Phish is back with a vengeance. Now that Trey is off the junk, the band has been busier - and more focused - than ever. Since reuniting this year (they broke up in 2004) the jam band has released a new album ("Joy" produced by longtime U2 collaborator Steve Lillywhite), headlined this year's Bonnaroo Festival, and made their first Rock Band appearance.
And next weekend, the Phish takes over the Coachella grounds for Festival 8 - three days of Phish-ness kicking off on Halloween and including their first-ever full acoustic set (Sunday morning with coffee and donuts being served).
I'll admit that I have a difficult relationship with jam bands. Improvisational music is a dangerous proposition. For every 3-minutes of musical bliss, there are another 20 of mind-numbing noodling. I went to a Grateful Dead show. Once. After the spinners, the naked dude asking me, "do you know where I am," the 10,000 tie-dyed, patchouli-smelling stoners looking for their miracle, and the interminable "space" drum solo, I had enough and never looked back. Give me a tight, three minute, 20-second pop song - and a shower - any day.
Still, I'm man enough to admit it when I see a guitar player who can bend the mind. And most jam bands have some insanely godlike guitarists. Even if the solo goes on too long. Plus, I'm a sucker for the southern twang most jam bands employ. I probably flew a confederate flag in another life. Coming back as a black man is my penance (although it has its perks).
Here's a jam band haters list of jam bands to love. Wait for the solo. Tapers take note.
The first supergroup (at the least the first that mattered), Cream was comprised of former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton and Graham Bond Quartet drummer and bassist Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. The ride lasted only a brief two years (with a 1993 and 2005 reuniting) but the jams were sweet and bluesy.
The Jerry Garcia Band
Despite the legendary inconsistencies (by his own admission, he turned in the worst performance at Woodstock), Jerry Garcia could be surprisingly melodic and majestic. The late Garcia's playing was some of the most romantic around…when the drugs were working just right. Garcia's side project, The Jerry Garcia Band was hands down the superior alternative to the Dead. In fact, they played Dead songs better than the Dead. All the jam, less the out-of-tune harmonies.
Allman Brothers Band
For me, the Allman Brothers Band died along with slide guitarist Duane Allman's 1971 fatal motorcycle accident. Their "At Fillmore East" album (released shortly before Duane's death) is the gold standard of live albums - by jam bands or otherwise. Not a wasted note and not a false move.
The Athens, Georgia, jam band lost their lead guitarist and co-founder, Michael Houser, to pancreatic cancer in 2002. The band's name was inspired by his frequent panic attacks before shows. Houser's solos (which involved excessive use of a volume pedal) were high art and while two subsequent guitarists - George McConnell (2002-2006) and Jimmy Herring (2006 - current) have real gifts Houser's loss is still real.
String Cheese Incident
The Boulder, Colorado band has a place in my heart because of their love of bluegrass (although the Dead's Jerry Garcia had the same love which turned up in their tunes). SCI's love of twang and groove stays close to the roots. Founding member Bill Nershi left the band in 2007 which has left SCI a part time operation since.