21 November 2007

Nedstalgia: 10 Years Ago

November is Nedstalgia month! Rejoice!

[Previously in Nedstalgia: Phish shows 1 & 2, #3 #5 #77 & 78, #79); Mule; Widespread Panic #1 (& 'ween 97); The Duo; Robert Randolph HORDE 92 (i.e. Phish #4, WSP #1)]

What is it that causes those wacky wormholes to open up in random corners of our musical universe? Places like Red Rocks in Colorado or the old Wetlands down in Tribeca are/weren't just places to see music but more like portals into another dimension. Places where the arrow of time points in all directions and the laws of physics seem to go to lunch. The Hampton Coliseum down in Virginia, of all places, seems to have such magical properties and it was 10 years ago today that I ventured down there for the honor to see Phish with a "P" for a couple of nights. This series of reminisces has been chock full of hyperbole and seems to have attached importance and significance to every bit of music I can remember, but those two nights were the cats meow... disregarding the 4 Halloween shows (i.e. the "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads." of Phish shows), hands down the best Phish shows I went to.

There must be something in the water down there by the water. This is the area of the country that gave birth to both Allen Iverson and David Wright. Whatever it is, the electricity was in the air the moment me and the omnipresent wingman ABO left the tristate area and headed south. There was no doubt in my mind the moment I bought those tickets and made the decision to hit the shows that I would be in the front row and that's pretty much all I cared about heading down. While waiting to get our wait on, we found a nice spot to park the car and chill and soaked in the analog goodiness of one of those wild Amsterdam shows from on of that year's European jaunts. The music was pure pixie dust, magical otherworldly stuff. The anticipation couldn't have been any higher. I was too naive to consider overhyping it... or was I?

We waited in line all afternoon and chilled with some pretty good people. "Phish shows" to me were always all about "front row at a Phish show" and even that meant "front row Trey." It was a universe within a universe within a universe for me and one where I resided happily for many years. Needless to say, we made the spot both nights and fell in with a good bunch of dudes I'd be seeing the rest of my Phish days. There were always a bunch of regulars that rotated in and out as they got older or bored, but somehow I was always there ready to spin yarns about the "good old days" and probably bug the shit out of anyone within earshot. Tough noogies! There was a fantastic photo in the Hampton-area paper the next morning of Trey on stage with a slice of the crowd reacting to his playing... a bunch of us clearly were in the shot. Unfortunately I haven't been able to hang onto that in the ensuing decade, would love a copy of that.
Anyway, the music, right? I'm not even going to bother posting this to download. Either you have it and you know or you can find it easily to download, you don't need me to point you in the direction of pure epicosity. If someone can identify the consensus "it" source on these shows, please enlighten us. If you really want me to provide, I'm partial to kind requests.

When you're sitting around for hours and hours doing nothing but anticipating what is to come, your mind can wrap itself up in some wild hypotheticals. "What will they open with?" is PreShow 101, but all we could agree on was this: huge. I don't think anyone had "Emotional Rescue" in the pool, but could it have been any better? Just bringing it hard with a out-of-the-next-galaxy bustout and perfectly harness the energy in the room for the rest of the weekend. I've had this song in my head all week long in anticipation of this anniversary. Just so awesome, wasn't it? The one-two punch of Emotional Rescue > Split Open & Melt was plenty enough to carry the 1st set over a couple lulls. The way it balanced a silly Phishiness with of-the-era groove out and how the lyrical hook kept popping up later in the set... it all gave the weekend that "yes, we agree this is special, and we're going to do everything we can to make it so" seal from the band. That counts for something.

What ensued was one of those nights/shows/runs where setlist only told half the story, the way returning to our planet after an alien abduction and describing the experience can only do half the justice to the actual experience. All of us in that room those two nights boarded a space ship -- almost literally a flying saucer -- and we were probed: physically, mentally, emotionally.

The latter 3 sets of the Hampton 97 experience were just a blur -- children fingerpainting a messy concoction of color, mashing reds and greens and purples in seeming disorder until you step back and realize that they've outdone Picasso, Matisse and Pollock combined. Picking out individual songs or jams would be like isolating brush strokes. Good God, people, this was it! Yes, we were knee-deep in the so-called "cow funk" era of Phish, but this was not all bass-and-clavinet fueled groove jams. This was the polished sum of the spring and summer, the high point of an era of brilliant free-ranging improvisational playing that peaked the following Spring and will probably never be seen again. If you started listening to Phish after the fall of 1997, you missed it, you missed it all. I'm sorry. Songs twisted up into different balloon animal shapes; blocks of ice were carved into magnificent lifelike sculptures; eggs, flour and sugar were transformed into delicacies too sweet to contemplate; word butchered into ridiculous metaphors ad nauseum.

Highlights were many, I don't remember being upset with too much they played. It seemed to build from that Rolling Stones cover on night 1 and just kept going up and up and up. By the midpoint of Saturday's second set, I was gloriously overwhelmed. I had not heard Black Eyed Katy before that night and when the Tweezer melted into the fully-formed uber-funk jam I was convulsive. The next tune after that was "Piper" which I had also never heard before, not even on tape or CD. I will never forget that moment, a top 10'er for me. The way that funked up ultragroove took shape into something. It seemed to be happening in the moment, just notes self-assembling as if placed there by Mother Nature herself, forming an impossibly building melody. Simple, succinct, and totally engrossing, it just kept building and building. I was totally flabbergasted... when they finally crested and I realized that it was indeed a song they were playing, it ruined none of the magic. It was total discovery, 100% pure. It was a moment hard to come by back then and almost impossible now in the age of instantaneous satisfaction and gratification. I don't begrudge the immediate availability of new music, far from it, but the experience of getting knocked off your socks by something utterly new is becoming a rarity. I've heard plenty of Pipers since then and enjoyed most of them, but nothing will ever recreate that "holy shit" experience when my jaw hit bottom. You should be diggin' it while it's happening....

So put it all together: the tripped out, overheated audience; the intergalactic journey to parallel universes; the Mikes>Groove>Harry Hood Sat night starter special; the 15 minute jam-a-thons that could have gone 30 more ticks before I even thought about getting bored with them; the repeated climaxes of the AC/DC Bag on Friday; the way Trey taunted the audience when they tried chanting "Destiny Unbound;" the way in which the band combined the best of Iverson and Wright and performed at a level higher than even us heady veterans could have conceived of; the "aw fuck it, let's drive!" post-Saturday night haul back to the city which seemed to fly by effortlessly on the pure adrenaline of a Tweezer Reprise encore (best way to end a show evah!); the rail supporting everything I had while I thrashed about to Antelope and Izabella and Guyute and the climactic orgasm of Slave to the Traffic Light; Trey looping everything on top of each other to artistic effect so that Punch You In the Eye somehow dissolved cleanly into the faux-lounge of Lawn Boy without any jarring and the first set Prince Caspian never quite ended as the stage filled with sound and the entire room was in a deep dark slumbering spell until someone came out and shut off the blissful cacophony... put all that together and all the other shit that's slipped my memory and you have "best Phish ever."

Quod Erat Demonstratum.

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