Phish…The Greatest Band

030_170728_phish_msg_rene_huemer_S1A6767In the 34th year of their existence as a band, Phish is reaching a pinnacle of their career that proves they are as vibrant and relevant as they have ever been. Tonight they wrap up a run of thirteen shows at Madison Square Garden, and they will do so without repeating a song. That’s right, you heard me, they haven’t repeated a song. They have played 200+ songs over the last twelve shows that have made up twenty four of the most brilliant sets of their career. Each one scattering, new covers, fresh takes on standards, acapella delights, and rarities, along with subtle references to a different donut flavor every night.

The culmination came last night when on “Boston Creme” night, the band performed “Sunshine of You Love”, “More Than a Feeling”, and “Foreplay/Long Time” all connected and featuring teases of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “White Room”. They then revealed through onstage banter that the thirteen night “Bakers Dozen” run, came from a twenty year old joke about playing a show of just Boston and Cream covers. This is just the latest example of how musicality and humor have been interconnected throughout the bands entire career.

Phish has always been a band that is evaluated by their loyal but often critical fan base on a show by show basis. This is a natural symptom of a band that performs a different set of songs every show. Even the most cynical of Phish fans, can’t deny that there is absolutely nothing to complain about in any of these shows. The combination of the challenge that the band put before themselves of not repeating a song and each show having a different donut flavored theme, has led to a run of shows unlike any other in the history of the band. Each one an individually unique show that would normally stand out when compared to others within a given tour.

Phish has also always been a band that has been known for it’s use of the latest technology to distribute it’s music to it’s fan base in a way that has always been ahead of the game as far as the rest of music industry goes. As the music industry has searched for ways to reinvent themselves in the 21st century, Phish have been pioneers. From tapers and bootlegs, to free digital downloads, to video streaming. I will never forget the experience of staying up late in front of my parents desktop computer to watch what we used to call “webcasts” of a Phish show from Las Vegas in the year 2000. That first webcast has now evolved into high definition, multi-cam, live streams that have been available for each of these thirteen shows for about 1/3 of the cost of the concert ticket.

Watching the last two live streams from Friday and Saturday night of this closing weekend run of “The Bakers Dozen”, has reminded me of why Phish is indeed “The Greatest Band”.  A band is a “group of instrumentalists playing music of a specialized type” by definition. I would also call a band a bond, a musical bond. This run of shows feels like the epitome of the musical bond formed by these four people. I believe these shows are a body of work that when viewed as a whole represent something that is singular not only in the bands career but in the history of popular music. Never has a band that consists of the same group of people over it’s entire career performed such a large group of songs that showcases everything that truly makes the musical bond of a band special. These shows are only possible because of every second that these four people have spent playing music together. This music can only be performed by these four people at this point in time because of the last thirty four years. This is what allows them to deliver twenty six sets of music that represent the creativity, spontaneity, musicianship, and humor that encapsulates what it means to makes music with your friends. The very thing that has started every band in history.

As Phans from all over the country either make their way to the Garden this evening or prepare to enjoy this final show of “The Bakers Dozen” run from the comfort of their own living rooms, I think we all can’t help but to ask ourselves is where does this journey of the musical bond of these four individuals go from here. The answer to that question is an easy one. No one knows, and they only way for us to find out will be for them to keep making music with their friends. This is what makes me grateful that my favorite band is indeed the greatest band.

You can watch the first and second set openers of each show of the run on Phish’s Youtube page.



The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers are a truly unique Montreal based quartet that released their first self titled album last Fall. I wish it was easy to describe this bands sound easily with words like rock, blues, jazz, folk, or country, but they encompass all of these thing while sounding nothing like any of these. They are incredible musicians who form a unique sound that is soulful, dark, beautiful, and inspiring. I dare you to turn down the lights, put on a set of headphones, and lose yourself in the first single off the album “Beggar in the Morning”. The haunting sonic sound scape that opens the track sets the tone for the entire album and lets you know that nothing is off-limits for this group of artists.

The combination of Brad Barr’s gentle voice and guitar arrangements give the songs an intimate and powerful character. Layer this with the beautiful harp work of Sarah Page and this alone would be enough to stir the emotions of any person. However, The Barr Brothers take it to another level by adding in the pump organ and bass work of Andres Vial and incredibly innovative percussion work of Andrew Barr. Combine these four with incredible songwriting, clever arrangements, and great sound engineering; you have album that comes across as well thought out and delivers on every emotional level.

“Give The Devil Back His Heart” and “Deacon’s Son” are also tracks that stand out and sound as if they could have been produced by reincarnated tortured souls of the Mississippi Delta from over 100 years ago. This album is full of words and sounds that let you get lost in another world long ago.

I was fortunate enough to catch The Barr Brothers live last Fall at The Drake Hotel in Toronto. The show was a unique live experience that is absolutely worth catching whenever and wherever you can. The Barr Brothers are returning to Toronto on March 1st, 2012 at The Great Hall in Toronto. I will definitely not be missing this great opportunity to see these four master’s of their craft.

Phish Shares Superball IX With All

Phish fans are slowly settling back into their normal routines after spending the holiday weekend with their favorite band. Phish held their ninth music festival since their first in 1996. The venue was Watkins Glen International Speedway in Watkins Glen, NY.  At Superball IX, Phans were treated to over 13 hours of music in 8 sets over 3 days. The close to 30,000 people in attendance were treated to a display of the many sides of Phish, from the rock band, the cover band (that makes covers their own more than any other band can), the quirky band with a wacky sense of humor, and the extremely psychedelic band that can push the limits of musical improvisation into places where few have gone or been. Not only were the folks at the festival treated to an unbelievable weekend that none of them will soon forget, but people all across the country were treated to the festivities as well.

Phish and its fans are no strangers to technology and have been on the cusp of the digital revolution since before it was a revolution. The Phish fan base have been utilizing the Internet to share set lists and contact each other to trade cassette bootlegs since the early nineties. That eventually turned into CDR’s and now the use of bit torrents is common practice for fans to be able to download a high quality audience recording of the show as soon as the day after the show.

Phish themselves have also been the cutting edge of technology. As early as 2000 I remember staying up late to watch a live streaming webcast of the band’s performance in Las Vegas. In 2002 the band launched in which you can download current and archived shows spanning the band’s entire career. Starting last year, the band started releasing a series of free mp3 compilations they called “Live Bait”. They are a mix tape of songs hand picked by the band’s archivist, Kevin Shapiro. They just released the fifth installment of the series that features 34 tracks. Starting on their Fall tour last year, every person who attends one of their shows receives a free mp3 download of the show’s performance using a unique code on their ticket stub. This summer tour saw the introduction of the posting of professionally shot HD video clips of at least one song from the show the night before, also hand-picked by the band’s archivist.

This brings us to this past weekend and the entirely unique experience I had enjoying the band’s performances live while in my hotel room 2,700 miles away from the festivities at Superball IX. Unfortunately, I had to go to California for a business trip and was not able to attend the festival; but luckily, my favorite band in the world loves me just as much as I love them. Phish streamed every note played over the weekend via their radio station, Bunny Radio. The Bunny was broadcast over a local AM radio station in the area, livephish.comd SiriusXM‘s JamON satellite radio station.  Not only could you listen to every note that Phish played, but also when the band wasn’t performing, listeners were treated to DJ’s playlists that were as diverse as Phish themselves.

Utilizing the vibrant Twitter community of Phish bloggers and fans who were both at the festival and enjoying the shows from home, I was able to read witty comments, see some amazing photographs and videos, and get up-to-the-minute descriptions of the happenings at the festival. This made the experience of listening to the shows alone in my hotel room a really enjoyable experience. While no doubt people were having weekend BBQ’s and spending time with friends enjoying the live stream, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by how much technology allowed me enjoy the holiday weekend while being away on business.

The culmination of the weekend for me was definitely the secret set the band performed at around 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning. The web was abuzz all day with rumors of an expected “secret” set from the band. In the central square of the festival grounds was a building labeled as “USA storage”. When commercials started airing on Bunny Radio for USA storage saying it would be “open late”, it became apparent that is was clearly a clue for where the band would be performing the secret set. (Mind you, this secret set took place after Phish had already performed 3 sets at over an hour and a half each already that day).

In the time between when Phish left the main stage and the crowd gathered in “Ball Square” someone tweeted a link to a person’s website who would be delivering a live video stream of the performance via what I would assume was their cell phone. So there I was, sitting in my hotel room 3,000 miles away with an ice-cold Fat Tire, watching video of the goings on of Phish performing inside the USA storage building. They performed behind opaque doors backlit so all you could see were their shadows. Meanwhile, I was also listening to a crystal clear audio feed via Bunny Radio and tweeting with other fans talking about the incredibly inspired performance Phish was delivering. This was by far the highlight of the weekend for me. Not only was Phish delivering a highly experimental set of sonic textures that you wouldn’t normally hear at a standard Phish show, but I was fully engulfed in it almost as if I was actually there.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the time that we live in, where we all seem to be distracted by technology, and children are becoming far more disconnected from personal relationships due to prolonged exposure to devices. Children today are more comfortable carrying on a conversation via text message than in person. However, my experience reminded me that we live in an extraordinary time where information and entertainment are more available to anyone anywhere. When you combine that with a band that has the desire to deliver to their fans near and far an incredible experience on all levels, you end up with a whole lot of happy fans all across the country and beyond. And let me tell you what, this fan was one happy guy. Thank you, Phish, for always pushing the limit musically and technologically, and thanks for reminding us why we all are Phans.

Check out video of the USA Storage Jam here.

Here are links to the bands official video’s of Simple>Bug from night one, Tube from night two, and A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing from night three.

Live Streaming of Hangout Music Fest

I just heard on SiriusXM‘s Jam On that the Hangout Music Fest will be available for Live Streaming on  As I type this I am currently watching a live performance by Mariachi El Bronx. This particular band I am not familiar with but it is an interesting mix of modern songwriting and traditional mariachi band grooves.

The venue looks absolutely spectacular. The stage is directly on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Check out the Live stream here.

I am a little bummed out that I missed performances yesterday by some of favorite bands, by it looks like there is still great music to catch on this wonderful collision of  festival going and technology. Tune in today and this evening for performances by Primus, Avett Brothers, and The Flaming Lips. Also on Sunday, see performances by Matisyahu, Keller Williams, Ween, Michael Franti, and Galactic.

It looks like a great festival with great bands and a great venue. Check it out!

Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus

The start of Phish’s summer tour is right around the corner and since I’ll be attending the first 3 shows of the tour I can’t help but reflect back on the the last time I saw Phish perform. Experiencing Phish perform Little Feat‘s classic album, “Waiting for Columbus” in its entirety, was a once in a lifetime experience that I won’t soon forget. I know what you’re saying, “I thought this blog post was about Little Feat, not Phish”. Here is the thing, as sad as it is to say, I had never heard this Little Feat album until I saw Phish perform it. In fact, the only Little Feat song I had ever heard was Dixie Chicken.

Phish has been introducing me to other artists songs from the moment I started my borderline dysfunctional obsession with the band about 12 years ago. Everything from The Velvet Underground, to Ween, to The Talking Heads. I can honestly say that being a true Phish fan is similar to being given a crash course in some of the best music of the past 40+ years. And last year, on Halloween in Atlantic City, Phish schooled me in another lesson of what a great band really is.

After hearing Phish perform Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus, I just had to hear the original to see what this album was all about. From note one of this live disc you are immediately transported to a moment in time where a spectacular band set the stage on fire with a funk, groove, and passion that is truly remarkable. It is truly a crime that I lived the first 25 years of my life without hearing this album. If you are familiar with this album, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. But if you haven’t heard it, stop reading this and purchase this album RIGHT NOW.

The whole album is drenched to funk grooves that will have you seriously grooving but some of the highlights include the anthemic “All that you Dream”, the reggae tinged “Time Loves a Hero, and the classic blues of “Dixie Chicken”. But the life changing stuff happened for me on the back to back tracks of “Mercenary Territory” and “Spanish Moon”. The horn work on Mercenary Territory will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and the soul of the guitar playing will bring a tear to your eye. It is an unrelenting onslaught of the groove machine that is Little Feat. Follow that up with the down and dirty “Spanish Moon” and these two tracks pack one hell of a one two punch. Between the horns, the B3 organ, and the fattest bass line you’ve ever heard this track truly shines.

Since there isn’t exactly an abundance of decent YouTube video featuring Little Feat, I’m going to include a link to Phish performing a track on the album too. Even though Phish did a great job of performing this album, I would highly recommend checking out the original. The tightness and degree of precision in which Little Feat performs these tracks is truly one of a kind.

Check out Little Feat performing “Spanish Moon” here.

Check out Phish performing “Mercenary Territory” here.

Moksha-Mammal or Machine

Today’s blog post features an exciting band based out of Las Vegas called Moksha. I discovered this band last summer on a sampler disc that came with an issue of  Relix Magazine. As I was listening to the disc, a track came on that seemed to explode out of the speakers in my car. It had a really exciting energy that sounded familiar while completely original at the same time. The combination of thought-provoking lyrics, horn licks, and a killer funk groove had me more than intrigued. By the time that the track reached the down right gritty breakdown that beautifully built back to a powerful peak, I was hooked. The track that I’m talking about is Blind to the Time, off Moksha’s debut album Mammal or Machine.

This album features an eclectic mix of tracks across varying genres. You’ll find flavors varying from funk to hip hop to bluegrass to Caribbean. Another favorite track of mine on the disc is Interface, which features another infectious groove with some impressive vocal work. The album showcases the bands knack for song structure in the long form while featuring some incredible guitar work, soulful keyboard playing and tight drumming. If that isn’t enough for you, then how about the fact that Santana’s horn section is featured on the album. Enough said.

I have not seen this band live yet, but I have a feeling that this album only skims the surface of what these guys are capable of in a live setting. They are currently touring throughout the southwestern U.S  and making a name for themselves from Vegas to San Francisco and every where in between. I look forward to seeing what Moksha has in store for us in the future. I have a feeling the sky is the limit.

Check out Moksha performing “Interface” here.

Grace Potter and The Nocturnals

My last blog post got me thinking about some of the best new music I’ve heard in the past few years and it reminded me of one artist in particular, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. The two albums pictured above are two great examples of music that is being made that demonstrates something we don’t see too much in modern music today… A great band with a great front woman who can remind us all of what we love about music.  The passion and musicianship with which this band performs is truly inspiring. Not only is this band making a name for themselves on the live music/festival circuit, they are seeing commercial success. It is refreshing to see a truly great band getting recognition that is well deserved.

The first time I had ever heard of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals was when I saw them perform in an opening slot for Galactic a few years ago. From note one I was hooked on what she and her band mates were pumping through the P.A. After a rocking opening set, Grace came back out to join Galactic on a truly epic version of “Whole Lotta Love”. I left the show with their then latest release, This is Somewhere, in hand. On that disc I found gems such as “Stop the Bus“, “Ah Mary“, and “Falling or Flying“.

Their latest release features some new members of the band that are gelling really well as they’ve been tearing up the club scene all across the U.S. They are getting set to headline the Bonnaroo Buzz Tour leading up to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Their latest self titled release exhibits the superb quality of the band along with Grace’s passionate vocal delivery. The first single “Paris (Ooh La La)” is a prime example of this. Along with tracks like the reggae tinged “Goodbye Kiss” and the exceptional “Tiny Lights” (featuring a particularly raucous jam at the end with screaming guitar to go along with a screaming Grace), the album exhibits that this band has the staying power of the truly great rock and roll acts of yesteryear.

Check out my favorite Grace Potter track here.

I almost forgot! Did I mention they also happened to be from Burlington, VT? Isn’t there another pretty good band from those parts?

Check out Grace Potter honoring everyone’s favorite VT Jam Band at about the 6 minute mark here.