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InvisibleAdom
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On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and More
    #3049434 - 08/25/04 06:57 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

by Stuart Gaines

Some people just don?t know when to shut the hell up. Phish lots and Phish shows have long overflowed with legions of such people, with many of them populating various phan-based internet sites stocked to the hilt with endlessly picky drivel about every mind-numbing detail that was?but is no more?a band called Phish.

In the case of Coventry, the home field site of Vermont?s phinest Waterloo, most witnesses, both in and out of print, seem to have missed the point entirely of what exactly happened there. The town of Coventry, a sleepy village situated little more than a stone?s throw from the Canadian border, served as the staging ground Aug. 14-15 for the grand finale of the biggest little ?jam band? since the very coining of that grand and silly term.


But for all the rampant bitching about Trey?s Coventry-based butchering of his own guitar handiwork, especially on tunes like ?Glide,? ?Guyute,? or even the carefully chosen final number, ?The Curtain With,? despite all those legitimate miscues, at the time?and especially during the band?s final set?those four guys, Mike Gordon, Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman, finally, and for one last time, held the undivided attention of a tired, muddy and bewildered 65,000.

From the first notes of the eerie and oddly perfect final-set opener of ?Fast Enough for You,? to the beautiful set closer of ?Slave to the Traffic Light,? and most of all during the fade-out final note of the sole encore, ?The Curtain With,? I have never in my entire life seen that many Phish faithful behave so quietly, attentively, and respectfully. It was a bit like an enormous funeral when that last bit of Phish magic faded into the lights of a beautiful, dark blue?the same hue as the artwork from the ?Rift? album, from which ?Fast Enough For You? hails.

You could have cut the silence that fell over the crowd after the final applause with a knife; and for a moment, the Phish nation finally shut the hell up. Only after the long, mud-bogged procession from Coventry to each phan?s respective home did the feelings of woe set in about the quality of the final delivery, and the negative reviews began surfacing.

Phish was a unique multi-headed beast of its own making: a purple hydra of a mysterious and comic origin, raging eternally on some muddy cocktail of tequila, mushrooms and cocaine. They were a band with a propensity for good songwriting, dress-wearing silliness and first-rate musicianship, not to mention a dangerous familiarity with both the absolute and the absurd. So it?s too bad that so many phans chose the final act of the whole ridiculous play to get picky about what they were hearing from stage. On that note especially?being pissed about sloppy Phish antics?I got news for you folks: You?re a good day late and at least a dollar short.

For Coventry as a whole, from Trey?s musical missteps to the I-91 traffic debacle (and the resulting trash piles decorating otherwise spotless Vermont roadsides) is indicative of why Phish is done forever. Perhaps more importantly, it reminds us why the blame lies less with the band itself than with the fans who put them there, or at least those who remained at the end. Put simply, and as the band solemnly pointed out in voices very close to tears during their final set as a band, ?It isn?t nearly fast enough for you.?

'Phuck This'

In the two days or so leading up to Saturday?s first note of actual music, I found myself contemplating a variety of P-H headlines to describe the disastrously screwed up state of affairs in upstate Vermont, mostly while stuck in a thirty-five mile long traffic jam along I-91 for about thirty hours. This was a typical wait time for those caught in that massive traffic malfunction, and ?ClusterPhuck? came immediately to mind as an appropriate headline, as did ?Worst Phestival Ever,? ?MudPhuck? and even ?Phuck This.?

Upon arriving to the I-91 traffic backup, I pondered the fake tickets we purchased the night before in the ghetto-fabulous locale of Camden, New Jersey. If you?ve never been to Camden to see a show, then count yourself lucky. There?s more nitrous in the parking lot at a Camden Phish show than all other vending combined?kind veggie burritos included. And while a friend had a dangerous glass one-hitter confiscated by overzealous security personnel inside the show, outside the venue, police once again seemed indifferent to the incessant hiss of tanks feeding endless piles of used-up, five-dollar balloons.

Phish kids claim that Tony Soprano runs Camden?s nitrous operation, and that Camden?s Finest are paid well to look the other way. Either way, Camden?s about the furthest thing from the kind vibes experienced at my first Phish shows some ten years ago. And in many ways, Camden, like Coventry, is indicative of the downfall of both Phish and the Phish nation. Playing their final ?normal? show in Camden seems something like the band admitting defeat to the nitrous mafia and other tour-trash jackals, the same ones who leeched onto Phish tour in larger and larger numbers in the years following Garcia?s death?when Phish all but inherited those lovely garbage-pail kids from Dead tour.

On other tours, in long-past days of Phish glory, handbills were given to each car upon arrival to a given lot. The bills described the folly of nitrous and how its sale ?does not support the Phish community.? That sense of community was long since lost from the day-to-day tour grind, for the band stopped bothering with the anti-nitrous handbills some time ago, and while Camden may not have been a typical Phish lot, it wasn?t that far from the norm either. No tactic attempted?from higher ticket prices to shorter tours, nor even two year breaks to the furthest distances imaginable between shows?none seemed suited to ridding the scene of the aforementioned tour trash, scalpers or even fake tickets.

Once inside Coventry, one Vermonter sold bumper stickers that read simply, ?Don?t Jersey Vermont.? Unfortunately, this advice was largely lost amongst a crowd that mostly hailed from Phish?s own Northeastern stomping grounds. And in the end (or at least before the well-paid cleaning crews swept in to clean up everybody else?s mess), Coventry and the surrounding Vermont countryside largely resembled that balloon-riddled parking lot in Camden.

It was embarrassing to be in such a beautiful place, the home of such nice people, and see it treated like South Jersey right before your eyes. Like so many things in and around Phish shows in recent years?both on stage and in the audience?something was missing in Coventry.

?You Show Up Late and Stumble In?

Mainstream reviewers are rarely, if ever, going to understand Phish. The Burlington newspaper and The New York Times for instance didn?t even get the name of the band?s last song right, citing ?The Curtain? as the finale, rather than ?The Curtain With.? In another older instance, the original Rolling Stone review of ?A Live One,? Phish?s first-ever live release (and the album that turned me on to the band more than any other), earned a whopping two stars those many years ago, while the reviewer poked fun at the lyrics from ?Stash? and questioned the necessity of a twenty-minute ?Tweezer.?

One can?t expect mainstream observers to understand why ?control for smilers can?t be bought,? much less the difference between ?The Curtain? and ?The Curtain With.? (Because the later contains the former, plus a slowed down version of a jam that later became ?Rift,? and blah, blah, blah.) Instead the phans were always what kept the band honest, not the press. We were what kept them energized, and what kept both the music and the band fresh and vibrant.

In the old days, the boys could gather at the front of a stage with no microphones and plow through a version of ?Old Home Place? or ?Dog Faced Boy,? with attentive hundreds, even thousands listening quietly to every note. Conversely, the final version of ?Reba,? played during the first set of the final day?s music (and representing the last glimpse at one of the most beautiful epic tunes ever written) was rather difficult to hear, mostly because of the drone of too much chit chat overwhelming the song?s simple beauty.

That?s not to say that there weren?t plenty of real Phish fans in Coventry (whatever real means anyway). Nor is it to say that weren?t plenty of real phans on tour in all of the band?s final years. They simply had become the minority. And rather than new fans coming to shows and taking their cues from the surrounding veterans in attendance, ?newbies? in Phish?s later years had their own agenda. The common spectacle became legions of recent high-school grads with salon-fresh dreadlocks looking for a righteous blowout, sampling drugs?mainly ecstasy?then drinking themselves into a stupor, and generally behaving like Phucksticks, or should I say, Meatsticks.

On a far more serious note, dead bodies became a staple to Phish tour in those later years. I personally saw a corpse carried away as early as April, 1998, inside Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. And for the final act, three phans died in a head-on collision on their way to Coventry, while another died during the shows somewherein the campground. Passed out for the last time in some wretched tent, his body was discovered shortly after the final set with drug paraphernalia close by (presumably not just rolling papers). People hardly notice these factoids anymore simply because they?re commonplace. But dying young should never be common, though that?s exactly what it had become?at least on Phish tour.

In the later years, more and more cities targeted Phish lots for what literally became dozens of undercover arrest marathons, while others simply banned their return. Hundreds, if not thousands, of one-time ?Phish kids? are doing serious jail time because of various drug infractions committed in and around Phish lots. Imagine, one minute you?re having a heady, good time, making bank, swinging free on Phish tour; but the next, you?re getting to know the wrong end of your cellmate?s meatstick for the next five to ten large. What a wake up call. Guess you won?t see that last show after all.

The band clearly missed the days before body counts and massive arrests became the norm. Collectively, the increasingly belligerent and insane state of affairs on Phish tour took its toll on both the music and band members. An oft-referenced scene from the Trey-indulgent movie opus, ?Bitersweet Motel,? comes when a newspaper reviewer accused the band of ?pissing in people?s ears.? There was indeed a little bit of ear-pissing going on during some of Coventry?s low points. But the fact is, musically anyway, Phish, or often more to the point, Trey, started pissing in people?s ears a long time ago.

People didn?t seem to mind the slop coming from the stage in places like Raleigh, North Carolina in December 1999. Trey appeared so wasted that night (and several other nights that tour) that the best he could muster while butchering the normally lovely ?Mango Song,? was a boring-ass, twenty-minute version of ?Sand.? That?s a great time if you?re rolling your face off, I suppose, but a far cry from the intricate and interesting licks that made Phish so good to begin with.

That same December ?99 tour also saw the debut of the worst Phish original of all time, ?Jennifer Dances.? ?Jennifer? remains the lamest, poppiest, and just plain awful song Phish, or shall we say, Trey, ever wrote. Better suited to an MTV band with a meaningless number of some sort inserted in their name, it?s worth noting that ?Jennifer Dances? was the last Phish original debuted before the 2001-02 hiatus. Their songwriting, among other things, had sunk to an all-time low by that point. They finished two completely sold out tours following the ?Jennifer Dances? debut without a single lick of new material.

Those last pre-hiatus tours often saw the boys slopping their way through their own catalogue, always to the endless cheers of masses more interested in a never-ending party and pretty, pretty lights than any kind of musical craftsmanship. And like some eerie foreshadowing, ?The Curtain With,? what became the band?s literal curtain call, was dusted off after years of retirement during those last pre-hiatus tours in 2001. It seems Trey (the usual setlist master) may have realized the end was imminent long before he admitted it in tears to his band mates some four years later.

?Bug. It Doesn?t Matter.?

But, again, these problems are old news: death, debauchery and indifference on Phish tour. So I can?t say I blame the boys for calling it quits. Most people didn?t seem to notice anything was amiss anyway. ?Bug,? for instance, an otherwise beautiful tune with an eternally depressing end refrain of ?It doesn?t matter,? was often played, in my opinion, in response to the depressing state of affairs at a given show, including glowstick wars. Fishman tried to quell the juvenile spectacle of glowstick wars on his own during that same December ?99 tour. Fish employed rudely timed rim shots on his snare during otherwise beautiful segments of tunes like ?Harry Hood,? only employing the tactic after the glowsticks began to soar. Glowstick wars found innocents, often including the band members themselves, inadvertently injured by those ridiculous neo-hippie charms. Nobody could put a stop to it?not even Phish.

The hastily announced Hampton, Virginia show that kicked off the final run to Coventry epitomized this scolding use of ?Bug.? After Trey tried to recognize his guitar tech on stage, who was then hit by a stray glowstick, the set?s momentum went the way of a misplaced fart at your mom?s dress-up dinner party. During the second set in Hampton, ?Stash? > ?NICU? morphed, not into ?Punch You? or ?Tweezer,? but instead into ?Bug.? And why? Because of glowstick antics, that?s why. ?You kids can?t behave? Well here you go: ?It doesn?t matter? [over and over again]. How you like that?? After ?Bug? came ?Contact,? another possible comment on the glowstick debacle (for there was indeed plenty of contact made). In the end, the ?David Bowie? encore from Hampton felt a bit like an apology to the majority in attendance who didn?t throw glowsticks. The apology came from a band that had lost its ability to effectively communicate with its audience through music, even about something as mundane as glowstick wars.

In Coventry, Trey picked up a glowstick off the stage and strummed his guitar with it during the last night. Yippee. But it was really more like another admission of defeat. The whole glowstick war debacle, in many ways at least, was Trey?s fault to begin with. At The Great Went in ?97, Trey remarked how darned pretty he thought the glowstick war during ?Harry Hood? was. Apparently, it wasn?t until later that he realized how lame and potentially dangerous throwing hard plastic things in crowded, dark spaces could actually be.

In one last vain attempt to reconcile the problem with glowsticks, the ?not to bring? list for Coventry from Phish?s Web site stated: ?Please refrain from the throwing of glowsticks, as they are dangerous and can cause serious injuries. And frankly, they're so '97.? But again, it was too late; and Trey using that stupid glowstick as a guitar pick in Coventry was just another way of saying, ?Bug,? or perhaps better, ?It?s what I was afraid of,? another illuminating line from ?Fast Enough For You.? Whatever it meant, it was depressing, not cool. And while perhaps the band could have done more?especially years ago?to address dead bodies, glowstick wars, and all the other, Phish is, after all, nobody?s mama.

The band thankfully didn?t play ?Bug? in Coventry though, retiring it instead at the Hampton show. And while seeing the last version ever in Virginia doesn?t top my all-time Hampton highlights, I?m still glad it was there instead of in Vermont. It?s good to know, despite all the bullshit, that Phish thought Coventry mattered.

As a band, Phish stopped practicing some time ago, supposedly years ago. That?s why Trey can?t play ?Glide? or ?Guyute? like he used to. And frankly, who can blame the guy? Would you practice if your fans cheered regardless of quality?no matter how badly you played? Would you give a shit if every show was a sellout, with or without new material? Would you see how wasted you could get on stage, and how much you could really get away with? I know I would. Boredom is a funny thing. And while hardly anyone can relate to the boredom that Phish inevitably experienced in the final years, it was legitimate boredom nonetheless.

The flubbed ?Mango Song? from that Raleigh show, the butchered ?Foam? and ?You Enjoy Myself? from the Hampton comeback shows in 2003, the shitty ?Golgi Apparatus? and ?Glide? from the final Alpine Valley shows this summer, and the final flub of them all, the misplayed ?The Curtain With? from the final Phish encore of all time: Collectively, they are representative of the failed and uniquely American dream that is Phish. Never short on my own over-developed sense of personal irony, I toted to Coventry a copy of Theodore Dreiser?s novel, ?An American Tragedy,? mindful of how the title illuminated the final spectacle of what was once long ago, the biggest, strangest, most beautiful fish in the sea. And while the words from their last song together, ?Please me have no regrets,? at first seems heartening about the end; they are, in fact, a plea, not a statement of fact.

?Maybe So, Maybe Not?

I have plenty of regrets about what happened to Phish, as I?m sure the band members do too. And in the end, all the boys could do, and what they in fact did, was play the best sets they could on those final two days in Vermont.

The whole of the performances in Coventry exuded class and humility, two characteristics often dormant in Phish these recent years. There was plenty of thought-provoking highlights from both days? music, including lots of shout-outs and storytelling?mostly, of course, from Mr. Anastasio himself. Jams from ?Split Open and Melt,? and ?Ghost? on the final night explored dark, sinister places that alluded as much to the end as any song title or lyric the whole weekend. The ?Melt? jam made me so physically uncomfortable at one point that I actually moved to a new spot on the lawn. That?s the Phish I know and love. There were other top-notch Phish moments in Coventry, like the ?Free? jam from the first night, ditto for ?Gotta Jiboo.? Even parts of the final ?Stash? earned from me a knowing smile for one last time. The lyrics from ?Stash? ask simply: ?Was it for this my life I sought?? Maybe so, it answers, but perhaps likelier, maybe not.

While it wasn?t until the last set of them all that so many folks in Coventry really stopped to listen to Phish?I mean really shut the hell up and listen?most hadn?t done so in so long that they missed what was actually being said, or just didn?t want to hear it. That is, Trey?s miscues, glowstick wars, young corpses, trash piles, and all the rest were exactly what Phish had become. That?s why the curtain fell when it did. The Phish community of old was as dead and blue as that poor soul at Nassau on Long Island, and the final burial tune, while not played to perfection, still rang true in the ears of all who listened.


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OfflineToTheSummit
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Adom]
    #3049517 - 08/25/04 07:13 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Thats the best Phish article that I've read to date. Sadly, it describes my feelings almost to a tee. I saw Phish play many times, but only once in the last decade (Seattle '96). And that was the least impressive and most hectic of the shows I saw.

Phish's popularity was also thier downfall.


--------------------
You invented the wheel....You push the motherfucker!!


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InvisibleAdom
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: ToTheSummit]
    #3049541 - 08/25/04 07:18 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

From what I've seen in the lots in the later years, they few times I seen them and from what I gather from tapes and the older fans I've talked and listened to, I think the guy hit the nail on the fucking head.

The entire music scene is a tragedy.


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OfflineGr8fulJ420
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and More [Re: Adom]
    #3049563 - 08/25/04 07:21 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

wow. that article really struck a chord in me. many things which needed to be said but very few probably ever wanted to hear.


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OfflineHooty
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Gr8fulJ420]
    #3050195 - 08/25/04 09:47 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

kind of puts a lot of things in perspective doesn't it?


--------------------


Without love in the dream
It will never come true


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InvisibleAdom
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Hooty]
    #3052052 - 08/26/04 06:03 AM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Sure does.


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Offlineagr8fulchick
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Adom]
    #3053680 - 08/26/04 03:31 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

What a powerful article, I couldn't agree more. Sadly, I'm new to the Phish Phan community, only being a very big phan for the past two years or so, and yet I share the feelings of you and the older people and not the newer groupies who are wrecking the live concert scene for so many people. Few things are as amazing as a large family at a concert, made up mostly of people who don't know eachother, and yet are all friends. If anyone saw Phish in Miami this past New Year's you know what I mean! That was magical!

Keep it real.


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OfflineGr8fulJ420
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and More [Re: Adom]
    #3054280 - 08/26/04 06:19 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Where did you find that? Could you post a link?


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InvisibleAdom
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Gr8fulJ420]
    #3054373 - 08/26/04 06:53 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)



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Invisiblemuse_sick
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: Adom]
    #3054416 - 08/26/04 07:11 PM (12 years, 3 months ago)

great article


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InvisibleAdom
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and M [Re: muse_sick]
    #3060465 - 08/28/04 01:37 AM (12 years, 3 months ago)

Yes um.


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Offlinephishphan2088
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Re: On Coventry and Phish: Rifts, Curtains, Meatsticks and More [Re: Adom]
    #22415284 - 10/21/15 09:29 PM (1 year, 1 month ago)

Wanna hear a phish Joke? Trey Anastasio! Just kidding. While I admit that Phish has their ups and downs, I believe that as a group, These four are some of the most musically talented performers in history. I think Phish shows are a great place to meet some of the best people in the entire world. I've never been ripped off at a Phish show( can't say the same for other festivals). I always feel so much love from the Phish crowd. I guess they aren't for everyone but I'm going to keep coming back.


--------------------
Sucking at something is the first step in being kinda good at something



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