Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dispatches from Jones Beach: It's No Easy Road

By Pauly
Brooklyn, NY

Jones Beach is gravy.

I wasn't supposed to be at these shows. I booked a flight out of Milwookie airport for Monday and intended on heading back to LA. My vacation was supposed to be over and I was going to be rocking the couch tour for the last two shows, however, something magical happened during Alpine Valley, in which I was compelled to make an impulsive decision and say, "Fuck it! I'm going to Jones Beach."

I'm my own boss and have a cool girlfriend, so the decision was an easy one for me to make. Nicky is awesome and when I told her I was going to Jones Beach to extend the party a few more days, she said, "Have fun!" I worked my ass off the last six years as a freelance writer, web entrepreneur, and amateur poker player to put myself in positions like this -- and seize the day when life offers you up something that's impossible to pass up. In this instance, it was two more Phish shows. To be blunt, if Phish sucked cow balls in the Midwest, I would have skipped these Jones Beach shows, but after bringing the heat for the previous three shows (Deer Creek #2 and both Alpine Valley shows), I felt like the lyrics in Down with Disease. I couldn't stop.

The Jones Beach shows came to fruition in a very short time. My buddy Matt from Brooklyn responded to my plea on Twitter for extras and within minutes he offered up tickets to both nights. I grew up in NYC and have family to crash with, so my brother was more than accommodating. Probably the best part of this trip was getting to see him because we don't get to spend much time together these days. It was even cooler than we watched the Jets/Giants pre-season game. As I told him, my last Dead show was at the former Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands circa 1995. Bob Dylan opened for the Dead that tour. I had no idea it would be my last. And to make things even juicier -- my old weed dealer owed me money from a previous gambling debt, so I actually had local produce waiting for me upon my arrival in NYC. As I said, this leg of tour came together so easily considering I pulled the trigger at the last possible moment while standing in the lot at Alpine Valley.

I have to admit something: when I booked my Milwookie to LA ticket, I opted for a refundable ticket and spent a few extra bucks. I usually don't do that, but deep down I wanted to give myself the option to fly to NYC at the last minute -- just in case. I'm glad I gambled correctly and paid extra because sure enough, months after I booked my flight, I drastically changed my mind.

I traveled to the shows with my old Deadhead buddy Bruce. I went to my last Dead show with him in 95 and since then I had been trying to convert him to the church of Phish. I took him to his first show in 99 (Camden, NJ at the old "E Centre") and after a handful of shows, he officially got hooked during the Miami 2003 NYE run. Just as he started to really get into Phish, they pulled the plug in 2004. During the down time between 2.0 and 3.0, he transformed into a bigger Phishead. He swallowed the Kool-Aid and he's hooked.

I picked up Bruce in Brooklyn. My rental car had a fucked up window, one of the minor obstacles to overcome. My old man was in the Marines and he taught us to adapt and/or overcome anything blocking our path. We skipped rush hour traffic and headed out to the Island at 3pm. We made a few stops for supplies and smoked a blunt in the parking lot of a random Friendly's. I got to the Jones Beach lot, ran into Phan Art, and saw my buddy Jesse on Shakedown. Jones Beach is half the size of Deer Creek, but most of the people at these shows had jobs in the city, which meant it was a late-arriving crowd. Party people in the lot were mostly binge-drinking college kids in search of mind-altering substances. I kept getting hit up for molly, even though I'm not a dealer and it's not my drug of choice. Initially, food vendors were up and running with many of them at the end of "prep" mode before the state police came in and shut down all of the food operations. Selling bongs and doses were cool, but food was not kosher.

I met up with Matt, who had my tickets, and we headed into the show. Compared to last June, the weather in August was warmer and less wet. Yeah, I survived a monsoon one night last year. Phish is the only band that I'll stand in the rain to see. Bruce made a killing that night on Shakedown selling $1 ponchos for $5.

Matt scored pretty good seats -- the fifth row off the floor on Fishman side. Access to the floor area was a clusterfuck. You needed a wristband and to show your ticket if you were in the orchestra. Because the JB show featured a late-arriving crowd, a massive traffic jam of people backed up the entrance to the lower level. The walkway in between sections could barely fit two people and the tunnel leading into the stadium contained a frantic mob of people trying to get onto the floor. They missed most of the Fluffhead opener while security slowly let people in one by one. Our seats were right above the tunnel, so I watched as this madness unfolded.

The Midwest shows had lots of drunks, where as my section at Jones Beach were filled with potheads. I hadn't smelled an overwhelming stench of weed since Berkeley -- just not as aromatic. Everyone fired up once the lights went down. Fluffhead was rushed but well received. The section around me was thrilled with Kill Devil Falls. I still think of what Daddy called it the first time he heard KDF... "Chalkdust Torture's little brother."

I was all smiles during Cities, but it was rushed and they never allowed a deep funk jam to develop. They played it at Jones Beach last time.

"They kept it pretty basic," explained Bruce, a drummer by trade.

A hard-bluesy version of Funky Bitch was next up on the menu for back-to-back covers. The gem of the first set was Wilson, a trashing version with a dash of Trey the class clown. He busted out a mini-guitar, or a kid's learning guitar, for the solo. He dipped into that bag of tricks twice during Wilson. I gotta say, it's much better than when he used to noodle around with that mini-keyboard many moons ago.

An exceptionally adequate Reba kept the crowd reeling. I hope that doesn't come off too harsh, but it's the truth. Exceptionally adequate is really the best way to describe the entire evening. I dunno what was wrong. It wasn't anything major, but something was slightly off that I couldn't put my finger on. I went into the show with zero expectations and was simply happy to be there. It was a good show overall but nothing really blew me away. I jotted down in my notes that Walk Away was one of the highlights of the set. Maybe that better explains what I'm trying to say.

A perky Wolfman's kept everyone grooving, but as Matt noted, it seemed as though Page and Mike had gotten bored and were trying to end it, or push it in a different direction, but Trey was having none of that. I was trying to curtail the masturbatory references, but in this case, Trey was playing a little too much with his wiener.

High-energy Possum closed the 80-minute opening set. It was yummy and included the return of the Cannonfetti. By itself, it more than served it's purpose. Compared to the other three this tour, it's second to Deer Creek.

For a two-show run, I look at each set as a "quarter" in sports terminology. Phish just finished the first quarter. They looked strong and played well enough to win, but they weren't exactly blowing out the other team. The sound was a bit muddled at times. I chalked that up to the wind that occasionally whipped off the bay. If you've seen shows at Red Rocks you know that the sound could get caught up in the swirling wind. Wilson, however, was eardrum-shattering loud. Guess they turned up the amps to 11 on that one.

I caught up with my buddy Zig at setbreak. He was surfing in Long Beach prior to the show and strolled on in. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday, eh? Surfing and Phish. I told him he's on the wrong coast and needs to move to California for the surfing, but Phish is partial to the East Coast, so it would be tough to get that frequent combo in SoCal.

The sound was mixed better in the second set. I was expecting a Rock and Roll opener, but it seemed as though Trey called an audible as he stepped on stage. He conferred with Mike, then Page. Fishman embarked on an acapella Lengthwise, something that we got during the Phish "Storytellers" segment in Asheville last year, when Trey admitted that he wrote many of Phish's earlier songs after flipping through Fishman's journal. Lengthwise (along with Tube and Gumbo) was one such journal tune. Toward the end of Fishman's vocal offering, he started up the high hat. Everyone knew what was coming... and the band ripped into a scorching Maze. The other Mazes I heard this tour were led by Page's magnificent soloing at different sections, but this version was all Fish. He seized control of the bus and the rest of the band was following him down the rabbit hole.

I knew we were getting a short Halley's Comet, so I wasn't pissed when the boys got cooking and Trey abruptly stopped the jam, to hasten to Mike's Song. Mike's was like a big fat burrito with shredded pork (Trey's playing) and lots of hot sauce (Mike's playing). The only curveball in the Mike's sandwich was that we didn't get a curveball throw to us. Instead, the boys threw a fastball right down the pipe with Simple, a soothing yet sultry version, which included plenty of UFO-riff teases and Kuroda's Close Encounter-ish lights. Simple seg'd into Backwards. Initially I resisted the song, but once the lyrics and verses were over, they boys blasted off into the jamming comos. The first half of Backwards was uneventful, but the last six minutes were filled with a rich and creamy celestial jam. Ever get a fresh canoli for Little Italy or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx? Well, that's what it felt like, except you are eating it on one the moons of Jupiter.

The epic Backwards Jones Beach jam stumbled horribly into Prince Caspian. The seg wasn't pretty, sort of like when the town drunk stumbled out of the pub at closing time and violently puked on the curb. Caspian is a song that can outperform expectations or completely underwhelm you -- depending on your state of mind and the version they played. In this instance, it killed any momentum that the Backwards jam had conjured up from the altered spirits. I was thrilled when Trey dragged them out of the muck and into Rock and Roll. Instead of the set opener, we were treated with a mid-set version in the middle of a Mike's Groove sandwich. Page always shines on the Velvet Underground cover, but this version had a devastating jam. Using a derivative of sick as an adjective for "awesome" -- this jam was terminally ill. It eventually morphed into a spacey jam with the "Alright" vocal part as a primer.

And then came the Weekapaug. I dunno if anything can touch that Sneaking Sally > Weekapaug (or what Daddy called "Sneakapaug"), but this one had plenty of its own moments to savor. Gordon was at the top of his game, but stepped aside for the set closer -- Loving Cup. Phish nailed all of the covers tonight, including this oldie from Exile on Main Street. Am I the only one who wants to hear a Torn and Frayed every once in a while? I also wonder if they will play Shine a Light some point in the second set on the tour closer?

The encore was Show of Life. I dunno why I thought it was a Tom Waits cover. Matt corrected me and said it was a Trey/Dude of Life joint production. Benjo mentioned in a text message that he's been getting into that song. I've seen it a few times and it gets better every time played. Some of the crowd thought otherwise. I had never seen so many people head for the exits before (at a non-Velvet Cheese encore). I assumed that they were not fans of the new song or they actually had jobs and had to get up early for work the next day. Perhaps, they were both?

Show of Life finished strong, but Golgi saved the day. The crowd-pleasing high-energy fan favorite ended the show on a zenith, as Trey blurted out, "See ya tomorrow night."

As Matt said it best on Twitter, "I say it every time... Phish is good. Really good."

We headed out to the lots and within seconds the sounds of evaporating brain cells filled the air. The tanks were out in force and the crackheads rushed towards the hissing sounds. Within seconds, my row was filled with brain-damaged tards clutching balloons and stumbling into oncoming traffic. You can't sell grilled cheese at Jones Beach, but nitrous is perfectly acceptable.

Overall, a fun night. Phish played good enough that I was happy that I extended my vacation. If you want me to be honest, well, they fell short of the mark set by three Midwest shows. Phish scorched the Earth in both Deer Creek and Alpine Valley. There's a brush fire burning at Jones Beach. We'll see if they can ignite that into a raging inferno to end the summer tour.

Ten shows down, and one Jones Beach down with one more to go.

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