Phish Fits Some Of The Best Jamming Of 2015 Within Magnaball Soundcheck
One of the lessons Carlos Santana taught Phish during the Summer of 1992, when the quartet opened for Santana, is that the audience is a sea of flowers and musicians should function like a hose and water those flowers. Ever since Trey expressed the “hose” theory fans have brought out the phrase whenever Phish is playing at their improvisational best. One year ago today the members of the band prepped for the Magnaball festival at Watkins Glen International near Watkins Glen, New York with a 46-minute soundcheck. Guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell jammed for nearly all of the soundcheck, taking few breaks throughout the 46 minutes and only throwing just a handful of vocals into the mix. The set was pure “hose” as in keeping with Trey’s comments about the lesson from Santana most of the soundcheck was about “making a group sound” rather than “flashy solos.”
Magnaball’s soundcheck was aired live on the festival’s radio station, The Bunny. Phish had already started when the simulcast began. The foursome were vamping on a blues-y progression with Trey and Fish screaming “Feel The Bern” and “Feel The Bern, Baby” as a shout out to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who just a few months prior announced his intention to run for president. Each member was fine tuning their on-stage sound with McConnell moving from one keyboard to another throughout the blues vamp. Anastasio showed off a few of the effects which were new to his rig in the wake of Fare Thee Well, especially a Tru-Tron envelope filter (think “Shakedown Street” and “Estimated Prophet.”) Meanwhile, Jon Fishman kept the same powerful beat going throughout the first ten minutes of soundcheck.
While the first part of the soundcheck was all about Trey shredding, the other members of the band stepped up for the second movement. Gordon employed an envelope filter of his own, McConnell hopped on electric piano, Fish broke down the beat and Anastasio laid down buttery riffs reminiscent of “The Very Long Fuse.” The foursome settled in on one particularly pretty riff. For nearly eight majestic minutes Phish focused of variations of this beautiful riff and hopefully one day they’ll base a song around the memorable riff.
Trey led his mates down a darker alley around the 18-minute mark, once again making fine use of the new effects in his rig. Page impressively played a minor key variation of the riff Phish had just been jamming on, but the other three members don’t take the bait and instead turn a corner towards a more spacey motif. Just after the 20-minute mark we almost have a break in the action which gives the band a chance to start a completely different piece of improv.
The next jam was a jam based on a progression that isn’t too far removed from the beginning of “Run Like An Antelope.” Page focused on wah’d out clavinet work, while Mike threw in the occasional brown note. Jon played a waltz-like pattern and Trey used his Tru-Tron to perfection over the course of the riveting jam between 21:30 – 25:00. Next, Trey strung together one powerful, blues-y riff after another, many of which hearkened back to the era between 1991 – 1994 when Anastasio focused more on quantity than quality in terms of the amount of notes played. Mike picked up on one of the riffs the guitarist threw out and entered a call-and-response segment with Trey on what either seemed like “Smoke On The Water” or “Cat Scratch Fever.” All four members of Phish were on top of their game as they dramatically moved between riffs and jam spaces. You just never knew what was coming next, such as when Gordon randomly started spouting the lyrics to “Rock Around The Clock.”
At 34:30 Phish moved into Talking Heads-esque terrain. If “Once In A Lifetime” ever went “Type II,” it would probably sound something like the improv worked up at this point of the soundcheck. Phish saved the best for last as the final ten minutes of the soundcheck are just breathtaking. The closing jam sounds like it’s played by an orchestra, not just four musicians as Page played synth with one hand and piano with another while Trey utilized delay loops and Fish switched beats with nearly every measure. It’s a true “Team Phish” affair as there’s not four other musicians on this earth capable of playing the wild and adventurous music the Vermonters performed at the end of their Magnaball soundcheck.
Phish Twitter went insane throughout the soundcheck as each fan wanted to add their two cents about how magical the set of music was:https://twitter.com/pzerbo/status/634486329234059264 https://twitter.com/lazyblazers/status/634485772998037506 https://twitter.com/greatdividedsky/status/634498521270484992 https://twitter.com/jephwa14/status/634483562452922368
Listen to Phish’s Magnaball soundcheck captured by GratefulLSD:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cB03pLzZM-w