Link to the PDF files: Same As It Ever Was – Lake Champlain Weekly January 9, 2019
Same As It Ever Was
by Joshua Miner
Someday you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here?
For Pink Talking Fish, they recall fondly the road that brings them here to Plattsburgh this January. But where exactly does that highway go to from here? In the case of bassist Eric Gould and drummer Zack Burwick, that’s the eternal question.
For them, it all began years ago with a deep and profound love for the musical exploration and revolutionary improvisation that was Phish.
Gould was in Plattsburgh the last time the music of Phish was celebrated here, at 1996’s groundbreaking Clifford Ball festival on the Plattsburgh Air Force Base. The first of its kind event drew 70,000 fans to Plattsburgh from all over the country, giving birth to the modern festival scene and inspiring events like Bonnaroo. Gould was forever changed during that weekend in Plattsburgh.
“I’d been seeing Phish since 1993, and that was the first big festival. Where we were as a fanbase back then, it was just something extra special. It was something beyond. The energy around that was extraordinary, it was brand new for people. It’s something that was shared among the Phish fanbase in such a cool way at that time,” Gould recalls. “To this day that festival is extremely meaningful in my love for music and that chapter in my life. I’m really excited to come in and be able to play, myself, there. It’s going to be really, really fun.”
The shows promise to be meaningful for both band and fan alike. With the group bringing their unique expression of love back to such a pivotal location in Phish history, the Strand Theatre will serve to bring their music full circle in Plattsburgh after more than 22 years.
While Phish may have been the driving force that propelled the band into creation, the funk and weirdness of the Talking Heads and the unforgettable musical productions of Pink Floyd make up the other two thirds of the band’s namesakes. The songs are indeed covers, but as Gould explains, what the band does with these classic and oftentimes epic compositions firmly set them apart from your run-of-the-mill cover band.
“What we do is we blend the lines of tribute and originality. What we’re really doing is taking the songbooks of these three bands, and we’re creating a fresh experience for people who love this music,” Gould explains.
The songs from these bands find themselves fusing and flowing from one into the other, serving as platforms for Pink Talking Fish’s own original musical improvisation and segues. When a groove from a Talking Heads tune becomes reminiscent of a funky bassline of Mike Gordon in a Phish song, the two rhythms become one as they combine within and without each other. When Trey Anastasio’s frolicking guitar riffs begin to slow and recall David Gilmour, Phish becomes Pink Floyd. After exploring space on a journey facilitated by these three distinct bands, they explain through their music what all those musicians have been getting at all along, finally landing on a melodic guitar solo seared into the brains of millions of music fans from Dark Side of the Moon.
Pink Floyd began it’s career in the 1960’s, playing a new psychedelic sort of rock and roll. They had solidified their status as a worldwide phenomenon in the 1970’s, with Dark Side of the Moon becoming one of the most popular albums of all time. In the 1980’s, the Talking Heads began to come into their own as a weird, quirky alternative to what was playing on the radio at the time. At the time, there was nothing like it. And there was no one on the planet with the unique, self-aware energy of front man David Byrne. In the 1990’s, Phish became a touring phenomenon with thousands of people from all over the country following them from city to city, creating a community with innumerable memories and bonds that were built to last a lifetime.
These three bands may sound different on the surface, Gould explains, but they were all driving at the same concepts. The concept of something different, something new. A constant exploration not only into life, the universe and everything; but more importantly a journey within ourselves. A divine, inward experience propelled always by self-awareness but above all, music. A drive to reach a higher state of consciousness.
Pink Talking Fish began their own journey in 2013, when Gould had the idea to mesh together three of the world’s most influential and well-known groups. For the next year and a half, the band had a revolving lineup of musicians. Slowly, the rotation began to gel and solidify into the band they are today.
Burwick was playing with a Phish cover band called the Phreaks in Worcester, Massachusetts. There to play in a local Phish after-party show, he had no idea that night would change his life forever. Burwick was surprised to meet Gould in the audience, who was already established in the jam scene as the bassist and founder of Particle. Not knowing Gould was from nearby Northborough, they exchanged information with Burwick thinking nothing more of it.
“Two days later I’m at home and he calls me up,” Burwick reminisces warmly. “He’s like: ‘Here’s the thing. We’re playing this little run of gigs in Denver in two days, and our drummer had to have an emergency appendectomy. Are you in?’”
A once in a lifetime chance, Burwick recalls the feeling of a window opening, a gateway to all the opportunities he’d only dreamed about. Going through the litany of reasons why not, he pushed past the doubt to the final realization that this was fate knocking. He soon picked up the phone and called Gould, the man who was a complete stranger just days ago.
Meeting at the airport, and with only a half a day of practice, they started their multiple night run in Denver. Everyone just clicked, Burwick explains. He soon became established in the group along with Richard James on keyboards and Dave Brunyak on guitar. That lineup became permanent, and Pink Talking Fish began running as well-oiled machine. Burwick had found his calling.
Over the next few years, the band’s repertoire expanded. The members became increasingly fluent in each other’s energy and styles, and their synergy and creativity flourished.
“Really, the goal when you’re on stage is [to have] a conversation. You don’t want to talk over somebody, you want to talk with somebody and make sure you’re listening and they’re listening,” he explains.
Burwick’s mission is to create perfect grooves, pockets, ebbs, flows and releases. His goal?
“To provoke what makes music so good for people who are into these bands. For me, Phish is the band. They taught me essentially that I could get off on music. I always liked music, but then I got to Phish. I was like: ‘Oh, I didn’t know this is what can happen.’ I know what it does for me. I hope that’s what everybody gets out of music,” Burwick expounds. “The goal is to get closer to giving people those feelings as much as possible and getting it for us as we play.”
While fans of Phish and Talking Heads know they are in for a quirky, strange and carefree dance party, Pink Floyd adds a layer of straightforward emotion for many.
“Pink Floyd is just one of those bands, most people can connect it to certain special times in their life,” Burwick explains. “Pink Floyd just hits a certain spot in people. Like Comfortably Numb, it means a lot to a ton of people. Wish You Were Here. We play some of these songs, and sometimes you’ll catch people having their moments in the crowd where they’ll be crying. There’s not many bands that do that. I think Pink Floyd is a very special band for a lot of people.”
Their most recent fall tour has been their most extensive to date, with over 30 shows taking them from coast to coast, and everywhere in between. One of the highlights for the band were the stops in Colorado, where they were joined by the Giant Country Horns. The group played with Phish at a run of shows during 1991, providing layers of jazz and fresh life to the foursome’s relentlessly adventurous grooves. They also appeared twice more with the band in 1994.
As Pink Talking Fish travelled with the Horns on the way to their shows, Burwick couldn’t help but feel that they had come a long way. Listening to those famous 1991 shows alongside the musicians who made it possible, it was hard not to see things falling into place in serious way.
“It’s one of those brief moments in life when you’re like ‘Holy Crap!’,” Burwick laughs.
The band has also had several themed shows, such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a complete multimedia experience including a giant projection screen. In 2017, they recreated the iconic Talking Heads live production, Stop Making Sense. Currently in the works is the Junta Circus extravaganza on February 23rd at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. The interpretation of the classic Phish album will be circus themed through and through, with Greg Ormont from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong in the role of ringleader. Featuring The Big Apple Circus troupe from New York City, there will be attractions both on and off stage during the event. And of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without Pink Floyd and Talking Heads numbers weaving their way in and out of the set.
“I think the ultimate goal of Pink Talking Fish is to capture the beauty of what those three bands bring to the ears of fans, and the feelings and emotions that they bring,” Burwick said. “And bring that to the stage with us and meld it together to make something new, but also something oddly familiar. We’re fans just like the people who [go] to see the bands are. It’s a very humbling thing. It’s like having the ultimate fan experience.”
The Strand Center Theatre show will be held Friday, January 18th at 8 pm. Tickets are available at the Strand Center Box Office and online at strandcenter.org. Entry is $25 in advance, and $30 at the doors.
While their songbook is based on three extremely well-known bands, the experience created by Pink Talking Fish is more than just a sum of its parts. It’s a labor of love by fans, for fans. It’s a doorway to the spiritual center of universe. And as the band and audience walk through that door as one, we find ourselves in a time before we were born. And if someone asks, this is where Pink Talking Fish will be.