If you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you’ve figured out that my affinity is for dark, menacing Phish. The flip side of this musical coin are Phish’s many blissful improvisations, such as “Hood,” “Reba,” or “Slave;” songs that you must lack a pulse to not feel drawn to. Yet, Phish isn’t just about the peaks, they are about the natural contour of their shows. When they play a memorable one, the dynamic of the music mirrors the spectrum of human experience. While the band often accesses the more tender points of life via delicate improvisation, they also do it through the use of ballads.
While many a jaded fan consider Phish ballads time for a “piss break,” they are anything but. I never really grasped the concept of leaving the room while Phish was onstage; you just never know what could happen, and you miss the full experience. The band doesn’t play ballads to fill time in the set, rather, they are part of the organic flow of the Phish phenomenon. Sure, they could play “Tweezer > Mike’s > YEM > Tube > Antelope > Weekapaug,” but then they wouldn’t be Phish (though you wouldn’t see me complaining.) Phish is about the totality of our lives, not just the fun and exciting parts, but the pensive and reflective ones, too. Often times, Phish ballads are a central way to access those places in our minds and in our hearts that we don’t readily visit. But the beauty of Phish’s slower songs exists in their congruency to the universal human emotions that we all feel.
If you keep an open soul to receive the Phish, you have come to appreciate and understand the purpose of these songs. Several are able to artistically convey feelings of loss, desperation, longing, and fear with rich imagery-laden lyrics. “If I Could,” expresses the helplessness of someone who cannot meet the needs of their lover, and who futilely tries to figure a way to make things work. “Wading In a Velvet Sea,” a poignant ballad, both musically and lyrically, exposes a vulnerable narrator who longs for “moments in a box” representing his past days of connection that have long since passed. “Fast Enough For You,” is another similarly themed song, expressing the loss of love and the inability to recapture times gone by. “Lifeboy’s” liquid music matches its introspective lyrics- “Dangling here between the light above and blue below that drags me down.” These aren’t “cheesy” themes; this is the fabric of life.
Using these more melancholic songs, Phish is able to access the parts of our lives in which we have felt such loss and pain; and who hasn’t? Tapping into life’s universal themes, the band employs these songs as an entry point into our feelings. Take, for example, “Dirt.” Its simple melodies and lyrics speak volumes about a human emotion that everyone has felt- the desire to disappear from the madness and confusion that often plagues us in our everyday lives. Sure, these songs may not be what you or I want to hear at a particular moment, but their rightful place in the arc of a Phish show is undeniable.
However, not all ballads are of somber subject. Phish has an ability to capture our imaginations with ballads, touching on the more tender side of life. “Billy Breathes” is the delicate story of a child’s birth told through majestically composed music. “Train Song” captures the night time tranquility of the countryside as two lovers share one of life’s soulful moments together. “Strange Design” represents life-affirming advice about our struggle to “keep the tires off the lines,” sending the message that whatever trials and tribulations are put in our path, the human spirit can persevere. “Just relax you’re doing fine, swimming in this real thing I call life.” These are meaningful life messages that are often lost in fans’ hyped up desires for the next huge chunk of improv. Don’t worry, that jam will come; but they key to Phish is “the moment,” and these songs are as much a part of “the moment” as any. Some may not want to accept this as true, desiring more time spent with rocking improv, but those people are swimming upstream, against the natural current of a Phish show. “The trick is to surrender to the flow,” and these are necessary parts of Phish’s natural flow.
The band can also bring us to a place of childhood wonder with their slower songs. “Prince Caspian,” while almost universally disliked, boasts a fantastic voyage “afloat upon the waves.” Like a nighttime reverie of a young child, the subject longs for the wonder and adventure of the fictional Prince, alluding to his adventures in Narnia. Even if you never read “The Chronicles of Narnia” as a child and don’t connect with the lyrics of this song, Trey’s soaring guitar solo narrates the triumphant plot for you.
If you were to go through each and every Phish ballad, you could connect a genuine human experience to each, giving these songs an emotional legitimacy that is often ignored due to their tempo. Without these interludes between the “Bowies” and “Splits” and “Stashs,” there would be no natural curvature to an evening with Phish. Countless DJs and other bands can provide a non-stop dance party, but Phish goes deeper into the soul; deeper into what makes us human. It is this multi-dimensional richness that defines the Phish experience. If you don’t get what I’m saying, well…just go take a piss.
HAMPTON “PUSH ON” AFTER-PARTIES:
If you want to kick it to some electronic beats after the shows, the Bay Area’s Symbiosis Events and ArtNowSF are teaming up with The Beat Register to throw down three parties with some eclectic lineups at the Tribeca in Newport News. Details can be found here. Tickets can be bought here.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: NEW TORRENT FEATURE!
I recently switched over to Amazon S3 hosting for Phish Thought’s daily downloads. In addition to faster and more reliable downloads, a great feature of this service, is that I can generate torrent files with the click of a button. Therefore, If you have a BitTorrent client installed on your machine, please grab the “Download of the Day” using the torrent link as much as possible. The torrent link will be right under the usual download link. It would save me a buck or two if everyone began to use this feature, which would be great since I’m not making any money through this site. We are also preparing and testing the system for the much anticipated No Spoilers Hampton Downloads, so if can use the torrent today, please do. If you don’t have a BitTorrent client, feel free to download it the old fashioned way with the regular link.
Why torrent? Two main reasons:
1) It will be faster for you. The power of a large BitTorrent swarm means you will be grabbing the file from many users – and also from Amazon, as necessary.
2) It will be cheaper for me. I host these files at Amazon S3 because they are super reliable – this will be key for the No Spoilers downloads. Unfortunately, Amazon charges me for storage and bandwidth used, so if you can help save me a few bucks, I’d appreciate it.
PPS: If you don’t know much about torrents, one important thing is to keep your client running after you’ve downloaded the file – that lets you keep uploading to others once you’ve finished downloading
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
7.11.96 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK DBSD < TORRENT LINK
Here we have a DSBD copy of the band’s first headlining gig during Europe ’96. In between these few shows, Phish would play one-set openers for Santana, prepping the European audience for return tours over the next two summers. Some of the treats in this show include a rare “Harry Hood” set opener, “2001 > Maze,” first set versions of “Stash” and “Reba,” as well as the UK debut of The Beatles’ “A Day In the Life.”
I: Runaway Jim, Cavern, Reba, I Didn’t Know, Sparkle, Stash, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar
II: Harry Hood > Bouncing Around the Room, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Maze, Lizards, HYHU > Terrapin > HYHU, You Enjoy Myself, Hello My Baby
E: A Day in the Life