Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Shows #11 & #12: 7/15 & 7/16 1999 PNC Bank Arts Center Holmdel, NJ

PHISH AMBIENT JAM GRADE 7/15:  9 out of 10 
PHISH AMBIENT JAM GRADE 7/16: 4 out of 10
Listen Here: http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1999-07-15
Phish.net Phan Reviews: http://phish.net/setlists/?d=1999-07-15


While so many shows we attend leave us feeling a variety of emotions, we often return to the shows that we enjoyed the most. I admit that I listen to (and defend) the shows that I attended much more than shows that have only heard through tapes and LivePhish.com recordings. At 100+ shows, I feel like I have a pretty large sample size from which I can draw these emotional attachments for the use of reviews. There are amazing facts about memories and re-living moments that your whole body experienced that goes way beyond hearing music on playback. Reliving those experiences is part of what makes listening to Phish so incredibly powerful. When it comes to listening and reviewing shows for a blog, you get a chance to immerse yourself into shows you never attended or re-live shows you did attend. Shows that you loved, shows that were uninspiring, shows that were "perfect," and shows that carried the emotional baggage of your own personal journey.

This brings me to the next phenomenon: the PAPER TIGER. We are all guilty of judging a show by its setlist. The age of the internet allows communication to flow so rapidly that we get setlists in real time and judge a show as it is taking place. This was not necessarily the case for normal people in 1999. Setlists would pop up the next day or a few days later online (if you had internet outside of your college campus), but with limited information. Tapes/CDs would circulate weeks or months later. CD burning trees would allow you to send blank CDs off to be burned by phans in other states and then you would wait for the return burned copy in the mail. Shows were judged quickly by a setlist or word of mouth - or both. A show with a huge bustout or new cover or crazy theatrics was initially valued higher than a show with an amazing jam. Plus, jams were longer back then so it seemed like every show had a 20+ jam after a song. Paper Tigers are shows like 7/16 with the Born to Run encore. Huge bustout cover in NJ with a special guest - initially thought to be Bruce himself! That was the initial word on the street - by regular phans (not hypercritical uber fans) - that 7/16 was a crazy show.

I didn't attend these shows, so I had no clue, because I had done a whole bunch of the Southern and Midwest Runs of this Summer Tour. I got burned CD's in the mail a few weeks later and I listened to the 7/16 show and thought it was great. I ignored the 7/15 CDs because there was so much music to listen to, that I didn't make time to listen to 7/15.

When I finally heard 7/15 I was blown away. This was "the show" from that Holmdel run. Rivaling only Oswego in the East Coast run that summer as "the show." Obviously it's all up to interpretation, as everyone is looking for a different vibe and a different energy and a different experience. 
The highlights from 7/15 are era defining highlights, and the highlights from 7/16 are just that show's highlights. That is the difference.

Set 1: Punch You In the Eye > Ghost is just a killer 1-2 combo to start any show in any era. This Ghost is a bit faster and more energized than your usual Ghost and it gets the crowd going early. The spacey ambient textures that Trey was putting into the mix seemed to drive the jam in the more aggressive ambient jam style that had been seen in various other jams that tour.  Instead of a slower, mesmerizing "What's the Use?" style ambient jam the band was looking to tap into the variety of ambient jams available in their growing arsenal. As the band slowed down the jam at the end - as if an animal running in slow motion - you could tell they were locked and loaded as one propulsive unit. The remainder of the set was fun and high energy - no letdown - and it was capped off by an explosive YEM that allowed the tension and release of the whole first set to burst through everyone's synapses.

Set 2: Meatstick > Split Open and Melt -> Kung -> Jam
This is the only Meatstick that I put on regularly. This ambient Meatstick jam picks up right at the end of the shenanigans around the 11min mark and just drops into an ambient groove with hovering spaceship sounds by Page, staccato slaps by Gordon, and Fishman working to stay with the crowd claps as a time signature. Trey just sort of floats above with ethereal runs and harmonics from the Whammy. A really nice drone that builds on the Page keyboard weirdness and is the combination of ambient and funk that phans really love. Why have one without the other? Phish says you can have both... The jam simmers down and feedback builds and Fishman drops into 2001. Then Mike says, "No!" and drops the Split Open and Melt baseline within a few measures of Fishman's 2001 beat. Fish doesn't care, he's just going to make the 2001 beat work for SOAM. Trey thinks it's hilarious and cannot stop laughing, can't keep up with the lyrics, and is clearly distracted by Fishman refusing to change the beat. Eventually they get to the chorus and Fishman yields. They race through the composed section and just all want to get to the jammy weirdness as fast as possible. But even as the jam starts it feels rushed, then it stalls, they seem undecided and locked into a mediocre-at-best groove. Then about 7 mins into SOAM they flip a switch. Fuck this. They are not going to plod along in some non-directional jam. They are going for it. GOING FOR IT! Trey gets nasty and weird and the band follows. They rage for a couple minutes and find a deep ambient blanket to pull over everyone's eyes. Get inside. Everyone come closer. KUNG! FROM THE HILLS! FROM. THE. HILLS!!!! It gets super weird inside the blanket and the band finally releases the tension into a screaming jam over an ambient base of fuzz and feedback and uber weirdness. The JAM that comes out is an incredible example of the ambient jams of that era. Trey gets on the keyboard for some Peruvian pan flute for a brief interlude, but quickly recognizes that he needs to be on the guitar. The rage builds for a bit, but drops into a dark and creepy place akin to the 12/30/12 Carini. Although, not like the super low tones of the NYE12 Carini, but more of a horror movie creepy. Trey creates a "rusty swingset" loop over Fishman and Gordon's reprise of the SOAM coda. Then Page goes Thelonious Monk on the piano... it just breathes.... it is ambient, yet directional and defined. Trey adds some Wes Montgomery to Page's Monk. The ambient textures swirl. Gordon and Fishman keep it in the SOAM space. It's as weird and beautiful as it looks on paper.... the opposite of a Paper Tiger. Epic in the actual sense of the word.

Set 1: I cannot review this substandard boring first set of music. Not worth anyone's time.
Set 2:  Also Sprach Zarathustra > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
The 2001 everyone was waiting for comes out to play. Great run of songs. They don't make Mike's Grooves like this anymore. Ambient and flowing right through the I Am Hydrogen into an excellent Weekapaug. It is great. Listen to these 4 songs from this set and enjoy. Maybe check out Tom Marshall pretending to be Bruce Springsteen for a laugh, but remember why you are here and it's not for Springsteen Karaoke.

Thursday, 07/15/1999
PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Soundcheck: Lady Madonna, Have Mercy, Mountains in the Mist -> Dirt -> Mountains in the Mist, Guyute (part), You Better Believe It Baby
Set 1: Punch You In the Eye > Ghost > Farmhouse, Horn > Poor Heart > Axilla > Theme From the Bottom, I Didn't Know, The Sloth, You Enjoy Myself
Set 2: Meatstick > Split Open and Melt[1] -> Kung -> Jam[2] > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture
Encore: Brian and Robert, Frankenstein
[1] Began as 2001 and was unfinished.
[2] Shine (Collective Soul) and Split Open and Melt teases from Mike.

Friday, 07/16/1999
PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Beauty of My Dreams, Dogs Stole Things, Limb By Limb, Billy Breathes, Vultures, Back on the Train, Maze, Cavern
Set 2: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove[1], Simple > Guyute, Loving Cup > Golgi Apparatus
Encore: Born to Run[2]

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