29 April 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago

First of all, giant thanks to ScottyB from Hidden Track for kindly and quickly getting me both of these shows to listen to and helping to scrape the barnacles off the old hull between my ears... and which I will now be making available to you, my faithful readers. So download:

Montreal, 29 April 1993
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Hartford, 30 April 1993
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Anyone still listening?

So, where was I? Oh yeah, lots of Phish shows around, not much class to get to.

15 years ago it was a trip up across the border with a completely different group of folk. I've seen two shows in Montreal, and if I'm remembering correctly we were piled in the back of a van for a rather boring drive up through New England on an overcast and occasionally dreary late April midweek day... again, do I really need to be schlepping to Montreal? But of course, of course.

We got to town which was in the midst of NHL playoff fever and grabbed a Canada-strength beer before heading into Le Spectrum (translates to "The Spectrum"). I think looking back, that's the smallest room I've seen Phish in. A small rock club which I remember being about the size and type of Irving Plaza except with cool, curvy raised sections on the side where most of my group grabbed a table with the key waitress service. I, of course, went on up front to stake out some space, not that it was difficult. We were inside early and the crowd was sparse. Actually, Fishman was hanging out near the stage holding court with a bunch of addled adherents. I walked up and listened to him ramble on about some crazy idea for a tour with the Dude of Life that he/they were planning. He presented it like it was a silly lark, a total joke, but wouldn't you know it less than a year later the very thing he was describing materialized. Funny how things work out like that.

Listening back to the show today, I realize why I continue to write about as many of the shows I see today. Yes, the recordings live on, and I still have memories of the trip and the show and being utterly agog with how good it was. Even so, I wish I could go back and pick my brain right after the show, what stuck out to me then, what words I'd use to describe it, etc. In 15 years when I'm not seeing any music at all it will be instructive to look back and read and to see how desperately and pathetically I tried to keep hold of my youth. I guess that's part of what makes it a live experience -- intense but fleeting.

So what do I remember? The thing that sticks out most intensely was being up in the smoke during the Mike's > Weekapaug mess. In a room that small, everything was intensified: the band bunched in closer than normal, the crowd pressed in tighter to the stage, and that fog... the fog just seeping into every corner of the venue, mixing with the music to generate some new level of ready-made hallucinogen. We were in another world. During that Hydrogen, someone tossed a cowboy hat on stage. In a brilliant move of improvisation, Trey picked up the hat and positioned a microphone stand with a towel over it, putting the hat on top so that it almost looked like a human figure. The smoke was thick at this point and Kuroda took the cue to backlight the scene so the makeshift mannequin generated a silhouetted against the swirling fog. The band completed the scene by flipping into a kind of cowboy-inspired ditty before moving through with the prepare proceedings. Perfect. That energy persisted into the Weekapaug which did some neat here-and-there before flipping that into some intricate noodling that transformed into a Makisupa Policeman. It was my first and a rarity at the time -- or at least felt like it (noting that it was the first in 2.5 years, so I guess I am correct) -- not the kind of jammed out thing it later became, but rather something that would sublimate organically out of the jams at that moment. It was the kind of thing that made a really great Phish show something a little extra. Of course, almost every show of that spring probably had 6-10 of those moments, but that I will not forget.

When they went back into Weekapaug, Trey lit in with some nasty, nasty shit. The "he's feeling it" kind of playing. The smoke was still intense (I note Fishman commenting on the persistent smoke later in the show) and the crowd was loose and a bit manic after the previous meandering. Even though the venue was small and tight, there was still a lot of room to move and I remember one guy just being a little too animated. Next thing I knew he was on the stage for a quick stage dive. The rest of us in the crowd were way too into the jams to even pay him any mind but he didn't seem to care... I will never forget the guy jumping belly first off the stage flat onto the floor with nary a limb extended from either side to try and catch him. I'm sure at some point the next morning he was in a certain amount of pain.

Other memories include the Fee if only for the reason that it's rare that you're to be in Quebec when it's name-checked in a song. Goofy fun. I've got my setlist written that night and I've got an "!" next to Yamar, so I obviously thought highly of that and a big bracket around the Reba/Mike's/Makisupa/Weekapaug section. It's also interesting to note that I have the encore written here as My Friend My Friend/Sweet Adeline (both missing from the recording) and that the Sweet Adeline is not listed on this semi-official setlist. Cool, I found a bug! Great show.

Somehow we made it back to Boston after the show... I do not recall doing any of the driving. Back to school, hooked up with a third set of chums and went to Hartford the next day. I'm still not sure how I manage this, but today's me thanks 1993's me for dealing with all that. Nice work, Lil' Neddy! The show was in a more field house type gym at University of Hartford which is technically in West Hartford which I learned is like the nice part of Hartford. This time we were there nice and early and I was able to secure not just a spot on the rail, but what I would later to refer to as the spot, home base, ground zero. There is nothing quite like the feeling like all the music has to go through you before hitting anyone else. And this show was one where it really hit me, broke through that wall, so to speak...

Unfortunately, the first set was easily my least favorite of the winter/spring 1993 shows I saw. Mostly I was coming to grips with the fact that when you see a bunch of shows from one band, you are bound to see a lot of repeats and the odds of these songs aggregating in a single set increase every time you buy a ticket. Looking at the setlist now, I think I was probably overreacting a little but what can I say? I actually heard Stash so much during those early years I groaned when they would start it up, which seems completely ridiculous if you think about it. Also need to note early that I feel lucky to have witnessed one of those rare serious judgments in error in the encore... "Something's Wrong with My Baby" -- worst repertoire choice ever? Short lived at least.

The band more than made up for it with the second set, though, opening with a high energy Wilson, and then ripping a Tweezer>Walkaway segue which was a true melt-in-your-mouth transformation from one tune to the next that blew me away. I just love going back and listening to these shows (thanks again, Scott). The playing is distinctively Phish, but there a different kind of energy than they'd grow up to have. You can hear the way everyone is pushing the other so clearly, the way Mike and Fishman enjoy as much of a leading-the-charge role as Page or Trey. In a way, it wasn't always as tight as it became when it was three guys filling in around a designated leader, but it was, to me, infinitely more interesting. Of course, I'm talking about different shades of awesomicity, so take that with a grain. Just grab this and listen to the Tweezer and maybe you'll catch my meaning. Awesome. Unfortunately they followed that sickness with Mound. Now, the today me doesn't mind Mound that much. The 19 year old in Hartford was unhappy to say that he did not. In fact, I remember hanging out with a friend a couple years after that listening to some shows and Mound came on and they said "isn't this the first song you hated?" That may be true. The funny thing about the Mound they played in Hartford was that they played it the fucking night before in Montreal! This really irked me at the time and when they were doing that "we're clapping over our heads" bit at the start of the tune I yelled "you played this last night!" at the band which seemed to get a caught with the proverbial pants down reaction from the players. The real take home message from that setlist choice was certainly "you're an idiot for driving to and from Montreal and then to Hartford the next day," but such are the trappings of youth.

Putting it together, this show blends nicely with the Canada hit. That was a small club which I remember as a murky pagan ritual. The Hartford show I remember as big and bright... in fact, in my mind I remember the show almost happening with the lights on. The meat of the set was a sweet Harry Hood/If I Only Had A Brain/You Enjoy Myself stretch that was a perfect representative of the type of sick, full-band, next level kind of playing the band was trotting out a nightly basis that spring. I was still deeply in love with Harry Hood to the point where it was worth the price of admission alone. And why not, if you can point out a less-than-stellar 93-brand Harry Hood, I'd like to hear it (and then quickly destroy the evidence). Brain was the second Fishman tune of the night, but a rarity that I was happy to catch so I didn't pay it no mind. The sandwiching of that tune with the two powerhouse jam vehicles was everything that was great about Phish.

Listening to these two shows brings back a lot of cool memories. These weren't just concerts, they were shows, Phish shows which was a category of its own. Yeah, I was sick of seeing Stash all the time, but it was still cool the way Trey and Mike did their choreographed stepping from one end of the stage to the other during the composed mid-section while the lights -- which were much more basic back then -- did their own thing that synched perfectly with their movements. When I hear Fishman break down in the fuzzy center of It's Ice from Montreal, ticking and tocking like a grandfather clock I can imagine Trey standing behind Mike as they would raise up their guitars and pretend the necks of their instruments were the minute and hour hand of some cosmic timepiece that somehow transported the whole crowd into another dimension. Tick tock tick tock... Or the way the barrier between the stage and crowd would break down in interesting ways, with the Big Ball Jam being the greatest example. We were actually playing the band -- an early precursor to Guitar Hero, I guess. At Hartford, I recall the band making their usual ring to collect the balls -- the audience would shoot them through the hoop made of Trey, Mike and Page's arms -- and a guy near me took the ball and shot it for a perfect "swish."

Still, it was those nutty jams that made all that driving and traveling worthwhile. I danced as hard during that Harry/YEM stretch than I had at any Phish show previous -- I remember sweating so much that the shirt I had tied around my waist bled onto my t shirt leaving an unsightly stain. A scar upon my wardrobe to remind me that even on a night when the band was drooping a bit, they still had the energy and wherewithal to bring it to that place where they had complete control of my mind and body. The thing about that is I still have that shirt, an old "classic" Phish shirt (yes, I wore a Phish shirt to a Phish show) that was the first one I had bought. The stain remains the same.


Anonymous said...

You, my friend, will CERTAINLY be seeing music in 15 years!!!

-Bob Frapples

neddy said...

Thanks for that vote of confidence.