Dearest humble reader,
Journalism is fundamentally about seeking truth in a chaotic, dishonest world. The bedrock of the institution is integrity.
This is how a certain weekly paper becomes known as “The One True Voice and Pulse-keeper of the Twin Cities.” We are obligated to pursue the truth with rigorous intensity in order to preserve the standards set by our forbearers. Pulitzer. Hersh. Woodward. City Pages.
That said, the boundaries are ever-changing. As the form evolves, we must evolve with it.
This balance came into question Wednesday when monolithic jam band Phish rocked St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. It was the group's first Minnesota date in 16 years. Thousands were in attendance. Today, everyone is dying to know what happened.
Caveat: It’s widely understood that the only way to truly enjoy the music of Phish, or for that matter “jam” music writ large, is under the severe impairment of illicit recreational drugs.
A new approach must be taken.
Simply: Make sure the reviewer is as high on goofballs as the rest of the jam savages. Do not send in a narc. Spin gold. And only gold. Keep this ship on track.
We ask readers to keep this editorial decision in mind while reading the following Phish review.
Thank you for your continued support.
Now, welcome to the Phish timeline! Phish. Barrel. Begin.
8 p.m.: Entering the Xcel Energy Center grounds. The crowd is about what you’d expect, which the reporter feels needs no fancy, descriptive word-picture.
We should get this out of the way early: Most of the people here appear to be at least a little stoned. Of course we can’t speak for everyone, but all the laughter and hugging and abundant, radiant joy has us a more than a little suspicious. Have these people watched the news recently?
Inappropriate public behavior: check.
8:05 p.m.: There are many reluctant St. Paul police on site. Our finest boys in blue look tired, toothless. They seem pretty impotent to all the illegal activity swirling around them. Somewhat heartening.
8:10 p.m.: Outside the ticket window, one phan imbibed one too many bath salts (unconfirmed) and is for some reason yelling at the docile police force. Things get ugly when the hysterical, tie-dyed T-shirt clad jam bandit decided to push an officer of the law carrying a weapon of lethal force.
What did the flip-flopin', patchouli-reeking, hacky-sack sensei (again, suspected but unconfirmed) receive as punishment? Nothing! They let him walk.
8:11 p.m.: Worried about America.
8:14 p.m.: Now inside the venue, the concession window beckons. The pretzels back there are fucking huge. The Ecto-Cooler-colored nacho cheese looks beautiful. Add jalapeno. Mustard to mix with cheese. Only one napkin nabbed as to protect the dying forest.
8:15 p.m.: Goddamn. There is pizza a single concession away. Wild confluence of emotions experienced. Life of impulsive decision making reconsidered.
8:22 p.m.: Seats found. Trey Anastasio & Co. mid-wail through an unfamiliar tune. It kind of sounds like all the musicians can’t hear each other and are just going for it blindly. Like a basketball team constructed of five Kobe Bryants coached by Kobe Bryant.
8:30 p.m.: A groove is locking in. phans so fucking pumped dude. It’s like you can feel the music in your bone marrow. Trey rocks the wah-wah pedal like a very good boy getting rewarded for not shitting in the house.
8:35 p.m.: People watching reaches an unconsidered high-water mark as the spotlights flash around the arena. It’s sort of like the people watching you’d witness in the food court at Mall of America, but less diverse and everyone's on acid.
8:36 p.m.: The dancing. Holy shit. Generally speaking, the Phish dance might be the whitest thing in the known universe, surpassing even the Target corporate HQ Christmas party conga line.
8:43 p.m.: Trey’s wah-wah pedal gets stepped on more than equitable rights for women and minorities. Went there. Deal with it.
8:50 p.m.: Joint getting passed around a row behind the reporter. The reporter is intrigued.
8:52 p.m.: Puff is taken. Reporter is v. lit. Lit af.
8:54 p.m.: The light show is gorgeous. It’s as though they, like, took technology from the future to design it. Or, like, alien technology. What if UFOs are actually time machines like Miller says in Repo Man?
8:55 p.m.: GET THESE FUCKING SPIDERS OFF OF ME!
8:56 p.m.: Can feel them crawling under my skin!
9:02 p.m.: Have made peace with the spiders. Actually kind of cool if you give them a chance.
9:07 p.m.: Reporter “gets it.” This is like jazz for the upper-middle class.
9:12 p.m.: Occasionally excellent rhythms. Band just seems to have trouble choosing which are worthy of deeper exploration. The band discovers textural sounds, yes, but with Ponce de León-like futility.
9:16 p.m.: To make a more contemporary hoops reference, Phish are sort of like the Golden State Warriors of music. All the pieces are there, but together they’re incapable of rising above the beast that is LeBron James. Or, in this metaphor, a single stoned reporter's silly expectations.
Fun fact: The reporter and LeBron are the same age and collectively possess three NBA Finals MVP trophies and around $30,000 in student loan debt with no degree to show for it.
9:15 p.m.: Just clapped spontaneously. Did creepy white person dance. Something is wrong. Wants to get mom on the phone. Worried stove was left on. Afraid of death, life.
9:20 p.m.: There are many Rocky Horror-style cues where the audience synchronizes in lock-step with the band and glow sticks fly through the air. Doesn’t seem to be any discernible rhyme or reason to when they fly because it’s jam music, but when it happens they rain down a torrential glow. Possibly a natural phenomenon intrinsic to the Phish experience.
Or maybe all the phans circled Hidden Beach in their Volkswagens before the show. And then, like, there’s a hacky-sack competition to determine who gets to decide when the glow sticks fly. Sort of like a conductor maybe. And the Hack Supreme would become like, the glow stick czar. Could it have happened? Impossible to say.
9:27 p.m.: Audience having a really good time. Children spotted through the pot haze.
9:28 p.m.: Sick guitar solo. Thoughts of calling child protective services on phamilies vanquished like so many dreams of moving out of mom’s basement.
9:35 p.m.: Getting a little tedious for reporter with such bad ADD he couldn’t make it through The Avengers. But when this sensation strikes, there’s always more people watching. The bros in front of me are wearing sunglasses and have Cheshire grins so deep it’s kind of blowing their cover.
9:40 p.m.: Trey looks like if Eric Clapton were a software engineer.
9:44 p.m.: The chorus to one of these songs contains the line, “We’ve got sky scrapers in the band!” An architecturally insincere sentiment if there ever was one Trey, and you know it.
9:47 p.m.: These people all appear to love each other. What do you think is really important in this life?
9:55 p.m.: Set ends in a cacophony of guitar/bass/piano/drum noodles. No one can believe what’s happening. Set closes.
10:02 p.m.: Fun Fact: The reporter and LeBron James have collectively dated a girl who puked on them twice in the same cab ride and have an adorable son named Lebron James Jr. We have accumulated millions of dollars in endorsements and are mystified when we manage to find a pair of matching socks.
10:10 p.m.: Set break is really long. Miss the pretty lights.
10:15 p.m.: Extended set break ostensibly normal. Maybe it’s to allow the phans time to fuck each other in the bathrooms. Gotta get out the love somehow brother!
10:17 p.m.: Walking the concourse. phans are freaking out. Speaking in rapid-fire, punctuation-less scats. “I can’t fucking believe they played "[insert song]" Trey’s wah-wah peddle must be experiencing Guantanamo-level stress right now holy shit that bass line all the colors," ect. Merchandise booth given a quick scan.
10:20 p.m.: Existential crisis in effect. There’s a beach towel for sale that at least one reporter covets deeply. The image is a panoramic stage shot of Phish captured in mid-noodle.
Imagine pulling up to Calhoun Beach on your bicycle, dismounting, and then removing the following from the Baby Bjorn you’ve recently repurposed into a beach bag: a baguette, goat cheese, bottle of Prosecco, lotion, copy of Infinite Jest or Gravity’s Rainbow, Phish beach blanket, framed desk photo of your sweetie. Clearly, you would be king of the beach.
10:21 p.m.: Beach towel costs more than stipend to write Phish review. Some merch prohibitively expensive which is commonplace at arena shows (and ICP concerts) in the Year of Our Savior Donald J. Trump. Reporter refuses to go home empty handed. Buys Phrisbee.
10:21 p.m.: Phrisbee can also be used as shield against capitalism, "The Man."
10:23 p.m.: Noodling begins once more. Round 2.
10:30 p.m.: Joint of Billy’s Breath-strain good stuff being passed around. Expect notes at a slower clip.
10:34 p.m.: "Bouncing Round the Room" is playing. It’s the quintessential Phish pop song, anomaly. Easy to be breezy with, grove to. Bass player is wildin’ out.
10:39 p.m.: I bet these people are really nice. How weird would it be to be in Phish, man? Can you even imagine? Like, every day Trey wakes up and he’s just another dude, but then he’s not. He’s got a gift and he shares it with the whole world. Some people just don’t get it, man. Love, dude. LOVE!
10:45 p.m.: God probably a bigger Grateful Dead fan, but appreciates the craftsmanship of late-period Trey, is happy he got sober.
10: 52 p.m.: Fun fact: The reporter and Lebron James have collectively played in each of the past five NBA Finals and disliked Macklemore last week. Also, together we’ve won Olympic gold and one time the Kenwood Kickball MVP trophy. LeBron and the reporter are members of the same species. Amazing.
11 p.m.: All this harmony and cosmic joy is harshing the reporter's mellow. Waiting to be lifted from doldrums by obligatory Prince cover.
11:05 p.m.: Encore! TTRREEEEYYYYYY!!!!!
11:20 p.m.: No Prince cover. Reporter shocked. Audience indifferent. Trey doesn’t care about Prince, finds "Purple Rain" guitar solo pedestrian (unconfirmed).
11:25 p.m.: Drum circle in full effect outside. Elicits same response as Phish’s “Bouncing Round the Room” from phans who can’t tell the difference.
11:28 p.m.: Phribee last line of defense against deranged phans.
11:35 p.m.: On walk to car, reporter's designated driver, spiritual guide, and romantic partner says, “If we do it tonight, are you going to close your eyes and picture Trey’s face?” To which the reporter responds, “How else would I even be capable of climaxing?” Spirit guide's response is unprintable, hilarious. Smug, self-satisfied reporter feeling love in the universe. Is v. happy. Happy af.
Critic’s bias: Loves Joy Division. Doesn’t smoke weed unless atmosphere, mood is right (almost never.) Has always harbored hostility toward jam bands. Would absolutely go to another Phish concert if the opportunity struck. Likes things that are strange.
Overheard in the crowd: “Oh man, I think that hot dog is starting to kick in.”
Random notebook dump: Was used in the article, but probably “GET THESE FUCKING SPIDERS OFF OF ME.” A strange note indeed.
Halfway to the Moon
Walls of the Cave
Bouncing Around the Room
I Found A Reason
No Man's Land
Billy Breathes, GIN
Water in the Sky