Listen to the ovation at the end of “Seven Below > Ghost.” The roar that you hear is one of absolute celebration from all sectors of the audience; Phish had transformed into psychedelic juggernauts of yore. Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the music itself, the band had showcased the qualities that made them famous – a musical abandon defined by uninhibited risk taking and, ultimately, golden musical pastures. Phish had just let it all hang loose for the first time since their comeback. Sure, the band had played some amazing jams, and certainly had put together more than a few awe-inspiring sets and shows, but this was a different story altogether. This was the exploratory magic of Phish at work again. For nearly an hour, the band pushed each other harder than we had seen them do in this era, experimenting with, and exploring, new musical planes, while arriving at some truly sublime segments of music along the way. In my memory, and in the memory of countless other fans, this was the type of passionate adventure that has always defined the Phish experience.
Throughout this fifty-minute stretch, Phish proved what most of us assumed – they could still throw down the gauntlet on a moment’s notice. Listening to Albany while driving last night, I felt like I was listening to Phish of a different era. A different energy blared from the speaker than I was used to hearing this year; the music likened the exploratory bravado that dripped from stages for years on end. I could truly hear the band searching for the sound, and then about halfway through “Seven Below,” hitting their stride like a gazelle on the Serengeti Plains. Everything clicked deep into this jam; deeper than Phish had been usually willing to dig this go-round. And in no surprise, the first time the band let loose in this uninhibited manner, they succeeded with flying colors. With heart-tugging melodic themes and a connected conversation, Phish found themselves amidst the defining musical jaunt since their return.
Once the band hit their stride, they never lost it for a minute. Careening to a triumphant peak of “Seven Below,” the band slid down the other side into “Ghost.” And from note one of this most unique jam, the band had everything locked down. Sewn together with profound musical glue, this piece would drive the band far beyond anything one would expect to hear from the song. Embodying the theory that if the band is flowing, it matters not what songs they play, Phish continued their musical theatrics with a multi-faceted jam that reached several sonic plateaus. Building from cooperative melodic grooves into a more abstract section of shimmering psychedelia, the music turned far more intense as Mike cranked up his filter and began crushing core patterns. The band continued to merge masterful sections of improv, landing in some of the most maniacal music of the modern era. This represented Phish without borders; jamming without preconceived notions of where things were headed; improvising in the truest sense of the word.
This is what Phish did in their prime, in various forms, from 1993 to 2000, and then again in 2003. Throughout these years, Phish always devised new ways to create original magic from similar springboards. Each year represented an evolution from the one before; Phish’s music built upon itself, morphing like a chameleon from one self-referential form to another. A freakish phenomenon, the band continued to reinvent their music year after year, proving to be one of the most creative forces in the history of the game.
So here we are, at the end of 2009. With a New Years Run separating us from Phish 2010, the first year back in just about in the books. It’s been an incredibly positive year for the Phish community, one laced with more than a few memories of a lifetime. But musically speaking, I believe 2009 will be looked back upon as the foundation for everything that followed; the building blocks for the next musical evolution. The band needed to prove to themselves, more than anyone in the audience, that they still had their mojo. It took them a while to get back into the swing of things, with some sparkling highlights along the way. But I don’t think it was until Albany that the band fully realized the magic they were still capable of hatching. Listening back, one can clearly hear Trey trying to bring back the “Seven Below” melody, aiming for a safe ending to the set’s opening jam. But the band pushed on, unconcerned with what was supposed to happen, and diving off the edge. Emerging almost an hour later, the band had rediscovered the mystery of the unknown; those pristine possibilities that arise when they drop guard and allow things to happen. When the landing point is unknown, Phish is at their greatest. And listening to that crowd in Albany, I think everyone agrees.
Jam of the Day:
“Birds Of A Feather” 11.25 II
The standout piece of improv in a lackluster second set in Philly.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.29.09 CCCC, Portland, ME < Megupload
I: Possum, Down with Disease, Nellie Kane, Weigh, When the Circus Comes, Kill Devil Falls, Water in the Sky, Stash, Meat, Undermind, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
II: The Moma Dance, Rock and Roll > Light > Crimes of the Mind, Pebbles and Marbles, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Golgi Apparatus, Cavern, Run Like an Antelope
E: Free Bird, Carini, Waste
Source: Beyerdynamic CK930 > Grace Design Lunatec V3 > Sonic AD2K+ > Marantz PMD-661 (@ 24 bit / 96 kHz)Tags: 2009, Fall '09