Monday, August 3, 2009

Phish-Day III and IV

The action doesn’t let up! Two more incredible days at Red Rocks. The second half of the run finds the band playing in an equally muscular fashion, breaking out new material and rarities each night. Night three’s first set was highlighted by the incredibly rare “Mound” as well as letter perfect readings of the dense “Guyute,” “Tube” and the perennial crowd pleaser “Run Like An Antelope.” Second set kicked off with a totally balls-out cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock &Roll” followed by a high-energy set of mostly uptempo favorites like “Down With Disease,” “Free” and “Harry Hood.” It was the quintessential night at Red Rocks. Perfect temperature, visibility and vibe quotient made it an evening to remember. The final night began auspiciously with Ween’s sly philosophical tract “Roses Are Free” which got the crowd jumping. A twelve song set followed with too many winners to name, but “Reba,” “Sample In A Jar” and the hard rock new song “Kill Devil Falls” all won crowd favor. The second set was truly a special event. Opening with a percolating version of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” the crowd literally went ape-shit dancing like there was no tomorrow. Following right on its heels was what is probably the closest thing Phish have to a signature song - the long, complex and always fun “You Enjoy Myself.” During the vocal Jam at the end, we could see a second drum kit being set up on stage. Then who should saunter onstage with arms raised high in a triumphant pose but Grateful Dead drummer Billy Kreutzman. The enhanced Phish then proceeded to offer the most diverse and energetically played set of songs of the run. “Undermind,” the Eno-esque “Seven Below,” “2001,” Waves” and an over-the-top “Character Zero” all betrayed how excited they were to play with this legend, and Kreutzman looked over-the-moon about the experience. Not satisfied to rest on their laurels the band returned for an epic three-song encore that concluded with one of the best versions of “Slave To The Traffic Light” I’ve heard. With that they did their Beatles bow and walked off. It seemed almost hard to believe that it was over.

Here are a couple of observations about Phish;

1)They music they make has more in common with Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant or Yes than it does with the Grateful Dead. Yes, they do extend some songs with improvisation, and their audience is very similar to the Deadhead phenomenon - in fact many of them are misplaced Deadheads (witness - me), but for the most part their songs are highly composed, full of changes and tempo shifts and are often too codified to “jam” on. Much of their concert is usually taken up with the recreation of these extremely intricate numbers that are exercises in practice and precision more than loosey goosey jamming. They are all serious musicians playing serious music.
2)Trey Anastasio is one of the very few guys out there of his generation who is a bona-fide guitar hero. There are almost none left, and it does not appear to be a value in most modern music. That’s fine, nobody says rock music HAS to be all about electric guitar solos - however, if that is your cup of tea-you are insane for passing this band by. Anastasio’s playing is an amalgam of many styles, but one hears Zappa, Page, Hendrix, Fripp and Santana as much as Garcia in his solos. If you like the guitar, it is thrilling to see him working it with Phish.
3) The thing the band has most in common with The Grateful Dead is the audience and the in-concert experience. Throughout the years I tried to turn people on to both The Dead and Phish, and what I’ve learned is that, the audience itself makes it almost impossible to be a casual fan of these bands. There is such a culture (and I use that term very loosely) built up around seeing these bands in concert that it by default becomes a lifestyle for many. When a newcomer enters the scene (difficult because the faithful snap up all the tickets) they are off put or even freaked out by the reverence and (misguided) importance that every gesture the band makes is given. The fans treat the band like the second coming and outsiders feel like they are at a religious service. This is too bad for a couple of reasons. The pressure it puts on the band is ludicrous. No band, or musician can stand the pressure. Garcia, Lennon, Dylan, Townshend and on and on have all bemoaned the “spokesman of a generation” tag, and it has, partially resulted in the loss of Jerry and the near-loss of Anastasio to drugs. It also deadens the ears of the audience. If it is your lord and savior you are watching on stage it makes it hard to hear it when they hit a wrong note, or deliver a lackluster show. This level of fandom is not good for fans, artists or art. I understand it, and I have been part of it at times, but as I’ve gotten perspective I’ve come to believe that if we want to continue enjoying our favorite artists, we must give them some distance. For the music’s sake and our own. Phish are great! I don’t want to lose them to our own fanaticism. I remember reading interviews with them before their self-imposed hiatus five years ago, and they indicated that the pressure was getting to them and they didn’t want to end up like the Grateful Dead where the scene overtook the band and its artistic impetus.
4) We are so frickin’ lucky to have Red Rocks! Each night I had at least one moment of awe about the physical wonder of this place. When it is right, and the breeze is blowing, and the moon and stars are above, and the audience is swaying to the music with the great plains spread out before us, it really DOES feel like a religious experience. Red Rocks is a power spot on this earth, and we, as residences of this great state, must never forget just how lucky we are. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen. My moment came during "Prince Caspian" as the sun was setting. Wow!