This is a continuation of “What’s So Great About Phish, Anyway? Part 1.”
Inside the Venue
So we head into the venue, stop for a quick check of souvenir options (limited edition merit badges are sold out, bummer), and head around back to find our seats. Unfortunately, we were already where we needed to be, but we somehow managed to walk all the way around the hill. If you’re familiar with the DTE, it used to be Pine Knob. Now it’s called the DTE Energy Music Theatre. Dumb. But it’s really pretty now, and there’s a fancy walkway that goes around back.
This is where we meet drugged out guy. He’s super friendly, super talkative, and super hepped up on goof balls or some such. I don’t remember now the particular combination of mind-altering substances he had used, but it seemed like he had it all figured out. At least he thought so. (Why is it that folks who are on drugs like to talk so much about the drugs they’re on?) He becomes our unsolicited companion on this hike around the hill.
We bid farewell to drugged out guy and walk all the back to the left side of the pavilion. And the second we make it to our seats, the band walks on stage. They start off the first set with “Wolfman’s Brother,” which happens to be a song I know and love. So, already, I’m getting into the show. Then they stretch the song out to 10 minutes with an amazing jam at the bridge. Nice! The rest of the first set was just as great. Back to why in a bit. But first…
Belly Dancing Girl
Throughout Set One, this girl and her friends, Mr. and Ms. PDA, were enjoying the show along with everyone else. But during the intermission, belly dancing girl never missed a beat. Hiking up her skirt, moving around sensually, and–you guessed it–belly dancing; blissfully unaware, apparently, that the live music had stopped. Or maybe she just didn’t care that all that was playing was some recorded filler. She put on a little show for those of us in the left side of the pavilion. Mind you, I’m not trying to disparage this young woman in any way. We were all there to enjoy some great music, and a Phish crowd is its own slice of community. Which brings me to…
What IS So Great About Phish, Anyway
1) The Crowd
I’m a connections guy, so watching concert-goers is always fun for me. But Phish fans are a little different. Phish fans are loyal, moving, grooving, sharing, do-no-harm kinda folks. At least in my experience. Sure, you’re gonna get some pushy ass holes who are just there to get drunk to live music. But I loved the crowd; the energy, the rhythmic, coinciding movement of so many bodies, the throwing of glow bracelets, the beach balls, the beards, the dreads, the long hair, the smoke… it was a sight to behold.
2) The Music
Remember, this was the first (and won’t be the last) time I’ve seen Phish live, or even paid much attention to their live music. Their live music is a completely different animal to their studio recordings. The albums are good. They’re interesting. They’re fun to listen to. But what these guys do live… it’s like magic. Most people would call it jamming. I’d call it musical exploration, extrapolation, and extemporization. Immediate musical composition within a paradigm. In other words: improvisation. For some folks, this improvisation “doesn’t do it” for them, and I respect that. I can see how you might get left behind after 20 minutes and want to move on to the next song. But if you let yourself become immersed in it, something pretty amazing can happen: entrainment. Musically, entrainment usually takes place when the listener matches the music. Your movements, breathing rate, and even heart rate can synchronize with music. Mostly, your mood is affected by the music. Interesting side note: There’s a term used in music therapy called the iso principle. This is when the music therapist matches the patient musically, then guides them to another state through purposeful musical changes. Different, but related.
3) The Band
I have huge amounts of respect for these four guys. Not just for being extremely talented musicians, but for their discipline and connection with each other. They have to have spent many hours over many days over many years to have come to the point where they understand each other musically in such a deep way. I try to imagine what their brains would look like through an EEG while they jam. It’s like they can see where each other band member is headed musically. Seems a bit like precognition to me. I also try to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of connection with three other people, and the level of trust involved in that kind of music making. I suppose it’s kind of like a marriage that way. That’s love, right there.
Even though Karin doesn’t love the improv, I had an amazing, eye-opening experience at my first Phish concert. It was a good time, and I’m looking forward to seeing them live again: honest girls, drugged out guys, belly dancers, glow bracelets, and all.
After the concert, Karin and I went to IHOP for some delicious, late-night breakfast, where we sat next to two guys who were also at the concert. The IHOP was about 20 miles away from DTE. Interesting, no?