Tag Archives: phish

Six Nights, Five Shows, Four States, Three Crews and A Phish

Call it a midlife crisis, call it a case of good luck and logistics rewarding me after difficulty getting tickets in 2015, call it a bit of rejoicing in my 53rd year: I went to five consecutively scheduled Phish shows, in six nights, spending time in four states with three different concert crews in two time zones. I’m visibly exhausted, but mentally elated. I’ve learned my limits (2-3 shows per summer with at least a day off in between, ideally a day without work or travel).

Chicago: A raucous start to the Wrigley shows, with a blistering Chalkdust Torture and a super funky 2001, and a second night in the second city that included a near-perfect Fluffhead and a Piper->Steam jam that covered every modal, tonal and mental staff space available. Toss in a trip to the Chicago Music Exchange, some insanely good BBQ and Italian beef (on top of a sausage, should have been a Meatstick hint) and a ride on the “L” and it was a wonderful way to enjoy a dad-and-lad weekend with my favorite bass player (who also happens to be my recent college graduate son).

Deer Creek/Noblesville: Leaving Chicago at dawn was a hint; the venue is far from downtown; I just couldn’t get the right combination of food, water and rest to make it all click. But got to catch up with an old friend, shared a lot of stories, literally parked next to my cousin whom I’d been chasing all through the Windy City, and saw another impressive show.

Travel Day: I think I worked on Monday but I’m not sure what I did. By Tuesday morning I was repacked and en route to Philadelphia after a solid day of work.

Philadelphia: Shows at the Mann have become something of a summer centerpiece — the same crew pre-gaming, the trip into Philly that is full of anticipation, knowing that the band usually has family members in attendance and always seems to put in an extra effort. This year only raised the bar, with a “Crosseyed and Painless” that knocked my tie-dyed socks off, some new songs, and finally, after six years of chasing, wishing, listening and discussion, a “Meatstick” that was fun, goofy, funky and worthy of being played in a city that boasts of its pork stores and meat sticks.

So why, why, do I grind my knees for 4-5 hours at a show, walk up some insanely tortuous hills, smile when some happily dancing phans bounce off of me, give up sleep, proper hydration and perhaps a bit of hearing above 10 kHz? I think I get the same happy, I’m-glad-to-see-this-gang, sincerely aligned feeling that I used to get at Princeton Reunions; the summer is here and Phish is on tour and for a few hours, nothing else matters. It’s the set list, some jam explorations, some blistering solos, and the tension and release that continues not just intra-song, but through two sets of live music that get twelve to forty thousand people singing, dancing and cheering along for the ride.

Some more thoughts on my summer tour of the tour:

  • The musicians in Phish truly enjoy working with each other. If we all loved our co-workers, trusted them, and got wonderful, surprising and creative output from them each and every day, the DJIA would be at 30,000.

  • Those thirty seconds between the house lights cutting out and the first notes of a set opening song embrace and entangle the excitement and mystery of a first date, a surprise party, and seeing an old friend after an absence. You know the dynamic range of possibilities, but the approach and sound and fury are all there to get you by surprise.

  • After five shows and well over 100 songs, I only heard four songs repeated. Was rewarded with a few songs I had been “chasing,” collecting them the way numismatists look to fill that open circle in the album (Meatstick, Steam, and a Fishman vacuum solo). In any other concert, a drummer in a dress modulating the sucking sound of a vacuum into a microphone would border on the absurd; with Phish it’s just another silly counterbalance to the intensity of the well-craft composed pieces.

  • After the statue-still pause in “Divided Sky” (Wrigley night 2), I may have shed a tear. I’m in the middle of a musical adventure, in a new city (for me), standing in the upper deck of a storied baseball stadium looking out over a sea of people 20,000 leagues and stories deep, and one of my favorite bands is frolicking – no other word – through a lullaby inspired composed section before tearing off into an inspired bit of soloing. Being there, with my musically inclined (and talented) son, soaking in the summer night and sounds and fragrances (of all types), just hits you in the sentimental bone. “Divided Sky” has been on my “favorite song” ascent for years now. Add to that the fact that Ben and I have heard “Harry Hood” in a majority of our shows together, and it’s becoming a bonding experience — Philly has King of Prussia, Boston has the Hood milk jug in the Fort Point Channel.

  • I was thinking that the only song I wanted to hear (but didn’t) was “Cities” (more than made up for by the “Crosseyed and Painless” 2nd set Mann 2 opener), after some prompting from Ben I realized I would have also liked a “Ghost” and “David Bowie.” That said, I was so enamored of what I did hear, and how I heard it, that to wish for anything more would be gluttony at the musical buffet.

  • The mark of an insanely good show is that moment when you think you’ve hit a peak, and then the band pivots into something unexpected but even more wonderful. The mildly bluegrass “Oh Kee Pah” segues to “Suzy Greenburg” and then Fishman and Page are trading fours like jazz musicians in the solo section. “Slave to the Traffic Light” soars and meanders to a major and majorly good conclusion, only to give way to the opening arpeggios of “You Enjoy Myself.” (Mann 1) A near perfect “Fluffhead” comes out of a darkly complex “Tweezer”; the set concludes (you think) with “Harry Hood” but then eases into “Tweeprise.” (Wrigley 2).

    All told, it was a great week with great friends, old and new, and a set of shows I will listen to in the depth of winter when I miss the smell of grilled meats, greasy french fries, and spilled beer.

  • 2015: Change, Change We Must

    2015 was a year of very high dynamic range, in all possible senses and interpretations. In addition to well-defined highs, there were some definite lows, and significant reflection around the midpoint.

    Our daughter kicked the year off with a law school acceptance – and we somewhat stupidly decided to drive home from her celebratory dinner in what would be the first major snow storm of January. She wrapped up her undergrad career with a spectacular graduation that included large and small ceremonies, dinners with friends, and all of the pomp and circumstance you’d expect. Random highlight: the procession to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles” which was a high school band favorite.

    After more than 30 years of discussion, gentle handling of basses in various music stores, and watching our son play upright and electric bass in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to McGann’s in Boston, I decided to take formal lessons. Hat tip to Max at So.I.Heard music studio in Millburn, for both having the patience for an (older) adult student as well as finding the right mix of 70s classic rock and Phish songs to stimulate both long- and short-term musical muscle memory. I still suck, but at least I can do more than pluck open strings when I find myself staring at a wall of basses that plead “Play Us”.

    Despite horrible ticket lottery luck, and random travel schedules, I was able to see Phish twice at the Mann Center, including one of the best all-time sets I’ve heard them play in a dozen shows. Got shut out of the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” tour despite hand-decorating an envelope, but the Mann twinbill made up for that miss. There is nothing quite like seeing an intense show with old friends and a regular crew for the pre-game. This could become a tradition.

    On other other end of the musical spectrum, we lost BB King and Chris Squire. Squire’s death was my personal equivalent of a lifelong Yankee fan experiencing Micky Mantle’s sudden and too-young death. It was the first bookend of music related events that made me realize, yes, my icons are aging, and the windows in which to see them live are closing or have closed. The other happy-but-sad event took place in Vegas, with the Bubba, as we caught one of the last large-arena Rush shows on their (effective) retirement tour. Seeing a band you love with your own kids, singing along as loudly as you are, enjoying the music in the moment, captures the wonder and pageantry and energy of live music in the best way possible. Like our daughter’s graduation, it marked a “last” that will endure in memory.

    More personally, we said farewell to my uncle who had encouraged me in my more random engineering pursuits, and who epitomized the “do the right things” school of design. Despite his employer (at the time) insisting that there wasn’t that much value in the idea, he filed a patent for a radio frequency tag device which we recognize on the highways as EZPass. This Thanksgiving, our combined families celebrated the first “reunion turkey tour” in more than twenty years. Turns out we had four bass players at the dinner table. Loudness of all types ensued, and it was a wonderful celebration of the season.

    By the time the ball drops on Times Square I will have read close to 50 books, including way too much science fiction and musical history, and a surfeit of trilogies with dystopian or apocalyptic under- and overtones. I do believe, as Neal Stephenson points out in the introduction to “Hieroglyph,” that science fiction drives science forward; it gives us the mechanism and meter to describe the future we wish to create. I got to use that line with Merck’s CEO, Ken Frazier, when he asked me why we (and by inference, he and the board) were hosting an internal hackathon, and he at least tacitly agreed (my badge still worked the next day). I had reviews of books retweeted or favorited by the relevant authors (Hannu Rajaniemi and Ted Kosmatka, both featured prominently in this year’s reading list). I learned quite a bit about the Grateful Dead, and relived some of my fascination with KISS (which introduced me to the wonders of live music, which of course fueled so much of this summer’s ups and downs).

    So 2015 had its moments, good and bad, like all years. It brought changes in things to anticipate and appreciate; it reinforced the value of family and friends; it made me consider that change is good if it creates new opportunity and doesn’t forget, forgo or eclipse the path to its development.

    2016 is going to be an interesting year, for all values of “interesting”.

    Church of The Subwoofer

    [ed note: This was originally posted as a page, but wasn’t getting any traction, and in an effort to clean up the site a bit I’m moving the content into the mainline. Plus I’ve been trying to squeeze ever lower frequencies out of my Sonos sub, using the TruePlay software to offset the minor dropped ceiling rattle it sometimes induces.]

    Subwoofers are snarky audio components: feed them the wrong audio, with the wrong level settings, and you feel like you’re in a subterranean basement that’s all low echo and no daylight. But gently place one in your listening room, set the levels to not overpower your over-200 Hz drivers, and listen to some tracks with pronounced bass, and you’re in heaven. There’s an indescribable feeling of being at a live show, with the bass pouring over you, undulating your shorts or shirt sleeves, and for a moment you not only hear the music but feel it, in phase, and it’s nothing short of catching a bit of ocean spray as you hear the wave crash and smell the salt.

    I also love “bass in front” music. So I’m biased. But after a few weak attempts to place a subwoofer and drive it well, I’ve fallen in love with my Sonos Sub – much less dependent on room placement and with the Sonos controller’s ability to level adjust, I can take 6 or 8 decibels off the top and keep the kitchen furniture from rattling.

    If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, listen to the following with and without a well-matched sub, and see if the deeper bottom transports you to that spot on the musical beach:

  • Yes, “Wurm”, from the end of “Starship Trooper” on “Yessongs”. This is the gold standard, with Chris Squire working the Moog Taurus bass pedals into a frenzy.

  • Genesis, “Squonk,” from “Seconds Out”. More bass pedals, more prog, more Mike Rutherford! If you’ve ever heard progressive rock referred to as “arena rock”, you get the idea here – that sound could fill a football stadium (American or European).

  • Rush, “Subdivisions,” preferably from the live “Clockwork Angels” set, but even the studio version. More bass pedals, sitting under Geddy’s synth playing.

  • Phish, Mansfield MA show from July 1, 2014. There are a few “brown notes” in there, and listen to the second set closer “Harry Hood” around the 14:00 mark.

  • From Estimated Prophet to Fade Away

    [Editorial note and corrected post: Tom corrected my aging memory; I did in fact get him to listen to Rush and so the musical context switch was complete].

    My GD50 ticket by mail envelope, showing that indeed artistic talent skips a generation (or two)

    My GD50 ticket by mail envelope, showing that indeed artistic talent skips a generation (or two)

    Prophetic estimations of ticket lotteries were highly inflated for me; not only did I strike out on all Phish ticket by mail requests but also found myself on the wrong side of multiple money orders, a decorated #2 envelope and some long, strange musical trip references originating in a 1982 cross-campus walk. I have been at best a casual fan of the Grateful Dead; like my ramp-up to Phish phan status I appreciated their studio work but never veered into the live, jam performances. Introductions outside of what played on the album-oriented FM stations in the New York area occurred, as most of the best do, on a slushy early winter day of junior year, as then-roommate (and eternal Deadhead, wonderful friend, playmaker on my first ever ice hockey goal, and incredible cook) Tom got me to listen to “Estimated Prophet” on “Terrapin Station.” What was elided from that brief cassette tape exchange (yes, I had a Walkman, and yes, I provided my own sound track on cross-campus treks to the engineering building) was that “Terrapin” should rightly qualify as a prog album, and that my love of jazz and jazz improvisation would be fueled if I borrowed one of his Dead show tapes, and not just a mix tape with some studio work. Count that as a missed musical connection.

    Watch live streaming video from davidaron at livestream.com

    The Dead’s appearance on Saturday Night Live that featured “Alabama Get Away” is vivid in my memory; it’s intense for a small venue with limited time and it was also common for groups to publicly perform music in advance of the “album drop.” The show pre-dated my real affection for the band but at the time (April 1980), SNL and Don Kirschner’s late night show were about the only two outlets for live music outside of concert venues. With hindsight it was an incongruous format for the band and their performance (how can a jam possibly be bound by the pre-hour commercial break?) and that perhaps left me in a state of two-degrees-separated-from Dead that persisted until the bitter(sweet) end. Stanley Jordan, then a rising solo guitar player and one of “my” jazz DJs at WPRB-FM, found his way to Soldier Field based on his musical friendship with Jeff Chimenti. Bill Walton, scion of California basketball, added celebrity street cred to a farewell that was famously absent the usual red carpet suspects. Phish tour buddy George went full circle, texting me updates from the pit as he completed that revolution in the musical circle of life. Professionally, I intersected John Perry Barlow at a few career arcs, mostly through Sun’s John Gage, and later discovered that his Grateful Dead lyrics credits stem from the first groove on “Terrapin Station” – the highly estimated prophet of digital privacy, security and culture.

    And so I find the Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” shows a fitting conclusion to the original band’s, and the surviving members’, musical history. Aside from the “Not Fade Away” and “Touch of Grey” references, they brought the story of the band to its rightful conclusion. The notion of a musician retiring from the very performance that wholly defined his experience is somewhat odd, but in a year when we lost BB King, Ornette Coleman and most recently and suddenly, Chris Squire, I’m slowly conceding that writing the final chapter with intent, grace and a well-defined conclusion is quite respectable. It’s helping me come to grips with the fact that this summer marks the last big-arena tour for Rush, and that the shared musical experiences I’ve had with Ben involving the Holy Trinity of Toronto will also reach a logical conclusion with joy and not sadness. It’s better to end with a win than a loss, in sports, music or love.

    Later the same year that I discovered “Terrapin Station,” Tom and I shared a class with a take-home final. It was brutal, and even a week of my effort wasn’t sufficient. The Dead were touring at that time, and Tom left me a note one afternoon (a full 2 days before the due date), taped to a sealed #2 envelope, undecorated save for the honor code pledge, saying “Here’s my exam, please turn it in for me on the due date. Going to see the Dead at Red Rocks.” It’s one of my favorite college memories, and one that I repeat as an example of what a good college experience should be – trust, friendship, scholarship, adventure, and some insanely rich music. I succeeded in getting Tom to listen to Rush (but not Led Zeppelin!) and will always treasure his gentle insistence that I meet him halfway on the Dead.

    One day, next tour, I’ll get Tom to join me for a Phish show. Older, greyer, perhaps less in focus than before, I think we have a conclusion to write, rather than let fade out.

    2014: See Ya

    On the whole, 2014 was a good year. Rather than making a semi-structured list, I found myself thinking about two extremes — things that were absolutely delightful, and things that gave me pause for 2015.

    A Year of Live Music: Four Phish shows in three states, with four newbies in tow. Animals as Leaders twice in small venues. Tony Levin with both King Crimson and Stickmen, at opposite ends of the venue spectrum. Joe Bonamassa at his best; Dream Theater at their most average but still quite good; Flux Forteana at a downtown Boston pub. Also subscribed to Concert Vault, featuring the best of “Bill Graham Presents”, which has reinforced my love of (recorded) live music.

    A Year of Travel: Four visits to Prague, three to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, a return to Seattle after 30 years, only one trip to the Bay Area, a first visit to Curacao. Discovering local food in each city (especially Seattle!) was as much fun as returning to favorite haunts. Celebrated my 52nd birthday in the oldest city in recorded history, with good friends. Prague is a new favorite place to visit and work.

    A Year of Waning Fandom: For some reason professional sports just didn’t capture my interest this year. The Yankees were lukewarm from April til September; the Devils are wallowing in middle age and directionless; I have ignored professional basketball since the Nets moved out of the Meadowlands. Even my beloved Tigers failed to show on the ice or finish on the hardwood. On the other hand, youth hockey is alive and well, and I have a great group of 6 year olds who get up for 7:00 am games at outdoor rinks. A visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame taught me things about our family’s sports allegiances that I had never known.

    A Year of Small Miracles: I survived a fairly bad car accident, mostly through the benefit of seat belts, air bags, and a fraction of a second. One of my fellow hockey coaches beat his leukemia into remission. The Devils signed one of my favorite players whom I’ve wished to see in the tail and horns for years (Mike Cammalleri) and then proceeded to play non-miraculous hockey. I caught a 40-pound rooster fish at the end of two days of completely quiet sport fishing.

    For all of the good and positive, there were some decidedly strange moments. We stayed at the Revel in Atlantic City during the last week it was open, and then watched a third of the city’s casinos financially implode. I found myself worrying about our “adopted” Israeli daughter, when she called quite late at night during her Army service. While giving a ride to some fellow Phans for the Mann Center shows, I got the sense that if you’re in your mid-20s, it’s a hard time to be financially independent. And with the number of security events (both large scale and more personal, like fraudulent credit card charges) I think we’re looking at a year calling for more diligence and caution in all electronic interactions.

    Return Of The King Crimson

    King Crimson weren’t the only ones experiencing a reunion at the Best Buy Theater on September 18: more than 30 years since seeing the Levin + Fripp led combo just a few blocks away in New York, the four of us who “discovered” the Crim during their more Discipline(d) days saw them again. It was a tour de force of early and late stage King Crimson; in stellar terms the show traced the main sequence of “standards” without venturing into the Adrian Belew-voiced 1980s material. Like all good reunions, this one fired any number of unused neurons and lit up some nice memories and thoughts.

    My favorite middle school music teacher played “21st Century Schizoid Man” for us in 1975, and I think that was the moment I became a progressive rock fan, although I didn’t realize it until much later.

    “Larks Tongues In Aspic” could be the musical grandfather of Animals as Leaders’ entire catalog. The venerable if not slightly clapping-on-the-wrong beats New York Times described Fripp’s guitar playing as “mathematical”, and while “algorithmic” may be a better definition of his use of arpeggios, dissonance and rhythm, it’s the same very heavy elements at the stellar center of “norm core” or “math core”.

    I like the ferocity of King Crimson with saxophone rather than violin; much of the 1974 era tours have strings riding alongside the Fripp guitar work; Mel Collins brings a raspy, nasty, intense tone that rounds out the “backline” of this Crimson collection wonderfully.

    Tony Levin is fascinating. In my “I wish I were a bass player” high school days, I’d seen pictures of him attacking a Chapman stick and remember being weirded out by the stick (12 string bass played tapping style? Of course, two years later I met Stanley Jordan and what was once weird was normal), his posture (Viscerally, visually and vibrantly leaning into that one), and, well, his physical appearance. He puts on a good show, and the stage set with the drum line in the front and Levin in the center of the back line produced a nice effect – I felt like I was in an orchestra under his baton, while he orchestrated the trio of batteries directly at his feet. His show blogs are a great read, and yes, if you look at the audience shots from the 9/18 show, I’m on the left side.

    There’s nothing like seeing a live show with friends. Support musicians by seeing them work their craft. There’s a depth and emotion to it that you don’t get from a recording, even if it’s dampened slightly by Fripp emoting nothing more than facing his effects rack.

    Requisite Phish reference: “Dave’s Energy Guide” was written as an homage after King Crimson played Princeton’s Alexander Hall in 1982 (during the Discipline tour, and it was likely the interlocking but not locked in time signatures of “Frame by Frame” that drove the math on that one).

    Post-show activity: acquiring some 1970s King Crimson live shows and trying to reverse rhythm engineer “Larks’ Tongues Part II”.

    Deadhead Sticker On A Cadillac: Labor Day 2014

    Summer 2014, we hardly knew you. Foreshortened by calendar cruelty that landed Labor Day in its earliest possible slot, you lost half a week off the top. Despite the half-month earlier start brought on by the gravitational lensing of college tuitions, this one just flew by, but not without its moments. Four Phish shows, one with the Bubba, three with George, one with a new phan. One pop show with the nieces (not to be named here), one rap show with the nephew. Animals As Leaders as a summer kickoff in a sweaty low-ceilinged dump on Long Island, a bit of Deep Tank Jersey transported east and forward in time. The EP release of Flux Fortena’s September on which the Bubba plays bass and yours truly has a producer credit. Fishing in Cabo with good friends. Four trips to Boston, three of which involved moving and boxes, all of which included good local fare. Our first Pride Parade in NY, with our daughter who was working for Lambda Legal. Two Broadway shows, a 30th college reunion, a lot of time with cousins and friends. We lost my oldest aunt, and one of those family gatherings was under difficult circumstances, but also served as prelude to a fun afternoon splashing in the pool with my newest cousin (technically first cousin twice removed but we have always relied on the willowy whippiness of the Stern/Shteir family tree for geography, genealogy or gastronomy).

    Perhaps the summer seems short because of what I missed: No swim in the Atlantic; no elephant ears from the Crust & Crumb in Beach Haven; no fireworks viewed from the suspense of a rickety lawn chair. I realized these errors of omission in the middle of a cinnamon and sugar bagel at Bruegger’s, sensing it was as close to an elephant ear as I’d get in 2014. It made me think of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” a song that I love for its layered keyboards and its kicking and screaming refusal to open a new 16-month calendar out of fear that you’re leaving the summers of your youth.

    Summers are defined as much by their soundtracks as by the live action sequences. Even as we age, and the memories are filtered and sharpened inappropriately, the songs remain the same. Elephant ears are always accompanied by Bob Seger, Peter Frampton, The Sweet and WJRZ in Ship Bottom, replete with the Adventures of Chicken Man at noon and 6 o’clock. Labor Day brings an urge to ignore the signs of aging and just extend the current tour. In my case, the Deadhead sticker is affixed to my Cadillac of a laptop and says “My Other Car Is A Flying Hotdog.” Sometimes the soundtrack bridges the seasons and Labor Day isn’t such a daunting calendar milestone.

    Leather, Caramel and Jam

    I have completed my summer run with Phish: 4 shows in 13 nights in 3 states, and one webcast viewed on my phone in a train station, spending time with about 30 family members, co-workers and friends. It’s the first time I’ve done more than 2 shows in a summer, the first time I did two nights back to back at the same venue, and for four of my guests, their first shows.

    (c) Jeph Jacques "Questionable Content"

    Kwiscotch Haderach, Strip #2400, (c) Jeph Jacques “Questionable Content”

    I get asked three questions fairly regularly about my Phishing trips: (1) Why see them more than once? (2) What’s the attraction? and (3) Aren’t you too old for this? As usual I’ll revert to a bit of comic comedy to segue into the more serious stuff, this time borrowing from Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content which you should read if you don’t already (he’s the guy behind the “Coffee of Doom” shirt that I wear to pop concerts with my nieces, but that’s another matter).

    The attraction of multiple shows and of the band in general is that it’s insanely complex, fun, and well-crafted music. You’re seeing four musicians who crank out a completely different show, night after night. The only equivalent question would be “Why go see more than one baseball game?” You never know how the game will play out, who will make a highlight reel play, or what bit of history you may later claim to witness. At the same time, each jam has its own texture, structure and compositional complexity that ebbs and flows with Chris Kuroda (the lighting guy), the audience, and everything else that’s transpired on stage and floor until that point. The closest non-musical analogy that also doesn’t involve sports is that of sampling a fine single malt scotch: You taste it, and your palate seeks hints as to its flavorful provenance. How was it aged? What other flavors were introduced, derivatives of the malting or the finishing?

    Listen to a long Phish jam and pick out hints of other songs teased, phrases and licks you swear you’ve heard before, Page shifting from piano to organ and back to piano for a crescendo of chords leading out of the jam, and you’re deep in musical palette for your musical taste palate.

    As you go to multiple Phish shows (I’ve now been to 12, still a neophyte by most standards but adjusting for age it’s as if I went to 100 shows in my 20s), you build up a set of aural and mental associations with each song. That’s where the scotch analogy plays strongest; it’s not just a hint of caramel but caramel that reminds you of the topping on a Dairy Queen sundae, spooned out of a plastic cup sitting bayside on a warm summer night, served by your future sister in law. It’s leather that makes you think of playing catch in the backyard with you father, and your own son.

    Three notes into the July 13 (Randall’s Island) “Sand” opener, bouncing along with the Big G, I was thinking about my first show with him. Big G chimes in “This is my favorite song” each time it’s played. I know that, but it doesn’t preclude a high five and a bit of shared memory. Old leather and caramel, different olfactory memories than l’air du skunk weed and wookie, but just as mentally fragrant. And each of the three times I’ve heard “Sand” it’s been remarkably different along the axes of funky, drive, airiness and straight ahead rock. Imagine going to a sporting event knowing you’re going to see a perfect game, a no-hitter, a kickoff returned for a touchdown, a 4-lateral last second game winning touchdown, and a hat trick. You’re not sure which one, or when, or who, but the anticipation is paid off with regularity, and a consistency usually reserved for oak barrel products.

    Perception, Fact and Jamming

    Two nights into the Phish Summer 2014 Tour and already the vocal range of the critics dwarfs that of the band: Mansfield was lethargic. No, Mansfield was insane, especially “Hood.” SPAC was one of the top five, except for those who thought it was too much of something else in the bottom five. Anti-hater choruses intertwine with cardinality braggadocio (“This was my 178th show!”) resulting in the online equivalent of the glow sticks plus spilled beer plus lot food flotsam that limns the parking lot post show.

    A music teacher once told me that “There is good music you won’t like, and bad music you will like.” With forty years of hindsight, I can safely say he was wrong: There is no good or bad with music, you just decide if you like it or not. Attitudes toward the same artists, the same songs, and the same venues will morph over time — at least that’s the only way I can explain my early-80s fascination with Pablo Cruise. Feel free to hate Nickelback, but know why: it’s how you perceive the why, how and what of their music.

    The better lesson is one I’ve taken from a management training class: Perception can never be right or wrong. If your perception was that Mansfield was boring, then that is the way the show occurred for you. It’s neither right nor wrong, but it is entirely true from within your listening context at the time. And that context may be influenced by how many shows you’ve seen (you will judge each rendition of a song relative to others that you remember, however hazily), or by how you felt the show was going up to that point. Even within a song, you will find people who glom onto some phrase, some twist, some tease or some facet and believe, right then and there, that the world has become a more beautiful place, while the person next to them is bored and waiting for the jam to tail out. Our relative appreciation for each show is so dependent on how we individually got there: with whom, with what, and with what expectations.

    There are musical facts to be discovered upon re-listening to a show. My current favorite is the Merriweather Post Pavilion (Columbia MD) show from 7/14/13; deep within the 2nd set there’s a “Light” jam that gets very funky and punctuated and about three minutes from the end Paige begins teasing “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” If you heard this live, in the moment, I’m not sure you would have picked up the teases. On the 2nd or 3rd listen, when you know where the jam ends up, you hear the little Korg clues; for me it makes that “Light” one of my favorites. The facts of the matter change and improve my perception of the whole show, even though I wasn’t there to experience it in real time, the first time.

    Tip of the propeller hat to new tour bud Sachin, who said (after his first ever show) “Thanks for sharing something you love with me.” Love is pure perception – it’s in the eye and ear of the beholder.

    Summer Tour 2014: A Night Of Firsts

    Rabbit rabbit, as the saying goes, to commemorate the first of the month. Or perhaps the schehechayanu is more in order, the first time something is done or celebrated in the year, a marking of the seasons of man and time.

    Personally, there were a lot of firsts last night: July 1st. First night of the tour. First show for my friend Sachin. First time this century I’ve been to Mansfield/Tweeter/Great Woods for a show (last: 1992 for some combinations of Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Huey Lewis and Elton John, and no, I don’t remember which).
    Mansfield Dusk

    As the show progressed though, more firsts emerged: First show (for me) without any covers (“Back on the Train” is a Phish original, despite the bluesy riff). First time I’ve heard “Weekapaug Groove” separated from “Mike’s Song” by not one, not two, but four songs, ending with the insanely slick “Ghost” -> “Groove.” And surprisingly, the first time I’ve seen empty seats (groups, not just the side effect of a little too much lot food resulting in solitons) at a show.

    There were some real highlights: Mike’s use of a bell (yeah, a real push-button bell, properly miked up) and the bass pedals; if you are of the “Louder Mike” persuasion then last night was a revival meeting of the first order. The bottom had a lot of punch and grit when needed. “Hood” was spiritual; “Ghost” rocked, spaced, rocked and re-opened the door “Mike’s Song” left mildly ajar to open the second set. Being there with the Bubba, we loved “Wedge” because it simultaneously and happily reminded us of Jones Beach last summer, rocking out while the Atlantic Ocean poured over the gunwales of the stage and out of the sky.

    As for the new material, it fit in nicely. Five songs (including the title track) off of “Fuego”, with four in the first set, neatly set the stage for what I hope is a trend this summer. The band had said they would play fewer covers and opening night had exactly zero. The new album got its due, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those songs expand and contract in real time with each show’s mood and pacing. “Fuego” is no doubt different from earlier work; I’ll stand by my Halloween assertion that it’s “Darkness” deep. Maybe it’s just too real-life; the songs aren’t all happy or goofy or rambling tales of chemically infused escapades. They are about mistakes, poor perception, and maybe freedom. Again, think “Darkness” but also think maturity and having a slightly better sense of where you go when the lights go out. And it is, as it has been, a place of wonderful music refuge for three hours.