JamBand Music – A Difficult Label

Jamband music is often pegged as self-indulgent, drug addled, guitar noodling but that’s not entirely fair.

It’s true that among the bands embraced by Jamband fandom, drugs do crop up both on stage and off. And guitar noodling, seemingly aimless streams of notes in search of purchase, certainly does happen. But to call the jams ‘aimless’ is a disservice to the players. A band like Phish doesn’t simply launch into jams unprepared.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s Phish could arguably have been one of the more well-rehearsed bands on the road. And it wasn’t just songs being worked over in the rehearsal space; they developed exercises to train themselves to listen better and to improvise as a unit. These extended practices carried over to the stage and, come the mid-90’s, Phish began transforming 5 minute songs into half-hour explorations. By the late 90’s, entire sets might be devoted to seamless jams between only a handful of songs.

Casual listeners seem to become fatigued by this sort of jamming, preferring to be entertained by a new song every few minutes. One cannot argue matters of taste. (One can but it’s a rather tedious and pointless exercise that can really kill a dinner party.) But the fact that Phish can also play a set of short songs, as can The Grateful Dead, cannot overcome the bias has, unfortunately, been installed. Those groups ‘jam onstage’ therefore they lose some perceived value to a broad segment of potential audience.

And so, this past weekend, as I enjoyed a relaxing moment of coffee and a record, I realized that it should be noted that most bands jam and many do it onstage. Why should a select few carry a stigma when a broad cross-section of musical groups take to the stage or even the studio and stretch their songs to the limits?

Herein, I shall begin compiling examples of these performances in a list that I’ll call: Those Other Jams.

Moving On

(Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Leave Phish Behind)

When asked about my favorite music, people who know me are likely to identify two groups: The Grateful Dead and Phish. They’d be half right. Not that anyone should feel remiss for the mistake; my kids would probably offer the same response. The truth is that I have fallen out of love with Phish.

In the 90’s my musical world exploded into full life with The Grateful Dead. A few years later, I saw my first Phish show. Those two became the largest contacts on my radar and so life went for quite some time. Yes, I listened to tons of other stuff. I worked in a record store and amassed a hefty collection of music ranging from Louis Armstrong to ZZ Top. But Phish and The Grateful Dead continued to pull me back and dominate my listening and concert attentions.

The Grateful Dead ended and still I’d play their albums and live shows endlessly. Phish remained on the road and I saw them as often as life would allow and still I wanted to see them even more frequently. I collected tapes (remember tapes?) and CDs of their shows and they too stayed near the top of my playlists even during their hiatus and after their eventual ‘break-up’.

Phish used to jam. As a serious fan, I loved most of their material, including that which does not incorporate jamming, but it was the jamming and wild unpredictability that held my attention with Phish. When Phish came back in 2009, I was as excited as any fan (this blog is my testimony) and I went to the Hampton reunion shows and many more that year. The shows were fun. I had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends and sharing the shows with newer friends as well. But the music was not the highlight.

Last year, I found that listening to new Phish had become a chore. What had been a pleasurable obsession became an annoyance and, at times, I felt guilt about that annoyance. Guilt? Here was one of my so-called favorite bands, returned from rock & roll oblivion, and I couldn’t really enjoy what they were doing. Was it me? Had I changed that much? Had they? Continue reading

Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – The Last One

This morning I received this post from a new contributor. Today, of all days, I wasn't looking
for a guest blog but I couldn't resist the opportunity to share this with you all. - rj

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/gd1973-06-10.sbd.miller.tobin.patched-89730.90979.flac16/gd1973-06-10d2t04_vbr.mp3|titles= Grateful Dead 1973-06-10 – Stella Blue]
When there are great upheavals in our lives, our culture, or our nations, they indelibly mark the calendar of this eternal time line that is the human race. For instance, anyone in the United States over the age of fifty could probably tell you where they were and what they were doing the day John F. Kennedy died. If they were forty or older, most could probably recount how they woke to the news that John Lennon had been shot. And of those, I would hazard a guess that many could probably recount how they went on to spend the rest of that fateful day. Some might even be capable of dialing in to the minutiae of the day, what they ate or the weather. These events do not have to be deaths either; they can be joyful celebrations, such as the first man on the moon. Or they could be somber reflections, such as those that settle at the conclusion of a war. Fifteen years ago today, one of these very happenstances marked a great many people, those that considered themselves part of a magical Tribe. That wonderful family carved out of chance, hope and the love of the unknown; these were Deadheads. And of course, you now know I speak of the passing of Jerome John Garcia, or as we affectionately call him, Jerry.

On that fateful day, fifteen years ago, I found myself running around Vancouver with my girlfriend, picking up groceries and supplies for a trip out to one of the islands. We had recently come off that summer’s Grateful Dead tour, one that, now looking back, had been marred with incidences and bad omens at every stop; a dark storm had been brewing. As I flicked on the radio, now stuck in rain and traffic, to my surprise the Grateful Dead’s Trucking came blaring out off the FM dial. I say surprise, because the Dead were not your radio friendly staple, especially around these parts. At its conclusion, another Dead song, Sugar Magnolia, came crunching out on the airwaves. Well, this was odd, but I chalked it up to the “daily double shot” or some other new fangled radio marketing lingo used to rile up daytime callers. But when this was followed by the tenderness that is Box of Rain, the signal rang true.

Without saying a word, I reached down and turned the tuning knob. Sure enough, the next closest rock station was playing the Grateful Dead. So this is how I would learn of Jerry’s passing, not with words but with song. Appropriate, for honestly, who would want to hear that a member of their family has passed while watching a news channel’s talking head read a teleprompter. I turned to my girlfriend to ask if she had her passport, which was needless as the entire contents of our lives were packed away somewhere in that van. Maybe I simply needed confirmation of our next move. Her welling eyes directed me to the next exit off the highway and there we were, headed for San Francisco. There had to be one last show, one last celebration; please, just one last ride……… Continue reading

Got Memories…

We took Saturday off from Jerry Week because, hopefully, we all had better things to do than sit and read the interwebs on a Saturday. Today, I want to tell you about something that occurs to me on occasion and which struck me just yesterday as I drove listening to Friday night’s Phish show from Berkeley, CA.

Among the new rash of songs that Phish brought out since their return to the road in 2009 is one entitled “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan”. It’s a rocker with an angst-ridden blues guitar riff that, at first didn’t do too much for me. Then I found this shirt.

Some may bristle at the idea of Phish fans appropriating Grateful Dead icons for their lot shirts, but this one carries an awful lot of meaning. The lyrics describe a man living a new life, with new rules and responsibilities. He’s thinking of escaping and recapturing his freer past but knows that it’s not ever going to be the same.

Personally, I don’t dream of escaping my life. But I do often think back to a time that can never come again. Don’t we all? For me, of course, it’s the dream of seeing The Grateful Dead. That, obviously, is not going to happen but there are days when my memories turn into daydreams and those daydreams sometimes turn into real-life adventures (like Phish shows) that may be similar but will never be the same as seeing The Grateful Dead.

This song reminds me of those days but past and present and this shirt (which I’m wering as I type) ties it all together. Not being able to relive the past is a fact of our universe but at least I’ve got memories…

If you don’t know the song, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4fewvLmnuI