I’ve never heard Phish play the way they are playing right now. Glimpses yes, the odd show here and there. Sometimes a run. But this? No. This is something else entirely. This is the tour we’ve been waiting for. Hands down. The stars are all aligned. Full shows. Set to Set. Intention, communication, energy and drive. Confidence and strength tempered by maturity and professionalism. Here is what matters: This band is on fire. See as much Phish as possible. That’s the only rule right now. Cause it has begun. It is SO fucking on.
I may never seen the likes of this but I know many fans have, way back when. It mattered then but now has become something else entirely, a corruption, a veil that obscures our view of the present and our appreciation of the now.
We can spend all the time we want determining why Phish is so exciting right now, or how, or in what fashion, but our chances of understanding, as always are slim. We do the best we can and say, it was Trey practicing for Fare Thee Well. Or that Mike’s cross-country tour similarly fired him up. Or that Page and Fish have reached new levels of comfort and grace with their lives and families, their positions.
Maybe it was Wingsuit or the JEMP set, maybe it was some private conversation between the four of them. Maybe it’s just experience and luck. Or maybe its just that Phish as a band has resigned themselves to the fact that this band and their music is the greatest thing they’ll ever be involved with, and have therefore determined to make the most of it every single year that they can. . Maybe it is an agglomeration of all of these things and a thousand other factors. We are different year over year. Our creativity and passion ebbs and flows, along with our health and emotional well-being. Life happens man.
Either way, this is their legacy and now, with hindsight and tragedy receding, they have a unique opportunity to write their own history, on their own terms, in their own books. Maybe it’s to help the future cause of rock and roll. Fare Thee Well taught us much about legacies and histories and the power of community and how central our music is to all of it. How crucial the Grateful Dead were to rock and roll, how their career arc matched rock’s step for step, if not exactly following the same path. I am sure Trey was there with his eyes and ears wide open, and not just on stage. Maybe Phish sees an opening to one-up even the Dead by getting better and staving off stagnation. Maybe it’s what we fans bring to the shows that inspires them just as they inspire us.
What we are privy too — the music — is all that matters, night after night. And right now this is the best I’ve ever heard Phish play. It’s the new songs and setlist freshness. It’s the tightness of the material young and old. It’s the listening and the improvisation. It’s the new effects and the old ones, its the cities or the towns, it’s the water or the heat or the bagels. Who knows, who CARES, just go see Phish.
I rolled into Dallas on a whim, booking a short multi-city run during the Forum “YEM.” My flight was confirmed before Trey yelled BOY! That show was huge, perhaps not as elegant and unified as Shoreline but then again, who cares about comparing shows or ranking jams? I was there and saw Trey singlehandedly gunning for the stars, not something I am overall used to seeing. But that might be changing. For the record I also watched Trey become increasingly frustrated on stage towards the end of the Dallas show, facing real problems in the composed section of “Hood,” as well as “The Connection” and “First Tube,” encore. He ran off stage as fast he could once “First Tube” ended, clearly happy to be done playing music for the evening. Didn’t matter though because the seamlessness of “Steam” in the first set, and the grandiosity of “Chalkdust” carried through.
This is art and not fantasy. Want to rank? Fine, just don’t think you are doing anything other than blogging without the words, feeling or emotion. The tendency of fans to immediately start thinking in terms of rank and order and classification is one of the most obscene aspects of our community, starting even before shows end. Or even jams. I understand the compulsion but the effect is toxic. Some compulsions should be restrained. Quite simply, it takes people out of the FEELING and back into the thinking. This is wrong. It’s foolhardy and tedious and robs people of their experience.
When I leave shows now, all I care about is capturing the feeling of it. Do I have it? Do I own it? Did I get what I came for? The truth is that if your head is in the right place, you ALWAYS get what you come for, even if its different than what you wanted or expected.
Right now I feel full. Full enough not to care one fig that I am heading back home for 10 days, capturing what work I can before heading back East for the MPP > Magna run. My first night at Dicks was 4 years ago, and my face got fucked so hard that I decided to dedicate large portions of my life, love, energy and treasure to integrating with this band. Heck, I moved to Colorado because of Phish. That’s an investment still paying huge dividends for me.
I’ll tell you what though, the way I felt leaving both Dallas and Atlanta each night, same thing. Different in texture but alike in power. Same as 8/31/12. Same as Tahoe or Hampton. I felt full. I felt revelatory. I felt spiritual and in love and happy and enthusiastic. Were these shows as “good” or “great” as FYF? Don’t know, don’t care. But they felt exactly the same. It’s the same feeling. Three shows in a row. Yep! The rivers of cynicism dry up rather quickly on Phish Tour.
Ranking shows takes this feeling and obscures it, tries to codify and assign. It’s fabricated, arbitrary and false. It’s a giant lie.
The real reason people still rank is to assert their power. Once things are ranked, there is order and once order is established you can slice and dice and mix and match. Someone has to write the list. Someone has to create the divisions. Then, you can tell people they were at a “bad show” or saw a “subpar” jam. This is the most offensive and heinous occurrence, fans telling other fans that their show was not as great as they felt it was. Makes them doubt themselves. Once it is done, once the tweets and qualifications start spreading, it is too late. I’ve had it happen to me in the past. It’s theft plain and simple.
Webcasts, Streams and live show downloads are excellent substitutes but we should never fool ourselves that they stand in for the real experience. Every stream buffer or break, every skipped song in a car ride obscures the show, obscure the nature of the energy inherent to that show. Practiced ears still can never place the feeling of a room, a section, a city, a town, a lot, a concession line. If you aren’t in the room, your opinion means about as much as a burlap sack full of moldy potatoes. I don’t care how many shows you’ve seen or years you’ve been with the band.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the instant Phish plays a classic show, those not in attendance dutifully get to work cutting it down like a piece of timber. It’s natural of course; they weren’t there and you better believe they are going to envy those that were. Notice that the people who spend most of their time ranking are older fans NOT in attendance, desperate to assert their control — their own rank — over the community. They long ago gave up on the band.
This is the year to fight back and stand athwart this tendency yelling — or politely whispering — STFU.
After Friday night, a friend, @SuzyDrano, tweeted “Having a hard time objectively evaluating that show.” I did an instant double take.
Why would someone want to objectively evaluate a show like Friday night in Atlanta within minutes of the show ending? The mere fact that Suzy was having a hard time evaluating the show was because it was SO GOOD. Because the feeling that she (was trying to forget) was overwhelming her, filling her up. And yet Suzy was on her way to robbing herself of her own subjective experience in order to list and classify. Something she felt a duty to do even without any desire.
It was one of the best Phish shows I’ve ever been to, and doubtless many other fans who either attended, watched, listened, or have since heard the show, possibly feel the same way. Suzy’s tweet, and I assure you I am not picking on her as I’ve seen this same thing occur a thousand times, reveals a pathology very much alive in our community. The need to have the feeling that is produced for us by this band confirmed by others. We want to know that we belong, that what we just felt was also felt by others and through that connection we are made even more human, more brotherly or sisterly, more transparent to the people who love what we love.
But instead, we too often find exclusionary behavior. We find ranking and classification by people who can only compare, but refuse to feel. It’s a shame. But there is an antidote to this poison. Tune the motherfuckers out. With every tweet and aside they reveal themselves as bankrupt and pedantic. It has no place in Phish, especially now, as we are right in the middle of what will likely be one of the best Phish tours of all time. That is how great this band sounds right now. Don’t let anyone rob you of this Summer, most especially your own self.