There is a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with being part of a legendary moment in music. That is why we go so far out of our way for events that may turn out to be epic, or will perhaps just contain one great moment that becomes famous or simply unforgettable to the people that were there. What makes these rare occasions priceless is that they are one of a kind and will never occur again. Most are lost to obscurity and only realized by the few that seek them out.
This is the essence of adventure – risking, spending, sacrificing and sometimes suffering for a quest to witness divinity, to lose ourselves for a time in something spellbinding and unifying, to discover new things together that blow our minds and calm our souls.. Sometimes we find a personal perfection in the experience – that incendiary version of your favorite tune, the synchronous blessings of unexpected miracle tickets and moonlit kisses. And then there are moments that echo through the whole community like when Phish dropped “Icculus” at Hartford last summer and baptized a new generation in the sacred, silly mythology of their lore.
These transcendent moments occur throughout live music, particularly with bands that improvise a lot. That is what keeps us coming back to hear the same songs, going to great lengths traveling to remote places in the hope of catching one of these special happenings where everything comes together. Whether for an entire festival or just a few minutes of a jam, when inspiration meets energy it can build like a tidal wave, crashing over crowds that will never be the same. It satisfies primal appetites like good sex and is just as addictive.
Events like the first Bonnaroo, which marked the birth of the modern American festival era, or Rothbury which recently raised the bar on it, are obvious landmarks, but lesser-known or expected settings produce some of the finest spontaneous upwellings of genius. Adversity seems to breed these, as artists rise to certain occasions and will play their hearts out to make up for unfortunate conditions.
An example is the Haymaker Festival in Spotsylvania, VA, held to raise money for a failing landmark farm. “In October of 2002, The Disco Biscuits arguably played the two most important shows of their careers. In the period after the first Phish hiatus, many up and coming jam bands were clamoring to acquire the recently orphaned fan base, including String Cheese, moe., STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, etc. Music festivals were popping up everywhere, and including more and more of these acts.
“At Haymaker, The Biscuits were given the sole late night spot both nights, a great opportunity to impress a new set of fans; they did just that by playing four of their best sets over the two nights, going well into the morning.” (-The Sound Medium) Which brings us to our first example:
Save The Robots – The Disco Biscuits from The Funk n’ Jamhouse, High Sierra Music Festival 7/2/06
Now I love this band, but they lamp it all the time so its hard to go outta my way for them. When they’re on, they’re capable of the sickest jams I’ve ever seen. Packed in a steamy little metal barn, the crowd was electric before the closing show of High Sierra. The festival was the band’s first gig in California in three years, and they were out to make an impression. After throwing out “Pinball Wizard”, “Abraxas” and a sick “Munchkin Invasion” > “Hope” in their outdoor evening set, they came out swinging with “Run Like Hell”, “The Very Moon” and a wicked “I-Man” / “Helicopters” sandwich switching back and forth six times.. Then the funkiest Biscuits EVER in this 27-minute version of Robots!
40s Theme – Umphrey’s McGee from The Revival Tent, Wakarusa 6/16/05, Ass-Deep, KS
After the headliner, Sound Tribe Sector 9, canceled because of a death in the family, the pressure was on Umph‘s late-night set at Wakarusa. I’d been onto them for a minute, but was not prepared for what we received. In the middle of Kansas, on a cross-country road-trip for the books, I became an insta-fan. This version of “40’s” is the illest of all time, it gets goin halfway through with a “Regulators” jam that builds to insanity, defying the limits of dexterity, liquifying your brain with impossible shredding. Say what you will about their lame vocals and poppy new material, this vintage Umph jam contains the most blistering guitar work I’ve found. Turn it up!
Ramone & Emiglio – STS9 from Re:Generation 7/7/07, Deerfields, NC
The summer of 2007 saw Sound Tribe establishing themselves as a huge national act, headlining venues like Red Rocks and hosting their own festival in North Carolina. The two-day event featured other great electronic acts like The Join, Prefuse 73 and Telefon Tel Aviv full band sets, Dubconscious, Glitch Mob, Collective Efforts, Lyrics Born, and Telepath with classic STS9 sets that contain several go-to versions of classic tunes. This is an example of their most polished Old School DnB / Artifact-Era repertoire, the summer before they dropped Peaceblaster when new types of beats and sounds took over. This R&E is sexy smooth and builds to a feverish climax.. don’t hurt yourself when it peaks!
Bathtub Gin from The Great Went 8/17/97, Limestone, ME
Phish has had so many of these types of moments throughout their career, its impossible to pick the greatest. Here is a taste of the Golden Age, one of their most famous jams from a monumental festival. Did I say before that Bonnaroo started the American festival era? Cuz it was actually Phish, and Bonnaroo only existed to fill the void left by their hiatus. Depicted in their documentary Bittersweet Motel, The Great Went was their second massive festival where they are the only band playing, something no one else has ever done on that scale.
Tweezer from UIC Pavillion, 6/18/94, Chicago, IL
Young, feral Phish gettin hard with it, howlin like banshees, wailin on their instruments. ’94 gave us the most energetic, breakneck playing from the band. They were growing quickly, touring the whole country, headlining bigger and bigger venues, young men on a mission to melt faces and grab the reigns of the jam scene. This show is one of my all-time faves and contains other special versions, including the first appearance of the “Mind Left Body Jam” out of “Bowie” that Trey has riffed since and a killer YEM. This torrid Tweezer will tear your tits off.
Bands need to be taken out of their comfort zone and challenged in new environments, up against the best competition in front of fans not yet won over. When they are too familiar and jaded, resting on their laurels, going through the motions, rich, fat, bored, successful, addicted, things inevitably become routine and stagnant- cant really blame ’em. So that we don’t waste our time and money chasing disappointment, we can look at patterns in the great moments of recent history and come up with the equation:
Given Talent and Skill, (Pressure + Opportunity) x Hunger = Greatness
Watch out for the next band about to blow up with a chance to make a statement.
What are your most powerful music experiences? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Grab lossless FLAC versions of these tracks and the rest of these shows on Archive.org!