Phish Song Rankings As of Chicago Summer 2017

So, for the first time since 1994, not counting the hiatus and breakup, I won’t be attending a Phish show. This year’s family vacation coincided with the Northerly Island run and I can’t pull off a run in New York. There was some thought to trying to get to Dayton, but that was just a workday fantasy. I suppose an off chance at New Year’s Eve, but a trip to Miami in late December isn’t realistic either.

It’s a weird sensation. I mean it’s just a band after all. But after watching Long Strange Trip (three stars if I’m being generous) and hearing from Deadheads and their relationship with the band, I get it. It’s more than a concert for me. It’s a gathering. It’s spiritual. Yeah, I know how corny and hippy-dippy that reads, but I don’t care. The music, the atmosphere, the journey, even if it’s just across town, all reset my soul in a profound way.

As ironic as it might sound, Phish is very tied into my sobriety. I got sober in 1991, first Phish show in 1994. I’ve never been to a show intoxicated. That was never the draw. If it is for you, part of your experience, that’s cool too, just not mine. Phish has always meant a happiness, a freedom that I didn’t allow myself when drinking. Every show is a reminder and touchstone of that. The gatherings, the ceremonies are going on without me this year and it feels weird and hollow.*

*I should note that I am not sorry to go on family vacation to another spiritual place, the Oregon Coast. The ocean replenishes me too, just in a different way. Family before Phamily, always.

I also wanted to give a shout out to a new organization or awareness group or solidarity group, not sure the best way to classify it. Groove Safe is a group on twitter, @groovesafe, that is raising awareness, and aiming to prevent unwanted touching and sexual assaults at concerts. As a completely unaware white dude, I was shocked to hear how prevalent this is at shows, including Phish shows. Groping and worse shouldn’t come with the price of admission.

I had big plans for the off season, doing a thorough audit of my rankings against ZZYZX’s page, look at the highest ranking song by album and the like. Oh well, no such luck. Other things. Maybe I’ll get to it after the Baker’s Dozen.

As for Chicago, a minor shake up in the top ten, with the eighth place tie being broken up a bit, David Bowie slipping to 10th all alone. I’ll be interested to see how much play Bowie gets now that David Bowie has passed away. It always felt like a weird tongue in cheek tribute and just seems potentially weird. We’ll see.

Theme From the Bottom reached 150 plays, keeping its place as the second most played song from Billy Breathes. Winterqueen reached the Top 250 with 17 performances. Your Pet Cat broke into the Top 300 with 9 performances. It’s really cool that the Thrilling Chilling songs are still getting played. They could have easily become a one-off kind of thing. I’m glad we’ve got to see them outside of the Halloween performance. There were six new songs debuted. Let the speculation begin on which will be on a new album and which will be the next Spock’s Brain.

Your Current Top Twenty

1   You Enjoy Myself – 578
2    Possum – 517
3    Mike’s Song – 491
4   Weekapaug Groove – 460
5   Bouncing Around the Room – 459
6    Golgi Apparatus – 456
7    Chalk Dust Torture – 453
8   Run Like an Antelope – 442
8    Cavern – 442
10   David Bowie – 441

 

11   Suzy Greenberg – 418
12   Stash – 411
12   Divided Sky – 410
14   Reba – 374
14   Runaway Jim – 374
16   Harry Hood – 368
17   Tweezer – 357
18   The Squirming Coil – 348
19   Foam – 345
20   I Am Hydrogen – 335

Phish at Northerly Island: A Weekend to Remember, 7/18-7/20

Nine blogs over three days or so, that is some kind of record.  Jimmy Greenfield would be so proud.  I had a blast, to say the least.  In part because of the usual suspects, being out and about among my people, soaking in the jammy atmosphere; chatting with my neighbors, talking about what we wanted to see, what we liked from the night before; getting an upgrade for my seats the last two nights.  I can only assume that the security team was aware that the way to one side of the bleachers was open to the floor seating.  Of course none of that matters without the music and the music was something else this weekend.

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I’ve been to a number of two night runs and a few of the festivals over the past twenty years, but the three night run is the most intriguing.  I figure the band can pull it together for two nights, or get up for a festival, but to do three nights is a row is something special.  Two years running we have been treated to three shows in Chicago (though I missed most of last years, due to a vacation) and since I’ve been following Phish I’ve seen two other three night runs in 1998 and 2011 respectively.  It’s a small sample size, but this weekend was best.  As far as runs go, for my personal shows, it is right up there with Alpine Valley in 2010 and Deer Creek in 1997.  Festivals deserve there own consideration and since they are so different from each other it is hard to compare.

Back to Chicago 2014.  Looking back at my quickie blogs and starting to listen to the shows over again, it is amazing how strong Phish sounded, how much energy they had through most of the shows.  The set where I thought there was a lack of energy was the first set on the first night.  The band just didn’t come out blazing.  It really was the outlier of the weekend.  The remaining 5 sets were just sizzling.  What’s even more amazing is that the last set on the third night, was for me, the best set of the weekend.  A must have is the Mike’s->Wedge, Ghost ->Weekapaug.

I often see people comment on who was the “MVP” of a night or a run or a tour, but I can’t really pick out one of the four over this stretch.  The band just seems to be really listening and working off one another.  If there is one element I’ve really enjoyed the past two tours is that while Trey is still the leader, in some ways still the driver, he has really be ready to take a step back and allow Page to thrive.  Combined with the Mike and Fish the melodies that the band has been coming up with have been truly extraordinary.

A couple more thoughts.  The new album seems to have rejuvenated the band.  If 2013 was a celebration of the past, 2014 is a celebration of the future.  The best single set may have been set two from 7/20/14, but so much of the music is worth your time if  you are a fan of Phish.  The first sets (minus night one) were well constructed and while the second set is generally the province  of the more exploratory, lengthy material, the first sets from nights two and three are great pieces in there own right.  I can see those sets making for some good running soundtracks over the next months and years.  Phish, they keep me rolling.

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

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?

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Phish in Chicago, 7/19/13. The Show that Wasn’t.

Chicago brings out the blues in Phish and the first show at Charter One Pavilion was no exception.  It contained many of the songs that pass for bluesy in the Phish catalog, Wolfman’s Brother, Julius, and the definite blues number My Soul.  I even thought that maybe a Sugar Blue encore might be in the not too distant future.  Alas, there was no future.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Even though the venue has been around for a while, I hadn’t made my way there, so I was looking forward to it.  If you are not familiar, Charter One is on an island in Lake Michigan that once was home to an airport. In perhaps one of the baldest civic moves I ever witnessed, the former Mayor Daley had the runways bulldozed in the middle of the night, citing “security concerns.”  There were protests, a law suit I think, but when the dust settled the airport was gone and Northerly Island was a place to see concerts. 

As an actual venue it is quite meh.  The general admission pit where I had tickets was a black top slab with a raised stage platform.  There were a couple of “VIP” stands toward the back of this area which I can’t fathom being a good place to enjoy a show.  Is waiter service and a seat that important?  By the look of things at least as far as Phish fans are concerned, not so much.  There are also rumors of a lawn beyond the upfront section, but I didn’t bother to explore it, though it didn’t look to be pitched at all so basically it was a plain where the view was better on the video screens than anywhere else. 

Speaking of views, they were quite underwhelming.  Looking toward the stage, one might, kind of, if you twist around, see the skyline of the city.  If you were on the lawn I would imagine you could see the lake, but from my vantage point there was no evidence I was surrounded by water.  I could have been in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  I don’t think a lot of planning went into the original concepts for the venue and the recent “improvements” were just a means to make more places for people to stand.  It is kind of remarkable, in the worst way, that such a public space has absolutely no ascetic value whatsoever.  The location would seem to have so much potential, but it is wasted by such mundane, even lazy use of space.

Sadly, this wasn't anywhere near where you wanted to be standing.
Sadly, this was from outside the venue.

 

Now, on to the show or lack of it, sadly.  I’d love to give a more detailed rundown of the first set, but there really isn’t a need.  It was Phish as a blues band, mixing in some of their gentle weirdness just to keep it interesting.  If my memory serves this was the first time I ever saw a Scent of a Mule in the first set, but considering how much of a paint-by-numbers song it is, that novelty wore off almost after the first note.  46 Days kept up the blue-tinged feel and Limb by Limb is always a favorite of mine, largely for the lyrics.  I hope the day comes that I bear witness to an epic Limb by Limb, but alas this was just a nice little version that I won’t fast forward through when it comes up on shuffle. 

Never underestimate the optimism of a Phish fan.  As we were standing around waiting for the second set, the wind was picking up and the clouds to the west and north were looking more and more ominous.  I texted to my wife, “if it rains, I’m doomed.”  There is absolutely nowhere to go for cover.  I heard multiple folks around me saying that it wasn’t coming anywhere near us, that it was all blowing past.  I really doubted that especially after the road crew started wrapping everything on stage plastic.  By the time the band got back to the stage, it wasn’t just a matter of if, but when was the rain going to fall.

I had weaseled my way pretty far up front on the Mike side of things, so when Cactus started poundin’ da bass (read with bad Jamaican accent) I knew Down with Disease was on its way.  It is a pretty basic, solid Disease, but if you are not a tour completist, you don’t need to give it a listen.  It begins to really step out of the main Disease structure around the 7:30 minute mark, and starts holding down a nice little, up tempo groove about a minute later.  Unfortunately, this vein didn’t get well explored.  Of all things, it really sounds like Page pulls the rip cord and starts to slow things down, ultimately coming to rest on Prince Caspian.

Caspian only lasted for a minute, and even before Page’s announcement it was apparent that something was going on.  Page stopped playing and the rest of the band kind of looked his way saying, “huh-oh.”  Sure enough, the news wasn’t good.  Due to the approaching storm, the venue needed to be evacuated immediately. 

Now, I’ve been in some pretty horrendous storms in my Phish career, including the 7/14/2000 show in Columbus that resulted in the show being delayed.  As it turned out, this storm didn’t seem so bad, but given the location, namely an unprotected island, the temporary nature of the stage, and the amount of lightening, it was a wise move to cancel the rest of the show.  One thing that I’m sure was going through the promoters and venue officials minds was the stage collapse in Indiana last year.  I know as the screens and some of the suspended amps were swaying, that tragedy was going through my mind.  Phish and most of the fans did the sensible thing and called it a night.  The band even went so far as to give the fans an extra set on Saturday and a partial refund.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the refund because I missed the e-mail until it was too late.  I blame Ticketmaster more than the band however, because I doubt it was their idea to have such a small window to apply for a refund. 

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In the end, it was a nice way to spend a Friday night.  It was nice to see Page take the lead throughout much of the set and in my heart of hearts (and old legs) getting home around 10:30 was kind of nice too.  Maybe we can do one show per venue at the Old Country Buffet start time of 4:30?

Kaufmak and the Commitments (Or my New Year Goals)

Couple of things I just wanted to dash off here.  The first thing is that if the stars align and I get off my butt and do some quick researc I plan on doing two, count them two, marathons this year.  I’d love to do more destination-type races but that is a bit on the expensive side, especially when one considers the cost of some of the races and/or the destinations.  For example, getting to New York isn’t so bad, but finding a hotel on marathon weekend is a pretty difficult trick and the cost of the marathon is very expensive, especially compared to most races.  Then there is a pretty cheap race like the Newport, Oregon Marathon, topping out at $105 for late registration but getting to Newport is a major expense.  So I’m staying pretty local, Cleveland in the spring and Chicago in the fall.  A small marathon might be fun one day, but anything under 2,000 entries and there is a distinct possibility I could finish last.  I know it isn’t about where I finish, but come on! Last? I really couldn’t take that shot to the ego.

The other exciting idea that I had came to me while cleaning the video game shelf.  I have a lot of video games, many of which I haven’t finished.  In most cases it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself, but I either couldn’t find the time to keep at it or another game took my interest or I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.  In some cases the games just got too damn long as well (I’m looking at you Super Mario Galaxy 2!)  Anyway, I just bought Halo Reach to complete my Halo collection and I decided before I buy another game I’m going to finish all of the games that I haven’t finished yet.  A couple of caveats: First, I won’t be finishing Harry Potter Years 5-7 until my son has read all of the books.  Lego does too good a job of staying true to the story and keeping the game play interesting.  Second, I’m not a 100% kind of guy.  When I say finish a game I mean the major storyline; not every side mission, bonus level and expansion pack.  I do find some of that stuff fun (Batman: Arkham City Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) but it can also be distracting or repetitive (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.)  I have no order in mind for this, but I would like to complete it this year, 2013.  I should also confess that I’m not what I would consider a gamer, per se.  Yes, I play games and enjoy them but if we were to meet online in some of these games, hmmm, most of these games, you would totally kick my ass.  So like most insights and reviews that I post here and at the other blog, these are the words of, at best, a fan and at worst a dilettante.

One last thing: I’ve sort of resolved this year to blog more.  I would love to do two blogs here and two blogs at Sox and Stuff, but we’ll see.  If I could average two blogs a week between the two that would be amazeablog! Even so, from the White Sox, running, Game of Thrones, the annual Phish musings and now video games, I think I have a great base for material to make a go of it.  Wish me luck.

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Wilco at Kane County Stadium.

Went to a concert last night, and it wasn’t Phish, hard to believe I know.  It was a big festive Wilco show at the Kane County Baseball Stadium.  I didn’t realize going in that I’ve missed the last three Wilco albums.  In my defense, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost is Born or Sky Blue Sky, so I kind of fell out of the loop and out of love with Jeff Tweedy and Wilco.  After last night, I need to go back and make some corrections.

It was quite a show from the onset, well almost.  I’m not the biggest fan of opening acts and we got two before the main attraction.  The first was a soul band called the Congregation.  They were…meh.  It was ok I suppose but like many acts that fall into that genre it is so incredibly repetitive that it just gets boring.  It isn’t just restricted to the music either, though the same horn parts that have been played since the 1960s do tend to get old.  No, it’s the whole act that is worn out.  All of the men came out dressed in dark suits, the lead singer in a dress.  All of the songs revolved around love/cheating/heartbreak pretty much take your pick.  In every song there was drinking/smoking/late night regrets.  Trust me if you’ve seen The Commitments, you’ve pretty much seen this show.  Why not change it up? Dress differently, come up with other ideas for songs, something. Will their union card be revoked if they drop the skinny ties?  Look, I get they are talented musicians and I don’t hate soul music, but it needs a shot in the arm.

The revelation of the night was Andrew Bird.  I know the kids love him, but my WXRT listening days are pretty limited these days so I really didn’t know much about him.  Basically, he sold me a ticket to another show hopefully in a much smaller venue.  I imagine his performance would work much better in a more intimate setting.  Even so, Andrew Bird was quite good, obviously talented and the music itself was quite engaging.  He and his band played around with a lot of different sounds and layers, what I think would be timbre?  On the surface it had a folky/alt-country vibe, but there was a steady use of feedback and guitar distortion giving it a much more nuanced feel.  On top of that, Bird played multiple instruments, sang and something not heard all the time, whistling.  Which brings me to my major criticism of Bird, play one instrument; I understand wanting to add as much as one can to the music.  I mean why only paint with one color right? But it got to be a bit distracting, almost gimmicky.  I guess counting the whistling, violin, and singing it is three sources if you will and that seems about right.  Taking time out to play the dulcimer and guitar just seemed kind of pointless.  I do have a minor criticism, and this could extend to Wilco as well.  Basically throughout Bird’s set, and Wilco’s, they would get into some just amazing stuff, that Brian Eno ambient music sort of thing that I absolutely love.*  Unfortunately, both Bird and Wilco would abruptly stop and go off on the next poppy tune.  I know, most folks aren’t up for a twelve minute exploration and interplay between a violin and guitar, but I would love it.  That’s why I go to Phish.

* for a great explanation of ambient music listen to the intro and entire fourth set from Phish at the Lemon Wheel, 8/16/98.  Perfect.

The main event was of course, Wilco.  It was a pretty tight set with a lot of songs from the catalog and as Jeff Tweedy said at one point, “we are in the deep cuts portion of the show.” Which if you wanted to see the hits, you might have been disappointed.  Of course as the home town show, we got the rarities and special “Chicago” set.  I particularly liked Box Full of Letters from AM and Say You Miss Me from Being There and especially Via Chicago from Summerteeth, a personal favorite.  I really need to pick up The Whole Love because everything I heard from that album was really good.  The second encore was a mini-tribute to Woody Gutherie which was great, especially from the car.  My concert partner wanted to go and get back home and I’m not averse to missing an encore.  As we were driving away the DJ on XRT was talking about how special the night was and how glad he was there to see it.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a good show, a great show even, but it wasn’t what I would call a special night.  I just didn’t feel that buzz, but maybe I’m not a big enough fan.  I know in 1996 at the Clifford Ball, the first Phish Festival, I felt that buzz, but maybe my devotion to the band colors it.  More than anything after the Wilco show I wanted two things: the Wilco records I don’t have and to make sure I don’t miss them the next time they play a small venue in Chicago.

A Very Simple Review of A Dance Performance

I will be the first to admit that you could fit all I know about dance into a thimble and still have room for your thumb.  Even so I’ve always been a fan, in many ways wishing I had half the grace dancers possess.  I also am a huge fan of Gene Kelly and “Singing in the Rain” is one of my top movies of all time.  However I can’t say that I go out of my way to see live performances of dance like I do of music and theatre.  Which I think is an extension of my first statement.  I just don’t get dance beyond admiring the beauty of movement.  I’d like to think I’m a perceptive fellow, but when I’m watching dance I find myself thinking, “Wow, that is amazing!” I don’t feel like I take it to that next level and appreciate what the overall story or message that is being delivered.  Sometime I feel pretty confident in my interpretation, but it tends to be in realms I already feel pretty comfortable.  I mean I’ve been listening to Phish for close to twenty years now, so if I can’t pick up the overarching theme of tension and release, then I’m a moron.  Along the same lines, I can see how the movements enhance and reflect the action of a story that I already know, like Romeo and Juliet.  This is all to say that I went out with the family Saturday night to see a friend perform with Aerial Dance Chicago in Aerial Works Raw.  I realize as I write this how far out of my depth I truly am. 

 The performance featured two sets of performances with a brief intermission.  When the company advertised that it was an intimate setting, they weren’t kidding.  The audience was only three rows deep and the dancers were often right to the edge of the performance space.  Short of being on the stage one couldn’t be closer.  I could hear the dancers breathing from time to time, which really demonstrated how hard they were working.  It reminded me of being at a soccer game and being able to smell the grass and feel the ground shake as the players rumbled nearby.  In a theatrical setting this closeness normally would foster a closer connection to the performers, but because of the nature of Aerial Dance that isn’t quite the case.  The key aspect of the company is that much of the dancing takes place in the air by virtue of silk ropes, cables and swings.  If had to guess, I would say that the dancers were at the very least five to twenty feet off the ground at any given time.  The simple act of pulling themselves up was amazing.  The definition in the dancers’ back and shoulders was power on display.  All of the other maneuvers were equally jaw-dropping.  I was truly out of my dept when there was more than just the aerial component going on during a piece.  One of the dancers would be in air and the other dancers would be performing other movements, sometimes in tandem with the aerial person, sometimes almost independently.  I wasn’t sure how to view this, literally and figuratively.  I was drawn to the performer on the ropes, but felt like I was limiting my experience.  Perhaps that dichotomy was intentional, but ultimately I found it more distracting than anything else. 

 The three solos, “For You”, “Gravel Road” and “Unbound”, and one of the duets, “On the Rise”, were simply stunning.  My wife made the comment during “For You” that the dancer had an incredible body.  I agreed a little too quickly for my wife’s tastes, but I wasn’t saying it like THAT…really!  Watching these women perform I couldn’t help but think of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. 

Da Vinci's Vitruvian could be in ADC

It was the athletic strength and grace that was the star of show.  Even if dance isn’t your thing, it would be impossible to leave this show and not be impressed, if not inspired.  Much like a great athletic performance, the power of the dancer’s movements leaves me without words.  It’s like trying to describe Tiger Wood’s golf swing.  I just can’t do it justice.  The best thing I can recommend is that you go and check it out yourself when they perform in the Spring.