The seventh show of this tour marked Phish’s seventh trip to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Though BGCA may not yet reside in the highest echelon of Phish lore, it has been home to both unbelievable displays of improvisation and some of the most touching band-fan interaction in the band’s history. Seeing one's favorite band play in one's hometown is a real treat, and this year had no shortage of personal touch for this recapitulator. There was a palpable excitement (and scores of extra tickets) in the air outside the venue while city employees worked to set up the viewing area for Game 6 of the World Series outside City Hall and the Civic Auditorium – that’s right, thousands of Giants fans will descend on “Shakedown” tonight (first pitch at 5:07 PM PDT).
The show marked one of my best friends’ 100th show, and .net All Star @Phlorian’s highly-anticipated first show. I was lucky (and early) enough to see both DB and Florian on the floor before the show began, and ended up spending the whole show with Florian. Also in attendance was .net’s other favorite German, Martin, who like Florian had flown across the globe for this tour. What would Florian’s first song be twenty years after first hearing the song “Rift” in 1994? Little did we know we were mere moments away from a touching homage to another fan...
Much like the “Driver” campaign last year, at the start of last night’s show, I was completely unaware we had lost another beloved fan. On April Fools’ Day this year, Adam Berger, long time Phish fan, San Francisco resident, and webmaster of fan site walfredo.com died at the young age of 44. His friends had spread the word asking the band to honor our fallen brother – an orange and black “Walfredo” (Adam’s nickname) sign hung from the balcony. As the lights went down in the city and in the venue, the band took the stage and caused a mighty stir. Page made a beeline for Fish’s kit, Trey walked right past his Languedoc and acted as interim Chairman, Mike opted for an extra string, and Fishman cozied up behind the bass.
And with that, the crowd was treated to the first “Walfredo” in 186 shows, and first since June 26th, 2010 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Not only is MPP mentioned in “Walfredo,” but the word on the street is that Adam was in attendance for the only other rendition in the last 14 years. Like "Roggae," "Carini," and several others, “Walfredo” is one of few songs in the band’s vast catalog that references members of the band. No one knew at the time, but when Trey sang the line “the snow fell in Vail, Colorado // when Fish played the vacuum and ruined your set,” it foreshadowed what was to come. Mike played some tasty licks on Trey’s guitar, and during the final refrain, Trey prompted the crowd: “You guys wanna sing one for Adam here?” We did. Though no one predicted it, it was oddly fitting that @Phlorian’s first song was one that debuted in Europe in 1997 – in fact, he wore his European ’97 tour shirt last night.
The band members switched back to their instruments of choice, and continued the first set with a well-placed but standard “Ocelot.” They kept the animal theme rolling with a mini-bustout (27 shows) with the first “Camel Walk” since the first night at the Mann in Philly earlier this summer. “Camel Walk” was typically funky, and a real treat – especially when Trey seamlessly worked in a “Simple” tease. The “Axilla” that followed (also last seen at the first Mann show this summer) sent shockwaves through the crowd. In contrast to some of the weaker “first quarters” the first half of this tour, the band, particularly Trey, was completely focused and had completely captivated the crowd. Not to be denied, Florian got his wish with the “Rift” that followed. Though it sounded pretty much like every other “Rift,” it was an apt choice to maintain the high energy of the set, and Trey absolutely nailed his trills in this rendition. Perhaps with Halloween on his mind, Trey teased “Theme from The Munsters” before jumping into the Cactus-penned “555.” While not a noteworthy version by any stretch, it was much more appropriately-placed than the second-set opening rendition from The Forum last week. It served as a short breather before a rip-roaring “Maze” provided the first bit of space to improvise. Though “Maze” stayed largely in the box, it was nice to see Trey hop in the backseat and let Page drive. CK5 swirled the spotlights around the stage, and Page brought the heat as he so often does in “Maze” in 3.0. Perhaps as a shout-out to San Francisco being known as one of the most tolerant cities in the world, “Brian and Robert” served as the breather after Maze. Trey worked past a few missteps and soloed melodically between verses.
While the first set to that point had been well-constructed with rarities, high energy rockers, and some timely breathers, the first real improvisation didn’t come until the last triplet of the set. The band nailed the composed section of “Stash,” with Trey flicking through some of the riffs in a slightly muted staccato fashion. Despite how the most jaded of vets may feel about the crowd clapping in “Stash,” it was actually necessary last night as Fish no longer has his woodblocks in his drum kit. “Stash” never quite went Type II, but the band flirted with it, alternating atonal and dissonant phrases with in-key minor mode “Stash” jamming. It wasn’t the highlight of the night by any stretch, but it did give us hope for some deeper jamming in the second set. In the wake of “Stash,” Fishman kicked off another rarity, “Party Time” (33 shows), which nicely contrasted the darkness of “Stash.” After some more Type I rocking, they ended the set with a concise but powerful “46 Days” -- Trey worked through a few more flubs before righting the ship and leading an orgasmic peak. In the end, the first set of the 7th show of Fall Tour at the 7th BGCA show provided 77 minutes of high octane rocking – to these ears, it was one of the strongest first sets of this tour.
With high hopes for a huge second-set opener (would we get another big "CDT"? A fiery "PYITE"?), “Sand” was a pleasant surprise. The dance party started in earnest when Page immediately hopped onto the clavinet and Trey laid down some nice plinko-style riffs to enrich the groove pulsating from the rhythm section. I had high hopes for something on the level of the Dicks "Sand" from last year, and around the 8 minute mark, the band began to deconstruct the jam, which puddled into that ambient blissful space where jams often go to die, but occasionally veer into uncharted territory. Unfortunately, when Fishman stopped playing, it signaled the end of “Sand.” Trey took the opportunity to count off “Birds of a Feather,” a song that has been largely perfunctory in nature for much of 3.0. This “Birds” was not much different at a shade over 5 minutes long, as Trey caught the rest of the band off guard when he played the closing doublets at a point where many thought the jam could build further. Rather than seeking immediate redemption for the first 15 minutes of the set leaving the crowd wanting more instead of riding the wave of the first set, they played “Waiting All Night.” As I pulled down my phone to jot down some notes and update my setlist, I received a text from a friend that read “Waiting all night... for a big jam.” As a fan base we’ve grown so accustomed to second set openers being the time and place for the jam vehicles to take center stage that it can quickly alter the vibe in the room when things don’t go as we expect. Much like Friday’s show at The Forum, the beginning of the second set last night didn’t live up to expectations. But just when you start expecting things from Phish, they throw you a curveball, and it always seems to work out in the end.
Despite the understandable disappointment from the second and third songs of the set (a la Games 2 and 3 of this World Series), the show (and the World Series) was far from over. Things started off shaky for the Giants in Game 4, and after pulling the starter, they went on to slay the Royals 11-4. Song 4 in the second set last night was eerily similar to Game 4 – for the first 100 seconds of the song, Trey accidentally played Ghost in Bbm instead of in Am(7). Page and Mike tried to get his attention by droning A440 repeatedly before Trey finally realized the mistake and dropped a half step and let out an audible chuckle. It was a harsh first few innings for "Ghost," and Trey’s blunder left the crowd with a hint of unease throughout the rest of the composed section (and yet another botched “drop”). Trey went on to toy with his band mates and the audience by playing a half-step up or down on purpose, as if to tell everyone “I got this.” When the jam began, it almost immediately dissipated into an open space from which they’d build The Jam of the Night – it was the call to the bullpen they needed. Seven minutes in, the music began to build as Fishman played sparsely as Trey and Mike weaved in and out of the melodies they shared with each other, and CK5 followed suit. The spaciness continued and near the 10 minute mark, Fishman began to assert himself more as the rally began. By the 12 minute mark, the flubs were nothing more than a distant memory, and the rout was on! The jam switched to a major mode, Trey played some “Godzilla”-esque riffs, and Fish picked up the beat. The whole band hinted at “Dear Prudence” for a few bars, and Ghost climaxed in a beautiful melodic space that dissolved into “Bug.” Trey was right – it didn’t matter. Phish won and breathed new life into the set. Though one may have hoped for another big jam after “Ghost”, “Bug” really worked here and kept the crowd in a happy place as Trey led the charge into the fourth quarter.
The first “Seven Below” of Fall plastered smiles on everyone’s faces, Phish included. Despite its relative scarcity in the setlist since 2010, we were treated to another great “-7” at BGCA1 for the second year in a row. Trey led the jam with some well-executed rhythmic chording while Page provided some beautiful arpeggiated fills that had a distinct “Tears of a Clown” flavor to them – I’m not sure Page’s playing at 4:36 fully constitutes a tease but it’s damn close. CK5 once again provided the perfect front-drop for the band as we got a taste of the hose. With the groove well-established as the 8 minute mark approached, Trey took the opportunity to push the band onward and upward with some fluid lead work, leading to a near-perfect climax before the patented “-7” riff brought us back to earth. Before we could finish high-fiving, Mike started “I Didn’t Know.” As recalled in the show-opening “Walfredo,” Fish did play the vacuum – but it definitely didn’t ruin the set. Trey introduced Fish as Moses, and we were informed that he had come to part the Red Sea.
When the ensuing “Chalk Dust Torture” started, it wasn’t entirely clear if it would be an extended set-closer or a quick exclamation point on the Ghost > Bug > -7 > IDK section. It turned out to be the latter, and it quickly reached a typically electrifying peak before Fishman started the drum beat for “2001.” It was awesome to hear Florian say “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” as it’s probably the first time someone has pronounced it correctly at a show – I don’t think he thought my “zweitausendeins” joke was as funny as I did. “2001” had a little more mustard on it than other recent renderings, and it had a lot of Echoplex. Though the loops may have gotten away from Trey a bit to raucous effect at times, it was a nice infusion to a song that could use a little kick in the ass as of late. The last loops of “2001” carried over into the start of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” They let it breathe, and despite it clearly being the set closer, the playing was unhurried. Trey and Mike meshed melodies while Page complemented on piano, and Fish joined the party and drove the jam towards a final peak. They didn’t quite stick the landing, but it was an appropriate ending to a wonderfully strange set.
As the band returned for the encore, it seemed that Trey half-jokingly began teasing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (I clued Florian in) before the rest of the band and the crowd joined in to help finish the tune. The other sign hanging from the balcony last night was “Winterqueen,” and the band once again indulged a request with their latest masterful ballad. “The Prince of music on guitar // neglects to play a single bar” got a rise out of the crowd as Trey amusingly missed his chord at that moment. “A Day in the Life” (47 shows) sent us home, and the look on Florian’s face as the show ended with one of his favorite Beatles’ tunes is one I won’t forget for a long time. As Phish reminded us last night, we all have good days and bad days, and life is short. Take care of each other and be sure to enjoy the special days because you never know what will happen down the road. Of my 12,488 days on this earth, I’ve only been so lucky to spend 30 of them at Phish shows, and I’ve only spent two of them watching my team win the World Series. And it’s not every day you make a new friend who flew all the way across the globe to see his favorite band for the first time. So tonight, I’ll spend my 31st day with Phish, and if I’m so lucky, I’ll spend my 3rd day seeing my team win the World Series in the company of friends, new and old. See you tonight!
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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