Whenever I’m at a concert, like the Phish show I attended last night at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, I’m always writing a review/recap in my head as the show progresses. Despite the fact that I’m quite confident in my writing ability, however, I’m always well aware that it’s exceedingly difficult to translate these thoughts into digital words in a way that does justice to the scene.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many words does it take to describe the feeling of seeing Phish open with Chalkdust Torture and have almost 18,000 screaming fans erupt with the plea “Can’t I live while I’m young?” As the lights flash in full on halogen mode during the chorus. I’ve described this before with a single word: anthemic – which is the best way I can sum it up without using 2500 more words. But anthemic doesn’t quite do it justice. Epic? Euphoric? I guess it’s one of those “if you’ve been there, you know” moments. Goose bumps. Muscles clenching involuntarily, shredding an air guitar. Shit eating grins that cannot be wiped away.
After Chalkdust, things slowed with with Roggae, and I’d told Matt “Punch You In the Eye” tonight as Phish was finishing up Chalkdust. I was one song off, and, having correctly predicted the Chalkdust opener, had Matt starting to question my Kreskin-esque abilities as the band ripped through PYITE. Phish fans will understand the band’s amazing ability to orchestrate energetic chaos with progressive instrumental segments, and PYITE’s opening was just one such segment. The band flubbed the first transition, but recovered to nail the rest of the song, including a number of “false endings.”
Moma Dance sizzled, although I took the opportunity to hit the bathroom and reload on the double tall-boy beers we were drinking – 24 ounce cans. Mitch was driving, so I requested “3 Miller Lites and a water” from the young lady at the beer station.
“I can only serve you two drinks,” she replied, standard. Ok, I was going to have to leave a man behind.
“Sure. Two Miller Lites and a water, then,” I told her.
“That’s still 3 drinks,” she was befuddled.
“No, no. water doesn’t count.” She looked at me like I was trying to scam her. “I promise you – water doesn’t count. Go ahead, ask someone.”
“It’s my first day,” she was scared, but checked with a colleague and found out that she could indeed serve me all the water I wanted. I tried to leave the beers on the counter and step to the next beer station so as not to leave any of my crew without, but the beer girl freaked out and I made a hasty retreat.
Rock and Roll is another one of those songs that gets me pumped every time, with the refrain “My life was saved by rock & roll.”
The band took a long time segueing into Sand, which seemed like it could have become Ghost or First Tube instead. Trey was making his “O” face in a big big way during Sand, wanking on his guitar eagerly. Tube followed, and then Divided Sky.
At the beginning of Divided Sky, Trey asked the sound guy to turn down the lead guitar in his amp. He then absolutely butchered the end of the first big composed section – I mean – destroyed it. It was so bad that he actually stopped, and was about to mumble something into the mic, but instead was drowned out by applause, laughed, and continued.
In the Phish documentary Bittersweet Motel (a must have for any Phan, by the way), there’s a section where Trey recounts an article written about the band many years ago where the author criticized the band and fans, saying that the band could “urinate in the ears of its fans” and that the fans would happily lap it up. I don’t know if that was ever true, but what I love about Phish nowadays is that the bands and fans share an intimate knowledge of the music, and that the fans KNOW it when the band screws up, understand, and appreciate it anyway. When you write passages as complex as the Divided Sky composed part, or Guyute, or the off-beat structure of Tube, or YEM – you fuck it up sometimes, and Trey is no exception. So, when he got to the pause in Divided Sky, he just put his head down in penance, with the house lights up, and the crowd forgave him – loudly.
Character Zero seemed to be another “reward” to the crowd for understanding, and closed out the first set with a bang. We regrouped with beers and pretzels, hit the bathroom, and returned to our seats for the second set.
Set two started with After Midnight, which had opened the Manchester, NH show that Dr. Pauly and I attended last fall. Possum, next, was a masterpiece – searing, climbing energy that exploded periodically in explosive flashes of Kuroda-driven halogens.
Drowned pick up the pace again, and took a long time to transition into Maze, another Phish musical masterpiece of tightly composed passages. Before ending up at Maze, the band again sounded like they could transition into Ghost instead. The lyric:
Inside me a voice was repeating the phrase, “You’ve lost it, you’ll never get out of this maze.”
made me think of arguing with silver bugs. Maze crested with high energy, but Phish brought it back down with Dirt, one of my favorite “slow” Phish songs. Alaska got extended a bit, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it more than I did, before the band locked it down with YEM. They nailed it, exploding in an orgy of energy at the “Boy. Man. God. Shit” passage, but the crowd shared my lack of enthusiasm for the “vocal jam” at the end, where I texted Pauly “The wooks are being called back to the Mother Ship.” Matt, standing next to me, was annoyed, and I said “it’s actually really hard to do, I’m sure.” “That doesn’t make me like it anymore,” he replied honestly.
Behind schedule, the band returned quickly and ripped through a Fire encore, already past the curfew, I think.
All in all, another good show, and we’re ready to do it again tonight.