We're vets of the Deer Creek to Alpine Valley run, which means we made sure we scored non-lawn seats and avoided Chicago traffic. Our ship's captain, Mr. Fabulous, pulled a classic end around move and drove to Wisconsin thru the bathroom window. We arrived at a lakeside resort just west of Alpine Valley, which Snailtrax found a few years ago. This gem became our go-to place to stay whenever we throw down at Alpine Valley. The lot scene at AV is not as fun as other venues on tour because the Fun Police does everything in their power to make their presence known. Shakedown is nonexistent and there's a Draconian security perimeter with Big Brother-esque guard towers. It's something ominous out of a dystopian YA novel. Undercovers roamed the lots (the only time I've ever seen an undercover in dreadlocks was at AV) and uniformed officer patrolled the area on ATVs. They looked menacing with shiny black SS-type helmets and a 9mm slapped to their hips. The only thing missing was a Keiser's spike on top of the helmet.
Anyway, we relied on our previous experiences and skipped the lot scene. We arrived late so we could be the first batch of cars to exit the venue. We had loaded up on party favors at Deer Creek, and we had the lodge to hang out at before and after the shows, so there was no reason for us to spend any significant time hanging out in a bunk lot scene.
All four of us scored pit tickets thru mail order/lottery. Unreal. What are the odds on that? Iggy was excited for his first pit show. He had no idea what he was in for. We got down to the pits about 15 minutes before the boys took the stage. I peeked up behind me and saw a sea of people on the slope behind me... with not an empty space in sight.
The show kicked off with My Soul, a nod to the bluesmen down the road in nearby Chicago. The pit erupted with the intro to Daniel Saw the Stone, an old traditional "spiritual" tune. Phish had been mixing up their sets with first timers (this tour) and a group of greatest hits/heavy hitters. As a result, you get a little bit of everything at these shows, which appeals to tour rats like me and folks seeing their only show(s) of the summer. At this point, you don't want to miss a show because anything can happen at any given time (with the exception of the oxy jams which were shelved permanently post-rehab for Trey).
AC/DC Bag packs a bigger punch when it's not an opener, which was great about this version. The first introduction of cow-funk appeared with Moma Dance batting in the clean-up spot. The funkification of cheeseland hath begun.
The only way Phish could have really fucked with everyone would have been a 40-minute Jim to close the set, but that's not in their bag of tricks these days. Instead, they opted for the quantity route and churned out fifteen songs in the first set. Short and sweet. To the point. The band showing shades of Earnest Hemingway... "We arrived. We were thirsty. We were wasted. The band kicked ass. We loved every moment."
I'll take any cover from Exile on Main Street so I was overjoyed with Let It Loose. G-Money and I caught one at UIC last summer. It's funny because all the Phishkids around us had no idea what song it was. G-Money had to clue them in. Page destroys cover songs, especially anything off of Exile.
"Page has a great versatile voice," said G-Money, "and he's able to sing all types of covers. Those covers give him the opportunity to step out front and lead the band."
Oh, and let's talk about the covers theme for the night. Shades of summer 1998 when Phish embarked on a covers binge. Phish cranked out ten total cover songs.... five in each set.
A well-executed Reba included whistling and a sublime jam that capped off a 13-minute version... the longest song of the 15-song set by more than five minutes. It was also the longest song of the entire show.
"They took their time building up the Reba jam nicely," commented G-Money.
Yep, Reba delivered before a tight Kill Devil Falls and a thrashing The Sloth. They mixed in a few serious heavy metal riffs that would make Metallica proud.
Before I went to the show, I chatted with my girlfriend back in California. She works in TV and just started production on a new show, which is why she couldn't see any shows in Leg 1. I asked her what t-shirt I should wear. She said, "Ocelot."
I was in the pit, so the band could look down and see my ugly mug and the green Ocelot lot shirt. I pointed at my chest a few times hoping they boys would pick up on my vibe. After Sloth, Trey looked over my way. I pointed at the shirt. He smiled and started the intro to Ocelot.
If you hate the song, you have me to blame. Then again, maybe it was just a coincidence? Ocelot is in heavy rotation these days (every third or fourth show) so it's not like it wasn't on the band's radar. And then again, Trey probably wasn't looking at me, rather the group of three adorable Wisconsin Phishy chicks in front of me.
After aborting Poor Heart in Cincy, it finally got its chance. The speed-grass tune was just setting up a mellow When the Circus Comes to Town. That cover used to be a "Pauly Takes a Piss Song" in 2.0, but I've grown attached to it this time around. Besides, I was stuck in the pit and didn't want to have to climb the mountain just to drain my lizard.
We were staying in a lodge named "Timber" so I took that as a bit of foreshadowing for the show. Timber Ho! restored the energy level after a mini-break. My only gripe is that the boys finally got it cooking and then abruptly ended it so they could close out the set with Oh Kee Pa > Suzy Greenburg. The crowd went nuts with Suzy and Page unleashed a funkmonster.
I ran into Trent at setbreak. He hooked me up with a ticket to Vermont flood tribute show. Awesome guy. He was rocking the "Page face" shirt that happens to be our Twitter avatar for @CoventryMusic.
The second set kicked off with Backwards, which was a perfect placement because kills the vibe when played later on in the set. That was the lowlight of the first set for me. I'm probably going to listen to this second set a lot in the future, but I'll skip Backwards and just start off with Carini instead.
We got another loud, raucous in-your-face version of Carini, or "Caprini" as Iggy refers to it. I felt bad for anyone around me because I was flailing and throwing elbows and knees and must've head-butted the frat boy next to me a few times. He was a glutton for punishment and didn't mind one bit.
At this point in the show, I absorbed a wicked bad beat. A little baggie had a hole in it and my party favors spilled all over my pocket. I'm such a jwook'd-out unkie that I was shoving my left hand into my pocket and licking my palm and fingers... just to get off. It's kinda funny now thinking about it, yet kinda pathetic... but what are you gonna do? Sometimes shit happens when you're raging hard in the pit. I wasn't going to let a little spilled molly ruin my show.
Trey kept up the intense energy with Wilson, which set the tone for the second half of the show. There was not one mellow moment in set two. Not a single one. All heat. Smoke. Fire. Full throttle. Balls to the wall. I fucking love those types of Phish shows. Who cares if they fucked up a few segments, or played too many covers, or didn't delve off the deep end in the jams? If you were there, you were caught up in the Phish-friend frenzy and danced your ass off.
Golden Age has become a launching pad for some Afro-Cuban groove.
"It's a new heavyweight because the groove is so different from anything else they do," said G-Money, sharing his take on the TV on the Radio cover.
Fishman stepped it up on Golden, and Page pushed the band toward the funky side of the force with some serious clav action. He was milking every drop of cow funk out of the Golden jam. Page surfed the groove with a little bit of maniacal plinko, while Trey mimicking Page's plinko without stepping on his solo.
Toward the end of the jam, the UFO-lights flared up. I figured it was just another cocktease, but Fishman picked up on the groove and led the way into 2001. It was time to contact the Mothership with a disco-dance party. Did any locals find any crop circles in their fields this morning? I'm certain that a couple of space crafts descended from behind the darkside of the moon during 2001 to pick up errant spacekids and a few grey ET scouts after the show.
I thought we were going to get a Rock and Roll opener, but it was held back until the middle of the set. We got a third Velvet Underground cover in three nights. Can they make it four in a row with Sweet Nuthin' on Sunday?
Rock and Roll had the most delicious jam of the show. Even though it was no more than five minutes, the compact jam contained a small thermonuclear device that blew a crater in the side of the mountain. Page was killing the ivories on RR. I wonder if he broke a finger or two because he was pecking so hard with a blistering fury. Trey cranked up the wank factor. He didn't back down and shredded the shit out of it. The jam plateaued and contained shades of Coltrane again, or at least that's what I thought I was hearing.
Steam gets better every time I hear it. I caught the first one at Blossom last summer and in a short span, they've really got their new song down pat. They could have kept up the silky jam for another ten minutes, but delivered a short and sweet version in favor of seguing into Piper.
Piper joined the ranks of mini-jams from the second set. Most of the songs were eight to ten minutes long, which meant about five minutes of intense jamming. It made the band focus on a tighter jam instead of Trey noodling away and leading the band into a dead end.
The tweaker-jazz grooves of Piper morphed into a duet between Page and Trey. Gordo and Fishman sat it out for a few minutes while Trey and Page played off each other, before they slid into another cover... Dylan's Quinn the Eskimo. The crowd was belting this one out with Gordo. I have a certain fondness for the Mighty Quinn because it was played at my first ever Grateful Dead show at Madison Square Garden when I was 15 years old. That was a magical night and I probably would not have seen so many Phish shows if the Dead didn't strike a major chord with me that influential night.
"Quinn is one of the few covers that Phish and the Dead both do," said G-Money, who has seen so many Dead shows the number would make your head spin.
Hood seemed like the cherry on top of the savory sundae. I loved the stripped down intro. The lawn became a battle ground of glowstick skirmishes. I can't recall too much about the Hood jam other than I was just pumped to hear it instead of getting a cheesy slow tune that would have ruined the high-octane set.
The crowd during ZERO
A searing Character Zero ended the set. The crowd lapped up every second of it. Trey took the opportunity to expose his weiner with a John Holmes-monster solo.
The encore fit the theme of the night with a hard-rocking cover of Zeppelin's Good Times, Bad Times. Fishman channeled his inner Bonham and Trey ripped it to pieces. Big Red was having so much fun, he didn't want it to end. Heck, neither did I.
I didn't think Phish could top the second night at Deer Creek, yet that's what happened at the first night in Alpine Valley. This was the type of show I thought we were going to get on Sunday, so at this juncture, I have no idea what kind of tricks the boys are going to pull out of their arse to close out the DC-AV four show run.
"Man, Phish is just on fire," said Iggy, who has now seen over 20 shows in the 3.0 era after not seeing the band at all in their previous incarnations. Iggy is hooked. Big time. It's awesome to see friends slowly get into the band and then somewhere after their tenth show or so, something clicks and they fall under the complete spell of Phish.
"I'm about to become a full-time wook," said Iggy. "I'm gonna grow out dreadlocks and follow Phish full time. Sure, my wife is going to divorce me, but I'll find a cute college-aged Phishy chick to become my lot girlfriend."
The first night at Alpine Valley is in the books. One more to go before the Midwest run is dunzo.
Check out my previous recaps from this tour:
Deer Creek #2: Master BlasterAlso, don't forget to check out our master index page of all of our Phish summer tour 2012 coverage.
Deer Creek #1: Heat Wave Hijinks
Blossom: Tweeze Away
Cincy: Can You Still Have Fun?
AC 3: Mothership Extraction
AC 2: Manteca-Light Sand Funk Fiesta
AC 1: Satan Standing on the Beach