Pink Talking Fish at Nectar’s
Nov. 22, 2014
written by John Mikeska
photo of Nectar’s from their website http://liveatnectars.com/about/history-mission/
You may be inclined to ask yourself if Pink Talking Fish is some sort of mutant marine life on a mission for aquatic conversation. Ask yourself this, and you wouldn’t be entirely off track. When I found out that PTF is actually a hybrid tribute/fusion act that performs the music of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish I can’t rightly say I was disappointed. Indeed, the name itself is enough to incite intrigue. When I suggested the added pressure of people coming to the show to “see what you’ve got” to bassist and founding member Eric Gould, he didn’t miss a beat. “When I put PTF together I knew exactly what I was getting in to”. After seeing these guys close out their tour at Nectar’s, I’m compelled to agree with him.
You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting. After all, this was where it all began. These hallowed grounds played host to the first Phish show (not that you would know it now). The last remnants of a forgotten Phish past have been painted over, faded out, or passed along. Aside from these consecrated relics, the only evidence of Phishtory exists in the hearts and minds of devotees who remember a time gone by. The fact is it wasn’t that long ago. Phish played their first show at Nectar’s (consequently their first show as “Phish”, “Blackwood Convention” was the banner they united under initially). Among local musicians, the performance of Phish material on stage at Nectar’s is considered a faux pas of the highest degree. Disagreement on this issue can end relationships, start arguments, and break up bands. Fortunately, no such restrictions applied to PTF as they took the stage on this fateful night.
The first Phish show of all time went down at Nectar’s on December 1st 1984. Almost 30 years to the day later, PTF took the stage at Burlington’s most iconic venue. By this time of year the cold dead hands of winter had squeezed out the remaining color and all but completed the annual annihilation of autumn. The chill in the air was crisp and almost refreshing amidst the stillness. That is until the wind decided to show its teeth. Fortunately for all who would be in attendance, the wind wasn’t the only thing kicking up dust and bringing people inside. PTF arrived on the scene with an air of confidence about them. It isn’t so much an arrogance that says “look what we can do” but more of an assuredness that says “listen to what we have to say …if you know what’s good for you”.
The band came out under the lights and the bassline emerged from the depths and crackled to life with the opening notes of “Have a Cigar”. Just like that, it was on. The drums fill the cracks and synth lines breathed life into the jam as scratchy reverberant guitar tones polished off the dust and filled the remaining space. Ben Combe (guitarist/Particle) cut through the mix with searing sustain and emotive precision on the solo. Drummer, Zack Burwick, tightened up the groove as Eric Gould (bassist/founding member: Particle) settled in to the bassline and drove it forward. Guitar and keys passively trade melody lines until Combe stepped out front and explored the space. He convincingly pulls off the ethereal, dreamlike bend/sustain notes that Gilmour’s known for. With a furrowed brow and a curled lip we drifted into a dream world.
The gritty guitar riff of “Chalkdust” brought me back to reality not a moment too soon. This bluesy piano rock number let the whole town know it was time to party! The smiles widened and the ice broke for the first Phish tune of the evening. Umlah created a melodic tapestry that Gould navigated; bobbin’ and weavin’ like a kid in a candy store. Combe tore into the solo hitting bluesy notes and passing tones in a fashion undeniably reminiscent of the Ginger Jedi himself.
The first Talking Heads tune came in the accessible, danceable groove of “Slippery People” that slid in to “Young Lust” with an ironic perversion that made you wonder if the sexual undertones weren’t entirely coincidental. Gould showed his stuff here; pumping out bass runs with gusto. Tender guitar chord presentation gave way to reverberant blissful echoes punctuated by Burwick’s percussion. Out of the ambience the, bassline stood up straight and gave the jam a backbone that drove through to “Tube”.
Gould characteristically set the coordinates for groove-city. Umlah came out hot with the clav, scratching out lines that at once stiffened the upper lip. Paying homage to their predecessors, they nailed the start/stop timing of the “Tube” jam. Pure, unadulterated bass took the funky bus from groove city on through to “Psycho Killer”.
The verse/chorus for this Talking Heads classic came off flawlessly. Gould got in to character nicely, presenting the pop/bounce syncopation that Tina Weymouth used to create the new-wave sound of Talking Heads. Exploratory Rhodes and grounded bass set the stage for the phat, piercing mid-range guitar tones eschewed by Combe. Playing a song that is a Talking Heads original but covered by Phish allowed the band to play the song true to the original and unleash a psychedelic-funk jam reminiscent of Phish’s legendary Dayton 97’ show. Passing lead lines creatively from guitar and bass the undeniable kinship between the guitarists came to fruition as the realization of their history as members of Particle sank in. The jam made its way back to “Tube” for a final groove throw down before the cash registers and money counters signaled the first selection from “Dark Side Of The Moon”.
“Money” creeped up in hair-raising fashion. Gould harnessed a unique ability to turn up the emotion without changing notes by accentuating subtleties and punctuating nuances. The combination Rhodes/Hammond organ sound was the glue that brought this one together.
“Timber” blew through like a whirlwind tension/release jam complete with jazzy feel and swing rhythm. Drummer, Zack Burwick, built up the groove from rudimentary floor tom rolls to an accentuated hailstorm of cymbal crashes and thunderous percussion.
“Crosseyed and Painless” featured an extended jam that exhibited some great playing. The true to form Talking Heads tune started out as a sweaty dance party and ended up as a journey into the musical unknown that proved to be the longest of the evening; clocking in at just under 15 minutes. The groove factory that is Eric Gould churned out phrases like they were on an assembly line. Once they locked in, drum and bass laid down the bricks and guitar came through with the sultry syncopation that served as the mortar. Burwick hit all the sweet spots on this one. After a wild ride that went all the way out there, he drove us home in a focused, driven groove.
“Divided Sky” arose from the ashes of “Crosseyed” to everyone’s delight. They pulled off the composed sections in noteworthy fashion. After flawlessly navigating their way to the silent portion of “Divided”, concentric bass thumps began the descent to the bowels of hell for “One of These Days”.. And we loved every minute of it. Blanketed by swirling organ chords a hard-driving, drum and bass fueled guitar rager ensued. Combe was able to blend the styles of Gilmour/Anastasio and retain enough individuality to keep it authentic. After descending further into atonal dissonance and ultimately silence, they found their way back to “Divided” and picked right up where they left off. The chordal accompaniment, courtesy of the grand piano, provided a backdrop for the guitar to soar over. Umlah hammered out chords and melody lines that achieved an undeniable Page-side quality.
The dance-party returned in the form of “Burning Down The House”. A brief journey achieved other worldly altitudes when Umlah pulled the synthesizer out of his intergalactic grab-bag and provided all the thrills and chills that vibrato and reverb can muster.
“Time” took us willingly deeper in to the unknown; a spot-on rendition of this psychedelic masterpiece got the job done. Fading out of “Time” and in to the opening notes of “Mikes” was one of the many unique pleasures you can only experience at a PTF show. Mike’s jam sank deep into the muck, and trudged through the filth, propelled by pulsating baselines and scratchy clav clawing through the quagmire. This my friends, is what it’s all about. Combe engaged the killswitch and took control of the helm. A sustained scream of the organ reached down through the swampy depths; gripping the soul and leading it to salvation. Rising out of the water, a pirate ship is the chosen vessel to lead us through the swashbuckling sounds of “Swamp”.
A ray of sunshine burst through the obscurity as “Run Like Hell” directed our ship back to the cosmos. Burwick laid down the foundation for Gould to slap out “Weekapaug Groove” as reverberant guitar swells and bright grand piano ascended to the heavens. At the pinnacle of the jam Gould locked in the bass line as if to say, “I got this” and subsequently sent out a scout party to explore the mysterious beyond. Following Gould’s lead they found their way back to “Crosseyed” and revisited “Weekapaug” on the way to “Run Like Hell”. Wrapping up the sort of set-list mayhem that reeks of Phishy nonsense.
“Tweezer” served up a smooth, icy groove shaken not stirred. Gould dug his heels in, and the drums gathered energy for a dynamic and creative presentation. Keys and octave drenched guitar lines meld together to form a tapestry of psychedelic dream-funk. Burwick aptly signaled his approval with a series of well-executed flourishes.
“Echoes” featured a tasty drop-down groove jam amid soaring lead lines and choppy organ funk. Gould stirred the pot as the guitar fizzled into obscurity. Among haunting echoes teases of “If I only had a Brain” and “Maze” needlessly reminded us that not only were we not in Kansas anymore, there was no hope of getting out of this Maze anytime soon.
Picking up the pieces and regrouping around the bass, “Houses in Motion” took shape and languished along the path to one of Pink Floyd’s more indelible tracks from “Animals”.
“The Dogs” built up to an intense progressive rock jam that faded back to the ominous explorations of “Echoes”. Gould single handedly burst out of the timeless expanse by throwing down the sinister funk of “Memories Can Wait”. Pulsating palpitations of tazer-like synth drove home the menacing groove. Burwick grabbed the attention with superbly executed fills, never straying too far from the tight purposeful rhythm.
“Pigs (3 different ones)” went out to the abyss for an orbital experience that was the last of its kind for the night. A well-endowed jam sprang forth the “Tweeprise” that induced ear-to-ear smiles across the board. Another note perfect rendition from PTF felt like a genuine celebration of the evening.
The encore was easily one of the heaviest hitters of the night. “Life During Wartime” was an entertaining paradox to say the least; because “this ain’t no party” in no way applied to one of the more badass parties Nectar’s had played host to in recent memory. Burwick revved up the engines in time with the piston-like precision of Gould’s bass. Keys and guitar exchanged lead lines and groove ideas with balls-out bravado. The room filling organ chords ascending from “Echoes” yielded a soulful salvation of rapture-esque proportions. The effervescence translated into an expression of gratitude and mutual appreciation. This mutual allegiance and respect provides the foundation for the audience to be awed and inspired in a familiar fashion, reminiscent of the bands that give PTF its name.