January 11, 2009

Phish Summer Tour, Bonnaroo, Clifford Ball and recent Phish news

I've been offline for a few weeks on vacation back in Atlanta, and fully expected Phish to announce Summer Tour 2009 tour dates, but did not expect the plethora of other news and tidbits to drop at the same time. So, bear with me as some of this has been widely reported, but some has not.

Summer Tour & the Bonnaroo

First off, unless you just crawled out from under a rock and haven't heard, Phish announced they'll perform 10 shows this June (with another splash page video, like the one announcing tghe Hampton run, taboot), kicking off with two shows at Jones Beach on Long Island, site of many monster shows in the past, and culminating with two nights at Alpine Valley, the mecca of the Upper Midwest (the second night falls on Summer Solstice, by the way). Deer Creek is in there too, but only one night, which makes camping out by your car convenient but takes away from the very meaning of Deer Creek -- a mini-festival atmosphere much like The Gorge because it's in the middle of nowhere and you don't have to leave the lot once you roll in.

Burgettstown, also known as Starlake, is the site of one wacked out setlist from Summer 2003, and a very cool, often overlooked place to see a show (plus it's somewhere between Eerie and Pittsburgh).

Unfortunately, Summer Tour 2009 (doesn't that just have a sweet ring to it?) looks to be a short jaunt and nowhere close to some of the ridiculous rumored tour dates that floated around for most of December. I had a feeling when Phish got back together they would only go out in short bursts and stay relatively close to home. All those rumored dates at Red Rocks and everything else seemed far-fetched, but who knows. From what I'm hearing there are plans for an early Fall Tour that will at least include The Gorge (last time they played The Gorge in September was just before the legendary 9-14-99 Boise, Idaho show -- if you don't already have a copy of this show it is a must-have by all means), which I would love because I'm only a couple hours away from the venue.

For my money Asheville is going to be the show to hit, and I'm willing to bet Hampton tickets (although I have none to speak of) they are going to rip the roof off the Civic Center, also known as the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. It's the same venue where Warren Haynes holds his Christmas Jam every year, and the site of the one and only Serial Pod show (Trey, Mike and Bill Kreutzmann) back in 2005. I was there, and when Warren announced "There is a new band on the scene," and the boys opened with Chalkdust Torture everyone went bananas. Come to think of it, that was the last show I saw with my ex-wife.

ANYWAY, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is a tiny place, about the same size as Hampton, maybe even a little smaller. Plus, there is just something about Asheville that lends itself to magical musical moments. Every show I've seen there has been remarkable, especially Widespread Panic the night before Thanksgiving in 2000. The Thomas Wolfe has a tiny, tiny parking lot scene across the street from the auditorium that is almost comical. And -- bonus -- there is this killer restaurant right around the corner that opens early and stays open late, serving kind food at great prices.

I saw Oysterhead there, too, back in November 2001 (dropped off Panic tour in the middle of a run to check out Trey, Les and Stewert and it was well worth it, even though all our Panic friends thought we were nuts at the time) and I clearly remember Trey saying he loved Asheville. (In fact, he mentioned eating at the restaurant mentioned above.) He's certainly played the Thomas Wolfe before with the Trey band, and all of those shows are worth a download. You can find them here.

The glaring omission of dates in the middle of Summer Tour seems to point to Phish headlining a couple of nights at Bonnaroo; it has become a raging topic of debate all over the Web as to whether or not they should perform there.

My question is, WTF???

Anyone who thinks Phish has no business playing the 'Roo is nuts. Bonnaroo is put on by the same people that used to help Phish out with their festivals (from The Clifford Ball, Lemonwheel and The Great Went to Big Cypress, IT and Conventry), and because of it's size everyone will get a chance to see the band in Tennessee (just a couple hours worth of flying time from most points in the U.S., unless you live in Oregon like I do) as well as dozens of other bands. Who cares if there are groups on the bill, or corporate sponsorship, that people think don't belong there -- last time I checked the purpose of Bonnaroo was to expose all kinds of music and musicians to the masses. Phish will most likely play four sets over two nights, and you get your campout festival, too. Plus, from what Mike says they don't want to have to maintain the infrastrcuture that comes with putting on your own festival (see interview below).

So, what's the real problem? Is it just nostalgia and not wanting things to change? This is a different time and they are going to do things differently than before, to say the least (John Paluska is not even their manager anymore, and Phish's headquarters may be in Virginia now -- again, read on).

Hell, there is even a real possibility the Trey Band, Mike's Band, and Page's Band could play the Bonnaroo leading up to Phish's slot at the festival. Anyone see anything wrong with that? Sorry if I sound brash, but there are so many people out there who are actually pissed at the prospect of Phish performing, and I just don't get it. Isn't that what we've all been waiting for -- for them to set up somewhere ... anywhere ... and get it on?

Personally, I would go see them open for Two Live Crewe, or Bon Jovi, or anyone at any location in any situation, if it was an option. Call me crazy ...

Trey's New Pedal

Many of us noticed Trey's guitar tone changed after the hiatus in 2001-02. He played with a much grungier sound and got rid of his home-made wooden cabinets in favor of plugging straight into a single Fender Deluxe Reverb (which is actually a great amp if you've ever played through one). Along the way he lost the compressor, which helped provide those smooth, sustained notes all those years -- his signature sound, in my opinion.

Anyway, some Phish-heads out there posting over at Phantasy Tour figured out the mystery, pooled their resources, bought Trey an vintage Ross Compressor, mailed it to Tom Marshall, who agreed to give it to Trey, and he delivered it in time for Christmas. Here you can see a photo of Trey's reaction, as well as a hand-written note to the gift givers.

Only in the Phish Tank could something like that go down.

Clifford Ball on DVD

Someone posted this rumor on The Wagger message board a while back and it came true. Phish announced the release of The Clifford Ball -- the festival that started 'em all -- on DVD, which will come out March 3. Interesting, it seems Phish forgot to post this in the news section of their website. Oops! The box set contains seven DVDs, including a bonus disc with the flatbed truck jam they did while riding around the parking lot in the middle of the night, interviews with the band and other goodies.

The bonus for pre-ordering is you get entered to win a pair of tickets to each night of the Hampton run. That's some pretty slick marketing, placing a sense of urgency on buying the Clifford Ball DVDs by dangling the Hampton carrot. I wonder how much of a difference it will make in initial sales ...

Tom & Mike Interviews

Finally, a pair of interviews were published recently that are wonderful, quick reads. First is Tom Marshall's short essay over at Relix, which includes a hilarious story about a practical joke he and Trey played on a couple of girls they knew. Second, the Burlington Free Press interviewed Mike by telephone (it mentions his baby daughter's name is Tessa. Come to think of it, with Mike's child now on the scene all four guys in Phish have kids now and they are all girls! Trey and Fishman each have two and Mike and Page each have one).

Interesting, in the article Mike says he thinks one of Trey's main reasons for splitting up Phish -- the business side of things became too large, like a huge machine -- was a "scapegoat." Never heard any of the guys speak out against each other before, but I'm sure that since Mike was the sole voice who didn't want Phish to stop playing the guys have already heard this opinion. Still, it's kind of uncomfortable to read.

Mike also mentions bringing new songs into the mix since announcing the Hampton run, which was the one aspect of Phish sorely lacking after Big Cypress. I remember talking with my tour buddies after Big Cypress about the future of the band, because our thinking at the time was what is left for them to do after that, really? (Only later did we learn Fishman and Trey looked at each other after walking offstage that morning and said, "We should stop now.")

I clearly remember telling my best friend Joe (we go all the way back to Grateful Dead Spring Tour 1991 and saw our first Phish show together at the Cameo Theatre in Miami Beach -- in fact, here is a little story about us running into Trey and Fishman while eating pizza across the street before that show), "As long as they keep introducing new music everything will be all right." Of course, Summer Tour 2000 was notable because no new original songs were introduced, and it was only a matter of weeks after the tour ended that the hiatus was announced.

Stay tuned. There are lots of ripples in the Phish Tank with much more to come, I'm sure.

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