Phish: Live in Brooklyn

A philosophical question: can one reach enlightenment through virtuosity and spectacle?


Live in Brooklyn

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-07-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

Phish's devoted fans loom large over the band's music. That is, when a community of like-minded, like-dressed people follows a band around til death do they part -- and when that crowd's existence superseded sales or airplay as the reason the band became well-known in the first place -- it's hard to separate one from the other. At the same time, it makes the specifics of Phish's music itself underwritten about. A diehard fan, likely owner of countless hours of live Phish, greets a new "official" live CD with comparisons to unofficial ones, and with song comparisons to other shows the band played ("forget this version of song X, you need to hear the one they played at show Y"). Meanwhile, it's hard for critics to get beyond their preconceived notions about "jam bands", and then to get past the larger story about Phish: their fans, their tendency to 'never play the same show twice', their encouragement of show-recording, their grassroots growth and eventual break-up.

Live in Brooklyn -- a three-disc recording of a complete show, played 17 July 2004 at Coney Island -- comes with its own backstory. The concert kicked off the group's final tour, and came the day after the band announced that this tour would be the last one. And as the band performed, its performance was simultaneously shown in movie theaters. Picture young hippies entering suburban multi-plexes in droves. Two years later the CD of that concert comes out (with the DVD released the same day), and one imagines it sends Phish fans back into their memories of that night, of dancing in the aisles, knowing that the days of their favorite band -- the only band that matters -- were numbered.

Believe the PR, and you'll imagine Live in Brooklyn to be driven by an extra tone of melancholy, given the previous day's announcement. It's hard to hear that in the music, however. It's much easier to imagine that this concert was planned with the movie-theatre audiences in mind, that the band was out to please the crowd.

Phish earned its reputation as an amazing live band through virtuoso improvisations built on displays of instrumental technique. But for the band those technical showcases always seemed like an attempt to transcend, to build towards a groove that would climb upwards until they reached a state of zen. It's an attempt to take the basic rock-blues-pop chords and use them to reach an extended euphoria, of the type one associates with nature, or drugs.

Besides virtuosic spectacle, Phish fans always seemed fixated on the impression of surprise, that you never know what the band would do next. Phish often maintained this perception through a variety of techniques: eclecticism (bluegrass covers, unlikely covers, becoming a barbershop quartet), theatre (playing a chess game onstage, jumping on trampolines, using hidden musical cues to get a particular crowd reaction at a certain moment), and unpredictable setlists.

For the concert in Live in Brooklyn, they've mostly forsaken those styles of evoking surprise, in favor of sheer technical fireworks and a near-"greatest hits" approach. Sure, the first disc opens with the live debut of a then-new song, "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing," and there are rare songs here ("Axilla I", "The Curtain With"), but the bulk of the show is devoted to songs any Phish fan would know well, from the singles "Free", "46 Days" and "Birds of a Feather" to the time-tested trio of "Mike's Song" into "I Am Hydrogen" into "Weekapaug Groove".

More important than the setlist, though, their approach to the entire show is to play things big and bold. There's no detours into surprising moods, no reinventions of the familiar, and no attempts to take sweeping anthems and lend them with a new sort of grace and sensitivity…all of which they've done in the concerts, and concert recordings, that most stand out from their career. The closest they get here to any of that is during an exceptional 10-minute version of "Free", with a spaced-out mood and eerie solo bass section in the middle. Two other quiet and/or graceful moments -- "Nothing" (also new at the time) and the always sublime "The Divided Sky" -- also stand out within the context of a sustained bombastic mood.

For the most part this show is one of spectacle, drama, and fiery guitar shooting for the stars. The two covers they play are in their hands the epitome of pomp and circumstance: Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" and the theme from 2001. Songs like "Suzy Greenberg", "Dinner and a Movie", and "Birds of a Feather" are played in a driven, explosive manner, clear attempts to get the audience grooving hard.

And that's no doubt precisely what Phish was going for with this show. It's clear they were motivated to make their fans dance, at the same time, together, across the country. The message their performance sends is: we're breaking up, let's party together one more time. Live in Brooklyn therefore works like a souvenir for the diehard fans, a snapshot of that moment in time. Leaving aside the cultural significance entirely, though, as a musical recording it's enjoyable but offers a limited picture of the reasons Phish's music struck so many people as magical. It presents one side of the band, a side that may match all-too-well with the caricature non-fans have of them. Here they're playing in the broadest of strokes, finding a typical groove and jamming on it, showing off their clear mastery of their instruments. They're seeking transcendence through technical prowess and familiar tricks, and never quite getting there, but still no doubt making their fans happy.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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