[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: Geez finally. Sometimes, it takes a while to process greatness, or at least where on the greatness spectrum a thing exists, or doesn’t. In this case, it took almost four months... almost a third of a year is all it took me to be able to simultaneously hum and air guitar all 38-minutes of "Ruby Waves" note for note. Greatness. Who said my only “talent” is the written word? ::crickets:: Well, my mom thinks I’m cool. Now let's get down to what the people really want: ten pages of harcore analysis about one Phish show!
Set 1: The Landlady, Olivia's Pool, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Meatstick, Vultures, Spock's Brain, Pebbles and Marbles, Glide, About to Run, Strange Design > Timber (Jerry The Mule) > I Didn't Know, Good Times Bad Times
Funky: Summer tour seems like it is a long way away. Fall “tour” is just around the corner. West Coast fans have all migrated to twiddle.net [http error 500 - site currently experiencing technical difficulties], but Alpine 3 holds a solitary vigil over the Year of our Icculus, Two Thousand and Nineteen.
All Phish shows are special. Most of us probably realized that within seconds after the lights came up after the encore of our first show. Then, and today, the crowd will roar just as passionately and committedly after a blazing “Sample in a Jar” solo as they did in the 90s. Sultry dance moves will push the limits of legality when “Tweezer” drops, whether it be a 1993 version, 2003 version, or 2013 version. We still get down to the “Moma” funk and still get up for the bathroom when… uhm… that one song you really don’t like sneaks into the setlist ::glares at you, the reader:: Phish bridges decades of memories every night they step onstage. Phish is timeless.
Still, sometimes, time in Phish’s world stands still. Sometimes, every once in a while, there are those shows; shows which all fans publicly and secretly wish they could see, or relive, or never want to end. Sometimes Phish creates an experience that is, well, unprecedented and improbable… which is saying something for a band whose made a career on performing the unexpected each and every night. Sometimes those shows truly never end. It’s magic.
Alpine 3 was one of those nights.
But there is always magic at Phish shows. Carl Sagan once said that books are proof that humans are capable of working magic, “What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
I believe this to be true. I also believe that Phish is capable of working magic.
What an astonishing thing a Phish show is. Three hours of the same four humans creating never-replicating frequencies of vibrating air which enter our brains as electrical charges to be processed solely for delight. Even though these vibrations may be “new,” one note is all it takes to be inside the collective mind of the band - a band who has well over a century of virtuosic practice between them - who is playing clearly, directly to you. ::I swear Trey was looking at me, man, I SWEAR:: Phish shows bind together people who never knew each other; citizens of distant locales, demographics, beliefs, and rituals. Phish shows break the shackles of time. Phish shows are proof that humans are capable of working magic. Just look at Alpine 3.
It was my 78th show. A warm Sunday night. Rolling corn fields and green cotton ball trees bubbled in the landscape like something you’d see on a well-marketed milk carton. The culmination of an emotional tour filled with ebbs and flows of an introspective, reflective tone. Bliss jams had relinquished to more subdued, patient soundscapes. New, emotionally-challenging songs wove their way into setlists on a nightly basis - sometimes causing the listener or attendee to confront some serious sobering feelings of their own. But the magic never faded.
n00b: For the record, I’m a West Coast fan and I’ve not visited twiddle.net even once. I don’t trust any band whose name is a verb.
As always, I’m going to be the more pragmatic yin to your more whimsical yang, the certified public accountant to your goateed wood nymph, and try and put this show into more of a historical perspective. First of all, in case anybody thinks I’m going to take the opposite opinion this one...sorry, friends, I can’t do it. This is a fucking incredible show, the sort of show they only break out every few years, the sort of show that acts as the pace setter all the other shows must chase down. It’s a combination of Phish opening its jealously guarded vault of rarities and old favorites for the first set with a second set that essentially welds half a set from the fabled 7/25/17 (a reasonably good “Mercury” > “Ruby fuckin’ Waves,” or RFW for short) with half something you might have heard in 1992 (everything that comes next). The “You Enjoy Myself” that ends Set 2 is no match for any of the great improvisational “YEMs,” and yet how many of those jams stick in the memory the way “Catapult/Trey’s story/Contact/the Bridal Chorus” tease/right back into “YEM” does? Hell, the band broke out a reprise of “ICCULUS,” one of their most beloved bust outs, no less! This was a night where it felt like anything could happen, and pretty much everything did.
So let’s talk a little bit about that. One thing we all take pride in when it comes to Phish is that they’re one of the few bands that doesn’t play the same setlist every night, always going out there and mixing it up at least to some degree (even in years like 2014 where we bitched about tight 3-4 song rotations, that certainly beats 0 song rotations); shoot, even bands like Pearl Jam renowned for deep setlists will play many songs for multiple shows in a row. Another thing we take pride in is that on any given night, at any given venue, the band can catch fire and play a show that will get talked about in hushed tones until the inevitable heat death of the universe. This is why people come back every year, no matter what quibbles they may have (*coughthenewsongsblissjammingflubscough*)...
Funky: Bless you.
n00b: ...and swap tales of the great shows they attended like war stories or rare baseball cards. There’s just about nothing like it in all of popular culture, let alone music, and it’s a truly special experience indeed.
The flip side of that, of course, is that there are plenty of shows that AREN’T going to be talked about in hushed tones until the inevitable heat death of the universe, shows that won’t be spoken about like the invasion of Iwo Jima or held in high repute like that Honus Wagner card, shows that just sort of disappear into the ether of shows you probably heard once (if at all) and will never think about again. The thing is that that’s entirely normal, and actually just as much part and parcel with the Phish experience. For one thing, as I’ve talked about in several of these installments, the idea that EVERY show the band played, especially in a year that began with a 1 or ended with a 00, was a special night worthy of only the highest of praise is demonstrably false, and I don’t need to bore you with why that is. The other thing is that, much like Syndrome in The Incredibles saying that if everybody is a superhero then nobody is, if every show is an utter classic, then none of them are. 6/14/00 stands out as a great show in the context of the band’s career, but especially in the context of the Japan 2000 tour, a tour with lots of great music deployed in scattershot fashion. That doesn’t make 6/14/00 any less great - hell, given some of the shaky and average shows from that tour, it probably makes it even greater.
Which brings us back to 7/14/19. Our previous installment of this long running and occasionally enjoyed series touched on some of what I already talked about here, so it might look like I’m just regurgitating the last column. But while this might seem madness, there’s method in it; because this show received SO much rapturous praise, to the extent that so much of the rest of the tour was either buried or outright dismissed, I think it’s worth stressing these facets of the typical Phish experience in discussing how 7/14/19 soared above those facets. Let me use myself to illustrate my point. Last year I crossed the all-important ten-shows-attended Rubicon, thanks to the band playing LA and the Vegas run, and if you look at my shows attended list you will see some shows you likely have forgotten they played (other than maybe the infamous 2016 LA show or the Chula Vista show where they jammed “Tube” or the Hollywood “Hood” show), let alone given any consideration to since. But sitting there near the end of my shows attended number line, a glittering jewel in a pile of rocks, is 10/31/18, the Kasvot Vaxt show, a truly beloved show that holds up after the fact (as 10/31/14 does). I walked out of that show feeling truly thrilled and excited, knowing I’d finally gotten one of *those* shows to call my own. I then proceeded to lose at the poker tables that night because I overestimated how far my energy buzz would take me, but we don’t need to get into that. What matters is that many other people I know that attended that show feel the way about it I do, and that’s just as nice a feeling as actually being there was.
My point? I imagine far more people, even me, would’ve preferred to be there for 7/14/19 than 10/31/18. Probably.
Funky: Probably? You shhmmm...
Did I probably cry tears of joy during “Spock’s Brain” and “Strange Design” and “Icculus? Did my pants probably explode during minute-20 of “Ruby Waves??” Was I probably escorted out when I stuck the landing on a flawless rendition of my most controversial dance move, Naughty Shower Lufa??? Can I probably outrun any and all midwest Event Staff????
Aside: That Chula 2016 show is a downright heater, don’t you sell it on down the river - best “Hood” of 3.0 if you ask me. But that’s for another time.
n00b: Hey, man, *I* think it’s a great show (although best 3.0 "Hood" I don’t know I’d agree with - best Type I 3.0 "Hood" I can see), I’m just talking perception here.
Funky: Fair enough. Still the best 3.0 “Hood” though. Back to probability, my friend. I know how crazy this sounds ::furiously charges crystals:: but there was a vein of improbability threading this whole thing together. Right from the get go. No for real. Let me explain. ::puts crystals in the moonlight, following the lines going south::
It started with the seats Mrs Funky and I got. We were in the pavilion, Mike side, about 75 feet from the stage - good seats. Got in early, partied, waited. Waited some more. Looked around at stuff. Wondered what that is… is that moving? . How much time has passed? 20 minutes? ::looks at watch:: Oh it’s been 2 minutes... that’s nice. You know, the usual pre-show musings.
We noticed we each had two open seats to the left and right of us, respectively. Well those surely won’t last long. BUT THEY DID. Six seats for just us two in a kickass venue, on the finale of summer tour, at the historic Alpine Valley. Highly improbable! But that’s just the beginning.
I have abandoned Phish during a set exactly two times in my now 81-show career to go to the bathroom. This was the second time. “Meatstick.” I mean I love the song but having 17 cocktails to smooth out the, uh, “party,” really forced my hand. My bladder didn’t see it coming but who saw anything coming on 7.14.19?? The way the set was unfolding I figured that was going to be the only “cool down song. So I made my move. “Okay whoa now that happens sometimes, Funky,” says jaded vets everywhere, “but it isn’t really that improbable… is it?”
Uh huh but here is when it starts to get good. ::juggles crystals:: Bladder activity notwithstanding, what was really improbable about my port-o-john visit was that when I was flying back down the gangway to my seat, I *literally* ran into my good friend Matt, a guy who I’d been trying to link up with the entire weekend, and well before that - years - during our Phish adventures. A guy who lives in Ohio. I live in Oregon. Yet our paths improbably, literally collide in Wisconsin after years of failed, focused attempts. A guy with whom I share unbounded love for Carl Sagan, scary ramblings about theoretical physics which only he understands while I furrow my brow in vain attempts to keep up, and a book loosely based on the story of my life, “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.” I literally, I mean literally, ran into him as he was sashaying in the far aisle. I didn't know he knew how to do that type of dance move. And we couldn’t believe that we literally collided during the show. How improbable!
I coherently-enough explain to Matt our seating situation and implore him to join our party. Matt comes over and grooves with us in what is basically our own luxury box - as apparently security put caution tape around the seats when I visited the john - no no, not to keep people out, to keep us in. Our dance moves were that hot. And the improbable nature of the show just kept coming. “Vultures,” “Spock’s Brain,”Pebbles and Marbles,” “Glide,” ALL IN A ROW?!? Eat your Heart of Gold out, Zaphod Beeblebrox!! ::shovels crystals into grilled cheese sandwich::
I had a whole thing prepared about the show gaps, and total number of collective shows that had passed from first times played to these versions, et cetera. I deleted it. I did so because, as big of a Phish nerd as I am - someone who loves Phish charts and Phish graphs and Phish information - this first set was about so much more than data and numbers. There was a feeling of transcendence. You knew what you were hearing was incredibly rare, but the rareness relented humbly to the preciousess and specialness of the set. The numbers just didn't matter, the music did.
It was the type of set where all the things that make Phish great come together. The songs were played with such unbridled energy and abandon- it made me think, “This is as close to early 90s Phish as I’ll ever get.” The selection and flow was flawless, especially considering the original debut dates of most of the songs weighed against the “regular” rotation of current era Phish. Trey was chatty... sweet sweet stage banter. The crowd was WILD. I mean just a rowdy, locked-in unit of legally-suspect, but carefree merriment. Your best people were all around you with all the dancing space you could possibly want. It just doesn’t happen the way it did that night.
Stories aside, sets just don’t unfold in today’s iteration of Phish the way they did during set 1 on Sunday, July 14, 2019, the Year of our Icculus. The combination of energy, selection, flow, and youthfulness from the band and crowd alike was so wonderful. As I said earlier, I wasn’t around Phish in the 90s, I was dominating LEGO sets and wanting to go on Raffi tour, but I imagine this type of experience is as close as a lot of us not lucky enough to see Phish in the 90s will ever get. I’ll take it. In fact I’ll take two because, n00b, we haven’t even really talked about set 2 yet. The improbability of this show hasn’t mathematically imploded on us… yet. Your move, Mr. CPA, Esquire, aka Sir Funpants!
n00b: Well, since you did me the solid of getting to talk about Set II, one of my favorite sets of this era, I’ll give you the opportunity to wax the most poetic about the “Ruby Waves,” one of my favorite jams of this era. Let me go ahead and break this monster of a set down into separate parts:
Funky sez: That is correct.
Funky sez: I set a land speed record for pants removal. Details to come.
Funky sez: This follow-up felt like a dream. An honest to goodness dream.
Funky sez: PRIMAL INDEED. We were more beast than human here.
Funky sez: And when this happened… it was a collective, -hyper-euphoric, WTF?!?
Funky sez: ::passes out::
And with that summary of some glorious parts that made up one hell of a whole, I turn it over to you to give us the play by play of an era-defining jam. Take it away, bud.
Funky: I do believe I’m naked.
I gotta be honest here n00b, I wasn’t all too impressed with that “Mercury,” and then when it kind of crashed into “Ruby Waves,” I thought, “uh oh,” and kinda bit my tongue and hoped that something big would swoop in later on to save the set. Maybe a big “Golden Age” or “Piper” or “Down with Disease” or something.
Here is the precise moment (of quite a great many moments in my life) where I again realized I was an idiot:
4:50: Of the linked recording, above. Trey shifts completely from the song and trudges into a darker, psychedelic tone. Focused. Unusually so for this early in the song.
5:40: Mike is playing the bassline to “Acknowledgement” by John Coltrane. During the show, this triggered an immediate recall to 6.3.11's 24-minute “DWD,” a cosmic juggernaut that’ll warp spacetime.“This is going to be big,” I remember thinking.
6:20: The jam starts to patiently build. A fluid, aquatic tone. Bubbles rising in cold water. Daylight breaks through. Tropical now. It floats on the surface in sunshine.
12:15: Jam evaporates entirely while still soaring. It starts to get caught in the wind, being pulled and tugged in all directions.
12:43: This is when things get really serious. I mean realllly serious. A hard-rock edge takes over the jam and Trey snarls with the guitar. Fishman’s volume control is locked into the fury, savagely crashing the cymbals and snare. Mrs Funky is creating a vortex of glitter and glowing color - poets quit on the spot to become painters. It was the biznes. At 13:10 Trey locks onto, literally, the ending two power chords from "Maze"… the segment at the very end, when they’re singing, “You’llNEVERgotOUTofTHISmaze”over those two off-beat, dissonant notes. Yeah those ones. He’s crushing them mid-jam, using that riff as improvisational rocket fuel. Red strobes are flashing DANGER, ha, Kuroda smiles at danger. Fishman kicks in two snare rolls and we are shot like a mfckn cannonball into a pirate siege. No soul planets here, baby, this ocean is blood. All hands on deck as we pirates explode like powderkegs - detonations of dance happening in every corner of the venue.
16:03: The jam takes a breath. Loins cool off. Cigarettes are lit. Sweet nothings are moaned.
19:30: Starts to limber up again. Trey is stretching ideas. Probing. Contemplating. Meditating with his guitar, with a whisper he slips like a shadow into…
20:00: ... that slinky space reggae section that I can only, exclusively, accurately describe with hardcore nudity: [redacted by phish.net/legal] Uh huh. Don’t blush.
21:40: Oh shit. This metal build is now really starting to sound metal-y isn’t it?
22:00: Oh shit. Hail Satan.
23:00: Oh shit. Satan has a spaceship.
23:30: Cosmic noise reverberates throughout the cosmos and into the amphitheatre. A strong sense of closure was inbound. I had accepted this. I had been taken from the depths of the ocean to the tropics to the sky to outer space to hell and back. I wonder how they’ll follow that up? And just when I thought I knew what wild meant…
25:15: The jam very literally groans and creaks back to life. Clawing back. One punishing footfall at a time. A new, towering goliath stands upright, a wild thing.
27:45: The crowd is captive. Riding on the behemoth’s shoulders to dizzying heights. Ominous calls from Mike swoop and swarm. Unnatural. Uncomfortable. What happens now? What comes next?
29:10 Wings. Through the darkness and anxiety, a sense of purpose. Focus. Trepidation. Ramble on. Trey’s heavy chording starts to echo. Intensity swells. There is focus in the crowd. This is when we realize this thing will not be ending anytime soon. This is when we know, without question, this night is historic.
31:10: Disco metal. Funk yeah. The energy recoils like a sidewinder at its prey. Springs release in precise strikes, combining a rough-edged rhythms with razor-sharp harmonies,
33:19: Frenzy! Mayhem! How! Are! They! Still! Going! And not just fading into ambience but kicking some serious, all-time ass.
34:54: A final stage of the rocket ignites and blasts us beyond the point of no return. We have reached escape velocity from the world of Phish that existed prior to 7:30pm, July 14, 2019.
36:16: The wind-down. This was… this was celebration. Strangers hugging strangers. Wide eyes full of tears and wonder. It felt like we really, truly accomplished something. Something important. I don’t know how else to say it. There was a collective sense of… of... equal parts pride, joy, oneness, and connection. ACCOMPLISHMENT. It felt so small and intimate and fleeting, so personal… yet, cosmic and everlasting. Communal. It was amazing, n00b. And I can relive it every single time I listen to it… everything from this show. It’s like my memory stored it differently, or my mind was processing it differently as it was happening. Heck, maybe both. Like I said, there was just something so improbable about this show. Everything, everyone was so locked in. It felt so different. It’s why we do this. It’s why we travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to indulge with thousands of strangers to form thousands of memories… because one or two of them might just look like this.
And it’s not that we fans need any sort of validation or excuse to explain why we do what we do, or even what we do… it’s just a show like this is so affirmative. When it happens, man, just… wow. It is so indescribably special that Phish still can make that kind of magic and deliver that level of improbability 35 years into a treasure chest of a career defined of magic and improbability.
After the show, when we were approaching our party bus, all we saw was hugs. 20 or so of our friends, pairing off, hugging each other. One by one. Two by two. Three by three. Pure, shared love. Eyes wide. Some with tears, all with joy. Some mouths were silently open, some were smiling, some yelling euphoria. The collective, shared feeling of, “We just witnessed greatness,” was spoken and unspoken, encompassing any and all types of sensory input: physical and metaphysical, divine and mortal, cats and dogs, whatever. I cannot overstate how profound the shared celebration of this show was because it was proof that Phish is capable of working magic.
n00b: Well, I don’t know how to follow that, but I did bring it on myself. Let me channel Inigo Montoya and sum up, because explaining is too much. The modern era and our fancy ass phones and social media and such allow us to start discussing shows even while they’re in progress, let alone the day after, and from the moment Ruby Waves hit, say, the 20 minute mark 7/14/19 was being hoisted up into rarified air. And just over three and a half months later, it’s still sitting pretty in that rarified air, a blend of rarities and monster improv and pure fun that can only really come from a show played by our four pals from Vermont. And that’s the long and short of it.
But don’t take our word for it - listen for yourself.
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