Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Martin Acaster
Last Update: 2013-08-04
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 inter-granular 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 (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.”
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/song writer of our favorite band – could be catastrophic.
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) 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. During the hiatus, “Sand” was deposited on numerous occasions in Trey Anastasio shows. A particularly well-cemented version was included on the Trey Anastasio live release, Plasma. A cover version of the song performed by the Tom Tom Club, including an overdubbed pseudo-reggae toast by Mystic Bowie, was also included in the Mockingbird Foundation’s compilation album Sharin’ in the Groove, which celebrates the music of Phish.
To sample a good cross section of “Sand’s” stratigraphic column, check out the following versions: Irvine Meadows (9/19/99); NORML, IL (10/4/99); Providence, (12/13/99); the monstrous version from Big Cypress (12/31/99); Radio City Music Hall (5/22/00); the dark and sinister PNC “Sand” (6/29/00); the Michael Ray-inflected version from Albany (9/9/00); the creeping beast from Shoreline (10/6/00); the dust devil unleashed by Trey Anastasio’s band in Salem, OR (5/22/02); the well layered version from Bonnaroo (6/23/02); and the Hammerstein Ballroom (5/27/03) rendition that featured a guest appearance by Warren Haynes.
For “Sand,” the musical disconformity better known as the "hiatus" extended well into the new 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. A surprise Trey Anastasio set at Higher Ground on 4/11/04 included a performance of “Sand” that featured guest appearances by his Phish bandmates. Whereas "Sand" is a relative rarity for Phish shows, the song has been a primary component of Trey's side project work, having been performed over 90 times to date.
"Sand" being a relative rarity for Phish, it was not played at all in 2004 and only twice in 2009, in each case a second set opener. First it was deposited on the banks of the Delaware River in Camden (6/7/09, a monster version that was, at the time, hailed as one of the best jams of Phish 3.0) and then it washed ashore onto the beaches of the Miami NYE run on 12/30/09.
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