Which brings us to the tour closer. 5/8/93. I run the risk of rambling on a bit too much, but I'm willing to take that risk. So proceed with caution.
I have reason to say I'm strongly biased, but the winter/spring tour of 1993 was not just some of the best Phish I saw, but some of the best music I saw. I was lucky to see a good chunk of it, but of course, I missed more great stuff than I witnessed (2/20/93 anyone?). I do thank the way the stars aligned though, allowing me to see 10 shows over the course of February/April/May including 3 of the first 4 of the first part of the tour and 3 of the last 4 at the end. If Phish was a little Jewish boy, that spring was the preparation for the transition to manhood, and the show in Durham, NH on 5/8/93 was the ceremony, the blessing, the Bar Mitzvah itself. They started the tour as children in the world of live music and finished triumphant as a man... hair sprouting on their upper lip and nasty, nasty jamming sprouting from just about everywhere else.
Phish has always been a top notch organization from the musicians on down. This includes the shows they've opted to release from their archives. You would have trouble making the argument that any of their releases thus far have been a mistake. So, there's no question that a show like UNH 93 would get the archive treatment (not to mention the filler which includes the ARU jam from 5/5 -- sick!). This is just, flat-out, one of the better shows you're going to find. Listening to it again (and again, and again) I am struck by the mix of 4-on-the-floor jamming, the inventive segues, the goofy asides, the bustouts and breakouts and mostly the earnestness with which they thank their crew and their fans at the end of a long slough through the mud of making it in the music biz.
There are really no weak spots in this show, no chinks in the armor of awesomeness they laid down that night. The room was a small fieldhouse. I remember getting there and immediately making my way toward the venue waiting to get in. The fewer people between me and the stage the better. My intuitions that I would not want to miss a gesture were correct.
You really should make the investment in this show -- buy the CD's or download the mp3's, but you owe it to yourself as a music fan to be involved. The playing is astounding. You know it's good by the way thing just slip into something else without a thought. The way two friends or soulmates fall into a routine not because their lives are boring, but because their knowledge and intimacy is so exciting that it's 100% natural and effortless, that's the way the band played that night. I count 5 different "sandwiches" -- where one song drops into another one and comes back again. These guys were pulling out all the stops to make the show special and succeeding on all levels.
My favorite moments from that night include the thanks to the crew and the dedication of Satin Doll. Who ever thinks about seeing that song? And then, there it is. The Reba is just vicious from this night. The second set opener of Bowie, when Page and Mike kind of tease around with the Allmans' "Jessica" and we're standing there in the crowd wondering how hard they're going to bite on the bait... and then they chomp at it and it's on. That was fun. When they finally get to Bowie, I'll never forget the way the vocals were set up to echo over and over "David Bowie Bowie Bowie Bowie" -- I was convinced it was just the crowd singing that (that's what I was doing) until it was pointed out to me after the show that it was an effect. This version is another that is just jaw dropping. I've given myself the pleasure of listening to these CD's a few times this week and can't get over this jam which breaks down perfectly into Have Mercy before coming to a blistering finale.
I could go on about everything from that night. Squirming Coil had become such a chore for me when I'd see it played, but that night, they invigorated it with a full-out bluesy jam. It was as if they could not let an opportunity slip by and not jam the shit out of it. And every time they grabbed hold of something it worked out perfectly. It's like walking along and every time you see something shiny on the ground you bend down to pick up a silver dollar as opposed to a gum wrapper. Everything worked. The debut of Crossroads -- using the term "debut" loosely, they didn't return to it for a couple of years -- was another pleasant surprise. They'd obviously rehearsed it and it was fun. What else can we pack in here, what else?
Easily my favorite part of the night was when Weekapaug Groove slowed down and slowed down and the band kept playing as they brought it down, down, down until they were all standing in front of the crowd. There was no doubt what they would sing. You see, the theme of the tour was "Amazing Grace." They played it so many times it'd be ridiculous to count. If you had to sum up the jammingest, most free-form, exhaustingly creative tour of their career up to that point, it'd be with an a capella version of a church song. And yet, that was it, the constant thread in a mishmash tapestry of the inconstancy of Phish. But this being Phish, of course, it couldn't just be that to end the tour. So, as soon as they were finished, Trey brought his guitar back up front and Page and Fish returned to their battle stations and they paid tribute to their tour as best they could -- by jamming the crap out of Amazing Grace. I call it Weekapaug Grace and consider it a return to the Weekapaug, a perfect sandwich topper. Lemme tell you, to watch Trey just blazes away at this one still brings a little tear to my eye. If I could bottle up the sheer joy, the endorphins releasing into my bloodstream at that moment, the drips of sweat making their way down my limbs, the energy I was creating by dancing my ass off at that moment. I'm quite sure I'd live forever. That good. L'chaim!
They came back and what would they encore with? How could they top that closer, that set, that tour? AC/DC Bag. Sweet! It was pretty rare back then and I hadn't seen it through my first 19+ shows. In fact, I remember being bummed when I saw they had played it the night before the Albany run. Those days I would chase songs like a birder chases a rare breed, checking them off on my list every time and then hunting for the ones I needed to fill in the gaps. Eventually I hit most of them, but at that moment, the song I most wanted to see, the top of that list was AC/DC Bag. So many moments along the way I had that feeling -- the same feeling I suspect most die hard Phish fans felt -- that the band was playing for me. That every look and gesture was meant for me and every setlist choice was telling me something. It was a way they had, a connection. It was the Kool Aid and I was drinking it. So, to encore after all that in my 20th show with the song I wanted to hear, to top off one of the best shows I'd seen to date.... well, every Bar Mitzvah needs to end with a party favor. That was mine.
And like all great parties, this one was especially fun because everyone was there. Pretty much anyone I'd ever listened to a Phish show on a Maxell XLII with at school was there close up to the front, plus all the folk I had met along the way... even the annoying UVM folk who had a perceived-by-me holier-than-thou air. And of course, the band. Within minutes of the last notes of AC/DC, Mike was out front like he often was, just chatting with the audience, like pillow talk in the afterglow of simultaneous orgasm. Never one to try and horn my way in with the band and their minions, still felt I had to just say thanks. Walked over to the guy and patted him on the back and said a quick "thanks" only to find he was still drenched in sweat from the calisthenic experience he had just gone through on stage. I still remember being struck by that -- the tour was over, it was time to go home, they had just melted the paint off the walls of the place, and here he was, not even having changed his shirt, mingling with the crowd with that big goofy smile on his face. Nothing like it.
Thanks for reading.
08 May 2008