Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014.3 Make Contact with the Road

July 28, 1998
Sandstone Amphitheater
Bonner Springs, KS
Set I: Emotional Rescue>Down With Disease>The Moma Dance>Tela>Sneakin Sally, It's Ice>Lengthwise>It's Ice>Sparkle>Funky Bitch
Set II: The Wedge, Poor HEart>The Mango Song>Brother, Contact>Maze, Prince Caspian>You Enjoy Myself
E: Camel Walk, The Squirming Coil

The journey East and a week or so off from shows had us giddy to be back amongst the Phish crowd. With all of the beauty and grandeur that came from the adventure driving across Utah and into Colorado, finally back through the plains and into Kansas City, there was still no excitement that compared to knowing we were getting back into the Phish amoeba groove. 

We ran into some of the people we met at the Gorge and chilled with them in the big, open lots, slightly somber that our trip was coming to a close, but fully primed for the party. 


Emotional Rescue – 3/3 on this one now – certainly becoming a theme for me and Phish – My hesitant emotions were pushed aside by early signs of possible jamming that quickly dropped into the distorted bass bombs signaling

DWD – quick intro out of ER with nice runs along the 'Doc from Trey. The show energy is at full throttle already as it's another solid version and good launch point as song #2

Moma – let Mike play! – slow, fat, funky / very patient playing / perfectly danceable

Tela – the wind from beyond the mountains – It felt like a musical breeze was pushing us back eastward / Trey absolutely destroys the last 90 seconds

Sneakin Sally – back in the groove / Trey chooses the blues route and shreds away over a full band funk-space groove with a breakdown around the "the name is slick” riff

Ice>lengthwise>ice – nice breakdown of Ice – unexpected Fishman turn w/ vacuum and Lengthwise (a first for me ) and it had me harkening back to the odd nights living at the beach, listening to Rift until dawn

Sparkle – the pressure builds / a nice tempo builder after the awkward/mellow ice jamming / Trey and Page both seem to enjoy digging into this one and revving up the pace

Bitch – straight up blues rock / Page's solo goes off while Trey is laying rhythm licks behind him - the jam is full of soul, eventually shifting down tempo in the groove / some interesting Trey banter thanking Rich for the bar tab last night gives this show a personal touch 

Setbreak - I remember being sweaty through my entire shirt from dancing so hard. We joked that they had played the second set first. The people in front of us brought extra waters for everyone around them and we enjoyed their kind gestures and told our stories from tour. The comfort of home was so close, too close. The road was more fun. Enjoy it while it lasts...

SET 2:


Wedge – slow, a little sloppy / not the best 2nd set kickoff

Poor Heart – not a hit for me as the set moved along and we were growing ever closer to going home.  I wanted funk and rock. Trey does throw in some serious bluegrass licks, however to keep it interesting

Mango – slick and smooth, but still nothing out of the box or too rocking

Brother – I enjoy high energy and odd tempo songs, and this is a good version, but where’s my funk grooves?

Contact – lounge lizard meets funk / slow groove, but this one takes it a step into the ether with some nice looping from Trey. This one is different (it sounds like it was born on the Island Tour) and includes nice finishing work from Mike

Maze – There is a chance we are shifting into the darkness here / A full band diving in full force and it's quite possible that steam was spewing from the stage. A stellar jam with great communication between Trey and Page - nailed it!

Caspian – ah yes, the slow rise intro with Fishman teasing the rock groove. I love the harmonies here and the full wall of sound that surges with Trey tickling the high notes and propelling forward

YEM – After cruising through the composed part they are almost slow dancing with the funk and build to a full band jamgasm guided by a laid back Trey who eventually just opens the wall and brings in the light

E: Camel Walk – great encore, rare these days and almost always signifies that the band had a fun night. Again, the whole band plays slow and toys with the emerging blues+funk (cowfunk) hybrid sound

Coil – It got away

And we were down to one last show before the return to Memphis. Phish had delivered again. The final chapter was on the table. The road called us home again, and we took off into the night, wiser and more cautious than our previous runs. Those last few miles before home are always the most treacherous. Especially with one show to go. We made it halfway across Missouri and found a campground. Everything felt different here. Hot and humid, but a breeze in the woods. We were far from the mountains and still not quite back to the familiarity of the Mississippi River. This was the last time we were setting up camp. The last roadside meal. The last night on the road.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014.2 We've Got to Get on the Road

July 20-27, 1998
Yosemite, King's Canyon, Death Valley, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Mt. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, UT
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Denver, CO

One of the first posters I had framed and hung on a wall in college was the Ansel Adams print, "Yosemite and the Range of Light". I have carried it with me over every move. It stays close to me and is one of the few posessions that has remained through the years. It is black and white with a full spectrum of grays. It shows a storm rolling in with El Capitan and Half Dome offsetting each other as well as Bridalveil Falls in the center. It is an iconic image that everyone has seen if you are familiar with Ansel Adams' work. 

The image has a dreamy mist to it that comes from the clouds and the shades of gray. It always represented a gateway into a totally alternate dimension to me.  There was this image of the most beautiful landscape in America that was staring at me, challenging me to dream, calling me to explore and come see it for real. It was the call of the wild, the great frontier. Rough, yet Pristine.

So we arrived there just as the gates to the park opened, tired from the Gorge and the trip to Shoreline, rattled from the run in with the police a few hours before. Longing for the peace and relaxation that I had been dreaming about and seen on my wall.  It was like I was finally going to make out with Farrah Fawcett after having seen her in that red bathing suit on every wall as a kid. I was finally here in Yosemite. 

We found a camping spot and set up our tent right away. We were tired and did not want to be saddled with that duty later in the day. Once the tent was up we actually crashed out for a few hours just to reset before driving into the park. In Yosemite we were silent or laughing, totally tripping out on the absolute Glory of the place. Glacier has a special spot in my heart because of the sheer size of the mountains and the ability to see the glacial cuts through the rock monoliths, but Yosemite has a true "Gates of Heaven" feel to it that embraces you and guides you in a magical way.

We went as far as we could by car and saw as much as we could in a day. We had several days before Phish in Kansas City, so we felt we had time to explore the park. This thought and our tired bodies led us to the river for a true cleansing and then an early night at camp. 

I awoke early the next morning, feeling fresh and excited about the day to come. I decided to get a start on breakfast while my roomate slept in for a bit. Most of our gear and food was in bear boxes or the tent, but we had left some stuff in the trunk of the car thinking it would be safe out of sight and unneccesary weight to deal with at the camp site.  We had traveled several hundreds of miles from Memphis, TN, and living in Midtown while working Downtown I have grown accostumed to people gathering around a broken out window to see what has been stolen from a car, but I never expected to see that in a paking area in the Garden of Eden, Yosemite. Much less around my own car. All I could think was, "holy shit I have driven from Memphis to the Gorge and through San Francisco and wound up here, and this is where my car gets broken into?" As I approached my car, I saw shattered glass and a badly damaged door, but I noticed that my $300 drum and my roomate's classical guitar were still there, our duffell bags full of cds were still there, our sunglasses were still there. Then I noticed the hair followed quickly by the smell. That's when I saw the torn up bag of chips and the opening between the backseat and trunk that was exposed showing more empty and torn food boxes.  

A bear had ripped the passenger door off of my car and feasted on our backup food supply.  Still better than jail, though.

I went back and woke my roomate, "You're never going to guess what's happened."

Blissfully sarcastic, yet frighteningly close, he answered, "You're car is stolen?"

Chuckling, I responded, "No, but I think you're going to need to come out here."

A little more seriously he asked, "Did it get broken into?"

"Kind of, but they didn't take any of our shit."

"Who the fuck just vandalizes a car in Yosemite National Park? What did they do? Was it something to do with those cops?"

We were at the car and I smiled and pointed. "Yogi Fucking Bear used my car as a picnic basket, and we need a new door."

He laughed, stunned.

We ate, packed up, did a lap around the park without a door and took off down into the valley to Fresno. The dealer was so amazed by what they saw that they only charged me for the parts and brought every employee on the lot over to see the car.

At this point, we were already on our path to King's Canyon/Sequoia National Park, so we took our beating at Yosemite as a karmic balance after avoiding arrest for stupidity the night before. It was time to keep moving. 

King's Canyon/Sequoia was thick woods and rushing rivers, but we really didn't get too involved coming off of the overstimulation of Yosemite and the bear experience. We drank whiskey and passed out early and were off to Death Valley before we knew it.

The wild hair up our ass got tickling as we saw signs for Las Vegas, so we blew threw the desert into Sin City and in tribute to the good Doctor we dosed heavy, parked the car, and went wandering.  Vegas wasn't as welcoming as we had expected it, but we also could have been in the wrong places. We really didn't know, and we were mostly looking up and out at lights and buildings. We ended up at some strip joint and got separated. I don't know if we were there 10 minutes or 10 hours, but we finally found each other and got out of there right at dawn. We simultaneously said, "I don't have any more money," and we got to the car and left.  Luckily, my roommate's sister loaned us $500 and her credit card number to get home safely.  

We were now on a totally different budget. Our head stash was on rationing as well, as we were down to two more shows and less than a week of time and travel before we would get home.  We pushed on into Utah and a stretch of National Parks to give us some destinations and scenery while we made our way back to Phish shows and eventually home.  

Mt. Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands are so unique that they seem like they could each be a different alien planet, but they are all stretched across southwestern Utah. Zion with its high mountain walls and fertile valley in the middle of the high desert is not quite as powerful as Yosemite, but it shares some of the same qualities of the grandness of nature. Bryce Canyon, dripping burnt oranges and reds over the spiking Hoodoos creates an "end of the Earth" feel. We watched a storm pass under us and eventually run out of space until it rose right onto us as we sat on the edge of the canyon at Bryce. In Canyonlands we found a ledge off the beaten path where we played music and gazed all afternoon at the depth and wide open vistas provided by the canyons.

Eventually the road brought us to Estes Park in Rocky Mountain National Park where we camped for a night and got drunk on local beer before stopping off for a glance at Red Rocks and winding into Denver. The next day we tried to see the Colorado Rockies vs the St. Louis Cardinals as Mark McGuire chased the home run record. No cheap tickets. We decided to spend some of our money on a hotel room and beds. The weather was nasty, and we were tired. We sat in the room and watched "The Game" with Sean Penn and Michael Douglas. Talk about a head trip. That night we went to a bar and jammed with a band called "The Fabulous Boogienaughts" on old funk tunes. Denver was fun, I thought of Kerouac and Cassidy. I was as happy as I could be. Broke and Free. On the Road. Next stop, Phish - Kansas.

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.