Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Strange Design, Sullivan Hall, 8/22/08 (a.k.a. 11/21/97)

Back in the late '90's, the beginning of the fall season meant many things to me: a new set of freshman girls to chat up, the end of summer break, and...oh hell, who am I meant most importantly that I would be venturing back to Hampton, Virginia for Phish's annual two-night stand. The spaceship-shaped venue they played every year, the Hampton Coliseum, was a fitting symbol for how the night would unfold each year: Get prepared for take-off and be comfortable not knowing where you're gonna end up.

Fast forward to 4 years A.P. (After Phish), I recently found out that some dudes from my hometown were going on the road as a Phish tribute band called The Strange Design, essentially working the Dark Star Orchestra formula around recreating entire Phish shows. I have to say that I thought the guys, much like Suzy Greenberg, needed to get checked by a neurologist. Covering the Dead was one thing, but attempting to recreate the complexity, creativity, and downright goofiness of Phish should not be attempted in my humble opinion. Even the "Phish" tribute at the Jammys by the HeadCount All-Stars (w/ the extremely talented Brownstein, Gutwillig, Hollingsworth, Cinninger, and Russo) felt emotionless and flat.

So, heading into the Strange Design show at Sullivan Hall last night I felt a sense of excitement but predominantly skepticism having beared witness to Phish-covering debacles from bands like Stash and The Phix. I also didn't quite know what to think with the night creatively billed as 'A Weekend at the Hamptons' knowing the band was going to attempt a show I most likely had attended with the real four boys from Vermont.

The crowd at the West Village venue appeared to be 90% kids who were 14 when Phish broke up and 10% veterans looking for even a touch of magic that Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish could bring to a stage. The band got started with the funky Rolling Stones tune Emotional Rescue as the first number out of the gate. Okay, here we go, because I was definitely at this show. November 21, 1997. But it was too long ago to remember the entire setlist (If it had been five years earlier, I would have named every song plus segues and teases). The "Mike" falsetto was rough, the band was loose, and it actually felt a bit uncomfortable. Then I slowly realized that was EXACTLY how I felt when Phish attempted that song eleven years ago. Phish was never a perfectionist band; they were out to have a good time and explore new boundaries. So a random cover was not an attempt at note-for-note recreation. And the same vibe was being captured with Strange Design.

The song melded into a loop-jam straight out of Trey's Languedoc. And the first song being a cover (of a cover!) I didn't pass judgement just yet. Up next was Split Open and Melt. Major test! I was nervous FOR them. Funky drums: Check. Funky bass: Check. Impossibly challenging guitar line: Nailed! Rhythmic keyboards: Perfect! Vocals: Just as ridiculous at the original! Folks, this was a very, very good sign. The challenge of recreating the song was hard enough, but then making me feel like the song could feel Phishy outside the boundaries of the orchestrated parts I felt was an even tougher challenge. Now nodding my head, tapping my foot, and closing my eyes to what was well beyond my hardened expectations, I was truly engulfed in the music.

I really felt the era of the show when Beauty of My Dreams was played into Dogs Stole Things!! That little number was busted out on the'97 Europe tour and played sporadically thereafter. This was what I came for. To be reminded of the Phish catalogue, groove to great tunes, and relive my phall days in VA. Other highlights were Lawn Boy with full on schmaltz by "Chairman of the Boards" Aaron Levy, "Can't I live while I'm young!" chanting on Chalkdust, and a digital loop delay jam on Prince Caspian.

While I may not tour with The Strange Design for the next five falls, it was a true pleasure having my tapes come back to life. Which is great considering they are actually back in my childhood bedroom under all of my mom's stuff (my room is now a storage closet, apparently). Thanks goes out to Matt, Adam, Aaron, and Ben for helping me get back to where I once belonged and rekindling my love of Phish. I look forward to hearing what shows, legendary or otherwise, they pull from the Phish canon. And to those that are skeptical of the Phish cover experience, take it from a major phan who lived and breathed the band growing up. This is as close as you can get to the real thing, without the real thing, and a chance to experience the magic that is the live Phish experience in an intimate setting. And anyway, anyone who has the balls to pull off Guyute when Trey ALWAYS flubbed that song, is cool with me.

The Strange Design: 8/22/08- Sullivan Hall- New York, NY

Recreating: 11-21-97 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

1: Emotional Rescue*-> Split Open and Melt, Beauty of My Dreams, Dogs Stole Things, Punch You in the Eye-> Lawn Boy, Chalk Dust Torture, Prince Caspian^

2: Ghost-> AC/DC Bag-> Slave to the Traffic Light, Loving Cup

E: Guyute
*Rolling Stones cover (first time played). ^With digital delay loop jam.


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

How fun! It sounds like it exceeded your expectations (well you didn't really have too many). I had a similar experience with a tribute band and now I go see them whenever possible.

Rupert Entwistle said...

Great review. I really wanted to check this out, but was stuck with the in-laws all weekend. These guys sound great, but I'm saving the final judgement until I hear a Hood ;)

Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently discussing about how modern society has evolved to become so integrated with technology. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about all the time.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i[/url] DS FFV2)