Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Phourth: An Appeal to the Vanity of Ben Kraus

Rule number one of writing is to know your audience. Well, no, I guess rule number one of writing is to have a point and hope that one hand kind of washes the other (the point leads to the audience... you probably knew what I meant; you're smart people.

Anyway, time for the long awaited Independence Day Phish Concert post. Phish shows are kind of like an entire world in and of itself and it was a real pleasure to take in the experience with Deanna, Sean Taylor, Ben, and Jeremy, who was kind enough to leave his free orchestra level seats to take in the last bit of the concert with us.

I'm nowhere near as qualified to breakdown the music of Phish as I am Dave Matthews Band, but there are certainly some notes I'd love to make. The band was beyond tight. I mean, it's almost like they define what it is to be on the same page musically. To have such a jam/free sound still come off so clean every single time is almost frightening. They crammed 33 tracks into the night and, for my money, didn't miss a beat on one of them.

What I really love about Phish shows is obviously the music, but I can honestly say that something bigger than the tunes goes on at their shows. Don't worry, I'm not talking about some hippie mysticism of a higher power or anything, but simply put, I've never seen a more interactive show with more people uniformly, yet uniquely, invested in what occurred on stage. You can imagine, I'm sure, at a show like that you're going to run into some characters in varying states of sobriety, but in the middle of all this seemingly randomness, there's a literal pulse to the people and vibe there that really makes everybody everything.

I know I've taken that last paragraph could have easily been taken from the greatest passages of Thomas Wolfe, but electric kool-aid aside, I've never witnessed such a positive version of a mob mentality in my life. The closest comparison being Boston Garden during the Lakers/Celtics playoff game when Leon Powe received an ovation I'll never forget.

At this show you have a ocean of tie-dye, Americana, and homemade Phish shirts (including an incredible Harry Hood one made by Deanna), a man holding an American flag with a peace sign embroidered on it, waving it the majority of the show. I'm not even sure he had a seat. You have Sean Taylor and I finally in matching neon green headbands. You have fans of all shapes, colors, and sizes singing along and (to quote Wolfe more directly) "grooving on their thing" chanting at the right parts and the glow sticks, balloons, and beach balls being flung into the air at musical climaxes. I equate the experience to people who go see "Rocky Horror" and chant and shout certain things during the movie or production. It's kind of a way for experienced phans to make the show their own. It's a cult and underground following in its truest form, depending on how deep you are in the pudding. (Should be the last reference, minus a potential nod to day-glo) And all the while, the band just sustains this experience with tunes and lights almost casually, as if they are just a vessel for this ultimate display of humanity.

Proof of this nearly inexplicable synergy came near the end of the show; actually, during the final number before the encore (Slave To The Traffic Light, for anyone curious) when the cloudy (though truly beautiful) night finally gave way and displayed an awe-inspiring yellow moon casting its glow on the venue. When this occurred, the whole crowd literally erupted with joy. The moment seemed so scripted that I actually leaned over to Deanna and asked if I missed something on stage while I was distracted by the moon. When she confirmed that everyone was riffing on the moon, I got some pretty intense chills.

Another cool moment was when strictly by coincidence, the only time I saw fireworks out on the water during the whole show was during a barber shop quartet rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner". I mean, you can't script that kind of stuff.

Don't get me wrong, if had to listen for one band for the rest of my life, it's still Dave. They're my favorite and have molded me into who I am as much as a facet of pop culture can. And, not that anyone asked, but if I had to listen to someone's tunes for 24 hours with no breaks, it'd be Paul Simon, but for my money, for all the GREAT acts out there, if I had to pick one band to see live for the rest of my life, I'd see Phish. I'm honored and humbled to have shared the experience with my friends.

The lone downside of the experience is, once again, I was left hanging in my quest for "Punch You In The Eye" (my favorite song of theirs), but other than that the band was top notch. The set was great and I encourage you to look it up. For me to have three highlights is really the understatement of the year, but...

1. "Avenu Malkanu" sandwiched between renditions of "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" was easily one of the most beautiful things I've heard live. I was kind of overwhelmed and it was a really prophound (see what I did there?) moment that was the apex of the night three songs in. Incredible.

2. My first witnessing of a "tucking" during the first cover of "Purple Rain" since '99. We partied like it (Prince nod), and a vacuum solo to boot. For once Youtube is mightier than the metaphorical pen. Dig for yourself.

3. "Harry Hood" took the second set to a whole new space.

But again, the whole show delivered and had me, and consequently everyone, engaged from Tweezer to Tweezer.

Until next time, this is Tom on behalf of Friar Tuck.

Song of the Day: Jailhouse-Sublime (Summer is here and so is summer camp)

Jazz Song of the Day: The Chief-Billy Harper

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