Permalink for Comment #1376250763 by smoothatonalsnd

, comment by smoothatonalsnd
smoothatonalsnd @Renaissance said:
I would like to hear your take on Dead songs like Stranger, Birdsong, Playin, and Cassidy. I'm pretty damn sure there were a lot of mod changes in those performances.
Actually, there are surprisingly fewer than you'd think, and part of this is something that @MikeHamad alluded to in an earlier post: Phil. Phil does not hold down a tonic in the way that Mike does. Even though both bassists are highly melodic and unconventional, in 3.0 Mike has really perfected the art of providing the harmonic grounding while also playing a very active and melodic bass.

Take "Playing in the Band," for example. Almost every version stays pretty squarely in D for most of the jam. There are occasional modal shifts by Jerry (to G mixolydian, for example, or A minor), and little asides to other chords from Bob, but the overall harmonic realm remains in D. In my opinion, the sense of travel and exploration comes from the different way that the Dead filled that harmonic space with melodic material, and also with noise. Noise is a huge part of the Dead's pre-hiatus sound that's not as prevalent in Phish.

There is a musicologist named Graeme Boone who has systematically gone through every single "Dark Star" from its debut through 1969 (I think that's as far as he's gotten) and has also done this for "Bird Song" from the early 70s. One of the fascinating things that he shows is that within these jams there are spaces that the band travels through and around, but it tends to remain contained within a harmonic space. The beauty comes from the swirling coloration of melody and harmony contained within a general tonal space (in the case of "Dark Star," for example, A). The beauty of these modulating Phish jams comes from their ability to journey along tonal pathways. That's why even though the Dead and Phish are often compared, and their approach to improvisation is philosophically similar, the actual end result can be very different.


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