Thursday, February 2, 2012

Half My Life with Phish

A retrospective blog project.
February 2012

12/31/11 was the 50th time I've seen Phish live. Not that many, comparitively speaking. I'm 32 years old and saw my first show when I was 16. I never went "on tour," instead opting for shorter runs due to lack of money, parental objection, school, and honestly, other interests. I love Phish so dearly. Each one of my experiences seeing this band live has added color, pattern, and texture to my life. This retrospective will unfold as a list, recap, memories, scents, and subtle sounds retracing 50 Phish shows I saw over the last 16 years, starting when I was 16 in Saratoga Springs, NY.

#1 - 6/26/95 - SPAC - Saratoga Springs, NY

DWD > Free 6/26/95

My friend Alex turned me on to Phish. We listened to Junta and Rift a lot in 1994. Of course, Hoist entered the scene, but even to our newb ears we found their most recent album to be too "mersh" or a "sell-out." We were newbs-pretending-to-be-jaded-vets. I love Hoist now.

I was going to attend Amherst 11/2/94 with Alex that fall but he took some other dude who admittedly Alex or I didn't like. This guy hated Phish and thought the grunge scene was way cooler. Pretty much a douche, but Alex felt obligated to give him the ticket. 

So summer rolls around and Alex's dad drives us to SPAC which was an hour and a half from where we lived at the time in Williamstown, MA. He dropped us off out front. I saw "hippies" and Alex told me about acid.  

We didn't do any drugs at this show. I think we smoked a joint, but appearing as 16 year-old wanna-be prep school hippies, a couple of older dudes saw us and partook liberally of what weed we had. Whatever.

I still remember the first set very clearly despite being distracted and in awe of the scene unfolding around me. The second set, as we now know, turned out to be legendary. As seen in the experimental masterpiece of "DWD>Free" - pure, unfiltered Phish, breaking ground, at their best.

Alex's dad picked us up before the show was over.  But no matter - I was all in.  In a big way.  SPAC still is one of my favorite summer venues and I will forever associate June days in upstate New York with the eye-opening joy of something big, new, and exactly for me.


[1] Heartbreaker tease.
[2] Unfinished.

Download here: 6/26/95 SPAC.

#2 - Veterans Memorial Coliseum - New Haven, CT

Listen to some of the best Phish you'll ever hear, here: The New Haven Tweezer.

Alex and I were dropped off in front of New Haven Coliseum in a mini-van driven by my mom and dad. Yup, we were those kids. It was a cold night in the Northeast and Alex and I hurried into the venue because we didn't really know what else to do. 

I had turned 17 in October. My parents were supportive of my new-found passion. However, they weren't about to let their teenage son drive he and his friend 2 hours and 45 minutes across states lines for a rock concert. At the time I found their chauffeur-ism terribly embarrassing. It took me many years later to realize how blessed I really was.

Our tickets were for "Section 1." Not knowing what we were doing, and being some of the first people in the building, we thought "Section 1" meant floor. The elderly usher guarding the floor entrance had no idea where "Section 1" was, so he proved to be no obstacle in reaching some very prime seats for two teenagers.

As we waited for the show to begin, we talked about the audience-band chess match and then sat in awkward silence in awe of the freaks filling the venue. Lots of thick, earth-toned knit sweaters and North Face logos. And holy shit the stink of herb.

Lights drop, then "Caspian." "Jim" next. Two accessible Phish songs to open my second show and I was happy. These days, "Caspian" is a piss-break song. But to "Jim," we still boogie.

Alex had rolled a extra-long joint and we got stoned. He sorta freaked out a bit and had to sit down in his chair. I stood and soaked in the Phish from Vermont. 

We left our floor seats at setbreak and when we returned, a more informed usher pointed us to our real seats: Fishman side, lower bowl. Oh well. At least we got one set up close.

I don't remember much of the second set. I recall the "Tweezer" (how could you not?), but couldn't appreciate what I was hearing until many years later, listening back on tape. Funny but true: the song that sticks out the most from this show is "Faht." Fishman on guitar? Awesome! 

My parents let us stay the until the end and picked us up out front. Lots of one-word answers to how the show was on the ride home (teenage punks). 

I still don't know what the fuck my parents did for 3 hours in New Haven, CT on a cold December evening. This act alone illuminates a part of a greater parenting strategy that I will emulate if and when I become a parent myself. Their commitment to giving me support and freedom to discover myself, through this band and through so much else, is the definition of Love.

Thank you mom & dad!

EncoreBold As Love
[1] No whistling.
[2] All Fall Down signal.
[3] Fishman on acoustic guitar.
[4] Carol of the Bells tease from Page.

Download here: 12/2/95 New Haven.

Other words from this night and month...

December 3rd, 1995 article in The Hartford Courant about 12/2/95: The Phish Experience

Read more: Mr. Miner's Phish Thoughts - "December '95: Vintage Phish"

#3 - 12/9/95 - Knickerbocker Arena - Albany, NY

The Albany YEM - wow.

And then there are nights when it really makes sense. When IT happens. This is the show that pushed me on to 47 more and where I stand now. 

I don't need to write much about this show: it contains the best YEM ever. Consensus. Period.

Again, the Albany YEM is arguably the best jam Phish has ever played.  Don't take my word for it alone. Read what Scotty B of Hidden Track wrote about it here: "Albany YEM: Best jam ever?"

Listen to it. The video above is especially great to appreciate the full mastery and showmanship of the "silent jam" segment in this YEM.  

From The Times Union two days after the show:

"Skeptics undoubtedly had to be won over in the middle of the second set, when the band proved its prowess on ''You Enjoy Myself,'' a 20-minute workout that began innocently enough with Anastasio playing a jazz-fused guitar riff and Fishman lightly offering the undercurrent. Midway through the song, the kings of improvisation worked themselves into such a tizzy that they had nowhere else to go. The band created a silent jam that lasted for almost five minutes, simulating playing some of the most intense licks you could ever imagine: Fishman motioned heavily on the drums; Anastasio did a Pete Townshend, winding his arm around his guitar in a circular motion and looking as if he would break a few strings had he really been playing; and McConnell and Gordon kept their cool, doing the same. When they came out of it, they didn't miss a beat. The music picked up where it was when the sound left the room."
Um, really? I mean what the fuck? Jam > Silent jam > restart Jam. Who does this? Phish does this. Now I know.

Download a SBD version of this song here: Albany YEM (SBD).

Alex and I, now batting 3 for 3 for '95 Phish gems, were driven through a serious snowstorm 45 minutes from our town in the Northwestern Berkshires to The Knick. I forget who drove us this time (I think it was my mom). And again: parents FTW!

I grew up with The Knick. I saw an NCAA Division I hockey championship, lots of Sienna basketball, several MAAC Tourney's, Harlem Globetrotters, Starlight Express, and countless other small-time-ish sports and entertainment events that would roll through the 'Capitol Region.' I've been to The Knick at almost every stage of my life (the most recent being 11/28/09).

No matter what corporate title adorns the outside, it will always be The Knick to many.

My memories from this show are most pungent with the Maze opener and the second set. The snowstorm outside created a warm and somewhat surreal feeling inside the venue. I recall a distinct "we're all in this together" vibe due to the epicness of snowstorm travel. 

Warming up and drying off as we studied the audience-band chess match, "We see a band who plays chess with the audience." Fucking cool.

Lights. "Maze." Rage cage. Again, I don't recall specifics other than that this opener set a "it is so on" tone for the show. On paper, what a glorious first set! And on re-listen, played super well, too. "Maze" openers are badass - Denver '11 night 3 was the first time since this show the boys punched in with "Maze."

Second set is classic Phish. Please add this show to your collection if you haven't already. In my opinion, this show is especially important for any newer fan. Or any fan who has been distracted by Fall '97 to the point of not going any further back in the catalog. Dark, funny, funky, rocking - it has it all. 

An amazing thing about Phish - and life - is that as things go on and perspective shifts, so do the meaning of past experiences. The past, in this light, does change. At the time, while this YEM blew me away, I thought "this is just what Phish does." The special-ness of this song at this moment has increased with each and every show I've attended. 

There could be past "Albany YEMs" of your life that you don't even know about yet.  Go seek experiences that will retrigger the "Albany YEMs" of your past.

EncoreLoving Cup
[1] Quotes from talking Beavis and Butthead doll.
[2] Silent jam and theme from Shaft quote. Vocal jam featured quotes from talking Beavis and Butthead doll.

Download here: The Knick 12/9/95. 

The Times Union (Albany, NY) article ran on 12/11/95 about this show: "Phish delivers a tasty stew of musical tidbits."

1 comment:

  1. Dude - I just ordered your 'Golden Age' shirt (already have the Timber Ho! one -) and scrolled down and saw this post. It's ironic because I was just thinking about this the other day as my 'Half My Life' Anniversary is coming up! 08.12.96 was my first show.

    Looking forward to the shirt - hope you can make it down for the BGCA run -