This edition of Tales of Mental Tangle is a special one. Tangling with me this time around is Scott Bernstein, a superstar of the Phish community. You know Scott as the editor-in-chief of YEMblog, which is a must-bookmark for any Phish fan, and Hidden Track, which is just as indispensable for music lovers of all stripes.
But soon, you will know him as a guru of Hood. Scott and I matched wits over two monumental versions of the song that took place in Florida in October 1994. The latter version, from the 10/23 Gainesville show, was so good that it was included on A Live One; the former, from 10/20 in St. Petersburg, was so good that it could’ve been the next track on ALO and I don’t think anyone would’ve complained.
Arguing for 10/20/94 Hood: Scott Bernstein. Scott’s two favorite versions of Harry Hood apart from the two we’re discussing today: 12/31/93 and 4/18/92. See below for downloads.
Arguing for 10/23/94 Hood: Guy Forget. Favorite Hood apart from these two: 8/10/97. Honorable mention to the underappreciated monsters from Summer ’03: 7/18 Alpine Valley, 7/25 Charlotte.
The Hard Evidence
We put together a compilation of all the Fall ’94 Hoods, including 10/20 and 10/23. None of the others are on the same level as these two, but they’re all worth hearing. 10/29 and 11/12 in particular are excellent. Download it.
Download Guy’s and Scott’s other favorites (4/18/92, 12/31/93, 8/10/97, 7/18/03).
Opening Thoughts: Guy Forget
Both of these Hoods – and really, Fall ’94 in general – are a case study in the endless variety of improvisatory paths a band can take from point A to point B. Between their minimal beginnings and explosive ends, these two jams take on an incredible array of different volumes, textures, and moods. Likewise, the transitions between these different sections, executed in equal parts by all four guys, are frenetic but completely in control – a combination that I think makes this period the peak of the band’s improvisational skill.
The Hood from St. Petersburg on 10/20 is a great example of this controlled freneticism. It’s explosive, it’s long, and it goes up and down more times than I can count. But the relative compactness of the Gainesville version from three nights later is a large part of why I prefer it. It has much of the dynamism and energy of St. Petersburg. But while the 10/20 version can at times feel like it’s wandering, 10/23 almost feels composed: each of the jam’s twists makes sense, and each is executed with precision.
Opening Thoughts: Scott Bernstein
Let me start by saying we’re debating the two best versions of Harry Hood, so while I favor the 10/20 version I do feel the ALO take is a close second. One of the reasons my esteemed colleague gives for his preference of the ALO version – less wandering and the feeling that the jam is “composed” – are exactly the reasons I favor The Mahaffey Hood. The quartet felt its way through the St. Petersburg take more organically and were oh so patient in weaving in and out of grooves. This sense of adventure can be felt through every minute of the 10/20 Hood jam and the audience tape shows off how the crowd was hanging on every note.
For the ALO Hood, the band sticks with a straightforward approach until the jam reaches its peak. All of the sudden, once the peak has been achieved, around the 11:30 mark, the boys connect to take the tempo down a bit and use some of the lessons learned from The Mahaffey Hood to deliciously climax the improv once more. As cool as the double peak was, neither climax reaches the intensity or passion of the unprecedented four-minute peak found in the best Harry Hood of all-time: 10/20/94. Has Trey ever played a run of notes as quickly, accurately and as passionately as during the 17, 18 and 19-minute marks of The Mahaffey Hood? I say nay, my friends.
I think you make a great point in mentioning the “lessons learned” between the two versions. During Fall ’94, the band was experimenting like they never had before, and the results were not just isolated moments of greatness, but growth.
More on that in a second. But first, your point about these being the two best Hoods ever brings to mind a question: have any two consecutive versions of any other song ever been arguably the two best versions ever played? I can think of consecutive great versions – e.g. 7/1/97 and 7/3/97 Ghost – but no best-evers.
Back to these Hoods. I fully agree on the end of 10/20: the last four minutes are about as good as Hood gets. Now bear with me as I take this to the music theory classroom. Around 17:00, Trey is playing a gorgeous rapid-fire triad, and Page plays around a C-G-D progression (the Hood jam is D-A-G; it’s not uncommon for Page to use the C-G-D in Hood). Mike stays on the D, and this is the key: it builds tension, but also anchors the jam. Over the following minute, Trey and Fish start freaking out over Mike’s and Page’s restrained playing. It all comes to a head at 18:10, when Trey goes into hyperspeed, and then, WHAM–at 18:15, he bends a note, and the entire band resolves the tension by going into the D-A-G progression over a steady 4/4 beat.
Like you said, the playing here is incredibly patient, even as it explodes with energy. And I think patience, and the ability for each member to understand when to exercise self-restraint and when to let loose, is the greatest lesson they learned over the course of ’94. It culminated in the 12/29/94 Bowie, which had all the wild unpredictability of that fall’s Tweezers and Bowies, but was more composed than any of them.
Of course, the extended jams of Fall ’94 are known more for their impatience: the band’s propensity for bouncing from one crazy idea to the next like a musical superball. When this works, it’s quite a thing to hear. But plenty of times, it’s interesting without being great. And I think the section from about 13:45 to 15:00 of 10/20 is one of those times. That might be the key to why I prefer 10/23: though it’s safer, it’s also flawless.
Back to Scott
First, in response to your question about two contenders for the “best-ever” versions coming right behind each other, I’d put up the 11/30/95 and 12/02/95 Tweezers, but I digress. While, yes, interesting and great don’t always go hand in hand, I feel The Mahaffey Hood (TMH) is an example of an interesting jam that IS great. And while my previous response focused on the jam, I’d also like to plug the beginning of TMH which features Page using both a synth and clav, Mike pushing his band mates rhythmically and melodically and Fish keeping the band from getting too far off on tangents.
Now, you mentioned in regards to TMH that “the last four minutes are about as good as Hood gets” – glad we agree. Yet, while the peak is dare I say…epic, I think all of the exploration and tension-building that leads to the peak is what makes the climax so magical. Our first hint that something special is happening starts as soon as the jam begins. Trey gives Fish, Page and Mike more time than usual to establish a groove before making his presence felt with a series of beautiful riffs. The quartet connects on delicious melodies and toy with the tempo throughout the first few minutes until everything changes with one note. At the 10:22 mark of the Hood on the audience version that circulates via the Phish Spreadsheet, Big Red hits on this dissonant note that changes the whole tenor of the improv. Trey seems amused with himself and keeps focusing on that dissonant note, building major tension along the way. His band mates respond by pushing in other directions and we get a mix of the typical “pretty” Hood soloing with more dark moments that are rarely found within Hood jams.
That brings us to the 13:45 to 15:00 mark that you’ve noted is “interesting without being great.” While I’ll admit that 75 seconds is a bit meandering, it’s essential to the “blowing the roof off” that occurs afterwards. The Mahaffey Hood takes listeners on an adventurous journey and while every second isn’t mindblowing, the jam in its totality deserves that distinction.
Guy’s Last Gasp
The Tweezers are a good call – 12/2 is obviously a contender for best ever, and 11/30 is phenomenal, even if I prefer a few others (Bomb Factory, the Fall ’94 monsters, 12/6/97, and 2/28/03, in case you were dying to know). If anyone else can think of any consecutive monsters, say so in the comments.
On all those moments you mentioned from TMH, I fully agree. The beginning of the jam in particular: as he did on 10/23, Trey employs some combination of effects – maybe just turning his volume down and his reverb up – that a friend once described to me in high school as making it sound like the band is playing inside a metal can. Also, I love how, at that moment you mentioned at 10:22 where Trey hits the flat-fifth, the audience gets really pumped. Phish fans are tuned in.
I agree that the tension and discordance improve the quality of the journey, not to mention the impressiveness of it. I guess what it comes down to for me, in comparing these two jams, is whether the uniqueness and variety of 10/20’s arrangement outweigh the flawlessness of 10/23’s. I think nine times out of ten with Phish, I’ll take uniqueness and variety. But in this case, 10/23 is just so strong from start to finish that I prefer it by a hair.
Scott’s Final Words of Wisdom
Phish came up with an inventive approach towards Harry Hood on October 20, 1994 in St. Petersburg which resulted in an adventurous jam filled with top-shelf improv. Three days later, for Phish’s next attempt at Hood, the quartet went back to the well and used some of these techniques to finish off a similar jam in Gainesville.
As with many things in life, moments at Phish shows are often better the first time around. Combine the originality of the 10/20 version with it taking all four factors of the scientific Daft Punk scale (Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger) and it stands as the clear winner when matched against the 10/23 Hood.