"Anything weird happen today?"
"Nothing more than usual," barked the most jaded cop.
I took the hint and buggered off. I was waiting... on a man. Not Lou Reed's smack dealer like in the Velvet Underground song, but the kid (DD from Seattle) who had my ticket. Thanks to CashorTrade.org, we arranged to swap my extra Sunday for his extra Friday. DD was running late and as every minute inched closer to 8pm, I got anxious. Nervous. Worrisome. I started sweating. Shit, I felt just like Lou Reed in Waiting for the Man... while he was super dope-sick slumped up on a pole on 125th Street in Harlem, waiting for his dealer.
My drug of choice is Phish. Ain't no place I'd rather be. All of my friends were already inside Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, posting pics and tweeting how small the venue is. My girlfriend (aka @change100) was one of those people. I sent her inside fifteen minutes earlier and told her I'd wait by myself.
7:50pm. I was freaking out on the inside. Every ticketless phan that walked by asked me for an extra. Two random wooks hit me up for Ketamine. Three bums asked me for spare change. I even took a photo for Japanese family posing in front of City Hall.
7:55pm. I got a call from my guy DD. He had trouble finding parking. He was on his way. Thanks the Lord Jesus Christ and Jerry Fucking Garcia. My ticket was just blocks away. I danced a jig.
8:00pm. The kid arrived with my ticket. I was never more happier to see anyone in my life! The cops shook their head as I practically tackled DD and jumped up and down. We completed the ticket swap and bolted across the street. Since everyone else was inside, there was no line to get in. The security guard was having a bad day. She said she had a massive headache. I joked that people inside had something to make her feel groovy. She shot me the stink-eye that screamed, "Fuck off, hippie!"
I smiled and rushed inside. I stepped foot into one of the most sacred and magical musical venues in the world. The ghosts of the Grateful Dead were twirling around everywhere and tickled my spine. It feels corny to actually write this... but I felt like I was... home.
I found Dr. Jelly Eater near the back and he reminded me, "I was last here in the 1980s to see the Dead on New Year's Eve."
Holy shitballs! Talk about one lucky mofo. I'd give me left nut to catch the Dead (circa 1970s) smoke the shit out of the Civic Auditorium (as it was called in those days). But that was then, and this is now... and Phish were moments from taking the stage of their first of three shows inside an intimate and holy venue.
Bill Graham's house was packed. Jammed tight. Very little space to move. Almost every seat up in the balcony sections filled up with giddy phans. I somehow found my girlfriend.
The energy on the floor was frenetic. Vast difference from the mellow, laid back vibe of Long Beach in which Phish had to cajole the energy of the crowd in LB with a Suzy opener. Alas, in San Francisco, Phish didn't have to dig deep into their back of tricks to get things rocking. The entire building was swaying back and forth -- before the show even started -- from all of the bottled up electric energy. Tons of positivity flowed everywhere.
The band feeds off us. We feed off the band.They feed off us. We feed off them. Circles. Nonstop circles. It's a symbiotic relationship that has been festering for almost thirty years. I feel sorry for other bands whom do not have the fervent, yet reverent following like us dedicated phans.
The lights went down and a deafening howl echoed through the room. I actually got goosebumps for the first time since the Hampton reunion shows. I was just so overjoyed to be inside. No matter what they played, I was going to soak up every second. Ten minutes earlier while standing outside fending off shady ketamine-addicts, I was an emotional wreck. Luckily the Joker calmed me down and reminded me that everything was going to work out because the universe wanted me to go to the show... so I just had chill out and to wait a few minutes longer than everyone else. It was well worth the wait. By the way, thanks to everyone who sent out positive thoughts when I needed it the most. Who needs a Valium or chill pill to calm you down when you have your friends putting out good vibes?
Phish took the stage and a feeding frenzy ensued with the crowd's infectious energy feeding the band. AC/DC Bag had the entire crowd screaming, "Let's get this show on the road!"
My girlfriend and I got schwasted earlier in the day and wandered around SF MoMA checking out art. I should've known the boys were going to bust out the Moma Dance fog-funk early in the set.
The third song was Possum, which clocked in as the longest song of the first set (and the only tune to pass the 10-minute mark). The intro included Wilson-esque teases from Trey. By that point, the floor was slippery from spilled beer and sweat, which made things interesting while trying to dance. If the floor wasn't so packed, I would've wiped out three or four times. Instead, I just kept bouncing off whoever was next to me and vice versa.
Corinna was the only lull in the first set. It's got more playtime than usual in Leg 1. I forgot who make the snide remark on Twitter last month, but they said there were more versions of Corinna in Leg 1 than YEMs. Sometimes I prefer it when YEM only gets played once or twice a tour. Makes us truly appreciate it.
Corinna's mellowness perfectly set up for a funkified-dance party with Sand. That's a unique song that evolves differently in the first set compared to those second set renditions. Historically speaking, second set Sands are thunderous jamming vehicles, like the running of the bulls, but the first setters are usually tighter and compact. This SF Sand jam was anchored by Page, who milked his clav with bursts of flowery jazzy notes. Instead of those heavy-funk riffs, Page played spacious Thelonius Monk inspired notes... but using his clav instead of his grand piano. I dubbed Page's flow... "Monk Funk." Eventually, Trey took over and unleashed a flurry of superfluous notes as the Sand jam reached a crescendo.
Earlier in the day, I had read a story in Relix about "Nancy", the freaky guy from Goddard College who penned the lyrics to I Didn't Know and Halley's Comet back in the early 1980s. Phish paid homage to Nancy with an uppity Halley's Comet. The tune barely clocked in at 6 minutes. Yes, once the jam got cooking, Trey pulled the chord and that was it. The best ingredient of Halley's lights included those comet tails chasing each other on CK5's screens.
By the time Gordo belted out the beginning to Funky Bitch, he was full-throttle en fuego. Gordo must have been hanging out with Melky Cabrerra on his day off because he was playing some serious steroid-induced bass. Gordo is on the juice. Just like most PEDs, the Cactus Juice is also banned by Major League Baseball.
The crowd sang along for Sample in a Jar and for the first time, some room opened up around us. I didn't have to throw Charles Oakley-esque elbows to get some dancing space.
Let's not focus on the flubbs in Roses Are Free or the rest of the show for that matter, because as Trey said in Bittersweet Motel... "It's all about energy." That first set was oodles of boundless energy. Everyone fed off each others' vibe, which created a vortex of good vibes. With the exception of a few coked-up hipster chicks in high heels yapping away at 100mph, everyone inside BGCA wanted to be there. Badly.
My Friend My Friend included segments of unadulterated evil jamming much to the delight of our buddy @eviljams. I love the dark, deviant side of Phish. Sure the Dead was all about rainbows, moonbeams, and unicorns... but once in a while, we surrender to the flow and Phish unwillingly drags into a dark alley and beats the living shit out of us.
Slave is my favorite Phish song and I'm glad they don't play it very often (like Possum or DWD) so I really have to hustle on tour to catch a live version. This particular Slave was unique because it popped up in the first set instead of its usual cozy spot late in set two. It totally came out of nowhere. We all expected something searing and rocking to close out the set like Zero or Antelope...but instead we got treated to a silky, smooth Slave. Thank God that DD showed up with my ticket at the last second because not only did I make it into the show... I also got to hear my favorite song. Viola! The crack-flavored cherry on top of the molly sundae.
We were stuck in the back Fishman side for the first set. We took advantage of the floor opening up at setbreak and vastly improved our spot. We migrated to the dead center of the floor. Perfect spot to see everything, especially noticing that Trey had changed shirts at setbreak. Man, I really need to bring an extra shirt to shows. I had sweat through my shirt by the time Possum ended. One of these days I'm going to bring three shirts to a show... the shirt-before-the-shirt for pre-show, my first set shirt, and a second set shirt.
Photo courtesy of @change100
Down With Disease kicked off the second set and the jam took flight around five minutes in, with a little machine gun Trey, before it reached maximum speed around seven minutes in like a truck driving 120mph through the rain and fog. The back end of the jam contained some serious layered groove with Page's clav filling in the empty spaces. Gordo and Fishman were bouncing off each other around the ten-minute mark. The jam receded a bit and things got a little foggy. I guess they couldn't figure out the smoothest transition into a second tune, so the ambient fog jam stalled.
Trey counted off and launched into Birds of a Feather. During Leg 1, Birds (and Twist) became an unexpected jamming vehicle. I still listen to the AC Birds whenever I can. But in this instance, the band seemed reticent to open it up and allow it to develop into a monster jam.
I had mixed emotions about Tweezer. Some of it felt slight off kilter, but when it was on... it was on! My bud Jonas, who is a drummer, watched the webcast in Denver with the Joker and other friends. He had an interesting theory about the SF Tweezer.
"If there's one song I know, it's Tweezer," explained Jonas. "I can tell you in the first minute if the jam if it's going to be good. This one? Trey had no direction. Mike was frustrated and took the lead. Not the best Tweeze jam."
That's the muddy part of the jam that threw me off. Jonas was right... Trey sat back and just played some weird Wilson-like licks before Gordo elbowed him out of the way and took command.
"I had a lot of hope at the beginning," said Jonas. "Trey held back and was patient -- much like 97-99. However, he never took charge and didn't have anything to drive with."
Once Gordo grabbed the jam by the scruff of its neck, it quickly improved and a few minutes later I got totally lost. Those are some of my favorite moments at a Phish show... when I have my eyes closed and I get zapped to another planet (remind me to tell you about the theory the Joker and I have about our pineal gland being our third eye, which is a Stargate to other dimensions)... and then I somehow wake up from a trance and open my eyes to discover that I'm not really dreaming because I'm at a Phish show! Definitely mind-fuck for sure. But luckily I write down setlists because it's a like a map... or a trail of bread crumbs, so I can figure out where the hell I was when I got lost.
With Tweezer served up, we were almost a lock to get a Loving Cup-Tweeprise double encore. Of course, whenever you expect Phish to do something... they don't. More on that later...
The back end of Tweezer featured Trey's ancient video game "pong" note before it melted into a fiery, yet compact Twist. Yep, both Birds (under 6 minutes) and Twist (7+ minutes) were on tight leashes, but on a positive note, those dense and consolidated versions didn't have lots of filler or noodling... just straight up in-your-face jamming.
Maybe the inconsistency of Tweezer made the band gunshy to push Twist to the outer cosmos? I mean, in another time's forgotten space, we could have had a four song second set with 20-minute versions of DWD > Birds > Tweezer > Twist. Had that 80-minute, four-song second set strewn with psychedelia actually happened, I probably would have gotten thrown out of the building and arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior for pleasuring myself to those empirical and exploratory jams.
Anyway... the only time I felt like "McKayla was not impressed" was when the band tried to pull off a Velvet Sea and Joy sandwich with Chalkdust squeezed in the middle. I mean, Velvet Cheese-Joy tag-team in the second set? What the hell? That's like when my girlfriend is on a diet and replaces my crispy (pig) bacon with hippie-veggie turkey bacon.
I love to watch the crowd and during Chalkdust's tension buildup, I noticed that folks in the last row at the top of the venue were dancing their asses off and getting down! That was a far contrast to Velvet-Joy when a portion of the crowd headed to the exit to relieve themselves or get more booze. I took the time to burn one down and yeah, Joy fell into the "Pauly Takes a Piss Song" category.
Oh well. Phish and especially Trey don't give two shits about what we want to hear. They're gonna play what they're gonna play. But it's almost like an ultimate fuck you when they say... "This is your song too."
If Joy were really my song would have more funk and less wrist-cutting melodies.
My girlfriend said it best, "At least they got those songs out of the way."
The second set had so much potential but all of the air and infectious energy escaped the building by the time Joy ended. I understand they have to let Fishman catch his breath with a slow tune... but why two ballads in that short space? As a result, the fire was extinguished and the band had to restart the fire. Enter the Antelope.
High-octane Antelope as per usual. Nothing too fancy. Just straight-forward heat. I felt bad for my girlfriend... during Antelope, she got stuck behind a tall wook, who was dancing around like he had fireants in his patchy pants. He was channeling an antelope on a freshly-cooked batch of crack and took up like three dance spaces. My girl caught a natty dread to her face a couple of times so I spun her around and swapped spaces. I saved her from being whipped to death by dreadlocks.
When Trey sang the opening lines to Shine A Light, I realized that he essentially cock-blocked Page and a potential Loving Cup encore. Would the band play two Exile on Main Street covers in such close proximity? Then again, they tried to sneak a Velvet Cheese and Joy double dip by us. Alas, why couldn't they do a pair of Exile tunes?
Anyway... Shine A Light put me in a happier place and I quickly forgot about the lame Velveeta-Joy sandwich they tried to ram down our throats. CK5 cranked up the house lights for Shine A Light, which gave me another chance to do some people watching. I get high by watching other people have fun. Happiness is infectious. Phish has an uncanny ability to make people happy... and the best thing we can do, is to take those contagious vibes and pass it on to as many people as we can.
When the band exited the stage, I wondered about potential encore songs. I figured a double tune was coming with Tweeprise... but what would it be? I begged for anything except Sleeping Monkey. There's a time and place for Monkey but that wasn't it.
Trey and Gordo had a minor discussion before Trey launched into First Tube. It would have been weird to catch a First Tube-Tweeprise encore... mainly because it's just overkill. Yes, we got a single encore... a smoking First Tube and unfortunately I caught a few lashings of dreads in the face from the wook in front of us. That was it. Trey pulled off a Jedi mind trick. Show over. House lights went up and mostly everyone was wondering, "What the fuck happened to Tweezer Reprise?"
We floated out of the venue debating when Tweeprise was going to appear next... Saturday night opener? Sunday night encore? Will they abandon it altogether?
It was so friggin' hot inside that we welcomed the crisp night air of San Francisco. Perfect way too cool down after a smoking evening. The nitrous mafia were posted up at different spots in the alleyways surrounding the venue. The balloon mongers even spilled onto Market Street, which at the Midnight hour, attracted an eclectic scene of runaways, junkies, and other miscreants.
We bypassed the plight and kept walking down Market Street back to our hotel near Union Square. I looked up and saw a strip club/porn theatre with a gigantic, bright marquee surrounded by sultry pink lights.
Three words stood out: TOUCH THE MAGIC.
I wrote a book about strippers so I can attest to this sheer fact... no matter how much you spend, you can never touch the magic. However, on those special nights you get to attend a Phish show and soak up every note of music, you certainly get to feel the magic vibrating through your entire body.
One down in San Francisco. Two more to go.