Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2014-08-07
The existence of sand is ultimately responsible for life as you know it on this planet. Without sand there would be no continents, there would be no television, there would be no Internet, and there would be no phatty glass pieces available on the lot. Of its myriad forms, perhaps the most interesting sands (so much so that a museum dedicated to them can be found in Japan) are of the rare musical variety. Due to their strange acoustic properties which arise from vibrations caused by intergranular friction, these musical sands display a wide sonic range from the “singing” sands of beaches in Japan and Brazil, to the “booming” sands of some deserts in the United States, Africa, and China. Unfortunately, these sands are very susceptible to contamination by environmental pollutants. As we continue to foul our planet, more of these rare sands disappear. The lyrics of “Sand” – written by Tom Marshall and first performed by Trey with the 8-Foot Fluorescent Tubes on 4/17/98 at Vermont's Higher Ground – can be interpreted as an indictment of the ills which affect our planet in general, and the Phish scene (as a somewhat skewed microcosm) specifically. Considering the subject matter, “Sand” might well have been called “Heavy Things.”
TAB, “Sand” – 5/6/99, Chicago, IL
Looking beyond the obvious message regarding gun control (with due respect to victims of school shootings, wars, and our unalienable right to bear arms), the pistol in the first verse is a symbol for all that is wrong with society. Suggesting that rather than treat the wounds we inflict upon the earth, each other, and the Phish scene, we should strive to eliminate the causes of these injuries. Perhaps, if as a society, a species, and as fans, we were able to evolve beyond the level of parasite, we might all have a brighter future.
The second verse deals with our innate competitiveness in both our daily lives, and while at the show. The lyrics evoke images of traffic and road rage on the paved surfaces of reality, the superhighway of the virtual world, and the turnstiles, aisles, and front rails of the concert venue. We careen ahead, carelessly oblivious (or perhaps chemically blinded) to the fact that we are eagerly crushing our “brothers” and “sisters” beneath our wheels or heels, simply because we think we have some divine right to the road, the newsgroup, dancing space, or the band.
The final verse of “Sand” explores spirituality, connection to the universe, and blind idolatry. Ultimately (as with any other experience or perception) our religion and gods are personal. For some the dollar is almighty, for others the Buddha reigns supreme, sometimes even musicians are idolized as gods. Unfortunately, when our god (no matter what form she/he/it takes) questions our behavior, we are given to rejecting the warning. Disregarding good advice – whether it comes from the stormy seas washing onto the singing sands of our diseased planet or the guitarist/songwriter of our favorite band – could be catastrophic.
Phish, “Sand” – 12/31/10, New York, NY
In stark contrast to the lyrical content of “Sand,” the song is an orgiastic rump-shaking groove-fest. The bedrock foundation of “Sand” is cemented together by a simple repetitive groove that is rooted in a ‘70s disco beat. This sturdy pad is then used by Trey as a launch site for sky-searing volleys of liquid metallic guitar-hero fireworks. The Phish debut of “Sand” (it was previously played on Trey’s tour with Tony Markellis and Russ Lawton, see 2/15/99, 5/7/99, 5/14/99 etc) was on 9/11/99 at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Since this debut, “Sand” was in fairly regular rotation prior to the hiatus as an opener or early jamming tune in second sets.
To sample a good cross section of “Sand’s” early stratigraphic column with Phish, check out the following versions: 9/19/99 Irvine Meadows ; 10/4/99 NORML, IL; 12/13/99 Providence; the monstrous version from Big Cypress on 12/31/99; the dark and sinister PNC “Sand” from 6/29/00; the Michael Ray-inflected version from Albany on 9/9/00; and the creeping beast from Shoreline on 10/6/00.
Along with “First Tube” and “Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand" has anchored TAB’s repertoire throughout that ensemble’s history. During the hiatus, “Sand” was deposited on numerous occasions in Trey Anastasio Band shows. A particularly well-cemented version from 6/20/02 PNC was included on TAB’s first live release, Plasma. Although there were no Phish performances of “Sand” in 2004, a surprise TAB set at Higher Ground on 4/11/04 included a performance of “Sand” that featured guest appearances by his Phish bandmates. Other notable TAB versions include: 7/22/01 Deer Creek with Ray Paczkowski, John Medeski and Trey all on keyboards; the dust devil unleashed in Darien Lake, NY on 6/16/02 with Fish on drums; the well layered version from Bonnaroo on 6/23/02; and the Hammerstein Ballroom rendition on 5/27/03 that featured Warren Haynes.
For “Sand,” the musical disconformity better known as the "hiatus" extended well into the second phase of the Phish depositional cycle; as it was not played until the band reached the beach in Miami on 12/30/03. Although this version was fairly poorly sorted and only moderately well rounded, it was a very welcome sensation to feel the “Sand” in our shorts as we flew back to winter. Phish shelved both the song and ultimately themselves in 2004, perhaps due to an inability to affect either the symptoms or the cause of the band’s demise.
When Phish returned to the stage in 2009, the “Sand” content in their musical matrix was limited to two performances, in each case a second set opener. As the new transgressive sequence began it was initially deposited on the banks of the Delaware River in Camden on 6/7/09, a monster version that was, at the time, hailed as one of the best jams of early Phish 3.0. It subsequently washed ashore onto the beaches of the Miami NYE run on 12/30/09.
Since the rebirth of Phish, “Sand” has returned to the regular rotation prominence it enjoyed during 1999 and 2000, appearing six times in 2010, nine in 2011, eleven in 2012, and ten in 2013, with most of the ternary sequence deposits to date have been during second sets. Most notable of the modern sequence are two of the three occurrences of “Sand” in our Dick’s. The 9/2/12 performance is unquestionably the finest sample of strongly cemented, well abraded, pulverized rock collected to date. The 8/30/13 version is not quite as well bedded, but has a strong laminar flow preserved in its structure. “Sand” opened a show for the first time on 7/13/14 on the sediments of New York’s Randall’s Island.
Phish, “Tweezer” > “Sand” – 7/6/13, Saratoga Springs, NY
The “Sand” completist will want to visit the cover version performed by the Tom Tom Club – including an overdubbed pseudo-reggae toast by Mystic Bowie – that was included in the Mockingbird Foundation’s compilation album Sharin’ in the Groove, which celebrates the music of Phish.
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'Heavy Things' would indeed have been a more apt description. This is the most significant (i.e. radical) lyrical content of any Phish song in my opinion. There is little optimism, as the refrain rhetorically ponders whether or not you can affect the cause and then quite definitively responds, "You can't heal the symptoms..." Really powerful both as a critique of modern international capitalism in the scope of its pollutant effects (cultural, environmental, spiritual) as well as an 'orgiastic rump-shaking groove-fest' as Mr. Acaster so rightly states. One of my favorites.Far be it from me to tell you that you're wrong about your interpretation of a lyric, but I'm quite positive that the refrain you mention is merely a repetition of the opening lines of the song: If you can heal the symptoms, but not affect the cause. If you can heal the symptoms...