Saturday, August 29, 2015

Magnaball Friday 22 August 2015 @ Watkins Glen, NY

It's not an experience if you don't bring someone along, so how about we go together? Follow my steps:

1) Arrive in idyllic Western NY on Thursday afternoon. Effortlessly fly through check-in and security, because people are nice and everyone's here for the love. Throw your shitcarefully curated necessities into the tent. Grab a bag of free stuff, VIP style: 

2) Wander to the concert field; explore the Glurt Institute. Spot the glurt, pop the bubbles, and peer down the tube. Spill secrets into the big green ears.
A video posted by @baynetrain812 on

3)  Enter Club M and shake your tail feather to selections to anything from David Bowie to Bow-Wow. Sip on some Coconuts & Chloroform.
4) Salute the sun with hundreds of your closest Phishy yoga friends. Seriously pwn n00bs with extensive Phish trivia knowledge via Studio X.

5) Throw back a lemon-ginger wellness shot from one of the vegan vendors (make sure to put the frat boys to shame). Savor a Dirt Burger (gluten free veggie) at LoFo, the Syracuse-based pop-up restaurant specializing in locally-sourced fare. Charge your phone and extensive collection of portable batteries via solar power. Meet new friends while you wait.

6) Vaguely recall that everyone is all here for 7 (and probably 8) sets of music (wait, this isn't my new home?) Realize the party's right here.

No time was wasted on Friday as a 12-minute Simple kicked off the first set of the weekend. It was the perfect beginning: We've got it simple, 'cause we've got a band. I felt the same way. Trey led the group through an agile and melodic jam that was a little dark around the edges. Appropriate, considering The Dogs came next. It felt surreal to let myself get creeped out in the middle of a field on a hot summer night, but there I was. I love that the band has incorporated some of their new material from the Halloween album into this summer's shows. Throughout the tour, the songs have provided a catchy, instrumental base from which to launch an energetic jam. After the first few sound bites, I felt like I had landed in the middle of a heavy second-set jam.

Science Bunnies measuring our auras. Mine's green.
Free was particularly well-placed after the beautiful, nostalgic magic of TMWSIY (fugues have a way of doing that to you.) Mike's bass grounded as as we floated away through the progression of a bright, moving major chords. Free is such a powerful song, and I always feel a special blend of joy, freedom, and inspiration when I hear it. I must not be the only one...

After a warm welcome from Trey, he asked us as a crowd of a 35,000 to sing happy birthday to his daughter Eliza, who turned twenty that day. He told us that she is the oldest of the eleven band children and has been at every Phish festival! Afterward, she stepped onstage and hugged her dad. The whole thing was very heartwarming and made me realize that Phish is not just a band for hippies and drug-addled deadbeats anymore. Magnaball's crowd was considerably mellow and good-natured, and really it seemed like everyone was there to have fun. Maybe the vibe was because of the festival setting; only devoted fans would want to see 8 sets of Phish over three days.

An unexpected highlight of the first set was Mock Song, a slow, melodic Mike song off of Round Room. I had not been familiar with the song before that night, but have not managed to get it out of my head since. I wonder what the original intention behind the line "Clifford, Super, MagnaBall" was. The song was released in 2002, and the Clifford Ball, which was practically held in my grandmother's backyard in 1996, was far behind at that point. I doubt Phish had the foresight to name future festivals ten years in advance, but what do I know?

Then there was that soul-igniting Bathtub Gin. 23 minutes of unadulterated bliss. The jam soared and sang in certain places, totally enrapturing everyone. Phish took their time exploring what they could find within the song, and the patience and teamwork paid off. There are discernible sections where instrument effects and supporting rhythms turn a corner and take off in another direction, like when Mike starts dropping bass bombs and the crowd roars. Ultimately it's a cohesive, dynamic piece with focal points and melody (and, if you ask me, a foreshadowing of some of the musical elements of Saturday's Drive-In jam).

After it was over, I looked around and realize WE HAD JUST FINISHED THE FIRST SET. There were NO wasted warm ups or throwaways; this band had it IN for us. That juicy realization put a big smile on my face. 

The second set opened with Chalkdust Torture, which included a What's The Use? tease. The quietness that hits the music about 8 mins into the song is remarkable; for a moment, the silence becomes an instrument, letting the colors of the rolling drums and dark guitar tones fade away for a moment. Then, in the matter of a few seconds, Trey turns a musical corner by switching to the major key, swapping dark, sullen tones for light, nimble ones. We go with him. The move is decisive and quick, but not jarring. It's a novel way to watch the jam morph and flow. The band revisits this idea in the days to come...

Finally, we get to the funky, organ-heavy Ghost. Hate to say it, but the jam never really found its legs. There was a lot of resting on a single musical idea without much motion or melody. Am I going to be burned at the stake for saying that?

Things picked up during Rock & Roll, which was a welcome repeat from Merriweather the weekend before. Harry Hood provided good glowstick cues and a solid, rhythmically diverse jam. The recapitulation afterwards was particularly rich and moving, and provided the perfect segue into Waste. 

Waste was only one of the many soulful tunes Phish played this weekend (others include When the Circus Comes, Wading in the Velvet Sea, & Dirt). I have to imagine there was some sentimentality that came with playing Festival Number Ten, which was nicely captured with Waste. I always thought it was written for a person, but I get the feeling this version was intended for all of us.

We were all snapped out of sentimentality during No Men in No Man's Land, a 2015 debut.  The upbeat, funky song has become a hit with fans especially after the Mann shows, where a remarkable version was played. I am excited by the new material from this tour (also Blaze On, Shade, How Many People Are You?), which has proven itself to be versatile, catchy, and lyrically sound.

I really like one of the last phrases of NMINML:

but if you hold a mirror and you turn it to one side
the depth you see within at first, will find a place to hide

Slave to the Traffic Light closed the set. I always think of this song as a perfect set closer: it's meditative and gentle, guiding gently you into the silence that follows. The back-to-back organ and bass solos are so beautiful in this version. I also find the song similar to Free musically, and think the two should always be played together because they compliment each other so nicely.

Farmhouse served as the band's official welcome to us as the first encore of the night. Then First Tube brought up the energy as we all prepared ourselves for a spirited weekend.

Overall, Phish played a cohesive show nicely blended with both sentiment and meat. Re-listening to the show made me realize the music flowed continuously throughout the night, using the structure of the songs as mere placeholders and/or turning points. It was the telling of one musical epic poem, and the songs served as anchoring chapter titles.

Or...just call me crazy.

(Hi, Crazy!)