In Between

Soaring back from the stratosphere, your mind slams into your skull.  Phish holds their final climactic note as Trey announces the band’s return in fifteen minutes.  You wipe away the sweat from your eyes, catching your breath as that note comes crashing down.  The silence is loud; glancing around, you get your bearings.  Night turns to day.  It is setbreak.

Hampton – photo: picture man

Feeling far different than you did when the set started, Phish has taken you to away to that place deep inside.  You see your friends collecting near that staircase over there, as some Dave Brubeck gently wafts through the house speakers.  Making your way over before the rush, you reunite with your crew, all together in the lair of the Phish.  Absorbing the atmosphere surrounding you, everyone glows with vibrant life in the aftermath of the first half.  Spotting a patch of empty seats, you head over and set up shop.  For the next thirty to forty minutes, you have nothing to do but reflect on the music, enjoy your friends, run to the bathroom, and burn a few.  Time literally turns elastic.

Deer Creek

Sitting back, you relax and gaze through the spectrum of color, and movement in front of you.  Running through the highlights of the set, mentally and verbally, you pull out a couple of pre-rolls, as you’ve learned that your rolling capacity can be astonishingly diminished in this vortex between the music.  Sparking one, you are soon passed a bowl from your buddy, and before too long you’re in the middle of the ritualistic setbreak session.  Allowing the smoke to enhance your fantasy land, you inevitably have some clowning interactions with heads you never met before; familiar strangers traveling a common path.  A time when the humor of the absurd rears its bizarre head, setbreak often becomes a straight-up comedy session of psychedelic hilarity.  Everyone’s heightened states and the ever-present magic present at Phish can combine to create side-splitting interludes between the music.

photo: picture man

Soon your awareness shifts to your corporeal self, and you set your compass for the bathroom in order avoid the urge during the ensuing madness.  Thrusting yourself into the herd of cattle filling the arena corridor, you slither your way through a space preposterously packed with people perfectly content to inch around like snails.  In an uncrowded venue, this mission is a cinch, but when the big shows arrive, the secondary protocol is needed.  After executing your plan, you head back in the direction of your crew, everything around you sliding past in slow motion.  Light on your feet, you float through the hallway and touch down back at your home base.  (Unless you get lost, and then your mission takes on unknown dimensions of confusion and horror.)

photo: picture man

Returning to your crew, a few spliffs still circulate, as the talk has turned to the approaching music.  There is nothing quite like the anticipation of the oncoming freight train that is set two.  If the first set was hot, you knew the second set was going to be something special.  If the first set dragged a bit, lacking many highlights, you knew the band would come out and blow the place apart.  It was a win-win situation, but the course of your cosmic adventure was yet to be charted.  Some fans create betting pools on the set opener; some merely venture a guess, and while almost always wrong, there is nothing like the band coming out and dropping into the song you called five minutes earlier.  A smile engulfs your being as you cannonball into the bottomless musical ocean.

photo: picture man

It’s been over a half an hour, it must be getting close.  As you stand, clinging to the rail, a handy metaphor for your present reality, you are ready for the music.  You’re done talking, there is nothing else to say.  As you see Paul and Chris making their way back to the boards, you hop out into the aisle and down the steps, reclaiming some dance space before the flood of people arrives.  As you sit on the railing, just waiting, you spot some of your other friends down on the floor.  Leaning over, you point them out to your buddy.  “Where? Who?” he asks.  “Not there!” you respond.  “The section to the right.  See that guy in the yellow shirt?  Go back three rows from–”

And the lights go black.  Everything falls into irrelevancy.  That feeling of divine possibility peaks inside your chest as your soul smiles, awaiting to receive the music.  Walking back on stage, the band assumes their places as Trey noodles and scratches at his guitar, checking in with each.  “One. Two. One, two, three four…”

Post your most absurd setbreak anecdotes in Comments below!



The Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA

A crispy soundboard recording from the spring of ’94, this one contains a great second set.  With shredding set-opening “David Bowie” followed by a rare pre-97 jammed-out version of “Wolfman’s Brother,” this set starts out with a bang.  Including a typically smooth and exploratory ’94 “Reba” and a manic “Maze,” the show certainly does not lack in improvisational chops.  Respek.

I: Loving Cup, Foam, I Didn’t Know, The Divided Sky, Mound, Down With Disease > If I Could, My Sweet One, Cavern

II: David Bowie, Wolfman’s Brother, Uncle Pen, The Sloth, Reba, Big Ball Jam > Maze, Contact, Golgi Apparatus

E: HYHU > Cracklin’ Rosie, Bold as Love

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