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. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    dirt, IMO, is great because of the “layered” vocals. Especially the early versions from 1997.

    “washed on the shore”

    “never hear your voice again”

    “shout your name unto the wind”

    The soundcheck for the 9-28-99 pelham show was the dirt jam x 4. Everytime they ran through it, page kept adding these killer piano fills. Made me want them to play it that night, although they never did.

  2. Wax Banks Says:

    Miner, you missed my point. Playing without a setlist meant the band hadn’t established a destination for their improv before even setting out – and that, plus the increased attack from Mike’s bass, plus the minimalist influence of Talking Heads, pushed Phish into their golden age. The frenetic pre-97 stuff just isn’t on par with their late 90’s music. And this isn’t just about long jams – the band did more with the opening minutes of their group improvisations in the late 90’s, because they didn’t need to head out to anyplace in particular, and so could respond to whims and stick with them whether or not they’d settled into their ‘we are all one moving chord in this song’ mode.

    As for ‘patience’ – you’re not listening to the music, man. This YEM is slow and ponderous but has none of the lightness of the mid-90’s YEMs. (Hey, I prefer the 93-95 versions of that song, with their discrete later sections, to YEM’s latter-day incarnations.) The band is busy here. You can be busy and not play that many notes. In ’88 the band hadn’t yet learned how to dwell on a musical idea – though they were all really responsive and could move quickly between ideas. As I said, that’s exciting to listen to, but it offers none of the subtler pleasures of their mid-late 90’s music.

    I found the post ‘laughable’ – literally worthy of laughter – because even from a committed hagiographer I couldn’t believe I was reading a defense of Phish’s herky-jerky white-boy late-80’s barroom funk-rock. Sorry if you took that personally.

    Gotta run – more back-n-forth later!

  3. guyforget Says:

    the early 97 versions rock. That guitar riff gives me goose bumps and simple life message is something this country needs to heed more of.

  4. camman the kid Says:

    wow… this post has run quite rampant… cant wait for summer…. uggg yea!

  5. RobAins Says:

    Has anyone noticed that the comments thread seems to have tripled in the last week or so? Keep up the good work Miner!

  6. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ Mr. Banks– again, I wasn’t trying to “defend” anything about Phish in this post. The outcome I had hoped for was to bring forth the fact that the band had always been into dance grooves / collaborative rhythmic playing and that is wasn’t something that “popped” up in 96 or 97.

    I never compared anything from the late 80s to the late 90s, and I don’t understand why you insist on doing so. There is no one in the universe that is going to argue that Phish was a different / more advanced/ far sicker / completely more insane band in the late ’90s. There is no point to argue here. All i said, that you might be referencing, was that this version of Cities didn’t sound “all together” different from the cover we had come to love.

    I agree with all your analysis about how the band learned how to jam in an open ended way with no landing point in mind, and learned how to dwell on spontaneous ideas, and they also learned a whole lot more over TEN years! Obviously, man, there is no reason to even try to “prove” a point that is so objective. I also think they were far more patient in 1988 than most young bands are. Were they as patient as they were in ’97? Clearly not, and that was not implied.

    My point was that Phish played funky music- even in bars in ’88.

    That’s it. We needn’t go back and forth anymore.

    PS. ’94 and ’95 are as good as anything. Apples and Oranges.

  7. Billy Breathes Says:

    Okay I think I’ve got it…kinda Simple…pun intended.

    Phish is a living and breathing organism. Agreed?

    Due to this, it is natural for it to start young, immature, clean, innocent, similar to a baby.

    And then…as it progresses through life…it will become more influenced by it’s surroundings, it will learn more, develop it’s own thoughts and feelings, become more mature…similar to a young adult.

    Later…as it grows older and becomes more seasoned…..well…I suppose we’re all about to find out.

    Usually though…a fine wine gets better with age. Keyword = FINE.

    This is the natural progression of life. KUNG.

  8. bunitingi Says:

    It was great post! Really took me back to those really old shows i haven’t listened to in years.

  9. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ cheers!

  10. guyforget Says:

    miner, wanna argue what color the sky is?

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    bring it 😉

  12. c0wfunk Says:

    sky is purple right now

  13. Billy Breathes Says:

    again…depends what stage of life (or state of mind) you are in. West Coast, Central, East?

    The beauty of Phish is that everyone can have their own opinion of them, and, really, has their own special relationship with the band.

    Think about it…during a show…the inner-religious feelings. It’s personal. And there’s a lot of passion out here for the music.

    I just want everyone to remember all of this. Nobody out here, not even the 4 members of the band can say ‘this is how it was’ and/or ‘this is how it is’.

    Come on people….interpret things as you wish, be respectful of others, and have fun with it all.

    Phish is beautiful. It’s interesting though…you can defniitely sense the negative vibes that have arrived out here.

  14. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    …lol….everyone knows that the sky is yellow and the sun is blue!

    Minor – any evidence to suggest if phish did do some of the background music in “starsky and hutch.” It sounds like a stripped down version of phish, especially the clavenet playing.

    Also – anyone who comes across an extra asheville ticket, my offer of a place to crash still stands. Got a house 10 mins from the venue.

  15. c0wfunk Says:

    site’s definitely taken a turn in the past few .. price of success I guess. Amazing the growth in the comments in the past week or so, really.

    On a more positive note. .. does anyone else think this is just going to be a kickass year all around? Already so far it’s been crazy good for me and I expect it to only get better.

  16. Billy Breathes Says:

    c0wfunk….YES going to be an Amazing Grace year indeed. 110%.

    PS – I have a ton (6 each night) of Alpine Lawn for both nights if anybody wants/needs them!

  17. themanatee Says:

    holy crap…a lot of comments…

  18. Wax Banks Says:

    My point was that Phish played funky music- even in bars in ‘88.

    Fair enough! My point is they weren’t particularly good at it. 🙂

  19. camman Says:

    billy breathess!!! you should ht me up with one of those tickets for each night my man!!!

  20. BingosBrother Says:

    Great post Miner. If it wasn’t for Phish I don’t know if I ever would have learned how to dance. Phish has always been funky but over the years they have gotten better at leaving that space between notes that is so vital to us shaking our collective asses(I believe Mike uses the term “bounce”). That space has always been there IMHO, it’s just gotten wider. Also IMHO Tom Marshall is one of the greatest writers in history. Also love the Forbins on Colorado 88 when Trey busts Fish’s balls for losing his shit. Peace.

  21. BingosBrother Says:

    Yo BillyBreathes I’ll take 2 of each night if your serious. Please be.

  22. BingosBrother Says:

    Hey Billy my email is if you need info.

  23. JPhishman Says:

    Yeah this site has really blown up over the last couple weeks, over 100 comments becoming the usual, which is awesome, and a testament to our passion for Phish. Cheers! Thanks again Miner…..

    Wax – “frenetic pre-97 just isn’t on par with late-90s” I have to disagree here. I love all this stuff but I really don’t believe ’97 is the holy grail of Phish as many do. Sure in some aspects like lengthy funk grooves but what about the ferociousness they brought in ’94? There is really nothing like the way they played antelope or reba on 10/31/94, or the 2nd set from Salem Armory on 12/1/94. (especially the JJLC) It seems to me that by ’97, which I am not dissing by any means, the fire may have been bigger but it didn’t burn as hot. I love the intensity of the music from ’94. Comparing it to the funk of ’97 is, again, apples and oranges really, but what other band in history has consistently evolved in such a fascinating way? Can’t wait to see what the new era brings!

  24. JPhishman Says:

    camman – right on for your mention of 12/6/96 yesterday! I love that show! I tried to get into it so hard for a couple years but never had a recording that could do the show any justice….. I wanted to really feel what went down that night so badly but just couldn’t. I went through the roof when they announced the official release….. and it definitely did not disappoint. That 2001 is sooooo nice too! Top 2 Julius I have ever heard, obviously the legendary Mike’s, and a great moment in Phishistory, the Wildwood Weed Rap!!!
    I, like many others on this board, dig your attitude and am real stoked for you man, and for all of us! I can’t wait to feel the magic of Phish again!

  25. camman Says:

    haha thanks phishman, i ope to see you out there too… i’m actually listen to that 1st set right now

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