Phish Get Baked
Consider this a story for the nonfans, or the borderline fans, or , like me, the sometimes fans. Phish, the sine qua non jam band now the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers are no more, are following up their New Year’s Eve run of shows with a gigantic, practically sold out, 13 shows which started July 22nd (the Friday show I caught) through August 6th. A Baker’s Dozen, and in keeping with the baking concept, they are giving away different flavored donuts every night through the residency, and more, connecting the evening with the donut flavor. For instance, Friday’s flavor was coconut so the show opened with Junior Senior’s “Coconut,” a rare take on “Reba” (“coconuts and chloroform”) and they closed out with Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” (you know: “She put the lime in the coconut, she drank ’em bot’ up…” acapella. Saturday was strawberry filled donuts and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Sunday was red velvet and Velvet Underground covers. It was clever and fun, turning events eventful and filling the room with love and muchies. As for the music, the first set on Friday was the best I’ve ever seen them, a mix of strong groove and country flairish jam like. But I’m not a fan, and I feel about their extended jams the way I feel about DJ’s dropping the bass: it’s an easy ovation. I loved the entire first set, every second. But then there was a 45 minute break. Why would Phish need a 45 minute break after performing for 75 minutes? It completely killed all momentum, and a 17 minute “Tweezer” followed by an interminable “Billy Breathed” had me heading for the exit sign.
I keep on swearing I am never going back to see Phish and I keep on returning, it is like I suffer from marijuana induced short term memory loss because, seriously, I don’t much like jam but when I like it I love it.
Look at the jam bands as follows:
1 – The Allman Brothers – Southern boogie guitar kings and soul brothers and Gregg’s singing.
2- The Grateful Dead – The Beats on the road to becoming millionaire hippies
3 – Phish – Frat boys never grow up.
Phish dress like frat boys, and act like kids puling an all nighter before their finals: for all their skills, only Page McConnell deserves a seat at the big boys table. It isn’t simply that there is something boyish about Trey Anastasio, but that there is something legitimately shallow, like the Baker’s Dozen concept, the weed haze is so mellow and the time signatures so tricky, you are in a constant state of intellectual contamination. Can any one name one smart lyric the band has ever written? Here is a lyric for a song I did see Friday: “Tumbling greens, a pick-up screams alone above the square, whoa, sing softly above the trees where Billy breathes we float upon the air…” OK, but so what?
Set for set, Phish are light years ahead of their competitors, much better than Dead And Company or moe. Or Tedeshi-Trucks band, but they are still art for art’s sake, a grooved out snooze of a band with a great marketing campaign. Capable of one great set out of every ten maybe it sounds better if you’re baked.