“Do you have to be on drugs to listen to Phish?” asks the cameraman.
It’s where all those sloppily dressed kids that don’t know how to brush their hair go. The sprightly young man (somewhere on Phish’s European tour) tells us this as he skips merrily down the street, shredding on his harmonica. I viewed this and more for screening purposes only in Todd Philips’ movie “Bittersweet Motel,” which is based on the famous masters of the jam-band Phish, while I was engaged in the painting of a clock.
Major components of the movie include: (1) Phish playing music in back rooms and being “the guys,” (2) performances by “one of the most successful acts on the global touring circuit,” (3) the Phish fans/culture, (4) guitarist Trey Anastasio’s thoughts.
The “being the guys” that they do is intertwined almost entirely with music making and performances. From backstage jams to marathon Phish festivals to playful gun-buying bargaining in a non-English speaking gun shop, these playful performers give us a peek at what life is like as a part of a tight group that has been on the road together for years. “It’s like us, man,” someone on the couch chuckles. “We’re just people, man,” jokes Anastasio.
The performances were from all over the place. While I painted the clock, I basically listened to the movie rather than watched it. I was told by my friend, the Phish fan, that what the performances really captured was the process by which participatory elements invented by the audience merge with the musical elements provided by the band to create “the show” as a piece of communally produced and consumed art. Still, it isn’t that the show itself is just music making devoid of the aim of entertainment. It’s theatrical, whether straining out a bit of barbershop quartet or pounding out rock that one could go so far as to describe as “hard.”
The only two scenes I watched between coats of blaze-orange aerosol paint and blue masking tape were a well lit, well shot New Years show and a photo shoot of about 200 naked hippies. If that alone isn’t the makings of great cinema …
What goes on in the show’s parking lot at 4:20 p.m.? What’s in that chick’s balloon that makes her sing so silly and dance so slowly? Why do Justin and Brian, the shot-gunning protectors of the knowledge that kind bud is what you smoke when you wanna get fucked up, talk so much about who shaves their armpits and what cars they drive and how they were brought up? How do self-described white boys from ’70s suburbia claiming that rock ‘n’ roll is bullshit relate with fans that claim that the shows expand their spirit? And what does Anastasio not remember telling a seemingly chemically sedated groupie in a Tucson movie theater that moved her to just want to be near him?
Answers revealed Friday, April 6, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at Campbell Hall. Students $5, general $6.