29 October 2009

Haunted, Taunted and Shoved: The Ringmasters Have Arrived!

Let the games begin!

First, apologies to anyone I may have *offended* with my vitriolic bile-spewing the other day, re: a possible Phish cover of Exile on Main Street. Don't get me wrong: I still think doing a Stones album would be a squandered opportunity to hit new and different heights, covering a highly-regarded but (in my rather strong estimation) overrated album that's not very challenging for the constitution. And I was serious about never being too into the Stones, too.  The force of my ire surprises even me.  Ironically, many of the best versions of Stones songs are ones played by other bands (Phish's "Loving Cup" and Devo's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" being but a few).

In retrospect, I can say I was being super-provocative and silly largely on purpose. In the spirit of the season, ridiculous contradictions were drizzled throughout the post, like how Exile is dumb and old, while Larks' Tongues In Aspic (released...yup...the next year) is definitely more worthy of covering (and not because it's old, obviously). 

Either way, Trey created some controversy on Los Angeles radio yesterday, with a cryptic chortled clue, "Look at me. I'm the circus in the middle of the ring," in an interview with 100.3 FM The Sound's Mike Powers. Powers queried Trey about the finer points of Halloweens past, and put his feet to the...well, not a fire so much as a maybe a hot towel... Here's my quick interpretation of possibilities:

Exile on Main Street? "When you're trapped and circled with no second chances..." -- Ventilator Blues (noooo!)

Genesis -- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? "At the top of the stairs he finds a chamber. It is almost a hemisphere with a great many doors all the way round its circumference. There is a large crowd, huddled in various groups. From the shouting, Rael learns that there are 32 doors, but only one that leads out..." (hmmm, probably more on this tomorrow)

MGMT -- Oracular Spectacular? = Oracle = Oracle Arena in Oakland

Then...this just in...lyrics to King Crimson's song "Cirkus" -- while not Larks' Tongue, still a strong clue among the collective canon of remaining contenders: "Elephants forgot, force-fed on stale chalk, ate the floors of their cages. Strongmen lost their hair, paybox collapsed and lions sharpened their teeth. Gloves raced round the ring, stallions stampeded, pandemonium seesaw...I ran for the door, ringmasters shouted, 'All the fun of the Cirkus!'"


Clearly, the circus bit could be a sidelong nod towards Larks' Tongues in Aspic. Trey's orange-beardy face could well greet us from the center of the austere-Camarillo-Tarot-kinda-esoteric-Masonic-maybe-insane sun/moon dyad on the album's cover, illuminating psychic vibrational mysteries only apprehensible at many thousands of inhuman feet, perhaps ad all the little Phishy Larks of a Feather fly West for the winter.

Haunted, taunted and shoved by the title track's opening installment, I wonder where Page is gonna land in this mix. In a sweet reunion article from today's Yahoo! Music, Page's Phish-breakup-time classical training forays could contribute to increased ability in adding rich, cushiony in-fill, in lieu of the blurry, psycho midranges in Larks' Tongues Part I. Then in moments of frenetic percussion, I see Page approximating the persistent guitar washes, while Trey attacks the percussion rack in an assault with Fish, and Mike beats the crap outta the Modulus, adding to the chase. Trey or Page could take the vocals on "Book of Saturday" (hmm, Halloween Saturday?), and its arcane, contemplative sophistication, like molten lipstick the color of blood.

Suddenly, David Cross's violin rises from the thickness...I don't see violin in a Phish version but have heard tell of (a) horn(section?), so think strings could be sacrificed for winds..."Exile(s)" could be a better use of the word than in "that other album" -- really, though...typical, wrenching prog overdubs yield quivering layers of sharp, aerated guitar sustain underneath a drizzle of acoustic guitar...and suddenly bassist Robert Wetton's vocal register goes somewhere way more high, perhaps a cool, frosty Mike, than buttery Trey or creamy Page.

Telltale woodblocks tumble out during another hunting by mutant forest animals (mutant forest or mutant animals, take your pick), in "Easy Money." I hear the band having both a real challenge (and a possible crapload of fun) with Bizarro-World crashes, glurgs, rips, creepy laughing-box outro, and other decidedly Zappa-esque (of that era, even) nonsense / provocations. The "doo-doobiedow" harmonies would make fine use of the whole band's vocal spread...they could make up for axing Pink Floyd's The Wall with Crimson's "Easy Money" alone.

Proto-Giorgio Moroder echoes and light bongo fury pepper "The Talking Drum," possibly invoking the more feral of serpents, might mobilize the bones of the King of Pop (yikes!). As the gypsy viols turn and writhe, driving saints and scum alike to their edges of sanity, causing the good to falter and the I'll to become angels... The now overheated boil causes brains to gel into a burst of shrill, disturbing avian delinguifications...

The whole of Larks' Tongues is an appropriate, chilly-terrifying skin for Phish to inhabit for it's slim 45-ish minutes. In contrast, the dizzy, almost gluttonously self-involved Genesis progtastic masterwork, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, could me more along the lines of a wetsuit crossed with a straight-jacket, in terms of its translucency to allow Phish to shine through the material.  Larks' Tongues is a journey of a thousand miles through a wormhole fast enough for it not to get too hot and weird, out of which Phish can step triumphantly back onto the stage, as themselves, menacingly brilliant jokers renewed. 

Through the tongues of larks, they can even express through the eerie nightmare world a broad interpretation of the trials and tribulations of the last decade, in an enigmatic enough way as to not bog down the vibe. From the title track opener to it's closing second installment, we are spun around a strobe-lit metallic mindspace, interwoven with satin ribbons streaming across an ashen ballroom, fraying at the ends, a frenetic ballerina in black lace, a tribal tympani trio and a catastropic, metamorphic passage into the thin of eternal, unearthly vibration that is All Hallows Eve.

Heck, I don't know if I'm just psychic or what (yeah, who's got my heady clairvoyance?), but quite a bit moreso than MGMT, Larks' Tongues hits all the points of my "8-Point Sonic Costume Checklist." It's got:

1) Homage
2) Challenge (to spare)
3) Heppage (i.e. breaking off new shit on fans that they wouldn't expect)
4) Crowd-pleasin' -- if you like Phish, you'll like...or maybe you like Phish, you might like to hear Phish *doing*...)
5) Self-pleasin' -- What is prog, after all, but ably self-indulgent?!
6) Controversy -- Hayy, wha' happen to "HunkyDoryThrillerZiggyExilePurple"? What's this "dark horse" bullshit? I was sure Carol was right about MGMT and went and listened to that buncha shite...?!
7) New -- What is also prog but shape-shifty and ungraspable, even in its studio incarnations, and a thousand times magnified live? And finally,
8) Noteworthy -- Err, Fripp & Co. only kinda, uhhrr, redefined rock music composition and instrumentation with this album; the Stones can go take a nap!!

The album is gender-neutral enough in a classical sense, to be likable, even danceable, compelling, and absorbable by pretty much anyone, without causing too much furor or bias (less someone look like a major douche for slagging King Crimson at a Phish show...like crowd surfing Fish-side while screeching, "ZAPPA SUUUCKS!" during a Night 2 Set II "Peaches En Regalia" bustout (first since ___); it just...wouldn't...be a hettie thing to do, even if that IS the way you feel. 

The King Crimson garment is a damn cool, confrontational but accessible enough cloth  (moreso as loosely worn by Phish), from a commonly undersung band-most-likely-to-be-consumed by uber-fussy, ultra-masculine, sci-jazz-rock elitists. It'll make for an excellent takeaway, along with the original, tour music, paper-writing music (save it for your Hegel, Kafka and Delouze & Guattari, kids), house-painting, baby-making, demon-exorcising, self-realizing music.

It's challenging in a way that Trey referenced somewhat appropriately in the LA radio interview; it bespeaks the band, with room enough to climb inside and replicate and emulate themselves from an honorary perspective, but as and from a place truly like themselves: a bona fide "musical costume."


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