Over our last five-or-so shows, my wife and I have developed this bit. Leaving the venue, deep in contemplation, I will abruptly turn to her and declare that the show we just saw was “The best show I’ve ever seen”. She will then laugh at me and remind me that that’s exactly what I said after the last show. I’ll go quiet again for a few more beats while considering this information, then finally respond with a decisive “Yeah, but still…”
Truth is, I am a Phish lightweight. I’ve seen 52 shows, but 50 of them were post break-up. Of the first two, the first was pedestrian, 2/25/03, and the second was excellent, 7/30/03. But as high a bar as that second show set, it wasn’t historic. It wasn’t legendary. It was just a really great 2.0 show. Compare that to @guyforget, OPT’s scholar-in-residence and upstanding member of the Phishtelegensia, who chanced to catch 4/3/98 as his fourth show. There is no comparison. For Guy, as for many of the elders, “was tonight’s show the best show I ever saw?” is not something you’d reasonably ask yourself.
I am also a lightweight in the traditional sense that small servings of drugs for others are like lots and lots of drugs for me. I am a three beer and three puffs kind of fan. When I indulge further, as I did last night, the nerdy/analytical/blogging section of my brain tends to become overwhelmed by the sensory/dancey/weird-thoughts section. It’s at these times where I am most susceptible to the “best show ever” thoughts, which at that point have little or nothing to do with the actual music that was played.
This rambling preamble (pre-ramble?) is all just to set up the fact that I think last nights show might have been the best show I’ve ever seen. For realsies. But because my doors of perception were blown clear off their hinges last night, I’d like to conduct this review in the form of an internal investigation, to see if in my sobriety I can separate out what actually happened from what it felt like was happening. And no, I will not be relistening to last night’s show, because that would be cheating. To the tape (in my mind)!
Things That I KNOW Happened Last Night
There was a Phish show on Randall’s Island. Randall’s island is an insane place to have a Phish show. The vibe was a mix of refugee camp, festival, regional food market, and, oh yeah, New York fucking City. NYC is all around you on Randall’s, from the Manhattan skyscrapers behind the stage to the Queens skyline and the steady stream of traffic in between. Yet, it still somehow also feels like you’re in one of those middle of nowhere locales where Phish festivals used to happen. It’s really weird.
An 18-minute Gin happened…IN THE FIRST SET! This was so unexpected, and it blew me away so thoroughly, that I rendered completely inarticulate. There’s even proof, via my twitter:
Ummmmmmm, thank you? #phish
— Jonathan Zimmerman (@TheRealZimShadi) July 12, 2014
Still, when I opened up Livephish this morning to check the runtimes, anything between 10 and 27 minutes would have been credible enough to me. With the sun still shining, it felt like an eternity. A blissful, 18-minute eternity. A 19-minute Disease happened. As far as facts go, that’s about all I can say.
Things That I THINK Happened Last Night
I think Trey’s playing during that Gin was absolutely bonkers. There was a minute in there were he broke off this old school rapid fire riff, and I became instantly depressed thinking how young Trey would have repeated the melody over-and-over to a glorious peak, while old Trey would quickly move on to something with less arthritic potential, causing me to have to contemplate the passage of time and frailty of man and other bullshit. But then he did it! It could have been 20 seconds or it could have been a minute, but he just keep going, repeating the machine-gun phrase over and over. This felt momentous, and I’m pretty sure it actually happened. I think there was more evil-Phish last night than just about any show I’ve seen, especially in the summer. With this new cornucopia of prolonged jamming over the last nearly two years (I mark the trend beginning from Dick’s ’12, but reasonable minds can differ), the one element still mostly missing has been the dark, psychedelic, prolonged improv. We get small tastes of it here and there, but it’s always followed right up by an anal suppository of sunshine, a’la 7/3’s Limb>Winterqueen. Last night seemed different to me. The set closing Stash set the tone, and the second set mostly followed followed suit, save perhaps for Golden Age and some wooing. But I think that was some of the darkest jamming I’ve seen over the course of a show. I think. I think fans don’t know what to do during the opening verses of Fuego. They’re so excited. They’ve learned all the words and they’ve been singing along at home. Part of them wants to belt it out so badly. Another part of them realizes how weird it to sing “I’m a Sailor’s Girl” in a public setting. During the “Vlad the Impalar” whispered part, you can hear scattered people yelling the words out louder than the band. And it sorta makes sense as an anthemic, “I love to to take a bath” kind of moment, except it ruins the whole whispering effect. But I’m nearly certain this did happen, and I’m curious to see how it resolves itself as the song settles in to the rotation.
Things That I THOUGHT Happened But Recognize Now Probably Didn’t
I thought that Disease was the greatest thing I ever heard. Upon further reflection, it probably wasn’t. More likely, it was right in line with the other great jams so far this tour, the style of which seems to be a lot of abstract melodic movement between Trey and Page over fairly consistent rhythms and a conscientious effort to avoid many of the peaks that highlighted this past fall and summer tours (but not so much the NYE run, interestingly). I think this style is eventually going to lead to something amazing, and the band’s refusal to just “turn on the hose” and unleash those climactic moments that have become so easy for them to produce is admirable. I remain awed by the their commitment to constantly evolving. But at this point, there’s just so much going in every jam, and it’s not quite coalescing into the same sustained energy of many of fall’s highlights, even though the inventiveness is amazing. I though that Stash was significant. Like, one of the darkest, mind-fuckingest, most abstract ones I’ve ever seen. This might still be true. But more likely it was simply above-average. For me, Stash is like Antelope in that every one you see is the best one you’ve seen, no matter what state of mind you’re in. Like purchasing a gun, I should be given a waiting period before I’m allowed to talk about either of those songs at the show.
Things That DID Happen, But I Still Can’t Explain How
During second set, my friend started talking to me about LeBron James going to Cleveland, only I hadn’t heard about it yet and didn’t believe him at first. Somehow, between work and getting ready for the show and all the excitement on the island, I hadn’t checked my phone once. As soon as he clued me in, I started listening to the groups of people around us and realized that all of them were talking about it, and likely had been for a while on I completely didn’t realize. That is a surreal feeling, and added to the weirdness of being on an island in the middle of nowhere surrounded by everything. Some of those listening at home seemed to think there was a lot of midterm jam aborting going on last night. It didn’t feel that way to me at all, but you should probably trust their judgement. For me, jam abortions are only really a thing when there’s no longform exploration in the set. Complaining that Fuego was aborted after two nearly 20-minute excursions feels a bit like German fans complaining about that one Brazil goal.
At the end of Cavern, a guy in front of me pulled off his shoe and held it high in the air. He did this so casually, I have to image he’s done it before and will continuing doing it. If you happen to be standing in his proximity next time the song is played, and you witness this incredible act, please give him a message from me:
Ummmmmmm, thank you? #phish
— Jonathan Zimmerman (@TheRealZimShadi) July 12, 2014
In conclusion, last night’s show was excellent and everyone should listen to it. It was clearly the best show I’ve ever seen and will ever see. Until tonight. Because in the end, we’re all sailor’s girls. And the best is yet to come.
Follow Zim on twitter: @TheRealZimShadi