- Phish Live in Brooklyn
Simple smiles and good times seem all wrong – “Sample in a Jar” by Coitus Terminus Phishius?
When You’re Not Dead Yet, Do We Still Mourn Your Loss?
Trey Anastasio sits alone backstage strumming his unamped Languedoc, candles light the Brooklyn setting. He works his way through two Undermind tracks. The setting is regal, moody, spartan, and, most importantly, depressing. There are no scenes of backstage footage of the four members lumbering through takes of new material or showing any of that old camaraderie. It seems rather obvious to state; however, this hip green room milieu is an accurate portrait of Trey as TREY and no longer the Gang of Four. Alas, that would have to take place on stage. Brad Sands, longtime Phish road manager and a solid Sancho Panza to his four Don Quixotesque charges, enters like he has hundreds of times prior and states those immortal lines, “Five more minutes.” Trey waits until his old friend is about to leave the room and then asks, “Five minutes, Brad?” as if he is running on comical autopilota scene like so many others that would soon come to end.
The former and future (?) band’s latest DVD release is from their opening date on their final run before what is coyingly now labeled their second hiatus. Breaking up is hard to do as the old song goes but Anastasio has foundas, perhaps, the others have as wellthat life after the breakup is much more difficult than the actual breakup itself (and that is not to downplay the thousands of hardships that Coventry wrought; in the end, drummer Jon Fishman said it best at the last gig in Vermont on that dark eve in August 2004: the fact that so many people walked miles to get to the placewell, isn’t that tribute enough for the soon-to-be deceased band?).
Enough of the pseudo-poetic prologuelet’s dig into the tasty Brooklyn feast.
As if on cuethe film opens with the one masterpiece jam from the final studio release, Undermind“A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” The wah wah synergy is there from the opening lick and the gem drifts into the ozonethe tragic implications that this bit of beautiful Phish-y wonderwall would not have a life after August is quickly dispelled as the band kicks into the tongue in cheek, “A Dinner and A Movie”a nod to the thousands ensconced in theatres across the States watching the first full-blown live theatrical viewing of THE PHISH (I was with the stoned and drunk denizens in the multi-plex in Coon Rapids, Minnesotaa motley yet jovial crew). “The Curtain (With)” follows and the Phab Phour is back into serious/awkward/notesy journeyman mode as they traverse its many intricacies and pattern changes. In Brooklyn, the song is a near epiphanyat Coventry, a final nail in the coffin. AgainAnastasio leads the band back into hoodwink zone by stroking yet another post-hiatus version of “Sample in a Jar.”
Suddenly, the phrase classic Phish’ returns to the literary idiom as an unexpected jam reminiscent of the IT Festival’s ambient excursions plunge into the mind’s eye_this_ is the DVD experience at its musical finest as the circus-y, color-looped backdrop on the Brooklyn minor league ballpark’s tableau emits surrealistic union with the whacked-out, fucked up beauty coming from the stage and rain-soaked masses. ALL of this wonderful madness is courtesy of a spectacular version of “Moma Dance,” which effortlessly segues into a funked-up Gordo-driven “Free” for a grand total of 25+ minutes. The rest of the set has another song from Undermind, “Nothing,” which produces just that and brings everything back down to earth before “Maze” and “Frankenstein” close the set.
On the second DVD, the band does a weird and well-chosen bit of career overview commencing with a stone hard and long ass version of “46 Days” that moves into “Possum,” visibly escalating the teeming drenched hippie/wook hordes to another ecstatic height. Not to be outdone by this GD “China Cat>Rider” second set opener from another dimension, they dust off the brief “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” before slamming into a Goth rock stampede through the outer reaches of ersatz Doomsville with a killer post-“Suzy Greenberg” jam, ala the rain epiphany of 9/14/00 at the neighboring Darien Lakes. “Axilla 1>2001” follows and the exotic and strange downpour laces the night into an odd mixture of old Phish stomp and new melancholic bliss. As if this wasn’t enough, a supercharged “Birds of a Feather” shoehorns some metal into the second set diet before humor is, finally, released. “Kung” is played for the nearby U.S. Open golf legions as Anastasio asks the crowd in appropriate “old Trey” format: “Which way is the Open?” and intones the silly lyrics to his stage right. “Kung” produces rare smiles from the band, which may be the only clear link to their pending breakup and the DVD’s main faultthe tension is quite thick on stage, much more than normal but, for the most part, this heavy aura somehow enhances the performances, giving them a rich subtext of mortal fate i.e. “Fuck it, let’s clear out some pipes and play some serious shit, tonight.”
Alas, an official debut DVD version of “Mike’s Song>Hydrogen>Weekapaug” continues ye olde Phish vibe but the band isn’t quite finished with that heady aura as they close the show with the welcome encore of the teary-eyed and ancient chestnut, “The Divided Sky,” again, for its neighboring New Jersey-rhombus origins and the continuing near-apocalyptic rainfall.
Get the DVD if you want to prove the point to any non-head that Phish did, indeed, finish on top of their game. However, most importantly, obtain the film to see why so many, for so long would endure the elements and hardship to watch a band for all the agesfrom a solitary candlelit icon in a lonely room to a peaceful squadron that built the ultimate monument to many lasting bonds of friendship. More, please.
_Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com