Los Angeles, CA
Two types of Phish shows stick out; Halloween and Festivals.
Festivals are among the most insane parties in America because Phish usually takes over a spot in the middle of nowhere and a small city springs up as fans camp out for several days after an arduous journey from all corners of U.S., not to mention sojourns from extraterrestrials from couple of nearby solar systems. Phish festivals feature an "anything goes" policy and it's a complete throwdown of music, art, partying, and other spiritual awakening experiences. Friends for life are made at festivals, while fragile relationships are torn apart. Festivals are more difficult that you imagine and only the strong survive without ODing or going to jail.
Halloween shows are equally important in a historic sense because Phish performs a musical costume set and cover an an entire album from their idols; Beatles (1995), The Who (1995), Talking Heads (1996), and Velvet Underground (1998). This year's choice was Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones. A few months ago, the band released 99 albums that they might perform on Halloween -- each a significant influence on one or more of the members of the band. The heavy favorites for the Halloween musical costume were Exile and Michael Jackson's Thriller. I had bets in on both and was a pig in shit when I hit Exile at 14-1 odds.
Some of the most inebriated moments of my life occurred during Phish Halloween and at summer-ending festivals. Phish made a crafty decision and decided to combine a multi-day festival with a Halloween performance. We got the best of both worlds without having to criss-cross the country and drive deep into the Everglades of Florida or up to the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont to soak up a festival.
This year choice of venue, the Polo Fields in Indio, CA, is most known in music scenes as the location for the Coachella festival showcasing plenty of indie bands and mainstream acts. Talk about a contrast of crowds. Hipsters vs. hippies. The grounds were around 2+ hours from our place in the slums of Beverly Hills so we offered up our digs as a launching pad for an invasion. Friends flew in from Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina, Florida, and even Benjo flew in from London to see his very first Phish show.
We left L.A. on Friday morning before sunrise and skipped traffic. Our plans to link up with an RV went awry, but the Joker and I are professionals and resorted to our backup plan. We made on last stop at K-Mart in town to pick up a sun shelter (the most clutch move of the trip).
Entering the campgrounds at the Coachella festival was notoriously a hassle because of the tight security procedures. Phish acquiesced to the local security instead of providing their own crew -- something they had always done at previous festivals. The result? Heads were hit pretty hard. The folks who arrived early on Thursday sent out the word to be vigilant with stashing your shit and to avoid bringing glass in at all costs. However, even with the repeated warnings via word of mouth, Facebook, and Twitter, the campers were no match to four guys tearing apart your car faster than the DEA could break down a van at the Juarez/El Paso border smuggling a couple of kilos of Peruvian snowflake
We anxiously waited for over an hour as we watched the Draconian tactics unfold in front of us. When it was our turn to be violated, I quickly grew infuriated with the scope of the search. I understood that security is seeking illegal items (especially booze and bottles of beer), but did one security guard have to open up my check book and riffle through my tiny Moleskin notebooks? The check book really pissed me off because he wasn't going to find a bottle of vodka there. So why did he look? I hid extra cash stashed in my checkbook and I let out a "Yo dude, watch my cash!" when I caught him in the middle of eying my poker bankroll. He glared at me and looked like he wanted to deck me. "Please put that back as you found it."
One of the SS guards found my girlfriend's medicinal marijuana stash. She quickly whipped out her medical card but that didn't help. I knew what was up and pulled a Benjamin out of my pocket very slowly to let him know my intentions. I looked the SS in his shifty eye and offered him $100. He took a deep breath and declined. The value of the bud was over $200 and I was not about to overpay to get my girlfriend's medicine back. Those fucking Nazis took one whiff at the pungent aroma of her OG Kush and drool rushed down the sides of their mouths. No way they were about to give up the motherload, even for a cash bribe. I had to write the confiscation off as a loss, considering the rest of the contents that they missed due to my Han Solo skills. We were still well stocked, yet my girlfriend was in tears and rightly so. I was trying to get her focus on the positives -- that we finally made it to Festival 8 and we're with our friends.
It took us about an hour to set up camp or what we'd call home for the next three days. Our crew had four cars in total with two sun shades and almost ten tents. The campground that we stayed in was named Kid A after one of the Radiohead albums that the band suggested they might cover. Six campgrounds in all were named after various albums including Exile on Main Street and we were about a 15 minute walk from the concert field.
Kid A had food vendors something that the other campgrounds lacked. We also had a section for "family camping" where heads brought their kids, who scampered around in their costumes. A couple of wookie kids were wandering around naked. There wasn't much vending going around Kid A with the exception of a few narcotic entrepreneurs wandering through the maze of tents. Since we were in California, there was an abundance of bud for sale which drove prices down to $40 1/8 of Kush.
We played a quick poker tournament while I waited for the DJ Ocean and his wife to arrive. I busted Benjo on the second hand. I flopped two pair from the big blind and turned a boat. He walked right into it and I won the hand. I ended up beating BTreotch heads up for the win. Suckout city.
The Oceans got a bit lost in day parking and I had to trek out to the middle of the sprawling complex to find them. Along the way, I familiarized myself with the massive layout dispersed between polo fields and stables. I found the farmer's market and the general store. I also bumped into the Joker sitting underneath a parasol and hawking LOST lot t-shirts.
Our crew wore Dharma Initiative jumpsuits, and I had mine leftover from Bonnaroo. More people thought we were Ghostbusters instead of characters from Lost, yet the ones who loved the show stopped us for photo requests.
The key to a successful festival is to pick a specific meeting place to use for the duration just in case cell phone batteries run dry. For us, it was the sculpture in front of The Coil. We picked meeting times so everyone could rendezvous 30 minutes before the set and we could all go in together.
The Joker found The Wookie and he was in rare form. I even heard a rumor that he peed in a bottle so he wouldn't miss any of the opening set. We stood to the left of the soundboard on Page side, but had an obstructed view because of the camera jib. Chris Kuroda back lit the palm trees with green lights and there was no backing to the stage so you could see a series of palm trees hovering over the band behind the stage.
I handled duties at the local bookie and I took action all weekend on Phish-related wagers. Most of them involved set openers and closers. One wasted/coked up hipster wanted to bet me that the would open with Walfredo. I knew that was 1,300 to 1 shot, but I offered him 13-1 odds and he jumped at the line. Sucker.
Phish kicked off the festival with a newer Fishman tune Party Time that I happened to dig the most out of the newer material, but the boys were not sharp and still shaking off the rust after a ten week hiatus from touring. The early highlights were the funkified Moma Dance and the uppity NICU. I had higher expectations for Stash but the Fishman vacuum cleaner hijinks made up it. Fat guys playing household instruments is fuckin' genius.
A group of girls were dressed as slutty ocelots. Tight clothes. Lots of furry things. They grooved and swayed in front of us and unleashed a frenzied exotic dance when Phish played Ocelot. They were getting down and dirty as the band finally hit their stride, but abruptly let all the air out with Time Turns Elastic. The first 85% of the composed song is a snoozer but the last three minutes is a rager. I used the downtime to smoke copious amounts of ganja while the Joker and I introduced to Benjo his first "Pauly Takes a Piss Break Song."
I figured that would be the next-to-last song but I was wrong. The result? A two-hour setbreak. No more hot ocelots grinding up against each other. I wrote a message for Trey in my notes...
Trey, you're a boner destroyer. There were six lesbians groping each other and you sent them running to the bathrooms to snort more molly during TTE. Thanks for killing my erection.Phish made up for their subpar first set with a tighter second set that featured several heavy hitters (Down with Disease, Wolfman's David Bowie, Harry Hood) and crowd pleasers (PYITE, Piper and Golgi). Even DiscoSis #1 recovered after a poor individual performance in the first set. She puked, then rallied. She gets a gold star in my book. Most amatuers would have crawled back into their tent and skipped the second set, but Disco Sis toughed it out.
During Harry Hood a weird balloon-like object appeared off to the side of the concert grounds. Originally red, the object looked like the shape of a pill, but it was actually made up of hundreds of smaller balloons with some sort of lighting rigged up inside. The band jammed Hood while the balloon slowly made its way through the crowd to the back near the Coil. Along the way, the colors changed from red to green to blue to purple then a vast array of multi-colors. Someone in my crew noted that the Hood jam "was kinda weak because the were distracted by watching the balloon and not playing." Who knows the reason, but I barely noticed and didn't mind. I've seen Hood so many times that the balloon was a welcomed distraction.
Everyone in our crew was exhausted and drained after a late night of partying at my place on Thursday and an early drive to Indio on Friday morning. Everyone crashed somewhat early and took advantage of the cold desert air to cool them down. We knew that once day break hit, sleeping inside tents would become unbearable once the scorching sun baked everything in its path. I couldn't fall sleep and wandered around Kid A. I heard the first nitrous tank of the festival. It was coming a SUV in the family camping section. I love irony.
I was up before the dawn with a couple of wook kids dancing outside my lawn. I ordered breakfast from one of the vending trucks by the showers. They ran out of breakfast burritos by 9am, so we opted for sandwiches: sausage, egg, and cheese. Benjo found croissants at a bakery in the farmer's market and he felt like he was back home in France.
While we waited in the shade for the afternoon set, we played poker a second time. I finished in second place and lost to my girlfriend who won the tournament. While we played poker, Strawberry Shortcake had picked up a Playbill with the official announcement that Phish was scheduled to play Exile on Main Street. The rumors were confirmed and I won my bet.
On Day 2 I wore a doctor's costume (recycled from Vegoose I & II). My girlfriend and Benjo joined me. The Joker made up faux-prescription pads which would come in handy when random druggies wandered over asking for prescriptions to various pharmacopoeia.
On our way inside the concert grounds, a guy with sinister pig's mask on his head wandered by. He had a white shirt that read "H1N1" on it and he wore a protective mask over his mouth. Alas, he was one of many variations of the "Swine Flu" that was represented at Phish. I took his heartbeat with a real stethoscope that I used to add authenticity to my costume. I wrote him a prescription for flu remedies and Viagra he shuffled off.
During the afternoon set, a wasted guy wandered over to us and hung out for several songs. He was dancing all over the place and super chatty and spun out. He was glad that we were there with out friends, especially Benjo who was experiencing his second show.
"You gotta spread this shit!" he insisted. "We have to tell everyone how great this is."
I told him that was the molly speaking for him. He did not disagree.
On Halloween, the Joker dressed up as the UPS man reprising his costume from Vegoose many moons ago. I followed him around a bit as he delivered packages to heads dressed up as Phish songs such as Slave to the Traffic Light, Ghost, and Antelope.
Some of my favorite costumes... Mexican Cousin, Don Mattingly (even with his stash), Michael Vick (a Spreadhead wore a #7 Falcons jersey and two bloody stuffed poodles dragging behind him on rope), Buckethead, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, all of the Mexican wrestlers including a Nacho Libre, and of course my favorites... the slutty ocelots.
In between sets, I watched the Yankees game with Wildo and Daryl on the big screen near the ferris wheel. The game was delayed because of rain and the anxious crowd was split between Yankees and Phillies fans. We left by the third inning to catch the rest of Phish, but my brother kept me updated with scores via text messages.
The second set of Halloween was what everyone was waiting for. The musical costume. I previously heard Phish perform two of the 18 songs on Exile on Main Street including Loving Cup, a main staple in Phish's repertoire which they usually played to end a set or as the encore. Phish performed Sweet Virginia once in New Orleans (to open up a show in 1999 and I rushed into Lakefront Arena just as they started the tune) but the rest of Exile was virgin territory. They added a horn section and backup singers to assist with Mick Jagger's higher vocal range. Sharon Jones was rumored to appear for a few weeks and she made her first appearance during Tumbling Dice, a song that has a bit of sentimental value for me as a former resident of Las Vegas. I wrote the last chapter of my upcoming book Lost Vegas with the Stones Tumbling Dice on repeat.
I was in a very happy mind-altering head during the first part of that set until I made a command decision to double-up on the party favors and I sunk deeper into the depths of fuckedupness. By the last three or four songs of the musical costume, I was faced. My notes indicated (with stars and check marks) that I preferred several songs on the B-side of Exile. I wondered if the drugs had kicked in, or if the band and their guests hit a groove. I listened to the set again and my gut reaction was spot on. Stop Breaking Down and Shine A Light floored me and might have been the musical apex of the entire weekend.
The third set featured five songs and a sizzling one-song encore. The boys brought out the big guns including Fluffhead, Ghost, and YEM. The glowsticks were multiplying as the set progressed. They kept coming and coming and Benjo became enamored with the raining glowsticks. It's one of those things that doesn't really translate on video and you're not going to have the visual stimulation of the lights and floating glowsticks while listening to an audio recording.
A spun out chick wandered over to us and asked if we were real doctors. She asked Nicky for a medicinal marijuana prescription. Nicky took out her pad that the Joker made for her and scribbled down a few things. She ripped the sheet off her pad and handed it to the girl, who squinted to see what Nicky had prescribed her. She gave Nicky and hug and wandered off. Poor girl is probably going to walk into a dispensary and try to get a bag of dope with a fake scrip.
Suzy had several key moments because the horns and Sharon Jones returned. She unleashed a vocal/scat jam at one point before the boys ripped back into the funky Suzy.
Since we were all more inebriated the second night, Kid A and our actually site was hopping with people who were still raging and took advantage of that extra hour to get shitty. Once we turned our clocks back, we embarked on Wook Patrol through the surrounding area. The Joker made Wook Patrol vests -- bright fluorescent green with a cool logo. When we wore them, we kinda looked like official security personnel, enough that it would make people do a double-take. The actual security patrol the campgrounds wore yellow polo shirts but in the vacillating state of consciousness that some people were in, they were unable to distinguish the two.
We stood around and caught the strangest encounter of the evening... two guys holding hands. The first was dressed in a lion's costume except he had half the costume zipped up and exposed his chest. He held hands with a guy in a dress made out of a Twister board. They seemed a bit embarrassed when they noticed us standing in the shadows.
On Sunday, the last day of the festival, Benjo woke up early and bought croissants for everyone in our camp. He showed up with a huge bag as our crew rose early in order to catch the noon set that featured an acoustic version of Phish. The Joker was already deep into a booze bender while vending in one of the other lots. By the time we met up, he was thirteen sheets to the wind.
Disco Sis and I wore the Wook Patrol vests for the afternoon since it was too friggin hot to wear the track suits. A couple of people mistakenly identified Disco Sis as a festival worker. One guy even asked her for trash bags. Another kid asked me for a map.
Along the way inside, I issued a citation to a puppy puller. How the hell did they get dogs inside anyway? I know that sometimes nitrous dealers bury tanks in the ground week before the festival to retrieve at a later time during the event, but do wooks bury their puppies in order to conceal them?
I ran into a couple of "Hey Bubs" who are friends with Daddy. I booked a couple of Brett Favre-related prop bets.
We got a close up spot for the acoustic set on what we thought would be Fishman's side... little did we know that the band switched up the stage set up. From left to right, it was Fishman, Mike, Trey, then Page. They reversed the order. Highlights included The Curtain With and McGrupp.
Everyone stood for the first threes songs until Trey politely asked everyone in the crowd to sit down for the remainder of the acoustic set. Little did we sheeple know that Trey had a discussion with a friend on whether or not he could get everyone to sit. Behold the powers of a rock stardom. Maybe that's why Trey played Secret Smile to end the set? Just to fuck with everyone. That song was a pimple on my ass in the 2.0 era. But hey, they played McGrupp, right?
Of course, Mike weighed in on the situation and posed a question to the audience, "Are you sitting because you want to or because you have to?"
Leave it to Mike to stir shit sit up.
During the acoustic set, a wook with an inflatable cactus was bouncing off the walls and running around waving his cactus. The Joker wrote him a wook ticket for operating a cactus without a permit, despite his pleas where he insisted that he was not a wookie.
We headed back to camp to rest up before one last push and two more sets. That's where Benjo inquired if there was an age requirement for wookies.
"The majority of hardcore hippies in Europe are wookies... except with less teeth," he said.
The final set featured a couple of head hitters in an overall sloppy set. They nailed some sections and horrendously flubbed a few others such as that ugly abortion version of Reba. Not very impressive. Trey was pissing in my ears.
Rocked to the tits, I shot a porn in the middle of the concert field during the second and third set. Disc Sis' pink unicorn stumbled into a tryst with an alien. Unicorn on alien action. Interspecies porn. They have an entire section on You Porn for those freaks with eclectic tastes.
I also decided to pick out the loud and obnoxious hipsters and L.A. Douchebags in my section who talk loudly. During a glowstick war, they become my targets as I sought out revenge for ruining key moments in songs. I took the loud yappers out with an amped up toss as I harnessed my inner Goose Gossage and let 'er rip. My hushing-tactic worked once or twice.
The third set featured a sizzling beginning (Tweezer > Reprise > Free) before that momentum came to an awful halt with a mediocre performance in the middle of the set that soured my good mood for the day. The middle of the set was dead weight until Mike's Song minus the Weekapaug Grove - one of those rare moments that those two songs were not performed together. 2001 and Light were both squeezed in there good and tight. I almost missed my favorite song, Slave to the Traffic Light, during a trip to the pisser. I couldn't hold it any longer and ran to the bathrooms. I made my way back through the crowd just as they started playing the opening notes.
And just like that, it was over.