14 July 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 years Ago

Still alive... the hiatus is over (maybe).

Download Phish at Weedsport, 15 July 1993
part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4

"You know it's summer when they're rockin' in Weedsport!" Thus said the disembodied voice on the radio right around the time the snow starting melting in Syracuse. If you grew up in the area, you can probably still hear the voice urging you come out to dirt track in Cayuga County for some good old fashioned meathead music. Of course, there were always a few worthwhile shows tucked in between the hair metal and Skynyrd cover bands and less than three months after this masterpiece of a show Phish was kicking off what would prove to be one of their best damn summer tours, period. Yes, 15 years ago today, Teh Phish was rocking at Weedsport... and even though getting to summer shows was always a chore from working @ Jew camp, was there any doubt I'd be missing a tour opener so close to home? Never.

We got there an hour or two after doors had opened, but I made it clear to my buddy that we would be in the front row, never he fret. Old Juice still talks about how we quickly and directly maneuvered our way around lounging stoners and hackey-sacking kids and miraculously grabbing a comfortable swath of "the rail" within moments of having our tickets ripped. Ah, the good old days.

The show was prototypical 1993 Phish through and through. The meat of the setlist provided few surprises and the band was definitely still getting their tour legs back under themselves. I'm quite sure I ho-hummed my dancing self through most of the first set and only in retrospect can appreciate the sheer awesomeness of "everyday" Phish. Back then, a rarely-botched Divided Sky seemed like a setlist throw-in and hearing the band somersault a screaming A-level Stash/Foam combo was considered commonplace. If I sound like a curmudgeon talking about how life was like before transistor radios undid the fabric of wholesome American society, that's just about how I feel listening to this one again 15 years later.

So yeah, the show was, for the most part pedestrian... in the same way Jordan throwing down 40 points on unwilling victims of his sheer brilliance was pedestrain in his prime. The real treat of the Weedsport show was the handful of debuts we got that night. It's always nice to see a bunch of shows right at the get-go of a Phish tour. New songs, new silliness and new takes on old favorites set the tone for whatever direction they choose to go in. The first diversion into new ground came late in the first set. Appropriately following a goofy Fish>Gordo stretch of I Didn't Know, My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own, they launched, without warning or comment, into the premier playing of "Leprechaun." The jarring contrast between this confounding bauble of an instrumental with their standard fare kinda threw everyone in the crowd for a bit of a loop, including myself. I mean, one minute you're bopping along, feeling comfort in pure summertime, friends and great music and the setting sun; dancing your ass off to your favorite music without a thought in your head... and the next you're presented with this complicated composition with no danceable beat and no discernable hook, that you've never heard of... and before you can chew the thing up and swallow, it's over and Runaway Jim is upon you and it's like "what just happened?" "What was that?" and most importantly... "was it any good?" It's not clear to me that the band even knew the answers to those questions. They tossed it around a few shows to see if it fit anywhere (sandwiched in Mike's Song seemed to make sense for a bit) and then, like the girlfriend at summer camp, it was forgotten by Labor Day. The second debut that night -- "Daniel" -- mirrored the first. It came at the end of the 2nd set and blazed like a set closer should with pure dance-me-up energy. A grooving gospel number that on paper seemed wholly inappropriate for Phish to attempt to pull off. So, of course, they pulled it off... at least for that summer they did and then back in the foot locker with the rest of the summer fun. Weird how the band did that.

There are some other highlights in there, because let's face it, the band didn't suck and they sure as hell didn't suck in 1993. Cool to have been at many of the last few shows of the spring tour and then the first of the summer. Just a few months separated the shows, but somehow everything was different. Part of it is just being summer, outdoors, lights flickering past the band up into oblivion, followed by the music and our carefree roars of approval. Music looks and sounds different outside, doesn't it? But the band seemed determined to build on what they had going. Focused. Phish was big, but you could feel the phenomenon coming.

The last and most exhilirating bustout of the night came in the encore, but of course, there's a story there. During the setbreak, Brad Sands came out between the stage and the rail and was talking to the two women standing next to us. I had recognized one from a show that past spring and later put it together that one or both of them were "with" Fishman at the time. Anyhoo, Sands tells the girls something and leaves and then they tell us how after the band plays "Chalkdust Torture" that we should shout out "FREE BIRD!" at the band. Well, we didn't have to be told twice. The only problem was song after song they didn't play Chalkdust in the 2nd set... so halfway through I just started shouting it out anyway, hoping to get a response and wondering what sort of silly shenanigans they had in store. But alas... nothing. WTF!? When they come back out for the encore after that fun Daniel set closer, we're all screaming Free Bird like mad and then they launch into Chalkdust. Fuck yeah, here we go... so they shred that up like usual and make their way toward the front of the stage into normal a capella formation and now it's top-o-da-lungs screaming out "FREE BIRD! PLAY FREE BIRD!!!" And Trey had that goofy grin on his face "What song is it you want to hear?" Next thing you know they're doing their, now well-traveled, only-Phish-could-do-this a capella of "Free Bird." Looking back on it, it's almost as if they chose to open their tour in Weedsport for that singular moment. Could it have been any more perfect? If there is a quintessential "never as good as the first time you hear it" song for Phish, this has to be it. Not having any idea that such a thing was even possible. Later that summer I found out how they were doing the "2001" thing before I heard it and, sheesh, I always wonder what it would be like to just have that come at you from a cold start. But this one performance, a perfect metaphor for the magic Phish continued to spin. I mean, oh for a photograph of my "you've.got.to.be.fucking.me!" face when they break it down and vocal jam the shit out of that thing. No warning, just sharp jabs of rock and roll awesomeness into the solar plexus. Yes, they were rocking at Weedsport.


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