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Permalink Posted by turtledb on , attached to 2003-02-26
turtledbThis review was originally written shortly after the show. It is lengthy. I tried to capture the angst and excitement one feels when a goal is achieved. Enjoy!

To catch live Phish these days one needs to be both lucky and good. At least, that has become my philosophy; ever since my wife, Karyn and I were shut out of the New Year's festivities at Madison Square Garden and the Hampton, Virginia shows to end the hiatus. At first, like many others, I was bitter about not gaining admittance to the celebration. I felt like the only kid in a kindergarten class who wasn't given an invitation to his best friend's birthday party.
When it comes to scoring tickets, I am not good at surrendering to the flow. I become a madman, possessed by one goal. If that goal is not achieved I refuse to accept defeat. Well, in regard to the "Kotter Tour," defeat was the pill I was forced to swallow. After I finished sulking, I figured that all events in the universe happen for a reason. Even if they are a bit hard comprehend. I had to research this. I was going to do my best to discover the reason; I wanted something tangible that I could rap my brain around.
I quickly took to surfing the internet to read peoples' reactions to both Phish Tickets-by-Mail and Ticketmaster on-sale results. It didn't take me long to learn that my wife and I were not alone. There were thousands of Phish-heads out there who were not granted a golden ticket. Daily, I looked to various websites for answers to where all the tickets had gone. The more I searched, the number of sad stories I read grew. My resolve hardened. I would never pay the outrageous "scalper" agency prices or the auction prices shown on www.ebay.com.
The initial hangover from ingesting that capsule of defeat had worn off. However, I would always remember the bad feelings it brought. In one, late-night, leisurely, internet browsing session my despair was replaced with elation. I popped onto www.phish.com to discover the February '03 tour dates listed. I sat stunned at my desk.
My gaze became frozen on my monitor as I clicked and dragged my way down the page. My first thought was, "Oh how sweet, the tour begins on Valentine's Day." Then, I saw the show was scheduled in California. It was as if I was intentionally being held in suspense by an unseen cosmic force. Studying each date, and location I scanned for anything near Massachusetts. I am no stranger to tour related travel. It is just that, I have two, small, children. It is more difficult to just point the car toward unknown destinations.
In an instant, it all became clear why Karyn and I were made to suffer the setback of not getting our first choice of tickets. It was because the future held a greater gift for us. Phish was booked at the Worcester Centrum Centre on February 26, 2003. This date may seem insignificant to most. Nonetheless, for us it was huge. Bigger than Christmas, New Year's Eve, or Valentine's Day. It marks my wife's twenty-ninth birthday. Everything was in perfect alignment in the cosmos. Phish was playing in our backyard. We would not be denied!
I immediately began planning my ticket procurement mission and birthday activities. My mother agreed to sit for our girls on show day. She even took a day off from work. I called the box office to make sure I had the information solidly in my brain. I was not putting my faith in mail order or Ticketmaster online. Nor, was I going to agonize while trying to break through a constant busy signal over the phone.
When the time came to buy the tickets I showed up in person at the box office. I wanted to face this head on. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones. Tickets for this show were gone in twenty-three minutes. In my mind, I can still hear the sound of the huge "OH SHIT," collectively released by those who were turned away without tickets. Upon returning to my car, I phoned my wife at home to sing her "Happy Birthday" I had our tickets in hand.
All doubt that the announcement of hiatus spawned had disappeared. The countdown had begun. Karyn and I would once again boogie amongst citizens of the Phish Nation. It was all just a few weeks away.
On the day of the show I wished my wife a happy one. We spent the early hours taking care of household business and making sure that our children, Sage and Noa were cared for and content. By three-thirty that afternoon, I was ready to explode with excitement. My mother was due to arrive by four o'clock. Karyn whipped up some of her famous, home-style macaroni and cheese with tomatoes for the kids. I had withdrawn some cash from the bank for our big night out. I asked Karyn if she would accompany me to a nice dinner before we hit the seats. Her reply to my request was: "How about a burrito in the lot?" Enough said.
It did not take long for us to say our final "good-byes" and give hugs all around. Before I could open my mouth and say next to anything about traffic and or parking. Karyn had the situation fully under control. She put De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising into the disc player of our PT Cruiser and we were on our way to the "super secret, free parking facility." I think the ride took about six minutes. By quarter-to-five, we were walking toward the Centrum in the frigid, cold. Properly bundled up against the elements, we forged ahead for a few minutes discussing songs we though Phish would play in honor of Karyn's birthday. Seeking warmth inside the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets Mall, She said she wanted to hear them pull out "It's Ice."
The mall appeared to be a popular refuge for heads. It was here we began playing our tour-based game called, "Dreaded, Bearded, Hippie Guy." The rules of this game are simple. It is a lot like, "Punch Buggy.": The first player to spot a guy with dreadlocks and a beard can deliver a punch to the next player. I must take a moment to clearly state, in no way is this sport designed to insult the beloved dreaded, bearded, hippie folk. It is a game meant to keep ones own senses sharp before and during a Phish show. I, myself, wear my hair long and on occasion, I have been known to grow scruff on my chin and cheeks. I can not commit to full "Rasta-Wookie" transmutation procedures at this point.
While ambling through the mall, Karyn tagged me three or four times. I didn't have a prayer to catch up. She was stacking up points too quickly. After all, it was her day. Upon her next attempt to deliver a whack on my shoulder, I pulled out the "Prove that's a guy," defense. If one player spies a "Dreaded, Bearded, Hippie Girl," that is game, set, and match"...hands down.
A short time later we found ourselves outside again. We only had to cross the street to before reaching the main doors to the Centrum. The crowd had not begun to truly form, yet. Mostly those hoping for "miracles" milled about. The majority of them had cell phones glued to their ears. Frantically, these people were attempting to work out last minute deals that would get them on the winning side of the turnstile. A few talked with police. Karyn and I huddled together near a brick support to stay out of the direct breezeway. As more people started to gather, we inched toward the metal barriers that were put in place to keep us all properly herded together like cattle.
It was in this area that we met Jason and Corey. These two were a couple from Vermont, attending their first show as guests of Jon Fishman's girlfriend, Briar. Jason was a kind-eyed soul who wore a black, biker-style sweatshirt with the slogan: "Does not play well with others," on the back Corey was a pretty, blonde, girl who shivered at the speed of sound against the cold. The four of us were at the head of the line to get through the doors. Karyn and I even checked the opening time with the staff in the will call area of the box office. After chatting with these folks, it became apparent that the staff and security were playing a game of their own. The doors were supposed to open by 6 o'clock. We were sent back out to stand in the cold just waiting and waiting some more.
The first complication of the evening presented itself just after we rejoined the line. A tiny screw that holds Karyn's left temple piece of her eyeglass frame loosened itself and the lens popped free. This rendered her temporarily "half-blind." As luck would have it, she was able to retain possession of the small screw. She held it between two back teeth until she was able to locate her wallet and put it inside the change pouch for safe keeping. Corey, Jason and I gave her all the play-by-play with regard to the event staff and whether or not they were making any moves to let us in. Corey and I led the charge to the doors. We did everything short of pressing our faces to the glass to give to the staff an "up-close" and personal view.
Just prior to seven o'clock we were lined up for security pat downs. Once inside, Karyn reassembled her glasses with a steady hand and her trusty thumbnail. It was an amazing feat of in the field repair work. We were briefly separated from Jason and Corey only to find we were in the same section. Their seats were roughly six rows down from us. Before getting settled, they walked by us a few times and let us know we had just missed Briar. Apparently she was carrying Jon and Briar's one-year-old child, Ella on her hip. "She's so cute," Corey lovingly remarked. Sure enough, before long, Jason and Corey were pointing Briar and Ella out to us. Corey was right. Little Ella is a beautiful girl. Her round, sweet, face bares an exact likeness to her daddy. Her blonde hair parted to the side. We wished Jason and Corey a good show as the headed down to their seats. Briar and Ella stuck close to Ella's grandpa, Len Fishman.
He was seated one row behind our new acquaintances wearing a red sweater. Karyn and I had a perfect line of sight into what seemed to be the band's friends and family section from our vantage point in the accessible seating area. I leaned my crutches against the handrail and soaked in the scene from inside the Centrum.
As more seats filled in Karyn and I got to know some of the others around us. Andy was a guy from Albany, New York who said he went to Jon Fishman's rival high school. He was at the show with his friend Nancy from Sturbridge, Massachusetts. She was in a wheelchair and appeared very happy while getting to know us. We traded Phish stories back and forth. We even let them in on the rules of "Dreaded, Bearded, Hippie Guy." Andy started racking up points as well. I had no hope of winning. I was lucky I didn't get bruised. Just as our game was picking up speed the house lights went down.
Phish came onstage and came out of the gate like a racehorse favored to win the Kentucky Derby. Trey played "Charge!" on his guitar before launching into "You Enjoy Myself," I looked at Karyn with awe. I never expected this song as an opener. It was a pleasant surprise. An instant charge of electricity hit the crowd. Phish was back in front of a New England crowd. With friends and family in attendance, they could have been self-conscious and reserved.
On the contrary, I feel as if they were comfortable enough to play "without a net." They stretched out musically. Mike Gordon showed us, early on, that he was in his groove. He brought out a taste of the funk reminiscent of summer '97 tour. This "Y.E.M." came complete with a vocal jam and crazy, white, lights from Chris Kuroda. Trey began using the lyrics from "Clone" in the vocal jam. It was an atypical to way to segue into a debut, but the boys made it work. This song is the title track of bassist, Mike's side project recording with guitarist Leo Kottke. I have yet to hear the original, but I truly enjoy the spin that Phish put on this tune.
The entire first set was full of first-time songs with a couple of Phish tunes mixed in for color. The members of Phish traded lead vocal duties on the new songs: "Drifting" was Trey's offering. It was uplifting and it seemed an easy fit into the set. "Roggae," began softly, building to a powerful, guitar crescendo. Jon Fishman served up the country flavored, "Blue Skies," from Pork Tornado. It took me a minute to get used to this one.
Moments like this are one of the elements I love about Phish most. They are still able to take risks and roll with the outcome. An example of this type of experiment took place in summer '97; On July 21st, at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater, we were in attendance when the band broke out four, new songs to begin the set. Few fans knew them. Only those that had traveled to see Phish in Europe had the pleasure of any sneak peaks.
To bring the focus back to the show in question, "Moma Dance" came next. It was a deep funk romp that served a marker for fans who may have lost their way in the last two tunes. Part of me was hoping they would keep the groove going and maneuver into "Camel Walk." Instead, we were treated to a touching, slow, song with vocals from Page on "Final Flight." This song may have been perhaps the one debut to go through the most adaptation to be included in the set-list. The original from Vida Blue, has no lead guitar part. The end result was a delight to hear.
The first set became a musical space in which the band shared new ideas with each other as well as the fans. They took time to celebrate each other and acknowledge where they have been and where they are going. It reminds me of the days of when, I, as a child, stood in front of a class with my voice cracking: "I want to tell you what I did on my summer vacation"..."
Fishman's tick, tick, tick at the beginning of "Maze" let everyone know the time had come to get back to one of the band's standards. This version of Maze stands out in my mind as a truly remarkable one. It was a great way to close the set. Everyone in our section was dancing so hard. I was close to breathless, myself. Karyn was groovin' away all of her stress. It was great to see. For those who may not believe that Phish shows are therapeutic, I urge you to take a listen.
Set-break had its highlights as well. We chatted with Andy and Nancy while partaking in one of our favorite sports, people watching. I took a few more punches as the game of "Dreaded, Bearded, Hipppie Guy" raged on. Andy quickly displayed his skill. He was able to "spread the love" equally. He tapped both Karyn and me to score points. Karyn broke away to find the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of Jason coming up the steps. He breezed by, without a word. Upon his return from the concourse, I pulled him aside to ask him if the gentleman behind him was, in fact, Len Fishman. He replied, "Yeah, that's Len. Go say `Hi.'"
I told him that I didn't want to risk falling down the steps on my crutches. He told me he understood. Then I asked, "Could you tell Len that the kid he gave a ride to at The Went is five rows behind him?"
"Sure," said Jason.
Karyn had just returned from her travels. I explained to her what I had just enlisted Jason to do. "You're not going to have him do that, are you?"
With that, he headed down and tapped Len on the shoulder. Seconds later, Len turned and shot me a smile and a thumbs-up. That made me smile too.
Halftime seemed to last an eternity. We also gained a couple new neighbors in the last row of section 123. We didn't speak much with them. If memory serves, we didn't do much beyond an initial wave. When the house lights faded again, "Stash" filled the room. Trey's melodic guitar told us all this set would be worth the wait. If set one was a test for new material, the second set seemed carefully planned. It fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It was a harmoniously tight, yet fluid jam. "Ghost" appeared to conjure up some more funky vibes. Trey, Mike, Fish and Page were "hooking up" in this one. Using their unique powers of telepathy, they guided one another through rest of the set. They smoothly rolled through a jam of War's "Low Rider," in true Cheech and Chong fashion. Without missing a beat, "Makisupa Policeman" followed in hot pursuit. Trey's key phrase in this version: "Woke up just the other morning / my hotel was burning down". Apparently, this was a reference to a hotel fire that took place during Phish's most recent visit to Cincinnati. With memories of the nightclub fire at the Station in Warwick, Rhode Island still fresh in peoples' heads this line was a bit of a buzz kill. The song was short and to the point. "Ya Mar" quickly snapped me back to the present. I shook my butt until images of "Guyute" the "ugly pig" kicked me into hyperspace. By the middle of the tune I totally surrendered to the dance. I ignored any potential distractions. Knowing that my feet hurt, I could not sit. "Waves" from the Round Room album swirled and swelled. Keeping the aquatic theme alive, "Prince Caspian" allowed me to slow down and just sing along. Who needs feet anyway?
I don't quite remember the exact point when, but I looked to my left to see Andy backing Nancy's chair out of her spot. He leaned over to me to explain, "We are going to take off. Nancy's tired. We'll see ya again. I hope." With that, Andy moved Nancy back toward the exit. I think I hear her inquire, "Did you get their phone number?" Sadly, we didn't exchange digits. But Andy did shake my hand and deliver one more pop to my chest to let me know he was playing to win. He asked me to pass that one on to Karyn. So I obliged.
The band was relentless. They launched directly into a "Frankenstein" tease. This was a "monster" jam packed into a relatively short time. "Golgi Apparatus" closed the second set and was a special treat. It had some "Frankenstein" left in it.
The encore was appropriate for the occasion. "Loving Cup" is a sentimental favorite. Briefly glancing over at Karyn, I saw we were on the same wavelength. Phish just seems to know when to shake the dust off of this one. I couldn't have said "Happy Birthday" in a more meaningful way. The boys seemed to extend the end of this version as well. It was the perfect way to punctuate the evening.
Watching the exhausted but satisfied fans move toward the exits I tried to regain my breath my breath. Speaking to a random passer-by I said, "They always manage to do something special here in Worcester."
"I don't know what it is about this town," the stranger replied. "They tore the roof off of this place."
After that comment our new neighbors in the section spoke up. "I didn't know when they were gonna end," said the guy next to me in a wheelchair. "That set just kept going"..."
Karyn introduced herself and me to the two next to us. They then told us their names. Jeff and John had come up from Cape Cod for this show. Jeff had purchased a ticket for himself and one for his younger brother as a Christmas present. Jeff asked us how to get back to the Holiday Inn from the Centrum. They were not familiar with the area. Karyn began to explain the directions, when we learned they were going to make the roughly six mike trek without transportation. They had flagged down a cab from the Holiday Inn to make it to the show. Jeff didn't feel confident that they could find another in the after-show crowd Karyn said, "We've got the time. You can ride with us. Every once and a while, it's good to do a random act of kindness."
We set off into the night like old friends. It didn't take very long before the cold had a grip on us again. Moving quickly to our vehicle, we all loaded in. Karyn assisted Jeff into the co-pilot's seat. Then she helped me contort in the back seat. We took a roundabout way to their hotel. The brothers invited us to breakfast as payment for the ride. We respectfully declined. After all, we had no idea if our children had run my mom ragged. As a further gesture of goodwill, my wife asked the brothers to our home for brunch the next day before the headed home. Jeff saved our number in his cell phone and told us, "We'll try to make it." The next morning we got a phone message inviting us to visit Cape Cod this summer. Jeff and John decided to drive home earlier than expected. It's too bad we didn't get together the day after.
If it is meant to be, it will happen. In all my years of following this band and being caught up in the scene. Everything happens for a reason. We are all connected to share in the experience. I am truly happy to have been able to give my wife such a gift. I am also happy to have crossed paths with the people that I have.
Score: 1

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