|Originally Performed By||Trey Anastasio|
|Original Album||Ghosts of the Forest (2019)|
|Vocals||Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)|
|Historian||Parker Harrington (tmwsiy)|
In an improvisational masterclass, Phish amazed the crowd on 7/14/19 with not only the definitive version of the song to date, but one of the most breathtaking and stunning performances since the band reunited in 2009. While some “best versions” of Phish songs enjoy the “where-performed/song” nomenclature among fans like “Tahoe Tweezer”, “Went Gin”, “Boise Bag” or “Fukuoka Twist”, time will tell but it is entirely possible this epic Sunday night performance in Alpine Valley will simply be remembered as “The Ruby Waves.”
But how did the band get there?
”Ruby Waves” – 7/14/19, East Troy, WI. Video by Phish
Like many songs in the live Phish repertoire, “Ruby Waves” started out in one of Trey Anastastio’s side projects. Some Trey songs have been quick to leap into the Phish catalog after being performed by Trey first - like “Sand” and “First Tube” which took the circuitous route from “8 Foot Flourescent Tubes” to “TAB” and then to Phish the very following year from the initial debut. Likewise, “Ruby Waves” had another pit-stop with “Ghosts of the Forest” after its debut with Trey Anastasio Band. However, this time it was not such a quick jump to Phish, as the song debuted eleven years earlier on 10/19/08 at the Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont. Sandwiched between “Windora Bug” and “Moesha” late in the second set, “Ruby Waves” sounded like a quintessential Anastasio song destined for the Phish treatment; syrupy lyrics with a seemingly obvious launching point for a jam vehicle. That launch pad would have to wait for ignition for over a decade as Trey and Phish had much on their minds and this one either consciously or unconsciously slipped through the cracks. You see, Phish had just announced their long-rumored and awaited reunion a couple weeks earlier at the beginning of the month. The band had a slew of new material they were working on that debuted throughout 2009 and “Ruby Waves” would just have to wait its turn. Perhaps Trey never thought the song was finished, as he ponders over the end of the song in a scene in the 2019 documentary Between Me and My Mind, which is largely devoted to chronicling the making of the Ghosts of the Forest album.
After eleven years since its debut with TAB, “Ruby Waves” saw the light of day again as the only non-original song to be performed by Trey’s “Ghosts of the Forest” project and likewise, on the self-titled album. On the static setlist, “Ruby Waves” was performed at all nine shows and placed deep into the setlist between “Stumble into Flight” and “Shadows Thrown By Fire” and made its Ghosts debut at the Portland, Maine show on 4/04/19.
Not many fans likely recognized “Ruby Waves” at the Ghosts of the Forest shows given its one-and-done nature from TAB and from an unremarkable show that did not really circulate much on “tape.” Nevertheless, it was certainly one of the Ghosts songs many fans felt like was destined for Phish.
Sure enough, fans hoping for a “Ruby Waves” Phish debut did not need to wait very long. At the fifth show into the 2019 Summer Tour the song popped up in the middle of the first set. While certainly not used as a “jam vehicle”, it showed glimpses of what would come with some playful licks by Trey and a meandering, breezy and “open ended” feel after the main chorus, and before returning to the song proper in the compact sub ten-minute rendition.
In signs of good things to come, the song immediately jumped to the second set for its next performance at Merriweather on 6/23/19. This version flashed more brilliance than the debut and included a small dollop of extended jamming…. tacking on several more minutes and showcasing some full band improv. Likewise, the next two versions were also smack dab in the heart of the second set in an area of the setlist typically known for extended jams. The version at Mohegan Sun on 7/10/19, while not notable in length, enjoyed the band fully returning to the song after a pretty slick segue out of “Piper.” Thus, the table was set quite nicely for the Summer Tour concluding performance at Alpine. It had made its debut eleven years prior with TAB, run around the block in the studio and nine sets of Ghosts Of The Forest, made it’s JV team debut in the first set earlier in the summer, got promoted to Varsity for three shows in the second set and was now primed to not only be on Varsity, but also the star of the team.
While the first two weekend shows at Alpine were nothing out of the ordinary for the band, the ultimate show of the summer was already becoming a standout of the tour. The first set on 7/14/19 featured several bustouts: “The Landlady” (first since 7/10/16, or 122 shows), “Olivia's Pool” (11/17/97, or 692 shows), “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” and “Avenu Malkenu” (08/21/15, or 147 shows), and “Strange Design” (7/8/16, or 124 shows). It also was highlighted by an extremely rare performance of “Good Times, Bad Times” in the first set and the very rare, “Spock’s Brain.” Yet all of that might easily be forgotten after “Ruby Waves” obliterated any notion that Summer 2019 wouldn’t have an all-time memorable jam.
The 38 minute behemoth in Alpine was quite literally one for the record books. It crashed easily into the Top Ten longest songs Phish has ever performed (seventh longest) and even eclipsed the instant-legendary “Tahoe Tweezer” from 2013. Not only was it the longest jam since the band reunited in 2009, it was also the longest song in nearly sixteen years dating back to the “46 Days” from the IT Festival. However, without exhilarating & thrilling music, length does not much matter. Thankfully, “The Ruby Waves” had a plethora of components fans often look for in tour-defining, year-defining and era-defining jams.
The multiple sections of the “Ruby Waves” jam that weaved and modulated through at least a half-dozen key changes, included parts that were expertly driven by each band member. Almost hypnotically, the tempo and direction turned on dimes and was a primary example of how well this band listens to each other and responds accordingly. How is it possible that a band can so effortlessly switch from dark, spacey, synthy psychedelic jams to blissful hose jamming to ferocious peaks, to calm, subtle, patient and intricate playing, and then swirl it all around and go to similarly deep places but in an entirely different context and through a different path? Literally every time the jam seemed to start calming down, it was taken to new and unexpected places without skipping a beat and with nary a wasted note.
While it was easy to not have “Ruby Waves” on a fan’s radar even after the Ghosts of the Forest tour, it is now unlikely to slip into oblivion and obscurity after the Alpine show. The song certainly seems destined for a bright future with Phish and will not likely take a backseat again for another eleven years like it did after its TAB debut.
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