It may sound New Age-y, but pianist Holly Bowling had a life-changing experience at a Phish show last year. At a concert in Lake Tahoe, the tireless jam band played a 35-minute-long version of the crowd-pleaser “Tweezer” — a jam that many Phish fans consider among the best of the band’s 30-plus-year career. Indeed, Bowling was so taken by the performance that she decided to transcribe the whole thing — all four instruments — and distil it into a composition she could play on the piano.
“I started transcribing it, the melody line, the dominant part — writing out what I heard and it took me maybe… 9 months,” Bowling tells Billboard. “I sat down to play it, and realized I also needed to figure out the rest of the parts that were going on.”
Bowling’s rendition spread, thanks to an online video that circulated among Phishheads and even prompted a live performance of the piece around one of Phish’s performances last year in San Francisco (“The bar was packed,” she says. “It was fun to hear people saying ‘woo!’ at the right time.”) It also led Bowling to pursue a much more ambitious project: a just-announced two-disc set of piano transcriptions of Phish songs, the first dedicated to recreations of the band’s studio performances, and the second encompassing of live jams, including that “Tahoe Tweezer,” a version of “Wedge” from Chicago, and another live rendition still TBA.
The San Francisco-based Bowling says working on the transcriptions has made her far more aware of the intricacies in Phish’s onstage interactions. “When you’re writing out the parts, really focusing in on one musician, you start to notice their patterns and idiosyncrasies — [guitarist] Trey [Anastasio] really likes to fit in these triplet ornaments in solos,” she explains. “[Bassist] Mike [Gordon] locks in a pattern of three notes or five notes that go in poly-rhythms in different cycles. … And the style that they jam in now [versus 10 years ago] is so much more condensed. They fit a lot into a shorter amount of time — there’s a lot of material in a little space.”
If the project sounds similar to Christopher O Riley’s piano reinvention of Radiohead songs, that’s not a coincidence. Says Bowling: “He put out a book of the Radiohead arrangements and I loved learning all of them.” Although Bowling hasn’t talked to Phish directly, their camp has approved the project, which is available for pre-order on PledgeMusic (as of April 17, she had reached 48 percent of her goal). Bowling hopes to release it in June. “It’s definitely happening, though,” she adds. “I go back to the studio tomorrow!”
Watch “Tahoe Tweezer” below: