Once again the end of the year is nearing, and again it’s time to look back on the last 12 months in music. Lots of great albums were released in 2010, several of which consumed my listening for weeks or even months on end. Today, I share with you 10 of these albums that provided the soundtrack to much of this year for me.
1. Jimi Hendrix – Valleys of Neptune
When word of this release came a little over a year ago, many suspected another rerelease of the endless outtakes from Hendrix’s studio sessions. Instead, what came was a masterpiece that had somehow evaded everyone’s ears for all this time. Waking up on a cold January morning I remember calling the record store to see if it was in. It was. And so I went down and picked it up right away. I’ll never forget what happened next. Upon first hearing this new version of “Stone Free” it was like being transported back to a time when Hendrix was continually breaking down musical barriers with each record he created. With Valleys of Neptune, Jimi is still breaking down barriers in 2010.
2. Pat Metheny – Orchestrion
This album would be first, simply for the brilliancy that went into creating the album, but I think even Pat would agree Jimi deserves the top spot. For those of you who don’t know, Orchestrion is the newest album from jazz guitar wizard Pat Metheny. While the music itself would earn this spot alone, it’s the process in which the music is created that amazes me. Using a process that I simply cannot explain, Pat, along with a small orchestra of mechanically controlled instruments, created a “Movement” that goes beyond words. I had a chance to see Pat perform the Orchestrion Movement live and it easily ranks up there with my top musical experiences. A truly unique album and yet another work of art in Pat’s arsenal of masterpieces.
3. The Barr Brothers – Self Titled
I can’t say enough about this record. This is the debut and most recent project from Brad and Andrew Barr of The Slip and Surprise Me Mr. Davis. Taking a new direction from anything they have ever touched on before, this self titled release sees the brothers in an acoustic, stripped-down format for much of the record. The addition of a harp brings to life a sound that is rarely heard in music these days, and one that seems to dance around Brad’s guitar playing. Brad emerges as a poetic songwriter and together the brothers deliver an album that ranks among the best they have ever created.
4. Dungen – Skit I Allt
In my opinion, these are some of the most talented musicians on the scene today. Whether they sing in English or not, the music behind the Swedish vocals is simply brilliant. The songs combine colorful melodies and spacey psychedelia to create a sound that is truly original. If you ever have a chance to see these guys live, take my advice and check them out. It’s an unforgettable experience.
5. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
First it was just a few of us. Then it us and our friends who we kept telling how awesome this record was. Then it was everyone and their hipster friends, and all the rest of us. This album is a work of art, front to back and everyone seems to realize that. Through the mix of effects and reverb the band creates numerous psychedelic journeys, each unique in its own way. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t heard this one yet, I highly recommend it.
6. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
It seems that everything these Canadian indie rockers put out can be justifiably labeled “epic.” The entire album builds on this concept of the suburban life through intimate, revealing lyrics and grand arrangements that come together to form an unforgettable piece of music, and poetry. This is an album that we will be listening to for many years.
7. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Yet another Canadian band from Montreal. I want to say that a lot of the bands and albums on this list sound like they’re from a different time. And maybe that’s true. Maybe they’re from a time that has yet to come. And if that didn’t trip you out enough, this album probably will. The Besnard Lakes are like a band from another planet, sent here to deliver us this great music. This most recent release is a space rock adventure that takes the listener through a psychedelic journey from start to finish. You don’t listen to this album, you experience it.
8. Jesse McReynolds – Songs of the Grateful Dead
Legendary bluegrass musician Jesse McReynolds is half of the McReynold’s Brothers duo Jim & Jesse that Jerry Garcia and Sandy Rothman followed on the road back in the spring of ’64. When Jesse first heard of the Grateful Dead’s music several years back, he immediately found a connection and decided to put together an album of their songs. The result isn’t just another ‘pickin’ on’ album, but an authentic bluegrass take on the Hunter/Garcia tunes. As Dennis McNally, well-known Dead writer and publicist for the band, recently said to jambands.com:
“It isn’t GD music bluegrass-ified. Instead, he picked out great ballads like “Standing on the Moon” – his performance of that at the Rex left me and lots of others in tears – and “Black Muddy River.” He’ll be at the festivals next summer, and he’s special.”
9. Masters of Reality – Pine/Cross Dover
The band that once featured Ginger Baker on drums finally put out their much anticipated new release this year. And it rocks. This is a great album throughout that ends in one of the best jams of the entire year (live or studio) in a 12 minute piece of improvisation called “Alfalfa.” The album is masterfully produced, as should be expected from frontman/producer Chris Goss.
10. Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
On Destroyer of the Void Blitzen Trapper delivers an album that combines their 60′s folk sound with a dose of proggy psychedelia that sees the band venturing into new waters. The epic title track opens the album featuring queen-like vocal arrangements and rich guitar lines. The rest of the album is more in-line with the band’s past works, and relies heavily on strong poetic lyrics and graceful guitar melodies. A great album all around.
Steve Hackett – Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall
Endless Boogie – Full House Head
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – I Learned The Hard Way
Railroad Earth – Railroad Earth
Field Music – Measure
Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Wolf People – Steeple
>Back in 1985 Trey offered friends a 4 track cassette of songs, now famously known as “A Christmas Gift From Trey.” 25 years later, Big Red has offered up yet another musical Christmas gift. Over at Livephish.com, you can now download (for free) most of Trey’s recent performance with the Scorchio String Quartet. Live From Princeton features most of the performance in mp3 quality, but is noticeably missing several songs including the debut of Trey’s new collaboration with Amanda Green, “Julie.” The show was performed in Trey’s childhood hometown of Princeton, NJ at Richardson Auditorium on November 18, 2010 and featured the Scorchio String Quartet along with a guest appearance from Tom Marshall.
You can also download Trey’s 1985 Christmas Gift here.
Whether you like them or not, over the years glowsticks have become an integral part of the live Phish experience. In a sense, glowsticks simply came from the various audience participation rituals that have been a part of Phish shows since the beginning. Glowsticks do not simply fly at any random point during the show, but rather come during peak moments and transcendent jams as a physical response from the audience to the music they are hearing. The band has said that these audience rituals help to inspire them on stage, and in a recent video Trey even attempted to give us the history of the glowstick war while showing his obvious fascination and approval of them.
In March of 2010, my good friend Andrew, along with his friend Michael, started GlowStickWars.com to offer safe, concert-friendly ”Show Sticks” for sale. They come in tubes of 100 glowsticks, and a generous portion of every sale is donated to The Mockingbird Foundation to help support music education. The idea was to take this ritual, and instead of having fans turn over their money to random stores, they would be supporting a much better cause that resonated with the community. And in just a few short months, GSW has raised over $1,000 for Mbird! I personally am not one to throw glowsticks at a show, I find myself entranced by the music. But I certainly support those who want to express themselves in this way, and I enjoy the visual site that it creates. Any one of us who has brought a first timer to a show has, no doubt, tapped them on the shoulder when the glowstick war breaks out. It’s a unique part of the community, and I value that. So to be able to turn this all into charity is a great thing and I commend the guys at GlowStickWars.com for doing this.
And while this charitable act is certainly commendable, it’s actually another aspect of the website that has caught my interest. You may have noticed the amazing pictures that have been featured in recent posts on Dog Gone Blog–these are all from GlowStickWars.com. In addition to providing show-safe glowsticks, the website also acts as a photo sharing site for concert photos. In just a short period, the site has been filled with stunning pictures from various fans who have willingly contributed their work to the site. Some are more professional than others, but if you take a look you will notice there are albums from nearly every show in 2010 and most from 2009.
You may think Andrew paid me to write this. Well, he did not and neither did Michael. I have my own stake in this. First, I see lots of potential for charitable donations to The Mockingbird Foundation. Second, while I approve of glowstick wars, I certainly do not approve of the large sized glowsticks that can easily harm someone, especially small children. And third, and this is really a personal plea, is the photo sharing component.
As a Phish blogger, we are stranded for photos. The band has secured permissions for their photo archive, but those permissions do not extend to us. As such, I am left with the decision to post recent pictures from the past 10 years, or use no pictures at all. So I am asking that if you do have pictures of the band from their earlier years, please make an account and upload them toGlowStickWars.com. Or, if you’re too lazy to do that, send them over to me and I will upload them on your behalf. It doesn’t take long, and it would really be a huge help for us, and for the guys atGlowStickWars.com as they build their archive.
Now this next part, Andrew did ask me to write: For the rest of 2010, order 5+ tubes of glowsticks from GlowStickWars.com and receive Free Shipping. Use promo code: 5NYE2011 and help support The Mockingbird Foundation this holiday season. Make it rain, as they say!
Drawing closer to Phish’s NYE run, we continue to look back on past jams from the month of December. At this point the community is back in full swing in preparation of the upcoming shows. Many questions are being asked, and speculation is already filling the message boards (between the posts coming from males offering females their 12.31 extras). Will there be repeats? Will the shows in Worcester be mere warm-ups? Will Allen Toussaint sit-in (that one comes from me—he’s playing around the corner with Sharon Jones)? These are some of the questions fans are asking as the anticipation continues to grow. The answers to which we will soon find out.
The first show we will visit today will be from Phish’s second to last performance of their Fall ’95 Tour. The tour finished with a bang at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, NY where the band played two shows to close-out the tour. The first night featured a divine “Reba” and yet another monstrous “Mike’s” > “Simple” > “Weekapaug.” Trey is very on throughout this entire show, and this Mike’s jam is a prime example. He locks into one of his famous drone-licks that carries on through the jam propelling it into a borderline metal jam at times. It’s Hendrix-like. Almost. The drone carries on into a perfect high-tempo “Simple” segue and reappears again in the jam taking the typically melodic jamt into a dark, dissonant section. Another seamless segue follows into “Weekapaug” where Page and Mike step to the forefront leading the jam way outside for several measures, while Trey—on his mini percussion kit—and Jon guide the rhythm. The jam ends in a beautiful ambient section that gracefully becomes “Squirming Coil.”
“Mike’s Song” > “Simple” > “Weekapaug” (12.16.95)
Next up, we visit a smoking show nearing the end of the Fall ’99 Tour from Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC. This is a great start-to-finish show with lots of highlights scattered throughout. We’ll first turn our attention toward the lengthy version of “Sand” that kicked off the second set. As the song began to fully blossom, the band was clearly enjoying the musical discoveries they were having as they continued to stretch-out the jams along the tour and into Big Cypress. This version is heavily effect-driven, with Trey experimenting using the ‘reverse’ feature on one of the oldest pedals in his rack, the Ibanez DM2000 delay (which has been heavily modified by this point). Later in the set, there is a delay loop jam coming out of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” that leads into another effect driven jam, this time on”Tweezer.” As with many of the jams from this tour, the cosmic space-groove improv style often paved the way for these spectacular melodic jams. This is one of them.
When I recently reviewed Phish’s performance from 11.16.94 at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI, I made mention of the two night run the Grateful Dead had played at the same venue some 23 years prior. These shows continue to hold a special place with me, and the second night was actually one of the very first Dead tapes that I owned. While the first night is certainly top-notch, it’s the second that sees the band truly explore this new sound they had recently stumbled upon. In many ways, in December of 1971 the Dead were on the cusp of breaking into a new psychedelic, jazz-inspired playing style that would fully emerge within months of this show.
This period marked a hugely transitional phase for the band. As the band pushed their psychedelic explorations to the forefront, Pigpen became increasingly withdrawn from the band’s jams (he would actually get up and leave the stage), . To make up for his sonic absence, Keith Godchaux was added to the lineup in October of ’71 and this pushed the band in an entirely new direction. At this point they seem to be just discovering this new sound, and their willingness to explore it is perfectly displayed in this show.
You can notice the clear signs of transition at this point in the band’s career. Songs like “Playin’ in the Band” had yet to bloom into the psychedelic launch pads that they would soon become—the version from this show is only six minutes long. But what is evident is the potential that these short jams possess, which is indicative of the direction these relatively new songs would take just a short time after this show. And while we have these signs of change, there are still traces of the late 60′s sound that they have seemingly outgrown. Mostly absent throughout the show (other than a first set “Hurts Me Too”) Pigpen emerges toward the end for a rousing version of “Lovelight” that features verses from “King Bee” and “I’m a Man.”
The undisputed highlight of the show is the second set opening “Dark Star.” By December of ’71, Keith had begun to find his comfort zone in the band, propelling jams in an all new direction. This truly was the end of an era, and the beginning of the next. In a sense, a new psychedelic energy seems to be taking over the band, directing them to further explore these new sounds. We owe a big thanks to Charlie Miller for bringing this gem, and so many others, into the digital world for all to enjoy.
You can stream the SBD of the show via Archive.org, or download it from Etree. Both links are below.
Download: 1971.12.15 Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI
Source: SBD -> Master Reel -> Cassette -> Dat (48k)
Indie folk rockers The Decemberists have solidified their connection to the jamband world via a newly released cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Row Jimmy.” The song is featured as the B-side to the band’s new 7″ for the song “January Hymn.” Their version is eerily similar to the original and features some very nice slide work. To learn more about The Decemberists’ jamband connection, check out Mike Greenhaus’ ‘Indie Outing’ on the band over on Relix.com.
B-side: “Row Jimmy”
A-side: “January Hymn”
As we continue to look back on highlights from the month of December, today we turn our focus toward some of the best audience recordings from December ’95. If you haven’t been following along, etree user ‘duanebase’ has been sharing AUDs from 12.95 each day on the 15th anniversary of the shows. Below, you will find links to the downloads and source information for the shows up to this point. I recommend downloading all of these sources as many are among the finest that circulate from this incredible period in the band’s career. Big thanks to duanebase for uploading these and to those responsible for taping and transferring the shows.
And of course, today’s must-hear jam comes to you in the form of the remarkable “Tweezer” > “Timber” > “Tweezer” from 12.14.95 (as featured on Livephish 1).
December ’95 Recommended Sources
(click on the dates to download)
Download: 1995.12.1 Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, PA
Source: (FOB) AKG 460
Download: 1995.12.2 New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT
Source: B+K 4011 > custom pre-amp > Teac DA-P20 (@ 48kHz)
Download: 1995.12.4 Mullins Center, UMass, Amherst, MA
Source: AKG 460B/ck61 > custom pre-amp > Teac DA-P20 (@ 48kHz)
Download: 1995.12.5 Mullins Center, UMass., Amherst, MA
Source: AKG 460B/ck61 > custom pre-amp > Teac DA-P20 (@ 48kHz)
Download: 1995.12.7 Niagara Falls Convention Center, Niagara Falls, NY
Source: AT 4031 –> Tascam DA-P1
Download: 1995.12.8 CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH
Source: Schoeps CMC34 –> Sonosax SX-M2 –> Panasonic SV-255
Download: 1995.12.9 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY
Source: B+K 4011> Neumann p/s> Sony D10 PRO II> DAP1> ZA2
Download: 1995.12.11 Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, ME
Source: B+K 4011 > custom pre-amp > Teac DAP-20 (@48kHz)
Download: 1995.12.12 Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI
Source: AKG 460B/ck61 > custom pre-amp > Teac DAP-20 (@48kHz)
Download: 1995.12.14 Broome County Arena, Binghamton, NY
Source: AKG 460B/ck61 > custom pre-amp > Sony D7 (@ 48 kHz)
Today’s Ambient Alarm Clock takes us through some past musical highlights that took place on December 13th. The playlist features jams from both Phish and the Dead mixed into a nice lengthy listening session. Have a great day.
1. Eyes of the World (12.13.90)
2. Yamar (12.13.97)
3. Piper (12.13.99)
4. Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain (12.13.80)
5. Ghost > Mike’s Song > Llama (12.13.97)
6. Playin’ in the Band (12.13.97)
When you are going off on that bass, do you ever say to your self “Man, I’m going off?”
Yes. One time on our last tour, I said to myself, “Man, I’m going off,” and god knows I was; I was way off. I was so off I was on, and I thought, “Right on.” Actually, could you rephrase the question?
What was “Fish like in college? Please give details
Kevin “Foz” Fosbenner, Rutledge, PA
He was whimsical, doing anything on a whim. An adventurous guy, he would do anything for a thrill. One time that meant busting open the dorm candy machine with a hammer. A security guy walked up and Fish said, cautiously gripping the shopping bag of candy, “Aw, look what someone did.” Another time he hid from campus cops by lying with his bicycle in the bushes, even though he had done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, he got caught anyway by an officer who saw the bike sticking out. He was startled and said, “What candy machine?”
Dear Members of Phish,
In high school, were you the popular or unpopular kids
Huge Fan, Nathan Corddry
Dear Nathan, I think I’m speaking for all of us When I saw I was the Captain of the football team.
If you were stranded on an island and could only have 3 things, what would they be?
Jon Layfellow, Ruidoso, NM
A towel—I could get wet if I take a dip. A CD player (I think it’s obvious what CD I’d have). And a small plane.
Have you ever cut a set a little short because one of you had to go potty? Do you have a hand signal or something that lets the band know you must “make”?
Love, Samantha Kramer Cleveland, OH
I have “made” before—mid-set. But sometimes, music can be good with the added tension of knowing you’d like to make.
Dear Mike, here’s a question I’m sure you’ve seen before. The glowsticks are beginning to annoy the fuck out me. How do you feel? James During, Wilmington, NC
Jimmy: We appreciate an audience-instigated ritual, just as we appreciate a bird chirping Mahler daintly on the windowsill, the dead cold of a winter’s night. But I’m not the only one to suffer eyeball damage, so I suggest that people throw something lighter like feathers, cotton candy or conch fritters.
End of Century (20th)
What do you think would be the strangest thing that could happen on the eve of the new millenium?
Hakim Smith St. Paul, MN
Hakim: God could descend in the image of George Burns, and sing us the newer, revised Commandments.
Today we look back on three more great jams from the month of December—the “Tweezer” from 12.9.94, the famous “Albany YEM” from 12.9.95 and the “Simple” > “Timber” from 12.9.97. All three jams show the band exploring vastly different musical styles and continue to highlight this magical month.
This spacey version features the band singing “Let’s say goodbye to Salem” (in reference to the “Tweezer” from a week prior). Lots of psychedelic, stretched-out exploration with loads of Miles’ influence.
The Albany YEM (12.9.95)
One of the most famous versions of Phish’s magnum opus. It includes a “silent jam” and quotes from the “Shaft” theme. We discussed this jam the other night on Type II Cast, which you can now check out here. This one goes out to Scotty B. of YEMblog. Be sure to check out Scotty’s writeup on the jam over at Hidden Track.
Simple > Timber (Jerry) (12.9.97)
Another 30 minute adventure from the magical Fall ’97 tour. Slow, spaced out psychedelia.
As you may have already heard, rumors have been circulating for some time now with regard to a possible Phish festival at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit on the 4th of July weekend. Watkins Glen was once home to a legendary musical festival that took place in 1973, the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, that featured the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band. This festival holds a very special place among Deadheads, as the “jam” during the soundcheck on the day prior to the festival (7.27.73) blossomed into what is largely considered to be one of the finest pieces of Graateful Dead music ever performed.
What prompted this speculation was a recent lift on a ban that prevented gatherings of people larger than 20,00 at Watkins Glen. Rumors have also circulated that Phish management have been in contact with the grounds’ promoters, but my sources tell me the band is still in the process of seeking out a suitable location for their festival. An article yesterday in Corning, NY’s The Leader, addressed the recent rumors and included quotes from Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup.
“Fueling the “Phish at The Glen” rumors, fans have pointed to WGI’s proven capacity to handle large crowds, its proximity to Interstate Highway 86 and the recent loss of its IndyCar race on Fourth of July weekend.
On Tuesday, WGI president Michael Printup didn’t elaborate on what band or any possible dates, but he did acknowledge the track has been considering hosting a concert.
“We’re talking to some folks, except that it’s so far off right now,” he said. “There’s no ink on paper, there’s discussions and phone calls. If we can get it done in cooperation with Schuyler County, we’d like to get it done.”
It does appear that Phish will host a festival this summer, however, the location is still yet to be determined.
To honor the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s passing, I have selected two excerpts from the much-beloved book of poems and short stories written by John Lennon himself (click here to purchase the book from Amazon). In the first excerpt, John describes a bit about the book. The second, my personal favorite, is a story about flies and a man named Frank.
About The Awful
I was bored on the 9th of Octover 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us led by Madolf Heatlump (who only had one). Anyway they didn’t get me. I attended to varicous schools in Liddypol. And still didn’t pass — much to my Aunties supplies. As a member of the most publified Beatles my (P, G, and R’s) records might seem funnier to some of you than this book, but as far as I’m conceived this correction of short writty is the most wonderfoul larf I’ve every ready.
No Flies On Frank
There were no flies on Frank that morning – after all why not? He was a responsible citizen with a wife and child, wasn’t he? It was a typical Frank morning and with an agility that defies description he leapt into the bathroom onto the scales. To his great harold he discovered he was twelve inches more tall heavy! He couldn’t believe it and his blood raised to his head, causing a mighty red colouring.
‘I carn’t not believe this incredible fact of truth about my very body which has not gained fat since mother begat me at childburn. Yea, though I wart through the valet of thy shadowy hut I will feed no norman. What grate qualmsy hath taken me thus into such a fatty hardbuckle.’ Again Frank looked down at the awful vision which clouded his eyes with fearful weight. ‘Twelve inches more heavy, Lo!, but am I not more fatty than my brother Geoffery whise father Alec came from Kenneth — through Leslies, who begat Arthur, son of Eric, by the house of Ronald and April — keepers of James of Newcastle who ran Madeline at 2-1 by Silver Flower, (10-2) past Wot-ro-Wot at 4/3d a pound?’
He journeyed downstairs crestfallen and defective — a great wait on his boulders — not even his wife’s battered face could raise a smile on poor Frank’s head — who as you know had no flies on him. His wife, a former beauty queer, regarded him with a strange but burly look. ‘What ails thee, Frank? she asked stretching her prune. ‘You look dejected if not informal,’ she addled.
“Tis nothing but wart I have gained but twelve inches more tall heavy than at the very clock of yesterday at this time — am I not the most miserable of men? Suffer ye not to spake to me or I might thrust you a mortal injury; I must traddle this trial alone.’ ‘Lo! Frank — thous hast smote me harshly with such grave talk — am I to blame for this vast burton?’
Frank looked sadly at his wife — forgetting for a moment the cause of his misery. Walking slowly but slowly toward her, he took his head in his hands and with a few swift blows gad clubbed her mercifully to the ground dead. ‘She shouldn’t see me like this,’ he mubbled, ‘not all fat and on her thirtysecond birthday.’
Frank had to het his own breakfast that morning and also on the following mornings.
Two, (or was it three?) weeks later Frank awake again to find that there were still no flies on him.
‘No flies on this Frank boy,’ he thought; but to his amazement there seemed to be a lot of flies on his wife — who was still lying about the kitchen floor. ‘I carn’t not partake of bread and that with her lying about the place,’ he thought allowed, writing as he spoke. ‘I must deliver her to her home whore she will be made welcome.’
He gathered her in a small sack (for she was only four foot three) and headed for her rightful home. Frank knocked on the door of his wife’s mothers house. She opened the door.
‘I’ve brought Marian home, Mrs. Sutherskill’ (he could never call her Mum). He opened the sack and placed Marian on the doorstep.
‘I’m not having all those flies in my home,’ shouted Mrs. Sutherskill (who was very houseproud), shutting the door. ‘She could have at least offered me a cup of tea,’ thought Frank lifting the problem back on his boulders
Today we look back on several more standout jams from the month of December. For a further discussion on Phish’s history in this magical month (specifically December 1995) tune into Type II Cast at 8pm tonight or subscribe to the podcast via itunes. Type II is a weekly Phish podcast that I am happy to be a part of, so be sure to check it out.
Mike’s Song > Weekapaug Groove (1995.12.7)
Tube > Slave (1997.12.7)
Bathtub Gin (1999.12.7)
If you hadn’t already noticed, we’re deep in the heart of primal Phish season. Whether it’s @shapsio’s increasingly frequent (!)’s or the various #musthear daily jams, it should be clear to all that December was once a very special time for Phish. It was during this month that the band would close out these monstrous fall tours, and after having played so many shows together, the band members would be clicking like Fred & Adele (Astaire). For the remainder of the month, I’ll be joining along in celebrating these spectacular moments in the band’s history. And what better day to start than December 6th? This will be nice way for newcomers to discover these classic gems and also a way for oldcomers to relisten and discuss.
“Mike’s Song” > “Simple” > “Harry Hood” > “Weekapaug Groove” (12.6.96)
A spectacular “groove” with must-hear jamming in all four parts.
“Tweezer” > “Izabella” (12.6.97)
One of the all-time great jams. This one goes out to Drew, who will no doubt be celebrating this “Tweezer” like the birth of his own child.
Every Phish fan is aware of the magic that took place on a nightly basis back in the fall of ‘97. Each night Phish took the stage, it was as if the earth would shift from its axis, opening the doors to a new realm of musical discovery. With the bar set higher and higher after each show, Phish rode a cosmic wave leaving behind one of the finest tours upon which the band has ever embarked.
Around the halfway mark on this momentous tour, Phish made their way into the venue many of us will be visiting in just a short time, The Worcester Centrum Centre. After three nights in this venue, since becoming the stuff of lore, the band was quite literally firing on all cylinders, charging forth with a rare and noticeable determination. The final night has remained among my favorites for reasons you will soon understand.
By this time Phish had fully realized their transition into a funkier, groove-oriented direction. Inspired by the music of artists such as King Sunny Ade, they went in search of a more collective sound, much the same as Brian Eno had done when he joined up with Talking Heads to produce Remain in Light. It comes down to the influence of African music in both cases, which relies on a basic philosophy that a group can generate a greater sound than an individual. This show from November 30th, 1997 at Worcester is perhaps one of the finest examples of this arcane philosophy.
As I have repeatedly stated, an obscure opener is often the starting point for some of the best shows. And so as the band kicks things off with “Guyute,” the seed is planted for what unfolds into a show that goes way beyond expectation. Following the story of the ugly pig, the band settles into their zone, and unleashes the first highlight of the night. From this point, I recommend turning your stereo to a loud setting, removing yourself from all distractions, and completely immersing yourself in this music.
The journey really begins with a “Funky Bitch” that drifts into a cooking funk jam. As the jam grows into this immensely powerful groove, it becomes obvious how transcendent a simple funk jam can become—it’s so much more than just heavy wah’s and thick bass lines. This jam truly shows what it is to be one of four musicians following a single musical idea, a feat that few musicians can pull off in any genre. It’s here that Mike, who is on fire throughout the entire tour, begins to lead the charge.
“Funky Bitch,” “Wolfman’s Brother“
This funked out energy carries over into “Wolfman’s,” which elaborates on the groove by taking it for an extended 30 minute adventure, the longest version to date. The jam features what has been referred to as the “Pentagram Death Jam” in the Phish Companion, which is essentially a very King Crimson-esque jam that rides under the lyrics to “Esther” and “Sanity” for a time. This heavy-metal jam carries on and Trey asks Chris if he can turn off the lights while they wail out on the dark grind-metal. Some love it, some hate it. But what’s really amazing is that we’re only on the third song at this point. The band rounds out the rest of the set with Elvis’ “Love You,” “Squirming Coil,” and “Loving Cup.”
As with the best Phish shows, the entire performance seems to tap into a continuous and flowing energy that repeatedly rears its head throughout the evening. With some covers peppered in to allow for momentary returns to the earth’s surface, the full performance seems like one long musical adventure, with a guiding light controlling the direction of the jams. In a sense, this show takes on its own personality and morphs every jam to suit this personality, just the way those perfect concerts seem to do. The jams control the band, rather than the band controlling the jams. This is something Trey has constantly referred to in interviews—musicians acting as mere vehicles for a greater energy that exists within the atmosphere.
The second set kicks off innocently with “NICU,” after which “Stash” coils out and leads into the next highlight of the show. Trey proceeds to lay down staccato licks over the progression, setting the foundation for the dark journey that follows. As the band comes together, they continue to drive the jam deeper into dark territory. Out of this darkness emerges a funk reminiscent of the intro to “Timber Ho” guiding the jam into a heavy bass-led groove.
It’s as if the groove from “Funky Bitch” has returned, as though it never stopped. It’s like a zone the band can slip and out of at will. This is Genesis-like funk, where time signatures and syncopation come together in a complex, yet accessible form. The jam evolves into an open funk dialogue, where you can hear the subtle nuances from each member as they carry on this musical conversation. What is most impressive, and this may be something not every ear will pick up on, is how they straddle the line between major and minor drifting between the two as though there is no dividing line. A seamless transition into “Free” provides a momentary escape, but once again the band taps into this flowing cosmic energy, and the continuous jam, well, continues.
“Stash” > “Free“
What comes next could be my favorite part of this already amazing show. As the final note on “Free” fades out, Jon continues to ride the hi-hat and an ambient jam emerges. It’s a perfect musical moment where each note seems to have a purpose. “Piper” comes out of this, and at this point the song is still young and there is virtually no jam, but it does have that most awesome slowed-down ending. “Antelope” closes the set, and it’s a good version led by Trey’s fiery guitar acrobatics. And as if to nod to their own musical evolution, they debut Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” for the encore.
DOWNLOAD: 1997.11.30 Worcester Centrum Centre, Worcester, MA
SOURCE: Neumann U89i(hypercardioid)>Sonosax
Set 1: Guyute, Funky Bitch, Wolfman’s Brother -> Love Me, The Squirming Coil > Loving Cup
Set 2: NICU, Stash -> Free > Jam -> Piper, When the Circus Comes, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Them Changes
Notes: Funky Bitch and Stash were unfinished. Wolfman’s included a heavy metal style jam, with a Heartbreaker tease from Mike, and Trey quoting the lyrics to Sanity and Esther. Them Changes made its Phish debut at this show.
[Setlist via Phish.net]