Saturday, July 07, 2012

SPAC #1 Recap: Light Up the Sally Ghost

This is my favorite point of a tour -- toward the end -- because the band has been firing on all cylinders for a couple of weeks and reached peak form. Plus, SPAC is almost a "home show" for the quartet from Vermont and Phish never wants to let their phamily down.

SPAC is a spectacular venue to see Phish. If you're inside the pavilion, it's like being at an indoor show. If you're stuck up on the lawn, you're seeing a completely different Phish show. With the exception of Alpine Valley's massive slope, SPAC is the only outdoor venue where I'm a lawn snob and do everything possible to get inside the shed.

The Joker and I caught what might have been our favorite 2004 show at SPAC. Since the 3.0 reunion, Phish has only played SPAC three times (a solo soggy shot in 2009 and a double-dip in 2010) but the boys returned to SPAC for a three-night run to end the first leg on their summer tour.

The first night of SPAC is the show I expected them to play on July 4th.... a nonstop heater in the second set from start to finish. Instead, the July 4th show was packed with 30+ songs including a few bustouts and plethora of "greatest hits." I left Jones Beach on a positive note because I knew the band was going to "bring the heat" during the final three shows at SPAC.

I woke up in NYC and hopped on the train to Albany. I love train travel and always loathed driving on the NY Thruway. Besides, I don't drive anymore after I miraculously survived a pretty bad car wreck in Vegas last summer. I haven't been behind the wheel since. I'm so grateful to be alive... and even more blessed to see Phish with some of my dearest friends.

I relied heavily on my girlfriend last summer to make the hero drives during the west coast swing. This year, I'm fortunate because my friends understood my unique situation and they all took turns carting my ass around from city to city during Leg I.

Irongirl and Phil picked me up at the train station. Phil made the last minute decision to see the SPAC shows and flew in from Texas the night before.

"I don't know when I'll be able to see Phish again," he said. With Phish's abbreviated schedule (two legs of summer tour and just a holiday run), phans have fewer chances to see the Phish.

My big sis, Irongirl, lives near SPAC so I catch shows with her whenever the circus migrates to upstate NY. Like many new phans that were originally Deadheads, Irongirl took a while before she developed a penchant for Phish. She finally "got it" sometime during the second hiatus. She saw her first-ever show at SPAC in 2009 and caught the Phish fever. Since then, she's racked up at least 20 shows.

You would think we're an odd pair of siblings because I like to be a lit monkey at the shows, while Irongirl has been sober for 20 years and took up marathon running and ironman events. These days she gets off on the music and dances her ass off from the moment the lights go down. Despite her clean living, she's totally cool with everyone around her partying it up. Alas, we can both be ourselves and have fun with Phish in our own way. At the same time, out of respect for Irongirl, I'm not ripping biker rails of molly in front of her or chomping on sugarcubes... at least not last night.

Irongirl is a savvy tour veteran. As a Deadhead she logged thousands and thousands of miles on the road and knows her way around the lot. She even had a stint in the Nitrous Mafia back in the 80s when she was slinging balloons on the original Shakedown. Irongirl is a superstar because she welcomes the task at being the designated driver, so I never have to worry about getting places. She's got her proverbial shit together, which means no drama on tour. You'd be surprised how just one person in your group could make or break your Phishy experience. Lucky for me, this summer tour has been smooth sailing on all fronts with different crews (Javier and the CT boys, the Cincy Deadhead crew, and now me and Irongirl).

We arrived at SPAC when the lots opened at 4:30pm. We parked a few rows behind Shakedown. Irongirl knows all the backroads around the state park, so she took a "local's route" and we bypassed the traffic. I've been to SPAC more times than I can count, but whenever I drove myself, I always got stuck parking a few miles from the venue and hiking around throw the woods just to get to the show. That's never a problem during the day, but at night it becomes problematic especially if you throw party favors into the mix.


I found ChinaKat. I had her tickets for all three nights and she had baked delicious treats. I wandered around and sold stickers. Phil was in search of pavs for Saturday and Sunday. It seemed as though a ton of extra lawns were floating around, but the only non-lawn ticket for sale was a pit for $100.

SPAC had a decent Shakedown and if you party smart, the local po-po leave you alone. I saw a pair of wooks cuffed on the ground and one cop digging around the kid's shoe in search of something. But aside from that, I didn't see too much weirdness before the show.

Irongirl and I had seats in the balcony on Fish side about six rows back. Like I said, anything inside the pav is a good seat and I was just happy to be in the shed, and not stuck out on the lawn.

A standard Jim opened the show, but the Ocelot in the second spot had a little extra hot sauce in the jam. I wasn't wearing the shirt... like I was raging the pit at Alpine Valley when I was convinced Trey played it because he saw me point to it. Back on the Train was another notable instance of crispy funk from the first set. The boys have been smoking the hell out of it this tour, but considering it was early in the first set, they opened up the jam a bit and the balcony began to sway for the first time.

At the time, it seemed much longer... but the Tube > Psycho Killer > Tube was easily my favorite segment of the set. Quickie Tubes have been the norm in 2.0, but in this instance they tossed us a bone by squeezing a little Talking Heads into the mix. I caught the last Psycho Killer at Hartford, and just like then, the crowd went absolutely apeshit bananas when the band unleashed it.

We got more Fishman hijinks, perfectly placed in the first set so it didn't ruin the continuity of the second set. Phish has been known to beat a meme to death like "Page's house" last year and Fish's "tuck it in" this summer. If you're just hopping on tour for the first time, Trey has been telling Fish to tuck in his muumuu underneath his underwear. Hilarity ensues.

Fish took center stage holding two giant cymbals and Trey scurried behind Fish's kit. Fish belted out Neil Diamond's Cracklin' Rose, then gave away the cymbals to a fortunate fan in the pit.


Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2012

The show returned to its normally scheduled programming with a mischievous Stash and we saw the first glimpse of an evil jam developing during the longest song of the set.

I have vivid memories of hearing Paul and Silas when I was a college student in Atlanta in 1993 and booming hard on shrooms during the infamous Fox Theatre run.

I'm a Traffic fan so I'm giddy like a schoolgirl whenever Page sings Light Up Or Leave Me Alone. The jam-out is what caught everyone's attention. You know it's a good sign when you forget what song they are playing... which happened to me twice. I didn't think the cover song would end the set (when the first started it), but Trey shredded it to pieces (channeling his inner Dave Mason) and there was nothing that could've topped that, except walk off stage and leave the crowd wanting more.

I found Nigel at setbreak. He was raging it up on Page side. We saw Jones Beach #2 together and I remarked about the major difference was the sound. Jones Beach is so wide open that the music just escapes everywhere, but SPAC is a sweatbox which traps the music, the heat, and the crowd energy into the shed.

The balcony was rocking from the first note of Chalk Dust Torture. From that point onward... it was nonstop heat. We didn't see any late set slowdowns that were buzzkills, and as a result, I danced nonstop from the start of a sinister Carini until the end of the set when I was drenched in sweat. Carini > Sand had the balcony bouncing up and down. The deviant Carini jam went off the deep end and melted into a pulsating Sand, which the band has relied upon in the second sets as a heady jam vehicle this tour. The Sand jam felt like a volcanic explosion during random moments when the crowd erupted into a seizure.

The crowd hung onto every single note of Ween's Roses Are Free. It was one of the tighter version I heard since Charleston 2010. Sure PYITE was slop city, but the crowd was so into it that it didn't matter.

And then things really got interesting... Sally > Ghost. We all know that Sneaking Sally is a funk rocket but they unexpectedly melted faces in a searing Page-led clav jam out that eventually morphed into Ghost. I lost my mud the last time I saw Ghost at the crazy Alpine Valley when I ate waaaaay too much acid. This version was not as spooky as Alpine and definitely wasn't anything like the untz-raved out versions from 97-98. However, the band stretched the elasticity of the subdued Ghost jam as far as they could push it.

After the 25-minute Sally > Ghost stretch, Phish put a couple of exclamation points on the set with an uppity and crowd pleasing Suzy and another high-octane smoking Antelope that featured both Tom Marshall and the Dude of Life on lyrics for the "Marco Esquandoles" part.

Yep, it was a rocking and ass-kicking second set, and assumed the encore was going to be a loud, rowdy tune like Good Times Bad Times. Phish stuck with a cover, but stuck with the old standby... the Stones' Loving Cup... to end the show. Phil wasn't too thrilled because he gets Cup as an encore a rendonkulus amount of times. Yep, it's definitely overplayed but I was thrilled not to hear something cheesey.

Another sick second set without any low-energy pitfalls. Phish kicked off the three-show SPAC run with a rager. And the good news is that we have two more shows to go!

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Check out previous recaps from shows I caught this tour:
AC 1: Satan Standing on the Beach
AC 2: Manteca-Light Sand Funk Fiesta
AC 3: Mothership Extraction
Cincy: Can You Still Have Fun?
Burgettstown: Tweakpaug
Blossom: Tweeze Away
Deer Creek #1: Heat Wave Hijinks
Deer Creek #2: Master Blaster
Alpine Valley #1: Float With the Flock
Alpine Valley #2: Gotta Get Out of This Maze
Jones Beach #2: Head Held High
Also, don't forget to check out our master index page of all of our Phish summer tour 2012 coverage.

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