Back on this date in 2000 Phish delivered a version of the song Ghost most-worthy of the overused “epic” descriptor at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Our pal Myke “LawnMemo” Menio, who wrote a blog called The Daily Ghost in which he analyzed every Ghost, had lots to say about the Radio City Ghost and he’s kindly allowed us to re-publish his essay…
Background (Set: 2 of 2 – Song: 5 of 6 – Show Gap: 5)
The first Ghost of the new millennium is one for the ages. It takes place in the last part of the second set. It is listed as a segue into Rock and Roll but this Ghost is it’s own beast. After archivist Kevin Shapiro released this Soundboard (SBD) during From the Archives 6/12/2009, he said “I don’t quite know what to say about that”. Sure hope I can come up with a few things.
Composed Section (0:00-4:32)
The first Ghost of 2000 greets us with the familiar loops from Trey that we all loved from the late ’90s. The loops last longer than usual, and almost die out completely as Mike and Fish enter. They enter extremely soft at first and you can tell something is going to be different with this Ghost from the beginning.
The slow, controlled pace, that dominates this Ghost is evident from the first minute. Even after a long layoff for the band, you can tell the confidence they have with this jam stalwart. At 2:13, you can hear Fishman mess up his vocals, and then at 2:25. A lot of times you will hear the band members laugh, not tonight. Fish messed up the vocals and wants to get to back to business. I promise you he does not mess up the beat during the jam.
The solo section is groovy. It keeps the nice slow pace but each note is powerful. Especially from Mike. The pause is average length and is followed by a great drop in. It is on from there. It is time to describe Picasso.
Did I ever tell you the story of Mike Gordon (4:33-7:05)
The jam drops and immediately Mike Gordon gets in a Ferrari and takes the lead. There is no hesitation from the Cactus. At 4:43, he leads out with a powerful bass line and takes even more control when Fish changes things up at the 4:50 mark.
Many of the Ghosts from this point forward are heavily dominated by Mike Gordon. There are some great examples of this in the first 60 Ghosts but this is the real turning point in my opinion. We will certainly hear fantastic examples of the other band members doing incredible things during the Radio City journey, but Mike is the clear star.
At the 5:00 mark, Mike brings down an avalanche on the pristine New York City theater. From that point the combination of Mike’s incredibly powerful bass and Fish’s high hat brilliance carves a space like few jams have seen. The blending of Mike and Fish produces ice cream. I am not talking about that Butterscotch crap either, I am talking about the best Hot Fudge Sundae you have ever had.
Fish’s beat creates so much space for Mike it blows me away. Gordon is free to do whatever his crazy mind pleases. Then on top of that, while leading out, Mike also creates a groove that allows Page to layer on top of that. Lastly, Trey checks his ego at the door and sprinkles in some of the most minimalist style playing I have ever heard from him. He adds the smallest bits to this section that just give that extra love. So…
Fish-Vanilla Ice Cream, Mike-Hot Fudge, Page-Whip Cream, Trey-Cherry on Top. Each layer has to be there, for the other one to be enjoyed! Be back in a few, I am suddenly craving ice cream.
At the 5:25 mark, if you have some great headphones on, you can hear Page start to enter the picture. His heavenly piano starts to cut through the powerful Cactus thunder bass. Demonstrating what a brilliant musician he is, Page works his melodies in with extreme patience.
More musical intelligence from Mike at the 6:07 mark, as he realizes that Page is making inroads. He switches his tempo to provide a better runway for Page. This more uptempo beat from Mike allows Page’s notes to ring even more beautifully.
And WOW does Page ever respond. His notes feel like unicorns and angels could ride them to whatever destination they wanted. At 6:45 Page strikes on of my favorite melodies that my ears have ever heard. Every time I hear it (and wow is that a lot of times) it stops me dead in my tracks. It is incredible that a melody so light and beautiful, has to the power to floor me like that.
Page introduces Earth to Gary Busey, only if he was from Mars.. (7:06-10:08)
Trey interjects a funky lick ever so slightly at the 7:06 mark. Mike reads this
and responds with more cleverness right away. He changes up the beat once again which just feeds the hungry Trey lick. It takes on a ton of life immediately. Just a fantastic read and adjustment from Mike.
At the 7:16, Page also reacts and cancels the unicorn and angel ride. He then presents a tractor beam for all alien life forms. Page has made friends with aliens before (sometimes I think he is one of them) and takes the enormous chance of bringing them into this groove. He could have simply played with Mike’s incredible groove like he did in the previous section. HELL NO! Phish is the greatest band in the world when they take massive chances like this.
The first thing through the Page Portal (I am trademarking that as of now) is some space birds at 7:35. Then the tractor beam begins to get stronger. Trey ads some incredible awesome loops that are moving softly in the background. At 8:30, the Page Portal brings some evil stabbing aliens into the fold. Shortly after at 8:46, he strengthens the tractor beam before bringing half of the interplanetary galaxy to New York.
Seriously, at 9:12, ray guns, space ships, Sasquatch, Quinn the Eskimo, Alice Cooper, and the Children of the Corn seem to becoming from Page’s rig. Mike is of course still laying down that groove that drives this entire jam. It allows Page to lead this section and take us on this crazy space journey.
If you have forgotten where you are and think that you are going to be floating in space forever, get a hold of yourself! We have 16:30 minutes left!!!!
The Build (10:09-13:51)
Trey begins to lead the band into a different section at the 10:09 mark. What makes Radio City Ghost some of my favorite playing from Trey is how tactical he is. He has been pretty quiet, but when he has played, he has spoken loudly. Trey leads the band away from the Page Portal. He waits like a Viper and then lays down one awesome lick. He then repeats that lick over and over and over. This allows for Mike and Fish to build this jam even bigger.
Page still tries to bring over some alien life forms for a bit, but is forced to eventually close the portal. The beat from Fish, Mike, and Trey is too strong. When you hear the portal close at 11:07, you can really feel how strong the beat is. I love that moment.
Page moves back to the piano and begins to carve his way into this authoritative groove (I just used the thesaurus to come up with authoritative).
The patience Phish sometimes finds could not be more evident during this section. As Page works his way into this groove, the entire band is on lock-down mode. Mike and Fish especially, with Page and Trey varying their melodies every so slightly. They know they created an incredible space, and they decide to live in it.
At 13:45, if you listen closely you can hear Trey try and pull the trigger on the peak just a tad early. Trust me Trey, I get it! We all get a little excited sometimes and are a bit premature. Well except Wilt Chamberlain, pretty sure he has it down after 20,000 practices.
Trey Anastasio has officially entered the building (13:52-15:56)
At 13:52, Big Red breaks out a lick reassuring us, the guitar god is still very much in the building. For almost 14 minutes, Trey has kept his cool and been an integral part of building this jam. The lack of playing from him for that amount of time always blows my mind. You don’t hear him, that quiet, for that amount of time. I love it!!! Why? Because when he comes in, he grabs you! Each note is that much more powerful.
Let’s get one thing straight this is not Prague Ghost’s peak. This is however so awesome within the construct of what has been built. Trey plays some rocking guitar licks without ever taking this jam out of where it is going. That to me is true brilliance. Many incredible guitarists can take a solo and melt your face with it. Heck, Trey has done that plenty of times. What makes me blown away is when he takes my face and warms like it is going to fall off, and yet keeps it in tact with the rest of my body.
Mike and Fish move away from the dominating beat they created and move more in line with what Trey is doing. At the 14:00 mark Fish moves into some nice cymbal work which gives Trey’s sound even more life. Then he and Mike start move around a bit now that the band has crafted a space to rock.
Mike is (of course) standing out. He varies patterns, beats, lengths of notes, and frequency all based around what Trey is doing. It doesn’t matter what the band did this night. Mike would respond perfectly. Some nights you are in the zone.
Overwhelming Warmth (15:57-20:53)
I am going to stray away from a lot of technical music talk (which I suck at) because this is one of my favorite sections of Phish. It makes me feel more emotions than any other section. To try and break it all down would be too painful for me, I will instead try and focus on what it makes me feel.
At the 15:57 mark, Trey makes another crucial decision. He begins to inject this jam with a nice easy lick. Page, Mike, and Fish are still moving at quite a fast pace. Slowly, though you can start to hear Trey’s lick slow this jam down. Measure by measure Trey moves this into a different direction.
At 16:19, Page plays a quick high pitched repeated note that moves the jam down quickly. Trey’s lick continues to grab a hold of the band and help them to find their individual direction.
Mike backs off his destructive bass line from before and instead finds one that compliments Page. Fish slows his beat up as well, giving all the room in the world for the Chairman. What results is some of the most moving Phish that has ever been played in my opinion.
At the 16:40 mark, Page begins to move out in front and begins to find melodies that still to this day move me. I have heard Radio City Ghost over a hundred times in my life. The melodies from Page in this section make me emotional every single time. Starting at the 17:00 minute mark, Page gives you plenty of examples why he is my favorite musician.
We all find different things about Phish that move us in so many different ways. I love the funk, the ripping face melters, the ambient space, and all amazing blends of different sounds that Phish produces. Nothing though connects with me like beautiful Phish. So far removed from anything that resembles Ghost at this point, I start to tear up every time. The beauty that Page produces is more than I can handle. That is no exaggeration, no fluff, just pure emotion. People go through their entire lives looking to find anything that produces that kind of emotion. Like many of you, I found it with a band from Vermont.
When I wish for Type 2 magic, here is another example. This is what separates Phish from every other band for me. Many bands I love tear the roof off a building, with incredible solos, and full band power. I rarely hear a band strip a jam down to this level and create something so far and away from anything else they have ever played.
At 17:59, Page begins to play my favorite series of notes, I have heard him play. It makes me think of the same thing every time. I picture my self at the end of my years on a porch in the middle of the woods. I am in my late 80′s and the sun is setting. The red, orange, and blue sky is something I could stare at forever. I am on a wicker rocking chair sipping on a beer, on the most quiet place on earth. I start to think about all of the great moments I lived. All the people I have cared for, and what they have meant to me. All the moments we have shared, and how blessed I am. The warmth I have for those people and memories is overwhelming. How can one man have lived a life where all of these people brought him so much joy?
I know this vision Page’s playing creates in me has a lot to do with my late grandfather. Easily the man I have respected the most in this world. I used to watch him sit in a chair with family around him appearing to feel some of those same things. No matter who was around him the man was full of happiness, due the fact he created it in others. I know that he was able to sit in his chair and feel the things I described in my vision. I try and live my life so that I am able to sit and feel those same things at the end.
It is incredible to me that even after all these listens, I still picture that same imaginary moment and feel the same warmth. Music is incredible.
I will say that as incredible as Page McConnell seems to pull the strings of my soul the rest of the band is every bit as crucial. Trey grabs a hold a lick and just never lets go. Fish anchors down a soft beat that gives just enough texture. Mike moves freely from holding a beat to playing a touch of lead.
This section runs a bit into the next but simply put 15:57-20:53 of the Radio City Ghost is one my favorites. In no way am I saying it is the “best” it just connects with me, like no other.
Fish’s Turn (20:54-24:30)
At 20:45, Mike begins to run a series of notes quickly. At 20:54 Trey injects another fantastic lick into this jam. He continues to repeat the lick while Mike and Fish move around it. This section is Fish’s to shine. After being such an important part allowing for everyone else to shine, Fish catches my ear the most here.
Mike also has an outstanding tone. He has moved his pitch up and makes the most of it. With Trey continuing to replay the same lick, the freedom for Mike, Fish, and Page to run in any direction is so apparent.
Trey starts rocking a bit at the 23:00 mark, then he starts to repeat a lick which Mike takes over. At 23:13 Mike finds an attack helicopter and grabs everyone. He then transports them into the next section. The helicopter picks us up and flies for a couple seconds before landing us back down to the ground.
Starting at 23:56, some incredible sounds start to rock around the band. Big powerful, booming notes. AWESOME!
Blissful Ending (24:30-26:57)
I know many people who have told me this section is some of their favorite Phish. It so blissful and peaceful. It is almost like the happy ending…Whoops! That came out wrong!
In all seriousness, the jam has almost nothing going on. I mean that in a good way. Completely stripped down, and blissful, this section is moving. I live in Buffalo and see plenty of snow. When I got outside and it is snowing and all the streets are empty, this section makes me think of something like this…
Trey shows his Radio City brilliance one last time. Just enough to make this one of the more memorable moments in any Ghost jam. What a way to end an incredible jam. When the last note drifts away, you feel like you just got a runner’s high. You are so spent, and it feels so amazing.
Radio City is not just my favorite version of Ghost, it is my favorite Phish jam of all time. The great thing about Ghost is how different the jams can be. Just think of how different Radio City is from Prague! There are probably 10 versions that I would be fine with people arguing as the “best” of all time. Once you get to the top tier it comes down to personal preference. The incredible flow this Ghost has, the tremendous interplay, and most of the emotions it makes me feel, put this version at the top of my list.
Some quick notes from other people who wanted to share their thoughts…
“At the show, I closed my eyes and imagined NYC from its inception to the now. Built the city in my head”[email protected]
“I have such vivid memories of being on the balcony for that show and feeling it bounce with crazy energy. I seriously doubted whether it had ever been placed under that kind of stress before and didn’t know if it would hold. That Ghost was the highlight of the two nights at Radio City and the Roseland show. – [email protected]
“Short statement on the 2000/05/22 Ghost: This jam is like bouncing forward off of stretches in the fabric of the universe and then right when you think it’s done a chord progression that is the entirety of existence and being envelops you and takes you into a previously unexplored plane of existence.”-Daniel