13 August 2007

Nedstalgia: 10 Years Ago

[Previously in Nedstalgia: Phish shows 1 & 2, #3 #77 & 78); Mule; Widespread Panic; The Duo; Robert Randolph HORDE 92 (i.e. Phish #4, WSP #1)]

Get torrents of Gorge shows here and here (the 8/14 show will probably be available very soon if it isn't already)
Or get MP3's (of the entire Summer 97 tour) here.

(Gorge 97 pic stoled from Phish.com)

Welcome back to another Phistalgia act... when we last left off, we were in the depths of one hot-ass Texas summer. We flipped the calendar page to August in the Vancouver area and then headed down to the Gorge for the two gigs there. Frankly, while I remember both shows (nos. 78 & 79) being worth the schlep, I don't have too many distinct memories of the time spent out there in George. That's a rarity for me -- I really have a story for every show -- which must mean it was lackluster in some way. I do have some good memories of distinct moments-- I remember my first Vultures and being pretty overwhelmed with a tune I'm not sure I ever heard again; I remember the Harry Hood encore, when Trey asked for the lights to be turned out, and the band just got blissfully gooey in the darkness; I remember a Down With Disease>Tweezer set opener that was so good, the band couldn't get it up again the rest of the set, unfortunately blueballing us all theway to the Reprise; being front row with the somewhat-annoying LeftCoasters for the first time... I don't think the band played poorly during that Clifford Ball>Island Tour stretch, so it was all degrees of sweetness. It was just something about the Gorge -- both times I've been there -- like it seems like the whole experience should be more special than it ends up being. Like this was the corporate version of "kick ass venue" drawn up in a sanded-down vision of how to turn an amazing spot into a concert venue. The venue is a sight to see, for sure, but it's no Red Rocks -- beautiful, yes, but frankly, without the magic....

No, I deliberately waited until today to recount my August 1997 reminiscing, to the 10th anniversary of #80. By the time you've seen eighty Phish shows, you've fallen into an expect-the-unexpected game plan with each new trip. Yes, it's a voyage to the unknown, anything truly is possible, but eventually, these guys have zigged and zagged in every direction and dimension they can possibly access, right? And just when you let your guard down, in a run-of-the-mill shed outside a pretty darn good amusement park, the rules change once again and the going gets weird.

It was 8/14/1997 at Darien Lake a little slide-step outside Buffalo. I'd been there in 1993 for what stands still as one of my all-time favorites. The band came a long way in those 4 years and as I've said, they were hitting their peak. The venue had changed a bit in those years as well, coming a ways from a small kind of afterthought tacked onto a amusement park I'd been going to since I could string together the words "merry," "go" and "round." In 1997, it was a major piece of the Darien Lake puzzle, with some obvious money and effort being put into it being an honest-to-goodness concert venue to compete with the SPACs and FLACs of the world. But the parking lot was still pretty much a big patch of grass and when we arrived on that typical Western New York summer's day, the epicenter of that lot was occupied by the Furthur bus. And with that bus came a little buzz -- easy to ignore for someone who was just dropping in on a show mid-tour, like a guy auditing a class with the tourheads in full get-up-to-the-Great-Went mode.

For me, it was just good times to be back at a Phish show, less than two weeks removed from my summer "vacation." I picked up my brother on the way and there were a few familiar faces scattered through the audience as the band took the stage. When they opened with "Yamar" you could just feel it -- it percolated from front-to-back. When they followed that up with "Funky Bitch" I felt my muscles twinge: they knew it was going to be a long night of dancing my ass off. "Fluffhead" third song into the night was a "holy shit" moment. The playing was free spirited and maybe not the tightest through that opening trio, but man, that's a statement opening for a show. The Fluffhead really closed out incredibly strong though, Trey just going free form nuts in the way that gets out your mental pencil and paper to make a "best ever" note for future reference... the paper's a bit faded, but I can't still make it out. Of course, it's hard to sustain that kind of setlist for too long -- they had to save some artillery shells for the Maine hit -- so the set cooled off a bit. The latter part being highlighted by a welcome appearance from Dame Tela and one of those typically frenzied Antelopes.

The setbreak definitely had a good energy to it. "What about that opening, eh?" The Phish crowd is easy to please as a whole, but for once I agreed, that was some bombastic shit. Little did we know...

The second set started kind of oddly, Chalkdust, Love Me (for Elvis), Sparkle. Like they were filling time a bit before some rendezvous later in the day. Trey was chatty from the get-go, calling out Elvis and then, going into Sparkle, claiming that Elvis loved that song. Then all of the sudden, Harry Hood is being shoved down your throat. This is about the part of your Thursday night when odd turns to outright weird, which will soon make way for batshit craziness dripping from the ceiling. First of all, the sky opened up -- not with rain, but with a fireworks/laser light show display elsewhere in the park. It was one of those quintessential Phish moments, the kind of synchronicity that makes even the stone cold soberest audience member question whether the guys were plucking the strings of the universe themselves. Of course, how could the band resist taking advantage of the light show at hand. Fireworks in the sky, fireworks on stage -- this was the band on their way to the Everest of the jam empire and all four guys were just clicking in next-level fashion.

As the Hood jam elevated with each exploding rocket, a short and sweet climax, something in the night shifted. The band regrouped a bit awkwardly, falling back to earth like the ashen bits of a firework floating haphazardly but softly back to the ground. Trey and Mike locked into a neat little melodic bit that just went and went and went, building to something, but what? Where does a show like this go? Over, around, under and upside down, the roller coaster went faster and then slower and then somehow, utterly unexpectedly, bang bang bang it segued into Col. Forbin's Ascent. If there's a twilight zone, we had entered it.... if you were to sum up this Phish show with three letters, might I suggest WTF... but wait, it gets better.

The Forbin's narrative is always kind of a trip out there, but nothing prepared anyone in the audience for what came next. Trey's building up the story as usual, I mean nothing out of the ordinary yet, right? And then Col. Forbin can't find Icculus, but instead he introduces Ken "Uncle Sam, Bozo Easy" Kesey -- he of the bus in the parking lot, Acid Test, Cuckoo's Nest fame -- who hijacks the show as only a grade-A prankster can. Kesey, in full regalia, takes over and starts his own narration, a free-form bizarre-a-thon about Bozos and somesuch with characters from the Wizard of Oz somehow appearing during the story. To call it "trippy" would be missing the point. I wish I had visuals of my reactions during the course of this, this, this... I don't what you call it. The range of feelings, from laughing and entertained to "what the FUCK is going on?" to finally just wanting it all to just end already... they were all there in spades. Yes, it was a lot of things, spurring a lot of looking at the dude next to you with a shrug of amazement, but the thing it was the most was long. The gist of the story is that they're looking for the "BOZOS" (What the fuckity fuck?) and by the end of the story, we learn that bozos are some even weirder motherfuckers with big heads floating around the audience. The fact that there is no footage of this on YouTube should shame that enterprise back to the days of the Commodore 64. Come on people!!

Thankfully, the band did not cede total control to Kesey (just about 97% of it), they filled in the undercurrent of the story with a pretty good soundtrack, superheady "Somewhere over the Rainbow" teases when appropriate, etc. All the characters from the Wizard of Oz (or Biz Boz as The Boy calls it) made an appearance, but for some reason instead of the Lion, Cowardly it was flipping Frankenstein that came out. 10 years later and I can't figure this one out, like the shit wasn't bizarro world enough for us. Of course, this got the band licking on Frankenstein (the song) as well. Finally, shortly after we finally found those confounded bozos, they kind of sunk into a groove -- it was almost impossible for Phish, circa 8/97 to go more than 15 minutes without getting thoroughly funky for a healthy stretch -- and Kesey finally re-entered the atmosphere of planet Earth. It was funny, after what seemed like forever (it's a full 15 minutes, if you're wondering) in Oz or wherever he was, he still made his way to mentioning the "mockingbird" as I'm sure Trey instructed him to at some point previous to the set.

Of course, we were through the looking glass at this point. They were really locked in to something ultrafunky, a subconscious groove that they couldn't avoid... they had the funk jones at this point and there was nothing they could do to shake it off. So Trey announced "We're supposed to start Mockingbird now, but the funk is too deep... we can't stop!!!" (but not before getting in a "see what happens when you take too much acid, 30 years later?" as Kesey and his cohorts quasi-boogied off stage) Holy shit, did that set the crowd on fire. Classic Anastasio. Instead they just let themselves get sucked in by the quicksand and slowly grooved their way into Camel Walk (my first). Don't let the Kesey go to the brain now.

It seems almost anticlimactic that they would encore such a brainbender of an evening with a truly 92-esque Bouncing/Rocky Top, but honestly it's so pedestrian that even that is weird. IN those days it was always hard to leave a Phish show without a wide grin of satisfaction on your face, but this is one that you really had to see to believe. Twas a good time to be on the bus, even if we couldn't go the big weekend looming northward.

Until next time...

1 comment:

SuperDee said...

Where are the Bozos?! Where are the Bozos?! The "Free" that night was one of my favorite moments of that tour. I still have a rock that I found that night... Ah nedstalgia...