Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Recap: UIC 2 - Chicago Disease, Gimps, and Golden Heat
I woke up in a trashed hotel room which reeked of dank nugs combined with a sweaty, lot stench. Shit was strewn everywhere, the TV was left on to Walker: Texas Ranger, and the leaky cooler was wide open. I felt bad for the poor fucker whose room I was in. That's when I realized... fuck... I was in my room and I'd have to do some explaining to the front desk upon checkout. Just another day on Phish tour.
G-Money and I grabbed breakfast at an old school diner in the West Loop and tried to piece together the post-show insanity from Monday night. We knew Tuesday's Chicago show couldn't top the previous evening, but we hoped for a plethora of random tunes (not on their rotation radar). I was begging for a four-song second set with mind-bending jams that would make the ghost of John Coltrane say, "Shiiiiiiiit, those white boys can play."
We attended the Mock Show art exhibit featuring different artists in the Phish community, almost off of whom create show posters. Tripp's Prints had a table in the front. I got to say hello to the infamous "Pollock" and he's a real person. I also found Pete from Phan Art and he hooked me up with an UIC badge.
After the art show, we wandered over to Crossroads, a bar with a Robert Johnson theme including a massive wall-sized mural hanging over the bar. I'd sell my soul and your soul to the devil if I could write a mere 10% of the equivalent of Trey plays guitar. Crossroads had a killer pulled pork curly cheese fries app and they played lots of Dead-themed music and even a few Phish tunes. I met up with one of my poker buddies Mattazuma, who lived a few blocks away. I was also there for a tweet up organized by @EricWyman. He's a funny mofo and we've crossed paths a few times before. I met @OhKeePahBlog for the first time and he was telling us about his bicycle ride on LSD (Lake Shore Drive). The SF crew -- @JustinWard from @LiveMusicBlog and @PeteLikesMusic -- made an token appearance along with Fletch and @OnlinePhishTour (sorry I never got to say hi). Most of conversation centered around the heat that Phish whipped up of night 1.
The question on everyone's mind: could they replicate it, or more importantly, could they surpass their feats from Monday? Or were we putting unattainable expectations on the band?
I went into the show with low expectations so anything I heard was going to be gravy. I also wanted to tone it down a notch or six on the Tim Leary scale because Monday's show and subsequent mind-blown journey got completely out of control (albeit in a good way). The lot was jam-packed by the time we arrived at 6pm and Shakedown was as dense as I've seen it with everyone waving their finger in the air. Some had two or even three (good luck with that, brah). After Monday's smoker, the Tuesday show instantly became hottest ticket this tour. Everyone was looking, but few had any to sell (that were not trades for Wednesday).
The second night of a multi-show run is when the lowlifes invade the lot. You've seen those derelicts who had been up all night and look like raccoons. Beware of dangerous creatures in the lot. They are far more dangerous that your prototypical mountain wook. The raccoon-like vampires were slinging hard drugs like special K, yay yo, and Meth. Yes, meth. UIC was only the second time I was offered homemade speed at Phish. The first and only time was at the Coventry festival of mud and darkness when the entire underground drug scene from the 2.0 era needed a group intervention in August of 2004.
Unlike the previous day, the lot wasn't flooded with tanks before the show. Everyone on Shakedown was seeking tickets, molly, and weed. Exactly in that order. It seemed dry on two of those fronts. I didn't get puddled like the night before, but I definitely had a little taste of liquid sunshine -- to keep things interesting.
We headed into the show expecting a thorough patdown. We snagged a spot center court about 15 yards in front of the soundboard. I ran into Sweet Willy from Colorado and found @LiveMusicBlog and @PeteLikesMusic. We looked around and noticed three signs hanging from the rafters: FIKUS, "17 Years Since Last Gamehendge", and HA HA HA. The HA HA HA signs were actually three individual HA signs. I noticed they were spread out on Day 1, but on Day 2, they were together.
The show kicked off with a rare Dinner and a Movie. I caught the bustout in Vegas in 2000, and the boys have only played it seven times since then (and I caught four). I appreciated the selection because of the rarity of the song. Batting second on night 2 was HA HA HA, a short yet obvious nod to the gang who brought in the banners. Nice work.
A ten-minute Chalkdust substantially moved the crowd's energy meter, which shot up a couple of levels.
"I loved the 'chasing up the ladder' jamming," said G-Money. "Trey didn't mess around with a few early tension-release points."
Yep, lots of Trey wanking early in the show.
I love Mexican Cousin because of my buddy Senor. It was his birthday and unfortunately he did not attend the show because he was back in Providence, so it was cool that Phish played the tune on his special day. What I love about Mexican Cousin is the fact I really dig a song that a lot of people loathe. But that's the beauty of Phish magic because at any given time someone is equally miffed as someone is elated. The ying and the yang. Phish moves people in so many different ways. Mexican Cousin is proof. By the way, the world needs to drink more tequila.... and dose more... but I'll settle for more tequila consumption.
My one-hitter got clogged during Mexican Cousin. Luckily I had a paperclip to clean it out in time for Walls of the Cave. The composed sections of WOTC are tightening up. The best part is the jam out of the "silent trees" section. The UIC version quite didn't get there (like say the breezy lake-side Tahoe version). Weird stat -- I've seen WOTC 15 times out 21 career appearance. WOTC was the first "new" phish song I heard from the 2.0 era. Do y'all recall when band released a free version in late 2002? I remember waiting forever on a dial-up connection for the WOTC download to complete.
Jim was always a throw-away song to open the show or early set 1 filler. It was one of my favorites in the 1.0 era, but it sorta lost its luster since then. The Tahoe version (a rare set 2 cameo) revitalized my passion for the song because they stretched Jim out and took the jam in a different direction. I hoped for a similar route with UIC, but it didn't quite get there.
Foam had a couple of juicy Gordo squishy notes (like stepping on a bag of grapes) and I got drenched by a chubby girl who spilled her beer on me.
Just when I was wondering about a vac solo... we were treated to Fishman vacuum hijinks with I Didn't Know. At one point Trey held up a t-shirt with a picture of Otis Redding's face on the front. He even gave one to Gordo.
Ocelot is a personal favorite from the 3.0 repertoire. I love songs about pharmies. The UIC's cagey Ocelot included almost ten minutes of soulful mellow-funk. Sure, Trey was playing superfluous notes in the second half, but Leo filled up the space with lots of melodious Thelonious Monk-inspired pecking.
Ginseng Sullivan fell off the planet after 1.0. They played it once in 2.0 and the country-tune barely cracked the rotation in 3.0.
"I feel like a Hillbilly," snarked G-Money as he did a hokey redneck dance.
I always expect Fishman to step it up on Limb By Limb, but I was particularly impressed with Page and Gordo's interplay, particularly a Plinko jam sprinkled with UFO lights from Kuroda.
I expected a heavy-hitter or a crowd-pleasing favorite to close the set, but the boys threw us with another curveball -- Let It Loose -- a deep cut off of the Rolling Stones' Exile from Main Street. I had been chasing a Torn and Frayed and Trey has an obvious boner with Shine a Light, but letting Leo slay a Stones cover (that wasn't Loving Cup) was the wise choice. As the lyric goes, "I'm hip to what you do."
Just as the lights went down for set 2, a drunk dude screamed out, "Play Party Time!" I thought I heard Trey unleash a Ghost lick and was getting ready to get spooked.
"It was the same key to Ghost," assured G-Money.
Instead, Phish launched into a searing Down With Disease clocking in almost 22 minutes. The UIC version blew away the cheesed-out, straight-edge version they regurgitated at the Hollywood Bowl in the first set. Those scenster LA types can't handle anything in excess of a normal length of radio pop song. But, the hardcore fans who got a lucky golden ticket to the UIC shows were the perfect audience to unleash some serious jamming. Yes, the fire-breathing dragon returned and I finally saw it.
"I'm lucky," said G-Money. "I saw two crazy DWD's this summer including Detroit and now Chicago."
The 6/3/11 DWD will go down in phistory as one of the most epic versions of the song in any era, but I appreciate the fact the boys took a risk and tried to match their feat from earlier this summer. It's difficult to compare the two DWDs because each had their own quirks and peaks, but the UIC DWD was strewn with random teases including Piper, No Quarter, and a ambient astro-jam (accented by CK5's UFO lights) that could've rocketed into 2001, but instead they snuck in the back door of a milky and soothing Twist Around.
A light and fluffy Backwards popped up after Twist. The crowd hit another highwater mark in their collective energy level. Maybe everyone around me was a huge fan of Backwards (or snorting bike rails of molly during DWD), but it seemed like everyone was going nuts by screaming and clapping and flailing. A hippie girl was so spun out she was throwing glitter everywhere and slowly trickling to the ground in between beams of purple and green lights. Just at my feet, I noticed a pair of glowsticks that were busted open and all yellow and blue florescent goo covered the sloppy floor.
I was bobbing along and waiting for the next treat -- Theme from the Bottom -- peppered with a couple of intense, yet tranquil moments.
"Theme is something I really wanted to hear," said G-Money. "It reminds me of a Beatles tune circa 1967."
After Theme, the boys crushed their new favorite cover song -- Golden Age -- which they had been segging into in the middle of second sets, something I thought they perfected in Tahoe. They rhythmic background groove is infectious and they've been absolutely destroying TV on the Radio cover. The only other comparison I can conjure up is how they transformed Ween's Roses Are Free in the late 90s.
Next up on the menu was a surprising Day in the Life -- a quick, fluid, and effortless Beatles cover, but a mere appetizer for a monstrous serving of You Enjoy Myself. The iconic anthem had irked jaded vets when it reached overplayed status in the post-Hampton reunion era. Sure, I can hear YEM every night and shake my ass to it like a Vegas stripper jacked up on Peruvian snowflake, but I the song's soul gets weary if it's in heavy rotation. I'm glad Coach Phish benched it for a bit, giving it a much needed rest before unleashing the beast.
BRING OUT THE GIMP!
For you hardcore sex freaks, YEM is sometimes that freaky sex slave you keep locked up in chains in your basement and only let 'em out for deviant trysts and orgies with local soccer moms.
YEM had everything you could ask for -- it's was down and dirty with a funky-plinko wild rumpus. Someone must've dosed one of the beer guys because he was jumping up and down while wearing a blue wig and thrusting an inflatable airplane up in the air. Always fun to see civilians get indoctrinated into the cult, especially during YEM.
The vocal jam stood out as one of the strongest I heard in a while, and that wasn't the liquid sunshine talking either.
It would be difficult task to top the five-song encore from the previous night, especially because Phish played a longer second set. But as long as they didn't screw us with a single encore of Velvet Cheese, I was going to be happy. Otherwise, Phish would've had to quell a mutiny and the Chicago SWAT team would get called in to handle rioting Phisheads.
The encore was a triple scoop: an uppity Heavy Things, a lustrous Slave, and an unexpected injection of slam-grass with Rocky Top.
If you know me pretty well, they you understand my connection with Slave to the Traffic Light -- my favorite Phish song that they don't play as often as I'd like. But then again, if it got heavy play time, I'd probably lose interest in it.
A buddy of mine had a theory that Phish only played Rocky Top as an encore when they personally felt they had an awesome show. It was an eerie coincidence that some of my favorite shows from 1.0 included Rocky Top (specifically 7/17/98 -- I was a tour rat then and loved those 4 song second sets).
I left the venue just like the night before -- with an infectious smile on my face and listening to all the snippets of conversations from the crowd. Seemed like everyone had another glorious evening. A Phish concert is like going to church, seeing a therapist, opening up presents on Christmas morning, and getting laid -- all in one event. No wonder I keep going back.
Bring out the gimp.
G-Money always makes me laugh when I'm half-spun and re-entering Earth's atmosphere after an excursion into the cosmos. As we navigated the slippery stairs, I asked him about the show and he deadpanned, "I'm starting to see what all the fuss is about. It's almost better than Dave Matthews Band."
If I had anything to drink at the time, I would've done a spit take. I'm glad I didn't laugh so hard that I fell backwards and fell down the stairs. Seeing shows with G-Money is always tons of fun. He's like the Cookie Monster of the lot. Put anything in front of him and he'll consume it.
We headed to the lot and grabbed some food while we watched all of the animals in their natural habitat. A few dogs were roaming around, spun out heads stood in line for $2 grilled cheese and $5 pizza. The nitrous addicts stumbled around while making the nitrous mafia richer.
The security and po-po were busting tanks, but they couldn't keep up with a hundred other ones. One security guy who looked like John Candy was almost out of breath as he proudly showed off two tanks he confiscated. He bragged to Chicago's finest, "I think we nipped that balloon business in the bud." Both myself and the cops shook their heads like he had no clue what he was talking about.
Two down at UIC. One more to go. Eight shows complete on Leg 2, and only four more remaining.
Photo credit: Dave Vann courtesy of Phish