25 in 25 of 2015 #6 07/29/2016 Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie, Grand Prairie, TX (Jake Cohen, @smoothatonalsnd)
“Harry Hood” is a beloved song. But what makes a truly “exceptional” version? It’s odd to say, and I’m hesitant to admit it, but most versions of “Hood” are relatively similar and mostly average. <ducks>
Granted, that average is pretty amazing.
“Hood” seems to perfectly encapsulate the Phish experience: a little bit of reggae and silliness; absurd lyrics; a complicated composed section that’s still, somehow, easy to dance to; a dark, menacing chromatic melody repeated in sequence; and then of course a straight-build peak jam moving from barely nothing to ecstatic climax in a smooth, single crescendo, occasionally taking a detour into realms unknown only to whip us back into its comforting soundworld. Whatever reason you have for listening to Phish, it’s in “Harry Hood” somewhere.
See enough shows, though, and versions of “Hood,” while always great, start to blend together. You try to fight that urge, because it’s “Hood” and who could ever tire of such a beautiful song? Plus, “Hood” does what it almost always does, the peak is great, and you get those warm tingly feelings, and you’re thankful to be lucky enough to be there. In your post-show thoughts, you probably don’t return to the “Hood” though.
Not unless “Hood” does something unexpected or weird or just completely amazing so that when you walk out of that venue, everyone is saying “That HOOD though!” That’s what my twitter feed looked like after the Grand Prairie show.
The week prior, Phish dropped a monster second set in Shoreline, which included a notable “Hood” that moved into a minor key blues jam part way through. It was an atypical move that felt like a continuation of all the highly modulating jams from the beginning of that set. After a high energy, fabulous show at the Forum that nevertheless lacked serious exploratory improvisation, the Austin show seemed a bit off, with fans groveling more than usual after a largely crowd-pleasing but conservative show. And of course we now know that Phish began their month-long destructive path of improvisation in Atlanta, right after the Texas shows. Grand Prairie would get lost in all the excitement of Lakewood, and everything that followed the “Mike’s” second jam, Mann2, and the summer’s crowning moment, Magnaball.
That HOOD though! I’ll raise a glass of New England’s finest to that.
A set-opening “Chalkdust Torture” seems to bode well for deep improvisation, and while this version technically “goes type II” after Trey blasts past the usual ending phrase, it settles into a minor key jam that struggles to really find a foothold. It stagnates without really building or moving anywhere new, save for some fun Mutron-laden soloing, and then finally comes to a token peak that never felt like the natural result of any musical imperative. No resolution or structural closure, just a nice burst of volume and high-register playing, and Trey pushes the fallout from that peak into “Simple.” “Simple” ends with some really nice interweaving playing from Mike and Trey that leads quite naturally into “Silent in the Morning”; it’s one of the better segues into that song you’ll ever hear. After they play you-know-what (I’m afraid that, if I type that song’s name, it will appear like Voldemort to haunt me), “Fuego,” and “Julius,” “Hood” provides the last opportunity for some improvisational glory.
The opening lyrics seem to catch everyone off guard, Trey actually starts singing them during the “B” section of the intro. Oh well, everyone catches up and it’s all good. Trey plays with the rhythm of the upbeat chords during the following composed section, showing that he’s feeling loose and free to play around with one of his most well-known compositions. It’s all clean, aggressive playing through the dark, minor key “Thank you Mr. Miner” section. And then the jam begins around 5:11.
It’s all gentle, typical early “Hood” jam stuff at first, so much so that we take it for granted, but what Phish is able to do, every time at the beginning of “Hood,” is really remarkable. Fishman flutters on the ride cymbals producing the most effortless wisps of sound, like a translucent sheen of percussive noise, with Trey and Page weaving their gorgeous melodic lines around each other, all while Mike establishes the standard “Harry Hood” chord progression of I-V-IV, always cycling back to that comforting tonic chord of D major.
Around 7:00 Trey begins some slow trilling figures, and Page answers with arabesque turnaround phrases that seem to echo Trey. It’s gorgeous, and Trey’s trilling between A and B seems to want to take him away from the the core D major-ness of this section. He’s leaping up to E, too, again playing with notes that don’t belong to the tonic triad, unlike the earlier part of the jam which was lots of D and F-sharp and A. It wouldn’t take much to shift this whole thing, in fact, into A major, one of the common alternate keys for a “Hood” jam to explore.
Trey starts some muted staccato playing, another indication that he’s veering away from the typical full-throated tones of a “Hood” jam, and right at 7:15 Mike breaks entirely out of the Hood jam chord progression of I-V-IV and just hammers away on A. It’s clear that he’s interested in following through on Trey’s suggestion that they leave the normative sound world and harmonic world of “Hood” behind. But instead, Trey uses Mike’s lingering on the dominant A to return to a new tonic, this time D minor. He throws in a few F-naturals which immediately give that “blue note” quality, and by 7:30, suddenly we’re in a minor key blues jam in D minor.
Trey provides some delicate, dark jamming that sounds almost like it belongs in a Bowie jam or maybe one of the Allman’s great minor key blues explorations, “Whipping Post” or “In Memory of Liz Reed.” It’s a great moment in the normally blissful world of “Hood” jam, and since we’re already in D, it’s just a simple switch to get back to the D major jam that will take us to the peak. Soon they’re building in the usual way, the jam coalescing back around the I-V-IV (D-A-G) progression. But Trey isn’t done playing around. He likes to leap up to E in “Hood” jams because it’s a note that wants to naturally resolve to D in the context of that progression, and it provides a nice bit of tension until it does. So Trey starts playing an E at 9:15 and holds it for literally a full minute, constantly providing tension as it wants to resolve to D but doesn’t. For over sixty seconds, Trey sustains that E, while the rest of the band keeps building the base up beneath him. He’s done this trick before, most famously during the 11/16/96 “Hood,” but nonetheless it’s magical. And then instead of resolving to D, he pushes it up to F-sharp, and then G, and then A again, still denying the resolution in a flurry of trilling. Finally, the release comes with a frenzy of strumming on the jam’s ending chords, but it feels a little anti-climactic, in part because Trey moves down to the resolution rather than leaping up to top off the peak. Ending a jam with very fast strumming is one of the most notable ways that Trey’s GD50 playing rubbed off on his Phish playing, it’s a wonderfully exclamatory way to end a jam. And it seems like we’re headed for the closing lyrics, all well and good.
But here’s where “Hood” goes from just “great” to “exceptional.” Repeated trips through the jam’s closing melody never seem to advance to the closing lyrics. They keep delaying it, and Trey is still strumming like a madman, now moving back up the neck of his guitar. Finally, at 11:30, we get the high D we’d been hoping for during that long held A, and it’s the highest note of a frantically-strummed D chord. Fulfilled, the lyrics close it out, and we can finally, truly, feel good, good, good about Hood.
Jake is a musicologist from the New York area who writes about Phish less often than he would like at smoothatonalsound.com. He keeps promising to blog more once his dissertation is finished. His favorite 2001 is Island Tour.