Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2014-01-02
In simplest terms “Steam” is a song of ice and fire. To generate steam a source of heat and a source of vapor are required. The combination of these two elements can be paroxysmal, ebullient, intoxicating, or industrious. Unfortunately, depending on the ratio of each component thrown into the mix or the rate at which the heat is applied to the vapor source, the same two things can produce nothing more than lukewarm water. Therein lies both the promise and the peril of this May 2011 Trey and Tom composition. The lyrics are a somber epic tale of love and death in a land of wolves and the time of horses. Though assuredly not a “Dark Tower” song, “Steam” is certainly a dark tower song. It represents a musical phase transition somewhere on a ternary diagram with “Ghost,” Trey’s “Every Story Ends in Stone” and the Phish Halloween performance of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” as apices. It is as dark and foreboding as the furnace room in the basement of a seedy downtown hotel.
”Steam” – 6/12/11, Columbia, MD
“Steam” made its debut (6/4/11) as the extremely swampy Blossom “Possum” moaned its final discordant breath. The first verse rises slowly from an effect-laden pool of ambience into the slow groove that carries the song through a landscape of loops and subtle texture. Imperceptibly the pace increases as the pressure builds toward an out-gassing of jam-space about four minutes into the song. The slow groove returns for the final verse before its eventual sublimation into “Piper.”
The next eruption of “Steam” occurred at Merriweather (6/12/11), again as the third song of a second set, this time evolving out of the sonic wash at the conclusion of a lively “Crosseyed and Painless.” This performance is true to the debut until the jam segment, which is initiated with a vocal twist where Trey and Mike repeat the last line of the fourth verse in call and response style as the pressure release valve is cranked open and a soulful blast of effulgence is released. A final glimpse of the improvisational potential of “Steam” follows the final verse in a metallic deep-space nocturne that melts into the “Light” of day.
The second “leg” of Summer 2011 (actually a handful of multi-night runs scattered around a west coast festival appearance) resulted in three additional “Steam” emissions. The first occurred at the Outside Lands festival performance (8/12/11) at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park and was somber and subdued with an uninspiring vapid jam segment. “Steam” returned to the stage during the second set of the next show, the first of three nights at UIC Pavillion (8/15/11) where it was part of an “elements” set featuring songs that refer to Earth, wind, fire, or water. This version was noticeably more upbeat and the jam segment was short but stratospheric. The themed trend continued during the first night of the Dick’s run (9/2/11) where “Steam” appeared as part of a show brought to you by the letter S. The jam segment was profoundly more interesting than the previous two versions with Page constructing the framework for Trey’s adornment.
“Steam” was the song Phish selected to usher in the new year. The year we have all been waiting for. The year the Mayan calendar is reputed to expire. According to the legends, December 21, 2012 marks the end of the 5,125 year long Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Interpretations of this point in time range from humanity undergoing its long awaited evolutionary transformation to dire apocalyptic planetary changes that will erase our species from existence. The New Year’s Eve performance of “Steam” featured a customary midnight stunt which consisted of “enlightened” members of the Phish fan base scattered throughout the newly refurbished MSG ascending above the non-raptured heathens to dance in the heavens. No doubt feeding off the energy of the moment, this version of “Steam” is unfinished and features a rather incandescent jam segment which culminates in the countdown to midnight and the arrival of 2012.
What monster jams may lurk in the as yet unexplored shadows of “Steam” remain to be seen. However, the “Steam Effect” used on stage, often evoking the call of a parking lot nitrous tank, imbues the song with an inescapable sense of schlock horror cheese that may emasculate the nascent killer before it has the chance to strike very deep into the heart of its own darkness. It remains to be seen whether we are to be enlightened, encased in a sheet of ice, consumed by fire, or evaporate in a cloud of “Steam” – all we can ask is for a few kicks before the whole shit house goes up in flames.
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No Quarter> Steam would be sick.
Does anyone else love that this song seems like it might have 2 jam sections? I'm going to go not so far out on a limb and predict a monster Steam in Portsmouth in honor of the steamstacks steaming across the Portsmouth Steamline. How long until we're crushed by a Steam into Theme into Steam into Theme?I do...the second jam segment would follow the final verse...rather than winding down to a mellow hiss it could explode in our faces resulting in widespread meltiness
Excellent write up of one of my newer favorite songs.
anywho, the dark tower references are cool. i tried to listen for a plausible tie-in and didn't necessarily hear one,... other than the both the books and song are visually striking. I got to witness the Denver Steam and it was one of the ones that really drew me in to the fact that even thou they were playing the "S" show, they were playing with intention. not just meandering through a bad phish pun or joke like they sometimes do when no one can come up with a decent song list for the night.