A City Spectacle

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.

img-3On 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.

img-4As 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.

ph20040621-162We 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.

img-1As 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.

DOWNLOAD 6.21.04 The Ed Sullivan Theatre, NYC < LINK

Scents and Subtle Sounds (x2), 2001 > Wilson, Chalk Dust, Tweezer > Tweezer Reprise



1997-12-09gn12.9.97 Bryce Jordan Arena, Penn State, PA < LINK

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: Fire

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61 Responses to “A City Spectacle”

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  1. Jeff Says:

    that was crazy! a classic in the phish stunt list.
    minor, i can’t take this waiting!

  2. R1 Says:

    I remember hearing about this on the day, but I have no recollection how. (Manatee?? Yeah, I think that was it.) Luckily I was attending law school only blocks away. I hauled my ass over there and got there while they were setting up. Surreal indeed. As Miner notes, what struck was that whilst the band was playing atop the historic theater, the city just kept on going about its business. Cars and people streaming past. When they dropped into 2001 I was like, “Now the city must stop and gape at this wondrous spectacle.” But only the 1,000 fans and randoms in surrounding buildings bothered to take notice. Oh well, all the better for us. Definitely a Phish memory for the ages.

    Didn’t see you Miner! Too bad.

  3. Weyoun42 Says:

    Here is another great recap of that day: http://www.russkahn.com/letterman/

    The picture of the “Shred-It” truck passing is an absolute classic. Love it.

    Also, look up the YouTube video of Tweezer Reprise. You can see Trey tell Page that that’s the next song. Then Page waits and nothing happens. He then mimes playing a guitar to Trey to remind him that *he* has to actually start that song. Trey laughs and nods before finally kicking it off. Great stuff.

  4. DFB Says:

    YES! 12/9/97!! The unknown 12/97 show! I LOVED this show, but for all the hype that fall 97 gets, this show is NEVER talked about. Simple->Timber Ho was one of my personal highlights from that monumental tour. The Stash was great, and the Axilla teases in Hood were awesome.

    Thanks for letting others know about this show!

  5. mcgrupp Says:

    does everyone out here think that phish can do no wrong? come on people. i’m just here to keep it real and remind everyone of the way it once was. i’m just sayin’.

    i mean i understand all the excitement and anticipation, been to 175+ shows across the globe and know all the ins-and-outs. phish holds a very special place deep in my heart. i have learned so much from those 4 individuals, words cannot describe.

    i’m just sayin’…when they left off, man things were bad, and i mean really bad. just ugly. the scene had gotten out of control, wookie fights in the lots, hard drugs everywhere, etc. and the music itself was horrendous more often than not, all the band seemed to be doing (75% of the time), was going through the motions.

    i’m just sayin’. the playing was terrible, it wasn’t even worth going to the shows anymore, at least no more than 2 hours away. maybe that’s why the scene deteriorated so quickly…hmmm…the music went bad, internal drug problems, lot fights, and so then many of the phans started to pass up shows…leaving only the traveling hippie-kids (and adults) with drug problems, no jobs, nothing to contribute to society, etc, to attend the shows, who had all seen the band time and time and time and time again and were worn out by the same old nostalgistic playing. this brings on negative energy, period. i’m not saying that there were other types of phans with positive vibes on tour, i’m just generalizing what we saw on the scene 75% of the time during those last few attempts at a road show.

    it was very rare to catch a REAL tight show or a beautifully played 1-2-3 knockout combo. anyone who had been seeing phish over the years could feel this in the air and hear it in the sounds coming out of the amplifiers. it was sad, and it sucked. they were dying limbs on an old tree that had seen it’s day. i’m just sayin’.

    i want to conclude that i am very excited for the upcoming shows and to see the band back together again, kinda like the blues brothers (we’re gettin’ the band back together, man!). however i am keeping my expectations in check this time and hope to shed a little light on this comeback tour. for i know the potential for disappointment exists and is very very real. we’ve seen it before, and again, it sucks.

    the boys have a lot of ground to make up and it’s not going to be easy, Hampton will only offer a glimpse into this proving ground. the rest of the tour will speak for itself. there will be a lot of very attentive ears out there listening for the beauty within to show itself in full stride and share it with their audience. i hope it’s there.

    again…this post is not meant to be a bash on the band. they are one of my favorites and i have been following them since about 91′. i’m just tryin’ to keep it real and give perspective through all the perceived excitement going on.

    -the watchful hosemaster

  6. AbePhroman Says:

    Haha, I never made it back into the city. We left late from SPAC and heard there was already so much traffic heading in.

  7. DFB Says:

    It’s great that you posted Penn State ’97, one of the most overlooked shows ever, imo. Simple->Timber Ho is one of my favorite moments of the whole tour, the Stash->Hydrogen->Weekapaug was FANTASTIC, and the Axilla teases in Hood were just plain awesome. I loved this show, and could never understand it’s lack of love.

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ McGrupp: I don’t think the music suffered at all. Straight up. Sure the jamming was a bit different, but ’03-’04 Phish is great Phish (minus the Vegas run). The music was never the problem, IMO (Coney > Alpine ’04 was all great!) The Vegas run was the only time I ever saw Phish go through the motions as a band. While I respect your opinion, I respectfully disagree

  9. shpongleyez Says:

    I hesitate to say anything, because I’m a huge fan of the supremely positive vibe here, and this has likely been discussed elsewhere, but…

    Miner, we’ve discussed this before, but the music did suffer (at least a *little*). The jams were next level to be sure, and there were more than just a few real highlights in 2004, but the composed sections were, at times, painful to listen to (most of Vegas 04 was, um, rough, as you yourself have said). Phish isn’t just about composed sections, I know, (believe me I know ;)), but in 95, for example, composed sections were tight and clean AND jams were off the hook.

    I don’t think they were going through the motions, but it’s pretty hard to argue that the playing (not the jamming) suffered in 2004 (2003 is great stuff).

    Anyhow, it’s 2009, Obama’s in the hizzle, and I am STOKED for Phish 3.0.


  10. Los Says:

    I luv phish!

    However…At times music did suffer and it was evident when the lyrics were consistently being flubbed…

    Very disappointing at times…

    Cya all @ Hampton!

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    Agreed that composed sections and lyrics were flubbed…I just never pay attention to that stuff. point taken.

  12. Jeff Says:

    i’m willing to bet that the composed sections will still be flubbed at times, that Trey will forget lyrics to Cavern, Fish will f up the begininng of 2001 or Split or DwD or he’ll screw up Rift, Mike will play to much bell, and annoying people will talk during sick jams. Nonetheless, I’ll still be dancing my ass off, but this time with even more appreciation and less judgement. In 94, 95 when I saw a bulk of my shows, Phish played tight as hell, but I didn’t get sick 30 minute Seven Belows (04 Alpine) or rocking->funk Piper->Makisupa’s (03 Vegas). I mailed Phish a letter during the break-up telling them it was ok to move on from the Fluffheads, or Reba’s etc etc. Just come back and jam and write new music. I mean, I LOVE those composed songs, but it’s the jam I look forward to. After 5 Rebas in a fall tour, I could honestly care less for the composed section, I wanted the jam. Guyute, eh, it’s always the same, but the Gumbo jam at 2003 Deercreek, that was something NEW. So yeah, there were struggles, and there still will be. but the jamming will be new and inspired, that is something the band NEVER has failed us on. McGrupp, I think it seems you have pin next to the balloon just waiting for a slip up, then you can say how good it used to be.

    -note- my thoughts on 04 Vegas have been made clear before. that’s beating a dead horse.

  13. c0wfunk Says:

    There are lots of flubs and errors in earlier phish, they just seem to get less attention. 2004 certainly has them with more frequency, but they’ve always been there. Fall 1997 stands out to me as a tour with some pretty sloppy stuff but ridiculous jams. Little thought is given to how hard it is to keep as many songs in the repertoire as phish had at the end. They were liable to pull out something they hadn’t played in months at any given moment. Their catalog is just too difficult to expect perfection on things like that.

    Of course there were health factors and the like, and sometimes they’re screwing up julius or something easy, but I just think it’s a lot to ask of someone to sit down and practice things they wrote when they were 18 .. I know I wouldn’t want to. And for me, if I hear a bowie with a trashed composed section but an otherworldly jam, I am more than satisfied. Certainly more than I’d want to have precise compositions with one dimensional jams. Both are great, of course, so hopefully that’s what we’ll get now.

    It seems that Trey has had enough space from the music of his youth now that he remembers what great compositions he wrote and is eager to go back and perfect them – he nailed divided sky in Nashville with the symphony and seemed *very* attentive to the details. This bodes well for the future.

  14. themanatee Says:

    well put jeff about the image of a pin next to the balloon, waiting for the next slip up. I think that is an attitude a lot of people carry to shows, especially after the hiatus. Waiting for that moment to say – there is a flub – they must be focked up – or its not like it was in 93 or 97. it will never be the same. its simply impossible. on nights “IT” hits, it may “feel” the same , as in that magical feeling will be back, but it will always be different because each person in the room is different than they were. let’s roll with the changes and try to be non-attached to expectations or the past. just my idea.

  15. R1 Says:

    ^I agree with Jeff. I really couldn’t care less about them nailing the composed section of Hood, or Stash, or whatever other song I’ve heard 3 million times. For that matter, fuck songs altogether! Just rip it.

    Ok, sure I love the “songs”, and the songs do place jams in context that lends structure (for a while anyway), meaning, gravity, excitement, etc., but I’d be pretty psyched with two 1 or 2 song sets personally.

  16. jon_hansen Says:

    McGrupp, I totally agree with you and I think it’s good thing to inject this type of thinking into dialogue. Phish can’t be awesome 100% of the time, and in ’03-04, they just weren’t very good (relatively speaking). I think we do the band and entire scene a disservice when we gush over everything they do, saying it’s all awesome and they can do no wrong. Why not apply some more critical thinking to the way we approach Phish? That doesn’t mean bashing or toning down the enthusiasm. It just means being a little more realistic and honest with ourselves. I think that can be healthy for a Phish scene that has suffered recently.

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    “That doesn’t mean bashing or toning down the enthusiasm.”

    The problem Jon, is that this quickly slips into bashing and toning down the enthusiasm. And this is for the jamband community in general. It happened with the dead scene, sci, and every other band I’ve followed. There’s a tendency for older fans to look down on whatever’s happening now because it couldn’t possibly be as good as some mythical golden days. But the fact is, to the guy at his first show, experiencing IT for the first time, *it is* that great.

    I’ve always been one to accept unconditionally at the show, and then listen critically at home with myself. At the show I feel a responsibility *to the vibe* to just let it flow and see what happens, no judgment involved. Everyone enjoys shows differently though, but I suggest if you’ve stopped enjoying shows, try lowering your judgment filter and see what happens.

  18. themanatee Says:

    jon –
    i agree with what you are saying. i don’t think gushing over every single they do is great either…i mean i don’t like certain songs, and yes there are probably some jams that they played over the course of their career that do not grab me no doubt. However, there is a spirit with which i listen, and to a degree a spirit with which the songs and jams are played that i latch onto each time. I can dismiss a jam as not that particularly great for me without it ruining the show for me or getting me into a negative mind frame about the band, its state of being, its intentions, or the next song to come. So much of this depends on our personal state of being at the show as well. Somehow I didn’t enjoy the ACDC bag from LA 03 because I was distracted (not just by dude running up on stage) but now when i listen back toit, i think its sick.

  19. elbows Says:

    There was only one time (other than Coventry) where I felt Phish was going through the motions noticeably…I forget which show, but it was Weekapaug 04, and it just felt, I dunno, tired…worn out, and when they announced the breakup, I knew it was a good thing, I knew it was a health issue as well as artistic integrity, and I welcomed it, knowing in the back of my mind they’d be back.

    McGrupp: I wouldn’t be too quick to let Hampton be the gauge for how phish will play. I imagine some flubs, some rocky-starts…I am expecting a joyful celebration first…a concert second. By this I mean that I will have patience with them while they get back on their feet, and I will revel in the sense of renewal and joy that everybody in the mothership will be feeling. I don’t think we’ll really be able to fully know where Phish is going until a few shows into summer tour.

    The past is just that…passed. No longer will I compare the 2001 09 to the Memphis 99, no more comparisons, to the Ball Reba, no longer will I remark that they aren’t what they were. Nobody is what they were…and Phish is about change, about transformation, transcendence. Stagnancy is deadly, especially in art, and I feel grateful that the boys recognized this, and quit in order to regroup (mmm, irony)…and I for one welcome anything they throw my way, provided it’s in the same spirit of joy, humor, and improvisation that remains at Phish’s core.

    I’ll see you all at Hampton with an open mind and a contagious smile…

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ Jeff: I completely agree with your assessment 100%

  21. Mr.Miner Says:

    @ elbows, perfectly said.

    @ manatee: you are exactly right…how can “IT” be the same when everyone involved is completely different….well put!

  22. Jeff Says:

    Critical analysis is fine and good. It has alwasy been a part of the Phsih scene. It’s easier to do when they play 20+ shows a tour. Comparing songs, setlists, jams etc show by show and loving some and critizing others is bound to happen. My point is that’s the old Phish. It’s a whole new thing now.

    I for one know enough about these guys that by me throwing them mad love and backing off the critical analysis won’t casue them to get comfortable and start going through the motions. I’m fairly certain they have learned a pretty big lesson in the last 5 years and that they have their own internal flames burning bright.

    Here’s my realistic and honest approach to Phish 3.0

    – have fun
    – dance
    – travel
    – close my eyes and accept the new

    I’m 32 and other than posting here, and PT a little, I don’t have time to be critical of my band (religion). I am just thankful to have them back. Maybe if they start playing 50 shows a year, then I may start with the critique again. Signs point to them playing a smattering of shows here and there. Therefore, I’ll just bask in the Phlow.

  23. jon_hansen Says:

    cowfunk and manatee,

    I suppose it’s necessary to separate being at the shows from the overall culture of Phish. The shows are always a blast, and I have never felt disappointed or not had fun or not been amazed at the vibrance of the community. What I’m talking about is the overall attittudes towards Phish. Talk about what you really liked about a show, but if there was something that you didn’t like, don’t be afraid to mention that as well. I think it makes life more interesting, more real.

    Cowfunk, you’re definitely right about how this quickly slips into bashing, but maybe “the elders” of Phish shows can be valuable to those who are experiencing Phish for the first time. Sure, everyone enjoys the show in their own way, but to keep things from spiralling out of control like they did before, maybe we need this type of “leadership.”

    Glad to hear your responses and opinions, and like you guys, I’m excited for the upcoming tours.

  24. c0wfunk Says:

    jon you’re absolutely right – the elders of the scene are extremely valuable to the new kids and hopefully our leadership can keep this thing on the rails.. We get to recreate this scene now, hopefully we can focus on the good parts and scale back some of the negative excesses.

    That said, I’d always rather be next to some kid freaking out at his first show than some jaded dude saying “*Another* NICU??” (me circa 2000 ;).

  25. Asher Says:

    I have got to agree with Jeff and Miner on this one too. It’s the jams and improvisations that are what I want the most. I can forgive some flubs in the compositions. Yes, I love the songs themselves but I can’t wait to see where Phish takes them. I always find myself noticing that point of lift off where the song itself ends and the improv and endless possibilities begin. Just think of how much flak Bouncin’, and Sparkle get for always being played the same. No one rags on Bowie or Mike’s. And for those who are lamenting the sloppy playing of composed song sections in 03/04 I will point out that by then the boys had long ago completely stopped practicing. We know for a fact that they are practicing again. This reason alone is enough for me to be hopeful for tighter playing in Phish 3.0.

    As for today’s download, Bryce Jordan is totally underrated. It’s easy to overlook with the legend that is Dayton before and the evil grooves of Rochester after. I remember getting to State College and checking the setlist for the night before in my buddies dorm room. I couldn’t believe I missed the Tube bust out by 1 night!! Of course all things were forgiven after that first set Mike’s and the mind melting Simple>Timber! The next day I drove to Rochester solo in what felt like a blizzard! I had the same tape (Set 2 Pat Center, Fairfax ’94) playung the whole way because I was afraid to take even one hand off the wheel to change it. Ahhh, the adventure of the road!

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