A New Era
Regardless of your political leanings, and unless you’ve been in a coma, you have been moved in some way or another by the events in Washington, DC over the past few days. A hopeful wave of good feeling has crested in America, despite hard economic times, and a new era is dawning. Today is the the most momentous day of my lifetime. Only 46 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, his dream has become embodied in Barack Obama. Today, Obama, an African-American, will be inaugurated as the President of the United States. This notion seemed so inconceivable only a few years ago that Chris Rock made a spoof about its absurdity in 2003′s “Head of State.” Yet, today, in 2009, America is making the greatest step forward that I have ever witnessed.
In a strange way, Phish is riding this great emotional wave. 2009 is the year that things are beginning to progress again; we were stalled there for a bit. Obama even bodes well for Phish, as they have always flourished under a Democratic White House, while not faring so well with Republicans in office. As Clinton was inaugurated in January of 1993, Phish went on a streak of years representing the greatest of their career (so far.) Bush was “elected” president a month after Phish played their final show at Shoreline in 2000, and, as we needn’t be reminded, remained in office for the past eight years. Let’s see, in the past eight years, Phish played for one and a half before crashing and burning. Hmmm.
Yet, on the brink of a new era of potential unity in America, the hope of redemption lingers in the air. Simultaneously, a happy and healthy Phish has emerged out of the woods in Vermont to bring us back to the promised land. As I have watched the inaugural celebrations and thought of Phish, I have had a distinct feeling that this wave of inspiration will not be limited to politics, but infuse American culture at large. Only time will tell, but it sure feels different today than it did yesterday, and once March 6th hits, things will shift yet again, and our dream will be realized.
As most of America is optimistic for Barack, so should we be for Phish. Things are pointing in the right direction, and it seems to me that the third time around will last considerably longer than part deux. Our soundtrack is back. No longer will we need to dig into the archives to find some new Phish to listen to, we will be living it. We will download new shows instead of searching for old ones, but most of all, we will dance again to the greatest beat in the universe.
To commemorate this historical day in American history, I have compiled some Phish to complement the occasion. Here are some choice cuts and a blurb about each that make up “Miner’s Picks: 1.20.09.” Download links are below. Enjoy!
2001 > Curtain > Tweezer 11.19.95 Charlotte Colieum, NC
A phenomenal start to the second set of this standout Charlotte show, this segment seemed like an appropriate launching point for a new era. A classic combination of Phish springboards splash-lands in a twenty-minute “Tweezer.” An improvisational monster, this jam progresses through distinct portions, all possessing their own feel and building to their own peak. This is a heavily underrated nugget of Fall ’95.
Piper 12.8.99 CCCC, Portland, ME
In a year that featured too many outstanding “Pipers” to list, this one stands apart from the rest. After its typical break-neck paced shred-fest, this version breaks down into some mid-tempo grooves before transforming into a gorgeous and abstract ambient excursion. This multi-faceted jam is highlighted by the transcendent final portion of soul-filling music. Completely atypical for any “Piper,” the powers of Phish took over, directing this episode places never explored by the song.
Reba 10.18.94 Vanderbilt Univ., Nashville, TN SBD
1994 was unquestionably the year in which the band took “Reba” for the most exciting rides. This dark-horse ’94 version features Phish at its best, creating something wholly different with the classic groove. Transcending the song’s blissful path, the band takes an abrupt turn, moving into more subtle and spacey patterns. This new segment grows on its own and blossoms into its own peak within the jam. A phenomenally triumphant and dynamic “Reba” seemed perfect for this historic day.
Run Like An Antelope 8.6.97 Riverport Amp. Maryland Heights, MO
This ridiculously intense summer Antelope closed the set after an absurdly long half-country trek from The Gorge to St Louis. This version includes top-notch fiery Summer ’97 jamming, while stopping in a Makisupa portion during the post-jam segment. I believe this to be the wildest North American Pronghorn of this summer, and because it’s not a part of one of the tour’s high-key shows, it often gets overlooked. Trey absolutely slaughters this version with thoughtful, atypical offerings.
AC/DC Bag > Sparkle 8.9.98 Virgina Beach Amp, VA
This AC/DC bag was not only the outright highlight of this great show, but one of the defining jams of an outstanding Summer of ’98. With grooves straight out of the gate, this is some classic summertime funk, not to deep, but infectious and as dancy as anything. An outstandingly tight carnival ride through Phish improv, this Bag kicked off the blistering set that would end with the “Terrapin Station” encore.
Ghost > Free 7.23.99 Polaris Amp. Columbus, OH
One of the nastiest portions of Phish in all of 1999, this segment was composed of militant, in-your-face Phish. One of the great “Ghosts” of the year opened the second set with a larger-than-life feel. This version features some precise and standout playing that can best be characterized as slow, yet urgent. Trey emotes deeply, annihilating this version, while locked with Gordon who straight owns this piece. This “Ghost” is a phenomenal archetype of Summer ’99 and redefines the word “raging.” A very cool, unexpected martian-esque transition into “Free” blew the place apart. A jam that saw Trey lunging and leaping all over the stage, this “Free” creates a sonic soundscape of that seems like it is coming from the depths of fall tour. An inseparable piece from the “Ghost,” this jam complements the audacity and massive quality of the set opening jam.
Stash > NICU 11.23.97 LJVM Winston-Salem, NC
I have often said that “Stash” is the dark horse song of Fall ’97, while the magnifying glass was most often placed on more funk-rooted vehicles. This intricate version of “Stash” passes through both melodic and dissonant sections on its twisting path, but ultimately ends up focusing on eerie and intense psychedelia. Overflowing with intensity, this quality of improv illustrates where Phish took some other jams in the fall of ’97. Traveling far off the beaten path, this mind-fucking episode winds up innocently segueing into “NICU” in Phishy fashion.
Tube 9.18.99 Coors Amphitheatre Chula Vista, CA
In a two-set outdoor fall show completely in the dark, the Phish community discovered one of the greatest most accommodating amphitheatres in the nation. Covered with huge flat cement platforms made for throwing down, Phish allowed just that by exploding in an outstanding ten-minute “Tube” toward the end of the first set. Pure Phish crack, this one got the heart rate up quickly and didn’t let up as the band explored the funk at a slower open-air pace. One of the best “Tubes” of the late ’90s flourishing of the song, Page sparkled as this one lit up the dark desert night.
Down With Disease 12.11.97 Rochester, NY SBD
This wildly popular Disease never gets old because it detaches so far from the song’s conventional upbeat structure. Delving deep into darkness early in the the first set, Phish created a monster that features some of the band’s best playing of the entire tour. Moving away from the rock n roll, the band settles in a menacingly slow, inspected groove that eventually moves unfinished into “Maze.”
YEM 8.12.98 Vernon Downs, NY
This encore version following the bust-out cover of “Burning Down The House,” capped a ridiculous pre-Lemonwheel show. Amidst a predominately muddy field aside the horse track, this wide open free-for-all made for two outstanding sets that led up to this YEM. The chunky grooves echoed across the fields as bodies moved as if in some sort of mind-control experiment. These gargantuan grooves were prominent throughout Summer ’98, but this night in upstate New York, the size of it all was awing.
Slave to the Traffic Light 12.5.97 CSU Convocation Cntr, Cleveland, OH
When was the last time you listened to this “Slave?” If ever? I bet it’s been a while. This Cleveland show gets buried in the excitement of Detroit and Dayton, and when it does get its cred, it is usually in the form of first set praise. This second set “Slave” culminates a jam out of “Julius,” and takes a path you don’t hear every day. As the jam builds along its delicate and transcendent path, the band begins to add layers of dissonance to the jam, and soon Trey initiates what you would think to be the beginning of the peak of the jam. Not even close. On one collective hit, the band decides that the jam is going elsewhere, vary far elsewhere. For the rest of the time, the band created a climactic and colossal soundscape that sent everyone into the stratosphere. What was going on? Nooone really knew, but it was insane. Check this out for a real ride over the edge.
Harry Hood 8.16.96 The Clifford Ball, Plattsburgh, NY SBD
When thinking about a wave of positive emotion overtaking people, “Harry Hood” immediately springs to mind, and this version washed over 70,000+ at The Clifford Ball. One of the most majestic of all “Hoods,” this version closed out the first night the first festival ever. Everyone was in awe of the weekends’ spectacle, and the band harnessed that magic in this sublime jam. One of my all-time favorites, this one suits the dawning of a new age just fine. Tapped in like none other, the band reaches places words cannot begin to describe.
Hampton ’04 – Photo: Chris Clark