Monday, August 4, 2008

Struck By the Sounds - August 4th, 2008


I watched two new videos on my day off yesterday. The first was the new Phish concert DVD Walnut Creek which came out Tuesday. In a word - awesome! Sympathetic camera work and a sparkling 5.1 soundtrack make the watching experience great and the concert itself is representative of one of the great Phish periods. By 1997 Jerry Garcia had been dead for two years and Phish’s ascendance to the top of the heap was cemented. Many Deadheads looking for a continuation of the trip were jumping on board and Phish responded with an ambitious touring schedule, a treasure trove of new material, a consistently high level of musicianship and tight, focused performances. This would change in the next couple of years as aimlessness and rampant drug problems started to rule the roost. But for the time being things seemed great. The first set is highlighted by the new(ish) material like a beautiful “Water In The Sky,” a pounding “Vultures” and closing with a stadium worthy “Taste.” The real meat of the show is the sublime second set that kicks off with a nice “Down With Disease” which effortlessly melts into a hypnotic jam. It becomes clear that the band is making a great effort to actually listen to each other - the essence of successful jamming. When they tumble into “Mike’s Song” it is clearly as much a revelation to them as us. They follow with an equally revelatory “Simple,” “I Am Hydrogen” and finally “Weekapaug Groove.” Throughout the jam the viewer is struck by the little things; Mike’s rolled up pantlegs, Page jumping from piano to clavinet back to piano in the space of a bar or two, Fish’s masterful and subtle drumming and Trey’s ability to lead the band, provide the visual focus and rip off killer lead after lead with astonishing ease. He has to be recognized as one of the greats. The fleeting shots of the audience don’t bring the expected revulsion but actually seem quaint and nostalgic. It was always the audience that I found most objectionable at latter-day Phish and Dead shows - the obnoxious and egotistical idea that the show was somehow about them. Here it is easy to take and made me yearn for a summer tour. The show ends with another big bang. First they play what I consider one of their best cover songs, Los Lobos’ poignant “When The Circus Comes To Town,” and then a wonderfully delivered “Harry Hood” which stands as one of their most exciting concert staples. As the band winds into the snaking, ecstatic conclusion of the song, the power of the music is almost overwhelming. It made me want to be there again.

Interesting Customers

One of the parts of the job of running a record store that never gets old is the exposure to interesting, nice, upsetting and just plain weird people. I love talking to people who don’t fit the mold. Or more to the point, I hate talking to people who do fit the mold - you never learn anything of value. Anyway, I recently had a good one I’ll share with you. I have a customer who is a former cop, current covert government operative and full time eccentric. This guy has unsettling stories about doing the government’s bidding throughout the world since the 60’s. I have consistently thought he was either full of it or really dangerous. You know that movie about Chuck Barris that George Clooney made called Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind? That’s what this guy is like.
Anyway, a couple of days ago he came into the store and handed me two Xeroxed articles about himself. Well, they were fascinating, and they added a huge dimension of interest to this individual. One of them was about this guy buying the only known model of a Mandolin/Lyre that Orville Gibson (of Gibson Guitars) personally built. It is a one-of-a-kind item that nobody else in the world has, and here was this article with a picture of Fred holding it. He had told me this story before, and I had kind of been like “yeah yeah whatever you say dude.” But here it was - proof. He told me he sold it to Bill Gates for a quarter of a million dollars - hmmmm… The second article was about Fred tracking down some infamous test driver who was believed dead and had all kinds of subterfuge surrounding his death/disappearance. So Fred tracks this guy down using police investigation techniques and finds him living in poverty with an amazing story about industrial cover-ups and hush money that was stolen and on and on, and I’m sitting there thinking “who the fuck is this guy?” As far as I know, he is a customer who is obsessed with Janis Joplin and has bought a bunch of posters and records from my store. But under the surface there is clearly more going on. And that is the entirety of my point. The Janis Joplin Guy or the White Stripes gal, or the Beatles nut are much more than the limited caricature of a customer that I see on a daily basis. Many of them hold some deep, interesting personal cards that the rest of us probably will never see. Like I said, it’s one of the best parts of the job.

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