On Tweezermania and Not Being There
If you’re a Phish fan (and I assume you probably are if you’re reading this), you don’t need me to tell you about what happened on Sunday night, July 27, 2014, at Merriweather Post Pavilion. In fact, no one can really tell you what happened. You need to hear/see it yourself to fully understand the majesty of the segue-filled Tweezerfest, or the absurdity of the “Jennifer Dances” “bustout,” or the strutting-in-a-line of “I Been Around.”
But what I can tell you about is how remarkable I felt hearing this show, listening to the crowd erupt in recognition and disbelief at every reemergence of the “Tweezer” riff or at the sudden jump from A major to F major to facilitate a perfect segue into “Simple.” I can tell you about the texts and twitter conversations that just kept piling up on my phone as friend after friend shared their own sense of awe and wonderment. I can tell you about how I woke up the next morning singing the frankly awful chorus lyrics to “Jennifer Dances.”
And what is perhaps most odd is that I wasn’t at the show. Nor were any of the 30 or 40 people with whom I shared my exuberance on Twitter. Nor were the authors of the two best paeans I’ve read recapping the show on Online Phish Tour or phish.net. I was in a log cabin in rural Vermont, ironically about 10 miles from the town of Plainfield where Goddard College used to be.
And this is what is hardest to explain to non-phans. Why was I so ecstatic about a show that I listened to over the internet, a show that I didn’t attend? Why did my wife and I both feel that all-too-familiar post-show high despite being 600 miles from Columbia, MD?
Sure couchtour is great. We get to listen to the show live even if we can’t go because of financial concerns, job commitments, or prior obligations. I’ve watched maybe a dozen official webcasts and listened to dozens more unofficial streamers, including a few real barn burners like the Dick’s “S” show in 2011 and the 9/2/12 Dick’s show. But even for those, I can’t say that I truly felt like this. So what was it about 7/27/14 that made it such a communal exulatation for so many who weren’t there? Why were we sharing in this particular groove more than, for example, that “S” show which, like 7/27/14, saw both a series of incredible bust-outs and an old-school Phishy gimmick?
I think it’s the renewed sense of ownership and pride that we’ve been cultivating since Dick’s 2012, which really does seem more and more like a turning point in the 3.0 history of the band with each passing show. This is our band. We stuck it out, through all the trials and travails of both our lives and the band’s life.
Like a proud parent, we celebrate Phish’s triumphs even from afar, when we can’t be there, because they are our band and they make us proud to be Phish phans. Maybe part of it is the sense that I no longer think “I can’t believe I missed that show!” (as I did on 8/14/09), but rather, “I’m so glad they are playing shows like that!” It’s what I say to myself every time I miss a “Tela” (as I did on 7/20/14), my favorite song that I’ve never heard live. But I think a big part of it, for me at least, was the ability to share the feeling with the online community. We create a virtual show space in the Twittersphere – what we lose from not being there is partially made up by the fact that we get to experience the show unadulterated, without annoying talkers, without security hassling us, with our own food, beverages, and comfiest chairs. We get to virtually hang out with like-minded obsessive phans who shared in their disbelief, we commiserate with others who feel exactly as we do. Had I been listening to the show in a vacuum without the online community to virtually high-five constantly, I don’t know that the experience would have been the same.
7/27/14 is, without a doubt, in the same category as legendary nights such as 2/20/93, 5/7/94, 6/17/94, 6/22/94, 7/13/94, where Phish wove in and out of their catalog with terrific aplomb. It’s partially the fact that none of those dates are less than 20 years ago that makes 7/27/14 so special. We’ve seen interesting setlist acrobatics and games since — the ’96 “M” set, the “Moby Dick” show from Summer 2000, all three Friday night shows from Dick’s in 2011-2013, even the “old school” set 2 of 12/31/13 — but nothing like the combination of segues, self-referential hilarity, and genuinely stellar improvisation from 7/27/14.
And we all got to share in each other’s elation. We got to see that not only did this show fill our souls with joy and delight, but it did so for many friends, some of whom we’ve never met in real life. In short, we still got the best parts of the communal experience of a Phish show, just without the actual best parts of a Phish show, which is, of course, being there.