That’s not fog rolling through the San Francisco Bay, casual observer, that’s the aftermath of the inferno that swept through Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Tuesday night. An easy mistake to make, as, perhaps, only 8,000 of us or so can tell the difference, for those of us in attendance last night might still be considered fire hazards, especially those four onstage. Don’t let the fire marshal get you.
Phish walks on stage, Trey, particularly, is all smiles. For those of us that have been around live Phish for a minute or two, Trey wears his emotions proudly and with intent when he takes the stage. His ear-to-ear smile is indicative of the set to follow, and he wastes, literally, no time as he picks up his guitar and starts riffing “46 Days” before his three bandmates settle into their battle stations. Bombs Away Trey! Fiery guitar outbursts of the Round Room tinderbox quickly relent into warped murk. Heavy, thick guitar tones slush through the jam and until the guitarist resets his tones into a final "46 Days" proper explosion. The song ends and Trey and Fish exchange laughs and smiles during a brief respite before “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters.” Something must have clicked right there, as before “McGrupp” starts, Fish exclaims through his microphone, “Can we play that one again?!” Well, why not three times? I’ll try anything twice, especially that opener. Math was never my strong suit.
A jazzy “McGrupp” hits all the right notes and leads into Page nailing his solo, much to the ferocious appreciation of the crowd, whose “Hotness Level” is quickly rising from 2: Wrong Shower Nozzle to 4: Sexy Lava. “Pigtail” skips into the three slot and provides a fun bit of pop-y, happy vibes. After a brief conversation, Trey lurches into “Cities” and the BGCA crowd unleashes their first volley of highly controversial dance moves. As Trey guides his band into some swampy, underwater funk, the crowd responds in kind with variations of the famous dance suite Naughty Shower Lufa and also, purportedly, the lesser known Drop the Soap. Perhaps, the dance suites are too controversial as seen from stage, as Trey quickly reels in the funk after Mike, it seems, was ready to scrub a little harder. Don’t fret, loyal reader, as we revisit this theme later in the show. “Nellie Kane” gives a 2-minute hoedown, acting more as bridge than between two swampfunk classics: the aforementioned "Cities" and the forthcoming “Gumbo.”
"Gumbo" turns the “Hotness Level” up to 5: Lacey Curtain Surprise. No jam tacked onto this one, but Page’s super squishy (not to be confused with the Kwik-E-Mart’s Super Squishee) clavinet solo adds some extra Cajun flair to the dance party classic. A well-orchestrated “Guyute” races next into the set and it appears Trey has regained his chops that some fans were sure he had thrown into the Columbia River Gorge in a fit of obstinacy. Luckily, Trey still seems to know how to play a guitar, and tap into long-term memory (must be that cold green tea), as this version was as tight as you’ll get for “modern era” versions. The psychedelic, jagged ending of “Guyute” sets the fuse for a 1-2 combo that continues a surge of power chording and high-intensity playing. “Axilla” rocks the arena and “The Dogs’” placement and play is essentially an extension of "Axilla" ("Axilla Part 3"…? Like I said, math was never my strong suit). This power combo torches the arena and clothing is being removed faster than Superman on laundry day. “Dirt” nestles perfectly into the end frame of the set and gives us some quiet, contemplative playing, despite a few minor misses from Trey early on. Nonetheless, a tranquil solo eases mind and body (wait, where are my pants?) before Trey whispers sweet nothings to Fish to tell him to start “David Bowie.” A well-executed composed section, for the most part, grudges its way into a jam filled with musical tug-of-war. I use that term with endearment, as sonic dissonance is what "Bowie" should be. This one, had that… kind of. Page pulls with his Grand Piano. Fish pushes with his drums. Mike surges with his bass and Trey winds up with his guitar ready to deliver strikes 1, 2, and 3. Just when it seems the frenzy is going to explode, Trey streaks out in front with a full complement of bandmates at his back. Energy is swelling! But, ah! Doh! All too soon Trey starts the apex trilling and jumps into the peak of the jam. This felt forced and unnatural, given the direction and frenzy the jam had started to create, but alas, our fearless bandleader relented into one (yeah, one) peak and closed out the set with a lower case exclamation point, if that is a thing. No matter, as the building was already ablaze, and, per Newtonian physics, you can’t backtrack on Hotness Levels.
It was rumored that before the second set, the event staff was handing out Buy 1 Get 1 Free coupons to the local pants store. It was confirmed that 98% of these coupons ended in the trash. The other 2% were hoarded by Mike. This is relevant because pants have no place in the second set. Not any one, and especially not this one. The local nudist colony is taking furious notes. “Moma Dance” sashays into the set 2 opener spot and delivers a quick hit of elevated, electrified funk. At this point, your author had exactly two thoughts: 1) They’re going to use this as a primer for a huge follow up, or 2) This is going deep. Having properly hedged my bets and ensured a correct prognostication, I feel confident in the direction the band can take and puff my chest out as “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” rumbles next. The band surges like a breaking wave out of the song proper! An understated solo from Trey leads to a soaring, misty jam, where Page and Fish parallel each other, pushing the pace back and forth. The jam is really rumbling now, like the ocean against a cliffside, again and again Phish crashes and churns, unrelenting. A “Manteca”-esque jam swirls out of the tumult as Mike takes over into a breezy, calypso escapade. All sorts of ideas are being exchanged and new Mai Tai recipes are being invented on the spot. A jam so cool that ice starts to sweat. A jam so hip that it takes two belts to hold it up… not that I have two belts, as my pants are long gone at this point, but that’s not exactly news, is it, avid reader? Notes scatter like a Jackson Pollack painting before “Mercury” comes into orbit.
Well-played and tightly performed, "Mercury" takes no time to strut into a shuffling, off-beat jam and quickly returns to the underwater robo-funk that "Cities" had teased earlier. Submersed melodies and double-wide bubbles float suspended in the thick, dark, funk. Rough seas ahead. The sun submits and tells this moon, “Your problem now.” Darkness sets in… but what’s this? Peaceful hues start to radiate on the musical horizon. Placcid. Soothing. Is this a dreamscape or a nightmare? I wonder if my pillow knows the answer to that. "Mercury" completes its hellish and heavenly orbit, showing a great dichotomy of jamming styles and technique. As it disappears back into space, “Carini” explodes out of the darkness. The few remaining clothed people stood no chance against this jam. Rightfully so. Phish immediately strolls into some "Moma Dance" funk, complete with Mike toying around with its signature bassline and providing sonic bombardment that rattled ribcages and realigned retinas. Mike leads a jam dirtier than a cowboy’s underpants. A jam so dirty that my left shoe looked up at me and said, “You should probably step into whatever that stuff is over there.” Wait, what? Was it referring to the puddle of notes Mike was dripping or the puddle of liquid from an unidentifiable source? And why I am having a conversation with my shoe? Ah, the realities of a Phish show. The jam slows down into an opaque haze before Trey swiftly takes over and climbs the scales in a delightful, soaring riff. Exploding with sunflowers and rainbows and the look your dog gives you when you get home from work, the "Carini" jam is overflowing with happiness and joy. The crowd elevates to Hotness Level 8: Medium Brown and was awash in a sea of smiles and hugs. This is what Phish is all about. Without a moment to reflect on the accomplishment of which we were just a part, “Maze” swirls into the set next with a demented and evil tone. Ferocious, furious organ work from Page strikes like lightning through the arena. Hair stands at attention and goosebumps call in reserves as Trey takes over and charges ahead, guitar first, into the raging solo. Volcanoes look on in awe, some even flat out go dormant, as Phish erupts into the peak knowing they just… they just can’t compete with what’s happening in the set so far.
Good thing we’re naked, because “Boogie On Reggae Woman” shimmies its way late into set 2. A standard-great version, with Mike again, unsurprisingly, exuding sex appeal in this short, bubbly classic. Before the blush could exit my cheeks (winks at Mike) Fish starts “Harry Hood” and Phish follows. A calming, peaceful buildup is an exercise in meditation and patience. No one is hurrying, we can dance all night. Tempo changes with telepathic execution built in intensity and beauty. Like a sunrise, more and more color reveals itself as the jam evolves. Brilliant daylight starts to streak out of Trey’s guitar and rays of sunshine radiate from Page’s piano. Fish anchors bright, splashy cymbal work tethered to a firm, authoritative bassline. In lockstep, the band teases around the peak – a false summit! Just as you thought Hood’s *ultimate thing* was about to happen, just when we were about to feel good, Trey downshifts and soothes out the chaos. Recoiling now, there is time for one last charge. One more surge. One more collective explosion of bliss as the band returns to let us know, in pure celebration, that we can feel good about "Hood." Dehydration be damned, there is still some more Phish left. Phish, respectfully, must have sensed this sentiment, as they encored with a heart-achingly pretty version of “Squirming Coil.”
Tonight, just about every song was amplified by its predecessor and successor. The energy grew and surged and permeated every inch of every body in attendance, band and fan alike. Tonight was one of those shows that you high-five your friends, hug your besties, and regale with strangers on just how lucky we are. Tonight was a night where if Phish are horses, the show is a stampede.
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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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