[Take the Bait is spirited deliberation centered around the hyperbole of Phish’s music and fandom, passionately exuded via the written words of phish.net contributors @FunkyCFunkyDo and @n00b100. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of phish.net, The Mockingbird Foundation, or any fan… but we're pretty sure we’re right. Probably.]
Funky: Well, n00b, we seemed to have escaped certain death after our last episode about Lemonwheel. But I'm feeling lucky - lest we tempt fate further, and share our thoughts on the other festival that happened in 1999. No, not Big Cypress, uhm, what was the other one? Oh... Camp Oswego. Uh-oh. I heard that death doesn't hurt very long, so...
 Son Seals on guitar and vocals.
 Phish debut; Son Seals on guitar and vocals.
 No vocal jam.
Set 1: Punch You in the Eye, Farmhouse, Water in the Sky > Bathtub Gin, Back on the Train, If You Need a Fool, I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome,Beauty of My Dreams, The Moma Dance > Reba, Chalk Dust Torture
Encore: Harry Hood
 Del McCoury Band.
 Narration featured Trey rambling about the negative aspects of television and the positive aspects of books.
 Accompanied by fireworks.
n00b: Let’s take a few seconds and list some fun facts about Camp Oswego, Phish’s fourth festival:
The two shows that make up Camp Oswego are right smack dab in the *middle* of Summer 1999; the band played Holmdel the night before Night 1 of Oswego and finished up the tour after Night 2. That gives Oswego a real strange feel after the fact - one of the things that makes a festival special is that it either ends a tour/tour leg (and, in Coventry’s case, ended an era), or acts as a stand-alone event (as Cypress and Festival 8 did). Camp Oswego does neither; yes, it’s a festival with everything two festival shows entail, but there isn’t much besides that to set it apart from the tour in which it resides.
Pretty much any recollection of Oswego will mention that it was absolutely broiling hot. That stands to reason, as upstate New York in the summertime ain’t exactly a picnic, but for whatever reason it was an especially brutal heat over those two days in July 1999. I guess that’s something that makes it stand out…?
Night 1 was the first of two times Son Seals himself joined the band to sing setlist mainstay "Funky Bitch;" he also guested on the one and only performance of his song "On My Knees" that night. And hey, who doesn’t love "Funky Bitch?"
As 1999 is, and one presumes will forever be, the only year with two Phish festivals, that leads to a certain amount of diminution of Oswego’s reputation because it’s sharing the stage with another festival. That the festival it’s sharing the stage with might well be the most beloved of them all does not help that diminution one bit.
And, uh, I think that might be it. Obviously neither you nor I were there for those shows (a thing it would appear we will need to point out going forward), but based upon how much I see these shows discussed or the jams therein touted when people discuss the improv of 1999, I feel safe in saying that Oswego is still in the lower reputation tier of Phish festivals for folks that didn’t attend it. I discussed in the Lemonwheel post about how the most beloved festivals have multiple hooks upon which fandom interest can hang, and the struggle I had to come up with those four points above for Oswego (only one of which really has to do with the music itself) is, to me, pretty telling. I know for a fact that Oswego contains great jams, and the Icculus portion of Night 2 is big dumb fun. But most every show has great jams, and Lord knows I love Icculus but it won’t make or break a show for me, so at the end of the day - much like Lemonwheel for 1998 - we’re talking about two good and fun shows for 1999 that won’t leap readily to mind when you think about the year. You think I’m being too harsh?
Funky: Give me a minute. ::puts on full hockey goalie regalia:: jsuih mdtcai s 8 ... Little hard to type, maybe I’ll take off the blocker and glove, but at least I feel safe… and I look pretty cool too. Anyway. Oh the gear, right. Yeah, protection from the onslaught of agitated readers that will be condemning our souls to infinite versions of “The Line” for critiquing shows, actually, even worse, a festival, that we were not at. But don’t light your torches or sharpen your pitchforks quite yet, loyal reader, I have some statistics for you to munch on.
Phish has performed exactly 1,826 shows. Let’s say you are one of the luckiest of the lucky fans who has seen over 100 shows. Using Smooth Jimmy Apollo’s betting math (when you’re right 52% of time, you’re wrong 48% of the time), if you have seen 100 Phish shows, that means you have seen a little over 5% of their total performances, which also means that you have not seen 95% of their total performances. Does this preclude you from listening to and forming an opinion on those 95% of shows? It most certainly does not!
In fact, I would venture a guess some of your favorites jams, or, perhaps, even your favorite jam, comes from a show you were not at. Inconceivable! Or is it? Conversely, I bet there was a jam or show in that 95% that your buddy, @h3ttiewook420, was like “Dude brah, hold this crystal and check out this "Gin" jam. Your chakras will align with Saturn and the jade monkey will reveal itself to your soul.”
First of all, that’s a hot dog you’re holding. Second, this is "Tweezer." And third, I don’t like either very much anyway. All perfectly valid summations. Except not liking "Tweezer," there is nothing valid about that… but we need to get this wook on his way, so, let’s just get on with it. So you listened to it, a jam from a show you weren’t at, that @h3ttiewook420 was at and loves more than his hot dog crystal, and you know what, your chakras feel rather dim after listening to it. Just didn’t do it for you. Maybe Mercury is in Gatorade. Who knows.
Why did embark on this snarky little aside? Well, it is because when n00b and I parse together our words about Phish, we fully intend to keep it about the music. Sometimes we go astray... usually when I am feeling preachy, but I digress. The experience of a Phish show is immensely special, for any possible number of perfectly real, genuine reasons that matter to one person - you. We are not here to tell you about your experience, or what you should be feeling about a show you were or were not at. That’s is counterproductive for an equal number of perfectly real, genuine reasons.
Instead, we like to ask questions, find out more, and really dig into the catalogue to find out why some things Phish are so well-known (whether it be positive or negative) and why some just aren’t talked about (for whatever reason), and then, also, the stuff that falls in between. More often that not, in fact, I would be so bold to say nearly all of the time, these conversations, or lack thereof, are centered exclusively around the music, not the experience. The experience lends itself to life-long friendships, stories, and memories, all of which are the glue in the magnet of the Phish culture. But the music, well, that lends itself to keyboard crusaders such as ourselves who find little else more important than dissecting a Phish show we weren’t at when we were in our teens, or younger. Yes, we are really, really cool.
There is a heavy dose of irony in that last paragraph, as it is the experience of Phish that is so unique, and is so special, and is what keeps up coming back for more. The music creates it all. Being at a live Phish show is an irreplaceable four hours of time in your life. But life goes on after its conclusion, and thus, Icculus created tapers. Praise be onto you, O Keepers of the Show, for you allow n00b and I, and others, to retroactively listen to, exalt, and also complain about, all things Phish. Phish, if you’re reading, it’s mainly n00b that complains. Funky loves you guys seriously big time.
So we got that out of the way. And, hopefully, avid reader, you’ve made it this far and, hopefully, you better understand our position of when we are talking about past shows, that we are talking about the music, and in no way invalidating your experience. In fact, as always, if you feel so inclined, please share you experience and opinions in the comments section. Throughout our series, your anecdotes have provided soulful, colorful glimpses into the shows, and they are much appreciated.
So, Camp Oswego. Hot. Very hot. Weirdly placed in the middle of the tour, and the announcement of the bigger, better, year-end soiree, Big Cypress, had already happened. Seems weird, all of it. Maybe this is why it is oft-overlooked? Phish got a little too ambitious trying to cram in as much music as possible before the end of the world? I don’t know, n00b, seems like the chakras just didn’t align for this one. ::pulls down goalie mask, puts back on blocker and glocbevrgsdgd::
n00b: Just in case anyone from Phish IS reading: Hi, fellas! While I pick myself up from under the wheels of the bus Funky threw me under, let me say this - Icculus the song rules and I hope you play it more. Thanks.
Being a big fan of late-90s Phish, I can certainly say that I never really had a bad time, per se, listening to either of these shows, and the first night of Oswego is still an enjoyable enough experience. It’s hard to complain about a groovy “Tube,” mega-relaxed minimalist “Tweezer” that builds to a nice enough gnarled peak before segueing perfectly into “Have Mercy,” and nifty “Taste” in Set 1, and it’s even harder to complain about the cool Son Seals cameo, a gigantic “Disease” that absolutely hurdles forward with massive energy before collapsing into something more akin to late-90s jamming spaces, and a cool “Wolfman’s” -> “Sally” > “Timber (Jerry)” stretch that peaks with a really cool spacey “Stash”-esque jam in Timber in Set 2. That’s a pretty heaping helping of highlights, all told, and I imagine it must have been real sweet in person to see Son Seals or get down to that “Tube” or hear “Disease” just blast off like a Ferrari having some fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn.
Funky (in the background): til daddy takes the t-bird awayyyyy, awwweeeyououou….oh.. uhm… sorry… I mean how can you not sing that though... Im done now.
n00b: Haha, while I do enjoy the Boys of the Beach, I was thinking more along these lines. Now, that said, if you dig into the highlights a little bit, the show tends to shrink just a little bit even compared to some of the better 1999 shows (like 7/15 or 7/25), let alone its festival brethren. The “Tweezer” in Set 1 and “Disease” in Set 2 are like rivers that are wide but not deep, full of very prototypical late-90s jamming but not as compellingly brilliant as the best of the Went or multi-faceted as the best of Magnaball. The “Tube” is a quite nice version that wouldn’t really stand out in 2018, let alone in 1999; “Timber” doesn’t quite go on as long as I’d like; the Son Seals cameo, like nearly any guest appearance, tends to lose a little bit in subsequent relistens. That doesn’t mean that the show sucks or anything - plenty of shows would kill for that “Disease,” monochromatic or not - but it does mean that it’s less along the line of the big Event Shows that mark Phish’s timeline and more like...well, just like any old random stop on a tour.
Funky: Did we just becomes best friends?! You used two analogies that I was, quite literally, about to use describing Night 1: wide, slow river (as opposed to a fast, deep one), and monochromatic. Like you, I use monochromatic to describe that “Down with Disease,” except my interpretation of the word is much more pejorative in this context. The song drones on in this driven, but restrained, humming pulse (kinda like what you hear in The Simpsons when Homer is at the Power Plant… HmMmHmMmHmMm). It lulled me not to sleep, but almost to a hypnosis state. I don’t think this was a very efficient use of time considering it took up a third of the set, but it is still interesting to listen to, like, if you’re on a long drive or doing housework or something. ::dodges airborne tomato::
“Tweezer” was exceptional in its first seven minutes of jamming, but then it kind of unraveled before, somehow, niftily threading itself into “Have Mercy.” “Taste” had energy, but, I felt, featured an off-balanced Trey who would bop all around the beat but never quite to the point where it fit. The rest of the set, well, I’m not so sure I could recite in order without looking first.
The highlight for my ears on Night 1 was the “Wolfman’s” -> “Sally” -> “Timber” trio. The first two slunk through prehistoric marshland. Thick and exotic, heavy and dangerous, they were played in two times the normal gravity of Earth, swaying about without care, oblong orbits around a steady funk groove. A spacey landing on “Timber,” which featured a mysteriously opaque jam and gobbled up the themes of its predecessors - these three had a foggy feel, dancing in a mist, dripping around your hips, moving in a low-n-slow kinda way.
Now, we’ve been using words like “slow” and “thick” and “wide,” among similar others, not necessarily in the best of contexts but also not in the worst. I will add this personal experience to attest to those words: I was at the Austin 7.28.15 show where it was 99 degrees with 80% humidity when they took the stage. It was the most unpleasant Phish experience I have ever had… by a mile.
I can empathize with those words, applied to that music, on a hot and humid day. Heck, I think any human can apply those words to anything on a hot and humid day, music or not. So, because of that Austin show, I have a slightly more understanding view of why this theme permeated the sets. The heat zaps you. You’re enveloped in a jello mold that got put in the oven instead of the fridge. It sucks. So for Phish to play "well-enough" in the context of the weather, well, "well-enough" isn’t all that bad. I am not so sure I will be revisiting much of this show, but at least, when/if I do, I will have a much healthier perspective of the situation, and appreciate the music that much more. Having said all that, I think the best, more or less, is yet to come in Night 2…
n00b: Ah, as always, you set ‘em up and I knock ‘em down; I would indeed agree that Night 2 is the superior night of Oswego. Set 1 gets going with a “Gin” that (much like Night 1’s big jams) is perhaps wider than it is deep, snapping into a Classic “Gin” jam (aka uptempo Type-1-ish jam along the lines of, say, 7/31/15’s) before dissolving into Page doing that elvish “dweedly-doo” thing he did in the late 90s to close. The bluegrass songs are a lot of fun (“BOTT,” in particular, has a lot added to it with that treatment), and the set culminates with a beautiful "Reba" that I wish I’d at least mentioned in my original review of the show and a “CDT” that briefly steps into a gnarly tension-release jam that could have been cut and pasted out of a “Stash” from 1994. That’s a pretty good start to the show, I’d say.
Set 2 is anchored by a gigantic “Runaway Jim” that quickly pivots into a slinky late-night groove at Mike’s urging, snaps into a propulsive groove that could have arisen from a "Crosseyed and Painless," and then explodes into a fiery peak that lets Trey shred like mad, finishing with another dark and eerie loop-laden groove as Page soundtracks a Hammer Films movie in the background. The band segues neatly into "Free," and it’s a molasses-thick jammed-out version with Mike really taking control, a perfect sidecar to the multi-faceted behemoth that preceded it. The rest of the set is fine, although “Llama” explodes into a really maniacal car crash of an ending, which is definitely worth the listen at least once.
I would probably call Set 3 my favorite of the whole festival, having had some time to marinate on the whole show; it’s certainly pretty weird, but also lots of fun and contains a behemoth of a jam in the “Piper,” which splits neatly in the middle between frenetic pedal-to-the-metal jamming and a nifty stripped-back groove that, well, reverts to frenetic pedal-to-the-metal jamming. A pretty solid “Caspian” gives way to “Wilson,” and we then get the happy fun times portion of the festival, as instead of ending "Wilson" a chugging metal-ish jam emerges and Mike sings “Catapult” as the rest of the band joins in. That would be weird enough on its own, but then Trey decides to take the bully pulpit and goes into a rambling monologue about the “Meatstick” dance, reading books versus watching television, a discussion about a certain book we all know and love which somehow leads to them wandering into “Smoke on the Water” and (even more incongruously) “Miss You,” and then FINALLY starts up “Icculus” proper only to finish it after about 2 minutes. After that slice of madness, “Quinn The Eskimo” and “Fluffhead” are as good a way to close out the set as anything, and “Hood” in the encore brings the festival to a pretty sweet close.
So, yeah, there you go, a pretty darn good show all told. I mean, it’s very much a deal where the parts probably outweigh the whole, but I’d say that about Night 2 of IT as well (although Night 2 of IT is a better show to my ears, and I’d bet my bottom dollar to yours also), so hey.
Funky: Hey. ::waves at n00b:: Yeah, the second night is definitely better, but “better” within a spectrum of only okay. I was not all that thrilled with Night 1 (admittedly with an empathetic mindframe surrounding the heat) so my expectations for the second night were relatively tepid. Tepid... how ironic.
I am not nearly as high on the “Bathtub Gin” jam as you are, and that’s not the pot talking. Or maybe it is. What. Oh. I think it drones on and lulls itself to sleep, not unlike the latter half of that "Tweezer." To my ears. Oswego "Bathtub Gin" is one of the most forgettable 20+ minute jams in Phish’s catalogue. ::takes ball and goes home:: However, after the quaint Del McCoury bluegrass segment, Phish righted itself with a smoking hot “Moma Dance” and smoldering “Chalk Dust Torture” balanced between a spacey and mellowed-out “Reba.” The UP-down-UP feel to this trio was neat and rolled as smoothly and placidly as a Central California hillside. I dug it like a goldminer.
The second set, as you’ve mentioned, featured a liquid “Jim” that spreads itself out among the stars. It, too, rolls along not unlike Reba, except with a much more intrepid attitude. A groove marathon that undulates like a slow motion trampoline. "Free" was fine. Then, well...
The “Meatstick” dance gag was, undoubtedly, the centerpiece of the festival. I am not so sure I like this. Let me elaborate. But before I elaborate, I need to highlight the lightning storm that was “Axilla” > “Llama.” Holy shit these two need to be paired together in this fashion more often. This was an awesome end to the set. Okay back to elaborating: there was no secret set at Oswego, and the festival featured just one more set than a normal two-night run. Trey talked about ( a few times, actually) how they were going to try to set a Guinness World Record by having the most people do one dance at the same time. Uhm, okay. I mean cool, but, also, why?
Phish, to me, attempted, almost too hard, to put the fans at the focal point of the festival. I feel like they lost sight of the story behind the Lemonwheel Ambient Jam (using the fans’ candles/fire to fuel the music) and Went’s Art Jam (another musical and artistic collaboration with fans, drenched in flame). Those were intimate, shared experiences. Private to and within the Phish community. Truly collaborative. Both were organic -natural appreciation and symbiosis created for and within, exclusively, Phish. There was beauty to both, and it was shared.
But making a concerted, rallied attempt to get into the Guiness Book of World Records, for a dance, not music, per se… it just seemed too forced; too public; too detached. I completely understand the angle of “Phish wanted their fans, who are truly amazing fans, to be recognized as *best in the world* at, something, or whatever…” I see that, maybe, Phish may have really been trying to highlight their fans. But, as a Phish fan, and knowing many Phish fans, I don’t think we want that. At least not in that way.
I think we’re happy just being fans, and are flattered when we are told by event staff, “You guys are really nice people.” or “We love it when Phish plays here.” I think we’d have rather seen another full set of Phish, secret or not (...def secret though).
My complaints and gripes won’t make too much a difference to anyone or anything, but I thought about this (the Meatstick thing) a lot while putting together this episode - it just didn’t fit to me. It never felt right, or natural. What I’m leading to is, it seemed like this is when Phish started to lose touch with themselves and their fans, and entered the looming shadows of the 1.0 era. I know that’s abstract, and most definitely not about the music (as I earlier promised), but I had to get that out of my head.
I think the world record was for Phish, for more specifically, for Trey. He even admitted so much during one of his ramblings - that they wanted to beat the "Macarena," and had talked about this, for what seemed like many, many months. Seems a little self-indulgent to me. Selfish. Here's something interesting, this is the only Phish Inc photo I could find of Oswego. A picture speaks a thousand words, does it not?
Because,now, when I do the math, having a “festival” in the middle of tour, when Cypress had already been announced, with the one and only “unusual/cool/unpredicted” element of the weekend was the “Meatstick” dance, eh, I am just a little let down -- (SHUT UP FUNKY YOU WEREN’T THERE) -- not sure how I was able to hear that, but yeah, I don’t blame you for yelling at me. I bet it was a blast to be at - a real party. I mean it’s a Phish festival - there was nothing else more fun than Oswego at that point in time, period… but… ::everyone raises their eyebrow at me::
...but, it seemed like they built the festival primarily for the Guiness Book of World Records, not necessarily for the fans. I’m not usually this morose when it comes to Phish, but Oswego left me with a really weird taste in my mouth. Something just seemed off. Phish seemed like they had started headed in a direction that was... a little lost.
Anyways, that "Piper" -> "Caspian" 3rd set combo really kicked a boatload of ass. I mean this is some Grade-A Phish! Easily the highlight of the five sets played. If you want to head bang, then strut, then sashay, then raise your hands in the air celebrating all things joy, listen. So, take that, angry reader! I ended on a positive note!
Now let us never speak of Oswego again.
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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