From Phish Novice to Expert: A Four-Show Progress Report
Long-time readers of the site might have noticed that we have brought back one of our favorite columns, Phish Friday, with a renewed vigor and a set of contributors that clearly possess more knowledge on those nerdy cats from Vermont than I ever could given that I saw my first show in 1999. My buddies have simply had enough of the column being dead and unhonored, especially considering Phish has returned to the road in 2010 with a renewed vigor that nobody could have ever anticipated. (Note: wishful thinking for a return to form and experimentation and “bust-outs” does not count as suspicions or hypotheses confirmed. I’ll venture to guess nobody called a “Fuck Your Face” ANYWHERE before this tour started. I digress.)
So with this return to form, my friends took me to task and came up with a list of 14 shows that I needed to hear before the start of the second leg of the summer tour, three shows at the Greek Theater right across the Bay. So far, these are the only shows I have booked for the year and I’m anxiously awaiting some news further confirming the Halloween run out East so I can get booking and saving my money. But I was fortunate last year having caught the major runs that actually mattered to people and the band, like four nights at Red Rocks plus two nights at the Gorge plus three nights in Indio for Halloween, so I’m still pretty happy with the idea that I managed to snag mailorders to the only three shows I could feasibly attend this year given a lack of funds and time.
And what a party it’s going to be! We have crews upon crews of Phish fans descending on the Bay Area this weekend and it’s going to be an absolute madhouse. I’m hoping to meet and hang with our friends from Coventry Music, and I’m checking in with the This Week on Lot crew tomorrow for a chat about the shows. Screw Shark Week, this is GREEK WEEK, baby.
Circling back on this pre-Greek homework assignment I was given, naturally I’ve already procrastinated. I’ve got some serious listening to catch up on given an eventful weekend spent running over SF enjoying the sights and sounds. So far I’ve only crossed four shows off the list, which really puts me on a full diet of Phish this week between exercising and finishing up some blog posts that have piling up over here on our news desk. I figured I’d give a little insight into how it’s going for me and what items are standing out as I consume some of the great, epic shows of the band’s past. There’s the joke that this exercise will basically make me hate whatever the band plays at the Greek, because the consumption of this greatness in the past could overshadow the band’s “doing the best we can” return to the stage after a month off. Lord knows nobody actually expects a dud note or two during the three-night stand, but there’s bound to be one set that just can’t cut it after we see what happens once they warm up. Plus, if they really did open with a “Ride Captain Ride” the mothership will likely blast off for more than a few thousand people in the audience. Don’t get me started on the idea that everyone will be in a toga on Saturday night’s show; that’s just too much to anticipate and expect. Point is, I’ll keep my mind open and expect it to be blown in more ways than one this weekend.
Ahead of that, here’s my progress report and something for any Phish novice to study from in their own quest for more knowledge…
I figured I’d start with the first show on the list and jump around where it’s reasonable, because over-doing one era versus the other won’t let me appreciate the nuanced playing that accompanied each year in the band’s progression. On this recording and three-set party with the Giant Country Horns, I feel that you can actually hear the band’s stomach growl as they tear through their classics. They were hungry, man. The band just really brought a level of creativity that I would never expected to see in a band in the early 90′s, so I kept that in mind as I heard early versions of “Reba,” “The Squirming Coil,” and “Possum” which closes a killer first set. Horns on “Dinner and a Movie?” Yes, please! Such a fun show to get through, but the moment that really sealed it for me was wondering what it would have been like to be in the audience at a Phish show for the first time, and seeing them throw out something like “Contact > Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” for the encore This segment is quintessential Phish and everything that would have turned on early fans arriving a show and wondering what this group of dudes from Vermont had up their sleeves. Granted, the show was in Vermont and was played for a close tribe of friends — but I liked the thought of me being transported there and being a fly on the wall for those early ragers. Definitely a good pick from the “classic” Phish bucket…
Going from the oldest show on the list to the most recent show on the list was like going from my first kiss to the first time you have sex; both get you about equally as high the first time you experience it, but it’s impossible to compare the two in terms of scale, size and progression in ones life. Phish absolutely slays this show up and down, left and right, in and out, side to side, milk to lemonade, you get the picture. The fact that I had not heard this show in its entirety and with the proper level of concentration that it required — most of it being consumed while I was on headphones and running around Dolores Park in SF — I was really less of a person before without having this grace my ears. I’m not even trying to be dramatic about that either. The Drum Logos show represents everything I’ve ever loved about this band in the style of playing, the jams coming off the rails and coming back on minutes later, the ambient grooves of the entire second set, and a beautiful encore to close the entire thing off. I can’t tell you enough that this needs to be a show that you purchase in all of its soundboard glory. It’s almost impossible to describe the playing on this one.
“Cities” is really where I felt the band had something special on their hands for the show, even after starting on the wrong note (key?), and “Gumbo > Llama” is just ridiculous. There’s a point in “Gumbo” where it almost sounds like the band is about to drop into some dubstep shit, but they’re quickly lead out of that and the delay loop is halted while everyone picks up the BPM and gets to the intro in “Llama.” In. San. Ity.
Given my love for all things Primus, Les Claypool and any show that has a 30 minute “Harpua” encore, this one just slipped past me. The whole notion of Phish in Vegas is pretty impressive given how big the band was getting at the time, and they must have been high as hell on adrenaline walking on stage for this one. To begin a show with Wilson > Peaches > Poor Heart > 2001 > Llama > YEM is actually just something we’d probably never see again given how a lot of those songs are center pieces for other flow elements of the shows we see from Phish 3.0. To hear it is something else altogether and the standout set of moments from the first time this show graced my ears. And Harpua sounds weird as hell without that proper oom-pa-pah of the drums switching between 4/4 and 3/4 beats; one big 8/4 groove fits this jam. Is this the start of Les Claypool wondering if he should start musically vibing on the jamband aesthetic? I think so.
It’s funny how different shows, different songs, different audience sources, and different friendly context can change the way a show gets digested. Take for instance the Palace at Auburn Hills show, a show that often gets mentioned in the Phish-o-sphere for it’s second set opener of “Tweezer > Izabella” (which Pete pointed out is Mr. Miner’s favorite, but also our own Whitperson’s favorite from this Phish Friday from the past) — it hardly did anything for me on a few listens through. Maybe “Tweezer” just isn’t that song for me in the same way that others are. Because last night I got out on my bike and absolutely tore some serious pedaling through the “Golgi > Antelope” opener, the first “Run Like an Antelope” that I’ve heard that features Trey’s delay-loop “lead” that now usually only finds it’s way into a “Gotta Jibboo” or “First Tube.” I locked in hard with Fishman and pedaled until my legs were on fire, imagining the whole time that the band was only following him like I was. Maybe the tempo for Antelope was just what I needed last night, and I’ll be sure to go back and play this “Tweezer” a few more times just to see if it finally clicks with me like it did for the rest of the critics.
But that’s what makes this exercise so unique to me; one man’s trash can easily be another man’s treasure, and in dissecting why these shows are important, relevant, or “epic” in the Phishstoric sense, it’s really in the where/when/why/how you consume the media and what memories it helps you create. I wasn’t on the Island Tour back in 1998, but I have a perfect memory of listening to the second set from the April 4th, 1998 show while driving through the pineapple fields on Oahu at the close of the millennium (when everyone else was down in Florida, I was in Hawaii with family). To that end, I’ve heard this “Tweezer” before and it just didn’t stick. Here’s to my new memory of this show, the one with my favorite “Run Like an Antelope” and not at all a “Tweezer” that means anything to me past the best version I’ve ever seen: 2.20.03 @ Allstate Arena in Chicago.
(Yep, that one IS on the list and I’m not sure Trey’s “tiger” tone can ever be outdone by his current whaling efforts.)
As I put the finishing touches on this post, I decided to go back and listen to the Palace Tweezer and the jury’s is definitely still out. Obviously it’s amazing, but can it beat an absolutely disgusting 20 minute Tweezer that I have committed to memory at the first show I got Floor tickets for? I’m not sure. For fun, let’s just listen to that one up against the Palace version to see which one does it for you.
BONUS: Tweezer 12.6.97 vs. Tweezer 2.20.03
Happy Greek Week, everyone! LET THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUE!
PHISH @ THE GREEK COUNTDOWN!
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