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”

  1. Los Says:

    Next time I wont pay attention to the lyrics nor the composed parts of songs

    As always…

    …Thank you Mr. Miner!!!

  2. jon_hansen Says:

    @ cowfunk haha…or the guy I was next to at Hampton ’03 who was threatening bloodshed if Trey was still using his looping effects!

  3. shpongleyez Says:

    Bring on the loops, NICU, Sparkle and Bouncin’ but most of all: all the new stuff…I’m ready.

    Flubs will happen and always have. That’s not really the point.

    It’s the pervasive sloppiness, and the “we’re so good we don’t need to pracitce anymore” mentality that was disappointing *at times* for me in 04. Something was lost.

    Nothing (lasts or) stays the same, of course, and I’m not looking for Phish in a bottle. I’m just holding them to a higher standard, because I know if they want it, so it shall be. I BELIEVE in Phish 3.0.

    I like the point you made, Miner, at some point fairly recently that 2.0 was just the transition to the new Phish reality. I’m into it.

    I say again: Woo

  4. snigglebeach Says:

    Funny no one seems to be disputing the fact that hard drug use, and lot scene have def. gone downhill since the mid “90”‘s.

    I bet we all know how many “outsiders” seem to get involved just for the drugs and could care less about the music. I personally have brought friends that forgot about the music and still talk about how fun “IT” was even though they barely saw any music.

    I personally care 99.9% about the music, but i still will be taking some psychadellic drugs for at least 1 show (be lucky to see 3).

    Reality is most of us use the drugs, just some of us go overboard.

    While i miss the days when Phish was “our little secret”, I know that they deserve that Mega_Payday that most musicians with their following would have already had. We can’t be selfish and hope that they stay under the radar so that we can easily get tickets. Trey and Mike also want to be recognized by the music industry for the legends that they are.

    But with that comes new fans that don’t fit the usual stereo-type Phriendly hippy that used to fill the old shows.

    But also, Honestly, A good number of the Heads i know that were originally peace loving hippies, a lot have turned into the the ones that will be looking for hard drugs and end up passed out in the parking lot before the show. I imagine most of us know someone like that, hell you might even be one.

    That young kid that always posts, Canman, u asked for some advice at some point. Here’s mine.

    It is not a contest to see Who can do the most drugs. Seems like quite a few people are not aware of that. There are some fun “things” u can do but pace yourself, it’s a long show and drugs can only make it a tiny bit more enjoyable, but too much can ruin you whole day (or life).

    Go for the Music. Like Trey said. the music is the only thing that is real.

  5. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^snigglebeach, well put, my man! Its not the use or lack of use of psychedelics, its the overuse of everything else that brings the scene down….and you guys know what I mean

  6. McGrupp Says:

    Excellent dialogue from all. Aaaah the beauty of freedom of speech….and the internet too. 🙂 So much has changed over the years and by no means am I waiting for the next ‘flub ‘with a pin/balloon. I actually enjoy flubs…it keeps things real! Maybe over the years some of our standards have been raised by what we have witnessed in the past, both good and bad.

    Not sure the answer on this one. I just know that their song playing tended to sound quite sub-standard at the end there, and for a while. It was trouble, period. The long 20-30 minute jams seemed to go nowhere 75-85% of the time…instead it sounded like filler that dragged on and on, and then stalled out. This is boring. I dont know, it just felt really sad, I suppose.

    At any rate…I was just trying to make a point…and I appreciate everyone’s responses and viewpoints posted out here. No bashing going on here whatsoever, maybe just some more realistic critique. Sometimes the truth hurts.

    I always like to remind myself NOT to see the world through rose-colored glasses.

    Jon Hansen had some spot-on input, be sure to read his posts.

    I welcome all fans to a Phish show as well, new or old, skinny or phat, black or white, and I love the vibe that magically appears every time. It has always felt like home to me and there’s a certain innocence associated with that which words cannot describe.

    As for waiting for the ‘JAMS’ with Phish…I agree with a lot of that, I’d start listing songs but the list goes on way too long. Maybe that’s one of their weaknesses (?). Hmmm…a weakness? Noooo!!!!! JK.

    FACT: This band, Phish, is compared to The Grateful Dead a lot due to their high level workmanship, untouchable talent, and the audience they draw (more reasons not listed due to time and effort). I just wanted to state one tiny little fact, this is not a comparison or opinion, rather mearely a fact: The Dead’s lyrics ran deeper.

    Just keeping perspective out here and trying to hold expectations down…it makes for a better overall show experience…I’m sure the majority of heads out here would agree. Keep expectations low, hold on for the ride, and come outta there guns a blazin’!

    I am looking forward to the 2009 Tour, what Phish fan wouldn’t be? I will be entering the doors to each show with an open mind and a ‘bring it on’ mentality.

    Let’s see how she goes!

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    mcgrupp I agree with most of what you said but this I can’t let lie:

    “The long 20-30 minute jams seemed to go nowhere 75-85% of the time…instead it sounded like filler that dragged on and on, and then stalled out. This is boring.”

    This is purely a subjective statement, a matter of taste. I’ve been listening closely to the post hiatus stuff recently and I’m hearing a whole new jam style that to me is very exciting. I’d rather hear, say alpine’s seven below than most long tweezers from 95 (for example). Many of the jams in 04 to me are often very cathartic and chaotic, almost as if the music and trey are wrestling – artistically I think it’s amazing to hear.

  8. R1 Says:

    You’re really fanning the flames now McGrupp! I’m not gonna go through the rigmarole of comparing actual song lyrics and how “deep” they go, but I feel that a great many Phish lyrics are of tremendous significance. Of course they have their more nonsensical offerings, but many of their lyrics (especially in later years) are as “serious” and “meaningful” as anything put out by the Dead or any other artist. They are layered, witty, and full of great imagery.

  9. Full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    I too went to phish shows for the JAMS and I could personally care less if one or two notes sounds sloppy in a composed section. What people seem to be missing in post hiatus phish was that the jams were fucking sicker than ever! Its easy to nitpick and point out flubs and sloppy playing. Phish changed their whole style to be more about the jams around 96/97….they made an effort to not be the same band they were in the early 90’s. The super tight compositions had their time and place. By 2003 it was all about the JAMS. and me being a jamlover, i wasn’t disapponted!

    I do, however, feel that there were times in 03 and 04 when the band went on “auto pilot.” Take example the miami new years run. The first three shows were amazing with akk around outstanding playing and jams. When 12/31/03 rolled around, the band presented us with two more killer sets (see stash > seven below, chalkdust > slave> chalkdust). But when they came out for set 3, I saw the 1st glimpse of trey being overly sloppy and careless. This thrid set sloppyness for some odd reason (being dope sick) carried over to the 04 vegas run. I wasn’t being judgemental of 12/31/03’s final set at the time of the show because i was living in the moment, but listening to that 3rd set at home on livephish it is almost unbearable.

    What was once a show long mastery of the craft where everysong was overflowing with nailed composed sections and killer jams became more like moments of clarity/bliss towards the end. It wasn’t consistant through and through, but i’d still take a jam like the greensboro piper > 2001 over most old school jams anyday! It just raged!

    About psychedelics at shows: As stated above, its never a good idea to go overboard. Going overboard puts you in risk of destroying your good time at a show. Take for example the guy who was out of his mind sitting next to me at greensboro 2003. The guy was so out of his skull he kept spilling his beer all over us and he actually passed out for most of the first set. We had to end up moving because the guy was being such a fucked up idiot. Its crossing the line when you can’t handle tripping in public and you interfere with other’s enjoyment of the music. That is what i saw a lot of towards the end. Too many people without the respect towards themselves or the psychedelics or the people around them. If you can’t handle shit like that in your own home, then why go out in public like that? Its just disaster waiting to happen. Know your limits. Its not a contest to see who can get the most fucked up. All things in moderation serve a purpose that only you and your own mind can appreciate. If you can’t handle the consequences of your actions then keep that shit at home. Like anything else, it takes practice, method, and moderation to be able to enjoy yourself. Think about those around you and how your actions affect everyone else and you’ll have a good time.

  10. McGrupp Says:

    R1…I agree with you whole-heartedly. No need to go any further. 🙂

    Should probably keep this on topic re: Phish’s loosy-goosy playing habits at the end of their last run…

    Phish 3.0…..what do you have in store for us?! Soon enough, find out we shall.

  11. Jeff Says:

    I have to say, it seems there is the fixation with the culture of Phish, ie. the lots, or wookies or drugs, that while may have been a big deal to me when I was 19, hold little or no value at all to me now. So when that is brought into the discussion it’s hard for me to really feel what your saying, other than maybe someone is trying to point out their “headiness”? I mean I’m at a show for maybe 6 hours tops, and if I’m lucky will see them 10 times a year. So the scene is going to affect me how? I walk around, buy a shirt, have a few Sammy’s, puff, walk into the show, puff, showtime, setbreak, showtime, leave. Drugs will only affect me if I let them, which I don’t. So that just leaves the music, and man, your right McGrupp, free speech is a hell of a thing. I feel ya if you aren’t digging the 03-04 sound, because in your 175 shows, I’m sure you heard some great stuff. But now you sound like that heady, jaded fan, like Jesse Jarnow, who were so venomous towards the end. Flubs, crappy jams, nonsensical meaningless lyrics (at least possibly implied) AND your telling ME, not to get to excited or hold expectations? Ego much? If I were to take your perspective on Phish, here’s how I would enter the show. “Hmm, they basically were druggy suckwads the last time they came back, so while I want to have fun, I’m gonna hold back until they prove it to me with precise playing and sick jams that actually go somewhere. Then I’ll enjoy it fully!” While, I guess my simplistic approach goes like this, “Hmm, I’ve been stuck in the house all winter in Ohio, blah, and my favorite band in the whole world is back, and they are playing Hampton, then doing a summer tour for the fist time in 5 years, and have written a bunch of new songs, and I can dance again to any one of their 300+ songs in their repotire, again, for the first time in 5 years.” 🙂 Point being, I haven’t gotten far enough to be cynical of music I have yet to really hear. So I’ll just be really excited and have huge expectations until then.

  12. Coleman Says:

    What’s equally amazing, IMO, is that this got taped and shared the very same night. I distinctly remember torrenting the show that night. One of the best “audience” tapes out there!

  13. Coleman Says:

    Track names reveal this to be http://db.etree.org/shninfo_detail.php?shnid=24721

  14. Full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    sometimes i think they went into “auto pilot” mode due to fatigue. It’s understandable. Miami 2003: 9 out 10 sets were outstanding so i’ve always cut them some slack for the last set. same with the southern summer run of charlotte, atlanta, raleigh: 5 out of six sets were over the top, first set in raleigh, not so much. But they more than made up for it with the second set. Overall, 2003 was hell of a good year. It had its ups and downs and flubs sometimes, but overall i look back as 2003 being one of my best all around phish years. That summer tour was outstanding and miami still lives in infamy. Go on youtube and watch the videos from the whole miami run. the one called “12/29/2003 piper: epic ck5” is just that: EPIC!

  15. camman Says:

    thanks for the shout out man.. but it doesnt look like i’ll get to see the band at all this year….

  16. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    ^^^ with livephish downloads you won’t miss a note! don’t sweat it…they will be around for a long time! you’ll get your chance.

  17. guyforget Says:

    Camman, did your hampton hookup fall through?

  18. camman Says:

    in a way….. i simply dont have the funds to go.. or permission 😛

  19. c0wfunk Says:

    dude, that sucks! You need me to talk to the ‘rents for ya? You need to emphasize how impossible it is to get that ticket!!

  20. camman Says:

    they really dont care

  21. camman Says:

    i guess ive just talk about the band too much over the past 5 years.. yea the past few days have sucked… i was so close to going….

  22. camman Says:

    i’ve had to cut myself off from all thing phish the past few days, tis why i havent been commenting

  23. c0wfunk Says:

    ugh .. well get the shows and don’t worry, your time will come and eventually you’ll have your own funds and no one will be able to tell you that you can’t go.

    I had to sneak out to my first couple dead shows, it was very frowned upon .. 15 years later and now my mom sings along with Ripple and my sister goes to phish shows!

  24. down with ticketsnow! Says:

    @camman: just wait for the hype to simmer back down and you’ll get front row

  25. mitch Says:

    I didnt read all the posts but this summer tour is really hitting all the different types of venues. Everyone see Knoxville got added in an arena?
    So now we have amphitheaters, theaters and arenas oh my.

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