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Video Vault Episode 82: Phish Week

TO CELEBRATE THE UPCOMING RELEASE OF OUR 109TH 33/13 ON  A LIVE ONE, WE’RE PLEASED TO BRING YOU THE FIFTH AND FINAL INSTALLMENT OF PHISH WEEK BY AUTHOR WALLY HOLLAND !

Phish put on a good show, but their onstage theatrics are generally low-key; the guys stand still while playing, and the improvised light show, though extraordinary when you think about what goes into them, is still just lights. Which is to say that video isn’t really their medium.

(There’s actually a proper ‘Phish video,’ which I will not share: ‘Down with Disease,’ off 1994’s Hoist. Beavis and Butthead got ahold of it and said all that needs saying for nonfans, though it’s there on YouTube if you want it.)

That said, here’s a fantastic A Live One-era video compilation that shows off so much of what I love about the band.

In November 1994, Aquarium Rescue Unit’s ‘Reverend’ Jeff Mosier joined the band for a weeklong traveling bluegrass lesson, guesting with them onstage and helping them step up their acoustic/bluegrass game. This is smack in the middle of the A Live One tour – the shows they selected most of the live album tracks from – and the band’s roughly 30 years old, at the height of their powers, but allowing themselves to be vulnerable as they step into a completely new musical environment. Mosier shot (most of) this 80-minute video compilation of the band that week – some bluegrass, some regular Phish stuff, some tourbus stuff, some rehearsal tapes. Fans shouldn’t miss this, but it’ll also give nonfans a nice sense of the band’s personalities. No groupies, no misbehaviour, just hardworking guys working hard at their jobs.

Also, on the bus driver, a mullet – and an abortive story about Warren G.

Just so’s you know, on the concert acoustic quartet numbers, the bass player’s playing banjo, the pianist’s on standup bass, and the drummer (the one in the dress) is on mandolin. Even for such quick studies, that takes stones! Mosier’s the guest banjo player, by the way. Unlike many or most Phish guests, he fits right in.

Basically this is a refreshingly nice bunch of extraordinarily talented geeks pushing outside their comfort zone and enjoying themselves, maybe even more than usual since they now have a hard problem to wrap their brains around. The jokes are decent – around the 35-minute mark Trey gets a laugh from Mosier with one of my favourite Phish lyrics, courtesy of Fishman. The guy with the shaggy red hair and beard is the resident genius, guitarist and chief songwriter Trey Anastasio. After he sings ‘My Sweet One,’ notice how skillfully he shuts everyone out to Get Shit Done.

For our Hebrew-speaking friends, there’s an unexpected surprise around 5:30, inexpertly but passionately delivered. (Half the band’s Jewish. Fun Internet fact!)

(Chase with this workmanlike festival set from the band’s personally groundbreaking summer 1997 tour – the opener is an average version of their weaponized polyrhythmic exercise ‘Taste,’ which ends with tonal and then (ecstatic) modal solos just like Real Grownup Jazz Music, and the set closer’s their then-new pornofunk workout ‘Ghost.’ For an encore they do ‘Limb By Limb,’ which repurposes the Latinate rhythms of ‘Taste’ with a very different feel, Mingus at Antibes-style. Please forgive the obligatory, ludicrous ‘this is rawk!’ swooping cameras; excuse, too, the dancing.)

– Wally Holland

 

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