Concert Review: Strange Design, 10/29

Strange DesignFor those of us who couldn’t get Hampton tickets, last night was a close second.

“This is about Phish and the music they wrote.” That is how Strange Design, Phish’s foremost live tribute, describes their mission.

There is a difference between cover bands and tributes. Cover bands are trashy; they make me think of New Jersey, karaoke, and warm beer. Tributes, however, are an entirely different matter. They’re respectful to the band’s legacy; they bring it. Last night, Strange Design had it – brought it – revived it for everyone who had ever felt Phish’s energy.

The crowd was a motley crew – as Fe Live! tends to draw – but that didn’t take away from the vibe. Phans were getting down with the slutty boxers/Moses(!?)/nurses in harmony, exactly as Phish would desire. And, no matter what their musical preference, everyone was shocked by Strange Design’s prowess; even those unfamiliar with Phish – like the friend of mine who asked what band was on, and when I replied “a Phish tribute”, said “I didn’t know Phish would come to College Park!” – were able to recognize that there’s something special about Strange Design.

Made up of brothers Adam (drums) and Matt (guitar) Chase, Aaron Levy (keys), and Ben Markowitz (bass), Strange Design took over Fe last night. The incredibly planned lights stunned the crowd into submission while the sweet notes of August 12, 1998’s show from Vernon, NY filled the venue. The packed dance floor moved in unison as the opening notes of “La Grange” put the crowd into a trance. “Character Zero” had Phish fans jumping in their places, yelling “I want to see the man Mulcahey” as though we could.

The second set brought the audience right back into the groove. “Mike’s Song”>”Simple”>”Rift” was an incredible set-opener; the masterful transitions illustrated what separate both Phish and Strange Design from other jam bands. “Loving Cup”, introduced as a song for the “cats” in the audience, delivered a beautiful buzz to the crowd that carried them through a delightfully funky “Sleeping Monkey”.

The band played until 2am, long past when Fe normally closes on Wednesdays. Though noticeably smaller, a strong crowd remained through the encore; “Burning Down” and “You Enjoy Myself” were gifts to the devoted fans.

Three of the show’s strongest points were in the second set: Levy’s keys solo, which silenced the boisterous audience, and two within the encore YEM trampoline jam. Though something I had read about, I couldn’t understand how a trampoline jam could actually be pulled off; however, Markowitz and Chase managed to keep their playing solid while performing a synchronized dance on two mini-trampolines. The band ended the song in a way that I can only describe as inspiring, with all four members slowly harmonizing an indecipherable “Wash Uffizi, drive me to Firenze”.

The atmosphere at Santa Fe Cafe last night was beautiful; Strange Design’s performance reminded us why we’re Phans.

Strange Design is on tour now through November 29, with a Halloween show at The Pour House in Raleigh, NC, and a Thanksgiving weekend two-night special at Sullivan Hall in Manhattan.

Set One:
La Grange
Funky Bitch
Character Zero
Ramble On>

Set Two:
Mike’s Song>
Loving Cup
Sleeping Monkey
Weekapaug Groove
Squirming Coil

e: Burning Down
e: You Enjoy Myself

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