Thursday, May 23, 2013

Show #8: 7/10/99 E Center Camden, NJ

Highlights: Wilson>Chalkdust>Roggae, Bathtub Gin, Tweezer, Fluffhead
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:


There are so many great shows from the past 30 years. Shows with incredible jams, incredible energy, hi-jinx, theatricality, and that spirit of oneness that pulls the entire audience together for that one night. Some of the best shows are a combination of many of those attributes. We as a community are lucky to have an opportunity to see Phish in 2013, and are lucky enough to have that chance to see a truly great show... on any given night. You pick and choose the shows you are going to attend with the hopes that on that steamy night in Maryland in July, or that crisp evening in Denver on September 1st, your mind will be blown. You will be hugging strangers. You will be screaming until your lungs bleed. You will be one.

This particular show from Camden, NJ in 1999 is one of those shows. It may not have the huge ambient jams that propel the ambient jam grade to a 10/10, but it has everything a show needs to be a "great" show for the ages. Phish knows this show was THAT good, because they released it in the original run of "LivePhish" remasters.

SET 1: Wilson opener gets down and dirty real fast featuring a very heavy metal drone with distortion from Trey in the jam that leads to a solo with his reverse reverb effect sucking the solo notes back into the vortex. The distortion and feedback swells, Trey piles notes upon notes with the reverse effect creating a dizzying effect within the jam. Quick and powerful. Trey decides that having one first set opener is not enough. He opts to steer the band toward another first set opener in Chalkdust Torture. These are often the two summer rock openers that band uses to get a show started with high energy, and to stack them one on top of another is a sign of things to come for this show. The Chalkdust cools off a bit during the sing-song part of the tune, but Fishman keeps it up-tempo and drives the speed with his unrelenting snare hits. Trey finally gets to the solo and unleashes in his fiery late 90's Chalkdust style ...but only for a couple minutes. Then he just stops. Hangs on a two or three note combo and starts to stray towards a melodic jam unusual for a Chalkdust. He brings back some of his usual guitar runs for a few measures to see if the band wants to go back to rage mode, but quickly realizes that the Type II approach was much more fun. The journey finds soaring solo notes and whale calls (not fully used until years later). Trey uses the Whale Calls to surf the ambient backdrop painted by Gordon and Page like Bob Ross on Valium. Fishman keeps hammering the beat. Keeping the ship straight. Trey appears to be searching. Looking for something in the jam. Never satisfied. Then he finds the robot and turns him on. The robot responds with laser eyes and a chugging deep and symmetrical bass groove found in between the lines of an Isaac Asimov novel. Almost like a robot march to salvation. Page sets the alien landscape. Full invasion. The only escape can be found in the solace of Roggae which appears like a mirage in the alien desert. The Roggae takes over and steers the band into a slower, lower groove that floats perfectly as the third song in a hot set in need of a funky cool-off. Trey's use of the Leslie with distortion, as is typical with this song, sounds so perfect after the crazy Type II Chalkdust. Almost like a glimpse in the rear-view mirror at the robot behind, as the band journey's toward the delicate melodies ahead in the form of Page's fluid piano fills. The Roggae jam features more melodic playing by Trey over a droning ambient groove from Mike. Building the soft, floating jam into the harsh return of the heavy distortion power chords is such a perfect use of dynamics both in the song and in the set. While this Roggae doesn't stray too far from the conventional versions, it is the beauty of the playing and the placement in the set that really make it stand out. Set filler follows until we arrive at Bathtub Gin. This seems to be a very ordinary Bathtub Gin with your "meat and potatoes" Gin jam until the 11min 30sec mark. At that point Trey decides to go in a completely different direction, Page follows, and eventually so do Fishman and Gordon into a full on Spencer Davis Group "I'm a Man" jam. It is absolutely perfect. Funky. Upbeat. Driving. Like James Brown on his worst day. Standard Golgi Apparatus closer seems to say, "Keep your ticket; you are lucky you picked this show."

Set 2: Tweezer. One of the best feelings in the world for phans is a second set Tweezer opener. The band knows it, the audience knows it, something is coming... something huge. The song builds and opens up to the jam. Ambient loops. Clav with wah. Funked out Gordon bass grooves. Fishman on a slow burning funk beat. Trey starts the build with ascending high fret funk chords. 7th and 9ths in a slower, funked out Tweeprise climb. Then Page drops the alien synth clavs on top and you have liftoff. Then around the 14 minute mark the rug gets pulled out from under the band. Trey is back to minimal riffs and picking. Page waits and comes over the top with over-arching chords similar to the No Quarter intro but in a different key and chord structure. Fishman provides an ambient soundscape with cymbal crashes and tom hits. Gordon searches for a way to bring a groove to the jam as the ambient space bleeds through everything. It's wavy. The music is blurry. The sounds unclear. The jam drifts away into the ether. Feedback echoes and slowly dissipates into Mountains in the Mist. Solid takes on Birds of a Feather (with a notable break down jam at the end) and When the Circus Comes takes us to a tremendous Fluffhead with an excellent and always appreciated Fluff jam along with its epic peak ending. Not much in the way of ambient jams on the back half of this set, but great energetic playing none-the-less. An appropriate While My Guitar Gently Weeps>Tweezer Reprise to cap the encore and send the good vibes into the dark New Jersey night.

Link Saturday, 07/10/1999
E Centre, Camden, NJ

Soundcheck: Foam, Funky Bitch, Back at the Chicken Shack, Jam, Blue Bayou
Set 1: Wilson > Chalk Dust Torture[1] -> Roggae, Water in the Sky > Back at the Chicken Shack, Sparkle > Bathtub Gin[2], Golgi Apparatus
Set 2: Tweezer[3] > Mountains in the Mist, Birds of a Feather > When the Circus Comes, Fluffhead
Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps > Tweezer Reprise
[1] In Memory of Elizabeth Reed tease from Trey. Unfinished.
[2] I'm a Man (Spencer Davis Group) jam.
[3] What's the Use? tease.
Show Note: Trey was wearing a Mia Hamm #9 USA Soccer Jersey

Friday, May 17, 2013

Show #7: Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, MD

Highlights: PYITE > Free > What's The Use?, Mike's Song > Twist > Weekapaug Groove
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:


This show is just a glass half full. The first set is nothing to write home about... absolutely nothing to separate itself from average. Standard late 90's first set. Minimal jamming, no bustouts, same song rotation as half of 1998 - 2000, and an abundance of standing around waiting for something the happen. This was often the case for Phish at the end of 1.0, and I have a hard time understanding why they so often played it safe during those first sets. It was almost like they were playing Blackjack and got 15 almost every night and refused to hit. Ever. Phish just wanted to take a chance on the dealer busting, rather than take a chance of their own. No risk, no reward. And so it was for this Merriweather first set on a sweaty night in July.

The band came out dealing in the second set. Complete role reversal. They wasted no time and jumped into a set full of great jams - both ambient and otherwise - and dropped in a couple of old school fan favorite teases in Sweet Emotion and Spooky. They were dealing everyone aces and face cards.

Set 1: I do not advise you to waste time listening to this set. You have far too many other options, especially with

Set 2: Punch You in the Eye > Free > What's the Use? BLACKJACK! This is the good stuff. Front-loading the PYITE with a nice ambient tinged intro jam and then a solid version of Punch bled into an ambient & funk-filled Free. A slower than usual Free with swirling Leslie Speaker effects and light distortion created a nice ambient build around the song's signature structure.  Then a really slow bass bomb jam out of the structured section leads to a reverse delay solo from Trey with gorgeous texture and long note holds. A gorgeous, patient ambient Free groove that feels almost like wading through a big steamy bowl of Maryland Crab soup. Trey builds and builds until the return to the song is almost a huge release from the ambient funk prison. Jailbreak. The song fades as the feedback is sustained and looped quietly into What's The Use? A delicious trip to the supersonic ether leaves the audience meditative and ready for enlightenment. That enlightenment comes in the form of a lesson on the Meatstick from Trey and the boys, and a chance to lighten the heavy mood. But waste not, want not, and Phish dives into the shallow waters of the closing stanza of the second set head first with a MONSTER Mike's Groove. The Mike's Song comes out flush with spades at it wastes no time in getting to the jam, laying down the erratic loops and grooving over top. Trey picks, and comps, and flutters over top of a tight groove from Fishman, Mike and Page until almost the 8 min mark when the band drops the jam off the edge of a cliff. Slowly, slowly, slowly climbing back up. Quiet at first, then growing, the band pulls its jam back up from the bottom of the quiet ambient bliss. A few setbacks and almost stops before the audience takes over from the ambient unstructured collapse. The crowd claps in unison and cheers the band on. They are asking for it. The band delivers with the royal flush of teases: Sweet Emotion. The groove builds. Mike lays down the bass in an ambient almost Catapult manner as the band lays down the vocals all together. Trey takes a stab at the solo for about 2 measures, but reverts back to the Catapult-esque groove. Page drops some high end staccato keys on top. It gets funky and weird and finally devolves into Twist. Twist Around brings it's own baggage. Fan favorite. Known for great jams. The crowd gets to yell "Wooooo!" It's like the Rick Flair of the Phish catalogue. This one doesn't disappoint. It gets down and dirty. It gets Spooky (teases). Drops into an equally fun Weekapaug Groove. Bass to the face. Macarena teases. Show closing goodness. Oh, and a Harry Hood encore? Not too shabby.

Link Friday, 07/09/1999
Merriweather Post Pavillion, Columbia, MD

Soundcheck: Bug, What's the Use?, Sleep, Back at the Chicken Shack, Vocal Check, Funky Bitch
Set 1: Limb By Limb, Farmhouse, Back on the Train, Divided Sky, Train Song, Llama, Driver, Runaway Jim
Set 2: Punch You In the Eye > Free > What's the Use? > Meatstick, Mike's Song[1] -> Twist[2] > Weekapaug Groove[3]
Encore: Harry Hood[4]
[1] Sweet Emotion quotes.
[2] Spooky teases.
[3] Macarena teases and quotes.
[4] Closed with a Meatstick tease.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Show #6: 7/8/99 Virginia Beach, VA

Highlights: Fee > Jam, Stash, Birds of a Feather, Jesus Left Chicago, Simple
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:


This show is certainly above average in terms of its level of ambient jamming and artistic abstraction from the standard, but doesn't necessarily hit the peaks of Charlotte or Bonner Springs. It features a tremendous Fee > Jam that certainly ranks as one of the best extended coda Fee's in history. The Stash has a dark and ominous ambient jam with fuzz loops and demonic swirling undertones. The elongated Birds of a Feather provides a very rich take on a late 90's set standard - with a very ambient, layered "If I Only Had a Brain" jam. Simple flourishes with a delicate and emotional (and quiet) jam that features strong solo piano work by Page overtop reverse ambient loops from Trey. This Simple eventually goes full Squirming Coil walk off jam - which is quite a treat.

SET 1:
Standard Julius opener to get the crowd on their feet, but again the two spot steals the show. Fee is played with finesse and only minor lyric flubs and the band chooses to really spotlight Page early. The Fee jam that follows is everything you could want - repeated coda, slow build up, ambient spaciness, artistic levels of incredibly understated band interaction, and really wonderful drum and cymbal work from Fishman. The jam just keeps rising from its own ashes. Building, Strengthening, and Carrying the audience. It's actually Fishman who really keeps this 23+ minute must-hear Fee Jam going. The jam slows back down and Phish ever so gently fades the song out. After all is said and done Page lets the dust settle and seems choked up when he offers a simple, "Ok. Thank you." to the breathless crowd. The set flows along with standard fare until a very dark and delicious Stash breaks the monotony. This Stash has a really ambient, uptempo, minor dark and evil jam that pulls the set back up to the surface. A stomping Cavern closes an unbalanced set, with a Fee for the ages.

SET 2: A really strangely fun Birds of a Feather opens the second set with a solid ambient jam that takes a turn to the truly bizarre as the band starts to jam to "If I only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz. The band offer weird alternate lyrics to the song that seem to fit with the more ambient take on the theme than the music would seem to lend itself. A smoldering Jesus Left Chicago and a sublime Simple close out the set highlights. The pseudo triple encore provides the audience with both levity and double-fisted arena rock.

Thursday, 07/08/1999
Virginia Beach Amphitheater, Virginia Beach, VA

Soundcheck: Bug, You Enjoy Myself (partial), Magilla, Driver, Sleep, Dirt, Back at the Chicken Shack
Set 1: Julius, Fee -> Jam, Guyute, Dirt, Nellie Kane, Stash, Cavern
Set 2: Birds of a Feather[1] > Prince Caspian[2] > Jesus Just Left Chicago, Saw It Again, Sleep, Meatstick, Tube > Simple[3]
Encore: Terrapin > Hold Your Head Up, Character Zero
[1] Days Between jam from Page and Mike, several If I Only Had a Brain teases from Trey and subsequent strange lyrics from Mike and Trey, including an Uno reference.
[2] Unfinished.
[3] Ended akin to Coil, with each member of the band leaving the stage until only Page was left.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Show #5: 7/7/99 Charlotte, NC

Highlights: What's the Use?, Sneakin Sally, Wolfman's Brother>Maze, THE ENTIRE SECOND SET
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:


When any fellow phan asks me to recommend a 1999 show that demonstrates what I mean by "ambient jamming," I send them to this 7/7/99 mind eraser of a show. If they are with me at the time - in the car or at my home - I stop what I am doing and put on the 7/7/99 second set. This is the PERFECT ambient jam filled show from the era. Many, many other shows from 1999 have jaw dropping ambient jams and entire sets filled with incredible ambient improvisational jamming, but very few have the complexity and continuity of this two-set apparition from the steamy underbelly of America.

Highlights include almost every song played at this show and a brilliant special guest encore with Derek Trucks on Possum, and an incendiary take on Funky Bitch.

SET 1: Standard BOTT opener paved the way for Phish to drop What's The Use? for the second time in two shows. Clearly the band knew the power of the song and planned to feed off its cosmic energy. A celestial, time-warped journey through all of the particles in the universe, What's The Use? was a harbinger of how this show would unfold. A subtle, gorgeous version of Billy Breathes followed with patience and virtue in every note. A quick jaunt through MMGAMOIO lead to a first set stunner in Sneakin Sally sans vocal jam. Replacing the vocal jam in this understated but powerful Sally jam was the funkified soul-crushing bass rips of Mike Gordon's insane slap bass line over Trey's tasteful solitary note and staccato chord loops. The ambient layers of the background in this jam are less fuzz and more like a swarm of bees being charmed by an ancient pungi, or bin, from Jaipur - controlled by all members of the band at once (snake charming reference). Bringing the energy back up with a top notch Axilla>Rift, Phish gets ambient and spacey at the end of the Axilla with Fishman talking over the fuzzy distortion in a way that fits perfect with the ambient vibe. Wolfman's Brother follows with a slow-paced, summer-calypso-blues-groove. A perfect first set addition that ambles to a low key ambient transition to Maze. Maze gets a head start with the ambient layers and loops out of Wolfman's and eases into it's relatively standard song setup. Slight ambient distortion from Trey adds to the sublime buildup at the end. And a Loving Cup set closer which almost felt like an encore at that point.

SET 2: For the first 8 minutes of this set, Phish builds an ambient jam out of nothing and builds the disarray to such a heavy fog that the crowd is both mesmerized and befuddled. The tension builds, and builds, and builds, and builds, until it bursts into 2001 at the 8:03 min mark and the crowd erupts. A 14 min ambient journey ensues and rain drenched crowd loves being a part of the steamy mix. Trey's feedback loops through the Leslie speaker creates a palpable ambient backdrop as the band takes time to alter the jam with slow spacey breakdowns (around the 16, 18 and 19 min marks) as well as building the swarm of bees for the final crescendo. I find this version to be the perfect ambient 2001 from start to finish. The dissonent breakdown that follows drops the band into the murky depths that imply the start of a Down with Disease. DWD pulls the band from the depths and soars to the surface as Trey grabs the platform and shakes the listeners with fire-breathing guitar licks on top of Fishman's breakneck tempo. Nothing close to ambient, but a wonderful juxtaposition to the nearly 23 min 2001. Waisting no time, the band seeks to return to ambient bliss but on a lighter note with a tremendous Toe sandwich. My Left Toe>Wading in the Velvet Sea>My Left Toe is a gorgeous, thought-provoking float among the clouds. This My Left Toe sandwich is a meditation on existence and our need for connections to everyone and everything. The lighter sister to What's The Use?, this MLT is a wonderful way to bring both songs to life in separate sets within the same show. Understated and the perfect cool off mid set. A well placed Bug and YEM end the set in true late 90's fashion.

ENCORE: Derek Trucks smoke-show slide guitar for Possum and Funky Bitch provides the final lift of the evening.