Tag Archives: Music

My Thoughts on Phish as 2012 Closes

MSGIt’s been a year since my last blog post. A year. A lot has happened in that year, my life is very different than it was as I wrote “My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes.” I’m a different person, and the things that make me happy have changed significantly. But here, as 2012 closes, I’m finding myself writing something I simply never expected to write. See, I didn’t order the Phish MSG webcasts. As I’ve been slaving over the Phish.net forum, crumbling due to the site’s size and several less-than-optimal code routines, I’ve been thinking something I’ve just not had the guts to say out loud: I just don’t care that much about Phish anymore.

I looked over the setlists for the last three nights, and I’m sorry to say, they just aren’t that interesting to me anymore. They look totally tired, many of the songs being a total snoozefest for me these days. Friday night included this opening combo: Stealing Time, Moma, Funky Bitch. I would’ve slit my wrists if I went to NY and got that threesome. The set was rescued, song wise, by Stash, Nellie Kane, and what I’m told is a fantastic Wolfman’s, the problem is, I just don’t even care enough to check it out. I hope I get the interest to check out the Tweezer that everyone says is “one of the best of 3.0,” but the fact is, I’m beginning to realize that I just don’t like 3.0 Phish that much.
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The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love” Revisited

One of the most popular posts on my blog – and by far the most commented, is “The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation.” Even though it was written and published in March of 2009, it continues to receive comments and pageviews. This week, I was listening to the album again and I spotted something I’d never realized before. I found a theme I’d previously missed.

The story “The Hazards of Love” is a complete saga with well rounded characters with clear motivation. It exists in two acts. There are several layers of potential analysis, from character depth to allusion. “The Hazards of Love” itself is the title of four distinct un-thematically related songs on the disc. It bothered me only for a moment that Colin and company would reuse the song title so often for no clear purpose, but alas, this weekend, I finally found the connection.

The four songs entitled “The Hazards of Love” all describe a different “hazard” of love!

The first song, “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)” represents lust. It’s Lust that drive William and Margaret together, that keeps her riding out past Offa’s Wall to meet him, and ultimately leads to her bearing his fruit. Perhaps a little uptight to view lust as a “hazard”? In the age of The Situation and Snooki, sure. In the age of William and Margaret? Sin!

“The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)” represents jealousy. Bear with me: I know the Queen doesn’t discover William and Margaret’s affair in this song, but it’s during this episode that she will catch them. The hazard, in this case, is that others will be unable to handle the love. Ultimately, the Queen wants to keep William for herself, and this is the moment she will witness to cement that emotion.

“The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” represents… wait for it… vengeance, of course. Look at relationships: so quickly they can turn from love to hate. Use whatever cliché you want about the thin line between love and hate, but ultimately, many broken relationship land in hate. Not just hate, but the need to hurt and take revenge. What do The Rake’s children actually do here? Do they terrorize their father? Do they naïvely believe they are returning for his love? Do they kill him? Either way, they get their revenge by depriving him of Margaret.

Lastly, we have the heart-wrenching “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”. It’s easy to categorize this one: loss. It’s maybe as simple as just the loss of a single moment, hour, or day with someone when you are in love, but in this case, it’s illustrated in the extreme: William has promised his earthly bones to Annan Water, and Margaret tragically sacrifices herself – and possibly her baby – to be with William for eternity. Of course, the eagle-eyed December-head will know that the baby is probably doomed destined to be rescued by the Queen from the reedy glen, but Margaret, any way you slice it, meets her end. Love’s power is too great, and she is unable to live without her “true love” William.

You could probably write 20 short analyses of “The Hazards of Love” without duplicating content. I like to think that Colin Meloy and crew put some serious thought into this story and loaded it with Easter Eggs that are neither confirmed nor denied so as to leave the story up for interpretation. During “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)”, I nearly bust out of my seat picturing William swashbuckling through the jungle on the dark side of Annan Water to save our heroine from The Rake. I LOVE the story and the music. So, while I don’t necessarily think that it was the intent to illustrate four different literal “hazards of love,” I think it’s both fascinating and incredible that it’s possible to construct and support the theory at all.

Phish Wish List Redux

Just about a year ago I posted my “Phish Wishlist.”  I’m heading up to 3 shows in Atlantic City this weekend, so it’s time to update and revisit this list.

What can I cross off this list since then? Two songs: “Dinner and a Movie” and “Walk Away.”

So I’ll start off with the remaining songs:

  • Destiny Unbound
  • Camel Walk
  • Brother
  • Scents and Subtle Sounds
  • A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
  • Glide
  • Harpua
  • Spock’s Brain
  • Have Mercy
  • The Lizards
  • Crowd Control

Then I’ll add songs I want to see as of now:

  • Alumni Blues > LTJP > Alumni Blues
  • Gone

I don’t think I’ll get Alumni or ASIHTOS because they were played last night, and Camel Walk, Lizards, and Brother were ALL played on Sunday.  But I do have my fingers crossed for something fun.

Interesting!

The following post originally appeared on the Phish.net Blog:

I admit it: I’m a setlist snob.

I started formulating this realization on the field in Indio, when ZZYZX turned to me and said, without the condescension implied, “I remember when I was chasing bust-outs.” And my response was succinctly “If we’re going to hear a 10 minute jam, I suppose I’d rather have the jam be off of a song I haven’t heard before rather than one I’ve seen a dozen times.”

But as true as that is, it’s not the real story. The real story is that I am chasing bust-outs. Not just bust-outs, but “interesting-ness”. And “interesting-ness” changes with the seasons. I’m actually chasing anything at a show that makes me think “Interesting!

I’ve posted about setlist construction before – to me, as a bit of a Phish geek – it’s fascinating. Those seconds when the band takes the stage, before the first notes of any song, are magical and hopeful – anything can happen. Will it be AC/DC Bag? Will it be Punch? Will it be a song I like? A rarity? A random cover? Will it be something that will make the show immediately legendary, like Harpua? Or an entire cover album?! It’s maddening!

And so it goes, between every song of every show… I wait with bated breath for what might be.

I thought Black-Eyed Katy was awesome in 1997 — one of the highlights of 11/22/97, I’d say. When Moma showed up in summer 1998, it was a funkified sensation. But now Moma makes me cringe – standard fare on a standard night, been there, done that. It takes a lot to make Moma catch my ear these days. Guyute was a patient fan’s reward not too long ago. But these days, I hear groans when Phish launches into a fairly standard execution of this complex composition, which is no small musical feat. Some used to call Roggae a “set-killer,” but here we are in 2010, and 2009 made it into a cherished treasure.

That’s the thing with setlist mechanics: they change every year, if not every tour. As certain songs get played over and over (Kill Devil Falls, anyone?), they lose interesting-ness and uniqueness. When songs disappear and re-appear, they gain it. I’m not sure I think Spock’s Brain is even a very good song, but it’s certainly a rare treat, and that makes me wish I’d get a chance to see it played.

This is how it unfolds, without fail, as I review each show’s setlist. A show that opens with Vultures? Interesting! A show that features a bust-out? Interesting! A new and random cover that could be a one-timer? Interesting! A novelty show, such as the M show, GameHoist, or even the recent Saw It Again adventure? Interesting! The appearance of a song like Dogs Stole Things in a 2010 setlist is interesting, but in 1997, not as much.

A song like Stash is one where I’ve simply fallen out of love, and yet, my most recent shows, Stash has lead to an incredible jam. Ditto Down with Disease, Bathtub Gin, and Wolfman’s Brother. Seeing these doesn’t inspire an Interesting!, but it might be. Hearing a song like Harry Hood or Fluffhead live is almost always satisfying to me. But when I see it in a setlist from a show I’m not attending (or couch touring), it doesn’t make me think “Interesting!” Ditto for Bowie, YEM, and Reba.

On the other side of that coin, songs like Brother, Camel Walk, and Destiny Unbound are rare and interesting enough that, even when executed in standard fashion, they are eye-catching.

Funny thing, if I made a mix of my favorite Phish live song performances for a fellow Phish fan, it likely wouldn’t include many of the “interesting!” setlist choices, but rather, the best jams. And what songs are they? Ghost, YEM, Piper, Split Open and Melt. Not quite “Interesting!“, is it?

As you can see, judging a show from its setlist is almost always a bad idea. It’s much smarter to use the advice of those in the know, or employ something like the Phish.net show rating results to find shows to hunt down. But that doesn’t mean that some of us don’t go against better judgement, and look for those shows with setlists that make us think “Interesting!

Today is Not Yesterday (and Cannot Be)

The following originally appeared on the Phish.net blog:

Today starts Phish summer tour 2010, and I can’t help but get sucked into the whole “Phish 3.0″ debate: are they still any good? Can they still jam? Will there be any notable performances? Will 2010 be able to hold a candle to Phish 1.0 shows?

My friend and colleague ZZYZX recently pointed out that Phish has seemingly been misremebered for their long, exploratory jams, when in reality, they didn’t “jam” much until the late 90s. He also points out that perhaps there’s less work required to hit the jam stride, the sweet spot of the jam, so to speak.

I’ve been sucked in a few times to debates with people who maintain that Phish isn’t the same band they used to be. Of course this is true, they’ve got decades more experience, they aren’t trying to find themselves like they were in the 80s, and they’re at a different point in life. But what’s also true is what got us here may not get us there, to borrow a business motivation phrase.

When I hear the complaint that Phish doesn’t write like they used to, citing songs like Reba and Fluffhead, I’m bothered.  Phish does attempt songs like those still: see Time Turns Elastic. Walls of the Cave. Waves. Pebbles and Marbles. The challenge is that these are new, and new is never as good as old when it comes to music.

Let’s look at Time Turns Elastic. I’ve advocated for Time Turns Elastic before, but let me just highlight some of that here. Those noobs who make smarmy jokes suggesting TTE is only for pee breaks annoy me. Time Turns Elastic is a musician’s wet dream: I dare you to try to count it out. It’s got definitive sections, much like Fluffhead. It’s got a happy ending jam a segment, like The Arrival. It’s got some fun, warm sections, like Reba. And some tough-to-figure-out, intricate composed sections a la Divided Sky. But for whatever reason, there is a large group that simply doesn’t like this masterpiece. So much so that it was voted the worst Phish song in a recent poll on Phish.net. Meanwhile, the return of Fluffhead had phans creaming in their drawers. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m forced to maintain that older equates to better for too many. We’ve heard Fluffhead a thousand times, it’s part of Phishtory, and it reminds us of a simpler time. It evokes emotion in a way newer songs just don’t… yet. I think in time, should TTE become a rarity, it will get its due. In the meantime, Fluffhead was first.

There’s a certain pride, with a band, in being there first. I only heard of Phish for the first time – that I can remember – in 1992. By then, several of the Phish.net staff had already seen more concerts than I have since. I wonder sometimes if I would have even gotten into Phish if it was 1988 when I first saw them. Or 2004. The state of the band when you first took interest in them undoubtedly shapes your judgement of them in all subsequent phases of their career. But I think we’re unique here, because we have so much of the history captured on tape for posterity… and repeated analysis. I think that many of us are brainwashed because we don’t revisit the totally average shows nearly as often as the epic shows of days past, so we start to believe that the quality used to be higher. We compare every show we attend now to the highlights of days past. Dip that ladel in the tub, and your creation will yield disappointment – the purple paste of “Phish 3.0″ being a letdown. It’s not. It’s exactly what anyone paying close attention should have expected. It’s the natural evolution of Phish.

Phish is no longer a bunch of kids trying to define themselves. They’re a bunch of 40-somethings who have experimented and found their comfort zone. They’re evolving, but at the same time, narrowing in on what makes them happiest and will sustain them longest. They like a variety of music and styles and like variation in their setlists. They like adopting wacky covers, sometimes only once (e.g. Rhincerous, Layla, Golden Age, Terrapin Station). They like playing their classics. They like shelving songs and surprising audiences with their unexpected return. They like treating remote audiences to something special. They’re not a jam band or prog rockers or hippies or old men or young men – they’re amorphous. They’re not just performing, they are creating an overall experience.

In 2009, Phish honed their skills and ambitiously aimed for flawless execution. People complained about lack of variety (AC/DC Bag to open seven shows in 2009?), but Phish played 248 different songs last year, a full third of their entire twenty-five plus year repetoire. What will 2010 have in store for us and will it appease the masses?

Stay tuned to Phish.net to find out.