National Record Store Day

•April 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Some local music fans resorted to pushing and shoving to get to exclusive musical releases on National Record Store Day, this past Saturday.  People wrapped in a line around the Ear X Tacy, some even camping in the parking lot overnight.  They are trying to get their hands on those rare vinyl records and exclusive albums that were only available that day.

National record store day began three years ago.  A group of people wanted to celebrate the exquisite culture of independently owned record stores.  There are about 700 stores nationally that participate, and hundreds worldwide that are involved.  Locally, there are three stores that participate in National record store day.

“We have a participated in National record store day since it begun,” says Rebecca Cornwell general manager of Ear-X-Tacy.

This one-day event exists to help celebrate music and what help get it started.  With each store offering new music that will only be released on that day on vinyl gives fans a great opportunity to get excited and support local businesses.

But what some may not realize is that this may be a desperate attempt for these record stores to get people into there store and save business and save the store from shutting down.

“We are just trying to increase awareness, and trying to get people in the store,” says Craig Rich owner of Underground Sound, “Record sales are up, they are up 40% from being dead.”

This seems like a tough business to be apart of but this holiday seems to be a bit of a revival for stores that are beginning to struggle or for ones that have already been.  Many are hoping that events like this will help save an industry that is in desperate need of help.

“These exclusive pieces will be available for the fans, and this will also help us get our name out there and let everyone know that ear-x-tacy still exist and so do record stores,” Says Rebecca Cornwell.  “We used to be a Multi-million dollar store, now we are struggling just to get people in.”

So hopefully with repetitive National record store days will help increase awareness of store and hopefully bring back to life this dinosaur that we call vinyls.

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Radiohead: Supercollider/The Butcher

•April 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Radiohead quietly released two new tracks, “Supercollider” and “The Butcher,” this past weekend as a part of National Record Store Day.  The vinyl only release was extremely limited, and only available in select participating stores the U.K. and Japan.  This really disappointed me, as I  was really hoping to get my hands on a copy.  The band lessened my frustrations by announcing that it would be available in the U.S. in June, and making a digital copy available for download from their website.

“Supercollider” was premiered as a solo piano song on Radiohead’s European tour in 2008.  Ever since I heard it, I desperately wanted to head what it would sound like as a full band studio arrangement.  When I finally got that chance, I was quite surprised with what I heard.  The piano chords were gone, and what was left was a slightly ambient trance song that barely resembled the piece premiered three years ago.  And I love it.

As was the case with “The King of Limbs,” Yorke’s voice is the key that makes the song what it is.  The pulsating beats and sounds bounce around as his flawless falsetto voice creates sonic effects unlike anyone else.

The other track,”The Butcher,” is a great track as well.  The droning, mechanical beats at the beginning set the dark tone.  This sounds like it could have been right in the middle of “The King of Limbs.”  Nothing remarkable, but another good addition to Radiohead’s impressive catalogue.

The Vinyl Experience

•April 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In the day of MP3s, BitTorrent, and LimeWire, one would think that the vinyl records of decades past would have long ago gone the way of 8-tracks and cassettes.  However, the sales of vinyl records have skyrocketed in the past few years, to the surprise of many.  However, if you take a closer look at it, it should come as no surprise.

While I have been collecting vinyl for several years now, up until recently I haven’t had a functioning record player.  Now that I have a nice turntable hooked up to some decent speakers, I have a much better understanding and appreciation of the whole experience.

For those who truly appreciate the whole aesthetic experience of an album, the vinyl experience is unmatched.  When you download an MP3, all you get is a few files on your computer that you load into iTunes, and sync to your iPod.  When you buy a vinyl record, you get a physical, tangible copy of the music, along with larger versions of the artwork and packaging.  Nowadays, you often get a free digital download of the album as well.

Many mindful artists spend a great deal of time designing their packages and artwork to accompany the music.  With a digital download, you just don’t get this.

Listening to an album on vinyl also forces one to pay closer attention to the music.  The turntable often requires minute adjustments to get the sound just right, requiring one to actively listen to the music rather than passively absorb it.  You also have to pay attention, because unlike a CD or MP3, you have to work to keep the music going.  Once one side of the record is through, you have to get up and flip the record.  While some may see this as a pain in the ass, I see it as part of the whole experience

Finally, I really do enjoy the sound more.  Yes, there’s hisses and pops, but they just make it that much more authentic.  When you listen to a digital recording of a song, you are hearing digital sounds that have been compressed and decompressed to make the noise that you hear.  With a vinyl record, you hear the uncompressed analog sounds that the artists originally recorded, you are hearing an exact replica of the music that the artists created.

I’m not getting rid of my iPhone any time soon, and will continue to download digital music, but in our fast-paced, digital society, it’s nice to take a step back every once in a while and simply enjoy something for what it is.  Vinyl records offer us a great way to support artists while offering a unique listening experience that can be found nowhere else.

Panic at the Palace

•April 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Believe it or not, I do go to concerts that are not Phish.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see Widespread Panic’s two night stand at the Louisville Palace, kicking off their spring tour.

Having seen Panic several times at music festivals over the past year, I knew that I was in for a good time.  While I have a lot of respect for the band, their music never gripped me in the way that Phish’s did.  I had a good time, but it just never took me to “that” place.

This weekend, however, made me much more a of believer.  Even though I really only know one Panic song (and they didn’t play it), the music engaged me and showed me why so many people are willing to travel such great lengths to see this band.

Not knowing any of the songs made for a much different experience than I am used to.  Because I know Phish’s catalogue so well, it makes it easy for me to focus on the minute details of their playing, and sometimes forget about the big picture.  It was a really nice experience to be able to listen to the music for what it is without any expectations for what it should be.

While it was still no Phish, I had a great time with some great people and great music.  I won’t be traveling to California to see them any time soon, but when they’re around, I’ll definitely see Panic again.

Phish’s Top 10 Jams of 2010, Part 2

•March 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Without further adieu, I give to you what I consider to be Phish’s top five improvisational performances of the past year (one happened to be in 2011).  In a year that saw many songs break form and forge new sounds, these stood above the rest and will soon be looked upon as classic Phish jams, regardless of era.

#5 “Split Open and Melt->Have Mercy>Piper->Split Open and Melt” – 10/20/2010 – Utica Memorial Auditorium, Utica, NY

To the dismay of many fans, the raging monster of the nineties, “Split Open and Melt,” came back to life in 2009 as a shell of its former self.  No longer reaching the insane guitar peaks of ’93 and ’94, the band took the song on ambient journeys of dissonance before arriving back in the famous “Melt” riff.  While some fans enjoyed the new style, many felt that Phish could no longer pull of the balls-to-the wall insanity that encompassed virtually every melt pre hiatus.

For the first half of 2010, the jams took a similar dissonant direction.  In August, Phish broke “Melt’s” traditional form by seamlessly drifting into “Dog Faced Boy.”  This oddly placed fan favorite gave hope to many that Phish would later reprise into the end of “Melt,” but alas, it never happened.  “SOaM” made one more traditional appearance in Broomfield, CO, before Phish finally hit a home run with it in Utica, NY.

Demonstrating their technical proficiency, the band moved through the composed portion with ease, before landing in the jam.  As the jam took a surprising melodic course, no one knew what to expect.  As each band member began to drift into what almost sounded like a lullaby, Trey quietly came to the mic and began singing the opening lines of “Have Mercy,” the reggae tune originally performed by The Mighty Diamonds.

After the brief reggae moment, the song bled into one of the most beautifully sublime and melodic pieces of music the band has ever created.  While “Have Mercy” is normally a contained, fun cover song, Phish turned it into the breathtaking improvisational centerpiece of the evening.  As the stunning jam wound down, Trey introduced the opening licks of “Piper,” the rest of the band quickly joining in.

After ripping through the composed section, Phish again took the jam into unknown territory.  The jam began to take a dark turn, and before anyone could blink, they had arrived back at the conclusion of “Melt,” a feat that had escaped them two months prior.

The seamless flow of songs combined with the creative improvisational jamming cemented this segment as a true gem, regardless of era.

#4 “Simple” – 1/1/2011 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

As I spent a good deal of time lauding this wonderful piece of music in my full review of the show, I don’t have  a lot left to say.  Feeding off of the energy in the Garden, Phish took this jam to the edge of nothing, and then built a breathtakingly beautiful epic, convincing many that a pre-rehearsed song was being performed.  The whole band latched on to Page’s delicate melody, swimming as one sonic unit forging a wave of sound so ethereal and grand that it truly must be heard.

#3 “Harry Hood” – 12/28/2010 – Worcester Centrum, Worcester, MA

Another song that left much to be desired in 2009, “Harry Hood” saw its true return to glory in 2010.  While many early summer “Hoods” fell into the blasé, cookie cutter jam, lacking any real standout qualities, the song blossomed over the course of the year, coming to full fruition in its last appearance of the year.

Nailing the parts of the song that hung them up just over a year ago, the band moved effortlessly into the jam that has won the hearts of fans world wide.  Straying from the traditional “Hood” jam, Trey and Mic began to exchange staccato licks, telepathically echoing each others musical statements.  In a game of musical ping-pong, the co-leaders of the band took the crowd on a journey through the cosmos the likes of which no one had ever heard.

The staccato rhythms continued, foreshadowing the stylistic playing that would infect Trey’s playing over the next three nights.  As the jam came back around to the traditional “Hood” peak, everyone in the building knew that they really could “feel good about Hood!”

#2 “Ghost” – 12/31/2010 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

When Phish seamlessly slid into “Ghost” out of “Down with Disease” (a feat they had yet to accomplish in their two years back) in the weekends center set, everyone knew they were in for a blast to the past.  Attacking their funk-favorite like it was 1997 all over again, Phish absolutely destroyed this version of “Ghost” like the three headed monster that melted faces in the nineties.

Joining together in a swarm of sonic beauty, Trey took hold of the beautiful fondation his band had created, and sent the audience soaring to the heavens.  His majestic guitar solo continued ever higher, bringing everyone in the building into a natural state of ecstasy.  Few Phish jams ever reach this sacred place; this is truly a remarkable jam that stands alongside the best Phish of any era.

#1 “Light” – 8/7/2010 – The Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

While several other jams reached higher peaks, no other jam in the past two years saw the band lock into a creative groove like they did during their last night in Berkeley.  It should come as no surprise that the best jam of the year came from “Light,” their new-school jam vehicle.

As the band worked their way out of the composed section, the crowd roared loudly as the band ventured into the unknown, fueling their creative spirit.  As the audience continued to push the band, Phish created the most holistically creative piece of music in years.  Every member of the band offered unique musical fills, complimenting each other without ever taking over.

The band moved through several unique phases of the jam, each transition a place where the Phish from a year prior would have awkwardly started another song.

Perhaps the band was just in that special place, perhaps it was the combined energy from the bay-area fans, or perhaps it was something else entirely, but Phish was 100% locked together in a way they have not in years.  As the jam came to a natural end, everyone in the arena exchanged hugs and hi-fives realizing that they had just witnessed the birth of a modern classic.

Phish’s Top 10 Jams of 2010, Part 1

•March 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Phish’s sophomore year after returning from the grave brought many moments of improvisational excellent, but some stand clearly above the others.  While 2009 had many great jams, 2010 was the year where things really started to take off in a new direction.  After listening to virtually every show of the year, I’ve compiled a list of the cream of the crop from the past year.


#10 – “Down With Disease->What’s the Use?” – 8/14/2010 – Alpine Valley Music Center, East Troy, WI

In the second frame of the weekend in dairy country, Phish threw down a classic piece of modern rock improv.  The jam left its rock and roll roots, launching into the cosmic realm before the band shifted gears yet again.  Before anyone had realized it, they had arrived in “What’s the Use” absolutely seamlessly.  While June contained many awkward transitions, this perfectly executed segue showed the improvement a few months can make.

#9 – “Light” – 10/19/2010 – Augusta Civic Center, Augusta, ME

The improvisational MVP of the year brought a new style of dance to Augusta, Maine this past fall.  Until this point, most “Light” jams had a slower, ethereal feel to them, this one had a more punctuated rhythm, foreshadowing the jams of the new years run.  The band bounced musical ideas around like a ping pong ball before landing in a bouncy dance groove for the remainder of the jam.

#8 “Simple”  – 8/6/2010 – The Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA

After the groundbreaking “Cities” jam in the first set, Phish delighted their fans in the Bay that night with the most exploratory piece of improv of the era at that point.  As the traditional “Simple” jam ended, the band pushed forward into the unknown, surprising everyone, as “Simple” had remained grounded to its roots until this point.  Sculpting a beautiful piece of music that could fit any era, the Greek Simple was the turning point at which many fans realize that they really had their band back.

#7 “Crosseyed and Painless” – 10/16/2010 – North Charleston Colliseum, North Charleston, SC

After a breakthrough first set in a tour that was lacking creativity, Phish blindsided everyone by opening the second set with “Crosseyed and Painless,” delivering the most powerful version of the era.  Demolishing the structured jam, Trey displayed his regained dexterity and prowess on his new axe.  Reprising the lyrics twice during the jam, “Crosseyed” left everyone in the room ready for a breather by the time the ambience bled into the next song.

#6 “Backwards Down the Number Line” – 8/17/2010 – Jones Beach Amphitheater, Wantagh, NY

When the opening chords of “Number Line” were strummed over the PA mid second set, many fans sighed as the song rarely contained any true improvisation.  However, Phish stunned the audience delivering one of the most soaring and majestic pieces of music they have crafted in years.  Trey’s delicate guitar work created a beautiful melody as Fishman’s mechanical drumming created a deep pocket for full band creativity.  Fully arriving in the stratosphere as few jams do, this one proved all the naysayers wrong.


The top five jams will be presented next…

New Years With Phish, the Finale Part 2.

•March 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Near the end of the first set of 2011, “Walk Away” began a 10 song run that trumps any 10 sequentially played songs in well over a decade. The band’s confidence, willingness to explore, and energy of the weekend combined to create something much greater, and hopefully a glimpse into the future of The Phish From Vermont.

Without wasting a second, the liquid grooves of “Gotta Jibboo” let the crowd know that Phish was only getting going. An all-star over the past two years, this “Jibboo” was no exception. As the rhythm section dropped into the jam, Trey began playing shorter staccato style licks, which he has tastefully begun to integrate as his new style of jamming.

The staccato licks eventually blossomed into a melodic jam, swimming towards a transcendent peak. Reaching a beautiful crescendo, the band converged back into “Jibboo,” reprising the chorus before immediately dropping into “Reba.”

“Reba” is another one of those songs that just wasn’t quite gotten to “that” place, like the “Rebas” that Phish routinely threw down in the early nineties. As the fire that ignited during “Walk Away” grew more profound, the “Reba” jam truly took off to a soaring place of beauty.

For many people, the “Reba” jam is the epitome of Phish, and on 1/1/11 they reminded us why. Like an eagle soaring on thermals, Trey rode the wings of his band as he carved the path of the jam towards a flawless peak of music, energy, and emotion.

While some fans were waiting for the post-Reba “whistles,” Page struck the opening chords of “Walls of the Cave” on his upright-grand. Notably absent from setlists until recently, this post-hiatus epic showed it’s head for only the third time this go round. While the band used “Walls” as a launch vehicle for other-worldly exploration during the song’s infancy on their second go-round, they have chosen to keep the jam within the remains of the song structure, allowing all members to shine.

As the fire began to grow even brighter, Trey showed everyone how incredible far he has come, nailing improvised solos that he wouldn’t have dreamed of two years ago. As Trey bent dissonant notes and built tension, Gordon and Fishman held the pocket as Trey burst into a fully melodic release before the full band joined back into “Walls, putting a fitting explanation point on an outstanding set set.

Realizing that Phish meant business that night, everyone tossed out their own idea as to what the second set would hold. Would they choose to repeat a few songs from Worcester, or would the continue the trend of unplayed material?

Disappointing no one, the opening grooves of The Talking Heads’ classic “Crosseyed and Painless” were met with a thunderous roar from the audience. As the band tore through the syncopated, rhythmic groove, the band locked together as one unit forging a blazing path through structured jamming that left the Garden in awe. While they never quite left the “Crosseyed” structure, Trey’s undeniable chops led the way as the opening chords of “Twist” emerged through a murky swamp of sound.

Following “Crosseyed’s” pattern, “Twist” never veered far from it’s structure, but still provided ample room for improvisation before landing back in the “Twist” groove, continuing the theme of outstanding structured improv on every player’s part.

As soon as “Twist” ended, the opening lick of “Simple” bled through the room in a celebratory, cathartic moment. As the traditional “Simple” jam wound down, the band collectively slowed to a near stop.

Just as it seemed like the song was ending, Page started a simple chord progression on his piano, beginning one of the most impressive pieces of full band improv in years. Page’s elegantly simple chords sparked the creative fire that leads to moments of magic that leads to truly magical places.

As Page continued the same progression, the rest of the band slowly latched on, creating a piece of music so cohesive and impressive that it’s hard to believe that it’s not rehearsed. The band continued to allow the jam to develop organically until it reached a naturally soft, melodic peak.

While Phish has played some great jams over the past two years, the 1/1/11 “Simple” is in a class of it’s own, cementing it’s place as a defining jam of the era.

As the jam wound down, the funky grooves of “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley” started an all out dance party in the Garden. A brief vocal jam bled into a short staccato groove as the whole band traversed as one entity.

The band took a mellow turn next, dropping the first Phish song ever written, “Makisupa Policeman.” While the feel-good favorite is usually very contained, the band’s creativity allowed the song to take new turns while remaining close to home.

As Fishman began his high-hat tap, everyone in the Garden knew that another classic, “David Bowie,” was about to melt their faces. While I thoroughly enjoy “Bowie,” they had just played it four shows ago in Worcester. I was really hoping to hear “Split Open and Melt” close the set, having not heard a proper version all year.

But alas, “Bowie” it was. The band moved through the technical masterpiece with furious accuracy, bringing the Garden to one last blistering peak.

A fantastic encore combination of “Fee>Frankenstein” sent one last wave of cosmic energy through the Garden. As Trey, Mike, Page, and Jon joined each other at the front of the stage for a bow, they received a well deserved standing ovation from everyone in the room.

In a show that contained no Phish songs from this era, the band fused songs of old with their sound of new, celebrating the past, and foreshadowing a very bright future. If the rest of the shows in 2011 are anything like the first one, we have a lot to be excited about.