Last night, I had the great pleasure of catching my acoustic hometown hero—Doug Paisley—at one of Brooklyn’s most intimate and welcoming venues. Sharing the bill with Bela Fleck’s significant other, Abigail Washburn, at Brooklyn’s Bell House, Paisley paired well, offering his sparse set of wanderer’s tales and minimalist guitar work to a crowd of attentive listeners. The Toronto native even commented at one point that it was eerie to hear silence of that sort in New York City. And though I had my fancy new DSLR on hand and intended to take it for its maiden voyage into the world of concert photography, I realized quickly that I could only shoot between songs as the shutter sound could be heard across the entire room. Pin drop type silence.
This was my second time seeing Paisley perform in almost as many months, having caught him on his recent tour with freak folk outfit Megafaun. I also hold the rare feat of having seen the guitarist perform to a crowd of no more than eight in a basement pub in London, Ontario—the same night I became a lifelong fan of his. Whether it’s eight or fifty, Paisley performs a similar set, combining his troubadour-like persona with nimble guitar lines that nod to a gentler-handed Garcia and classic country pickers like Doc Watson.
But what draws the crowd in to a level of attentiveness rarely seen at concerts in this city, are the songs. His 2010 release Constant Companion, was named “one of the finest singer-songwriter driven LPs of 2010″ by Aquarium Drunkard and received high praise from countless others. The songs have a simple kind of sadness that tell of the journeys and hardships of the road, for example his cover of The Stanley Brother’s “The Fields Have Turned Brown,” which tells of a boy who leaves home to discover himself against his parent’s pleadings. Each song is delivered with Paisley’s authentic country-style vocal approach, sounding as though he was born to play this music for us. It makes us want to listen.
Living in New York, one has the ability to see great music almost every night of the year. So what is it about one man and a guitar that can make me travel half way across the city to hear him play? I asked myself that question while riding the F train over the Brooklyn Naval Yard, contemplating it until the moment the lights dimmed and that one man appeared on stage. It’s a realness we only find in the best and musicians who are truest to their craft. It’s a sense of integrity that makes an “opening slot” so much more and a life on the road a welcome reality for the performer. It’s a voice, a guitar, the right words and bringing them all together in a special way that very few can.
“Bat Song” (9/24/11)
You can download Doug Paisley’s recent performance opening for Megafaun at Mercury Lounge via NYC Taper.
Phish’s 10th show at Camden, NJ’s Susquehanna Bank Center was a different outing than any we’ve seen from the band in recent memory. For one, the group leaned heavily into its early repertoire throughout the evening. The songs were mostly well played—especially complex composed sections—and it was clear Trey was taking risks with setlist choices.
Opening with “Rocky Top,” the second bluegrass cover opener in as many shows, Phish brought a different energy from the first note. The group then moved into a charging “Mike’s Groove,” again the second in as many shows, that featured one of the strongest “Weekapaugs” in 3.0. “Stash” went places, moving through dark modal sections with patient, atypical jamming. The highlight of the first set came during a soul stirring version of “The Curtain (With)” that featured a passionate, soaring solo from Trey.
The second set started off with a strong, albeit brief, ”Down with Disease.” While the jam did last, Phish took little time to reach some magical moments. It then segued seamlessly into “Free,” but from this point on the band seemed to lose its footing and the flow went with it. The combination of ”Possum,” “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,” “Swept Away” > “Steep,” simply did not flow. While the songs were all well played, the energy failed to carry from one to the next and the magic just wasn’t there. It didn’t help that “Fluffhead” into “Joy” closed the show.
But what was different between this set and others that have fallen flat, was the playing. Trey didn’t hijack this show (or at least he didn’t seem to)—instead it seemed more like a full band effort. It was strange to see this following the energy from the first, and surely different from any Phish experience I have known.
TAB continued their acoustic/electric tour last night at New York’s Terminal 5. With a line stretching over two blocks away, many fans were left in the cold by the time the show got started. The first set saw the solo acoustic debuts of “Down with Disease” and “Meatstick,” along with a revived acoustic version of “Camel Walk,” which was a request from Fishman all the way from Morrocco (giving a bit more insight into the very strange middle eastern-themed tour announcement video). Trey ran through several more songs that have been in the recent rotation before he was joined by the two ladies for “Wading in the Velvet Sea” and then the full band for the acoustic debut of “Heavy Things” along with “Peggy” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” (Click here for the full setlist)
While Trey often struggled with the crowd noise during his ’99 acoustic sets—at times appealing for the crowd to be quiet—the recent sets have taken more of a bar-room sing-a-long type feel, rather than a quiet acoustic setting. This is somewhat of a mixed blessing, as it has allowed us to hear many of our favorite Phish songs in this new acoustic format, but prevents Trey from doing any real playing. That said, it seems to be working on this tour and it was definitely my favorite part of the night.
Through these acoustic sets, the many songs Trey and Tom have written come to life in a way we have not seen before, highlighting the power of the actual songwriting. While Phish is often admired for their musicianship, there are so many great lyrics to so many great songs. This is the focus of these acoustic sets.
With the crowd singing along, it’s a shared experience from beginning to end. Classic Phish numbers like “Theme from the Bottom” and “Cavern,” that evoke a totally different feel when performed with the full band, invited us to a fresh new place. For me, these were the highlights of the set. It’s quite special to see the man responsible for all of this music performing it right before your eyes on nothing but an acoustic guitar (a Martin D28 at that, not his custom DC).
Trey was typically chatty throughout the evening as he had plenty on his mind to banter about. He told us of Fishman’s trip to Morocco, his upcoming musical collaboration with Amanda Green “Hands on a Hard Body,” and an error-plagued history of his relationship with Russ Remington of the Giant Country Horns.
When the band returned for the second set, they opened with a cover of Professor Longhair’s “In the Wee Wee Hours”—the first of several covers in the set. Right from the start, the electric set took on more of a soulful, bluesy feel as many of the songs typically reserved for the first set made their way into the second. Instead of digging into any lengthy or psychedelic jams, Trey showed off his fleet-fingered solos atop the deep grooves of the impeccable TAB rhythm section. Some tasteful covers appeared including The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” and Toots and the Maytal’s “Sweet & Dandy.” “Sand” briefly slipped into some spacey territory, but for the most part the jams were a display of high-energy rock. Mixed in with the covers, it made for a fun but somewhat dull second set.
Perhaps cursing myself, the other night I had made a remark that I hoped Trey had gotten the top 40 out of him in Portland and Albany (and then in Boston). But, instead, NYC got THREE top 40 covers. We know Trey has a fascination with the pop charts, but this was just too much. I like “Hey ya”—it’s well done and it’s nice to see Trey take on a song like that. I don’t think “Clint Eastwood” works, and I would have rathered any other hat-tip to NYC than the infinitely overplayed “Empire State of Mind.” I mean, it’s fun and all, but it definitely takes away from that specialness of seeing your favorite musician perform a solo show, at least for me.
Little Feat has always been, and will always be, a musicians’ band. And so when Phish – the ultimate musicians’ band – decided to cover their 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, on Sunday, there was perhaps no album more fitting.
Like Phish, Little Feat is a band that plays best in a live concert setting. As Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne told Relix in 1978: “This band is a playing type of band. We just sound better live than we do on records.” So rather than attempt to learn a studio album, as they have done in the past, Phish took on the task of recreating one of these live experiences. The music lent itself so well to Phish’s playing that at times it didn’t seem as though they were covering another band at all – it seemed as though this music had been a part of the band since the beginning.
The Halloween set began with “Join The Band” being piped over the PA system, as Phish took the stage with percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo alongside. In an attempt to replace the Tower of Power horns, who are featured on the album, Phish brought out members of Antibalas Horns – one of the finest horn sections on the scene today – and the Dapkings on several of the songs. There was instant chemistry, and as the band began to play we were shepherded back to the summer of 1978.
From note one of “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” it was clear how much of an influence these songs had on the members of Phish. Unlike many of the past musical costumes, where the band had to change their sound to suit the album, Little Feat was, as Jon mentions in the playbill, “in the fabric.” At one point a friend of mine turned to me and said “This sounds like Phish.” Or perhaps more appropriately, ‘Phish sounds like Little Feat’. Unfortunately, Trey did not use a slide (as George did) but instead mimicked his playing by cranking the treble on his amp and placing an equal importance on every note he played (as George did).
While Phish has played “Skin it Back,” “On Your Way Down” (made famous by Little Feat) and “Time Loves a Hero” since the early eighties, it was some of the other songs that gave us a true glimpse at the connection between the two bands. Waiting for Columbus takes songs from all different parts of Little Feat’s early career, giving us a feel for the various directions the band explored. The album is much like a Phish studio album (or show) in that it explores so many different genres. There’s the shufflin’ boogie on “Dixie Chicken” or the jazz-fusion songs like “Time Loves a Hero” and “Day or Night” (the latter of which led to Lowell George’s departure from the band) that show the signs of a band that could truly do it all. As Trey mentions in the Playbill: “’Tripe Face Boogie’ is in 9 time, then switches to 5, and still maintains that dynamite boogie.” So it was no surprise that it was complex songs, such as these, that Phish shone brightest.
The first few songs let the band slip into their roles – Trey as a mix of Lowell George, the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” and Paul Barrere, Mike as Kenny Gradney, Page as Bill Payne and Jon as Richie Hayward. But by “Time Loves a Hero,” the two groups had converged as one, Little Pheat, and the delivery couldn’t have been better. The band performed perhaps the best ever version of the song, flanked by Antibalas multi-instrumentalist Stuart Bogie on sax. From that point almost every moment was a highlight, but a run of songs in the middle of the set especially stood out – the run of “Spanish Moon,” “Dixie Chicken” > “Tripe Face Boogie.” I imagine it will be one of the songs from this segment that will be revisited by the band in the future.
One of the highlights, for me, was a near-perfect rendition of one of my favorite Feat tunes “Day or Night.” Phish nailed the vocal harmonies, and did justice to the complex instrumental sections. Little Feat’s influence on Phish was readily apparent as they worked through the odd-measured sections that resembled so many of their own compositions. “Mercenary Territory,” was another highlight and showed Trey mimicking George’s slide solos using bends instead of a slide, which actually worked surprisingly well. Although, I would have liked to see Trey tune to ‘G’ and lay down some leads with George’s trademark ¾ steel socket slide.
But it was the fitting “Spanish Moon,” a song about hookers and hustlers, and a run of songs that followed that served as the main highlight of the night. Having played “Spanish Moon” with Dave and Friends in the past, Trey was familiar with the jam, and it came off as one that had been in the rotation for years. Again, “part of the fabric.” The jam seemed so natural, and showed the massive influence Hayward has been on Jon’s playing. As Jon mentions in his personal tribute to the legendary Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward included in the Phishbill, “there has probably been no greater direct influence on my drumming than Richie Hayward…”
Next, the band switched gears to the other side of Little Feat’s song catalog, the George-driven down-home “Dixie Chicken,” and Phish once again flourished. Few bands could go from an R&B boogie to southern barroom blues as Little Feat did, but Phish mastered the challenge without a single slip. Page shone on this one, paying a worthy tribute to his hero Bill Payne. After “Dixie Chicken” the band segued perfectly back into the jazz-fusion side of Little Feat, annihilating the band’s complex jam vehicle “Tripe Face Boogie.”
The night also served as a tribute to Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, who passed away this past August, and Lowell George who died in 1979, shortly after Little Feat’s disbandment. Jon donned a pair of Henrietta-patterned overalls, as a tribute to George who often wore overalls onstage. George truly was a musical genius, shown by his songwriting ability, his singing, his slide playing and his signature compressed tone. His greatness is perhaps best described in a Little Feat song called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” “He’s got two degrees in bebop, a PHD in swing, he’s the master of rhythm, he’s the rock ‘n’ roll king.”
While the band’s comments prior to Halloween may have led our minds astray, Little Feat should have been an obvious choice all along. While in 2003, when Trey made comments about wanting to do King Crimson or Brian Eno, the musical direction at the time was entirely different. I mean, he had just played and released an album with Oysterhead and was in the midst of what is perhaps Phish’s most psychedelic and exploratory period. Fast forward to now, and it seems Trey, along with the rest of the band, has moved forward in a new direction – one that focuses on songs, songwriting, and rediscovering old songs. So it seems fitting that they chose an album by a band that had all of that and more, and one that has influenced them since the very beginning.
“When we started Phish, we wanted an experience – dancing, fun, togetherness…while sticking in the crazy influences and time changes, and the funk and African things. But those guys were doing it all along. Little Feat were the gold standard.” –Trey, 2010 Phishbill
[All pictures courtesy of Glowstickwars.com user Redredworm]
November 1994 – an amazing time of an amazing year for Phish. Picking a show from November ’94 is like picking a Dead show from May ’77, you’re bound to pull out a winner. This show from November 16, 1994 at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI is a top-notch performance that contains one of the band’s first truly extended jams.
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Foam, Fast Enough for You, Reba, Axilla (Part II), The Lizards, Stash, Pig in a Pen, Tennessee Waltz, Foggy Mountain Breakdown-> Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Set 2: Mike’s Song -> Simple, I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome, My Long Journey Home, Chalk Dust Torture, Fee, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Amazing Grace, Suzy Greenberg
When I first caught wind of this show, I immediately thought of the Dead’s two-night run at the same venue from ’71 (12.14 & 12.15). Both nights display the band at the top of their game, with the second night’s “Darkstar” easily ranking as one of the best jams from that year. Like Phish, the Dead were also going through a transitional phase when they arrived in Ann Arbor, having added Keith Godchaux to the line-up only months before in an attempt to compensate for Pigpen’s dwindling state. Both bands can be heard breaking new ground in these shows, and as a result, both have remained among my favorites for some time now.
As Phish’s group dynamic improved (stepping away from the guitar-led show that dominated the early years), and their willingness to explore songs increased, jams began to extend in all sorts of directions. At this point, very few shows contained jams that stretched out over thirty minutes (and those that did exist were from the days and weeks surrounding this one). However, on November 16th, 1994 the band decided to embarked on a 34 minute version of “Simple” (of all songs) that reaches beyond imagination.
It bears mentioning that this was also the first show of the tour that welcomed Rev. Jeff Mosier to help teach the band bluegrass. As such, there is a heavy dose of bluegrass in the first and second set, which may or may not be to your liking. Either way, this show has plenty to offer.
The first set kicks off with a “Sample”, “Foam” starter combination followed by a perfectly placed slow song, “Fast Enough For You”. “Reba” appears next leading the audience into the first cosmic journey of the evening. As the jam begins, Trey locks into some gorgeous playing feeding the jam with coils of melody. There are a few moments before the band fully kicks in where you can tell by the reaction from the audience that the band is on. Just then, the music explodes. Trey’s soaring notes guide the band as they converge on the song’s melodic end-jam.
The other highlight from the first set, before a sit-in with Rev. Jeff Mosier for several bluegrass numbers, is the mind-bending version of “Stash”. Entering the jam, Trey seams eager to get his ideas onto the fretboard. Experimenting with a more unstructured sound than ever before, the band begins to dissect the “Stash” jam down to its roots. A long period of dark tension building ensues that can only be described as measured chaos. With a heart-pounding groove, the band digs deeper and deeper into the darkness as we await our moment of release. The wildly disconnected playing slowly begins to come together as Trey shreds the jam all the way to the finish. A few bluegrass numbers, including “Pig in a Pen” and “Tennesee Waltz” (two of my favorites), follow before the set comes to a close.
The second set takes off as the opening riff to “Mike’s Song” rings out. Trey solos fiercely over the entire jam before reaching a perfect counterpoint as the band slips into the lighthearted “Simple”. However, this version takes a turn from the standard melodic jam that usually follows, embarking on a psychedelic trek that ventures far-out to the corners of the galaxy.
The jam begins with the standard melodic solo over the progression, but soon the tempo drops and we are left with a vast space. As Page gently provides swells of notes on the piano, Mike and Trey prepare to embark on a journey into the depths of the dark. Mike charges the jam by creating a unique sound (bending the strings on his bass) that propels the band into a King Crimson-like musical onslaught. As the storm arrives Trey locks into one of his classic droning licks from which he can traverse the fretboard in any direction. With the drums perfectly locked in with the guitar, Jon and Trey riff of one another leading the jam into a frenzied state. As each member joins in, they channel this dark energy into a breathtaking piece of music. There is lots going on as the jam continually deconstructs, and then rebuilds itself.
It sounds as though there are two opposing energies – one light and one dark – that continually battle for the upper hand in this jam. For a moment, we find ourselves in a jazz groove and then the next in a heavy metal segment. There are multiple shifts in theme before the band finally arrives at a beautiful outro segment that perfectly caps off the journey on which we have just embarked.
While anyone in attendance could have left happy at this point, there is still more. Following two more bluegrass numbers, the band plugs back in for the rendition of “Chalkdust” that appears on A Live One. Every note seems perfectly placed in the solo, and it’s one we’ve all heard so many times we can sing along with the jam.
But still lurking at the end of this monstrous set is a rockin’ “Antelope” that is not to be overlooked. As many fans will know, once Trey locks into a droning lick in a set he often revisits it many more times. This “Antelope” is a perfect example of this as Trey seems to have picked up right where the “Simple” jam left off. The band seems as tight as ever at this point in the show, trailing on the heels of each member’s every step. After a prolonged tension building segment the jam explodes in a wailing sense of triumph. Trey wishes everyone a safe drive home, and from the crowds reaction you can hear that the sense of joy that is pouring from the room.
The band’s this willingness to explore is what defines this psychedelic period in their career, and is also that factor allowed them to constantly reach higher levels of musical creativity. The “Simple” from this show is one of the hallmark moments of fall ’94 and should be heard by all.
DOWNLOAD: 1994.11.16 Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Here’s the band rehearsing “Blue and Lonesome” backstage with Jeff Mosier.