My 180th show. I went with IronGirl. She's like my big sister and this was just her second Phish show. She's like many Deadheads who were a little slow to embrace Phish, but finally came around and loving every second of the Phish experience. When I lived in Seattle in the late 1990s, I successfully converted many Deadheads who finally believed me when I said that it's not just Trey noodling... but rather it's intense and beautiful music. I enticed a few more Deadheads to join the tribe during 2.0 and IronGirl was one of the last converts to join the mix during the breakup.
IronGirl was cool enough to let me crash at her digs outside Albany and pick me up at the train station. I decided to Amtrak it from NYC to Albany. Only $50, but I'm a baller and paid the extra $20 to ride in business class... away from the unwashed masses, wooks, and screaming babies. Plus, the business class section had power outlets which allowed me to fire up my laptop and play online poker during the majestic ride along the Hudson River.
IronGirl met me at the train station with a "McGrupp" sign. We settled in and headed downtown to grab dinner at Jonathan's on Pearl Street a few blocks from the venue. Good pizza and chicken parms. Shakedown was down the street near the parking decks. We parked inside and wandered outside to check out the scene. Shakedown was small -- but compact. It was cold and windy, which meant a few vendors hawked hippie woolen hats and gloves.
I ran into a cutie named Holly from California who was hawking the "Keep Trey Sober" Tahoe stickers at 3 for $5. BBQ chicken sandwiches were going for $5 and kids with wicked Boston accents were selling PBR cans for a buck. I saw the new Moma Dance shirts. I dig the red Tweezer/Twizzler shirts and almost bought an Ocelot shirt.
I also stepped on a tourdog's tail but did not see too many wooks roaming around. Low wook factor in Albany. It's too cold for shoeless wooks.
The police's makeshift observation tower was a bit scary, ominous, and something out of the Gulag. They had full surveillance of Shakedown Street from high in the sky. I noticed it, but a few heads were to spun out to look up and see that they were being watched and possibly filmed. The tanks were scattered in the parking decks. When it started drizzling, we headed into the decks to warm up near the car and watch the scene unfold. The tanks were located on an upper level so we watched dozens of phans wasted on hippie crack stumble down the ramp desperately clutching their green and red balloons. A guy dressed up like Jerry Garcia (wig and beard) asked me where the tanks were. I pointed up and said, "Listen to the music play."
We walked in the venue with a minimal patdown. We had seats in the second row right behind the stage. The hearing in my left ear is on the fritz after seeing over a thousand loud shows/bands/concerts in my life so I didn't mind the minimal sound set up behind the stage. I was excited to see Phish from a different perspective. In short, I got to see what Phish sees. And because of where we sat, I witnessed a truly spectacular moment.
Phish 11/27/09 Albany, NYAC/DC Bag was the standard opener. Safe, but it got the crowd to their feet. Maze ripped it up and kept everyone reeling. Page's solo had me smiling ear to ear. But the boys lost momentum with slower songs Driver and MMGAMOIO. I had not seen MMGAMOIO this time around. I tweet'd that it reminded me of a 1999 show. I caught them play it once during 2.0 era -- maybe in Deer Creek.
Set I: AC/DC Bag, Maze, Driver, My Mind's Got a Mind of its Own, Gumbo, Bouncing Around the Room, It's Ice, Two Versions of Me, Timber (Jerry the Mule), Limb By Limb, Cavern, Light
Set II: My Friend My Friend, My Friend My Friend> Golden Age, On Your Way Down, Fluffhead, Piper> Tomorrow's Song, Prince Caspian, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg, The Squirming Coil, I Been Around
Phish saved the set for me with one of my five favorite Phish songs, Gumbo, but then lost me with Bouncin'. If I had to pee, I would have, but I didn't. I have a new CrackBerry so I checked my email instead during Bouncin' and read Phisheads' reactions to the Albany show on Twitter.
At that point, I felt the crowd was a bit tame and mellow. Lack of good drugs? Everyone was excited but not in a shitfaced frenzy. Maybe on Saturday night everyone will be lit up like Christmas. But on Friday, I think everyone was still shaking off getting stuffed on Thanksgiving.
I was sorta bored until a bong-rattling Timber Ho! caught my attention. It was fun to watch Fishman play during Limb by Limb. I have been most critical of Fishman in the 3.0 era, but he's finally back into form despite the man boobs and spare tire he's carrying around under his muumuu. I told IronGirl to keep an eye on Fish during Limb by Limb. That's one of the songs where he really gets to showcase his vast drumming skills. Trey once said that Fish was the equivalent of three African drummers, and Fish finally lived up to Trey's billing.
Cavern might have been the crowd highlight of the first set. Everyone in my section was jumping up and down like little kids. Even the drunk DMB chick from Boston shut up during the song. She was annoying the shit out of me during the first set and yapping the entire time. I wanted to kick her in the boobs, but I don't condone violence towards women, even drunken Dave Matthew fans.
Light was an unexpected bonus song that they tacked onto the first set. They could have ended with Cavern but we got an extra treat -- which really helped solidify what could have been the weakest set of the fall tour. I was not impressed with the song selection, and the songs that I didn't necessarily want to hear were average versions so they didn't win me over with Two Versions of Me and Light. I was spoiled with the sizzling Gorge version of Light, and every version since then has been sub par.
There were many key moments in the first set including the Page jam on Maze along with Gumbo, Timber Ho, and Cavern. Since I could see the entire crowd, I sensed that they were antsy and wanted more.
I expected a smoking second set and the boys delivered. My Friend was a tasty opener, but they threw everyone a curveball with a TV on the Radio cover of Golden Age. I knew it was a a first time played tune, but couldn't put my finger on the song. Back in the Luddite days of 1999 tour, it would take a couple of hours -- heck a couple of days -- before I figured out the origins of that song. With the Phish nerds sitting at home listening to the live streams and religiously refreshing Twitter, I was able to confirm that Golden Age was indeed a TV on the Radio tune by the time Phish finished playing it. The Joker and BTreotch were texting me their reactions at home.
That moment reminded me about the magic of Phish 3.0... the technology has opened up the ability for the music to reach thousands of more people who can't make the show. I even listened to the Cincy shows while I was on vacation in the jungle of Costa Rica last weekend. Sometimes the live streams are spotty. But, that technology will improve over the upcoming months and I hope Phish offers up an official live stream in 2010. Shit, I'd pay $100 for the entire tour if they created something of that sort. Have all donations go to WaterWheel or the Vermont Youth Orchestra.
Phish threw in On Your Way Down for a one-two punch with cover songs. Then it happened. The moment we had all been waiting for... Fluffhead.
As soon as I heard the opening notes, I tweet'd... Fluffhead of all Fluffheads to save the show. Boy, was I right. The crowd exploded into a collective orgasm. I had to check my pants to make sure I didn't not leave any semen streaks. I had not seen that much frenzied and kinetic energy at a show since the first night in Hampton. The crowd were patiently wading through the fluff in the first set until Phish stopped driving in cruise control like your grandmother on the freeway and let it rip like a NASCAR driver. They floored the accelerator for the rest of the show and did not let up.
That's why I travel long distances to see the Phish.
As we stood behind the stage, I could see what Phish saw... the explosion. The orgy. Grown men crying. Women furiously rubbing their genital areas. Wookies spazzing out in the aisles. Tour dogs howling in the parking lot. Night and day from the first set. How could Phish not feed off that abundance of incandescent energy?
Piper > Tomorrow's Song sent chills down my spine. They had redeemed that blah first set. Caspian was a bit rushed, but solid. At the end of the song during Page's solo, I kept a close eye on Trey. Like a QB at the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the rabid defense (the drooling crowd) and called an audible. He shouted, "Hood!" to Mike. Mike took three steps to Fish's kit and leaned in. "Hood," said Mike as he smiled and unleashed a dirty-funkified bass intro to Harry Hood.
Trey wanted to keep up the insanity and I watched in amazement as he called a second audible... Suzy. Yep, the boys were not fuckin' around. Even Coil was mesmerizing. Trey, Mike, and Fish left the stage for Page's solo at the end of Coil. Except that Page kept going and going and did not stop pecking away at the ivory keys. He solo'd for almost three minutes. The band returned to the stage which confused everyone. Was that the encore? Trey and Page engaged in some banter which set up I Been Around. I was pumped to see Phish end their second set focusing on Page. They took a bow, rushed off stage, and returned for the encore. Since it was Jimi Hendrix's birthday, Trey gave us his best Jimi-imitation and shred Fire to pieces.
And in a flash... the second set was over. The adage fits... time flies when you're having fun. I did not drink a sip of booze or jump down the rabbit hole in a sea of psychedelics during the show. I was faded though, super faded. I had not been that wasted on Percs in a very long time. I was so faded that I felt like Trey in Vegas in 2004. Luckily IronGirl is clean and sober these days so she was able to take on designated driver duties -- which is part of the reason why I wandered deep off the reservation.
To recap my recap... chilly weather, mellow shakedown and an even mellower crowd. Blah song selection in the first set with many highlights (Maze, Gumbo, Timber, Cavern) and a second set which knocked me on my ass. IronGirl had a blast and she was getting down and grooving for most of the night. She really wanted to hear Harry Hood, so I know that excitement that bubbles through your body when Phish plays a song that you're dying to hear.
I went into the Albany shows with high expectations -- which is never good because that leads to disappointment. I'm wiping everything clean tonight and going in with an open mind. I think the crowd was well aware of the previous five shows including the ragers in Cincy, so they too had raised the bar for Phish. Plus, in the past, I had never seen a bad Phish show at the old Knickerbocker Arena > Pepsi Arena. Some of my favorite Phish shows (all time) occurred in 199 and 2000 at Albany. They say that you should never miss a Cincy show, but as an East Coaster, I always felt... never miss an Albany show. The second set was why that's so true.
One Albany show down... one more to go.