Making the Case: Time Turns Elastic

Posted by

Trey Anastasio’s masterpiece “Time Turns Elastic” was written for an orchestra.

That’s what they tell us, at least. It was performed with the New York Philharmonic in September of 2009. A video surfaced, Trey playing TTE alone, acoustically. And then there’s the Fenway debut.

Somehow, we find ourselves here in November, a few short months after the song was released, and many Phish fans, not just the next generation, are calling TTE the worst Phish song ever. I hear “Time Turns Molasses.” I hear “Time Turns Craptastic.” I hear “Time… to pee.” But why? Why do so many fans hate this song? Why don’t they see what I do in TTE?

I think it’s for a few reasons. Firstly, this song took me a while to “get into.” It’s a long song with many distinct sections, and most people, I honestly think, don’t take the time to listen to it to not only ingest it all, but to even get to know it all. Much of the instrumental part of TTE, I think, is really easier to appreciate as a musician. Counting out some of the bits are a challenge. Many people think the song rambles on for too long aimlessly. Yet I can’t see any section of the song I’d want to trim out. Every bit is great. It’s said that Phish took something like 283 takes to get this track right. I believe this, there are a lot of intricate bits to the song that would be a challenge to capture in one 13 minute chunk.

Which leads me to argument 2 against the song: it’s not been “nailed” yet live. All of the performances thus far have ranged from “pretty lackluster” at worst to “decent” at best. I was excited to get my TTE at Festival 8 only to have it crush under the weight of itself. I love the song, and I’m willing to give Trey the benefit of the doubt and say that the cold air of night one of Festival 8 was responsible for so much of the fudging, but it was hard to hear the climax of the song, “The Carousel,” be executed so sloppily. Having said that, poor live execution does not a bad song make.

Clocking in at over 13 minutes (for the studio version, at least), and usually closer to 18 minutes live thus far, TTE is a big commitment in a set. So it seems reasonable to assume that, in time, Phish will tire of a song like that in regular rotation. When TTE becomes more of a rarity, more like a McGrupp, I bet people will start to think it’s more interesting to hear the song performed live.

The third argument for Time Turns Elastic is that it’s actually a suite of several smaller sections, which, as songs, aren’t nearly as tough to swallow. The song is arranged as follows:

Movement 1a – Song At Dawn
Movement 1b – Ruby Shaded Sea
Movement 2a – Submarine
Movement 2b – Landslide
Movement 2c – Rays Of Blue Light
Movement 3a – Silver Sound Shower
Movement 3b – Hilstorm
Movement 3c – Funnels
Movement 3d – Carousel

courtesy of Mr. Miner phishthoughts.com
Image courtesy of Mr. Miner

Surely, most would agree that the intro and the outro are the most identifiable and the easiest to digest at first glance. It’s just parts of the middle that require some patience and some re-listening. If these parts were played on their own, they wouldn’t be hated.  So narrow it down for me: it’s obviously many smaller bits pieced together: which is the part(s) you don’t like? It can’t be all of them, because the odds of Phish writing so many greats songs and then 3 you hate all coincidentally stitched together are pretty much nil. So those who hate TTE probably aren’t talking about the entire song, but rather, some bit of it.

If anyone has the gall to say “it’s too stretched out,” I’d tell them “you have no place at a Phish show.”  These same people would soil their pants for a 20+ minute jam of 46 Days, Down With Disease, or Split Open and Melt.

Not everyone has to love every Phish song.  Not every fan has to love TTE.  In fact, I understand and concede that TTE is not for everyone.  But it’s annoying me that it’s simply becoming “cool” to not like TTE or to call it the “bathroom break.”

I’ve heard stories that when the Grateful Dead debuted “Terrapin Station,” many fans were unsure of how to receive it.  It wasn’t bluesy, it didn’t rock, it wasn’t a ballad, and it was long.  Years later, many of us regard Terrapin as one of the band’s masterpieces.

I think that many new fans, those that got into Phish during the post-breakup phase, are the ones most vocal about disliking TTE.  And many of them, I do in fact think, are simply naive noobs.   Some have a “kinda” fair argument: I like the song, I don’t like it live.   To them I say: many songs took a while to find their right incarnation and place in the Phish repetoire. Water in the Sky, Shafty, Limb by Limb, Black Eyed Katy/Moma, Tela, and many more went through revision before it found its sweet spot.  On the whole, I don’t think TTE is getting the love and patience it needs and deserves, so I’m making the case.

20 comments

  1. Adam, this was well-written and thought out. Being one of those people who has yet to be fully turned onto a live TTE, I felt compelled to respond with my views. After many (probably about 20-30) listens to the Joy album straight through, I have come to really like the album as a whole and each track individually based on their studio recordings. When those tracks transfer to a live show, it doesn't always come across the same way, especially with TTE. Part of the problem, and really, any of their slower songs can do this, is that it can kill a groove/vibe/whatever in a set. I have seen it live twice now. The first time was its Boston debut. Perhaps it was coupled with the fact that the sound at Fenway sucked. Maybe it was the fact that they paused between each song or that people didn't really know what it was when it started out. But the band had gone from a pretty awesome beginning of the second set into TTE. It's a little hard to swallow when usually they take things down a notch for a song that either builds more quickly or a shorter mellow song. TTE takes a long time to build to the last 2 movements. They played the song for about 16 minutes at Fenway and we all went from raging to Tweezer>Light, Gin, Bowie to standing there not knowing how to take it for 10 of those 16 minutes. Usually when they break a set up like that, it's for a Fishman tune (which can kill a set to a degree) or some “Phishiness” (which can also kill a set for some). In this case, they kept playing, but it was difficult to take in.

    Fast forward to Festival 8, the second time I saw it. While they may have flubbed it a bit, the placement was better. It closed the first set of the festival. It also came after Ocelot, which, while an awesome song, is on the more mellow/take-it-easy end of the spectrum. It wasn't such a harsh transition as it was at Fenway. It also fit as a closer for the first set.

    I can see the song being great when used in that manner. I'd like to see them improvise more of the last 2 movements, stretching out the more exciting parts of it. But as long as it follows a mellow part of the set, you at least know it's going to build to something. They also need to rehearse it better. If they can completely nail it live, I think people will show it a bit more respect. It's a great composition, but it's tough to swallow live because of it's size.

    Now, I have yet to hear the second Philly show, but based on the setlist, it looks like it had one of the worst placements ever. It was practically used to close the second set. I'll have to heard the show to know how it was, but it could really have gone either way there. It came right after Esther, which is also a long relatively undanceable song, which could have worked, and it segued into Tweeprise, which obviously brought the power back to end the show.

    So… in conclusion, I agree with you to a point. It can work well in a set, but needs to be played well and needs to be properly placed. Even if one of those items is missing, it can kill a set.

  2. Actually, Jim, between my own rambling and your response, I may have talked myself out of my original point. My point was that TTE is a great song. But in the process, I think we may have come to the conclusion that set placement and quality of execution can lead to it being a set killer. Not because it's a bad song… but rather, for other legitimate reasons.

  3. You summed up perfectly the same argument I have been trying to make in chat rooms for the past several days. I'm not one to hate on newcomers to phish. I myself have taken several friends to their first show and have encouraged them by giving them bootlegs and whatnot. What I can't stand though is the negative vibe many of these new kids bring to the scene when they vocally bash a song, especially during the set. Keep it to yourself. I don't want to hear you bitching while I'm trying to listen to my favorite band. I'm glad you found phish and I don't care that your a newb, but there is a certain etiquette to going to a show and when you bitch about this or any song during the set, your breaking that etiquette. So chill and listen to the music. If you spent less time talking and more time listening, you may eventually get why TTE is such an awesome song.

    1. dude i wouldnt necessarily blame noobs for bashing this song.. most bashing i hear comes from seasoned vets.. i mean everyones guilty of it… but some of the older heads have been the most guilty of bringing their preconceived notion of what phish is supposed to be versus the “glory days” … but dont forget that it was those original fans complaining OUT LOUD when Hoist came out everytime they played wolfman’s, dwd and especially sample … the former two which became classic jamming vehicles and the latter which is just a great song

  4. Thanks for making the case regarding TTE. I do think the unfamiliarity with all of the sections contributes to the negative sentiments, combined with the long time commitment in a live set. I also think there's a bit of a “mob mentality” reaction: there's lots of vocalized dislike in the community, and I think it can be contagious. The version we saw in Cincinnati was, I thought, VERY successful, if you were willing to surrender to the flow. The first set placement was perfect: crowd was enthused and happy before it started, and Phish played a rockin' “Gotta Jibboo” AND “Fluffhead” afterward to close the set. As for TTE itself, I find that fully immersing myself in it, and riding the emotional rollercoaster through all the movements, and feeling each moment, makes the incredible HUGE outtro section even more explosive. And I saw quite a number of pholks in Cincy really getting into it. Maybe it'll catch on more as time goes on.

  5. The Cincy TTE was absolutely raging– the Carousel section was actually the highlight of the set. Kuroda's indoor lighting makes a huge difference as well. Give the Cincy version a listen and you may become a convert.

  6. i have to disagree with the comments above. i am not a newb, saw first show in '96, and i absolutely cannot stand TTE. i've seen it 4 times this year and each time it has sucked major donkey balls. i am not against complex songs with multiple sections that stretch over the 12 min mark (think YEM, reba, divided sky, guyute), but TTE does not do what those other songs do. in the previously mentioned songs, the composed sections actually lead somewhere and build up to something special, but in TTE, the sections are not all that interesting and build to nowhere. take the philly show, for example. it was a decent show, a perfectly good phish show – until TTE. following the YEM, TTE sucked all the air out of the venue and made the rest of the show a complete letdown. people sat. people went to the bathroom. nobody was into it anymore. it was brutal.

    the main problem i have with TTE is its length. other shitty songs can impact the momentum of a set, but because of TTE's length, there is almost no way to recover from it. the author asks what part of the song i would trim, and my answer is simple: the whole thing. this song belongs in its orchestral form. it just doesn't work in the rock 'n roll setting. and thats OK. phish is allowed to write a bad song once and a while, but they really need to know what an adverse affect TTE has on a crowd and a show. maybe they can't see it from their vantage point, but TTE is like kryptonite to the crowd at a show.

  7. Its not the bands fault the audience sits… it's the audience that is lame. It's the mob mentality that rose alluded to earlier. I think it stems from a general attitude that many people have that Phish somehow owes them something. This is wrong. Phish doesn't owe you anything. They have to play what they are feeling, and you are either in and along for the ride or you're out and you may as well take a three hour bathroom break. If you don't get it that's your problem, not Phish's.

  8. Never heard of Phish or “Time Turns Elastic.” From your description of it as a long song comprised of several shorter sections makes it sound like the kind of progressive rock that Peter Gabriel and Genesis were doing 30+ years ago with songs like “Supper's Ready” which some people consider to be the greatest rock song of all time.

  9. Hi David,

    Each year for Halloween, Phish dons a “musical costume” and covers an album, end to end. The've done the White Album, Quadrophenia, The Talking Heads' Remain in Light, and Velvet Underground's Loaded. This year, they narrowed it down to 8 finalists, one of which was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Genesis is obviously an influence on Phish.

    But they do not sound alike. Phish is more exploratory and more improv-oriented than composed, even though they do have very intricate composed pieces. Ultimately, Genesis and bands like Rush are not really like Phish, due solely to the mission to recreate faithfully, whereas Phish's mission is more to deliver a unique performance every single time.

    You should check them out though, if only for curiosity!

  10. What you are saying is my exact argument. The song as it stands by itself, is a well written amazing piece of work. On Joy, it's great. I have listened to the album straight through probably close to 20-30 times now. And until I heard the album, I couldn't stand this song. The problem, however, is when the song is performed live. If the song is not perfectly placed in a set, it can totally kill that set. In addition, if the song is not played well, which it hasn't been for the most part, it will also kill the set, regardless of placement.

    I have seen it live twice now. The first time during its Boston debut, which totally destroyed the vibe of a great set during a disjointed show. The sound issues during the show didn't help, but the placement was horrible following a pretty rockin' Bowie. The second time I saw it was at Festival 8. They closed the first set of the first day with it, which is one of the better spots to drop this huge song. The thing that made it better, however, was placing it after an already fairly mellow song, Ocelot. It flowed better. They didn't play the song perfectly, flubbing the Carousel section, which was a shame, but the flow of the set was never killed from the song because the song ended the set.

    I'd like to see them open a show with it and completely nail the song. I think if they nail it, it can build in intensity and really kick off the show.

    And, as Isaac said, you can't blame the band for what the audience does. I used to feel the same way about taking bathroom breaks during a set. Phish has become extremely unpredictable lately. If you take a bathroom break during a set, it's your loss (and my gain for being able to move closer). I don't know what sitting down has to do with anything. I sit during some songs to rest my legs, catch my breath, cool off a bit, etc. It happens. People can't stay standing and grooving for that long without a break. If you don't like what Phish is playing, you have every right to leave. Anyone who buys a Phish ticket knows very well that the show could either be great or be average (Phish hasn't really sucked much lately). You also know that they are unpredictable and can possibly play one of hundreds of songs, including TTE.

  11. To hell with the haters! Phishheads bitch and moan because Trey has not brought a “BIG” song to the picture. He brings a beautiful piece and they don't bite. Screw em! Let them go get beer or take a piss… More room for me up front! Song placement at a Phish so is so unexpected anyway… I don't buy that one. They always throw curve balls!

  12. Interesting analogy with Terrapin Station: and I can just hear the Deadheads discussing post show after the debut. It will indeed be fascinating to watch as time progresses to see how TTE settles into (or out of) playlists. Nicely written by the way.

  13. Having heard TTE live a couple times I was definitely underwhelmed. I can't even comment on the comparisons to Terrapin Station because Terrapin is one of my favorite songs and TTE is not even close.

    However, when I heard Time Turns Elastic at Carnegie Hall I was blown away. Played in it's entirety, by an orchestra it is a beautiful and moving piece of music.

    I think the problem comes in re-arranging it from a 30 minute orchestral suite to a 13-18 minute four piece rock song. I don't know whether TTE as performed by Phish will ever become something I am eager to here, but I can definitely say that the orchestral version is mind-blowing.

  14. To hell with the haters! Phishheads bitch and moan because Trey has not brought a “BIG” song to the picture. He brings a beautiful piece and they don't bite. Screw em! Let them go get beer or take a piss… More room for me up front! Song placement at a Phish so is so unexpected anyway… I don't buy that one. They always throw curve balls!

  15. Interesting analogy with Terrapin Station: and I can just hear the Deadheads discussing post show after the debut. It will indeed be fascinating to watch as time progresses to see how TTE settles into (or out of) playlists. Nicely written by the way.

  16. Having heard TTE live a couple times I was definitely underwhelmed. I can't even comment on the comparisons to Terrapin Station because Terrapin is one of my favorite songs and TTE is not even close.

    However, when I heard Time Turns Elastic at Carnegie Hall I was blown away. Played in it's entirety, by an orchestra it is a beautiful and moving piece of music.

    I think the problem comes in re-arranging it from a 30 minute orchestral suite to a 13-18 minute four piece rock song. I don't know whether TTE as performed by Phish will ever become something I am eager to here, but I can definitely say that the orchestral version is mind-blowing.

  17. the only reason tte is a set killer is because the people who know the song, whether they like it or not, are too embarrassed to get psyched up and go nuts for the song. and the people that dont know the song feel the drop in crowd energy and they remember the song as the one the crowd wasnt really into.

    i blame the internet. everyone goes to the shows with all these preconceived notions, not only about what they like, but also what is acceptable to like. its very sad becuase i think tte is a brilliant composition, i do think the lyrics are a little corny and make me cringe at times. but the music is great and im sure i will grow to love the lyrics.

Comments are closed.