What Things Seem
Historian: Tim Wade (TheEmu)
Last Update: 2011-12-07
Being manipulated is unpleasant, to say the least. It’s terrible to find that someone you thought you could trust has actually been working you over. Far more insidious, though, is that rare master of illusion who is so skilled in the art of deceit that you begin to doubt your own perceptions. To be used is infuriating, but to have your mind used against you is truly maddening. That madness is expertly depicted by Mike in “What Things Seem.”
With verses steeped in sinister-sounding blues, sing-along choruses with eyebrow-raising accents and a rollicking coda, even the structure of “What Things Seem” keeps the listener off-balance. The song’s antagonist is recognized from the start as dodgy and untrustworthy, employing “magic” to maintain control. And therein lies the problem: If you see that someone is trouble, but you know you can’t trust what you see… what then? You catch her “mixing potions” for unknown mischief, but to her amusement you get “lost in the haze.” You confront her and demand the truth, but you immediately feel guilty about the accusation, and she simply asks if you’re sure before walking away scot-free. This is a doubt that can drive a person crazy; perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the phrase “infinite scream,” found in the song’s chorus, was used by Edvard Munch in reference to his most famous painting.
Debuting at Mike Gordon’s tour opener in Brooklyn, NY on 9/8/09, “What Things Seem” would undergo minor lyrical changes during the following six months, such as “driving for my team” becoming “driving back to me” and “lost in a maze of colors in my dream” becoming “lost in the haze in clouds of rising steam.” With the lyrics settled, the song was both ready to be released on and to contribute the title for Mike’s 2010 album, Moss. Having already established itself as a staple of Mike’s shows, “What Things Seem” quickly made its Phish debut in Broomfield, CO on 10/11/10, just eight days after Moss crept into record stores. Phish would perform the tune once more during the first night of the New Year’s Eve run on 12/27/10; while it stayed in rotation for Mike’s solo tours, the song was absent in Phish’s summer 2011 setlists. It seems to need more time to catch on with Trey, Page and Fishman… but, of course, things aren’t always what they seem...
Phish, ”What Things Seem” – 12/27/10 Worcester, MA