Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19: Phish, "You Enjoy Myself"

Artist: Phish
Song: "You Enjoy Myself"
Album: White Tape/Junta
Year: 1985 (written)/1986 (recorded)


CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (JUNTA VERSION) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (LIVE @ RED ROCKS, 1994/06/11) (will open in new tab)

Though it is sometimes a rather difficult thing to do, nearly every song ever recorded can, at some level, be grouped into a genre or category of some sort. There is almost always some aspect of the song, whether it be musical or lyrical, that fits into a larger group, which can help to show the roots of the music. Yet a very small number of songs remain that, try as you might, are simply so unique that they find no musical peers, and stand as true anomalies of recorded music. Among this list of truly special recorded works is one of the most stunning compositions in history, an absolute musical masterpiece that lives in the form of Phish's 1986 recording, "You Enjoy Myself." The song that in many ways epitomizes the band, it remains their most frequently played song, with more than five hundred documented live performances since it first debuted in February of 1986. Rarely clocking in at under fifteen minutes in length, "You Enjoy Myself" has been developed and extended by the band over the years, and though it always follows some loose structural rules, the jams that are created within are almost always the highlight of their live shows. From the tension/release sections to the mythical vocals to the absolutely stunning musical progressions, few songs so perfectly capture the spirit and talents of a band as well as one finds within Phish's "You Enjoy Myself."

Truth be told, though there are hundreds of live recordings of the song, there are also two distinct studio versions of "You Enjoy Myself." The first recorded comes from the bands' legendary White Tape, which is nothing more than a fifty-six second vocal rendition of the songs' opening, yet the harmonies and "odd" vocal still represent the spirit behind the bands' music. The more well-known and more accurate portrayal of the song comes from the bands' first LP, 1986's Junta, and it is within this ten-minute version where one finds the overall structure of the song that remains solid more than twenty-five years later. Composed almost entirely by guitarist and singer, Trey Anastasio, few can argue that the song is not one of the most complex and absolutely stunning musical feats in the history of recorded music. The song was actually written by Anastasio when he and the bands' drummer were playing music on the streets of Europe in 1985, and the song remains one of the most beloved within the bands' massive catalog. Each of the bands' for members are in top form, as the shifting, yet steady rhythm from drummer Jon Fishman instantly gave him a right to the title of finest drummer of his generation. Using his entire drum kit in a masterful manner, Fishman proves that cymbal work can often be just as important as use of the drums themselves. Similarly, bassist Mike Gordon injects a fantastic groove into the song, and his jamming throughout stand as some of the most amazing aspects of the overall sound. The manner in which each of Phish's member approach both the song as well as their instruments is what sets them aside from every other act in history, and "You Enjoy Myself" is simple proof that there is no other band ever that has made music quite like Phish.

"You Enjoy Myself" also features one of the most enjoyable aspects of the music of Phish, as throughout the song, the interplay between Anastasio's guitar and the piano/keyboard work of Page McConnell is true musical magic. Sometimes "following" one anothers' musical progressions, almost dueling with their instruments, the chemistry between these two is unlike that of any other musical pairing in history. The way in which they play off of one another is truly uncanny, as it is clear that, while the entire band is "locked in" musically, there is something beyond that going on between Anastasio and McConnell. As "You Enjoy Myself" winds, dips, and rises, the listener is treated to one of the most truly beautiful songs, and this is made even better as the song begins to build to an amazing tension/release moment. This moment of "explosion" remains one of the greatest moments of any live Phish performance, as the band proves time and time again that their understanding of the "tension/release" moment is beyond that of any other group in history. It is following this brilliant musical moment that one is then brought to one of the great mysteries of Phish's music, the famous question of "What are they saying in You Enjoy Myself?" Though the first four words are quite easy to understand, it is the mumbled, perhaps nonsensical lyric that follows which has led to many arguments and long essays within the Phish community. While most believe the lyric is something close to, "Wash Uffizi Drive Me to Firenze," which may be a reference to Anastasio and Fishman's time in Italy around the time the song was written, the truth behind the lyric remains largely a mystery, and one that the band themselves enjoy poking fun at during live performances. The final piece of musical brilliance that comes from "You Enjoy Myself" has become the staple of live performances, and yet is absent from the studio versions of the song. The "vocal jam" that ends nearly every live rendition of the song stands as one of the aspects that not only makes Phish's live shows unlike any other band, but also presents the true musical genius of each of the four members of the band. From beat-boxing to plays on phrases to simply making noises, the "vocal jam" must be heard (preferably live) to be properly understood.

Though they are almost always lumped in with other groups as a "jam band," the truth of the matter is, there has never been another band that made music quite like Phish. Far more musically complex and upbeat than the Grateful Dead, the band quickly set themselves apart from the rest of music history with their brilliant song, "You Enjoy Myself." Though many are intimidated by its longer-than-usual run-time, the fact of the matter is, the song perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Phish such a fantastic band, and more than twenty-five years after it was written, it remains one of the central pieces of their live performances. Though the song has certainly evolved in many ways, the core structure and musical phrasings still remain completely intact, and one can see the song as a way to follow the musical maturity of the band. From the funky grooves of Mike Gordon to the unrivaled drumming of Jon Fishman, Phish makes a strong case for having the most talented rhythm section of their generation, and the numerous, seamless changes in time signature easily make this argument. Combined with the phenomenal musical interplay between Anastasio and McConnell, Phish's first studio album immediately made them a band to watch, if for no other reason than the complexity of their compositions. Quickly approaching the thirty year mark as a band, Phish continues to present some of the most musically creative and stunning live performances on the planet, and there is little question that a majority of these shows are anchored by a stunning performance of what may very well be their finest composition, the truly unparalleled, "You Enjoy Myself."

1 comment:

Tyler said...

I love your blog!!! Eternal thanks!!!! I agree with your comment regarding the Grateful Dead, if you are referencing post-70s Dead, which marks the long decline into nostalgia act. From what I gather from your musical interests on your blog, however, you will enjoy the early Grateful Dead who were crossing lines between rock, country, freeform jazz, and 60s psychedelia with some extremely potent and cerebral jamming. The final set of the closing of the Fillmore on 4-29-71, the Eyes of the World from One From the Vault, and the Scarlet-Fire from 5-13-77 are three fine examples of the cerebral jamming, jazz explorations, and boundless positive energy that were the Grateful Dead while in their element. There are some real gems hidden within their vast catalog.....unfortunately watered down by too many sub-par releases.