Memo’s “Other Jams” Memo: Solid “2001,” “Shafty,” High Energy “Rock and Roll,” “Harry Hood”
From Alex Davis:
“Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing.”
Phish at Bonnaroo 2012. Hopefully you’re still with me.
Yep, I volunteered to pen about this one, but not entirely because of the music. It’s got one of those off-putting, roll-your-eyes setlists that looks rad on paper until OCD fanboys like myself see the track lengths. Hot damn, a ten-minute “Alaska.” To me this shows is mundane and harmless, yet its best moments turn out as revelations. Which, by the way, I think is one of the ultimate statements of just how good a band Phish is.
One of those moments lasts from the 4:40 mark to around 6:30 in this rare 1st set “Tweezer.” That moment also happens to be one I’ll never forget; an instant where at that point, in real time, on Sunday, June 10th, Bonnaroo was winding down. Everything froze and the sky detonated and as I slipped in the mud, that special feeling that all fans know where it seems every note Phish is playing is intended just for them.
Anyone who has ever been to an event of this magnitude knows the “Sunday Festi Slump” all too well; the 10-12 hour period where the body pulls every punch, prompting one to notice a.) how old one is and b.) to never ever do this shit again. That afternoon, my head felt like it had been hit with a stair car (watch for hop-ons). My eyes were dry from lack of sleep and my stomach swam, reminding me what 3 straight days consuming cheap beer and fried food can do to even the healthiest of human beings.
My girlfriend had been next to me during most of the set, her yellow-brown sundress dusty and fading from an entire day in the sun. Rightfully so, Phish was the final act of the festival, and although the main-stage crowd was noticeably smaller, the usual pre-show buzz of excitement permeated the crowd. She and I have seen Phish many times together but something was different between us at this show. It’s a tough thing to realize that the person you love is downright despondent because of you.
And it was at this point something had to give. Despite the guest appearance by Kenny Rogers, and Trey’s infectious smile beaming down on us, the inevitable happened. Toward the end of “Wilson” she took my hand and started to speak, only to be drowned out by the song’s “BLAP BOOM” coda. I didn’t hear her, but somehow I knew.
“Why?” I asked.
The hesitation of her response spoke volumes. I looked away, back to the now stationary lights as Wilson ended and Trey signaled the start of something else.
“I don’t know.”
I think that’s what she said. Either that or “I’m going to go.” That actually makes more sense. Nevertheless, I was still processing what was going on when I realized she had left, taking with her the better part of the last 3 years. “I don’t know.” Three words that imply so much insecurity yet right then so much conviction.
Suddenly, the post-Uncle Ebenezer darkness fell. At 4:07 on the track, you can hear Page tumble down the ivories like a wild animal before the feedback and static tempest gives way to a couple of standard “Tweezer” measures. And then Trey…he simply…stops playing. Blame it on the emotional strain of the last few days, the lack of sleep, or a convenient portalet, or this horrific hangover, but my world suddenly split apart.
Silence and stillness, then at (4:46) the ambient vibrato from Page’s left hand. Perpetually, the defining aspect of the world, in that field in Manchester specifically, ceased to be human knowledge. Except for the steam-like pulse of Fish’s kit (4:51), no pursuit or thought or hint of action that propels any kind of sizable authority or claim can exist. Even the band seems lost in it.
Trey eventually steered the jam into more familiar territory, leading Phish into a segment of wistful exploration (8:31) before finally settling into a short, sort of ambient moment; Mike with a slow, steady pulse and Fish’s cymbals reminiscent of “I Am Hydrogen” (11:36.)
There are moments of self-awareness that spring abruptly out of events when you least expect. Phish has caused more of these insights than anything I’ve been involved with before. Ironically, Phish would segue into “Free”.
Much is different for me since that show at Bonnaroo. For whatever reason, that night was a tremendous turning point in my approach to uncertainty and to change in general. Both concepts will slip into every aspect of life, you know? There will always be questions; there will always be consequences that come with answers.