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Published: 2001/12/19
by Mark Carbone

Judging Oysterhead: A Response

I felt compelled to throw my two cents into the "Judging Oysterhead" ring.
I hate to single anyone out, but it seems that some of the ideas expressed
by Todd Justus in his Jambands review of the 11/2/01 show were somewhat
typical of many folks in the "anti-" camp, and I wanted to voice my
frustration about the whole thing. Because of Trey’s involvement in the
project, it appears as though many heads go to the show expecting some sort
of derivative of Phish music ("not enough exploration, not groovy enough,
not enough setlist variation, etc, etc."). Not only is this naive, it is
blatantly unfair and inappropriate. You wouldn’t say, "Neil Young with
Crazy Horse is ok, but it didn’t have enough four-part harmony and acoustic
guitar as CSN&Y." It’s like comparing apples to oranges. In the same sense
that Neil isn’t ATTEMPTING four-part harmony when he is rocking out with
Crazy Horse, Trey is not trying to re-create a Phish vibe in Oysterhead’s

A prime example is from the review of 11/8/01 (sorry, Todd):

"Given the strengths of the Frog Brigade and summer Trey Band shows,
Oysterhead suffered by comparison. And I don’t think I was the only one that
felt that way. It seemed that the people wandering out of The Aragon were
more interested in where to go next instead of re-hashing the show, an
uncommon mindset in a post-Phish show mob. Everyone seemed happy to be at a
show – any show – where Trey was playing, but the general reception seemed
to be lukewarm. And as I read glowing review after glowing review, I have to
ask myself if we are indeed this desperate for a Phish-related fix. Where is
the (sometimes overly) critical ear and lofty standard we held the band to
in its prime?"

It’s quite obvious that Todd attended the Oysterhead show looking for a
"Phish-related fix" and was disappointed not to hear it. Is that any
surprise? What "lofty standard" are we holding Oysterhead to? Does that
standard include funky, noodley, 35 minute jams? I have had a great love of
Phish music for years, however my goal in attending the Oysterhead show was
not to hear that style of playing. I needed an Oysterhead-fix. And on it’s
own terms it far exceeded all of my expectations. It was the most
exciting, fascinating, and unique music I have heard in a very long time.
From the opening notes it was obvious that they had their own GROUP sound
and there was a REASON why the three of them have collaborated so much this
year. It was outstanding music of the highest quality. But it wasn’t
Phishy, and for this reason it was bound to disappoint. To Todd’s credit,
he did acknowledge in his review that it may have been an "off" night for
him and/or the band.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should like Oysterhead. Not everyone likes
Gov’t Mule. That’s the nature of an eclectic music scene – some of it you
will enjoy, some of it you probably won’t. If you are not jazzed by heavy,
bizarre music, Oysterhead might not be for you.

My confusion is more with the TYPE of criticism that has been leveled at
Oysterhead. Why disregard the music altogether just because it doesn’t fit
your expectations based on your knowledge of Phish music? What happened to
Faith in the artist? There is a REASON why Trey chose to explore this
music! If one is indeed a fan of Anastasio as an artist, wouldn’t one allow
at least some degree of faith that a format that he has delved into so
enthusiastically might be a worthwhile listen? When Phish launched into
Talking Heads’ "Remain in Light" on Halloween in ’96 many of the heads in
the audience were puzzled and/or disappointed, not really having been
exposed to the Talking Heads sound. Needless to say, in a matter of minutes
most folks in attendance were scraping their jaws off the floor. True, the
sound was different, yet it had a profound effect on Phish music and Phish
fans for many subsequent years. Personally, I was thrilled with the
performance, and it dawned on me at the time that it really boiled down to
my faith in the choices of the artists. Because I had such an intimate
enjoyment of Phish music, surely there was a good chance that I would enjoy
some of the same music that they had been influenced by over the years.
Since then, I’ve become a huge Talking Heads fan, in many ways because of
that experience.

Ultimately, I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones. I was so thoroughly
floored by the quality of the Oysterhead show that at the time I couldn’t
imagine how any rock and roll fan could not be impressed. I was so excited
to hear something so fresh and different – I was beaming! As I have always
preached when I hear friends debating music (i.e. Phish vs. Panic), if you
aren’t moved by a particular band’s music, who suffers as a result? You do,
of course. How lucky for the people who are inspired by all of this stuff!
I wish that I had more of an ear for hip-hop. If I did, I would have a lot
of great new music coming out that I could dig into. But, unfortunately for
me, I don’t. On the other hand, I have a great friend in my Jazzfest Krewe
that can be propped in front of literally ANY stage at the fairgrounds and
he is smiling ear to ear. He is genuinely psyched by any great performance,
regardless of genre. Point being, folks who are critical of a style of
music simply because they don’t have an ear for it are really suffering
their own fate. I would just hate for this criticism to influence a person
who has not yet heard Oysterhead for themselves. Of course, this is all a
moot point because Oysterhead is now finished with the tour, possibly never
to tour again. But I still wanted to illustrate this point because
listening to music is a very subjective experience, and the jambands scene,
above all others, has always seemed to embrace the adage that "variety is
the spice of life."

It’s ironic that Trey’s involvement in Oysterhead is ultimately what caused
many jamband fans to not give the music a serious listen. It just wasn’t
what they EXPECTED from him.

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