[be sure to check out part 1 of this series if you missed it, and click the tape icon at the end of this post to see a listing of each part as the series rolls along – @ucpete]
Welcome back, everyone! @wforwumbo here with the second edition of From the Tapers’ Section, and it’s a two part installment. Part 2A, 12/30/17, is here today for your listening pleasure; part 2B will follow in two weeks (Friday, June 22nd). Rather than focus this edition on cleaning up an older tape in need of overhaul, I opted for a slightly different approach this time: I took two already fantastic recordings and made a matrix recording from them. To make a matrix, one combines multiple source recordings to create an experience that draws from aspects of each original source. Referring to and inspired by Dan Healy’s days mixing the Grateful Dead, a matrix usually has a soundboard for one its sources; but this week’s From the Tapers' Section doesn’t, as sharing a matrix recording that includes the LivePhish source is both against Phish’s open taping policy and counter to the purpose of this blog series. Let’s all embrace the AUD fully, shall we?
12/30/17 is a slightly different breed of Phish: it’s got deep jams in both sets, and the band hammers away all evening in an attempt to create as good a show as possible, taking very few breaks for air. The entire performance is fluid and cohesive, with a solid narrative and high energy between band and audience. Given the historical significance of December 30th over the past quarter century, those of us in attendance were hoping for another all-timer; amazingly, Phish was able to match and eventually surpass our lofty expectations.
The first set kicked off old-school: “Mike’s Song” > “I Am Hydrogen” > “Weekapaug Groove.” Despite a rusty and flubbed “Hydrogen,” I was particularly elated in the 200s on Mike side for this segment, as in 64 shows and 12 “Mike’s Groove”s this was my first time seeing “I Am Hydrogen.” If anyone had doubts that Phish might not go all out this evening, they were soon erased when Phish hopped off the diving board into the deep end and dropped a big “Tweezer” as a chaser to the opening trio.
By the second verse of “Tweezer,” Trey turned on a slight delay, allowing his tone to soar and add airy depth in space around each of his fills, and Mike kicked his flanger up a notch to provide movement and fluidity to his slapping. The Uncle Ebenezer breakdown had some cool envelope filter stabs from Trey, Chilling, Thrilling Sounds effects from Page, and polyrhythmic fills from Fishman. Out of the gates at 4:49, Trey toyed with going to D with Page close behind, but Fishman and Mike decided that they needed to build a foundation first, and won the discussion soon thereafter. Trey responded with some filtered echoes thanks to the BandDelay algorithm on his Eventide TimeFactor at 5:13, before going back to the envelope filter to take a few more stabs. Mike played up tension by moving to the C, the relative lydian mode (to “Tweezer”’s A dorian), and Page started flirting with C lydian himself at 7:20 before getting overruled by his bandmates. At 8:15, Mike led Trey and Page into a descending chord structure of D major > C (diminished 5) > B/G > A minor, echoing a motif from earlier in the jam. Fishman moved to the ride cymbal, allowing the jam to breathe and build. After Mike toyed with going to C again (playing a riff not unlike the one he played at 8:33 [LivePhish timing] in the 12/30/16 “Tweezer”), a few delay- and envelope-supported punches from Trey marked the start of the climb, and his bandmates joined the ascent toward D mixolydian and the peak.
This peak was absolutely stunning. Page played some suspension-resolution patterns on a D major by shifting from the second (E) to the third (F#) at 11:25, and Mike responded in turn before Trey showered us in some gorgeous delay-driven washes. To give the jam a rolling, carefree mood, Fishman switched his cymbal pattern to hit on the first three sixteenth notes of each first and third beat. After some melodic exploration from Page and Mike while Trey toyed with his octave pedal, Trey played a lick using the 7th (C in D mixolydian) and Page pounced on the pattern immediately while adding his own flourishes. After Mike toyed with his own effects while droning the root, they began to build tension right before the 15 minute mark, and less than a minute later we reached another peak, which built up and released several times, each peak more cathartic than the last, and at 17:28 we reached the final, strongest peak, which resolved in a victory lap at and wound down from there, allowing everyone a moment to take stock of what we had just seen.
Never one to pass up a perfect opportunity for a joke, Fishman interrupted the “Tweezer” pillow talk with a brief “Ass Handed,” which was followed by a straightforward “Kill Devil Falls,” and for the first time that night we were given a breather. Alas, the was just a temporary landing pad, as Phish laid out a solid but predictable “Bathtub Gin,” and a funky, slowed-down “Brother” - the first since 2012. “More” rounded out set 1 in strong fashion and primed us for the treacherous waters ahead.
Phish | Sat Dec 30th, 2017 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
Set 1: Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Tweezer > Ass Handed, Kill Devil Falls > Bathtub Gin, Brother, More
Set 2: Down with Disease → Steam > Light > Farmhouse, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
This show was webcast via Live Phish. Brother was last played June 17, 2012 (216 shows). Down With Disease was unfinished. Trey teased No Woman, No Cry in Farmhouse.
Phish started the second set with a familiar swirl of bass and cymbals, with a slight hiccup in Mike’s bass rig that caused us to wait until the entire band entered before we could hear the bass. The expected “Down with Disease” followed, and the Type I portion of the jam was typically-great and high energy. At 7:40, Page brought some synth sounds and hints of darker passages, which paired well with Trey’s heavy effects that followed. At 10:12, Mike led the band seamlessly to D mixolydian, and the band found its footing in the ether of happy. Fishman found just the right beat to set the mood, and Trey instantly fed off it and ramped up the energy. This frenetic energy resulted in a bevy of effects being thrown at the wall, which self-destructed, leaving a series of loops in its wake. Ever resourceful, Page played his Wurlitzer over the robo-loops until they faded away completely. After a little tension, at 14:14, Trey took control and changed the vamp structure from two bars of C to two bars of D major. While this seemingly simple but truly brilliant move injected some life into all four players, it did not yield a true peak; a minute later, Trey, then Page, begin a shift towards G instead. Mike used pleasant, albeit heavy effects to propel him from D to G, allowing some grime and ooze to enter the fray. Trey wrestled in the muck, and eventually wrested control to lead his brothers from darkness into light. The transition to a more upbeat G mixolydian section wasn’t particularly smooth, but Fishman helped Trey cover his tracks well enough to head into a celebratory groove that started around 19:43. This culminated into a blissful but predictable peak beginning at 23:48, which plateaued a couple minutes later. As the band wound down, we got a little stop-start jamming, which led to some “wooo!”s from the crowd. Hate it or love it (while I respect those in the former camp, I am firmly in the latter camp), they are here for a beat before we get dropped into “Steam.”
Offering the most cerebral and spacey jamming of the night, “Steam” was transported immediately into the deep cosmic fabric. The breakdown jam kicked off at 3:40, and the combination of effects from Trey and Page’s organ were extremely pleasant, and it became clear the band still had plenty of energy to spare. Mike kept things tethered to D dorian in a Pink Floyd-ian jam while Fish brought the airy texture as “Steam” proper returned at 6:37. As it turned out, those few minutes of jamming were just a small taste of what was to come. At first, Page just led some more Type I “Steam” jamming on his organ, but Trey’s delay work set up Fishman’s syncopation. At 7:55, we got the first inkling that all was not right in MSG as a massive roar of effects-laden noise slapped us in the face. It happened again before Page’s synth and a Fishman drop-out had everyone on their toes. Fishman headed over to the Marimba Lumina to ensure things got weirder. There is nothing more I can say about where this jam headed, as it is more glorious electroacoustic-driven ambience than traditional western composition, and requires the mind to surrender to the flow. Please listen for yourself, and turn up the volume!
An abrupt “Light” followed “Steam,” and by the time “Farmhouse” started, everyone needed a breather anyway. Trey didn’t want to give up so easily, and teased “No Woman, No Cry” during his delicate, low-key solo. It turned out he was recharging for the raging and set-closing “Run Like an Antelope,” and a perfunctory but celebratory “Sleeping Monkey” > “Tweezer Reprise” pairing placed the period at the end of this all-time show.
As this series attempts to highlight, just as important as the music performed is how it was captured. Noah Bickart, whose sources I used for this 12/30/17 matrix, is a fellow member of “Team Schoeps.” In his own words: “I was the tech director for my school’s student group that put on concerts, and I had access to lots of microphones. Initially, my rig starting in Fall ‘98 was a Tascam DAT machine and AKG blue line hypercardioids to help consistently clear through room clutter. Eventually I started patching off other tapers with some very nice microphones, and between the Neumann, DPA/B&K, and Schoeps capsules I found myself consistently returning to the Schoeps sound. I’ve been using Schoeps capsules since then.”
While not sticking to the approach rigidly, Noah tends to favor the “Point-At-Stacks” method of taping, where he aims his microphones directly at the reinforcement line array speakers to maximize direct sound and minimize room reflections. This allows many subtle details from the show to punch through the room into his mics. Noah’s use of the modular and tiny Schoeps KCY system allows him to experiment and optimize his overall approach to taping as his tastes evolve: “the biggest game-changer for me was deciding to run more than one pair of microphones. Traditionally, especially indoors in fairly reverberant rooms, I used to only run hypercardioid capsules to cut through the room clutter and minimize audience chatter. Since getting the mk22’s and running them alongside my mk41v’s, I’ve started thinking about how to get the best of both worlds and strike a balance between directional sound and room immersion. What this means practically is I tend to think first about the spacing and angle between caps on the mk41v’s first to guarantee I always have a good, listenable, and documentable pull of the show; then the mk22’s or mk3’s help to fill in the low end.”
Never satisfied to simply continue going with what worked for him in the past, Noah contiues experimenting with ways to improve the sound of his tapes: “My Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder has six input channels, and I’m always using those last two channels as a laboratory of sorts. This is where taping gets really fun, because it is always about trying something different and new! Sometimes it’s the mk4v cardioid capsules in a more traditional spacing; other times, it’s A-B split omnis which can really open up the room, and I find filling in the top end with the 41v can really boost the overall recording. Mid-side is pretty consistent too, where I pair a 4v/41v/21 with the mk8 if I’m dead-center and it is a solid and configurable compromise between direct and reverberant sound. The key for me is to never keep it static, and I learn something new every time I run a different configuration.”
What this means for us is that his multiple tapes are primed and ready for a matrix to offer us the best of all worlds. For this matrix, I first approached each individual microphone pair recording on its own, thinking about how it would best fit into the bigger picture. The mk22 in hybrid (31 cm/70 degrees) captures all of the low end from Mike’s bass and an extremely balanced recording of much of the room, but the top end details are a little mushy and there’s lots of audience chatter. As a result, I bumped up most of the bass frequencies, specifically those including the fundamental and first few harmonics of Mike’s lowest tones plus the thud of Fish’s kick. The mk41v pair captured much of the treble detail, so I cut nearly all of the bass from this recording so as not to fight the 22, and boosted the highs slightly to bring out the crisper details and lock the soundstage into place. After a final mastering equalizer to get the sources playing together just right and to bring out the full detail of Trey’s pick attack and the hammers of Page’s piano, the entire frequency spectrum punches through with a pleasant and rich soundstage.
I started working with Noah because he is a wonderfully nice person, and I continue working with and learning from him because his recordings sound nothing short of stellar. On its own, each recording sounds great, but when combined, the product is greater than the sum of its parts. Everything is captured with startling accuracy and dynamic range, with the image dead-accurate for what the venue sounds like from the official taper’s section. I saw five shows in 2017 from the exact spot these microphones were placed inside the venue, so I know what this spot sounds like… and that’s exactly what this mix captures: the best seat in the house.
A quick note about the file sets: a common technique used in production is audio compression. This reduces the dynamic range of a recording by making the loudest portions of the waveform quieter, which allows the overall volume to be raised without inducing clipping. One reason I love AUD tapes is that they preserve the details - the subtlety between quiet and loud - with pristine quality. AUDs often remain uncompressed to give you the full dynamic range of the original performance. For the FLAC file sets, I did not compress this tape at all; I wanted to preserve every detail. However, for the mp3 file set I have added some very mild studio compression to raise the overall volume just a bit, as I expect many of you to use the mp3 version on your phones, tablets, and other mobile devices where space is at a premium and fidelity is a luxury. I recommend that you judge the mix on a decent sound system or your best pair of headphones using the FLAC file sets. That said, the mp3s should still sound great on-the-go with stock earbuds.
FLAC and MP3 file sets can be found at this link (Google Drive): DOWNLOAD HERE
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