27 October 2009

Oracular Craptacular: AN OPEN LETTER TO PHISH (and its phans)

Dear Phish (and Phish phans), 

(HOT RATS!) I'm all, "WHAAAAAT?" There are these (Fleetwood Mac - Rumors) going around that you're going to really dampen the (Nirvana) of your reunion so far, by digging up an old chestnut in a lame repudiation of creativity and your well-known audience-challenging, by playing The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. I personally think this is bullshit, and I'm sincerely hoping this is "news" you've planted, false information injected among the "ranks" and the tastemakers to throw the curious masses off your scent, and make everyone feel better about not possibly (UGH!) having to (GASP!) stand through some (EWW!) ***NEW MUSIC*** during your soon-to-be-real, Festival 8 Halloween Costume set. I'm praying to Baby Jesus that this is another of your golden stunts, and you're gonna knock us all on our asses by flipping the script this Saturday.

I'm completely (Black Sabbath - Paranoid), and really hoping I don't end up wishing I was in (Duran Duran - RIO) next weekend. Here's why (and much of the following rant is lifted straight from an email I sent to Richard Gehr last night):

The Rolling Stones would be such a de rigeur choice. I wanted to think you'd do otherwise, not what seems to be the crowd fave. I, personally, could live without it! I was hoping you'd push the envelope. Upon recovering from the axing of Mr. Steely Dan (hisself), I cajoled myself into finally giving MGMT's slithery chip of a 2007 breakthrough, Oracular Spectacular, a good fair listen, with Phish in mind. It's the choice that seems to be striking terror in the hearts of most phans by this time, cf. the widely-circulated, gut-bustingly hilarious "Hitler Hears the Halloween Costume is MGMT" video...

(Note: I'll have to link to it later because I'm at a High School in the South Side of Chicago that won't let me access YouTube, awaiting a chance to finally install game software on ~200 machines, which I should've completed yesterday, except being stonewalled by some seriously non-cooperative male PC technicians being condescending and preventing me from doing what I was flown out here for 400 bucks to do, which I've done on hundreds and hundreds of machines for many companies, and last, the country's largest securities industry regulator, in the offices of the effin' New York Stock Exchange.  Stay tuned for links later, when I'm at the airport later or something, can't believe I'm missing sleep before 8 for this crap, grumble.).

Whaddya know: while trying to console myself from the Death of the Dan, I decided to suck it up, and limber up for the premonition I was starting to have that we could be in for something new and uncomfortable. So I got my hands on a copy of the MGMT album. Believe it or not, I can't freaking stand most new music. I'm a fussy listener with bizarre, almost Aspergerian tastes, that latches onto anything I hear and really plug into, bleeds every ounce of cultural and psychological meaning out of it into my weltanschauung, to the utter exclusion of anything else (excepting, of course, the LAST music I plugged into and came to adore). That's how my music appreciation works. But I was sitting in the Chat 'n' Chew diner one Tuesday night in early 2008, and heard this scrapy, liquidy withering coming from their speakers, and actually deigned to ask the bartender what it was. "Em-Gee-Em-Tee" he replied. I'd heard of them, some young hipster upstarts. Hmm! Suspicion!

I shelved it, in characteristic fashion, until the very evening after the axe came down on Pretzel Logic, and my heart, in some ways. I also was emerging from a head-clearing few days away from Phish. Upon pressing play on Oracular Spectacular, though, I came to realize that my stuck-on-stupid mindset had again jammed me into a corner. It's happened so many times before. I wait, and wait, and wait, even AFTER I hear something that is reported to be great (that I even have a taste, to confirm that), then listen, and wonder, "What the friggin' hell was I waiting for??"

From repeated experience, new and uncomfortable musical experiences can often end up being ultimately rewarding for having had the experience, and even become new classics and staples. After the Halloween sets from 1996 and 1998, you can't walk around a Phish lot without hearing Talking Heads or the Velvet Underground issuing from a hatchback somewhere, certainly more the former than the latter, but still. It's the smashing of the old and reworking into the new that keeps the thrill in music, that gives vital definition to the term, "popular music."

A bunch of weeks ago, when people started making some pat preferences known in #Phish, compiled a shortlist of reasons/criteria for your rationales in possibly covering an album:

- Homage
- Challenge
- Heppage (i.e. breaking off new shit on fans that they wouldn't expect)
- Crowd-pleasin'
- Self-pleasin'/Controversy
- New and/or Noteworthy

A Halloween Exile would return you to the original concept, which, fair enough, seemed to be Homage at the time this all started, with The Beatles and Quadrophenia, then moved into the Heppage/Challenge idea with Remain in Light, and self-pleasin' (with Homage & Heppage teases) in choosing Loaded. Any Homage album that you guys would play would likely be something that the majority of the Phish audience would dig, probably already actively listen to, and feel "comfortable" with.

I just don't sense you guys being in Homage mode right now, which is why Exile seems like such an unlikely choice to me. It would be too easy; not technically and musically, for sure: four sides of music is kind of a stretch. But it kind of seems wrong, in the spirit of Phish, and from a logistical standpoint. I ponder these two quizzical points...I guess you can do the same over Sunday morning coffee, after at least couple of phans (me and this other kid from Twitter) are brought to the infirmary from being bored to tears and nauseously resentful about the previous evening's sappy musical decision that rendered the Empire Polo Club a frat party of horrifying proportions:

- Trey! Why would you want to pay homage to Keith Richards at the peak of destroying himself? Sure, it was musically some of his best stuff, but that doesn't really make for a great message, i.e. you can be soused up on the junk and still make fine music! It can't be nostalgia, and surely, it's not celebration...I dunno. Can't be analysis, since there's not much to analyze...it's an old record that everyone loves, a rock 'n' roll "standard" party-time thing.

- Why would Phish play an album featuring a song they already cover? Like I said, it seems way too "easy" -- actually, almost lazy to the point of seeming uninspired. Listening to Oracular Spectacular, it's evident it would be an awesome choice from the first modular gurgles and provocatively pointed synth melody of "Time to Pretend,” an incredible starting Halloween theme, to begin with; others appear throughout the album, haunting, alchemy, ghostly conjurings. This record, I thought, could be something ass-kicking that Phish could pull off. After getting jazzed up by a stomping backbeat, the slouching whiskey whine of acoustic-stippled "Weekend Wars" conjures Ween's finest, creepy early moments...this is something Phish could sink its teeth into; raw, fresh meat that, more than being technically challenging (which it kind of is, in parts, for a band that only consists of two people), actually hints on so many of the other albums that were killed off in its midst. Ha, that seems to be something like (wow, time warp) Homage, but by way of young MGMT themselves! The old-become-new (Phish) covering the new (MGMT) evoking the old, in support and encouragement of the new (??!)! Hell-to-the-yeah!

It's certainly a better equation than the old-become-new rehashing the old-rehashing-the-old-become-really-old and not hitting on anything really new at all.To be brutally (and controversially honest), I have never really, really gotten into the British Stones-recreating-rootsy-American blues all that much, not in college, not in high school, not now, not ever. It’s just never struck me as controversial enough! Sure, MGMT, like I said, are sending up a lot of their forebears, including the Stones (heavily), which continues throughout their record with the drippy glam of "The Youth" -- "We could flood the streets with love or light or heat...whatever..."

I could go on into a full substantiating review of the album, but I won't, because you knew you could play it, but may have chosen not to. UGH!!  This is also an open letter to Phish phans, and even to myself, as I was two weeks ago, when championing an old (favorite) dingleberry of a record by, granted, one of my favorite bands ever (that is, Pretzel Logic). How could we let this happen (if it does)? Why didn't we listen sooner, think sooner, change sooner? The psychedelic, synthesized jams and spiralling thunder-funk you guys have been playing just doesn't say "Rolling Stones" to me very much. It shocks me that you'd include such revolutionary and obstinate albums as Nevermind, King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic, and naturally, Zappa's Apostrophe (from one confrontational impresario who loathed the drugged-up Vietnam era indulgences) among your possible picks, then bow to exile in the mainstream, which, let's face it boys, the Rolling Stones now are. My stomach keeps curdling at the thought.

God, "Rocks Off" makes me wanna puke, for more reasons than just one. What about MGMT's fuck-you-serious-ironic-"Gimme a break!" party hoot, "This is our decision, to live fast and die young. We've got the vision, now let's have some fun! Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do? Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?" Of course Hitler should be pissed off! He had to commit suicide and relinquish the Reich, and then a bunch of drugged-up Brits took over his precious stealth bunker, and made a record that four progressive, recently-and-joyfully re-invigorated psychedelic improv-rockers would decide to cover THIRTY SEVEN YEARS LATER, when most of their newest phans are within 10 years of that age. Shit, I’m even younger than that old-ass crap!

To think, you could've once more solidified yourselves as innovators, busted out some shit that, yeah, would've made a lotta phans (and Hitler) aggro and squirmy, but at least, again, you’d have defied the logic of the predictable, and given your detractors and supporters alike something to scratch their heads about, rather than just serving up some "GOOD TIME ROCK ‘n’ ROLL FUN," and seeming like a bunch of old, bad-reunion tour fuddy-duddies.

OH GOD PHISH, PLEASE!!! PLEASE DON'T TURN Festival 8 into a middle-aged sports bar! And please phans, don't encourage this band's bailout into something so middle-of-the-road, you can turn your brain off and just expect this inventive, daredevil band to lie down on Main Street and get railroaded by complacency. I just don't buy it, and if it's true, then I'll show up for work, bosses, but I’ll be really surprised, not in the best way. I can only tell the truth, because as a phan, I know you’d wanna hear it, nay, expect it; it is not our job as phans to champion mediocrity!

As MGMT says, “The youth is starting to change, are you starting to change? Are you together?” Are you together, Phish? We know you’re experienced, but are you gonna stay the same, and play an album with a song on it that you already cover??? What happened to 9/13/90 Wetlands, the "Everything New" show, where you pummeled your phaithful NYC punters with new song after new song after new song?  Where's the gumption, Phish?  EPIC PHAIL, Phish! EPIC…PHAIL!!!

Your Disgruntled Phan,

Carol Wade

[Editor's note:  Okay, okay, I know Nellcôte wasn't Hitler's proper bunker, Der Fuhrerbunker, just another one of his Gestapo peeps' local hangouts -- I just needed a way to tie Hitler in with the Stones and MGMT because of that crazy video.  OKAY?]


Matt Dubno said...

Exile on Main Street would probably be some sort of compromise choice. MGMT is too cutting-edge, too strange, too inside-jokey. Ziggy Stardust and the late, lamented American Beauty were too obvious, too well-known.

I love the fact that we were all able to argue the musical costume ad nauseam for a month pre-Fest, but I think that, in the bargain, we lose sight of the fact that attempting to predict Phish is like trying to catch a frog.

Would have LOVED to hear the Boston album, but am holding out to hear Yes.

See you at Fest8!!

Carol Wade said...

What up M'Dub. Thanks for the comment. I don't know what people think Remain in Light was in 1996, but cutting-edge, strange, and inside-jokey. I'm pretty sure I heard them playing OS over the PA at one of the six shows I went to this year...the chunky disco-hearthrob of "Electric Feel" jogged my memory when I heard it.

Who are Phish to compromise?! Gaak!

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