On the VB6 Week 12: Recommit and Go Forth

March 2, 2014

Last year I wrote a blog post about Lent and my appreciation for the season.  It is the part of the Catholic calendar where I always put a little more oomph into my spiritual condition and that usually, if not always, also manifests itself in a physical way.  Not always in depravation, mind, but in doing something positive, for example a couple of years I did Push-Ups for Jesus, as many push-ups as I could do before collapse, fun stuff like that.

I haven’t fallen off the VB6 wagon, but I feel like this is a good time as any to kind of recharge my batteries concerning the program.  I plan, starting Ash Wednesday, to re-read key portions of the book and, here is the “big” discipline for Lent, I’m going to try one recipe a weekend from the book.  That might not sound like a lot, but considering that cooking chicken nuggets in the middle of the week is an accomplishment given schedules and what not, one new recipe a week is about all I can handle.

I’m also toying with the idea of going “full vegan” (before 6 of course) during the season, really plugging into the practice.  I still need to ponder that a few more days.  I need to balance the discipline and benefits to the cranky factor of no cheese and bread throughout most of the day.  Considering I do not live or work in a vaccum, I should probably think of others as well.

In regards to other parts of my Lenten program for 2014, especially considering health and wellness, I plan on hitting all the assignments in my training plan for a spring marathon.  I’ve been doing ok, but some of the weekend miles have been hard to come by.  Also in these forty days the first of two 20-milers will be happening and I need to be honest as to how they feel.  I learned last year that “it will come together on marathon day” is a really bad way of thinking.

Of the non-health and wellness parts of Lent will be delving back into morning reflection and prayer.  Last spring, until June really, I was feeling really good regarding such things.  I almost felt ready to embark on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Then the wheels kind of came off and I’m not ready for that sort of thing.  Hopefully this Lent can recharge that battery too.

One final note for full disclosure: I will not be on the VB6 for Fat Tuesday.  It will be a bacchanal of sugar and meat.  I am Catholic after all.

Friday Phish Fry: We Interrupt this Phish Fry with a Bit of Umphrey

February 28, 2014

It had been a while since I went to another show besides Phish, especially in the jammy vein of things.  Years ago I went to see moe and wasn’t very impressed.  It was good, well played, but it also had a certain “improv by numbers” feel to me.  That night anyway, every song fell into the same pattern, a verse or two and then a round-robin kind of jam sequence to finish things up.  I haven’t even bothered to go to any TAB shows recently because they just don’t do it for me like Phish.  Frankly, Phish is magic, those four guys are wizards and when they get together, more often than not, something special happens.

So it was not without some trepidation that I went to see Umphrey’s McGee close out their Chicago run this past weekend.  I’ve scouted them out for at least the last ten years, listened to the podcast pretty regularly, and felt like I had a pretty good idea what was coming.  I won’t say I was blown away, but I also wasn’t disappointed, not by a long shot.

A definite plus was the venue, the Riviera.  I’ve seen some great acts at the Riv (Wilco, PJ Harvey, Trey, Los Lobos to name a few) and I’ve found the sound to be decent, the sight lines really good and for a Chicago northsider like myself, incredibly convenient.  Unfortunately, security was a bit slow, not tight per se, but not enough guards to do the ceremonial pat down to get us in the door.  It wasn’t polar vortex cold while waiting, but it was pretty damn cold.  By the time I got in the show had already started which always pisses me off.  I hate missing that opening energy spike.

Like I said, I’ve been to quite a few shows at the Riv and I can’t remember the place being that packed.  It was crazy! I could barely move, let alone dance.  I did manage to make a little room for myself, but it was well into the first set before I could even move my feet more than a few inches.  By the time they were playing 2nd Self, I was decidedly into the groove.

The groove was particularly tight too.  Umphrey’s puts out a lot of energy.  As I heard a bunch of fans screaming, they rage.  A great example of this (and a bit of whimsy too) is the second set opener, Der Bluten Kat.  It clocks in at 27 minutes, though there are definitive movements within the song, well worth your time.  Compared to Phish it was a hard rock kind of feel.  The focus for most of the songs was speed and musicianship, with a sprinkle of funk.  The dual guitar give off a great sound, at times it reminded me of bands like Built to Spill and even Funkadelic, with less funk.

I am biased against the double drummer, however.  For as much texture and power the twin guitars brings, I feel like the dual precussion is overkill, especially in a small room like the Riv.  The guitars were able to work over the drums, but the keyboards were pretty much lost in the mix.  Later on the recordings it sounded better, but live, not so much luck.  The other thing about the double drummer and definitely a Fishman bias is the double drummer solo.  Dear god, really?  I’m sorry, there is nothing remotely interesting to me about two guys playing drums for 5 minutes.  It makes me feel like I’m in a parking lot somewhere.

Overall though, a really good show.  Unlike the podcasts, Umphrey’s reigned it in from time to time and just played really solid 5-6 minute songs, including a couple of nice acoustic songs.  Also their choice of covers is from that same well that makes Phish covers so interesting, if not a little more off-beat.  Umphrey’s played a couple of tunes that I remember distictly from my fm radio listening days.  Bob Seger’s Night Moves was a transport to an earlier Midwest time and The Cars Just What I Needed had me grinning from ear to ear.  The Chicago-centric Cherub Rock with Jimmy Chamberlin sitting in was a nice home town touch.  Now, when was that Summer Camp Festival again?


Friday Phish Fry: The Phellowship

February 23, 2014

You may have seen them, maybe even stopped by the table, and like most people, thought “that’s cool, not for me, but cool.”  Or you could be one of  the most sizable minority, come to the table and beat a quick retreat.  Or you could be one of those people who walk by the table, say something that was clever about twenty years ago like, “rehab is for quitters!” HAHAHA, never heard that one, asshole.


Unless of course, you are one of those people who need the table, or love the table, or enjoy serving at the table, then you know about the table and the people that sit there.

That table with the yellow balloons and large banner and sometimes popup tent belongs to the Phellowship, a group of Phish heads committed to staying clean and sober at shows.  By extension, many of the people who are part of the Phellowship are also part of other recovery groups, like AA or NA to name a couple.

As far as I can tell, the Phellowship got started in 1996 when some sober folks got together at the Clifford Ball.  The first table was at Halloween of the same year.  Even though I had met up with some sober folks around the same time, the creation of an actual group was a godsend to my Phish experience.  It wasn’t so much that I was worried about a relapse, but having a like-minded, committed group to meet at shows was fantastic.  A very strange venn diagram was created in my life.

Especially during the years from 1997-1999, the Phellowship was a pretty big part of my Phish experience.  In summer of 1997, I started showing up at the table and by the end of my run on that tour, I was in the same camp site as the rest of the folks.  I particularly remember the Minnesota crew and found them to be so welcoming and friendly that I couldn’t wait to see them again.

I did see the folks that fall but truthfully, all of my memories of the Phellowship revolve around summer tours.  1998 I camped with the Phellowship folks at Lemonwheel.  On the second night of that festival the Phellowship demonstrated, to me anyway, why it is such a great group and is such a great presence at shows.  Toward the end of the second set, a kid came by the tent, obviously messed up.  As he was talking, he basically collapsed and his entire left side kind of seized.  Those of us who were there, remained incredibly calm, unlike other folks and we were able to get paramedics and help communicate with the kid.  I won’t say we saved his life, but I do think we helped to get him to a safe place.

1999 was a special year for Phish and it was also when I was probably at my greatest involvement with the Phellowship.  I did the last five dates of the tour and also picked up a service commitment to the web site.  I can’t remember what my job was called, but involved responding to e-mails about the group did and the like.  It was also during this tour that I met Paige.

There really is no other way to say this, but without Paige there wouldn’t be a Phellowship.  This isn’t to say that a lot of folks didn’t do a lot of work and play vital roles, like Robert for example, but Paige was the leader and to be hyperbolic for a second, the visionary.  Without her drive I don’t think the Phellowship would have gotten off the ground and I don’t think it would have remained.

I got to witness that drive firsthand the first night I met Paige.  I was recruited to give Paige a lift from Alpine Valley to Deer Creek.  Back in those days it was SOP at Alpine to triple park cars.  As luck would have it, I was stuck in the middle of a three car line.  Paige and I walked back to my car and the people behind me were there, but had no intention of moving, telling us that it was an “Alpine tradition to just chill out.”  Within five minutes Paige had them moving their car and we were gone.*

*Funny story: When Skippy(someone I still desperately miss around Phish shows) introduced me to Paige and said I’d be willing to drive her, he said, “he’s a pretty cool guy and not an ax murderer.” Which is true, at least the latter.  I had, however just written a short story (which I still want to develop more) about a serial killer who preyed on women at Phish shows.  I couldn’t help but chuckle at that intro.

When we got to Indianapolis, it was just a great couple of days.  A bunch of us got together for breakfast in between shows, we hung out before the shows and danced like crazy.  After the final encore, we said our goodbyes, but I felt more connected to the group than ever.

While I associate the Phellowship very strongly with the summer, two separate shows in the fall and winter of 1999 standout.  First, I had made a couple of strong connnections in Chicago and after one of the Rosemont shows a bunch of us met up at the Green Mill for some late night jazz.  Talk about knowing your audience, when the band launched into Fire On the Mountain I bet the late night bartender thought a bomb went off.  I begged off when boys decided to go to the Admiral (a local strip club.)

The other big Phellowship event of 1999 was the big event of 1999,  Big Cypress.  Not only did the Phellowship provide me with some much needed companionship, my fellow members really helped me stay sane.  After going out for a bite to eat, I got back to my hotel room to find my ticket for the concert was gone.  After a good freak out, I managed to find a ticket broker who would sell me ticket for double the face value.  Because I had to run around Fort Lauderdale for about an extra hour, I pretty much hit all of the traffic going into the venue.  I barely caught the end of the first set.  It was pretty apparent to the fellows that I needed a meeting.

Of course it was much more than a meeting, my friends helped to calm me down, reminded me it was only a ticket and only money.  Then they got me to  dance and get my head into the present.  After the show, we hung out until late and hung out much of the next day.

When you read interviews with Trey after Big Cypress, he talked a lot about it feeling like a wave crashing into the surf, like it was an ending.  The band contemplated calling it quits after the show.  I knew exactly how they felt.  It felt like something was ending, like a commencement, time to move on.  I remember walking around Shakedown Street with Skippy, just talking about where life was going for both of us.  He was struggling with sobriety and I was in a weird place, just turned 30, feeling like I needed to be doing more.  Last I heard, I’m sorry to say Skippy didn’t stay sober much after New Year’s.  I’m glad he stayed sober through the show.  I still think of him and hope, truly wish, that wherever he is he’s found what he needed.

After the show, back in Fort Lauderdale, I got to hang out with Paige a little bit.  When I say hang out I pretty much mean sleep, an all-night show is pretty exhausting the next day.  When the alarm went off at three AM to catch our flights, it felt like I had just closed my eyes.  I dropped Paige off at her gate (you could still do that in 1999) and haven’t seen her in person since.  She’s still around, doing incredible things, most of them outside of the Phellowship.  A few hours later, I was back in Chicago waiting at an L stop, just trying to process the whole experience.

I was still excited for the coming tours, eager to go and hang out with the Phellowship.  However, things were just different.  I went to a couple of the 2000 shows, but so many of the people I knew from the tables weren’t around.  I also wasn’t devoting as much time to Phish.  I had other things to do and that feeling of things being finished was still there.  The hiatus that came after fall 2000 felt right.

By the time Phish came back in 2003, things had changed a great deal.  I was married, a child would be coming along.  I tried to get tickets for the winter show in Chicago, but the show sold out.  I opted for Jeff Tweedy tickets on sale the same day.  Oddly, I didn’t feel very disappointed.  I still wanted to see Phish, share the experience at least once with my wife (and that would be all:-) especially the Phellowship.  We got the chance during that summer tour, but it wasn’t the Phellowship of 1997-1999, it was a lot of new faces, young faces.  I didn’t feel like an outsider, but I also didn’t feel connected like I once did.

When the band announced the break up in 2004, I had an urge to try and make it to Coventry.  After thinking about it for about a second, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  Going to Phish’s last concert wasn’t important compared to the rest of my life.  I couldn’t even go to both shows at Alpine that year, a friends wedding was on the same weekend.

So I went to what I thought was my last show at Alpine.  I was determined to at least check-in with the Phellowship one last time.  At the set break I made my way up the hill for the meeting.  I’m so glad that I did.  A lot of old faces were there, familiar names and still a lot of new blood.  It was, outside of Big Cypress, the biggest Phellowship meeting I had ever been at.  I ditched my pavilion seat and stayed to dance with all of the folks.  It was a great way to end two relationships, one with the band, one with the group.

Of course, it didn’t end.  After a five year break up, the band came roaring back and so did the Phellowship.  The tables were back.  The meetings were back. The connection through Facebook was, and is, exciting.  I must admit, at most shows I go to these days, I’m too old and too lazy to leave the pavillion to make my way to the back for a meeting.  I do make sure to check in at every show, chat with the the volunteers a little bit.  It’s great to see that the sober enthusiasm is still there.  The Phellowship, however, feels like a young persons game, kind of like a travelling young peoples meeting.  Just like I would feel out of place at a young person’s conference of AA, I kind of get the same feeling at the Phellowship.  But that is ok.  It is their time, I had mine and I’m forever grateful for it.

N.B. Yes, this Friday Phish Fry is coming out late Sunday, but as you can read, I went on for the better part of 1900 words.  A little extra fry time :-)

On the VB6 Week 10: Sometimes You Need to Cheat

February 11, 2014

I don’t know how else to say this, except I love gravy.  Beef gravy, turkey gravy, red eye gravy, wavy gravy they are all delicious.  Nothing, however, compares to the creamy rich goodness of sausage gravy.  A restaurant near my church makes a particularly good version and unlike many places I don’t have to pay for eggs I won’t eat and the sausage patties that are quite important to the whole ensemble along with the biscuits are included.  If I really want to do myself in, I order hash browns to finish off any remaining scraps of gravy.  Not exactly the healthy, meat free food that I’ve been trying to eat for breakfast and lunch.


As it happened, this week I was taking my son to Sunday school and just had a craving for biscuits and gravy.  I didn’t even try to fight it.  I have been pretty good these ten (10!) weeks, been feeling pretty good and was actually meat free the day before.  I also didn’t swap one meat meal for a meat free one later in the evening; nope, had pasta with red sauce and meatballs.  It was the most meat I’ve eaten in one day probably since the new year.

If you read VB6, one of the first things Bittman shares is that this isn’t a diet in the traditional sense.  He is very upfront, unlike so many diet authors, that a person will misstep on any particular plan.  It’s one of the aspects of the plan that I like, Bittman’s honesty toward human nature.  Quite frankly, we like to indulge from time to time.  As Bittman says if a you go off plan, try not to stay off for too long and most important, come back.

Which is exactly what I did.  Since that Sunday, I’ve been back to the norm, no meat until dinner time, very few animal products at all really.  I am glad to be back at it.  As much as I enjoyed my carbo/dairy/fat/meat indulgence, my body wasn’t exactly happy with me.  I felt sluggish and bloated pretty much the entire day and even into the next, just blech.

I also don’t feel guilty.  In part because the author of the diet not only says it’s a part of the whole process, but he readily admits he spends days off the plan.  Further, in order to make a plan work, a little cheat can go a long way.  Next time, I think fried chicken will be on the menu.

On The VB6 Week 9: The BA Winter Run

February 6, 2014

When I go for my long run in the winter, I vacillate between two feelings.  One feels like this:

olafA little goofy, definitely cold, but still enjoying being out and running.  The other, more representative feeling is this:


Specifically this page from the Dark Knight Returns when Batman is jumping back into crime-fighting.  As I run I catch myself saying, “I’m a man of thirty, of twenty!” even if I’m trudging along at my normal snail pace.  There is something about putting all that gear on, running over snow and ice that makes me feel a little like a bad ass.

I know I’m really not a bad ass, but getting out the door on a cold Sunday morning makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something when it comes to my personal fitness and health.  Even if I only go a short distance, I still feel good when I get home with that strange eye lash icing and condensation beard.

This year I’m planning on running a spring marathon, which makes winter runs a necessity.  I haven’t hit the intense workouts yet, but I must admit I’m a little skittish when it comes to the VB6.  I’m hungry right now and I only ran three miles today.  What is it going to be like when I run 10, 16, 20 miles?  Even when I was nominally eating well and training for a marathon I was constantly hungry after a hard work out or long run.  Are my snacks of cutie oranges, nuts and apples going to even make a dent in my appetite? Or by six in the evening when I’m back to omnivore mode am I going to be so famished that I eat an entire cow?

Yes I know that plenty of vegetarians and vegans run marathons and do high intensity work outs.  But I’m not in those clubs and don’t really want to be.  In VB6, Bittman shares that he tries to train for a marathon each year while eating according to the dietary guidelines, so in theory anyway it all works out.  I think the anxiety is stemming from the fact that while training for the last marathon I didn’t lose any weight, which is REALLY annoying.  The hope is, being a little more cognizant and strict about what I’m eating, some benefits might ensue.  At the very least, I still get to run in the cold and feel like a  super hero.


Friday Phish Fry: 8/10/97 Deer Creek

February 2, 2014

For my money, summer 1997 is the best Phish tour.  There are others that were great, I have already written about my fondness for Fall 1994 for example, but summer 1997 is a peak unlike any other.  There is such a rich mix of styles, from deep funk to spacey jams, to out of no where songs that it makes for some of the best listening in the Phish live catalog.


1997 also represents a great year for me personally, regarding Phish.  It was the first year I made the trek from Chicago to Deer Creek in Noblesville, Indiana.  I’ll admit, for all of the accolades that the venue recieved, I was a bit leary.  The other legendary Midwestern venue that I had been to the previous year, Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin, failed to impress.  I think I’ve attended more shows at Alpine than any other venue and I can say that my opinion has softened, but only a little.  The sound in the pavillion is great, and in 1996 the sound on the lawn was atrocious.  It has improved in the almost twenty years since, but I would still be disappointed if I got tickets to Alpine’s severely pitched lawn.

Back to Deer Creek; I know since I last visted they have expanded the lawn (and I think the pavillion) but in 1997, it was downright intimate compared to the vastness of Alpine.  I got lucky in mail order and had great seats on the Mike side of things (I truly miss mail order.)  It was also in the summer of 97 that I was first introduced to the Phellowship, a group of Phish Heads that attend shows sober.  It turned out they were all camping near by and it was easy to find so I was in for a great two days.  It was the first time a fellow fan would try and convince me to stay on tour until the final shows in Maine.  I didn’t, but I was tempted.

Looking at the reviews on Phish.net, the set list was especially diverse and the second set deserves all of the praise that it receives, but I would say that the show starting off with Bathtub Gin was a pretty good indicator that this was no ordinary night.  It isn’t the greatest version of Gin but in this case its more about when and not how.  The first set rolls along with a great many songs that are personal favorites; Sparkle, Down With Disease, and probably my favorite “short” Phish song Dirt.  I particularly love the melody of this song and find Trey’s vocals to always sound heartfelt.

Cars, Trucks and Buses (another personal favorite) and Billy Breathes lead into an absolute must hear version of Split Open and Melt.  I’m not a big Melt fan but listening to this version is well worth it.  A pretty common theme of my personal jam tastes is when a song goes well outside of its normal boundaries, I’m all in favor, especially if things take a dark turn.  I suspect this because so many of Phish’s songs are positive, upbeat and light.  A little dark is good.  This Melt explores some very dark areas and is just jaw dropping.  It’s hard to believe that something like this was in a first set.

The next two songs, Bye Bye Foot and Ginseng Sullivan offered a moment to catch ones breath.  In Phish terms, the songs are practically ditties, both ranging in at about 4 minutes.  Then the next big surprise of the first set, a Harry Hood set closer.  I don’t think at the time I was as surpirsed as I am now looking over the set list.  I would guess that even by 1997 a first set Hood was pretty rare.

If you just glanced at this set list and saw the Hood set closer, you might be tempteed to think, “oh, cool, but I doubt it’s anything special.”  That would be the wrong assumption! This Hood was no gimmick, it is as transcedent as they come.  It may not make the Harry Hood Hall of Fame, but it does belong in the Hall of Very Good (right next to Don Mattingly.)

I remember at the set break Phellowship meeting, after the actual meeting, we were wondering what the band could do to stop such a fantastic first set.  We were already treated to two great jams so if the second set was a little bit f a letdown, well that would have been ok, can’t get greedy after all.

I don’t know if the band felt like they had to live up to the first set or if they were just on top of their game that night, but the Cities to open the second set is also a must hear.  Every time I’ve seen Cities since I’ve hoped for a version to rival this one.  So far I haven’t had any luck. At 7 minutes in, things start to drift away from Cities and by 11 minutes  things get into a really good, rock heavy groove, definitely a build to a climax.  At points it feels like something out of Tommy; around 15 minutes a mini break down, but Page comes in and keeps things together and then there is a rise, mostly by Trey, leading to a great chording piece, with touches of space punctuating throughout.

Cities segues into Good Times Bad Times, signalling a bit of fun to come.  As the band plays out the song, they begin to rotate instruments, culminating with Fish on lead guitar and vocals for Rocco Williams.  Like every time Fishman becomes the front man, this isn’t so much about great music as it is about injecting a little humor into the serious business that too often in live rock music.  There is no doubting Phish’s musicianship.  When these guys play, it is something to behold, even if it isn’t your thing, you have to admit they are accomplished musicians.  But one of the great things about them as a unit is the fact that they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously.  By bringing in a little humor, they remind us, the audience that this is supposed to be fun.

To wrap up the set, Phish launches into David Bowie.  Normally, this would be a highlight of a show, but with the SOAM, Hood and Cities, this Bowie was weakest jam of the four.  At the time, I wonder if we were all just too tired to care.  On repeat listenings, especially when one treats the two shows at Deer Creek as a whole, this like everything else from this show is pretty spectacular, especially if you like things to get exploratory.  Bowie starts out properly, but then goes into an extended dark matter intro.  If you like it weird, take a listen to this Bowie.  It takes about eight minutes for Bowie to really start.  It was almost as if, after the rotation of instruments, the band was thinking, “we’re going to show you what we really can do.”  After the intro though, it really is your standard, if a bit extended version of Bowie.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still a fine version, but of all the songs from this show, this just isn’t being overlooked.  A great way to end the set no matter what.

I’m sure such a good show taints my views on Deer Creek, but all of the shows I saw at the venue, 1997 and 1999 respectively, had impeccable sound and sight lines.  It was easy to get to and easy to navigate from the parking to inside the venue itself.  I don’t know when or how I would swing it these days, but I would love to go back, if only for nostalgia’s sake.  If I were to get back, I just hope they didn’t change too much at the expense of the great sound and intimate feel Deer Creek had in the past.

On the VB6 Week 7: All About the Numbers

January 28, 2014

I won’t bore you with the exact details, and you might also think, “uh, Kauf, that still ain’t so good,” but the overall news is, pretty good.  I had to do a wellness check for my health insurance.  We get a screening, weight, BMI, blood pressure, blood test.  It isn’t the whole battery that one gets at a general physical, but it is, well, a check.*

*Speaking of: I probably need a physical with the GP.  I had a change in my blood pressure meds and I haven’t had a visit from Dr. Jellyfinger in about a year.  What a great time middle age can be!

So I got my numbers and pretty much every number since last year has gone down; cholesterol down, blood pressure down, glucose down, weight…well not down.  However, the more I read and learn about BMI and what is and isn’t healthy I’m less worried about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the number or more importunely, my body, but I’m also not unhappy with my body.  Basically, I don’t FEEL fat or overweight, but there is work to do and that is a good place to be.

So how much does the VB6 have to do with this?  I don’t know, to be honest.  The screener at the check up seem to think that it had a something to do with my improvement. She did seem to think it was an odd approach to diet, and I get that.  A part time vegetarian? What, trouble committing?  Well, I’ve been pretty committed to being part time.  Honestly, I seriously can’t believe that I’ve stopped drinking soda on a daily basis.

It’s funny, thinking about it.  The VB6 in many ways is a very old concept.  Even Bittman presents it from a historical perspective when discussing the amount of meat and processed food we once ate as Americans (not much) and how much we eat now (a freaking lot.) As he states in the book, meat wasn’t the center of a meal.  It was a treat.  Processed food wasn’t even much of an issue because there wasn’t nearly the amount of processed food available as there is now.

What Bittman is really proposing for all of us is temperance.  Having studied the old temperance movement leading up to prohibition, it quickly morphed into an abstinence movement, not just for the individual, but for society.  Ultimately that shift became a shibboleth for any movement that had the goal of changing societal behavior.  Even if the idea of temperance, of moderation and a reasoned approach to something is called for, using the actual term brings up images of the WCTU, gangsters and speakeasies, even if those that brought about the eighteenth amendment were far from the goal of temperance.

Friday Phish Fry: Rift

January 23, 2014

Time to show my age.  I thought the five CD changer was one of the greatest inventions ever.  I remember working at a cafe that had one and then finally getting my own Sony 5-CD player.  By the time I had my own, it was possible to get a 100-CD player, but I thought that was excessive.  I couldn’t nor would I want to figure out 1-100 artists that would go well together. Five discs was perfect.  I could do all Beatles (very popular at the cafe) I could do five different jazz CDs (also popular at the cafe) or I could do my favorite mix, Zappa, Genesis and Pink Floyd (not all that popular at the cafe, but more popular than you might think.*)  Then one day a co-worker brought in a CD from this relatively new band, Phish.

*One of the coolest memories I have from that job: A woman came in and was listening to a Zappa song and asked if the trombone player was Bruce Fowler.  Indeed it was.  Turns out she was a music major and a big fan of Bruce Fowler but never listened to his Zappa recordings.

He loved this band, had seen them a year or so before.  He even met them back stage.  I was (and still am) open to new music, so he put it on.  He said I needed to hear it all the way through.  This was the fall of 1993 and the latest album by Phish was a concept album called Rift.  Jayson showed me the album cover and how every song on the album was pictured.  I remember my initial reaction was really enjoying the record, especially because the guitar playing reminded me a lot of Steve Hackett and the early days of Genesis.  Hearing the piano and keyboards so prominently added a Genesis kind of vibe too and the lyrics, well, the lyrics were just kind of weird, but I liked that too.


It wasn’t long before I got my own copy of Rift, then A Picture of Nectar, then Junta, then Lawnboy (the only one I had to buy new.)  After I had all of the studio recordings Pink Floyd lost their place in my 5 disc rotation, listening to Zappa, Genesis and Phish all at once became the new favorite.  I soon found out that people traveled all over to see this band and a lot of folks were making the trip to New England, Worchester, MA to be exact to see them over New Year’s Eve.  I didn’t quite get that yet.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Ann Arbor 1994 is where I got it when it came to Phish.  But if I didn’t hear Rift, I don’t know if I would have travelled to Ann Arbor to see them.  It was a perfect album for the music I was into at that moment, a concept piece that wasn’t dealing with huge personal or political issues (like The Wall or Animals) or with social issues, especially from a teenage perspective (like The Who.) No, Rift is a personal record about a relationship and the intricacies of navigating all of the ins and outs that entails.  It also isn’t bleak at the end, again like Pink Floyd records, and as much as I love the concept record of Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Rift takes place in a very real place, unlike the journey of Rael.

At the time I was also into REM and Peter Gabriel, both producing two of my favorite records of all time, Automatic for the People and Us, respectively. But I was looking for something else, something in that place that Pink Floyd, Genesis and the other Prog rockers filled.  I never really gravitated toward Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer or any many of the other Progressive acts.  I kinda sorta liked Rush, but they always seemed a little too earnest, too dour.  Rush and many of the Prog bands just seemed to take themselves way too seriously.  I don’t think anyone would say that Phish took or takes themselves seriously.

More importantly, at least to me, Rift was new.  It had just come out earlier that year and the guys in the band were basically my age.  Phish was band that, at least in the studio, was making music that I would want to make if I had any musical talent whatsoever. I was sure that more was to come.  I just didn’t know how much nor what it would be like.  I finally felt like I was pretty close to the ground floor of following a band.*  I couldn’t wait for the next step.  Almost twenty years on, I’m still anxious and excited for that next stop.

*I found out later that I was part of the cohort of fans, coming in with the release and tour for Hoist, that was going to ruin the band and the scene.  That is a different story for a different time.

On the VB6 Week 6: Adventures in Tofu!

January 20, 2014

A Rubicon has been crossed, a die cast.  This past week things went pretty well.  I managed to stay vegetarian every day Monday through Friday (had some bacon Saturday.)  I’ve also stopped drinking soda on a regular basis and I’m trying to only have it when I’m out, not a regular, daily thing.  The biggest change, however, was the purchase, and more importantly the use of tofu.

Can you imagine me with tofu?

Can you imagine me with tofu?

I don’t hate tofu.  I often order it in Asian restaurants.  I often find the beef in Asian food kind of stringy and I don’t particularly like the Asian flavors with beef, like soy sauce, ginger to name a few.  Pork is pretty good in Asian dishes but I like the lightness tofu (or chicken, which really isn’t that much more flavorful) brings to Asian cuisine.  I also like tofu as an alternative to eggs.  I hate eggs.

I think I bought tofu once.  I just left it in the fridge and never touched it.  There is something gross about a block of bean paste submerged in water, just waiting to be sliced like mushy cheese.  This time though, I committed to using it.  The first use was adding some protein to my traditional lentil soup.  It’s true that tofu takes on the flavor of what it is accompanied with, and my soup did the job.  It was almost like adding extra noodles, so not all bad.

I outdid myself when making tacos.  Usually, I make beef and black beans for me and the kids.  They eat combo tacos and I have one beef and two bean.  Unfortunately no beans this time.  So I saved a little of the taco seasoning, added a little bit of this and that and sautéed the tofu with it.  Overall it was pretty good, but I could have used a little more crunch.  I can’t believe it, but there is a another brick of tofu waiting for me and I’m not even freaked out.  Well, maybe a little.

Friday Phish Fry: Reba

January 19, 2014

It’s hard to pick a favorite song.  Picking my favorite Phish song is almost impossible.  There are various types of Phish songs and I mentioned those when I made a start on a regular Phish post, jams, covers, blue grass and many other songs that fall into various different classifications.  If I had to pick one song though that has stuck with me over all of these years, it’s Reba.

Reba has pretty much all of the elements of a song that makes it a Phish song; excellent and intricate composition, interesting, if ridiculous lyrics, a great use of tension and release throughout the structure of the song and an avenue for great improvisation.  Yet unlike the other songs that are bona fide launching pads for improvisation, Reba keeps things together.  The song usually ranges in between 12-15 minutes.  Yes a long song by most standards, but such consistency is pretty remarkable.  I’ve seen mentioned regarding many other songs that one can identify when the music “breaks” from the song that led it, meaning it no longer “sounds” like that song.  Not the case with Reba.  Even at the deepest, jammiest, section of the song, it still feels and sounds like Reba.

Personally, Reba is a fairly constant song in my listening mix.  I put it in most playlists I make up.  Generally it is a great cool down song.  I also love it when I’m writing or working.  It just has a natural groove that helps me relax and concentrate.


When the song first starts, you wouldn’t guess that it has a great, smooth groove. The song starts out very fast with a quick riff that simply bounces.  It quickly becomes a steady background to the lyrics, which become the active part of the song.  I won’t even try and divine what exactly the lyrics are about. Like many of Phish’s early songs, Reba tells a story, a weird story, but a story nonetheless.

After the “bag it” section, the music takes over.  The energy stays high with what is best described as “the chase.” Page and Trey run through a series of scales and progressions that show off the musianship of the band.  Sometimes this section can sound a little sloppy.  One of the draw backs of recording every show, fans dissect the songs and pick out what is wrong.

While like these parts of the song, it’s after the the composed sections are finished with a series of flourishes that Reba finds it’s voice.  As Mike lays down a steady backing rift, Trey often leads the song, while Page adds great texture.  When I see this song live, I often sit down, just experiencing the music.  I must admit, I like it when the band doesn’t finish the song.  To “officially” conclude Reba, the band returns to the “bag it tag it” lyrics with a whistling bit to reintroduce the original structure of the song. It’s ok, but really after the great mellow groove that makes up the heart of the song, the little coda in this case seems superfluous.  It’s not enough to make me dislike a version, per se, but a matter of preference I suppose.

Speaking of preferences, some of my favorite versions are ones you’ve probably heard before, namely the version from the Clifford Ball, the version from 8/10/96 at Alpine Valley, available on one of the Live Bait releases and possibly my favorite version, Halloween 1994.  I also like the version from 6/30/12, another Alpine Reba.  Of course you could just bop on over to Phish.net and see the wonderful jam chart.  You can’t go wrong with any of the versions they recommend.  You pretty much can’t go wrong with Reba in general.


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