Perusing Phish ’09
I now have an iPod. I held out for a long time, and the small music storage unit with the big capacity hasn’t reshaped my listening habits as much as I might have expected from other folks’ testimonies. It’s had its benefits, though.
A lot of my music comes by download these days: live recordings, promo stuff, out-of-print records on blogs. Before the iPod, my practical options were either to burn a CD of this material or sit and listen in front of the computer, which wears thin. Now, it is possible to take the music to other environments, evaluate and, in many cases, delete after a few listens. One could also do this with a CD, but it’s easier when you don’t need to create and discard new physical objects each time out.
One set of music that I’ve been hearing in this iPod fashion is Phish’s 2009 shows. In March I heard some of the free Hampton SBDs, and they sounded like a band re-exploring its classic repertoire, and doing so with an enthusiasm that was often absent in their previous comeback. Not a lot new, though. Following the setlists in May and June and reading some reviews, it seemed like the story remained similar. But, of course, reading setlists isn’t enough, although, after hearing as much Phish as I did in the 90’s, it can be edifying.
So I’ve listened to most of two shows, Camden and Asheville. They played most songs well. The “Tweezer” set two-closer at Camden and the Fishman segment in the middle of Asheville’s first set showed creativity. The Asheville “Ghost,” although more of a Trey-solo-with-accompaniment than most Phish jams since ’97, sounded, at least after one listen, like one of the better improvisations I’ve heard from them. And there are new songs. Out of those, two, “Kill Devil Falls” and “Alaska,” sound like the band may be carving out a fun secondary identity as purveyors of a lighter and more self-deprecating variation of Southern rock (as did a few first-comeback songs like “Mexican Cousin”). The rest seem about as pretty and as full of hard-won middle-aged wisdom as those of the Dead’s Built to Last period. And, like those Dead songs, I’m not sure how often I’ll listen to them except to get to more exciting songs sharing the same set.
That said, the pleasure is hard to resist. Four players, attuned to each other and in full interlock mode. Gordon’s interweave with Anastasio’s lead lines, Fishman’s choices of when to play time and when to try to prod the others to mix it up, McConnell’s underpinning of it all. It is a sound that should stay alive. Back in 2003-4 when the band was playing, I remember that it was nice to think that another 30-minute “Tweezer” could be available by the next morning. They seem to have abandoned that for the time being, so I’ve revised the thought: it’s good to have more chances to hear that sound.
For now, though, the two shows are in my one-listen-and-out category. Perhaps not permanently, though. I found some freeware to load iPod files back to my computer if I want to burn to CD. And, as I write this, the second leg of summer Phish is a week away, so perhaps there’s a change in the story coming soon.