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?