Tag Archives: Phish

My Thoughts on Phish as 2012 Closes

MSGIt’s been a year since my last blog post. A year. A lot has happened in that year, my life is very different than it was as I wrote “My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes.” I’m a different person, and the things that make me happy have changed significantly. But here, as 2012 closes, I’m finding myself writing something I simply never expected to write. See, I didn’t order the Phish MSG webcasts. As I’ve been slaving over the Phish.net forum, crumbling due to the site’s size and several less-than-optimal code routines, I’ve been thinking something I’ve just not had the guts to say out loud: I just don’t care that much about Phish anymore.

I looked over the setlists for the last three nights, and I’m sorry to say, they just aren’t that interesting to me anymore. They look totally tired, many of the songs being a total snoozefest for me these days. Friday night included this opening combo: Stealing Time, Moma, Funky Bitch. I would’ve slit my wrists if I went to NY and got that threesome. The set was rescued, song wise, by Stash, Nellie Kane, and what I’m told is a fantastic Wolfman’s, the problem is, I just don’t even care enough to check it out. I hope I get the interest to check out the Tweezer that everyone says is “one of the best of 3.0,” but the fact is, I’m beginning to realize that I just don’t like 3.0 Phish that much.
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My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes

The following ramble goes on for far too long.  It’s been building inside me all week.  I’m sorry to burden you to even read it.  You don’t have to.  But I’d love to hear if any of you have the same inner conflict I do.

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Phish Wish List Redux

Just about a year ago I posted my “Phish Wishlist.”  I’m heading up to 3 shows in Atlantic City this weekend, so it’s time to update and revisit this list.

What can I cross off this list since then? Two songs: “Dinner and a Movie” and “Walk Away.”

So I’ll start off with the remaining songs:

  • Destiny Unbound
  • Camel Walk
  • Brother
  • Scents and Subtle Sounds
  • A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
  • Glide
  • Harpua
  • Spock’s Brain
  • Have Mercy
  • The Lizards
  • Crowd Control

Then I’ll add songs I want to see as of now:

  • Alumni Blues > LTJP > Alumni Blues
  • Gone

I don’t think I’ll get Alumni or ASIHTOS because they were played last night, and Camel Walk, Lizards, and Brother were ALL played on Sunday.  But I do have my fingers crossed for something fun.

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Making the Case: Summer of '89

Smegma, dogmatigram, fish market stew.
Walking across the lawn, stepped upon a log.
Tipsy, fuddled, boozy, groggy, elevated prime did edit her.

These are the lyrics of Phish. These are the fun, linguistic acrobatics that entertain us. But, from time to time, things get serious we have to acknowledge that we are human, and we have lives, and we have families. Those, too, shape us and our experiences. I think it’s common for fans to forget that they’re favorite entertainers have lives off the stage, and from time to time, those fans can be both rabid and unforgiving.

When I began to read online comments deriding Trey’s new ballad, Summer of ’89, I was a bothered. When I heard the song debut in Hartford, I thought of it as a light little set-interlude, punctuated by the “and we danced all night” refrain. I wasn’t especially excited about it, but I certainly wasn’t offended by it. On repeat listening, though, I’m feeling differently.

I hope we’re mature enough as a community to recognize Summer of ’89 for what it is: a nice, gentle love song from Trey to his wife. Phish is on the road a lot – less these days, with Shakespeare camp and school vacation commitments – but it seems only fair that once in a while, they can use the stage to remind their family how much they mean to them, especially give the fact that most songwriters write lyrics that touch on their personal lives, while our rock stars tend to sing about imaginary friends, getting raped in the forest on an owl hunt, syrup thieves, aggressive reflections, and, oh yeah… good ol, classic masturbation.

The other day, I was driving along and Summer of ’89 came on, and I listened to the lyrics seriously for the first time. What is it other than an intimate glance into Trey’s love life? Weaving a grass ring, a particular, frequently-worn dress, a shared phase of Brazillian music. And then? “On the road when our first was born in the summer of ’95.” I actually felt a tear well up in my crusty old ducts, one that betrayingly fought its way up, but ultimately, I was just able to hold back. But it connected with me, because the idea of being away from my kids for more than a few days makes me sad, let alone a tour, or missing something as monumental as their birth.

I consider this light little tune, and I realize that behind the simple rhymes are not just memories that make one smile, but a little bit of regret. Regret about how it was simpler then. Regret about missing time with children. Regret in the moment: we used to dance all night, but now… well, now we don’t.

Singing about kids often chokes me up, and this is coming from someone who almost never cries. I’m not ashamed to admit that there was a day a few years ago when, upon hearing the “smiles awake you when you rise” verse of The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers, I suddenly and uncontrollably wept like a baby thinking of my daughter. As a parent, I don’t see any problem with reflecting on the life you’ve built with your family and being wise enough to see your successes and man enough to admit your regrets and mistakes. To me, this was Trey reflecting on his life with his family. A little bit of happy memory, a little bit of bittersweet. But honest. Like Joy, it’s hard not to see something raw underneath the veneer of playfulness that usually coats Phish and Phish-derivative offerings.

Say what you will about Summer of ‘89 – it’s weak compositionally, it’s mushy and out of place at a Phish concert, its chordiness makes it musically unchallenging, it’s not manly enough, it’s unnecessarily sappy, it’s a too-intimate glance into private emotions… to me, those are all excuses. You don’t have to love the song, but to suggest that it’s bad because it’s different just seems disingenuous and uncharacteristic of Phish phans.

But then… what do I know? I likeTime Turns Elastic.

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The following post originally appeared on the Phish.net Blog:

I admit it: I’m a setlist snob.

I started formulating this realization on the field in Indio, when ZZYZX turned to me and said, without the condescension implied, “I remember when I was chasing bust-outs.” And my response was succinctly “If we’re going to hear a 10 minute jam, I suppose I’d rather have the jam be off of a song I haven’t heard before rather than one I’ve seen a dozen times.”

But as true as that is, it’s not the real story. The real story is that I am chasing bust-outs. Not just bust-outs, but “interesting-ness”. And “interesting-ness” changes with the seasons. I’m actually chasing anything at a show that makes me think “Interesting!

I’ve posted about setlist construction before – to me, as a bit of a Phish geek – it’s fascinating. Those seconds when the band takes the stage, before the first notes of any song, are magical and hopeful – anything can happen. Will it be AC/DC Bag? Will it be Punch? Will it be a song I like? A rarity? A random cover? Will it be something that will make the show immediately legendary, like Harpua? Or an entire cover album?! It’s maddening!

And so it goes, between every song of every show… I wait with bated breath for what might be.

I thought Black-Eyed Katy was awesome in 1997 — one of the highlights of 11/22/97, I’d say. When Moma showed up in summer 1998, it was a funkified sensation. But now Moma makes me cringe – standard fare on a standard night, been there, done that. It takes a lot to make Moma catch my ear these days. Guyute was a patient fan’s reward not too long ago. But these days, I hear groans when Phish launches into a fairly standard execution of this complex composition, which is no small musical feat. Some used to call Roggae a “set-killer,” but here we are in 2010, and 2009 made it into a cherished treasure.

That’s the thing with setlist mechanics: they change every year, if not every tour. As certain songs get played over and over (Kill Devil Falls, anyone?), they lose interesting-ness and uniqueness. When songs disappear and re-appear, they gain it. I’m not sure I think Spock’s Brain is even a very good song, but it’s certainly a rare treat, and that makes me wish I’d get a chance to see it played.

This is how it unfolds, without fail, as I review each show’s setlist. A show that opens with Vultures? Interesting! A show that features a bust-out? Interesting! A new and random cover that could be a one-timer? Interesting! A novelty show, such as the M show, GameHoist, or even the recent Saw It Again adventure? Interesting! The appearance of a song like Dogs Stole Things in a 2010 setlist is interesting, but in 1997, not as much.

A song like Stash is one where I’ve simply fallen out of love, and yet, my most recent shows, Stash has lead to an incredible jam. Ditto Down with Disease, Bathtub Gin, and Wolfman’s Brother. Seeing these doesn’t inspire an Interesting!, but it might be. Hearing a song like Harry Hood or Fluffhead live is almost always satisfying to me. But when I see it in a setlist from a show I’m not attending (or couch touring), it doesn’t make me think “Interesting!” Ditto for Bowie, YEM, and Reba.

On the other side of that coin, songs like Brother, Camel Walk, and Destiny Unbound are rare and interesting enough that, even when executed in standard fashion, they are eye-catching.

Funny thing, if I made a mix of my favorite Phish live song performances for a fellow Phish fan, it likely wouldn’t include many of the “interesting!” setlist choices, but rather, the best jams. And what songs are they? Ghost, YEM, Piper, Split Open and Melt. Not quite “Interesting!“, is it?

As you can see, judging a show from its setlist is almost always a bad idea. It’s much smarter to use the advice of those in the know, or employ something like the Phish.net show rating results to find shows to hunt down. But that doesn’t mean that some of us don’t go against better judgement, and look for those shows with setlists that make us think “Interesting!

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Today is Not Yesterday (and Cannot Be)

The following originally appeared on the Phish.net blog:

Today starts Phish summer tour 2010, and I can’t help but get sucked into the whole “Phish 3.0” debate: are they still any good? Can they still jam? Will there be any notable performances? Will 2010 be able to hold a candle to Phish 1.0 shows?

My friend and colleague ZZYZX recently pointed out that Phish has seemingly been misremebered for their long, exploratory jams, when in reality, they didn’t “jam” much until the late 90s. He also points out that perhaps there’s less work required to hit the jam stride, the sweet spot of the jam, so to speak.

I’ve been sucked in a few times to debates with people who maintain that Phish isn’t the same band they used to be. Of course this is true, they’ve got decades more experience, they aren’t trying to find themselves like they were in the 80s, and they’re at a different point in life. But what’s also true is what got us here may not get us there, to borrow a business motivation phrase.

When I hear the complaint that Phish doesn’t write like they used to, citing songs like Reba and Fluffhead, I’m bothered.  Phish does attempt songs like those still: see Time Turns Elastic. Walls of the Cave. Waves. Pebbles and Marbles. The challenge is that these are new, and new is never as good as old when it comes to music.

Let’s look at Time Turns Elastic. I’ve advocated for Time Turns Elastic before, but let me just highlight some of that here. Those noobs who make smarmy jokes suggesting TTE is only for pee breaks annoy me. Time Turns Elastic is a musician’s wet dream: I dare you to try to count it out. It’s got definitive sections, much like Fluffhead. It’s got a happy ending jam a segment, like The Arrival. It’s got some fun, warm sections, like Reba. And some tough-to-figure-out, intricate composed sections a la Divided Sky. But for whatever reason, there is a large group that simply doesn’t like this masterpiece. So much so that it was voted the worst Phish song in a recent poll on Phish.net. Meanwhile, the return of Fluffhead had phans creaming in their drawers. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m forced to maintain that older equates to better for too many. We’ve heard Fluffhead a thousand times, it’s part of Phishtory, and it reminds us of a simpler time. It evokes emotion in a way newer songs just don’t… yet. I think in time, should TTE become a rarity, it will get its due. In the meantime, Fluffhead was first.

There’s a certain pride, with a band, in being there first. I only heard of Phish for the first time – that I can remember – in 1992. By then, several of the Phish.net staff had already seen more concerts than I have since. I wonder sometimes if I would have even gotten into Phish if it was 1988 when I first saw them. Or 2004. The state of the band when you first took interest in them undoubtedly shapes your judgement of them in all subsequent phases of their career. But I think we’re unique here, because we have so much of the history captured on tape for posterity… and repeated analysis. I think that many of us are brainwashed because we don’t revisit the totally average shows nearly as often as the epic shows of days past, so we start to believe that the quality used to be higher. We compare every show we attend now to the highlights of days past. Dip that ladel in the tub, and your creation will yield disappointment – the purple paste of “Phish 3.0” being a letdown. It’s not. It’s exactly what anyone paying close attention should have expected. It’s the natural evolution of Phish.

Phish is no longer a bunch of kids trying to define themselves. They’re a bunch of 40-somethings who have experimented and found their comfort zone. They’re evolving, but at the same time, narrowing in on what makes them happiest and will sustain them longest. They like a variety of music and styles and like variation in their setlists. They like adopting wacky covers, sometimes only once (e.g. Rhincerous, Layla, Golden Age, Terrapin Station). They like playing their classics. They like shelving songs and surprising audiences with their unexpected return. They like treating remote audiences to something special. They’re not a jam band or prog rockers or hippies or old men or young men – they’re amorphous. They’re not just performing, they are creating an overall experience.

In 2009, Phish honed their skills and ambitiously aimed for flawless execution. People complained about lack of variety (AC/DC Bag to open seven shows in 2009?), but Phish played 248 different songs last year, a full third of their entire twenty-five plus year repetoire. What will 2010 have in store for us and will it appease the masses?

Stay tuned to Phish.net to find out.

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Conversation with a Two Year Old

Jillian: Daddy?
Me: Yes?
Jillian: Dora sings Camel Walk.
Me: She does?
Jillian: Mmm-hmm.  And Benny sings Icculus.  And Tico sings Timber Ho.  And Isa sings Mockingbird.
Me: Really? What about Boots?
Jillian: Boots sings…. Timber Ho.
Me: Who sings Harpua?
Jillian: Uh… Cinderella.
Me: Cinderella sings Harpua? What does Sleeping Beauty sing?
Jillian: Icculus.


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Phish Tickets

Yesterday, I scanned in dozens and dozens of old concert ticket stubs. Phish, when you order via their “mail order” system (now an “online ticketing system”), often provided custom designed tickets. Here are a few fun ones. Click on any thumbnail for a full size view.

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Classic Tab

Am I the only one who thinks it looks and sounds like #Trey is having more fun with Classic TAB than with #Phish?

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