A Review of the Phish Webcast of Halloween: A lot of New Stuff for Everyone

I had been reluctant to stream a Phish show over the past couple of tours.  Mostly because of time, but I was also a little worried about how the quality of the broadcast would be.  Perusing some of the message boards and twitter, there always seemed to be complaints about the stream getting interrupted, the audio and the video not syncing up correctly, or sometimes not linking up at all.*

*Suggestion: a cheaper, audio only option would be great.  I found myself quite often looking away from the screen, checking Twitter, looking in on the basketball game I had on mute and just for a break.  

phish-AC-Halloween

My fears were completely unjustified.  Simply put, I loved being on my couch watching a show.  I was quite comfy*, could go to the bathroom if need be, but I was surprised how much I got into the show.  I kept thinking back to when I was younger and how much I loved sitting in a rocking chair and listening to music.  I haven’t missed my recliner so much in years as I did on Halloween.  Indeed, I found myself bobbing along to the music during a couple of songs.  I think there was one hiccup in the feed and it wasn’t even remotely memorable.  I can’t do much about the time commitment still needed for a show, family and dad commitments come first, but I won’t hesitate from tuning in again.  Oh, and the price for the show and the MP3 afterwards was only $30, a bargain if you ask me.

*Perhaps too comfy.  I fell asleep during Harry Hood in the third set.  I barely woke up for the encore.  Which leads to another suggestion:  I read about the archived version of the show that I supposedly had access to, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how or where I could find it. Oh well, I only missed a couple of songs.

I also really need to work on my Twitter lists.  It would have been much better to have my stream dedicated to my Phishy follows so I could interact closer to real time.  Scrolling through all the other tweets that had nothing to do with Phish was a minor inconvenience to be sure, but I could have made my experience that much better.*  That isn’t to say that the Phish crew don’t make the streaming audience feel special.  We got a PDF of the Playbill, some great in between set music (Miles Davis tribute to Jack Johnson from 1971 OMG!) and the fun little send up of Abe Vigoda and the Godfather (Trey slouches subserviently like no other man.)

*Suggestion: the chat function on the stream was not so good.  The last comment I could see was from 30 minutes before the show.  It would have been nice to have a constant dialogue going on within the stream window.  I gave up and relied exclusively on Twitter.  Speaking of, follow @ScottBerstein during a show, such a good time.  Also, I know everyone is dancing etc., but maybe a few more tweets from the show itself? Oh and Phish from the Road is nice, but feel free to add a little commentary too, especially access to things we don’t get to see, kind of like a sideline reporter.

After seeing the Playbill my first tweet before the show was that I was trying not to feel disappointed; Phish in Wingsuit…What?  Was it an album I never heard of? Some strange artist that I was about to be exposed to for the first time? Nope on all counts.  It was something that I kind of held in the back of my mind for a long time.  The idea that not only would Phish come during a show and play a new set list, but all new, never heard before songs.  I just didn’t think it would be on Halloween.

If you’re not much of a Phish fan, well you’ve probably stopped reading at this point, but if you’re still here, Halloween holds a very special place for Phish fans.  Intermittently since 1994, the band has donned a musical costume and played another iconic album in its entirety.  Past performances include The White Album, Quadrophenia, Exile on Main Street, Loaded, Remain in Light, and Waiting for Columbus.  We’re talking some seriously big recordings.  I’ve pined for a Zappa or Genesis Halloween, but I was never disappointed.  When I read the Playbill and saw that the band was going to play a new, not even recorded set of music, yeah I was let down.  I was lucky enough to be at Halloween 1995 when they played Quadrophinia.  It was one of my favorite albums growing up so to hear I Am the Sea start out the second set was one of the greatest moments of my concert going life.  I just didn’t expect such a great rush from a bunch of songs I never heard.

And there wasn’t a great rush, a release of joy and excitement.  It was that sensation of picking up something new from a trusted author.  I’ve been following Phish for close to twenty years.  I think in all of that time they have not only earned my trust, but they also deserve an open mind.  As Wingsuit started, I felt that this was going to be a great ride for the next hour or so.

Thinking back to other Halloweens, the truth is I don’t often play the costume album.  Most of the songs never get played again and those that do make it into the tour rotation have much better versions available than the first one played.  In the week since Halloween 2013 I must have played some or all of the Wingsuit set every day.  As Phish fans these past 30 years we have been trained to expect new material on a regular basis, almost every tour something new has popped up.  This past summer there was a dearth of new material, except for some covers, and the absence, if only the absence of bitching about a new song was noticeable.  By hoarding so much new material until Halloween, Phish played perhaps one of their greatest all-time pranks on us.  We have been so conditioned, so set in our ways that premiering a new album instead of looking back was a shock to the system that after the initial surprise and disappointment, was refreshing.  (That isn’t to say I still don’t want a Joe’s Garage or Lamb Lies Down On Broadway set, just sayin’.)

As I’ve listened to the new music and even as I listened on Halloween, I ‘ve been thinking about what I’d love to see again, what I hope gets reworked a little and what I hope gets regulated to rarity or dustbin.  I particularly liked the title track, though it seems more like a great bridge song between longer songs within a set.  Other numbers that really stuck out to me were “Monica”, “555” and “Waiting All Night.”  I can already hear “Waiting” as a staple of the Mike tune rotation, joining the likes of “Train Song”, “Access Me” and “Yarmouth Road”.  Admittedly I just liked “Monica”.  Though I tweeted, “Anastasio and Sons” while they played it, I just found it to be a nice, quick song that often gets played to add variety to any set.

While “Fuego” was the longest song of the set and “Wombat” was probably the most energetic, “555” seems to have the greatest potential to take off into some really interesting, and from successive listens, dark places.  It has a very “Welcome to the Machine” kind of feel that I think can be the foundation for some great exploration, especially on a rainy night.

“Wombat” feels like a song best left to live shows.  It’s fun, bouncy but overall it didn’t fit the mood of the rest of set.  It has the whimsy of “Meatstick.”  I definitely think it will make reappearance at New Year’s Eve, with or without Abe Vigoda.  I think it would be kind of fun if a different celebrity appeared in the wombat suit every time they played it.  “Look, it’s Al Gore and the Climate Change Dancers!”

I’ve been enjoying the entire set this past week and even with these ideas, who knows where Phish will take these songs?  Maybe “Devotion to a Dream” becomes a set tent pole; maybe “Winterqueen” becomes a semi-regular encore.  After listening, all I can say is I’m anxious to see where these songs wind up, starting with New Years Eve.  If I can swing it, I think I’ll be couch touring at least one time during the run.  Even if there isn’t a new album debuted, I’m pretty much sold on this new-fangled web-viewing thing.

Thanks to liveforlivemusic for the photo.

 

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Charlie Dirksen: An Appreciation, by a Phish fan, for Phish fans.

At first I thought Charlie Dirksen was a dick.  I mean, seriously, who was this guy to tell me what was good and what wasn’t in any particular jam song, especially ones that I witnessed.  He wasn’t there; he didn’t feel that rush, that excitement when the first notes of Tweezer (or Mike’s Song or YEM) were played.  He didn’t feel the rain on his face, pelting down as the band started Tweezer at my first show and yet he had the audacity to give it a C- grade.  Charlie’s reviews were always popping up on the old rec.music.phish news group and they always had an air of knowing more than the rest of us, “just my two cents,” just seemed so condescending.

After reading a lot of those reviews, and his other comments about Phish and the Phish scene, turns out Charlie did (and still does) know more than most of us.  Even a cursory glance at the archived song reviews the output of Charlie is staggering, literally hundreds of reviews, grading the songs and providing so many of us who couldn’t make it to all the shows where to look, what to listen to from a given tour.  Sure, tastes might differ, but I’m willing to wager if you listened to all of the “A” grades Charlie gave a song from say, 1995, you were going to find something you liked, probably more than one.* It may have been his two cents, but they were two damn good cents.

NB: anything that Charlie didn’t give a grade to because it was just too out of the ordinary is worth your time.  Go to the spreadsheet right now and find them.  I also like to call those versions of songs, HC for Hors Categorie.  That is the term used in the Tour de France for mountains that are so large, so difficult that they are classified “beyond category.”  Geek worlds colliding.

It wasn’t just the prodigious volume either; it was the writing. Charlie accused Phish at times of mailing it in, but I can’t say I’ve ever read one of his reviews and thought, “wow, he really just phoned that one in.”  Ever review is detailed, thorough and though they could easily push passed 1,000 words* they were concise.  Pick any review, and Charlie walks you through step-by-step, minute-by-minute, shift-by-shift.  He could pick up teases like nobody’s business and ultimately, if he said a tease wasn’t there, it wasn’t there, just wishful thinking.  Also, this was serious business for Charlie, but he approached it with humor and wit and as I read more, true love.  His love of Phish and their music comes through in every word he wrote, the high praise, the anger about blowing a jam and the joy found in an excellent version of a song.

*It wasn’t until I started blogging that I realized that 1,000 words is a lot of freaking words.  It takes a lot more work than just sitting down and dashing off a thought or two.

It wasn’t just reviews.   Charlie was (and is) quite committed to the Phish community.  Way back in the dark ages, when we traded tapes, Charlie was always one of the first to offer to trade, or more to the point, spin tapes for blanks and postage.  (I still miss seeing B+P on the internets.)  I think over the years, he spun me at least four shows.  That might not sound like much, but considering that I was usually one of around ten people per show, it was quite a bit of work.  He also was instrumental in starting the Mocking Bird Foundation, a charity organization that is still around, still run by Phish fans.  Charlie was available too.  He, along with some of the other “celebrity” phish fans* have made themselves available to talk, debate and just enjoy being fans of Phish before some of the big shows before the break up.    And that first Tweezer review that made me dislike him?  I replied to it, telling him about my experience, what I thought and why I think it was a bit of a low grade. (It wasn’t.  As nostalgia has worn off, musically, it ain’t that good. 6/23/94 BTW.)  If you have been on the internet at all, you might think he responded with defensiveness, derision and dismissiveness (yay! alliteration!)  You would be wrong.  Not only did he thank me, he encouraged me (along with other people over the years) to share my perspective.  As a matter of fact I remember him often telling rec.music.phish to add our thoughts, that it was important to the community to have many voices.  I got the feeling that he wasn’t always comfortable being an authority, but he was an authority in the best sense of the word, someone who cared about the community and could be trusted.

* “Celebrity Phish fans” are people who really have come to be known throughout Phish circles through their extraordinary contributions to the Phish fan community, not celebrities like Al Gore.  For me, the Mount Rushmore of these folks is Andy Gadiel, Dave “ZZYZX” Steinberg, Charlie and Rosemary something.  Sorry I don’t know Rosemary’s last name, but her digest of rec.music.phish was some of the most anticipated and enjoyable reading of any given day.  When a post of mine made it to the digest, I felt like I had really done something worthwhile.

I can’t say I know much about Charlie, except that he lives on the west coast and is/was a lawyer.  I think I saw somewhere that he has a child, but honestly I don’t know.  I like to think that as he slowed down in his output of reviews, he was like many of us, getting into other areas of life, perhaps having a family and the like.  What inspired this post was a great recap of Summer 2013 that he had written, including a review of the Tahoe Tweezer that brought back so many memories, I had to wipe them away from my face.  It was nice to see that like Andy Gadiel, ZZYXX* and the Phellowship folks**, one of the people who added so much to my experience of Phish was still involved, still doing his thing, if on a more limited basis.  I know I would have enjoyed Phish over the years without Charlie, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.  Thanks for everything Charlie and thanks for sticking around.  Just my .02 (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

* Honestly, I’m not sure if ZZYZX really exists or if through the computer program that bears that name, is just a clever ruse by Skynet to stop work productivity and eventually enslave us all. 

** The Phellowship folks and my experience therein is another blog post entirely.  Suffice it to say that it was a cornerstone of my show going experience as well as my sobriety.  I’m very glad to say that I remain in touch with Mama Paige and I would love to go to a Phish show together once again to celebrate our mutual 25th anniversary of continuous sobriety. 

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?

Phish 6/20/1994. And so it Began…

Almost twenty years on, what I remember most is the rain.  After that it would be the venue, one of the strangest places I’ve ever seen a show.  The only other one that compares is when I went to see Todd Rundgren at the zoo.  The Phoenix Plaza was on top of a parking structure in lovely Pontiac, Michigan.  I was in grad school at Michigan State and was gradually getting into Phish during the previous year.  I had a few tapes, 12/30/1993 being my favorite and a copy of Rift and the new album, Hoist.  I would go over to the computer lab almost every day to check out rec.music.phish and there was a lot of concern that this new record and the new fans like me were going to ruin Phish, they made a video for god sakes!  I found all the consternation a little much, but it would be the first of many things that were going to change everything, and never for the better.  Earlier in the week I tried to get into the show in Kalamazoo but couldn’t score a ticket.  This intrigued me.  I had gotten pretty adroit at picking up tickets right before a show, more often than not with pretty good seats; The Rolling Stones, Paul McCarty, Roger Waters had all been last second purchases.  Who was this band that no one would give up a ticket?

Ironically, when we got to Pontiac, I had an extra ticket.  After the K-Zoo experience I knew that wasn’t going to be a problem; sure enough my friend hoisted the ticket up in the air and a pack of hippies descended on us like seagulls after a french fry.  I’ve never been one to scalp, but I also wasn’t familiar with the idea of miracles either.  I’ve since miracled a bunch of times, but this time I think we got $10 for our troubles.

I remember wanting to get an official Phish t-shirt, sort of my physical manifestation of being a fan.  I wanted a black shirt with the colorful logo, nothing else.  It made me feel legit.  At this point, I have no idea how many shirts I’ve bought and even though I say, even promise my wife, that I won’t be getting a shirt this tour, chances are a design, or a color, or both will catch my eye.  I mean, I write a blog about the White Sox, how in god’s name can I turn down a ¾ sleeve baseball themed shirt?  Simply put, I can’t.

Inside the venue, shirt bought, skies threatening to rain, the Phoenix Plaza may be the least romantic venue I’ve ever seen.  There was the stage and basically a concrete slab, no greenery to speak of, no grade to the floor basically it looked like they set up shop in a mall parking lot.  When the band came out, almost on queue the rain started.  It pretty much wouldn’t stop until we got back to the car.  At first it was so bad, everyone was resigned that tonight, we were going to get wet.

The show started with a combo that I still love, Buried Alive -> Poor Heart.  Next was Split Open and Melt, a song that I’ve never particularly liked.  I mean it is ok, but it always seems to get truncated, especially in the first set.  After SOAM, something happened.  The band started a song I had never heard, but seeing how this was my first show, nothing strange about that.  Even so, there was a buzz, people were high-fiving, grinning, and scribbling notes in notebooks.  I had witnessed my first bust-out.  NICU hadn’t been played for two years, 249 shows.

The rest of the set was pretty pedestrian, looking back.  This was a time before Down With Disease was monster and the rest of the songs, Silent in the Morning, Punch You In the Eye and Julius were…ok.  There wasn’t much of a jam element, not much in the way of experimentation, just a string of good, if a bit quirky songs.

Did I mention the rain? What had been a pretty steady shower got more and more intense as the second set approached.  By the time the band came out and played Frankenstein, small puddles had become large ones and the rain wasn’t abetting.  I was excited to hear David Bowie at my first show, and it was the first really extended jam I heard Phish play, clocking in around 13 minutes. It was weird, quirky, rocking, and I loved it.  After Bowie petered out, the rain that never stopped, started to add thunder and wind.  I didn’t realize that there would be more jamming to come.  I was happy with seeing Bowie and The Mango Song, Axilla Part II, Uncle Pen (more bluegrass!) was great, a nice way to wind it down.  That wasn’t the plan.

What came next was something new to me as a concertgoer, a second peak.  I had heard the studio version of Tweezer. Like so many of Phish’s songs, the studio version doesn’t do the live version justice, especially in the case of Tweezer.  This isn’t a must have version by any stretch.  I think Charlie Dirksen gave it a C.  Musically, listening to now, it was a pretty pedestrian Tweezer.  One that night though, it was perfect.  The rain had turned into a full scale gale sheets and sheets of water were pouring down, sideways and because it was hitting the concrete so hard, it was splashing upward.  And the band matched the intensity of the storm; the more it blew, the harder they seemed to play; the lights were crazy, fantastic.  I can still see Trey just wailing away, weird sound effects, and something vaguely familiar (turned out to be teases of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.)

Then the music subsided, the rain not so much.  A song I just don’t get enough of, Life Boy (You don’t get a refund if you over pray) eased the mood down to a song that I still find just beautiful, Slave to the Traffic Light.  I don’t know why, I still find it clever that they sang that on top of a parking garage.  The encores were way up tempo, Sparkle and Tweezer Reprise, and it was really cool that they dedicated the encore to a person in the audience.  Even as Phish has gotten bigger, they still make those little gestures that I love, honoring requests from fans on the street, responding to fans signs in the audience and recognizing fans that have been along for the whole tour.  I know I don’t make it to enough shows to ever be recognized from the stage, but maybe this year I’ll make a sign to move my stat page a little bit.

As first shows go, it was pretty memorable.  It was good enough to make me want to see them again.  I wasn’t completely sold, but it was close.  I wouldn’t get the message until November of 1994, but  6/20/1994 got the ball rolling and nothing has been the same since, nineteen years ago.

Remembering Phish 6/20/1995

I can’t say I remember it like it was yesterday.  It actually feels like a long time ago, mostly because it is.  It was the summer of 1995 and Phish wasn’t swinging through Michigan at all.  The most accessible show to me was at one of my favorite venues growing up, Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  My girlfriend at the time didn’t want to go, so an old friend from high school was up for going, and he even drove from our home town into the wilds of northeastern Ohio.  We had pretty good seats, center stage in the pavilion.  After that all I remember is the Mike’s Song.

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This wasn’t the first show I had been to since I got it.  My fellow Phishheads know what I mean when I say that.  I’m sure everyone does in a sense, but most of you wonder, “Why do you even want it?” That wasn’t really my choice, I suppose.  I liked Phish before 11/16/94, but after that night in Ann Arbor, they became more than just a great band to see.  To steal a tag line from a local radio station, Phish became the soundtrack of my life after that date.  I attended another show on 11/18, but it barely registers to be honest.  No, 6/20/1995, was the next important show in my Phish fandom.  Like 11/16/94, 6/20/1995 had an EPIC JAM.  In both cases it was a Mike’s Song.  Until the archival release, I really couldn’t tell you much of what else was played that night.  I do know that after I got back to Michigan, I immediately went to the local head shop to see if they had a copy of the show.  Luckily, they did and I was all set.  I pretty much wore out the tapes I had from the Ann Arbor and the Blossom shows the rest of that summer.  To seal my fate, the next show I attended was in my new home, Chicago.  It was the second Halloween show.  The musical costume was great, Quadrophenia, but the third set YEM, the 45-minute YEM, made me a bit of a junkie, really.  If I was at a show that didn’t have a song that extended beyond 20 minutes, I felt disappointed.  That disappointment wouldn’t last, but every time I’m at a show that launches into something lengthy, something spacy, something special, I can’t help but feel a connection to those three shows from 1994 to 1995.

I remember Charlie Dirksen giving the Blossom show a bad review, at least the Weekapaug, and I was furious.  After listening a little more closely a few dozen times, I realized he had a point, though his judgment was always a little suspect to me after that. I must admit, however, when rumors started to circulate that 6/20/1995 was going to be the next archival release, I was shocked.  I don’t remember a lot of buzz around the show afterward and much like my first turning point show, I rarely see it pop up on any best of lists.  I was also a little scared that I wouldn’t like the show that much anymore.  I lost those first tapes a long time ago and I’ve been slow to use the spreadsheet to get some of my old shows back.  I mean why?  I’ve got Phish radio, Turn Table and plenty of free downloads from shows I’ve attended since the breakup.

I had to buy it, though, this major touchstone in my Phish experience.  I was curious if it would hold up in my own mind after not listening to the show in years, especially the Mike’s Song.  All I can say is that it did, and more; the Mike’s is still amazing, no doubt.  I hear it and I’m transported back in time, not to the show, but to the countless walks I made from my apartment to the computer lab to work on my MA thesis (and play Civilization.)  I would put 6/20/1995 or Ann Arbor in my Walkman and be in an amazing place as I made my way across campus.  Now, however, I can’t get over how good the first set was as well.  The soundboard quality of the new release makes it feel almost new to me, yet as I listen to the second set once again, I smile.  Even after all these years 6/20/1995 has still got it and Phish has still got me.  See you July.

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.

comicguy

Phish at Alpine Valley Night Two. 7/1/12

I try not to get greedy going to Phish shows.  I can’t see my personal favorites every time out.  I need to be open to the whims and wishes of the band and the energy of the show.  When the lights go down, I’m just along for the ride.  If I had to pick my favorite jam vehicles they are Mike’s Song and Tweezer, especially when played in the second set.  I’ve seen both in the first set and they can be great, but it is pretty much a guarantee that the songs won’t go off into a transcendent direction.  It’s great when I’m on a Phish run and I catch both, but now that I tend to see two shows a year (maybe a third if I’m lucky) I can get zeroed out.  Usually I get one or the other at a very least.  Having said all of that as preface, I REALLY wanted to see a Tweezer on the second night of Alpine.  I believe I tweeted before the show, “would it be too much to ask for a Tweezer that melts my face off?” or words to that effect.  Alas, I didn’t get my Tweezer.  I didn’t get a Mike’s Song.  I hate to say it, but I was kind of disappointed.

It just wasn’t the strongest show, especially the second set.  What made the second set even more disappointing was the way the first set finished.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The show started with a nice, easy Soul Shakedown Party, but then in a sign of things to come they went straight into Lonesome Cowboy Bill.  If you’ve been following along, the band has been resurrecting the songs from Loaded.  This is easily one of the weakest songs from the album and it had the feel of, “well we need to get this out of the way.”  The next four songs were good choices, including two personal favorites Gotta Jibboo and Dirt.  I like Jibboo in the second set, but it is still a fun song nonetheless.  I also like A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing and then we hit a bit of a lull.  Access Me/Meat/Frankenstein are about as far out of my favorite zone as you can get.  I tend to find Mike’s songs (not Mike’s Song, confusing I know) to be just…meh.  Well meh and weird.  Frankenstein is about the dullest cover the band does and Page coming out with a key-tar isn’t enough to make me want to hear it.  Then the set wrapped up with three just fantastic songs, Fee/Maze/Squirming Coil.  The Fee was particularly good.  It is a fun song when just played straight including perhaps my favorite Phish lyric, “have a cup of coffee and catch your breath.”  But after the song proper, a really melodic and spacy jam took place for about five minutes, just heavenly.  A nice tight Maze followed and then Squirming Coil.  Coil is about the perfect set closer.  I got to skip out during the lyrical part of the song and was back in plenty of time for Page’s outro solo.  As much as I like listening to Trey, over the last couple of years Page really seems to have settled in, taking ownership of certain songs and really bring more to the mix than he had previously.  After his wonderful solo to end set one I was ready for the second set to be magical. Not so much.

I think part of what got me a bit cranky about this show was my surroundings, namely the people surrounding me.  First there was a guy in front of me who would not shut up.  He talked pretty much throughout the show to anyone who made eye contact.  Unfortunately, I have an annoying habit of looking people in the eye.  He told me all about his job, places he lived and why Wisconsin, his home state is the best.  What was worse though was the constant talk about the set list, especially in the second set and how many songs he had predicted.  I’m not the biggest fan of Ghost but I knew if they played it, this guy was going to try and tell everyone he predicted it.  The minute the intro of the song started, I seriously considered leaving for the lawn.  The other folks that bugged me were the basic, faux hippie-type that give real hippies a bad name.  Really they weren’t even that hippie-ish except they were quite stoned.  Basically they mooched off of everyone in their immediate radius.  They bummed cigarettes from the guy (the talky guy, no less) in front; they took hits off the bowl from the people behind us and they asked me for sips of water throughout the second set.  The high point of my second set was when they decided to go chill on the lawn.

Besides the unwelcomed Ghost, I did like the selection we got for the most part, especially the beginning of the set.  The Crosseyed -> No Quarter pairing is excellent and I’ve really liked what the band has been doing with Light.  After Ghost, things pretty just petered out, really.  BOTT to Farmhouse to 46 Days didn’t really bring the energy up and the combination of Heavy Things and Joy pretty much killed any enthusiasm the crowd had.  I started making my way to the car during Julius and was glad to be driving before Meatstick finished.  Sorry, I just always saw that song as a gimmick and nothing has really dissuaded me from that idea.

As much as I hate to say it, Alpine Night Two for 2012 felt like the throw away of the 2012 tour.  It feels like we get a lot of those shows here in the Midwest, which is unfortunate.  Not always mind, but this show reminded me a lot of Toyota Park in 2009, another ok show, but it just didn’t have much going for it.  Unless you’re a completest you can skip this show.