Poster by Dan Grzeca
Four hours after the first UIC show, I was wide awake and still shaking. Maybe some of it had to do with the stupendous music, but more likely the mischievous culprit was the chemicals pumping through my blood system. Actually, it was a delightful combination of both. Right place, right time. One of my friends summed it up best, "You picked one helluva a night to trip balls at Phish."
Every once in a while you have to push yourself over the edge to a place extremely far from your comfort zone because when you do, that's when magical things happen -- that is to say, if you can survive stepping over your boundaries. Some of the most exhilarating experiences I undertook were the times I sprinted to the edge of the abyss with recklessness then peeked into the darkness of nothingness before I jumped. On more than one occasion, Phish swept me up and dragged me down the rabbit hole with them.
Yep, it seemed like just another Monday night for some, but for the lucky heads at UIC who got their brains liquefied, it was one of the greatest Monday nights of their life.
I saw the entire West Coast run and after six shows the band left San Francisco shrouded in hype for the impending three-night run in Chicago. The band had not played UIC since 1998, which attracted lofty expectations (and often unrealistic) from Phishdom. I can't figure out what exactly happened to Phish in the Pacific Time Zone. I had more fun than anyone should be allowed to have and they played well, but something was amiss. I have to chalk it up to the laid back vibe of the natural settings (The Gorge and Lake Tahoe) and the immense pressure that Phish (i.e. Trey) thrusts upon itself to keep everyone happy. Trying to please everyone is an impossible and thankless task. We've seen a bleh result too many times to count when they often fall short of the mark, which happened at the Hollywood Bowl (the band seemed paralyzed trying to impress the industry heavyweights of Tinsel Town) and again at Outside Lands (desperately trying to impress the hipsters and other musicians). Even the serene Lake Tahoe shows seemed "forced" with Trey killing a lot of jams to squeeze in a couple of other songs. A couple of second sets seemed rushed which was the downside of the band knowing they were not just playing to 9,000 fans along the lake, but for the entire blood-thirsty and overly critical masses rocking it out on couch tour.
Whatever weirdness that was festering with the band on the Left Coast instantly vanished the moment they arrived in the Midwest. Phish let it all hang out and they truly smoked the shit out of the intimate venue on the campus of UIC. They seemed more comfortable onstage, partly because of the condensed, yet intense crowd energy of an indoor show. Phish fed off of us and vice versa. The symbiotic relationship is essential to improvisational music. When all cylinders are firing and the band finds the right groove pocket, then you have a recipe for a scintillating and titillating show.
I arrived in Chicago at 6am after flying the redeye from San Francisco. I didn't sleep on my flight and wandered around Lincoln Park before I convinced someone at my hotel front deak to let me check in 3.5 hours early. I passed out for 45 minutes or so waiting for G-Money who got caught in traffic. He was the only member of the Cincy crew to make it to these shows. It felt weird for G-Money and I to attend the UIC shows without Iggy and Mr. Fabulous because we had become an eclectic quartet in the 3.0 era when it came to Midwest Phish shows. We were kinda perplexed that both Deer Creek and Alpine Valley were missing from the summer tour. We did both runs the last two summers but things didn't work out on the production end for the band. Alas, three nights at UIC came to fruition but just for G-Money and myself. Even my girlfriend jumped off tour and headed back to LA after Outside Lands. We had a small unit, but G-Money has seen over 100 Dead shows so he knows how to handle himself in a Phishy environment.
G-Money and I headed to the lots which opened up at 3:30. The scene was impressive for a small area of concentrated vending, where pretty much anything goes. UIC was rowdy and boisterous. In comparison, it made the weak-sauce scene at the Hollywood Bowl highly laughable.
I knew we were going to be in for something peculiar because we heard the ominous hissing of tanks sprinkled throughout Shakedown, with heads weaving and staggering all over the place while clutching balloons with a death grip. Tanks are synonymous with the late-night lot scene, but it's rare to hear the hissing in daylight before the show.
I heard the venue had 9,000 capacity, which was why tickets were going for over $200+ on different online brokers. One guy was trying to get $250 in the lot for his extra Monday. I had not seen people hold up $100 bills in search of extras in a while. You could get extras for the Gorge below face. Shit, even though the Bowl was sold out, you could get into the Hollywood show for under $25. UIC was the hottest ticket this tour. Luckily I had floor tickets for all three nights. On the tickets, the section was marked: DANCE.
I got puddled by a generous fellow. Minty fresh flavor. That was just the beginning of a long, arduous mental journey. Sometimes the right intoxicant makes its way to you before the show. Right place, right time.
We went inside before everything kicked in and I'd be too spun out to figure out how to cross the street. The patdowns were intense and thorough. Security at the door made you empty all of your pockets. That was a far cry from the minimalist ZERO patdown at Harvey's. We boogied down to the floor and secured ourselves a spot smack in the middle of the venue -- in sports terms, we stood center court.
I got sucked down the rabbit hole before the lights went out and the band took the stage. I overheard someone echo the exact conversation I was having inside my head: "This is crazy part of the trip...I'm waiting for Phish to come out and the music to tell me what to do."
The choice to open with Back on the Train set the tone for the evening. It was the band admitting that they were slightly off track, but now their back on the right course. They kicked off the UIC shows with some southern-fried crispy funk. The floor was mayhem -- spilled beers, people banging into each other while figuring out their dance groove, random wooks jumping the boards and even a few bold security guards chased after them.
Phish played a lot of early starting first sets in Tahoe and Outside Lands with, which meant you had to wait until the second set to appreciate Kuroda's light work. That wasn't the case with an indoor show and I was instantly mesmerized by the swirling colors cutting through the sporadic darkness of the venue.
Rift and Guleah Papyrus allowed me to have flashbacks of 13-15 years ago when they played smaller venues like UIC. The intimacy added to the ambiance. I lost my mud during Scent of Mule and got ambushed by the furry, fanged creatures who live in the rabbit hole. It took Jesus to save me from the depths of despair. Besides, what's a Chicago show without Page singing Jesus Left Chicago? They didn't linger and delved into a funk orgy with Wolfman's Brother. Gordo and Page played musical ping pong onstage with one delicious jam session. Too bad Trey cut that short so he could play the uber-cheesy Anything But Me. Weird selection, but well-timed after an intense start to the show because the band blasted off and no one had a chance to catch their collective breaths.
I know that Babylon Baby was soundchecked in Tahoe, but the Mike Gordon Band song was officially ready to make its debut with the Phish. It had it moments, particularly the jamming.
"That Caribbean groove was pretty cool," said G-Money.
Gordo gets off playing his own shit. Page gets off singing random covers. Fishman likes to suck on household appliances. And Trey? He's fucking Trey. He gets off just stepping on stage. Thank God he didn't step into any Oxy-induced wormholes in the 3.0 era.
Reba had all the whistling parts for the hardcore fans. I don't recall too much other than I was absolutely drenched in sweat at that point. In my head I had conjured up this scenario where we went to see Phish at an ice rink, but they brought the serious heat with their incendiary playing. They were en fuego so everything melted and I was then standing in a small lake and trying to dance my ass off in water.
Alumni Blues > Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues was a 215 mph curveball. I never saw it coming and expected the boys to cheese out with a couple of "greatest hits" set closers. But fuck yeah, it was one of the most intense moments of the show as the band and frenzied audience reached an energetic peak. They were 80+ minutes into the show and the band made the wise choice to rush off stage and end set 1 on the ultimate high note.
"Good to see some of the young-uns throw down," G-Money observed about the younger generation of Phisheads getting down and dirty with a throwback so old that Page had a full head of hair and Trey used to walk around clean shaven.
I thought I could collect my space together during setbreak, but I had yet to peak out and was still schwilly. I had thought I had hit a 10 (out of 10) on the schwasted scale, but I was at least three or four more levels higher. It wasn't until the middle of the second set before I started to coast down the hill. G-Money said that Phish had let the dragon out in the first set. I pretended to know what he was talking about and just nodded. I didn't see any dragons, but there was definitely a fucking monstrous beast hiding in the shadows.
Second set kicked off with a scorching Sand. Instead of a disjointed second set with 10+ songs, they opted for a compacted 7-song set with plenty of jamming to arouse Type II fetishists and enough unexpected twists and turns to keep things interesting for everyone in the arena who was tripping balls.
The meat of the Light jam is inspired by CK5's lighting. Sometimes I wonder which comes first -- the lights or the music. During Light it seems as though Kuroda is the puppet master controlling the direction of the band.
Dirt was the second whistling song of the show and it was a welcomed respite after an intense and maniacal beginning of set 2. You never could have guessed it would be the highlight on paper, but the Waves > Undermind part of the show made me feel like we were in an aquatic wonderworld. Phish has an uncanny ability to make you feel like you're seeing a show in outerspace, in a 70s discotheque, or underwater. I thought I heard bits and teases of Undermind in the Waves jam, but chalked it up to my wasted self. When they finally punched through to Undermind, I felt better knowing that I wasn't losing my mind, but more importantly, that I was locked into the band's psyche.
Steam is getting better every time they play it and I get hypnotized by the melodic back groove. We saw the debut in Cleveland earlier this summer and I caught it again on the West Coast.
"Definitely one of their best 3.0 songs," explained G-Money. "Reminds me of Traffic from the early 1970s. I like it spicy."
Fire seemed out of place and a bit sloppy, but it was small thermonuclear device that Trey unleashed to end the set. If anyone hadn't had their faces melted by that point, then they must have been in the lot.
G-Money pointed out that the second set had a "nature" theme -- sand, light, dirt, waves and fire. That spooked me out when I glanced at the setlist. Holy shitballs, he was right. Cleverly planned or just a happy accident?
After the encore break, Trey mentioned something about most venues reminding them about the curfew, which is the secret to what they end up playing on any given night. However, at UIC, no one told him anything. Yep, no curfew. The band responded with five songs -- something I had never seen before. In all, the encore was 40 minutes long. Some indie bands call that a full show. Fuck those whiny hipsters in the mouth. On any given night, Phish can blow the roof off any indoor venue, and if outdoors they can make contact with the Mothership(s).
"By the mid-90s, sometimes the Dead would only play a 45 minute set," said G-Money. "I can't believe we got almost three and a half hours of Phish. We were thirty rows back on the floor. Where else do you wanna be? It was a near perfect night."
After a few moments of indecision, the band launched into Camelwalk before a third whistling song, Guyute. Definitely wasn't the best version I heard and it seemed rushed, mainly because they wanted to squeeze in Horse > Silent before the pulled the trigger on a 14-minute Hood. The orgasm release point was fairly epic. Trey had his "OH FACE" on the entire second set, but by the end of Hood, everyone in the crowd walked out of the show with their OH FACES. Shit, five songs inside a single encore clocking in at 40 minutes will do that for you. Phish practically played a third set.
I love exiting the venue after a smoking Phish show because the entire crowd is all pumped up. Everyone was in such a feisty, yet festive mood that it's infectious. That's one of the many reasons why I go see Phish -- because I always leave their shows feeling fucking fantastic.
"I can't believe we get to see them two more times," squealed one Phishy chick with butterfly wings.
We hit up Shakedown for some grub and I almost got bit by a tour dog. I never saw as many tanks in just a small concentration in the lot. Behold the powers of the nitrous mafia. You could easily get food because the lines were short compared to the flock of nitrous addicts elbowing each other to get a couple of balloons. It seemed like half the lot was clutching three or more balloons, while everyone else couldn't stop talking about the five song encore. I nearly lost it when a girl walked by carrying a birthday cake and trying not to get stepped on in Shakedown.
We had to pass the Greyhound bus depot on the walk back to our hotel. Anytime you wander by a sketchy bus station past midnight, there's a potential for disaster. Luckily, even though we were sweating profusely and still spun out as far as Jupiter, no one in our crew got shanked and we safely returned in time for the after-party.
First night at UIC? En fuego. It's going to be tough to top, which is why I'm going into the next two shows with low expectations. The next two nights are gravy.
One down in Chicago, two more to go. Seven down on Leg 2, and only five more.