13 December 2009

If You Become Naked (Guy): The Charlottesville Meltdown, Part II

"It's Almost Like Being Naked"

Once again, I can't believe I finished this post. You'll be lucky if you see another one by New Year's Eve, I'm so f'in exhausted. Hell, you'll be lucky if you see me at New Year's Eve (unless you're willing to make my rent). But I'm going to start Part II of the Tour Closer report with a broad analogy:

One of the things Phish continues to teach me is how to use structure and containment, to allow free play within a framework, like quarks in the Hadron Collider. Containers provide a means of marshaling less definable, static substances, such as liquids or gases, as opposed to solids; e.g. Ernie Stires to Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell to Phish, the pentatonic scale to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… There are a myriad wild, untamed forces in the universe that, if left at least partially unchecked, might have made the Universe as we know it an impossibility.

The entropic implosion-sans-containment theory can be seen, in another example, up and down the rock music timeline. The Joplins, Hendrixes, Staleys, Cobains, etc… Musically, psychologically, logistically, there may not have been sufficient regulation of the sheer force of their talents, causing the engine of their volatility to devour them whole. Unfortunately, adding insult to injury, a great many creative people are out of their goddamn minds. Oh, hey…self totally included! I was reading my old Jambands.com pieces last night (which I've finally scraped together, at least temporarily, via links to their archived pages, over on the right).  As entertaining as they can be, I get a f*cking headache reading them!

I don't want to assume terminal uniqueness or anything, but it can hurt to have so many things going through your head all at once, all the time. It's exhausting. I'm also stubborn, and often mistrustful, so I often try to do things my own way. Initially, various substances served to throw my crazy brain-salad at an angle, and into a different level of focus, so I had to more carefully watch what was flying into, and out of, the bowl. Emotions, impressions of the world and people, my own activities and responsibilities…it was all too much to deal with in the first place, so "managing" it with self-directed chemistry experiements seemed like a convenient means of control for a good long while. Not to mention, it just felt good to have the rest of my body feel as wacky as my mind so frequently did.

The whole operation was now on its own mission of perma-crazy autopilot. In a mind already naturally riddled with incoherence, believe it or not, coping by making it more crazy seemed like a perfectly sane idea. At some point, though, the helpful tilt, manufactured tension of watching everything and keeping stuff tilting this-a-way and that-a-way in my head, to make things seem "straight" -- "sanity via reverse engineering" -- backfired. All I had left was a three-and-a-half legged table in an empty room, with lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage and other salad items in varying states of decay, strewn all over the place.

Family, community, moral and ethical balance, chord structures, programs of recovery, religion, instruction manuals, computer programs, shelving units, meditation practice, antidepressant medication, a new pair of glasses…all these things and hundreds more can provide fine alternatives to the use of illicit and/or non-prescribed drugs, to remedy the chronic inability to manage one's own disorganized thoughts and/or life in general. But boy…for a stubborn, oversensitive mess like me, that last method was just so EASY! My Man (you know, the same one Lou Reed was waiting for) is always lurking around; at the deli, on the corner, hell, anywhere...ready to pony up the easy way out. I look at the clock and, hey! It's 4:20! Temptation is everywhere…any f'in excuse I (or anyone) can find to "take a break" -- I will usually wanna take it, especially if it seems to be the way around feeling pain or discomfort. Yes, it seems to be…and I can be wrong.

As a member of 21st century society, I can either believe things are getting easier, faster and more convenient for me to just be able to work less and do less, or because, through these advancements, I'm meant to deepen my mental, emotional and spiritual experience, with more time to work on removing certain obstacles. By way of circumstance (or the mercy of an unknown source), I've been able to find a little structure, and sorta get my shit together. I'm still pretty much a bona fide mess, "wookin' pa nub in all da wrong places," trying to force solutions and fantasize my way into reality, making unreasonable demands.

But a few key changes, additions and lessons learned have informed me of a new path, if I choose to take it. And yeah…given what I was like at the end of the last path, with the lopsided table and overturned salad bowl, sure. I'll try to keep giving structure a shot, a day at a time. Basically, getting sober and trying to learn how to live and grow up a little -- it's kinda been like someone throwing a rug over my bare ass. 

Baby Snakes 

On my iPhone and MacBook are scattered rudiments of a piece I began writing in March 2009, called "The Evolution Will Be Terrifying." It is the interminable "Ur-post" of this blog, which evolved between Hampton I and one month after Gorge II (8/8/09, the night a pile of disparate thoughts in my mind was ignited by a spark that shot from the stage). In the ratty, often incoherent piece, I consider the concept of "error" as it applies to the new, live Phish experience (i.e. Phish 3.0). 

Now, as I've mentioned, I can be kind of a pushover, and often find it difficult to be critical of, or contrapuntal to, entities I deeply admire. I've been thinking a lot lately, too, about where this blog and my now rather public phandom pushes the boundaries of "people-pleasing" (cue Jon Lovitz as Harvey Fierstein: "I just wanna be loved, is that so wrooooonnng?"). But I'm trying to cultivate neutrality here; it feels new and interesting. I wouldn't say it feels "good" just yet. It feels worth the effort to be part of the conversation, instead of a strip of wallpaper.  While excessive critique is definitely an impedance to formulating intimacy, an informed criticism is the stuff productive relationships are made of.

In the early moments listening to the inaugural reunion show (3/6/09 Hampton), I got verklempt. The deafening roar and first notes of "Fluffhead" won't ever, I think, cease to cause the hairs on my neck to bristle, and tears to well. Witnessing the opening of a long-closed faucet of creative collaboration, envisioning the intricacies of relationship, communication, trust, and risk involved in those notes finally being played onstage…I was immediately inspired to kick out the jams. At a transitional point in my own life, I knew it was time to head in a new direction.

However, a short ways into the show, it was apparent there was slipping and sliding going on. Compassionate as ever, I thought, "Dude, they're onstage for the first time in years; sure, they rehearsed, but you know it's never the same in front of a crowd…" After a while, it got scary; the mountain of expectations came down in a big avalanche. I tried to push the sluice back up with the Benefit of the Doubt: "Give 'em a break!" But the powerful entropic force of gravity pressed my hands, saying, "Crap! Trey's blowing notes left and right; it's so awkward! How can this ever good again?"

Looking back, I realize that right then, when I a) acknowledged what I was feeling, then b) picked up my proverbial pen and started scratching out the horror and the terror and fear, I joined the conversation, the process of evolution. I made a decision to see it through (or rather, feel it through), note for note, splotch for splotch, botch for botch, and (yes) peak for peak. Humanity wouldn't, and couldn't, have moved forwards if fellow Cro Magnon, or other adjudicators, stood by scrutinizing: "Oh no, no, that hair shouldn't be the one to fall off!" or "No! Walk this way!"...

Among the landmarks of early Phish were a few key experimental performance tanks like Hunt's, The Front, and most of all, Nectar's, popular clubs in and around Burlington where the band cut its live teeth back in the mid-1980s.  Phish: The Biography has naturally been informing a lot of my discourse on the band these days, teaching and re-teaching me a lot about the granular details of their transformation throughout the years, in another handy (and appealingly more narrative than statistical) volume.

Talking to confidantes this past post-MSG week, they made reference to "devices" they'd like to see employed, to somehow manufacture comfort, intimacy, latitude and creative contingency in and around Phish shows. Unpredictable disturbances, and/or the long-term commandeering of a specific venue were put forth as ploys that might be catalysts for chaos, in this static age of Live Nation, 10,000+ crowds, and airtight security seals, to recreate the original kinetics that made Phish what they were in those germinal stages, right after small-venue sparks caught tinder among a bursting audience, and propelled them towards bigger theaters in the U.S. at large.

Drugs (booze to benzos, soup to nuts) are a means popularly utilized to fabricate an atmosphere of "acceptable" comfort, trance, and contingency in a band, and among an audience. But what happens when a carefully cultivated consensual space of "acceptable altered reality," created by generic handfuls of chemical mechanisms, and disorganized, unpredictable organic forces…are stripped away?  Reality encroaches…but what is "reality," really...?

Well, it took me a while, but here we are, back in December 2009. A skinny guy with no clothing bursts into a hermetic space, and changes the game for Phish once again. How did he do it? Why? What was going on before he got there? 


Saturday, 12/05/2009 
John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

Set I: AC/DC Bag, Chalk Dust Torture, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Sneakin' Sally through the Alley, The Old Home Place, Cavern, Funky Bitch, David Bowie, The Wedge, Bold As Love

Set II: Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free, Sweet Virginia, Harry Hood > Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, Run Like an Antelope

E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise

[JPJ Arena: The Crucible.]

Logistically, here was a band at the end of a stretch of 13 shows, or, moreover, at the end of a year of 46 shows, following a hiatus of 5 years. Such numbers were drops in the bucket to the Phish of the 1990s, but it's a decade later, and while the name of the game may still be "take it to the limit," the real science behind limitations is how to negotiate with them, without sacrificing the integrity of the experiment, by endangering (or eliminating) key variables.

There was an "AC/DC Bag" opener, much like the first show of Fall Tour in Detroit, the first show of the Albany run, the first show of the MSG run...and, hell, debuted on 4/1/86 at Hunt's in Burlington. Not quite sure what they're going for with all the "Bag"s, but the jaunty tale of the robotic hangman borrowed from the energy of the last few shows to launch things at JPJ. "Chalk Dust Torture" was next…it was revealed to me last week in an interesting little hiatus-era (2000) teen magazine-type Phish snippet in Entertainment Weekly online, that "Chalk Dust" is allegedly Trey's favorite song to play live. Hmm! "No wonder they keep playing it," some might say, just like I might remark about "Prince Caspian." I glowered at some folks when they griped about "Character Zero" last week, which I personally would miss if it went away. Hey, to each their own. Either way, despite a remarkably fumbled change towards the end, the "Chalk Dust" was heated up with some guitar dominance.

"Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan" became third in what sounded like conspicuous consumption of Southern guitar energy to keep ramping up the already raucous storm brewing in the arena. "The Divided Sky" that followed, as compared to, say, mid-1990s versions (i.e. the "we are aware of our awesomeness" phase, 1996-1998), is woolly, shaggy and propellerheaded. There's nothing serious about this "Sky" but the pause, which, interestingly enough, was a particularly pregnant one that caused my squirrelly, inebriated seatmate to look at me and say, "A little arrogant...?"

I rubbed my chin and quietly watched. I never scream during The Pause. I use it as a moment to breathe in the vibe, to taste the energy of the audience in my skull and skin. I've always had a (probably improbable) dream of the whole audience falling silent with the band in the crevasse the four create, plucked from the chaos, frozen meditatively in time, with blue Kuroda spots slowly punctuating space with extraterrestrial calm. The vaster majority of 15,000+ rowdy onlookers goaded them with the usual screams...

"Elegant," I responded.

An Effervescing Elephant

It was obvious by this point in the show nothing technically special was happening; apparently, it was just the opposite. The jamming is loose to nearly sloppy, a few elementary changes are tilted, such as one near the end of "Chalk Dust" (which has been performed in no less than a quarter -- 24.76% -- of all Phish shows), lyrics are melted, and the normally precise, taciturn Mike Gordon seems wacky on the Groove Juice, sliding all over the Modulus frets like they're covered in chicken grease. Fishman has turned into a total fill-aholic, playing what seems to be a constant stream of exploratory improvised interludes, rather than the "drum lines" of the songs, and the only one seeming to hold the hay-cart together is usual straight-man, Page McConnell, who has, it appears, taken on a stern resolve, having stepped South of the Mason-Dixon Line, in stark contrast to his boyish, billionaire bachelor energy from the rest of the tour.

Onwards, either amused by their own disregard, or simply in a chiefly end-of-tour space ("I'm gonna finally get a minute away from you mo'frackers when this is all over!"), the fellers began to wind into what could become a spicy "Ya Mar." But right in keeping with the ridiculous, off-kilter temperature in the steep, concrete cauldron of JPJ Arena, a pink wisp of a shape with spindly legs suddenly interrupted the sanctified, familiar four-person aquarium of the stage, followed by three burly security guards in hot pursuit. A streaker, running so fast his feet barely touched the ground, leapt with incredible deftness over an undoubtedly intricate assemblage of sound equipment. He pounced on Trey in a puppyish hug; Trey patted the guy on his bare back, grinning benignly. The guy continued to give the guards brave chase until, finally, he was pressed down near Fishman's kit, and hauled off by the authorities.

[Apologies for the grainy, clumsily captured, Bigfoot-like photo.]

Speaking of Fishman, what was most notable to me while it was all going down was: before it began to the moment it was over and beyond, the Befrock'd One didn't stop playing the hi-hat and kick-drum Calypso intro of "Ya Mar" for one single second. This says a few things to me, some of them conspiratorially speculative: 1) the spirit of unpredictability can be nothing if not alive and well in Phish -- like anything else, it has required re-invigoration after a period of dormancy; 2) did Phish plant the Naked Guy?

While it's not entirely impossible to believe Phish would be that calm if a mercenary came onstage with unrevealed intentions, to be so immobilized with unconcern says either you're in an excellent, Zen-like position, or you're already aware of something everyone else is not. By the time I got to the last conclusion, I realized, well…Fishman's always that close to naked, so perhaps it's just kinship.

So, I'm at the show, furiously thumbing thoughts into my iPhone, and my nosy seatmate bluntly asks if I'm "a reporter or something." I stare at him for a moment and keep thumbing.  "I mean, are you covering the show for something?" Looking at him again, I say, "Sort of…" and continue thumbing. After a second or two, he says, loudly, "Whaddya writing over there, a novel?" I like to be respectful to my surrounding phans at shows, and the whole nakedness idea reminded me of my last post, which talked about the seemingly contrary disciplines of critique vs. boogie at Phish shows. I took the dude's babbling as sign from the Universe to stick with the fuckin' show (despite being the last of tour), and not wreck it for others with my bright iPhone poking. In a bold gesture which felt kind of refreshing, I turned my phone OFF, and prayed for the resurrection of a few old, hooch-enfeebled brain cells to remember what happened.

This show is refreshing in its urgent messiness. Right about here, keen setlist choice takes over, sending JPJ to the moon again and again, tapping deep into the feral insides of traveling phans, first with the slippery classic, "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley," a personal fave, if not for simple recall of that gorgeous 8/7/09 evening in George, WA. "Sally" brought Charlottesville to the brink of abandon, putting the ever more jangly, unfastened atmosphere between band and audience to excellent use. The trend continued with cozy homage to C'ville with Bustout of Show, "The Old Home Place" (last played 4/15/04), the shoe-minding reminder in "Cavern" (albeit with some more unfortunate lyrical muck-uppage), and a massive save with "Funky Bitch," played thrice in the 3.0 so far, and pulled from the bag at an excellent juncture.

"David Bowie" arrives with the audience boiling for more heat, and more than interlocking groove (witnessed in Albany or Syracuse), there's an alternating undulation, each instrument's flow rising and falling, wrapping and writhing around the others, separate but closely engaged. It sounds like a race…a mutual urging. This "Bowie," unlike the more bossy, forthright 11/22/09 Syracuse version, inspired me to begin making an effort to think more in terms of the instruments in Phish, and less of the players behind them.

I can get lost in personalities and temperaments of the musicians, so I'm making more of an effort to hear the music, regardless of what the people playing it do. Not to disregard the un-disregardable (that is, those four lovable genii), but they are, as I often need to remind myself, MUSICIANS. The point of all this inquiry is, at very, very bottom, that which is channeled through their hands and voices. Why is it a difficult enterprise to make the important (even compassionate) distinction between music and musician? I'd say one reason could be because most people can't afford themselves enough time away from the everyday schlock of living to play, either by making music, or just having unstructured fun, being goofy and randomly inventive. Cleaving to the Pied Pipers is easy because, more or less, they do "fun" for us, and they do it pretty darn well, and for me, the excuse to travel is almost one of the best parts of the package...

In more salute to the spirit of all who've ridden the rails with the band over the year, "The Wedge" expanded on the broadness of the show, which added to that hair-in-the-wind, devil-may-care feeling. 

Capping the set was a "Bold as Love" explosion which hepped me to the fact that the keys were conservative, but sticking and moving in a manner only detectable in retrospect. The intensity is in the interstices; eyebrow-raising, head-tilting.

[Kinda shaky in the beginning, but just wait for it...]

Dare I say Phish 3.0 is not so much about "jamming" as it is about "flourishing"? There are certain quasi-erotic elements -- foreplay, for example -- which are absolutely integral to intimacy-building. I'm not being clever by suggesting anything about duration. But I am hinting that choice moments of intensity may provide equal satisfaction and otherworldly transport, rendering a slavish adherence to "duration-as-quality" in jams suddenly debatable. I've enjoyed listening to Phish throughout the year, and hearing moments of flourish, despite cringing through alleged "fails," and indeed, witnessing the moments (Cobo, Cinci, Syracuse, Albany...) when flourishes amass, collect and cohere into brain-erasing jams.

"Tweezer" begins Set II with a bold gesture speaking to either impatient insistence, or (as I like to think) a "Last one there's a rotten egg!" friskiness…as the band emerges from backstage, Trey marches over to, and picks up, his guitar, straps in, and guns right into the "Tweezer" intro, without the rest of the band even having gotten to position. Fishman, for example, quickened his walk to a scurry to get to his kit stool. I was like, "Hell yeah! Trey's not fuckin' around!" True enough, Anastasio was the 1986 Lenny Dykstra of Charlottesville; shifty and fast, not so much about precision as he was aiming to "git it done," quite steamy in its own sense, and a large part of the show's heat.

They crunched through a thick, metal-esque sludge jam, then segued slightly clumsily into "Light," in which Trey promptly conflated the lyrics (inadvertently flipping the second and first verses). But "Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free" is probably the most poetic segue-fest in recent memory, though not entirely deft in its transitions…the jam out of "Tweezer" has more of that undulating quality, alternating between interlock and splay, clamping down briefly into a dancehall reggae-style percussive stomp, with some truly puzzling steel drum-type guitar effects melding with other ambient percolations.

No, the transitions are not clean. Why should they be, must they be? I was gonna develop that question, but for right now, I'm gonna skip it, because I've got a thing I'm trying to do here. It's a narrative. The jam that blooms into "Piper" is an amphetamine spin, and, as the song kicks off, the deficits of JPJ's cavernous concreteness are revealed in some jarring, squawking feedback -- but the band rolled onward without any attempt to right the situation.

So much about this show is where I think Phish is heading…the Universe will conspire to manufacture more instances of retrograde evolution, which will continue to yank the trajectory of the music in a forward, outward direction. A band this big cannot turn back the hands of time, morphing MSG into Doolin's circa 1985 Vermont. But one of the things Young Thane from the Train and I agreed upon, on the 12:05 to Charlottesville, was that, on an primordial level, Phish needed to STOP GIVING A PHUCK. I'm dying to text Thane up and say, "Yo, it's Carol from the train…would you say that Phish STOPPED GIVING A PHUCK in Charlottesville?" I'm almost positive he'd say "Hell yes!"

Mike kept throwing down this low C note that kept me thinking they were gonna bust out playing "The Guns of Brixton" by The Clash, which would definitely qualify as "not giving a phuck," musically or thematically: 

When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?

When the Naked Guy comes a-knocking, how did Phish greet him? How would you? If you're Fishman, one foot's on the kick, and the other's on the hi-hat; Trey, a smile and and a pat on the back, Mike with a few low notes floated amused before a question mark, and Page, staring narrowly and ready to leap over his gear and put some Chuck Norris-style hurt on the phucker if the security guards failed...

"Sweet Virginia" was my first Phish-does-Stones live since Halloween: it was the third Exile tune played since F8, the first being "Torn & Frayed" (Cinci Night 2), and the second, "Shine a Light," played the previous night at MSG III. Really Drunk Dude and His Friend, Other Dude had switched places (possibly because Drunk Dude was embarrassed to be standing next to Not-at-All-Drunk Girl). Other Dude plopped down when the Stones tune began, then loudly asked me the question I least wanted to be asked right then:

"You like the Rolling Stones?"

Yaaaghhh! Oh why'd ya have to... I don't typically like sitting down during Phish shows; I usually perch on the edge of an upturned chair, propping myself up gymnastically, arms straight against the seat back, or one foot on the seat in front of me and the other on the ground, or some other not-quite-standing-or-sitting position. I was so positioned, smirking and silent.

I asked him, "Do you?" (Well played, right!)

He said carefully, with a mishmash of exasperation, surprise and forbearance, "There was a two-year period for me that, if it wasn't the Stones, it was BULLSHIT."

Ah! Hmm. Okay, I've definitely been there, with Pavement, Steely Dan, hell…Depeche Mode and Black Sabbath in high school and early college...that's how we music addicts do. If you're there, you're there; if not, it's like the horse and the water. If you're not thirsty, nothin' doin'. Like me trying to justify to Jesse why Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic would've been the PERFECT Phish Halloween costume; he just never "got" the Dan. Man oh Manischewitz…it's just the way it's got to be, though. I've been sort of ashamed lately: how I can say I'm "open" to the ongoing continuum of Phish, but not step foot near an MP3 of the Halloween set? Yeah! It's weird! I won't deny it!

Is that where I am with Phish? Errraaahhh...uhhhh...sort of? I've been listening to other stuff, sure (even compelled myself to go out club dancing the other night, and had a dandy time). But it all inevitably gets thrown through the grinder. What can I say? It's just something I'm ready to do right now. Like I said once before, the timing is right, and why not?

One thing I'll definitely give the Stones, which has caught up with me in my post-Festival 8 teeth-gnashing and re-examination, is that they're amazing poets. "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Emotional Rescue"…while not quite ever doing it for me musically, for whatever reason, the Stones have always impressed lyrically. But I guess it's a matter of choice, and focus. While I'm willing, at this time, to examine the relevance of Phish playing TV on the Radio's "Golden Age" (Dig the lyrics to that one, whoa! Talk about Sunburn of the Spirit!), I'm not as appreciable of their musical donning of the Stones. As mentioned, there are also extenuating historical circumstances further complicating the bias, which appear to be presently non-negotiable in my psyche. Okay, psyche: have it your way. I can adapt. But I appreciated hearing these lyrics in particular, in Fishman's raspy murmur: 

Thank you for your wine, California,
Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruits.
Yes I got the desert in my toenails
And I hid the speed inside my boot.

But come on, come on down Sweet Virginia,
Come on, honey child, I beg of you.
Come on, come on down

You got it in ya, uh-huh
Got to scrape the shit right off your shoe.

The words drew my life into focus as I perched in JPJ, through a big magnifying glass sweeping over the last six weeks. Just, really…PHUCK IT. A tall, blond dready dude came up to me during setbreak and shouted me out for this blog. Aghast, I smiled and nodded idiotically at my first public shout-out, as he expressed regret for the recent loss of my job (he'd read it that recently??). All I could manage to say, standing there again in a foreign state with no idea how I was getting home (but surer than ever, irksomely, that it'd all fall into place), was "Aww, PHUCK IT!" He grinned appreciably at my (albeit manufactured) defiance. We do what we can, when we can, I suppose.

Another good part about "Sweet Virginia," and why it wasn't just a leg-rester at its point in Charlottesville, is Fishman's vocals. News flash: I am a total sucker for Fishman on vocals. "Moma Dance," "Taste" (and the little in "Limb By Limb")...his voice (believe it or not) does something to me. Its rarefied, mysteriously tart sweetness is the underutilized secret kiwi fruit in Phish, yet another of the Universe's unsolvable enigmas, lurking within that hoop-covered frock.

Doug, a dude from North Carolina sitting to my left, said, "This isn't a very nice song to play for Virginia, is it?" (likely referring to that whole shit-shoe thing). I had no comment either way, but did find it sort of nice how I tend to befriend all the weirdoes sitting around me at Phish shows.

Charlottesville's "Harry Hood" was like being wrapped in a warm, freshly-washed, fluffy beach towel after a good soak in the hot tub. Everyone scattering out sun-dots: mellow Rhodes tinkling like emerging beads of sweat, slightly fuzzed guitar emitting a detoxifying flush of heat on the brow, bass and drums together the heart's racing thump from increased temperature, all together winding upward in cascading steam, until…your asshole friend comes running up behind you and shoves you into the ice-cold POOL…of "Suzy Greenberg"!

Warm towel goes flying! Cold, chlorinated water surrounds and goes up your nose! Flounder! Splutter! Expletives! Waving fist! Yet a sense of relief…when you're hot out the jacuzzi, and feel like you're gonna faint, the hilarity of shocking oneself with a cold dip is quite like the naughtily abrupt launch from "Harry" into "Suzy" here (whose titular irony is not lost on me). Adding to the scandal, a handful of keyboard solos come stampeding from the stable for a few scorching dips back into the hot tub -- set up nicely by a couple of uncharacteristically subdued guitar bridges -- first with frenzy-inducing wailing and moaning synth licks, and later, forbidden juke-joint piano flickers, then hauled back into the elated arms of Trey, who heaves the final verse to Fishman, to nail the hell out of another "Suzy" neurologist interlude with extraordinarily extemporaneous gurgling, as he's been doing expertly lately, causing me to scream with laughter in the middle of public places. The crowd boils over with mania…phew!

And just when you think it's safe to be back standing jacuzzi-side with your warm, fluffy towel, along comes that douchebag friend again…SHOVE! "Golgi Apparatus," in the place it appears in this second set, can't go wrong, even with its messy thrown-down intro…and more hilarious contingency, when Mike's bass rig decides to poop out in the first minutes of the song. What does he do? Well, of course:  he starts singing the notes! I was too giddy to notice all this, because, for the first time since, maybe, the second time I heard the song live, I was busy getting out my ticket stub so I could actually dance with it. 

During the first chorus, still inspired by Fishman's reh-tehr-ded blubbering in "Suzy," I stuck the stub behind one of the lenses of my spectacles, and danced like I was at a hoe-down. By the second verse, the stub was getting all damp, too close in proximity to my forehead, so I flapped it about in my hands, and passed it once behind my back from one one hand to the other, in an homage to the hallowed Passback-Cluster Technique (granting, umm, possible guaranteed admission to a section of your friend's ticket stub's choosing, or, umm, instant ejection from the venue if handled poorly…hey, life's full of risks).

Speaking of which, good old Naked Guy was then sent-up at set's end in the unprecedented "Naked Guy" rendition of "Run Like an Antelope." In the intro, I must point out that the drums caught a brief case of "Dixieland Fever," with a clearly detectable micro-Charleston riff rising from the toms, causing me to break out in my best wrist swingin' and ankle twistin', much to my surprise. The rest unraveled into a sweaty-palmed sauté, with the band interlocking again, not undulating or alternating, but plugging directly in for a straight-ahead firestorm that, upon climax, caused one audience member to quite rightly scream, "PHUCK YEAH!" The end of "Antelope" raged such that I almost wanted to do "THE CLAP," that most vulgar of endearments, as Trey inquires as to the crowd's possession of any "Naked Guy." The ensuing "run run run" harmony is so rich and together, Page and Mike sound sliced out of the '60s vocal group, The Association. And, in his most gleefully ironic fizziness, Trey interjects with "Run run run run, Naked Guy!"

In a citrusy explosion of lime and yellow, Kuroda turns December into June, as Phish throws the Fall Tour into a tropical crescendo. There are actually even audibly lusty "Oooh!"s and "Ahhh!"s for Kuroda's lights on the AUD recording of the show. I swear…listening to it now, I wonder: even if Phish didn't deliberately stage Naked Guy's assault, how could absolute chaos continue to elude them? They are, after all, still essentially the same people as they were in 1985, if not in the same exact circumstances, bodies or mindsets. They seem to have re-asserted a dedication to their craft, which was always approached with a rigor and tenacity that went untouched by serious external augmentation for years.

The question I'm having to ask myself so often -- every other fear-and-sweat-soaked minute, in fact -- is: at what point in the life of an artist dedicated to "Pure Art," do life and art become inverted, so, as inside, so outside? Or, so as one's desire to evolve, so the seemingly spontaneous delivery of the "pure" means by which to execute that, even if it's only time in which to dig further down, writing for 60 minutes, then resting, exhausted, for another 90 minutes, dreaming fitfully about making "CK5"-engraved pancakes for Chris Kuroda (seriously), awakening, drinking Red Bull, rinse and repeat? (Which it was for me this past strange, depressed, bewildered week...)

I keep using the "hot, hot heat" metaphor for Charlottesville because it was indeed so warm, in the midst of the cold winter bite, and that fast-approaching, kinda glum "end-of-tour" feeling…it was like Phish saying, "Nature…people…what's wrong with y'all?" and insisted upon righting the order by a) bringing the heat back to the South where it belonged, and b) dare I say, warming and messing and mixing things up to a fever pitch and leaving them there to marinate, and pick up in Miami right where they left off. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" hasn't ever made as much sense. Did drugs make me more naked or awake? For a while, they sure as hell did. But that's not why I did them in the first place…I first put foreign substances in my body to attempt to solve my problem of not knowing how to be in the world, by artificially erasing the fear, emotion, doubt and anxiety associated with lacking life skills.

Fortunately, it worked for a while, otherwise I'd have been in very bad (possibly invisible) shape. But it was later revealed that my problem with living was too great to be remedied by being wasted 24/7/~4/12, especially when the anxiety and emotions were pretty much all that was left, rather than solutions. Now, I have to move through my goddamn emotions, anxieties, and doubts, not around, over or under them. Nothing else works. When I try to circumvent my humanity, it's always lookin' to find me, usually does, then roundly kicks my ass. But when I plow forward and split my fears into pieces, in time, they're changed, and then gone.

So now, and again, and again, let the nakedness begin. Are Phish n00bs? Stop giving a phuck. It's getting hot in here! So, take off all your clothes. "Let 'em see you sweat!" is my new motto. Something I don't need anymore might melt away in the process.


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