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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2003/08/28
by Patrick Buzby

The Tweezer Review

A Picture of Nectar was my second Phish purchase after the bug bit with Rift back in ’93, and when I reached "Tweezer," I knew a long and eventful musical relationship had begun. Granted, the intro has always frustrated me a bit (too long and repetitive), but once they get past finding Uncle Ebeneezer, the potential is sky high, and the song was a portal for many discoveries back in those days of my initial fandom, up through summer ’95.
Since then, the song has seen its times of peaks and valleys, sometimes serving as little more than an interlude in a mix of greater events (11/22/97, for instance), and while I was happy when Trey first busted out the opening riff in my presence at Alpine 98, the thrill wore off a bit when he also did so at each subsequent Alpine visit through the hiatus (including the infamous 99) and my only Rosemont visit to date. Still, when Phish initiated the downloads system, I couldn’t resist the temptation to snag every Tweezed show, and I now present the first edition of the Tweezer Review (the post-hiatus report).
Phish made it easy on me in the winter, only playing the song three times and offering substantial, set-opening versions each time. The summer hasn’t played out so neatly; five versions, but only one over 20 minutes. The shows from that tour that I’ve heard seem to be long on hard-rocking energy but low on exploration, and the Tweezers (and Mike’s Grooves) look to be in the early-90’s mold in paper; so far, they’ve also sounded that way on disc. (Haven’t heard the Gorge or Atlanta yet.) However, surface appearances may be deceiving. Check back in a few months.
Meanwhile, some thoughts on the winter Tweezers, and the shows that bore them:
Interesting to see Benjy (and, to a lesser degree, Jesse) pretty much give the Holiday Run the thumbs down in these pages. The rust clearly hadn’t slept for Phish, but the "46 Days" from 1/2 quickly established itself as one of my all-time favorite improvs from them, and many of the other tunes offer some cool, non-routine twists. However, the first set from 1/3 shows the wear and tear especially starkly, culminating in the notorious "We know this song so fucking well" YEM botch, after which things start perking up.
The Tweezer starts incredibly slow, almost painfully, with very sticky Trey fingers, and there’s a ridiculous breakdown before the second round of "it’s gonna be cold" where the band sings like a bunch of drunken stragglers. The band settles into an equally slow groove around 6:00, but there’s something kinda seductive in the way they all get into the lethargy without a fight. Even when Trey works his way up to the top of the neck by 11:00, there’s a weary feeling. Back around 7:50, Page offers an unusual Tweezer flavor in the form of a mournful, almost Pink Floydian organ that seems to hang over the entire rest of the jam, especially after the others subside at 12:00. A couple of minutes of quiet drone finish it out, changing keys to pave the way for Theme. Not a jam I’d use to turn my friends onto Phish, but it’s different.
This seemed to be one of the most frequently dismissed winter shows, but while the vocal stuff is forgettable, set one ends with a generous triple shot of mellow jamming (Waves/Simple/Jibboo), and the Round Room pair at the end of set two is equally nice.
The jam starts with some gentle thematic Trey picking over a guiding piano, but the most notable passage starts taking shape around 9:00 when Trey settles into a repeated "A" which Page and Mike work around. For a long stretch (roughly 10:00-15:45), the music has the feeling of a stormy sea voyage, with effects-laden swelling Trey exclamations and Fish riding his china while Mike starts working off the others with rapid patterns. Trey starts leading again at 15:45, and they work their way back towards old-school rock-Tweezer territory, but it’s that earlier passage that sticks with you, and could benefit from isolation a la the Siket Disc.
One of the most famous shows of the year so far, and deservedly so: good playing, generous setlist. Definitely the sharpest Tweezer "head" of these three, although nothing too surprising other than the ending, when Trey seemingly loses control and spews Ebeneezer effects while the others have returned to the Tweezer groove.
At first, the jam seems like it will follow the same pattern as 2/20, with similar tentative Trey leads at the start and the same style of effects at 10:40. However, at 11:00 Trey snaps out of that mode and offers a chordal theme (A min, G, D) which the others work off for a while. It subsides quickly, too quickly (11:30), but at 12:40 the key shifts to D, and Trey eventually works out a theme, coordinating with Mike at 14:00. They ride this to a peak and subside by 16:55, but at 17:15 Fish suddenly goes to double-time and the band finds a new wave, still in D, somewhere between "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking" and a "China-Rider" transition jam. They build that over several minutes, and at 22:00 they peak with a I-III-IV-I theme (think "Do You Feel Like We Do"), before subsiding again at 23:30. Like 1/3, there’s a few minutes of sustained droning and key-changing to end (they’ve been doing the collective key-change trick well this year), leading to Soul Shakedown Party. The only Tweezer so far this year to top 25 minutes.
The two February versions combine to give a sense of what seems to have been the order of the day on this tour: subdued jams with gradual shifts. Without taking notes as I did, one might hardly notice the way Page ventures all over his multi-keyboard setup, or how Fish’s switches from the hi-hat to the ride and back demarcate sections. However, they seem to be making bigger discoveries in the randomly-placed jams, such as that first "46 Days," than in this old warhorse.

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