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.