Out(ro) Jams are the New “In” Jams

If there was any question as to how Phish would approach 2011, a year in which there are allegedly no more shows than what’s already been announced as Summer Tour, then Bethel certainly answered those questions. They came to jam.

Normally, I would write a review of each night of Bethel, dissecting the setlists song by song and describing my overall impressions. I’m sure you’ll get to read about that on other blogs and reviews (and if you don’t know where to go, check out my blog roll in the right-hand frame). Sitting here late on Monday night, Memorial Day, after a 3-day Phish weekend with camping, it feels like I just came back from a total event, like a festival. And so I want to comment on something I observed this weekend throughout all three shows: the outro jam.

Defining outro is a tough concept. As is often the case with questions of musical form, every song presents its own set of problems. Defining an intro is usually simple – it’s the first thing you hear, and it’s musically set off from what follows in some way. An “outro” is similar – the last thing you hear but it’s musically set off from what preceded. A classic example of the outro is “Layla,” where a piano-led, Dickey Betts Duane Allman-laced guitar excursion follows the main part of the verse/chorus song. A trickier example is “Hey Jude,” where it’s been theorized that the entire song is actually just an intro for the actual song: the “na-na” part. But still, in my opinion, it’s an outro. New chord progression, new melodic idea, entirely new feel. A Phishy example might be “Squirming Coil” with Page’s piano outro.

In a Phish jam, it’s a little different. Many great Phish jams are great because they leave the form of the song behind: they open up the space of the jam (which can either be closed or open-ended) and it reaches into new territories. Phish Heads call it the type II jam, and it’s definitely not an outro – it’s a natural extension of the improvisation that has led the band out of the formal constraints of the song.

However, what doesn’t often happen is that Phish begins a jam, lets it run its natural course, then reigns it in and brings it back to the song’s vamp, and then jams out. That’s the big difference – Phish essentially plays what is normally the ending of the song, but instead of ending it, they stretch that part out. The song has already jammed, peaked, and returned to the beginning, and then it takes a turn. Often, this turn is naturally to the quiet, dark, introspective, ambient, spacey realms of Phish’s musical world. I always think of the Island Tour “Piper,” when they built the song up, jammed it to craziness, then played the mellow ending. And then it turned scary. It makes perfect sense: after having jammed up the song to its normal peaked frenzy of energy, and returned with the always comforting song vamp, they now turn their improvisational eye in the other direction. No longer building towards cathartic release, these outro jams often devolve into noise or space. And this weekend, we got a bunch of these. And they were AWESOME.

The biggest and best was the “Waves” from Friday night. First of all, way to play “Waves,” Phish! (and can we get some more Round Room material?) Second, “Waves” has actually had an outro jam at least once before before – the fantastic “Waves->David Bowie” from IT 8/2/03. You’ll note that phish.net even acknowledges the moment by calling it “Waves->Jam->Bowie.” In Bethel, Trey built up a patient jam that ran pretty typical for “Waves,” before falling into the closing “on the wind and underwater” lyric. Spinning the words into a polyphonic web between the singers, the music followed suit, weaving a number of melodic lines together before falling into a serene ambient space. Like the best examples from the late 90s, this ambient jam featured a gliding cymbal beat from Fishman, swirls of warm sound from Page’s various machines, and light but concentrated interplay between Mike and Trey, with the occasional wash of guitar sound or giant bass note to fill out a measure.

As the jam dissolved into Caspian, it capped what had been a truly magnificent stretch of playing that began with “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” a song that ALSO had something like an outro jam (which you can hear as the 1st two minutes or so of the above video), although this one was more typical of Phish’s type II offerings. Regardless of what you call it, this was definitely an atypical “Boogie On,” with the band deconstructing what might be the funkiest bass line that Mike plays into noisy space. Washes of distortion and a much heavier Fishman hand on the cymbals characterized this typical Phish noise-space. Yet, this was still soooo goooood. Fishman abandoned the meter, meaning there was no beat, only a blob of sound. You could feel the band pushing, reaching, consciously looking for creative things to say, rather than just ending the jam and moving onto the next song. Perhaps the TreyDHD has been roped in a bit?

On the second night, the key pieces of improv were in the “Halley’s Comet,” the “Disease,” and the “Number Line.” All three are excellent, and the “Halley’s” stands out in my mind as the song/jam of the weekend. None of them were outro jams, per se: they all usually “do this” when the band decides to jam on them. Incidentally, my favorite thing about “Halley’s” is the knowledge that many phans have about this song: that some of the best Phish jams ever (I’m looking at you 12/14/95 and 11/22/97) have come out of “Halley’s.” And so every time they play it, we all hold out hope that another epic jam will emerge. Usually it doesn’t. Saturday night it did (I’m not saying that the 5/28/11 Halley’s is anything like those other two 5-star jams. But it was the best piece of improv from a jam-heavy weekend, so there…).

The most interesting and atypical jam of Saturday, though, was another time when Phish decided to place a bit of improvisation in a spot of a song where there isn’t a jam. Basically, that’s what the outro jam is – they play the end of the song (like usual) and then decide to jam on that (unusual). So the most surprising thing on Saturday was the absolutely smokin’, excellent jam in “Runaway Jim” that came during the instrumental “verse,” that composed-out bit of bluegrassy goodness right before the “by the time he came home he was seventeen” lyric. Usually, Mike is very active here, playing that same old Jim bass line, with sparse (if any) strumming from Trey, nothing really from Page, and a very light version of the drums. Getting creative, they stretched this part out for a good 3 or 4 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that this part usually lasts at most 30 seconds. Trey started strumming with more assertiveness and drive, Page did more than just comp chords, Fish picked up his beat as he followed the leader of this jam, Mike. Gordo drove this swampgrass jam around in the depths, with the band building intensity without really breaking the laid back mood of this section of the song. It was definitely noticed by the crowd, and when Trey finally slammed into the verse lick at the conclusion, it was played as the culminating riff to a jam. Simply awe-inspiring.

Night three saw a crunchy outro jam in “46 Days”; the song ended as usual following a short jam, but then seemed to fall apart into an intense ambient space. Fittingly, this dark space jam led into the opening of an equally twisted, melancholic song: “Twenty Years Later.” Although Sunday was the lightest on jams (good but “normal” jams on “Simple,” “Light,” and “Timber Ho”), that particular outro jam stuck in my mind as the part of the night when the band let their guard down the most and explored the truly uncharted.

It’ll be interesting to see if this was just a random fad that I noticed/created in my mind, or whether they’ll continue this into tour. If anything, I’d say there’s more substance to the idea that Phish is placing jams in unlikely places (the interlude of “Jim,” the outro of any of the aforementioned jams) than specifically playing outro jams. What else could this mean for the songs we haven’t yet heard? Perhaps a jammed out “Ghost” during the little part before the final “but maybe he’s still with me” lyric, an extra long pre-Nirvana space jam in “YEM,” maybe even a space jam right before the quiet guitar solo in “Divided.” In the end, it doesn’t matter – all that matters is that Phish is improvising with conviction, passion, and a bevy of exquisite musical ideas so far this summer. And wherever in the song that appears, it’s a good thing in my book.


~ by Jake on May 31, 2011.

9 Responses to “Out(ro) Jams are the New “In” Jams”

  1. The reason these outro jams are cool (besides the great music that’s coming out of them) is that it shows the band is focusing on conciously creating space for patience both wintin their current jamming style and for the transitions between songs.

    • totally, you nailed it. It’s all about the patience, something that seemed lacking in 2010 at many shows and forced a lot of rushed “segues” if you can even call them that. I still cringe to think about that 6/17/10 Hartford Sand>Horse.

  2. Tthat wasn’t Dickie Betts but Duane Alman. That is no small mistake. There would be an ocean separating those 2. Either way insightful article. In thru the out. Zeppelin. Hoping they keep the pace.

    • Shred – thanks, you weren’t only one who pointed that out to me! We can chalk it up to me being supremely tired after a 3-night run and mixing up my Allman Bros. guitarists.

  3. My Phriend My Phriend…Very well written piece. I just got done listening to the Hailey’s outro jam myself and heard some Antelope galloping and even felt the chill of a 7 Below tease, until they finally settled on a Runway Jim after such a runaway jam. I am really looking forward to seeing the Alpharetta shows which will be the #49 and #50 Phish schticks for these 46 year old (Thirteen days older than Trey) bones…and yes, I still dance and rock out like it is 1985.

    On another note, your historical miscue of replacing Duane Allman with Dickie Betts in the Derek and the Dominos project nearly scared me into assisted living for a moment. I am glad to see that upon revisiting your post that you set the record straight. However, this oversight leads me to believe that you may be in need of some Derek and the Dominos remedial exposure. May I suggest acquiring the Derek and the Dominos 20th anniversary Layla Sessions 3 disc set. This compilation, unlike the most recent 40th anniversary edition contains a disc chock full of lengthy, spacey, and blues inspired jams by combinations and permutations of The ABB and Derek and the Dominos members. These 5 Jam tracks that were recorded by Tom Dowd at his Criteria Studio in Miami, and are all contained on disc two. These jams are what led to the organic and very significant contributions that Duane made to the Layla project. Legend has it that the Allman Brothers played a gig in Miami, August 26, 1970 where D&D all attended. Clapton and bandmates were in the front row and Duane et Les Brers were somewhat star struck, but put on a typically amazing performance. After the show, both bands went back to Criteria studio where an all night and into the next day party and jam-fest took place. By the end of the next day, The ABB packed up and headed towards their next tour stop in Pensacola, while Duane stayed behind a little longer in Miami and the rest is history.

    Also, the piano led coda in Layla that I believe you are referring to was actually written by Jim Gordon who was the drummer for Derek and the Dominos, and with possible help from Rita Coolidge, his onetime girlfriend. I do not believe that either of them ever received full credit for that part of the song, but I may be wrong. Anyhow, Duane does play beautiful slide guitar riffs underneath the piano melody that are so painful and gorgeous at the same time. Duane finishes the song with his trademark “bird call” slide notes…which Dickey also played later at various times as frontman for the ABB. (By the way, I am a huge Dickie fan and his guitar playing and song writing contributions to the ABB are immense!) You can read all the epic recording of Layla in the book, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos”, by Jan Reid.

    Sorry for the history lesson, but you know us old phoggies…if you need anymore inspiration to re-visit Derek and the Dominos and their contribution to what exists for us today, jut pick up any old guitar and look at the strings


    Thank you again for your very well informed and well written review from Yasgur’s Pharm…Timboho

    • thanks so much for the recommendation on Derek and the Dominoes. you’re right, I am probably in need of some remedial D&tD listening. I know a lot about Cream, but after that, I sort of stop my knowledge of Clapton’s career other than the songs that I know. and no worries giving me some recommendations – I’m a musicologist so I know the “history lesson” urge.

  4. Very insightful look into the out(tro) jam. There is much here to ponder over. I was at those phish shows. The friday show lead well into sat’s. the boogie on defiantly had the crowd moving and i could see the band pushing that song forward, i think as a crowd watching we were there with them on it, and ,yes, it was so good. the entire set really did get us/ this phan at least, ready for the second night.
    On the second night I think the new material they pulled out had the ears of the crowd. As for “epic-ness” though, the Halley’s was in my mind as well, i do believe i have the correct song in mind here (yet i need to re-listen to all three shows soon). All of the improv seemed to come together forming a very intense second night.
    The third show amplified the musical journey the band was making during these days. The first song (always amazing) they played set the stage for the rest of the set. Twenty years later almost seems to need some explanation but sometimes I guessthings can be illogical.
    All in all I don’t think this is a random fad for phish or their phans. I agree: “all that matters is that Phish is improvising with conviction, passion, and a bevy of exquisite musical ideas so far this summer”

    • I actually preferred the first two shows to the third, but that’s not saying all that much, since i still really enjoyed the Sunday show. I felt that 20 Years Later was actually a nice arrival point after that sinister 46 Days jam, which took on a really dark/evil quality that would’ve been awkward if they had followed it with something more lighthearted or mellow. 20 Years Later is a cooldown song, but it’s also intense and rockin’ cooldown.

  5. Outro-jams are great, when allowed by Trey.

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