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.
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- Page 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.
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.
Allowing 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.
Finally, 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.
Out 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).
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
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