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Columns > Preaching on the Porch - Benji Feldheim

Published: 2006/04/16
by Benji Feldheim

Methadone for the Music Junkie

It was a pleasure to encounter metal heads at Phish shows. What testament is truer to the crossing-worlds aspect of live music bestowed upon humanity by the Phour from Vermont? People talk about genre loyalty, but aint no crowds got more fight for their right to worship their genus quite like the metal heads and punks. The punks, rabid about music as they are, cant quite seem to get down with all those notes being played. But metalyesmetal done right has everything to do with instrument prowess. Even mosh pits are not so removed from this scene. If done in true spirit, the pit is a safe and agreed-upon place to let out some anger and share that release with those around1. Only a few assholes are actually trying to hurt anyone. Take away the anger versus happiness element and both scenes are all about community. Seeing folks clad in black boots and Metallica t-shirts at Phish shows was an indicator that the scene is not so easily described as hippie or more so today, jamband. Before you, dear reader, roll your eyes at yet another rip on the namesake of this here site, know now thats not the idea. It is time to embrace going one step further to describe the bands within the scene, and point out the actual sound made by the groups. After that is done, call the scene whatever the fuck you like.
Last month, David Steinberg pointed out once again the frailties of the modern scene fans from the codger perspective of a Dead and Phish fan who saw 313 shows. Steinberg made sure to point out exactly how many shows hes seen, in case anyone had the audacity to question his credibility. Mazel Tov, D-Stein. If you could only hear my golfclap My impression of this piece is that yet another thing thats wrong with todays scene is people are now trying to deny the jamband-ness of favorite groups. Frankly bud, I believe there was a crystal clear passive/aggressive/Lamars Limp Wristed Throwing style slap at my fellow Umphreaks:
_Sometimes, they’ll even redefine the term ‘jamband’ so that their favorite band falls outside of the definition, e.g. ‘Umphrey’s is really a prog band, not a jamband.’ _
He certainly doesnt lie. UM fans, myself included, do say this a lot. But why is that such a bad thing? And is it really out of shame, orforward thinking (cue orchestral-shock music: dum-dum-DAAAAAAM)??
History has shown many times that a theory may sound stupendously progressive, and in practice it might begin as such but does not always maintain such a course. Organized religion may have had smatterings of control and repression, but Id say in the beginning the theories had elements of a method to ensure that people treated each other well. As time has passed, one could certainly argue that aspect has drowned in many forms of religion, but the idea of nurturing community lurked somewhere. When the endgame turns for the worse, its time for a revolution, hence Martin Luthers work.
Jamband music implies an open-minded approach to the business and creative production of music, particularly in a live setting. Yet now as a genre identifier, it suggests looooooooooooooong solos played in a couple of keys over a danceable beat. For people enough into music to even hear the term, but not in so deep to actually have gone to a festival or seen a show, that pairing of words creates a very limited image. So, if we, the fans into this scene enough to brag about catching hundreds of shows or defend the prog nature of Umphreys sound, get off our smug asses and actually tell people what exactly the bands in this scene are doing, well get some eager recruits who arent just down to get gorked on acid and sway like a twitter tree to the groove.
On a personal note, Ive heard too many from the old Dead and Phish crowd knocking Umphreys. Why are you so threatened by the Midwest Six? The way the scene is today I dont think any of the third or fourth generation will get to that kind of crowd. Phish got me started. They were the first band I ever saw live, and still love their music. But the reality is that the crowd swelled to the breaking point right after Garcia died. Their steady growth until then had everything to do with their talent and fan appreciation, but without Jerrys death happening when it did, chances are theyd still be touring right now without having to deal with the excess burden put on. Groups like moe. and Umphreys are examples of a burgeoning middle class. They can tour in a bus and go across oceans for audiences, but still have not reached that gargantuan apex of fans on their own. Thats why we have so many great festivals of varying sizes now, as well as double bills and many other combinations leading to sit ins and furthering the spontaneity of the music. Since the scene is now spread out among many, no single band must carry the massive weight that accumulated on the Dead. But know this Dead fans did not ruin the Phish scene. Rather it was the hangers-on looking for nothing more than drugs and maybe some easy sex. Its that exact element that comes from under-appreciating the complexities of the music, and we facilitate that by not really talking about the true nature of the music. It is not incorrect to call Umphreys a jamband, but any solid multiple choice test will always make you choose the best answer. So ask yourself: if you are describing a band and all you can say is jamband, what do you say about that group? Chances are youre saying they are merely following a formula done by others, and they fucking suck.
Methadones job is to give people enough of an opiate buzz so they stay off heroin. Leaving a description of a band to something as vacuous as, they jam is like methadone, it just doesnt give people ZANG! Cook with an array of spices when telling potential groove slaves about your favorite bands.
Folks who get off on their own superior attitude about the scene need to realize we dont have ownership of the term jam. The word was used a long time ago by jazz musicians, and when those players jammed they couldnt give fuck if anyone liked the music, or could dance to it. They played raw emotion when that word first was used. Does that happen now, or do groups just want to please the crowd? Maybe if they didnt have to live up to people only describing them as a jamband, balls would grow and music go even further. Ultimately the musicians playing are the ones responsible for the outcome, and the choice is theirs to push or to go with tried and true methods. But we can help by stepping up how we spread our word of mouth.
Times have changed Dave, yet I bet we agree that this scene still exudes a warmth and community like no other. But theres work to be done. We can either learn from how only the surface aspects of stupid fun became more widely known about the Dead and Phish than the music, or it can happen all over again. Bonnaroo became a lost cause the moment they decided to spend money on useless garbage like motorcycles riding in a ball cage instead of more water stations and sanitation, so good riddance as it gets farther from the core. No hate for the jam scene from me. I see nothing wrong with gettin down to the sounds of a solid jam. I just dont want to sell the scene short this time.
Oh, and by the way, if you still got doubts about Umphreys, just listen to the last track on Safety In Numbers and then try to tell me again what kind of band they are.
1. At Brians behest, I saw the Dropkick Murphys in Tampa Bay about seven years ago, and spent the first half of the show debating whether or not to fling into the pit. I got the nerve and ran in, only to be barreled back out by two elbows attached to a three hundred pound skinhead. Right as my motion abruptly changed, a guy was on all fours right behind my knees getting back on his feet after a similar strike to his body. I fell over him, and my head hit the floor. The twirling, chirping birds cleared from my sight and lo and behold the Big Ass Bald Guy was smiling at me as he grabbed my shoulders and brought me upright. After a few smacks to my face to get my eyes looking in the same direction he asked, Hey, you all right? I thought about it for a second and said, yeahcaghhh (throat clearing), I mean YEAH, FUCK YEAH!!! Back I went into the pit, a little more bruised and a lot wiser.

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