It was setbreak. About halfway though, I ran into a buddy and fellow secret agent of mine on our highly classified Phish mission. After strategizing for a moment, we made an executive decision to chill and burn one. As we sat down on the rubberized basketball court of the half-empty Boise State Pavilion, I pulled a pre-rolled blunt out of my pocket. (Although I live out west, I did grow up on the East Coast!) Few of our friends had made the significantly out-of-the way drive from Portland to Boise, only to turn around and head to back Shoreline on the coast, so when we met up, we thought we’d take the last train to Sparksville.
As we inhaled our smoky delight, our spun minds turned to what Phish would come out with in the second set. I noted that they hadn’t dropped a “Bag” thus far this tour, and Sean responded that he had noticed the same thing about “Gumbo.” Hmm. “Sick!”, we thought, some sort of “Bag,” “Gumbo” combination in the second set! That would be great. Our conversation drifted several different ways before it was ended as blunts burn for so long! At some point we decided it was time to stake out our spots for the second set, despite the place being a ghost town. He headed up front while I hung out about a third of the way back on the spacious floor. Meeting up with some other friends before the lights went down, my conversation with Sean was long gone from my memory- at least for now.
Mid-thought, when the lights went out, and I quickly ditched my stuff safely before the music started. As the band emerged, everyone assumed their desired place in the wide open gym of the Broncos. As Phish stepped up to play, Fish’s quaking drumroll led right into the beginning of “Peaches!” The band hadn’t broken out their old-school Zappa cover since 2.28.97 in Berlin, Germany. The intimate crowd was immediately treated to a special moment, as all were fully aware that the Phish hadn’t thrown down a “Peaches” in years. My mind was taken adrift by the bust-out, and when they dropped directly into “AC/DC Bag,” my mind never considered my conversation of twenty minutes earlier.
As most know, this “Bag” transformed into an all-time highlight, as the band transcended the song with existential playing that spoke directly to the soul. Moving from funky AC/DC Bag textures, the band moved into ambient beauty that started in a dark place and became one of the most truly beautiful and awe-inspiring Phish jams. The dark mysterious textures patiently grew into a musical portal directly to the divine through some of the most inspirational playing of the fall. Peaking this gorgeous section of improv, the band dove into a straight-ahead groove, hinting at “Crosseyed,” much like the Portland Meadows “Ghost” from days before, taking the theme for an exciting ride.
Once the music settled to the point of almost all sustained effects, they peeled them away at once for a heavy drop into “Gumbo.” Boom– our prophecy had come true, but shit if i realized it! I was so lost in the magnificence of what had just happened, that even the plunge into “Gumbo” didn’t make me recall the prediction we had made. The music bellowed out of the speakers, taking over the small crowd who no longer knew if there were five or fifty thousand people there. As the slow paced song took its time loafing into the jam, I embraced the compositional break without having my heart tied directly to spiritual improv for a few minutes.
But when those verses ended, we knew to expect a dance party with ample room for everyone and their double. As the jam began, it took almost no time at all for Mike to begin teasing Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” The music was moved from the uber-psychedelic realm to that of a dance club, and the band began pounding out slow rhythms. As soon as Trey began joining the tease, the crowd responded huge and the band returned their energy with a full-on jam of the song. Some of the most engaging grooves of the night came when the band began to improvise out of the Queen rhythms, creating a somewhat retro Phish-funk jam that reminded us of years past.
In a set that ended with “Disease” and “Frankenstein,” the musical fireworks were front-loaded in this one, yet Phish selected the perfect songs to feed off of the energy and emotion they had stirred up within their audience. After the magnificent set, I met up with my friend Adam inside the venue and began heading out, reveling in the post-show flood of emotional bliss. As I threw a sweatshirt on to head out into the mild fall night, I saw Sean walking up ahead.
“Wait a second!?” I thought to myself, as our setbreak blunt talk quickly replayed through my head in milliseconds. “They just ripped exactly what we had said they should!”, I thought, as my heart pounded heavier. “And I never even realized it the entire set!? Ha!” I laughed to myself out loud. I sprinted ahead and caught up with Sean and tapped him on the shoulder enthusiastically. As he turned around, he knew exactly why I was so excited, and we reflected on the bizarre connection to something bigger that we felt at that point. Did we predict the future? Had we invented the set? Would it have happened if we hadn’t shared that smoke and spoken that conversation? Maybe so, maybe not.
These are the things that are beyond our explanation; strange predictions that turn out correct, synchronicities between you and the band. This time, the “Bag > Gumbo” was a tour highlight, not to mention one of the high points of all ’99. With this Phishy magic in the air, my absurd backtrack to Portland to pick up my future wife, which seamlessly segued into a non-stop drive to our place in Santa Cruz, seemed like nothing at all, albeit a near-24 hour haul. Sometimes when the larger forces are at play the menial tasks don’t seem so important. Puffing bubblers of Bubbleberry with Adam across the Northwest, pumping the “Bag > Gumbo” on the desolate Idaho highway, nothing could have been more perfect. It was one of those timeless moments on tour that you will remember forever; the moments that make up the fabric of it all.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
The announcement of this special show sent ripples through the Phish community as the band prepared to play a pre-tour gig at one of Bill Graham’s famous haunts. Once the on-sale location was disclosed over the radio, fans raced to a specific pier on the Embarcadero to get a place in line that would ensure them tickets. The show contained many highlights, including a first set that far outshone the second. Compiling two 90 minute sets, everyone got their hard fought ticket’s worth out of this night. Show highlights include “Ghost,” “Wolfman’s,” “Gumbo,” and “Reba”– all in the first frame! The second set brought a welcome rendition of “The Moma Dance” and a fabulous set ending “Hood.”
I: Ghost, Water in the Sky, Wolfman’s Brother, Gumbo, David Bowie, Brian and Robert, Reba, Character Zero
2: My Soul, Chalkdust Torture, Roggae, The Moma Dance, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Prince Caspian, Frankie Says, Birds of a Feather, Lawn Boy, Harry Hood
E: Dirt, Limb by Limb
Tags: 1999, Jams