Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Phish 12/30 Review: The One Where I Surrendered to the Flow

Just a few days ago, I still didn't have tickets for the 12/30 Phish show.  Thanks to CashOrTrade.org, I was able to trade two of my 12/29 extras for a pair of 30ths... behind the stage.  I was slightly worried that it'd be too frustrating a position to really enjoy the concert, but now it pains me to think of not being there for last night's second set.

Phish began the night with "Kill Devil Falls."  It's not my favorite song, and the sound was reverberating a tad off the back wall.  I was also experiencing a certain sort of disconnect.  I'm tall, so I typically don't have a lot of trouble seeing at concerts.  My eyes are usually on the musicians: their faces and their hands on their instruments.  And I couldn't really do that from my vantage point.  In fact, I could see Mike Gordon only when his left hand ventured close enough to the headstock to hit the lowest notes.  It did, however, offer me a better view of Jon Fishman, who is usually fairly hidden behind his cymbals.  Now over his shoulder, the complexity of what my ears were hearing didn't match the simplicity of what I was seeing.  A total sensorial trick that could only be pulled off by such a talented drummer.  "Bathtub Gin" was a fun follow-up, especially the "shave and a haircut" tag at the end.  Having been stuck in my head for the whole run, "Wombat" finally reared its funky head next.  Personal desire withstanding, it was the most inspired performance in a predominantly straightforward set.  The reggae of "Yarmouth Road" was a refreshing genre change before the rocking "46 Days," which got the floor quaking beneath my sneakers.  "Lawn Boy" saw Page visiting Mike on stage left (Weirdly, also my left.), and Fishman even came out from behind his kit to join them.

When Phish returned to the stage after that song-focused first set, Mike had a yellow scarf wrapped around his neck.  I was secretly hoping it was there to keep his head from floating away in the middle of a particularly spacey trip.  Anastasio revved up the rollicking "
Chalk Dust Torture," and an arsenal of cow-patterned balloons exploded from the center of the crowd.  Trey's guitar evolved into a humpback whale, searching for mates across a swirling sea.  Then Mike dropped "the brown noise," clearing the air for a short, gentle section prior to the final uptempo groove.  By this point, I had accepted my view of the stage.  I was listening to the music.  Surrendering to the flow.  "Mike's Song" developed into a funk rock piece that just begged to be made into a "Frankenstein" monster.  But they resisted, and a clunky transition into "Devotion to a Dream" kept the no-covers streak going.  I like the Wingsuit ditty, but as the newcomer, it was the obvious weakest link.  "Ghost" followed, and it was incredible to hear the arena fully singing along to a song, not just a single line or wooing in unison.  Once it reached the breakout, you could call this one Casper, because this was a friendly "Ghost."  The radiant jam took on more and more positive vibes until it couldn't contain them anymore, and ruptured into the fat bass intro of "Weekapaug Groove."  The song continued along the established sunny path until it too had to burst, this time into "Simple."  After the silly lyrical part, the band pushed forth, eventually taking the song inward.  The hive mind of these guys just astounds me; the way they rarely even look at each other (generally only for the endings of songs), but are so telepathically aligned, they can improvise a song that constantly evolves.  Bouncing along on Mike's trampoline bassline, Page and Trey twinkled on until the whole thing sounded like blissed out electronica.  Scraping some of the resin leftover from "Yarmouth," they dropped into "Harry Hood."  I think I preferred last year's version, but then again, last year I wasn't right in front of a girl screaming like Miss Piggy right before a karate chop.  Eventually it wound down to a feedback-y denouement, which most assumed would be the set's finish (My brother even left to go to the bathroom.), but Fishman crashed right into "Cavern."  "They faked me out!" yelled my brother once he returned for the singalong.  Then they faked everyone out again by descending into "First Tube" for a victory lap.  The guys took a bow, and Trey collected what appeared to be books and a framed photograph from the front row.

At that point, Page could've returned, played only the fart sound he finished last night's "Gumbo" with, and I would've been happy.  Instead they chose "Slave to the Traffic Light."  After such a euphoric second set, it seemed even more relaxed than usual.  It was the satisfied exhale, the cigarette after sex.  And it was my favorite Phish show.


Kill Devil Falls / Bathtub Gin / Wombat / Yarmouth Road / 46 Days / Lawn Boy / Heavy Things / Punch You in the Eye > Sample in a Jar / Gotta Jibboo

Chalk Dust Torture > Mike's Song > Devotion to a Dream / Ghost > Weekapaug Groove > Simple > Harry Hood > Cavern > First Tube

Slave to the Traffic Light

Monday, December 30, 2013

Phish 12/29 Review: Stepping Up Their Game

After a scattered first night, which found the band struggling to find setlist slots for their new Wingsuit tunes, Phish turned in a much more cohesive second show at the Garden.  "The Moma Dance" kicked things off, and the middle-aged woman next to me began the mommy dance.  Phish never got too funky with it, taking a laid-back approach that they extended well into the set.  "Roggae" had its moments, and the band found the perfect spot for possible radio single "The Line," tucked snugly between "Sparkle" and "Stash."  The latter served as the framework for the first true jam of the night, a major-key journey signaled by a CK5 projection behind the stage that resembled maybe snow, maybe not, as my brother swore it looked like "maggots and bacteria."  The Gordon-led "555" followed nicely.  Trey's guitar and Page's organ both got a little too shrill by the end of the improvised section, but the transition back into the vocal was on point.  Then they busted out the dankest funk since the previous night's "Wolfman" with "It's Ice."  Gordon made meatballs while McConnell poured on the clavinet sauce.  With the arena pre-heated, it was time for the cooks to serve up some steaming "Gumbo."  Page simmered on the organ for a bit, but he really brought things to a boil once he returned to the clav.  Sous-chef Gordon snuck in some well-timed notes, but he dropped back and let Page continue his ride, all the way to the final farty flourish: a single staccato note to end the song with a laugh.  Closer "Walls of the Cave" suffered from a little too much guitar grandiosity from Anastasio, but it wasn't a total misfire.

Set two began with a tiny bit of ambient experimentation.  Trey 
mumbled something incoherent into the mic, and then Gordon's flange bass triggered "Down with Disease."  The band oozed confidence on the lyric start to the song, and then it came time for the jam.  Last year's 12/30 "DWD" was my favorite performance of the entire year from any band, so my hopes were probably too high.  Though it was never dull, it jumped around a little too much, Trey steering it from a gentle guitar melody to crunchy riff rock to an uptempo blues.  Emerging on the other side, Anastasio finished out the chorus center stage, and then charged into "Carini."  Unlike the sinister cave creature they uncovered last year, this version let in more light, sonically represented by simultaneous death ray whooshes by all members.  The spaceflight continued, and then Page let loose some keyboard noises that sounded like the sweetest dial-up modem.  It was enough to cement his status as the night's MVP.  "Waves" flowed into a "Twist" that at times recalled Bill Withers' "Use Me."  They closed out the set with well-executed, well-lit renditions of "Golgi Apparatus" and "David Bowie."  As they came forward to take a bow, someone in the crowd threw a bouquet of roses at Trey.  He tossed the flowers to Fish, who held them for a photo op before flinging them over the drums to Mike.  Sadly, Mike's cross-stage pass to Page went wild, and landed on top of the piano.
When they emerged for the encore, Page was holding the bouquet.  Hell, he earned it.  "Possum" was a pleasant last dance, albeit a tad overlong.  "Thanks, everybody.  We'll see you tomorrow night," offered Trey.  Tonight's show is Phish's 30th at MSG, in their 30th year, so expectations are colossal.  Should they continue on this trajectory, though, there's going to be an arena's worth of satisfied Phans pouring out of MSG at 11:40.


The Moma Dance > Rift / Roggae / Sparkle / The Line / Stash / 555 / It's Ice / Gumbo / Walls of the Cave

Jam / Down with Disease > Carini / Waves > Twist / Golgi Apparatus / David Bowie


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Phish 12/28 Review: When Shall I Don My Wingsuit?

In what has been a historic thirtieth year for Phish, the band decided to cap it off with their fourth consecutive New Year's run at Madison Square Garden.  After a summer tour chock full of jams, the band has most recently been at work crafting their next album, Wingsuit.  Would their time in the studio rein in the jams, or would the new songs breathe even more life into the sets?  More importantly, where would they go in the rotation?

The Phab Four emerged at 8:16, greeted by applause and an inflatable sheep that was tossed onto the stage.  Trey Anastasio placed the sheep beside his amps, where it would remain for the entire set.  As Jon Fishman kicked into "The Wedge," a lot of first song bets were lost.  The sound mix left more to be desired, with clipping from Mike Gordon's bass and flat vocals all around.  I'll blame the Chase Bridges for disrupting the room's acoustics, though it is interesting to think that over these past four years, Phish have played the Garden during each phase of its transformation.  As this was my first Phishing trip of the year, I was also taking in Chris Kuroda's new lighting rig, the band's modified stage positions, and what I assume was a fresh addition: a small podium next to Trey that offered him hand control of his effects.  A shining "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" brought some much needed energy into the building, but a sloppy "Mound" failed to continue the upward climb.  "Axilla" segued into "Birds of a Feather," which featured a small jam, a funky hint of what was to come next.  "Wolfman's Brother" was my first-set highlight exactly one year ago, when they dropped a perfectly timed "Little Drummer Boy" in its midst.  While they didn't delve into any Christmas carols this go-round, the boys took the tune to Funkytown, with Page McConnell as mayor.  While the return to the song's theme could've been smoother, the jam was at least proof that the show wasn't going to be a Saturday Night Special.  Trey began the chunky first chords of "Wilson," and immediately aborted the idea.  Moments later, they started up the Wingsuit number "Monica."  Choosing an unreleased song over their one with the most crowd participation unsettled the audience a bit, and Phish didn't fully regain everyone's attention until the arena-tailored "Free."  "Julius" ended the uneven set on a dancey high note.

Jam vehicle "Sand" was an even more surprising set opener than "Wedge."  Unfortunately, right when the trip was at its tastiest, the purple and blue lights shifted to red, red for "Piper."  I've always found "Piper" to be a bit too fast, but the boys handled the breakneck tempo well.  Trey hacking at his guitar wasn't necessarily the most seamless transition into "Back on the Train," but the crowd cheered appreciatively.  Then Phish barreled into "Tweezer," and the energy in the room exploded in a shower of glowsticks.  L
ast year's 12/28 "Tweezer" was quite the competition, however, especially considering last night's jam dropped off just as it reached its most dark and alien section... into "Backwards Down the Number Line?"  Thankfully it was the best rendition I've heard, culminating with some excellent guitar work by Anastasio.  "Steam" followed, revived for its first MSG appearance since two years ago's NYE stunt, which saw crowd members floating towards the venue's famous ceiling.  While the smoke machines in the rear of the stage couldn't contend with the stunt's aerial theatrics, the band were determined to best it musically, and did.  In an already expansive set, "Steam" was the "jampion," Trey huddling with Page to create some far-out layers.  A "Horse"-less "Silent in the Morning" was trailed by "Waiting All Night."  It's one of my favorite Wingsuit tunes, but it was sadly relegated to that cool-down recovery slot, before an extended "Run Like an Antelope" finished out the set.

"Thank you guys so much.  We are so happy to be back here," gushed McConnell.  "
We're here for a few more minutes," he added, and revved up "Suzy Greenberg."  As Page took a ride on the piano, Trey and Mike pretended to swordfight with their guitars.  They proceeded to mirror each other's moves and twirl their instruments as if they were in a color guard before turning their headstocks towards the crowd like applause-locating divining sticks.  That would've been a fine conclusion, but a "Tweeprise" was due.  Confetti cannons in the front row rocketed shiny streamers onto the band, and Trey danced around giddily.  It's too bad it took until the encore for the band to visibly have so much fun.  Perhaps they were just relaxed after having the first show in the bank, but I hope their enthusiasm picks up right there for tonight's festivities.


The Wedge / Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan / Mound / Axilla > Birds of a Feather / Wolfman's Brother / Wilson (tease) / Monica / Seven Below > Tube > Free / Julius

Sand > Piper > Back on the Train > Tweezer > Backwards Down the Number Line / Steam > Silent in the Morning / Waiting All Night / Run Like an Antelope

Suzy Greenberg / Tweezer Reprise

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Majorleans & Sundelles Play Real Indie Rock at Mercury Lounge

Over the years, the definition of "indie rock" has morphed from a business term into a genre.  Originally a way to categorize rock bands who were independent from the major record labels, it has become more a descriptor of a sound.  This is semi-logical, as many of these "indie" artists are now on thriving smaller labels.  And while they may not possess the coffers of the industry giants, they still have enough clout to garner airplay and sell tickets.  The fundamental flaw in using "indie" to describe what you're actually hearing is that the gamut is stylistically too diverse.  Does a grunge revival band count as indie even though they're paying tribute to a major label genre?  How atmospheric must a song be before it's considered indie?  At what point does the singer's voice become too tonally developed that the moniker no longer applies?  Last night, I went to the late show at Mercury Lounge to catch two Brooklyn indie bands, Sundelles and the Majorleans.  They're unsigned, so they are truly independent, but they don't sound anything alike.  And they shouldn't.

First up was the hirsute honcho of Sundelles, Sam Sundos, who exemplified 
the jangly lo-fi found on Teenbeat Records in the early '90s.  After opening with a medley of three of his oldest ditties, Sundos shifted the tides towards his latest release, No Milk, released a few weeks ago for free via Mediafire (download here).  Entirely backlit, Sam was hard to see, save for a shimmering crucifix dangling from his left earlobe.  "Are you guys taking me seriously?" he questioned halfway through the set.  "I wore this earring for Christmas, and no one's taking me seriously!" he shouted, feigning a temper tantrum.  The poppier No Milk numbers were definitely the crowd favorites, along with an unexpected cover of Big Star's "Thirteen."  "I didn't write that song, and I didn't sing it right," Sundos remarked before bringing his set to a close with the Beach Boys-flavored "Blue Sky."  I was a little let down that he didn't play my favorite song from the album, "Why (Make Up Your Mind)," but I guess that means I'll just have to see him again.

The Majorleans seemed looser than when I first saw them in April.  Perhaps it's because their long-overdue debut, Black Belt, is looming just around the corner.  Perhaps it was the inherent confidence that comes with headlining.  Perhaps they just felt at home in a room thick with friends.  No doubt it was a combination of all these things, and it resulted in a relaxed hangout vibe.  The feel of the show could be summed up by the enthusiastic yell of "One more!" from a crowdmember after the rocking opening cut "Go Down All the Time."  Nicky Francis laughed, and the band continued with nine additional tunes, including two I'd never seen live: "Mercy" and "Real Bad."  For the latter, dancers in the front row took to reenacting their roles from the music video (below).  Sound issues with the acoustic forced Francis to forfeit his guitar before the second verse, but that didn't stop him from miming a jam with his bandmates.  It was also nice to hear the song minus the harmonica that at times overpowers the studio version.  The Majorleans then moved the party to the roadhouse with the country-stomp of "Under Ma Wheels," another highlight.  And while they may have kept the mood casual, they still put the music first, as evidenced by Chris Buckle's searing classic rock solo on "Coal Mine/Cold Mind" and the tight pocket stitched by Hurricane Bells' rhythm boys on "Mr. Magic."

The plan is to spend next week pumping out the backlog of podcasts, which includes an interview with the Majorleans and Black Belt co-producer "Bassy" Bob Brockmann, so get your ears ready.

SUNDELLES - 12.18.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (29 minutes)

Gold > Dead Youth > Waiting / Can't Win / Fight for My Time / Taking All the Fun / I'm Trouble / Thirteen / Blue Sky

THE MAJORLEANS - 12.18.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (44 minutes)

Go Down All the Time / Coal Mine/Cold Mind / Imaginary Plane / Baby, Where Have All Your Lights Gone? / Real Bad / Under Ma Wheels / Never See the Seams / Mercy / Mr. Magic / Never Had Enough

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sasha Carlson Debuts Two New Splashh Tunes at Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Last year saw the inaugural run of the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, a holiday pop-up festival in Williamsburg featuring food, music, and art.  Its latest incarnation, located at 165 Banker St, is no longer a seasonal event, but a permanent attraction.  Regrettably, it has become much more sterilized and streamlined, primarily focused on artisanal foods from the usual suspects like Arancini Brothers, Ample Hills, and Fatty Cakes, than arts & crafts.  One improvement from last year, however, is a dedicated concert area that has already seen a number of local and international acts.

One such act was the London-based dream pop band, Splashh, who performed this past Friday and Saturday.  I went Friday night, and quickly realized that this wasn't the normal lineup I'd witnessed at Bowery Ballroom earlier this year.  With the rest of his bandmates still in the UK, lead singer/guitarist Sasha Carlson brought along two of his mates from Australia to assist on keys, bass, and programming.  As they dipped into "Lemonade" with help from a drum machine, it was apparent that this wasn't going to be the wall of guitars approach that has come to define Splashh's live show.  A crowd gathered by the picnic tables to watch, not yet ready to commit.  Complemented befittingly by a backdrop of animated spirals, "Headspins" followed, and Sasha's screams of "Yeah yeah yeah" sliced compellingly through the haze.  The tune assured the shy spectators that this was an act worth moving closer for.  "This song's a brand new one," echoed Carlson, the reverb effect still heavy on his microphone.  Built around an electronic loop, "646" culminated in repeated strains of Carlson crying the three digits of the title.  Screechy crackling from the programming console marred the beginning of "All I Wanna Do," but the issue was resolved by the song's middle.  "Sorry about that hectic feedback and shit," Sasha apologized.  They wrapped up the brief set with "Sandy's Dream," another dreamy noise-drenched track to add to the Splashh canon.

I spoke with Sasha before his Saturday Bazaar performance, where he shared the exciting news that the band's remaining members plan to join him next year in NYC to gig regularly and record their second record. The interview will be on The Next Round, so stay tuned.

SPLASHH - 12.06.13 - BROOKLYN NIGHT BAZAAR (27 minutes)

Lemonade / Headspins / 646 / All I Wanna Do / Sandy's Dream