Saturday, August 10, 2013

Phish San Francisco Recap: Bill Graham's Fireball

By Pauly

Phish kicked the San Francisco run off with Free, and "free" and "freedom" became instant themes for the three-show run at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The concept of freedom stuck with me during my own mind-altering journey on the first night. Phish tour is one of the last true free bastions of freedom in America. The entire Phish scene is a free-for-all with an anything goes anarchist vibe that runs parallel with a specific spiritual quest of enlightenment. Add a hearty mix of neo-punk "fuck-the-man!" angst amidst a backdrop of the entrepreneurial wild wild west, and you have a glimpse of what the founding fathers had hoped we'd accomplish two and a half centuries after the birth of our glorious nation. But aside from Phish tour, there's very few pockets of personal expression and freedom left in America. The freedom window is closing. The band is not getting any younger and it's a matter of time before the federales completely shut down all this Phishy fun and freedom. Freedom to have fun. Soak up every second because it can be gone in a flash.



Friday 8/2/13

So much for a mellow Thursday night. We closed down two bars in Russian Hill. My friend Big Dog owned one and I knew the bartender, Dirty Liz, at the other bar. Whatever you do, don't play dice with her. She got the Joker snookered on kick-ass Margaritas, which is a rarity (I've know the Joker sometime now and he's become a supreme drinker living in Colorado and I've only seem him super drunk a couple of times at sea level). We thought we were easing into the three-night run at Bill Graham with a chillax Thursday night after a crazy Phish twofer in Tahoe. We were still reeling from the 36-minute face meting Tweezer and had no plans to downshift a gear or two.

I woke up on Friday mildly hungover and still recovering from the Gorge/Tahoe shows. But no time to feel sorry for myself with three shows on deck. My girlfriend and I grabbed brunch at one of our favorite joints in Nob Hill. I spent the afternoon running around the Tenderloin, picking up tickets for a friend, and meeting up with schwilly friends, which is like trying to hit a moving target of tripping cats. My friend Lara lived near a whiskey bar, which ended up the main focal point of the pre-party. In front of BGCA, tickets were going for well over $100. Hundreds of fingers in the air, but virtually no extras floating around. We picked a spot on the floor Gordo side in front of the soundboard. I scored some liquid from a friend in Tahoe. He told me it was super mellow, but we have different definitions of what exactly is mellow. He had been doing it all summer, so my first dose was going to hit a little harder, which was perfect. The entire first night in San Francisco had that underwater vibe that sometimes accompanies liquid sunshine. Plus I was sweating more so than usually so it really felt like I was swimming around underneath the sea. It didn't help my mindset that some dude showed up in a scuba suit (although Leslie said it was a speed skating outfit) and was dancing nearby. I forgot about how the space right above the band and right below CK5's light rig is where the "other stuff" goes down. That's the DMZ for the netherworld. If you believe in ghosts and/or aliens, then that's where the spirits and ETs congregate -- at the crossroads of harmonic convergences above the band where the music, lights, and cosmic vibrations collide. I've tried (and failed too many times to count) to write about that specific space, but its really difficult to describe unless you've gone through the rabbit hole and shot out the other side of the vortex. The only way I can explain the "others" is that if you don't actually see something, yet you know someone or something is watching (whether its actual inter-dimensional beings or pockets of energy released by the universe).

The "Others" hover in space above the band
The crowd was jacked up and giddy. Reminded me of how anxious and excited the crowd were during 2009. I also forgot how loud it was at an indoor show. Free opener. Maybe the band finally turned a corner in Tahoe? Are they admitting that they feel free again? Regardless of the subtext, Free was not a throwaway opener.It fit the theme of the run and the entire summer. We're free to do what we want, but can we still have fun? Fuck yeah.

That juicy shredded Meat was super tasty. "They're playing Meat, because we're staying in the Tenderloin," joked the Joker. The first set heat picked up where the band left off in Tahoe. The Latin rumpus in Sand had the vibe of a second set dance party (check out Joker's Sand vine). Doctor Scotch referred to Phish as a gentile giant during Roggae's tender moments. That sentiment repeated itself many times throughout the evening. I strongly felt that Vultures, Roggae, and Circus Comes to Town were a part of Phish's social commentary about us voracious Phisheads. They're the light and we're the darkness when we become an overindulgent, strung-out, ungrateful beast that destroys everything in its path. The circus began in Maine and finally touched down in San Francisco, the freak capital of spaceship Earth and one of the few places left on the planet when Phishkids can blend into the fray and become... invisible. The woos had jumped the shark during Reba when I felt the rowdy crowd really forced it onto the band. Trey embraced it and pandered to the pro-woo audience, but that was the moment when it really sort of disrupted the flow of the music. Reba is when everything I was on had kicked in several notches and Halfway to the Moon is when I got ambushed and dragged down the rabbit hole. If you're on the fence with Moon, then not to fear because it's getting better every time they play it. That's the most important thing with newer material... does the new song improve (gets tighter, or looser) with each version? During Golgi I noticed the trio of girls from the Marina (Change100 nicknamed those types the "brown boot mafia") who were totally bored and not having fun and not afraid to let everyone around them know about how they disapproved of the music and the scene. One of them had their back to the stage and the Joker tried to chat them up at setbreak. Check out the Wook Patrol podcast about the incident: Why Snooty Hipster SF Girls Hate Phish?

7,000 barefoot kids packed inside Bill Graham
I hate to judge an entire run on the opening set, but it's extremely promising when they kick off a 6-set run with a scorcher entwined with a hearty reminder from the band to have fun but don't get too far gone. I can understand why some friends were a little let down with the song choice in Friday's second set, but considering my frame of mind, the boys were playing to my buzz. I welcomed the slower songs (even Caspian, which usually bores me) and constantly changing and shifting in dynamics. Really got the sense that they were purposely trying to see how quiet they could get and then quickly crank up the heat. That's a confident band feeling out the space of the room and seeing how far they could alter the mood of the collective audience. I had put out the Axilla vibes, but were pumped that set two kicked off with PYITE instead of a generic DWD opener. During DWD I had a thought, "Is Phish playing for us, or are we playing for Phish?" Yeah, I had one of those "the zoo is really reverse and the animals gawking at us gawking at them" moments. That was definitely the acid talking. I was one of those greedy heads that wanted 20+ minute DWD jam, but Trey pulled out for a mellow one-two punch with Prince Caspian and Farmhouse. Javier wandered over during Caspian to remind me his big bro Senor loved hearing it. Senor wasn't at these shows, but he's always there in spirit during moments like that. Seven Below was slop city at the start, but it was mere foreplay before we got down and dirty with the Seven jam. One of my favorite moments of the night and of the entire run. Everything was super intense (internally) for me at that juncture, so Theme was a welcomed reprieve before Hood. I was convinced that I should keep my eyes closed during Faulty Plan because CK5 worked for the CIA and he was brainwashing us with specific light patterns. Loved the delicious Leo solo on Coil. He got as raucous of an ovation as I've heard since the first tour back in 2009. Walls of the Cave is better as a non-encore song (because it won't disappoint a lot of people that hate it, or not as familiar with the diverse segments), but I dig it nonetheless. When I caught Walls at the Gorge, I figured that was it for the summer.

****
Saturday 8/3/13

We spent most of the night in Wildo's balla suite for the after-party (we even heard a shooting at a douchey nightclub around the corner). I was pulsating way into the next morning. I crashed hard around 7am and finally got rest thanks to Mr. Xanax's landing gear. I woke up mid-afternoon 100% refreshed and knew I could stay up the rest of the time in San Francisco (if necessary). We were short on time, so not much of a pre-party. Instead, we hung out in front of City Hall for some people watching (the local homeless population mingling with tour wooks could be its own nature show) and then went inside a little earlier. We posted up roughly the same spot in front of the soundboard (Gordo Side, Roid Side). Fink's crew was visible in the first row of the balcony pretty much right above us. Leslie Fireball truly lived up to her moniker when she smuggled in a couple of bottles of Fireball (she explained her secret in a Wook Patrol podcast "Sneaking in Fireball").

via @change100
First set featured a diverse song selection including stuff I had yet to hear that tour (like Weigh, Lengthwise, Axilla, Alumni Blues and Jesus Left Chicago). Someone behind us had requested Driver because of a dear friend who passed away. Way cool when the band honors requests blindly without really knowing how meaningful the gesture truly was. Most of our crew got the top two or three songs they were chasing this run. Nothing makes me happier than seeing friends get that special tune that makes them jump up and down. I'm spoiled and get to see more shows than I deserve, which is why I get off seeing how happy they get (or watching total strangers go apeshit when Phish plays their favorite song). Those moments extraordinary happened so many times on Saturday night, which made the evening a little extra special. Oh, and someone dropping a half a bag of molly into the Fireball helped too. I thought we'd get Jesus Left Chicago in Chicago, or the Cannucks in Toronto would get the ZZ Top cover. They saved it for San Francisco. Too bad half of it was ruined by drunk talkers and a group of 50-something year old schwilly fucktards that the Joker walked over to and said, "Can you please shut the fuck up?" I love his directness and he said please. I usually just flash a NYC stink eye. One of the soused shitstains tried to give me lip when I shushed him, but Wildo snarled. Wildo is the size of a linebacker and he was rocking the "cop mustache" all tour, which was an intimidating presence (seriously, Wildo freaked out multiple members of the nitrous mafia at Tahoe because they were convinced he was an undercover cop busting them... which is how we got free tanks all weekend). Short-ass Timber Ho! They can't go too deep down the rabbit hole if they don't give it time to drag us down deep into middle Earth. Doctor Scotch and I had put out the vibe for Axilla on Friday night... and it only took 24 hours or so before the boys picked it up. The artist in me gets giddy with CK5's Rothko lights against the blank backdrop, especially delicious during Axilla. Thunderous reaction to opening notes of First Tube. Reminded of how much the venue traps the sound. Leslie passed around the Fireball and screamed "Fire in the hole!" before we each did a shit. Fink even snapped a pic of the Joker swigging a fifth. I'm glad my girlfriend got First Tube, it was one of the songs she was dying to hear.

During setbreak, the Joker handed out fortune cookies with Phish lyrics. He also witnesses a hipster dude fail to pick up a Suicide Girl (The Joker expands on the story in a Wook Patrol podcast - How Not to Pick Up Hipster Chicks at Phish).
 
The second set was anchored by another monstrous Rock and Roll. Even if you hate the Velvet Underground, you know the first four minutes is just foreplay before the orgy begins. Loved seeing Fink go nuts and jumping up and down in the balcony. Page/Gordo tag-teamed the jam with Leo milking the clav and Gordo juicing big time with some insane "knock the snot bubbles outta ya" heavy thumping. Steam gets better and better. CK5's ribbed lights were super-trippy (considering I wasn't on psychedelics). My only gripe was that Steam jam got ripcorded for a cheese-fried Backwards, which I discovered is a "Joker buys a beer song." Mike's Groove packed a much more prominent wallop than the abbreviated, rushed one in Tahoe (the boys shot their load during Tweezer, which is why 7/31/13 Mike's Groove came up short of the mark). This scintillating version included the classic Hydrogen, which was vastly different considering all summer long they inserted other forms of lunchmeat into the Mike's Groove submarine. I really dug the second set... minus the Joy buzzkill. I can think of 10 or songs that would fulfill the same function (give Fish a breather) without losing the audience's attention. Fluffhead got the crowd right back into the saddle. 2001 dance party (see Joker's 2001 vine) was short and sweet. Last year, my girlfriend missed 2001 because she had to work and skipped the Sunday show when they played it. Glad she got another one on her wish list. Slave? It's always a good night when they play my favorite song. I was so damn lucky to hear it in Chicago and Tahoe, but I felt those were both harried versions and didn't have the same gradual and smooth emotional resonance as Saturday's version. I recharge my soul during Slave. Doctor Scotch described Waste as the "wedding song," which made me chuckle because he was so right yet I had never heard anyone say it before. The Waste encore preceded Suzy master-funk-blaster that included the loudest stop-start woos of the night.

Leslie hearts Phish (during Waste)
I spent most of Saturday night hanging out in the Tenderloin with local (non-Phish) friends (I had not seen them since I moved out of San Francisco last year). We stayed up late into the night catching up and reliving old times. Phish tour is not just about Phisheads, because traveling to different cities allows me the opportunity to spend time with different sets of non-Phishy friends. Best of both worlds.

****

Sunday 8/4/13

Another night on tour up until dawn. My favorite Sunday morning activity (when I lived in San Francisco) is getting fresh donuts and walking through the Tenderloin. Did it again while everyone slept off their wild Saturday night. We had a much mellower Sunday afternoon. We hit up a dispensary, re-stocked bud supplies (Purple Diesel) and pre-packed for our early morning departure to Los Angeles. Sunday was the last show for the Denver crew and many of us were super rundown by that point of tour. We made a wise decision to get in line early and snag a row somewhere up in the balcony on Page side for our entire crew, plus a few Colorado freaks, along with Carrie's friends from Tahoe. Clutch move. I prefer the floor, but there's no bad spot up in the balcony. Leslie Fireball snuck in three bottles and we were locked and loaded.

Fireball.... the official elixir of summer tour
Indoor versions of Divided Sky always sound spiritually phenomenal for some reason. Bong-rattling Wilson. My ears almost bled. I always think about biker rails of cocaine during Foam. This one peppered with speedy Latin grooves. During Halley's Comet, Leslie made us all do shots and screamed "Fire in the hole!" Another ripcord Halley's in favor of My Soul. Too bad it was not in the same vein as the bluesy My Soul jam they boys unleashed at Tahoe soundcheck. Interesting song choices for the second half of the first set. Clearly they were songs the band wanted to play instead of digging into their bag of repeats. One of the ushers was dancing hard during Ya Mar. I dug the rare Train Song. Leo might have been stealing Gordo's roids? Leo kicked ass on Taste and Gumbo, especially Gumbo. Only complaint? Too short. More thick juicy Gumbo, please! Pebbles ended the set a nifty high point, but the first frame went super quick in real time.

Happy that friends got to hear their first Energy. The second set was anchored by a Runaway Jim that blew me away. I live for those moments that blindside me like that Jim. I know Phish has their shit together when they win me over with a song I was bummed to initially hear. I had a tumultuous love-hate relationship with Jim. It was a top 5 song for me during 1.0, but I felt as though that was one of the few songs that they failed to restore during the current era. I had lost faith in the 3.0 Jims the last few years. But holy shit, they absolutely converted me with the Bill Graham version. I know it's a fantastic jam when I forget what song is playing. [Side tangent... that Jim reconstruction reminded me of what happened to Limb by Limb in Japan 2000 and the Roggae conversion event at the Gorge 2011 when something clicked and every version since then has been superior to those that came before it (although they have yet to match the Gorge's enthusiasm). I'm hoping something magical like that happens with Jim... and something clicks inside the band and they absolutely tear Jim up instead of it being a throwaway opener or #2 song.] Carini was a dark and dirty little whore, just like I like it. After the MSG Carini fuck fest, I can't ever expect to see once with the same vigor and the Sunday version never really had time to morph into its own beast. The Gorge's Light was on a short leash, so I was excited to see it stretched out again. Not quite the same earth shattering version last summer, but it's really hard to top that. Thought Light jam was heading into No Quarter territory, but Fish cockblocked Page's Zepplin tendrils. Fish took over with intro to Bowie. All smoke. We got another solo Silent in the Morning. Yeah, the Horse has been put down and is now dog food for Runaway Jim. For the last year or so, I feel that Meatstick is overplayed. It's good schtick once a tour because then it really means something and everyone goes berserk. Crowd was jacked during Mighty Quinn. Who knew Bob Dylan covers were like a bump of cocaine? Thought it was too early to end the set, which is why they saved the best for last brought out a heavy hitter and YEM (check out YEM tramps vine). Double dip encore with throwback to Sanity (I lost my mind a couple of times this tour) and a Jimi Hendrix cover. Glad those folks with the Axis: Bold As Love sign got their song. Leo always shreds those 60s-70s covers. Javier put it best, "Axis was an appropriate way to end the San Francisco run."

****

via The Joker
Epilogue

Nothing is better than seeing your favorite band, in your favorite city, with some of your best friends. I'm damn lucky to see any Phish, let alone a three-night rager in San Francisco. I was thrilled to get weird and wacky again with the Joker. It was only five shows, but these were among the most memorable that we've ever seen (and we've been touring Phish and festivals together since 2004). Also special to spend the West Coast run with my girlfriend, who shouldered the burden of driving the entire trip. The TV show she works ended production just in time for the West Coast swing and she was ready for a much-deserved vacation.

The first night was Phish playing to my buzz and taking me along on psychedelic journey with the "others." San Francisco was the perfect location for this cosmic adventure because its considered solemn ground to the guardians and former warriors of psychedelia's past. The second night was a Saturday night fireball dance party and my friends got to hear many of their favorite songs. The last night was all gravy. It's never easy to quantify "fun", but whenever I hear the name Bill Graham, I no longer get the instant recall of the promoter or the Grateful Dead. These days, it's hard not to smile whenever someone says "Bill Graham" because I now get instant flashbacks of Phish's six shows (from the last two summers) at the Civic Auditorium.

****

You can watch all three (complete) shows here.

Check out other recaps from the time I jumped on tour:
Chicago Night 1: Phishnado Cancels Set 2
Chicago Night 2: Three Set Saturday
Chicago Night 3: Chicago Monsoon
The Gorge: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Lake Tahoe: The Joker Returns
San Francisco: Bill Graham's Fireball
Los Angeles: The Hollywook Bowl
If you enjoyed these recaps, I encourage you to buy one of my books. Help support tour and buy a book, or download one of them to Kindle.

4 comments:

the joker said...

thanks for taking the time to write a heartfelt recap! love you, pauly!

Zachary Adam Cohen said...

ur the man pauly, happy we got to meet at Tahoe. was a joy knowing you were on tour as we were.

Z

Dr. Scotch said...

Great recap buddy! Just got a few goosebumpers reliving that dream that was my favorite band in San Fran. The Sanity (or our lack thereof) was so fkg perfect...

Chris said...

Thanks for the recap. Smuggling liquor in to shows is absolutely the way to go. Our method of choice is: http://youtu.be/FmY5uN18SaU Never had a problem with it. But, only works on clear liquor. Helpful tip.