Last night’s Phish show at the venue formerly known as Great Woods was a really good show to be at. As my second (and final) Phish show ever, it offered a good counterpoint to the SPAC show I went to in June. The shows were very different, so I feel that, for my limited experience, I’ve gotten a good sampling of what a non-festival show can be like. I feel very fortunate to have been there.
Mike Tarkanian, Wally, and I left Cambridge at 4:30 and persevered through Boston rush hour traffic, followed almost immediately by Tweeter Center Phish hour traffic. There were some amusing moments en route to Mansfield, which bear mentioning here. On the exit ramp for 495, traffic was moving rather slowly, and a barefoot guy in a Phish t-shirt jumped out of a car ahead of us, bounded over the guard rail, and proceeded to take an unabashed piss in the bushes. However, as soon as he left the car, the traffic started moving a bit faster, and everyone who was watching this guy let up a collective groan. He kept glancing nervously down the ramp, keeping an eye on his friends’ car, which was moving much faster now. He zipped up and leapt over the railing, breaking into as breakneck a run as one can muster in bare feet on the dirty shoulder of an interstate, the traffic crowd cheering him from out of the windows of their cars. Heroic.
As we merged onto 495 in thick traffic, a few people were standing along the exit ramp, holding up signs and raising fingers in the air. Among them was a black fellow who Mike and Wally said had been there the previous day. Predictably, he was the only non-Asian person of color we saw the entire evening — and who knows if he even made it into the show?! Ah, Phish crowds: the whitest audiences ever?
Further along, some imbecile had valiantly tried to apply duct tape to the road sign for the Tweeter Center to make it say “Tweezer Center” (after the song “Tweezer”, which they did, of course, play), but had, in some presumably Homer Simpson “Doh!”-followed moment, put the “Z” over the “E” instead of the “T”, so the sign ended up reading “TWEETZR CENTER”. We shook our heads. It’s gonna be COLD, my friends.
We arrived at Great Woods amid bumper-to-bumper traffic, cars full of typical-looking fans. We did pass by one sedan occupied by two middle-aged women, to whom we motioned the question, “Are you going to the show?” We got an enthusiastic thumbs-up, to which we replied with our own gestures of extreme approval. “Probably the reviewers for the Globe,” Mike and Wally mused. “Well,” I said, “at least we know we won’t be the oldest ones there.”
After we parked the car, we stood in the lot and ate the burritos we’d brought from Anna’s. On the way to the port-a-potty, Wally was able to score a free beer off of some friendly fans. In line for the outhouse, we struck up a conversation with a girl with a sign hanging around her neck asking for Camden tickets, and tried to guess what the fellow in the passing car meant when he hollered “Stiffies, $5” out the window.
Once we made it through the gates and into the amphitheater, I thought to myself, “Gee, the lawn sure is a lot smaller than I remember.” Of course, the lawn is in fact much smaller: since I was last there in, oh, 1999 or so, ClearChannel installed an enormous bank of seats outside the pavilion, eating up most of the lawn seating. Yet another example of why ClearChannel sucks.
Behind us, a toddler waddled over to a girl’s plate of nachos and, with the approval of the girl and the father, he began to eat some of the chips, becoming increasingly enthralled by the process of dipping the chips in the cheese sauce. The sun was beginning to set, a few sprinkles were felt, the infamously hard-assed mullet-sporting security guard confiscated a scrawny high-schooler’s weed for the second night in a row, the word “nark” was bandied around, suppositions were made as to why the guard only seemed to pick on the little guys, why he disappeared behind the fence after every confiscation. People made guesses as to what they would open with, what songs would be played. The Hood blimp floated in the low clouds.
Oh, but let’s get to the music, shall we? The setlist, once again:
The Divided Sky
Suzy Greenberg ->
Down With Disease ->
Prince Caspian ->
Scent of a Mule ->
Tears of a Clown* ->
Scent of a Mule
Run Like an Antelope ->
Hold Your Head Up ->
Hold Your Head Up*** ->
Timber Ho! ->
Sample In a Jar
Bouncing Around the Room
*With special guest picked from the audience on vocals.
**Fishman on vocals and vacuum.
***Trey and Fishman drumming
As it had been threatening rain for hours, the band opened with “Divided Sky”, much to the crowd’s delight. If the sky had opened up right then and really started pouring (as I’d half hoped it might), I would have lost it along with several thousand of my compatriots. The first set was on the whole very upbeat: “Suzy” and “Disease” were met with some serious dancing in the crowd. I’m not as well-versed in multiple live versions of these songs as most, but I can tell you that I remember being really thrilled when “Disease” turned sneakily into “Caspian”. Keyboardist Page McConnell was also rocking out way more than I recall at SPAC, and lead guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio bore no resemblance to the apparent shell of his capable self he was the previous night: he was on. During the Mule duel, things started to get interesting in a different way, when Trey started in on “Tears of a Clown” but no one could remember the lyrics. “Does anyone know the words to this?” he asked the audience. Apparently there was an enthusiastic response from the front row, as seconds later they pulled a woman up on stage and guided her to Trey’s mic. The band played the song, she started to sing, Trey joined in with some harmony at the mic, and everyone went nuts. Afterwards, she got a big hug from Trey and and enormous cheer from the audience. After they’d lowered her back into the seats, Page (was it Page?) said, “You really saved our asses there.”
The first set ended with “Mexican Cousin”, to a groan from Tarkanian, who before the show had been naming the songs of which he’s not so fond, one of which was “Mexican Cousin”. It was a happy note to end on, though, and Wally was singing the chorus the entire time we were waiting in line for the port-a-potties during the set break.
As we waited, we talked a bit of baseball with our queuemates, and got the current Red Sox score (13-1, Sox on top) from some fellow who had presumably placed a phone call to his friend while in the john. (I’m assuming this because I don’t know why else he would be coming out of a port-a-potty with a baseball score. Scary to think…)
The second set kicked off with “Antelope”, a song I don’t know well, turning into a deeply funky “2001” which lasted a bit longer than most renditions I’ve heard. The crowd went nuts for “Golgi”; I’m trying to recall if it was “2001” or “Tweezer” that was slower than usual, in a very good way. They started teasing “HYHU”, and everyone went wild with anticipation: this is the tune they use to introduce a Fishman song. Sure enough, drummer Jon Fishman stood up, grabbed his vacuum, and traded places with Trey.
How to explain? Fishman wears a signature muu muu to pretty much every show, so imagine a stocky fellow in a black-with-red-circles-print muu muu dragging a vacuum across a stage to the cheers of several thousand people. Fishman rarely sings, so these vocal/vacuum solos of his are a departure, and usually hilarious and overblown. Why the vacuum? He holds the end of the hose near his mouth and changes the shape of his mouth to produce, well, weird sounds which range from eerie wails to fart noises. So Fishman sang a few verses and did a vacuum solo or two. Then Trey started poking fun at Fishman, who kept interrupting with vacuum sounds closer to the bodily-fuction end of the spectrum.
“I want to do a quick survey here,” he said to his bandmates. “There seems to be some question as to whether a Fishman song makes for a great set or interrupts the flow of what would otherwise be a great set.” Lots of laughter from the crowd. “And, if it makes the set, then what is it about the Fishman song that makes the set? Is it the fact that it goes on forever? Is it the bowing at the end?” Some bowing from Fishman. “What do you guys think?”
Page admitted that he was generally of the latter opinion; bassist Mike Gordon replied cheekily, “On a scale of 2 to 3 I give it a 3.”
After a victory lap from Fishman to the strains of “HYHU”, Trey spoke again.
“I know this is a lot of talking, but I just want to say one more thing here. Back at Goddard, in the music building, there were two drum sets, and Fish and I used to go in there and just play drums together for hours. I’ve always wanted to recreate that, to have a dual drum solo from Fish and I, and have Mike and Page come in. Would you be willing to do this now?”
How can you say no to that? Fishman joined Trey at the drum set, and they played a duet on drums for the next several minutes. Everyone in the crowd was beaming. Then Trey returned to his guitar and they started in on “Timber” as a band. They ended the set with “Sample”.
We were trying to make it to the car and guess the encore: there wasn’t much time before the 11 o’clock curfew, so we were betting on “Tweeprise”. We heard “Bouncing Around the Room”, and then knew this would be followed by “Tweeprise”, which we heard as we pulled out of the lot, gioving high fives out the windows to passersby. Everywhere people were dancing.
We were beat, and listened to Alivelectric on the way back to Boston, feeling jubilant and exhausted. It was a very happy show, in the end, with unexpected excitement during both sets, and a very different feel from the 6/19/04 show. There was less in the way of really long jams, though they did dig in a bit. It was a good note to end on, for me: I enjoyed the closeness implied by Trey’s conversations with the band and the audience. All signs point to an amazing end at Coventry. For those of you who are going: Have a good show.