Earlier this year, my wife and I (yes, IDROS is married…sorry ladies) watched the titular Netflix show thinking it might be good for us, as parents, to learn a little about what the youth of today may be experiencing. Also, perhaps we could glean why the series became such a viral sensation so we could seem in tune with “Non-Fake News” topical subject matter at the proverbial water cooler, or while mingling with our counterparts at kiddy parties or activities. I can’t say I hate-watched it…In all honesty, IDROS was generally entertained by many aspects of it, and found some eerie similarities to Season One of Twin Peaks (which I might just discuss in another post)…but what your author enjoyed most about the series, hands down, was the music.
Which brings me to the much more interesting event of 2017, IMHO, that plays on our triskaidekaphobia for the low and totally worth-it price of 13 easy installments of $74.99 plus whatever applicable fees and charges various sources inexplicably get away with shaking us down for these days.
And I suppose now is as good a time as any to forewarn you. This will be a long(ish) post. Not quite as long as that Lawn Boy Supreme served up on July 25…but let’s just say it might run you a deuce and a half or even two jaunts.
This Baker’s Dozen run has been extraordinary from the starting gun. Even people who aren’t phans have taken notice, and if they haven’t, they should. Phish sets the gold standard for a live convert experience. This was going to be special from the moment it was announced.
So without further ado, here is the MEAT of this post. 13 reasons why IDROS loves the foursome named Phish:
- It’s my thesis, man – Let me first say that I have never witnessed a full Gamehendge set in its entirety. Until TBD, the closest I ever came was a group of four shows I caught where they played all but 2 songs (non-consecutively). I don’t know how many of you faithful readers actually researched, wrote and defended a thesis, be it in college or grad school, but it is no joke. Still, when I think of someone writing a thesis I don’t usually harken back to my own terrible experience. I tend to conjure up images of the guy in PCU who apparently spent his senior year watching every movie that featured Gene Hackman or Michael Caine. When, toward the end of the cult favorite (which starred a young Ari Gold, obviously before he found a dentist), said thesis writer stumbled upon a movie that starred both Caine and Hackman, he yelled out “this is my thesis man!” It was pure comedic gold…but it was funny because to those who have toiled in the stacks for hours, coughing up dust from never before read tomes, scouring microfiche, developing blisters from banging on a Mac keyboard at all hours of the night, pumping our bodies full of Mountain Dew (or worse), blinding ourselves staring at the small endlessly blinking cursor on a screen the size of a pack of cigarettes, editing, re-editing, and then waking up in a cold sweat the night before our defense/presentation…we only wish our thesis could have been that entertaining to research…and that fulfilling when proven. We all know the plural of thesis is feces. But Trey Anastasio’s thesis at Goddard College, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, is a masterclass in and of itself. If you’ve never listened to the Gamehendge chronicles from beginning to end, played a rare cassette tape until your car radio ate the tape, permanently scratched CDs from overuse, or were lucky enough to attend one of the rarest of Phish shows where the band played the rock fantasy operetta in its entirety…my advice to you is take an hour and do it. Oh…and read the friggin’ Book!
- Then Once More – every band has a gateway drug…a song that speaks to so many, inviting them in for further inspection with its pleasant beat, catchy hook and major chord melody. Bouncing Around The Room is a song guaranteed to bring a smile to pretty much every face at a Phish show because of all of these things. An early Phish tune, BATR has been reeling in Phish phans since 1990, but the thing I love most about the song is that it really encapsulates, and even showcases, the strengths (and to a lesser degree, the limitations) of the band. Fish establishes the beat from the jump and Mike lays down the bassline. With the structure in place, Trey and Page harmonize the vocals, with Page quickly demonstrating he has greater vocal range, but Trey, ever consistent (vocally), holding down the melodic fort. Page and Trey sprinkle in some keys and guitar as appropriate. The song slowly builds…Mike eventually spearheads the vocal and musical magnificence that ends the song in a round with his limited but deep baritone voice. Trey and Page beautifully layer both their voices atop Mike’s and begin to really unleash their respective instruments in what amounts to three minutes or so of pure musical bliss. All the while, the Wolfman’s Brother keeps the whole thing together.
- Deep Cover – Phish is a super talented band…not only do they prolifically write their own music, tour often, and sit in with other musicians…but all four lead their own side projects, experimenting in a multitude of musical genres, from funk to bluegrass to jazz to classical and even some dabbling in musical theater. It should be no surprise then that Phish, when together, is able to draw on these experiences as well as their vast talents, channeling their musicianship in ways few bands can. They play other people’s music with respect, but also have the courage and ability to take songs and give them a personal and unique take. I won’t say that every Phish version of a covered song is better than the original, and vocally, most of the time, Phish versions fall short. But musically, and occasionally, comedically, most Phish versions are superior, if not simply more entertaining. They have covered artists across pretty much every major musical genre, primarily alone, but a number of times on stage alongside the musicians they are covering. From Aerosmith to ZZ Top, BB King to Jay Z, Katy Perry to Chaka Khan, Miles Davis to Rage Against the Machine, Neil Diamond to the Beastie Boys, Jimi Hendrix to Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell to Elvis Presley…they are not afraid to take chances, and they have added hundreds of songs to their repertoire. And during this current TBD run, they are adding dozens (pun intended) of new and exciting covers to their songbook. Which leads nicely into…
- Ghost – One of IDROS’ favorite differentiators of the band has to be their Halloween costumes. Instead of dressing up in traditional costumes, however, Phish, beginning in 1994, has donned musical costumes, playing a full album of one of their inspirational musicians or bands. This has included the Beatles’ White Album, The Who’s Quadrophenia, the Talking Heads’ Remain In Light and The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, which IDROS was lucky enough to witness live. These musical costumes are stuff of legend…and for some lucky fans, unexpectedly in Utah in 1998, just after that year’s Loaded Halloween show, Phish played Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, leading many phans to speculate that the band rehearsed both albums for Halloween and made a game time decision to go with the VU album. Many classic songs from these Halloween shows remain fixtures in Phish’s normal tour set lists.
- Say Yes to The Dress – With everything going on in the world today, and especially in our own country as it relates to discrimination, hostility and the giant step back basic human rights and equality seem to have taken this past year, Fish’s donut-laden muumuu, which has been a fixture for decades, seems to say to the LGBTQ community, “feel free to join us….you are safe here.” This makes IDROS happy.
- The Women Are Smarter – Phish have written some amazing songs about women over the years. From Suzy to Esther, Tela to Eliza, Reba to Olivia, Jennifer to the incomparable Landlady…and have mentioned many others (Liz, Millie, Jill, Vanessa, etc.). So here’s a shout out to the women of Phish. IDROS is partial to Esther, which is one of the most terrifying but beautiful songs ever written. A short story…Phish rarely plays Esther anymore. This has been the basic trend for over a decade. Many times, the band eschews the song for entire tours, even years. IDROS has attended exactly one Phish concert with his beautiful bride (who was merely IDROS’ girlfriend at the time). At that show, Phish played Esther. We were engaged the next day. To give you an idea of the odds – since 1998, there have been about 635 Phish shows. Phish has played Esther exactly 12 times in that stretch. That is once every 53 shows, or less than 2% of the time. Since our “engagement show” Phish has also played the song on my wife’s birthday as well as on another very significant date to us. In other words, the song Esther is very important to my family, and the cosmic Phish gods know this.
- Somewhere between Erie and Pittsburgh – Many great bands have at least one movie/documentary that captures them, realistically or fictitiously, at the peak of their popularity and creativity. From A Hard Day’s Night, to The Grateful Dead Movie, to Stop Making Sense to Purple Rain to IDROS’ personal favorite, The Last Waltz. Phish’s movie, Bittersweet Motel, came out in 1998, pretty much capturing the foursome at the height of their powers with footage from their 1997 tours. It is funny, filled with great live concert footage and captures the band members in rare candid moments most fans seldom see of their idols. In retrospect, the film is also aptly named as it is poignantly capturing the beginning of the end for the band, who would break up for the first time a couple years later. Fortunately for all of us, the band was able to put their differences aside, Trey was able to get the help he needed to move forward, once briefly in 2002-2004, and again hopefully for good in 2009-present. So now, hopefully a sequel is in the works, capturing Phish 3.0 in all its glory. Maybe it will be called Blissful Bed and Breakfast, or perhaps, just, JOY (oh, wait…).
- A Higher Purpose – There have been many articles written about the “religion” of The Grateful Dead and Phish. Loyal fans who follow them, an earthy way of life, drug based and sober “religious experiences,” and the artists themselves, assembled upon the pulpit or bimah, rifling through the newest testament of all…the music. Like the Dead, Phish has a number of spiritual and religious songs, both originals and standards, that they play regularly. From Daniel Saw the Stone, and of course Avinu Malkeinu all the way through Trey’s opus, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, which is as spiritual a story as any you would find in the Bible, there is no denying that there is a large spiritual element to both Phish and its congregation of phans. Every time IDROS sees TMWSIY->Avinu live, your author hopes Fish or Mike would say “Tekiyah Gedolah” into the microphone, and TMWSIY would be played on shofars, or rams horns to kick it off. IDROS’ favorite version of a spiritual song ever played by Phish is Yerushalayim Shel Zehav, which ends their song Demand on the Hoist album, but has only been played as part of the song Demand once live. Phish has played YSZ twelve times in history (here is a favorite)…. And yes, to IDROS, Chris Kuroda is the Ner Tamid.
- Page side, rage side – IDROS plays the piano. Page plays the piano. IDROS believes Page is the greatest pianist in the world. Trey may be Phish’s “front man,” but for my money, Page is the MVP…a close race to be sure, but it is what it is. When given the choice IDROS sits or stands on the left side of a venue facing the stage…cause that’s where Page’s keyboard surrounded throne sits on the stage.
- A Festival to End All Festivals – Ever notice how SOAM can be a viable acronym for both Split Open and Melt AND Scent of a Mule? Yeah, I know I’m deflecting. There are not a lot of positive things to say about the great mudfest of 2004 (IDROS refuses to mention its name). The storm-ravaged fairgrounds resembled a third world country that had just been decimated by a hurricane…to those of us lucky enough to make it in. Thousands were stranded on a highway that could have been a scene right out of an apocalyptic movie where everyone is trying to flee the cities. And poor Cactus…the ace of bass was clearly forced to announce on the Phish radio channel set up for the festival for everyone to turn back and go home. Well my group persevered. We made it, came equipped with fly fishing boots we picked up along the way, hiked miles to and from the fairgrounds, slogged through the muck and the general malaise and melancholy that hung like a guillotine over the downtrodden faithful, and bid our farewells to our favorite band. Oh yeah…Phish was hanging their instruments up after this “Un-festive All.” Calling it quits for good this time. I mean, they say nothing ends well…that’s why things end. Well if this were to be the end for Phish, they were going out in a spectacular pool of vomit and putrescence. And for that, and because I had been to three other glorious Phish festivals, I got to see my musical hero, Page, melt down and cry on stage during Wading in the Velvet Sea, and because it wasn’t really the end…but rather an end to a bad time in the arc of the band’s story…I can include those three awful days in Vermont among my 13 (you can have good without bad…and sometimes it takes hitting bottom to rise up and attain true greatness).
- Dancin’ On My Lawn – Phish is an amazing band if you wanna dance. When the band is bringing the funk, almost any song could be an opportunity to showcase your Camel Walk. Some songs (like MOMA, SOAM, Jibboo, Boogie On) let you break it down from start to finish. Other tunes, like YEM, begin with a composed section, which is difficult to dance to (read: sober), but builds into a funkier, free-flowing dance party after a few minutes (think Bowie, Hood, DWD, the Lizards, etc.) Reba, in IDROS’ opinion, is in a class all by itself. While it seems to fit into the latter category of a song that builds to a dance fan’s crescendo (it does), the beginning is not so much the orchestral building block that is the staple of many other early (read: core) Phish songs. In fact, deep into Reba at the opening show of TBD, IDROS came to the following conclusion: Reba, as a song, is very much like the love scene in the move Armageddon. The whimsical silliness of the beginning is like the animal cracker-based foreplay, which gets more and more inane, until…even if Liv Tyler and/or Ben Affleck aren’t your thing, you get the idea. Out of the ludicrous comes pure, unadulterated bliss…some of the best dance jam music Phish ever unleashes.
- Atama Ga Shock – Because a long time ago, IDROS lived in Japan and developed a working knowledge of the Japanese language, your author was over the moon when, in 2000, Phish toured Japan and unveiled the Japanese lyrics to the chorus of their song, Meatstick. It would have been incredible to have lived in Japan during said tour, but I have seen Meatstick performed half a dozen (yes, we are counting in dozens for this post) since 2000, and every time I hear them break out the Japanese lyrics it brings a huge smile to my face.
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want – TBD has taken Phish’s unique live concert experience to new heights. No repeats in 13 days (this was posted after 12 shows but IDROS has faith) ensured not only every show was unique, but that every song was as well. Phish fans know, however, like Dead fans, that a lack of repeated songs aren’t what make this band so fun to see live…rather, it is the freshness of the setlists, and the trill of the chase. Phish has a number of rare songs that they play once in a blue moon. They also can be full of surprises, playing new covers, or old songs in new ways. We all treasure those shows where we can say “we were there when.” And just like the Stones forewarned all of us…we may not hear the exact songs we were hoping for when we had that ticket stub in our hand…but we always get what we need…and the Phab Phour always give us everything they have.
Phish – Thanks for a great three weeks, and for an amazing 35 years.
And to my faithful readers, IDROS hopes you caught at least one show during this outstanding Baker’s Dozen run.
Let’s all live while we’re young. We can still have fun!