The Jewel of Japan

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Drum Logos, Fukuoka

Upon stepping out of the dark and musty club into the clear Japan night, I knew that we had just seen the best show Phish would play all summer.  It wasn’t that they had been playing poorly, in fact, quite the contrary, Phish had been tearing up Japan.  This show was just that good.  We were all a bit awestruck by what had just happened inside Drum Logos, and everyone’s faces conveyed this.  I turned to my buddy, and made the bold, yet confident, statement, “That was the best show we’ll see all summer.” And the US tour hadn’t even started.  But it turned out I was right- at least in my humble opinion.

One of the smaller clubs of the tour, Fukuoka’s Drum Logos sat unassumingly along a city sidewalk across from a park.  It would have gone unnoticed but for the smattering of fans congregated outside.  The mid-point of Japan’s two-week tour, this night in Fukuoka would live immortally not only in the memories of everyone present on Japan’s southern island, but also in the form of Live Phish Volume 4.  From note one of the first set, it was clearly on, but the ridiculously powerful exploration took place in the second.

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Drum Logos In the Distance (J.Greene)

Following a set opening bluegrass-funk session in “Get Back on the Train,” Phish got down to business in earnest as the opening of “Twist” echoed delicately through the intimate room.  The band moved through the initial section of the song and dropped into the jam with utmost subtlety.  Allowing the improv to move organically instead of pushing it in any direction, the band took their time as they quietly bounced ideas around the stage.  This mellow portion lent ample space for each member to develop and offer their own musical phrases without overriding anyone else.  Stepping into some blissful drone patterns, the band created a musical milieu that most definitely didn’t pop off the stage at every show.  This music was deliberately patient, developing incredibly slowly and  coherently, sounding like a Phishy “Dark Star”-style jam.  The jam held a very enchanting quality that drew you in- stub-0614Page played beautiful piano chords, Mike played a select few notes at a time to carry the sparse rhythm, Trey focused on texture and sound, while Fish framed it all with a minimal cymbal-heavy beat.  Sounding like the soundtrack to a dream, the band progressed through some of the most sublime improv in recent memory.  This was IT; this is why we were in Japan.  This was not the type of music Phish played every night, but rather a mystical aberration in a tiny Japanese club, with the higher powers harnessed fluently.  Eyes closed, I glided away in a dream state, floating in space with the meticulously played music as my invisible magic carpet.

Japanese Heads (John Greene)

Japanese Heads at Drum Logos (P. McGuire)

The improv wound itself to an even more mellow and beat-less space where Trey began playing refined high-octave melodies atop the band’s sonic backdrop.  This was the first time that Trey played outright melodic leads, and it was in a segment of music that sounded like a cosmic lullaby; sheer beauty supported by a web of psychedelia.  Allowing this minimalist segment to take its natural course, the band settled into a near-silent state before Trey brought the “Twist” melody back from the depths.  A truly epic jam that focused on sound rather than melody- textures rather than beats- had just unfolded, and it took a minute to readjust our perceptions.  But as this marked the end of one divine excursion, it was merely the start of another.

4lpAllowing the feedback from the end of “Twist” to linger in the air, the band seized the moment and began sculpting that quiet feedback into an abstract soundscape.  Before long, all band members added layers to the sonic puzzle which continued to deepen.  The patterns played seemed almost mechanical as Fishman subtly created a quiet, yet driving, beat.  Underneath layers of effects, Mike began playing what sounded like a super-slowed down version of the “Ghost” intro bass line.  But this didn’t seem to be heading for “Ghost”- the band was fully immersed in something completely other.  An ominous feeling ballooned from the stage as the improv turned into creeping psychedelic grooves with Mike still leading the quasi-melodic path.  A melange of thick tonal color emanated from both Page and Trey’s keyboards, furthering the eerie theme.  Mike’s playing grew even more prominent, quickly directing the band into a much heavier jam, and the band once again found themselves floating amidst IT.  Trey finally began to use his guitar more conventionally, adding some rhythm licks to this sinister music.  Phish had transformed the small venue into some sort of futuristic dance hall with one of those jams that you knew would hold up forever, even though you were still living it.

Any thoughts of “Ghost” were left in the wake of the band’s virtuoso jamming and infectiously slowed-down patterns.  This was Phish at their sound-sculpting best, creating a unique and methodical musical monster.

phish-kabuki-99Finally, Page and Trey removed some layers of sound and the band broke into an outright groove that reached out and grabbed you.  Turning their focus to rhythm and melody rather than overt psychedelia, the band emerged in a drawn out and addictive groove that we soaked in before the band gradually began building into….”Walk Away!?”  Out of the depths of this colossal jam, Phish seamlessly segued into their old-school cover that had only seen the light of day four times since 1994.

The James Gang song gave the audience some composed moments to digest the magnitude of the music that had just happened, because when it ended, Phish was right back at it.  Allowing the ending of “Walk Away” to linger, much like they did with “Twist,” the band took the sonic wash and began to, once again, mold it like Play-Doh.  The subsequent six minutes saw Trey play chorded melodies over a quiet canvas with Fishman keeping a muted beat behind him. This jam progressed to near silence before Page began blocking out some sparse piano chords.  Meanwhile, Fish and Mike were busy crafting what certainly sounded like the very beginnings of a “2001” intro.  As Trey added some quintessential space-age effects, it seemed that the club had been cleared for blast off.

phish-japan-00-cardOut of this gorgeous soundscape, Fish nailed his snare and the place exploded with the onset of full-on space funk.  For the last fifteen minutes of the set, Phish settled into the groove they had hinted at all night, and slaughtered a smooth club version of “2001.”  This was a celebratory dance session, as the entire audience felt the same flow, having been brought through a deep and eerie set to this vibrant peak.  This “2001” served as an indelible exclamation point for this top-notch set.  It was, in fact, the first time in the band’s career that they ended any set with the dance anthem.  Fitting perfectly at the conclusion of this excessively exploratory set, the Japanese crowd reveled in the slick grooves that slid through the air.  As “2001” peaked, everyone expected to hear something come out of it; whether it was a “Sample,” or “Golgi” or “Frankenstein” or something!  But no; nothing at all- it was so powerful!  Phish masterfully worked the feedback down to silence to the amazement of the crowd.   As Trey walked off stage, he gave his signature bow and “Domo Arigato!” to the crowd, when in fact the crowd could have done the very same for the band.

(Note: The standout first set has not even been mentioned!  The opening series of “Carini,” “Curtain > Cities,” “Gumbo > Llama” absolutely crushed, with the clear highlight being the “Crosseyed”-laced “Gumbo” grooves.  The set ending “Split” was also a jam to be reckoned with).

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

6.16.94 State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN SBD < LINK

State Thatre, Minneapolis, MN

State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN

A SBD copy of an exciting Summer ’94 show, this one comes in as a special reader request. The second set reads like a classic ’94 adventure, with a fierce “Antelope,” a rare “Forbin’s > Kung > Mockingbird” and an interesting “Disease > Contact.”  The first set saw “Gumbo” appear for the first time in 103 shows.  Enjoy!

I: Bouncing Around the Room, Rift, Julius, Fee > Maze, Gumbo, The Curtain > Dog Faced Boy, Stash, The Squirming Coil

II: Suzy Greenberg, Run Like an Antelope, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Kung > Famous Mockingbird, Big Ball Jam, Down With Disease > Contact, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars > Purple Rain > HYHU, Golgi Apparatus

E: Ginseng Sullivan*, Amazing Grace*, Good Times Bad Times

* acoustic, not on recording.

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140 Responses to “The Jewel of Japan”

  1. John Campion Says:

    Not to sound like an oldie here either……but. There was a time when I could leave ALL my stuff at my seat. Get up and leave. Come back 25min later and it wuld all still be there. The community vibe.

  2. full tour: announced! Says:

    not trying to be negative on here,but the most disrespectful thing i witnessed last time round, was when some genius decided to purposely peg page with a glowstick during the middle of his coil outro solo. he ended up cutting the solo short and can you blame him? so not cool of whoever threw that shit.

  3. hairy pood Says:

    i think phish in hawaii would be rude and sad. we (as americans in general, not phisheads) have already destroyed/ taken so much from that culture and environment that the last thing we should do is overrun the islands with a five digit influx of phisheads, drugs, etc. unfortunately, many folks in the scene aren’t too keen on keeping green or at least pack in/ pack out.

    I would love it too, but i think it would be utterly disrespectful.

  4. Mr.Miner Says:

    Yeah, you will always have your schwaggarts who are there for reasons other than personal enjoyment. My personal pet peeve is when two people will stand there talking loudly (so that they can hear each other over the music) about something totally unrelated to the show. Go home! Anyhow, a stern, yet respectful, “Could you please shut up?” usually works 😉

  5. elbows Says:

    Thanks for answering my questions, Mr. Miner. I always suspected that the Japanese heads brought a sense of respect, awe, and passion to the shows.

    Nonoyolker: You definitely don’t sound like an ‘old phish fart.’ There’s a difference between hating anybody and everybody new to the scene, and lamenting on certain valid points. I hope that we can return to the days of respect and community, although I am skeptical. However, no matter how disrespectful it may get, it will help us all to step back and know that there are kind, cool, respectful heads out there, and hopefully our actions and subtle hints will help fuel a more conscious community. I know that I, for one, plan on bringing a few people to their first Phish shows, and believe-you-me they will get the pre-show talk on what the community is about, how we can preserve it, and small things that can make big differences.

    The problem is trying to spread the word without sounding like a self-righteous, preachy bastard.

  6. camman Says:

    Harry on your post yesterday

    So whats your point? i love phish for the exact same reasons, i’ve found some i like in each era as much as i like in the otehrs. i don’t try to act like i know whats best or not, i actually prefer to to the “best ever” label on shit. just cause i’m not a tour veteran doesnt mean i don;t know whats the shit… i didn’t take offense… i’m just wondering what the point was… and you do have to admit that the Deads time has come and gone… nothing Phil and Bob put out tbis spring will comapre to having Jerry behind the wheel…

    and are you the authority on whats respectful? if they’re willing to have the Pro-Bowl there i’m srue thay wouldnt mind a Phish show or two.. this isn’t the ’95 dead scene we have to worry about…

  7. Congressman Says:

    Havent followed the comments today… Looks like they may have taken an interesting turn….
    Miner,
    Great read!! In regards to the article and some of the earlier comments, I thought about telling the “I hope they play a great ‘Mike’s Song’ in Japan” story….
    maybe you should tell it, Maybe it should be part of a larger story I write about you in the jacket of your first Book:) maybe you have no idea what I am talking about…. Miner?
    Have a good day all.

  8. gho2it Says:

    Don’t mind if I sound like an oldie, because I think the loss of community was the missing link and what people are really saying when they long for “the old years”.

    The community vibe was totally stripped away. I saw it happening over the years, feeling less like I could hang in the lot before and after show without being targeted for $$$ or extras. I ate a super strong chocolate at the Greensboro 3/2/03 show, and was spun but still doing fine until I saw a couple of things go down DURING THE SHOW that made me so sick I ended up leaving the show.

    Go back the Phish Review archive and read some of the “general comments” from ’99 tour. It was like people realized in ’99 that things were going downhill and there were people that were trying to let everyone know, but ultimately the community’s values weren’t everyone’s values so when some barely 18 teenagers decided to hit the road with Phish and sell Valerian as Molly or NO2 just to make a $, there was really no way to control it.

    I have said it before on this site, the Japan shows have always held a special place in my heart. The music sounds so delicate, so evolved, well thought out, and patient. Kinda sounds like adjectives that would describe many Japanese things, especially the arts. Phish isn’t the only band that has toured there and come back with stories of how wonderful the fans are. Heck, you can almost hear the same vibe from the Fukuoka setting during “Butterfly” on the live from Japan Herbie Hancock album “Flood” and it was recorded in 1979!

    BTW – I also heard the story about the boys eating some fungus on 6/14. Listen to Trey’s little speech during SOAM before the setbreak. Anyone that’s had the experience can probably tell Trey ain’t just rambling for no reason!

  9. elbows Says:

    “this isn’t the ‘95 dead scene we have to worry about…”

    God, let’s hope not…

  10. Congressman Says:

    Interesting turn for sure…
    Bottom line:
    Shut up and Dance!!
    If you don’t want to dance, please find a seat and stand in front of it, instead of in front of somebody using the valuable areas without seats to dance.
    Sorry, Just how I feel.

  11. camman Says:

    i guess we’ll know after this summer elbows.. but i really don’t think it’ll be that bad….but maybe i’m just naive

  12. elbows Says:

    The question remains: how do we, other than by our own actions, perpetuate a healthy community vibe? How do you tell someone how to behave in an atmosphere notoriously cherished for it’s lack of rules?

    These may sound like rhetorical questions, but the longevity of Phish is more than a little bit in the hands of us fans. The asnwer must be to police ourselves. Yeah, that sounds square, narc-ish, and hypocritical…but if we don’t police ourselves, than a much tougher authority will do it. Now, I’m not talking about turning in the dealers, or anything like that…I, for one, cherish many of the illegal activites that go on at shows. But if you hear people planning on gate-crashing, if you see someone completely disrespecting a town, a local, or a fan, perhaps it’s best to speak your mind, not in any condescending, self-righteous way, but in a manner that says “we will lose all of this because of your actions.”
    Of course, that sounds both condescending and self-righteous.

    What do we do? Dead tour is an example of something beautiful ruined by people taking advantage of the alternative vibe. What do we do? I think we can start by setting an example for the new fans through our own behaviors. I don’t mean to sound so square and concerned, but if the Dead is any indication, these are things that will either make or break Phish V.3. Thoughts?

  13. hairy pood Says:

    ^cam, in my next comment i wrote that i realized i had misdirected it, but i’m glad i wrote it anyway (as a general comment). I was merely expressing the beauty of evolution in bands with longevity. I definitely do not dispute, and fully agree with the point that the dead are not the dead w/o jerry. Thats why my analysis of what i love about each era of their music ended with the late 80s- 90s.
    And no, I’m not an authority on what’s respectful by any stretch, but i have a roommate who’s hawaiian and a best friend who’s hawaiian, and it just seems wrong in my mind. like i said, i would love it, but i don’t believe the native culture would appreciate a thousand barefoot children outside dancing on their lawn, or, these days, 20,000. anyway that’s just my opinion. everyone’s entitled to at least one of those.

  14. nonoyolker Says:

    I look at it this way: Phish is about as close to a religious experience as i am going to be a part of. I wouldn’t expect people to go into a church and talk incessantly about irrelevant babble or shout to the minister/priest/rabi/holy person (whatever!) to read gospel John 3:16 because it’s their “favorite”! You know, I don’t mind a newer fan asking me what song they just played because they were feeling it. That’s fine. Someone said it earlier, you just have to respect the scene.

  15. elbows Says:

    I just re-read my above post…sounds way too preacher-like, and I’m sorry. I just want Phish to stick around. And if they don’t I want it to be for creative or personal reasons, not because ten-thousand people crashed gates or started a riot.

  16. nonoyolker Says:

    elbows – it’s not preachy, it is just being responsible in a situation where there are no rules. we all just want to keep the scene alive and there are elements that can bring the scene down. That being said, who’s got my extras!?!?!

  17. Scott Says:

    this was my first ever complete show download, and, boy did I love it, and still do.

    I use this set as a framework for a lot of the music I like to play, and its been a huge impact on me.

  18. Davey Says:

    Very heavy discussion today dudes.

  19. camman Says:

    right on hary.. i feel yea man… and i hope ya’ll know.. i won’t be one of those kids looking to jsut get fucked up.. i think i’ve proved my point thats not what i’m about

  20. bhizzle Says:

    lead by example……

    it would be cool if there were some way to identify each other at shows this summer. Granted I’ll probably only attend Burgettsville I think it’d be cool to shake some of you mofos’ hands.

  21. full tour: announced! Says:

    word on the above!

  22. camman Says:

    i agree, we need to figure and coordnate who will be at what shows.. that would make it wasier….

  23. showhe Says:

    Whenever I’m at a show and someone is talking above the music, I just turn around and stare at them until they move on or pipe down. I fully agree that if we don’t police ourselves (to a certain degree, not becoming snitches, etc), that’s when the scene degrades into the abyss. Positivity people!

  24. Clod Says:

    Japan has always had a special vibe for musicians. Budokan Theater was the choice for live albums by Cheap Trick, Dylan, Deep Purple and even Dream Theater. Choosing that theater for their live albums was much more than coincidence, I imagine. When George Harrison released Cloud Nine years back, he decided to take it on the road. Harrison had a famous case of stage fright, so he decided to tour in japan first (with Clapton as his axeman) because the Japanese fans were much more appreciative and more forgiving. This says a lot – an ex-Beatle could play anywhere and receive respect. yet, Harrison chose Japan. In addition to the amazing Hancock album that gho2it mentioned, Coltrane also recorded live in Japan in 1966 with his free-form stuff. In “recent” years (i.e the 1980s), David Bowie and the Police both killed it in Japan.

    There is something about that place.

  25. SOAM Says:

    I like the usa way more than japan and I like americans. There are assholes everywhere and when you start instructing people how to behave you become the biggest ahole of all. No one person makes or breaks this-Foghat never cancelled a gig because some toothless rat and his buddies jumped the fence-people get fucked up and make mistakes-it exciting and lots of people go hard..shit happens nothing in th eworls is perfect, there will always be problems. Shows are a place to forget them not find new ones to bitch about and dwell on.

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