Show Number One: Phish at CMAC

It’s interesting how perception can alter your own reality.  For the longest time, I wanted nothing to do with Phish, jaded by some fans who surrounded me growing up.  As I got older and ultimately left that circle, my musical journey continued. While that bad taste was always in the back of my head, I began liking bands of similar ilk and that perception towards Phish started to be internally questioned.

One week ago today, I stepped through a door and saw my very first Phish show. While it’s slightly embarrassing now, I realize what I’ve missed all of those years and now know why so many bands I enjoy today list them as a huge influence. Here are my takeaways from my first Phish show at CMAC on July 15, 2014.

  • tour poster
    Official CMAC Poster By Jeff Soto

    Unique hardly describes Shakedown Street. Every walk of life was there peddling their skill, from music and glass work to food and jewelry. It’s literally like a small, self-sustaining village that is temporarily setup and torn down offering anything you might need.

  • There’s a communal feel like nothing I’ve ever felt before in the music scene. I was told by a friend that you can hold one finger in the air to let everyone know that you need a ticket. Within minutes, I bartered with a guy who was more than happy to take an uneven trade just to help me out.
  • Holy sh** – lot food is SO damn good!
  • I thought I’ve seen some of the best lights, but Kuroda easily puts them all to shame.
  • Even though the music has always come first for me, I can now see why people see Phish just for the party.
  • During the first set, someone turned around and told me, “Nobody has crowd participation like this band. Nobody!” My observation: the fan couldn’t be more right. I have never seen a collective fan base that knows every song in and out and participates as much.
  • A three-dimensional matrix of lights swept the stage in hues and shades that only added to the spectacle. Fans were literally sent into pure elation through simply color and sound.
  • In any public space, people usually put a guard up; guards don’t exist at a Phish show though. Everything seemed to be simply accepted here with a smile and friendly interaction.
  • I’ve honestly never been a fan of Phish’s vocals, but if you can step back and see it as a piece to the overall musical puzzle, the blended effect is actually pretty good. The lyrics are still another story for me.
  • The band works the room. In the same way where a comedian has ups and downs throughout a show, so does Phish. It’s not by mistake though as it sends the highs higher. To draw an easy parallel, Stevie Ray Vaughan didn’t go all out, all the time for a reason.
  • Their songs sometimes end in the softest of landings, similar to a feather; I mean that as a compliment.
  • Smiles continued to get bigger as their set progressed.
  • Towards the end of the first set, the band took a long pause which lead directly to an outpouring (and I don’t think that word is big enough) of appreciation. Watch the video all the way to the end and tell me it doesn’t give you chills.

  • Dammit, they’ve converted me…at least partially.
  • The art they produce is pure professionalism in a varied state, making each night deeply meaningful to a true follower. Think about it; could a circus come to town and just wing it? Does Broadway just ad lib each night? What Phish does has an infinite vision and breadth.
  • People were just FEELING it. If at some point we need a unit of measurement for “feeling it”, can we call it a Phan?
  • You can literally feel the band get their feet underneath them.
  • Chris Kuroda doesn’t even flinch when he’s hit by a glow stick. The man is just as focused and dialed in as the band. As lights trigger, Chris will occasionally snap a finger in the air right on beat.

photo 4

  • The reason why Chris Kuroda defined the Lighting Director position in the jam scene is because he puts as much thought and energy into his contribution as the band does.
  • In the same way a blender can puree multiple parts into a unified substance, Phish does the same with music. I know that their base is blues, jazz, rock, and a few other genres, but the sound that emanates is Phish and only Phish.
  • Best salesman pitch from a peddling fan: $5 heady vegan water
  • I would’ve liked to see more personalization from the band. I was honestly surprised with how dedicated the fan base is that, minus some jumping and smiling, the band was fairly robotic onstage. There was limited talking between songs, and while I don’t like that to go on for too long, it’s nice when a band mentions the city or tells a little story about it.
  • My biggest surprise/let down was the encore. A one song encore from any band is pretty weak, but this is the biggest jam band in the world. Not only was it only one song, but it was one of the shortest of the night.
The  crew during set break
The crew during set break

While I don’t think I’ll ever be the guy who researches every version of every song, intently listening for subtleties and memorizing Phish’s musical footprint, I think the band, at least for now, has converted me from a cynic to an appreciator of all that they do.  I know for sure that even though I can’t follow them around the country, I will definitely catch them the next time they’re in town.

Set List

Set 1:  Buried Alive, Twist, Heavy Things, 555, Halley’s Comet, Bathtub Gin, Wingsuit, Divided Sky, Wombat, Bowie

Set 2:  DWD > Back on the Train > NICU > Gotta Jibboo > Theme from the Bottom > Meatstick, Fuego, The Wedge, Antelope

Encore: Character Zero