The Sound Of Phish
Hampton wasn’t just a new chapter for the band and the audience, it also represented a transition in front of house sound engineers for the first time since 1986. Paul Languedoc had held down the soundboard at Phish shows for nearly two decades, and had become an institution in the Phish scene. Like all institutions, legends were built around him- not just his mixing- but his individually hand-made guitars. While many guitar players switch axes many times throughout a show, you’ll never see Trey ditch his trusty Languedoc- it’s the sound dreams are made of. Versatile and beautiful, Trey’s guitar tone, while encompassing many variables, all starts with the Languedoc. Mike also used a Languedoc-crafted bass until 1997, when he switched over to his Modulus, boasting a fuller sound for the band’s groove-heavy era.
But as an everyday member of the band, Languedoc was the sound guy. As Paul has retired from the road, Hampton was our first taste of Phish without his oft revered mix. And to be honest, I think it was better. Back in the day, friends and I wondered why Languedoc was so consistently praised for his live mix; in short, we didn’t believe the hype. If there was one thing Paul made sure of- you could always hear Trey at the top of the mix. (And this is coming from a Trey lover to the end.) While Mike and Page offered just as much musically, they were always turned noticeably down, and it often became humorous.
In fact, it wasn’t just us that noticed this; fans began to take notice on large scale. In early 1997 a “social protest movement” grew within the Phish community- PLM or “People For a Louder Mike.” It took an organized cadre of tapers and hippies with a catchy slogan for Languedoc to amend a clear shortcoming! Finally, Gordeaux got brought to an acceptable place of prominence in the live mix. Coinciding with his switch to the Modulus, all of a sudden Mike was dropping bombs that enveloped the room- and it was the best.
Then you had Page. It has become a virtual consensus among fans that he was at the top of his game in Hampton, leading jams and creating engaging melodic themes all weekend long. And I completely agree with this. While Trey was self-admittedly a bit tentative over the weekend, The Chairman stepped up throughout the shows, earning MVP for the comeback run on many a message board thread.
While there is no doubt that he was shredding, I now pose the question, “Was part of Page’s prominence in Hampton partially because we, literally, heard him better?” Taking nothing away from his playing, I sincerely believe this factored into why he stood out so much. Our ears had been trained- for years- by listening to a relatively unbalanced, guitar-heavy, live mix; one in which Page was most easily lost. Hence, with a more balanced mix, Page would naturally stand out.
In addition, Languedoc’s mixes weren’t the most dynamic- meaning he wasn’t always responding to what was going on stage. If someone steps up to lead a jam, they should be pushed up ever so slightly in the mix, in order to complement the natural contour of the music. While potentially inaudible in one instance, over an entire show of “dynamic” mixing, the music will “pop” much more. To be fair, Languedoc had a very good mix, but he definitely had his taste of how it should sound. Once he achieved that sound, he became somewhat of a creature of habit with the knobs. I know this may sound blasphemous to some fans out there, but it is certainly not meant in any inflammatory way. Paul did a great job for a long time, but had a propensity to settle in with the room sounding a certain way. Ultimately, Languedoc’s true passion seems to lie in his custom guitars, where he has chosen to focus his work from here on out.
I have no idea who did the live mix for Hampton, but I do know that it sounded amazing and far more balanced. Yes, they was the first shows back, it had been a while- but after seeing hundreds of shows, it was something that jumped out each night. And the best illustration of this new-found balance was how crystal clear Page sounded all weekend long. In a band of such uniquely talented musicians, all should be treated equal, with necessary adjustments made on the fly. At Hampton, this four-part equilibrium was closely approached- maybe moreso than ever. Call me crazy, but I it noticed on all three nights.
This is in no way meant to bash Languedoc- he always had it sounding spot-on in all types of rooms for nearly twenty years- but his affinity for big guitar often compromised Page’s contributions. I’m not even sure if the person who mixed Hampton is a permanent hire – but it’s fascinating how someone stepped in for their first time ever and had the mix sounding so vibrant. It’s interesting what a fresh pair of ears with no preconceptions can do.
Do you Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your opinions in Comments!
“The Return” – 3.6.09 – Photo: Wendy Rogell
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
8.5.96 Red Rocks < LINK
8.5.96 Red Rocks < TORRENT LINK
Continuing on our tour through Red Rocks history, today we have the second night from Phish’s four-night stand in 1996. Look out for monster bookends of set two in “2001 > Disease” and a heavy “Mike’s Groove.”
I: Wilson, Poor Heart, Guelah Papyrus, The Divided Sky, Wolfman’s Brother, Foam, If I Could, Julius, The Squirming Coil
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down With Disease, It’s Ice, Halley’s Comet > Somewhere Over the Rainbow**, Waste^, Talk^#, Train Song^, Strange Design^, Amazing Grace, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
**Page, solo on Theremin. ^Page on a smaller piano, Trey on acoustic guitar, Mike on acoustic bass, and Fishman on a smaller drum set (the “acoustic mini-stage”). #First time played.
Source: FOB > DFC/9th row > Sonic Studios Dsm6′/Pa6lc3s (w/60khz bass rolloff) > D7 @48k > Clone