Phish: I Told You I Had Two Vices
Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
The whole hep world has gone to the untz untz whomp whomp. I get it. The kids like the dubstep, times change, music evolves… it happened before me and it will happen long after I decide to move on from this great thing we call jam. A large part of this is due to two factors: the kids are taking different drugs and there has not been a unifying factor to unite the tribes. When I first caught whiff of what we call jam, that unifying factor was Phish.
I’m no vet by true standards I hopped on the bus at the end of 1.0. In fact after getting my tickets stolen out of my back pocket at Ames 99, my first real show was Big Cypress. It’s been a steady run down the hill ever since. The first hiatus followed by the “Oxy” years and then a five-year breakup was incredibly hard for me. I had found something truly lovable in Phish before it was quickly snatched away from me by factors so far out of my control, that fans like me were not even an afterthought. But like I said, times change and in the last two years Phish has come back in a huge way. With strong outings and respectable tours Phish has begun to build back up what was lost during the interim. Sure not all the shows have been able to hit the mark, but every once and a while we get a glimpse at the powers that be and what is possible in the 3.0 era.
I love Phish. They showed me what was possible and I can’t think of another band that so singlehandedly defines what “jam” is than them. So as I did with moe. last week, I will start my new duties as the weekly jam writer by going through some of the monsters in the world jam bands. This week we will take a deeper look at The Phish from Vermont.
Jam is about improvisation and takes its roots from the jazz realm. Well, that and the incredible groundwork laid by the Grateful Dead. This is exactly where Phish found themselves as they began their rise to stardom in the mid 80s. From their days at Goddard to Amy’s Farm, it was all very much a learning experience. By the early 90s, however, they had all the tools in place. Mike, Fish, Page, and Trey were all accomplished musicians by this point and it was their time together playing day in and day out that gave them the ability to improvise. When you perform with the same group of guys for a long enough time, it becomes second nature. And that is exactly what Phish accomplished, playing on the edge and improvising in a truly organic way. From their time on Horde to touring with Carlos Santana, Phish was always building toward their own view of the future.
By the mid 90s, Phish was selling out large amphitheaters and defining their sound. With the ability to play jam, bluegrass, barbershop, prog, funk, folk, reggae, country, and rock, they had cemented their place at the top of the heap. For the real fans, the early 90s through 1998 were great times to be on tour. I caught the last gasp of this era by attending Big Cypress. Big Cypress was the culmination of Phish. The “LG”, or Long Gig, was an idea that had been floating around the band members’ heads for a number of years. They pictured it as a sort of camp out with the fans bringing sleeping bags and riding it out with the band for the duration. What transpired on the millennial eve in Florida was something different but ultimately very special and really a once in a lifetime event. I’m just glad that I got on the bus in time to catch it. And most of us know how it ended. Trey got messed up, and the rough patch in 2003 and 2004 wetted our appetites, but Phish never returned to their former glory. This brings me to their current incarnation.
We all know what Phish is capable of, they have the power to shred and melt faces more than any other touring act out their today. So it is with that premise that I would like to discuss Phish’s Alpine Valley 2010 run, specifically the first night. Here is the setlist:
SET I: Tube, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Funky Bitch, Reba, Fuck Your Face, Alaska, Back On The Train, Taste > When the Circus Comes to Town, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Gumbo > Run Like An Antelope
SET II: The Sloth, Down With Disease > What's The Use > Scent of a Mule, Mike's Song > Dirt > Sneaking Sally Through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove, Bug
ENCORE: Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)
Sure, long gone are the days of the six-song set, but this was a powerful attempt at bringing back the days of yore. I remember them going into “Fuck Your Face” and the people around me asking which song they were playing. I was on Cloud 9 as I triumphantly yelled, “They’re playing ‘FYF’!” “The Gumbo> Antelope” was simply sublime and gave me big hopes for the second set. And I was right to be hopeful. Everything you could ever want out of a Phish 3.0 show was left on the table that night at the barn we call Alpine Valley. The “DWD” into “What’s The Use” even had me asking, “Are they still playing ‘Down With Disease’?” It was obvious to everyone in attendance that Phish had truly begun the long road back to where they came from. I look at this show as a testament of what can be and what should be in the realm of modern Phish. So I hope that as we discuss more jam and how it has evolved that we will never lose sight of this humble band from Vermont and what they can do on any given night.