I originally set out to write this piece to convince the entire world that Dick’s “Golden Age” is among the greatest jams of this era. Don’t worry — I am still going to do that. But first, I have decided to focus a little bit on reflection. I have been wanting to write a piece about my thoughts regarding the current state of my fandom, and I think this “Golden Age” piece provides the perfect opportunity to do so. (Quick note: I know Phish did not write “Golden Age” but they do play it and I imagine the lyrics mean plenty to them.)
As many of our glorious guest posters have so wonderfully stated, 2015 was an outstanding year for Phish. There is no denying the brilliance and frequency of the top jams of the summer. Those jams, intertwined with outstanding setlists and second sets that provided little letdown, brought almost universal acclaim from the Phish fanbase. And that is saying something.
However, there’s something more than acknowledgment of incredible jams & noteworthy tours that is happening throughout the fan base. We are aging. The Phish fan base is aging, and so is Phish. The funny thing is though, this aging thing is not so bad.
When I was young, I wanted my music to be fast and furious. The faster, harder songs like “Maze,” “Mike’s Song,” “Weekapaug Groove,” and “Chalk Dust Torture” immediately drew my interest. The more upbeat, the better! I also wanted my jams with a side of Chuck Norris fury.
That was happily delivered in almost every composed section, and on rare treats some of the great 90s jams. I knew that a jam was cooking, when I tried to count the notes Trey had just played and lost track at eleventy billion. Trey and Fish were freaks of nature and not much satisfied me more than watching them execute things that most of us couldn’t dream of being played. The 90s were absolutely amazing and produced some of my favorite memories. I wouldn’t trade a minute of my youth — it was quite an adventure and has shaped me into the LawnMemo I am today.
And All This Goes Away…
As great as the 90s were, I had no fucking clue. Jam structure, time and space, jam keys, difficulty of segues, connectivity, and pretty much everything else was foreign to me. Instead, I basically thought “Trey is amazing.” Year by year, time taught and shaped me. I became a more sophisticated listener and thought more critically about music. Technology also played a MASSIVE role in my education and the development of my musical ear. The ability to grab any show I wanted and rewind at the click of a button sped my learning process by light years.
The fun part is, as I became a better listener, Phish was also changing. Their ability to lay down a napalm wasteland on instruments and audiences’ faces is certainly not the same as it once was. Instead, the current era’s success lies within their ability to play as one. Years of practice and playing together, along with a strong sense of self, has brought new sounds and styles into this era. The patience of age is something that only time can bring.
Where I used to be blown away show after show in the 90s by Trey and Fish, conversely most shows now leave my mouth on the floor with Page or Mike’s signature on it. These times they are a-changin’. Don’t get me wrong — Trey and Fish still leave me with an absurd amount of times where I can’t comprehend how good they are. It’s just that with today’s Phish, it is much more balanced.
There is much more to 2016 LawnMemo than just the way my listening has progressed. My life is exponentially more complicated than it was in the 90s, as well. Back then, my only thoughts were paying for tickets, buying a few tapes, gas in my tank, and trying to figure out what the hell I was doing in the bedroom.
Now things like a full time job, paying my bills, trying to be a productive member of society, helping out my family, and pretending like I have any idea what I am doing in life, dominate my thoughts. Life is wayyyyyyyyyyy different for me now than it was when I first saw Phish.
The thing about aging is you start to know your place in this world much more than when you were an idiot teenager. Things that are important force themselves to the forefront. You deal with real problems and real successes. The emotions that affect you become stronger every day you wake up. I am writing this on the same day that we put our dog down, and I saw my sister for the first time since she graduated from heroin rehab. This is real stuff. We aren’t defining our lives by how close we stand next to Trey anymore. We are often times trying to help save people’s lives and sometimes, even our own. But as tough as life can be in this adulthood we have moved into….
Well there’s a Golden Age comin’ round….
Life, shows and Phish are all better for me in the 2016 reboot of LawnMemo. When the emotions are going in the right direction, things take on another level of beauty. I feel things and understand my place in this world like never before. Songs in the Phish cannon I once skipped right over are now some of the most impactful. When “Harry Hood” and “Slave to the Traffic Light” are played now, I reach a level of spiritualism I never knew existed. Hell, in the 90s, I didn’t even know that was a word.
The shredding and annihilation of notes I once craved has given way to complex rhythm structure and syncopation. Now deep grooves and exploration are the avenues I live to walk down. And Phish is leading me down those roads at the exact same time I want to travel them. Use of time and space and impeccably placed notes are what get me excited for upcoming shows. The maturation of Phish has perfectly coincided with where my musical tastes have progressed. Now when I go see an extremely talented shredding band like Umphrey’s, I miss the sophisticated danceable range that floors me at Phish shows.
It’s not all gravy of course, but neither is my life…
But when it clicks…..Feels that I can only describe as overwhelming flood my soul.
There are other factors at play here, as well. The explosion of the Phish interweb has taken branching out and meeting other fans to a level never experienced in the 90s. Where I was going to shows with my small group of Rochester/Buffalo friends back then, I now converge with 50+ from all corners of the country. Where I used to see my friends every weekend, shows are now a reunion. Where I used to meet one or two of my neighbors at shows, I now have 3,000+ Twitter followers to talk to and share love.
The age of miracles.
I loved the 90s. I loved my youth, and I loved the level of ability that the band played with during the 90s. I am so happy it happened. I don’t want to go back though. For what we have given up in composed and high energy excellence, we have gotten back in emotional restoration. I am a happier and better person in this mid-life of mine. I love the music Phish is providing and can’t wait to see where the journey goes next.
Whatever direction the music goes, I can tell you one thing — My relationship with Phish, my life, family and friends has truly reached a Golden Age.
Dick’s Golden Age
Composed Section (0:00-5:05)
Out of yet another excellent “Blaze On,” we hear the beginning of “Golden Age.” Things start off nicely and we move through the composed section with ease. Until….
At about the 2:15 mark, Trey stumbles with the lyrics. The actual playing moves on nicely and for the moment, they avoid a full on train wreck.
Well they recovered for a while but then the 3:17 mark hits and we have:
Full on train wreck. Trey remembers the words about as well as I remember the name of that chick I took home on my 21st birthday. Luckily Trey has a band to carry him home and luckily I had my best friend to come pick me up…
The rest of the composed section is solid and sets up the jam.
Section 1: Strolling the Woods while Wading in the Ocean and Cooking S’mores All at the Same Time (5:06-8:41)
Trey begins with some nice soaring soloing while Fish provides an upbeat pace. Page is on the grand and is crushing as per usual. His timing is on point. Trey climbs at 5:47 and stops for just a second while Page fills in with utter warmness. LOCKED IN. Trey reads where Page is going and drops a lick at 6:11 that only 2015 Trey Anastasio could play. Short, repetitive, and incredibly beautiful. It somehow makes me think of strolling through the woods while swimming in the ocean. I need to, of course, mention that Page counters that little lick with more brilliance. Page rules my world.
Trey lays off at 6:51 and Page hammers into the space. Melody after melody of awesomeness from The Chairman. At the 7:00 minute mark, Page gets funky jazzy. Mike has been low in the forefront but powerful in the shadows. The jam breaks down from there and takes a different turn as Page moves to the organ and we get this interesting psychedelic dreamy jam.
Fish is the star here and his driving, pushing, soft tempo provides an incredible canvas to work on. Trey and Page work marvelous interplay back and forth and the result is a type of jam you don’t hear very often.
Section 2: A Jazzy Phish Dream with a side of Midget Cinco De Mayo (8:42-12:05)
Trey finds another repetitive lick at the 8:42 mark. It’s simple and driving. Just enough change to keep the interest. Page counters with more dreamy melodies. This is cool as shit.
There is a Gordon lurking and at 9:19, he reminds us that he is ready to pounce with some reverb magnitude.
The jam keeps moving down this dream landscape until Trey finds yet another unique riff at 9:43. This is nothing more than a couple of quick notes almost staccato style. Mike sees his opportunity and throws down a MASSIVE bass bomb at 10:05 overtop Page’s “WTU?”-like sirens. Remember all the shit I was talking about before this jam breakdown? All the stuff about sophisticated jamming and the use of space? It’s all right here. Nothing is unnecessary here. Moving only when warranted.
Trey finds an absolutely gorgeous run starting at 10:34. Fish throws down all kinds of awesomeness to further enhance the brilliance of Trey. Fish is one of a kind. He reads the game like no other. I just love this little section by Trey. So much of his 2015 playing told stories. This section calls me back to times when I had to reach out to my friends. When they needed me to put my arm around them and talk them through some rough times. It then gradually progresses to…
The 11:25 mark….
This part somehow reminds me of a midget dance on Cinco De Mayo — Is that weird? The crowd is eating this up. Then Trey starts to change his tone. Maybe I am thinking of Midget Cinco De Mayo because Trey has this old western slide tone working… So let’s call this another section.
Jam Section 3: A Shot of Wake Up Juice While Jamming at Clayton Revine (Major Back to the Future References) (12:06-16:02)
Remember the last time Phish played a jam that sounded like a gunfight at the O.K. Corral was going to break out? Yeah, me either… I am not sure if Trey actually was playing slide here but it sure sounds like it. Fish is friggin’ incredible here. The variety of sounds and notes he is playing is mind boggling. This jam is so unique.
Sometimes we talk about the ability of Phish to go wherever they want. One of the great examples is this “Golden Age.” I have no idea how we got here. A minute ago, we were at a midget Cinco De Mayo dance party. Now I feel like drinking bourbon, robbing a bank, and putting a ten gallon hat on top of my helmet.
The crazy part of this jam sounds as if I might run into Marty McFly in 1885 at the Hilly Valley festival, this still feels soooooo much like Phish to me!
The jam rides out some more killer Trey/Page interplay as it begins to fade out into “Roses are Free.”
Coming off of the mammoth Magnaball run, Dick’s had some high expectations to live up to. This “Golden Age” delivers. It might not grab you with a huge peak or a section of major danceable funk, but this jam is for the refined palate. Featuring three distinct sections that sound like few other Phish jams, there is much to explore. Long live the “Golden Age.”
I wrote about a lot of “Ghosts” and still have a lot to write about. I recently worked with @Iamspund and @therealburnham to update the “2001” phish.net jam chart which I am incredibly proud of. You can find me at The Mann, Spac, Cuse (in a limo), The Gorge, and at Dick’s this year. I will be the guy dancing like a lunatic in a helmet, hugging everyone and carrying a supply of water that can quench all of Los Angeles. Thank you for reading!