08 May 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago (part 1)

Don't worry, one more Phish post, then you're off the hook until the summertime...

First off, download these (yeah, SBD's):
Albany 5 May 1993
part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4

Albany 6 May 1993
part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4

& go buy this:
UNH 8 May 1993

Catch up on the Spring 1993 Phishtalgia:
Montreal > Hartford

The last three shows I caught in the Spring 93 smorgasbord were during the first week of May, smack dab in the middle of finals. So what? Phish shows beckoned. These being 3 of the last four for the tour, there was no way I was missing them.

May 5th & 6th found me in Albany at the Palace Theater hugging close to the orchestra pit in front of the stage. The first night of the Albany shows pretty much begins and ends with the You Enjoy Myself. Setting the stage briefly, the first set was really quite lame -- the most predictable, circa 1993 setlist you could imagine. During set break I was talking to a friend from college and his buddy and the guy noticed something on the side of the stage. "That's Oteil!" he said. Indeed, it was the entire Aquarium Rescue Unit. I remembered how my brother was going to see them that week in Syracuse, so it added up that they were around. Most importantly, they seemed poised to play -- Oteil had a bass strapped to his back and the rest of the gang were scoping out the situation. As Mr Burns would say: Exxxxcellent!

The second set featured a cliff-drop from the My Friend outro into my first Manteca that came out of nowhere only to return to the My Friend singing. Awesome. Later in the set, during Yamar, Trey gave a shout out to his then-girlfriend who was standing over to the side in the eaves dancing to the show. I remember thinking how cool that was as he dropped into some Spin Doctor's Two Princes vamping. Really, though, I was just waiting to see when ARU was coming out. Patience, patience, patience.

Finally they busted into You Enjoy Myself. There was no doubt in my mind... this was it. The song seemed to develop even more slowly than ever in my mind. I was watching the band closely for subtle clues. When Trey and Mike moved to the trampolines, Trey starting looking over to the side of the stage and playing riffs from the ARU standard "Yield Not To Temptation" over and over. It was like he was mentally willing them onto the stage. And then, they were there.

The results were better than I could have hoped. For your sake, I pray you've heard this jam before and if not, find it and listen to it posthaste -- I'll wait. Got it? You with me? There's a wonderful sense of controlled anarchy that comes through in the recording, but I assure you things seemed totally out of control watching it go down. Gloriously so. The first thing that happened was Jeff "Apt Q258" Sipe taking control of Fishman's drum kit where he'd hold court the entire jam. Now, Sipe is about twice the height of Jonny B and so you can imagine him like an oversized octopus at the kit. This served to somehow make everything he did twice as intense and twice as hard. Nice way to get the jam rolling. Gordon also immediately ceded control of the low end to Oteil Burbridge. It's funny but there were many instances during this period -- spring/summer/fall 93 -- when I saw Mike Gordon in the presence of Oteil and it was quite clear to me that he was in complete awe of Big O's bass playing. Looking back, it's a completely ridiculous thing to think about, but Mike was clearly intimidated by the scatting bandit. Suffice it to say, his violet was a shrinking one that night in Albany, he scurried over to Page's piano and either threw in a chord or two on the keyboards or pretended like that's what he was doing. To Fishman's credit, at least he stayed in the game, going through his bucket of toys, bringing out spare cymbals, his washboard and eventually his vacuum.

That left the big boys who seemed to go around and around, sometimes feeling out an all-band groove and then occasionally creeping into nooks and crannies of the noise to feel out some solos and melodies. Herring took a few, Trey took a few. At one point Trey also put down his guitar scrambling across the stage with his megaphone or just hitting some cymbals. This essentially left ARU standing -- Herring, Oteil, Coubt Mbutu playing on a conga (it was BYOC) and Sipe laying down the nasty underneath. It was cool to watch Herring since he was playing Trey's spare Languedoc, so occasionally on the tape, it might be hard to tell who's who. For Trey's part, he was doing a good job getting into that Aquarium Rescue Unit mode, actually channeling Jimmy's tone and style quite nicely.

The jam had a little bit of everything, eventually Col. Bruce joined the fray as well. Not to sing but just to proceed over the proceedings. He actually grabbed Fishman's trombone from behind his kit and started playing into a drum microphone. He truly is the shaman of jam music. His presence alone seemed to will the amazing music being made. And it really was amazing. It's one thing to just have a jam session, it's another to do it with that high caliber of musicians. There was no toe-stepping, no "you go, then I go" -- it was just Phish playing the gracious hosts and the ARU boys taking advantage of the stage and doing there best to be team players.

Vacuum solos, scat-bass solos, twisting changes, megaphone screaming... there was a little bit of everything in that jam. Eventually, Albany native, The Dude of Life came on stage and just brought things to the freak-out level. He was singing and dancing around and actually took his car keys out of his pocket and starting rattling them in the microphone to be some small part of the action. Finally and surprisingly, he was the one who kind of coalesced the hairiness of it all, laying down some of that whacked out poetry he might call lyrics. This brought everyone together and provided an out. Somehow they ended the madness and were able to maintain their dignity. We even got to see a little Jimmy-vs-Trey shred-off which knocked that must-see off my list early in my career.

What a thing to witness at all... from close proximity, I will never forget. The clock on the mp3 says over 30 minutes of not-a-moment-to-catch-yer-breath insanity. (and yet it felt short at the time!) We all knew it was something special. The set seemed short to end there, so the encore featured another one of those off-center sandwiches, when they followed their traditional spring 93 tour encore of Amazing Grace with Cavern. Seemed like too pedestrian a way to end a show that contained that within its borders. Sure enough, Trey felt the same way, as they were working through the opening verses of Cavern, Trey payed a visit to the other three guys whispering something in the ears. The looks he got back were invariable nods but of the "whatever you say, Trey!" variety. When they dropped into a dead-right-turn "Take the A-Train" in the middle of Cavern on Trey's cue, their confused looks made all the sense in the world. Luckily, the band was in a 3-month-long fugue state and could do little wrong and so it was pulled off with nary a hitch, a full version of some jazz standard and then back into Cavern to enclose the meat and make it easy to eat. Nice work boys. See you tomorrow...

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