Tag Archives: Surrender to the Flow

Holly Bowling Interview [Full Transcript]

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In June 2016, I interviewed Holly Bowling for a summer issue of Surrender to the Flow.  Only about a quarter of the information below made the final article due to length limits, but what Holly shared with me was fascinating and inspiring, and in honor of her recent successes, I thought you’d be interested in how this talented and creative musician came to be. Congrats to Holly on the successful crowd funding and forthcoming release of her newest album Better Left Unsung, which she teases at the very end of this full transcription, and her recent sit ins with Phil Lesh, American Babies, and so many others.  You can see Holly during the New Years Run in NYC pre-Phish and on her 2017 winter tour.

CS: When/what was your first Phish show?  Was there a single song/show that got you hooked on the music? How many shows have you seen since?
HB: My first Phish show was New Year’s 2002. I got into them during the hiatus and never thought I’d get to see them play, so when they announced New Year’s and the three Hampton shows, there was no question whether or not I was going. I was already really into the music, and predictably, seeing them live only furthered the obsession. I ended up seeing all but 4 shows in 2.0, I was really determined not to miss out since I had missed so much already. I put off going to school and traveled around the country seeing Phish and learned more that way than I think I would have in school at that point in my life. Made a lot of friendships too that are still a huge part of my life. I slowed down a little in 3.0 and stopped catching quite as many shows, but I still see a lot. I’ve seen around 300 to date.

What’s been your favorite time or tour in the band history musically?
Everything from 1997. Fall 2013. Summer 2015. Summer 2016 (I hope!)  I really love the thematic, focused style of improvisation that’s developed in the last few years. 

Have you gotten any reaction from the band/members to your music?
Mike Gordon showed up at one of my shows in Philadelphia. I gave him a copy of my album. He stayed and listened to the whole Tahoe Tweezer and I think he gave me a thumbs up on his way out the door.  Other than that though, I have no idea what they think of it. 

When did you start playing piano?
Age five.

What did you do before this project?
For a living? I was teaching music. I ran my own studio. I actually miss the kids I worked with a lot. Seeing kids begin to understand music and watching the concepts click for them as they discover all these experiences is really the coolest thing. 

Did you always want to be a professional musician?
Yes! Since I was a little kid. But I had kind of given up on that working out as a realistic career. Then a few years ago I dove back in and haven’t looked back.

When/how did you get the idea to reinterpret Phish songs?
It wasn’t something I sat down and decided to do one day after thinking it over and searching for an idea for a project. It just developed naturally out of my experience with the piano and my love of Phish. I play what’s in my head, and what was stuck in my head a lot of the time was Phish.  I’ve been doing that for a long time, but approached it with more focus and discipline recently and actually worked through some of the harder parts that I’d been stuck on for years when I was just casually exploring the music.

Was the Tahoe Tweezer your very first piano arrangement?
The Tahoe Tweezer was the first Phish song I worked on in depth, and the first complex piece of music I ever transcribed and arranged. Not exactly a logical choice for a “starter project”, haha! But definitely a good one to learn from. The music is so varied and covers so much ground that it taught me a lot. And I mean that both in terms of texture, what to leave out, what to keep, and varying that over time, and also in terms of how to express different sounds and timbres on the piano. Sounds that either are pretty far from the piano to begin with or sounds that don’t translate well. Like really heavy distorted crunchy stuff, or really quiet delicate drawn out ethereal passages. Or interesting percussive sounds and patterns. Long sustained sounds, either from Trey’s guitar or from Page’s organ (which can hold a note indefinitely, and the piano can’t). Sweeps on the synth that move continuously rather than having discreet pitches. All kinds of stuff. So yeah… not a great starter piece to work on, but also in another sense, the best one to work on, because it covers so much ground. I learned a ton. I know if I did it again today my process would be very different. I think the end result would sound different too since I’ve definitely changed and grown as a musician since then. It’s funny. The original is a snapshot of Phish at that moment and in that period of their improvisation. And then my arrangement is a snapshot of me in that moment, of my style as a musician. So it’s like a musical snapshot of a musical snapshot.

What has been your favorite arrangement thus far?
As far as the jam transcriptions, I think maybe the GD’s ’74 Eyes of the World. But that might just be because its the most recent complete one I did and I’m always learning from each one and trying to make the next one even better. As far as arrangements of compositions and songs, rather than jam transcriptions? I really loved the challenge of It’s Ice. It takes a lot of focus to play and I spent a ton of time figuring it out, it was a really rewarding project to tackle. But that’s a really tight technical arrangement and consequently there’s less room in it for my own musical voice (aside from the middle section, which I’ve been taking liberties with for sure) because the composition is so complex to begin with. I really like how the arrangement for Scents and Subtle Sounds came out. I did a lot of playing around with the different registers of the piano and moving the melody line around from to another, and trying to make use of all of the areas of sonic space.  Another favorite is Pebbles and Marbles. I feel like the arrangement is still settling a little. But in the right setting on a really good piano, I think a lot of emotion comes through on that one, which is what I wanted. I think it’s a really powerful song to begin with and I love the lyrics, and the build. The feeling I wanted to come through in the arrangement is there, and there’s a lot of subtle delicate stuff before it gets heavy.  Across the board, really any of the arrangements where you get to hand off a part or a melody from one hand to the other, sort of like passing a baton, or I guess ideally maybe something more graceful like a trapeze artist moving from one flying trapeze to another… any of these are physically fun to play, just the physical motions you go through as you try to keep that melody line intact as it shifts.   

What’s one of the hardest songs and/or jams to reinterpret? Easiest?
Simple songs with four chords are easy to learn. Sometimes they’re harder to make something special out of them, especially in a purely instrumental context. If there’s a lot of repetition, which is fine if there’s great lyrics over top, it can be hard to make that translate to an instrumental setting without it getting boring. So in that sense, the stuff that’s easiest to arrange can also be the hardest to do well. Then there’s stuff that’s hard just because its technical and complex. I really want to learn All Things Reconsidered but its just insane and I’m not sure how I would cover all the parts and do it justice. But really the thing I find hardest in general is arranging parts of jams where the meter becomes ambiguous and time falls apart for a while. When there’s a structure and a framework to fit the pieces into, it all makes sense, even if its really hard to figure it out. There’s an order and a right answer. When the meter disappears, its really hard to pin things down to paper. And there’s not really notation for things that are that loose, or if there is, I don’t know it. So my scores in that part end up being descriptions to jog my memory of what that section sounds like as much as exact directions of what to play. And in the case of these jam transcriptions, I’m not looking to be too free with it and just do my own thing – I do that in my improvisation, but in this case, I’m trying to recreate and re-orchestrate something, almost like making a piano reduction of a symphonic work. So I want to be as true to it as possible. It’s funny how difficult it becomes when the underlying structure becomes a question mark.

How do you select songs or jams to arrange?
Lots of times, I pick because a section of a jam is stuck in my head. So I’ll pick favorites, or stuff I’m listening to a lot. Sometimes, with songs especially, I’m more picky about the criteria. Like if its really focused on a drum groove, 2001 for example, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t think it would be in service of the music really. And some stuff is just physically basically impossible on the piano, due to the constraints of the instrument. You can’t repeat notes as quickly on a piano as you can on a guitar, because the actual mechanism in the piano doesn’t work that fast. You can’t sustain notes indefinitely, or bend notes, which pretty much rules out doing one of my favorite jams ever, the Camden Chalkdust from ‘99. I’m still trying to figure out a way to do that one though. It’s so good.

How does it feel when you first perform them?
It’s always harder performing things in the very beginning. There’s something cool about stuff that’s really fresh, but I’m also often learning things at the very last minute so the music isn’t as comfortable under my fingers as it will be a few performances later. It takes more concentration and there’s less room to take chances with it or let it open up a little. That usually comes later.

What’s your relationship with The Grateful Dead?
I never got to see Jerry, I was 11 when he died. I grew up listening to the Dead because my parents did, so I’ve known a lot of the songs as long as I can remember. I fell in love with the music on my own terms later, sometime in high school. I mean I liked the music already, but there’s a difference between knowing and liking music you hear growing up versus seeking it out yourself and really diving in to it.

What was the first Dead song you reinterpreted? Hardest/Easiest?
The ’74 Eyes of the World jam transcription was the first one I transcribed and arranged. Another interesting choice as a first project, haha! Go big or go home I guess. I mean I’d played around with tons of their songs but just casually, figuring out the chord progressions and playing that way. I’d never sat down and rearranged all the puzzle pieces and tried to weave the threads together in a really deliberate way, and rearranged, and rearranged again until it seemed right. I would just play.  I actually arranged that one because JamBase wanted me to do a song for the “Songs of Their Own” series they did leading up to the Fare Thee Well shows, and no one had picked Eyes yet, and I had coincidentally been messing around with that song a few days before, playing around with the timing moving from 3 to 4 and back again. They asked me to do a jam transcription or at least include a tease of a notable jam, and I wasn’t going to, I didn’t think I had time to get it finished before the deadline. But then I listened to the Louisville Eyes and just decided I had to do it. I worked on it pretty much nonstop for several weeks. It was kind of nuts.

What has been your favorite place/venue/show to play so far?
Jam Cruise has to be one of my favorites ever. I think it has to be probably the only music festival ever where you show up to play your set and they happen to have a beautiful grand piano just sitting there waiting for you all ready to go. I mean obviously if you’re Dr. John or someone like that, you get that at every festival you play. But as an emerging artist, it’s hard to find that, much less in a festival setting. So that was pretty rad.

I also really love the Massry Center in Albany. People show up there really prepared to listen and get into the music and let it take them away, no distractions. That’s a really cool thing. There’s also an amazing piano and the acoustics of the room allow you to play completely unamplified. Another place like that is a new favorite of mine that I just played for the first time a few months ago called The Old Church. It’s in Portland OR and as you would expect, it’s an old church… but its no longer religiously-affiliated and is purely a performance space for arts and music now. The space is beautiful and the acoustics are too, and the whole vibe in there is just really special. I love spaces like that. I really like when I have the opportunity to play in spaces that are different from the usual places we’re used to going to see music.

Who have you played with that you were particularly wowed by (either because you didn’t know them at all, or because you knew (of) them very well)?
I’m grateful to have played with so many musicians who have wowed and inspired me. Obviously getting to play with both Aron [Magner] and Joel [Cummins] during my Jam Cruise set was really special. If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d share the piano with both those guys, in the same set no less, I don’t think I would have believed you.

What other bands/interpretations do you incorporate into your sets?
I’ve done a few songs and teases of songs by the Disco Biscuits. There’s some long-form compositions in their catalog I’d like to explore more. The one I’ve worked on most so far is Magellan, which has always been one of my favorites of their songs.  And then I’ve thrown in some Greensky Bluegrass teases and references. That started on Jam Cruise ‘cause Paul and Anders were there and I wanted to give a little musical shoutout to them. And then after I got to sit in with them in Eugene, which was such an honor, I snuck some GSBG references into my sets the rest of that tour. Phish and the Dead are the bread and butter of my sets right now but it’s always evolving.

How do you see yourself expanding your repertoire or performance as you grow from here?
I love the piano, and I always will, but I’m excited to expand out into other keyboard instruments as well. I’ve been having a ton of fun playing around with all the less expected sounds you can coax out of a piano and expanding the palette of sounds I have to work with, and I’d like to keep moving in that direction. I’m also working on some original music. That’s something I want to let grow in something other than a solo setting though. Maybe a trio.

What do you hope to see this project accomplish/become?
My goal is to make music that connects with people. If that nonverbal conveyance of emotion is happening, then I’m doing it right. Obviously there’s plenty of things on the creative and logistical end of things I’d love to see develop, but really, goal number one for me is connection. If I’m connecting with the music I’m playing emotionally, and someone out there listening is too, I think that’s what it all comes down to.

Anything else you want to share?
Yes! I’m making another album. It’s the music of the Grateful Dead reimagined for solo piano, and I’m unbelievably excited about how the sessions have gone so far. I can’t say any more about it just yet, but keep an eye out for it! It’s gonna be good!

 

Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga!

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Originally published on Oh Kee Pah blog.

“What else would you call a Phish yoga class?” asks Chris Calarco, creator and instructor of Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga, who has been on an East Coast tour since around Halloween.

The room giggled at his rhetorical question, and I knew this wouldn’t be like an ordinary yoga class. Well, there we countless other hints before that, and not one of them made me yearn for the standard Vinyasa flow class. First of all, Chris had been posting the “set lists” of each class, including show dates, and they were all pretty killer. He did Makisupa>Night Nurse>Makisupa 10/23/10 followed by Tweezer > Mist 7/10/99 in New Haven, CT, and the Mike’s > Hydrogren > Weekapaugh 11/22/97 before that, so I trusted the man’s taste.

Secondly, it was the most welcoming yoga room I’ve ever been in- filled with phriends, and you know who phriends are. They smile at everyone, talk and laugh with one another; they have an automatically strong bond because of their passion for Phish, which translated flawlessly to the yoga studio.

As we settled into our mats, Chris described how he wanted to bring the joy of seeing Phish live into his life everyday, and discovered how through his yoga practice. He started the set with “Buffalo Bill > NICU” from 1997 as we began to control our breathing and sung an ‘ohm’ together, which someone later suggested could have been a ‘kung.’ We moved through sun salutations and back bends, forward folds and half-lifts, and we cheered when the transition came in, as Chris encouraged us to do whatever we felt. So when the epic Ghost from 11/17/1997 came on, which was also the date of the class this year, people started bouncing in their down dogs and clapping to relieve the tension of chair pose (picture it. Tough, right?), Chris seemed elated, and the room felt full of joy.

Fluffhead came on and was most unfortunately turned down, which Chris apologized for, “but I’ve got to teach something during this class!” As an elusive photographer clicked away, he and his agile helper demonstrated how to reach a full handstand and suggested we pair up and try it ourselves. In a more rigid yoga class, I would be timid asking for a partner, but here, it felt only natural to grab the girl in the faded Dead tee next to me and let her hoist my leg into the air as I pulled the other one up. Awkward? Is hugging the random guy in the crowd because of the killer jam going down awkward?

Solo practice continued, though getting the chatter to slow down only worked when the “2001” was turned up, and kept at a simmer since everyone was that much more comfortable. We moved onto a series of leg and hip stretches towards our next goal of a full split as Chris and his helper walked around gently adjusting our postures and doing the pose along side us. One of the first ever “Light”s was a perfect selection for yoga, considering the lyrics and seemed to ring true to everyone as we sank into more difficult poses.

It was feeling a bit like a real show would, energy dying a little but still wanting to carry on and loving it. After the instructional for the full split, we began a slow wind down that would end with a handful of finals poses to “Harry Hood,” response cheer and all. It was a perfectly planned out set closer and when we laid on our mats for corpse pose (again, picture it. The best, in my opinion.), an encore-worthy “Shine a Light” ran through the speakers to close what had been a challenging, but fulfilling yoga class.

Chris was absolutely right in the beginning of the class. That elated feeling when the boys come on stage, and even when they walk off, can be accomplished through a yoga practice, and you don’t even need to be a seasoned vet. One of the participants asked a young guy who admitted to never having done yoga before how his first class was. “It was great, if they played Phish all the time, I’d probably do it again!” And they wonder why people go on Phish tour…. Ha!

Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga will be back in NYC for the New Years Run, but consider pre-paying when he announces the date if attendance at last Thursday’s class was any indication of interest. It was packed, so big thanks to Yoga Vida on Bond St. for hosting us and to Chris for inspiring us through the magic of Phish!

Try it for yourself!

Buffalo Bill > NICU 8/17/97
Bathtub Gin 9/4/11
Ghost 11/17/97
Fluffhead 6/3/11- first instructional for headstand
2001 6/14/00
Light 8/7/09
The Lizards 8/13/96
Mellow Mood 8/9/11- instructional for splits
Rocket Man 8/9/11
Harry Hood 8/9/11
Shine a Light 6/25/10

SUPER PHEST! From the Archives, 7/9/2011

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“I’ve got big balls,” sung Phish drummer Jon Fishman, “Some balls are held for charity, and some for fancy dresses, but when they’re held for pleasure, they’re the balls that I like best!” While I suppose there’s a slight chance he was referencing an engorged scrotum, what he was really talking about (in singing the AC/DC cover, “Big Balls”) was the Biggest Ball Ever, the jam band’s 9th festival since 1996.

SuperBall IX, Photo by Kirsten Sheahan

Not only was it their biggest festival ever, but it was the best planned and executed Phish festival to date right from the start. Clearly, the organizers had done this before and had learned from their mistakes. The first Phish festival, The Clifford Ball, set the bar for the modern-day super concerts we know and love. This goes not only for Phish’s festivals, but events like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza (though the alt-rock festival was conceived 5 years before the inaugural Phish festival, it was a touring event, like Warped Tour), Austin City Limits, and many others, take a hint from the Phish organization in ways to please the crowd: art installations, cooling tents, using local resources, even car-side camping all came from the one-band festival that preceded these giant concerts. The Clifford Ball (1996), The Great Went (1997), Lemonwheel (1998), Camp Oswego (unofficial festival, 1999), Big Cypress (1999), IT (2003)–these were events that defined what a music festival had become.

The Phish organization may have followed the footsteps of the Grateful Dead in their musical approach and marketing scheme, but planning and organizing these giant events was somewhat uncharted territory, especially in 1996 when all they had as an example was Woodstock (largely a failure) and day-long touring festivals. They wanted to create a completely unique fan experience, something you couldn’t get at any old concert or any regular camping trip. From the beginning, The band was fully immersed in the planning process. They helped the creative director and the engineers in figuring out what should go where and how, and in their earlier days, even helped build some of the structures. Without the efforts of the Phish organization, and without the compassion for phans that Phish truly had and acted on, we may not have today’s festival as know it.

Photo by Kirsten Sheahan

Super Ball IX was held at the historic Watkins Glen International Racecourse, site of 1973’s Summer Jam that featured The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. Unlike anything a Phish crowd is used to, the venue was fully prepared for the influx of jam band fanatics that started rolling in on Thursday morning. Even Wednesday night saw a line forming at the gates, and when the crowd thickened, they abided for safety purposes and started letting people in. Many had arrived early in hopes that Phish would pull a Grateful Dead-move and let the audience in for a full blown 2-hour set during sound check. (Alas, while the Thursday sound check would have been nice to hear, listeners had to stay outside the gates.)

Thursday night was a northeastern reunion, with phans finally coming together to make up for the disaster that was 2004’s Coventry. Billed as the last Phish show ever, the event was poorly planned, poorly managed, and even more poorly played. We may have been able to deal with the flood, the mud and the 15-mile hike to get in if anything else had worked out, but it didn’t and no phan was about to let that be their last east coast memory of Phish. So we all found ourselves back in northern New York, just an hour past Ithaca (just?!), and you could feel the excitement and joy as soon as you stepped onto the festival grounds. Well coordinated, mostly car-side camping areas were named after states Phish has never played in (North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Hawaii, and a phan-designated area called Puerto Rico) and overflow parking lots surrounded the racetrack, enabling festival city to be in the center of the huge arena.

As phans came trickling in on Friday, others took time to explore the ever-developing Americana theme on the festival grounds. Not only was there a ferris wheel, bocce ball and wiffle ball courts, an air-conditioned charging tent, and a plethora of vendors giving out information and ice cream (thank you, Ben and Jerry’s); there were also giant structures (a storage unit, a water mill, a factory-esq production line) to walk through and on. Each of these buildings was constantly changing, starting on Friday in a wooden, colonial style decoration. On Saturday, they were transformed to more industrial designs. Sunday’s incarnations represented the future, brought in by a secret, late-night, futuristic set Phish played from the storage unit in an area called “Ball Square.”

Phans were treated to balloon structures to play with, original art to look at, and the House of Live Phish, where you could download each set right after it happened, listen to and download past sets selected by archivist Kevin Shapiro. You could even single out each band member in the mix to create a totally unique listening experience.

Friday night saw the first two of seven (announced) sets, and yes, they were all Phish. Thirteen hours, 17 minutes, and 22 seconds (thanks for calculating, NY Times), all by one glorious band and gladly soaked up their loyal phans. The first sets put us at ease when we could tell that they had been practicing, were playing very well, and were feeling the vibe of this festival already. Set one saw bust-outs like Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” and a very rarely played “Mike’s Song> Simple> Bug.” Saturday was the big day for all of us, featuring a fully day-time set starting at 3 pm.

A phan-organized beach ball fight was the perfect supplement to the opening “Tube,” and while the next two sets of the day were both phenomenal and surprising, the real gem was the secret, unannounced set that started at 2 am Sunday morning. Spacey, wandering and barely following the melody of the “Sleeping Monkey” we know and love, the boys’ 4th set of the day met very mixed reviews. While some kids were ready to keep the party going and just wanted to dance to another regular set, some of us realized that Phish finally remembered how to jam and were blown away by the improvisational rock music blaring out of that storage unit. Sunday, too, was a day filled with amazing music, happy and safe concert-goers and finally a break in the heat with a little rain in the morning. Another thing most phans are not accustomed to is the weather holding out so nicely as it did this past Independence Day weekend. Besides the blaring heat for Saturday’s 3 pm set, it was easy to stay cool during the day and even got a little chilly at night. Perfect festival-ing weather, if you asked anyone there.

Overall, maybe not in numbers, but in everything else this was the biggest festival, the biggest ball of them all; it was a most super ball. Even if you’re not privy to the ways of Phish culture, even if you hate it and everything we stand for, it’s hard to ignore the roots of the music events standing in their legacy that are becoming ever wider spread, ever more popular and accessible. How can you ignore it anyway? A gathering of 30,000-plus people (that being the smallest festival in Phish’s history), dancing to genuine rock ‘n’ roll and celebrating the freedom to enjoy whatever we want, however we want? Even though in the Articles of Orientation packet they handed out at the entrance, it reminds attendees that “Independence is a theme, not a day.” Phish allows us to be as free and independent as we could possibly be. In the beginning of the festival, in fact after the second song, before he could even guess that the weekend would be such a success, Trey said “Thanks for coming to our party, everyone!”

No, boys, thank you.

Originally published on BreakThru Radio, 7/9/11

Why You Should Try Studio Phish

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Someone in a recent issue of Surrender to the Flow was recalling his favorite version of “You Enjoy Myself” and said that he never laughed out loud to music before hearing that second track on 1988’s Junta. It occurred to me then that I had never listened to Junta, never mind a studio version of “YEM.” I hadn’t really listened to any studio Phish. ‘Why would I,’ I thought, ‘when live Phish is so much better?’ ‘But how would you know?’ said a little voice. So I went and listened to the only studio recordings I had on my iPod at the time- “Light,” and two tracks off an old Valentine’s Day mix, “Waste” and “If I Could,” the latter which had been played maybe once. After listening through these selections, I decided to indulge in some studio Phish, even if I wasn’t “supposed” to like it.

Naysayers, I hear your concerns loud and clear. Studio versions of our favorite songs can be very weird and discomforting. Take “Chalk Dust Torture,” where they decided to lower the tone on Trey’s vocals, making the whole vibe of the song kind of creepy. The production effects on songs can often times be questionable, and the band has admitted to putting less effort into their studio sessions than their live shows. But for many studio versions, we get an elaborated, perfected, and fantastic example of Phish songs. We get horns and back-up vocals, choirs even! We’re treated to amazing featured artists, harmonies you can’t possibly hear at shows, and parts of songs completely forgotten. Let me just ask you this: how do you know how good the jam is if you don’t know where it’s coming from? Most of the studio versions provide a jumping board for these songs to take off from, to grow and develop as they noodle through the sound-space continuum that is Phish.

Give that classic first album a thought. Some of Phish’s most highly anticipated songs come from that project: “Fee,” “YEM,” “Foam,” “Dinner and a Movie,” “David Bowie,” and “Fluffhead,” to name a few. And the writer from some issues ago is absolutely right; each funky turn in YEM can make you laugh out loud. The first four tracks of Lawn Boy, which came out in 1990, pack a hard punch with a “Squirming Coil> Reba> My Sweet One> Split Open and Melt” opener. “Reba” sounds clear, the words flow out clutter-free and precise, and it’s slowed down a bit so you can really appreciate the story in the music. “Split” becomes this kind of demonic, weirdly powerful, twisted little journey that I usually don’t experience during a live hearing. The horns add a level of unknowing to the coarse, deep vocals (which work here as opposed to “CDT”), and the sultry chorus singers remind you of some burlesque carnival fun house.

A Picture of Nectar will always be one of my favorite albums because each song brings something to the table I haven’t heard in a live version. The boys slipped “Manteca” in there, thinking no one would notice (ha!). This 1992 release gifted us with “Llama,” “Stash,” “Guelah Papayrus,” “Glide,” and “Tweezer,” not to mention the other gems. It’s enough to say that this album brought us classics, but it also revisited the character side of Phish. “Eliza,” “Cavern,” and “The Mango Song” are all amazingly driven by character and plot, and bring us back to the days of TMWSIY. 1993’s Rift includes rarities like “Lengthwise,” “The Wedge,” and “Weigh,” and without listening to the album, you may never hear these songs.

Hoist is the album that features the most incredible talent the boys bring in the studio. Horns and collaboration are some of my favorite Phish specialties and this album has both. Julius featured the soulful Rickey Grundy Chorale (with Rose Stone & Jean McClain) and the Tower of Power Horns. The spacey-watery-wonderworld of “Down with Disease” is something not easily replicable, while the familiar, but new “Axilla II” is another album treasure, with the quirkiest ending I’ve known Phish to produce. We already know that “If I Could,” featuring Allison Kraus, is the studio version that got me going studio-ways in the first place, and “Scent of a Mule” is crisp, clean, and delightfully bouncy, something that doesn’t always translate to the stage.

In my opinion, the albums that came after this are less to write home about. 1996’s Billy Breathes and 1998’s The Story of the Ghost did bring in some more classics that we’ve fallen in love with, and it’s definitely worth it to give those versions a listen. Farmhouse was pretty much a flop (if you ask any phan, though the mainstream media seemed to like it). Round Room and Undermind were, well… somewhat undermined and have kind of been swept under the rug. Give them both a chance and see if the lighter, more poetic tunes don’t show you a different side of Phish. As far as Joy/Party Time, I would buy them both. It’s their first album back (again) and now that most of the tracks are pretty integrated into rotation, it will be interesting to see how they grow.

Just as the writer of a past STTF encouraged me, I hope this article opens your mind up some of the perfected powers our boys can stir up. It’s just as amazing what they can do on stage as what they can do in a studio.

inPHANcy… Or How to Love Phish as Much as That Guy with 100+ Stubs

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Someone once said to me, “You’re about a decade and a half late on that whole Phish thing.” Another person questioned the love I have for this band based on the amount of shows I’d been to. Even others doubt my knowledge of Phishtory because I’m young for this crowd (23, really?). And to be honest, sometimes this makes me feel like I really did just jump on the bandwagon. But no, let’s go back and I will tell you the story of a baby phan who came to the party right on time.

I saw Phish for the first time in 2004 on top of the David Letterman building. It’s a show that changed me, for sure, but didn’t have the impact that my next, and really first, two shows had. I had been a fan of Phish during their hiatus, and even kept up spirits when we all thought they would be gone forever. Upon their return in 2009, I didn’t think for a second that my life was about to change dramatically, and in so many beautiful ways. So I went to Bonnaroo, and though neither of those sets compare to what we can expect from Phish these days, it still set me on the roll that has yet to slow. Since then, I have seen 20 stunning shows that keep getting better and better.

During summer and fall of 2009, I fell in love with the crowd, the passion of the phans, the welcoming neighborhood of each lot. Foolishly, neither Halloween nor New Years was on the roster for me then. If only I had known!

When it came time to write my thesis for graduation, my professor said, “Well, what do you love?” and I said, “Phish.” So I wrote it on the band, phans, and love of the music, and in so doing, fell into the endless tunnel that is Phish phandom.

Dancing through that tunnel- more like a spiral of joy- summer 2010 was my tour of confirmation. Finally, the boys were close to home and I could afford to follow them around. Each show taught me more about their playing techniques, styles, personalities, and genius minds. (I had been listening to Phish non-stop, mind you. Every day was- and still is- filled with different live recordings, from all the years of their music making.) Each song seemed to fill out every time I heard it, the exploration of new songs constantly amazing me. I uncovered the depths and wonders, the layers of the cake, the jazzy, smooth, funny, serious, weird, and true corners of Phish, and each of these amazing musicians.

By the end of my summer of love, I decided to dedicate my life to Phish. I know, I know; this sounds a little crazy, and I realize, of course, that my life can’t be solely dedicated to Phish (or can it…). So I’m not twiddling my thumbs waiting for the guys over at Red Light to up and quit. But during fall tour, I got some sort of unspoken message through every Phish avenue that this was my calling: through the band, obviously, the lights and Koruda himself, the crowd culture and the lot scene, the individual phans, our subcultural market of toys and garments and food, hell, our language. It all made me absolutely positive that I had found some sort of affirming identity, some real group I could be a part of and relate to. And some fucking incredible music to guide us on the way.

My real point is that I don’t think I’m the only one in this situation. There are a lot of younger phans who didn’t get to see Phish back in the 90’s, either because we were too young, weren’t into it yet, whatever the reason. This is not to say that we’re resistant to learning: so many of us are finally getting into the groove of what Phish really was. The boys are back, there’s no denying that. The “reunion” part of this is definitely over; though to an older phan I’m sure it still seems different, they are certainly back in action and we’re all here together now. Sure, there’s some unspoken merit behind having seen a ton of shows, but if you love it, and if you’re feeling the good vibes, then boy, man… god… shiiit rock on!