Spend a Couple Hours »See Phish

Phish at MSG 12.3.2009Fall/ Winter 2009 Tour

There’s a real difference between armchair analysis and actually being a part of the crowd, and when Dan and I saw Phish at MSG the other night, the experience differed, as you can probably imagine, rather tremendously from listening to a bunch of MP3s on Nugs.net.

I hadn’t seen a Phish show since Astrid and I went our during our last year of school – practically another life: this was back before the Providence Civic Center was re-christened Dunkin’ Donuts Center – so I was a bit out of step and a couple things struck me right away.

First of all, the music is front and center – for hours. Without a cluttered desktop full of stuff to do, Outlook’s auto-receive scheduled for every 3 minutes and, of course, coworkers, there are relatively few distractions (though there are definitely a few distractions) and the takeaway isn’t in the details (obviously you can’t scrub back to that amazing moment at 12:39), but the entirety of the experience.

Ebb and flow, tension and release, lighting effects and glow-in-the dark-bracelet-throw-cues; the whole thing kind of melds together, laying bare the structure nearly every song adheres to and the band’s truly unique sound-vision. Absolutely no other rock act so successfully fuses what is essentially contemporary jazz, good old fashioned crooning, traditional rock blues, tone-based alien landscapes, overly ambitious college-level compositions and unadulterated white, duct-taped-brimmed embroidered collegiate cap funk. After a couple of hours the distinct aural experience becomes more than familiar.

‘Precocious’ may seem like an unusual descriptor for someone who’s a well established virtuoso, but the personality of the playing, which I can best sum up as kind of a nerdily frustrated musical theory major (they’re just not teaching what I want to learn, dude) who happens to be super into showing off (which I guess probably isn’t all that unique a character combo), makes for alternately sublime and confounding music.

The continual escalation, the nearly infinite ratcheting up of every song, results in one ‘Can you believe I’m even playing this?!’ moment after another. This can go one of two ways: it can blister and ultimately kind of numb, like the incredibly intense David Bowie that closed the second set, or it can truly wow, like the breathtakingly necessarily over-complicated Fluff’s Travels, which was just absolutely stunning to behold as the band navigated its way through what felt like dozens of sound-scapes drawn in cartoony broad-strokes, literally turning on a dime several times a minute.

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Posted on December 6, 2009