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Step Into Yesterday | Tomorrow's Verse

Alpine Valley

Some people one person asked for it said I should do it, other people are going to run away in about two sentences, because they are judgmental h00rs, but today is Christmas Eve and I have no work tomorrow. Also, I had yummy pizza for dinner and my goddamned PRE-ORDERED package has only just arrived, never mind that it was released last Tuesday—as in, "ten days ago." But I finally have the DVDs that Phish was so graceful as to release, documenting the best concert I have ever been to in my life, this past August 14, at Alpine Valley Music Theater, outside of East Troy, WI.

This is a picture of the venue.  Also, why can't you see my pictures?

What this picture doesn't tell you is HOW FUCKING STEEP THAT HILL IS. Seriously. This is not a normal amphitheater-type lawn. This is a legitimate big damn hill. Alpine Valley is actually tucked between the ski runs of a resort of the same name. This may or may not be where I learned how to downhill ski (HINT: It is), or what we pretend is downhill skiing, here in the land of no elevation change. You can see the ski-lifts from the big damn hill, actually; it's pretty entertaining. Well, for me, anyhow—I try to figure out which runs are which and take myself back in time, like, two decades. And now I'm depressed.

But this is a joyful post—no depression allowed. I could start this story way at the beginning, which was going to see a baseball game earlier in the day (not a real one, an amateur league game that my sister's ex was playing in). However, this would require details of the crazy ghetto motel I checked into in Milwaukee and the whole lot experience. And a Phish lot requires its own post, to be sure. And anyhow, due to ghetto motel issues, I was late to the lot on Saturday (the day in question—there was also a Sunday show). So I will just go to the actual show. But first, a picture of the venue and the lot:

I just told you what this was, Jeez!

IDK what show that photo is from, but it's an accurate facsimile of what it looks like. Well, from ground level, anyhow. This is where you can see the show's setlist. I recommend that, because I'm going to talk about the songs they played, since I can now watch them again. From far better angles. And with far better sound quality. Kind of like how going to a sports game is great, and you have fun, but you don't get to see as much of the game as you would if you'd just stayed at home. Mostly because you don't have multiple cameras and a production team helping you out. What I DON'T recommend is reading the comments to the show page. Phish phans are as wanky as they come, trust me on this.

So, the title screen, which has been playing as I've typed this—probably for about a half hour, by now—is playing this nice D-chord jam and I'm really into it, but I've got to get down to the actual concert review, and so I think I'll actually start watching it now. One thing to note, since I brought up jams. That's what Phish shows are all about. It's not the songs, so much; mostly, they play the same songs over the course of 3-5 shows, or so (they have a pretty massive catalog). Sure, there's some they only play once a tour, once a year, or pretty much never—the "bust outs"—but what makes a concert great is, to me, about three things: 1) The jams—their songs have some structure to them, but the solo portions are not structured. They can go just about anywhere with them. What you hope for, as a phan, is that they'll go someplace crazy, make you forget what the hell song they're even playing, and then bring you back to the end of the song, pretty much blowing your mind. 2) The segues and transitions—songs often bleed into the next. If they can make this happen before you knew what was going on—if they can start playing a new song when you are still immersed in the last one, that also blows your mind. 3) The actual playing—they're good (they all hold degrees in music and the guitarist's senior thesis was an epic saga, which includes songs the band still plays, about an evil king who enslaved a group of people until a traveler climbed a mountain and persuaded a god to send a bird to go take the king's book away. I couldn't have made that up if I tried), but some nights they just don't have it. Or some nights they have it, but they're not in sync with one another. And since they play improvisational music, you kind of need to have that.

Suffice it to say, this night had all three components working in wondrous harmony. And with that, I shall review the first set:

The opened with Tube. Tube's okay. Some people love it. It's not that I don't, per se, it's just not that fantastic, to me. It works as an opener, though; usually, they take a song or so to warm up and get in sync.

NOW. After Tube, they busted out the Oh Kee Pa Ceremony. This is a song that is entirely instrumental and completely composed. But—when they play it—it almost always segues into Suzy Greenberg, which, though usually light on jams, is HUGE on energy. These two songs are where it started coming together for me. Oh Kee Pa was tight and well-played, and the Suzy got the place rocking, and quick. And by that, I mean dancing. There is lots of dancing at a Phish concert. You pretty much can't help yourself. Also, the piano player, Page, was on fire for the entire song.

Next came Funky Bitch, which used to be more of a bust out, but is pretty much in regular rotation, these days. This is a song where Mike, the bassist, sings. Mike is probably my favorite, because he's pretty much a huge dork. As a huge dork myself, I appreciate that. It's a pretty bluesy song, but this was our first peek into just how locked in Trey (guitarist and lead singer) was going to be, that weekend. Since their reunion in March of 2009, Trey has been the slowest to rediscover his mojo, but he put it together just before these concerts. When he's on, I truly think Trey is one of the best guitarists there has ever been; he can basically make his guitar do whatever he's thinking, which is a skill I shall never possess and will always be in awe of. I can hear things in my head, but I can't just make them happen without fiddling around, first. This weekend, he was back to doing that kinda thing.

Reba. I love Reba. This is probably the song that most got me into the band. My college roommate during freshmen year was a dude named Jake who was big into Phish and I just didn't get the appeal, at first. But he lent me his Lawn Boy tape, which contains Reba. And, after the initial singing part, there is a very jazzy intermission-type thing where they do all sorts of stuff. I was mesmerized. After listening for a few days, I was hooked. Originally Jake told me he didn't think they played Reba live that much. He was incorrect, they actually play it a lot. I've seen it at two-thirds of the shows I've been to. But I still love it. After the intermission part, they drop into this really pretty jam, which was very nice, this version. You never forgot that it was a Reba jam, but that's no big deal. The whole thing worked and the guitar came to a very nice peak, which is what you want from Reba. Though I think Fish (that's the drummer, it's short for Jon Fishman) cut it a little shorter than Trey was thinking, but that kinda thing happens. On the album, they close the song with a whistling segment and a return to the refrain, but they haven't done that since their reunion, and they didn't this time, either.

So. Remember when I said "bust-outs?" Well, try being at a show where they play something live for the third time EVER. And, aside from a show a month prior in North Carolina, the only other time had been in 1987. Such is the case with Fuck Your Face. The only reason anyone even knows this song in the first place is that it was on a demo tape from the '80s that has since been released as an album. So yeah, I feel pretty damn special, having seen Fuck Your Face live.

Alaska is a new song. People don't like their new stuff as much, it seems. I do, but I'm easy. The best thing I've ever heard about Alaska was said last year in a chat, when I was streaming a live show, by some girl I don't know: "This song reminds me of Sarah Palin …but I don't hold that against the song." I know the exact part that girl was talking about, too. I can't explain musically, but the lyrics go "Just when I thought I'd end up alone, a big ol' Alaskan Mama come walkin' down the road." Anyhow, I used this song as my bathroom break, but had just exited when that part happened. And I chuckled. Trey played more nasty guitar, too.

Next came Back On The Train, which is another fun, energy-type song. But this version saw Trey continue to shred the hell out of the place. At the time, his guitar was only a few weeks old and he loves this new guitar. I think he was having fun and possibly showing off a little. I don't care, it was excellent. Also, it was starting to get pretty dark, at this point, and we were better able to appreciate the lights. Chris Kuroda, Phish's lighting engineer, is outstanding and pretty much able to improvise his lights along with the band's jams. It makes for epic effects, but is probably better appreciated inside an arena than a huge outdoor amphitheater. Especially when you only have lawn tickets.

Taste was next, and though I really enjoy it, they haven't really been able to put it all together since their reunion. This one went the same way, but had lots of energy and I was dancing my ass off. I think that they were even playing it was enough for me to just dance my ass off and enjoy, but it wasn't a super outstanding version, or anything. But I was happy hearing it, and that's all that matters. Listening to it now, the solo segment is really good. Page's solo is very nice, and Trey just continues to destroy every song in his path. The problem is that they can't nail the composed ending part. And, since it's the ending part, I guess that's what sticks in your head. Truth is, it was much better than I remembered, right up until the ending chord progressions.

When The Circus Comes is a Joe Walsh cover, I think (upon further review, it's actually a Los Lobos cover… why did I think Joe Walsh? That's not even remotely similar to Los Lobos). At this point they were screwing with my mind by repeating three of the songs that they'd played at the first Phish concert I'd ever attended, roughly thirteen years prior—also at Alpine. And it was only the first set, too. Looking at the clock, they've only been playing for a little over an hour. I remember it felt like this first set just kept going and going, but maybe it's not as long as I thought it was.

Lawn Boy sees Page singing. It's short and funny, but I remember wondering how long this damn set was going to be! I mean, surely they wouldn't close with Lawn Boy, would they? It's not a prototypical "set closer." Mike took a bass solo, too. And he's pretty damn good at bass guitar. This solo is particularly impressive, but Mike always makes it look so easy. I have played the bass, though. It's not as easy as he makes it seem.

They did not close with Lawn Boy. But the next song was Sparkle, which is also short and funny (and also a shit-ton faster), but similarly not a set closer. I was truly befuddled. But again, it's only an hour and ten minutes, now. They usually play for about ninety minutes, so maybe I was just tripping (NOTE: I wasn't actually tripping. I haven't done that in years and years).

Gumbo was next. Now it was just getting ridiculous, I remember thinking. But I stopped worrying about it, because I enjoy Gumbo. It's not real jammy, mind you, but it's got a nice groove and is just generally enjoyable. Also, there is ragtime piano at the end of it. And how can that be a bad thing?

Finally, Trey strummed the opening chords of Run Like An Antelope, and I could rest easy knowing the set was coming to a close. Antelope is a wonderful song with a composed section, goofy lyrics, and a long jam segment rife with potential for awesomeness. This jam did not disappoint. The energy that Trey brought to it right at the end, before they go into the lyrics, was pretty damn epic for Phish 3.0 (it's what the kids call this present era).

Anyhow, it took us into set break on a real high, and set the stage for a truly great second set. But, seeing as how this is already …not short, I think I'll save that for tomorrow. I mean, it's almost damn midnight, and I have to wake up tomorrow for Bulls basketball presents and stuff. Also, if anyone but K is still reading this, I am truly shocked.


( 4 Stamps Licked — Lick The Stamp )
Dec. 25th, 2010 08:04 am (UTC)
I was still reading! Be shocked!

I dunno, I just have a thing for reading people's accounts of performances I've not been to. Especially of artists I've not/barely heard.

(My college freshman roommate was also a huge Phish fan. Didn't dislike what I heard, but I was already actively investigating a couple other new-to-me music scenes at the time and didn't feel like taking on another.)
Dec. 26th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
Well that's good! I truly thought, aside from a friend who posted a concert review of her own a couple months ago, that no one would read this. Phish can be pretty polarizing, too. I know there are SOME people on my flist who saw "Phish" and couldn't hit backspace quickly enough.

And before I had my "moment," I also dismissed them as hippy crap that wasn't worth my time, so I can't really be too mad. But, whereas the Grateful Dead (not my cup of tea. Like, at all) were a blues/rock jam band, Phish is a jazz/rock jam band. And as someone who played in a jazz/latin percussion ensemble all throughout high school, that wound up appealing to me, big time.

I also smoked a shit ton of pot in college, so that probably also helped.
Dec. 25th, 2010 12:06 pm (UTC)
Wow, that hill is steeeep. I couldn't really tell with that first picture, but the second one really shows it. Hee, it's a natural theater!

Yay for getting that Phish DVD! The bit about Alaska and the girl talking about Sarah Palin made me LOL. I would probably have more to say if I knew more Phish songs; sorry :P

Oh yeah, and merry happy! :D
Dec. 26th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks Ang!

After I posted this, I must admit, it occurred to me that, if anyone one besides K was going to read this, it'd be you. And don't worry about not knowing the songs; I don't think LJ is the place where the Phish heads congregate. I mean, there is a comm, but it's not really all that active. And there are forums, such as Oceans of Osyrus and Phantasy Tour, where the bulk of them go (this is where the wank I was referring to occurs—especially at PT), so I wasn't expecting much in the way of comments.

I'm glad you got the idea about the hill! I don't even think the second photo really captures it, to be honest. Phish is awesome in that they charge the same amount of money for a lawn ticket and a pavilion ticket, but pavilion seats are hard to come by. And the hardest thing about Alpine is trying to find a spot level enough to rage in. Seriously, dancing on an angle is not all that easy. PLUS! At the end of the second set, I took a little tumble down the side of the hill (more on that next post), and my ankle got kinda swollen. So dancing the next night was damn near impossible! But I still managed to find a way; like I said, standing still at a Phish show is damn near impossible.
( 4 Stamps Licked — Lick The Stamp )