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Phish – Big Boat

“I don’t listen to Phish albums.”
The number of times that I have heard this declaration, or some variant, over the years is striking. Doubly so when one considers the fervent fan base commanded by the band. Yes, live performance is where Phish rises to its highest heights. No, the studio albums do not contain the same energies found on stage. Fans often seem to have difficulty reconciling this disparity even as the band, ever aware of it, has embraced the separateness of the two more and more on each album. Their latest release, Big Boat (out Oct. 7 on JEMP Records), continues this trend and manages to present the listener with some fresh sounds. The challenge may be that the audience doesn’t really want fresh sounds. By and large, fan criticism runs from unrestrained delight in a new Phish album to indifference to disgust. Scanning Twitter on release day, one sees the entire gamut from assertions that the band is “…out of ideas…” (which is nonsense) to “hitting a creative peak”. As usual, the truth falls in between.

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Albums of 2015

Every year someone writes that the year passed and nothing grabbed them and it’s therefore a shit year for new music and let’s get on with next year. Immediately afterwards, someone else assembles a lengthy click-bait piece listing the fifty albums that some person with too much time on their hands could not be without. This plays out in an unrelenting back and forth beginning in November and ending sometime mid-February. The ongoing hash and rehash of the album of the year list nonsense has moved me to swear off such lists. Yet, here we are.

I know I said I wouldn’t do this again but I can’t let this year escape without some sort of survey of my favorites. In my utterly vain opinion, the things that I love are so worthy of your love that I feel obligated to shout about them into the Interweb nothingness in hopes that just one of you will hear my message and find, herein, at least one new thing or perhaps an old thing worthy of reappraisal. I will eschew the bulleted list format in favor of dense blocks of text because that will spare those of you who probably haven’t even read this far the burden of my opinion. I will also not rank anything. The albums mentioned below are all my favorites from this year though they may not, in fact, be all of my favorites. Continue reading

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Fare Thee Well – Chicago 2015

It’s been a week since I got home from Chicago and I’m still processing the experience of attending the Fare Thee Well shows. Herein, I shall relate the story of my weekend and, hopefully suss out a few things that I learned along the way.

We set off early on Thursday morning from Washington D.C. I and two of my oldest friends, Andy and Modi, with whom I’ve seen countless shows over the past twenty-plus years of friendship. This would be a big one. We were going to Soldier Field in Chicago for the final shows to feature the remaining “core four” members of the Grateful Dead. Two days earlier, Modi and I had marked the 20th anniversary of our last Grateful Dead shows. Now we were flying down the highway towards a great unknown. Having heard the Santa Clara Fare Thee Well shows, our expectations were tempered, at best. In fact, you could say that we were a bit dubious about what Chicago would bring. But, we were also excited. We’d been waiting months for this day to come, and finally, we were Chicago-bound. Continue reading

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20 Years Later: RFK ’95

I was going to write a pair of posts, much in the vein of my recent Phish anniversary posts, describing my adventures at the final Grateful Dead shows at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium. But I can’t think on those shows without peeling back a scab that, somehow, isn’t quite healed. These two shows were not my last Grateful Dead shows. That one is chronicled here: All The Years Combine. I think that it’s been difficult to write about these shows because of what the annual tradition of the Grateful Dead at RFK Stadium meant and, how the void has never been filled.

I attended my first concert at RFK Stadium. Not just my first Grateful Dead show; my first concert. I became instantly hooked on Grateful Dead. The magic that they and the audience injected into the mundane urban stadium was equally intoxicating. The stadium itself resonated with energy. Even though, objectively, the first show I attended was the best overall performance I’d ever see from the Dead, I returned to RFK each year. In between, I went to as many other shows, in as many other cities, as seemed reasonable. Btu I always went back. My batteries recharged in that stadium. Continue reading