At the end of my conversation with Jeff Ament, I realize that the idea behind Three Fish, the trio he plays guitar with when a certain other band doesn't demand his bass line, is a representation of the man himself. That is, there is no real "concept." Ament does not operate according to formula; rather, he pursues artistic impulses, and whatever happens, happens.

Take Three Fish, for example. In the late '80s, while playing a gig in Boston, Ament was taken with a band fronted by South African musician Robbi Robb. From that point on, it was a matter of kinship: Ament and Robb wrote letters, exchanged musical visions, and eventually collaborated with drummer Richard Stuverud in 1993 to begin recording what became Three Fish's debut album. If you've heard it, you know it's a far cry from Pearl Jam, Ament's "other" band; in fact, it seems to move in a polar opposite direction. Think of the Pearl Jam show in Missoula last summer: the kinetic pulse, the crescendo of audience roars, the frenetic motion and adoration. Then listen to Robbi Robb describe the "peak" moment of a Three Fish show in Denver last year: "We took it to a point of complete silence. The entire audience of 150 was quiet. It was kind of planned, but we knew it was risky; it depended on how the show was going, and it just naturally went there."

The idea of meaningful, meditative silence is central to the music of Three Fish. Heavily influenced by Eastern traditions, Robb describes the music as an attempt to "outwardly express an internal state of self-release." With this departure from focus on self, Ament and Robb say, comes an intense trust and cohesion within a band.

With that in mind, I ask Ament what it's like to come back to Missoula after years of gallivanting with one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

"For the most part, it's like a refuge," he says. "Yeah, people recognize me, and once in awhile I get accused of not speaking to someone at Charlie B's, but more than anything it's low-key and peaceful."

His advice to musicians in little cities like Missoula?

"Cheesy as it sounds, I think growing up in Big Sandy instilled qualities that helped me with music later on," he offers. "There's something about small towns and sandlot football that demands a sort of team mentality, a lack of ego that's essential to a good band."

And that's precisely the overriding sense I get about Jeff Ament: his genuine lack of ego, his unwillingness to trace his success to anything other than "doing what felt good, associating with people I wanted to know."

This same sort of authentic purpose seems central to Three Fish. Mood-intensive, mystically ambient, and riddled with Turkish and Egyptian instruments, the band is more interested in achieving certain states of mind and connecting with their audience than in generating infatuated frenzy. They're a truly sincere breed of departure and experimentation. They're also some really, really nice guys.

Three Fish plays the Cowboy Bar with former Missoulians, Clodhopper, on Friday, May 28 at 9 p.m. $6. Quiet Table will be released June 1.


Good news for mad dogs and peckish Englishmen staggering about in the noonday sun: Out To Lunch, Missoula's favorite summer lunch and live music getaway, celebrates its 14th birthday this Wednesday. Local restaurants will cart their wares down to Caras Park every Mittwoch between June 2 and the end of August, and each date has a different musical theme to it. Clip and save; here follows a brief synopsis of the 1999 Out To Lunch performance:

June 2 is "Rockin' into Summer" day, with some presumably summer-themed covers by local veterans the Levitators and the Furys, who play "hits from the '50s, '60s, '70s (including those disco covers!) and '80s."

June 9 brings us "Jazz Day," presenting the Stevensville High School Jazz Band and the incomparable lounge stylings of the Jodi Marshall Group, honey-piped divinissima Eden Atwood.

In spite of what Mama told you, not just every day is kids' day; that honor belongs to June 16, "Kids/Mascots Day," when wee ones of all ages will no doubt scratch their heads in bafflement at the trippadocious elfin lyxx of psych-funk druids Driftopia (holler for their Helmet cover!) and Beef Trout, whose naughty-sounding name belies a solid core of "contemporary rock with a heavy dose of the blues."

Up against the wall, redneck mother: June 23 is "Country Day," with "stripped-down, pure bluegrass music" channeled direct from the ghosts of the Ozarks by Grassoline, whose hotness is suggested by the fact that they have all the makings of a hayseed Molotov built right into their name! Sharing the stage is the five-piece Swifty Morgan.

Where's Waldo?

June 30 is "Blues Day" with The David Walburn Trio and the Moonlighters; July 7 will see a day of World Music with dance and song from Africa and the Andes as well as improv comedy from members of the Missoula Boys & Girls Club.

Whoops! We've run out of theme days for July 14 and 21; the former will feature "happy blues" (eh?) from Three-Eyed Jack and the Cory Heydon Band; the latter highlights the nine-piece Cold Mountain Rhythm band plus sage-scented range rider Rob Quist of Great Northern renown.

"Let's Swing" pretty much speaks for itself: on July 28, Caras Park will morph into one huge dance floor as the Town & Gown Dixieland Jazz Band and the Ed Norton Big Band tear the roof right straight off the mother.

"Caribbean Day" (August 4) not only sounds better than "Taste of the U.S. Virgins," but these musicians deliver the goods! The Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble will pound on the woodpiles; the Cocinando Latin Jazz Ensemble promise a "high-energy Afro-Cuban" good time.

The final three weeks of Out To Lunch fun will whirl past like a BBQ-flavored hurricane: August 11 means Jean Wrobel & Friends plus olde-tyme favorites the Big Sky Mud Flaps; August 18 ("Western Montana Fair Day") will bring you a double dose of country with Bob Wire & the Fencemenders and Tarkio; and "Finale Day" on August 25 will sew the summer shut with Cash for Junkers and covermeisters Smoke. See you there!

Out to Lunch begins Wednesday, June 2 at 11:30 a.m. Food vendors available starting at 11 a.m.

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