Phish has surprised their fans with special, unannounced sets at many of their festivals in the past 19 years. At The Clifford Ball, a flatbed truck drove the band around while they jammed. During The Great Went, the band DJ’d under fake names in a tent for a “Disco Set.” The Lemonwheel featured an hour long ambient set late at night, while Big Cypress had slightly-announced ‘Midnight set’ where the band played for seven hours straight, stretching from the end of the last millennium into the dawn of the new one. IT had The Tower Jam, with the band performing on an air traffic control tower while acrobats danced below and Superball IX had the ‘Storage Jam,’ which sparked a new era of psychedelic jamming and broke new ground.
Magnaball’s foray into the history of Phish’s special festival sets was the Drive-In Jam and it raised the bar while putting forth a performance on par with the ‘Storage Jam,’ if not exceeded this established upper echelon of improvisation. On a 183 foot movie screen, a wide array of visual treats combined with a progressively growing ambient jam that eclipsed the Lemonwheel by a longshot and morphed into a full on jam for 50 minutes. The Drive-in Set raised the bar for surprise performances and gave fans a treat after the music on the main stage ended an hour prior.
How can one explain what happened in those 50 minutes and the lead up to the performance? For starters, you can watch the video captured by Phun Guy and judge for yourself what transpired. Add to this a breakdown of what occurred in each ‘segment’ of the Drive-In jam and take a waltz through Phish at the top of their game, more than 30 years into their career.
Breakdown of the Drive-In Set (times are approximate, based on Live Phish recording time.)
0:00 – 8:10
Gentle, airy, spooky feedback with the sound of chains and haunted house noises – a psychedelic Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. Screams and chimes ala “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” build on the cosmic sound that develops from the first portion of the jam.
8:10 – 10:30
Waves and a few bass notes from Mike redirect the jam to fresh territory, an ocean-sound-scape, where some light vocals accompany the developing music.
10:30 – 12:30
Trey takes a lead and Fishman is more prevalent in the mix, building towards a jam that could be a Type II jam of any song from this summer – the epic jams we experienced are found within this portion. All four are synced up now.
12:30 – 15:30
Trey jumps ahead with some arcing riffs while Fish works the crash cymbals loudly. Page is the captain here – guiding the band into the grandiose trip through an ambient wormhole. Trey keeps jumping ahead at times, short leaps that propel the jam with the rhythm section building upon already fertile ground.
15:30 – 17:30
Mike brings the bass to the fore and now we have a change in the tone – deeper and weirder. Trey pops in with some lighter notes while Page adds in UFO sounds to freak people out. The visual display at this time was practically a trip through an episode of Cosmos, minus Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s narrating.
17:30 – 22:30
And here comes Fishman! The pace picks up a bit as Mike and Fish are going double time and leaving the ambiance behind. Trey and Page follow suit and we have lift-off. This section of the jam is quite remarkable for the build and peaks throughout the ascent. This is a hyper-space jump via ludicrous speed. Fish doesn’t let up on the drums for a second and Trey gets a little nasty towards the end here.
22:30 – 24:00
Trey wants to get weird, so Mike gets into a new bass groove. A jam that could be found in an odd version of “Catapult” grows while Page adds in some subtle screams; the build is tremendous here. Closeup fractal imagery of the band is seen over the rest of the crazy visual effects.
24:00 – 27:00
Fish returns the jam to earth’s orbit. The mild funk that develops thankfully doesn’t fizzle or fade but instead grows into a new jam, one working in deep bass from Mike and spacey Page effects. The jam collapses in a collective heap of Trey and Page.
27:00 – 29:00
Bells, looping and synth arise and slowly rebuild the jam. Fish pounds the drums to redirect and we’re off once again!
29:00 – 32:00
With a solar array lighting the screen, another Type II-esque jam develops, eliciting a portion of “Cheap Sunglasses” followed by a vocal jam from Mike and Trey. This is a freaky portion of the entire jam and fodder for future late night Freakouts by The Bunny.
32:00 – 34:30
Some meatballs from Mike as Trey slowly paces forward and new territory being broken in a disjointed area where they slowly reconvene.
34:30 – 37:00
Trey takes over and we have all four dialed back in. A blissful jam emerges. The visuals of the band projected on the screen are more solid and animated with a touch of tripped out A-Ha.
37:00 – 40:00
As this jam builds it develops into a nearly composed portion that would be a treat to hear again live. Mike and Fish steer the ship while Trey leads the way and Page sets the tone for the jam – it’s hard to hear this jam and not recoil in amazement.
40:00 – 43:20
This just keeps getting better and better. Page is now leading the way with Trey and Fish creating interplay for a broader jam to develop that adds layers to the already existing jam – a meta jam. ‘Whoa’ vocals emerge midway through then Trey takes command.
43:20 – 45:30
Trey moves the jam into final section territory, a possibly composed portion of accelerated guitar work to signal a shift, which the others follow perfectly. The jam mellows a bit without flatlining; instead Page adds some synth effects to provide a base.
45:30 – 46:30
We come towards the close of the Drive-in Jam, all four slowly winding down the jam until it is just a series of beats and feedback played behind the screen.
Drive In set #phish #magnaball A video posted by NYS Music (@nystatemusic) on
46:30 – 49:30
A darker section emerges, driving home the remaining jam with audio-hallucinations and growing vocals from Trey and Mike building the jam up.
49:30 – 51:40
Sound effects from Page are the beginning of the end for the Drive-In Set, as eerie mad scientist laboratory sounds carry over while Trey uses the Mu-tone to drip a little “Space” goodness into the final minutes. After one last build, the music ends slowly and gently.
51:40 – 52:17
Well deserved applause from the faithful 30,000 that stayed awake to witness this incredible musical event.