Eight years ago today the sun came up for the first time without Phish. Rising over the East Bay, visible from my apartment, the feeling was surreal as we watched the dawning of a new age. Looking out from the floor to ceiling windows, across the Panhandle, to Haight-Ashbury- where all this madness began, my cohorts and I had a different post-show vibe than any before. We were friends due to Phish, all about to go through a transition to a life without Phish- our magical dreamlike experiences would be deferred, or put “on hiatus” indefinitely. Things would be different now.
Nobody knew the break would be so short- a mere year and a half later, the announcement of MSG and Hampton came. For all we knew, “the hiatus” might have been permanent. I treated that last show at Shoreline like it was the last Phish show I’d ever see- and it was a classic showcase of the band and their music. It was a proper exit, as opposed to the “messy” exit up in Coventry. The band left it all out on the stage in Mountain View, as they took on the idea of an uncertain future for the first time since college. As the post-show music of “Let It Be” rang through the pavilion, and the crew broke down the stage, many fans stayed- clapping, crying, cheering, – emotions swirling.
We had just witnessed a definitive last statement from the band, a statement that seemed to sum things up perfectly. From start to finish, this show was perfect. They played exactly what they were supposed to play on an evening that was about the grandeur of Phish and the mutual love and appreciation between the band and their loyal fans- a relationship unparalleled in music today.
Complete with a fiery First Tube opener, a classic Mike’s Groove, an emotionally driven and celebratory Bathtub Gin, and the now-seemingly symbolic, Glide- the first set smoked from start to finish. It was clear that Phish was not planning on wasting any time on stage during their last foreseeable performance. The setbreak took on an odd feeling, one that couldn’t have been predicted. The next set would be the last, and it was clear from the band’s opening statement that they were about to blow things up. (Roll over song links and listen while you read!)
Opening with the latter years staple of Twist, the band moved through the Latin sounding grooves into some mellow psychedelia with Page on piano and Trey playing some rhythm chords, before turning back into the end of the song. This Twist moved out of the way for the final 2001 dance session. I can remember just taking it in, reminding myself that tomorrow would be so drastically different. As the snare hit kicked, Shoreline exploded following the few minute buildup. This version was super charged from the get go, carrying a sense of urgency to it that many 2001’s leave behind in favor of wide open funk-scapes. For eleven minutes, the band led us through an array of high octane Phish grooves, eventually oozing into the opening licks of Tweezer. Yes, they were most definitely leaving it all on stage.
The sixteen-minute Tweezer shied from any overt funk and went directly into a guitar-led and chunky jam that built in sound and intensity rather quickly; Trey taking the liberty to shred atop the evolving groove. Moving away from its smooth inception, about halfway through, this Tweezer took a turn into a more abstract and dirty place, stylistically resembling a jam from 1994. Settling beautifully in Velvet Sea, Phish seemed to be playing all their biggest, most poignant songs on this evening. Often sold short for being a ballad, Velvet Sea is an incredibly Phishy song to play after some serious music has just gone down. A beautiful composition with a crying guitar solo, this version was all the more emotional given the circumstances.
Just when things seemed the most bittersweet, the beginning of Meatstick whispered through the speakers. A perfect placement for not only some comic relief, but for the theme of Phish’s final two years, Meatstick simply had to be played for this show to be complete- and no one would have said that before hand- that’s why Phish is so great. Finally, the quintessential show closer, David Bowie, made one last, albeit brief appearance. Yet, instead of saving the Tweezer Reprise for the encore, they decided to drop it in the much more climactic and unexpected slot of set closer. The place simply couldn’t have responded more enthusiastically. YEM encore. Perfection.
I’ve often thought of this show as one of the more “perfect” shows I have ever seen. That doesn’t mean the best, or the craziest- just simply perfect. (You could substitute the My Soul first set closer.) Sometimes a show flows naturally from beginning to end, without any glitches or slow points, and this was one of them- it had to be.
As the DAT of the second set provided the soundtrack for our surreal San Francisco sunrise, we all felt a sense of thankfulness for having been a part of the Phish experience. So many different factors in life could have made our lives just slightly different, and we would have missed Phish, and all of each other, without even knowing it. Hard to imagine who we’d have been without Phish, it was a powerful moment of realization and appreciation for the opportunity we had been given to experience the magic. We decided it didn’t really matter whether they came back from this “haitus” or not- we had been there. Someone along the way blessed us with the good fortune of discovery, and we never looked back. Memories lasted forever, and we already had enough of those to carry us through eternity. Regardless of Phish’s destiny, we had made friends with some of the greatest people on earth, and discovered ourselves along the way. Phish had given us everything, and owed us nothing.
So remember these things as we sit on the brink of Phish’s second comeback. They are coming back on their own terms, and not on ours. This is about happiness, not about catching the six songs you never saw before. Phish owes us nothing- and never have. Their gift is a constant portal to the mysteries of the universe, a way to access unimaginable places and realms you never thought existed. Phish has provided us a way of experiencing life that we couldn’t have accessed in any other corner of the globe; an indelible and irreplaceable force on the rest of our time.
Get ready to ride again!
You just read about it. I think it’s perfect. Check it out and decide for yourself.
I: First Tube, Mike’s Song > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Fee, Bathtub Gin, Glide, My Soul
II: Twist > 2001 > Tweezer, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Meatstick > David Bowie, Tweezer Reprise
E: You Enjoy Myself
Thanks to phishows.com for hooking it up.
(Sorry for the lower than usual 192 – 200ish kbps.)