Saturday 08/13/2022 by phishnet

ALPINE1 RECAP: I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN IN 25 YEARS

[We would like to thank Rob Mitchum for recapping last night's show. Rob is a science and music writer in Oak Park, IL. He tweets about Phish @phishcrit, other stuff @robmitchum, and has undertaken the Sisyphean task of writing about every Phish show on its 25-year anniversary, which will take him until at least 2047…and counting. Thank you Rob! -Ed.]

When Twin Peaks came back for a miracle third season in 2017, it succeeded where many other TV show reboots failed. It reunited beloved characters, but didn’t offer up the simple comfort of familiarity. Everyone looked older – an obvious fact, but not one that television usually admits. While some characters were still stuck in their former patterns and roles, others were different in ways both surprising and frustrating. A slew of new characters were introduced, expanding the show’s world in ways that weren’t always clear. There was no easy retracing of steps, and that tension, combined with the emotional weight of a story that had been living in viewer’s heads for 25 years, made for an experience unlike any other.

© 2022 Matt Bittmann
© 2022 Matt Bittmann

Before last night, I had barely heard any 2022 Phish. Not for lack of interest. Thanks to my newsletter, I have been immersed in the summer of 1997, with no Phish free time remaining to keep up with the modern day version. I am aware of this tour’s highlights and controversies – They’re playing some songs too often? What else is new? – only in social media passing. I’m so busy teasing out the narratives of 1997 that I haven’t had the free hours to do the same in real time with 2022.

So this review, of a show a few days shy of the 25th anniversary of their festival named after a Twin Peaks reference, will just have to be what everybody loves best – a comparison of modern-day Phish with their status in the banner year of 1997. Don’t worry, this will not be a “back in my day, the lawn at Alpine was twice as steep!” grump fest. But it is a chance to experience the first night of Alpine 2022 as a time traveler would. Alpine Valley looks exactly the same as it did the first time I was there 26 years ago (I wasn’t there in ‘97, which would have made this conceit work better, oh well), and after your eyes are damaged enough by Chris Kuroda’s LEDs, the band looks pretty much the same. But the similarities throw all the differences into sharp relief.

© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)
© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)

What jumps out first to our time traveler is the efficiency of today’s Phish. The opening “Fuego” builds straight to what would have once been a show-stopping peak, while in “Clear Your Mind” Trey uses his “Run Like Hell” rapid delay trick – the pay-off of a half hour of jamming in “Ruby Waves” at the last Alpine show – for just a couple quick bars in a solo between verses. There are also big league segues from “Clear Your Mind” into “Twist” and “Halley’s Comet” into “Destiny Unbound,” and it’s still only the first half of the first set. “Destiny Unbound!” They just…play it now! No cannibalistic death chant required!

My dual timestreams really start to warp with “Moma Dance,” the song that encoded the 97 cowfunk sound and in doing so, tamed it. To my surprise, 2022 Phish lets the wild funk back out of its cage, producing a “Moma” that was the unexpected highlight of the first frame. In what’s normally the closing solo, Trey gets stuck on one note and dumps effects on it to escape; by the time he does, the jam has changed around him to a slightly sinister twilight groove that they ride sideways for several more minutes. Alternating high single-note stabs and chukka-chukka muted chords, Trey clears space for Page’s grand piano, peaks the jam, then slides back (fluidly, for once) to properly finish the song. It’s the kind of “what comes after the funk” jam they were grappling with in 1997, now effortlessly executed.

At the start of the second set, another time crack forms. An enthusiastic fan throws Trey a facsimile of his classic black Pepe Le Pew t-shirt, famous for shows such as 7/23/97, 11/21/97, 4/5/98, and 11/2/98. Trey drapes it over his gear, summons his memories of the late 90s and…asks Fish to sing “Ass Handed.” Again, efficiency – they don’t even need much of a song to spark deep improvisation now, taking Fish’s shower ditty out for 5 minutes of hard rock improv.

© 2022 Matt Bittmann
© 2022 Matt Bittmann

Instead of Pepe vintage, they then play three more songs – “Set Your Soul Free,” “Golden Age,” and “Lonely Trip” – that debuted 2009 or later. Like David Lynch denying his audience the classic Agent Cooper for 16 episodes, Phish won’t just simply rehash the past. But “SYSF” and “Golden Age” still float through friendly, mid-sized jams stuffed with interesting ideas, the former resolving to a lovely major-key rumination for a cool, starry night on what passes for a mountain in the Midwest (shades of 8/1/98’s planetarium “Tweezer”), the latter cycling through a collection of lite-funk patterns.

Finally, Pepe Le Pew gets his day with “Ghost,” very likely the song you hear in your head when you see a photo of young Trey in that particular attire. However, like Mike, “Ghost” has grown more muscular in old age, no longer a spectral saunter but a launch pad straight to the hose. On the other side of a mighty peak, it feints towards a “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” ending (another ‘97 echo) but uses the heavy-metal riffage to reprise “Ass Handed” instead, sparking an exhilarating finish-line sprint full of deranged synth, guitar, and bass tones and Fishman chopping the beat in half.

© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)
© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)

“The Howling” is the new character introduced for the reboot season, in this case a 2020’s remastering of “The Moma Dance,” already fitting right in with a "2001"-style fanfare, an arcade light show, and built-in audience participation. From there, it’s Phish classique with “Simple,” “David Bowie,” and “The Lizards,” some old friends our time traveler friend would be happy to hear. "Bowie" is perhaps the song with the most to lose from a 97-to-22 comparison, and the band’s age can’t help but show in its virtuoso composed sections. But here, the jam gets a winning modern-day revamp, flipping to a major key where they are far more comfortable in this era and reaching another satisfying climax before subtly redarkening to finish “Bowie” in traditional fashion.

The only way to be disappointed by it would be to inflexibly expect the old “Bowie.” And that’s the trick with comparing 1997 – or any past era of Phish – to what they’re doing currently. For a band that never stops evolving, mythologizing the past is a trap. Speaking as someone who has listened to every note of it up through (as of today) August 13th, 1997 had its flaws too; it’s quite messy, which may have made the eventual successes more exhilarating, but also occasionally involved “urinating in their fans’ ears.” 2022 gets straight to those highs with an almost astonishing speed, so fluidly that it’s easy to forget how difficult it once was.

Twin Peaks, Phish, it doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse, all that matters is it’s different. With 25 years to build upon, it’d be a tragedy if it wasn’t.

© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)
© 2022 PHISH (Rene Huemer)

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Comments

, comment by pureguava
pureguava Nice review. Thank you.
Beautiful weather last night and that Bowie you mention really did take a real sharp turn to a creamy center of phish I have yet to experience. Hadn’t been to Alpine Valley in 35 years and forgot how fucking huge that venue is ha. For a big room it felt warm and cozy where we were.
, comment by mgolia6
mgolia6 You are certainly an exceptional writer. Loved the Twin Peaks reference. Being a huge David Lynch fan myself, loving (while also still trying to unpack)all that is Twin Peaks, I can’t help but think about how I still am trying to unpack Phish as well these many years later. I really loved the take on how to both enjoy Phish In the present while trying not to make comparisons to the past. It’s too easy to do and won’t ever bring Laura Palmer back, (or Pepe for that matter) no matter how hard you try. So just let it be!

Mahalo Nui!!
, comment by PhillyPhilly
PhillyPhilly Just want to say thank you for time traveling for us back to the 90s, been reading the newsletter for a couple years now and it is a wonderful treat. Can’t wait to read about the rest of 97, particularly the big moments of the GW and Fall tour. Also hope Shapiro hears your plea on the DC box set.
, comment by DiscoStashBall
DiscoStashBall I don't often have times to read reviews, but I loved this one. Great work. I was at every summer show in 97, 98, and 99. I only missed a handful of shows each fall/year. I couldn't agree with your analysis more.
, comment by rubbish69
rubbish69 I missed Atlanta in 97 because of car troubles ( the carcassmobile) but made every other US summer show in that same stretch of years, and it's hard to disagree with this analysis. I am very happy to have Phish to attend at all these days, and considering that we are blessed with such high quality shows from a band that still cares about making it worth our while and theirs, it's best to just go with the flow. ( Or surrender to it )

Change will come. This, like everything else, will not last forever. Enjoy it in person while you are able to do so. Soak it in. Be thankful. And next year is 40 years? Do we get that next festival? ( Or does the threat of COVID or monkeypox deter organizing such an event?) Do we get Halloween at the Sphere? ( Or Halloween at all ?) I will be happy to get more Phish period. Hoping for big things, but just happy to be able to go and see this fearsome foursome after all of these years. Appreciate your moments.
, comment by willis00
willis00 As always, anything Rob writes is fun to read! Appreciate the historical look back and current show review.

Look forward to your remaining 97 and upcoming 98 reviews.

Hope you are well, dude!
, comment by DaleCooper
DaleCooper Well done. Thanks.
, comment by aburtch
aburtch Love it when Rob Mitchum writes about Phish. That version of Moma Dance was one of the best I've ever heard. Awesome.
, comment by Tando
Tando Thanks @robmitchum. Love this review and all 25th anniversary reviews you post. Just read the 8/14/97 Senior Moment. Oh man... that was such a weird show. The first for one of my friends (at the end she didn't know what to think and I couldn't get her to another... bummer for her). As one who has still not taken the Twin Peaks plunge I feel like I'm almost ready. Don't get me wrong, I dig Lynch and have seen most of his films just haven't been ready to wander into Twin Peaks. I do hear some weird sounds coming from a lodge... maybe I should explore?
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