Phish, Pepsi Arena, Albany, NY
Set I: Chalkdust Torture, Stash, Gilyute, Thunderhead, Sparkle, Wolfman's Brother, Good Times Bad Times
Set II: Tweezer > 2001, You Enjoy Myself, Camel Walk**, Possum**, Long Cool Woman**, Run Like An Antelope**
** with Jeff Holdsworth
Albany is one of my favorite places to see Phish. The Pepsi Arena used to be called Knickerbocker Arena back in the good old days. I saw several Grateful Dead shows at the old “Knick” and the sound quality was excellent back then. And the floor of the arena has been the spot where I witnessed some of the best musical moments in my life. I was not going to miss Albany this tour. I had not seen any shows in Albany since the Fall Tour opened in early September 2000. That’s when we got in just as the show started and Gil was eating an ice cream cone while they opened with Mellow Mood!
Haley tagged along for her first Phish show. I’ve given her some of my favorite shows to listen to (Osaka 6.15.00, The Gorge 7.17.98, and Dayton 12.7.97) in addition to Round Room and Farmhouse. She wanted to hear Halley’s Comet, and I thought they would break it out in Albany. Her experiences with the Phish scene were limited to a couple of Dave Matthews Band shows, and that was the extent of her jaunt into the world of Phishdom. She was in for a treat. It’s great to take people to shows who are not familiar with Phish, and especially the infamous scene: the freak show and carnival like atmosphere that takes place around the venues before and after the shows. Some things, the little things that seem completely normal to me at Phish shows, are not for others. While we wandered around Pearl Street, through the packed crowd of heads, Haley innocently kept asking questions like, “What’s a goo ball?” or “Who’s Molly? And why is everyone looking for her?” after she heard a bevy of whispers and requests for tickets, drugs, rides, food, and beer. (Molly is slang for a form of pure MDMA ecstasy.)
Set 1: We had floor seats in Section 7, on Mike’s side, near the soundboard. Chalkdust Torture is Trey’s favorite song and I think he read the Tao of Pauly, specifically where I blogged my least favorite Phish songs. He ended up opening two shows with tunes on that list (Bouncin’ & Chalkdust). The good thing about hearing my least favorite songs first… is that you get it out of the way. As soon as the lights go down, Phishkids are busy yelling and screaming anyway, and late people are still trying to get to their seats. I’m always busy and preoccupied smoking a bowl, and the boys just stepped on stage and need a song or two to warm up. No complaints from me about Chalkdust. It was one of the few songs all night when Haley admitted, “I know this song.” There’s one line that particularly made me laugh out loud: “Can’t I live while I’m young?” The older I get (and the older Phish gets… they’re all pushing 40) that lyric takes on greater significance. But yeah, I’m kinda sick of Chalkdust Torture. That’s one of the bad things about seeing too many shows… too many songs that I’ve grown bored with. I’ve seen Chalkdust at least fifty times, maybe even close to sixty times? That’s almost two full Phish shows long of just versions of Chalkdust Torture. After hearing one of the sickest renditions in Pelham, AL 9.28.99, every attempt since then has been a let down. Stash was a solid, with a great jam. Haley thought it was cool that nearly everyone was clapping during the random parts to Stash. Guyute was next and I was not surprised to hear it. They always play Guyute in Albany and usually if Gil goes to a show, it’s a very good chance they play Guyute that day. It’s just one of those random things. The boys were playing well. Not sloppy like in Nassau, and not as laid back as they were in Philly. With some positive energy, the crowd was pleased. I looked around a lot during the tune and stared at heads having the time of their life. Everyone in my section was dancing. In Philly, I sat in the “smoking and toking” section because that’s what everyone around me did the entire show. In Albany, everyone was boogie-ing hard. I marveled at Chris Kuroda’s light show. He had some cool purples and green circles going throughout the crowd. Thunderhead was a song I hoped to hear. Recently, I started preferring the noodling type jams (Waves, Slave to the Traffic Light, Prince Caspian) over the harder edgy (Wilson, Free, Piper) ones. Sometimes Trey starts playing those Jerry Garcia UFO-like, Coltrane-esque notes… mellow, yet intense. That was evident especially in the middle of Thunderhead, in one of the most under rated moments of the night. Looking back, those few minutes were my favorite bit of Phish. Sparkle was next and the crowd was psyched. Sure, they didn’t play it with the insanity and reckless energy they did in 1993, but Sparkle is a song that brings back a lot of memories. Flashbacks of rampant cocaine use flooded my memory banks. How could you not be a railhead in order to write a crazy song like that? The early 90s were the days of the darkside of Phish, which were one of my favorite periods (right behind 1998 when they busted out the Year of the Funk and threw down some of the heaviest shit and played some of the best shows to date.) Mike went off and started out with a funky ass shaking, Wolfman’s Brother. Is that one of the greatest Phish songs of all time? It’s got to be in the Top 5. I thought we’d get it in Boston, but it was well placed. Mike finally woke up from a nap (I think he fell asleep just after the fat Bowie in Philly and drifted until the end of Set 1 in Albany). I had a nice moment during Wolfman’s, and it was the finest version they played since the infamous Nagoya, Japan show (the best Wolfman’s I ever heard!) Wolfman’s was also Haley’s favorite song from the first set. I told her that it was the highlight of the tour and matched the Nassau Mike’s Song. Trey abruptly ended the jam and they broke right into Good Times, Bad Times. Our buddy Jeff wanted to hear that particular Led Zeppelin cover in Nassau and I wondered if he found a ticket to the show and caught this nice version. Up until that song, Phish had not played one cover tune. It was unexpected and Fishman kicked it out. The vocals were very good on this one. And my favorite part was when Page yelled out, “I know what it means to be alone!!!!!” and the crowd applauded his crooning right away. Where was Page all night? He finally woke up, but it was too late. They ended the set very quickly, the shortest one of the tour. Haley thought it was a Phish original because they played it so well.
At set break, I thought I saw Lawn Boy. Was he there? I had not seen him all tour. Haley bumped into a girl she went to school with in the fourth grade. The zoned-out, spun-out daughter of one of the actors from the TV show St. Elsewhere, had short, bright orange hair and her armpits were hairier than mine. She could barely tread together sentences with more than three or four words without completely losing her concentration, but she kicked Haley down with some dank, so we were ready to go for the second set.
Set 2: A sweet Tweezer to open was a good choice. I thought I heard Trey do a Cross Eyed & Painless tease. During a mini gloswtick war, some kid threw a glowstick onstage at Trey. He caught it and threw it back in one motion and continued playing! I thought that was cool. Everyone chipped in during the jam and held their own. About ten minutes in, things got a little fuzzy. Page and Trey drifted off into a spacey and trippy jam for several minutes and I got lost. It sounded like the Space jam that the Dead played after the Drums solos. Everyone that was wasted seemed to dig it, but I was bored and was looking for them to stop. And thank goodness for Fish, because he started out with the beat for 2001 and things got cooking. When the crowd got wind of it they got rowdy. The lights were cool and Mike was the dude on this tune. Can’t wait to download and hear the show again to listen to some of his shit during that span. He was awake for sure in the second set. You Enjoy Myself was a song I thought they would have played in Boston, but they snuck it into a crazy set that already featured Tweezer > 2001. A crowd favorite for sure, the real fun took off after the trampoline part, and they jam out of that. Mike picked up the slack and led the way and his solo before the vocal was some sizzling stuff. Kuroda’s lights were cool during 2001 and YEM. I dunno why, but I guess because I was on the floor, I could see the lights go pretty much all around the arena. I definitely paid more attention to Kuroda’s work in Albany than any of the other nights. He’s definitely adds an intangible quality to the live performances every night. The show was going great until Trey brought Jeff Holdsworth out on stage. He was an original member of Phish. Before Page joined the band, they had two guitarists. Trey told everyone that he wrote Camelwalk. That’s one of my favorite songs that they don’t play too much. I got to see it in Phoenix 10.1.00 with Molly (Camelwalk from Phoenix is featured in the special features part of the Bittersweet Motel DVD. Check it out!) and they only played it one time since then. Jeff on vocals was not that good. But I understood that he probably had not sung in a long time. He last played with Phish over fifteen years ago. I heard he became a Jesus Freak and what not. Anyway, Possum was next, another song that Jeff wrote and used to sing. It was not the best version I heard and I thought the interaction with Jeff was awkward at times. Then Trey said that they were going to play the first song that they ever played, Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, a cover by the Hollies. The last time they played it was 10.30.98 in Las Vegas, the night before the Halloween show, and I saw that with Senor, Jay Sheer and that was my friend Ty’s first Phish show. In Vegas 1998, Trey was told that that night was the 15th anniversary of the first Phish gig (which was inaccurate, the real anniversary is December 2nd) and they played it for everyone. Anyhoo, Jeff’s vocals slipped in and out and I could not really hear his guitar much. He stayed on for Antelope, which was great to hear, especially when Tom Marshall made his second consecutive appearance onstage at a show and utterd the “Marco Esquondoles” part. The set was great and I wanted to hear every song that they played (especially Camelwalk). But I wondered what if Jeff left after two songs? I know they were being nice, but come on! They could have closed out a hot set! They encored with a Hendrix cover of Fire and Trey sang but Jeff still played. It was a nice version and I think they closed a show in Albany with Fire once before? Overall from Thunderhead through the end of YEM, that was the best spurt of Phish for the night.
Afterthoughts: Haley had a great time at her first show. She agreed that seeing them live is much better than listening to their CDs, and being wasted also helped her swallow Phish’s musical version of a red pill to Wonderland. I began to think about how people were upset with the B.B. King show at the Meadowlands. But if Phish was going to take off, at least it was the legendary B.B. King. Who is Jeff Holdsworth? But I compare the Albany show to the Las Vegas 9.29.00 show, when Kid Rock came out and sang a bunch of songs. Before his appearance, the show was kick ass and at the time was one of my favorite all time shows (breakout of Spock’s Brain and Dinner and a Movie), not to mention the kids who got engaged during Mellow Mood in front of me and the Japhans. One or two songs with a guest is cool, but any more than that kills the momentum of the show. A scorching epic show like Vegas fizzled out to warm good show Albany was just like that. I should have figured that they boys would bring back some old friends from the past (like the Dude of Life) and I was glad they didn’t do it in Boston! Trey… where is my fuckin’ Tube??