[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 sure did suck the fun out of Japan 2000. I mean, yes there was an all-time show in 6.14.00, and, yes, there were five extremely explorative jams in 6.16 “Runaway Jim,” 6.10 “Piper,” 6.10 “DWD,” 6.9 “Tweezer” and 6.15 “Ghost”… but the rest was pretty average, and, at times, disappointingly out of sync. Of course, I write all this with a healthy dose of envy, as neither of us were there, and going from the responses of a few who did attend (thank you for writing your responses, by the way, we sincerely do love feedback) the shows were extremely memorable, energetic, and downright fun, simply due to the facts that Phish was playing to an excited foreign audience in tiny, intimate venues. And that, the once-in-a-lifetime musical experience that only a couple thousand fans got to witness, undoubtedly, weighs heavier than any of our words written from the friendly confines of the .net HQ ::wipes Cheetos dust off fingers, swigs Mountain Dew::
Still, we’d be remiss to not fully-explore what exactly led to that Japan 2000 tour. To not talk about the 1999 Japan shows that preceded, and sparked, the Japan 2000 mini tour would be a little unfair. Why? Well, refer to Exhibit A: your fearless author, Funky. Full disclosure, not only did I think that Phish had an actual, extended tour in Japan in 1999 (a la Europe 97/98), I also was convinced they had one in 1998! Shows what I know… yeeeeesh.
So when we were brainstorming our storyboard for how this series was to go down, you can imagine my reaction when n00b was like, “Uh, Funky… they didn’t play Japan in 1998. And played, like, seven sets there in ‘99.”
“Bosh flimshaw!!” I said, as I rifled through my Phish Companion.
There is no noise greater than the crunching of a single Cheeto, while learning that you yourself are, in fact, wrong.
Lo and behold, n00b was right (he usually is), and I worried if I was becoming more Towelie than Funky. So, I handed in my keyboard (and my other keyboard, strapped to my ankle), turned in my thesaurus, and walked out the door, thoroughly defeated.
n00b then confiscated all my ticket stubs to make sure I had actually been to a Phish show. Scrupulous judgment, n00b has, but I somehow passed his test. Apparently, I have been to Phish shows (take that!!)… but not in Japan… not yet, at least… and he handed me back one of my keyboards. What’s the point of this little anecdote? Well, if you’re anything like me, the point is you probably know very little about 1999 Japanese Phish, so we’re here to keep you informed! ::n00b balls his fists, glares at me from other side of the room:: Perhaps you should take the wheel, just for a while. What do you know about Phish in Japan in 1999? But first, behold! Phish's performances at the Fuji Rock Festival!
n00b: Haha, damn, that was quite the nightmare you apparently suffered, as I’m nothing but a kind and benevolent writing partner who rather benignly informed you that Phish never played Japan in 1998, an easy mistake to make given that they did go overseas that year. I mean, they went across the OTHER ocean to Europe, but what’s a mixup in continents between friends? But, yes, I am usually right, that’s worth remembering.
*two minutes of uncomfortable silence pass*
Well, anyway, Japan 1999. I, like most of you folks, am only really familiar with the July 31st show that’s available from LivePhish through their website (a special download to benefit the Tokyo earthquake disaster relief), so I was rather surprised to learn that they played SEVEN sets in three days in Niigata as part of the Fuji Rock Festival, six on the magnificently named Field of Heaven sidestage, all of them available in SBD. Side note: the Fuji Rock Festival is still an ongoing concern, and my main man Bob Dylan headlined the final night of the 2018 version. Side note 2: the headliners of the 1999 version were Rage Against The Machine, Blur (who I love), and ZZ Top (?); the rest of the invitees encompass quite the delightful array of nostalgia-inducing 90s bands (Ocean Colour Scene! Propellerheads! Fountains of Wayne!), so give that performer list a gander.
After Phish got to play on the main festival stage on Day 1 (and it’s a standard Europe ‘97 style Type I-a-thon, feisty soloing in “Taste” aside), they would get to headline all three nights on the Field of Heaven stage, and while I don’t know that any of them are shows you need to go out of your way to hear, I did want to point out a couple jams and jam segments worth your time. The first is the 7/30 “Ghost,” which slides effortlessly into a snappy little jam with Page taking point and briefly blooms into a lovely late-night groove before taking a hard left into a muscular rockout; it easily would have been a highlight of any of the Japan 2000 shows, and the “Disease” in the second set more or less returns to the terrain this jam roamed.
The second is the 7/31 “Prince Caspian” (!), which is taken at a remarkably and almost otherworldly slow tempo (shades of the Fukuoka “Walk Away”), allowing Trey to really rip off a startling array of riffs before the bottom drops out, Page briefly tickles the ivories, and then Trey barges back in and cranks out some real filth to bring us home. The third is the “Simple” from the same show (in a rare encore spot), which gives way to a Trey effects showcase as he just absolutely lets loose in startling fashion.
And the last is 8/1’s masterful “Mike’s Song,” which moves from a loop-laden grungy groove (check out Page really laying the organ on thick) before the second jam brings a gentle and contemplative jam that floats blissfully along thanks to Fishman’s really nice work before segueing wonderfully into “Hydrogen.” I didn’t cover all of the highlights of the shows, but if you were wondering if the band played any differently in their first sojourn to Japan, I hope this answers that hypothetical question.
So yeah, that’s the Phish Japan 1999 festival experience in a nutshell - some very cool jams, some fun moments, and the occasional jam that would’ve left folks scratching their heads Stateside. And hey, since there’s zero halo effect around any of these shows, you can go in unencumbered with expectations and have a real good time.
Funky: You’re tough but fair, n00b. These shows are great shows to introduce Phish to someone who may not have heard a lot, or any, of their music. I can feel your eyes rolling right now, annoyed reader, but lament not! There is good news here. This 1999 festival Phish experience was, almost entirely, different than the mini 2000 tour. But for a dang good reason.
The 1999 shows showcased tight, sharp, and focused “Type-1” jamming… consistently! Therein lies the difference. There were no overly-sloppy moments, or ping-pong ball setlists, no droning, monotonous filler. There was focused fun mixed in with business-like efficiency - this managed to surpass my rather unknown expectations for these shows. Yeah, that’s not quite glowing praise, but my point is, I was surprised with how consistently-good Phish sounded throughout all seven sets. This is very efficient Phish.
Of course, there was no experimental improvisation or extended, out-of-the-box jamming (save that “Ghost” you spoke of, that thing is awesome). Even the 20+ minute “David Bowie” was pretty standard… somehow. But that did not dilute much of what these shows offer. There needn’t be huge jams to make these shows just fine to listen to. However, 8.1.99 second set, for me. Is indeed worth something more than a passing complimentary reference. This set is tailored-made for my Phish preferences. It is non-stop action! You must keep dancing from its start to its conclusion, and that is exactly what I am after: dance parties.
A standard-good “Possum” crashes perfectly into “Tweezer.” The “Tweezer” jam, man, will this forever surprise and delight me. I spoke of efficiency earlier, and this jam masters it. 13 minutes of soaring, elevated, atmospheric bliss. Like a rocket ship blasting off from its launchpad, it takes off, covers so much sky in so little time, and never looks back. It just makes you feel good. Especially when it merges into "Llama" like traffic traveling at light speed.
Continuing the A+ song selection and flow, “Llama” could boil a pot of noodles, and when “Mike’s Song” follows that up, well, that pot is now thoroughly on fire... huh, didn't know water could catch fire, I mean this isn't Cleveland. Did I say first-timer Phish earlier? Who am I!? This set is must-hear for any fan. They’re tapped into a fault line, erupting music, but the seismology is soothed with - you won’t believe your eyes or your ears - an eight-and-a-half minute “I am Hydrogen.” Wait, what? Yes! The first four minutes are reminiscent of “My Left Toe” - cerebral, serene vibrations floating through nothingness. Meditative and calm. Beautiful. Trey then slips like shadows into the “Hydrogen” riff, and this version, although not note-perfect, has a breezy, flowing feel that is truly unique.
The set continues its rampage with an overly-caffeinated “Weekapaug Groove!” WHAMO! They. Just. Keep. Going. A blitz of notes and bass, “Weekapaug” quickly renders pregnancy if you were Mike side. “The Wedge” bounces along as a perfect conduit between this volcano of a set, and the storybook-perfect pairing of “Lizards” and “You Enjoy Myself.” “YEM” starts off lazy, loungey, laid-back, and funky, but Trey’s guitar still has a lot to say. An archer’s arrow to the peak puts an exclamation point on this good verison, and on this great set.
A perfectly reasonable stretch of Phish shows, capped off by a slam dunk second set on August 1. Can't really complain about any of it, but I also won't be revisiting much of it. If these shows were to come on at random, August 1 especially, you'd have a pretty fun time listening to them, even if you may not be immediately scouring the internet looking for a download. Phish played just fine. And you know what, that's okay with me.
Lastly, a piece of this experience that we have not touched on in-full: the encore on 7.31. I don't know how to write this without sounding patronizing, so my preemptive apologies of this comes off as trite. It must have been a humbling, transcendent experience to have Tibetan monk Nawang Khechog onstage with Phish and address the crowd, not necessarily on behalf of Phish, but definitely through Phish, about the China/Tibet territorial/cultural stuggle. This moment, perhaps, superseded all music that took place, as Phish must have (hopefully?) recognized their musical contributions are reaching an audience and situation with much greater impact than just dancing and listening. The world is bigger than music, I hope they thought, much bigger. I can't help but wonder if this moment drew them back to Japan in 2000 in a display of honor and respect. Regardless, fittingly and Phishingly, the seriousness of the situation was masterfully and comically diffused with a "Jam" that featured Fish on vacuum and Nawang Khechog on a horn - a near perfect blending of culture, humor, and respect for the other. The "Brian and Robert" that followed was hauntingly pretty and calm, with Khechog on wood flute. I think these moments, in all of their entirety, speak to Phish's secular awareness, which we fans should take great pride in, and also, and more importantly, to the Tibetan monks' peaceful sense of inclusion and harmony. It was a tender, beautiful instance, dissolving cultural boundaries and lifestyles, with neither party sacrificing any part of themselves to show respect to the other - man playing a vacuum and monk playing a horn - together onstage, having fun, showing respect, delicate and positive. A true teaching moment.
If you haven't got much else to do today, check out this cool 10-minute interview with Phish about their appearance in Japan. See you next week!
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