“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”
-A quote variously attributed to Frank Zappa, Martin Mull, Elvis Costello and Thelonious Monk
Last week, as the band raged through three days of music in Watkins Glen, this website provided reviews the next morning, as we had for the first leg of summer tour. Guy Forgot handled nights one and three, and I wrote up Saturday’s four-set bonanza. Things ended up getting heated in the comments section, with a big sticking point being that neither Guy nor I were in attendance, instead we were listening from afar. It got me thinking though:
To review, or not to review?
Some folks are staunchly in the “don’t review a show you didn’t attend” camp, while others felt that reviewing the music without any additional distractions was the most effective way.
Obviously both positions have their merits. Phish is a multi-sensory experience, and there’s really nothing that can capture that moment when the band walks on stage, a jam hits its peak or you finally get the rare tune you’ve been chasing. The way the smoke wafts from the lawn in the late evening breeze, or the subtle echo off of the back wall of a hockey arena can give a tune an added boost that just can’t be found elsewhere.
That said, sometimes the sound is terrible, like on Merriweather’s lawn. Sometimes the people you’re with can ruin your show much quicker than a botched transition or an aborted jam. Sometimes the complexity of the playing can be missed among the din, other times the song selection can leave you cold enough to miss some hot playing.
The moral of the story is this: trying to use mere words to describe America’s most incredible rock and roll band can be a fruitless endeavor, so let’s not worry about it too much.
There are an infinite number of places to listen to the music of Phish, and just one of them is a Phish show. Now, of course, that’s the preferred venue, but oftentimes that just can’t happen. That’s okay, because as much as Phish can be an escape, real life often intervenes. I listened to the secret set live on the Bunny through a pair of headphones while my sister’s newborn snoozed mere feet away. I would’ve loved to be in Ball Square with the rest of the tribe, but I wasn’t. That didn’t make the music any less exciting to these ears. In fact, that psychedelic hour seemed perfectly suited for the sensory deprevation of headphones and a late night.
The thing is, my relationship with Phish has always hinged on only two things: me and Phish. That’s it. Along the way there have been folks who have shared my passion, and folks who have scoffed at it, but that doesn’t affect me or the music. That relationship belongs strictly to me. At the end of the day, the act of listening is an incredibly intimate experience and can be profoundly moving. That’s why two different people can listen to the same piece of music and both be profoundly moved… in opposite directions.
I don’t endorse one side in favor of the other, and just think there is a lot of room for reviews of all varieties. In my time writing for this site, I’ve come to appreciate the unique way my compatriots process Phish. In many ways, these guys have a lethal ability to dissect moments so specific that it leaves me scratching my head. Guy and OPT can be so focused on a single lick, I sometimes wonder if there’s a place for my “and then the crowd goes ‘woo’” take on things. But of course there is. There’s a lot of room on this internet, and within this scene, to look at Phish from all angles and in all ways. That the Phish community has its own press is one of the things that I think clearly defines it as a community of its own.
A quick look around the Phish-o-sphere shows a diverse range of opinions, and different ways to look at Phish. I like reading OnlinePhishTour’s take the next morning, just as I enjoy Mr. Miner’s, Dog Gone Blog’s, and Coventry’s (my personal fave) among others. If that doesn’t satiate me, I can even wander onto PT or any other number of message boards to see what their take was. I’m not looking for answers though, because nobody can speak definitively about something as ethereal as music. What I’m looking for is color, of which there is plenty.
The great thing about Phish is that they just refuse to be put in a box, whether put there by the media, the phans or themselves.
The idea that there’s any one way to enjoy/review/experience a show just seems laughable to me. Don’t let anyone tell you how to enjoy Phish, and when you do find yourself in disagreement with someone else, relish that there is room for that discussion. It’s one of the many things that makes Phish the best thing going. Besides do you really think fans of (insert band that’s obviously much lamer than Phish) care this much about their lame band? Of course not. Phish rules. WSP sux.