Land To Reform: Takeaways from Bangor and SPAC

Manhattan, New York

July 9th, 2013

Zac Cohen and Andy Greenberg of pleasemehavenoregrets.com and Nate Douglas

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Phish christened their 30th year of playing together this past week with a quartet of shows in Bangor, ME and Saratoga Springs, NY. Right out of the gates we’ve seen a staggering amount of fresh creativity and a band clearly in the midst of a growth spurt. There are three main developments in Phish’s 2013 sound that warrant immediate attention and should help listeners conceptualize what is going on in Phish’s music.

The first of these is Phish’s renewed interest in exploring older jam vehicles. In just the past week we’ve seen Phish blow open three long-stagnant songs, “Run Like an Antelope, David Bowie and Split Open and Melt,” with a focus and intent that bodes well not only for these compositions, but other stalwarts as well. We are thinking here of “Stash, Maze, Reba, Mike’s Song and Runaway Jim,” all of which received promising tour debuts.

2012 was a highlight year for the bands more recent jam vehicles, of course, “Light, Sand, Ghost, Piper, Golden Age,” but now it seems the band’s interest in going back through their catalog has been piqued. The lessons and skills they now possess can and have been applied to their jam vehicles. Whatever musical insights they’ve gleaned from experimenting with “Light,” for instance, they seem ready to apply to older songs that used to be their primary grounds of improvisation. Considering we’ve already witnessed impressive debuts, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear contenders for “Best Of” versions out of “Melt, Antelope, Bowie” and others in Phish’s 30th year.

The second major development, already sending ripples of both excitement and consternation to spread throughout the community in nearly equal parts, is guitarist Trey Anastasio’s technical leap forward. We were thrilled to see and hear Trey innovate in a number of key areas. From a purely sonic standpoint, Trey has elected to wield his older Koa Languedoc, the guitar that saw him through the late 1990‘s through to the beginnings of 3.0. For now at least, he’s effectively sidelined “the Ocedoc,” his newest guitar. Trey’s also included a new amplifier in his rig, a Bogner Shiva, which he’s miked directly into the soundboard, even further altering his overall sound, providing him with a jazzier, fuller tone, one that is less brilliant-sounding than the Ocedoc.

Technically, we need to recall that Trey experimented with a Fender Jaguar guitar on his most recent TAB album and tour. Of course the Jaguar has a tremolo system, better known as a whammy bar, which may have honed Trey’s ear for pitch-bending. (You can watch Trey experiment with this technique in this video.

This is a major paradigm shift in Trey’s entire approach to musical enunciation. This is not, as some have speculated, simply a return to 2009‘s “Whale Call,” but rather a fuller integration of his recent style with this powerfully emotive effect. He’s soloing with a horn players vocal quality, approaching a “post-bop” sound. Look no further than the Bangor “Antelope” to hear this. Of course the Koa Languedoc does not have a whammy bar, so Trey has instead relied on his whammy pedal, and therefore his right foot’s ability to integrate this effect, in order to produce the telltale tone of mournful bends that we’ve heard so much of.

Additionally, Phish has also changed their physical arrangement onstage to better facilitate Trey’s immediate aural environment. In his interview with Rolling Stone, Trey mentioned that he felt he needed access to Fish’s natural drum sound as opposed to the miked monitor mix he previously relied on. He may also have wanted to give Mike more of his own space to “own the stage” knowing that he was stepping into a different and in some ways more complementary, role.

For example, Trey (and to some extent Page) are both favoring a complex chording schema early on in songs, revealing a jazzy underbelly heretofore unknown to us or them. This is partially a return to Trey’s style of playing in Phish’s earliest years over the more familiar rock-riffing he’s depended on recently. The benefits to this approach are already clear and will likely continue to accrue.

So far the best example of this is Friday night’s “Light,” in Saratoga. One might have believed that Phish had said all there was to say last year with “Light,” but listen to this jam and you’ll clearly hear Trey’s jazz-inflections push the boundaries of the song outward, opening up an entirely new sonic soundscape. It’s a shockingly beautiful jam that rivals their supreme version from Dick’s last year.

The biggest takeaway from Trey’s new sound is a refined ability to convey emotion in a more purely personal way. Trey has found a way to transcend, even further, his instruments limitations, enabling an even more pure form of communication with us.

And lastly, it’s become clear that Phish has moved to institutionalize their “Cubist” style of jamming that began to emerge late last year. This style, as we wrote earlier this year, is characterized by distinct movements within jams, where Phish employs a variety of styles to explore a central musical theme or idea. Even within this first week, we’ve seen Cubist approaches to “Light, Carini, Split Open and Melt and Down with Disease.” The band seems to be solidifying around this style to the point where it has become one of, if not their primary, improvisatory mode.

Phish has their work cut for them. And thankfully they’ve awarded themselves the time to do so with a long Summer and, by all accounts, intense Fall of music. They’ve instituted a number of serious changes to their overall approach, setting challenges for themselves again in a way we haven’t seen since the late 90’s. This is something to be very excited about, proving that Phish has no intention of phoning in any part of this 30th year. But there will be a transition period, particularly for Mike, Page and Fish, as they adapt to Trey’s great leap forward.

So Let’s Talk About The…

7/3/13 - Bangor, ME - Arms uplifted, welcoming the return of the Mothership.

7/3/13 – Bangor, ME – Arms uplifted, welcoming the return of the Mothership.

Phish kicked off their Summer 2013 tour last night at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Maine. The quaint city, gorgeous weather, and waterfront setting promised all the right ingredients for a stellar start to this celebratory summer and by and large Phish delivered. But this is Phish and we are fans, and we brought with us lofty expectations–some justified and many unjustified–to the show. Once we were able to break through that frame of mind, shed that burden of expectations from our backs, we enjoyed the start of this momentous 30th year. So let’s talk about the music, the venue and the experience, because we have divined some insights from our experiences last night.

We walked into the show with the full weight of six months off after a stellar New Year’s Eve run, a few new archival releases, and rampant speculation imbued into our psyches. Expectations were very high, and to our admittedly biased and critical ears last night was not without flaws. But there were also many moments of brilliance and creativity that we hope to see blossom this summer.

The old school 1-2 punch of Possum and Runaway Jim to open the show was a fitting way to recall Phish’s early days and start off comfortably, like slipping on an old set of dancing shoes. Listen for Jim to stretch his legs out to ten minutes, but the show really took off after Stash. NICU popped up the energy quite a bit, and Wolfman’s slid right into a nice funk groove. But the highlight of the set came in the form of a Theme From The Bottom that dredged the depths of the nearby Penobscot river and scraped the cloud-streaked skies while dusk settled into night. A standard Mike’s Groove that sandwiched a Horse-less Silent In The Morning rounded out the first set of summer.

The second set featured two cohesive medleys sandwiching the first ever second-set Ocelot. The Golden Age>Twist>BDTNL to start off the set is fine Phish, with Golden Age in particular getting jammed out. Phish came through strong in the fourth quarter with the wonderful Rock n Roll>2001>Cavern>Antelope medley. Rock n Roll dissolves into a bit of ambient space before freaking up the funk with 2001. Cavern too was inspired and energetic, with Trey and Mike locked into syncopated dance steps before dropping Antelope to close the set. Antelope worked well in the second set closer position last year, and the Bangor version crushed it. Listen for Trey and Mike running Antelope hard, taking it into Type II territory and putting it in contention for our favourite Antelope of 3.0.

It was nice to see Hood back in the encore slot after 12/30/12′s glorious version. After the intro, Trey develops that quiet space so well before building and reaching that cathartic peak. And Phish sent us off into the night feeling good.

The two points distilled from the Bangor show are that gathering all the right ingredients still might not make for a Great Show, and that leaving any preconceived notions born of speculation at door is a must. We rightly hold high expectations for the greatest improvisational musicians in the world, and they deliver if we learn to check our own egos as the band has tried to shed theirs in the modern era. Gathering together in the beautiful north Maine woods under blue skies with all our best friends is a great gift, and to have Phish’s music to accompany the experience is the greatest gift of all.

SETLIST: Wednesday, 07/03/2013

Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor, ME

Soundcheck: Blues Jam, Corona, Funky Instrumental, Unknown Reggae-themed song (Mike vocals), Frost, My Soul, Jam (15+min)

Set 1: Possum > Runaway Jim, Stash, NICU > Wolfman’s Brother, Rift, Theme From the Bottom > Chalk Dust Torture, Mike’s Song > Silent in the Morning >Weekapaug Groove

Set 2: Golden Age[1] > Twist > Backwards Down the Number Line, Ocelot, Rock and Roll > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Cavern > Run Like an Antelope

Encore: Harry Hood[2]

[1] Manteca teases (Page).
[2] Divided Sky tease.

Setlist courtesy of Phish.net

Live Bait Vol. 9 is back up and available for download. Free SBD tracks from years past.

The phine pholks at Live Phish have released another free compilation of soundboard tracks from years past. Live Bait Volume 9 is up on Live Phish and is available for download now. Click HERE to download and enjoy 3.5 hours of free Phish.

livebait

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1) Foam (1994-11-02 Bangor Auditorium – Bangor, ME)

2) A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing (2004-06-19 Saratoga Performing Arts Center – Saratoga Springs, NY)

3) The Moma Dance (2000-07-06 Molson Amphitheatre – Toronto, Ontario)

4) Split Open And Melt > Kung > Jam (1999-07-15 PNC Bank Arts Center – Holmdel, NJ)

5) Mike’s Song > Twist > Weekapaug Groove (1999-07-09 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD)

6) David Bowie (1995-06-15 Lakewood Amphitheatre, Atlanta, GA)

7) AC/DC Bag > Ghost (1998-11-07 UIC Pavilion, Chicago, IL)

8) Tube > Slave To The Traffic Light (1998-07-16 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA)

9) Undermind (2012-08-31 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO)

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REVIEW: Ventura Box Set

Yes Yes YES! Today is finally release day. Phish were kind enough to open their vault and grace us with another fine set of shows — 7/30/97 and 7/20/98 — both from Ventura County Fair Grounds in beautiful Ventura, California. And those who pre-ordered also received a bonus disc with a partial 3/21/1993 show from Ventura Theatre. Hand picked by archivist Kevin Shapiro and remastered from the band’s multi-track masters, these two shows will satiate the Phish community until Summer Tour 2013 kicks off on July 3 in Bangor, Maine.

ventura

INITIAL THOUGHTS: 

Here again the sound quality is very good. As with the last few releases (e.g. 12/6/97 and 6/20/95), the sound quality has been markedly improving as shows are released, and the Ventura Box Set is no exception. Maybe it is the poor quality of the AUDs in circulation, but these shows sound pristine to my ears.

What is most striking overall is the fluidity of the band in these bygone years. Switching gears effortlessly from driving rock to funk to bluegrass, this is Phish playing at an exceptional level. The progression we have witnessed from 2009 to 2012 puts 2013 in the running to be an exceptional year in a way similar to 1997 and 1998.

It is nearly summer. It is nearly time for Tour. The timing of this release is perfect to carry us over until that moment in Bangor mere weeks, days, hours, seconds from now.

THE NITTY GRITTY — 7/30/1997

Dive right into the first set of the 7/30/97 show. The NICU opener is pretty standard, but the following  Wolfman’s>Chalkdust is where the fun begins. Wolfman’s underwent major renovations in 1997, most notably in the 3/1/1997 show from Markethalle, Germany. This Ventura version slides into a funk groove right away and doesn’t quit until a fierce Chalkdust starts up. The Stash is pleasing and jammed out, and Piper has just enough slow build to quell the cries for that arrangement. Cap it off with Character Zero and you have heard a great first set of Phish.

But the second set is the money shot. You may have heard the Bowie->Cities->Bowie before, but the remastered soundboard was enough to have me short of breath. The segues are like liquid. Cities begins from the flow of the Bowie jam so easily, and Bowie starts again afterwards smoothly it is jaw dropping. Listen to Trey channel Trey circa 1993 in the raging Bowie denouement, making the Bouncing and Uncle Pen afterwards make much more sense in that context. They close the set with Fire, like a not-too-subtle hat tip to that night’s underlying theme. This show was by far my favourite of the two.

7/20/1998

Here at last is a pristine soundboard of the fabled Ventura Gin. Like the well-known Riverport Gin that went down nine nights later, the Ventura Gin is a show-opening and show-stopping version. With a song with as rich a history as Bathtub Gin, the Ventura ’98 version is definitely one of the must-hear versions. Bask in its glory, and be happy knowing you have a full show to follow. The first set is pretty standard great. Good versions of Birds of a Feather and Theme From the Bottom dot the setlist, but the set-closing Split Open and Melt is what we come every night to hear. Growling at times, dark, and spiraling in the latter half–just like I like it.

The second set  goes deep.  Drowned>Makisupa>Maze is over a half hour of pure goodness, that settles down into a Sea and Sand breather. Prince Caspian stretches his legs out to 12 minutes and doesn’t feel like he overstays his welcome. But the Hood that closes the second set, the Hood I listened to twice. The Sexual Healing encore gets good and goofy, and the Halley’s brings it on home.

Both shows come with bits of their respective sound checks,and both show Phish loose and playful, which is what Summer and the Ventura release is all about. Enjoy these summer shows for their fun and some stand-out jams.

You can buy the Ventura Box Set from Phish Dry Goods or download it from Live Phish in a variety of formats: ALAC, MP3 and FLAC.

Buenaventura — 3/21/1993 — Bonus

I am an unabashed fan of early Phish, so this show is right in my wheelhouse. Though we only get ten tracks from the show, each one is again pristine sounding and pure, unbridled early Phish. Fans of stage banter will want to hear Trey talk about learning to surf earlier that day and then dedicate the following Lawnboy to the unnamed guy who taught him. Come for the banter but stay for the Split Open and Melt and Tweezer. High energy, teases, proggy jamming. What’s not to love? The following night’s show has long circulated in sound board format, and this partial addition of Buenaventura is welcome music to ears hungry for more early releases.

 

20 Years Later: #Phish’s Rift in Retrospect

Rift cover by artist David Welker

Rift cover by artist David Welker

The below article was edited by @TheBabysMouth and @Phish_Forum with additional assistance from @jameskam17. It has been cross-posted at http://pleasemehavenoregrets.com/ and http://phishforum.net/

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary tomorrow, Phish’s 4th studio album Rift, holds a special place in the hearts and minds of band and fans alike. Encased in a certain amount of mystery and intrigue, Rift is a conceptual album in that the entire album relates a succinct narrative. Paired with vivid artwork of New York artist David Welker who Phish collaborated closely with closely and the stylistic variety of the albums’ tracks, Rift was and remains a crucial album in Phish’s oeuvre.

The relative peace and quiet of the studio setting allowed the band,and most especially Trey and Tom Marshall, the opportunity to stretch their creative muscles when heavy touring was still the prime directive. We shouldn’t be surprised then that such a creative effort. Phish oozes ideas on the micro and macro level. Always have, and always will.

20 years later, much of the material produced on Rift remain not only staples of Phish’s repertoire but fan favorites too. This is a testament not only to the durability of the songs on Rift, but to Phish’s career-spanning commitment to song evolution. For those who don’t know, Rift describes, in song, a single night of dreaming for a certain man. The album tells the story of the narrator’s growing “rift” with his girlfriend, with each track delving deeper into the relationship, discussing various aspects of their life together, the mistakes they made, the feelings their relationship induced and ultimately what led them to break up.

Stylistically the album is a study in diversity. The up-tempo title track “Rift” opens the album with a manic vibe, only to pump the brakes as the soft cadences, dulcet tones and vocal harmonies of “Fast Enough For You” begin. As we hear the “man” restlessly sleeping, Fishman intones the simple lyrics to “Lengthwise,” his sole compository contribution to the album. The empty space of the song, almost Syd Barret-like in its oddness, serves as a perfect precursor to the true meat of the album, “Maze.”

Is there a more synesthetic Phish song then “Maze?” The song, the title, the lyrics all contribute to a feeling of discombobulation. Haven’t we all at one point or another gotten lost in a “Maze” at a Phish show, desperate to touch solid ground and escape the sinister voices mocking our navigational missteps?

As a tribute to Rift, we invited various community members to send in their thoughts, recollections, feelings and memories to their favorite songs on the album. One thing that quickly became clear as submissions came pouring in was how often various songs were described as “quintessential Phish.”It speaks to the grandness of the Phish project that so many different people can say this and for it to be true, every single time.

Is “Maze” the quintessential Phish song? Or “Rift, The Wedge, Weigh, Mound, It’s Ice, Sparkle?” The truth is they are all quintessential Phish, once again proving Phish’s ability to reveal the fungibility of all music, Everything bleeds into everything else. It’s all connected. Just like the songs on Rift.

We hope you enjoy and for old time’s sake, whip out the original album and give it a spin.

Rift — @lazylightning55
I was 20 years old and it was March 14th, 1992 at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC. As “Reba” finished, I told my gang at the back of the floor, that I was going to the rail for a bit. Then Trey began playing this series of notes over and over. Jon and Mike then came alive – which created an opening that felt like a herd of horses were running downhill, right at us. Trey looks at Page, gives him the 1-2-3 and boom: LAST NIGHT..

Trading lines ever so deliberately each lyric appeared as if in a speech bubble above the stage, perhaps a consequence of extra curricular licking earlier in the evening. So many messages we were being fed to us at once as the first verse came to a close. Horses came rollicking around for a bit again until SO MUCH,
which brought more mind messages from Trey and Page until finally Trey persuaded my soul to ignite emerged out of the darkness directly into a pool of glossy relief. Trey then began his assault on the first solo– a blistering run of variations on this perfect melody.

Fish and Mike just keep humming along. Page finishes up and Trey takes over, taking us on another adventure thru the Rift, pickin’ away and progressively getting faster in a big solo. Page makes everything quiet for a couple of seconds. He then reminds us of the terrible night and the band finishes.

What an adventure it was, and still is; a wonderful rollercoaster of dark & light. Emotions, like passion and confusion. Speed and silence, peaks, ledges, and ignition! Rift can fire us up like very few songs. Hear it any way you’d like, the song “Rift” remains one of Phish’ best short stories, all thanks to Trey and Tom Marshall rhyming at one another in a room. A dynamite track to kickoff an album which, Twenty Years Later, holds tight as one of Phish’ best and most complete albums.

Rift (fast debut) – 3/6/92 – Portsmouth Music Hall

Fast Enough For You — @Phish_Forum
Is there anything worse than the feeling of woeful inadequacy and helplessness–that time is inexorably slipping away? “Fast Enough For You” captures those emotions of a failing relationship in a somber fugue that rivals the depth and breadth of any other “slow” Phish song, e.g., “Lifeboy,” “If I Could”. Expectations are like stones heaped upon the back in a burden becoming unbearable. And it is the realization of those fears and the failure to meet other’s expectations that make this song so heart-wrenching at times. We can all empathize with “Fast Enough For You,” whether from personal experience or the emotions evoked by the lyrics and melody.

The first and only time I caught “FEFY” live was on the first night of the two-night stand in Cincinnati Fall ‘09. After Phish’s return earlier that year at Hampton, some good summer shows and Fest 8 for Halloween, I was gripped with anticipation for Fall Tour. I tend to think of Summer Tour as a nice bit of practice for the real deal once Phish heads indoors for some fall shows. I was with my best friend and my brother on tour again and I finally felt great again. Phish tore down Cincy those two nights, and in marked contrast to the song’s sad style, I will always associate “Fast Enough For You” with great memories.

Lengthwise Pt. 1 — @ThisAlbumSucks
Jon Fishman’s contribution to Rift is a song so special Phish decided to include it not once but twice on the album. “Lengthwise” is a brief interlude that serves as a segue into that terrible night’s more harrowing dreams and as a segue out into the dawn. Lengthwise is more chant than song, similar to “Kung.” The repeated phrases “when you’re gone I sleep diagonal in my bed / when you’re there I sleep lengthwise” gnaw at the brain, the stress of which opens the rift that leads into the labyrinthine “Maze.”

Maze — Billy Reuben @TheBabysMouth
At over 8 minutes, “Maze” is the longest song on Rift. It is an uptempo track beginning with snare rim clicks signifying the hot breath of time upon the neck of the narrator who is in this first part if his dream. Lyrically “Maze” concerns the narrator’s subconscious fears of embarrassment, duress, and public humiliation. This “shame”is the result of the narrator’s failure to find the object being sought in this allegorical maze with an audience who laughs at his misfortunes. Musically “Maze” conveys a futuristic and electro-hellish game show accentuated by the b2 chord (Flat 2) just before resolving at the end of each verse stanza. Tritone intervals are used again and again producing maximum demonic tension in the angular and bold dominant 7 chords. The chorus expresses a frantic realization not only of being trapped but the added recognition of an inability to overcome a challenge. This signifies the narrator’s inability to overcome his navigational shortcomings and a resulting sense of futility causing his inner voice to become negative and taunt him.

The first guitar solo expresses an unbridled hostility in an attempt to muscle out of this hedged-in groove. As Trey’s solo winds its way, it beats against the walls of the labyrinth in desperate search for an exit, creating more and more tension. Page’s organ solo, easily one of his strongest on any Phish studio record, launches sinister waves of leslie-inflected chromaticism over Trey’s first dissonant and then choppy accompaniment. The organ solo conveys the sense of being chased through the maze by a serpentine alien monster and turning corners in attempts to evade a confrontation. Finally as the progression reaches the dominant or 5 chord the alien beast is inadvertently met head on as Trey’s molten guitar solo portrays this gruesome creature rising to it’s full sky-scraping height baring it’s razor-sharp slime dripping fangs at the narrator who is frozen in fear. This second guitar solo is Trey’s strongest and most evocative effort ever recorded in the studio and proceeds the sophomoric tongue-in-cheeky ending riff which conveys a sudden
video-game like departure from the “Maze.”

SPARKLE — @Phish_Forum
Coming on the heels of “Maze’s” descent into madness, a reprieve emerges in the form of “Sparkle.” But, like many tracks on Rift, what at first listen may seem to be an upbeat number, “Sparkle’s” lyrics tell a different story. The worried lover is being battered by building pressure. The dread of popping the question is compounded by a conversation with Ed and having to humble himself to Luce and Lil. Being confined in their worlds and subject to their expectations induces confusion and shame. And as the mind comes undone, he falls apart descending into gales of mad laughter.

The tempo of “Sparkle” steadily rises throughout the song. Each line is like the turn of a screw which continues the crescendo. The pressure steadily builds until melody breaks down and the lyrics become jumbled gibberish. Only one thing to do: laugh and laugh and fall apart.

HORN: @phishinhippie
I’ve always believed that the album Rift was written as a reflection of the narrator’s inner turmoil. “Horn” tells the story of a committed lover who cannot let go despite the toxicity of the relationship. This lover intoxicates him like a “Rhine wine,”, and although she leaves him “forlorn,” he inevitably will continue to pick her up “at 8 as usual.” Whether this relationship is of a romantic nature or other is for the listener to decide for themselves. Despite its melancholy tone, I think “Horn” is a beautiful song.

The Wedge via Secret Cable from “PhishyLeaks”
“The Wedge” paints a picture for you instantly; one of a land of recognition and self-awareness. A beautiful song that has continued to grow and transform in the live setting every year since it’s debut. A lively beat from Fishman and you’re off towards one of the more underrated FUN parts of a Phish song. We’ve had the blueprints for our pyramids forever and here we are, ready to peak all over them. The four headed monster is strong now. The great divide comes, as it always does – all, harmonizing and funkiness from the Chairmen, Trey’s professional subtleties of bliss, laced everywhere. The evolution of “The Wedge” reflects the lyrics and vibe of the song. Time and experimenting intros led us to 12/31/12. On this day, it was time for “The Wedge” to continue its path upward. A lively “I get it” jam was added as a gift; and it was edible. Truly astounding notes from Trey, and we are left with afterglow and the knowledge of just how far we’ve all come, together.

My Friend, My Friend — Zachary Cohen @TheBabysMouth
The early acoustic strums of “My Friend, My Friend” produce a blissy pillow of sweet melodies that invite the listener to recline upon. Don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security, because this song is not your friend. Or at least not the kind you want on tour with you. As the swinging jazzy chord changes roll by, the slightest intimations of something dark and sinister lurk just at the edge of things. But just as you start to suspect something rotten is afoot, the roll and swing of Fishman’s cymbal snaps and Trey’s acoustic string strikes keep things grounded in the familiar.

And then, there it is, an utter tonal and rhythmic change, we’re now in Satan’s bed chamber as he prepares for a feast. He’s hobbling around in a scarlet kimono of the deepest darkest red as the nasty lyrics and minor melodies provide the soundtrack to Wilson’s Gothic chemistry lab, hidden in the catacombs underneath Prussia. As the song builds, musical dynamite is spread all over the tracks, the self-destruct button is revealed, and then, Page’s chords point the way home. “He Lights the Fuse.” The choral deconstruction and Trey’s absolutely wicked solo narrate the journey through to hell and back ending back on the soft pillow where this whole thing began. “MYFE!”

WEIGH — @CaptainDan
“I’d like to cut your head off, so I can weigh it…..whaddya say?”

That is pretty much exactly how I picture a Mike Gordon lucid dream starting. “Weigh” is one of my all time favorite Phish tunes as the song encompasses so much about the band that is special to me: its jazzy feel and sound set against awkward, yet hilarious lyrics. I can’t help but smile when “Weigh’s” introductory notes drop.

Weigh gives each band member an opportunity to shine in the spotlight, even for just a few moments. Whether its Fish’s playful balance of the bell on the ride cymbal and the snare, or Gordon dropping a few key bass bombs when he sees the opportunity, it all fits together like clockwork. When it is Page’s turn to take the reins he delivers some beautiful work on the ivory that transitions to one of the rare times where a guitar solo is layered with another. And although some interpret the lyrics as being malicious in nature–given their graphic content–I tend to find them more inquisitive. I think Mike would actually like to “Weigh” some weird things, which I am totally OK with.

All Things Reconsidered — @ThisAlbumSucks
An instrumental track bridges the weirdness gap between Mike Gordon’s two contributions to Rift. “All Things Reconsidered” is a variation on NPR’s All Things Considered theme music. Short and sweet, ATR often served as an instrumental interlude between two weightier songs in its heyday from 1992-1993. Last performed live by Phish on 2/23/97, “All Things Reconsidered” is annually mentioned as a potential bustout. True to its live setlist function, the album version of “All Things Reconsidered” is a brief respite from the slasher song “Weigh” and the macabre “Mound.” In fitting with the theme of introspection throughout Rift, “All Things Reconsidered” opens the final 1/3 of the album, which features arguably some of the most introspective songs in Phish’s repertoire–”It’s Ice, Mound, and Silent In The Morning.”

Mound — @MikeHamad
“Mound” is dimension-rich.

Clap along, on the two and four. If you successfully make it through the opening (doubtful), your hands will meet on the first and third beats (try it!). There’s a reward for getting it right: you get to pass from one dimension (two-four) to another (one-three). (Not literally, but fun to propose.)

In two-four (0:32-0:44), a bunch of bros are hanging out, drinking beer somewhere.

In one-three (0:45-5:55), there’s an old man, and a mound. There’s a deceptively large amount of information in this minimal place, and struggle; between stability (those steady drums) and decay (that incessant guitar syncopation); between campy sing-along chorus and perfectly choreographed, tight-harmony verse, one that would lose little of its impact — perhaps it would gain more muscle mass — if it were sung a capella; between the Caribbean and Appalachia. Between American post-war blues and British psychedelic folk. Between linear counterpoint and parallel motion. “At the last hill, he realized he’d circled back around.” You can imagine the response from a Greek chorus: “Round a back circled, round a back realized.”

It gets interesting before it gets dull. (It gets dull, but later). Some examples:

3:20. Mike plays the folky verse melody, Trey the syncopated prog-reggae, Page the blues shuffle, Fishman the Appalachia.

3:35. Four distinct, colorful objects hang down from a mobile above a crib.

3:48, the “time, time, time…” part of the instrumental section. “Mound” has rewind-able time, pointing backward, into the old man’s past, never spelling out for us what happened; static time, the eternal struggle between us broken old men and this unkind, treacherous world; and free-flowing time, jumping around at will, now forward, now backward, constrained by none of the shackles found in conventional pop lyrics. Mike baked a certain chance-music element into the instrumental section, some parts of which have never made musical sense to me, and that’s totally fine: Trey makes musical sense, to a fault. Mike is nomadic and unpredictable.

3:56. The plant outgrows the planter.

4:21. Mike, Trey and Page fall in line together behind the syncopation. (It doesn’t last; they fall out of phase again.)

4:34. One-three, or two-four? Fishman has to pivot, to hiccup, to adjust his steady beat (try it!). We lost a sixteenth note along the way somewhere. (Is THAT what’s in the mound?)

That textural third verse. Clean arpeggios; color-note organ, no real chords, very spare. Bass, far less busy than before, a pillow shoved down its throat to get it to shut-the-fuck-up-please. Wide-open cymbals, open throttle, no dampers. Mike’s voice, hovering in reverb. Meat falling off the bone.

The ending is dull. You’ve heard the best parts of the song, and you know it. Songs end — everything does.

“I was inspired to do something of my own that was written out,” Mike told me when I interviewed him in 2011. “I remember I spent a couple of weeks every day all day on my Rhodes keyboard and I was experimenting with a lot of different concepts. I was taking melodies and making them come back around on a different instruments. The only thing I didn’t know was how to make something playable. I thought, Well, Page [McConnell, Phish’s keyboard player] has ten fingers. Then I discovered that [guitarist] Trey [Anastasio] had never written a fugue with more than one note for each hand… So this one must be pretty hard. It wasn’t written for playability… It’s certainly one of the hardest Phish songs.”

Postscript: I was at the debut of “Mound,” in 1992, in Portsmouth. I’m proud of that. I was with my best friend, Jon Sweeney. He’s not alive anymore. “Mound“seems like it has always been around and isn’t going anywhere.

IT’S ICE — @Jameskam17
One of my personal favorite songs from Rift is “It’s Ice”. The Tom Marshall poem was frequently played live from ‘91 to ’94 before slowly fading in favor of newer material. By the time Phish Destroys America (Fall ‘97 Tour), “It’s Ice” was a rarity. Since returning to the stage in 2009, “It’s Ice” has only been played live twelve times and only once in 2012 at Bader Field. Regardless of its apparent shelving, “It’s Ice” will always hold a special place in my heart.

The song, like each track from Rift, was written to place the listener directly in the song. The music not only creates characters, but moods too. Like “The Lizards, Tela” or any other song from TMWSIY, “It’s Ice” transports us from listener to active participant.

From start to finish “It’s Ice” has several tight, cohesive composed parts, but also has sections that emphasize Phish’s antics and moods. In a way, “It’s Ice” is one of the most complete Phish songs.

The beautiful signature guitar riff starts the song before transitioning into Page’s voice. Page is absolutely perfect for this song as he tells us about a skater who is conflicting with his reflected image on the ice. The vivid imagery paints a ridiculous picture for us, and the chorus then takes that picture and lets us hear what we think we are seeing. Trey and Page sing back and forth, echoing the reflective souls skating on the ice, before playing music that slowly tries to pull us down. The music here reflects the lyrics more than ever. “My double wants to pull me down” is followed by descending riffs, just fantastic stuff. We hear this struggle constantly between what’s above the ice and what’s below. The music is impeccable and consistently evokes the battle between the skater and the image, more and more as the song progresses, stressing that the battle is getting harder and harder. Along with “Maze,” this song was built to jam upon. The tune is so catchy it will stick in your head all day.

But before we get dropped into a bottomless abyss, we get a classic Phish move, or rather, a Fish move. A slow build features Fish atop his seat when live, doing the Fish Dance before we are finally thrown under the ice. We are sinking, we are falling, we are helpless. But soon after the boys bring us back up for one last breath, and struggle, to finish off the song. “It’s Ice” is just too complete and too perfect. Between hilarious antics, fiercely composed sections, and beyond vivid imagery from the music and lyrics, “It’s Ice” will always be a quintessential Phish song, and a favorite for many for many years. Oh, by the way did I mention that all in all, it’s just an awesome song!! Might be time for this one to come off the shelf.

Lengthwise Pt. 2 — @ThisAlbumSucks
Before the dawn breaks, the chanting of “Lengthwise” again repeats in the sleep-muddled mind. The dream sequence is near denouement, but not before one more round of worry over his lover’s absence from their bed. The hazy thoughts overburden the jilted mind just as it awakes.

The Horse>Silent In The Morning — @ClayMaddox
“The Horse > Silent in the Morning” has always been one of Phish’s prettier pieces and a standout track to close the album in true coda fashion. Many of the musical elements of the album are woven into the final piece. The gradual surge that builds on Trey’s minimal, yet escalating guitar line is vintage Phish. The multiple vocalists and chorus in canon are the essence of how Phish music works and touches our emotions. What starts as a lone acoustic guitar line and typically Phishy introspective lyrics in “The Horse” becomes a cyclical wave of tension and release in “Silent” as the song rises to a peak and fades away. After the chaos of the album and the underlying tone and message of confusion and loss, this song brings resolution with the morning sunrise.

While not the most rocking bullets in Phish’ arsenal, this combo is one of the deadliest because whether you like Phish for the virtuosity, the introspection, or the unique approach to songwriting, this album and this song contain those elements in spades.

“Brings me to my knees”

Phish – Rift promotional video – 1993

Free Friday Download – It’s Ice 4/8/94 – #Phish – Penn State U. Rec. Hall

Isadora Bullock - Worcester 2010

Isadora Bullock – Worcester 2010

Tomorrow is the album Rift’s 20th birthday, so I’ve been compiling my dream “live” version of the album. That is, I’ve been thinking of my favourite live versions of each song on Rift and making a playlist in the order of the album.

There are some great versions of It’s Ice out there. Other top contenders were 12/7/97′s It’s Ice->Swept Away>Steep>It’s Ice and the Clifford Ball version. My all-time favourite though is the 4/8/94 It’s Ice from Recreation Hall – Penn State University. The official Phish.net setlist has it down as It’s Ice>Digital Delay Loop Jam>It’s Ice. Whatever the nomenclature, it is a ~15 minute journey that I find spellbinding.

Below are mp3 and FLAC versions. Enjoy!

FLAC – 4/8/94 – It’s Ice
FLAC version

mp3 – 4/8/94 – It’s Ice
mp3 version

In Which a Miracle Precipitates a Change in Life #MuchLove #TeamBob

Jay (L) and Bob (R) -- Summer Camp 2012

Jay (L) and Bob (R) — Summer Camp 2012

By now you have all heard the news of our friend Robert “Barefoot Bob” Eckhart’s passing. The outpouring of love and support for Bob’s family from the Phish, Umphrey’s McGee and Twibe communities is truly inspiring. Many people were touched by a man who gave selflessly while his precious life was being taken. I too met Barefoot Bob, and what follows is my relation of how Bob made the world a better place.

Brewed in Percolator

Last May was a good month for me. I was riding high indeed. A major magazine had just published my first article, and I was about to complete my undergraduate course of study. My primary love is live music, and May was a good month in that regard as well. I saw The Avett Brothers put on a great show, and then a week later Primus and Gogol Bordello blew me away.

Also at that time I was making scores of friends through Twitter within a group of dedicated Phish fans who call themselves the Twibe. Every Friday night we got together via Twitter and simultaneously listened to a show of a Twiber’s choosing. The group formed organically and we called it the #PTLP, or Phish Twibe Listening Party. Through Twitter and the Twibe is how I first came to know Bob. He seemed incredibly nice online, and he had a wealth of live music experience. Bob was a vet of early Phish and later Grateful Dead, among other acts, and he was someone to whom I gravitated so I could hear more about my favourite era of Phish.

There was some talk that May of Summer Camp Festival. A few Twibe were going and I wanted desperately to go. My friend from home had purchased tickets early and got them for a song. But I of course was broke. Summer Camp was over Labor Day weekend, a weekend for me that has traditionally been one for live music, as I always went to the local Hookahville festival. Summer Camp, however, looked out of reach due to the cost.

So I sat and pouted. Until one day I was scrolling through my timeline and saw a tweet from @AdamIcculus: “Who wants a miracle for Summer Camp?” I waited and no one responded! I was sitting–my finger on the mouse–thinking to myself, “If I don’t eat or drink, I may be able to afford gas…” So I did it. I hit reply and after a few emails a free Summer Camp ticket was in the mail and I was packing my car. Miracles do happen, I am living proof.

So I went and I loved it. It was hot, damn hot. Three Sisters Park was so dusty that everyone walked around with masks and bandannas on to mitigate the damage to their lungs. It was like a scorched alien world. I knew some Twibe people were there, and we tweeted at each other to arrange a tweet up during one of the Umphrey’s sets. It was there I first met my dear friends Laurie (@Ldephill), Jason (@fungitrophia) and Brecklan (breckmasterflash).

I missed meeting a couple other people, but I knew Bob was there and I wanted to meet him. We tweeted back and forth and arranged to meet by the tapers during the Umphrey’s set. I waited by the microphones and soon I saw a man and he asked me, “I’m looking for @Phish_Forum.” It was Bob! After all this time I finally got to meet him. And it was everything I hoped it could be. The Twibe people were the nicest people, and I can count on all of them to be at every show I go to now.

The most awesome thing was that Bob had made for me a t-shirt. Here I am 1000 miles from home with strangers and Bob went out of his way to meet me and he made me my own Twibe/Summer Camp t-shirt, complete with hashtags that acknowledged the role Twitter played in bringing all of us together.

Now we are here many months later and Bob has been taken from this earth far too early. I am moved to have met a man, even if only briefly, who could so selflessly give and touch so many people. I have recently taken a closer look at myself. I am a mess of character defects, chief among them being selfishness. But for today, I am a little less selfish due to a miracle and having met Barefoot Bob. This thing, this Phish Twibe and online community is something special. To you, #MuchLove and #TeamBob.

 

Please check out these sites dedicated to the memory of Barefoot Bob

Robert Eckhart Memorial — A Fund for Bob’s Children 

Robert Eckhart Memorial

 

To Barefoot Bob, Love #Twibe — The Phish Twibe’s Memorial Site

The Phish Twibe Memorial Site

 

PhishTLP.com — #PTLP Co-Founder @okdeadhead’s Eulogy 

PhishTLP.com

 

Barefoot Bob Memorial Raffle and Charity Auction — Phish- and Phan-Donated Items

The Barefoot Bob Memorial Raffle and Charity Auction

 

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