[Take the Bait is spirited deliberation centered around the hyperbole of Phish’s music and fandom, passionately exuded via the written words of phish.net contributors @FunkyCFunkyDo and @n00b100. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of phish.net, The Mockingbird Foundation, or any fan… but we're pretty sure we’re right. Probably.]
Funky: Perhaps it was just a bit unfair to our readers and listeners to (re)introduce Japanese Phish with an all-time, A+ show in 6.14.00. Perhaps. But, then again, would they have taken the bait ::he said it, he said the thing!:: on our three-part series surrounding Japanese Phish had we not led off with something so scrumtrulescent? By reading that sentence you have proved that we lured you back in, tempting you with more morsels of Japanese Phish, and we are not talking about sushi.
Before 6.14.00 ever happened, four shows preceded it, and after it happened, two more took place. So, the natural questions arise: how did Phish build to such dramatic, yet serene, soundscapes? And, what did they do for the proverbial encore? Answers abound, some of which make sense, some of which make little sense at all. If David Byrne were writing this, he’d simply say, “Stop making sense!” Good point - that’s where we will start.
Encore: You Enjoy Myself
Funky: The allure, and, dare I say, main attraction of Phish is their unpredictable nature. From jams, to setlists, to tours, to years, improvisation threads throughout, well, all of it. It is never the same. And that newness, with regards to nearly every aspect of Phish, is what keeps their live act so fresh, so cool, and so irresistible.
As we have analyzed in previous episodes, there are, sometimes, common themes that weave into and out of jams/shows/tours/years. But, sometimes, Phish just does the opposite, and throws down something so unique so distinctive, that it makes your brain fall out , your pants off, and your mouth, now on its own recognizance, utter, “Holy f****** s***.”
6.14.00 is one of those moments, 6.9.00 is not. At face value it might seem odd to have such an extreme dichotomy of playing styles in such short succession, but, any student (read: nerd) of Phish knows just how much they can morph and evolve their sound within any time frame, from within songs to within years. 6.9.00 is worth your time because, I think, this might be as close to pre-1993 Phish as you’ll find, this far in their career. That is to say, this show brought the old school heat. Of course we should disclose that the venues Phish was playing in Japan were, in fact, small clubs; the outside of 6.9.00's venue looks like it could be a place you might go to this weekend for some local fun(k). So it seems like this is a natural connection to make: the intamacy of the small clubs rekindling a dormant energy and creative resurgence. And, it seems, Phish enjoyed this throwback atmosphere just as much as we enjoying speculating about it.
The intimacy of the Japanese venues, undoubtedly, funneled and concentrated energy into what we hear in this show. If you listen to 6.9.00’s first set too loudly, you’ll get a sunburn. The music, while exclusively “Type-1” with zero relation to 6.14.00, pumps with pizzazz and strikes like lightning. Listening to the crowd clearly hooting and hollering and yelling and screaming is goosebump-inducing. Man, I am stoked just listening to how stoked they are! I couldn’t possibly understand what it must have felt like to be Phish, in these fleeting hours.
No doubt, the throwback smallness of the venue and the, literal, once (well, I guess twice)-in-a-lifetime reality of seeing Phish in Japan was special for every single person in the room. This show set a tone. But, what tone exactly?
If you were to throw a bucket of water on the first set as it reads out on your computer, I bet steam would rise from it. Well, maybe that’s your hard drive frying, I’m no scientician. The second set picks up right where the first left off, complete with a 30 minute”Tweezer” to leads things off. But, I’m going to stop us there. “Tweezer” rages for its first fourteen minutes, but never really breaks out of Trey-shred mode. Gets a little, uh, abrasive. After the first set, I think Trey was so raring to go that he triedtoplayasmanynotesashecouldasfastashecould. And boy did he ever.
But then they beautifully shift the jam into this mellow, rolling groove. Two halves of the same song that sound nothing alike, no matter how you cut it. Here, the kernel of 6.14.00. The jam swells and recedes, with Trey trying to push pace (and notes), but Mike firmly anchoring the jam with a throaty effect that oozes calm and patience. Phish was experimenting onstage, in real time, with just what their sound was going to be in these seven shows. It is a treat to listen to, as you can almost the four bandmembers’ new vibrations feel the others’ out; probing, testing, seeing where they would link up to venture into musical space. This improvisational musical trial, happening with expert precision, unfolds like a cherry blossom on a spring day.
n00b: That’s a pretty handy summation of that "Tweezer," I’d say. There’s definitely a lot of Trey fretwork exercises in the first part of the jam, while you’ve got that typical late-90s relaxed bed of music for all those fiery solos to lay upon and really think about how a jam like this in 1995 would be half as long because they’d have gone SO pedal-to-the-metal that they’d have burnt themselves out if they played at their usual 33 â -played-at-45-speed tempo AND Trey tried to tear his fingertips off shredding to that degree. But then when the jam turns insular thanks to Page’s contemplative piano playing and then moves into that sly grinding groove (which Mike really does hold down throughout), I think you get that slice of what people associate with Japan 2000 in terms of its sound and its mood. This is music that absolutely is not bothered with whether or not you’re into it; it moves with the unhurried gentleness of the tides, never even bothering to really peak so much as it gets faster and then ends. It’s a real highlight of the entire year, and definitely a trailer for the rest of the Japan tour.
So speaking of Machine Gun Trey, I think you really get a, uh, taste of that in the "Taste" in Set 1, where he really goes to work on the fretboard to interesting effect. And I think that plays into what you’re saying about the first set as a whole - you can very audibly hear how jazzed Trey in particular is to be playing this show in this particular venue. The crowd is definitely hyped, which is unsurprising, but also helps add to the ambiance. It’s pretty standard as far as even 2000 goes for first sets, I think, but that aforementioned "Taste" does have some real pyrotechnics, the "Funky Bitch" gives Page the opportunity to strut his stuff before they build to a nice fiery peak, and the set-closing "CDT" amps up the dramatic tension-release before ending in a crashing, cacophonous, crazed, clanking and clattering….uh, clumsy? Catastrophic? Calamine lotion?....let's go with wild ending that is pretty far from how "CDT" usually closes out. Good stuff, IMO.
I guess I should talk about the rest of the second set, but I’m not sure there’s all that much left to get into after that monolith of a "Tweezer." In a way, it’s kind of like 7/31/13 II, in which a second set starts with a magnificent "Tweezer" and then gives way to a bunch of songs, not to mention the fact that they play "Jibboo" and "Meatstick" back to back, and I think we all know how I feel about those songs (they’re my two least favorite 1.0 era songs, even over "Jennifer Dances," which at least is funny-dumb and not just plain dumb; wonder if THAT should be a TTB episode down the road?). But at least everything is fun and energetic, and in the encore we get a chill and relaxed "YEM" that really leaned on the funky elements (read: Mike does the damn thing here) and bringing back the drum & bass segment, which I guess had been missing from the last few "YEMs". So there you go, a nice show that won’t make a ton of Best of 2000 lists, but one with an incredible jam that pointed the way for the rest of the tour
Funky: To get right to it, Phish stubbed their toe on this show, but that’s not to say there were no highlights - there were… some. But, enough to supersede, or, perhaps, satisfy an otherwise tepid night of Phish? That is for you, n00b, and me to decide. Before we get there, this “pattern” of an okay show containing a BINGO! jam appears to connect more, rather than fewer, of the Japan 2000 shows. An interesting paradox which we are trying to dissect.
A mere 20 hours prior there was, allegedly, a fire crew in the venue hosing down the smoldering remnants of the blistering tour opener (“tour” used lightly, but you get the idea). So, it was to be expected that, I think, that energy was not so much latent, but still actively buzzing like aftershocks around the volcanic island chain. Unsurprisingly, a smoking-hot jam, probably sparked from the still-glowing embers of 6.9.00, led off Phish’s second night in Japan.
“Down with Disease” opened the doors of the show with promise and energy. Much like “Tweezer” from the night before, 20+ minutes of shredding mixes with shadows at sunset into hazy cosmic backwater. It has this tidal feel - ebbing and flowing between Trey trying to ignite his guitar, and Page calming the maelstrom with smooth, groove-based, ambient dance-party melodies. Mike and Fish could anchor the Titanic with their steady, but at times electric, rhythms. Improvisation overflowing as if Godzilla just jumped into a bathtub filled with unheard music. This was an immediate harbinger of great things to come, which n00b will address in just a moment. The rest of the set was rather benign, but who really gives a darn when you have two, monster 20+ minute jams in the first set? I sure don’t.
The second set was confusing. I’m a big fan of all 2000 versions of “Heavy Things,” as Trey’s tone allows the song to flutter and drift like a dandelion on a spring afternoon, how I always envision the song in my mind. This version is a textbook example of how happy a small song can make you feel and how pumped one can be when it ends, not because it ended, but to see how Phish springboards off of it. Bellyflop.
A redundantly trancey “Sand” teases at extended improv, but really just devolves into a formless amoeba as it goes along. Trey has a couple nice runs, but man, do I ever appreciate, more so, how Phish plays “Sand” in “3.0” versus how they used to play it. The “Sparkle” “My Soul” combo seemed to delight the crowd, and I have no reason to suspect it wouldn’t, as these songs are generally crowd-pleasers, especially the first time you hear them (which, I think it is safe to assume many of the people in attendance had never seen these songs, let alone Phish, live in concert before). Still, despite the smiles I cracked from listening to the crowd’s happiness, the music itself (and the flow of the set so far) is being extinguished rather quickly.
More of the same in a standard “Bathtub Gin” with a generously written “Jam” tacked onto the end of it (if you are expecting Fukuoka-level "Jams," you will be supremely disappointed). The spacey “Jam” eventually suffers a fender-bender as Twist merges into it with using its turn signal, and, like Sand, it teases and offers peek-a-boos of what might be extended jamming, but, without fortune, are curtailed for monotonous redundancy. At this point I think Trey knew they just weren’t clicking. Sometimes, it just isn’t your night, and they limp into “Albuquerque,” “Wading,” and “Loving Cup.” The encore of “The Inlaw Josie Wales” and “Limb by Limb” was fine, I guess, but not enough to salvage an otherwise confusing show.
The first set held so much promise, even if it was wildly un-fluid, but the second set… yeeesh…the heck happened? I’m going to play nice and chalk it up to fatigue. And if I’m being perfectly honest, the band did sound tired. n00b, is there anything to take away from this show, other than, “Good thing there are other shows...?”
n00b: Sure, and that takeaway is “if every show was 11/22/97, there would be no 11/22/97”. In my post-tour recap of Summer 2015, I compared Phish tours to seasons of a television show, where the tour opener acted as the premiere that helped map out where things were going and something like the Dick’s run acted as the series finale. Using that metaphor, a show like this is the kind where the plot doesn’t really move forward, but you get some nice character moments and fun dialogue and a seed or two gets planted for an episode where the rubber really hits the road. And the "Piper" I’m about to talk about is that nice character moment, a reminder of what the best of Japan 2000 is all about even in a show that isn’t quite the best of what Japan 2000 is all about.
This "Piper" wastes no time blasting off from the fabled slow intro (well, slowish, mostly), Trey really slathering on that late-90s metallic guitar tone like Pollock laying in some thick slabs of paint, before things immediately turn ugly, messy, and dissonant, as though 1994 Phish had stepped back on stage to briefly take over the proceedings. Listen to Trey just hammer out chords as Fish gallops apace and both Mike & Page hang on for dear life; you’d be excused for thinking they were making a sudden detour into "Llama," but Trey instead goes back to the "Piper" theme and they go double-time with the lyrics (or, uh, lyric) before Trey goes back to spackling some grotty riffs onto the drywall of the jam. So far, so mostly normal.
But I guess they got a taste for ugliness in the early part of the jam, because pretty soon things get even more twisted and heavy than before, with a haze of noise enveloping strange alien bleep-bloops and Fishman slapping his cymbals around like they owe him money while Page flips the “fever dream” switch and adds a real menace to the proceedings. The horror show briefly dies away as Fish switches up the beat and Trey fires off some motorized riffing, Page playing something that actually borders on contemplative, before the jam resolves into a more relaxed organ-driven groove, only with that odd guitar tone lending an added edge to the proceedings. They actually briefly edge towards "Prince Caspian" for a second (I don’t think I’m out of bounds here), and then the jam gently fades away into the ether and comes to a close. It’s one hell of a journey, full of some really disgusting slop (not sloppiness) and closing out with a really beautiful zone of serenity.
Honestly, while the "Disease" is more what I would associate with this particular tour in terms of sound, this "Piper" is what I associate with the tour in terms of the willingness to leap into the void and take chances with their jams. And thank goodness we got those jams in this show, because with the NEXT show…
Encore: Character Zero
n00b: ...uhh, hmm. Well, with the next show, the band really leans more into the party vibe and gives us a show that probably was a blast to attend but would pass through a modern-day tour with little mention and would make no mark on a Jam of the Year Tournament. And hey, that’s totally fine, they play shows like that in most every tour and nobody ever says boo. That said, it is a little disconcerting to get a show like this during this run - but hey, it’s Phish in a lovely outdoor theater in Tokyo, Lord knows I’d have killed to see a show there even if I knew we wouldn’t get a major jam like what we got in the two prior shows.
The first set is very much a prototypical first set, full of fun songs well played; you might say that this sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, and I would say that you’re correct in that analysis. I’m honestly struggling to say what I would consider the highlight - the "Stash," maybe? It’s dark and Trey gets off some nice licks, but if you dropped this in a 2016 show you’d hear it and sigh wistfully about the good old days of the 90s where they REALLY took "Stash" for a ride every time out. The "Possum," which charmingly weaves "Stash’s" guitar line into a relaxed "Possum" jam as neatly as "Stash" was woven into the 7/20/14 "Weekapaug Groove" (if, perhaps, considerably less out of nowhere as that "Stash" tease)? The high octane "First Tube" (but aren’t they all)? There’s a lot of shows with first sets like this one, and probably none of them will get this long-for, treatment, so hey.
Set 2 is practically a second first set, with nary a lengthy jam outside the "Hood" to be seen. Now that’s not really much of a problem for me, if the shorter-length jams are strong, but the only jam to write home about here is the Free, which wanders out of the usual Free jam once Trey starts going to his patented late-90s loops and a funky little groove emerges. It’s rather like the 6/14 "BOTT" - not Type II per se, but the sort of A+ Type I that reminds us Type I can at least approximate the thrills of a great improvisation when played with this much verve and danceability. And then they go into "Beauty of My Dreams," and that pretty much sums up the set - some fine moments that you won’t really think much about afterwards, coupled with songs people often scratch their head over when they appear in the second frame. The "Hood’s" worth a listen, but again, aren’t they all?
I dunno, man. I know we’ve played up a lot of the mythos of this tour, and here I am, talking about a show that goes entirely against that very mythos I so thoroughly gushed about. Did I miss something? Is there a hidden depth I missed? Do I need to go back and play the "Bowie" again?
Funky: With regards to the first three shows we’ve covered, compared directly against what the fanbase-wide, accepted, exalted nature of the Japan 2000 run (we ourselves are a part of this mob), I am left with only the words of Jeffrey Lebowski, “New shit has come to light.”
So far, within the first three shows,with the exception of a jam or two, you can’t really ignore that the music was not only far from legendary, but, disappointingly, the puddles of wet, lackluster performing seemed to inundate the brief blitzkriegs of audio barnstorming that had taken place. There was little flow and odd bouts with confidence. I mean, something’s gotta give. The readers are shouting, “You're crazy!” Am I? Well, perhaps we're all a little crazy. I know I am. ( <- there’s a deep Simpsons reference there, high five if you got it). The only real way to find out is with more tunes.
Funky: Finally! Sustained magic. I’m not even going to tease you and lead up to it - this show featured what n00b and I were just having a mental breakdown about a couple paragraphs back.
“Meat” had pop like a shook-up soda can and bounced like a superball from the get-go. The crowd was as rowdy as ever, and they seemed to inject a charge into the band that zipped through Meat, erupting right through a riotous “Maze.” The “Meat” reprise, as it were, was just absolutely fantastic. I was fist pumping from the couch when they dropped into it, and I knew it was coming - can’t imagine how rad it must have been in person.
A sprightly “Ya Mar” twinkled down to starlight in an extended, cosmic outro. It set up a dreamlike, zen pairing with a meditative “Fast Enough for You.” Please, do not skip these two songs, they’ll take you to a tropical moonscape. The unusual “The Old Home Place” “Wilson” combo, somehow, worked… and worked well. They ignited the crowd and acted as a primed charge with set off a loopy, throttled-down, undulating “Mike’s Song.” It rolled along until Trey, eventually, noodled his way to a peak and turned in lock-step, right into “Simple.”
“Simple” tiptoed and skipped along in almost zero gravity as it jumped into “Weekapaug Groove.” Great flow and energy connecting all jamming styles and song selections at this point, and “Weekpaug” slinked between sultry funk and double time toe taps to close the set with gusto and panache! Man, was this ever fun! Maybe the legends are true after all. n00b, did the mojo continue into the next set??
n00b: I think so, Funky, I think so. "Jibboo" kicks off the set, and it’s “Jibboo” (we’ve all heard it, we know what it sounds like unless it’s 7/4/00’s or 12/31/17’s version), but the “Wolfman’s Brother” that follows is a thick and juicy slice of funk in the tradition of post-3/1/97 "Wolfman’s Brothers" that builds up to a pretty good peak and ends in fine fashion. While I do sort of wish that the band had followed the crowd into playing “Is She Really Going Out With Him” because that’s a really great song, following up with a mid-set “Antelope” is a nice consolation prize, especially when, after the usual vodka-martini-shaken-not-stirred chill late-90s “Antelope” jam (I say this a lot, but it’s fun to listen to something like the 11/2/96 “Antelope” and then something like this or 10/30/98’s), the band opts to eschew the Rye Rye Rocco section for a slide into "Contact," a fun and also funk-laden surprise.
“Sand” comes next, and as befitting 1999-2000 “Sand,” the jam immediately melts into a spacey, effects-laden groove, a perfectly tranquil experience entirely in line with what this era of Phish in general and this tour in particular is all about. I can sometimes get a little too relaxed listening to these sorts of jams, but this is the perfect length of time for this spaced-out a groove. Trey really starts throwing out some gnarled and nasty riffs, and with a wink and a nod the “Sand” ends and a peaceful and relaxing "Roggae" follows up. The rest of the set is standard set-closing fare, but delivered with panache.
Now, see, if you’re gonna do a party show, THIS is how you do a party show. There’s still nothing particularly lengthy jam-wise, but everything up to "Caspian" is just too much fun and well worth your time. So, uh, you got another 10,000 words on 6/14/00 in you?
Funky: ::consults neurologist:: What did he say... about 6.14.00??? Read about it here!!! AHHH!!!
Encore: Gotta Jibboo
Funky: Phish has now strung together two great (one historic) shows as a response to the two less-than-great (one maybe even historically subpar) shows. With the lore of Japan 2000 in the balance, what comes now, what’s next?
An energized “NICU” sweeps right into semi-standard “AC/DC Bag.” The jam stays linear, but instead of Trey charging ahead and throttling his guitar, he selflessly neutralizes his own energy, letting the jam trickle away in a patient but sustained pace, leading to a “peak” but not of the sorts one might expect in “Bag.” A standard “Uncle Pen” gives way to the jam of the night, and had it not been for Fukuoka, the jam of the tour.
“Ghost” lingers in shadowy funk, no doubt reverberating the soft cosmic echoes of the magnificent 5.22.00 version. It forages along as Trey subtly pushes pace - landing on a uplifting, charismatic riff made of sunshine, Trey makes his move. His band changes gears and and they create daylight with sound. Bright hues radiate from cascading rainbows of music! Trey takes flight, sails full, as the jam surges unrestrained until it hits a natural and full peak, then organically settles back into the “Ghost” groove. What a treat. This jam, perhaps, when combined with 6.14.00 might be the center of the fantasy surrounding Japan 2000. There’s little reason to believe otherwise.
A way-too-short “Frankie Says” (I love this song and want it to go on forever) provides a poignant counter/respite to/from “Ghost,” and it eventually gives way to “Divided Sky.” This version was rather uneventful, and at times disheveled. It unceremoniously sets up a rather benign “Farmhouse” to close a set that started out as red-hot, but ended lukewarm.
The off-kilter nature of the show continues throughout the second set. You can feel Trey really trying to push experimental boundaries through "Down with Disease”, but it only occasionally manifests with “good”-sounding music. You can't not listen because it is so out there, but, simultaneously, you aren't exactly wishing it to go on forever. Even when Mike smuggles the “Crosseyed” bassline into the jam, Trey toys with it for a hot second before spacing-out again. I respect the intent, but the execution was only okay. Especially not when "Crossyed" is the victim.
A sloppy “Lizards” did not rekindle any energy, and, luckily, the fun and funny “Bike” > “Hold Your Head Up” re-stoked the crowd’s embers. “You Enjoy Myself” closed the set and, dang it if I say it did not a single thing to help the set. And, well, it did not a single thing to help the set. Dang it! Trey sounded like he was cleaning windows with a squeegee while Mike bubbled away like a stew ready to serve. In fact, I’d say everyone but Trey was locked into a sultry funk groove, but Trey was just not in the same universe. The tension in this jam is odd to listen to.
A rather delightful and uplifting “Jibboo” encored, and, thankfully(?), gave us the only other decent improvisation outside of “Ghost.” Huh. How about that… all of it. Weird, weird show.
n00b: Ah, and with this show we bid a fond farewell to Japan with a show in a beautiful concert hall in Osaka. The band kicks off the show in fine fashion with a really lovely "Limb by Limb," as a patient and minute little groove with "Stash"-like qualities worms its way out of the usual LxL jam thanks to Trey going to chords and Fish playing a slightly more straightforward drum pattern than the usual "LxL" rhythmic games he likes to indulge in. Trey starts going to what would become known as the “whale call” effect that so infamously came into vogue in 2010, and with a squealing and gnarly solo (again made all the more so by that metallic guitar tone), the jam neatly peaks and then heads home. None of it is Type II, but much like Fukuoka’s "BOTT," it’s a very fine amplification of "LxL’s" Type I form. Speaking of "BOTT," that comes next and, uh, falls a tad short of Fukuoka’s version, and once more we’re treated to a standard first set, other than the oddity (at least through modern eyes) of "First Tube" holding any position other than set opener/set closer/encore, and an always-welcome "Reba" that does its "Reba" thing and does it well.
"Runaway Jim" opens up Set 2, and right away Page starts playing in a slightly higher key than Jim’s usual key (perhaps that’s an audio illusion), giving the groove that emerges a warmer and lovelier feel than "Jim" often does. Mike pushes forward in the mix and Trey once more switches to chords to change up the mood, and delay loops build and swirl around as the energy level rises and Fish slowly turns up the Bunsen burners. The jam starts to get weirder and more off-kilter, and as Mike really takes over Trey puts down his guitar and heads over to the ol’ mini-keyboard to add a different, moodier layer to the proceedings. Honestly, some of the plinking elements of the jam reminded me some of the infamous 2016 Marimba Lumina jams that caused so much tearing of hair and rending of garments, but (just like I enjoyed those jams - well, at least until they started appearing seemingly every other show) I can get into the somewhat doofy oddness of the rhythm-driven strange jam that they cook up here. That said, it does go on maybe a *smidge* too long, until the noise fades away into a buzzing spaciness not too far away from 2003’s buzzing spaciness (or 8/4/17’s…) and with Fish tap-tap-tapping away "Theme" emerges in a nice segue.
"Theme" gallops apace in its usual fashion until a snarling fuzz comes howling out of Trey’s guitar, leading Mike to once again take the reins and push the jam forward. Trey decides to really make his poor guitar scream and wail as Page tickles the ivories and a sense of dread envelops the stage, this angry fog hovering over everything as the tension builds and builds...and then Page starts playing what sounds like the ending chords to "Theme," and the fog dissipates as we head towards warmer and safer pastures. It’s a really interesting departure from what we usually get out of Theme, and yet another jam that harbors elements of what 2.0 would have to offer. Trey delicately leads the band into "Dog-Faced Boy" via another lovely segue, which closes out a 45-odd minute segment that features some really interesting (in both the good and bad ways) improvisation from the group. The rest of the set can’t quite match that, but a strong "Hood" in the encore (thanks to Fish really kicking ass) absolutely can, and it closes out the show and the tour in beautiful fashion.
If pressed, I would probably say this is my second favorite show of the tour; it doesn’t contain quite as much interesting improv as the night before, but I think it holds together better as a full show. All in all, a good way to close out Japan 2000.
So, did we take the bait? ::ohh he said the thing again!::
n00b: So .net user @mikh2wg once wrote a post that summarizes the Phish touring experience better than anybody else I’ve ever seen, up to and including myself. I’ll quote that post essentially in full:
“The main difference between 1.0 and 3.0 is our perception of it. Also, 1.0 had many many more shows. But if you sit down and listen to an entire tour from 1.0, you'll see how consistent the band has been over the course of their career. There are always flubs, there are rarely first set jams, and they always have a bunch of new songs that they run into the ground. And then, about once a week, they play an amazingly exceptional show.”
If you didn’t know better, you’d think that he was writing that specifically about Japan 2000. There are absolutely flubs all throughout these shows - I tend to gloss over them because I’m more a summarizing type of guy, but Funky made it rather apparent that this wasn’t exactly the cleanest tour the guys ever played. While there were about, on average, the same number of first set jams as we’d get in a typical post-96 tour, certainly not every first set here was a 12/7/97 I (and, in one or two cases, not even a 7/13/14 I - not II, I). Songs that got run out multiple times included "Jibboo," "First Tube," "Sand," "BOTT," "Heavy Things," and "Bug," all of which debuted in 1999 and some of which were surely complained about as much back then as people complain about Miss You now. And then, in that seven-show stretch, they played an absolute show for the ages on June 14.
So what is it, then, that continues to lead people back to a tour that (from a superficial level) isn’t terribly far away from Summer 1999 or Summer 2014 or any other tour that doesn’t quite carry the same cache as the true big willies? I think the answer to that lies in jams like the 6/9 "Tweezer," or 6/16 "Jim," or 6/14 "Twist" -> "Jam" -> "Walk Away" - in the best jams of the tour, the band really went for improvisation that you just didn’t hear very much of in other tours. That’s not me saying that you didn’t hear elements of other tours in their jamming (cf. all the 2003-adjacent elements of that 6/16 "Jim" -> "Theme") or that the improv here is wildly out of place in 2000 or anything. But there IS enough jamming that isn’t what you’d hear in (say) the 9/24/00 "Cities" or 6/28/00 "Gin" or some such that you can definitely say “ah, this is how small-club Phish” sounds, and given how relatively rare that is in their entire history (you’d truly be surprised how much jams sound like other jams in even their best tours), there really is something to be said for that.
And that’s why I wrapped up our Fukuoka post in the ambivalent way that I did - they really did take risks here, but not quite as many risks as either 6/14 or the tour’s reputation might lead you to believe. The great music here is truly great, make no mistake of that. But when it doesn’t quite work - say, when the odd keyboard-driven portion of the 6/16 "Jim" starts to wear on one’s patience, or when the 6/15 "YEM" devolves into Trey not so much not being on the same page with his bandmates as not being in the same book - the results could be just as ugly as the lesser moments of 2000 (and I hate to say it, but there were a fair amount in 2000 - they didn’t go on hiatus at the tippy-top of their game). I know folks out there still worship Japan 2000, and I don’t want to discourage that at all. I just know that I worship Japan 2000 much the same way as you might worship Dionysius, the Greek god of wine - yeah, he’ll get wasted and act out sometimes, but he also brought us theatre, and who doesn’t love that?
Funky: Well said, and I agree. What I learned, more like re-learned, from this listening experience is that there are many niches of Phish that people hold dear to themselves, for reasons as varied as Phish has jams. That is absolutley the right way to enjoy this band. As you had touched on, I, too, simply glossed over much of this tour, comfortable, or so I thought, with just how dang great it was. This luminous, cosmic glow around Japan 2000 is primarily due to that time-bending Fukuoka show, but the rest of the shows must sound like that too... right? Not really. I mean, sometimes, but only sparsely. So what, who cares?! Let the magic flow forth, especially for those lucky enough to be in attendence in such intimate, energetic atmospheres. How amazing that must have been. That's what I learned from this tour. Nothing I see can be taken from me.
It is ironic that we are writing an ongoing series on our drawn-out, highly-analyzed, very-opinionated thoughts on Phish. It is ironic because when it gets down to it, our thoughts on Phish really only matter to ourselves, just as yours matter to you above all else. If, as a result of reading our words, you find some new jams or shows you hadn't heard before, that's great. If you disagree with us, simultaneously reinforcing your own reasons for your own favorites, that is awesome. If you have found a new way of listening to Phish, or ponder new musings about their music, right on. If you think we suck, we probably do! No matter, it truly is an honor to have an audience with whom to share this energy.
n00b's and my passion and love for this band are rather, uh, robust. We take great pride in trying to explore as many niches of the band as we can, simply because it is fun (for us at least). Then, with great zeal and gusto, we share our findings with you - not to tell you how to think, no, but to, hopefully, introduce you to some stuff you may not have listened to, or, perhaps, with a perspective you might not have considered in previous listens. If something new and good comes from this, whatever that means to you, then we are satisfied, and will keep going until we're boo-ed off the page.
Wait, n00b, were they saying "boo" or "boo-urns?"
Part 3: Japan 1999, coming soon.