Phish: Still My Friend, My Friend?

A running diary of a morning spent listening to Phish’s 12-30-12 show at Madison Square Garden

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rogell-8This week I learned that 2013 is the 30th anniversary of Phish. I was only surprised for a moment though, largely because I hadn’t put much thought into Phish in a while and also because it was then easy to remember that yes sir, Phish had been around for a while and I guess more specifically, had been around for thirty years. Thirty years since they started out in at basement party in the wilds and green mountains of Vermont. That’s impressive.

You can say a lot about Phish; forming an opinion that sits on either side of the aisle, because with Phish, all opinions are on either one side or the other, never both- but you can’t knock their longevity. Thirty years is a long time for anything, especially for a band to be a band. How many bands around today can even touch that mark? The Rolling Stones of course. Plus U2, Metallica and…and…hmmm…I don’t count the Who. Once half your band is dead and you’re not playing anything new then it doesn’t count. You’re a tribute act of a band, not the band anymore. Bruce Springsteen has been going at it for over thirty years, but not with the E Street Band the whole time. Bands like Green Day and Pearl Jam didn’t start until the early nineties, so they have a way to go. So long story short, when it comes to bands still playing today after thirty years, it’s not a very long list.

With Phish now on my mind again and my interest peaked- an interest that was more exploratory and rooted in nostalgia than it was rooted in recapturing any lost magic or sparking a strong renewed interest, I wanted to see what I had been missing. I hadn’t listened to Phish in years, not really since seeing them in 2004 at the Tweeter Center outside of Boston- one of their last shows before their first hiatus or quasi-break up or whatever you want to call it. The show was a different experience for me, but an experience none the less. Nostalgia made it more fun that it really was and since then, Phish was a band I used to listen to as opposed to being a band I did listen to. In the years that have followed, they’ve gotten back together, done solo shows and tours, maybe broken up again, released an album, Joy, and have simultaneously re-energized long time fans and brought new fans into the mix. Having decided to see what they’ve been up to and give something a listen, I needed to figure out what exactly that something would be.

In need of expect advice I turned to my buddy Kenny, who was the one who really got me into Phish back in the day and is still a hardcore fan of the band’s. His recommendation was a live show of course, 12-30-12, one of their shows during their 2012 New Year’s run at Madison Square Garden, a tradition for the band.

So let’s do this and let’s take notes…

Set 1

“Runaway Jim”
I start tapping my foot right away. It’s hard not too.
I notice the crowd is singing along, especially when it comes to the chorus. I always felt that consciously or not, Phish wrote songs with a crowd in mind; including sing-a-longs, call and responses and interactive parts to their songs that became highlights of their live show. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Phish doesn’t sound the same on their albums. Their sound requires teamwork, something that only happens in concert.
Megan Draper– her hotness is always in question for me. Not her attractiveness. That’s a given. But whether or not she’s hot or not- I can never decide.

“Cities”
I had to look which album this was on- it’s Slip, Stitch & Pass, a live album they released in 1997, highlighting songs recorded during a European tour. Always loved the album cover; thought it was one of the band’s best.
The crowd is really singing along with this one.
That’s right, it’s a Talking Heads’ cover. This song has a great groove. Definitely included it on more than one mix tape back in the day. Related, and not to brag, but I made some pretty wonderful mix tapes way back when. Mix CD’s just aren’t the same. Mix tapes was all about commitment and catered to our natural aversion to fast forwarding tapes. CD’s made skipping ahead too easy. Same with playlists. Mix tapes had a narrative thread and it was able to be undisturbed and digested properly. Kids today just don’t know what their missing.

“Divided Sky”
One of the mythology tracks- one of the songs you had to listen to if you were going to become a Phish fan.
Spacey jams- kind of weird to listen to at work. Feels like I should turn the lights off, light some incense and lie on the floor- none of which would be acceptable. Not at all. Not even sure that’d be acceptable at home at this point in my life.
The middle point of this tune is so smooth. It’s like peanut butter. Not crunchy of course.
There is a familiarity to Phish jams; the guitar sound, the vamping of the grand piano, the climactic builds, Jon Fishman’s acrobatic drumming. The jams are always different, but they always feel vaguely familiar- a tricky thing to pull off. I suppose it’s one of the things that have helped Phish stay around for so long and is a sneaky way for a band to evolve their sound. Keep it in your wheelhouse, modified slightly. Sneaky Phish.
The build in “Divided Sky” has a triumphant feel. We’re all winning because we’re here- that kind of thing.

“Back on the Train”
Oh yeah, I remember this song. It’s off one of the band’s most accessible albums, Farmhouse.
More crowd signing- almost every word. I don’t remember that being such a thing at Phish shows. Although to be fair, I don’t remember much from Phish shows.
This song reminds me of Big Cypress, the big Millennium shows in Florida. Quotes like the Infiniti is dead ring through my head. Didn’t they play this at or around midnight? (they didn’t, I checked)
This song has one of my favorite kind of Phish jams, the definitive and unwavering groove jam. Not much changes, but it’s still interesting. No spacey parts. I was never big on the spacey parts. I think it’s the drummer in me. Spacey jams always led to me thinking about life, which isn’t something you necessarily want to do at a Phish show.

“Ride Captain Ride”
This is a cover. I don’t know by who. I’ll pass on this. I’m sure it was fun then, but now- now I’m good.

“Ocelot”
Had to look this up- it’s a newer song, off of Joy.
It’s a nice enough song, with a good groove to it; an easy groove.
The chorus contains a refrain- won’t you come out and play. Where the hell is that from? It’s from something. (Googled it- it’s from “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles.)
I’d be lost without Google. Don’t tell them I said that, though. I want our relationship to be amicable.

“Ya Mar”
Fun song, but for me it hasn’t aged well. Pass.

“Horn”
Dude, Rift was such a cool album. And again, great album cover.
More singing from the crowd- very confused by this as I swear, I don’t remember the crowd singing being so prominent whenever I saw Phish. I once again reached out to Kenny, trying to find out if this was a new thing or something I had just forgotten about. Kenny replied with one word: newbies. Case closed.
“Horn” has a great opening guitar rift. One of Phish’s big rock songs. Always a big fun of the big rock songs. Especially live.
Short, but sweet.

“My Friend, My Friend”
Parts of this song are fun, but the intro was boring. Song gets much better when it picks up halfway through.

“Run Like an Antelope”
Always loved this song, especially live. And yes, like “Cities,” definitely a tune that was on one or seven mix tapes.
Love when it picks up around the three minute mark and then breaks into a sweet groove at the seven minute mark.
I remember this song at Big Cypress and getting on Chimp’s shoulders. Being short sucks when it comes to finding pants that fit, being on the floor at concerts and playing basketball.

Set 2

“Down With Disease”
A message from Kenny: gets really dark, yet delightful.
Now it’s coming back to me- that wild joy and energy.
“Down With Disease” – just a true rock song. It’s like Brooklyn Summer Ale- just a true summer ale. No frills.
Ten minutes in- forgot it was still “Down With Disease.” That can happen. Guess I got distracted reading about last night’s NBA Finals game. Big time Spurs’ fan now. Big time.
Thirteen minutes in- is this the darkness Kenny was talking about? Things just got real spacey and ambient- never a favorite trait of mine when it comes to certain Phish jams.
And then! And I remember this, the deep groove coming out of space. Always one of my favorite things about any jam band’s jam, but especially Phish. Moe always did this good too. Maybe I should check out Moe next? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That new Queens of the Stone Age is just begging to be played again.

“Twenty Years Later”
Another tune off of Joy. Was that album any good?
Can’t say I’m a big fan of this song. Yeah, pass.

“Carini”
One of my favorite rockers. It’s such a simple song but such a fun song.
Man, Kate Upton is effin’ hot. I wonder what she thinks of Phish. I can’t see her being a fan. Although I bet Bar Refaeli is.
Love the guitar riff in “Carini.”
Did I ever see “Carini” live? Probably. Either way, great live tune. Just something about the tempo.
I remember Dad hearing this song- Carini had a lumpy head. “What the hell are you listening to?” he asked. I don’t remember my response, but I bet it failed to change his opinion on the song.
Six and a half minutes in- is this the darkness Kenny was talking about? Things kind of took a turn. Yup, it’s the darkness.
Gotta think there’s some crazy lights at this point.

“Backwards Down the Number Line”
Another new song, a song off of Joy. Upbeat & sunny.
It’s listed as a single on Wikipedia, meaning this is the song college radio stations were to play.

“Julius”
Yes sir, bringing it back to High School with this one. Dancing around the basement to Hoist before I discovered bootlegs and was told that you really don’t listen to Hoist if you’re a true fan.
This is one of the songs I’d play for someone not familiar with Phish, something to introduce them to it. It’s just a good, fun song.
The upbeat songs make tough jam songs, though. They get kind of stale if the tempo doesn’t change; less wiggle room. If anything, they’re just better live and more specifically, when you’re there. I don’t feel they translate well to recordings.

Slave to the Traffic Light
Another song from the band’s mythology.
This was one of the first songs they ever recorded so it’s crazy to think how many times they’ve played it live (and according to Phish Net, they’ve done so 197 times, which by my count is a frickin’ lot.)
Never one of my favorite songs. I respect it more than I like it.

Encore

“Harry Hood”
Still got it.
Always enjoyed this song and I’m pretty sure I saw it live at least one or two times.
Glowstick War! I just remembered that. Wars involving glowsticks and cup cakes are really the only two wars I can get behind.

“Show of Life”
I guess this was a Trey solo song. Never heard it before.
It’s a nice little closer.

Well, with that over, I honestly think I’m good with Phish. It’s no a total quit job, just more of an acknowledgement and acceptance with how our relationship has evolved over the years.

Now I’m not going to lie, I checked their summer dates while listening to this. And I saw that they’re playing close to home in July and I told Kenny to give me a holler if he’s going. But that’s really the extent of it. I respect Phish as a band and the role they played in my musical development. But I think (and like it is with most things) the past is the past and you can’t back track. It all comes back to my Don Draper allegiance- life is about moving forward.

And for me, moving forward means the old school hip hop channel on Pandora.

Thanks for the memories, though.

Photos:
Live shot: from YouTube
Trey Photo: Chad Batka,
New York Times

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