Blair’s Golden Road Blog— Phish, WSP, Derek and Other “Fellow Travelers”
I don’t dig Phish. Lord knows I’ve tried. Through the years I’ve had so many people attempt to convert me. I dutifully auditioned live CDs fanatical fans would pass to me. I checked out every studio album that came my way, wondering if this would be the Phish album that would have songs that actually resonated with me. I recall when one came out a number of years ago a Phish Head pal proclaimed it “Phish’s American Beauty.” Uh, no. I watched most of a live Phish DVD a while ago, wondering if perhaps the visual element would get me off. Nope. “But you gotta see a show, man!” No doubt. I’m still open to that. But at this point, I really have heard many hours of Phish and it just doesn’t do it for me. The songs don’t sing to my soul, and even though the musicianship is clearly amazing on a technical level, it doesn’t hit me emotionally.
I’ve been through similar scenes with other jam bands (and my friends who like ’em). I can at least understand why Phish appeals to people, but in the case of Widespread Panic I don’t have a clue. They sound completely ordinary to me. Again, I’ve given them multiple chances to show me something — live and studio CDs — but the song craft isn’t there for me, the guitar playing does not blow my mind, and they lack even that quirky dimension that Phish has (way too much of). I suppose I have to see them live, too. So, who’s got my 10th row-center miracle ticket for that show? ’Cause in this era, with ticket prices what they are, I ain’t spending my concert money on a headliner there’s a good chance I won’t enjoy.
But here’s the thing: I root for both of those bands, and really, just about all jam bands, because they are “fellow travelers.” No, not fellow communists, as that term was originally applied decades ago, but musicians out of the mainstream dedicated to playing improvisational music before spirited and adventure-seeking crowds. I like any crowd that will dance—sorry, just standing there doesn’t count; gotta shake it at least a little — and any band that will get people up and moving. To me, it’s the highest form of musical communion. The Grateful Dead completely spoiled me, because not only did they inspire you to dance, they had perhaps the greatest song catalog (originals and covers) of any band ever, so every part of your body-mind-spirit was engaged. At this point, I’ve learned to go to shows not expecting that sort of soul-elevating trifecta, so I am often pleasantly surprised when I get one or two, and if not for an entire evening, at least in spurts.
It’s not like I want or expect bands to sound at all like the Grateful Dead. Yes, I love Furthur—it’s those guys and those songs, brought into The Now. But, as I’ve noted before, Dark Star Orchestra, who sound more like the Dead than Furthur, don’t do it for me. Even so, I still want them to do well, because they’re fellow travelers fighting the good fight and providing a space for the people who like them to experience something soulful and true.
My favorite of the first wave of jam bands — moe.— doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Nor does String Cheese Incident, who I’ve enjoyed intermittently through the years. SCI and moe. also have made studio albums I love: Untying the Not and Wormwood respectively, and have written many fine songs. A group that I’ve come to love the last few years who go to some similar musical places as the Grateful Dead but in a completely different way is Railroad Earth. Again, it’s good songs as vehicles for inspired jamming, but more from the bluegrass side. Yonder Mountain String Band is often lumped into the loose jamgrass category, too, but for whatever reason I have not gotten into them in the same way. But I root for them, too!
The other night I went to the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they totally knocked me out with their alternately tight and jammy rock, R&B and soul sound. The crowd was great — hanging on every wail from Derek Trucks’ slide, and movin’ to the big, big sound of a surprisingly flexible 11-piece band, with Derek’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, out front with gritty lead vocals that at times recalled Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Bramlett and other belters. Opening for the TTB was the married duo Tim and Nicki Bluhm (he’s best known as leader of the Mother Hips and also toured with the Rhythm Devils last year), and they were definitely not a jam band. They played short, catchy, country-flavored original songs—just two voices and one acoustic guitar—but you could tell they were fellow travelers because you could hear their roots in folk and old-time music, feel that the characters in their songs were flesh and blood, and that as performers they were connecting with each other and the audience. It was real. They got a tremendous reception from a crowd that was there to rock—but also open to being moved.
When it comes down to it, I guess what I’m really looking for, whether it’s from so-called jam bands or a solo singer with one instrument, is some sort of connection. When you find it, you know it—you can’t miss it! And when you get it, you want more. So the search continues…
OK, jam fans — tell us who you like and why! (And yes, I will take recommendations for THE Phish or Widespread Panic disc or download I have to hear!)
I am going to check out my first full Panic show on 6/17 in Dallas. I'm excited to experience the show the WSP scene. I will have to report back after the show. I saw the last few songs of WSP's set when they opened for the Allman Brothers a couple years ago. There was a lot of energy in those last 3-4 songs (I was out of my head by this time so I'm sure that helped the experience!). I'm looking forward to seeing the entire show this time and really finding out what this band is all about.
I wholeheartedly agree, marye, on the Phish lyrics. As much as I truly dig Phish, their lyrics are horrendous. Good for a chuckle now and then, but mostly wince-inducing....
IDK I've got two bands that most of you probably have never heard of. If you get the chance go to the archive and check out Flying Colors (their jams come straight out of the boy's hands...without sounding like rip offs) and Cabinet (like RRE but I love their songs and their jams better...I'm happy at a RRE concert, I leave Cabinet crawling on the floor cause I can't dance any harder). Hey and who ever gave a high five to Cubensis, high five to you, love those boys.
...the four times I've seen Trey play Grateful Dead music live--the three Phil & Phriends shows (also with Page) at the Warfield more than a decade ago and then the "Comes A Time" show at the Greek a few years back--he was fantastic! I think he really brought a fantastic energy and imagination to those concerts. I can understand his reluctance to get pegged as yet another GD-style guitarist (like Kimock, who's been reluctant to wear that tag, as well), but he sure did it well! I have a lot of respect for him and I love reading interviews with him--seems like a very cool guy to me...
one of the things that has kept me from Phish in particular is their, in my opinion, really lame lyrics. They can be jamming along and I am bopping along thinking this is pretty great, and then somebody opens his mouth and that is pretty much the end for me.
But their version of Terrapin on the Jerry Jams tribute on the other hand (http://rexfoundation.org/2010/11/01/jerry-jams-for-rex/), which I understand was pretty much a huge moment with not a dry eye in the house in real time, is pretty darn lovely.
Some of the other bands, I like their music when I hear it and I love that there's so much going on, but my festival days are behind me....
I kinda agree with the generation gap, I think that has something to do why I've never gotten totally into Phish, WSP, etc. I've heard tunes that I've liked, but to Blair's post above, just not motivated to invest the time. I'm sure to some of you that's my loss, and that's cool.
One 'jam band' I really got into, if it counts, is Max Creek. Growing up in Rochester NY, they were a staple at the Mason Jar then the Warehouse. They started out as a Dead cover band, but quickly built a catalogue of great individual songs, and their take on other artists songs, such as Paul Simon's 'Late In The Evening', were very cool. Scott Murawski and John Rider are two very talented musicians.
"take a week or two and just listen to live phish concerts, get to know their songs and style..."
See, Deadhead570, that's more of a commitment than I'm willing to make...
I never really became a Phish fan, and never liked Widespread too much. Considering Zappa to be a "jam band" to me is a bit of a stretch, due to the nature of his compositions, but I have to say that I'm surprised that no one has mentioned those talented asskickers from New Orleans, THE RADIATORS !! Currently wrapping up their farewell tour, these studs will be sorely missed!
I forgot to mention how much skill they have. Trey Anastasio is an amazing guitarist and it really shows in a lot of songs, he has an amazing skill, get speed and knowledge of the fretboard, Jon Fishman is great a drumming, he can really do a lot behind the kit, Mike Gordon is an amazing bassist (listen to weekapaug groove) he nails it. and Page McConnell is great at keyboards, he has like 6-7 different keyboards and plays them great. All these guys put together have great skill, just listen to their songs, very few sons are just chords, they are complicated pieces of art.
I am a huge grateful dead fan as well as jerry and bob solo stuff. A couple of years ago I started experimenting (not that way) with different types of bands and styles of music, I found Phish and I absolutely love them. They have to grow on you a little bit. They have some quirkyness to them you have to get use to but when they grow on you, you can love them. I constantly listen to them, bought several live DVD's (best one I think is "Coral Sky" and "Live in Brooklyn") and have tons of their studio and live stuff. Like the Dead you can't judge them by their studio albums, listen to their live stuff. Their release "A Live One" is a great live album along with "Live in Brooklyn". To like Phish, you can't just listen to a couple of songs, they have to grow on you, take a week or two and just listen to live phish concerts, get to know their sons and style and I'm sure they can grow on you.