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. mitch Says:

    my bad… new post added with the knoxville info.

  2. Asher Says:


    That’s a heart breaker buddy! Sorry to hear that. Reading your enthusiastic comments on this site has really given me hope for that next gen of kidz that have yet to experience Phish. I wish all of the folks seeing their first show this year had your attitude.
    My folks wouldn’t let me go to the Clifford Ball and I’d even seen the boys a handful of times at that point! Don’t sweat it. Your day will come!

  3. guyforget Says:

    i wasn’t allowed to see the Dead at Giants Stadium in like 91 or so, after standing in line to get a wristband, and getting tix (remember those days!!). Furthermore, i never got to see them, and to this day, it’s a story to tell, but would never hold it against my parents, who i now realize are about the coolest ever.

  4. jerrydamule Says:

    Great commentary and insight from all. I hope that they really focus on listening to each other and playing as a band. The exploratory jam, which we obviously all love so much, in particular the seamless transitions within the jam, and the ability to take it way out there, regroup, and bring it back structurally, seemed to HAPPEN best when they listened intently to each other and played as a unit.

  5. bunitingi Says:

    I’m glad the drugs discussion got brought up. I felt the overindulgence really colored the later concert experiences, and trust me, i am definitely no prude.

    In the end, it’s about the fact that the scene ended up being filled with a great deal of people who were not there first and foremost for the band and their love of the music.

    People were always partying during the shows, and i certainly did my share. But if your tastes run towards psychedelics, a show is not the place to be doing “heroic doses”, to quote Terrance McKenna. Obviously something like pot and Phish will always go together, but seeing shows straight is good too. As far as harder drugs (i’ll just leave E aside) i never understood their place there, and still disagree strongly with their presence. My thoughts are: Keep it natural and remember, you’re there to love the music, not just get smashed.

    I truly hope the scene will have less of a dark element. Basically, if you’re not there first and foremost for the music, i personally wish you’d stay home. When it works, it all comes together, crowd and band, to achieve a magnificent moment of transcendent glory.

  6. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ Gotta love those heroic doses!

  7. Mr.Miner Says:

    maybe at a festival 😉

  8. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    lol….nothing wrong with being heroic, but only if you know what your doing. Just don’t be “that” guy who ruins it for everyone in an entire section because they can’t handle their shit. A hectic environment like a phish show is not the place to get your “sealegs.” Although I was dropped out of the boat myself a few times, I was never one to cause problems for other people just trying to get their groove on. Sink or swim, just don’t be “that” guy. lol 🙂

    I’m one for helping someone out if they seem to be in a bind mentally, but there is a point where if i’m around someone who is being over the top out of their gourd annoying, chances are i’m gonna move somewhere else to enjoy the tunes. This happened a couple of times to me on some of the more recent tours where i’d have to move away from someone killing the vibe. I’m sure other concerts are much worse because in general phish fans are the coolest cats to be around at a show. But there is always “that” guy in the crowd somewhere…lol

  9. bunitingi Says:

    I’ll agree with Mr. Miner, at a festival, you get LOOOOOTS of leeway.

  10. Selector J Says:

    When I was seeing and listening to a lot of Phish back in 99-01, it seemed like everyone in my circles was complaining about… well, everything. I participated to some degree but I was less crotchety than many. We hated the rotation frequency of the bubblegummy Heavy Things, the buzzkillingly-lazy Farmhouses, the prozac-jam, as someone nicknamed it, Bug (“It doesn’t matter…”), the gag-inducing Jennifer Dances (twice was plenty), the tiredness of the ambient jams. Where are the ’97 jams? Where are the ’95 jams? Enough with the loop already!

    And the lot… let’s not get started on the lot! Is *everyone* on ecstasy here? Where did all these Schwill Kids come from? No one is here for the music anymore! [Disclaimer: I know longer holdfast to most of these opinions. Though, twice really was plenty as far as JD goes.]

    Things were changing and we did not like it. But things are always changing, for better or worse. I look back at those days now like they were part of the golden era. Were the shows worse/better? Were the lots? To be honest, all of it was probably about the same… just different.

    The (first) hiatus certainly gave me perspective. When I saw my first show post-hiatus, there were flubs left and right and some of the jams were discombobulated but I just grinned at the hiccups. I was at a Phish show. I was here to have a good time. Sure, the show wasn’t perfection but that was never the point, was it? I don’t expect a no-hitter every time I watch a baseball game, do I?

    I was still critical of the shows I saw. I didn’t *love* every song or every jam but occasionally I was completely floored (e.g. 2/22/03 Bathtub). My approach to seeing a show had completely changed from expecting my own narrow version of perfection to being open to all of it and therefore taking control of the experience and being able to truly enjoy it… if that makes any sense.

    Also, my advice to all the young bucks: Go to most every show completely sober. Sure a pre-game beer or three to pass the time is fine but as others have said in this thread, getting wasted should never be the focus. Besides, if Phish doesn’t do it for you when your sober, you probably shouldn’t be wasting all kinds of money seeing them across the country.

  11. phillyrudeboy Says:

    well done Miner, my first show!

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