Sunday, October 24, 2010

Odd Balls, Screwballs, and Balls to the Wall

By Pauly
Northampton, MA

Back on the road with Senor. We geared up for the second of four shows that we'd see together thru Phish's meteoric run through New England. I got flashbacks from a decade ago when Senor and I dropped whatever we were doing at the time to chase a musical high, especially when it came to all things Phish. Life is different for both of us these days. After our roaring 20s, Senor opted for a traditional lifestyle (steady job, married soon-to-be divorced, and with two crazy little kids) while I continue the my path on the road less traveled. We live of opposite coasts and it's hard to see each other (LA to Providence is almost as far as you're gonna get in the States), but one of my favorite benefits of Phish tour is that I have a chance to party down with old friends that I would not normally see otherwise. Phish shows are opportunities to have reunions and I can never thank the band enough for hosting these important central gatherings for so many important (yet insanely busy) people in my life.

During the drive from Providence to Amherst outskirts, I was mesmerized by the vivacious colors of fall foliage because the intricacies of seasonal change escaped me after I relocated to Southern California. We arrived in the lot of the Mullins Center a little late due to traffic in/out of Amherst. We met up with Iron Girl, who introduced me to the drummer from the McLovins. He thought that there was a good chance that Phish covered MGMT on Halloween.

I wandered up and down a relatively strong Shakedown with two dense rows of vending mostly specializing in booze sales. The local po-po kept an eye on the inmates via observation towers (almost like a prison yard), but the scene was relatively tame and no one got shanked by a rival gang. I didn't see anyone with extra tickets (aside from a few trying to trade Sunday for Saturday). We ran into Pete (@phanart) hawking posters. I almost stepped on a puppy puller. Lots of angry dogs were roaming around this lot, and we almost saw a vicious dog fight. Gratuitous binge drinking ensued due to zero beer sales inside the venue. Sort of strange to attend a dry Phish show, which meant that anyone slinging jello shots, mixed drinks, or schwilly beer made a killing before the show.

Senor was in rare form and primed for a big night the moment that two lovely young ladies sat down next to us. Amanda was short and feisty and immediately introduced herself. "This is my 12th show and I'm very proud of that. By the way, my goal in life is to become and events coordinator and put on cool concerts like Phish, then get married, and become a real estate agent." She clearly had her shit together and knew what she wanted out of life, but at the time, she was savoring the moment and was elated to be at Phish. She introduced us to her best friend, Liz, who was bubbling over with excitement because she was at her first show.

The two 20-year old hotties were ready to throw down and were smitten with Senor's handsome looks. It was cool that we had a Phish virgin about to pop her cherry in Amherst of all places. Liz sheepishly admitted that her favorite song was Tweezer, and Senor told her the best part of Tweezer was that that guaranteed we'd hear Tweezer Reprise. Amanda wanted to hear "Maze into Ghost" and felt a Party Time coming along with some funky shit on the agenda like Boogie On. I dunno if I freaked her out when I told her myf irst show was in 1989 and she blurted out, "I wasn't even born yet."

Just before lights went down, I gazed up at the retired jersey for Julius Erving aka Dr. J, who played his college ball at UMass. Phish would be sharing the stage in the same arena that specialized in college hoops. They launched into a savory Meatstick to open the show. When Phish encored with Meatstick in Broomfield, it was met with a lukewarm reception, but the Amherst crowd gobbled it up with a jubilant reaction, especially the Japanese lyrics. It was evident from the moment that the band took the stage that they were about to take us on a unusual journey. Yep, this was not an ordinary Saturday night.

Party Time popped up out of nowhere, but accurately predicted by one of the hotties. Senor said he didn't know the song, but I told him to concentrate very hard on the complex lyrics. Next up on the menu was a satisfying Golgi, which perked up anyone in the crowd who was a perplexed with the auspicious start to the show. I always get a kick out of watching animated members of the audience at different intervals of Golgi, especially when Kuroda jackss up the house lights and phans have their arms thrust in the air like converts at a religious revival. Oh, and there's always one random schwasted guy waving a ticket stub during Golgi.

The hotties must listen to the Joy album in heavy rotation because they knew all the words to Kill Devil Falls and playfully sang along. At the beginning of Tweezer, I heard an orgasmic shriek pierce my eardrum. It sounded like the relentless wails from teenage girls who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium for the first time and spent the entire show screaming in ecstasy at the top of their lungs. Yep, that was how Liz reacted to Tweezer as she got served up her favorite song at her first show. That's how Phish hooks fans for life. The Amherst Tweezer jam included sultry sensual undertones with a slow methodical intense build up, shying away from the slam-funk or sinister darkness of Tweezers past where they rush right out of the gate and sprint the entire way through the jam.

Page stepped out from behind his rig and channeled his inner Frank Sinatra for a tantalizing Lawn Boy. There was not a dry snatch in Amherst and Leo hit an epic high note with an extended "huuuuuuuuuuuuuuues" to end the original "Page Wet Phishy Chicks" song.

Senor's favorite song to see live in concert is Sparkle, a personal anthem for him from the moment he heard the song off of the Rift album. If by chance you loathe the "whoooo-hoooo" guy at Phish shows, well then you were probably bumming out if you were in our section because Senor unleashed a flurry of whooo-hooos during the Sparkle build up.

Big Black Furry Creatures from Mars continued with the oddball screwball theme for the night. BBFCFM is a song that might spook the hell out of you if you're tripping balls and not prepared for the dissonant mayhem. Any of the alien shapeshifters embedded in the crowd quickly stood to attention during BBFCFM and acted as antennas to receive messages from the mothership.

Trey made the "Henrietta" call and Page pecked away at the intro to Hold Your Head Up. That's sort of like hearing an air raid signal because a carpet bombing was imminent. But with HYHU, we knew that a vac solo and Fishman hijinks were to ensue.

"If Fish is gonna sing a Syd Barret song, well hell, he should've done Bike," commented Senor.

As is, Fish sung Love You, but admitted that he would probably forget the lyrics and just mumble his way through the muck. That's exactly what happened before he picked up his vac and went to town. Some phans can't stand Fish hijinks. I admit that sometimes the theatrics kills the momentum of a set, but appreciate the eccentric twist on an artistic level. However, in this instance, the theatrics were perfectly placed in a peculiar set that just got weirder by watching a fat guy in a dress play a vacuum.

A possum was one of the critters on the face of mail order ticket subs for the Amherst shows, so it seemed natural that they would play Possum (although a llama was on the Broomfield tickets and that gem got omitted from the Colorado rotation). The guy with the cannonfetti returned highlighted another high-octane Possum. Although the band reached the pinnacle moment and highest peak of the set, they still had time left over for a song or two and wondered what they could do to top Possum.

Enter a rare first set Tweezer Reprise. I wasn't expecting it until the encore, but Phish blew that fastball right by us. Got caught looking like a chump. Gordo dropped a bomb in the intro and I felt the ground shake below me, which was surprising considering this is not the balcony at SPAC or the bouncy floor at MSG. The Amherst version of Tweeprise featured an insertion of Meatstick lyrics, which bookended the meaty set.

During setbreak, the lines at the bathroom were much shorter due to the lack of beer sales. One spun out guy wandered the hallways screaming, "Who's got my Snooki? Who's got my SNOOKI!!!!??!"

Sticking with their unpredictable oddball shtick, the second set opened up with Down with Disease, which appeared in consecutive nights for yet another shocking rarity. Phish didn't back down from playing DWD again. Besides, we got an entirely different version compared to Providence's first set opener that was more compact and tighter, versus the more looser and stretched out second set opener where they had more wiggle room and leeway for exploratory jamming. Kuroda illuminated the arena with red-tinted hues before a strong presence of UFO lights returned and an ambient jam trickled into the mischievous My Friend My Friend. I have a list of "shroom songs" that have been known to drive people insane and My Friend is near the top of that list. On some nights, Phish's music is so powerful that they suck you down the rabbit hole even though you're not on psychedelics. My Friend is one of those vortexes to the other side.

The majority of the crowd sang along with Caspian, which also featured a bevy of bright lights illuminating the crowd, before the band took it down a notch with Halfway to the Moon. The new Page song has faded intro, which appeals to me on certain nights, but the boys are flirting with dangerous territory when Moon it's piggybacked onto a slower tune like Caspian. (which was one of the trouble spots for that jagged Colorado show). On a good note, the new songs are getting better every time its performed live.

If the band lost anyone along the way, they brought all the zombies back to life with an ass pounding Boogie On Reggae Woman. One of the hotties, Amanda, went berserk at Gordo's delicious intro to Stevie Wonder's funky cover, as the band injected a much needed dose of Roid Funk into sections of the crowd that had lost their buzz due to no booze sales. Too bad it was a quickie Boogie On. Amanda had been calling for a Maze > Ghost from the moment that I met her, and she got the first part of that wish list. Fishman went to his high hat and they ripped into a searing Maze. Page's pecking during a Thelonious Monk jazz-inspired solo was my personal highlight of the Maze jam. Oh, and the triggerman manning the canonfetti displayed perfect timing when he fired his blast at the precise moment that they pulled out of the jam. If I ever see that guy in the lot, I'm buying him a beer for his impeccable timing.

Velvet Sea cropped up out of nowhere, like that creepy friend of yours you've been trying to avoid and didn't invite to your party, yet he showed up anyway with a Latvian mail order bride and proceeded to smoke all of your drugs, drink too much rum, then pukes in your washing machine. I headed to the pissers for Velvet Cheese, but Senor stood his ground and he rocked out to the entire song. Senor disagreed with my sentiments.

"I happen to like all of the 'Pauly Takes a Piss Songs'!!" explained Senor. That tells you all you need to know about him -- he's a true enthusiast of the Phish and not a jaded vet like yours truly. Senor doesn't give a shit what other people think and he's gonna have fun at a Phish show no matter what they play, even if it's Velvet Cheese.

Piper featured a few intense moments with lots of "dirty tones" that would send Jonas into a tizzy. Piper was one of the few songs from Amherst that I wanted to listen to again as soon as the show ended. I got lost during one meandering section, but Fishman's inner octopus took control and he punched his way out of the troubled spot. It seemed like he had eight arms banging away at his kit. These days, whenever I hear Piper, I always think of Wildo's Piper trucker hat that the Joker got custom made (by Pep) for us in Telluride.

The Piper jam abruptly ended when they slammed on the breaks, and Trey teased a few Free licks before they delved off into Harry Hood. A heavy dose of glowsticks instantly filled the air during an uppity version. The guy on cannonfetti also nailed the orgasm part of the Hood jam. Awesome work, brah.

YEM lights

A gripping YEM closed the set. A few minutes into YEM, the foul and all-too familiar odor of vomit wafted by. Buzzkill. Someone lost their cookies, which was unexpected because the lack of beer sales contributed to a more subdued crowd than usual. Alas, one amateur couldn't hold his/her mud despite the booze prohibition. Man, think just how much potential revenue is generated by beer sales at a 10,000 person Phish show?

Trey teased Wilson during the heavy metal jam out and at one point he had put down his guitar and danced a jig while Gordo and Fish tag-teamed a drums-bass jam.

"Never seen Trey so happy," remarked Senor as Big red took a deep bow. In Japanese culture, the height (or depth) of the bow depends on how much respect you are paying to the person you bow to. Trey got down low -- really low. If you're a Phish nerd who reads into little things like Trey's body language onstage, then it was pretty evident that Trey was more than humbled by the Amherst crowd.

I wondered if we were going to get a double dip encore with a random bustout and a cover (like Buried Alive > Mighty Quinn which I had bet on and gotten good odds that they'd play at least one of those two, plus a bonus if they played both). Alas, Phish encored a cover song from Exile on Main Street and unearthed Shine a Light. The soulful Stones song was an appropriate end to an evening where Phish left all their emotions on stage after digging deep into their bag of tricks. Amherst didn't quite fit into the "greatest hits" shows that they had been playing on this tour, but they did not disappoint the crowd and whipped up a show that appealed to old school New England fans (who had been loyal to the band for over two decades), not to mention keeping it fresh for the newer generation and recent wave of fans.

I gazed at the wide smiles from Senor (he has to be closing in on 100 shows by now) and Liz (one of the hotties at her first show), which were a positive indicator and gauge that Phish did not let them down. I had not seen Senor have that much fun at a Phish show in over a decade. When he has fun, it's infectious, and I have fun.

Just when you think you got Phish figured out, they switch things up just a bit to keep you off guard, whether it's doubling up with songs (from the previous night like DWD), or switching up protocol (first set Tweprise closer), or screwing around with Fish hijinks (the band is named Phish after Fish for a reason), or even integrating new songs (Halfway to the Moon) in a set among the heaviest of hitters (Hood and Piper).

It's not easy being Phish trying to conjure up an unique and savory recipe night after night that will satisfy every palate in the audience. But despite those unrealistic challenges, they successfully pulled off a hearty feast in Amherst.

Seven down. One more to go Amherst, and five more shows remaining on this tour.

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