IT doesn’t happen often enough. Phish takes the stage, begins playing, and you’re grateful and fortunate to be seeing them once again. Whether it’s your first tour opener or your thirtieth, Phish is smiling, everyone around you is THRILLED—even vibrating with anticipation—and the encircling energy fills you with profound joy.
“I wish I could see a Phish show every day,” you might think to yourself, grinning. “All aboard for the tour”!
But you can’t see Phish every day. Even on tour there are days off. You have seen Phish before, though, likely quite a lot, and you’ve heard enough of their music to have strong opinions about it. You probably also know that Phish shows can be, have been, and continue to be overrated now and then beyond all possible bounds of decency, because they’re so AWESOME to begin with. It’s easy to do and everyone does it, including those who listen to Phish all the time, and have heard everything that Phish has ever performed (that circulates).
Phish puts on a GREAT show as compared with other rock concerts. The “average” or typical Phish show is GREAT as compared with other rock concerts. But when comparing Phish shows against each other, the typical or the average show is great, and inevitably one show is overrated by some and underrated by others in your opinion (and in the opinion of the many other fans who share your view as well). Thankfully, we don’t all share the same views, and it’s fun to read the sometimes radically-divergent opinions of fellow fans about shows. And if I’ve learned anything in life, including after having discussed improvisational music with people for decades, it’s that context is critically important: positivity begets positivity and—you guessed it!—negativity begets negativity. Focusing on the negatives about a show in a review is certain to bring negative comments and “flames.” It is inevitable. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that. Or do they?
It came as somewhat of a surprise to learn today that during one week in January 2012, Facebook manipulated the “News Feeds” of nearly 700,000 of its users, in an “experiment” such that some users primarily saw “positive” messages and others primarily saw “negative” messages in their feeds. The manipulation by FB of the feeds in this manner unsurprisingly led to the posting of (a) generally “positive” or “happy” messages by users whose feeds contained primarily “positive” content, and (b) generally “negative” or “sad” messages by users whose feeds contained primarily “negative” content.
Seriously? FB decided to manipulate the feeds of hundreds of thousands of people to reach an obvious conclusion about human nature? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure what FB did was legal, but setting aside the ethical issues that FB’s “experiment” raises, why did they need to do it? It’s common sense that attitude has a profound effect on living, on experience. “Life is a state of mind” may be a quaint expression, but it’s also inescapable for anyone alive with a mental state intelligent enough to be self-reflexive.
Anyone who reads anything online about Phish’s music knows a thing or two, or three, about this. For example, if you were to read a review of the upcoming tour opener in Great Woods that contained two or more of the following statements, even if you agreed with them, you’d likely post a negative Comment, or at least consider doing so, whether or not you finished reading the thing:
- First set opened with a "Runaway Jim" so perfunctory that it made me want to punch myself, and Trey, in the face.
- “Ocelot” was so boring that I imagined putting one in a cage, and poking it with sticks, in a futile effort to entertain myself.
- It’s a shame that Fish loves "Rift" so much, because it doesn’t jam and has been performed ten thousand times already. Christ.
- Imagine that, “Moma Dance” and “Funky Bitch” being played nearly note-for-note like you’ve heard them many times before, despite having enormous potential to jam.
- With the sun setting, and the lawn alight in dusk’s warm glow, the evening’s “Stash” went where you’ve heard it go a number of times in the last decade, i.e., nowhere.
- While "Bouncin" is among Phish’s most popular songs, with a catchy melody and chorus, it’s not quite long enough for a reliable bathroom trip, and must be endured, as painful as this may often be.
- Oh, hey, an "Antelope" first set closer! I wonder where Trey got the idea for such an ingenious set placement? Sadly, even Marco Esquandolas himself won’t want to listen to this weak version again.
And that’s just the first set… still reading?
Negativity sucks, especially when it comes to the music of our favorite band (or at least one of our favorite bands!). But that said, there’s nevertheless a place for it. It would be beyond dull if all of the show reviews you read are only smiles und sunshine. If you read a show review and you like it, wonderful! Think about sharing it, or letting the author know you enjoyed it. Don’t like what the review said? Don't share it. Or perhaps write your own or just Comment. But did it challenge any of your assumptions, or make you think even a little deeper about something, anything, e.g., how not to write a Phish show review, or what you dislike the most about music criticism? And don’t be shy about explaining why you think a show didn’t meet Phish’s typical, average-great (high) standards. You’re not a “h8tr,” you’re a human being and entitled to your opinion, even if it's "negative" and therefore likely unpopular. Our online community benefits from a diversity of opinions, no matter how ignorant and full of haughty BS you might believe them to be. Our common bond is Phish's music and our love for it, even when we think it's below "average-great."
So, here’s to hoping that as great as Phish’s music will be this summer, the commentary on Phish’s music—yours included!— is more thoughtful and crazy and senseless and creative than it’s ever been, “positive” OR “negative,” “happy” or “sad!” $0.02.
NOTE: The Monday Mystery Jam will return on Monday, July 7.