Monday, November 28, 2016

Krautrock: Can, Monster Movie (1969)

Julian Cope’s list of “50 Kosmische Classics” features works by 20 different artists. From the 20, those unfamiliar with Krautrock have probably heard of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. However, the band more often cited as a seminal starting point for the genre is probably the Cologne-based group Can who has no less than five albums on the list.

The original group was formed in 1968 and consisted of an eclectic line-up with an impressive pedigree. Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) and Holger Czukay (bass) formed the group’s core, both having studied under electronic and experimental music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. One of Czukay’s students, Michael Karoli (guitar) of Bavaria, was also part of the original line-up, as was Jaki Liebezeit (drums) of Dresden whose background was free jazz and mathematics. Rounding out the original quintet was a black American sculptor dodging the draft in Germany, Malcolm Mooney, who would be the group’s original vocalist.

Can’s primary output consists of 11 studio albums released from 1969 through 1979, with additional compilations filling out the discography along with a reunion album in 1989 and other ephemera. That first decade is usually split into three distinct periods -- the “early” titles with Mooney (featured on the debut Monster Movie and a couple of tracks on the compilation Soundtracks); the “classic” middle period featuring Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki (also on Soundtracks, as well as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days); and the half-dozen albums of the “late” post-Suzuki period starting with Soon Over Babaluma and ending with Can.

The five albums we’ll be discussing all come from the “early” and “classic” periods, although I’m a big fan of the “late” titles, too, marked by a lot of inventive instrumentals and even ambient moods. First up is the debut, Monster Movie, which thanks to Mooney’s involvement is somewhat distinct from every other Can album, although sews many seeds later harvested by the group’s relentless experimentation.

Mooney actually is said to have named the group. He would subsequently say it was originally meant as the verb (as in “I can do it!”) although later would come visual puns such as the can of okra on the Ege Bamyasi cover. Later on, explained Mooney in an interview, others took it as an acronym standing for communism, anarchy, and nihilism.

Mooney is a little like the Syd Barrett of Can, in a way, having been there at the start only to disappear and not be part of the band’s greatest triumphs. In fact Mooney was described as having had a nervous breakdown of some kind that led to his leaving the band (a story that has probably been exaggerated somewhat over the decades).

Mooney didn’t become a rock casualty like Barrett, though, and in fact made a surprising return to be part of the 1989 reunion album, Rite Time. In any case, Mooney’s contribution to Monster Movie is significant, with his energetic, earnest vocals helping unify the memorable sound of the group’s hard-rocking debut.

From the start the band adopted a recording technique that involved a lot of improvisation and jamming, with sessions captured live on a two-track machine then via post production edited down into readily-consumable album tracks.

The most immediate analogue for Monster Movie is the Velvet Underground, particularly “Black Angel Death’s Song” and “European Son” (from The Velvet Underground & Nico) and all of White Light/White Heat. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone familiar with the Velvets’ first two albums not thinking of them when hearing Monster Movie for the first time.

Side one features three cuts, starting with the urgent, hard-driving “Father Cannot Yell” that relentlessly pounds away from start to finish with Mooney talk-singing over top, a song that also makes me think a little of early Beefheart (the long form stuff). Next is “Mary, Mary So Contrary,” a slower jam based around the nursery rhyme and Karoli’s intense guitar gradually building to a crazed climax. The side closes with the brief rocker “Outside My Door” with Mooney’s harmonica hook cutting through an exhilarating garage-psych sound.

The 20-minute improv “Yoo Do Right” that comprises all of the second side is said to have been culled from a six hours’ worth of recording, which given the group’s experimental underpinnings isn’t hard to believe. The VU affinities are strong in this percussion-heavy track featuring mantra-like, repetitive lyrics. The organ fading in and out of the mix also makes the track sound even more like a not-too-distant relative of “Sister Ray.”

Monster Movie’s influence on later Krautrock -- not to mention punk, post-punk, and other prog to come -- is unquestioned. Of Can’s overall oeuvre, I’m probably more apt to spin the “classic” and “late” titles, but always find the debut refreshing and remarkably prescient whenever I come back to it. Like the best monster movies, it’s scary-good fun in a rollercoastery kind of way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Krautrock: Ash Ra Tempel, Join Inn (1973)

After their sojourn in Switzerland to record with Dr. Timothy Leary, Ash Ra Tempel went back to Germany to the famous Dierks Studio in Stommeln to record their fourth LP, Join Inn, which like others by the band was released on the Ohr label.

The record also signaled a return of sorts for the band to an earlier sound and ethos insofar as it reunited the original trio of Manuel Göttsching (guitar), Hartmut Enke (bass), and Klaus Schulze (drums and synths). Also joining in on Join Inn with a spoken-word contribution on the second side is Göttsching’s then-girlfriend, Rosi Müller.

The recording of Join Inn occurred during breaks from another, more ambitious project, the tremendous double LP Tarot by Walter Wegmüller to which Göttsching, Enke, and Schulze all contributed (also part of the “50 Kosmische Classics” we’ll eventually be covering here).

Like the band’s self-titled debut, this one features two side-long improvisations, starting with Side 1’s “Freak’n’roll,” a stripped down, free form jam perhaps recalling Hawkwind, Cream, or the Dead. (It also echoes early Can, whom we’ll be taking up next week.)

Schulze’s excellent, relentless drumming gets spotlighted, as does Göttsching’s manic rhythm guitar. It’s a sinuous, off-the-cuff seeming exercise without a lot of structure or progression -- pleasant, though not hugely memorable.

By contrast, Side 2’s softer “Jenseits” is a genuine delight, with Schulze’s droning synths providing an aural bed over which Müller quietly delivers her sparse, spacey narration in German. Göttsching’s shimmering guitar begins peeking through starting about halfway through, adding to the surrounding warmth.

The title means “beyond” and the narrative is suitably abstract, evoking in an impressionistic way ideas of childhood innocence and prelapsarian nature. Although the speaker seems fixated on the past, the mood is incongruously futuristic, suggesting a kind of vaguely fearful sci-fi soundtrack rather than a pastoral idyll. It’s one of the better meditative compositions in Krautrock.

Join Inn closed the door on the original Ash Ra Tempel, with Schulze moving on to solo stardom and Enke leaving music altogether. Göttsching would carry the “Ash Ra” name forward through a few different incarnations, starting with a follow-up with Rosi titled Starring Rosi, a much less Krautrock-seeming disc full of structured pop songs.

As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to later Ash Ra/Göttsching output, do check out his two solo efforts Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975) and New Age of Earth (1976), a couple of immensely satisfying guitar-and-synth instrumental exercises I’d include on my own alternate “best of” Krautrock list.

Meanwhile, check yourself into Join Inn:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Phish Vegas, Part 4: Halloween Hazy Cosmic Jive

When shit gets that heavy, so heavy that you're getting crushed by the weight of your own despair that there's only one thing to do... get on a plane, fly to Las Vegas, and rage hard four-straight days. Your problems ain't going anywhere and if the world is gonna explode in the near future, then you might as well dive head first into hedonism for a full-blown bacchanalian bender. I mean, if you're gonna die, you might as well go out in fucking style and die in Vegas.

Part 4: Halloween Hazy Cosmic Jive

By @taopauly

Hustle City, USA. If you're not hustling, then you're getting hustled.

If you walk into the room and don't spot the sucker....then you're the sucker. I heard that cheesey line in a poker movie a long time ago and it's more true than you will every know.

The Phish hustle continues. Seven and a half years and counting since Hampton in March 2009. I won a big score playing poker many moons ago, but blew all my winnings on Phish in 3.0. At least I didn't lose it gambling on basketball or donk it off to Scandis playing PLO or buying material things like a Porsche. Instead, I blew it on shitty drugs and Phish tickets. Choices, man....choices.

Like I wrote earlier... I've either reached rock bottom, or I'm at the top of Everest. You have your own opinions, but the fact that I think it's a coin flip means it's been one wild ride.

Last night of tour is crazy in itself. It's always the EVERYTHING BAGEL show and you do whatever drugs you have leftover that you can't fly with. You also bump into strangers who need to dump their stashes so you can literally show up empty handed and walk away a lit fucking monkey. Then add the fact it's HALLOWEEN and party people kick it into the highest possible gear. Plus the costume thing allows introverts to let down their inhibitions, so as a result the crowd is super schwasted with a extra schwilly sauce. Oh like LiLo said in Mean Girls, "Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it."

The final night of a four-night Vegas run has its own challenges because some people were out of gas.  And when you crash in Vegas after a multi-night bender, you crash disastrously hard. It's like a scene from Westworld when workers in hazard suits are hosing down bloody corpses while a muzak cover on a Radiohead song plays slowly in the background.

Add the fact that it's Halloween, then you had people pushing themselves to the outer limits of sanity and sobriety. The dark side of Vegas alters the magnetic vibrations on everyone's moral compass, so you're pretty much fucked if you're trying to find your way out.

If you can't conjure up the mojo naturally on Halloween, then there's plenty of other ways to jump-start your night. You ain't missing it for the world, so you pop a few Adderall to wake up, swig a couple of painkillers so you can dance through the pain, chomp down on moon rocks, club pressies, gay ninja molly, and whatever leftover shit you had from tour. In a city of iniquity like Vegas, there's no shortage of powders, elixirs, pills, and injections that will help keep you raging until you lose consciousness, pass out, and completely yard sale it in front a craps table at the Mirage before you end up a meme on Colorado Big Game Trophy Wook Hunters as security guards wake your ass up with a cattle prod to the nutsack.

By the fourth day of Phish and the morning of Halloween, shit morphs into a surreal hyper-reality of weirdness... even for Vegas standards. Adorable couples who couldn't handle their drugs had already broken up. Friends stopped answering phones a day earlier, if they hadn't hocked it already to cover blackjack loses and/or gave it up for pennies on the dollar to one-lucky-ass coke dealer. Sensible people with mortgages and 401Ks turn into zombified wooks and ignored the eye in the sky by railing lines off empty seat at the Bright Diamond slots. Spacekids got so jacked up on whiskey-tango-trailer-cooked desert-meth-molly that they ran off naked down Tropicana into the muted glow of the Vegas night. And then you get so fucking spun that the Monopoly Man started following you around and screaming, "Drain the fucking swamp. DRAIN IT. Burn it all down!"

Hey, we've all been there. No matter how much landing gear you've taken or no matter how many joints you've smoked, but you can never fall asleep in your hotel bed, so you go downstairs to the casino and start gambling at the Pai Gow table and order a cocktail because it's Vegas on a Monday morning and that's how the script goes. At some point, you've eaten so much molly that you've cleaned three rooms for the maid on your floor, while you let her take a break by smoking weed in your room and sweat her bet on the World Series (*Anita was all-in on the Cubs).

I got the Colorado crew together for a group meal at the Wicked Spoon. Sort of a last hurrah before Halloween. Everyone was on the ropes, but ready to rally in time for Halloween.

My phone was blowing up with texts about the show. I had forty-five conversations similar to this...
TEXT: What's it going to be?
ME: Ziggy Stardust.
No really?
That's what I'm told, but you never know.
Like what else, man?
Maybe Prince's Batman soundtrack.
How about Zappa?
Zappa rumored too.
And how about Zeppelin?
Maybe so, probably not.
How about the Grateful Walking Dead!
Let Trey Sing.
With Weir and Zombies!
Keep smoking ketamine, son.
How about Ziggy? It's gotta be Ziggy then!
Hey, brah, since you know so much already then why the fuck are you texting me? Just sit tight and wait four more fucking hours until the first rail rider gets in and snaps a photo of the Playbill.

My first Halloween show was Vegas 1998. I didn't know what they would play until a girl with pink dreads shoved the Playbill into my hands and I noticed the cover to Velvet Underground's Loaded. I saw every Halloween since then, but the last five in 3.0 had been spoiled by social media. Twitter told me the Stones album at Indio and twice again in AC (Little Feat and Wingsuit). And yeah, 2014 and 2016 Vegas were spoiled by a pic of the Playbill.

We were in the middle of the preparty in my room when we got the kangfirmation about Ziggy and Phish. My source was right. After getting the initial tip, @change100 and I listened to Ziggy Stardust front to back at least once a day in LA. I only knew the popular songs on the album and wanted to brush up on the lesser known tunes. I'm not a David Bowie fanatic and my favorite Bowie album is Young Americans when he hoovered so much blow that he thought he was a black soul singer from Philly.

Costumes at Phish shows are always a notch above the rest. Clever. Intricate. Time-consuming. And that's not even for Halloween! On Halloween, many phans rise to the occasion and crush their outfits.

Then you get the folks who don't even bother trying and just show up in civilian clothes. I can respect that, more than half-assing a costume (which I've done on many occasions). Then again, sometimes you come up with a cool costume that is hot as fuck to wear for three sets, or just not logistically possible to maintain for three sets while fucked up to the gourd. Walking into the Halloween show is always the optimal time because that's before costumes go awry and people start to get so fucked up they forget where they are, let alone what costume they're in. After four days in Vegas, a slew of people didn't need costumes to look like extras from The Walking Dead...after four-nights on whatever Ketamolicane they were boofing, they smelled like rotting corpses.

I had an affinity for anyone who got dressed up from Stranger Things. I saw a slew of "Elevens" and that was my original costume but I couldn't find a pink dress in my size. Instead, I helped a friend out with a pseudo group costume. Back in 2014 Halloween, Wildo went as Phish Ditka, which was a huge hit and he almost won the costume contest. He wanted to reprise Phish Ditka but kick it up a notch... so I volunteered to be Jim McMahon to help fill in the 1985 Bears. Our significant others opted to be spun-out referees. And then to spice things up, our Boulder friends showed up as cheerleaders (like the duo from Saturday Night Live). We had a loose football theme going, but the goal was to help Wildo win the costume contest as Phish Ditka.

The Chicago Bears played the Vikings on Monday Night Football. Wildo stepped into the sportsbook and everyone went nuts over his costume. He wore such a eye-catching costume that everyone stopped for a selfie or photo. Both civilians and Phishy folks dug the costume once again.

I liked being Jim McMahon. Practical. I sweat my ass off so the headband was clutch. And I got to wear sunglasses all night so no one could see how fucking lit I really was.

While waiting to get an official photo, my Twitter friends @Felicified and @Meaarf were right in front of me. Felicia rocked an intricate costume: NEVER MISS PHISH. While Meaarf's crushed it with a lumbersexual lumberjack and his special-designed I SAW IT AGAIN saw.

Our buddy Dusty went to the show a Trump supporter. He couldn't find Crocs at the last minute, but he was a walking cliche: jorts, build-a-wall t-shirt, fanny pack, and a red hat that said GRAB THEM BY THE PUSSY. I should have known Trump was going to win when so many non-Phish people stopped him to chat about their support for Trump. Sure, I'm no Nate Silver and that polling was done by super-spun me but eight days later, we were surprised to learn that the costume predicted the election.

For the Halloween show, we assembled a small group in the same section with the Colorado crew. I spotted LazyLightning55 sitting in the next section. I had an aisle seat and hung out with a guy in stairs with hotdog costume and a painted Bowie face (Rob from SF was cool as fuck and we were on the same page with practically every song).

First set kicked off without a 2014 Halloween tune. Waited until the second song. The opener was a Carini that referenced Trey's Gucci shirt that caused an uproar in Phishdom. (My hot take: who the fuck cares? He probably got it for free, but I'd rather see Trey blow $700 on a shirt than blow $700 on opiates and blow. You precious 3.0 snowflakes whine about Show of Life encores, but you have no fucking idea the wookshit swamps that Oxy-Trey dragged us through in 2.0 like a Secret Smile encore...I don't hold many grudges but I'm still salty about the E Centre gig in 2003 and that kick in the nuts from Big Red after 4-song second set).

Phish opened the three previous shows with a nod to Halloween 2014, yet My Pet Cat popped up second on the final night. The Joker's beloved cat Emilio lost a fight with feline cancer and passed the day before. Phish finally played homage to Emilio the coolest cat from Denver.

Gordo roid rage squishy bass all over Free. Dirty and nasty and dark and greasy like the buffet at Circus Circus.

If you want to pretend to be a poker pro and learn how to read people, then just do some people watching during What's the Use. You will quickly find out people's emotional ranges. Vapid fashionistas snapped selfies. The drunks rushed for the pissers and reloaded the booze. Adderall chompers chatted their neighbor's ear off. The stoners huffed a doob. Coke fiends were already shoveling key bumps before Possum ended. The haters posted directly to PT from the floor, while jaded vets fired up Twitter and snarked about it. The baffled noobs nervously tried to find a way to dance to it. Anyone rolling tits danced through it like they were running through Walmart on Black Friday. Bisco ketaminekids drifted away into a k-hole like a Tenderloin junkie mid-nod. The serious acid heads were motionless as they navigated vibrational planes. And the one friend you brought along that didn't know Phish too well...well it was the perfect opportunity to see what made them tick. If they "got" WTU, then you knew they could be trusted.

If you bet on it, Phish busted out a 6+ minute Tube. Barely passed six, but they got dark and weird and sideways. Snuck Ass Handed in there before Petrichor. I have mixed feeling about it. Feels like three different songs and two of them need work. I got hooked on "And the rain" part so much so I drove the wife nuts singing it nonstop for two months since Big Boat got leaked by the infamous Russian hacker LEO69pussywagon.

My bud Dakota got so spun at the end of the first set he began speaking in alien dialects. I suggested he sit down and rage in my seat for Antelope. The seven-time JamCruise veteran was on ropes during the setbreak. Sometimes when you're down the rabbit hole, you get ambushed and sucked into another hole...and you're stuck there until you find a way out before the liquid sunshine wears off and then you're stuck in the upside down world from Stranger Things for the rest of eternity. That's why you always need a tripping buddy.

By the time the lights went down for Ziggy costume set, Dakota was out cold and slumped in my seat. He missed the entire Ziggy set too! Dakota got stuck in that spin cycle between Earth and Pluto. We kept feeding him sips of water and took turns giving him a thirty second back rub every five minutes. He was down, but not out. Like what Trey said in that interview about the band being in a lifeboat. Well, Dakota was "wook overboard" and fell out of the boat. We were in tumultuous Vegas waters, so shit got a little rough, yet we pulled him back into the boat. We all had each other; he got through it. By set three, he was still superspun, but speaking human languages again. By the start of Backwards he flashed a hearty thumbs down which meant he was back to being a snarky jaded vet. I ignored Phish's LSD Concussion Protocol and put Dakota back in the game for the rest of the third set. I know I was risking player safety, but this was the fucking SUPERBOWL, brah! By 3am, Dakota was back to his old self and hitting on a smokin' hot Harley Quinn at the secret pizza joint as Cosmo.

I went into Halloween with low expectations, but I really dug the short and sweet Ziggy Stardust set. I just hoped those spiders from Mars didn't haunt me in my dreams. You knew the vocals weren't going to be spot on, but the background singers helped immensely. I got way too fucked up for the Haunted House set, so I was in much better headspace to appreciate and pay attention to the intricacies of the Ziggy set (sans jamming). Everyone in my section was jacked up for it (aside from Dakota, but he was smiling on the inside). I remembered the contentious vibes that infected my section at the Wingsuit show in AC... folks were visibly irked then. In Vegas, the schwilly zombies in my infected area lapped it up. Every. Note.

Moonage Daydream was when it really sunk in...everything... the party favors and the mind funk and that weight of the world I wrote about in the first sentence. I had achieved peak fuckedupness and reached cruising altitude. Gordo pulled off Starman with Trey on acoustic and the lovely ladies on background vocals. That was the closest Gordo will ever get to being a real pop star and he reveled in every second. It Ain't Easy was a cover I think, but super short but it was one of the songs that would have been an amazing vehicle for some series cosmic-funk-jamming.

Page has been secretly singing Lady Stardust at karaoke clubs in Koreatown for decades. He was ready for the moment, stepped up to the plate, and went deep.

Phish put in a valiant effort, but they couldn't pull off the precision speed of the punk-infused Hang On to Yourself. They would destroyed that in 1995 when they could stop on a dime and blast off into a different orbit.

Leo locked up booty in perpetuity with his rendition of Ziggy Stardust. Months ago, during a band meeting, Page was like, "No discussion. Ziggy is mine. I got this one, gents."

I think Suffragette City might make it into the covers rotation, right? It has MSG night 2 encore written all over it.

The third set was all gravy. Sand and 2001 got the spookiest. Aside from that, it was really a long blur once 46 Days kicked off the last set of the Vegas run. At the end of Twist, the other three brahs jumped on Fishman's kit for a drums gangbang. Trey got off the most. Scintillating 2001. Dunno why it stuck out little more than the other ones I caught last couple of years, but the Vegas one had a little extra oomph.

During 2001, a shirtless schwilly bro screamed: "Yeah Trey!! You got the POWER again!"

Crushed the Slave to end the third set. Waited 4 days and 9 sets to finally hear it and knew we'd get one. Still always fucking pumped when they finally busted out my favorite song. Sometimes they rush the end of it...but took their time with this Vegas Slave.

Everyone I know was betting on a David Bowie (by Phish) encore, but instead Phish delivered another acapella rendition of Space Oddity. I'm from the school of thought it should a been a one time thing at Wrigley. I caught one in San Francisco this summer and it was cool to hear it again. But the entire crowd would lost their collective cookies and mud if Fishman went to the high hat for the start of Bowie.

I sorta checked out in 2016, which is a passive-aggro way of saying I got CRUNK'D up motherfuckers and did not give two shits. I curtailed the social media flow and refused to participate in the divisive bullshit. In high school I had a Latin teacher that used to say, "Close the books, open the minds." I moved his letters all around and came up with "Shut off the phone, and clear the mind." I said fuck Sun Tzu and I kept my friends close and refused to keep enemies closer because I had no time to waste on the emotional vampires, brainwashed sheeple, and social-media-likes-addicted crackfiends.

I spent large chunks of time away from the internets. Hung out with old friends and made some new ones. I dove head-first into books and re-wrote a novel twice (and it still sucks, gah). I strategically spread out work projects so I could party down, rage it up, and get twisted. It had been nearly five years since I went on a legit scorched-Earth bender that spanned several weeks (damn, I missed living in San Francisco but that year was a blur). I went harder than usual during culminating in several peak-psychedelic moments during West Coast summer tour. Controlled chaos.

I sensed a massive shift coming. Call it the looming apocalypse or the purge, but the disturbance in the force worried me. Before shit blew up, it was time to get my ya-yas out. I decided to celebrate the now and push life to the fullest in the most decadent and cheesiest manner possible -- in Las Vegas -- while staring down the inevitable double-barrel of a shotgun loaded with impending doom and tragedy. And this was before the election turned out the way it did.

I don't need any aspect of my life validated...especially my decisions, but I'm fucking thrilled I checked out in 2016 to focus on the things I'd want to do if I knew I was going to die tomorrow... books, music, making art, making people laugh, and partying it up with friends. This epic 2016 bender is coming to a close, but Vegas Halloween truly marked the beginning of the end.

It's been a tough year for a lot of people. I didn't waste the last year of my life screaming into the void and getting into nonstop fights with friends, relatives, bots, and strangers. Instead, I sought out sincere connections with people. The love of music brought us together...specifically Phish. That's why you're reading this. We're connected by a semi-unhealthy extreme fanaticism/borderline cult worship of this bizarro band from Vermont that's named after a short dude in a dress and the bass player is weirder than fuck, but the lead singer is an ADD-ginger with a penchant for painkillers and the piano player pulls in as much tail as Sinatra did in his glory years.

David Bowie said he imagined Ziggy Stardust as the leader of the most popular band on the planet five years before it gets destroyed the at apocalypse. I joked with everyone that Phish was hinting that they would break up in 2021, or the world blows up. We're on the clock either way. Let's not burn the last bits of daylight.

I felt fantastic stumbling out of the Halloween show as thousands of costumed freaks flooded the floor of the MGM Grand Casino. Bunch of us lucky fucks beat Vegas and walked away huge winners. When it happens, it's the best fucking feeling in the world. Why? Because it's fucking VEGAS....and out of seven billion suckers on this planet, you were the lucky one. The chosen one. The star child. Most of the time, the gambling gods totally fuck with you, but if constellations align just right, you catch a hot streak and you ride that fucker as far out into the cosmos as it goes. It's easy to lose your mind in Vegas and get batch-drowned with a sea of assholes, but if you catch the right wave, then you can actually walk on water.

That's a feeling that I'm not going to forget for a very long time.

* * * *
Phish Vegas Halloween 2016 Recaps

Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play

Part 2: Page EDM

Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked

Part 4: Halloween Hazy Cosmic Jive

If you dug this series, the check out my book Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Krautrock: Timothy Leary & Ash Ra Tempel, Seven Up (1973)

By late summer 1972, Dr. Timothy Leary had been a fugitive for nearly two years.

A countercultural hero, Leary had been advocating the use of psychedelic drugs for personal growth for several years, disseminating his famous “Turn on, tune in, drop out” message via writings and lectures. He was becoming an influential, much-followed guru to many and “the most dangerous man in America” to then-president Richard Nixon and others.

Leary attracted a large enough following to embark on a half-serious run for governor of California in 1970 versus the incumbent Ronald Reagan. His campaign’s slogan was “Come together, join the party,” and in fact John Lennon’s “Come Together” started out as a campaign song for Leary, although ultimately only used the title phrase as a hub of sorts around which to spin the surreal lyrics of the Abbey Road opener.

The campaign quickly halted, however, when Leary was arrested for possession of marijuana -- just a couple of roaches -- and after additional counts were added he was given a prison sentence totaling 20 years. In March 1970 at the age of 49, Leary began his sentence at the minimum-security California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.

Six months later, Leary found a way to leave the facility a bit earlier than scheduled.

“The escape was spectacular,” writes The New York Times in their 1996 obituary. “Mr. Leary hoisted himself to a rooftop and up a telephone pole, shimmied along a cable across the prison yard and over barbed wire, and dropped to the highway.”

Subsequently aided by the left-wing, chaos-creating extremist organization the Weathermen (a.k.a. the Weather Underground), Leary made his way to Algiers where he stayed with Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers who had there established a kind of American government-in-exile.

Eventually Leary found himself under a different kind of “revolutionary arrest” imposed by Cleaver and so left Algiers, hiding out in Switzerland where he remained for a while before moving to Afghanistan. It was there Leary was finally captured in 1973 and returned to the U.S. He’d serve three more years in a California prison before finally earning his freedom after being pardoned by first-year governor Jerry Brown.

It was during that interim period in Switzerland Leary hooked up with Krautrockers Ash Ra Tempel, collaborating with them along with fellow acid-guru Brian Barritt and several others on the group’s third LP, Seven Up.

Producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, founder of the German label Ohr (means “ear”) for whom Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru, and others recorded, brought Ash Ra Tempel to a Switzerland studio where they met up with Leary in August 1972 to record the bulk of Seven Up, with some overdubs added later in Germany before the record was released in early 1973. The record’s complicated backstory includes the easy-to-accept detail that much of it was recorded under the influence of LSD, with the title in fact referring to acid-spiked 7-Up soda consumed during its production.

Side 1, titled “Space,” features four distinct songs connected by appropriately “spacey” whooshing effects, with Leary on lead vocals. The songs -- “Downtown,” “Power Drive,” “Right Hand Lover,” and “Velvet Genes” -- are blues-based rockers of varying tempos, and the effect is a little like tuning some sort of weird radio dial, landing on music occasionally amid the hallucinatory fog.

Side 2, titled “Time,” begins in a similarly noisy fashion before dissolving into quieter effects with some spoken narration drifting in and out. There are three tracks listed -- “Timeship,” “Neuron,” and “She” -- although it’s hard to pin down when each begin and end. The vibe is much closer here to other Ash Ra Tempel than is the case on the first side, with Tangerine Dreamer Steve Schroyder’s organ providing a magic carpet upon which Manuel Göttsching’s gentle strumming and other sounds comfortably ride.

Of the four Ash Ra Tempel discs included among Julian Cope’s “50 Kosmische Classics,” Seven Up is the one I dial up least often. The novelty element of Leary’s contribution makes the first side seem a bit gimmicky for me -- interesting initially, but not so much on subsequent listens. The second side is more enduring, coming closer to simulating the kind of drug-induced epiphany being sought so earnestly by those involved, with the white noise washing up over the final minutes actually kind of epic.

All of which is to say, while there’s some obvious historical value here with Leary’s on-the-lam story crazily intersecting with the Krautrock narrative, for true musical transcendence I’d direct you elsewhere among the Ash Ra Tempel catalogue.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Krautrock: Ash Ra Tempel, Schwingungen (1972)

Ash Ra Tempel’s Schwingungen followed the group’s self-titled debut. Like the first LP it was recorded in Stommein near Cologne and released on the German OHR label on which other Krautrock pioneers like Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru, Amon Düül, and Witthüser & Westrupp appeared.

Schwingungen is again marked by free-form compositions recorded live and anchored by the same rock-based guitar-bass-drums instrumentation as directed by leader Manuel Göttsching. The title means “vibrations,” and indeed each of the three lengthy tracks are marked by a kind of constant quivering with raucous tremors rising up at various intervals. In other words, rhythm transcends melody for the most part here, a unifying characteristic of sorts for several other Krautrock acts.

The first side -- subtitled “Light and Darkness” -- begins with the relatively tranquil, six-minute “Light: Look at Your Sun.” Göttsching’s soft and lilting guitars resolve into a bluesy slow march, with new percussionist Wolfgang Müller eventually stepping in to push things forward. Meanwhile guest vocalist John L. does a kind of Jim Morrison-like, half-pleading, half-preaching vocal that eventually just repeats “We are all one” as Göttsching fuzzily rages overhead

Some have identified the song as an homage of sorts to Peter Green’s instrumental “Albatross,” the early Fleetwood Mac single from 1968 that inspired both the Beatles’ “Sun King” and David Gilmour’s soloing style. While “Light: Look at Your Sun” isn’t especially transporting, it is a soothing start, and the affinity with “Albatross” is certainly evident.

The next 12-minute track, “Darkness: Flowers Must Die,” starts slowly with an insistent jaw harp gradually carrying the listener into what becomes an extended, intense freak out driven by bongos and inspired drums, an alto sax idly fluttering overhead, an insistent “Sister Ray”-like rhythm, and (eventually) Göttsching’s phasered soloing.

John L. again contributes an emotional vocal, which to be honest isn’t necessarily a positive for me given the more-than-adequate instrumental chops of the rest of the group. In Krautrocksampler Julian Cope suggests John L. anticipates (coincidentally, name-wise) John Lydon’s later caterwauling for Public Image Ltd. -- a fair association, though the affinity with Krautrocker contemporary Damo Suzuki of early Can is more obvious. The lyrics (in English) are suitably trippy, including talk of a “lysergic daydream,” a “neon forest,” the need for flowers to die, and an earnest desire to turn to stone.

Flip the disc for the 19-minute title track, split into two parts -- “Suche” (“search”) and “Liebe” (“love”) -- and float for nearly 10 minutes along the surface of a mesmerising vibraphone with sparse organ backing and occasional guitar effects, reminiscent of “Echoes” or other early electronic fare. Eventually an insistent drum beat heralds the second part, pulling the listener to a state of attentiveness to receive the song’s outro, a warm mix of cymbals, wordless vocals, and psychedelic strumming and drumming.

I’m more apt to dial up the debut (or Göttsching’s Inventions for Electric Guitar which to me is a big omission from Cope’s “50 Kosmische Classics”) than this disc, although the side-long “Schwingungen” is probably one of the more satisfyingly meditative instrumental tracks in Krautrock. (Start at the 19-minute mark below, if you want to play Side 2 first.)

More to come from Ash Ra Tempel, who on their next release strangely find themselves joined in the studio by a certain former Harvard University faculty member turned LSD-promoting hippie guru once described by Richard Nixon as the “the most dangerous man in America.”

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Krautrock: Ash Ra Tempel, Ash Ra Tempel (1971)

Ash Ra Tempel was guitarist Manuel Göttsching’s first noteworthy band, and a significant contributor to the Krautrock genre as their first four LPs (produced from 1971 to 1973) all made it onto Julian Cope’s list of “50 Kosmische Classics.”

The band would feature different line-ups over its brief life with Göttsching the common denominator throughout their run. Psychedelic guru Dr. Timothy Leary would also surprisingly become part of the Ash Ra Tempel story, a side door we’ll be walking through eventually.

Göttsching would later move on to solo work starting with the stunning 1975 title Inventions for Electric Guitar, plus more group work under the name Ashra (and occasionally reviving the Ash Ra Tempel name). Along the way he’d also hook up with The Cosmic Jokers supergroup whom we’ll be sampling as well in our survey.

This initial incarnation of the band is as a power trio, with Göttsching at the center, Hartmut Enke pounding away at the bass, and Klaus Schulze on percussion. Schulze was another central figure in the Krautrock story, having already been part of the original Tangerine Dream (and featured on their 1969 debut Electronic Meditation). He’d stop by here for this initial Ash Ra Tempel appearance and would return later to take part in the band's fourth LP Join Inn (which we’ll also be discussing). Meanwhile he'd deliver a lengthy, prolific solo career that would elevate him to the status of an electronic music pioneer.

Ash Ra Tempel’s self-titled debut features two side-long jams, starting with Side 1’s “Amboss” -- a word that means “anvil” which gives a good idea of the track’s heaviness.

Cope’s description of “Amboss” is a riot, describing Schulze playing “drums like a hundred drummers,” Enke hitting “his Gibson bass the way only a giant could,” and Göttsching playing “blues like Clapton, but right alongside preemptive Keith Levine white noise and egoless as Lou Reed’s Live 1969 rhythm guitar freakouts.”

There is something remarkable about the blending of the three into a unified, rhythmic and melodic noise machine built for speed, each member distinct throughout though never disconnected from the others as they blitz along together from disc’s outer to inner edges. Contemporary associations will inspire thoughts of Zeppelin or Hendrix or perhaps other space rock acts of the day, while in retrospect we can occasionally recognize post-punk, metal, no wave, noise music, industrial, and other, later subgenres.

Make no mistake, though -- this is Rock with a capital “R,” and a maximum, utterly satisfying dose of it at that.

The second side-long track, “Traummaschine” (or “dream machine”), is a proto-ambient, 25-minute long opus that begins in an initially soothing mood (especially after “Amboss”), though swiftly turns ominous.

The trio methodically pins the listener down under the weight of heavy, vibrating strings, heavily echoed electronics, and a wordless vocal, leaving plenty of mental space in which to think those thoughts typically kept at a distance as we try to negotiate our individual, quotidian paths.

The sound becomes sparser as the track goes, with segments of percussion, heavily-reverbed guitar, rumbling bass, and other uncanny tones bobbing along the surface at irregular intervals as it goes before finally trickling off into the inner groove.

Easily a top tier Krautrock entry in the instrumental category, and a remarkable debut. For Krautrock acolytes, Ash Ra Tempel is more than worthy of repeated worship.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Phish Vegas, Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked

Grubby is a Las Vegas legend. The former playwright turned online poker pro turned slot machine designer was my first roommate when I moved to Las Vegas in 2005. If you read my book Lost Vegas, then you've heard about some of our hijinks. Grubby gambled so much, he had at least five free hotel rooms every week courtesy of the casinos. Sometimes more. He once earned enough comp points playing slots that he got free buffets (thrice a day) for a year. Grubby was one of two people who showed me the ropes in Vegas. I learned how to hustle locals' discounts (e.g. free admission to strip clubs with a NV license) and grind easy money fleecing drunken tourists trying to play poker. You heard stories about people living the high life in Vegas? Well, we did that for almost a year. One of the greatest years of my life. Gah, what goes up must come down. No one beats Vegas over the long term, especially folks like us with so many vices. Pick four or five of the Seven Deadly Sins and those were fast tracks to our downfall. I jumped ship first and moved to L.A. while Grubby hit near rock bottom before he got offered the job of a lifetime in Chicago... slot machine designer. Nearly a decade later, he's one of the many architects behind the electronic hustle to extract every cent out of your pocket... in the most fun way possible. As a former degen gambler, it's his twisted way of getting revenge. As the saying goes, if you can't beat them... join them.

Vegas Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked

By @taopauly

The first batch of texts from Grubby appeared near the end of the second set on Saturday night. Grubby got sucked into going to a strip club with work colleagues. He provided the play by play of how one particular exotic dancer was trying to nickel and dime him. Grubby could hold his own against aggro strippers. As the Sun Tzu of strip clubs, he mastered various defensive techniques, but this particular one had superhuman powers of erotica and she had outwitted his Nimzo-Indian Defense. I told him to leave the strip club ASAP before he gifted her his car and the title to his condo around the corner from Wrigley Field.

Saturday night in Vegas. Nothing quite like it on the planet. I'm sure Bangkok and New Orleans and Amsterdam and New York City and Barcelona are ludicrous in their own ways, but Saturday nights in Vegas get bawdy and boisterous on an entire different level. You get the perfect glimpse of our excessive indulgent society, with each rung on the ladder of Americana represented while parading down Las Vegas Blvd. at Midnight on a Saturday night. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Throw in a bunch of schwasted bourgeois brosteppers, shithoused weekend warriors, dosed-out tree thuggers, spunout starchildren from Boulder, feral shoeless indigo kids, and k-hole'd sparkle wooks... then you have an extra steezy stroll down the Strip. The colossal light show itself on Las Vegas Blvd. is tantalizing. But for the ebullient drug crowd, the incandescent lights and accompanying trailers were sensory overload times forty million as you floated down the strip all jacked up after a smoking Phish show.

Wildo and Carrie Sparkles hosted the afterparty in their baller suite at the Cosmo and we popped in for bit to recharge our chakras that were bruised by the negative astral forces that powered up Las Vegas. We were among the many spacekids wandering around the Cosmo gawking at chandeliers and sparkly things. I showed John from Soulive Design all the art vending machines scattered around Cosmo and told him we have to figure out how to get his art on sale in Vegas.

Grubby was gambling next door at the Bellagio and I offered up my hippie friends for a chance of a lifetime... a tour of the Bellagio by the one and only Grubby himself. Schwilly sisbrahs, spun sparklewooks, and hard-to-impress Colorado coolsters were surprisingly amused by the Bellagio. Everything was eye candy at 3am from the Chihuly encrusted ceiling in the lobby to the floral arrangements in the conservatory with ginormous phallic crystal that was the second biggest wook trap in Vegas aside from the bright light atop of the Luxor (seven wooks and one techno-shaman were injured trying to mount the Luxor pyramid thinking it was a shortcut to get beamed up to the Mothership... fucking amateurs... everyone knows the grey aliens parked the cloaked Mothership BEHIND the Spearmint Rhino).

Grubby made sure our cabal of mountain wooks and sparkle ponies got a glimpse of the Bellagio's savory chocolate fountain. In true Grubby fashion, he busted out some Spanish and tipped the cleaning lady in the store to hook him up with some free samples.

We hung out at the Bellagio's "hooker bar" and observed the local working girls work the Saturday night crowd. It's just like that Lou Reed song, but just switch out Vegas for NYC in the lyrics.

Everybody had to pay and pay. It's a hustle here, it's a hustle there. Vegas is the place where they say, hey brah, take a walk on the wild side.

Along the walk from MGM to Cosmo, change100 taught her Colorado girlfriends how to play Hooker or Ho. It was my favorite past time in Vegas, especially with out-of-town friends who were total noobs. I always had an easy rule when I lived in Vegas... if a really hot woman approached me after Midnight and struck up a conversation out of the blue, then she was a working girl. The sisbrahs also got a huge kick out of the overemotional, drunken, overdressed barefoot club girls clutching their shoes while walking home after an unsuccessful night getting groped and getting GHB'd by Chads and Sergeis.

By 4am, Grubby got the Colorado crew pumped up for another adventure through the Bellagio. Grubby led everyone on an expedition to find various slot machines his company designed. The newest generation of slots capitalized on popular pop culture brands like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Grubby had designed ones with different Egyptian themes with ferocious wild animals and another with an Oktoberfest theme fronted by a busty Fraulein barmaid. The slots included a 3-D element, which captivated the crowd of spunions that gathered around a bank of slots. Grubby happily gave a demonstration and one by one, each of us inserted a bill and gave it a whirl. No one had a clue what we were doing, yet the 3-D images and constant stimulus had the crowd mesmerized and begging the machines to finally give someone a payout.

After whiffing on the German boobie barmaid game, I sat down at an Egyptian slot named the Sphinx. The 3-D eye on top of the pyramid freaked me out. I was convinced the eye was a real 3-D camera linked up to the eye in the sky motherboard in the heart of the casino's security center, which automatically zapped my ugly mug and retinal image into the security office's facial recognition software, which in turned pinged every major data collection service on the planet (e.g. NSA and CIA). So in real time, Big Brother knew that I was stupid enough to drop $10 bill into a slot machine at the Bellagio at 4:14am while spun out of my fucking mind. Traditional slot machine included simple things like bars, bells, cherries, and lemons... yet on the Sphinx 3-D slots, I rooted for a black cat...this particular black cat was a baller with gold necklace and super-heady crystal wrap for some reason. If I got three black cats, then I hit the jackpot. I kept mashing the buttons like a hopelessly addicted slot junkie and could only conjure up a single black cat.

I had one final spin left with five wheels. The spunions were huddled three deep around me and harnessing a collective vibration. I let it rip. The first wheel stopped on a cat! My rail went berserker. The second wheel stopped on a Sphinx head. The third wheel stopped on another cat. I screamed out, "Let's fucking go. One time, motherfucker! CAT CAT CAT!" The spunions screamed back "CAT! CAT! CAT!" so loud a bevy of humorless security guards took note. The fourth wheel was a blank. One more wheel to go. "CAT! CAT! CAT! CAT! CAT! CAT!" chants echoed through the Bellagio as the last wheel came to an abrupt anti-climatic stop. It was... an eyeball. No third cat. I lost amid a chorus of boos. Like a sore loser, I threw my hat at the floating 3-D eyeball as Grubby shrugged. Las Vegas is fucking rigged, man.

As a consolation Grubby suggested we sit down and ride the walkway that typically took lazy pedestrians from the Bellagio to Las Vegas Blvd. At that late hour around 5am, no civilians were lumbering around so we could actually sit down. The entire group popped a squat to align our chakras with Mother Earth Gaia and I can only imagine how much the thicknecks in the security room at the Bellagio were making fun of our hyperspace tribe while we slowly made our way toward the Strip.
Two hundred agents sit at TV terminals observing various subjects at different spots inside the Bellagio. A portly supervisor hovers over one screen with an surveillance agent.

AGENT: "These drugged out dopers are everywhere. I heard stories about the Phish. Those dirty hippies shove Bath Salts up their ass! And shoot ketamine into their eyeballs!"

SUPERVISOR: "You know they're all voting for that crook Hillary. Can't believe we let these drug fiends run our country. A true patriot like Mitt Romney would never let this happen. Too bad Mitt didn't run. He'd never let America sink this low."

AGENT: "Should I call Metro police?"

SUPERVISOR: "Nah. These dumb fucks are harmless. Just keep recording. I sell these clips to a Japanese video app company DUMB GAIJIN. I get $50 a pop for every video of wasted people doing stupid shit in Vegas. The kid from before?"

AGENT: "With the dreadlocks? The one taking a shit behind the row of Wheel of Fortune slots in Sect 3?"

SUPERVISOR: "The zombie zook-wook-whatever is gonna fetch me at least $200! That kid was gold! Cue it up again. I want to watch it one more time before my break."
Johnnie Salami could only see the first two nights due to work reasons. He had an early morning flight on Sunday, so we stayed up all night and sent him off to the airport at sunrise in style. Then we rolled into the sportsbook at MGM. A line was wrapped around the corner with dudes in their favorite football jerseys. The NFL scheduled another game in London with a 6:30am PT kickoff. Local sportsbettors and other degen gamblers tried to get a last minute wager in before the first kickoff. Wildo stood a couple spots in front of me working his magic after cashing a monster dog parlay on Saturday games. I gazed at the near floor to ceiling big board at the MGM sportsbook, marveling at all the glistening numbers and over/unders for Sunday's NFL action. The ladies wanted to degen it up too. change100 and Carrie Sparkles were double-fisting cocktails while picking their football games. After a huddle, our schwilly Funky Bitches Betting Syndicate threw down cash on the the Detroit Lions because as the wife explained it... "Carrie's from Michigan and we both love cats."

I woke up a couple of hours later with utter humiliation looking right at me: a betting slip on the fucking Jets. I made squarebear bets at 6:25am that I had not intended to do. Rookie move. Never make bets while still sparkly! One of them was a big bet on my hometown Jets. Yes, the LOLJets. I lose my wanna-be wiseguy card for betting on the fucking Jets and thinking they'd beat and cover the spread against the WORST TEAM in football. Somehow, the LOLJets miraculously won barely covering, let alone winning. I'm glad I dozed through the shitshow.

I woke up in a groggy Valium fog at 1pm with a text from my Deadhead bud from Reno. "I respect DO NOT DISTURB signs," texted Dr. Steve, well aware about my pet peeve about maids who ignore the DO NOT DISTURB SIGN and barge into the room. Alas, I was awake and sifting through 100+ texts and the next thing I heard was a knock at my front door. It was Dr. Steve.

"Nice pajamas. Get dressed. We got football to watch and a Halloween cover set to gamble on, son!"

Thank God Dr. Steve dragged my ass out of the room, otherwise I would have stayed curled up in bed with the wife (who pulled the ultimate pro move and slept nearly up until Sunday showtime). Dr. Steve and I went down to the Pub which was packed with heads. Felt good to catch up with an old friend and monitor bets and fantasy action. I hydrated with three drinks (H20, iced tea, and beer), crushed a kobe bacon burger with bacon jam, and sweat the Denver Broncos game, which I bet more money on than I should have. And yes, I had stiff woody when I won the Denver bet. I force-tucked my junk while I made an awkward exit out of the Pub and ran to the sportsbook to cash my ticket hoping my stiffy didn't pop out while rushing by the craps tables. I fucking missed Sundays in Vegas during football season.

I anticipated a mellow Sunday show. The proverbial and cliched "calm before the storm" so to speak. Overall expectations were low after a pair of heaters. Since the Joker wasn't in Vegas with me, I could not wear the Sunday tracksuit without him. In homage of Capt. Funk Max, I mimicked Max and dressed up like Max for the show with a Captain's hat, Hawaiian shirt, and a red solo cup. My buddy Dusty showed up to the preparty with freshly-minted stickers he created specifically for his Halloween costume as a Trump supporter. He gave out MAKE VEGAS GREAT AGAIN stickers and they were a ginormous hit.

We locked down a couple of rows with the Colorado crew in Sect 202, where my actual seats were. I chatted up Lawn Memo most of the preshow. Memo is one of the coolest guys in the community. I love his Daily Ghost blog and his summer jams group project. Plus, he's really a Buffalo Bills fan and told me insane stories of the sheer inebriated lunacy at Bills home games.

Phish opened up the third show in a row with an homage to 2014's Haunted House. The Dogs and barking samples kicked things off. Then things got weirdly surreal after generous friend from NoCal dosed me with a half of some old school white fluff. Hadn't gone that particular rabbit hole since Dead tour in the early 90s when I was a teenager. I got insta-schwasted before Ghost ended and could only imagine what a full hit woulda done. Before show began, I doubled down on trip-tastic moonrocks I acquired from a femme fatale in a merkaba flatbrim with a thick Jersey accent. I didn't need the lunar additives but took them anyway...the fluff fucked my face so hard, I could smell colors I never even knew existed before and saw sounds floating in the rafters between CK5's beams.

The moonrock+white fluff combo blasted me through a couple of wormholes and sent me fucking sideways through the time/space continuum. I was slurring my speech all night like the village drunk in a 19th century Irish novel. My friends knew I was in my own galaxy and had accepted that I was talking to myself the entire show, so they shined me on and did not worry about responding to my external dialogue.

Huge chunks of the show were a blur. I can pull up vivid memories of Theme, plus DWD > Birds was fucking insanely raucous and fun. Have Mercy bustout came outta nowhere and I lost my cookies. I vaguely recalled the Beatles cover and another Halloween throwback Day In the Life. The rest of the second set and encore was a blurry whirly swirl of C5's lights and music. I didn't tweet much and had zero notes scribbled down.

Yeah, on Sunday I had a Memento show. A dozen or so pictures on my phone were the only clues to piece together what exactly when down mid-way through the show when things go truly seriously demented and weird and late into the night.

The above picture is the visual representation of thinking your soberish during the end of set 1, then the house lights go on at setbreak and everything is a big psychedelic whirl!

Yeah, been a while since I had a Memento show. I'm pretty sure I went to the Sunday show, but can I even trust those memories? How could I even tell if my own Colorado friends weren't Reptilian shapeshifters? I have next to no recollection of the Sunday night events, aside from appearances on random Instagram feeds, plus a series of photographs of me on my phone at said show and other wild post-show activities like betting $20 a race on the Sigma machines and shooting dice with meth heads drumming on buckets on the pedestrian bridge by the Excalibur. know the saying...never miss a Sunday show.

I finally returned to Earth's orbit and sobered up enough to gamble it up in the pits. I ended up at the Excalibur, which was that gigantic Castle across the street from the MGM. We all went there for some low stakes gambling. Wildo and change100 played blackjack with other heads. Sean from Cash or Trade hit it big on the slots. He never gambles, yet on his first or second pull he snagged a luckbox jackpot. He didn't even know which game he was playing! Gotta love Vegas, man. If you never take a shot, you'll never win money. Sometimes have to let it rip and gamble it up because every once ina  while, someone actually wins.

I achieved peak schwilliness while playing heads-up Pai Gow against a fun dealer from Ethiopia at Excalibur on at 3am. I was having fun until the pit boss sent my dealer on a break and they brought in the robo-cooler from Hong Kong. As soon as I build up a big stack, the eye in the sky always orders in a cooler (slang for a dealer that cools off a hot table). This one dealt super fast and never said a damn word. Another fucking bot. The cooler harshed my warm fuzzy vibe, so I cashed out and watched a bunch of Spreadnecks shoot dice and try to win enough money betting hard eights then score blow from a Lyft driver/pimp who slung $200 8-balls and $150 beejers out of the back seat of his Escalade. Everyone in Vegas is hustling... from the non-judgemental maid that will find you extra straws, to the bartender's roommate who sells shitty blow to tourists who don't know any better and end up with a clogged nose and shitting fire bricks all night.

Three down. One more show to go....Halloween.

* * * *

Phish Vegas Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play

Phish Vegas Part 2: Page EDM

Friday, November 04, 2016

Phish Vegas, Part 2: Page EDM

Someone gave me Valium just before sunrise. A nap is always clutch during a multi-day Vegas bender, but I slept through the first batch of Saturday morning 9am kickoffs and missed the opportunity to bet on a couple of college football games including the Michigan State game. My drug habit was impacting my gambling problem. I must be back in Vegas.

Vegas Part 2: Page EDM

By @taopauly

The cocktail waitress, once hot as fuck in 1989 but two decades past her prime, stumbled through the maze of Sex in the City slots. Like a robot, she mechanically went through the motions of delivering watered-down drinks while humping the tail end of the graveyard shift on the Strip. She revealed a quiver of sincerity and looked pleasantly surprised when I tipped her another red bird after she dropped off a third Malibu and pineapple juice since I sat down.

"Good lucky, honey!"

She said those three words three million times, but the lilt in her voice inspired by the $5 tip suggested she really meant it.

I sat alone. Pai Gow. Played heads-up against a five-foot dealer from Hong Kong named Ming. My hand plus the Dragon Hand. I popped a Vicodin and swigged the Malibu in almost one gulp. I glanced at my phone. 7:20am. Friday morning in Vegas. Depending on your outlook on life... I hit rock bottom, or I reached the top of Everest.

I kicked off my first morning in Vegas like I used to do when I lived there. Old habits are hard to kill like the cockroach that will never die no matter how many times you stomp on its back. The Friday night show was highlighted by a sizzling Golden Age jam that worked everyone up into a collective orgasm. I walked down the Strip with Johnnie Salami all the other freaks at 4am, still dosed out and super-sparkly. Just before sunrise, I popped a Valium and passed out for a couple of hours. Those blackout curtains at the MGM worked like a charm. When I finally woke up on Saturday morning, I realized I missed the early morning college football games. I kept telling everyone I knew to bet on Michigan State. Those rivalry games are always tight. I shoulda bet the game before I crashed, but I made a rookie move.

Spent Saturday late morning swirling in a Valium-haze and playing Pai Gow at the MGM with Johnnie Salami and a trio of Canadians. They were gonna bet the farm on the Buffalo Bills against the NE Pats. Man, I wished I was their hometown bookie. The entire gaming pit on the floor of the MGM reeked of dank-ass nugs. Most of the civilians in the pits and in the slots ignored the influx of spacekids, pro ragers, filthy rich custies, wookafarians, and tour rats; the slot-junkies simply assumed they for got what day it was and people were wearing Halloween costumes.

The wife (aka change100 in the social media realm) flew into Vegas late on Friday night and skipped the first show. She was thrilled to hear that the boys only teased 2001 on Friday instead of playing her favorite song. We found Johnnie Salami and headed to Wolfgang Puck's for lunch. If we were back on the tour diet of one meal per day, then we had to step up our game a notch. I crushed homemade gnocchi with fennel sausage bolognese... the healthiest thing I put in my body all weekend.

Spent the rest of the Saturday afternoon sweating games in the sportsbook. Everyone stayed loyal and bet on their college squads. Johnnie Salami backed his UW Huskies and the wife threw down cash on Northwestern as a huge dog. Wildo and I couldn't find any lines on Ivy League football, so I bet on Baylor because it was the Joker's school. Meanwhile, in the degen bet of the day, Wildo threw down a four-team parlay with all underdogs (MSU, FSU, Nebraska, and Northwestern). I thought he was wookshit-crazy for making it, but he took my rivalries speech to heart. I lost the price of single Phish ticket on Baylor, but got unstuck when I fired three bets on Auburn (-4.5, -5, and -5.5) and built up a nice profit thanks to Auburn covering by double digits.

Winning a sports bet is one of the top 10 exhilarating feelings in the world; you can only image how hard it is to contain my bulging erection when I rush up to the window to cash my winning ticket. I have to tuck my stiff junk into my waist band so I don't get 86d from the casino for being a pederast, then banned for life in all Nevada casinos by inclusion in the so-called Black Book. It's fun to win a bet, but you can only imagine the intensified rush winning a sports bet while tripping balls in the middle of a Phish show and getting the winning notification at the start of Wingsuit that you shipped your big bet of the day. I got unstuck and planned to roll the college winnings into Sunday's NFL action. I was playing with house money. Time to press it because it's FREE MONEY! Gambling is utterly preposterous and awesome in the same breath. You can create wealth out of thin air trying to predict the future.

CK5's kaleidoscope of lights were replaced by dollar signs and I kept yelling random Kanye lyrics in jubilation to the dismay of the hottie raver-purple unicorn dancing next to me who had no clue why I shoved my swollen crank in my waist band while Trey sang, "Time to put your Wingsuit on!" I huffed a victory doob with the guy in front of me because Wingsuit harshed my old lady's vibe so much so, that she retreated to the hallway to realign her chakras with spinner girls and spun-out wooks.

The wife @change100 passed 100 shows in San Francisco this summer, and as a couple we passed 100 shows together at one of the Dick's shows. The second in night in Vegas marked my 351st show. I only mention that because the final show in Coventry was my 151st show. Yup. Your math is correct. Saturday in Vegas equated to my 200th show in 3.0. You know what that means? I lose my jaded vet status and get demoted in rank. Sweet fucking Jebus. 200 fucking 3.0 shows? Talk about chasing the dragon, son!

We had sweet seats a couple rows off the floor. The second I walked inside the MGM Arena, we witnessed a wedding in upper deck before the show started. Back in 2000 just before the 1.0 hiatus, I took my Japanese friends Yuh and Jun (from the Tokyo jamband "Horse") on tour with me and at the Vegas show at Thomas & Mack, we watched a young couple from Texas get engaged in the middle of the first set during Mellow Mood. And now, 16 years later, I saw a wedding in Vegas.

I'm still awaiting my first Phish birth. Maybe at MSG this summer? I predict my notes will read: "Sick second set man. Tweezer rocked. Page crushed No Quarter. Hippie chick named MARS popped out a baby wookling in middle of Piper. Backwards'd again. Shitty SOL encore."

We pre-gamed in my room once again and wouldn't be a Saturday night in Vegas unless I was the guinea pig goaded into testing the mystery baggie. For a second night in a row, Phish kicked off the show with a Haunted House song. The Birds started the Saturday show (side note: bug thumbs up to the hottie who dressed up like Tippi Hendron in Hitchcock's Birds thriller for Halloween). Gumbo was the highlight of the set. Slow boil to start. Faded funk. Exploded into a fucking beast.

"That's some solid shit baby, yeah!" a jacked-up brah screamed.

Leo stepped to the front of the stage and channeled his best Frank Sinatra for Lawn Boy. Killed it. FUCKING DESTROYED IT. Women fainted in the aisles. Overcome by the sexual radiance. Even I felt something tickle my loins. It was like the Beatles at Shea in 1965, except Leo was distributing the vocal aphrodisiac to the ladies on the highest vibrational scale in the universe. Section 12 was flooded. Ten inches deep. Vaginal secretions squirted in all directions. It was like the friggin' Bellagio fountain over there. Only thing missing was that fancy opera song in Italian. Leo wasn't done. He wanted to let Mike Gordon know who's the BIGGEST swinging dick in Vegas. Leo walked over to Gordo's side and simply gazed at a half dozen ladies. In a split second, Leo snatched up the cream of the crop from Gordon's art-freak fangirls and even lured away a couple of Ed O'B's Radiohead groupies.

In the middle of the set-closer More, Trey ripped his solo and I kept thinking how awesome the song was and I we need more love and light in the world and everything was awesome and I made the right choice to ignore political arguments all year and not have a Facebook account and love and light and everything was awesome because I usually hate everyone, but now I loved everyone and everything.

Yeah, spun'd. The liquid sunshine definitely kicked in during More. Trey used a Jedi mind trick and brainwashed me for a few hours, but by sunrise, it wore off and I returned to my cynical grumpy self.

At setbreak I found Raging Ruth, who was a hot mess all weekend. She snorted all of my bathroom drugs and pissed off a couple of maids (I dunno how anyone can get Chardonnay stains off stucco ceiling).

RAGING RUTH shooting dice
Mercury is growing on me. Got weird for a few minutes. Phish gambled on that one. Everyone in my section was crocked to the tits. Most of them tried earnestly to get into it. Erica and John from the Boulder crew got stuck in a non-Mercury friendly zone in Chad City enduring Chadoucheful things during the 16+ minute song. Shit got cooking with Piper. Nine minutes in, it felt like we were attending a Herbie Hancock's basement jam session before the entire got sucked into a worm hole and got sideways alien freaky and blasted off into another dimension. Tweezer wasn't for amateurs. Felt like it was gonna be all sparkles and unicorns and moonbeams, but shit got dark and dirty quick. The boys shifted into nasty mode and quickly left the noobs in the dust. They kicked it up another notch and kicked the ketamine kids in the nuts. Tweezer jam didn't waste any time before it got to the fringes of the Vegas Crazy Galaxy... a.k.a. the third-day of a 72-hour coke-bender with several tear-dropped tattoo Eastern-European working girls hiding in your hotel room on the lam from their Russian mob pimp/boyfriends.

Then Page saved the day with his uplifting new song I Always Wanted It This Way. I was so damn lazy that I dubbed it as Page EDM in my setlist notes. It's like if Page tried to re-write the sentiment of Steely Dan's Hey Nineteen (aging beatnik falling in love with a young hippie) but influenced by James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem's hipster-untz. Horse > Silent was welcomed relief from half the crowd who got lost during Page EDM. The other half raged it hard with Page and his chorus of scantily-clad burners. Golgi was the cherry-flavored line of blow on top of the sundae. The two-song encore was an Exile on Main Street cover plus Tweeprise. I was thrilled that Phish didn't punk out with Loving Cup. I woulda soiled myself if I we got Torn and Frayed, but I gave the boys two thumbs up for Shine A Light.

"That new Page song makes me anxious," said my bud Scotty from LA, as we walked onto the casino floor after the show.

"Yeah. Page EDM makes me really fucking frightened," I said dodging someone with a tourdog in a cape. "Like what would happen if I was all of a sudden single and a 40+ year old having to date a millennial. That would fucking terrify me. This song is about Page having a mid-life crisis and ditching his wife/kids to go to Burning Man and he eats too much gay ninja molly and falls in love with one of those body-painted sparkle ponies, and he's fucking LEO and lives life by his own moral code but he can't connect with her on an intellectual level because she's a tech-addicted millennial and constantly on Snapchat and not listening to him play new songs ideas, just like Trey does!"

Two down. Two more to go, plus Halloween.

* * * *

 Phish Vegas Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play

Phish Vegas Part 2: Page EDM

Phish Vegas Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Phish Vegas, Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play

By @taopauly

Vegas. I conjured up the dark side when I lived in Vegas for several years. Most of that grind seemed like an ephemeral dream. I wrote a book about living in Vegas during the peak of the online poker boom and sometimes a friend will read the book and ask me about some of the crazy things and many epic stories which I purposely left off the pages. Maybe I'll write another book about Vegas one day, but the Phish trips will definitely make the cut. I saw Phish play Halloween shows in Las Vegas in 1998, 2014, and 2016... and the shit that went down anchored three of the Top 25 craziest weekends of my life. It goes without saying, things got so weird in Vegas when Phish and the psychedelic circus blows through town, that Phishy Halloweens were among my Top 5 all-time decedent weekends in Vegas.

When I lived in Vegas, I almost died in a car wreck. That Moth story is for another time. But for now, all you need to know is that I was one of the lucky ones. I beat Vegas and I got out alive. I lost so many friends and colleagues to the dark side that I lost count. Some of the sordid tales are cliched stories of washing out and going broke, other deviant tragedies will break your fucking heart in forty million pieces. Some good souls are still stuck on the dark side. Others infected with the "sickness" will never get out of Vegas. I'm one of the lucky ones because I had the ability to move in between realities: Vegas and the real world. I can dive back in and sneak out without getting sucked back in. At least... I had hoped so.

The last Phish Halloween run in 2014 got tainted by personal reasons because I had mixed feelings about returning to the crossroads of my mortality. I had limped away a winner and didn't want to press my luck, but I couldn't miss a Phish Halloween show. That was the only thing that pulled me back into Vegas. I survived the Haunted House madness in 2014, had oodles of fun but it came at a cost because I was an emotional wreck. In a good way because needed to confront the demons of the past and accept the new path I had embarked upon.

Halloween was the first night of a three-night Vegas run in 2014 followed by two more shows. By the last night, I was mentally drained after being up for almost four-straight days raging with the Joker and lost my cookies.

This time around, I left all the crazy head trips behind. Plus the scheduling was flipped. The 2016 Halloween show would finish off the four-night run and cap off the entire fall tour. Each night in Vegas would be building up to the next. In its own way, the decadence increased exponentially each night culminating toward the Halloween blowout...three sets plus the musical costume that was heavily rumored to be David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust.

For the first time in a very long time -- in almost 12 years -- I could enjoy Las Vegas like everyone else. Like a tourist. Except, I held an edge as a former resident; I could properly rage without being an easy mark. Vegas loves revelers on a itchy-nosed mission to get absolutely obliterated because it makes it easier for the casinos to squeeze the last dollar out of your pocket and charge last cents of available credit from your plastic. Like the record industry in the 1960s, the mafia ran Vegas with ruthless efficiency. All the old-school mobsters with Italian names got ran out decades ago and today faceless mega-corporations run Sin City. Post-Modern Vegas is controlled by a different type of mob. These faceless logos won't threaten you with violence if you step out of line, but the goal is still the same: pilfering and profits. Those slimy fuckers don't have names like Vinny the Nose or Tony Two-Times. Instead those unscrupulous banksters minding the store wear suits, have 401Ks, and armed to the teeth with Ivy League-educated litigators.

Phish is full-blown corporate these days. It's the only way to preserve their sanity. The boys from Vermont try to put on a good show, keep everyone in the crowd happy, while satiating their own artistic needs, and cashing fat-ass tour-ending checks that exceed our entire lifetime net earnings. Phish and Vegas have many similarities. In the end, they're going to acquire every last cent you own, but try to give you the best time of your life in the process. In these mercurial political times, depending on where you live, you have to go back underground and hide the freak flag otherwise get stomped by the unenlightened masses. Yet, Phish is one of the few places you can let it all hang out. So, when you host Phish in Vegas, you're inside a 24-hour vacuum where aberrant behavior is expected. Anything goes when Phish blows through Vegas and no one will give a shit what the fuck you do short of killing someone else.

Phish tour = anything goes.

Vegas = anything goes.

Phish + Vegas = nuclear anarchy.

Vegas trips should never last more than two days because the human body gets besieged by sensory overlord and your brain gets scrambled. You begin to accept insane behavior as normalcy and start to do weird things once you've been inside casinos for three and four days. Let's not forget what happened in April 2004 and that was only a three-show Phish run in Vegas. I'm shocked Phish pulled off a three-night run in 2014, let alone a four-nighter. But I guess Trey is back to being a Jedi and can handle doing somersaults at the gateway to hell. Then again, in 2016 the phamily was wise enough to keep Trey away from temptation and booked him a bungalow out at Green Valley Ranch (where your grandma degen'd it up on penny slots) in the burbs.

Plus, nothing spiritually positive and morally good ever happens once you've been up for 40-straight hours and hell-bent on staying up for 50 or 60. The worst decisions of my life have either been made in Las Vegas after being up for a couple of days, or partying waaaay past the 40+ hour mark and marching like a schwilly zombie into the nefarious 50-hour territory. If you combine both situations.... being up for 48 hours partying in Vegas... you insta-flush your dignity away and your cactus pride. You significantly increase your odds of incarceration, blackmail, getting rolled by a hooker, an embarrassing neck tattoo, picking up an STD from the swing-shift hostess at Denny's, knocking up a club girl, getting swindled by con artists, losing a combination of your marriage/house/car/kid/savings/job, and most of all...your sanity. Plus in this tech-heavy day and age of instant gratification with nonstop social media, you're gifting divorce attorneys, local law enforcement, and Big Brother oodles of data to use against you in the future.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the eye in the sky sees everything. And the NSA caches everything.

I flew into Vegas on Thursday night. My bud Mr. Funk (aka @LVcabchronicles) picked me up at the airport and made sure I didn't get long-hauled on the freeway! We both had blogs about Vegas during the height of the short-lived blogging trend in the mid-00s and shared a common fondness for the Grateful Dead and Phish. Mr. Funk told me he was taking his wife to her first show at the MGM Grand Arena during the four-night run in Vegas. Meanwhile, my tour wife had to work in LA on Friday (busy corrupting minds in Hollywood), and could only make the other three nights. I would be raging solo to start the trip with friends from Colorado, California, and Seattle slowly trickling in.

On Thursday at peak tourist hours, I got sucked into playing a low-limit poker tournament on the Strip with a combination of drunken conventioneers from fly-over states and sad-sacked locals who spent too many hours chasing flushes and three outers. I outlasted Colorado friends in the tourney, made the final table, but finished in seventh place. Bad beat too. I wanted to jab my fingers into the eyeballs of a dipshit-donk in seat four, but it's also been a while since I questioned my existence at a poker table on the Strip. That's when a saw a familiar face on the rail: my old business partner Michalski. He showed up drunk as a skunk with a former colleague from London, who was in town representing a major European casino. They were both getting hammered on a expense tab and it had been a while since I got shitty on someone else's dime. It felt like it was 2007 all over again and I was being wooed by gaming fat cats to pimp competing online poker rooms. After we shut down karaoke, waved off a consortium of emaciated working girls, I walked down Las Vegas Blvd. and forgot that the lowest common denominator of humanity was well-represented on the Vegas Strip at 3am. I got tickled by fond memories, while other places triggered mixed feelings. And the newly-constructed sparkly things just confused me.

Vegas is a city that's in constant flux. Build. Destroy. Rebuild.

On Friday morning, I loaded up a few bets at the sportsbook with Wildo. I crushed Eggslut at Cosmo with Carrie Sparkles. Johnnie Salami arrived and we hit up a dispensary. Out-of-state medicinal card holders got to shop at Vegas dispensaries and we checked out the locally-grown goodies. Not as cheap as Colorado, but on par with San Francisco prices. I loaded up on White Fire OG and headed back to the MGM to host the pre-party for the Denver/Boulder crew and my old Vegas pal Dr. Nacho Picante.

Extra tickets were going for as low as $6 on Stub Hub for behind the stage. I saw people selling PTBM lower levels for $50 in front of the Game of Thrones slots. Johnnie Salami and I found a spot a few rows up in Sect 200s dead center in back. Fun section with mix of complete noobs and pro ragers looking to lock down a row for their crew. Johnnie Salami chatted up cute cokefiend millennial ladies from Boston all night, while I got stuck next to two schwasted girls who had to leave and pee every other song. They were the personification of LCD Soundsystem's Drunk Girls. I didn't have to ask because I knew they were from L.A.

Show kicked off with some of 2014's Halloween shtick and Martian Monster, a theme they'd tried to carry through on all four nights. Almost. No Man's got shit cooking early. Friday night Set 1 was highlighted by a trio of unexpected bustouts with Dog Stole Things, Beauty of My Dreams, and Destiny Unbound. All in a row. I wished DST was in rotation and the Destiny's jam was impressive. Fishman was an octopus on Limb as per usual. Thought set would end with Cavern, but Trey kept it going with Walls of the Cave.

Fishman was a beast all set, but he was spent by the end of Walls. It was okay though...this was Vegas after all and he had a vast team of massage girls of all shapes and sizes to work on all eight of his appendages and his crank as well during the set break. In Page's baller dressing room, he had Jim Murphy sipping champagne and DJing a remix of Claude VonStroke while a harem of EDM raver girls diddled each other with molly-Fireball soaked tampons. Gordo had a tall, stern, laconic Swedish manservant named Hans waiting for him in his dressing room. Everyone thinks Hans is Gordo's boy toy, but he's more than that. Hans is a combination yoga coach, fashion consultant (come on Gordo didn't acquire that Euro-slick, eclectic, scarf taste himself), masseuse, intellectual peer, and ping-pong partner. And Trey? Trey took off his shirt and sat alone in his dimly lit dressing room. Just himself and his bible. He turned to Paul's Corinthians and silently read while he whipped himself with a belt (Gucci retail $279) for flubbing Walls of the Cave.

Second set kicked off with Crimes of the Mind from the Dude of Life. Another bustout. Another curveball. Kinda put me off kilter for a few minutes until they tore up the last couple of minutes. Then it happened. Golden Age. Might have been the high-water mark of Vegas. The chorus/versus/chorus is just foreplay. Like taking out your Tinder date for sushi before you knock her boots into Pluto. The Golden Age jam is why I go see Phish. Twenty minutes of deep space exploration. Shit got weird. Shit got real. Shit got cosmic. Bowels were moved. Vaginas were soaked. Penises rose and fall. Even the handful of asexual heads started doing unusual things with their private parts in utter jubilation. That Golden Age jam had a couple of multiple orgasms, a couple of peaks and explosive moments. You figured Simple would be short and sweet after that insane Golden jam. Instead they stretched out the Light jam and tested those outer limits. Twenty Years Later is the obvious buzz kill for all of you full-throttle heads, but every once in a while the lyrics resonate with you once you go north of 40 years old. Vegas 1998 was a high-water mark in my relationship with Phish and it's amazing to think that epic run with Senor and his brother was nearly 20 years ago. Sorta surprised to hear Blaze On and No Man's in the same set, but this was Vegas...they had something cooking. Regular Coil to end the set (no Gordo bass solo like at Dick's...glad it was a one time thing). Yeah, we got a Bouncin' encore and I scurried off to the pisser before the Hendrix cover of Axis: Bold As Love. Leo slays those covers. Always.

Page McConnell is a first-ballot Hall of Fame Panty Dropper. Only Frank Sinatra pulled in more tail in Vegas than Leo. If you don't believe me, ask Leroy the shoeshine guy at the MGM. He's been in Vegas for 53 years and told me, "Sinatra is the all-time best. But your sandwich boy, Leo? His elephant trunk dug holes the size of the Lincoln Tunnel into those half-nekkid butterfly girls. Paramedics had to take them out on a stretcher. Two at a time. Hadn't seen that much damage since Sinatra at the Golden Nugget in 1982."

One down in Vegas. Three to go.

* * * *

Phish Vegas Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play

Phish Vegas Part 2: Page EDM

Phish Vegas Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked

Pauly is the author of Lost Vegas. Check it out.