20 November 2009

Hear Their Sweet Sound Bouncing 'Round: Riffing on the Fall 2009 Cobopener

To start, I'd like to invoke the spirit of a photo I found recently, which is not of the Fall 2009 Tour Opener, but rather, its May 2009 cousin, the now-legend Spring Tour opener at Fenway in Boston:

[Pic by C. Taylor Crothers, a/k/a "The MAN! With the CAMERA!"]

One of the hardest-working bands in show biz is back on the beat, and it's time to get live. So, ready...set...GO!

My "Call the (Cob)opener" was "The Curtain." Straight "Curtain," no "With." I said on Twitter Wednesday night pre-show that I know they played it during the acoustic set at Festival 8, but I got burned alive, and wasn't there, so AFAIK, it didn't happen.

In a contrary vein, it was "AC/DC Bag." Always good to set the party off, I remembered the last time it was played (as an opener, that is) was at the beginning of Summer Tour, Leg II. I remember this because of Roger. Roger was clearly completely wasted when he rolled up to me in this weird-looking rental car a cross between a Scion and something from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (due to its, err, "lived-in quality" after following him from San Diego to Red Rocks, Shoreline and Gorge, to Sea-Tac, which was luckily the way I needed to go). As I waved my cardboard sign and stuck my head through his window, it was turning about 5AM, and my flight was at 7:55AM...the sun was rising over the mountains, and I was a nervous wreck. Rodge rolled down the window, blotchy from recent sleep and bleary-eyed, and, in a close shave, told me to hop in, and gratefully picked me up from the mouth of the Gorge entrance after sitting there for four hours with my gear, waiting for some kind soul to haul me back to Seattle to go home.

Roger, who seemed to be about 40-ish, first heard "Bag" a few shows ago at 8/1/09, Red Rocks Night 3, the last time it was an opener. It was his first Phish show, and he was on fire! The same show, he also accidentally gulped down one of his friends' "special bottles of water" (ruh-roh), and ended up having a wee, unexpected psychonautic thrillride. So, naturally, when he finally got to the show, and was declared to be "a crazy little kid" in the first lines of "AC/DC Bag," good old Rodge promptly lost his shit, and will never be the same again.  Thanks, Phish, for the accompaniment! Woo-hooo!

I should also say, although I know this post is starting out desperately randomly, something else pretty random, yet kind of neat, in retrospect -- when I first got to the Gorge driveway and threw down my crap for what I sensed would be a long, harried haul chasing after the rare car (most of which were just driving somewhere local), I felt what seemed to be a dried leaf or twig on my head. Lifting my hand to remove the strange, grabby object, I drew my hand down and what to my surprise should there be, but the pointed, bug-eyed, light-green, triangle-headed stare of a praying mantis looking back at me. "HOLY SHIT!" I yelled, for no apparent reason. Why do they look so accusatory, like they know something that humans don't? You're not so smart, Mr. Mantis-Pants!

The guards looked at me, thought I was dos'd, and then just kind of ignored me...imagine four hours of that rambling.

Okay, so, this is going to end up being a review of Wednesday night's tour opener in Detroit, honestly, starting...NOW!!! I don't have too much time to write this, because I'm going to have Korean food with 20-odd of my nearest and dearest in the West Village tonight, and thank goodness there ain't no show tonight -- yes, I might have actually been that lame / obsessed / hopeless / etc., to stay home and do Phish V-T00R on my birthday. Yeah, what!? (I'm asking myself that question more than you, really) But fortunately, the boyz have let me off the hook (so to speak), to gather my wits after last night's robust bounty of a tour opener. How cheered up am I in general after that show! Talk about bringing it all back to zero, tellin' it like it is, and reminding me about what's really important. THE MUSIC, y'all...wait, you knew that already, for it is I WHO AM MAD!!! (Ren Hoek, anyone?)

Oh, and the fun. You can't forget the fun...

I got home at 7:30PM, after taking a brisk walk home, my 20-minute commute on foot, 0.6 miles over the Pulaski Bridge walkway from Long Island City, to my meager perch in Brooklyn's northernmost neighborhood, Greenpoint. I trotted out yesterday's post, glum but inspired, and ready for a rousing night of V-T00R, for which I had cleared my oh-so-busy schedule. After all, I nearly dropped $420 on a plane ticket to go Rock City for a few hours, so the least I could do was spend the time doing the exact same thing with the help of VIRTUAL TECHNOLOGY(TM), while eating yogurt with a fork (more later). It's alright though: by the time I hastily tore off my day gear and hopped into my Jammys (no, not those, although I still have the pair of flannel Jammy pants I got as a runner up at that first presentation -- I wore them until they turned to ash, practically, and the worn decal is still barely visible). I was as pumped as I might have been if I was in amongst the hoi-poloi, rubbing elbows, being a goofball.

One of my molten plasticmelondreams is to have freely-held backstage passes at Phish shows, then never use them to hang out backstage or in the VIP, but just run all over the place like I always do at shows, diggin' the scene, checking the angles, getting harassed by guards, saying stupid shit to people, helping people passing out from dehydration, dancing by and high-fiving people, going "Awwww, yeeeaaah!" and "Waaaasssuuppp!" and "Naaaauuhh thanks, I don't smoke dat shit," and "Oh no they didn't!" or shoving my camera lens up Chris Kuroda's nose like I did at 6/5/09 Shoreline, much to his glaring chagrin: I think his churlish spirit-force made me lose the 4GB SanDisk Memory Stick with the gorgeous pics of his adamantine focus on them. Cursed sorcerer!

Then, when the show's over, I could go backstage and do exactly the same thing to Phish (except for that last part, because ain't not to many smokin' dat shit back there these days, neither, far as I can tell...which would be good for me, too). And they'd be all, "Get her outta here!" Then Brad would go, "But we gave her the pass!" And Page'd be all, "Who authorized that?!" and Fishman'd be like, "Awwwww yeaaahh!" and high-five me. Funny, I didn't realize this had turned into a Phish Phanphiction blog...

Anyway, so there I was, in my jammies, with my stuffed lionphish, Leemor, and ready to rock...

***FLASH*** Forward to this morning at 5:30 AM. I woke up timed to V-T00R like a robot, for when the show's over around 11:30, if you're lucky and don't spend another two hours dickering around in Hoodstream.com chat, bullshitting with the greaseballs, you go right to sleep. Otherwise, you spend a couple more hours trying to convert Shockwave Flash videos of the screen captures you took of yourself singing, laughing and talking to your imaginary friends while on Phish Fall 2009 V-T00R, to MPEG-4, to post on your blog, like the biggest g33k ever. You get up at the asscrack of dawn, to find out for whatever reason YouTube has not accepted your converted videos. Great, blog delay. You groan, and log back to Hoodstream.com, and hit play, to hear Phish playing AC/DC bag from the show that ended nine hours ago. Upload'd! Ahh, sweet V-T00R!

In the chat, Joephus is still there from the night before, probably lying underneath his laptop splayed on his bedroom floor. And look, it's mmm_phish! Yeah, that's Marc, the one who broke the bad news off'n my ass about the Exile Phishbill at Festival 8. No harm, no foul, baby, I ain't mad atcha! Not with a "Bag" of neck-crankin' gin-joint gravy happening on the headphones from The Cobopener! He's at work in NZ already. "Dude, already?!" "I work with clients on the East Coast"..." Oh. Dayyyum.

The ideations started to foment. The difference between reading a setlist and hearing everyone's half-inane, half-inspired speculation and examinations begin to come clear the minute one gets the music in their ears. I don't remember it being like this back in the day, because if you were a leaf on the branch of some sauce-nut grad student in Oregon back in the day, the tapes would take about a month and a half to arrive, and the crispy psychic vibes would be to Jupiter by then, jolting the Jovians. With the advent of technological advances, I feel fairly confident that the actual *psychic connection* with the band gains power in its immediacy (not to mention clarity). It's intense.

Talking in chat about possible directions is very rewarding, sawing away at thematic angles: the usefulness of a long, complex song here, or a "too-slow" song here (which then flips you and turns into an elbow-crawling, swampy clusterfunk that knocks you on your face, such as the "46 Days" jam, to jump ahead). It's all very rewarding when done in realtime.

Anyway, it's already taken me way too long to write this post; yesteday at work sucked, and I had a fabulous Korean dinner with 20 awesome friends last night and was full of steamed eel and exhausted when I got home. But I'll sum it all up like this:

-- Cobo was a fantastic opener, and the energy of this tour has been solidified: the band is hitting it HARD from the gate. The phrase that keeps repeating in my head is "economical but not parsimonious" -- in other words, the playing and jamming was conservative but incredibly potent in content. Since I've been studying 'em, I'll compare it to the Clifford Ball DVDs: in 1996, it was both mentioned (by Mike, in The Phish Book) and heard that perhaps more notes than were entirely necessary would go into the building of jams. At Cobo, the focus was astounding, and most of the notes executed had a lot of intensity and craft behind them, without being overly showy, which, as I see it, the band mid-90s could be at times. Not that that's a bad thing; it's just different. I can see how sometimes it's preferable to savor some of the brain-piercing assault that was mid-1990s Phish. The Phish that clenched Cobo was like a meaningful, impassioned bear-hug.

-- I also continue to think of the word "sweet" when listening to Cobo. No, no, no! Not "SUH-WEEEEEEET!" -- "sweet" as in (to use some synonyms) ambrosial, rich, charming, silvery, endearing. Yes, yes...it's been remarked by some that the setlist went a little haywire in the second set, and made some iffy turns. However, one of my criteria for examining a show is "Tone and Tenor" -- what's the feel? What's the platform the band's coming from? Is it merrymaking, buoyant? Is it dischordant? Are there emotive holes? Are they in in karate-ninja mode? Or are they sounding working-class, solid, and beautifully, humanly like Phish in all their glory? Yeah, yeah...the last one is where I can hear they were at, and it's a really exciting way to start a tour.

-- The verdict: how would I have felt if I'd traveled to Detroit and saw this show? Hell man, it's a Phish show, so if I could get teleported to every single one, I probably would, SERIOUSLY. But no such technology exists, sadly, so (gladly!) Virtual Tour will be a handy and cost-saving substitute for right now. Theoretically, my trip looked something like; work from 9AM to 1PM, get a cab to LaGuardia, take a 2PM flight with a stopover in DC, get into DTW around 6:30PM, catch a cab to Cobo, and see the show. In my rock 'n' roll dreams, I'd then hang around for a bunch of hours backstage massaging Page's temples, playing Boggle with Mike, bootin' hacky sack with Fishman, and/or eating gourmet gummy bears and drinking Pellegrino with Trey, all whilst talking with them about the last time they were in Detroit.

Then, at around 4AM, I'd be off to DTW again to take a 6AM flight home, and walk back into work wearing the exact same outfit I left in the day before. I've done shit like that before. In the recent Sirius Radio "Phish Festivalography," Trey recounted a similar stunt pulled amidst the near-tropical spectacle of Big Cypress, jumping into a plane on New Year's Day and being airlifted off the planet they'd created, back to his house with his family and kids and whatnot, celebrating the new Millennium, and feeling like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" when he returns to civilization...

Anyway, in all honesty, if I had no "jobby job," all the money and magical transport options in the world, I would've been *just fine* being at Cobo. But realistically, I'm not horribly broken up I wasn't there, or at least not as burned up as I STILL AM about missing the barn-burners at the end of Late Summer Tour 2009, when it was like 1994 all over again in those venues here on the East Coast (haha, yup, I sometimes loves me a grudge).

-- However, to answer the question, "If there was one thing about Cobo I do regret not being there for," my answer would be threefold:

First: 1) The venue, and 2) MOTHER-FRACKING LIGHT SHOW. Oh my God. There are currently only two examples on YouTube (one linked to just a minute ago, and this one here) that exhibit what I'm talking about with the accuracy necessary to illustrate why I regret missing Cobo because of the lights.  I ask you: where else do you get a band that has four incredible, dedicated musicians, but also a fifth guy, a serious, grumpy but mostly congenial, unseen photon voodoo-master?

Chris Kuroda is the Pavement to my Phish, in that he's actually my favorite member of Phish (like Pavement is my actual favorite band), though I say I love Phish (my second favorite band) more often because they're the ones you see all the time (whereas Pavement -- at least until next year...? -- don't tour as much as Phish does). You get me? I am so half-sorta-joking-not-really-yes... Chris Kuroda is one of those people whom, like me, just sounds better being called by their full name, for its magical incantation-like quality, rather than just "Carol" or "Chris.").

Cobo Arena seems a sorely missed spot in that it seems to be scrumptiously diminutive, along the lines of early Summer 2009's Asheville and Knoxville venues.  However, as in the latter, Chris Kuroda took the rooms and tore 'em new a-holes by turning them into bold, illuminated canvases non-pareil. The grandeur of his craft can sometimes outpace that of the band, when seen in person, since the input method is more immediate. That is, when entering through the eyes than the ears, the brain, I think, is more able to immediately process light as a commanding phenomenological event, than it is "music" (as an art form), which can contain words, meanings, socio-cultural superimpositions and such. Light and color, the response to which can also be conditioned to an extent, are more pure on impact.

[the CK5 "Enlightenment Effect" unleashed on stunned lemmings, 6/10/09, Knoxville, TN -- pic by Jeff Kravitz]

CK5 exemplified these theorems by absolutely blanketing the winged, angular corners of the arena behind and around the Cobo stage with oscillating shapes, and piercing the smog-filled space over the audience with gloriously detached, otherworldly mothership-type spotlights. What a standout performance, and such artistry -- it can be said appropriately here, I think, that the last time in memory this can be said to have happened was in Knoxville, which was an alright show, but another in which Chris Kuroda blew the roof off the venue (granted, I've listened the hell outta them, but still have a lotta analysis of early Summer to do, Bonnaroo through Alpine, then Late Summer, but hell...maybe I'll get around to it in the spring, bwaahaha).

Of course, another boon of technology is I can catch a slice of the in-game mojo, without having been there. Oh so very scrummy, indeed.

Finally, and perhaps rather obviously, 3) the "Wading in the Velvet Sea." Actually, I'm pretty okay with having missed it, because were I there, I have no clue where I'd have been located in the venue, and I might have burst into tears besides some 23 year-olds unbeknownst. Played at 11PM Wednesday night, a few songs before the close of the show, it seems to me, anyway, that I got a little present from the setlist fairy. The band has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-something active songs that they can rotate at any time, but they played "Wading" at one of the last moments they could've in the show, before Midnight (my birthday) without crushing the vibe.  And the last time it was performed was the 6/21/09 Early Summer tour closer at Alpine Valley.  So, from a purely non-emotional, statistical, mathematical perspective, even ZZYZX might agree that they played the song for ME!  (*dies laughing*)  When I first heard "Wading," it only solidified my suspicion that my linkage to all things Phish is karmic in nature, and sort of my destiny, and birthright.  That is NOT statistical, nor non-emotional, at least not at the surface, but Buddhism is actually widely-held to be a mind-science.

There are things beyond the realm of our understanding, and, human life being among the most precious and useful stations of incarnation in the universe, sometimes weird shit happens. I don't claim to have all the answers, by any means, but I know I sure have an overactive imagination, and a blog to spew my maniacal ramblings about Phish, now that they're so awesomely around again. Why not?

In sum, though... 

Carol's Cobo Highlights: 

-- Sharp vampy "Bag" opener to get the motor runnin'...

-- The triumphant return of hilarious, cry-worthy Fishman vocal ridiculousness in "Poor Heart" (YES!! MORE FISHMAN!!)

-- Page's voice and piano: bright, clear, LOUD, out-front and amazing, cooking the harmonies. Looks like there's no need for "People for a Louder Page" -- as a wise phan once said, "You know when Page stands up, it's ON!"

-- Trey's soloing is getting much more nuanced and intuitive; besides some slipperiness in "It's Ice" and a little honk in "Horn," his use of some particularly keen, tangy effects are bringing the evolution home.

-- Best Fake Out: "46 Days," which I have heretofore lambasted as being a sleepy, low-rent "Timber (Jerry)" throwaway. At Cobo, it came out as a tough, salty, workin' man's cowbell-fest, that suddenly turns into a jaw-dropping techno-fied, intergalactic cow-funk jam, sprinkled generously with those Kuroda lights I mentioned above.

-- Mike's drippydelic effects and fierce composure amidst bitch-slapping the crap out of the "Mike's Groove," a modern redux of any best 1989 incarnation.  The "Weekapaug" is one of those fast, breakneck, heart-pumping, fist-cranking, scream-and-holler "'Paug"s that make you think your legs are gonna fall off because you can only...just...barely...keep up...gaah!

Overall, a sweet, hearty, muscle-flexin', hard-hitting approach that will likely grow, upon Autumn's crimson leaves, cold snaps, serious resolve and jovial, familial merriment. Phish Fall 2009 Tour is on! Have a good, safe time out there, y'all. I'm goin' to Philly tonight to see Steely Dan, but I'll see you there again next week...uhh, if I get my s*** together.


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