Phish Alpine ‘Ruby Waves’: Setlist Schematics

By Mike Hamad Jul 29, 2019 6:35 am PDT

Journalist, artist and musicologist Mike Hamad sketched nearly 200 Phish songs and jams since 2013 but recently has taken a hiatus from these “Setlist Schematics.” After Phish unleashed a 38-minute “Ruby Waves” at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin on July 14, Mike decided to sketch the masterful jam. Here’s the premiere of Mike’s schematic and his explanation of the graphic:

I’ve done the math. I’ve crunched the numbers. I’ve weathered the sleepless nights. “Ruby Waves,” as performed by Phish at Alpine Valley on July 14, is my favorite 3.0 jam.

That will change. It’s funny: I don’t go back to Summer 2015, or Fall 2013, or much of the Baker’s Dozen run (until recently), or really any enjoyable, super-cool 3.0 tour to do a bunch of sustained listening.

I change, you change, they change. These days, I’ll take Summer 2019 over anything. It’s how I’m built (right now).

Speaking of changes: that night, listening from home, I was floored. I’m floored now. Seven modulations. (Anyone who knows me knows modulations are my thing.)

Attached you’ll find my humble rendering of 38 joyful minutes of music in poster form. (Also: framed posters, mugs and flip-flops!). Those seven modulations: you’ll see them if you look closely.

The schematic is meant to be — but isn’t perfectly — proportional, meaning roughly halfway through is, like, 19 minutes into the song.

Believe it or not, every mark means something. I’ll take you through some of it. (Uppercase words below represent actual words that show up in the schematic, even though some are hard to find. But they’re there.)

Okay: start at the segue from “MERCURY” (upper left) and snake your way across to the bottom right as you listen, ending with the segue into “TWIST.”

The actual SONG part (uppermost left, under “MERCURY”) lasts from the lowercase A (for A major) until the JAM, not very far into the schematic.

A couple notes on the song itself: it’s a standard ROCK GROOVE, built upon a verse (V) chord progression that moves from I (A) to B min (ii) and D maj (IV) chords (“ii” and “IV” appear with the lowercase letter “a”).

There are essentially only two verses and choruses (VC1-2). The basic instrumentation (not surprisingly) is vocals (VOX), PIANO, BASS, DRUMS, SYNTH and guitar. The pitch E (^5) is a prominent melodic pitch (“And a sea of love, ruby waves would pour…,” “An ocean of love would carry me / Up…” … that’s all on the pitch E, which is the fifth scale degree in A major).

Numbers, generally speaking, represent scale degrees (often with a pointy hat, or ^, at the top) above the established tonic (i.e. home key); the vertical arrangement 2-1-7-6-5-4-3-2 at the start of the schematic, for example, represents the guitar riff/melody during the song part (which coincides with Fishman playing FILLS).

Page switches to the RHODES electric piano. The JAM starts off in A major, punctuated by the band descending melodically (vertical 5-4-3-2-1, right next to the word JAM) before they switch modes (MODE-MIX) to A minor.

I can’t really do this for the whole schematic, but look for large-ish lowercase letters (D, F, C, G, C, B-FLAT, D-FLAT) and the abbreviated word MOD (for modulations) running sort of right through the middle of the giant “wave.” Roman numerals (IV, VII, III) stand for harmonic distances traveled by the MODulations; I believe I stuck all the Roman numerals within the letters themselves.

A couple more notes about certain recurring words, just as I’m looking at the map right now:

Drummer Jon Fishman often switches from HI-HAT to the RIDE cymbal. He also ROLLS, CHOPS, CRASHes, plays on his BLOCKS and supplies some monstrous BIG FILLS. DOUBLE-TIME is a special time when he halves the beat.

Bassist Mike Gordon playing melodically against guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell, rather than holding down the bottom end, tends to be noted as CPT (for “counterpoint”). Look out for his SPACE BASS and the DRILL!

I tend to note Trey settling into a vamp instead of ripping LEADS as COMP (for “comping,” or vamping).

Page’s tone colors (PIANO, CLAVI-WAH, ORGAN, RHODES, SYNTH) float in and out.

Trey has a ton of tone colors, too: MUTRON, OCT (for “octaves”), SHRED, NOISE, TREM (for “tremolo”), etc.

Dynamics refers to the loudness or softness of the music. There are certain recognizable trajectories, usually falling within the following parameters:

  • DYN DIP (“dynamic dip”) = a drop in volume or intensity
  • BUILD = a gradual increase in dynamics or intensity
  • DRIVE = maintaining a pretty much full-throttle dynamics/intensity level
  • GALLOP = DRIVE on acid (you’ll know it when you hear it)
  • PEAK = you’ll know it when you hear it

Certain recognizable words (REGGAE, EVIL RIFF, METAL, AMBIENT) stand in for styles of music we all kind of know when we hear them, while others (BLUES-ROCK, MIXO, DORIAN) might stand for a pitch collection or mode.

A couple of textures the quartet gets into as a unit: SYNC (one or more members lock into a pattern, often SYNCopated or with HITS), HOLES (i.e. they leave gaps in the texture — no wooing!) and SWELLS (I think, like, rising and falling dynamics? Something like that.)

(Can you find the melted face toward the end of the jam? That’s me. I also heard a big old DEG and another TEASE that sounded like “Tired of Waiting for You” by the Kinks.)

I guess that’s it. You don’t have to take all this stuff too seriously. It’s just how I listen. Here are a few more notes on symbols, if you’re really interested.

I’m also selling the original, one-of-a-kind drawing. It’s 9×12 (small!) black ink on really nice white paper (no colors whatsoever). I’ll start the bidding at $199. Email me directly ( if you’re interested.

Thanks for buying art and supporting artists. Let me know if you have any questions.

Alpine Ruby Waves

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