17 August 2010

Everyday I Write the F*cking Book, Okay? Nothing is Planned...

I'm not quite sure what seems more absurd…that I haven't written here since late June, that late June is already such a fossil, or that it's finally time for me to go tromping off to lot tonight, to get my summer's only phill from the Travelers' Trough.

It hasn't been the best summer, but the good man Jah has had a few slim mercies to lay upon this very good girl. I've labored to stay sane beneath a ton of anxiety, doubt, and dizzying transition; no more squeezing my freewheeling 21st century bohemian-nerd self into the sensible corporate low-heeled loafer of my old life. But alas, where does the flip-flop shod foot shuffle in a "no shirt, no shoes, no service" kinda world? It spends a lot of time dangling off the futon couch, stepping into an unknown void of future, toes wiggling vainly for footing, all the while the mind up top reeling & appealing to "superior forces" for signs of change.

Things I have had as mine to change have been few; one of them is my physical well-being. I've eaten healthy and lean all summer, and have dragged my mortal coil through umpteen iterations of introspective kickassery, including cardio kickboxing, speed walking & light weight training. I'm still sober, which, as always, takes its own share of intensely heavy lifting all its own, if engineered in a manner leaning towards consistent elevation (rather than soulless treading water on the wagon).

And finally, as ever germane to this ongoing conversation, there's been Phish.

"Hey, Phishhead!" called my friend Ian with mischievous volume, jaunting his way into a local gathering of sober folks, right in front of a rather large assemblage of über-kewl, ciggy-swiffing North Brooklyn hipsterati, myself dwelling mostly unnoticed among them (save a little shady non-anonymity in that area, displayed on a certain popular social networking portal).

"'Sup braw," I replied, flashing a "hang loose." In spite of myself, I grinned. I didn't flinch, didn't blink, just grinned. Time was, in that situation, I'd have withered, possessed of a strangely shameful conspicuousness at being an unrepentant champion of those hapless, accidental ringleaders of the "modern hippy aesthetic." But such has been the Summer of 2010, and, by now, there's no way it couldn't have happened. The likes of it may not ever happen again anytime soon, but such a proclamation, for now, shall be nothing less than second skin.

This much is obvious: whatever I may do with the endless changes I've listened to Phish go through this summer (and last year, Reunion 2009), the relationship is here to stay. And no matter what the circumstances, I don't think I'll be able to avoid for very long the fascination with their evolution. Honestly, I think that evolution could only become strange, confounding and unwieldy if, again, it should somehow end. But for now, right now, it is alive, and thriving, writhing and wriggling, rinsing and repeating, rising and self-erasing.

As of this moment, I am poised at 0:00 at the beginning of the third "Wading in the Velvet Sea" (I almost typed "Waiting in the Velvet Sea," hyulk hyulk, sorry faithful punters!) of Summer 2010, in Raleigh, NC 7/1/10. I have, until now, and until that point, listened to every single note Phish has played thus far this year. FYI: the only shows from last year's 50 I haven't yet laid ears on are shows # 1 and 3 of last year's East Coast run: believe it or not, I still haven't fully recovered from missing them, again, due to various and sundry "life circumstances"…

Yeah, I'm a little bit behind, missing 11 shows out of 27 to be exact. Not bad…I'm just past the halfway mark. Thus, I've listened to 14 shows in 9 weeks, the equivalent of seeing two straight weeks of shows, or ruminating on almost two shows a week, which is, in a sense, exactly what I've been doing. I had to take a breather for most of July, as you could imagine, especially since the end of June saw me having several royal heart attacks at the golden fungiform treasures the band began hauling out of the trove of their personal Atlantis, towards the end of the first leg of tour.

I'm just getting around to those now. Having just savored the very first recent emergence of one of my absolute favorite, lamentably awesome, weep-enducing hempseed shuffle-boogies, "Light Up or Leave Me Alone," I'm plowing bravely and itinerantly ahead on this newest, infinitely more demanding and personal version of V-T00R, headlong through my regret at having missed everything up until tonight, and tomorrow. Again, it's back to the Origin Space, moist incubator near the sea and sand…I can heal life's slings and arrows' wounds there keen. I'll sashay back into the fray, sample and survey the lot economy, make sure the Kids are Alright (I know, I know…you are), and try to raise my prime index finger up just right -- and will no doubt find what I'm looking for, hopefully for a low flat fee, and once again, tilt in through that misty door, to do what I can for the local pause of the Circus jalopy in my neck o' the brambles.

Incidentally (or not so), I've been writing the whole time I've been listening. Uhhh…doy? Why do you think I started this blog? I listen to Phish, I write. Done, and done. It's like smelling fresh bread and drooling…it just happens. And, with every strum, stumble and hum, I have amassed a pile of scribblins at least aloft of the foothills of Mt. Ranier (its snowy cap seen in the distance in the commemorative August 2009 post-Gorge photo below, Sea-Tac bound early in the morning of 8/9/01). What I've realized about this here bloggy-blog is that I don't really know how to handle it on a consistent basis. Actually, I barely know how to handle anything on a consistent basis; such is my peculiar mental eccentricity. But those things that seem native to my machinations, I do with great frequency, at an almost uncontrollable clip.

Back to Sea-Tac

In short, with these mad shavings of Phish-fuled internal chatter, I'm thinking (just thinking, mind you…for me, it goes very far…I said, for me…) of scraping it all into a book. Yes, that's right, another Phish book.

"Huh? A book about a tour?"

C'mon, people, you know how I do. The jots I have collected are quasi-prose poetry based on my life, as interwoven with this phase dancing, wincing, frowning, rewinding, calculating, gesticulating, cavitating enterprise I have embarked on with my four Soul Brothers Number 1…2, 3 and 4 (in no particular order). I'm hoping that, with sufficient encouragement and endorsement, the book will not only be the first book almost solely about the analysis of a two years of Phish shows (for musicology's sake), but the first of its kind to be written entirely on a handheld device.

That's right, kids…I have thumbed thousands and thousands of words thus far, at least 40 pages of notes, all written whilst grocery shopping, dinner-eating, subway riding, platform-waiting, street-walking, corner turning, sober-keeping and generally roustabouting New York City at large. I wouldn't be surprised, speaking of kids, if I wasn't be the first to have done this, what with their thumbs much smaller, defter and more furious than mine.

However, what I have going for me is a particularly long, keen attention-span borne of that peculiar gulf between the Age of Machines, and the Age of the Cyber-Mental Melt, which still knows the creamy aroma of historicity when it smells it. My mind, heart, fingers and ears still know what knocks us all upside our heads, and/or lures us into the moldy lair of the sometimes stinky sea creatures. The sensibility can sniff out contextual sensations worthy of voicing, for the sake of either relation, or purely sociological analysis, on the level of observing outright psychiatric gymnastics.

It should probably be stated that this blog will, as time passes, also be getting a complete overhaul, to support the deepening fathoms of ongoing scholarship and absorption. The domain has been secured, and, well...the domain has been secured! 'Nuff said for now! A redesign and some greater whiz-bang is definitely worthy of the endeavor. For a big-yet-tiny mouth such as mine, best to take it all one byte at a time...

But it's all happening, folks, and it means something. Whether it comes to fire up your Kindles, or sneaks around and tickles your Nooks, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, later, your senses may oddly tingle as I pad towards the subway, pressing play, and descending, to later emerge into late summer's fading day, to have my ears bathed in all the snowflakey, quotidian glory of the Mages' livelihood a-sway. Let's hear it for meltage, ladies and gents, Walfredo's Gaucho slant and the Sloth's clogging the Maze, and the long, daily grind through my own purple haze. No matter what the rinse may hold, hey…'scuse me while I kiss these guys. Brosephs all, they never cease to inspire. And for that, the least I can do is perspire a drip. Or a few.

22 June 2010

Cracklin' Prose: Stealing Time for the Lofty Plan

An ethereal cascade into "Harry Hood" (out of a "Theme From the Bottom" taken on an eye-popping detour out its own side) made me make a Ren Hoek face. Those of you old enough to know remember narrow-mouthed, pendulous-tongued, bulge-eyed rictus of the erstwhile MTV cartoon chihuahua... Having just finished listening to the whole, very long, seriously eh-pick (in no uncertain terms), 6/18/10 was made for a writer like me to bathe in.

While positively *getting down* to the combustibly jubilant "Halley's Comet" Set II opener, I jumped up and down yelling, "This is it! This is the one!", in reference to that nebulous "thingy" I seem to need to drag my voice into the current cloud of appreciative analysis, the locomotive strong enough to ignite and propel my train of thought along its twisty track.

As I began to say above, at some point during the "Hood" intro, I decided I'm going to use Hartfords I and II as the linchpin for my discussion of Summer 2010 Tour So Far. In Part I, I shall attempt to distill the reams of critical guff I've ammassed on Toyota Park through Portsmouth, then land on Hartford I as a defining moment, a sort of power bridge between VA and what will encompass Part II, Night II of the Hartford stand, a full-blooded, gate-opening welcome to what I recently coined "3.0.1 - The New Classic Phish" in an email to a notable phellow Phishtorian.

Oh, process, glorious process! Stay tuned, lovelies! I have an end to the thing which is always the clincher, sappy as it may be. But hopefully I'll have it wrung out before I head to the Delaware River camping and rafting Thursday and this weekend, with water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! ;-)

Shred centrally in Mansfield to-nite! Y'all are in for it; it's gonna be a week. The parapet has been breached, and the Phish war against sanity in music has begun anew!

(Speaking of which, PS: Phish, if you're listening, and you really are an "All-Request Band," then you'll do us all a favor by kicking it real "Back to the Future"-stylee with the FAST VERSION of "Sanity" (a-la 5/28/89) sometime this tour. 'Nuff said...)

21 June 2010

The Show of Life: Summer Tour 2010 in the Velvet C.

Curious readers,

I am currently thrilling to the unfolding drama that is V-T00R, listening to every show the minute it emerges, and writing down copious impressions in that way that I do. These impressions are lengthy, in-depth, and have gotten discursively more elaborate, in terms of the musical dynamics of Phish. It's decidedly more thoughtful, essay-length exegesis material than the traditional daily "Hay, this show was awesome/not so good" etc. (which, too, has it's place among the voices of the community).

It takes editing, redigesting tunes, backing up and relistening...and can certainly border on mental. I've recently been turned onto the work of music "critic" Paul Williams (no, not the songwriter), and, not to mention, finally got the time (for the most part) to be as immersed in this process of writing as I've been since 2000. I'm adjusting to the whole process, and specifically that of ingesting, absorbing, metabolizing and expounding on Phish. As the joy of it all evolves, I'm coming closer to adopting a comfortable means of knowing when these sublimations of tour and the band's sonic evolution are "done" and ready for public consumption.

Oh, and of course, there's the rather brass-tacks fact that I am distracted by being without steady income, on unemployment, and waiting for that just-right, part-time IT consulting job to come along. For maximum impact, I need a clearer mind, unmuddied by looming bills and dangling fiscal responsibilities, which do dearly impede both the creative process, and (as suffered this last glorious weekend) the ability to responsibly afford to go on tour! And we all know: being sonically sequestered with just the music has its own place among the divine, but tour is the real deal.

So, just keepin' y'all posted. In capsule: Toyota was a warmup that got heated in Set II; Blossom had both petals and pedals pushing psyhedelic envelopes; Hershey began to melt the frost of rusty tendons and signaled promisingly expanding fun and flexibility; Portsmouth was an interesting plateau landing the band in the Easy Coast stew again; but Hartfords...oh Hartfords is where my mind split, and the discourse becomes electric. SPAC is next in the snack pack.

Stay mellow, campers, safe travels, and twist a knee and a booty for me.

09 June 2010

Backwards Down the 2009: A Right-on-Time 3.0.1 Recap (Part II)

Great. Fine. So, you have "Mars" to thank for the appearance (finally!) of this post, the so-called "continuation" of the first "BDT2009" Recap, posted -- crap! -- almost a month ago! I'm not gonna get into excuses, but two main things are to blame: 1) My own personal "Bag it, tag it, sell it to the butcher in the store" happens to be the dreaded Three P's of Perfectionism, Procrastination and Paralysis. That is, I want everything wrapped in little bows and well-matched paper, all sense-making and thorough, and most of all (for the sake of my ego) totally awesome. Unfortunately, in the name of getting ANYTHING posted at all, these standards need to be either reduced, or eliminated entirely. You'll see in this piece I've almost opted for the latter...

Reason 2) for the extended delay of this post will rise to the surface within about 48 hours: yeah, TOUR. Tour is upon us. It's happening. But, despite all my best efforts, wishes and hopes to the contrary, it's almost 99.99% certain I will not be in Chicago Friday night, or Cuyahoga the next, or...blah blah blah. And about all that, I am NOT HAPPY. From the minute dates hit the airwaves, I've been trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, all to no avail.

You might hearken with electrified fondness back to the beginning of Fall 2009 tour, whereupon whirling out the door to MSG 12/2/09 for night 1 of 3, I was roundly canned from my job. Well, things being what they is, I haven't found another job, and have been riding the dole wagon ev'ry since, a gig here, a drop in the bucket there, and the landlord always a-lurkin' -- but, as if by magic, it's all churned along with relative, though chaotic predictability.

But one thing became for sure about three weeks ago: saying "eff all" and going on tour on the fumes of the Government, to heck w/ my landlord for a month, and without so much as sand on the wind in terms of prospects upon my return: NOT A GOOD IDEA. Luckily, with the 2009 behind me, I've come to learn many lessons about what I WANT, and what I NEED. And what I NEED is to be well-fed, alive, housed, employed, sane, sober, solvent and happy -- in the final analysis, as much as I wanted to, going on tour wouldn't have supported that agenda in the slightest.

So, having to closely survey last year's "product," while knowing I wasn't going to be bearing witness to the laying of new bricks, has made me extremely glum and crestfallen. But soldier forth I must. I'll likely appear in a few last-minute lot bustouts closer to the the second half of this first leg of tour -- Hartford, SPAC...who knows. You know how I do.

Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand (and today, the anniversary of my *favorite show* of 2009), I'll begin by saying this: Phish plays a lot of songs.

Throughout 2009, they played many of the same songs multiple times, much to the chagrin of some old-skool fans. This, being endlessly bitched and moaned about from aforesaid fans (some indeed truly old-skool, others merely presumptuously posturing, ill-informed or bored), gave me pause, and I've landed on the side of the Phellas.

There's a whole new crop of phans coming up. I might've mentioned it, but for laughs, I'll reiterate that the crowd in the Chelsea Clearview Cinema (wherein I saw Phish 3D) had to be, on average, below age of 25. This pretty much means that a veritable glut of Phishheads are more than likely THE KIDS of the First Wave of phans!

I've come to greater and greater terms with this, on lot, on trains and planes, in crowds and stands. My good buddy Thane from the Train (to Charlottesville) is probably a nubile postgrad backpacking through Patagonia, trying to "find himself." If my old ass hasn't "found myself" yet, then I've probably not found just where I need to be looking. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that that place may just keep moving around. And lo, thus, must I!

True...in 2009 (barring 12/30/09, har har), Phish did not play a whole lotta their vast litany of songs, sticking, rather, to decidedly more straight-ahead but, as things progressed, tinkered-with and inspiring versions of some perennial classics, both old, and new. I dunno if there's a rationale behind the frequent, healthy (yet often irksomely so) warming-up of Phish's favorite song muscles. I'll briefly posit that what seems to be a glut of repetition may actually be logistical distortion; for example, 13 instances of "AC/DC Bag" in 1994 may seem statistically fewer in comparison to 2009's 12, simply because 1994 had 124 shows, while 2009 had only about a quarter as many (50)...

Merging the above two concepts (song frequencies, plus the slightly decreased phan age demographic), I'm gonna take it back to school this time around, for Part II of my Backwards Down the 2009 Just-in-Time 3.0.1 Recap. I hatched upon an idea, while puzzling on how to tackle a "Best of" list for a band with a ~300-song catalog. "Let's do it A-B-C style," came the bright idea! But I couldn't use the whole alphabet or I'd be here all year (or longer than it's already taken me, i.e. much longer than desired!). So, I decided to look up the letter frequencies of the English alphabet, and use those selections instead!

Starting from the top, and heading south with the most popular letters players in the A-B-C's, here's what I came up with:

11/18/09 "AC/DC Bag":

2009 was the year of what I've enjoyed calling the "Bag Opener" -- an overall splendid way to get a Phish show on the road (so to shpeak). 1995 is the only other year far as I can see with as many "Bag Openers" (that is, shows with "Bag" in the first set opening position), tied at 7 with 2009. Of course, with an 81-to-50 show ratio, 2009 definitely made for what seemed like a whole lotta exploding "Bag"s. None, in my ear, were quite a pop as 11/18/09, a/k/a "Bag COBOpener" -- what better way to start the first Fall Phish tour in nine years... (where, of course, they shall -- *sob* -- be starting this new decade's Summer Tour -- *weep* -- in nary a day...*flogs self*)

The 11/18/09 "Bag" unfolds slowly apace, Trey and Page's harmonized vocals and riffs ratcheting, vamped up, boogied down, loud, sneaky and sinister... "Bag" openers are true temperature-takers, compasses for where the band and crowd are starting off the night's journey together. But things have to wind up with near-mechanical, precarious precision in a "Bag" opener, lest it poof into an overheated air-sack. The "Bag COBOpener" exemplifies this, briefly and deftly disassembling Detroit Rock City first on tiptoes, with exploratory pokes and squeals, right in time to clang into sync just over 7 minutes later with a pyrotechnical bang that twinkles off into the Great Unknown a freshly, deftly opened "Bag" has store. In this case, we're then treated to the Detroit sack's first contents: a little Cobo "Foam"...

8/7/09 "Bathtub Gin":

By the end of a hot-ass "Gin", you can barely believe what distilled from the unassuming hokey-pokey from whence it came. I'm grateful for small miracles (and comments, I must remind you!), because right when I got stuck between this "B"-stumper and the much easier rest of the alphabet (another thing hanging this post up in extended perfectionistic limbo), I got a comment from a certain "Jake," reminding me that I actually bore witness to the juiciest "Gin" of 2009: the "GORGE GIN" (which went > "Harry Hood" holy-sh'incidentally).

Clocking in at a healthy 18 minutes, the "Gorge Gin" journey began at a late point in an already magic-ass set (preceded by "Moma, Light > Taste, Fluffhead" and a much-needed "Joy" breather). I was bitch-slapped by thoroughly aggro, door-opening piano chaos, a stage-setting, determinedly upbeat march, then a host of mischievous, spark-sprinkling fuses that soon sent a whole buncha "BLAMMO" into the canyon behind the stage. At around 9 minutes, after shredding like an attack dog, Trey riffs chunkily but ever so slightly back into the mix, whereupon Fishman pops out with a quick tumble of funktification, soon matched by Mike's viciously viscous and persistent gurgling, into a full-on, key-shifting, head-tilting "frog" jam (that's "funky-prog," kids).

Then, adding insolence to inspiration, they had the absolute nards to leap off the cliffside into an 18-minute "Harry Hood"! Like, what?! Dare I say, near-religious for the hills to witness. That weekend's shows, after all, were what supplied the inspiration for this blog!

"Cities" / "Crosseyed and Painless": So invisibly plugged-in am I to the linkage of these two Talking (Phish) Heads staples, I didn't realize until just now that they're two of the sauciest C-songs in the Phish canon, both yielding fierce 2009 covers of the Renegades from RISD.

"Cities" came in two prime forms this past year, first, with a most laid-back and positively Jah-licious 6/2/09 Jones Beach-side version, and, in my pick for best, the show-saving "Cities" from Googleburg, 8/5/09 at Shoreline. Don't get me wrong: the latter show had great energy and overall awesome playing, but I think it was veritably extinguished by the glory that followed up the Coast at Gorge (see "Bathtub Gin" above). Last year's "Cities"' liked the seaside, because waves carried it away both times. As similar for the two "Crosseyed"s of 2009, the two "Cities" each have distinct merit, but with one holding slightly more weight than the other.

6/2/09 "Cities":
The Wantagh "Cities" was an atmospherically and perfect choice, with an air of laid-back yet richly historical (dare I say) Grateful Dead-like significance. A dreamy, yet persistently dubby vibe floated over the oceanside, the air fragrant with salt, seaweed and...uhh..."land weed"... With heart-informed rhythmic familiarity, the band members relaxed into each others' wah-ified, lovingly modulated grooves, creating a familiar but richly unique sense of place with a body of temples in motion, the band weaving moments in a tapestry of musical legacy, our communal memory.

After scrounging my ticket on a trade for a 6/4 extra I had in the lot, I finally made my way into the nosebleeds, and tilted into the high, high stands, just in time for this tune to fire up. I twirled slowly, dancing dizzily along the rail, ecstatic to be back in the throng after what seemed like a lifetime after a renewed taste (but indeed only two days!). I high-fived strangers, ran headlong into some old friends, then took my place, dipping down, surfacing, and dipping again into my own Phishtory, which began in that very amphitheater.

8/5/09 "Cities":

The (other) Shoreline "Cities" delivered a whiff of similar historicity as its predecessor, taking its place, though, among a strongly-delivered, but somehow energetically diffuse show. The crowning glory of the Shoreline "Cities" is its mammoth, goal-sinking segue into an incredible "Maze" both of which were the absolute highlights of the show.

There were only two "Crosseyed"s in 2009, both cause for much endless squealing from those lucky enough to catch them. Actually, they're such rare gems that it's hard to choose a favorite, so instead, I'll briefly wax on their particular charms.

6/21/09 "Crosseyed and Painless":

The first of the dynamic duo was Set II opener of the last show of 2009 Summer Tour Leg I, Alpine Valley 6/21/09. This was the first show of 2009 after Hampton that made me elbow everyone and everything outta the way, head to LivePhish.com and snag it. Seeing the setlist, I HAD to hear it the SECOND it was available, and I was more than willing to spend my last bucks to do it. Hah, it only took them three weeks to whip me into that much of a frenzy? You can hear the blood shooting from the eardrums of the crowd even on the SBD mix, when the frenetic rhythm spins up; everyone knew they were freaking lucky.

About midway through, the trance-whip turns into an inferno, with Trey whirling out bursts of disto-tinged code. The ensuing synergetic froth is worthy of being christened the "Alpine Jam" on the LivePhish recording.

7/31/09 Red Rocks "Crosseyed and Painless":

Secondly, something about the depth of valleys sends the up the call of the "Crosseyed", since the year's second emerged from a masterfully executed, key-shifted segue out of a richly jammed "Drowned", in Show II of the 4-night Red Rocks stand that kicked off Summer 2009 Leg II. If I had to choose, the Alpine "Crosseyed" would win out, for some truly inspired Trey soloing that, in 3.0 style, meshes prominently but equally on a plane with the other band members; no showboating on this cruise!

11/22/09 "David Bowie":

The Fall '09 Syracuse "Bowie" signaled the return of Fearsome Phish; an exacting onslaught, almost supernatural in its virtuosity and near-malevolent interconnectedness. Second only to the SPAC "Bowie" (more psychedelic and otherworldly in nature), it comes out of the gate like a lion with fire in its eyes, plunging through the preliminary positions to rest heaving in the pre-jam pocket. Like a quiet storm, the band slowly (but stealthily) slide around in a forcefully loungy bebop place that suddenly catches like a brush fire, led by Trey's deliberate, feral escalation, Page's pounding piano chords right behind, and trussed up by direct and limber backend Fish and Mike (who is definitely the song's silent-but-deadly MVP).

I went to college not half-hour from Syracuse (in God's own purgatory, Oswego, NY), and I'll say firsthand that Central New York has a ferocious, hardy Native American energetic underpinning that few acknowledge; the flying tomahawk of Phish's fiercest fusionary vision sliced out the "David Bowie" opener that night, which, upon first listen, had me scraping my quivering jaw off a sidewalk somewhere in Long Island City, Queens.

12/3/09 "Free":

Captured in all its crystalline crispness and hypereality, the MSG "Free" dug deep into the delivery mechanism (i.e. the band), probing and expressing its message. Obviously, "swimming weightless in the womb" of Madison Square Garden again for a second night of three, for the first time in 7 years, the tune's joyous prosody pulsed rhythmically in the air upon its classic opening measures. Although I can't say exactly authoritatively, Phish is one of the only bands I've witnessed at MSG that can throw hooks like the circular raindance and spin of "Free" into the walls, and shrink the 19,000 capacity venue down to the size of an explosive, rhythmic block party in the round.

Trey and Mike both splash out lively, unhindered lines right from the guts to the fingers; it's a brief shot, but placed at dead center of a cathartic, bricklaying second set sandwich -- "Down with Disease > Piper > Fluffhead, Cities" followed by "Halley's Comet > (an armpit pumping party-jumping) 2001 > David Bowie", the MSG "Free" was enough to make me remember why letting life's limber magic take over is sometimes just the way to go.

6/9/09 "Ghost":

A good way to refer to some of the best instances of "Ghost" in 2009 is as "The Slappin' Apparitions" -- most of the 2009 killers rose from an eerie fog lifting off some of the year's smokinest jams. I know the pillory is opening for my neck, having not written "11/27/09 Ghost" to head off this section, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a minute, so bear with me...Fall 2009's Albany "Ghost" was the second leg of a Vitruvian Man-like ubermensch that floated up and shattered the ceiling many thought Phish had hit and/or been trapped under for most of last year.

But believe me when I tell/remind/convince you that the evolution was being contrived months and months earlier, you just had to be listening to hear it. Asheville's "Ghost" (or, properly, the spirited "Backwards Down the Number Line > Ghost" combo) is the direct ancestor of Albany's sky-shifting "Seven Below > Ghost". Vastly more uptempo, and true to its funky roots, but with equally expansive key-changes, ranges and flow, Asheville's "Ghost" dug one of the first holes that a grew the kind of monster seen in Albany five months later.

3/7/09 "Halley’s Comet":

To avoid the obvious “H” Phish song that people were sick to death of on the first leg of Summer tour, I'm picking a Phish-o-sophical dark horse that doesn't get near enough attention in the Phish rotation, but for the inevitable "hoo-hah party" value it absolutely guarantees from Mike's first "deep joop ba-ba-ba jimbo". But to me, "Halley's Comet", in a tradition of, say, Dr. John or, hell, even the Four Tops, espouses a familial feeling borne of whimsical, honest storytelling, despite the fact that, in the case of this song that never actually includes the celestial body of its title but in its merry refrain, it makes zero factual sense.

Much in that vein, bringing it back to the second show of the reunion (that's 3/7/09 Hampton, holder of not a great many Greatest Hits of 2009, mostly since the band was rusty as phuck-all) makes sense in the concept of historical atmosphere, space and place: phamilial, rootsy, comfortable to the point of barenaked hilarity, and the everyday celebration of good old-fashioned new-school road rock, this time satisfyingly back home among its people.

All this can be heard, and felt, in Trey's joyously quavery tones, Page's celebratory near-holler, Mike's merry boobling, some phine and poppy Fishman shimmy, and, most of all, the straight-up ecstatic "get-down" whiff coming off the crowd, even on the recordings. Moreso on the healing tip, too, the Hampton "Halley's" plops quite quickly into the debut of "Beauty of a Broken Heart," which is all about stitching up the wounds, and swerving into the light... 

*whew!!* That's about half the functional alphabet right there. I'll tell ya right now; "Y" is not one of the topmost utilized letters in the alphabet, so that'll save me a couple more sleepless nights. It may take me a while, but what can I say? Mine is not an easy life in the big city. Next time, I'll hopefully be finally finished catchin' ya up on what's gone on, as what's comin' at ya...is comin' at ya!

01 June 2010

Letter to the Editor

In response to my last post's "Expansion Module jam" comment, re: 11/27/09 "Seven Below > Ghost", "Jake" writes:

Q: "I'm curious as to the etymology of your term "Expansion Module jam" for the 11/28/09 Seven Below > Ghost. Is it because the jam, and this style in general of jamming, finds what seems to be an independent harmonic, melodic, and affective segment, plays around with it, and then moves to another one of these segments with basically block juxtaposition? I'm guessing that's what you mean with the term "module," since it's a more modular style rather than a smooth progression towards an end goal (like Hood or Slave), or the very crazy, abrupt juxtapositions of old-school '92-'93 era jams (like the 8/28/93 Antelope). I'd suggest that the SPAC 6/19/04 Piper is a great example of this "modular" style jamming. 5 distinct jam segments, including a heavy Tweeprise jam..."

A: Yes, exactly. Well put. Students, you can learn well from Jake's class participation. High-fives, "Jake" -- nice work! Here's my very own (holy-crap lucky) capture of the aforesaid specimen, which was difficult to film whilst holding the top of my head on from exploding, due to the rapid change in, err, "atmospheric pressure"...

(PS: M'boy, 8/28/93 "Antelope" -- and, heck, the legendary 8/28/93 in toto -- is worthy of a whole post unto itself, and I'm glad you brought it up. A tale for another time, but an excellent reference and reminder! Extra credit!)

Part II (the so-called meat, or tofu, or TVP, if you prefer) of my 2009 "Best-of" series is forthcoming. There's a lot to write about and compile. It's coming together, I'm about 3/4 done; please be patient. The management apologizes for any inconvenience... ;-)

14 May 2010

Backwards Down the 2009:
A Right-on-Time 3.0.1 Recap (Part I)

[It's made out of people!!! From Phish's Official Summer Tour site.]

When I started this here blog, I spent a lot of time wrestling with myself over whether I'm just a mindless cheerleader, or, rather, an *epicure* of nuanced discussion of the *critical dialectic* of Phish. (Yeah, take that, emo hipsters!)

I quickly grasped that one who starts a blog about a band cannot, in any way, simply be a cheerleader. The conversation would get boring pretty quick.

However, critiques (mostly) aside for now, there's much good aphoot on the Phish agenda. The piece regarding my three-month absence is forming up much slower than I'd like, and may be expanded in more depth as a piece about the general phenomenon of musical obsession -- addiction, if you will -- over at my new, very slowly evolving, Phish-phree blog, Wade Between the Lines. Well, that's if someone with a blog about a band can keep things so clearly separated. Oy vey! I never said I was a kosher blogger! (::rolls eyes::)

So, as I suppose is worthy of a blog, I'm going to deposit here a recent discourse with a phriend of mine, regarding the current state of Phish. And why not? The crest of their wave has risen again and the hot, heady Summer vibe is again climbing. Awash with public exposure after last night's first post-reunion, full-band TV appearance (on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, as part of his "Exile on Main Street Week" festivities), they're on the minds of both the dyed-in-wool and uninitiated, too. 

Yeah, I know what it's like when tour is nigh, people...it's happening for me as well. Invisible money is flying outta purses and pockets, rational explanations for "normal living" are wearing thin, and longing for the sweet smell of fresh-pressed Groove Juice -- that undefinable, intoxicating nectar -- is haunting dreams and (seemingly endless) work hours alike.

But, if you're a phan that hasn't yet gotten back on the bandwagon, you may be jaded, bummed, resentful, mistrustful, or just plain unable to *get into* Phish 3.0. It's gotta be tough. And, for many old-schoolers among us, there simply isn't enough time in the day, and all sorts of factors to deal with; kids, mortgages, rent, responsibilities. For the youngers, the song remains the same; cash, school, parents, cash, transportation, "hooch" (umm...), cash, finding phriends, cash...

(An aside...I'll tell you one thing; for me, sober touring definitely knocks a few more brain cells back into the equation. Gearing up for spending a lot of the summer on the road myself, I honestly couldn't -- and didn't over many years, mainly from paranoia -- make tour happen any other way. Thing is; I won't be by myself...I've got phriends in "naturally high" places. FYI, kids: yep, still sober. Made 7 years in February. Why? You don't wanna know what happens otherwise. And if that ain't a mother-flippin' miracle, I'm gonna walk on the Good Lord's bathwater.)

But I digress. Why is Summer Tour (a/k/a Phish 3.0.2, for you dorques in the audience...) worth making the effort? Hell if I know, for you, anyway. For ME, though, it's worth it because I have dedicated myself to having the time to make it worth it. You figure: a band such as Phish stays in the picture for more than two decades, it's something to pay attention to. All way-too-easy and buffoonish comparisons aside (*coughs* Jerry *coughs*), love 'em or hate 'em, they're one of the most important American bands around.

That said, I recently had a a conversation with an old-skool phriend and partner in Crimes of the Mind from way back. He's among the most staunchly discerning a-Phish-ionados I've known. Though he's scarcely the same high-strung, rangy cat he was 10 years ago (all growed up with wife and daughter), he expressed ambivalence about upcoming tour:

"If they could replicate the Seven Below from Albany [i.e. 11/28/09, the now-legend Expansion Module jam] just once, I might consider seeing them again," he said. "But their brilliance has been too far in between. It's really not their fault. In 1997 they were our age, at their peak creative abilities. They've mellowed out due to old age and their songs and straight jams and solos just don't do it for me anymore..."

Pshaw! I'm really not a fan of the "they're old" get outta jail free card, when it comes to writing Phish off as no longer a going concern as musical performers, entertainers, and innovators. And nor am I in the convincing business. But, however you slice it, I'm a PHAN, goddammit. Thus inspired by such nescience, I rattled off a few "Well have you heard..."s from between November and New Year's 2009 that I think stack up well enough to (in my estimation) make a case for some serious shizz to look forward to.

Here's the first part of my "Glad I Didn't Write This Sooner" review of Phish Greatest Bits 2009, starting with those four examples I mentioned to my grumpy ol' pal. Take a listen; comments welcome. My next piece will be a "Most Popular Letters of the Alphabet"-ical rundown of Best Versions of Songs from last year (at least as many as jump off the top of my head: in progress).

In the meantime, though, dig the sound of the just-crashed wake, bearing a promise of oncoming surf. And again, I mean it...comments welcome!

11/18/09 "46 Days" jam: The first day of Fall Tour had this not-incredibly-jammable (-seeming) tune hauled out near the end of the first set. In Hoodstream.com chat, there were banal e-groans from those present, regarding the song choice. However, as we squinted with our ears to the grungy stream, no video to be seen, when the verses ended, something
happened, and it went a little something like this... The jam's a little pokey, perhaps, but spacey enough that, by the end of the song (which just floats in like nebular fog), some celestial transportation has surely occurred. Also, check out this Chris Kuroda "WTF"-style light show during the "46 Days" jam, as an example of how CK5's influence as "5th Phish" may indeed effect overall improvisational outcomes, and vicey-versey...)

12/29/09 "Tweezer" jam: I was working the table the first two nights of the Miami run, taking turns jogging in and out of the stands to catch bits of the show, on rotation with my other sober phellows. When the Tweezer began, we were kind of "meh." But again, when the main element had fired, and we stopped paying attention, soon, someone stood blinking and said, "Are you hearing what's happening in there...?"

(later that set) 12/29/09 "Gotta Jibboo > Wilson > Gotta Jibboo"
: Okay, okay folks...this is just what we were used to back in the day, 50-minute "Tweezer"s and setlist gymnastics of the most consistently irie variety. Things have changed. But what slays me is how people seem to think a) they don't still have it in 'em, or b) Rome was fabricated of popsicle sticks on Jehovah's lunch break. Not at all perfect in execution, the cartoon anvil of the aforementioned segue (as you'll hear) hit the crowd like a sock full of pennies. Yes! Keep on keeping us guessing! Mush, mush, more!!


12/30/09 "Boogie On Reggae Woman > Run Like an Antelope" (or, as I'm fond of calling it, the "Boogie Antelope"): The pre-NYE barnburner of December 30, 2009 was so powerful, it contributed to my disappearing off the blogosphere for three months. The sheer magnitude of this last-blast of Phish brilliance for the year (no offense 12/31; you wuz aiight) knocked my flippin' flip-flops off; I was still wearing them, and South Beach sand, by the time I, err, "engineered" my way onto the floor, where I floated around for most of the show. Wearing green shorts and an orange Phish "Citrus" Miami t-shirt (bought at setbreak because my still-damp bathing suit + 1st set sweat soaked my first shirt), I planted myself messily down front in the Fish-Mike pocket, just in time for this bit of insanity to emerge. "Lost my shit" (audibly) kinda covers the sentiment in most of those in attendance...


02 May 2010

Phish 3D: A Glide Inside the Cubic Tube

I'd sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear
Don't you know little fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time I do, just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin
'Cause I've got you under my skin
-- Cole Porter, "Under My Skin"

It’s a good thing I was in Piscus interruptus between 11/01/09, and Friday night at Chelsea Cleaview Cinema in NYC. When the lights went down just after midnight, the show was brand new to my ears and eyes. FYI, Piscus interruptus is my invented description of delayed ingestion of some aspect of Phish, in whatever form, for whatever reason, whether their whole polyvalent orbit, or just the hearing of a certain show, or shows.

The term came to me while in that very Phish-frozen state, from January 2010 until a few weeks back, circumstances of which will be discussed in more depth my next post. But, as in this case, sometimes, I just don’t get around to bearing witness to some slice of Phish. Usually, though, there always ends up being some astounding cosmic obviousness for why it’s better off that way.

Phish 3D is another file-under in that category for me. I won’t attempt to pin down their motives in producing the film, itself and its subject matter the newest entry in their litany of ambitious live concert offerings. Though brief, it’s on par with the fullness of legendary 7-disc Clifford Ball DVD extravaganza, first for the novelty of The Glasses. Never have I felt such kinship with Trey as a fellow spectacle-clad nerd; I can't have anything in my eyes except my eyeballs, so contacts have always been a non-option, making 3D movies a precariously smudgy ordeal.

[Tremendous geek, ready to rock!]

The film is sensuously intimate, to say the least, though not particularly awash in emotional intimacy. How those seemingly related states sometimes don't quite intersect is one of the fascinating, enduring mysteries inherent in Phish. Phans are given equal witness to the internal mechanics of the Floating Rainbow Peanut, but, more importantly, the outer-dimensional expansions of the band’s faces, and a few entrancing (yet detached) backstage run-throughs. When the concert footage kicks in, it's fun time.

Energetic highlights of the film come early, perhaps guaranteeing energy compromise in its latter half. When "Tweezer" (perennial crowd-pleazer) began, the theatre became (unsurprisingly) thick with herbal smog, and dancing audience members filled the aisles, self included, at least until jam break.

Page and Fishman are again revealed as carnal firmament of Phish. Their left-and-right bracketed expressions suggest pressure molding in die-cuts of space, forming a perpetual vessel that contains its more volatile, arbitrary contents. This mélange becomes most thrilling to witness, as "Tweezer" gets more reformatted and ugly, then suddenly sprawling and gorgeous, 4th dimensional swerve, whilst riding a light-train into "Maze". (Weirdly and incidentally, as things Phish tend to happen, euphoric recall reminds me that "Cities" > "Maze" was a better aspect of mostly indistinct 08/05/09 Shoreline Amphitheatre…note to self, must revisit).

Onscreen, from behind my 3D glasses, terse, hyper-real, tumultuously grimaced Page soloing is tossed about by Trey’s aggressively narrow-eyed, abstract prodding, all seen as though sitting atop Page’s piano. Trey seems bent on extruding the angular maze, almost unnervingly so at times. One can only imagine kinesis in the band room, without cameras present… Again, as with Clifford Ball, I'm stunned at how very close we're getting, while remaining just-so-slightly impersonal, like tracing the metallic contours of Mike’s remarkably immobile facial features.

Soon, we’re onstage in visibly rippling, late Sunday morning Indio heat. My skin sizzles with nostalgia (not the good kind). But I’m then loudly amused at the plywood-esque brim of Fishman's cartoonish Phish baseball cap, a hilarious bit of nightmare haberdashery [see diagram]. It’s tricky to separate music of a concert film from the film itself, but the acoustic set ranks most visually and musically interesting portion of Phish 3D, much due to the Technicolor weirdness of phans, and secondarily to beautifully nuanced orchestrations of Phish in an “unplugged” format.

[Fishman and his Festival 8 Sunday morning doppelganger. Pic by C. Taylor Crothers, from phishfromtheroad's Flickr photoset.]

"The Curtain," stirring, magical, and played in stoic absorption, has not sounded as majestic, causing me to actually consider the novel concept of a 100% acoustic Phish show. I had to be careful here to mind the screen while iTyping, to not miss 3D snippets like crowd hippie sketchily painting the stage on a strangely-gessoed canvas, stippled in Martian-morning pink and white. (Some wisacre behind me quipped, “I bet it’s gonna turn out awesome.”) Better, there were more “note-to-self” phan nibbles, like a very impressive Phish lot shirt held aloft, designed like a "Twister" game board (white with big red, yellow, and blue dots), its song-name punchline emblazoned on the front: “Twist”! (That is, “Twister” in its original font, with the last two letters lopped off.) Ah, enduring artistic brilliance of phans is just a little of what keeps pulling me back in…

A rather awkward moment came in the unbidden segue of “Mike’s Junk” > "Train Song". This red-blooded American gal was shaken out of a growing theatrical contact high and well-reproduced, hot-ass desert sun, when the crane-cam, in upward drift, fixated itself momentarily on Mike Gordon’s (err) crotch, in spectacular depth. Maybe due to continuity, it was difficult to edit that part out...?

Anyway, though the remainder of the acoustic set bore testament to versatility, it began to betray increasingly unhelpful cinematic disarray. 

Things began to come loose in final sequences of Phish 3D. I’m not saying this due to my ostensible past bias surrounding the Halloween costume choice. Of all “Phish Does Exile on Main Street” highlights I would've chosen, the Rolling Stones staples “Loving Cup” (a version that could be termed “Best Cup Ever”), “Happy” (love, love, love Fishman's voice, and its otherworldly, comic sensuality!), and “Shine a Light,” are a darn good lot. But by then, the audience was palpably pummeled. Over-the top, soul-inflaming tension release shoots from the screen, which the 3D brain drain could not sustain. 

That Coachella Valley weekend – 90° dehydrating desert sun – was gorgeous yet challenging, definitely among Phish’s most endurance-testing venues ever (Camden notwithstanding, haw, haw). The movie’s eventual, questionable tolerability will not be blamed on that, the quality of music (which, while not among most legendary Phish, was certainly above-snuff), or thrilling, smartly documented, wild accoutrements of Festival 8. For me, less-than-wise placement of the film’s sequences end up its biggest downfall.

My re-imagining is as follows. Though not temporally realistic, it’s art, so I can do what I want (so, there!): 1) Exile backstage rehearsal footage (an initial, non-jarring first 3D taste), 2) the Exile sequence (an analogous, impressive display of the weekend’s “main event”), 3) the acoustic set (which, though muted, was surprisingly rich), 4) the 11/01/09 footage (the juicy Phish meat of the film), and 5) the "Suzy Greenberg" closer, with an absolute omission of the night’s envelope-pushing “Suzy" coda. In that order, Phish in its essence might have been preserved, and a “jump the shark” energy wane and muddling, non-Phish entities (both songs, and people) so late in the mix, avoided. A truly arresting sparrow’s-eye view -- as if perched on the end of Mike's bass headstock -- comes during the end credits, some serious 3D wow-factor gone wasted, in terms of the punchy angle they’re presumably going for.

Either way, during the throbbing finale of the Stones-skin, scorching superimposition, soul-tight impression of their musical past, I suddenly realized it was exactly 6 months to the moment it all went down, the morning of May 1, 2010. I smiled in spite of myself, simply because they're back, and I'm back, as ever inspired by it all, the lumpy and the smooth alike. I made it, despite incongruence and emotional dissonance. It (the movie) got made; it's here, we’re all here, and it’s okay. I survived! And so did the love.

The “Best Suzy Since Beacon Theatre 1994 with the Giant Country Horns" began, and I had just boarded the Ferris wheel in a melancholy, sun-poisoned funk. Now, having seen Phish 3D, I’m nowhere near as crusty, even with my constructively creative critiques, all among the magnificent pageantry of deep connection with this complex, oft ungraspable, always compelling band. Despite its flaws, the Good Lord (Buddha, of course :-) shined a light on me with this flick. At Chelsea Clearview, half-an-hour from home, I got delayed gratification from all I abandoned 3,000 miles away at Festival 8, weeping on the tarmac, reading the acoustic setlist in real-time on Twitter just after Noon, sitting on a flight out of Palm Springs a day early, to nurse my terrific outbreak of polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) in NYC.

In much less physically compromising circumstances, I was ridiculously early, "the dork" at the front of the line, demanding another free glossy poster (the top one had fingerprints all over it!), howling aloud, chair dancing and gesticulating to Maze, fully recovered from some rather profound side-effects of my relationship to this quizzical musical entity. And so it goes. There are many full circles, rearranging globs, shifting spheres, rainbow peanuts, and more Technicolor dimensions yet to come.

13 January 2010

Fish On

The Buddhist Fish Symbol

In Japan, the fish means well-being, happiness and freedom. It is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols used in Buddhism imported from China. The fish symbolises living in a state of fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, and migrating from place to place freely and spontaneously.

09 January 2010

"And Rise into the Light..."

If you're reading this, I've got to thank you for doing so, especially if it's not your first time here. However, I've come here today to tell you I've made a decision to shut down Wading in the Velvet C. indefinitely. It may not be forever, but I can't say right now. I appreciate the attention and encouragement I've received from returning readers, especially ones culled from recent endorsement by YEMblog. Without going into too much detail, I need to cultivate significant detachment from this project, for the sake of my serenity and sobriety.

I invite you to enjoy the archives in the next few days. Soon, though, I'll be password-protecting the blog. To create psychological distance, I need to make it unavailable for public consumption, reduce the temptation to write in it, and urge myself to explore other creative avenues.

NB: This development brings nothing to bear on my feelings for Phish. It has more to do with my own personal standards and goals than the band and its music. 2009 was one of the most amazing years of my life, with Phish a prime element of joy. This blog has been a major part of my journey, in creativity and sober recovery, as influenced and enriched by Phish. But that journey is now diverting. The timing is right.

I'll be back on the train when Phish returns this summer. A road this long may take its turns, but does not simply end. Until then, I bid you a Happy New Year. Thanks for reading. And I'll close with lyrics I find apropos... 

Phish -- "Gone"

Running from yourself
Come back from the dead
All those sleepless nights
All that pain
I'm sorry you're gone
But you're gone.

When hope is nearly lost
You'll finally do what's right
Stop bleeding from your head anymore
The devil has you down
So turn around
And rise into the light

Running from yourself
(Spinning got you here)
Come back from the dead
(And there's no sun left in your eyes)
All those sleepless nights
All that pain
(You looked right through me)
I'm sorry you're gone
But you're gone
(Left alone sleeping)

When hope is nearly lost
(Gave with all your strength)
You'll finally do what's right
(Spoke with your eyes closed)
Stop bleeding from your head anymore
(I saw you dreaming like a child)
The devil has you down
(Cross the river with your friends)
So turn around
And rise into the light.

-- Party Time, 2009

05 January 2010

The Last Splash: New Year's Run 2009, Part I - A Whole Lotta Dub

Miami! Weirdness, shock, awe and upheaval all coalesced into a voyage to the low Lower 48. I was scooped by random, perfectly-matched Craigslist Phishheads from MA in Northernmost Manhattan, at 12:30PM Sunday, 12/27/09. On the GW Bridge, we chanted the mantra: “Follow the lines going South!” Riding shotgun, I played iPhone Indiana Jones, bushwacking zany detours through maddening traffic from NYC to Arlington. Onward, into late night, though, it was smooth sailing; three gas stops and one gas FAIL around Jacksonville (thankfully right into Triple-A’s lovin' arms), we made it to my crash pad at Chez Haps North of Miami, at 11AM Monday.

[iPhone GPS screenshot taken while checking my status cruising through GA, listening to the high-octane Red Rocks '09 Jibboo. I gotta.]

I was exhausted, on fumes of a 9-hour heavy rotation between Charleston and Jacksonville, on our 24-hour drive. It’s jet fuel I'd gladly sip from a Swarovski flute, again and again.

Miami 2009 possessed an almost overwhelming tenor of huge import, and “Eff it!” catharsis. Commitments, travel and excitement building to Night 1 were considerable, so claims of crowd energy being weak make some sense. The band seemed to express an unspoken, satisfied closure to everything leading to the four pivotal nights. It was emotional road rescue for Phishheads, ending a quite literally epic decade that hearkened to the beginning of Hiatus on 10/7/00, 2003’s Phish 2.0 iteration (and their last NYE stand in Miami, smooched with a touch of P-Funk), and the inevitable travesty of Phish 2.5 in 2004. It is the period at the end of a ten year sentence of growth, graduations, relationships, breakups, marriages, divorces, moves, additions, changes, losses, piety and sin, debauchery, and sobriety. 

It is the cherry atop the first dollop of Phish 3.0. Phish is the baleen of 20th century musical consciousness, now siphoning the water of their 21st century existential experience. Whatever I, or anyone else, had to say about This Year in Phishtory -- good, bad, indifferent, obnoxious, incoherent, together, we've seen it all -- in no small estimation, it’s been a f***ing triumph. No other band swept a decade, redefining improvised rock 'n' roll, sparking a movement, achieving record-setting numbers of shows played and audiences beckoned, and wrapping the previous decade with another Floridian gala, record-shattering, century-closing Big Cypress Festival.

[Gone Phishin'! "Woods 'n Water" magazine of Perry, FL, in some gas station near Jacksonville.] 

The run-up to Miami ’09 was strange. Since the reunion, I’ve chosen to dedicate a lot of mental and emotional energy to Phish. I wonder constantly if being this involved can be “casual.” Thus, I spend equal amounts of time trying to not think about Phish. They’re quite a compelling operation, and there’s no other time it becomes more obvious than when TOUR rolls around.

[That hair-raising first approach to the venue.]

I talk a lot about V-T00R, the act of “following” Phish, without leaving one’s house, state, or otherwise comfy zone. But TOUR is different. TOUR is the Gauntlet, a pitched battle against time, space, speed, stillness, light, dark, fuel, emptiness, trust, doubt, sanity and insanity. It scared the hell outta me for a long time. Looking back, the fear was a healthy one. But now, I’m fortified, protected, and equipped…Before I left NYC, for a minute I realized I was going to see Phish again, but had no clue whatsoever where I was going. 12/31/09 was my 18th show this year, and now, having made the trip to Florida, I’ve seen Phish in all four corners of the Lower 48. That’s…something.

I went off during setbreak to someone about the analogy of tour to ancient mystical rituals of shamans and nomadic tribes...

“This age of computers and fast cars and ideas of 'success' – houses, money, jobs, mortgages, etc. – doesn’t have room for ancient rituals and routines of worship and devotion from thousands of years ago,” I ranted.

“Back in the day, nomadic devotees would suit up on yaks or asses, and wander incomprehensible miles in pilgrimage, hiking over frozen mountains to oracles, or seeking teachings of renowned masters. Mystic Knowledge didn’t come without effort, and the faithful sought it. But this age wants fashionable spirituality delivered fast with everything else.” My captive audience writhed...

“Yeah, they’re not gods or anything. Wise elders, maybe…or, uhh…channels! They’re channels, vessels, conduits of something bigger. When they hit it, they’re conduits. They catch it, the Big Holy Force or whatever…” I made a manic gesture of a vertical descending from above, and a horizontal shooting forward from my chest at a right angle… “pours out of them, into us!”

[The vessels' vessel. CK5's pre-show lightcheck, American Airlines Arena, 12/28/09.]

I deigned to board a vehicle with two unknown individuals for a day of driving, stayed a night in the backseat of a car, then three more days in a house without hot water, sacrificed two shows for two nights behind a table as a (blessed) sober person at a Phish show, to help others who wanted to do the same...or, to simply give candy to strangers. It was the best week of my life. I do feel closer to The Elders, the Big Holy Force, and whatever, as made manifest by Phish. And if you think about it, Phish are not gods, but seekers themselves; we all just get to bear witness to the Force acting (quite beautifully) upon and through them. If that’s crazy, here’s my freshly dry-cleaned straight-jacket: slap it on me, pack me on my yak, and let me ride.

[Woo-hoo, fun in the sun!] 

It was difficult to post to the blog during the week. Before Christmas, I had a spiritual experience that encouraged me to live my love for Phish from a neutral place I’m calling the No Space, where subjective perception of thought, feeling and desire, all vanish within the experience of Sharing in the Groove. It sounds cliché, but it was life-altering. So, living and writing about that shizzle, in that way, is difficult!

What's more, it's hard to write about it on an iPhone, or standing behind a table for two nights, bolting in and out the venue, dancing, returning, sleeping, showering, meeting and greeting, talking eating and recovering, all nearly to the point of tears. How to pin it all down, when sand is shifting, “Zzzzz”s escaping, batteries dying, water not freezing but not warm either, and every note, as it happens, a process of electromagnetism sparking axons, until the house lights dim…?


Monday, 12/28/2009 
American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

Set I: Sample in a Jar, NICU > My Soul, Roggae, Undermind, Bouncing Around the Room, Poor Heart, Stash, I Didn't Know, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum

Set II: Mike's Song > Light -> I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Alaska, Backwards Down the Number Line, Makisupa Policeman > Harry Hood > Contact > Character Zero

E: First Tube

["A slipper, a sand dollar, day at the shore..."]

My stomach flipped when with the stage-and-scene-setting chimes of "Sample in a Jar" rang out, then bounced from hard rock, charging right into the rousing ska embrace of "NICU"…if I spent all my time really describing the sensuous contours of my Phish experience as my ultra-sensitive faculties perceive them, I’d miss them!

Re-listening to 12/28/09, the band’s care in greatly enhancing the show with subtle sonic nuances is impressive. Trey's impassioned howls in "My Soul” are not mere additions; they’re grown into the song. Having a "good-enough" grasp on a song's emotional context (i.e. Phish 1.0), and having truly lived it (i.e. Phish 3.0), can be heard in Phish's current take on "My Soul." It’s a gospel testimonial proudly shouted from the past into the present, and the result is real, in-the-moment fervor.

Other minute additions highlight the narrative poetry of the show (say, a little tremulous bass vibrato in dreamy "Roggae"). In contrast to the Charlottesville Fall Tour closer, Miami 1 was a seeming statement that, at least for the moment, Phish is settling into exploration and navigation of their history, with concentration and authenticity. Having run a marathon in 2009, from primal soup to progressive nuts, it was the great flail across the finish line. Laughing, panting and firing on all cylinders, they carried serious, humorous, simple, complex, rhythmic, atonal, and everything in-between, down the lines going South. And the barely-audible sounds of wheels, clattering rails, jets, and camel walks elevated, as loyal hoards spirited towards the Nexus of Power.

Miami 1 was the first poetic peak of the run, followed by the lyrical high-point of Miami 3 on 12/30/09. It was a verbose show, many of Phish’s best present and past tunes exhibiting harmonic grace. Not to be ignored alongside juicy jams and raucous riffing, "Unrelenting, understroked, undeterred yet unprovoked…" (from “Undermind,” the title track of the 2004 album) remind me why it's a rare entity that can make my synapses throb while my backbone slips, not to mention move me 12,000 miles in a year, border to border, coast to coast, keeping me drooling and counting fingers and toes till the days and nights bring the next lights-down. 

In mid-"Stash" jam, I'm jolted: this isn't skillful but occasionally dizzying Grateful Dead, nor is it a "weaksauce" jamband, to quote my slightly antagonistic friend Jeff's harsh assessment of Phish, after the recent MSG 2 show (my pick for MSG best-of-run). Drums are immediate and forceful, and bass lines fleet, blustery gusts. Rhythmic thrust alone packs collective power beyond most improv rock, saying nothing of verse, melody, and charismatic personality.

Speaking of which, hot pursuit and curdling fleas aside, a particularly punchy "I Didn't Know" follows, embedded in which is the portentous "Final Vacuum Solo of the Aughts," prompting @mudgebug on Twitter to post, "ok, this is where it gets weird. having to explain to my non #phish friends why the drummer is playing the vacuum"…

High drama was in full effect all week, as Phish locked into their most intimate, straight-faced, self-lampooning tomfoolery. As Fishman unleashed airy, near-mournful ceremonial whispering, the vac-jam intro nonsense was framed by a few notes of side-splitting, pokerfaced, straight 4/4 jazz bass and piano, eventually leading to the customary breakdown, where the wheezing became more upbeat, even festive. However, when the other three attempted to launch back into the final verse, Fishman plowed onward with his tragicomic hissing, irrepressibly holding court, until guttural squonks boomed into otherworldly, Tibetan long horn depths. Contrast this:

...with this:


See my point? (No? Keep coming back.) I've pretty much seen and heard it all from bands that jam -- electrified to ambient, ethereal to energetic -- but the vac-jam is why few bands have come anywhere close to Phish. They started it all, they still do it the best, and, for me, they're the only ones left tugging the strings after almost 20 years. For better (soul exhilaration), or worse (nervous breakdowns), my personal dedication is stronger than ever.

I waited until now to bring it up, but asking for two vacation days to head down to Miami was the tipping-point of affairs with my ex-boss, and had much to do with my eventual termination. I'd taken two days off for Festival 8 (not to mention a sick day to allow my desert-scorched skin to heal). The days were mine for the taking by policy, but since nothing I did seemed to be good enough for my boss anyway, I felt awkward about the request: both entitled, and idiotic.

Settling for the 30th and 31st was a huge stretch for me. But I'd take it, to participate however possible in a life of renewed creative, musical and poetic journeys, while grasping at a tether of “normality.” However, some roads almost seem to know when to end, and, itself a poetic twist of fate, the axe hit my neck as I screeched out the door to the first night of Phish's return to Madison Square Garden on 12/2/09. I didn't have to compromise, for MSG, or for Miami. I was free, and home, at last.

Miami 1 Set II might heretofore be known as "Mikeami Nice" -- Cactus goulash, feast for the air, plucky, chattery slaps gorging even the Gordo faithful right from the "Mike's Song" opening, into a sweet (i.e. delightful) segue into "Light." What seemed more evident over the next 20 minutes was that Phish was in town to rip their old selves to shreds by practically turning themselves inside out with heedless abandon, bells ringing in brazen sync, coming into the "Weekapaug Groove" jam, and bursting forth freshness, outright yelling lyrics of the seductive "Weekapaug" refrain with brash exuberance.

[Purple passion.]

"Alaska" followed, and, to briefly assume a dreaded year-end-list vibe, the tale of Aleutian romance is among my Top 3 favorite new Phish tunes, with its cool, snappy vamp and hilariously droll lyrics. To court controversy (why not?), the blatantly omitted opus, "Time Turns Elastic," is my favorite new Phish tune. SO THERE! Sure…I'll be first to agree maybe Phish hasn't (and maybe never will) find room for TTE’s epic tale of temporal transformation, among their live show rotation, without eliciting wretched sighs of agitation from the audience. But, I’ll budge not, ‘nuff said! (FYI: the 3rd is “Twenty Years Later,” with “Gone” from Party Time a runner up…it made a perfect “Tela” chaser a couple nights later.)

The fresh poppy rock of "Backwards Down the Number Line" unveils the high-par sound quality of AA Arena, as well as the pretty incredible Live Phish mix. Mike's tone in Miami is appealing to the pick-plucking bassist in me; warmth blended with bite puts him further up in the mix, for all you Trey-oglers out there (you know who you are). "Silent but lively" is my motto for Cactus in the Miami ’09 run. His face may be inscrutable, but in a forest of Phish, bass is groundwater gurgling below the earth, while drums are the woodpecker, and guitar and keys the sunlight and trees, respectively.

On the wings of a robust morning, Trey and Page joyously call out to their friends in "BDTNL," and we are soon called to lively up ourselves for an irie afternoon with the "Makisupa Policeman". Entranced in the moment, it seems, by love for, and virtuosity of, his compadres, Trey sends up his low end-brethren, kicking into high-gear a full-on Gordo-smorgasbord: "Woke up this morning, did just what I like…spent a whole two minutes listenin' to nobody but Mike!"

[Mikey catch a fire; blurry but necessary. ]

Fishman hits four snare salutes and Mike digs in for a solo, first surveying surface texture and establishing footing with characteristically calm neutrality. Phish is dressed in suits of fine japery; a "no-ham alert" warning is heard... "Two minutes!" That's when Mike’s half-steps get higher, and more mischief is introduced. Trey further big-ups his brethren with a chant, "Mike! Mike! Mike!" that sends the whole arena toppling into a Mikeysupa Lovefest.

Well-appreciated in his own right as Phish front-of-stage co-pwner [sic], it is delicious hearing thousands of phans old and new in swelling vocal celebration of recently-crowned "Prince" (cf. the bass domination in "Meat" from 11/29/09 Cumberland County Civic Center, ME). With melodic accents, the chant becomes mellifluous, and the crowd loudly follows suit. Self-effacement begins to tinge the well-sussed Caribbean roots the Prince lays down with wry humility, then trills of gratitude and abashment. Finally, there’s just silence, as Mike lets the voices chanting his name become him in the jam.

With a deep breath exhaled into what could be palpably suppressed hilarity, they drop back into "Makisupa." Phish work best together when they decline to take themselves at all seriously, except as a toughly-united corps of constantly transmogrifying musicians. The post-bass jam is a deep, clearwater dub-dive. Colorful creatures float by, curiously eyeballing four odd-looking gents swimming past, pulsating with muted mutant delay-laden sounds and alternating lyrics -- "Policeman, Kingston, house, Kingston,” and naturally, eventually, "Policeman came to Mike's House…" The audience stands ashore, skanking, shouting, and gasping in waves of glee.

Not to belabor the point, but clocking in at a not-at-all-conservative 8:49, this is probably one of the most tonally expert dub versions of "Makisupa Policeman" in recent memory. Relaxation, innovation, synchronization and jubilation all unrolled in equal measure, serious riddim is cast out and reeled in, trailing clumps of hooked and wriggling phans with every pull and change of phase. Crisp piano, wah'd-out clav, a synth "elevation" (as I like to call 'em, cf. mid-"Time Turns Elastic"), guitar trickles, buzz, and some wild delay-looped seagull-type calls, spacious hollowness in toms, loose snare and rim shots, the odd well-placed cymbal clang, and, of course, bass sliding from straight-ahead tone, to enveloped karate chops and gurgling buzz…

The version finally flattens out for  a minute into a drone, and when another tom-roll readies us for more hypnotics, a fakeout is expertly executed, and the band drops without notice into "Harry Hood." I was flummoxed. Coming out of a mind-altering dub into the malevolent reggae trudge of "Hood" was jarring, but so refreshing in that “Oh no they didn’t!” way.

Perhaps addled by their own indulgence, they reel around in the intro with effects, but by the song's title chant, composure is restored from a glut of psychedelic tumbling. Fresh perspectives abound with an even cursory listen to Set II of 12/28/09. When Phish allow themselves to go deep into individual or collective "happy places," especially in a genre-specific way (i.e. "Makisupa” dub), upon reemerging into semi-orderliness, the "wildness" of their "eclectic” stylings suddenly make sense.

Up for air from irie fathoms, "Hood" post-intro traipses into eardrums; rhapsodic, upbeat pastoral Americana evolved to Allmans Brothers' "Ramblin' Man", lightly schmeared with Carib-jazz, and perhaps the slightest whisper of Afro-Beat. The real genius of it all is that (at least in my imagining) the deliberation involved in mashing it together is probably tantamount to taking a nap and dreaming. Harassed by a jarring funk-metal-opera groan, then serenaded by sweet harmony, the listener is punted softly into a mellower-than-average “Hood” jam that becomes absolutely aeronautic.

Beautifully and busily intertwined, prehensile strumming between bass and guitar, swaying, entrancing interplay of undulating rhythm, it drifts after takeoff, then rises above the clouds, twinkling in clear space with prismatic sunlight fading to the horizon. Then, it winds and blossoms in all directions, like lights from the city in a foreign land descending from above in a night-time landing, the startle of wheels on Tarmac a hot, gratifying, fluttery crescendo.

At the end of “Hood” they go deep again, and shape-shift into an alien landscape, wheat-strewn plains morph to Martian slopes; synth and bass sustain, mechanically modulated guitar ricochets, endless clutter of drum rolls…oh my! But we actually roll around the bend of another chapter with “Contact,” old-school fave comprised of lazy cha-cha turned bendy funk; mutant maudlin vaudeville piano turned wacked-out synth-laser clav, and tandem band-audience arm-waving homage to automobiles…

["Yes they am..." Pic by Dave Vann.] 

"Contact" is followed by a loud, set-wrapping arena-rock incantation to oneself about life lessons in visiting some dude named "Mulcahy" (“Character Zero”), and capped with the “first” of two Phish songs featuring the word "Tube" – this one a broad, wordless, persecutory and practically thermonuclear edition of the disco-prog fugue.

Working the sober-phreak table during the show, dipping back and forth into the arena over the night, I felt the pre-pre-party crowd start to simmer, and indeed, things ended on a high note. Pummeled even by a truncated show experience (and more likely the still-punishing aftereffects of the endless drive…after all, we’d only crashed ashore that morning), an asymmetrical arena coughed us all out into a sea of wandering phreaks, smoking makeshift hearths, hissing tanks, bursting balloons, “Jerry Rolls,” hempy collars, homemade stickers, perplexing, riotously celebratory t-shirts, and a slowly fattening moon over Miami...

[Mike de Lune...Phish video on the giganto-screen outside of American Airlines Arena.]