29 October 2007

Nedstaligia: 15 Years Ago

[Previously in Nedstalgia: Phish shows 1 & 2, #3 #77 & 78, #79); Mule; Widespread Panic; The Duo; Robert Randolph HORDE 92 (i.e. Phish #4, WSP #1)]

Halloween time... rich for some Nedstalgia and we've got a twofer for you after a long September layover. Today I'm looking back 15 years with 5th Phish show...

Download the show

My first couple months as a college freshman consisted of a lot of Phish -- listening to, talking about, making new friends over. Phish was a backdrop to boozing, study aid, social networking tool and all around obsession. And yet, for all that time and energy consumed, no Phish shows. So, when word started percolating through the campus faithful that the band was hitting the stage again, in town no less, I was just a wee bit psyched. My first hometown show as a Boston-area resident... when do tickets go on sale? Where is the show -- Orpheum Theater, Somerville Theater? Wait, what's that? Boston Garden? THE Boston Fucking Garden? Wait, what!?!?!

It seemed surreal to even think about it. Phish in an arena. Not just any arena, but the Boston Garden... the same room, cave, cavern where The Grateful Dead would be playing in a couple of weeks. Our Phish -- the guys we had that "up close and personal" relationship with... we called them by their first names and made goo-goo eyes at them from close proximity. Those guys were playing the Boston Garden? How? How would they manage it and how could we manage it?

Turns out it wasn't a headlining gig, but rather a kind of Halloween-ish showcase by classic rock WBCN with the Spin Doctors and a couple other acts on the bill. Like it mattered... when do tickets go on sale? Calendars were marked, coveted 2nd gen Maxell XLII's made to do a few more laps at extreme volume while copious amounts of Harpoon made the days go a bit quicker. And then, at last, show time.

The night of October 30th, 1992 was marked by some music, sure, but plenty of other weird fanfare and personal circumstances. As I remember it, there was an opener that we may have missed and then the Spin Doctors and then some between-set entertainment before Phish went on.

Amusing-to-me anecdote:

Between sets I was cruising the concourse for a Coca-Cola or somesuch when I happened upon a large crowd and realized that it was Mark White -- Spin Doctors bass player -- standing there, holding court with autograph hand set to sign as many ticket stubs and whathaveyou that got stuck in his face. By this time I felt like somewhat of a Spin Doctors expert -- that night would mark my fourth show in just a couple of months: HORDE set, opening for the Allman Brothers and then I saw them in my 1st show a week into the semester at the Avalon (I'll never forget watching some crazy chick surf the crowd that night and when she got close realizing "that girl lives down the hall from me!"). The Spin Doctors went from intriguing possibility to bordering-on-annoying in that short time, so rather than struggle to get an autograph, I stood over to the side and watched the spectacle of foolishness at hand. The crowd was pretty large. To truly appreciate the rest of this anecdote, you have to understand just what yours truly looked like back then -- big, tangled, messy beard, wildly disheveled hair under a baseball cap and crooked glasses -- see the accompanying picture taken from my ID card, taken probably just a few short weeks before the night in question. If anything, I was more wook-like by the 30th of October. So this rather drunk guy walks up to me and starts talking to me with a weird look in his eye. We get to chatting a bit and I'm humoring his drunkenness when I realize that he thinks I'm Jon Fishman. I'm doing nothing to perpetuate this notion, but I'm not doing anything to deny it either... as time goes on he's getting more and more convinced and starts pulling people over to convince them as well and amazingly no one's calling him/me on it. He started asking about a Phish newsletter that had just been sent out that featured a picture of Fishman doing the Jamie Gumb pose and I acknowledged that I had been quite fucked up at the time of that photograph. High comedy ensued, filed under "I wish I had video of that," ending in my signing his ticket stub (writing "Ned!" enthusiastically) and going on my merry way. Fantastic... I can only hope that there is some Masshole somewhere who's got a Ned-signed stub in the back of his desk drawer.

Even more hilarious and more bizarre was the "comedy" act that went on before Phish. It was some sort of comedy troupe on a stage set up on the opposite side of the Garden and to say they were awful is putting it mildly. To this day, I do not think I have seen someone booed as mercilessly as they were that night. It was the kind of situation where these guys -- their best bit was a poor imitation of kung fu movies, as I recall -- could have easily sapped all the energy out of the room. But the crowd, who amazingly seemed to be heavy on the Phish fans, wouldn't let it happen and instead just let them have it. If there had been a long hook in the Boston Garden last night, it would have been used to yank them off stage posthaste. They did finally get the hint and left us to our own anticipation. I imagine that night killed any hopes of an entertainment career for those dudes. I wonder what they're doing these days. "No really, I opened up for Phish once! I swear!"

Of course, there was the music.... on the face of it, the setlist reads like a pure getting-to-know-you circa 1992 kind of hour. But the setlist, as we know, is only part of the story. No, it wasn't the best playing of Phish's career either that made it special. What you have to consider here, is context. This wasn't just the first time Phish had played the Garden, it was the first time they'd played any Garden or arena. They were playing a showcase set and still managed to sneak a juxtaposed vacuum solo into the middle of Cavern, to hop on trampolines, drop some Simpsony "D'oh!" in there, play barbershop quartet in between two jam-laced prog-rockers, and leave the uninitiated with their heads scratching every step of the way. If nothing else, the small-town heroes proved to me and everyone like me that this was not a one-shot-deal, that they were destined for big, bad and better. In sum, they nailed it. The sound filled the arena all the way to our crummy little second tier seats. When Trey sang "approaching a rift..." early on, I looked out to the crowd below me and the chasm between me and the band and it felt real and wonderful and, to be honest, scary all at once. There have been so many "holy shit!" moments along the way, sometimes it seemed like several a night. Phish breaking their big arena cherry was just one of them, but one I am glad I got to see. I was a part of it, like I was a part of the shows I saw before and after, but for the first time I felt like a tiny part of it... and that was OK.

To say the band was giddy would be understating it. You can hear Fish on the recording screaming "ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Boston Garden!" before getting drowned out by the opening to Runaway Jim and just giving a "yeeehaw!" as they hit the ground running. Later on, Trey took a break to say how psyched he was to be playing the Garden and how he grew up dreaming of playing for the Boston Bruins. "I think this is the closest I'll get," he says... like this was a one-and-done for him. What do you think his reaction would be if you want back in time 15 years and explained Clifford Ball to him? That in less than 4 years he'd be holding sway like a biblical figure in front of tens of thousands of disciples. Big Cypress? Coventry? Crazy.

At that point when it was certain that the next song would be the last, I remember considering what song they could play to finish the night, another to-be-on-"Rift" song or maybe a pure rocker like "Chalkdust Torture." At that stage of their career, they were still defining how they would be perceived by the outside world and that night in Boston was the biggest mass mailing they had up til thent. The song you close the set with is the song people who had never heard you before will go away remembering you by. What song did Phish choose to play? "You Enjoy Myself." It was my first time seeing it and I danced my bewildered ass off. Man, I loved those guys. Total, deep funkified jamming that made it's way, as it always does, into a psychedelic vocal jam (tobacco!). And THAT is how they left their audience that night 15 years ago. Sometimes it seemed like they were just daring people to like them, like some crazy lifelong inside joke. Well, I fell for it again and again. Luckily there were plenty more chances to lose myself in the Phish before year's end... I'll hit on most of 'em when the time is right, so check back in, alright?

Tomorrow we'll do some quick trick-or-treating 10 years back into the Nedvault.


Five Eyed Hand said...

Nice! I was there as well, but not sure if we went as part of the same flock of freaks or not...

I recall (hazily of course) that after some really bad jokes which elicited boos, one of the "comedians" said something like "What, you guys just want to see your little band?" or something like that.

To which the crowd kind of went "Ugh" and quickly followed with more boos.

Humor does belong in music, but only if it's funny.


Joe C said...

Great story about that night. BTW one of those dude from that comedy act between the sets was none other than Dane Cook! He tells the entire story of that night on an episode of Letterman, available on YouTube.

neddy said...

That is an awesome postscript, thanks Joe. I posted the link to that interview this week on the blog.