Spacetime Funk

holy-islandWith the next episode of LOST coming tomorrow, I figured we’d do a little time traveling of our own.  Let’s hop in, fire up the flux-capacitor, harness 1.21 jiggawatts of electricity and be on our way back to 1988.  August 6th, 1988 to be exact.  Upon vanishing from 2009, and skidding into the past, we find ourselves flux1amidst the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  We land in the small town of Telluride; a ski town during the winter, but, for us, it is a fine summer night.  It feels like we were brought here for a reason- but what is that reason?  The quantum puzzle is a bit overwhelming and we just need a beer to relax for a minute.  Taking a turn down the nearest street, we ditch into the first bar.  It was called “The Roma.”

Sitting at a table, we order a few drafts.  But before getting them, we notice a thumping groove coming from the stage behind us.  Turning around, we are struck by the absolute dorkiness of the musicians, yet the music is good, no it was better than good, this shit is funky!  These guys are…Phish?!

telluride-town-centerAs our side-effects dissipate from the journey through space-time, we figure out we have been summoned by an old-school YEM jam to this very bar, but why?  When is the last time we have actually listened to 1988 Phish?  Maybe that was part of the answer?  All these existential thoughts are quickly wiped from the forefront of our mind as a huge groove takes over the bar.

The jam is laid back, very relaxed- almost like a half-speed YEM from the future.  But what stands out is the patience of such a young band and the way they use each other’s musical ideas to further their own.  They might be young, but these guys have the chops; they can play.  Forming some truly funky rhythms during the beginning of the jam, Trey sits way back and let phish-colorado_88_bMike and Fishman lead things out of the gate.  Page provides the lead melody in the form of large organ swells, while in the background, Trey smiles that goofy smile and begins throwing down a series of exact rhythm licks that we would come to love and know by heart nine years later.

Trey remains in the background as the other three direct this jam’s initial course.  But when Trey slides into the improv, he begins to wail some signature YEM leads with authority over the already fat groove.  All of a sudden we are smack in the middle of a raging YEM and Gordon begins to assault us with huge bass bombs, digging in far deeper mid-jam, launching the explosives into the small audience without concern.  The music far out-sizes these tiny surroundings as the band brings the YEM to a soaring peak- eighties style.

The drop into Mike’s bass solo lasts only a short bit before the rest of the band hops back into the mix, engaging in song-ending antics where Trey and Fish straight go batty.  As the two improvise lyrics such as “Baby! Baby! Baaabay!” and shouting “Good God y’all!,” all of a sudden, we are witnessing a legitimate old-school Phish freak-out!  The band emerges from this absurdity with a funky groove, different than then the previous jam.  Before getting a chance to acclimate to the jam, Phish shifts right into “Cities” without missing a beat.  Hearing this version that doesn’t sound all-together different from the versions of the late ’90s, a thought begins to stir inside your head.

While Trey sings the song as a twenty-something rather than a forty-something, the music behind it is still so slammin’!  All of a sudden, you find yourself carving out a slice of dance floor and bumping to the infectious beats.  This band was going somewhere- you knew that- but now you knew why.

p07074ew206As the second verse ends, Trey and Page begin a shrill pattern that departs from “Cities,” while Mike and Fish create a uniquely Phishy groove beneath them.  What the hell was going on?  You’ve never heard this before.  That is correct, this is a full on raging “Dave’s Energy Guide!”  As soon as you realize it, boom!  The band slams back into the full speed grooves.  And people say that Phish funk started during 1997!?  Ha!  This was funky as hell.  Phish had played funk all along!  Just as quickly as this crazy experience happened, the band slammed on the breaks, ending the song, and the 25 minute multi-dimensional experience.

25smAs we begin to join in the applause with the rest of the intimate bar, we feel a force drawing us backwards towards the door.  We try to stay, but we can’t; someone or something won’t let us.  As we are pulled though the doorway, we drop a couple twenties on the ground to settle our tab, as we hear Phish start up “Take the A Train.”  Once outside, we can barely hear anything at all.  What was the point if we couldn’t even stay for the second set?  The show had just started!  Hmmm.  Something strange was afoot at the Circle K.

As we are pulled back into the DeLorean and sped back to the future, the reason for this escapade dawns on us.  Someone wanted to send us a message, and the message came loud and clear.  Phish didn’t get funky on Halloween ’96.  Phish didn’t even turn funky in Hamburg, Germany on March 1st, 1997, even though they made an album out of it.  Phish were born funky.  Now we understood.

hw77The myth goes that Phish was a band that didn’t play dance grooves until their seismic transformation in 1997.  However, go revisit any show from any year, and I guarantee that you will hear echoes of the late ’90s ring true.  While the cosmic magnifying glass was certainly placed on whole-band groove come ’97, this was something Phish had incorporated into their music from day one. Well, at least since that crazy “YEM > Cities” in 1988!  That much we now know for sure.

LISTEN TO 8.6.88’s YEM >CITIES NOW! (Roll over songs and click play.)



7.23.88 “Pete’s Fabulous Phish Fest” Underhill, VT SBD < LINK

phish_logoKeeping with the theme of both yesterday (“Mike’s Groove”) and today’s of old-school improv, here we have a three-set Phish extravaganza from 1988 that features the public debut of “Mike’s > H2 > Weekapaug.”  All of the early classics are found somewhere within this marathon gig. Check out very young versions of lots of your favorite songs.  Ironically, this SBD recording will be passed onto Pete, the host of the party over 20 years ago!  It’s a small world.

I: Intro. Jam, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Lizards, On Your Way Down, AC/DC Bag, Possum, Walk Away, Bold as Love, No Dogs Allowed

II: The Sloth, Fire*, The Curtain, Terrapin, Run Like an Antelope, Satin Doll, Blue Bossa, La Grange, Alumni Blues, Peaches en Regalia

III: You Enjoy Myself, Contact, Harry Hood, Dinner and a Movie, Slave to the Traffic Light, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Good Times Bad Times

Show billed as “Pete’s Fabulous Phish Fest.” *With Peter Danforth (host) on sax.

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112 Responses to “Spacetime Funk”

  1. harrisc Says:

    Wax Banks,

    Re: “Sorry if you took that personally”

    Are you also sorry if Miner takes this quote from your blog personally?

    “You can grab the show in mp3 format here, courtesy of the enthusiastically hapless Mr Miner (who has impeccable taste in Phish shows/jams but seemingly no vocabulary whatsoever with which to talk about them, like many a ‘phan’).”

    Or perhaps you’re going to spin select parts of that as well? Classy!

    Since you’re obviously fishing for inbound traffic, and I actually don’t mind dissenting opinions (if they’re intelligent, that is) I even wandered over to your blog. I was hoping it would be a decent read and that I’d reluctantly have to admit to enjoying it. Instead? Meh.

    Nice try, though – good luck with that.


  2. Mr.Miner Says:

    “frenetic pre-97 just isn’t on par with late-90s”

    ^ To say “Pre-97 frenetic Phish” is lumping at least four eras of distinctly different styles of playing into one.

  3. Wax Banks Says:

    ^ Correct.

  4. Wax Banks Says:

    Last 97 vs everything else point: I’d argue that the lads played their old ‘jam vehicle’ tunes as well in 97-98 as at any other point in their careers – I like certain songs better in their mid-90’s incarnations (sure, Reba), but Bowie, Hood, Stash, Mike’s, Foam, Jim, all found new life post-Remain in Light, particularly Stash (I’ll take 7/2/97 over any other version but that’s maybe an idiosyncratic choice?) – yet they weren’t transformed into funk tunes. Honestly I prefer a 12/30/93 or 12/31/95 Mike’s to, the Summer 97 stuff, and by 1999 Mike’s Song was boring me out of my skull, but the slower tempos and patient group playing really did bring a lot out of the song. Less satisfying, more fulfilling.

    AC/DC Bag, Tube, Gumbo – all benefited from the funk infusion but constitute a separate category of song, I’d say.

    Since you’re obviously fishing for inbound traffic, and I actually don’t mind dissenting opinions (if they’re intelligent, that is) I even wandered over to your blog. I was hoping it would be a decent read and that I’d reluctantly have to admit to enjoying it. Instead? Meh.

    No, I don’t need traffic. Why would you suspect I do? There are ad hominems and then there are limp, lazy, tired ad hominems, man. Come on. Sorry you felt ‘Meh’ about my writing. As for the quote about Miner, will you take it at face value if I say this isn’t the place to discuss it further? Suffice it to say my compliment was heartfelt, and my criticism was if not definitive then at least honest – and I’m happy to back it up, though I doubt you’re anxious to hear more on the subject.

  5. R1 Says:

    Wax Banks,

    I found your writing to be insipid, self-indulgent, and entirely overwrought.

    A fine example:

    From your entry of Jan. 12, 2009:

    “Which this was, to my mind: whatever messages I had spoken into this particular text would never again be spoken back to me as I’d imagined them, and the suppurating creep of memory had already begun to replace the hot ebb and flow of creation, of conception. I supposed I felt what a painter or sculptor might feel at the sweep and taper of the final brushstroke, or upon wiping away the last breath of fine dust from the emergent notion of a marble face. Or jade – I pictured my analogical companion’s sculptural triumph in thousand-year-old jade, lit from within. That detail seems important, likely isn’t; there you have it either way.Well my pride crested and receded; I slapped my thighs and stood, chuckling as I noticed a stray fleck of blood on the cuff of my shirt, another invitation to the inevitable: regretfully declined. I went ahead with the after-dinner chores, having resolved – if, having shared my unusual culinary practices with you, reader, you will permit me in turn a vocabulary indiscretion – not to beat the moment to death.”

    This entire entry does not, in fact, make one iota of sense. I have no idea about what you are writing. Did you make yourself dinner? Congratulations.

  6. SOAM Says:

    Clapton Blows live…refuses to get it on-I hate to say it but he was way more exciting stoned-but he’s clean and good for him-he’s got kiddies but I ‘ve seen him and it’s a BOREFEST

  7. Wax Banks Says:

    @R1 – it’s a paragraph from a fiction about a fastidious, self-satisfied cannibal, aware of his own hidden desire to be caught but reluctant to explicitly identify what he does in his narration. Hence the ‘beat the moment to death’ gag. What the fuck does that have to do with Phish?

  8. harrisc Says:

    Wax Banks – well if we’re going to split hairs – when we’re not busy dancing on the head of a pin with dictionary-wielding angels – I don’t suspect you need traffic and I didn’t say you did. I said you were obviously fishing for it. When I comment in WordPress, I see three fields:
    -Name (required)
    -Mail (will not be published) (required)

    Given the lack of a (required) after Website, I determined that entering a Website was optional. I therefore derive that people that enter something there are fishing for traffic. Fishing is a neutral term that you’ve saddled with your emotional baggage – just as, I suspect, Miner did when he read “laughable” and just as I did when I encountered “hapless,” “seemingly,” “vocabulary” and “whatsoever.”

    But seriously, you seem to be remarkably sensitive when it comes to people criticizing you (even when it’s oblique and mildly passive-aggressive criticism, as mine was – I’ll blame it partially on the late hour) and yet incredibly insensitive when it comes time for you to savage someone else’s entire body of work with one glib sentence. By the way, who can I talk to about getting a refund for that hour of my life that I spent reading your blog that I’ll never have back? Zing!

    While I’m certainly willing to take it at face value and take this elsewhere, where would you suggest we discuss it instead? Your blog?

    Oddly enough, I guess I am anxious to hear more on the subject, even if it is on Miner’s home turf where you will have to suffer a few additional slings and arrows because of the homers like me. Of course perhaps it is better we take it offline – although I suspect Miner might even be interested in what comes out of it, as he strikes me as the type who is constantly striving to improve his work. If it’s constructive criticism, that is, as opposed to sweeping inaccurate generalizations like your post.

    And for some strange reason, your compliment to Miner (which I won’t even call backhanded, as I can genuinely appreciate that part was sincere) somehow didn’t reduce the sting of the rest of the sentence. As an aside, do you get invited over for dinner much? You: “The wine selection was impeccable, but you can’t cook worth shit!” “…what do you mean out?”

    I know it’s de rigeur to be aloof and dismissive, but your blog post and comments are even more insulting coming from someone who not only appears to be intelligent, articulate and somewhat knowledgeable about Phish, but who also appears to visit this site somewhat regularly. As opposed to some random anonymous prick saying the equivalent of “wsp sux” on PT. I obviously don’t know you at all, but I suppose I expect more out of people.

    I guess my point, and this has definitely been made numerous times before – and certainly more eloquently than I am about to – is that comments like yours drive me fucking crazy and make me question my faith in humanity. Would you really ever say something like that to someone’s face in person? Or perhaps, more to the point, would you ever say something like that *again*, after the first person punched you in the eye for being such a dick? It’s part of what’s wrong with society in general – a complete lack of thoughtfulness and decency.

    You’ve obviously struck a nerve with me, but before you say I’m taking this too far – am I really? Miner has lovingly crafted 100+ generally well thought out, researched and insightful posts of every description – silly, serious and sublime. He has obviously poured a large chunk of his free time into this hobby and has significantly raised the bar for the entire genre. Are all his posts perfect in all of the aforementioned areas? Of course not.

    But I generally fall into the “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” camp, and as a result I think it’s impressive when anyone is able to even partially capture in words the magic that is live music, especially live music of Phish’s caliber and complexity. He does a remarkably good job – and I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks so – and to state that he has no vocabulary and, perhaps worse still, that his writing is at a level equivalent to the vast majority of ‘phan’ writing is, by any rational analysis, ridiculous and offensive. Is his writing immaculate? Nope. But it’s damn good. Was Charlie Dirksen’s writing perfect? Far from it, but I still think the guy is a genius and love his stuff.

    And finally, for anyone that actually waded through this rant, here’s a little nugget – an excerpt from Phish Thoughts circa 2018, courtesy of the Delorean. Word on the street is Miner finally said “enough of this focusing on the positive BS.”

    On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, I thought I’d break out a classic. The Gorge. ’98. Day 2. A spectacular setting capable of transforming even an ordinary song into the majestic. But Divided Sky? Truly a sight to behold. And behear. The song selection is impeccable, as is the placement in the first set. After a brief Trey glitch at 2:40, they get down to business. “The pause” while the sun drops behind the banks of Columbia builds the antic…..ipation to a fever pitch. The band is locked in and can no longer do any wrong. Well, until 7:47 in that is, when Trey completely botches a phrase. 747 indeed – it is the sonic equivalent of a fly-by 100 feet above the hill – ZZYZX, hailing from Seattle, dies a little death at the unfortunate timing coincidence, saved from certain destruction only by his glittering cape. If you’ve ever wondered “What is the sound of 20,000 buzzes instantly getting killed?”, grab this song immediately. Fortunately, Phish fans are a resilient bunch – they recover quickly and resume swaying hypnotically to the blissful groove. The swaying ceases less than a minute later at 8:27, when he screws up again. This time, the cumulative effect to the now staggered crowd is the equivalent of a 2×4 to the forehead of such force that it manages to instantaneously subdue the entire venue. Save for one wag in the crowd who can be heard on the auds yelling “Play Flubhead!” as he collapses to the ground. Fortunately for all of us, bad things also come in 3s, and everyone on the hill manages to pick themselves up, brush off the dirt, and let Trey deliver us to the promised land. Except for the small speed wobble at 13:23, but who the fuck’s counting??

    Next post: “The Best of the Worst: Post-Hiatus Debacles”

    PS: I better talk to myself about getting a refund for the hour I just spent writing this.

  9. harrisc Says:

    ^ I dunno, but did you hear the one about the cannibal who passed his mother-in-law in the jungle?

  10. Pete Says:

    Hi, it’s Pete, the host of the Underhill, VT party. It’s great to see this recording brought back to life. I actually lost some of the recording so it would be nice to have it in it’s entirety. With that said I seem to be having trouble connecting to the URL link you included. Anyone else having this trouble?

    The circle of friends that I used to have that were associated with Phish back in the day was a very small and tight nit group. Alas, 20 years go by and I am not so familiar with anyone in this scene. I would like to relive the experience and perform Slave… again. Kind of a 20 year reunion performance so to speak. Mr. Miner, what links may you have that could help in this matter. I have tried contacting the band through it’s website but I am sure they are overwhelmed with mail. Any suggestions? I live in Long Island now, thought the Jones Beach gig would be appropriate.

  11. SOAM Says:

    harrisc-your a a#1 dink-you need a hobby

    Love Trey
    in the evening i undo my belt …and go looking for some pelt

    Pelt… split open some pelt

  12. Ethan P Says:

    Bummer. Can no longer download this show. Any chance you will be able to re-up your MediaFire account? This was one of my favorite shows back in my cassette tape days, and I no longer have a tape deck.

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