26 June 2009

Nedstalgia: Phish should have taken my advice

With the surprise and tragic passing of Michael Jackson yesterday, I was reminiscing back to the late summer and early fall of 1995. I was starting my senior year in college, but more importantly had tickets in my hand for the Phish Halloween show in Chicago. The previous year, the band had throttled the notion of what was possible at a rock concert by playing a marathon post-midnight second set consisting of the entire Beatles White Album in the middle of an epic til-3am barn burner. In theory, the band had chosen the album based on "votes" from the fans and were opening up the same channel for the 1995 show.

That was it. I was determined. After getting my tickets I made up my mind to stage a one-man campaign to get Phish to play Michael Jackson's Thriller on Halloween in Chicago. It was too perfect a choice, almost too obvious, but they had to do it. I had a stack of a couple hundred pre-paid blank postcards (the kind you give your kids for summer camp) lying on my desk and every single day I filled out and mailed about 3 or 4 of these to Phish headquarters with some variation on the message: "Play Thriller on Halloween." Back then I was still a bit of an internet newb, and had a total aversion to the existence and modus operandi of rec.music.phish, but felt so strongly and single-minded about my Thriller-on-Halloween mission that I started posting there with simple and succint variations on the same theme. I would troll about hoping that it would pick up some steam, but annoyingly, it appeared I was going it alone.

How frustrating! I had visions of a midnight playing of the title track with Fishman coming out from behind his kit to deliver the Vincent Price monologue. Could anything have been more perfect?? I certainly didn't believe so. It's certain that my schoolwork suffered as I grew slightly more monomaniacal about the whole thing.

Then the fall tour began and setlists and reviews and tapes started trickling down to Somerville, MA. And lo! What's this? Reports of repeated "Beat It" teases sprinkled throughout the midwest. Maybe my screaming and kicking was not falling on deaf ears. Maybe I was singlehandedly willing the band to conform to my desires. Or maybe the band was just fucking with me over the internet... how violating! As late October approached, I was hopeful and worried.

Then I was on the road. Shows in Michigan (not worth the schlep) and Louisville (sick and underrated! and MJ teasing!) were the warmups for the arrival in Chicago. My tickets were in the upper level in the back, but when the lights went down, I was (you ain't surprised is ya?) there on the rail, 15 feet from Trey and geeked up as ever. The first set was stellar and wound down to a brilliant Guyute>Antelope end. But wait... there's more! Harpua!! Surprises, surprises. When Trey got to the narration and talks about Jimmy's favorite album with a glint in his eye (OMG, he's looking at me!), a moment, he knows, I know... I held my breath -- they're going to play THRILLER!! -- and then the opening riff of "Beat It" is filling the arena and I nearly crapped myself. And then, before the adrenaline could hit the system and my blurry vision had cleared, the tease revealed itself to be just that and Harpua wrapped up as it would have otherwise.

When the band returned after setbreak, I was all too aware that the moment was over, but can't say I was too disappointed when Quadrophenia started up and pretty much raged. Twas quite a Phish show!! I always figured that the band knew best and that The Who was the correct choice after all, because, hey... they nailed it! But now looking back and anticipating the certain Michael Jackson tributes and covers we're certain to hear from bands of all shapes and sizes, I'm convinced that they made a mistake. Phish should have taken my advice. They should have played Thriller on Halloween.