Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014.1 This Has All Been Wonderful

July 19, 1998
Shoreline Amphitheater
Mountain View, CA

Set I: The Moma Dance, Beauty of My Dreams, Sample in a Jar, Guyute, Ghost>Limb by Limb>Roggae, You Enjoy Myself
Set II: Llama, Wolfman's Brother>Piper>Tweezer>Jesus Just Left Chicago, McGrupp>Down With Disease

We left the Gorge before dawn. We were somewhere between Seattle and Portland when the massive fog, darkness, and exhaustion began to effect my driving. I pulled off the road, as we had done many times on this trip, looking for a place to park and crash out. I have no idea how, but I ended up parking the car next to the dugout at a little league baseball park. We slept. We awoke with the warm sun and sounds of children. We wanted to get into San Francisco in time to enjoy it a bit before heading off South to the show in Mountain View. We drove that afternoon down Highway 1. A beautiful drive, a beautiful day. We were happy. We ended up camping out on the shores by Goat Rock and watched the sun fall into Asia.


Shoreline and Mountain View are a pretty good stretch from the Bay, so we hurried down and parked to beat the traffic. Once we got in the venue, we went to our ticketed seats and ran into some Memphians who had flown out to see the shows in California. It was good to hear that nothing drastic had happened back home, we puffed a Memphis shwag brown frown doobie and settled in for the show. My buddy's leg was starting to hurt, so we stayed in the pavillion area, but never pushed down to the pit.

We were complete toast after the Gorge and the travel. After the Happy Birthday to Jerry at Shoreline 1997, we held out hopes for a sit in from one of the Dead, but we were a year early on that presumption, and I think that added to the reasons the show didn't hang in my memory for a long time, however I did see Mike and say hello again as well as thank him for "whatever yall did to us at the Gorge."



Moma – A solid, jammed out opener while staying to standard MOMA Dance rock jamming. A great shot of adrenaline to start the show

Beauty – A semi regular afternoon happy vibe until page goes off.  Moving on…

Sample – The band was sounding/playing balanced and tight and hit a second early peak in the show shooting energy level high straight out of the gates. 

Guyute – 97/98 were big years for the pig. It had fully grown and matured and had mastered it's many segments from Irish ditty jig to evil menacing arcs and snarls over massive tension – the coda is prog rock mastery.

Ghost – Time to bring out the space funk. This one was, if you can say it without blaphemy, just another of many during this phase – a deep, long journey riding Mike’s base while Trey lets the loops unfold and Page makes the clavinet bounce. Totally in the swamp muck of Phish groove 101. Eventually the jam leads to full on Phish rock bliss with a vocal reprise from a locked in Fish – these are the jams jaded vets miss.

Limb – Here we are, Summer of 1998, first set, and yet again another top shelf version. Fishman goes freeform and carries the jam while Trey hoses the melody which never really steps out, but provides a thorough wash during an extended version.

Roggae – This song has never failed. It is so fitting when outdoors on the West coast. Trey is flirting with the “smudge” sound in the jam that evolved into 1999 and plays a consistent role in the Bug jam.

YEM – Very patient. A nice, long funked out intro to the jam with nice subtle looping fromTtrey while Page goes B3 bananas.  Eventually Trey gives in and starts with the rhythm licks as Fish and Mike lay it down taking it on a slow growling build but without any major fireworks.


Set break - Ting a Ling. All systems go.


Llama – A fast and fiery welcome back kiddos. Loads of energy and more snarling from the ‘Doc. Trey sounds angry as he rips it apart during the blistering outro.

Wolfman’s – A hair loose, but a lot of slow and deep. A swim in the space porn with no true peak. Culminating in a meandering, wet funk journey.

Piper – O, the slow build intro. It almost takes a “Sparkle” approach as the tension builds with no release in sight. As opposed to when Phish gives us the Hose, this is more like a sprinkler spraying in rapid bursts before running out of water pressure and fading off.

Tweezer – Trey takes us out for more deep space wha-wha. Totally danceable, but I was starting to lose focus through the set. It was certainly funky.

JJLC – More controlled energy. This time bluesy and soulful and Trey lets loose on the ‘Doc.

McGrupp – We have made the jump from deep space funk to breezy melodies, we’ve lost the dance, but the music is still pouring out. A very good version providing nice juxtaposition after Tweezer’s growling nasty slide. McGrupp turned into a gorgeous piece of work across the board.

DWD – A pretty typical, high energy wave of the song (1998) and the jam. Trey keeps it coming through the Disease reprise into a soaring finish. Great set closer.

E: Possum – A quality encore, but nothing insane. Still, some deep tension and release within the box provided.

Tweeprise – Another door slammed shut. As much as I like Kuroda's 2.0 and 3.0 light rigs, he had a rotating spotlight setting that he would white out and just let them fly in vertical lines during the Tweeprise peaks in the late 90's that he can't quite replicate, and I miss them dearly. We called them "the elevator vortex lights" and they were only used in that spot. They have literally made me think we were all in a massive freight elevator free falling before.

We followed our tradition and hit the road right after the show. Phish tour was going South. We began the long journey East with the intent to get to Yosemite by dawn. When you live in the Southeast and look at a map, there is always some space between big cities, and generally the driving distance winds out to about 3-4 hours from any one to the next.  When we looked at the map of California (before GPS) we saw a gap of what looked like a few hours.  We ended up tired and nowhere, so we tried to find a place to crash out. Off the interstate and deep into the trees seemed like a good place to hide. Bo and Luke Duke did that shit all the time.  We were passed out in minutes.

The next thing I knew, I heard the sound of something knocking on my window and saw lots of flashing colors.  Cops.  As I reached for my license, they saw the weed. The search began.

Let's just say that the final words passed to us by the CHP were, "Just make sure people know the California Highway Patrol isn't a bunch of assholes." We made it to Yosemite at dawn and set up a campsite under the trees and took a much needed early nap.  We couldn't help but chuckle about the fact that instead of prison walls and iron bars we were sleeping by granite monoliths and massive trees. The fates had spared us from one outcome, but Karma was chomping at the bit to make us pay.

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013.7 Past and Future Precisely Divided

July 16/17, 1998
The Gorge Amphitheater
George, WA

Day 1
Set I: The Squirming Coil, NICU, Stash, Reba>Fast Enough for You>When the Circus Comes, Run Like an Antelope
Set II: Julius, Moma Dance>Piper, Axilla>David Bowie, Tube>Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Sample in a Jar

Day 2
Set I: Makisupa Policeman>Ya Mar, Gumbo, Divided Sky, Waste>My Mind's Got a Mind of It's Own, My Soul
Set II: 2001>Mike's Song>Weekapaug Groove>Character Zero
E: Punch You in the Eye>Rocky Top

Let's get one thing clear:  I love Phish, and there was no force in live music like Phish coming off of 1997, and there is no better venue in America to camp out and see awesome music than the Gorge Amphitheater.

My first shows here (Phish's as well) in 1997 were like the first time I smoked pot. It was cool, but there was so much going on that I felt like I was watching myself on TV more than a part of the moment.  I had now seen 13 shows (some of those are now legendary 1997 Phish shows) and was much more comfortable with the scene, the music, and myself. Phish had developed exponentially over the year. Four song sets and improvisational journeys could pop up at any moment. Funk and ambience owned the airwaves. And then they rocked the Gorge and reminded us that Trey was a metalhead.

As with the previous year, we had taken the long journey from Memphis, TN to the Gorge. We stopped in the Badlands, the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks on the two week ride.

We had conquered the country before Phish played a note.

Arriving at the Gorge provided a new spark to our trip. Those last few miles of two lane, high desert road before arriving at the campground was the last chance to ditch our cares for a few days of pure fun.  The Phish crowd awaited.

The experience was a lot different from the previous year. We were down from 6 to 2. We were Gonzo and the Lawyer in our own way. The shows, while hazy in the memory, were intense rock and roll workout sessions. We climbed down to the floor Trey side first night, and just off from Fishman on the second. It was such a welcome sight to be amongst the freaks again. Memphis is full of crazy, but the freaks left town long ago, so having our own little Phish Mecca gave us a sense of divine purpose and total separation from the norm. Phish was still underground in a way in the summer of 1998. 

Highlights from Friday were the sinister Bowie and some deep funk in Moma and Tube. The sunset Reba and set closing Antelope were both top notch as well.  We stayed up all night and met some new friends who dubbed us, "The Wordsmiths" because we kept making up stories with odd scenarios. The party was immense and perpetual. There was no choice. My roommate fell and busted his ankle. He managed. A true trooper. We found a group of guys with musical equipment set up in the grounds. I played those drums for two hours on mescaline. Life will never be the same.  

The real action was on Saturday when a perfectly chill first set primed us for a near volcanic eruption rock and roll show in the final stanza on the mountain. The soaring dance/funk of 2001 rode through several peaks before falling into an evil and drawn out version of Mike's. Trey found his metal roots and let loose on the Languedoc with a grinding, powerful riff. Eventually they passed over the sandwich song and carried straight through into Weekapaug for another long run through quick shifting grooves. Finally closing the set with a bombastic Character Zero and a symbolic wink in the PYITE>Rocky Top encore, Phish had reckognized the Tennessee and satisfied us in so many ways. 

As I wandered back to the campgrounds, I noticed that everything I did was functioning in the same rhythm as that Mike's riff. Phish won again. It was in my bones. 

We were still in the midst of our midsummer journey. We had to get home, but figured there was more to enjoy along the way. We left the Gorge bound for San Francisco and Shoreline Amphitheater. Jim Morrison was right, "The West is best."

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013.6 I Will Not Dismiss You

October 31, 2013
Boardwalk Hall
Atlantic City, NJ 

Set I: Heavy Things, The Moma Dance>Poor Heart>Back on the Train, Silent in the Morning, Kill Devil Falls, Mound, Free>Camel Walk, Stash, Golgi Apparatus, Bathtub Gin
Set II: Wingsuit, Fuego, The Line, Monica, Waiting All Night, Wombat, Snow, Devotion to a Dream, 555, Winterqueen, Amidst the Peals of Laughter, You Never Know
Set III: Ghost>Carini, Birds of a Feather, Harry Hood, Bug, Run Like an Antelope
E: Quinn the Eskimo

I am a couch tour guy now. I have a teenage son and I enjoy watching him play sports. I have a job that keeps me in a box Monday through Friday. I don't know that I have a life, but I have a lot of shit to do. Phish has been the unfortunate sacrifice in my life in 2013. This is the first year since 1996 that I have not seen Phish or members of Phish live, and they are killing me for it.

I have moved my residence, changed careers, ended a relationship, and turned 40 this year. My 3.0 Phish shows have ranged from soul vibrating to head scratching.  I had sworn off travel and expense for Phish after the Gorge 2011. Night 1 reminded me why I had fallen in love with Phish and how powerful their music can be (Roggae/Rock and Roll). Night 2 was decent versions of Good songs and up tempo Phish, but the show lacked a sense of experimentation and risk. Having been so far off the cliff the previous night, I left early and disappointed. I felt I had not received my $$ worth for that show. 

I felt 3.0 was diluted and lacking direction while still showing the ability to reach the Glory. It seemed like they were playing reserved and with trepidation more often than not.  The whale call, the ripcords, the repeated songs, etc.  Some of the complaints were hard to debuke. By 2011 the Joy songs had found their place. No new covers had stuck from 2009 or 2010 Halloween albums. Where was all of this heading and did I still want to be on the train?

I worked for a friend at Bonnaroo 2012 with the understanding that I would be free to go to Phish. Working all week and meeting new people in the Bonnaroo environment had me excited as ever for Phish. I was ready to blow off steam. I had been paid to have fun and then see Phish. This was the opposite of making travel plans and buying tickets and the ordeal of the trip to see a show.  The show was decent, no really crazy jams, but it was fun to be with a group of people who were much newer to Phish than I was and were totally getting their minds blown by the fun, the tounge in cheek lyrics, the unstoppable dancing, and the madness of a Kenny Rogers sit in. 

I started dating one of the girls I met that night. She was the first girlfriend I ever had who understood my passion for Phish. This resparked my interest in Phish. We watched a few webcasts that Summer and then decided on a whim to go to Lakewood. We eventually decided the day of to go to Oak Mountain as well. I was getting drawn back in to tour with her.  Oak Mountain was fun. We got there last minute and ran into some of my friends. I remember it being better than Bonnaroo and the Gorge show that I had left early. Phish was fun again. We drove to Atlanta the next day and enjoyed the afternoon. It was a great day at Lakewood. The show had a few moments but fizzled out. Some dyke yelled at my girlfriend for dancing too much. I left before encore with that feeling of loathing that I had experienced at the Gorge. I missed the days when I was giddy for the first song and sad after the last because the magic was done. I had found myself just holding out hope for the one good jam they might give us that night. That was the last show I have been to. There were some 2012 highlights after that show without question. My love and interest never went away, but my justification for spending money to travel for shows was still not there. I thought Dick's 2012 had some great peaks and showed signs of a band jamming full throttle.  I did not webcast the 2012 New Year's shows, but of course I have listened. I wasn't upset that I didn't go to either run, but I thought they had their moments. 

I found myself searching in life again. For many years, Phish provided a journey, a window, an invisible guide on my path. I knew that if the shit ever hit the fan, a show would clean it all up. I wasn't so sure any more, and the shit had been hitting the fan so much it had begun to clog.

David Gilmour once said that music as art to him meant making complete albums with multiple songs that tie together to a theme. One off Hits are easy.  Phish concerts have the same appeal to me, and 3.0 had become more about one hit jam than a full show.  I was well on my way to jaded vet.

Along comes Couch Tour 2013.

I have watched every webcast in 2013. I love them. I have 60" TV and surround sound stereo. No neighbors, a pot of coffee, and all the room I want to boogie.

The Gorge shows were Phish at a breakthrough. Confidence and swagger was back to stay. A desire to make a complete flowing show that connected with the audience was there. They hit the mark multiple times, took several risks, and satistfied the crowd, themselves, and the Muse. When I first fell in love with Phish they would regularly leap off the cliff in a jam with full confidence that they would find their way to a safe landing, sometimes at the last second, and on the few occasions that they crashed they would bail out of disaster with a humorous musical stop, drop, and roll or a James Bond style safety net. 

Through the rest of Summer, Dick's 2013, and as Fall tour kicked off in Hampton, the willingness to take that Leap of Faith has been paramount with Phish, and my excitement is as high as it used to be staying up all night to get my mail order tickets postmarked properly and waiting for the package to return. I have danced, reclined, and swept during parts of Webcast shows. I have yelled out with the choruses in Prince Caspian and Character Zero. I have done the Meatstick dance. I have been revived, but the connection had yet to break the final frontier: Emotional Bliss and tears of joy.

 Put your Wingsuit on...

When word began to spread about Phish doing an album's worth of new music. the fanbase immediately polarized.  Let me first reiterate that I watched the show in my living room, so I had not invested several hundreds of dollars to go to Atlantic City. I was excited and slightly bemused by the announcement. I had hoped for a rocking or funky cover album, and I was happy to see that it wans't an hour of prog rock or 80's pop as some had expected.  It would be an entire set of new Phish material. This is ballsy. A Phish show is all about energy, and an hour of new material could kill that. They know that though, so I immediately got my hopes up that it wouldn't be a total flop. They couldn't half ass this. I thought it might be a joke until I read the Phishbill. They wouldn't take the joke that far. This was happening. 

The first set was nothing too noteworthy. There was an obvious case of nerves on stage and everything stayed pretty well in the box while still showing plenty of intensity and focus. 

Wingsuit - If Phish were to be compared to Pink Floyd for psychedelic jamming through ethereal space this would be the song to use as exhibit A. Very floaty and dreamy with a drifting ascending jam. The message I received was about taking a Leap of Faith and following what makes one happy. Let go. Free fall. Have faith. Be happy.  Maybe I wanted to hear that, but it fit the feel of the night.  Phish was going to go for it and have faith in themselves to get it right. We should all follow that lead. 
Fuego - this is 2013 Phish. Odd lyrics, a catchy sing a long chorus that everyone can sing while riding in their car with some Phishy segments of composition and fiery guitar.  The Phishbill pointed out that the band had taken select jams and relearned them with intros and changes and have reworked them as some of the new material. Both Wingsuit and Fuego are clearly from this fold.  Wingsuit sounds like it came from a long ambient jam while Fuego is a Phish style musical Voltron that has a feel of Twenty Years Later with a Walls of the Cave twist and a Birds of a Feather jam that all build into a funky sing along about rolling in your Fuego.  Very pleased by the looseness of this one while still being a tightly wound piece and a fun jam.
The Line - at this point, two songs in, I was feeling a distinctly mature vibe from the music, but it was undeniably Phish and much more organic than Joy, Party Time, Undermind, or Round Room had ever felt already. Phish was stepping up to a line in their career right in front of us and letting us in on it. This song touched on those feelings. I didn't realize until much later in the set that this song was about Darius Washington, Jr. The Memphis basketball player. I grew up in Memphis.  Basketball is the sport of choice there. I watched that game and cried when he missed. Phish, once again, hit me directly in the soul. Before the Memphis connection was revealed I had already connected with the song.  Sometimes you have to be brave, step up to the line when the world is watching, and fail. Life goes on. Phish goes on. I go on. Memphis? Who knew?
Monica - the first girl I ever loved was Monica. It's been a long time, but the connection to the show, the album, and moving forward with life was still right there and glaring. I liked the folky/funky groove. A little cheesy but it could sprout into some great jamming.  So far 4 for 4 as far as a connection and as far as how they would feel as songs on an album. I could totally listen to these songs driving on a road trip or sitting by the beach.  In my opinion, Phish was nailing it so far.
Waiting All Night - Phish does Yacht Rock. Something about this song screams red wine, hot tubs, and a swingers party, and that's not all bad.  Having just ended a relationship this one lyrically touched on some of my personal issues again. Phish was certainly in the same emotional state that I had been in as they wrote these songs. Love, loss, questions about the future, loneliness.  All right there in the music. It was time to shake things up.
Phish delivered huge with Wombat. Just a funk beat with massive clavinet grooves that give this song a restless energy and dance vibe. The lyrics are quentissential Phish chaos. Upon the first sounds I thought to myself that it sounded like P-Funk doing a 70's TV show theme, then the lyrics referenced Abe Vigoda 70's TV music. Another connection. As they vamped the song a large wombat furry took to the stage and broke it down with a hip hop dance routine. We eventually found out it  was Abe Vigoda in the suit. I'm pretty certain that Abe wasn't in the suit while dancing, but the press picked up on it and might truly believe that it was Abe breaking it down. I hope so. Comical relief aided by a nasty funk groove. Phish was keeping it fresh and keeping us interested. 

Snow - back to the front stage acoustic set up. Mike needs to work on his vocals. The low point for me. 
Devotion to a Dream - another emotional connection for me about holding on to a dead relationship. Nothing musically over the top, but one that will bring a few jams in time.
555- Much more suited for Mike's voice.  I really liked the call and response vocals and the edgy funk/rock feel. This one found its way into a dissonant jam and faded into ambience. Some Meters influence in this one also. We will see this one pop up a lot.
Winterqueen- a TAB song held over from Traveler and sounds as such. A little too melodic for my taste, but there is room for some long drifting jams in there. 
Amidst the Peals of Laughter - it was clear that the band's nerves had settled through the set as Trey became more chatty. He joked about the acoustic guitar with the Gary and the crowd. This song featured acoustic Trey with Page on a mini keyboard. The song sounds vaguely reminiscent of "Name" from the solo tour Trey did in 1999, but the words have changed. Life is full of doldrums, and while we all trudge through our normal day, someone somewhere is laughing all the way. This song is about that and how we have to just let it go. I shed a few tears as this message along with the whole album since song one hit home.
You Never Know - began with Trey thanking the crowd for their parience and part in the experience, and he referenced that many of the new material was about people they knew or knew of. He spoke of "The Line" being about D. Wash from Memphis, and that this next song was about the guy who stole their money. The song is a pretty basic rocker with a Phish vibe. More like Sleepy Monkey or Bittersweet Motel than the other songs, simple with a story.

And then it was setbreak again.

Before everyone goes apeshit about vibe and flow and energy, think to yourself if you can, unbiased: What if phish had never played Junta until 2013 and unleashed the whole album in one set.  Monumental? Fuck yes, but some people would have hated the lyrically deficient composition and tension in those songs without the freedom of improv jamming that Phish now has mastered.  

Phish just pulled the ultimate trick or treat. A new album, yes. New Phish music, yes. Turn a new direction, yes. Look back at any Halloween since 1994 and you will see that those points were what made Phish better, not the specific albums they played.  The albums didn't matter, it was (and still is) the focused effort into new music that will forge new directions.

Then they gave us the Ghost>Carini doubleheader to make sure we didn't forget that Phish can jam all night and wreck your brain at any given moment.

We are lucky to be in a time that Phish is firing on all cylinders and inviting us to be closer to the source. In 10 years we will look back on this Halloween with more passion than anything prior. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

2013.5 Time Is Only Part Of The Equation

Snapshot: Phish December1997 / January 1998

Phish Food was released days before the now legendary Fall 1997 Tour kicked off, and Phish played David Letterman to promote the product and the tour. It was another move in understanding a growing respect and larger base while still remaining unique and independent. They had done the Clifford Ball and the Great Went. They had sold out MSG, the Spectrum, and Boston Garden.This was no little band from Vermont. That night on Letterman they debuted "Farmhouse" and teased the viewing audience with the opening of "Mike's Song" as the show cut to commercial.  Did they just play Mike's and we didn't get to hear it? What the fuck? What was that new song? They had us in the palms of their hands and were about to unleash a new groove on their audience that elevated the game again and propelled the band into a new spotlight. 

While Phish's sound is morphing and evolving constantly, there was a distinct and intentional change that took place throughout 1997. If you listen to much of their music through 1996 it is all about tension and release. Whether it be the compositions themselves or the jams, there is underlying tension. Within the jams it is usually layered between Fish/Mike chopping up the rythm or Trey/Page offsetting and supporting each other. The end result in many of the earlier jams of Phish was either a breakdown to silence or a cathartic hose. The thing that made them stand alone from a rock perspective was that Trey's signature tones and reverb are so unique that no matter how odd the bed may have been that was created by the other three, Trey would find a way to balance it all. Rythmically, melodically, and harmonically Trey would surf that stretched out band of tension and then rip it with the Languedoc. This was the Phish through 1996. Listen to the YEM from 12/6 (the last theater size show in the US of 1.0 by the way) and hear the gradual and patient buildup of tension. Trey slices it with such perfection when he finally unleashes in the jam. It is primo Anastasio, but also drastically different from the Island Run YEM after a year of 1997 funk in the April of 1998 which is dramatically Mike led with Trey wah-wahing and looping in the shadows until he eventually gives it a run over a full funk jam. People speak of how Phish has more patient jamming in 3.0, and they are more comfortable, but they were confidently patient in the late 1990's. (Both fantastic in my opinion by the way.) They knew they were getting somewhere, and they were determined they were going to make it somewhere exciting and new. There was an obvious level of discontent from the Phish community to all other music. We hated the people who refused to accept the Glory of Phish, yet we wanted it to be our own little secret. The band knew that, and never truly commented about it, but played with a chip on their shoulder and reckless abandon intending to not only disprove the naysayers, but blow their fucking minds out. 

Carlos Santana coined the term "the Hose" to Phish by commenting that the audience is the garden and the music is water, and Phish is the hose. When they are in free form rock and roll mode, there is no better description. The hose changed from 1996 to 1997 also. It changed from a firehose of Trey to a sprinkler of all four members by 1997, not quite as direct and intense when firing, but certainly covering more area at any given moment.

Billy Breathes had been the most recent album, and by 1997 those songs were well settled into the live rotation. A lot of new music had been played in preparation for Story of the Ghost. I was very excited about the potential for Phish's next studio album being that it would be the first since I started following them, and I had heard so many of the songs, but had very little recordings of them. 

Tapes were awesome but still hard to come by in 1997 without a solid source and serious time involved. The only high quality CD Phish was A Live One, and it was recorded in 1994. I had met some tapers, but regularity was questionable, and the timing it took to burn a quality Memorex tape was always a pain. In 1997 Phish released Slip, Stitch, Pass. That was huge at the time. That album represented a major marker in the band time table. The first release with music all from a single show, recorded live in a club in Europe, covering a vast array of Phishy material including covers and teases, and "Mike's Song" for its first official released recording, and the debut of Mike's modulus bass that many have pointed to as one of the strongest factors in developing the funk sound that came out of 1997 and is still so strong today.

Think about that. On January 1, 1998 there were only two officially released high quality "Live" Phish CDs. That being said, their live sound was unquestioned as to what made them so unique and loved by their fans.

Favorites at the time:
Ghost - The symbolic new song representing the ambient funk grooves that infected Phish's style. After I heard the guy behind me say, "It can go anywhere..." during the ambient jam in the Hampton Ghost, I realized that the goal had been achieved in breaking new boundaries not only in their songs, but in carving out their own very unique rocking niche post grunge and vastly different from the Grateful Dead's jams and with an overwhelming joy not found in Pink Floyd's psychedelia.
Halleys / AC/DC Bag - old songs revived by the funk and ambient hose. 
Guyute - the moment of resonance totally blew my mind and is a statement to Trey's talent as a composer for complete arcs and defined themes.
Emotional Rescue - I was 2/2 with Phish playing this new cover - there had been no Halloween shows in 1997, so covers of any sort were welcome, especially this one to me was the perfect song for the new sound and it provided instant satisfaction in the jam.

Best three shows for me musically:
Hampton 11/22, Hampton 11/21, Madison Square Garden 12/30
Full on hose funk and glorious blissful peaks throughout. There isn't much left to be said about these shows. Go listen and enjoy.

Most fun: tied between Hampton and the Gorge. Getting there is half the fun, and 1997 is when Phish laid its claim to these two venues. From this point forth when Phish scheduled shows here, you tried like hell to get there.  

Regrets - none

Sunday, February 17, 2013

2013.4 Your Knight in Shining Armor

December 31, 1997
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

Set I:  Emotional Rescue>Ya Mar, My Sweet One>Beauty of My Dreams, Wolfman's Brother, Limb By Limb, The Horse>Silent in the Morning>The Sloth, Fire
Set II:  Timber>Mike's Song, Piper>When the Circus Comes>Roses Are Free>Weekapaug Groove
Set III: 2001>Auld Lang Syne>Tweezer>Maze>Prince Caspian>Loving Cup
E:  New York, New York>Tweezer Reprise

Somewhere between the "Pentagram Harpua" and the lone walk through Times Square at 4:20 that day I got some sleep and privacy. I needed the rest and a break from all of the people in our group and in our hotel room. Oddly enough, the rattle and chaos of the subways provided me with enough alternatives to break up the insanity and turn the page to New Years Eve. I was having fun, but feeling guilty. I was bored, but excited. I was ready to be home, but didn't want to leave. I was ready to wrap up the year in style. The previous two nights of funk and madness had set us up for three final sets of 1997 jams with some big guns still on the shelf.  This had been my first full year of Phish. I was completely addicted to the sound and emotions that this band shared with me. Back at the hotel we finished off our cocktails and ate the last of our mescaline. 

"Don't be afraid, be a friend."

As we entered the arena we all immediately noticed the huge parachute bubble covering the Garden's scoreboard.  We figured it was full of balloons after the 1996 midnight balloon drop, and the previous evening's Harpua story seemed to have been more Trey reaching for randomness than planting any seed. We wondered if it would block some people's view in the back. We were Fish side, second level, even with the soundboard. The people in front of us got engaged moments before the lights went down. The girl I had been partying with had a December 31 birthday. It was celebration time. 

Emotional Rescue - no shit! Thank you Phish again. Perfect song to start the show and immediately clear my head - plastering a grin across my face. Kuroda was hitting the fabric hanging in the middle of the arena with lights that added a cool effect. This version was not quite the same as Hampton, but certainly a great space funk jumpstart to the night
Ya Mar - a nice change of vibe from the rescue jam
My Sweet One > Beauty - I would rather them get it out of the way so the funk would be full force
Wolfman's, Limb by Limb - I just remember thinking that Phish is unquestionably the best band on the planet. Nobody, seriously nobody, plays music like this band - vocal jams and funk grooves, odd time signatures and harmonies in canon. At some point during this sequence Kuroda began projecting images onto the globe. They would morph and twist and gooify and burst and resettle. Strange images: udderballs, eggs, olive loaves - the items from Trey's story in "Harpua" floating on the screen above us. So lucky to be here at this time. The mescaline made me feel like king of the garden. 
The Horse>Silent - "I think that this exact thing happened to me, just last year" - "brings me to my knees" - never were words so true.
The Sloth - mean and menacing. The dark side of Gamehendge. 
Fire - Move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over... Trey shreds covers to close sets. It's just what he does. Don't ask questions. 
SETBREAK - I ate more mescaline and hydrated up. Laughing all the way. I believe the crowd was doing "the wave" with excitement as we geared up for the second set. 
Timber - another perfect opener and a nice groove. Timber didn't fit the funk transition, but it was always a favorite of my roommate
Mike's - liftoff. You want Phish blending rock and funk while still keping it danceably psychedelic? Then you want Mike's Song. Although 1997 took some of the evil out of the jam it turned it from driving rock and roll fireworks into the bedrock jam of the evolved Phish funk rock sound 
Piper - hose away. Fun in fifth gear. Kuroda had continued the images on the screen throughout the second set. We were swimming in sound and moving lights and images. You can imagine the dismay. 
Circus>Roses - the ballad/cover segment of the set. I love Circus. "it didn't mean that much..." We kind of had to take a breather after the intensity of the first parts of the set. Roses was still yet to break form, and never being a Ween fan, I used that time to stretch and puff waiting for the opening grooves of
Weekapaug - start/stop dance beats with Trey working the wahwah pedal like his bitch. Dance, sweat, do it some more. Sharing in the groove.
SETBREAK - I just remember having that uneasy feeling associated with wanting the music to start again, but not wanting the show to end. Hurry up and wait. 
2001>ALS>Tweezer - while the ball was dropping on TV just a few blocks away, the funk was exploding throughout the garden - images swirled and warped across the screen, clocks spun forwards and backwards and dripped like a Picasso painting until we hit midnight and the globe opened up dropping massive balloons and beach balls shaped and colored like the images from on the screen and in the "Harpua" story. We popped off the champagne cork and showered our section. We hugged and kissed and celebrated. 
Maze - those fucking show offs
Caspian - I love it when they play this song indoors, the crowd all hits the big "Oooo" harmonic and Trey rocks the shit out of that fat, deep groove. Another fantastic peak in the mescaline ride. 
Loving Cup - another great cover for Trey to shred, and our other roommate's theme song as he had been our friend from the mountain. 
E: New York, New York - arm in arm thousands of us kicked our legs like the Rockettes, only very poorly. We had been to the big city. "We can make it anywhere." What a show. New York never even knew. 
Tweezer Reprise - one last attempt to blow the doors off, and the ultimate exclamation point in the Phish catalog. Happy birthday. Happy New Year. 

Holy shit, we have to go home now?

There was nothing anyone could say or do at this point to change my path. Phish was the most powerful shit I had found, and the best way to satisfy my desire for fun. What had began as an experiment had become a full blown lifestyle. I had accepted a job in New Mexico and not told my friends. After the show, in the cab, I began to cry as I thought about leaving my friends to go far away and work some job I knew nothing about. I changed my mind that night. It wasn't worth it to me. You only live once. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

2013.3 Brings Me To My Knees


The summer of 1994 I moved to the beach with a couple of friends from high school for what was intended to be a Summer of fun and a break before our 4th year of college.  I had been at the University of Mississippi and the University of Memphis, one of them had been an the University of Tennessee, and the other had been at Texas Christian University and Tennessee, but we had all run together as kids and teenagers.

I was into southern rock, psychedelic 60s music, and the popular California chronic rap, as well as the college music of the day. One of the guys was big into Pink Floyd, the Dead, and Panic, and the other was into everything. He loved the Smiths, but we didn't listen to them too much. We all loved the Dead. 

I noticed Phish in the CD tower one day, but it was an album I had not known, and to be honest all I had heard was a little bit of the live bonus tracks off of Junta at some kid's house a few months prior.  The CD was Rift. He also had A Picture of Nectar, but that is a different tale. My friend had bought Rift because he thought Phish was a weird band, and he liked that aspect of it. I just knew it was a band that had been on the neo-hippie radar for a while, but they had never piqued my interest enough to invest the time. I was 20.

As I play back the album now, I hope to find that moment where it first caught my ear and made me ignore everyone else in the room in order to focus on the sounds of the music alone. I did not know it was a concept album before learning a little more, but it didn't take too much diving in to feel the emotion of changing times and relationships that carried throughout. I had just left home for the first time. Leaving for college was like going off to camp. I was still attached. I had now cut the cord. I had left home, most of my friends, and all of college. I had doubts.

We puffed our daily ritual and turned it up. 

Rift - what an interesting first song and overall initial sound to hear. Very different from anything else I was listening to at the time, yet it didn't scare me off. There was a sense of adventure there. Maybe I was looking for it, maybe it just was.

Fast Enough for You - a beautiful song, and a nice resolution from the chaos of Rift. Literally telling you to take a breather and enjoy your time. I think we put that on repeat a few times. 

Lengthwise - the weirdness. The album reminded me of Pink Floyd in a few aspects at this point. The instrumentation, the lyrical twisting, the sound effects, the sense of an emotion rather than a collection of songs was showing in the album

Maze - another perfect transition and more contained chaos. One of Phish' finer studio moments and perhaps the song that pushed me over the edge and committed me to the rest of the album as a whole. 

Sparkle - the way the band as a whole accelerated throughout the song was very cool to me. We repeated this one a few times too.

Horn - I totally melted for this song. I could picture myself in front of my girlfriend's house waiting for her to come out. A small social ritual tucked into a deeply engaging piece of music. It was full of rock sounds, but layered with something much more classy. This was my favorite song so far.

The Wedge - another song that was so out of the box from what I normally listened to, but for some reason sounded like I had been listening to it for years. 

My Friend - such a fiery wall of sound that swells up from this song. I took it immediately as a statement. These guys Have A Sound. The Languedoc screams as Trey brings it to the climax in a way that I had never heard from a guitar, and it comes over such a firmly composed foundation that the sparks and noise and flames fit perfectly. Again, contained chaos. A harnessed dragon.

Weigh - weirdness on a higher level. Slightly eerie, but undeniably funny. A little corny, but catchy and with a subtle groove. Again, this band Has A Sound. I just hadn't pinpointed yet, but I could tell it exists and that it is very different from anything else I was being offered by radio.

All Things Reconsidered - at the time I heard it as weirdness, but after a few listens through the album, I realized it was another window into the band's chops. The music seemed like it came from four totally different players than that from those on the previous tracks, but it still held on to that rowdy, youthful, daring smirk that punctuated everything so far.

Mound - again, I found myself searching for something to compare the music to, but found nothing. Totally original in composition and technique than anything I had heard.

It's Ice - immediately took the reigns as my favorite song on the album. It had mini jams and solos, intuitive lyrics, twists and turns, and more of that propelling sensation within the groove and the composition. 

Lengthwise - this is where the album grabbed me completely. I had enjoyed and been intrigued by the music, the songs, the playing, the lyrics, the transitions - all of it, but when it came back to those restless sleep sounds and the simple ghostly refrain I was sold. I immediately attached Phish with Pink Floyd more than the Dead (which is how my friends had sold them to me). I could associate that they were making very good music that was enjoyable to listen to while inviting the listener to join their game. Were we paying attention, and if so, how much? 

The Horse > Silent in the Morning - one of Phish' prettier pieces and a standout to close the album. After the chaos of the album and the underlying tone and message, this song brings rest with the morning sunrise. Played this one many times at sunrise over the gulf that summer. This was where I first heard the full blissful release of Phish. This was The Sound. I loved the harmonies and vocals in canon, the elegance of the melody, the galloping pace. 

As the year wore on I bought more Phish and listened to it all, but whenever I was by myself in the house or feeling a little down I would turn back to Rift. With more and more listens and examinations of the album cover I started to find connections not only between the songs, but also to my own journey. I had some rifts I left behind and a few arguments over the pace of relationships. I had many rough nights lost in the maze that I thought I would never escape. I had battled my soul and stood by friends during their trials, and I had turned out just fine. 

I would often fall into Pink Floyd and get bent out of shape. Rift was the antidote. Equally as thought provoking, but far less depressing. It actually accepted sadness and used it as a scope from which to view joy. They make each other stronger, and in music of emotion you have to cover both sides. You have to seal the Gap. The Rift.

I Will Not Dismiss You, Shelter You, Speak With You, Smile At You, Trust in Me. He'd Like To Brush You Off, And I'd Agree.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

2013.2 Catching Myself in Lies

December 30, 1997
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

Set I:  Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley, Taste, Water in the Sky>Punch You in the Eye>Stash, Chalk Dust Torture, A Day in the Life
Set II:  AC/DC Bag>McGrupp, Harpua>Im Gonna Be 500 Miles>Harpua>Izabella>Harry Hood>My Soul>Sleeping Monkey>Guyute
E:  Carini>Black Eyed Katy>Sneakin' Salley Through the Alley>Frankenstein

...and we're back.

We had spent the day doing the sites. It was cloudy, but we went to the top of the World Trade Center and gazed into the mist. It was nothing overwhelming because of the weather, but it hit home when they fell that I had been in those buildings before. Who knew at the time?

We met some other Phish fans from the south who hooked us up with a some buds, and we all had drinks at a bar by the hotel before the show, and before we had killed too much time or energy we were nibbling fungus and happy to find that our seats for the night were on the floor just a few rows back, right in front of Mike.

Our group energy was off. A few harsh words and disagreements had splintered our group. My head had drifted during the day; one of the girls in our crew was not my girlfriend, but we had acted otherwise so far in the trip. You try to keep it together, but there comes that moment when the lights go down and the music starts and we are all one in the same. One of my roommates smoked infrequently but chose to this night. We almost lost him. It had been 366 days since the Uberdemon had appeared in the Philly rotation jam show. It had been 1 year since I slept through the show. The timing was obvious, a cosmic hiccup was in the mix, and I was not falling out. This close, this night, these boomers, I was focused on Phish, and all that other shit could kiss my ass. Last year I wondered if I had made good choices in following Phish. This year I was wondering if the mistake was bringing the crew I had brought.

Sneakin Sally - seriously? Where had this been hiding all fall? And what are these lyrics about cheating on your woman?
Taste - tight and snarling
Water in the sky - I was pulling my roommate off the floor as the weed hit him way too hard
PYITE - got me back into the goove of the show. Good musical energy so far
Stash - Trey took it way out of the box. We were covering all nuances of Phish now
Chalk Dust - Trey rocking out, Fish upping the tempo
ADITL - are they talking to me? Just another day in the Phish life hanging around the big apple
SETBREAK - I stayed put, pretty smushed. The girls brought water, beer, and snacks. All prior BS was forgotten and we were having fun as a group. Our friend survived his fallout and was back in the game. We wanted fun.
ACDC Bag - not as ambient, but full of the same funky grooves from Hampton - let the dancing commence
McGrupp - my first time with this little doggie - I always enjoy the Gamehendge pieces, and at this time had not seen them all live, so each one held a place for me, but the jam loses the party groove
Harpua - Oom Pa Mother Fuckin Pa! - the story wandered from its traditional roots of Harpua vs Poster and Jimmy, and Trey told of his grade school playground, Land of the Lost, pentagrams, olive loafs, udder balls, and an odd assortment of shit that eventually brought us to the future ghost of Tom Marshall who appeared from the fog and sang I Will be 500 Miles in the midst of the story. It wasn't as absurd as the Uberdemon, but it was fun and confusing and I love the "DOG" harmonic at the song's coda
Izabella - Perhaps my favorite cover in the Phish book, Trey goes bananas
Harry Hood - you can feel good. My guilt had waned. I was back on the girl. 
My Soul > Sleeping Monkey yeah, about that.
Guyute - it didn't sneak up on me like the Hampton version, but it was equally blissful at the climax. 
E: Carini - I had a couple of tapes from Europe Spring Tour and had heard "Lucy With the Lumpy Head" but it had been left out of the rotation in the states, and I had forgotten about it.  The riff was magnetic and you couldn't escape it. We all thrashed around the Garden as Phish worked out the kinks to this new funk/metal monster
BEK - the magic groove - Trey had mentioned the fines levied for playing past curfew and that the band was paying it and playing on through. He encouraged us to feel how the floor bounced because it was actually several stories up in the building itself. You can feel it swell like a wave as the bass and drums pulse. Awesome!
Sneakin Sally - some phans had missed the opener due to usher issues. This was for them. We were happy hearing it again.
Frankenstein - ominous and rocking as usual, but taken for a true Phish spin with vacuum solo madness as the night wound out. 

Another great night, and we had managed to keep it together. Again we stormed into the Manhattan night practically unnoticed. We stopped for a few beers and realized our post show energy wasn't exactly welcomed at the bar we were in, so we made our way back to the room for a night cap and rest. We had New Year's Eve still to come.