The size, sound, and shape of the Phish experience combine to provide pure sensory overload. From the crisp candy grooves invading your ears to the elusive smell of that dank nugget, to the magical glow of the stage lights- Phish heightens of all your senses to create a fully human experience. One of Phish’s sensory factors that has been touted for years has been the lighting work of Chris Kuroda. Often called the fifth member of the band, his skills at improvising lighting as the band improvises music has given Phish another x-factor, enhancing their one of a kind live experience. As impressive as his technical abilities are of cuing lights based on the band’s musical signals, his ability to dictate particular moods for particular songs has been his most consistent contribution the vibrancy of Phish.
After seeing enough shows, one begins to realize that Kuroda’s lighting movements and “hits”, while impressive, are somewhat formulaic. Sure, he is “improvising,” but his “moves” are fairly consistent within all composed sections. While not downplaying his skill, I feel that his larger contributions come neither in the crashing of the whites during “Can’t I live while I’m young?” nor the precise flashes of his beams according to Trey’s riffs. Rather, the true value of Kuroda is the way he provides aura to the music by coloring the magical sounds of the band with moods, providing theatrical hues to Phish’s dramatic improvisation. Throughout the band’s career, Kuroda has grown inseparable of the Phish experience, lending his own artistic take on Phish jams. Providing a psychedelic tapestry of saturated shades and crackling color to the mind-bending music, the lights of Phish have become legendary. Constantly basking in such a rich spectrum of color was like opening the door to Oz each and every evening.
As Phish’s career developed, so did the mood-matching of sound and color. As songs debuted and began to grow, so did Kuroda’s ideas of what colors complimented each improvisational texture. While always open to on the spot creativity, songs began to take on signature colors. Often dictated by the musical emotions expressed within, the lights enhanced the mood of the jam without altering it. As classics and new songs alike took on colorful qualities, Phish shows lived and breathed in a different way, painted by the brush of five- not just four- artists.
The Primary Colors of the Phish Palate
Often used in more delicate sections of uplifting improv, this color connotes majestic wonder. Light blue is often used in more mellow songs as, something like “Dog-Faced Boy,” or “Mountains in the Mist” to achieve a sense of serenity. A color that almost always appears in the opening segments of YEM, this shade is unmistakeably Phishy.
Routinely used in: Harry Hood, Theme From the Bottom, Scents and Subtle Sounds, Antelope (intro & ending) , YEM composed section, Runaway Jim quiet part,
Pink / Yellow
These two lighter colors are often used in unison with more blissful, melodic sections of music. Pink is the quintessential color of the Reba jam, while Yellow often defines Slave. Characteristic of many melodic songs, such as Tela, this combination is soothing to the eye and to the soul. Not only reserved for silky segments, these colors often wash upbeat, happy rock jams as well.
Routinely Used In: Reba, Slave, Tela, Fluffhead, Down With Disease, Piper, Lizards, McGrupp, Runaway Jim, Limb by Limb, Silent in the Morning
These colors signify mystery and darkness. Used in deeper, eerie and exploratory jams, these are the shades of Bowies and Tweezers. When the band digs in for a slow, dark psychedelic portions of their shows, these colors of the unknown always seem to reoccur. A signature look of more ambient and space textures as well, when covered in purple, things are usually going in a favorable direction. Never relegated to only one type of music, these darker hues can often accompany improvised slower ballads, like Velvet Sea, Bug, or Friday.
Routinely Used In: David Bowie, Tweezer, Split Open and Melt, Antelope, Ghost, Stash, Twist, Velvet Sea, Sand, Maze, improvised madness
Representing adrenaline, excitement, and pure bombast, red is used with songs that rev up the entire audience. Generally deployed during more aggressive improvisation such as Mike’s, in the Phish universe, red means “Go!” And go full throttle. Take no prisoners. Choose your cliche- but when the band is ripping in-your-face jams, it’s often fire-engine red enveloping the stage.
Routinely Used In: Mike’s, Free, Birds of a Feather, First Tube, Axilla, Frankenstein, Punch You In the Eye, Tweezer Reprise
White is the color of the ultimate peak of dramatic set closers and high-paced rock jams. Used almost exclusively at the climax of a verse or a jam, the whites are reserved for those “planned out” roof-bursting moments. Examples of such verses are the chorus Golgi and the scream in Possum. Examples of “composed” rock peaks are Chalkdust and Maze. And the whites also come crashing at the end of virtually every set.
Routinely Used In: Loving Cup, Golgi Apparatus, Chalkdust, Character Zero, Sparkle, Possum, Maze peak, Weekapaug, Taste
These myriad examples of color represent a small spectrum of the Phish rainbow. While always combining and improvising, Kuroda developed a new way of running lights. Always enriching the experience, colors of light became synonymous with types of music as Kuroda became Phish’s own visual artist. Setting a psychedelic trend for other to follow, his use of lights revolutionized the Phish experience and became inseparable from the shows. Lending a sense of fantasy and imagination to the music, the lights provided the glue for color and sound to morph into one.
What are your opinions on colors and songs? What are you’re fondest lighting experiences? Respond in Comments below!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Good old 12.30. So many amazing memories from this date. This show came early in string of standout shows on one of the Phishiest days of the year. Check it out in crispy soundboard fashion. Enjoy!
I: The Landlady, Sparkle, Split Open and Melt, Esther, Chalk Dust Torture, Fluffhead, Paul and Silas, Reba > I Walk the Line > Reba, I Didn’t Know, Timber Ho > David Bowie
II: Axilla, Rift, Bathtub Gin, You Enjoy Myself > Auld Lang Syne > You Enjoy Myself, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY, Possum, Big Ball Jam > HYHU > Love You > HYHU, Take the A-Train, Llama
E: Ride Captain Ride, Sweet Adeline
THE NEW “TAG CLOUD”: If you haven’t noticed, I’ve tagged all the posts on Phish Thoughts by subject. In the lower right hand column on the home page, you will see all the terms in various size fonts. The size of the font corresponds to the number of articles about that subject, so now you can search the archives by clicking any of the tags (or by using the search bar.) The search bar is effective when looking for particular “Downloads of the Day” which are always active. Cheers, and happy searching!