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.


Anonymous said...


Dr. Pauly said...

Enjoyed your review!

Carol Wade said...

Thanks for the support, mang; keep it comin'!

Jamie Sweet said...

Sorry to hear about the PMLE, you really did miss a helluva third day. However, you only get one body, best to respect it's wishes.

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