by Livephish, such as 5.8.93 or 5.7.94. Both of these shows have sets that appear to have mind’s of their own, embarking on musical excursions that seem otherworldly, as though the music is controlling the band. Today, we will look at some sets that have carved out their own personalities, leaving memorable journies behind.
1995.6.22 Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center, Canandaigua, NY
The second set of this show has a distinct personality of its own. Beginning with a “Theme” that, suiting to its name, takes a trip to the depths of outside improv. The song departs its normal boundaries for a wild, intense jam that wails with Trey’s droning licks. As the jam recedes back to the vocal section, appearing to be the end, the band’s gradual looping of effects leads into a five-minute “loop jam”. Entering some very spacey territory, Mike starts a groove that the rest of the band seizes on. Gaining steam, the tension builds, segueing flawlessly into the set highlight, “Tweezer”. This “Tweezer” is a 40 minute gem, that includes a The Who’s “My Generation” sandwich. Beginning with a funky groove, the jam develops a rhythmic focus, with a very outside vibe. Trey continues with his droning licks, littered with some outside lead lines. The jam follows into a slow, ambient section before leading into “My Generation”. Afterward, the jam returns to ambiance flows through a very intense, wild section before arriving at a melodic finish. The set is then capped off as the melody carries itself into “Tweezer Reprise”. Psychedelic explorations take this set on a journey which seems to carry on throughout, making the set seem like one long, enjoyable ride.
Listen to “Theme from the Bottom>Loop Jam” from 6.22.95.
1: Sample in a Jar, Scent of a Mule, Ha Ha Ha, The Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, It’s Ice, Strange Design, Maze, Cavern, Sweet Adeline
2: Theme From the Bottom-> Tweezer-> My Generation*->Tweezer-> Tweezer Reprise
E: Acoustic Army, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
*The Who Cover, first time played
1997.7.2 Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
This show’s second set is known for the “Back of the Worm” theme that runs through it. The set takes on an eerie vibe from the outset, beginning with a spacey jam, layered with siren-like effects. Out of the loops emerges the intro to “Stash”, which leads into a wild 30 minute jam. Avoiding the standard dark jams that normally flow out of the song, this jam takes a melodic twist. Trey fills the air with soaring notes that guide the jam to a level of complete bliss. The jam leads into a series of chaotic, spacey loops before the intro chords to “Llama” emerge. The song quickly returns to the the spaciness that has characterized the set, leading into the “Worm Town Jam”, a wildly outside jam (with a take on Steve Miller’s “Swing Town”). Perhaps Trey, better than I, can explain the meaning behind the “Back of the Worm”. From a 2002 High Times interview:
“When we were in Amsterdam, me and a friend took a couple of hits of acid and a hit of Ecstasy later on that night. We were walking around and I started imagining I was riding on this giant sandworm, because the roads kind of go up and down. I was picturing these huge sandworms, diving up out of the canals.
That’s where that phrase, “Back of the Worm,” came from. The next night in the middle of this crazy jam–one of these jams that get out of control and you feel like you’re not really playing, it’s just playing for you–I think I was yelling that and people started saying, “Back of the worm!”"
The set closes out with “Wading in the Velvet Sea” (including a repeating loop throughout), which seems like the end of the story that has been told throughout the set. Reliving the experiences of Trey’s trip through the music, the set takes on a psychedelic theme that flows through each song, altering the jams to suit the set’s character. The personality of this show continues into the fiery two part encore of “Free” and “Bowie”. Both following in the outside-jam style of the night, Trey appears to be trying to mimic the movements of a worm with his bends. On this special night, Trey brought the crowd along for his wild ride, on the back of the worm.
Listen to the “Worm Town Jam” from 7.2.97
1: Mike’s Song-> Simple-> Maze, Strange Design, Ginseng Sullivan, Vultures, Water in the Sky, Weekapaug Groove
2: Jam-> Stash-> Llama-> Worm Town Jam^-> Wading in the Velvet Sea
E2: David Bowie
2000.9.17 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
This show is from 9 years ago today. The second set is marked by a noticeable fluidity. The flow of the set blends the line between song and jam, seamlessly weaving through unique musical contours. The set begins with a “Rock and Roll” that follows into a standard rock jam. However, around 12:00 in, the jam becomes an ambient collection of sounds with Trey’s notes fluttering above. Next comes “Theme” which emerges from the ambiance, and follows with a soaring jam with divine melodies. The jam enters into ambiance once again, which carries into the deep bass groove of “Dog Log”. The set continues into “Mango Song” , and from the final piano notes that normally finish the song, a jam is started. With deep bass bombs, the rest of the band fills the air with ambient, spacey textures. Featuring Trey on his keyboard in parts, to add to the space, the improv becomes very outside and layered with multiple effects. In a very outside excursion into dark ambiance, the band takes a fully equal part approach, exploring unique soundscapes. The jam melds into “Free” which is guided by Mike’s deep bass bombs, closing out the set. The unique ambiance that flows through the second set of this show adds a distinct feel to it.
Listen to “Mango Song>Jam” from 9.17.00.
1: Guyute, Back on the Train, Bathtub Gin, Limb by Limb, The Moma Dance, Lawn Boy, Fluffhead, The Curtain With, Chalkdust Torture
2: Rock and Roll > Theme from the Bottom > Dog Log > The Mango Song -> Free
E: Contact, Rocky Top
If you have a favorite set with a personality of its own, post it in the comments section!