The Red Red Worm
Throughout the years, many songs have taken the helm as the jam vehicle that defines a particular era. Some have adapted to the band’s ever-evolving musical style, transforming with the band as they grow; while others have become jamless standards. Some remain in the rotation to this day. Others have gone by the wayside. But one song that has remained a constant jam vehicle since its debut is the tale of our friend the red worm, “Piper”.
What is it that draws the band’s improvisational eye to a particular song? And what is it that turns it away? There seems to be no criteria as to what “makes” a song a jam vehicle. A song must be complex when necessary, but not necessarily complex. Songs such as “Split Open and Melt” or “Bowie” are both extremely musically complex, while others like “Gotta Jibboo” and “BDNTNL” are as simple as simple gets. All four songs are jam vehicles, and all four songs have taken us to that place. Transcendent moments can arise from a two-chord song or one that is fully composed with multiple sections – jams do not discriminate.
The present direction has seen the band push the idea that less is more. Simplicity has favored itself over complexity, in most cases. “Piper”, while not a two-chord song itself, is hardly much more. The song appeared much like a ship in the distance and has taken us on many great journeys since. Often overlooked as one of the defining vehicles of 3.0, “Piper” continues to propel jams with an energy rarely witnessed on the musical stage. Today we look back at the trail of the red worm – a song that can seemingly emerge from anywhere at any time.
“Piper” was officially debuted in Dublin, Ireland on 6.14.97 (the song was played once prior on 6.6.97 during a private performance at Brad Sand’s house). The early “Pipers” featured the drawn out intro heard on the studio version followed by a charging, yet contained, jam. By fall, the song had developed into a jam vehicle with numerous versions reaching great heights (11.30, 12.6., 12.12). The slow intro build, simple song structure, and gradual rise in tempo allow for endless jam and segue possibilities. To put it plainly, “Piper” is one of the most versatile vehicles in the bands repertoire.
In ’98, the band continued to carry the song into charging rock jams while digging more frequently into outside territory (4.3, 7.6, 8.8). On the second night of the Island Tour, the song kept pushing the envelope as it transitioned liquidly from the blissful outro into a sinister psychedelic ride. This ambient exploration foreshadowed the songs potential which would be fully realized one year later in the summer of ’99…
’99 brought “Piper” to new heights on a regular basis beginning in the early summer. On the second night in Oswego, the band took the song for many fans’ favorite excursion to date. A segment of the intro was actually used for the studio version, a testament to its quality. The jam gradually cruised through numerous themes sweeping all 65,000 attendees into private satori moments.
In 2003, “Piper” became a defining song for the direction the band was taking. Showing how dear the song is to the band, they chose it to open their first show back from the hiatus on 12.31.02. It’s as if 2003 opened the remaining doors “Piper” had to offer. Throughout the year, numerous versions captured the raw improvisational energy that was flowing through the band at the time. The jams are sloppy at times, but the energy that exists within drips with improvisational goo. Cover your eyes and select a “Piper” from ’03 – you’ll pull out a winner every time.
Since the beginning, the tale of the red red worm has typified the type Phish’s direction at the time . In it’s current form, the the gradual build up has been dropped in favor of a more rock-focused edgy intro. The jams continue to break ground, although not as frequently as in 2003. As seen last year in Indio and Albany, and this year in Merriweather, “Piper” continues to produce some of the most promising musical explorations.