IT doesn’t happen often enough. Phish takes the stage, begins playing, and you’re grateful and fortunate to be seeing them once again. Whether it’s your first tour opener or your thirtieth, Phish is smiling, everyone around you is THRILLED—even vibrating with anticipation—and the encircling energy fills you with profound joy.
“I wish I could see a Phish show every day,” you might think to yourself, grinning. “All aboard for the tour”!
But you can’t see Phish every day. Even on tour there are days off. You have seen Phish before, though, likely quite a lot, and you’ve heard enough of their music to have strong opinions about it. You probably also know that Phish shows can be, have been, and continue to be overrated now and then beyond all possible bounds of decency, because they’re so AWESOME to begin with. It’s easy to do and everyone does it, including those who listen to Phish all the time, and have heard everything that Phish has ever performed (that circulates).
Phish puts on a GREAT show as compared with other rock concerts. The “average” or typical Phish show is GREAT as compared with other rock concerts. But when comparing Phish shows against each other, the typical or the average show is great, and inevitably one show is overrated by some and underrated by others in your opinion (and in the opinion of the many other fans who share your view as well). Thankfully, we don’t all share the same views, and it’s fun to read the sometimes radically-divergent opinions of fellow fans about shows. And if I’ve learned anything in life, including after having discussed improvisational music with people for decades, it’s that context is critically important: positivity begets positivity and—you guessed it!—negativity begets negativity. Focusing on the negatives about a show in a review is certain to bring negative comments and “flames.” It is inevitable. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that. Or do they?
It came as somewhat of a surprise to learn today that during one week in January 2012, Facebook manipulated the “News Feeds” of nearly 700,000 of its users, in an “experiment” such that some users primarily saw “positive” messages and others primarily saw “negative” messages in their feeds. The manipulation by FB of the feeds in this manner unsurprisingly led to the posting of (a) generally “positive” or “happy” messages by users whose feeds contained primarily “positive” content, and (b) generally “negative” or “sad” messages by users whose feeds contained primarily “negative” content.
Seriously? FB decided to manipulate the feeds of hundreds of thousands of people to reach an obvious conclusion about human nature? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure what FB did was legal, but setting aside the ethical issues that FB’s “experiment” raises, why did they need to do it? It’s common sense that attitude has a profound effect on living, on experience. “Life is a state of mind” may be a quaint expression, but it’s also inescapable for anyone alive with a mental state intelligent enough to be self-reflexive.
Anyone who reads anything online about Phish’s music knows a thing or two, or three, about this. For example, if you were to read a review of the upcoming tour opener in Great Woods that contained two or more of the following statements, even if you agreed with them, you’d likely post a negative Comment, or at least consider doing so, whether or not you finished reading the thing:
And that’s just the first set… still reading?
Negativity sucks, especially when it comes to the music of our favorite band (or at least one of our favorite bands!). But that said, there’s nevertheless a place for it. It would be beyond dull if all of the show reviews you read are only smiles und sunshine. If you read a show review and you like it, wonderful! Think about sharing it, or letting the author know you enjoyed it. Don’t like what the review said? Don't share it. Or perhaps write your own or just Comment. But did it challenge any of your assumptions, or make you think even a little deeper about something, anything, e.g., how not to write a Phish show review, or what you dislike the most about music criticism? And don’t be shy about explaining why you think a show didn’t meet Phish’s typical, average-great (high) standards. You’re not a “h8tr,” you’re a human being and entitled to your opinion, even if it's "negative" and therefore likely unpopular. Our online community benefits from a diversity of opinions, no matter how ignorant and full of haughty BS you might believe them to be. Our common bond is Phish's music and our love for it, even when we think it's below "average-great."
So, here’s to hoping that as great as Phish’s music will be this summer, the commentary on Phish’s music—yours included!— is more thoughtful and crazy and senseless and creative than it’s ever been, “positive” OR “negative,” “happy” or “sad!” $0.02.
NOTE: The Monday Mystery Jam will return on Monday, July 7.
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That being said, this was an Average-Great blog post at best
But: The great thing about being a phan, is that there is always someone who knows more, has heard more or seen more shows than you. That's why I enjoy reading fan commentary, and think the discussion, no matter how crazy or snarky or whatever, is part of what makes being part of this community so great. Additionally, I would never have discovered half the shows I love if it wasn't for someone posting about it on .net, usually buried deep within a thread about something unrelated.
A lot of the negative reviews come from the resulting feeling that the music being played is simply perfunctory... no boundary-pushing, no excitement, just rote run-throughs. Sure, there aren't any flubs, but that should be a given... just because Trey doesn't hit a bum note doesn't mean that the version of Funky Bitch is worthy of re-listening.
I guarantee that 90% of all Phish fans came to this band because of some crazy, transcendental musical experience, be it hearing the jet-fueled 6/23/04 Crosseyed jam, the Plutonian 12/29/94 Bowie, or even the sparkling levity of the studio "Fee". SOMETHING MORE was there.
And often in 3.0, Phish doesn't seem to really care enough to try to deliver "something more". Every 3.0 Moma Dance sounds the same. Every 3.0 Funky Bitch sounds the same. That's whats getting lame. We want excitement. We want held-breath holy-shit-ness. We want to hang on every note.
When we know exactly how things are going to pan out, its impossible to hang on every note, because we've heard it before. Phish should always be playing well. They're a professional band. Its their job to do that. But why some people are satisfied with only that, is beyond me.
Thankfully, the band is absolutely obviously still capable of delivering the titanic goods of transcendent metamorphosis in music, with the 7/8/12 Piper, the 8/31/12 Chalkdust, the 9/2/12 Sand, the 7/31/13 Tweezer, the Hollywood Hood, the MSG Disease > Carini, etc.
But what I fail to understand is their reluctance to chase this majesty on a nightly basis, when they clearly simply have to try, and they will generally succeed.
So.... anyway, here's to hoping that Mansfield does not get Bag > Moma > Bitch, Stash, Rift > Ice, Maze > Ocelot, Joy > Antelope'd for the first set, and is instead gifted with something vanity-inducing.... ie: Piper -> NICU, Divided Sky, Roggae -> Possum -> Catapult -> Possum -> Kung -> Possum, Esther, Fee -> Wingsuit,
Some of my VERY best memories at a Phish show are from the Vegas '04 run. How can that POSSIBLY be?? Well, it is because I was SO happy to be seeing Phish with my brothers, cousins, and friends that my experience was already overwhelmingly positive. No matter what happened onstage, I was seeing the exact band I wanted to see with the exact people I wanted to be with. I was exactly where I wanted to be. Nothing could take that away from me. Looking back, sure, the music wasn't the greatest, but that does not necessarily warrant me to go shit on the band, because they provided the medium for me to have memories and experiences and emotions that I will remember for my entire life. The band owes me nothing, because they give me the opportunity to have everything.
To intercept your mental musings right now, I do not fall into the category of "Phish can piss in my ears and I will love it." I definitely recognize mediocre jams from good, good from great, and so on. However, regardless of the "quality" of the jams, no band gives me or its audience what Phish gives. Phish gives us the opportunity each and every night to create lifelong memories, emotions, experiences, and friends.
If you go into each show thinking "I sure hope I catch the next 11.17.97 Ghost" chances are you will be let down and not make the most of those four hours. What a bummer. But if you go into each show thinking "This is going to be so much fun!" I bet you catch some jams you will never forget, and in your mind, deserve the billing of "best ever." And that's what it is all about.
Listen: Phish is a band that comes along once in a lifetime! Dance..Enjoy Youerselves! Groove! And if Trey or Page or Jon or Cactus(heaven forbid!!) are off in a seque in a jam....SO WHAT? If Trey forgets the words to a verse...BIG FARKIN DEAL! STUFF HAPPENS..Even with Phish.
I've seen Phish twice(I won't say "only" My next Gig is @ Mansfield, Mass Tuesday July 1st, because over my lifetime I've seen so many incredible bands, with there origional lineups; and extrodinary muscians as well.
So play YEM again; phollow it's philosophy; and don't be so quick to criitize.
I will *never* go to the bathroom during Bouncin. Nor Sample, for that matter.
Btw, great article.
Sure some can be negative and bring you down, but the music is all so subjective.
Cannot wait for the tour to start-Charlotte will be my first show this yr. And yes they can urinate in my ear, and I would be happy. Sort of.
They won't-I am sure of it.
"Thankfully, the band is absolutely obviously still capable of delivering the titanic goods of transcendent metamorphosis in music, with the 7/8/12 Piper, the 8/31/12 Chalkdust, the 9/2/12 Sand, the 7/31/13 Tweezer, the Hollywood Hood, the MSG Disease > Carini, etc.
But what I fail to understand is their reluctance to chase this majesty on a nightly basis, when they clearly simply have to try, and they will generally succeed."
It's actually pretty simple. Not everybody who goes to a Phish show is looking for the same things you are looking for, and the band has to play for everybody, not just you.
Do most Phish fans like 30 minute improv-heavy jams? Sure. Are there fans that would rather hear tightly performed versions of Phish songs? More than you think.
There is more variety in the Phish fanbase than some people think, and when people cry out to the heavens "Why won't they do what we ALL want them to do?" those people are almost certainly wrong. That song that pissed you off? Somebody else was loving it and screaming out "That's my jam!"
My sister is a big Bouncin' fan, so I know this from experience.
You know, King Crimson was a jam band (of sorts) and most of their fans felt their best period was the early 70's when they were way the hell "out there". Yet the band went through period later on when they seemed bent on being as intricately tight as possible. I feel that their best album was "Discipline" which was a tour-de-force of delicate, tense, and precise musicianship which became richer with each listening.
Phish caught a lot of crap in 2010 for not taking chances, but that year saw some of the tightest playing by the band and some real virtuoso from Trey on a nightly basis. There were lots of 1,2,and 3 minute segments in many shows of that year that were absolutely breathtaking. They were simply brief.
This past year (and 2012) saw a progressive return to a looser, more experimental approach and we all generally loved it, but it was at the notable expense of precision on many occasions.
Beauty is in the eye of the listener as you correctly point out, we just have to have ears to hear it.
BTW, Trey is a huge King Crimson/Adrian Belew fan. Just saying.
"But what I fail to understand is their reluctance to chase this majesty on a nightly basis, when they clearly simply have to try, and they will generally succeed. "
Here's a quick analogy before I go break the news to my wife of 20 years that I "accidentally" got SPAC tickets after hearing Mansfield tonight:
She and I have been married for about 20 years. 3 kids, yada yada. During our relationship, we've had some amazing, transcendental sex. We've also had times when we've gone through the motions. We've had learning curves, hot streaks, doldrums, you name it. You know what doesn't help get back to the magic? Dwelling on who is just putting in a "perfunctory" performance. Doesn't help me, doesn't help her, doesn't help US.
Now, 20 years is a long relationship for 2 people. Imagine 30 years and 4 people! Throw in an obsessed audience? That's insane! I have to say, if you don't understand the "reluctance" to chase "majesty" every night, you need to have a little perspective.
Check it out, see if this helps. During Free at Clifford Ball, I don't know what in the world happened to me when Trey was doing that airplane climb and dive business, but I sure as shit want it to happen again. During the Light Jam at MPP II last year, those stops and starts, calling back to the It's Ice jam from the 1st set; I got there again.
When was Clifford Ball, Aug 1996, right? MPP II was July of 2014.
Those are just 2 examples of many many many simply amazing experiences over the course of my experience with Phish, and they're 18 years apart. I give Phish AND myself a lot of credit; they didn't turn into some nostalgia act, and I didn't turn into a tired old man. The 'majesty' is not just simply manufactured. It takes 4 band members to be feeling it; plus I have to be in the right frame of mind, plus a little luck with the venue and my immediate surroundings, and then we've got something! No disrespect intended, but if you imagine that the band COULD take me home to Jesus at every show, but they just don't feel like trying, this, I think, is EXACTLY what the OP was identifying as chapping his ass. And it's tough to have great sex with a chapped ass.
See ya at SPAC, cuz my wife is sooooooo fucking cool! :-) Let's hit the road and have some fun!!!!
Some songs simply aren't going to go outside the box, and I'm cool with that as long as the box's contents are reasonably fresh and intact.