Just when we thought we’d seen it all from our band, they came up with one last stunt. We’d seen Phish play in so many contexts– atop an air control tower, on a flatbed truck rolling through the lot, from midnight to sunrise in the swamps, at Mt. Fuji, in European towns, at huge festivals, in giant hot dogs, in tiny clubs, and on multi-band bills– you name it, they had done it. Yet, on the day after SPAC on their June ’04 run, they would pull off one more spectacular act.
On June 21st, they were scheduled to play Letterman in NYC. My ride was coincidentally heading back to NYC where I was hopping a late-afternoon plane to Indianapolis. But on the way down to the to the city, we started getting text message rumors that Phish was going to play on top of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where the show is filmed, that afternoon! Whaaat?! We were shot with 100 ccs of adrenaline knowing that we were headed directly for Phish’s next “concert.” I told myself that I’d believe it when I saw it.
When we turned onto Broadway in midtown Manhattan, we looked up to the theatre, and sure enough they were setting up equipment! Before long, the band was atop the two-story marquee for an extended soundcheck before taping their four-minute late-night promotional spot. Immediately, I called American Airlines and switched my flight to the last one of the night, giving myself ample time for whatever might happen. We got there a couple hours before it was supposed to start, and there were already fans congregating behind the metal barricades that blocked off part of the street. As time passed, fans continued to steadily stream in, creating an oversized crowd in the middle of the New York City block in broad daylight. This was surreal.
As Phish stood atop the marquee, they continuously practiced the newly-shortened version of “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” the song they would play for the show. The gorgeous jam became the soundtrack to the afternoon, as they literally must have played it through ten times. Meeting up with some others, we grabbed some rail space, watched the cars go by, and waited. New York didn’t stop for anyone, not even a spectacle like this, and that made it all the more crazy. Cars, trucks, and buses drove by like nothing was going on while over a thousand people congregated across the street and hundreds of others leaned out the windows of their apartments above the marquee. In all of the my wildest Phish dreams, never did the this scenario pop up, and that is why Phish is Phish.
When the band finally took the mini-stage for the formal filming, they evoked memories of The Beatles playing their final concert as a surprise gig atop a building while cameras rolled. As Phish started, they played “Scents and Subtle Sounds” not once, but twice! I guess they would later choose which one to air, but what would happen next was anyone’s guess. This was the discussion of the entire afternoon. How long would they play? What songs would they choose? Would they rage it? Would it be mellow? All of these questions were answered at once as Phish dropped into a mid-day “2001″ in the middle of the Manhattan skyline! As they swirled the grooves around the skyscrapers, I looked up and saw Phish against the New York City backdrop speckled with the bluest sky and cloud puffs. A question we often found ourselves asking when baffled by this band seemed very appropriate here, “What the hell was going on?!” Trey stared up at the clouds above and smiled as he was having as much fun as anyone with this Phishy spectacle.
We were all blown away with the magnitude and sheer absurdity of what was going down; Phish, amidst a sea of skyscrapers, was ripping a “2001.” As the band peaked the abbreviated version, they moved right into “Wilson.” No one knew when this set would end, so every next song was like another shot of energy. The crowd played their part chanting “Wilson!” from across Broadway, and the band looked giddy with amusement. They tore into the song with utmost energy as we raged the the flat cement dance floor provided so graciously by the city. Riding the frenetic tide, Trey concluded the song and ripped into the beginning chords of his personal favorite, “Chalk Dust Torture.” We all exchanged shit-eating grins while passing some herbage, this was too cool to be true; we were five songs deep in a mini-urban-Phish set! Sure the versions were truncated, but the jamming clearly wasn’t the point here.
As the band wound up the final twist of “Chalk Dust,” it seemed perfectly reasonable that their “set” would end here. But without saying a word, Trey dropped the opening lick of “Tweezer!” I laughed so loud inside my head I’m certain that some sound came out of my mouth, but needless to say, I was speechless. Trey looked like a kid in a candy store atop the marquee melting into a “Tweezer” jam with the sun reflecting off the glass monstrosities that surrounded him. The band bounced their grooves around the urban playground, improvising directly into “Tweezer Reprise.” Now this was the way to end the afternoon! Everyone collectively freaked as Reprise bellowed through the streets of New York. Phish was having at it in one of their favorite cities of all time, playing a selection of the most boisterous tunes possible to match the midtown madness. They played to their surroundings perfectly as they always seemed to do. Whether it was 100,000 at Big Cypress or 1,100 at The Fillmore, Phish were maestros of matching the mood. With the final note of Reprise, Phish walked off the stage much more carefully than usual, leaving us with one of the most unique memories in Phish history.
With the two insane SPAC shows and this surprise appearance, New York rejuvenated the Phishy spirit one last time before the second go-round was over. A band known for their extraordinary antics and sense of spectacle, this was one last ride on the ferris wheel. Yet, as dormant as this spirit has been for the last five years, it has been reawakened, well-rested from an extended hibernation. Regardless of what music Phish decides to play this year, you can be sure it will be infused with this very spirit we have come to love.
Scents and Subtle Sounds (x2), 2001 > Wilson, Chalk Dust, Tweezer > Tweezer Reprise
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
This show gets overlooked and dogged on way more than it deserves. While it may not be the greatest show of a standout tour, it has some great segments. First and foremost, an incredibly exploratory second set “Simple” that lasted over thirty minutes. Leaving behind ’97 funk grooves, this jam goes way out, providing some abstract psychedelia. This jam dominated a show that also featured a great show ending “Harry Hood,” and the infamous and blistering first set “Stash > Hydrogen > Weekapaug” songs after the “Mike’s” opener.
I: Mike’s Song, Chalk Dust Torture, My Soul, Stash > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Dogs Stole Things, Beauty of My Dreams, Horn, Loving Cup
II: Julius, Simple > Timber Ho, Contact, Axilla, Harry Hood
E: FireTags: 2004, Post-hiatus