Sunday 08/14/2011 by Icculus

RETHINKING COVENTRY

Phish's festival in Coventry, Vermont, took place seven years ago. The shows were billed as Phish's final shows. They were enormously emotional for a host of reasons, particularly because many fans were turned away, and others had to hike miles upon miles simply to reach the grievously muddy grounds. Several years ago, during the "breakup," and a few years after Coventry, I wrote an essay about the positive aspects of the shows at Coventry. I did so because I felt I owed it both to Phish, and to myself, to find a way to view Coventry in a positive light. If you care to read part of what I wrote back then, and perhaps to rethink Coventry yourself ...

THOUSANDS of fans had abandoned their cars and hiked with their crap to the venue. Many did it out of loyalty to the band and their music. Some did it because, well, their friends were doing it, and it was sure to be an adventure, and a party. Whatever their reasons were for trekking to the venue on foot, I was in absolute awe of them. The band had yet to play a single note and Coventry had already become an unforgettably moving experience for me.

And after all was said and done, to me, Coventry wasn’t about the music. I had not expected this and was stunned. The profound love exhibited by the fans for the band, and vice versa, was easily the highlight of the weekend for me. In spite of all of the challenges of the weekend -- not the least of which was the wall of rocks in front of the stage that had created an unprecedented and (I’m sure) bizarrely alienating barrier between the band and the fans -- the band nevertheless managed to convey and project a profound intimacy with tens of thousands of fans. That the music of the weekend often reflected the emotional turmoil of the scene, the good and the bad, the “warts and all,” was not only appropriate, but also, in a way, indicative of the close bond Phish has always had with its fans. We were all at one hell of a wake.

I’ve spent countless hours analyzing Phish’s music. But for many months after Coventry I had little interest in even hearing the shows again, much less comparing the performances to previous ones. The Coventry experience had been so moving to me that the music, ironically, wasn’t all that important. It was over, after all. Now that I’ve had a chance to listen to the Coventry shows again, years later, they are as much “mixed bags” now as they were then. It's not fair, though, to compare the music of these shows to others -- even to other festival shows. Coventry – like Cypress – is “beyond compare.” If the music at Coventry had been “best ever,” in spite of all of the challenges the band and fans both faced, it would have been miraculous.

I've never been an "It's all Hood" type of fan, but I don't see any point in reflecting on the negatives about Coventry’s music. Arguably, there’s never any point to discussing the negatives of musical performances. While there’s certainly some truth to that, criticism that strives to be fair and informative can certainly be beneficial to some. It can drive musicians and artists to challenge themselves in new ways, for example, or lead people to powerful, even transcendent, art, which they may never have found. Whatever.

Here are some of the things that helped make Coventry remarkable, if not also unforgettable, to me:

* Trey’s melodic, even soulful, soloing in "Jibboo" around the 8-10 min point;

* Page’s and Mike’s playing in the so-called “nirvana” section of "YEM" (within the first few mins), and Trey’s hinting at "Manteca" during the jam segment at about 13:15 or so;

* Tom Marshall’s “Rye rye rocco. Marco esquandolas. Been you to have any spliff man.” during the "Antelope," which (like it or not) had been one of the more chaordic versions on record;

* the soupy, cacophonous, blazing haze in "Fire," shortly before they returned to the theme and closed the version and the set strongly – an unusual version of "Fire" for sure;

* the mesmerizingly mellifluous groove in the "‘Bag" which, though short, nevertheless helped bring IT, also illustrating the fascinating evolution of this tune’s jam segment over the preceding decades;

* Trey’s words before (and during?) the "Bowie" about writing it many years earlier in an adjacent town;

* the awesome Trey and Mike duet in the "Free;"

* the jamming during the "Drowned" around the 21-23 min point, which is why I still love and listen to this band;

* the vigorous playing in – and brevity of -- the "Weekapaug Groove," which made me think about early 1990s versions;

* Trey’s mom and Mike’s mom on stage during "Wolfman’s" doing “the bump” with Trey and Mike, Trey’s yelling “MOMS!!!” as they leave the stage and, of course, the “double team” by Trey and Mike of Phish’s long-time manager, John Paluska; how many rock stars would do this!?

* Fishman’s singing during the "Taste;"

* the soulful "DWD" jam around the 13 min point, which reminded me of the days when Phish’s improvisations almost routinely “clicked,” sounding composed or nearly so, when they were all focused intensely on their playing as one and IT was being brought; you know, the amazing sht that makes Phish one of the best rock bands ever;

* Page during the "Velvet Sea" – I will always hear this song differently than before;

* the band thanking us, and Fish’s remark that those who walked to the show had paid the band “the greatest compliment that we could ever have” (damn straight!);

* the spacey psychedelic haze during the "SOAM," around the 24 min point or so;

* the novelty of a set-opening "FEFY," and its fragility;

* Page's grand accompaniment in the final minute or so of "Simple;"

* the ferocity of "Piper," and Page’s prominent soloing before “the Bruno Song”;

* Trey’s thanking of Scotland, Hipsley, and Bruno (their monitor engineer, a calling that requires Jedi-like skill and discipline);

* the loose and soulful "Slave;" and, of course,

* "The Curtain With," which had helped turn me into a fan many years ago.

What do you think? If you haven’t heard Coventry, you should, because in my opinion, they are as MUST HEAR as any other shows that you’ve been encouraged to hear. I can’t thank Trey, Mike, Jon and Page enough for Coventry and for all of the other experiences and friendships their music has created for me over the last 18 years. I'm more in awe now of Phish's accomplishments than I ever was while they were playing. I hope to be there if, when, Phish plays again. two cents, charlie

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Comments

, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks What do you think? If you haven’t heard Coventry, you should, because in my opinion, they are as MUST HEAR as any other shows that you’ve been encouraged to hear.

I'm with Fishman: bad as the shows leading up to the 2004 finale were, Coventry was first time the band's professional/personal turmoil had come out in the music itself, and it's painful to listen to. So much sloppy, hopeless, terminal playing. Ruined singing. Obvious tension. So much drugged-out jamming, hard to distinguish from the rest of August 2004.

The Velvet Sea/speeches/Split series is one of my favourite runs of Phish, not because it's good, but because it so purely embodies the band's connection with their community.

But I don't get any pleasure from the music itself. Workmanlike and reined-in as the 2009 Hampton reunion shows were, they're a purer listen. Coventry doesn't sound like music, to me. It's too wrapped up in the band's dissolution.

I unexpectedly got invited to the two Great Woods shows just before Coventry, and they were terrible - 80% of the music simply wasn't worth paying for. Dismal. But I also got to see the 6/19/04 SPAC show, in some ways one of the best Phish shows I've seen. When they encored with Velvet Sea I thought it was the last time I'd ever hear Phish play a concert. It was perfect.

For me, the summer ended at SPAC, not Coventry. By mid-August the music wasn't really there, and I don't much care to hear crisp SBD recordings of an acrimonious onstage divorce.
, comment by jackl
jackl Agree with the last two paragraphs fully, and the part about the whole affair being a Irish wake for my Phish friends and me, looking around the old skoolers tarp we had with tears in my eyes for all my decades + of friends whose vacations would no longer be coordinated by tour schedules.

But the music? Not so much. As you said, it was witness to an acrimonious onstage divorce. A trainwreck for the most part whose few salvageable moments are a few pearls in a dunghill.

Hopefully, you can hate on Coventry (the music at least) and still love the Phish.
, comment by fastenuf4u
fastenuf4u Somehow I find myself agreeing with both Icculus and waxbanks... There were beautiful unique moments, and terrible vibes. Tough to cope, and I don't know that I ever will unearth Coventry for another listen for the layers of shtuff that detracted from the music.

But I will add one moment to I's list: "Anything But Me", final verse: "I am just a raindrop that accelerates without control"... It acknowledged the terrible state of the fairgrounds, destroyed by four days of rain, and wryly nodded to the fact that they had very little control... over just about everything... poignant.
, comment by tmwsiy
tmwsiy I've never listened to Coventry, not a real conscious decision, just never got around to it. I had tickets, had been to all the prior festivals with exception of Lemonwheel, but opted out due to many reasons. Primarily, I didn't want my final memory of the band I loved and had seen too many times to be the train wreck that was on the horizon. I've had mixed emotions ever since that I made the wrong decision. I'll listen to it eventually, and find some gems I'm sure.

I thought this was a great write-up and know many that thoroughly enjoyed their experience at Coventry.
, comment by kingofprussia92
kingofprussia92 fwiw the soundcheck on 8/13 is INSANE imo
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland I was a Phish nOOb when Coventry came around, I'd only been in to the band since late 2002 and only had 5 shows on my stats (a bad Chula Vista show, and much better shows at Brooklyn > SPAC, the best being the aforementioned 6/19/04). I was really bummed that a band I'd quickly come to love was going to break up amid bad vibes, drug problems and general burn out.

I watched the Coventry simulcast at a very nice theater in San Diego and it just got sadder and sadder. Yes, there were musical highlights, but there was a horrible, defeated vibe about the whole thing. My main memory is watching Trey walk on stage (before the second set, first day I think) and he was scratching himself like crazy (i.e. he was on opiates big time). The guy next to me laughed and said "Haha Trey is wasted". About 15 minutes in to the music and he leaned over and said "Oh my god, Trey is wasted".

The other moment I take away is them butchering my favorite Phish song (The Curtain With) so badly that they had to re-start it > finishing > the camera back stage catching Trey bursting in to tears as he left the stage area.
, comment by smoothatonalsnd
smoothatonalsnd This was a great article, but I can't say that I agree with it all. But to be honest, I've never listened to Coventry. Not once. My most prominent musical memories of that weekend were all negative or weird:

-the horribly wrong chord Trey played during Free (he played a half-step off the right one)
-Trey falling apart during the composed part of Stash
-the oddness and generally weird vibe when they opened their final shows with Walls of the Cave
-Trey going AWOL during "Drowned," noodling the jam as though he wasn't even hearing the rest of his band
-the lack of end lyrics to Hood
-and of course, the wrong key of Curtain With. I can't imagine how @Icculus can remember this moment with fondness, since for me, it represented everything that was wrong with that weekend.

To be fair, I'm sure that if I listened to Coventry again, I'd find plenty of things that I liked (I remember really enjoying the Chalkdust and the Reba). One thing I wrote in my setlist book at the time (which I still have) was Split Open and Melt -> End of Phish jam -> Ghost. That space jam (which was as close to the "storage shed" as Phish ever got in the pre-3.0 era) was indicative of everything that weekend represented in music. The band literally fell apart, and we were left with a primordial space. It felt like the end of Phish during that jam. And it gave me a weird sense of closure.

As many other people have said, Coventry was actually a good thing for me in the long run. It let me let go of Phish for a long time. I was genuinely content with the non-existence of Phish afterwards, because I figured that if Coventry was that bad, then they really shouldn't be continuing. It let me be at peace with their breakup. If Coventry had been mindblowingly good, then I would have been so depressed that things were so great at their final show and we would never hear them again. I didn't listen to Phish regularly after 2004, and it was only in 2008 when they announced their reunion that I fell headfirst back down the rabbit hole.

I disagree with @waxbanks about those Great Woods shows, since I loved both of them, especially night 2, which was one of the most complete second sets of 2004 (if they had closed the set with the end of the unfinished Antelope instead of Sample, can you imagine?!). The 2001 (especially the jam after the first "verse" ;) was outstandingly funky, and the super slow Tweezer ("last" Tweezer ever) was really nice. Waves was special, and the jam into Timber was magnificent.
, comment by Fitz2001
Fitz2001 Go back and listen to the Glide, it's a good counterweight to all the compliments listed here, however accurate.
, comment by Laidig
Laidig Coventry was bittersweet, to be sure. But just to balance out the comments on the disappointing memories of the flubbed musical proficiency, here's one of my favorite memories of Coventry:

Does anyone remember the once-in-a-lifetime rainbows that appeared during sunset on the first set of the first night? The weather forcast had been predicting a 100% chance of rain all day for the whole weekend. But then the drizzling dissipated shortly after the music started. As the stormclouds drifted off into a beautiful sunset, a gorgeous double rainbow appeared circling 270-degrees around the setting sun!

But here's the kicker: above those double rainbows in the sunset....was an UPSIDE-DOWN RAINBOW! I had never seen one, nor heard of an upside-down rainbow before. Have you? I later googled it, and of course sure enough there are pictures of such things, but WOW! I shouted to my friends, saying "look!" and pointing. Sure enough, others turned their heads and soon about a hundred people around us started to turn away from the stage to stare at this amazing spectacle. It was so beautiful and surreal...

After the set, standing on top of our RV, watching the scene, I had a moment. Would it continue to rain? Would it stop? So many phans, so much love for this one-of-a-kind band tht has meant so much to us all...could it really just literally rain on our last parade?

I just had a knowing...a special moment... No, the rain has ended. And it did.
, comment by Icculus
Icculus @waxbanks said:
I unexpectedly got invited to the two Great Woods shows just before Coventry, and they were terrible - 80% of the music simply wasn't worth paying for. Dismal.
Well, the 8/10/2004 Birds of a Feather jam is among the greatest improvisations Phish has ever performed. I take it this 20+ minute BOAF is in that 20% you thought was worth paying for? I would take that jam over the vast majority of improv from 3.0.

In any event, fwiw, I'm sure few want "to hear crisp SBD recordings of an acrimonious onstage divorce," as a rule. But Coventry did contain some stunningly powerful music that was created out of "acrimon[y]" and turmoil.

@Terrapin9614: I didn't say I recalled the Curtain With fondly. It was remarkable to me because they were closing the show with a song that had enormous importance for me personally. That's all. Obviously, it was the worst performance of the song, ever.

I mean, that's just it. EVERYONE can find fault with Coventry's music. There are musical errors of all kinds all over those sets. There are several "worst versions" and many weak ones. In a sense, the profound number of warts make it more challenging to appreciate (and remember) the greatness of the music of the weekend that does deserve praise. I guess this is all I'm saying. (By "rethinking" something, we don't necessarily change our mind about it. We may firm up our previous feelings and opinions about it all the more.)

I do think it's a shame, though, for a Phish fan to have never listened to these shows. There is both spectacularly bad, and spectacularly good, Phish at Coventry. They are certainly among the most unique shows, performed by one of the most unique rock bands, in rock history.
, comment by batshitcrazy
batshitcrazy We were some of the first people that rolled up. We were kind of bummed over the circumsrances at the time but we were ready to get down one last time. But wait, something is wrong, where is everybody? Then we hear mike on the bunny saying they are shutting down the interestate and were not letting any more cars in and the everything else that went wrong. And we were like, is this going to go down or what? But then we hear the bunny say everyone is dumping their cars and walking in!!!! Thats when i realized i was going to miss phish, but was going to miss you phreaks even more. Guess thats why im happy they are back playing now because we are all back together again. Peace
, comment by justnoah
justnoah I listened to Coventry once, start to finish, a week or two after the shows. I wanted to see how the music held up to my actual experience onsite in the mud, where the music frankly took a backseat to the rest of the event. My impressions had not been positive -- save for a few moments such as the Drowned that Charlie highlights above -- and re-listening to the shows after the fact just reaffirmed that what I'd heard (and tried to dance to wearing mudboots) was far from Phish's proudest musical accomplishment. As @smoothatonalsnd says above, it was actually a good thing since it helped me close that chapter and recognize that it was really time for the band to call it quits and for me to move on. Had it been epic, it would have been that much harder... and frankly, had Coventry been the epic ultimate festival that it should have been (but in hindsight could never have been) and been all we wanted/deserved/needed... maybe Phish would not have come back in 2009. As they said when they returned.. Coventry was not the way to go out. They needed to redeem themselves.

It was only that one time that I re-listened to Coventry, and I have since erased it from my iTunes library (but have the shows stored on HD). With so many other great Phish shows out there that I'll never have time to return to.. why bother with Coventry? Despite the moments Charlie calls out above, I just can't separate the music from the experience of tears rolling down my face on the tarp @jackl references above. I'll live with that memory, and let the music fade into the past.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert I'm still glad that I tuned out after October 2000 and didn't really tune back in until 2009.
On the surface, that feels like a weird thing to say- because the music they were playing in 2003 & 2004 is much more attuned to my personal tastes than what they're mostly playing now. It still stings that I gave up on Phish's music before an era which, in retrospect, feels much more like a continuation of the 97-2000 sound than I assumed long ago.
On the other hand, I can enjoy this music in a vaccuum that I wouldn't have been able to if I'd cared as much in 03-04 as I did during the 1.0 & 3.0 eras. I just don't have that foreboding melancholy edging my memories of these shows and it makes for an interesting situation where I can appreciate the music so much more by -not- witnessing it in person.

The baggage that some people have in regards to the 2.0 era is completely understandable, but some people push it to the point where they say that 03-04 was musically worthless or feel like the band should have stopped after Big Cypress.

The songs got worse- certainly- but it's a shame that people's memories of Coventry's music tend to focus on the Velvet Sea & Glide instead of the astonishingly cathartic Split Open & Melt -> Ghost segment which featured several stellar thematic segments. I like that someone felt closure during that great jam instead of just tossing their hands up in the air and walking away during Glide.

I hope for everyone's sake that you all reach a point in your lives where you can appreciate the 2.0 era on it's own musical terms without everything associated with it.

I feel like it still casts a shadow over Phish, as the widespread aversion to and/or outright hostility towards the 2.0 era can feel like a condemnation of an improv-heavy Phish at times. They were routinely tearing into jams that were as groovy as Phish 2000 but breaking out of those forms and taking them in new places. After all the bad press I'd read, I expected it to be more repetitive than 99-00 instead of less, and I certainly didn't expect to find so many jams which cohesively moved through multiple suites of improv showcasing a wide variety of styles. Sure, they butchered the tougher compositions on a routine basis- but anyone who had been paying attention realized that crisp compositions had been a rarity for 7 years up until that point.

I'm not saying it doesn't matter, or suggesting that the compositions were on par with 97-00 or anything, but anyone looking for the most pristine versions of songs will probably be digging through some extremely old tapes at this point.

For those who like the "anything goes" nature of 97's improv mixed with the ambient soundscapes of 98 & the hard charging groove machine of Phish2k- 2003 & 2004 often mold some of the best aspects of those sounds into something which sounds intriguingly modern and forward thinking. If you're a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan who also happens to own every Phish show before 1996, it might not be for you. If you're the kind of person drawn to Tortoise's blend of creative melody, syncopated rhythms and gauzy analouge textures, it might be your favorite Phish you've ever heard.
, comment by TheEmu
TheEmu Damn spammers.

Charlie, every time someone accuses you of being a jaded vet, I'm gonna post a link to this. Excellent as always.
, comment by JonBaker
JonBaker The author has removed all of the text from their comment
, comment by JonBaker
JonBaker Maybe this is why Phish is so reluctant to come back to Vermont and play. What a disaster. I'm glad I didn't make that trip all the way up there for that crap. This is the thing about Phish I don't like, why play somewhere where there's only one way in and one way out? Why make things a pain in the ass for phans. I don't get it. Look at NY's eve in Florida back in 1999. The traffic jam was a nightmare. No one enjoys being stuck in something like that. Play somewhere where everyone has easy access of getting in and getting out of. It's not that hard. I might even try to attend one of these shows if that's the case, but for the time being, forget it. I hope they don't do another one of these for quite a while.....
, comment by Onlymike
Onlymike It wasn't really about the music to me. It was too difficult to concentrate, anyway, what with the blisters, the soreness, the dirt, the crane... my feet slipping into the mud (pull one foot out, lean on other foot, concentrate on music for 10 seconds, notice other foot slipping into mud, repeat).

BUT: I did feel there were enough moments to make it all worth it. I was hoping to see all the musical stunts they'd never had a chance to pull off, but it became clear early on that they were going to play their classics one last time and put them to sleep. No mention yet of the band giving away the tramps after YEM. That's when it really hit me.
, comment by barter
barter Icculus wrote a great review of one of the strangest weekends of my life. I had walked away in 2000 right before they announced the hiatus. At that point, my decision was based on the obvious (to me) downgrade in the quality of the music, the attitude of the phans and the general erosion of the scene. I made a point of not going to ANY 2.0 shows. I listened to a few, saw Trey once and moved on. I was not, however, going to be shut out of the 'final ' Phish show. I dragged my GF to her first show (sorry D), parked at a farm near the site and hiked on in. The scene was miserable and the music was awful. I had exactly the time I would have wanted. Much like a proper Irish wake (as mentioned above) it was sad times, tears and a raging party to send off a beloved family member. The sadness that I felt watching Trey barely able to preform reminded me too closely of how I felt watching Jerry in '95. We danced, we cried, we raged and then we all went home. I will never listen to the audio from these shows. any more than I will ever listen to my last Dead show. Thankfully, Trey (seems to have) pulled it together and the boys will grace us with many more years of musical beauty and joy.
, comment by barter
barter @Onlymike said:
It was too difficult to concentrate, anyway, what with the blisters, the soreness, the dirt, .
ohhh the blisters....I just kept tying my kicks tighter and tighter until an amazing family from Coventry gave our crew clean, dry socks. that family walking around the lot giving out the one staple of life that everyone needed was likely the highpoint of the weekend for me.
, comment by zzyzx
zzyzx What I remember from that weekend was that my expectations were lowered to the point where I was hoping to remain friends with the people I was with and praying that Trey would not literally die on stage. When Trey walked out onto those rocks, I was terrified. When he showed an inability to play his songs or even remember that he was telling the same story again, I was very very worried.

It's interesting to see someone's rock bottom moment actually happen on stage, but it's not something I want to revisit often, even if there's a good jam here and there.
, comment by AugustWest2001
AugustWest2001 I remember being so tired I couldn't stand anymore by the time stash came around. We drove 24 hours before we hit the traffic and the radio turn-around message. Then we walked. Miles. Then some more. But yeah around stash, my body gave out and layed in the dirt until I couldn't listen anymore. I walked out and went to bed a very sad dude. The first set of first night I listen to on occasion. I've never regretted going, though. I felt compelled to walk. There was no other option. Besides, wasn't my suburu, fuck it.
, comment by divided8298
divided8298 I've watched a few coventry vids online, but that's all i've heard of it since the show itself. I didn't listen to phish at all for more than a year afterwards, it was just too painful; coventry was the 1st time i had shed tears in many years, and the thought of it still stings even post-reunion. Don't get me wrong, like big cypress i wouldn't trade having been there for anything, but it was a depressing weekend for me in most respects. There were highlights of course but for me most were of the non-musical variety: i learned how to drive a stick on that trip, and became re-acquainted with Gus after a long hiatus from psychedelia. I also saw the aforementioned upside-down rainbow and the ominous-looking storm simply dissipating as it rolled in, both awe-inspiring spectacles. But musically, while there were certainly highlights, there were more that made me cringe, the worst for me being the painfully botched Glide and the re-started Curtain With. Maybe someday I'll sit down and listen to the whole thing, but I'm currently too busy (mostly) enjoying 3.0!
, comment by tmwsiy
tmwsiy @Icculus said:

Well, the 8/10/2004 Birds of a Feather jam is among the greatest improvisations Phish has ever performed....I would take that jam over the vast majority of improv from 3.0.
Truth..I re-listened to both Great Woods shows last year with so much talk about GW always having shitty shows. There's some absolute gems in there including that Birds. Stellar stuff.
, comment by Trempkin
Trempkin Coventry was not terrible - it was my only show of 2.0, as I had pretty much done the tour thing full time from 96-2000 and had burnt out on Phish in general and didn't have much interest in music that had been ovrwhelmed by a scene. Driving into Coventry and seeing people - young scrawny "tour rats" begging for coke and pharmies - was ominous. Yeah, there'd been hard stuff on tour before 2.0 - and it was what helped destroy the scene and alienated people like me. But not to this extent.

But I enjoyed the performances, in the context that it was the end. I thought some of the improv was spectacular, and the flubs were understandable. But I'd already let go of Phish in October 2000. In many ways, when they came back in 09, it was - to me - a continuation, styllistically and aesthetically - of where they left off in 2000 - developing song-based jamming, varied setlists etc.

No I don't claim there were no good shows in 2.0 - in fact there were, and some incredibly good songwriting (I'd even call Round Room their most fully realized studio record, and Victor Disc a legend). But it set in motion a pattern in which shows are now judged - even in 3.0 by jam lengths, not by quality. A good show to a lot of the newer Phish blogs and websites is average but with a 20 min. DWD/Light/ etc. So Phish are not recieving feedback about how to play all-around good shows, and when they do, the newish school kids complain (i.e. Outside Lands)..
, comment by MDosque
MDosque I watched Coventry from a movie theater in South Philly with a great friend and fellow fan. For me, it was a really cool experience. By 2004, I felt like Phish and the scene needed a serious break. I had seen a handful of shows each year since 96 with highlights being the Spectrum 96 and 97 and Lemonwheel. For me, the July 4th run of 2000 was a little bit of a turning point. Something just did not feel right from that point on for me. It was just a feeling and a hunch. Maybe it was the scene, which had become seriously dark, twisted, and pharmy-driven in places and cheesy DMB-style in others. Still, there were highlights in 2.0 for me. I thought the 2003 Camden show right before IT was excellent and had terrific energy. It was and remains my favorite show that I saw in 2.0 and should be sought out since great shows are a little scattered in that era. Unfortunately, the next year at Camden was weird. The loopy stuff and both Round Room set closers allowed me to really assess how I was growing apart from the scene. Still, I loved and continue to love this band.

Watching from the movie theater, I felt a strange sense of sadness and closure. I remember knowing that I was watching a train wreck onstage and feeling really sad on a human level for Trey as he struggled with his demons before thousands in Vermont and across the country. I teared up during FEFY because I felt the band's emotion and will always see that tune in that light. I dug the F it moment when they "blew off some steam" and of course, knew the end was appropriate during Curtain. It was neat seeing it in the movies because I could really feel the emotion coming off the screen. It was also kind of metaphorical for me because I had little desire to actually be there, although I am sure it was one hell of an experience in good and bad ways that can never be known by me. Ever since I left my silly middle-school rap/grunge stage and discovered classic rock like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Floyd, and of course The Dead and Phish, I looked at music as a soundtrack to my life. This moment in 2004 was perfect as this chapter was closing. I was out of college, living with my future wife, and working full-time as a "functional" adult. Tokage volume was down, I was watching the evening news and Jeopardy, and moving on (ok, that makes my ass sound 70, but you get the point). I knew this was the right time to stop for them. Now, with 3.0 in full effect, I can come at the band from a different perspective, and it is a good one. I have not listened back to this show, and would be curious, but it is far down the list. Since 3.0 began, I have a backlog of shows that I have been working through from what I personally (and everyone is different) consider the glory years. My first show 12/29/96, all of Fall 97 of course, Island Tour, Lemonwheel (pretty great and often overlooked), and a few other shows I caught in 99-00. All of it is inspiring. In my opinion, 2.0 will always be a weak spot in Phish history. It has a lot to do with my time and place, but objectively, the music and vibe was lacking in general. For sure, there are highlights, but Coventry is evidence as sound as DNA that it was time for a long break.

Dosque
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown Very interesting blog premise and really interesting synthesis with the comments.

You can dissect Phish fans a number of different and meaningful ways but one of them is more a trisection: (1) fans who tolerate songs while waiting for Big Jams; (2) fans who love the songs and want to hear them performed capably, first and foremost; and (3) fans who need both well-executed songs and rangy improv to be satisfied.

If you find Coventry compelling in any way, shape or form, you fall into the first bucket. Period. I am not saying it's a bad thing, but you should cop to it.

I fall somewhere between groups 2 and 3. Though I vastly prefer big jam-oriented shows, I can have a perfectly fine time at a Phish show without them, as long as the songs are capably performed. Coventry, like much of the tour before it, is just a non-starter.

There were periods at Coventry where Trey not only forgot how to play some of the band's simplest songs (like CDT) but forgot how to play guitar. The sight of him looking down at his fretboard during Glide and clearly having no idea where to put his fingers, or what this strange contraption was before him, is something I never ever need to revisit. It was a "how the mighty have fallen" moment without any trace of schadenfreude.

I don't listen to Hampton '09 anymore either, but those shows served as perfect counterpoints to Coventry - some have called it a musical apology but it was more a rebuilding. It was a deliberate illustration of the band's command of repertoire and Phish fundamentals, and it's good that they put themselves through that exercise before allowing themselves to enter freer spaces.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown One more note - I am also curious as to how fans' takes on Coventry break down along the lines of musicians vs. non-musicians. I'm willing to bet that fans who are musicians would review Coventry far more harshly than those who are not.
, comment by NigelTufnel
NigelTufnel kingofprussia92 makes a great note: The soundcheck from 8/13 is one of the most emotional and expressive jams the band has ever done. The end was near, and they cried through their instruments. It remains to this day one of my favorite pieces ever played.
, comment by Funknugget12
Funknugget12 I will never forget that weekend as long as I live. Hurricane Charlie, cancelled flights, leaving our car, trekking through mud. All worth it. I remember walking to the venue thinkin, "why is everyone so muddy?" then as the wood planks ended I dove in the mud like everyone else. Just another step in the process of being part of something bigger than me. The only musical high note I'd add to icculus's list is the Walls of the Cave opener *with sundogs in the sky. They just nailed it. I still listen to it and get that flood of emotion all over again. Wouldn't change a thing. (Except that Free they butchered) haha
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks Charlie sez -

In a sense, the profound number of warts make it more challenging to appreciate (and remember) the greatness of the music of the weekend that does deserve praise. I guess this is all I'm saying.
In that case this is unobjectionable. Bertolet has it this go-round, though.

I was bored stiff by almost everything played on 8/10 and 8/11/04, but I'm downloading that Birds again. While it downloads, I'll note that I don't think the kind of music Phish was playing in 2003-04 is 'comparable' to their current music, really. I think they were playing more interesting, more adventurous, more smoothly-flowing music in 1997 than at any other point in their career, but I find it hard to say I'd take 1997's music 'over,' say, last week's Gorge R'n'R, which I'm listening to right now.

But I can say that I'd never revisit those Great Woods shows without specific extra-musical reason, e.g. to see if you still like more or less the same kind of Phish jam you've always favoured, or whether my memories of 8/10/04 have failed me.

I've never heard the Camden or Vegas '04 shows. Great Woods was too dispiriting.

The Gorge R'n'R reminds me of the Tower Jam, actually. Specifically when Mike starts his 'it was all right' chanting. More complex than the Tower Jam, which nonetheless feels like the peak of Phish's '2.0' music.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @bertoletdown said:
One more note - I am also curious as to how fans' takes on Coventry break down along the lines of musicians vs. non-musicians. I'm willing to bet that fans who are musicians would review Coventry far more harshly than those who are not.
I play, as an amateur, and have always been interested in how Phish produce their music - as much as the music itself, in the past, though that's not so true now. I think Coventry's mostly unlistenable and still don't care about the rest of it.
, comment by zzyzx
zzyzx I can barely play a kazoo and I'd rather hear the Outside Lands safe but well played show 1000 times out of 1000 over the horribly sloppy with occasional peaks that Coventry was. Ironically, I would have said before the show that I'd rather have 10s and 2 than a bunch of 6's, but that was before I saw the reality of what that was like.

I wonder if a different distinction needs to be drawn between people who saw Phish before the barrier between the band and the fans came up and those who saw them after. When Jerry had issues in 94-5, my reaction was to not see the Dead as much, as opposed to being worried about him as a person.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @icculus -

The 8/10/04 Birds jam is almost identical to the 6/19/04 ASIHTOS jam; its sweet early major-key segment foreshadows (pre-echoes?) the gorgeous 8/7/10 Light > 20YL jam, though without the latter performance's detail.

One key difference between the 8/2004 and 8/2010 jams is that in the earlier performance Trey is about 1/10 as attentive, aggressive, and interesting. I would add 'inspired' but who am I to say?

As it happens, I have the somnolent 6/25/04 Seven > BuffBill to hand as well. Funny how similar it sounds to the 8/10/04 Birds. We could do the same experiment with the 7/15/03 Scents soundcheck if necessary, or my beloved 7/31/03 Hood, but let's not.

My point is that if you're gonna stump for the interminable 8/10/04 Birds, you've got to welcome the MANY MANY other 03-04 jams that sound a lot like it, but with more detail - and acknowledge the '3.0' jams that incorporate so many other threads into the 2.0 style without losing its slow-building power.

@zzyzx - You're onto something there.
, comment by MDosque
MDosque Waxbanks,

That Hood from Camden 03 is a serious piece of music. In fact, I might put that whole show up against a good amount of the material from 2.0. It was raining like hell that night and the band responded. Good vibes that night and I am glad others have listened and liked that show. Truthfully, you should check out the next year at Camden to see the how they actually ended the show...it is really different and personally not my cup of tea. Still, others may like it. I think that the three shows I have seen 3.0--11/24/09, 6/24/10, and 6/12/11 have been far and away better than any shows I saw since 2000 excepting 7/31/03. I really like the way the band is playing right now. My only hope is that they allow some jams room to develop. I am not talking about aimless droning, but some second set, natural, organic improvisation...much like the 6/24/10 Saw It Again set. That was an amazing hour of music.

Dosque
, comment by kipmat
kipmat @bertoletdown said:
There were periods... where Trey not only forgot how to play some of the band's simplest songs (like CDT) but forgot how to play guitar. The sight of him looking down at his fretboard during Glide and clearly having no idea where to put his fingers, or what this strange contraption was before him, is something I never ever need to revisit. It was a "how the mighty have fallen" moment without any trace of schadenfreude.
This quote reads like a description of a nightmare. What an effective summary of the concert experience...

Like many who have replied to this thread, I am a guitar player, and have shied away from listening to the Coventry shows. However, the thoughts and opinions I have read are causing me to reconsider listening to them.
, comment by whrdina
whrdina I was at Coventry- and for me- it was always about the emotion more than the music- I like all the references to an Irish Wake- they seem very apt to me. I made the following video in the month's after Coventry- and I think it captures the emotion I was feeling in relation to the shows- and to the fact I was losing the most important band in my life, then, and now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZlywPiYxPg
, comment by safetymeeting
safetymeeting After reading this post, I gave consideration to downloading Coventry and giving it an attentive listen. . .it wasn't up on etree, but I remembered listening to some of the 'choice' moments in the fall of 2004 ("we just need to blow off some fuggin steam", et c.)

I headed to livephish to listen to some clips and see if I wanted to shell out the 30$ for it. I heard Trey's choked-up vocals to "Split Open and Melt" and was fascinated and repelled. I don't think I would have been able to appreciate the depth of the whole experience- I still was only 24 and pretty naieve about things and didn't suspect that the band at a Phish show was at least as high as the crowd- but man.

This is some dark stuff. What a scene. Hundreds of hangers-on, sex, swimming pools full of drugs, money, money, money, and the nucleus of it all hitting bottom in public with three other guys just barely less far gone keeping him from drooling all over the stage (and instead, we get tear-choked vocals delivered in a semi-catatonic state).

Eight years before that, they were the lovable goofballs from Vermont (who maybe tried coke and didn't like it?), who eschewed and mocked the excess that almost killed them.

I can't consider myself a 'serious' Phish scholar without listening and digesting these shows. I do consider myself a 'serious' GD scholar, and I don't see comprehending the entirety of 92 - 95 as an essential prereq.

So what was I saying again?
, comment by marcoesq
marcoesq @HenryHolland said:
I watched the Coventry simulcast at a very nice theater in San Diego and it just got sadder and sadder. Yes, there were musical highlights, but there was a horrible, defeated vibe about the whole thing. My main memory is watching Trey walk on stage (before the second set, first day I think) and he was scratching himself like crazy (i.e. he was on opiates big time). The guy next to me laughed and said "Haha Trey is wasted". About 15 minutes in to the music and he leaned over and said "Oh my god, Trey is wasted".

The other moment I take away is them butchering my favorite Phish song (The Curtain With) so badly that they had to re-start it > finishing > the camera back stage catching Trey bursting in to tears as he left the stage area.
If the theater you are referring to was in Mira Mesa, SD then I think I was that guy next to you! What a crazy night, I had seen Vegas '04 and thought I knew what we were heading into but that was 4 months prior.

I wasn't there, in person, at Coventry so I won't try and say that I know what the vibe was those 2 days but I did leave work early to park myself in a movie theater for many hours and hears/saw everything they had to offer.

I remember the comments I made about Trey being f-d up being taken differently by people. I was more pissed/tired of the band by that point, starting to disconnect myself in '03 so it didn't seem like that big of a deal. I thought we ALL knew what we were getting into but that night was different. If they hadn't "attempted" to play the Curtain With, and then further butcher it, as the encore, I don't think the reactions would be as strong. I ended up walking out of the theater after 5 sloppy minutes of the Curtain and was booed by a couple of people up front. Oh well, here we are 7 yrs later and a lot of this is moot.

Let's just all be thankful that they are back and are throwing down Storage/Gorge RnR/Tahoe Light type jams on a semi-nightly basis and are killing everything else!
, comment by PhishMarketStew
PhishMarketStew I think the Waxman is dead on about the music at Coventry but whats always been most interesting to me about it was how the lives of the band members seemed to completely clash and fuse with the music in a really rare way, albeit a train wreck sorta way. So I guess Coventrys always piqued my interest in more of a sociological sorta way. It seemed like the boys were finally unable to keep the 2 sides of their lives separate and the result, while not very good sonically, was pretty telling in alot of other ways. Just happy that we have em' back again and that they seem healthy wealthy and wise.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @safetymeeting said:
I do consider myself a 'serious' GD scholar, and I don't see comprehending the entirety of 92 - 95 as an essential prereq.
Interesting point! I don't think there's much percentage in studying the Dead's 1992-95 music; there's some powerful stuff in there but it's ultimately about giving yourself to the personal/emotional experience without musico-analytical understanding. Like Phish's 2003-04 material, it doesn't really repay study as such. (FWIW, I consider winter/spring 2003 a good/very good tour, summer 2003 an OK/good one with a few brilliant moments, and the anniversary shows the introductory atrocity of Phish's 'final' year.)

The big difference is that Phish went from spacey, disappointed dissolution in 2004 to an amazing new synthesis in (say) 2010. Imagine the Dead getting together in 1999 after Garcia cleaned up and lost 50 pounds, then coming back to play music in their late-70's style. That'd be worth studying, as new Phish is.

Anyhow I'm with ya - being reminded of what Phish was capable of in 2004, away from the drugs and desperation, isn't (to my mind) worth the pain and suffering of working through the actual existing drugs/desperation/unprofessional bullshit of Coventry. If Trey had been anyone but Trey, anyone but and idol and father/uncle/big brother figure for thousands of fans, there'd've been a lot more richly-deserved disgust at the way he turned his back on Phish, and a lot less sympathy for the specific nature of his choices.
, comment by white_lightning
white_lightning Somehow, in the prime of my phish career, I always fell backwards, admittedly luckily at times, into "good" phish decisions. And maybe sometimes it was more intuition than luck. But after attending the Aug 04 Hampton show, I sold my Coventry ticket and did not go. And have never regretted it. So I wasn't there and I didn't "need" that experience to have closure. A lot of the previous festivals and epic runs were things I needed to be at. But not Coventry...that's just me.

I'm just glad that the fun, inspiration and happiness seem to be part of the experience for the boys again.

, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @PhishMarketStew said:
whats always been most interesting to me about it was how the lives of the band members seemed to completely clash and fuse with the music in a really rare way, albeit a train wreck sorta way. So I guess Coventrys always piqued my interest in more of a sociological sorta way. It seemed like the boys were finally unable to keep the 2 sides of their lives separate and the result, while not very good sonically, was pretty telling in alot of other ways.
Yeah, this is why I come back to the Wading/Split from time to time. Trey's Wading solo is absolutely heartbreaking - the whole band is scrambling, fighting desperately for air even at the ocean floor. Amazing.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks @MDosque said:
Waxbanks,

That Hood from Camden 03 is a serious piece of music. In fact, I might put that whole show up against a good amount of the material from 2.0.
Yeah, I love that Hood. I think it's more multifaceted than the 7/25/03 version, which is the other gigantic summer '03 Hood, but they're both dear to me. Maybe more for the idea of a half-hour Hood than for the musical reality, which is very much of a piece with the rest of that summer.

In some ways, though, they're symptomatic of a problem with the summer '03 (and later '2.0') Phish: it's not like Hood needs these ridiculous cock-rock jams to be a sublime piece of music. You get the feeling they just couldn't help themselves, back then. The positive spin on that was 'dude, everything is getting JAMMED OUT right now!' The reality was closer to 'dude, they just can't play the same variety of music with the old focus and authority, anymore.'

Still, I do have a soft spot for those Hoods.
, comment by Fitz2001
Fitz2001 Because it so colossally sucked, I meant.

@Fitz2001 said:
Go back and listen to the Glide, it's a good counterweight to all the compliments listed here, however accurate.
, comment by Trempkin
Trempkin I think the point about musicianship and/or the opposition between wanting jams, wanting great songs well executed and having a mix is not neccesarily where I was coming from. When I used to do tour, I wanted different things than what I want when I'm listening to shows - most importantly, variety. I remember missing out on how great shows were while I was on tour as there was a lot of styllistic repetition (one reason I retain the view that 97 is overrated, in spite having happily seen more than 3/4 of he North American shows that year)....

For example - I loved the Fleezer (Finger Lakes 95 Tweezer) and the Worcester 97 Runaway Jim as they were long jams that did interesting experimental things. Same with the Lemonwheel ambient jam and the storage jam. But I found in 2.0- - with the exception of some of the "new" songs like Waves or 46 Days, the jamming was perfunctory. I think those who complain about the lack of 30 minute jams should consider that two 10 minute songs segueing is as hot, or hotter than one 20 minute jam, as the styes change up, and as in Waves-)Undermind, the segue is the best part (akin to the 'return' in Its Ice and Bowie.)

I think they still need to retire a whole wack of songs and stop depending on breakouts...YEM, Hood and Mike's are getting stale.
, comment by waxbanks
waxbanks Spam commenters? Seriously?!
, comment by J_D_G
J_D_G The low points of Coventry are very hard to listen to, of course. In terms of improvisation, though, the weekend offers any number of jams that are far beyond anything played in, well certainly 2011 at least, if not all of 3.0. The trend extends to that whole summer tour. Painful, saddening, and frustrating---in large measure *because* it was so good. Soul-stirring music of a sort the band has not approached since. Of course, the tradeoff is a happier, healthier guitarist whose life is now much improved. But now that the darkness has cleared, and some of the painful bitterness retroactively lessened, perhaps it's easier to listen to that music as music, separate from the context. I'd trade the whole 2011 summer tour for the Great Woods 04 Birds of A Feather. Why? Because it kicks the ass of anything they've done since.
, comment by deceasedlavy
deceasedlavy Thanks for the post, Icculus. I witnessed Coventry from a theater as well. I am so grateful I made the decision not to go. Some friends of mine abandoned their car a mile from the site and flew back to join me and a bunch of other friends for the final night. Unforgettable, all around, for sure.

I like that you point out "Antelope" and "Fire"--at the end of that very first set, we walked into the theater parking lot genuinely full of hope. Already, the emotion was way high, and the energy was incredible. Everything that followed got progressively more painful to watch and listen to.

This comment above is almost verbatim from my brain throughout the final night: "...Trey not only forgot how to play some of the band's simplest songs (like CDT) but forgot how to play guitar. The sight of him looking down at his fretboard during Glide and clearly having no idea where to put his fingers, or what this strange contraption was before him..."

I agree that everyone needs to hear Coventry, but having witnessed it all, I don't ever need to re-listen. I don't think I can separate the music from the painful memories, even if there are glimpses of worthwhile-ness in there. Not worth the time or effort even if I could. We've got 2011 Phish now.

Oh wow, I just noticed J_D_G's comment above--really? That is some funny, objectively wrong shit right there. I find it hard to believe you've listened to any shows from this summer. I could name at least a couple dozen jams from this tour that top every second of Coventry. Then again, some people do enjoy the drugs' distortion of the music more than the music itself. If your soul isn't stirred by anything the band just did at UIC, I encourage you to give up entirely; that was top-notch Phish regardless of era.
, comment by pnoidandroid
pnoidandroid I did not go to Coventry and really had no desire. I used to think the best aspect of the whole Coventry affair was that interactive dandelion on the website. I did buy the SBDs, listened once and was turned off by the botched composed pieces. Thanks to this post by @Icculus I gave Coventry a 2nd chance.

I've only listened to about 15% of all the shows that the band has played in their entirety but if anyone can recommend a show that contains more raw emotion than the Coventry ones, I would love to hear it.

The composed pieces are still botched and they don't get any easier on the ears but the improv is still good and full of emotion. Drowned even contains a Maggot Brain-like segment around the 8-min mark that upon re-listen really encapsulates for me what the band must have been going through.

Everyone has suffered loss at some point in their lives and if you can see it approaching you don't necessarily have your A-game. If i was about to loose something I had cultivated and nurtured for the last 20 years and had to face thousands of people while it occurred, I wish that I could show half the composure that they did on those days.

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