Is Lack of Chord Changes a Valid Reason To Hate The War On Drugs?

zzzwodIt’s been a good year for Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs. Their March release, Lost In The Dream, has gotten rave reviews from critics – appearing on nearly everyone’s Best of 2014 So Far Lists and even making it up to the number two slot over at Stereogum. “Red Eyes” has even somewhat surprisingly been an alt-rock radio hit, giving recognition to the band that has elevated them above the descriptor of “those Philly dudes that Kurt Vile used to play with.” They killed it on Letterman in July, and Adam Granduciel and David Hartley both played key roles in Sharon Van Etten’s great record this year. And yet, if I had to rank the band that I’ve heard the most disparaging remarks about in 2014, they would easily be at the top. Interestingly enough though, the reason for most folks’ disdain is not that they and their new record is bad, rather it’s that it’s not good enough.

This is a telling sign of where the music industry currently stands. With the level of manufactured crap per capita at a higher level than potentially any other time in the past 70 years, and with the perceived value of music by the consumer at an all time low, the inner circles of quality musicians are no longer accepting “decent” as an appropriate adjective for new rock releases. When David Crosby was asked in Rolling Stone last month for his opinion on “Under the Pressure”, the first track off of Lost In The Dream, he replied “This is well-produced, but it’s only two chords! I wish someone with more musically adventuresome taste had a a chance to affect this one.” Last weekend at The Ottawa Folk Fest, when Sun Kil Moon got drowned out by The War On Drugs playing on a nearby stage, Mark Kozelek half-jokingly called them “beer commercial lead-guitar shit” and “John Cougar Mellencamp.

In other eras, Granduciel and his band would have been praised by other musicians for making a classic drift-rock album that intentionally doesn’t bury itself in unnecessary left turns. Unfortunately today they’re receiving criticism for releasing a “pretty good” album in a time when we need “pretty great” albums. So is their lack of harmonic complexity a valid reason to hate them? No, of course not. But is it a catalyst for realizing that if any rock music from today is expected to be remembered in 20 years that it needs to be far more on the awesome end of the spectrum then in the pretty good range? Yes. I really dig The War On Drugs. I really dig this record. Am I ranting and raving about it and telling all my friends that they need to pick it up? Not really. Do I wish I was? You betcha.

That being said, you really can’t fuck with “Red Eyes.”

I Shit Music on Hiatus Until September 15

Hi friends – the recent lull in activity over here at ISM is due to the fact that our brave leader is getting hitched this weekend. With post-nuptial ceremonies and the such, ISM will have no new posts til 9/15. Stay up to date with us on Twitter though – still plenty of snark flowing til then. Thanks y’all and see ya soon!

Concert Review: Beck @ Edgefield – Portland, OR – 08/21/14

zzzbeckThe first and last time I saw Beck was at Bonnaroo in 2006. The set weighed heavily on newer material off of The Information. It was hot. There was a heavy emphasis on puppets. At one point the band ate dinner on stage. In other words, it was fun but lacked any remote vibe of a cohesive nature. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise when last night’s gig at Edgefield turned into nothing but a funked out dance party. Featuring cuts from every album of his except The Information this time around, the set was a seamless flow of locked grooves. Things stayed open and loose all night long, with plenty of mid-song commentary about folks puffing grass in the front row. In many ways, it seemed like a temporal convergence of two different Becks – one was the the obscure, funk-cat loser from the early 90s, dancing like he had zero fucks to give and treating the whole event like a massive house-party; the other was the experienced artist of today, confident in how to control the stage and successfully crafting a sonic arc to the set that could only be done with a giant catalog to select from. The pompous, faded scientologist that at times has been known to have difficulty connecting with his audience was nowhere to be seen.

There were plenty of highlights – an early set “Loser,” the psychedelic wonder of a perfectly executed “Chemtrails,” the ideal placement of the funk bangers from Guero, and the late appearance of “Beercan” which had apparently been missing from setlists for the past 8 years or so. The whole place was already in full crush mode before the encore, but things got officially turnt during the final coda. (Note – this is the first time ISM has ever used the word “turnt” in a posting, but we’re doing this for the children so…) A lively “Sexx Laws” melted into everybody’s favorite slow groove, “Debra.” When Jenny Lewis then came to join him on the stage, I wasn’t expecting another version of the “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” the Rod Stewart cover they had debuted in Seattle the night before. But when it kicked in, the collective ass wobble of the crowd was kicked into massive overdrive. The “Where It’s At” that followed was nothing short of incredible. During the mid-song breakdown, every band member was introduced and subsequently teased a different pop tune upon introduction. At one point, it seemed like the whole band was ready to follow the keyboard player’s lead into Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” but they stepped back. When the guitar player started up “Billie Jean,” Beck was quick to dismiss it saying “No, no we can’t do that now.” But the groove kept going, and the crowd kept revving, and before you knew it we were two choruses and a verse deep into the MJ Classic. Let me tell you my friends, shit was a blast – as legit as they come.

If you’ve never seen Beck before, then let me assure you that now is the time. Equally, if you have seen Beck before, let me tell you that now is most likely way better than the last time you saw him. (This seemed to be the consensus of everyone in attendance.) Great set, great night, and wandering the grounds of the adult playground known as Edgefield post-show was the kind of capper that makes a perfect summer night feel like it can last forever.


1. Devil’s Haircut
2. Black Tambourine
3. Loser
4. I Think I’m in Love
5. Blue Moon
6. Lost Cause
7. The New Pollution
8. Novacane
9. Modern Guilt
10. Chemtrails
11. Hell Yes
12. Unforgiven
13. Heart Is a Drum
14. Wave
15. Waking Light
16. Girl
17. Beercan
18. E-Pro

1. Sexx Laws
2. Debra
3. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy
(Rod Stewart cover – with Jenny Lewis)
4. Where It’s At>Billy Jean>Where It’s At
(with Jenny Lewis)

The Ladies Dominate Music Fest North West

zzmfnwOriginally founded in 1995, Portland’s Music Fest North West has gone through several different stages of re-imagined incarnations over the past two decades. In some ways this year seemed like a step backwards. The South By Southwest format of having hundreds of bands play at multiple venues around town was abandoned this year and replaced by having 20 higher grade bands play at two main stages on the waterfront. But frankly, I’m a big fan of quality over quantity so I was stoked for the new format. It is interesting to note that the inaugural Project Pabst festival, (yes, that Pabst and of course, this city,) will be taking place on the same weekend in September that MFNW was held last year and will feature the multiple bands in multiple clubs format, so… I guess you just can’t fuck with the blue ribbon in PDX. The only people that really lost out on the new MFNW format were those that thought it was a good idea to buy a VIP ticket. Last year it meant guaranteed entry to every venue in town, this year it meant standing in a corralled section in the hot sun. I guess the beer lines in there may have been a few heads shorter, but if I had paid an extra $150 for one of those tickets I’d be demanding my money back. Anyway, let’s talk music.

Saturday felt rather disjointed. Admittedly, I did get a slow jump on the day and ended up missing Thundercat, Shy Girls, and Man Man – but whatever, it was fuckin’ hot out there so the musical sacrifice was worth the extra liters of sweat that managed to stay within my body. By the time Future Islands hit the stage at 5:30, frontman Samuel Herring had already fully soaked through his shirt. That didn’t slow him down at all, but there’s something so intimate about their sets that it didn’t fully click on the larger festival stage. I’m sure the late night club set was a whole other story, but in the late afternoon the consensual reaction seemed to be “I can check Future Islands off my list – that was fun – what’s next.” Run The Jewels came next and put on a great showcase of what a modern rap show can and should be. Killer Mike and El-P‘s stage banter is hilarious though, and I overheard more than one comment from the non hip-hop oriented portion of the crowd saying that they would rather have just heard them crack jokes for an hour.

Phantogram then put on what was probably the best set of Saturday. They’ve come along way since I first saw them in a small Vermont club and they were known as Charlie Everywhere. I was unaware that the duo had fleshed themselves out to a full band with a live drummer, and it was a pleasant surprise. In my opinion, live drums can only add to the power of a synth-oriented act, and hopefully Sleigh Bells catch that drift soon. Sarah Barthel’s unique voice held the majority of the crowd in a serene rapture, although there were light chuckles every time she talked and we all realized that the breathy softness of her singing voice is the same as her speaking voice. It was a solid set overall, although again the band presents itself with a degree of intimacy that doesn’t fully translate to the festival stage. Girl Talk was up next to close out the night, and that was my signal out of there. I admit I do take pleasure out of listening to his albums, but I really have no desire to see 100 doof-wads dance on stage while a dude hits play on his laptop and toilet paper gets shot over the crowd. Not my thing – on to Sunday.

I arrived early in the afternoon for The Antlers, and if I had been planning ahead I would have brought a blow-up mattress. It was incredibly hot, their set was incredibly boring, and I was incredibly jealous of everyone passed out on blankets in the shade. Thank God Fucked Up was on next. I’m not the biggest hardcore fan, so despite their indie leanings I haven’t had too many casual listening sessions for Pink Eyes (Damien Abraham) and crew. After Sunday’s set, I’m still not ready to rock their album in the car, but I surely won’t miss them playing live at any given opportunity. Their set was magical. It was hard to see the band through the dust storm in front of the stage that the mosh pit was kicking up, but it didn’t really matter since Abraham spent nearly the entire set in the crowd. And I don’t mean he was up front in the pit, I mean he fully tested the limits of his wireless microphone – taking laps past the soundboard, kissing babies, hugging fans, leaning over the fence to the folks listening for free outside – it was hilarious, and awesome, and incredibly heartwarming. You’d lose track of him half way through the song, only to realize he was actually standing right behind you the whole time. Good dude. Good band. But they still fell well short of the female domination on the horizon.

Ok, so tUnE-yArDs blew me the fuck away. Merrill Garbus is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve been amused by her albums the past few years, but for some reason I wasn’t aware of just how awe-inspiring her live gigs are. Dressed head-to-toe in neon, she gives off the impression of a SoCal valley girl that loves to do nothing more than eat acid and listen to The Talking Heads. But no shit – she’s from my home state of Connecticut? Well what the fuck do you know? While she has a couple backup singers who add extra punch to the whole scene, the real power comes from her incredible control of her loop pedals. Simple pulses mutate into pounding attacks, and her vocal layerings reach a harmonic intensity on par with The Beatles if they were actually whales and living on the moon. Even the most cynical head nodders were drawn to full on attack gyrations. Most importantly, she gave off a sense of total control and domination that none of the male performers had been able to match during the weekend. With the pussy power flowing, Haim took the stage as the sun began to set.

So listen, I friggin’ love the Haim album. I dig the tunes, I like their sound, and I straight-up just dig their scene. Still, I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to love their set. First off, it’s a huge relief to see a female band that doesn’t have a fashion stylist running their existence. That is, unless Alana Haim is paying someone to tell her which random t-shirt and jean shorts to wear at each gig. Secondly, Este Fucking Haim not only rocks the meanest bass face in the game, she never lets it go. That girl is is full snarl mode from the get-go, and it makes Gene Simmons look like a massive wuss in comparison. Their set was huge. Each song was stretched out a little bit, they had a total powerhouse blues jam segment, they engaged the crowd with every passing moment, and the crowd was ten times more raging than for any other set of the weekend. I danced like a complete fool and felt more comfortable than I would dancing like that in the shower. The girls are the real fuckin’ deal folks. Seeing them after tUnE-yArDs was surreal – easily two of the greatest female acts on the planet back-to-back. And not only that, but they were easily the two greatest bands of a stacked festival lineup.

However, this doesn’t mean that Spoon weren’t incredible to close out the weekend. I’ve been listening to the band since Kill The Moonlight came out in 2002, and that means I’ve got a solid catalog of the music ingrained in my internal playlist. Still, I had forgotten that “The Way We Get By” and “Don’t Make Me A Target” are two of my favorite songs from this millennium. In a way I had shelved Spoon as this great but non-essential group. But throughout their set, I kept remembering how much I loved Britt Daniel’s songs, and his voice, and his whole friggin’ band. For a warm summer night on the Portland waterfront, after seeing two female powerhouse acts,  I’m not sure if I could think of a better band to make the night seem so perfect. They were tight when they should have been, but loose when they needed to be, and the setlist was ideal. In all actuality, can you think of a shitty Spoon song? I reached full bliss on Sunday – hopefully this festival keeps the ball rolling in 2015.

Bobby Weir Rumors – What Do You Want to Believe?

zzweirYesterday the GD camps announced that all Bob Weir concerts are cancelled through next year. That includes a month of upcoming Ratdog dates, a big Jamaica event that was scheduled for January, and a headlining set by Furthur at September’s Lockn’ Festival. The announcement of the cancellations is intentionally vague, with the only detail being that Weir is going to remain off the road “immediately and indefinitely.” As of this morning, there’s still nothing but rumors circulating, and almost all of them have to do with Weir’s health. There’s a kind of sad irony with this announcement arising the day after the 19th anniversary of Garcia’s passing, and one may wonder if that infamous date had something to do with triggering this decision. Whatever the reason may be though, it can’t be good news, and whatever rumor you choose to believe may highlight your degree of optimism in how Bobby carries his life. The way I see it, there’s only three possibilities and they all signal deeper issues.

1) Inter-Band Politics - The surviving members of the Grateful Dead go through waves of loving and hating each other, so this idea is nothing new. The fact of the matter though is that these cancellations have to do with two different bands, with only keyboardist Jeff Chimenti playing in both bands. So unless Bobby has suddenly decided he hates Chimenti, I think this rumor is off the table – especially since the latest talks have been about everybody getting together for the 50th anniversary next year.

2) Bobby is Hurt - He’s been having some rather severe back issues the past year or so, and standing upright playing guitar for several hours a night is probably not the greatest feeling in the world when your spine is aching. If it was just pain though, it seems weird that the cancellation would be such an instantaneous decision. Perhaps he needs to start taking some heavier medication to help with the pain that he’d be unable to perform while on. Perhaps he’s already been on some heavier medication that has led to some addiction issues…

3) Bobby is an Addict - Unfortunately, the consensus seems to point to this being the case. Alcohol, pills? Quite likely. The bigger stuff? Not out of the realm of possibility. A few folks seem to think that a family intervention has already gone down, but I’m not sure how Phil Lesh would have handled that one – “Yeah, I know I did nothing when you took a face plant on stage last year, but I’m concerned about your health.”

Whatever it is, I think we can all agree that we need to send all our love out to the finest man to ever non-ironically sport some daisy-dukes. Get better Ace.

Diarrhea Planet Play Legendary Late Night Set At Pickathon

zzzzzHas there ever been a band better suited for praise from this site than Diarrhea Planet? Honestly, they share our common love for the sarcastic vernacular, they absolutely slay rock music, and they realize that too much of a good thing is a fantastic thing. Sure it’s a crappy name (unsure of whether pun is intended) but taking a cue from the band’s bio of quoting Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

So first off, Pickathon is literally the most idyllic festival set-up I could ever imagine. Each stage is a uniquely crafted universe all its own, seemingly plucked from Narnia and never more than 20 feet from a craft-beer stand – Narnlandia if you will. At one point during The War On Drugs’ daytime set on the Woods stage, front-man Adam Granduciel commented that of all the festivals his band has ever played, Pickathon is the only one that he would every think of attending as a non-performer. Seeing his crew play in the late afternoon on a stage made of tree limbs in the middle of the woods was about as perfect of a setting as one could dream for that band, although the first 20 minutes or so were plagued with sound issues that dwindled a touch of the magic. Overall it was great, although I forced myself to leave during “Red Eyes” so I could catch the last bit of the barn set from The Barr Brothers. And one other note before I go further, how the hell can Dan Bejar release such funky disco tunes as Destroyer, only to perform live as a solo, acoustic, sleep-inducing act? Needless to say, I skipped over his stage. So that bring me to night-time in the barn…

Foxygen came first, and I had mentally prepared myself for the pompous disaster their stage-shows are known for. I absolutely adored their album from last year, but all reports have been that their live gigs are bullshit. Well frankly, and this seems to be in direct contrast to my other journalistic colleagues in attendance, I thought their set was killer. They’ve added in some back-up singers to soulify their sound a little, kind of taking the equivalent sonic leap of going from Sticky Fingers to Exile. And I’m sure some folks will call it blasphemous to associate them with The Stones in any way, but that’s the vibe I got Friday night. It was sloppy and raucous, but it was fun as all fuck. A packed, 100 degree barn on a beautiful summer night again just seemed like the perfect setting for the band, and I feel rather certain that I’ll never see them live up to that set again. So then Diarrhea Planet took the stage.

This may turn out to be my favorite set of music all year. I wasn’t deeply familiar with the band before, other than knowing they had four guitarists and looked like they’d seen their fair share of rowdy keggers over the years. A quick line-check before their set got me amped and ready though. Teasing riffs from Thin Lizzy to Lit, it was obvious the band was primed to annihilate the barn. When they opened up their set with the intro music the Chicago Bulls used in the mid-90′s, I knew we were in for something special. (Sidenote: did you know that tune was The Alan Parsons Project?) I don’t toss around the word ‘legendary’ too often, but I feel justified in its use for this set. Each song crushed harder than its predecessor. At times all four guitars would be in their own universe of balls-deep shreddary, and yet it never sounded too jumbled. A disruptive punk aggression teamed in a jello-like fashion with over-the-top riffery, making DP sound like the dream-like axis point between Boston and Fugazi. Sometimes I head-nodded, sometimes I pseudo-moshed, and other times I stood completely still in a trance of sonic bewilderment. It takes some major balls to name yourself after fecal domination and write songs that high-school kids would have inhaled whippets to twenty years ago, but these fellas have no shame. And when you add together no shame with solid tunes and deep alt-rock pockets, you get the sound of what modern guitar rock should be sounding like across the board today. Plus, you don’t get kids to literally hang from the rafters unless you’re playing music that launches them off the floors. The name may be overly shitty, but Diarrhea Planet is the real deal folks. Catch em now in the smallest, sweatiest venue you can find, totally block out what year it is, and flail your body like all of your guilty pleasures are molding into one – I assure you, you’ll have the time of your life. Here’s video of them from last month at Bonnaroo. it starts with the Bulls tune, and ends with a guitar solo played by a man’s teeth as he hangs upside down from a light trellis.

Photo courtesy of Diarrhea

New Track From The Young Is The Pulsing Rocker I’ve Been Looking For All Summer

zztyIt’s half-way through the Summer, and that means I’ve heard far beyond my tolerable level of random festival DJs for any normal human season. So that may be looming a heavy influence over how refreshing this new track from The Young sounds, but it doesn’t make it any less killer. If you’re like me, then there’s not any better feeling these days then hearing a classic, powerhouse rock song from a band you’ve never heard of before. The Young slipped under my radar when their first album came out in 2012, and according to their press releases their new record’s dark undertones are a new approach for the band. They’re well suited to the company of their Matador labelmates though – raw but melodic, familiar but unique, and any other cliche analogies that are ubiquitous with describing the list of incredible bands that make up Matador’s roster. They’re the new kids on the block there, but it’s hard to find any sense of intimidation in their sound. “Cry of Tin” rides on a pulsing verse pocket reminiscent of Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins, before cranking on a good ole’ axe-shreddage journey that’s the cream-dream of Mom’s basement jam sessions – in the sense of the warmth of the sound. The Young aren’t breaking down any walls here, but they are keeping the evolution of American rock music alive. This is authentic rock, and in many ways its biggest influences sound like the last albums by Cloud Nothings and Wavves. It’s a stepping-stone manifestation of the sound if you will. And this is the sound of some fellas who not only know where the music they play came from, but are also see where it should be going – grooves, and rock, and power, and quality song-writing. I’m excited for the whole record, Chrome Cactus, due out on August 25. Check out  “Cry of Tin” below.

Photo courtesy of The Young Facebook

So, When Does The Punchline in This Lana Del Rey Joke Drop?

zzdrThis may have been an off year for Saturday Night Live, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still pushing the boundaries of modern comedy. Building off of the notion that quality humor is founded in solid timing, the show has still yet to drop the punchline on a skit they started in 2012. Realizing that they were in desperate need for a new franchise-worthy character ala Wayne and Garth or The Coneheads, Lorne Michaels and crew tried out a new sketch featuring a character called Lana Del Rey. The character was a personification of all that is wrong in the current state of manufactured bullshit claiming to be art in the modern music scene. It was funny for sure, but maybe went a little too far over the top. I understand exaggerating levels of sarcasm to make a humorous point, but no real human being would ever have plastic surgery to intentionally make their nose look like a pit-bull’s asshole. The songs were really funny though, and totally saved the sketch. It’s hard to write lyrics to fake songs that completely embody the soulless babble of ignorantly forged apathy, but they pulled it off. And yes, the performance of the “featured” cast-member, Lizzy Grant, was a touch over-the-top in the sense of acting like a dead-eyed piece of plastic, but none-the-less I thought the sketch had promise. But then it just ended. The song stopped and the audience clapped, but there was no punchline. When there was a reprise of the sketch later on in the same episode, I kept waiting for the conclusive one-liner but again, it never came. However, now I realize the genius of it all – SNL is actually going to wait years to drop the punchline on this one. It’s the ultimate anticipatory build, and I’m sure the pay-off is going to be hilarious.

For its annual Summer comedy issue this year, Rolling Stone realized how funny the whole bit is and agreed to put the character on the cover. The coinciding article weighed a tad too heavy on the whole “I’m really moody and don’t think I should be on the cover of your magazine” shtick, but it was still great to see a comedy figure from TV translated so well in a written medium. The thing is, by holding off on the punchline, the SNL producers have created a level of rapt intrigue that’s never existed with any of their other characters before. It’s like a hot girl has walked by but Wayne still hasn’t said “schwing” yet. But with a new level of attention being placed on the character, I think we’re bound for the big reveal any day now. It was a smart move to bring in Dan Auerbach to co-produce the character’s latest “album” – the professional touch helped it become part of the historic landmark moment of two comedy albums hitting number one in the same month, (Weird Al was the other.)

So as we all wait for the punchline to drop, we’re fortunately still being blessed with more comedic gems from this character. The latest comes in the form of the new video for “Ultraviolence,” a musical sketch that deserves to be in the pantheon of SNL classics like “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box.” In the song and video, the writers imagine the character wanting to write her own updated version of The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).” As the Del Rey character has no original thoughts of her own, all she can do is say the word “utlraviolence” over and over again while mixing in direct lines from “He Hit Me.” Let me tell you now, this shit is hilarious! They really nail the idea of mundane unoriginality, and its perfectly highlighted by the character fumbling through the woods in a wedding gown. It’s really too funny – I don’t know where they come up with this stuff!

I guess for now, we’ll all just have to keep riding this train as we debate on what the punchline will be. My best bet is that it’s going to turn out that Del Rey is actually a talking donkey in a human costume, but I also like the idea that she’s actually a giant glue-stick that was brought to life by a magic spell. We’ll have to wait and see! Until now, watch the hilarious new video below.

Who Knew Jack White Knows All The Lyrics To Beck’s “Loser”?

zzzzjwJack White appears to be having a blast on tour this Summer. On top of playing the longest gigs of his career, covering everyone from Metallica to Jay-Z, and becoming the hottest new meme of 2014, he’s also managing to squeeze in some time on friends’ stages. After headlining at Newport Folk Fest last night, White pooped over to Beck‘s gig in Providence to help him with some encores. While it’s fantastic to see two notoriously cranky artists having a blast with each other, what really blows me away about the moment is that White appears to know all of the lyrics to Beck’s “Loser.” Hearkening back 20 years to a time when modern radio was still worth listening to, it’s great to see that even the soon-to-be huge stars weren’t immune to getting the hip cuts of the day stuck in their heads. Still, as much as I love Beck and have listened to “Loser” God knows how many times, I still flake on most of it up until the “time is a piece of wax falling on a termite who’s choking on the splinters.” White, on the other hand, is nailing all these verses. With folks like Leadbelly as much cooler artists to name-check as your musical influences, I don’t think we’re ever gonna see White mention Beck as an inspiration, but the proof is in the pudding – alternative breeds alternative, and the cycle of quality sound evolves from there. Check it out yourself.

Phish in Vegas: Returning To The Scene of The Crime

zzphThe rumors about Phish playing in Las Vegas for Halloween this year had been circulating for months before they were officially announced the other day. It was a rumor that I had trouble believing because I didn’t think Trey would be ready to bring the big show back there for at least another decade. And yes, it’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the epic debacle that was Vegas ’04 – perhaps the most failed run of shows in the history of the band. But let’s return to the scene of the crime…

Even before any of us had set foot on the plane, the bad omens were looming. With Chris Kuroda in rehab, the band was slated to play its first shows without the legitimate 5th member of the band in 15 years. When it was announced that Dave Matthews Band’s lighting director, Fenton Williams would be taking the helm, I tried to keep an open mind. At festivals I had seen the band play successfully in the daytime, so surely the lights weren’t a dire necessity for the music to remain at pro-shop levels. But God, what a friggin’ shit show the lights turned out to be. It’s hard to remember the exact moment when I first realized the crap show on the lights, but I do remember the moment they really started to piss me off. At the end of night one, which was an unfathomably disastrous performance by the band, they broke into the delicate magic of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” Thinking that even the worst Slave is still a great Slave, I had a moment of peace and acceptance with the rest of the set. However, a single moment is all it was. As soon as the band dropped into the jam, Williams turned a bright spotlight on the entire “Page Side High” section and left it there for the rest of the song. There’s no easier way to piss off the self-declared “headiest” section of the building than by simulating the feeling of a cop car’s high beams blinding you in the rear-view mirror. Visually, things would not improve over the next two nights, and I remember a solid chant of “Where’s Kuroda” echoing in the upper section before the start of night three.

As for the music itself, I seem to have successfully blocked out most of it. I do remember the elation of seeing my girl Jen Hartswick come out on stage on night one, and then the subsequent awkward feeling accompanying the complete train-wreck that was Jay-Z’s “Girls Girls Girls.” I remember the total butchering of “You Enjoy Myself” on night three, where Trey basically just gave up and started doing the “Meatstick.” You know that feeling when you’re like, “Yeah, this is why people hate Phish” and your drug-induced thoughts start leaning towards the “what the fuck are we all doing” region? Not a good sensation to have. It was bad enough that when Trey announced the band’s break-up soon after, my first reaction was that it seemed like a pretty darn good idea.

I also remember feeling really bad for Jesse Jarnow, whose completely accurate reviews of the run were considered to be the articles that broke up Phish. Purportedly, Gordo even approached him backstage at one of the shows that Summer to tell him that Trey quoted his articles heavily when stating that the band needed to stop. Seriously though, the phrase “with meaningless excitement” has never been used more aptly. And while Coventry is a solid contender, these gigs will always be my vision of Mr. Anastasio at true rock-bottom. So that leads us to now…

I’m not sure where Trey’s sobriety stands today. I mean he seems to be incredibly healthy and sober, but I’m not sure to what degree he consults therapists of sponsors or what-have-you. But for years I’ve been thinking that rule number one on the list of things his support team won’t let him do is “Don’t go to Las Vegas.” And yet here we are – a three night stand on the horizon, falling upon the most debaucherous day in the U.S. calender year – Halloween. Honestly, if there has ever been a bigger test for a man’s sobriety than this, then please let me know how that turned out. I’m not saying I’m worried about Trey having a relapse in Vegas, but there’s no doubt that there will be thoughts of his past lingering in a more predominant way than they have anywhere else since the band reunited five years ago. If we’re lucky, the Good Lieutenant will take all those lingering thoughts and emotions and channel them into a touchstone moment in his career – a moment when he can firmly state he stands in full control of his existence and thrives purely on the high of producing quality music for the people who love him. In my mind, with the band firing on some rather profound cylinders right now, this is the biggest test of 3.0. If Vegas works out, then yes – let’s book Europe dates again, maybe another Japan run, maybe give Mexico a try. If this band can return to the place where they died and culminate their resurrection in triumphant fashion, then honestly I don’t think there’s anything they can’t do. I’m a tinge bit nervous, but I wouldn’t miss these dates for the world.