Monday, August 17, 2009

Soggy SPAC

By Pauly
New York City

Phish is back. And we're not talking about a weak batch of new tunes and oxy-induced Trey jams that the band passed off as live music from 2003-04. I caught several amazing shows this summer that restored my faith in the band. I have zero expectations going into Hampton and expected the band to be a little rusty. Once summer tour began in June, I wondered if they could maintain a certain level of consistency while keeping the fans sedated with crowd pleasers, classics, and bustouts... and at the same time, satisfying their own artistic and creative urges with new songs and material.

And the Phish party/lot/traveling circus scene? The dark side reared its ugly head on many a night, but that was to be expected. Some of the same problems that plagued the scene in the late 1990s and during the 2.0 era are evident. At least this time around, the music has been overwhelming positive and full of high energy that the brightness overwhelms the darkness.

My first show this summer was second night at Jones Beach (I only missed three shows since then... St. Louis, Chicago, and Darien Lake) and if you were at the Jones Beach shows you know about the rain. I also endured the lightning storm at Deer Creek that was followed up by monsoon like conditions. It even rained one night at Red Rocks. Yeah, it was fitting that the rain would factor into the tour closer at SPAC.

I had my rain gear and left it in the car because I had a balcony seat. It never occurred to me that the skies would open up as I made my way into the venue. Inside of a 15-20 minute period, I was as soaked as I was at Deer Creek. The only two items that were not soaked? My ganja and my cellphone. My ticket was soaked through and the old lady at the gate didn't even bother scanning it. My notebook with all of my tournotes and setlists from the second leg of summer tour was destroyed. My lighter? Kaput. Even my half of a Vicodin in my pocket was quickly washed out leaving only a sticky paste and goo in my shorts. But I didn't care about any of that. I was simply happy to get to see Phish one last time before they stopped touring this summer.

I was exhausted before the show even started. I made a roundtrip journey from NYC to Merriweather the night before and drove solo both ways. With traffic and construction, the total time was 11 hours invested just to see one Phish show. I got a couple of hours of sleep before I picked up my buddy Bruce. We left NYC at 1pm and arrived at the lots sometimes around 5pm. We had to park along the sixth fairway of the golf course.

I found IronGirl and we wandered around Shakedown. She was on the verge of seeing her first Phish show. There was no way I was going to let her sit up on the lawn for her first encounter. I had a floor seat somewhere around 30th row and made sure she took that ticket, while Bruce and I hung up in the fourth row of the balcony.

IronGirl swapped me her lawn ticket which I was looking to sell. There were thousands of people looking for extras but no one with Adderall. I got offered plenty of molly. One guy even offered me shark tranquilizers, which I considered snorting for a few seconds, before I turned him down.

I found one Phishy chick wandering around with a party hat on her head. I asked her if it was her birthday and she said it was her 2-year old daughter's birthday. Her husband and her friends scored tickets but she was the only one in her group who was left out. She looked totally bummed out and on the verge of giving up. I inquired about a trade for pharmies but she had nothing of interest. In her right hand, she tightly clutched three $20 bills. Her right arm and index finger was raised in the air and she sighed as she said, "I only have $60."

"I guess I can do my extra lawn for $60."

Before I could finish the sentence, she burst out in tears. Tears of joy trickled down her cheeks.

"$60? Seriously? These scumbag brokers want $150 and $200. You will do it for face?"

I handed her the ticket and she swallowed me up with one of the hardest hugs I have ever gotten. She kissed me on the cheek four times very quickly. She wiped away the tears and turned to the crowd and shouted, "This guy is the fuckin' shit!"

She ran through the crowd jumping up and down and screaming and crying at the same time. I knew right away that I sold my extra ticket to the right person. And that's when it started to rain. IronGirl, Bruce, and I quickly made our way inside but go caught up int he clusterfuck security line. They did their best to get is through quickly. I didn't even get a pat down, but luckily wrapped up my ganja with a tight seal because it escaped the downpour.

We had a fun section. Bruce befriended a couple of Canadian heads and the guy next to me from Boston loaned me his lighter so I can smoke up. Thanks for saving my show!
8/16/09 Phish at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

Set 1: Llama, MoMA Dance, Guyute, Anything But Me, Cars Trucks Buses, Chalkdust Torture, Golgi Apparatus, David Bowie, Cavern, Possum, Ocelot, Antelope

Set 2: Backwards Down The Number Line > Twenty Years Later, Halley's Comet > Rock and Roll, Harpua > I Kissed A Girl* (Katy Perry Original) > HYHU > Harpua, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Grind, I Been Around*, Highway to Hell
I have been waiting for a Llama opener for a very long time and I was blessed to catch it right off the top. I forgot about how the balcony sways during high energy tunes, especially during Llama. I've been digging hearing MoMA Dance in the first set. Bring the funk early and often. On the drive up, Bruce called Guyute and said that in almost 12 shows, he had never seen Golgi before and hoped that they would play it. Sure enough, they played both those songs.

Anything But Me was a Top 5 Pauly's Gonna Take a Piss Song circa 2003-04. I was sung along and puffed tuff this time, but it was one of the only moments in the first set when the balcony was not swaying. It was the lowlight of the otherwise rocking set. I would have preferred a Fast Enough for You or a Brian & Robert for a slow song choice.

On the NJ turnpike, there's tons of signs that say "Cars Trucks Buses" and when I passed them late on Saturday (make that early on Sunday morning) driving back to NYC, I sort of joked to myself that Page would see the same sign and tell Trey that they had to play it at SPAC. Sure enough... they did. I loved the back-and-forth jam between Fishman and Page. Funky.

David Bowie and Chalkdust are two songs that I have seen the most in 177 shows. I used to bitch about seeing those songs, but I save my ire for Time Turns Elastic. So I just groove out to those classic songs even though I hear one of those every other show it seems.

Cavern and Possum was one helluva way to end the set.... so I thought. They through use a bone, well actually, two bones with Ocelot and Antelope to close the first set. Both song titles fit in with the animal theme of the first set. Pigs, Llamas, Antelopes, Ocelots. I really dig Ocelot and it's one of my favorite new tunes.

The second set had several high points with a few lulls. The set began with almost 30 minutes of new material with Backwards Down The Number Line > Twenty Years Later. I've seen almost every live version of Backwards and for me, it's either hit or miss with the success depending upon the jam out. For SPAC, I was digging it and Twenty Years Later has grown on me.

I would have preferred to hear 30 minutes of Halley's Comet > Rock and Roll instead. It wasn't even a complete segue. It sounded like they just cut short the jam out of Halley's and started Rock and Roll. I've been digging the exploratory jams that the Rock and Roll platform has given them. I was happy that they played Halley's because it was one of IronGirl's favorite Phish tunes.

And then we got the moment that every Phish nerd has been waiting for... Harpua. I won a lot of money at Red Rocks and the Gorge because they did not play it. Of course, the one night I was not booking action against it... Phish busted it out. I wondered if it had anything to do with the large balloon that sat on the stage in front of Trey most of the night that said HARPUA.

Little Jimmy was back and getting into new hijinks. I saw a couple of noobs furiously masturbating to their first Harpua as Fishman took center stage for a rendition of I Kissed A Girl before he took a lap around the stage and gave high-fives to everyone in the front row. No vacuum this time around.

My favorite line of Harpua is how I explain Phish to friends who don't get it... "We're coming to your town... we'll help you party down."

Trey said he'd give his left nut to play YEM every night so it did not surprise me that they ended the second set with bong-rattling version. Mike went off the deep end a few times with a few bombs. The vocal jam made me wish that I did not lose my pharmie to the rainstorm.

A friend of mine (name withheld) said that Grind was lame and a waste of time since they play it way too much. I disagreed. I understood the significance of the accapella tune because the boys like to sing how many days they have been alive.

For the second of three encore tunes, Phish debuted the only other song from their new album that they had never performed live. It was a Page tune and it was pretty good. I loved the lyric, "I threw down..."

The band closed the show and the tour with an AC/DC cover... Highway to Hell. Loud. Rocking. Everyone going nuts. Trey gave away his mic stand at the end of the song. He's a fuckin' rockstar. And that was it.

I only missed five Phish shows since they returned in Hampton. Every time the boys play, they are improving ever so slightly and at the same time, regaining their edge that made them who they are in the first place. Their level of play this summer has surpassed anything that they unleashed in the 2.0 era (including the Miami NYE run in 2003). Trey is sober. Everyone is listening to each other on stage and it shows. I dunno if they can ever recapture the magic of 1997-00, but they're definitely heading in the right direction.

Some of my favorite shows from this summer? Asheville, nights 3 & 4 at Red Rocks, second night at the Gorge, and Hartford. The first set at SPAC is up there with my favorite first sets of the summer.

I had an unbelievable time this summer chasing Phish all over the country, so much so that I don't want it to end even though I'm utterly exhausted and on the verge of checking myself into rehab. I have not had this much fun in a very long time and all of that has to do with Phish bringing together old friends and giving me a chance to make new friends along the way. I'm nothing short of excited for the fall tour and Festival 8. I'm going to be thinking about the next show every single day until it happens.

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