The entire floor in my hotel reeked of weed. A business traveler in a finely tailored suit stepped off the elevator with a computer bag and a wheelie luggage. He had no idea what he was getting into staying in the same hotel with Phisheads on the final night of a scorching three-night run in Chicago. I hope he didn't have any early morning meetings because the floor was going to bring the UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ all night long.
G-Money and I grabbed lunch in Greektown before he drove back to Cincy. He could only see the first two shows and his vacation was over after a pair of shows. That meant I was raging solo for the final show at UIC. Seeing a concert by yourself can be intimidating, but every once in a while I like raging solo, especially at a Phish show. I love my friends but sometimes our group swells up to the size of a small invading army, and if you've ever read Sun Tzu, he'll tell you that it's impossible managing a dozen or more spun-out music freaks.
Phish tour can be stressful for myself and the Joker because a lot of our friends rely on us to get them out of a jam whether it's a ride to the show, a ticket fiasco, party favors, low-batterys on cell phones, bail money, or locking keys in their trunk. In the 3.0 era, I turned plenty of friends onto Phish and a few caught their first shows with me, which requires a little extra attention. At the same time, many of my older friends are trying to relive old glory days and push themselves too far and get super schwasted, which means you have to keep an eye out to make sure they don't get into any trouble. Sometimes, friends get sucked down an rabbit hole and freak out. Whenever that happens, I'm there to pull them out of a nasty spin cycle.
Whenever I can fly under the radar and see a show by myself, I'm pretty excited because I can move much more swifter through the scene and do whatever I want. I'm fortunate that have multiple Phish experiences -- from groups of 30+ or just me.
I headed to the lot and wandered around Shakedown. I ran into Justin from LiveMusicBlog. He asked what kind of show I was expecting -- "Blowout, dance party, or rock show?"
I told him that the boys tore up a couple of rock shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles because they wanted to impress the masses, so they rocked it out hard. But for the last night in Chicago, I anticipated a hybrid of a blowout show and a raging dance party.
"How about Dance Party Blowout?"
I made the rounds in Shakedown and heard, "Six up!", more times than I could count, which meant the po-po patroled the lot. It was back to school for UIC students, so the campus police maintained a stronger presence on the lot, but mainly targeting tanks -- if anyone was greedy or foolish enough to bust them out in daylight.
Extras were hard to come by, which was the case for the entire run. Had the shows been at Deer Creek or Alpine Valley, you could score a ticket for $30, but in this case, you had to fork over almost $200 to see Phish's last intimate show at UIC.
I prepped for semi-sober show until I ran into someone who hooked me up with moon rocks. At that point, I was going to blast off and sincerely hoped for a dance party blowout.
Photo by Dave Vann
I had a floor ticket again and headed to the same spot as the last two nights. I ran into Doughboy and his wife -- old friends of the Joker's days in Texas. I met Doughboy at Deer Creek in 2004 when the Joker and I first toured together. The Joker was not on tour in UIC and he was back in Colorado on diaper duty rocking couch tour with his new baby girl. However, the Joker was with us in spirit all night.
Phish took the stage about ten minutes later than they had been, but the entire building was swelling with jittery anxiousness and effervescence. A friend of a friend once described the moment before Phish took the stage as "Christmas morning" -- an appropriate description of the fervent and giddy electricity inside the venue.
I went into the second and third nights of UIC with low expectations. I likened the show to a play with three acts and we were heading into the final act. But all of this was gravy, so no matter what happened, it was going to be fun.
I'm not what you would call a Gamhendge geek, and not really into Forbin > Mockingbird. With that said, I'm glad they played the duo to kick off the show. The crowd, on the other hand, went berserk with the exception of the drunk douche in front of me who talked the entire time. I had to reposition dance space and finally enjoyed the show with a thick and hearty Gumbo (played it a couple of times on Leg 1, but making its debut on Leg 2). The bong-rattling Gordo bombs reminded me of a short convo I had with Justin about Gordo forgetting his part in Walls of the Cave before the "silent trees" part, when he pushes his hand up and down to make the GOOOOOOOSH GOOOOOOOOOOOSH effect.
Possum was well placed considering it had drawn the ire of many jaded vets as it reached overplayed status. I love possum as a lot delicacy. It's the "other" white meat. Ever have a possum kebab on Shakedown? It's savory and tastes just like chicken.
I was "that guy" who jumped up and down for Weigh. I have a bum hip, so I was hopping up and down on one leg like a one-legged hitchhiker. The boys busted out Weigh during NYE runs in Miami 03 and MSG 10. Five songs in and the show was already on a path no one expected.
The crowd's collective screaming, yelling, and cheering reached a pinnacle during the pause of Divided Sky. I've seen my share of DS outdoors at historic venues. The wallpaper on my CrackBerry is a shot of Telluride's sunset, which I snapped during DS at last year's Telluride destination shows. But, Divided Sky gets a lot rowdier indoors. UIC was a tiny venue bottling up all of the crowd noise.
Bathtub Gin allowed the boys to finally open up and let it all hang out and we finally reached the possibility of heavy jamming. During the Joker lyrics, Doughboy leaned over to me and whispered, "I miss the Joker." I couldn't have agreed more.
With the exception of Divided Sky, Gin was the longest song of the set, clocking in 12+ minutes. Gin-Maze was a sweet combo and was the highwater mark of the set (up until that point). Maze has been the vehicle in 3.0 for some serious ass-kicking tension-release jamming. Almost every one I've caught has been stellar.
I thought the set was going to end with a run-o-mill Cavern, but Trey had none of that. They launched into an explosive First Tube. I always got the impression that Gordo didn't like playing FT because the bass line wasn't as challenging as other tunes. It was virtually nonexistent in 2.0 (save for four appearances according to PT). Gordo remained stoic throughout the song, while Trey looked like a man possessed with a haunted spirit, or someone with fire ants in his crotch. Hey, Trey is sober now and uses music to get off, so if he wants to replicate snorting seventeen lines of blow by ripping the shit out of First Tube to end a first set, well by all means, let it rip.
I ran into Denver Boyd and Sweet Willy at setbreak. Both were gushing about the set (and these are vets who are very honest with their opinions) and thought it was the best set of the run (out of five). I was reticent to stamp it "best set" of the UIC run, but I definitely agreed it was one the best first sets I've seen this tour.
It had an awesome chat with Denver Boyd at setbreak because the main topic of conversation was writing. He's a fellow scribe and has been a guest poster on Coventry in the past. We both were independently mulling different writing assignments and were skiddish about pulling the trigger. But after our setbreak pep talk, we both felt better about our writing futures.
Sweet Willy's buddies from Michigan snuck in like twenty joints and some tasty bubblegum hash. They smoked me up all night. Thanks guys! Ever since I moved to California, I became a horrendous pot snob. I scored some meh homegrown in the lot on Monday, but the Michigan boys kept my head in the right spot.
We discussed second set openers. I vacillated between a pair of covers: Rock & Roll and Crosseyed & Painless. The highlight of Hollywood was the Crosseyed jam. Plus, one of my favorite shows from last summer was Charleston, where Phish kicked off a sizzling second set with CP.
Photo by Dave Vann
The lights went down and Phish led the charge with a hard-hitting Crosseyed and Painless. The "Still waiting" lyric would be the keywords of the night because they tried to sneak into other songs the rest of the show. CP's jam delved into ambient territory and like the night before with DWD, I heard a couple of 2001 and No Quarter teases. But in that instance, they launched into No Quarter. For a brief moment, I felt what it would have been like to see Zeppelin in the late 1970s. Trey channeled his inner Jimmy Page with some thrashing, thunderous guitar licks that would make one of his heroes somewhat content.
No Quarter slid into a silky seg of Timber Ho, but they never really got that jam cooking before a reprise of the "Still waiting" segment of CP. An abrupt and sudden shift into Tweezer came out of nowhere. It was high-octane but rushed and sounded sloppy as hell, but that fit the theme for the second set. Did someone dose the band with crystal meth at setbreak? If you ever wanted to know what it was like to see Phish crocked to your tits on speed, then you'll love the second set.
Trey reverted to "cutting short" jams, a bad habit which plagued the band on the West Coast run. Instead of allowing the second sets to let the music organically evolve and morph into a life of its own. Did Trey had a bet with someone that he could play more than 12 songs in a second set? Thirteen songs in the final set of UIC. That was almost double compared to the seven-song anchors in the previous two shows.
Schizo Phish or speed freaks? Welcome to Tweaker City.
A tranquil Caspian popped up, but I was thrilled when Trey's ADD took over and he made the command decision to jump into Piper, which was teased more times than I could count in the previous two shows. The Piper pink light jam might have been the musical highwater mark in the second set. Sadly, Piper's growth was stunted by Trey's impatience. It had so much more potential to sprout into hell-raising mindfuck. Luckily, they opted for a transition into Ghost.
Ghost was more of an appetizer than a full on meal, lasting less than four minutes.
"It was like listening to a studio version," said Sweet Willy.
It seemed like Gordo was the one who cut the Ghost jam off when he finally knocked Trey out of the driver's seat and dragged the band off to Makisupa Policeman. Makisupa was loaded with shtick including Trey poking fun at weed-versions of musician names (the best one was Harry Chronic, Jr.). They band's inner child took over and the four pranksters returned to the "Page's house" routine. Page tore up a killer jam and I expected the band to return to Ghost jamming. That never happened. Instead, they served up two quickie versions of Sleep and Buffalo Bill, followed up by a pair of crowd favorites -- Golgi and Character Zero -- both of which jacked the crowd's energy level back up.
Golgi was super-rushed. Speedgolgi. Antelope delivered a spot on orgasm, but it also seemed rushed to fit in perfectly with the speedy set.
Phish capped off the UIC run with a three-song encore featuring a Son Seals cover (and nod to Chicago bluesmen) of Funky Bitch, then a self-indulgent Trey offering of Show of Life, with a blow-the-roof-off-this-mutha-fucker version of Tweezer Reprise. I walked out of the venue drenched in sweat. Another scorcher. Melted faces all around.
As a whole, the UIC run was stupendous. It's difficult to maintain maximum energy and peak levels of intensity for three consecutive nights, but that's what Phish accomplished in Chicago. The three shows were pure heat and Phish sounded like an completely different band that I saw take the stage at the Gorge, the Hollywood Bowl, Lake Tahoe, and in Golden Gate Park for the Outside Lands Festival. They played with more confidence and finally showed some cojones on stage instead of trying to keep the masses happy. If I come off overly critical of Phish (not just me, but others as well), it's because I love the band but know they are not a nostalgia act, but a band capable of achieving musical perfection on any given night. It just takes the right set of circumstance to make that happen. That's why UIC blasted all of us off into the outer cosmos. The attentive crowd was frothing at the mouth and waited to be taken on a ride, and the band obliged. The receptive and frenzied audience was the necessary fuel the band needed. They fed off us and we fed off them. As a result, Phish smoked the shit out of UIC.
Nine down. A short break, before the three final shows in Colorado.
Read recaps from UIC Night 1 and UIC Night 2. I also wrote about the Gorge Night 1, Gorge Night 2, and the Hollyweird Bowl.