Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Favorite Jam

I wrote this piece for the Surrender to the Flow project, My Favorite Jam Ever. If you enjoy this, you should check out the entire book here for a steal of a price at $5.55!

You Enjoy Myself - 6/11/94
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, Colorado

The important thing to remember is that favorite does not always equal best.
When one has a favorite version of a song, or a movie, or book it's the indication that
whatever it is resonates with you in a method that sticks with you. It gets into your bones. If you have a favorite version of a Phish jam it means that you know and can sing along with Trey's guitar. You know when Mike is going to hit his bombs. You can anticipate every Fishman fill, and every Page solo. I have a multitude of jams that make me feel that level of appreciation and that are intrinsically linked to my fandom, but the one that stands above all others is the June 11, 1994 You Enjoy Myself.

When I was a fledgling fan, I found a version of this jam on momadance.com and I believe it was the first version of YEM that I heard. There was no spreadsheet and I
didn't know what B&P meant. Phishtracks didn't exist at that time. So I downloaded
what I could and listened to everything I could. Immediately, I was taken with this
version of YEM, which I knew at the time was the "big" Phish song. Mike was coming
through so strong in the whole version and it was played with such focus and ferocity
that required full attention when listening to it. Every portion of the song is played the
way that I want it to be played. There are no major flubs. The sound of Trey's giggle
during Nirvana always brings a smile to my face. Trey's solo is one of the finest four to
five minutes of Phish that exist. The way it plays with dynamics and crescendos and
peaks and builds and peaks again and grows and expands is something that I honestly believe only Phish, a quartet in full control of their facilities and at the top of their game, can do. There's not much finer out there in music.

I don't really want to get into a note by note or second by second recap of the song itself. I'd rather you all find your joy in this masterful version. I think that we all as Phish fans are a little more attuned to the joys and elation of music: of how music can affect our moods and our psyches, and how music can elevate us to a higher plane and
hold us all in an emotional fugue. I mentioned that I found this version of YEM when I was the proverbial "newbie". This would have been back in 2000, so I've had this as my favorite jam for about fifteen years now. This song has been with me through my graduation from high school and my going off to college. It was played (multiple times!) on the twenty-nine hour drive down to Austin from upstate NY. It's been with me for new relationships and break-ups, and through personal tragedies and personal accomplishments. It's been my go-to for introducing new fans to Phish's music. It wasthere for me when I got married in 2013. I listened to the song when I was driving out the venue by myself for my wedding - it was what I wanted to hear; it was what I needed to hear. It's been with me in bad times and in good times. I have it on my phone so that it's always with me when I want to listen to it. It was on my marathon playlist, synched with the Austin Marathon hills so that I had the jam when I needed it to push me onwards. It's always been in my pocket.

Occasionally, I have random portions of this specific jam in my head and my step 
seems to develop a little bit more spring in it. The sun seems to shine a bit brighter and the sky seems to be a bit bluer. Everything becomes clearer and I can see the direction 
that I need to take. I don't know what more I could ask for from a song. I've been grateful to have it in my life.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Phish Hall of Fame Results

See the results from the Phish Jam Hall of Fame on www.phish.net who were gracious enough to let me post the results there to generate a larger audience: 


Pretty fun overall. Not sure I agree with the Tahoe Tweezer getting the most overall votes but I can't say I'm truly surprised. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Phish Hall of Fame

So there was a very fun Twitter thread today about Phish jams (as there tends to be on most days) where people were talking about the best jams of 3.0. This got me thinking about if there was a Phish Hall of Fame what the first ballot jams would be?  Baseball has a 75% requirement for the election of players but, honestly, I don't think that using that high of a bar will allow for any songs to get in. I'm thinking we'll use 50% but we'll just have to wait and see. At least one jam needs to be entered but if you only want to nominate 5 then leave the rest blank. 

Here's the link: 

Link to Poll

If there's a good response to this then I'm thinking we'll close voting at the end of April maybe. Which means I get to spam the hell out of this for a while. Please share! The more people who fill this out will give much better results. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Choices We Make

Someone smarter than me once said that the choices we make define who we are. A quick googling doesn't provide its source but it does link to hundreds of derivatives of that idiom and it's clear that there are a whole lot of people that draw inspiration or solace or some other sort of consolation. Which is interesting to me, because it's inherently clear that we all make choices everyday, some large and some small, and the sum of those choices are what make up all of our day to day lives. 

I chose to be a Phish fan. Contrary to what some may say that feel that they have a divine connection with Trey as he solos on a particular version of Harry Hood, Phish did not choose me. I'm ok with this. I had to work hard to become a fan of this band. It was not a digital on/off switch. It was an analog dial. That went to eleven. And just because I may be at eleven now doesn't mean that I've always been there and I always will be there. When I first started listening to Phish, right around 2001, my friends who were fans told me to download (on Napster) Bathtub Gin, Free, Taste, and Down with Disease. I did so and I thought these songs were pretty cool. I had been listened pretty much exclusively to Pink Floyd for years at that point (yay adolescence!) so the cheery lyrics and upbeat tempos were a welcome change to my ears. Burned copies of Hampton Comes Alive came soon after that and I listened to those discs (especially disc 3) for a good long time. But that's when the choices began. I knew enough about myself at the tender age of 17 that this band could be a dangerous thing. An addictive and compulsory thing. I knew enough from wasting time on the internet that phish.net was out there and this band had played over 1000 concerts, and all of them were different!  I knew that these shows featured musical costumes occasionally including Dark Side of the Moon (?!?!). I knew enough about myself that if I really started listening to this band I would probably become hopelessly (hopefully?) addicted and they would probably become my personal favorite. After a good friend gave me a burned copy of Slip Stitch and Pass which I promptly wore out in the beginning of my senior year of high school I was ready to take the plunge (again with Pink Floyd being the prevailing theme, I loved those Careful With That Axe Eugene quotes). I remember where I was standing, in a record store Port St Lucie, Florida during the Winter break of my senior year in high school. I was playing in a basketball tournament in the Miami area and I had made my choice. I was going to buy my first Phish CD. 

Now I realize, that in retrospect, this seems kinda strange. Buying a Phish CD. But I was a wide-eyed doe and everything was new to me. I didn't know about the bootleg availability or B&P. And as an extremely broke high schooler, this seemed to be the way to make my fandom official. To make it real. Spending my money on this band. So I was presented with a choice. And it's a choice that I think was integral to me becoming a fan. The first set of Live Phish CDs were recently released and I went into this store ready to start this thing off correctly. Except, again, I didn't really know many songs or what show to pick.  This store I was at only had two selections LivePhish 03 and LivePhish 06.  Staring at the back of these two 3 CD sets I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed. 03 had listed jams in place. 06 had a lot more songs. I didn't know what ">" meant. I thought that it was a sign that the song didn't fit on the CD so it tapered off (which obviously is so beyond wrong it's laughable). I chose LP06 because Wipeout was on it and that seemed cool to me. I don't think I knew any other songs. But there were a lot of songs on that release. And that's what I was looking for; a collection to try to learn as much as I could. For whatever it's worth I did not look at where the shows took place. 03 was at Darien Center, NY and 06 in Worcester, MA. If I had seen that I probably would have chosen 03. Because I spent a lot of time at Darien Lake as a kid in that amusement park. Riding the Predator and the Viper roller coasters. If I saw that I know that I would have thought that was a cool bit of nostalgia and chose that release. But here's the kicker. I think that if I picked 03 to start I might not have became a Phish fan. LP03 has the great and long Suzy Greenberg -> Jam and the extended Drowned -> Jam -> Crosseyed which are amazing versions of those songs. But at that time I wasn't looking for breathtaking improvisation or Type 2 movements. I needed that awesome second set with the transitions through songs that are precise and fast. I needed the happy and loose Phish in my life. I needed that Weekapaug > Wipeout > Really weird Weekapaug that was like nothing I had ever heard before. That's what was amazing for me to listen to. That's what made my jaw drop. That's what really made me become a fan for life. Honestly, 30 minute straight improvisational jams might not have done it for me. It might have turned me off and made me just be a studio Phish fan. Who knows? I spun that CD almost non-stop in the Spring of 2002. And as I prepared to go off to college I began my collection and obsession with this band that hasn't abated in over 13 years. Friends have come and gone. I've moved around the country. I traveled over 1700 miles from my hometown to Austin, TX without knowing anyone that lived in the town I was moving into. But Phish was my constant. 

So the 11/27/98 show is an extremely important concert in Phish history for me. I'm bringing it up now because over the course of the past 2-3 years I've been listening to every Phish show. And some of those early years were a struggle but with the technology that we have now I felt like this was a good choice to make. I just finished Summer 98 and that was what I dove into first when it was released for free, one show at a time, on nugs.net. And Fall 98 is on deck. So this last month or so has been making me think of my beginnings as a fan and where my fandom is headed. To foster a guess, anyone who reads this is probably on Twitter. And if you're reading this on Twitter you've made the choice to devote at least a portion of your social profile to your Phish fandom. To me, being a fan of Phish (or to be honest, Umphrey's McGee, the Dead, any jam band really) isn't like being a fan of anything else. Because we all make choices to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to see concerts in persons. We pay untold amounts of money to try to see that next killer Tweezer or the Whipping Post bustout. We read, and follow, and rumor monger, and talk about this band constantly, yearningly trying to get that communal experience. We design envelopes for mail order. We put up with fluffers and trolls. It's great and I love it. And that's not going to change. What will, in both the short and long term, is my life. With a baby shortly on the way, my days of travelling all around the country to see these concerts is coming to an (ideally, brief) pause. My trips will be short. If Phish plays Austin you're all invited but beyond that, live concerts are going to diminish. That's a choice that I'm easily and comfortably making. But I will be on couch tour as much as I can, on twitter, on phish boards, in https://plug.dj/thephish/ and enjoying that experience to its fullest. For now that's good enough for me. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On Halloween 2014

Set two just ended and I wanted to jot down some quick words on it as it happened in real time.


So in other words, I liked it a lot.

Monday, June 16, 2014

12 Days in June

20 years ago this month, Phish were in the midst of a special time in the band’s history. And other blogs, essayists, and commentators are doing a great job of commemorating this special tour in retrospect. Others have even written books about it and its important role in the band’s history. So, that being noted, I don’t want this to divert into another recitation of tour highlights but regardless there are some important aspects of June 1994 to me that are topical that aren’t captured in show reviews. 

The title of this piece is 12 days in June. This isn't done in such a way to minimize the impact of the remainder of the month or the tour. It’s just that, to me, there is something magical that happened between 6/11 and 6/22 on the 1994 Summer tour. And for whatever reason, they had a major impact on my growth as a Phish fan. RJ (@rj_hfp) noted today that I should write something on my favorite Bowie (UIC 6/18) to celebrate its anniversary. I thought this was a good idea but the comment really made me start thinking. The 6/18/94 Bowie is my favorite Bowie. But why is that? I love other versions of Bowie too but the 6/18 version resonates with me. It’s one of those jams that I know every note to. I’ve probably listened to it hundreds of times over the years. 

One thing I know about those 12 days in June, I listened to many of those concerts for the first time very early into my fandom. When I got into Phish the LP series was being released and LP10 (6/22/94) was the second one that I purchased. No reason for that other than it had the most songs on it (by track listing) so I figured it would be a good way to get the most knowledge into the band (which in retrospect is probably not the best idea to learn about Phish). Red Rocks N2 (6/11/94) was one of the first shows I randomly downloaded. Same with 6/18/94. So those three shows (and in particular YEM, MLB->Bowie, and Mike’s from the 11th, 18th, and 22nd respectively) were always in my CD player. Technically strong, blazing speed, soaring guitars, picture perfect segues and segment changes. They helped define my loves as a fan and still have a major impact today. As a result, those versions of those songs became my standard bearer for what they could and should be. Sure the 12/29/94 Bowie, the 12/9/95 YEM, and 12/7/95 Mike’s are all awesome and demonstrate the band’s ability to push boundaries and improvise new musical structures but to me, they’re a half step below the intensity and the rage present in the June 1994 versions. 

I think that the versions each fan cuts their teeth on are the songs that define the fan’s likes and dislikes. As a result of my early listening to these versions I’ll always take a 12/2/95 Tweezer over a Fleezer or Mud Island. I’ll always take a Murat Gin over a Went or Riverport version. These energetic, frenetic, “hosey” 13-20 minute versions simply bring a certain flair that is rare in general and have been especially rare in 3.0. And no period in the bands history hits this certain criteria better than June 94 (August 93 is close). By the time 95 rolls around, it seems like for the most part the band is consciously deciding to expand and push rather than rely on Machine Gun Trey and fiery playing. Again, this is not a bad thing by any stretch (as the #phish95 hashtag will show) but there’s a definite departure from Summer 1994 and everything beyond.

So, I guess, as it relates specifically to the 6/18 Bowie, it moves beautifully out of Peaches en Regalia and starts with the sprawling MLB jam that is just pitch perfect, driven, and focused improvisation. Like the Amazing Grace jam from 5/8/93 it’s short and building on one theme; it stays within its bounds but it’s unique and melodious and must hear. There’s then a brief heavy metal segment that melds into Bowie proper, and that’s well played. One thing that’s a bit different here is that we’re sitting eight minute and thirty seconds into the song itself and the jam is just starting. Usually Bowies are more back-ended obviously but due to the MLB segments, this is already one of a kind. When listening to these driven versions of these songs there are still thematic segments to the jam but they don’t seem forced as it slips between different portions. Bliss jams meld into rock jams, hose slips away to ambiance, dissonance segues back to the Bowie Trill. There’s no wasted time and no breaks in the action. For me, it’s perfect. Not a single wasted note by anyone in the band and it seems practically rehearsed. Just a magical time for the band that works on every level. 

I realize that this isn't the best write up for the song itself. What’s funny is, that as I was writing that last paragraph and I was trying to come up with what to say, my words were failing me. This version is so good that I can’t accurately put on paper why it’s my favorite. It just is. To try to put it to words almost seems to cheapen it a bit. I’d rather listen to it in a group setting and just marvel at it with everyone. Or by myself. Fall 2013 reached that level for me again. Hartford Tweezer, Hampton Carini and Golden Age, Worcester Drowned, and AC Twist all make me feel the same way (fun parallelism here: Fall 2013 was 12 shows). And honestly, when a band is capable of creating music that inspires that level of jaw dropping, agape staring, mind blanking, sheer awesomeness isn't that what it’s all about? 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Meta Phish

One thing that can be definitely said about Phish fandom is that we're a passionate group of opinionated people. From the tiniest drop of information that gets leaked or spread on the internet raging maelstroms self-form and accusations of "fluffing" and "hating" develop almost instantaneously. And this seems to be because we all care so much that we provide that instant gratification. We all need to be the first to have their voice heard. To opine. To start the discussion.

But when do we know when we take it too far? 2013 was viewed as a renaissance of sorts for the band. As summer tour tapered off and transitioned into the best fall tour we've all seen in 3.0 followed by a phenomenal New Years Eve run, lots of talk focused on what the band was telling us.  Not with their music explicitly but with the underlying messages and themes that were more implicit. Lots of signals were said to have been sent by the band that have been discussed in multiple other places: Ha Ha Ha > Possum, Most Shows Spell Something, Harpua The Right Way, Icculus on NYE. In a lot of cases though, we as the fans weren't simply talking about songs or jams or placement; we instead were discussing the message that the band was trying to tell us. On a meta-level. To some peoples perspectives, it was like the band was breaking the fourth wall at the concerts to speak directly to us. But how many of these signals were the band actually saying something to us and how much was it normal Phish?  Icculus has always been about reading the book. Possum in 2014 was played about once every 3 shows and that was the gap both before and after Northerly. Ha Ha Ha has been played about once a year in 3.0. Did the band try to speak to the fans by placing these songs together or was it something more innocuous. Most Shows Spell Something, on a whole, seems to be saying something (maybe that the fans are missing the message) but conversely that could simply be viewed as a continuation of the previous Dicks N1 setlist pranks.  Was this some sort of mass induced apophenia where we're finding patterns in the ether where randomness is more likely?

In 2013, the musical high watermark was the Tahoe Tweezer, a sprawling 37 minute journey through multiple musical movements and different jam segments. As the story goes, a Phish fan met Fishman the night before and talked about some of the previous sprawling versions of Tweezer (I believe specifically Mud Island). Then we have the Tahoe version the very next day. Was the influence of this discussion a driving point of the improvisation or was this something the band was tentatively planning on doing anyway. To what extent does the band try to push boundaries on musical structure? Is it important to ask these questions? I'm not sure which I would prefer actually. If fans through our interactions with the band are having any say in the construction of the improvisation then what we're hearing may not be the band's intent (even if it's what we want to hear). And if the band is making the conscious decision to push the envelope and break the mold and it results in a Tahoe Tweezer, then why won't that happen more frequently? To wit, I'd rather reject both of those models of thinking and prefer it be attributed to randomness - the band was locked in and built on the groove that was developed and let it organically occur. Without full knowledge of the band's processes it's ultimately semi futile to even take a side. But the fact that we still maintain our positions says a lot about our views on our roles as fans.

The same meta-phish discussions are going on with the Fuego release. Two songs have been released so far (The Line and Waiting All Night) and they are both ballady songs that don't seem to liken themselves to free-form improvisation. So naturally, Twitter and message boards were alight with discussions on what these songs being released means for 2014 setlists and what the band is telling us with these choices and how it impacts what the bands next steps are and I just want to step back and say they might not necessarily be telling us anything. They're songs. Maybe the band was just pleased with the mixing on Waiting All Night. The Line so far has been the most played song of the Halloween debuts (albeit with only three versions). There are infinitely number reasons for those songs to be selected for singles. Do we really need to know why or understand these reasons? This is even more true for the meaning behind why the album is called Fuego and not Wingsuit as originally assumed. Some discussion has centered around the whys for the change and what the cover art means and what the color scheme of the album dictates and again, we need to step back and think that it might not really have any higher meaning. It doesn't need to, sometimes things are tautologies and are just the way that they are. I know I'm just as guilty as everyone else for trying to ascribe meaning to choices the band makes and projecting my personal experiences on the concerts I'm attending on a whole (which was a topic by the HFPod guys in their intellectual webchat with Zac and Wally bringing up excellent points on the matter and in The Baby's Mouth Essay). But is this a requirement? Do we need to interject ourselves into the concert or can we simply be observers?  The fandom has moved on from simply expressing what particular versions of a song are the best or the writer's favorite and is now into discussing why the ranking of a series of jams are important. From a meta view, we're not simply talking about the band anymore, instead we're discussing the ways to talk about the band and what those requirements are.

Every Phish show has thousands of possible iterations and combinations of songs, placement, improvisational moments. And, in general, all discussions on the concert experience (both positive and negative) are fairly well received. Which really speaks numbers about the ability of fans to get along and (usually) co-exist.  I'll never (hopefully) tell anyone that they're enjoying my favorite band incorrectly. Or over analyzing. Or getting too meta. I personally like doing that myself too much. But I think in 2014 I'm gonna try to take things a little bit more on face value. And try to realize that sometimes a concert is just a concert, a Tweezer is just a Tweezer, and know that that's ok.