[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.]
That's a heck of a title.
Funky: Some Americans can look at a map and point out Japan, all tucked away down there. A small fraction might be able to locate Tokyo. There is a very small population of Americans who are aware that a Japanese city called Fukuoka exists, and an even smaller portion of that population are aware it exists because of one reason, and only one reason: Phish. I would venture a guess that it is known, but perhaps not well-known amongst Phish fans, that Phish journeyed to the Land of the Rising Sun in 1999 and 2000. But, despite all the data and analysis and nitpicking of Phish fans, these three mini tours tend to not be talked about, really at all, save one show: 6.14.00, Drum Logos, Fukuoka, Japan.
Funky: We are going to explore Japanese Phish in these next three Take the Baits. We are going to start small, ironically and literally, with the most well-known, accessible, and celebrated show, 6.14.00, and then expand upon the Japanese Phish catalogue, giving our readers some insight into the most unique, explorative, and truly one-of-a-kind collection shows and improvisational styles Phish has demonstrated… really, ever.
It’s a lot to cover, so let’s start “small” and explore why, and how, Phish’s best show (some have said) happened to go down in a venue with a capacity of 1,000 ( <- pretty sure that's not Phish, but it's definitely Drum Logos), one ocean away from home, during the waning twilight of Phish’s first iteration. Reading that last sentence just doesn’t make sense, yet, there is a whole lot of truth in it. n00b, how in the heck is this possible?
n00b: Real quick, before we get into it - one day I was at LA mainstay Amoeba Records, and above the checkout counters I saw a poster of the Japan 2000 tour (this one). Gosh, it was beautiful. It was also some outrageous price like $100 or something like that. I almost pulled the trigger, but it’s hard for me to justify spending $100 on most ANYTHING, let alone the poster of a tour I did not attend any shows from because they all happened on the other side of the world. Anyway, that poster is gone now, and I’m not gonna lie, I fucked up by not getting it.
Funky: Yes, you did.
n00b: Okay, Fukuoka. Sorry to plug something I wrote that isn’t part of this series, but I recently put together a list of my 100 favorite sets from 1990-2000 (really 1991-2000, as I neglected to include any 1990 sets - sorry, early Phish lovers), and at the top I finally displaced my longtime favorite 12/6/97 II with this very second set. And, of course, the reason why is what you mentioned in your second paragraph - the improvisation they played in this show (and throughout the Japan run) was unlike just about anything they’d ever played, certainly unlike anything played in the continental United States.
And that’s something true of all of their overseas shows after 1996 - Europe and Japan shows became breeding grounds for different forms of improv and set construction as the band figured out that they didn’t have to lean on the same arena rock gestures and big peaks that play well in the outdoor sheds they play in the summer and could instead dig inwards and find new avenues to let their improvisational genius shine forth. But, outside maybe Amsterdam in July 1997, it never shone forth quite as brightly as it did on this night in June 2000, in a club known as Drum Logos (what a cool name for a venue that is!)
Funky: Oh don’t be self-deprecating, your list of your 100 favorite sets is pretty darn impressive and takes a ton of thought, time, and energy. The Phish community thanks you for the fun and in-depth (read: borderline insane) analysis and insight you provide on a regular bais. For any of you reading this, wondering if your thoughts about Phish are worth sharing, yes, absolutely, they are. We both got here ::waits for "Married With Children"-esque hooting and hollering to subside:: by brazenly but respectfully posting on phish.net’s forum about the areas of Phish which had our interest (read: obsession), and now look how cool we’ve become!
Funny story about this show though, no I wasn't there. I was 14 and mom and dad said no for some reason. Live Phish 4 was my very first Phish CD purchase (however, my first album purchase came in 2002 with the release of Round Room - I was listening to live Phish before studio Phish as a pre-teen, so h3ttie.)
Anyways, I bought it because it had - wait for it - "Heavy Things," "Gumbo," "Back on the Train," and "Sleep" on the setlist. All the heavy hitters! ::dodges tomato:: Yeah, so I'm not so h3ttie after all. ::hands in faux corduroy pants… (the grooves run horizontally, not vertically, that’s how you know):: That Gumbo kicks ass though, we’ll get to that later. But buried within this paragraph-long, totally-gangbusters joke is a prime reason why we are starting with this show to talk about (and hopefully introduce a few people to) Japanese Phish and why it was so… special.
We both mentioned how unique and experimental Japanese Phish sounds, and seeing as how you have a set from this show list as your favorite set from the years spanning 1983-2000, why don’t you press the “launch” button on 6.14.00 Fukuoka.
n00b: All right, let’s get this party started. So this, too, is one of the LivePhish CDs I bought when I was in college giving Phish my first shot, and I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think very much of it when I first heard it. Goes to show how far we’ve come, Phish! And I think that my experience was probably shared by a lot of people that first heard this shows, even major Phish fans, which is why I like to say that this show is the Grand Theft Auto final level of Phish shows, in that it basically requires you to be *very* deep into your fandom and ready to follow the band anywhere and everywhere in order to truly love it (and not just appreciate it, I think it can be appreciated even if 2000 narco-ambient Phish isn’t your bag). This is not an easy listen, and certainly not the kind that makes an immediate impression like 5/7/94 or 11/17/97 or 7/13/14 or any of the other major shows that are beloved by just about everyone.
Which is funny, because the very first jam of Set 2 (we’re starting with Set 2 - as noted, we’ll get to Set 1’s pleasures later) is the kind that most everyone can enjoy, and that’s the "Back On The Train" that serves as perhaps the greatest example of a Type I jam in Phish’s live oeuvre. The band never modulates keys, never steps out of the lockstep "BOTT" groove, and never even really changes the tempo of "BOTT proper"...and yet they deliver a "BOTT" jam so precise, so interesting within the envelope of how "BOTT" sounds, that I would never dream of skipping the jam even as the sort that tends to head straight for the Land of Improv when listening to sets. It’s a great way to get the crowd nice and settled into what’s coming next, because what comes next is *anything* but Type I.
So, next comes one of the all-time great combos, "Twist" -> "Jam". The "Twist" proper is the very definition of patience, moving ever so slowly and delicately at Page’s urging into a mellow major-key jam that slowly morphs into something even gentler and weirder; I’ve always described it as like the band gently pulling a warm blanket over themselves as they settle in to a winter night’s sleep (perhaps with nightcap on their head like the narrator of Twas The Night Before Christmas or something). It’s such an intricately detailed little jam, the kind you’d think they’d pieced together Spirit of Eden style, instead of having come up with right there on stage. And after brilliantly heading back home and finishing off "Twist" the song, they instantly move into the "Fukuoka Jam #1" (as we all know it), one of the all-time great improvisations the band has ever played.
Starting off with buzzing and gnarly effects and with Mike’s insistent pulse-like bassline taking the way, the band builds up a gruesome squall of noise and Mike really takes center stage (I haven’t even mentioned Trey once in this section, a sure sign that we’re talking late-90s Phish), then with the squeal of feedback Fish kicks up the pace and the jam reshapes into something snappier and (dare I say it?) even funkier, and Trey finally steps into the spotlight and delivers some damn fine playing. It’s the sort of thing even my prodigious powers of thesaurus-abusing can’t properly describe, moving from some shit 2003 Phish might have balked at playing into a glorious and damn near anthemic space, and it’s compelling listening from beginning to end.
Then, as the jam really gets down and dirty, Trey suddenly realizes he’s playing in the same key as one of their favorite covers, and with a stately and majestic grace the jam shapes into "Walk Away." We sometimes hear segues that come out of nowhere, or segues that don’t entirely work; not only does this segue work beautifully, but it takes damn near half a minute for the band to move into Walk Away proper, making it one of the most patient segues in the band’s history, and my personal favorite. "Walk Away"" is taken at the same relaxed tempo as the prior jam (compare with, say, the clattering light-speed tempo of 8/14/93’s "Walk Away"), and out of the back end comes "Fukuoka Jam #2," a pulsating and remarkably chill little piece of business that would’ve slotted in just fine on the Siket Disc, which devolves into a fog of white noise that - of course - slides expertly into "Also Sprach Zarathustra," still at that time one of Phish’s premier jam vehicles. And this "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is a truly fitting and wonderful capper to this set, brimming with energy like all the great "2001s", and given a little extra weird kick in the pants by the drumless zone after the first “chorus” to set this one apart. And there you have it, in 74 minutes of magical and incomparable improvisation that delves into zones the band never ventures into in the United States, my all-time favorite set of Phish.
Funky: You really nailed that set, n00b. To add my own splashes of color, in a more general sense, this set had an ethereal, velvety vibe to it. Spacey and cerebral, but focused and precise. Music so pleasant, so unexpected, yet so out there, but, somehow, accessible. Contemplative, meditative, but also intense and deep. It is a perfect dichotomy of avant garde and comfort; the adventurous spirit of pushing boundaries without the chaotic violence of breaking down walls. This unexpected and unprecedented cosmic balance, I think, is what gives this show its rightful place in the sacred canon of Phish’s best shows.
Like a metronome working a ¼ speed, or perhaps underwater, or in the vacuum of space, this slow swinging balance of rhythm flows throughout the show. It is perfectly amplfied within the second set with balancing of song and jam, two parts of a whole that are woven together, but of different thread.
This balance started in the first set, characterized wonderfully in the first set anchor of an empyrean “Gumbo” that traverses spacetime in a peaceful dream before it spirals into an alarming, frenetic jam, ultimately crashing into a furious “Llama.” A juxtaposition of songs, emphatically and beautifully orchestrated. This symmetry permeates this set (and show) as it weaves its way out of an gnarled “Carini” and into a breezy “Cities.” A delightfully peppy “Heavy Things” (more so than “usual version”) is spelled by a demented “Split Open and Melt.” “The Curtain” (without) and an equally truncated, and equally liberating, “Fee” act as gravitational glue (in your magnet) to the aforementioned metronome swings of the set.
What makes this show so great, is what makes this show so different. It’s hard to explain, until you listen to it, but even then words are mere shadows of the music. Whether you are a new fan, as we both were when we first heard it, or a seasoned fan, as we both are as we listen to it now, there is an attraction to this show that is irresistible. Phish has recognizable sounds, styles, grooves that evolve within years and tours, yet, sometimes those sounds blend together, where perhaps one may misidentify the year or tour. But with this show, and the Japanese shows in general, there is hardly a mistake to make about what one is listening to.
But, why? Why in 2000? In Japan? At a venue less than 10% capacity of the venues they were playing in the States? This marvelous, fluid balance of harmonic ambience evolved, seamingly from nothing. The upredictable wonders of Phish, indeed! But still, I am left scracthing my head on how, during the first tumultuous degradation of their career, did Phish put together such a beautifully harmonized show?
That’s kind of a rhetorical question, which we are desperately trying to answer, you better than I. But, that’s the allure of Phish. This show embodies the mystery and excitement of the truly improvisational nature of Phish – why we keep coming back, time after time. You just never know when you’re going to get that best jam/set/show experience. It can manifest in front of 20,000 people at The Gorge, or a half a world away, in front of 5% of that audience, in Japan. What are your thoughts on all that? Why this show? Why in 2000? How did it all come together for these three fleeting hours? Are these questions that even have answers? I'm Fox Mulder, and this is Take the Bait.
n00b: Well, I think I got at it a little bit in my first section, but I think we should delve a little deeper into what makes Fukuoka specifically and the Japan 2000 tour generally such an interesting outlier of an experience. After Phish’s reconfiguration towards minimalism in Fall 1996, stoked by the fabled Halloween cover of "Remain in Light," it became clear as 1997 progressed that the band had something new in mind in terms of its improvisational technique and to the methods of displaying said improvisational technique. From the estimable Wally Holland’s (who you know as @waxbanks) review of 2/17/97: “tapes of this show provided a wakeup call for stateside fans during the runup to the summer '97 US tour”. Giving a listen to that show, to the dark and gnarled funkiness of the "Disease" and the relentlessly nasty "Carini" (in its debut!), explains exactly what he meant - this was not the Phish that ascended to Rock God Olympus in December 1995, but an entirely new beast altogether.
And, from that point on, every time Phish ventured outside of the United States the beast would emerge, satiated by the crisp Swiss-watch tight minimalism of US shows (that still maintained the broader, more fun party elements of a Phish show, elements that still inform the Phish experience in 2018) but hungry for something deeper and more difficult to harness by the band. Shows like 3/1/97 (from which Slip, Stitch and Pass is drawn) and its bare-bones "Wolfman’s Brother," the aforementioned July 1997 Amsterdam shows and their unceasing dives into the darkest abyss of musical exploration (cf. the 7/1 "Cities," quite possibly the wildest jam the band ever played), and 7/2/98 (with its magical "Ghost") displayed the band at its most creative, its most willing to take risks they wouldn’t take at Deer Creek or the Hampton Coliseum or even Madison Square Garden, and its most uncaring of where their dark muse would take them.
You really could hear an alternate-universe Phish in those shows, a Phish untethered to the legacy of the Grateful Dead, who they so clearly revered and whose fans helped swell their audiences almost all at once upon Jerry Garcia’s passing, a Phish whose ceiling was playing pubs and clubs and developing improvisational techniques that only those of us that cut our teeth on Swans or Mogwai or Boredoms or something would truly dig. I surely love the Phish we get on American soil, and I’ll never take any European tour over Fall ‘97 or December ‘95...but you put on something like 6/20/97’s wonderfully deep first set, and it’s hard not to wonder, isn’t it?
So, fast forward to 2000. By now the band’s minimalism has morphed into ambiance, jams that float on a cloud and drift through the atmosphere (to their occasional detriment), spurred on by the scene around the band changing (the recent GQ profile of Trey pegs his first dance with the devil known as Oxycontin around the Roseland Ballroom show). Phish had already visited Japan in 1999 and had gotten some pretty good shows out of that trip, but their second journey to that beautiful island chain would be something else entirely. Remember, this is post-Cypress Phish, with Trey realizing that the band needed a break after that career peak (if, maybe, not quite musical peak) and with the ambient style fully locked in through 1999’s remarkable Fall tour and slightly less remarkable December tour. Take all of that swirling around - the drugs, the jamming style, the knowledge that the band was about to take some time off - and add in the band playing outside of the US in venues that housed a mere fraction of the large crowds the band usually saw at Alpine Valley and the like, and the time was right for something truly strange and magical to happen.
And it did. Well, it sort of did.
Funky: The truth isn't out there. It is right here. And he goes by n00b.
Stay tuned for Japan. Part 2, 2000 - next week.
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