Great article about Phish at Jazzfest
This from the New Orleans Times Picayune http://www.nola.com/jazzfest/index.ssf/2014/04/swimming_with_phish_at_the_new.html Swimming with Phish at the New Orleans Jazz Fest Loading Photo Gallery Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune Follow on Twitter on April 26, 2014 at 8:48 PM, updated April 26, 2014 at 9:16 PM The quintessential second-generation jam band Phish served up three hours of delicately woven rock to devoted fans on Saturday (April 26) at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I climbed the short incline to the top of the turf track that surrounds the Acura stage and beheld a swarming sea of Phish fans. It was a sun-drenched Sargasso of college-age Americana music enthusiasts where Bob Marley flags and LSU flags blew in the same breeze. The act had just begun. It was the first time Phish had played the fest since a neo-hippie hoard of fans descended on the Fair Grounds in 1996. I plunged into the crowd, ferreting my way toward the stage and stopped beside an affable Texan named Marty Thompson who has seen the band 70 times by his estimate. At that moment, the band played a mid-tempo tune that had something to do with "The Wolf Man's Brother," if I heard correctly. It was sonic comfort food for those up us who came of age with country rock. Thompson allowed that the quality of the band's performances has porpoised somewhat over their 30 years, but he made it clear that to his thinking any Phish concert is a triumph. Such is the enviable grip the band holds on their devotees. I've learned that Phish fans refer to their heroes by their first names. Trey (Anastasio) is the master guitarist in the middle. Page (McConnell) is the commanding keyboardist. Mike (Gordon) is the implacable bassist. And Jon (Fishman) is the indefatigable drummer, seated almost anonymously behind a coliseum of tom toms and cymbals, conducting a rhythmic marathon. Trey sang a few phrases that included the word "olfactory," an adjective that escaped the song-writing lexicon of, say, Jerry Lee Lewis. This got Thompson thinking. "What rock band uses the word olfactory," he asked rhetorically. "You've got red states and blue states and you've got a band from Vermont coming down here and using the word olfactory." I swear, at that moment, I knew exactly what he meant. Or thought I did, anyway. Vermont is mostly farm country and mountains. It's airy and empty, in a good way. It's up east, but it could be anywhere. In my brief experience it has universal rural beauty. Trey and Mike's instruments were decorated in the colors of Vermont: varnished natural wood. A white balloon went bouncing by with black spots on it like a cow. It might have been a Vermont thing. Sometime in here, the band played a number, "Party Time," with a New Orleans syncopation. It was written by drummer Jon and dedicated to the Crescent City. And Page charmed his army of fans by strolling the stage with a microphone, crooning a ballad like Sinatra. You can't discuss Phish without considering the legacy of the Grateful Dead, perhaps the prototype of all Americana jam bands. Symbols of the Dead such as lightening bolt skulls and dancing bears were everywhere. Noting my interest in her dancing-bear tattoo, a young woman showed me the row of dancing skeletons that wrapped her lower back at the belt line. Writer Tom Wolf reported that Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia was able to blot out distractions with musical notes that appeared as bright colors to his eyes. It might have been the 1960s-ear experimental psychedelic drugs, of course. But Trey seems able to induce a self-trance as well. His blue eyes stare unwaveringly at the horizon line as he plays. The notes from his guitar somehow affect the muscles in his upper lips causing him to smile in odd spasms as his hands dance on the fret board. Phish is a very inside-their-heads band. They're not in the least demonstrative. Likewise their fans are mostly self-contained, dancing with their wrists, knees and imaginations. Glen Caser of Jacksonville, Fla., loves Phish. But he's honest. In his assessment, the band was fresh and was playing very cleanly, but their impressionistic, extemporaneous songs were coming off a touch "cookie cutter." Caser, who has seen the band a dozen times said that Phish's degree of rest has a lot to do with their performance. When they've been on the road for a while, they can "get a little worn down." When they've just gone out on the road, they're buoyant. Caser said that after they've been home for a while they feel like so: "I'm sick of the wife, I'm sick of the dogs, I'm sick of changing the litter box." So, one presumes, they welcome the opportunity to travel and play three-hour gigs. There was a baby in the crowd, barely 1 year old. The baby wore protective earphones. But here's the thing. Phish isn't a hugely loud band. They're obviously interested in the acoustic blend. Even the drums are somehow set so that they don't step on every other instrument. After about an hour, I plunged even deeper into the crowd. In the interior, Phish fans huddled on the sandy dirt. Herbaceous smoke, emitted from misshapen cigarettes that are entirely legal in Washington and Colorado wafted into the air. A young man offered to trade me a powerful stimulant for my wide-brimmed straw hat. I declined, pointing out that he wasn't even sunburned. Caravans of travelers came and went, carrying boxes of beer cans and water, searching for their villages. A society was coming about before my eyes. Don McLean wrote that Bob Dylan's nasal drawl was a "voice that came from you and me." But it wasn't. Dylan's voice is invented and theatrical. The voices of the members of Phish, however, really are just like anybody's voice. The same was more or less true of the Dead and I think it's important to their popularity. Instrumental virtuosity aside, Phish sounds like a band of buddies that we could all belong to. When Phish fans are singing in the shower, they can hit every note and shape every phrase. There's no aesthetic barrier. (Unfortunately, at the Acura Stage there was a galvanized barrier, so that the dear devoted Phish fans were kept 40 or 50 feet from the stage to make room for rich folks.) And Phish doesn't seem to have exactly the same intense counter-culture vibe the Dead had. The Dead, I feel, were outsiders. Way outsiders. Phish feels like neighbors, you know. That, I think contributes to the love bath that surrounds them. Maybe I'm wrong. Am I wrong? A young woman from New Orleans named Jennifer F. Alla was a Phish first timer, like me. But by the concert's two-hour mark, her opinion was formed. "I think they are individually eclectic," she said and spontaneous geniuses all at once. I think they are oratorically orgasmic." All Phish fans are poets. After an intermission, Phish came back with a jaunty, percussive number called, I was told, "Down with Disease" that lasted maybe 20 minutes. By the end, the Acura stage was consumed in high-register guitar harmonics, soaring synthesizer, bass feedback and a driving, hissing drum shuffle. Excellent. In one of the next songs the band and some of the crowd chanted "birds of a feather are flocking outside." There was something comic and surreal about it. Then, in another song, the band admonished the tightly packed crowd to "twist around, twist around, twist around." The audience near me obliged to the best of their ability. Then came an absurdly fast country jig with the lyrics "laughing and fall apart, laughing and fall apart, laughing and fall apart." I loved it. As Phish approached the last half hour of the show, they had become splendidly abstract, as had the crowd around me. Somewhere Jerry Garcia was smiling and I was ready to swim with Phish to the end. But I received a text that reminded me of the approaching deadline and I departed.