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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2005/10/12
by David Steinberg

A Fresh Perspective

It started at Horning’s Hideout. I went down there in August to see
String Cheese Incident. The first set, while not the best thing I’ve
ever seen in my life, still managed to bring back that feeling. At a
time when I was starting to wonder if I would ever experience that again, it felt great to be in a headspace where all there was was the music and me.
The interesting part of the show though wasn’t that set. It was the
other ones, the ones that I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by. I
looked around the crowd during the show. I saw some incredible hula
hoopers. There was a guy named "Mr. Fun" who was lending people all
sorts of toys. People were in elaborate costumes and set up huge
camps designed to maximize eye candy. Even the rituals seemed
powerful and intelligent. I was surrounded by people whose goal was
to try to make sure that everyone was having a blast. That’s when
the question occurred to me – would I even want the music to be better?
Taken to its extreme, of course, the answer is an obvious yes. I’d
much rather see 1973 Grateful Dead or 1994 Phish than anyone currently
playing. However, those aren’t options right now. With that in
mind, I’m not sure I’d want minor improvements. The weak lyrics and
occasional bad song formed a barrier. If you couldnt handle the
relentless positivity, you would have no interest in going. I know
this first hand, because I’ve been occasionally blocked out by the barrier myself; I’m right on the edge of those who can enjoy a String
Cheese Incident show. Looking around at the energy created by the
crowd, I could honestly say that I was perfectly happy with the situation as it was.
I kept that attitude going a few weeks later. Gabby La La and
Particle were playing Seattle. Like String Cheese Incident, both of
them get a lot of crap, most of it underserved. No one calls them
the Next Big Thing™. That’s liberating in a way.
A lot of bands these days – Raq, Tea Leaf Green, and Umphrey’s McGee,
for example – are being hyped by their fans. While that’s a natural
reaction to being blown away by a band, it also sets the expectations
way too high. It’s hard to keep the quality of music in perspective
when you’re constantly hearing that the band playing the bar will be in sheds in two or three years.
My expectations thus tempered, I discovered that Gabby La La was incredible. No, not in a "She’ll be playing Madison Square Garden by
2008" sort of way. It’s just that she was herself in a way that few
artists allow themselves to be. She was going to tell her jokes and
her stories and wear her cool clothes, and maybe you’ll like it. If
you didn’t, oh well. All of the Next Big Things have this pressure
on them to constantly grow their crowd and to never disappoint their
fans. Ms La La just was having fun on stage playing some cool
Particle continued that theme. I couldn’t ever imagine going on tour
with them or anything, but that wasn’t the point of the show. What I
saw reminded me of why I started seeing music in the first place. No
one ever woke up and said, "Hey, I want to throw away all of my
vacation time and disposable income. Anyone have a good obsession
for me?" It starts much simpler than that. It’s about going out for
a night and being able to enjoy yourself even in the face of bad news; the Particle/Gabby La La show was the night before Katrina hit landfall.
For those of us who felt the compulsion to follow around a band that no longer exists, it’s somewhat weird to think of music as a mere form
of entertainment. Traveling around the country to see a band
stopped being a novelty and started to feel like the normal way of
existing. When the object of obsession goes away, it’s somewhat
natural at first to just try to replace it. No more Grateful Dead?
Hey, look, Phish! Phish broke up? How about Perpetual Groove tour?
At some point a band might get huge again. In the meantime, let’s not
force it [1]. Let this generation of bands grow up naturally. Maybe
it’s time to stop looking for that Next Big Thing and start focusing on the many little things.
[1] This obviously is addressed at those of us who have been searching for a new band to get obsessively excited over. If you’ve found one already, this doesn’t apply to you.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor
for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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