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!


Mars said...

thanks for the next installment, V-TOOR for you then?

Carol Wade said...


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