Ten Years Gone
Peaches En Randalia #53
“Are you with me so far?” is a phrase uttered by Ted Nugent, the Motor City Madman, on his 1978 Double Live Gonzo! album, and it is an almost perfect six-word summation and question for the entire adventurous live genre known as jamband music, as well. That sense of the journey (well, I’ve covered this subject before—hasn’t anyone writing about improvisational music? Ahh…a new twist?), the chance that something spectacular happens along the path on the road, the Great Unknown, the first and infinite frontier, where one takes an opportunity to glide within space, defines a soul, doesn’t it?
I move forward (or is it backwards?) through time, and reach 2000. Indeed, Ten Years Gone. Hard to believe it has been ten years since Phish’s final summer tour before their first of two hiatuses (thus far, of course; although, one suspects that once Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell step away next time, that will be it). Phish was burned out after fifteen years. The slow arc of their incredible trajectory had hit some high peaks from 1993 through 1999, but reached a monster zenith in the second set at a little millennium gathering for 90,000 at Big Cypress on December 31, 1999.
Phish would spend most of the first two months of 2000 completing the Farmhouse album, which had begun in full force in the fall of 1999. Indeed, the band created one of their most focused works with the studio album, perhaps third behind Billy Breathes and Junta in terms of works that seemed to feel natural, definitive, complete, and unique—the fab four buzzwords of any quality piece of art expected to stand the test of time. But if Phish had been able to do what many jambands—well, shit, many bands, in general—had not been able to do—produce a handful of quality studio albums, their modus operandi still, clearly, centered upon their live work on the stage. It was here, post-Big Cypress, where the band continued to ride on their adventurous journey, bringing along thousands of barefoot children dancing on American lawns.
The four musicians also hit Japan for their first headlining tour (and only, to date), and blew newly crisp Asian minds by exploring the outer edges of the jam. Underline that. Let’s be clear here—it is the jam that interests me, and I would say it is the one thing that interests most fans that have followed Phish for decades. In Japan, more often than not, and in front of American tourist fans too, the band cut through their sets with a fine diamond-cutting precision that defied any logic but their own. By the time they returned to American sheds, they were set, and oblivion beckoned.
And it is in the American summer, June 24, 2000, in Atlanta, where the Vermont Quartet would conjure a new muse out of their collective Pandora’s Box, that the band locked into such a behemoth groove on “Tweezer,” that its 26-minute length holds up to numerous listens and scrupulous scrutiny in a way that somehow, ten years on, one wonders whatever happened to that band, that PHISH that sought the Great Unknown, explored the outer edge of what a band could produce, and occasionally offered the eternal question of all legendary explorers—“Are you with me so far?”