Swimming with the Phishes
Thanks to Bobby for inviting me to see Phish at MSG in NYC on the night of December 29th this week! Here’s what I thought…
Known for being an unabashed, shameless Critical Asshole, I tend to trash more movies, theatre, and concerts than rave about them. Hating art is as much fun for me as loving it since I get to gleefully pound my chest and growl like a gorilla throwing shit inside a filthy zoo cage. Hearing myself rant is almost as much fun as annoying the hell out of everyone around me when I do.
Anyway, all my expectations for hating Phish were annihilated within about twelve seconds after the house lights darkened at Madison Square Garden this Thursday night. Not only did I love the entire concert, but got the added thrill of being exposed to an entirely new live music experience that for years I had flippantly dismissed as hippy jazz played for Grateful Dead zombies.
Instead I was astonished by more than three blissful hours of nonstop sensory overload. Dosed on several varieties of Extremely Dangerous Drugs generously offered by Phellow Phishsters, my trip got better and better as the band’s two amazing sets blew the doors off the arena, continuously embellished throughout with a jawdropping light show that’s without doubt best in the biz.
Expressly designed for active participation within a whirlwind psychedelic experience, Phish music and their adoring minions are in a class by themselves. The band’s zeitgeist is the opposite of Top 40 radio, more like Frank Zappa played at 300 decibels suffused with hallucinogenic drugs, tie dye, glitter, funny hats, and the inexplicable sharing of Uno cards and donut swag.
The music is weird. The people are weird. The atmosphere is pure, unmitigated joy. Songs are a bizarre mash up of freewheeling improv, syncopated polyrhythms, heavy metal power chords, saloon piano sing-a-longs, groovy lounge music… The key changes and stylistic leaps are surprising, ridiculous, and masterful. The band often goes over the top just because, only to top what they just topped.
Behind the seeming sonic chaos and relentless indulgence are musicians in complete control of their performance. Their approach is…