As some of you may or may not know, I worked with JamBase back when the site sprouted wings around 2000. When Phish toured Japan that year, I served as the their pacific correspondent, writing reviews at the crack of dawn after partying in Japanese clubs all-night. When my friends went to sleep, I routinely headed to the hotel business center to write up a piece to send off to Andy and Ted, keeping stateside fans in the loop. Due to the unedited nature of these reviews, they often rambled, providing more of a play-by-play account of the goings-on in Japan from the front line.
Recently, I’ve revisited these pieces to clean them up for future use, and I thought some of them would make interesting retro-accounts of Phish’s last gasp in 2000. Little did we know at the time, that the band would soon slide downhill. Our last experiences before Japan had been December ’99 > Big Cypress > Radio City; a pretty amazing run of music. In our minds, Phish was flying high on their first legitimate tour of Japan, and we were along for the far eastern adventure. I wrote the following account the night of the now-legendary Fukuoka show – 6.14.00 – after kicking it around the corner from Drum Logos in a club, ironically, called “The Tripp Factory,” which hosted an impromptu post-show affair for Japanese and American fans alike. I’ve edited a bit for tightness, but the review remains largely the same.
While Phish puts on engaging shows each and every night, sometimes a second set comes around that is united in concept from beginning to end; a set that stands above a mere collection of songs and jams. This type of set is defined by its thematic coherence; a certain direction from the opening to the closing note. These are the musical adventures that define the essence of Phish; the reasons we jive and strive to get to each and every show. Last night at Drum Logos in Fukuoka, Phish threw down what is sure to be one of the best, if not THE best set of the summer – including all shows yet to be played! Relentless grooves fused with spacey psychedelia, as Phish turned the small club into a futuristic dance hall for seventy-five minutes. Let’s get down to business here, you need to know exactly what you missed.
First off, the venue was slightly larger than Club Quattro the night before, boasting a capacity of about 650 people. Upon arriving, fans could barely give their extras away, as 80 tickets were still unsold! The club had a multi-tiered dance floor, with three different levels, and a small balcony hung above, where the tapers and lighting board set up. The overwhelming feel of the room was blackness; the floors, walls, and balcony were all solid black, a potential foreshadowing of the music that would ensue.
In a great first set, opening with “Carini,” “Curtain > Cities” (!?), the improvisational highlights emerged in “Gumbo > Llama” and “Split Open and Melt.” The second set was primed and ready to explode, yet no one in the room had any idea of what would go down when Phish took the stage. The second half opened with the most extended version of “Get Back On the Train” to date, as the band stretched out the ending rhythms far longer than usual. Staying well within the structure of the song, the band warmed everyone’s legs with some bluegrass-funk that served as a table setter for the main course.
As “Get Back On the Train” wound down, they sparked the ever-changing intro of “Twist.” A spiced-up beginning, featuring a harder dive into the song, readied the crowd for the sublime improvisation about to unfold. As the jam began, Trey led the band through some “Twist-based” patterns, before fading a bit into the musical background while Mike stepped up to lead. The music progressed into an ambient space, much in the style of the cerebral “Twist” from Big Cypress, but without Trey playing a beautiful melody over top. Instead, Trey colored the music with textures, tonal colors, and waves of sound rather than straight ahead playing. This gave the piece a much more eerie and psychedelic feel, and as the band progressed, the jam continued to get more and more abstract, yet always remaining loosely connected to a groove – albeit some incredibly “out there” grooving. At this point, many people in the crowd were thinking that this would be the second coming of “Twist > 2001,” and as Page brought in his own futuristic sounds, the launch seemed inevitable.
But well into the jam, at its most formless point, the band slowly emerged out of the murky space with the return into the end of “Twist!” As they concluded the song, however, the band picked up right where they left off, amidst a similar spacey groove. This started very quietly, and Mike hinted at a more driving bass line to come. As he picked up the volume of his line, many fans recognized this as a very slowed down intro to “Ghost.” Yet, tonight, “Ghost” wasn’t to be, and the brief hint at the song’s melody lasted for only a minute or so.
At this point, Mike began to lay down some classic Gordeaux lines, as he took responsibility for both the rhythm and melody of the jam, while Trey continued his role providing textures and tonal color. Meticulously, Trey blended his musical thoughts into the mix as the band’s momentum continued to gradually build. As Gordon began throwing down more vicious bass lines, he was virtually soloing while leading the band. Fishman slowly progressed out of his ambient beats, holding down a tight pocket with Mike, and the entire feel of the jam became dark and sinister. From this point forward, this nameless piece of music exists as one of the nastiest Phish groove sessions that has recently gone down in public view – straight-up futuristic funk, all on a tiny island in the Pacific! This evil groove took on a life of its own, as it morphed from an ambient space walk into a psychedelic bass-driven excursion that moved your brain as much as your body. As the band basked in their exploratory session, Mike hinted at “Walk Away,” nudging the band to build the beginning of the old-school, James Gang cover. The crowd soon picked up on this transition and exploded in cheer, congratulating Phish on the epic music that had just ensued.
“Walk Away’s” pace, while a bit slower than normal, fit the set perfectly. Emerging seamlessly from the previous groove, Phish treated the Japanese-dominated crowd with a very slick transition. This was the first song that had been played in a long time, and the crowd responded energetically as Page belted out the lyrics.
As “Walk Away” ended, the band slipped back into a quieter bass pattern, returning to the space-aged feel of the set. This groove, again led by Mike, soon settled into a shimmering ambiance, and as Page and Trey began to add textured sound effects to the musical landscape, the crowd was now ensured of the “2001” that had been foreshadowed earlier in the set. As Fishman’s snare hit engaged the infectious rhythm, the crowd exploded – as much in motion as in sound – and Drum Logos now was spinning to Japan’s second ever “2001.” Mike continued to take the improvisational lead, as Trey chopped into play with some shorter rhythm licks. The first theme came relatively quickly, but the second section became far more drawn out and chock full of signature Trey licks and bulbous bass lines. For the first time in history, Phish decided to close a set, and a show, with “2001,” a significant exclamation point on one of the greatest sets in years. With nothing more to say after such a powerful, full-on, and non-stop performance, the band ended the set with, perhaps, the highest peak in their repertoire. And then they took a bow.
With a mellower encore of “Sleep” and “Squirming Coil,” the band provided some relaxation and reflection, allowing the set to stand on its own in the annals of Phish history. This was truly one for the ages; you’ll need to hear it to believe.
Jam of the Day:
“Stash” 9.9.99 I
Everyone knows of the big second set that opened Fall ’99, but this nugget of psychedelia jam came amidst a typically discombobulated opening set of tour.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
The first night of Great Woods ’99. After the five-year bust-out of “Foreplay/Longtime,” check out the first set combo of “What’s the Use?,” “Split” under a blood-red sunset.
I: Foreplay/Long Time > Down with Disease, Back on the Train, What’s the Use?, Split Open and Melt, Water in the Sky, Character Zero
II: Twist, The Moma Dance, Makisupa Policeman > David Bowie, The Lizards, Guyute
E: Rock and Roll