26 in 26 #20 08/03/2013 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA ( Ben Greenfield (@GuyForgetOPT) #phish
Selection: “Rock and Roll”
From Ben Greenfield:
Can the magic of a jam be captured on tape, or is it only fully understood by those who are there to experience it?
It’s a debate that’s as old as Gamehendge itself. And while the true answer is known only to the holders of the Helping Friendly Book, the second night of Phish’s 2013 run in San Francisco makes a convincing case that there’s more to any jam than just the music.
People circle show dates on their calendars for a variety of reasons. For some, this Bill Graham show was noteworthy for falling on the 10th anniversary of the massive Ghoststick War at It. For me, it was a big night not only because it was my birthday, but also because I was able to leverage my birthday-boy status to convince my now-fiancee to do the unthinkable: come to a Phish show.
For Pete Hoherd, aka FunkyCFunkyDo, 8-3-13 held even greater weight. What started with a post on phish.net asking that fans yell for Driver at this show to honor Pete’s fallen brother Ryan turned into a grassroots effort that ranks among the most inspiring feats the Phish fan base has ever pulled off. Following Pete’s initial post, other fans turned his plea into their mission. They, along with Pete, printed out thousands of cards, distributed flyers, and spread the word about the Driver Campaign to fans all around the country in the hopes of getting it played in San Francisco.
And it worked. In the back third of a first set laden with relative rarities, the band played Ryan’s favorite song for Pete and his many friends who had come together for this show. And yet, as touching as this musical tribute was, the real tribute already been done: thousands of fans had gone out of their way to help this stranger simply because he’d lost a loved one and this was the least they could do for him.
Now. Can you listen to the 2nd set “Rock and Roll” and enjoy it without knowing any of this? Sure. Just as you could enjoy the It Ghost without knowing it happened under a sky full of glowsticks, or the previous evening’s late-night jam without knowing the band played it atop a Kuroda-fied control tower.
But any description of one of these jams that fails to mention its context is incomplete. Live music is a shared experience between a performer and an audience, and improvised music doubly so. Jams don’t happen in vacuums. The story of any jam, really, is the sum of the collective stories of the thousands of people in the audience and the four people on stage.
So what did those four people actually play in this “Rock and Roll?”
Put simply, they played a hell of a jam – one that epitomized the progress Phish’s improvisation made over the course of 2013. This outing showcased the band’s rediscovered willingness to explore every nook and cranny of a jam until they found an alcove worth spending some time in.
After an above-average solo from Trey following the lyrics, the quartet spent about five minutes shifting from one theme to another. There was some funk, a few key changes, and a couple sections with some punch, but nothing that killed.
But their persistence is exactly what makes Phish great improvisers. Great jamming isn’t about getting a homerun every time.
It’s about coming to the plate over and over. Because if your batting average is as good as Phish’s, you’re gonna knock in some runs before the game ends.
And at 11:30, Mike hits on an ascending major-key theme that the band proceeds to ride to an RBI double. If Phish had covered the Allmans on Halloween, a thousand PTers would’ve pointed back at this jam as incontrovertible proof that it had been obvious for months. It’s a beautiful theme, and as soon as Mike introduces it, the others follow, and they squeeze every drop of juice out of it until the jam fades, on a bed of lovely guitar loops, into “Steam.”
My fiancee remembers none of this. The most memorable part of her show was a wasted dude who fell on her (which ruined any chance I had at getting her to come to a 2nd show – thanks a lot, wasted dude).
For Pete, this jam was of course colored by the afterglow of his Driver. For me, some birthday celebration and reflection were thrown into the mix. And for thousands of others, who only ever hear this “Rock and Roll” on their earbuds, it’s nothing but a killer jam.
And really, that’s exactly as it should be. My experience of any jam – or anything in life – will never be exactly the same as yours. We all have our own stories and our own tastes, and we each experience this music in our own way. Everyone’s experience is valid, and beautiful in its own way.
Well, everyone except the wasted dude who fell on my fiancee. Seriously, fuck that guy.
From Ben Greenfield:
Guy Forget is best known as the co-host of the “Analyze Analyze Phish” podcast, in which he tries to get @TheRealZimShadi – a diehard Phish fan but podcast skeptic – into the “Analyze Phish” podcast. One of these days, he and Zim hope to record an Analyze Analyze Phish episode at a taping of Analyze Phish, so that Zim can experience the podcast live – the way it was meant to be experienced.
I almost dropped out of this project over to my anxiety at having to choose between the 11-17-97 and 5-22-00 Ghosts. Instead, I’ll go the cop-out route and say that my favorite one I’ve seen live is 8-3-03.
Ben has long been one of my favorite writers and was happy to have participate in 26 in 26. Ben is always up for helping others out and helping promote all the great material that circles the Phish web. He participated in a very important subject matter here