Do It Now!
On September 14, 1990, we were preparing to leave for Madison Square Garden the next morning for our first Dead show without Brent Mydland, who had died what seemed like a week after one of the better Dead shows I saw that year (Buffalo, NY). I was a little skeptical about Vince Welnick, after hearing lukewarm reviews of his first few shows. My friend and I, who had seen the majority of our Dead shows together, were at a party, and another friend had been telling us of this band Phish he had been seeing for the past year. At first we didn't want anything to do with them, especially after a couple of Max Creek shows that didn't do much for us at the time. In my eyes, there was only one "jamband."
The first Phish song I ever heard was “Fee”, off of Junta. Our friend sat us down in a room and played the Junta tape for us. My first impressions were "this is great, sorry I didn't believe you!" and "Shit, these guys can play, that guitar tone is exactly what I want to hear." We told our buddy we needed to borrow the tape for the ride down to MSG. I think we listened to it about twelve times over the course of three days in the car and the hotel. We were both hooked, and were looking forward to getting tickets to see Phish at the Somerville Theater a week later.
I still can't find a setlist for that first show I saw (September 21, 1990), but I remember how amazed I was at the whole band. Trey's guitar sound, mixed with him looking like a guy I played Dungeons and Dragons with in junior high; Fishman in the Zero-man outfit set up at the side of the stage; Page looking like my science teacher in high school; and Mike being…Mike.
After Somerville I saw a bunch of shows (it wasn’t until years later that I found out I saw “Destiny Unbound” at UNH) in ‘90 and ‘91. I slowed down a lot to only a few shows in ‘92 and ‘93, and then "returned" to Phish in 1994. As fate would have it, I picked a good night to return to the scene: 12/29/94, Providence Civic Center
This was my first Phish show in an arena. It is to this date one of the best shows I've seen the band play. Things kick off with “Runaway Jim”; a pretty rocking “Jim”, I might add. This version is definitely overlooked. It's only about eight minutes long or so, but segues nicely into “Foam”. “If I Could” was next and was basically “If I Could”. “Split Open and Melt” was a nice treat early in the set. A much faster jam than usual, with Fishman and Trey playing off each other at the beginning of the jam. Some chaos ensues about eight minutes in, and the whole thing is about eleven minutes long. Not the best “Split Open”, but a great piece of the show overall. “Horse->Silent”, “Uncle Pen”, and “I Didn't Know” follow. All pretty standard. “Possum” was next. Trey teases “Dueling Banjos” pre-vocals, and the rest is pretty rocking, as rocking as “Possum” gets.
The second set opens with what would be the last “Guyute” until Halloween ‘95. It sounds pretty flawless when I hear it now; there are also some subtle differences to the newer versions in the beginning. I can still remember being amazed by what is still one of my favorite Phish songs.
What happens next is what I look at as the opening of a whole new Phish I had never seen. This definitely marks the beginning of what I call my "Second Wave" of Phish. Sure, the intimacy of the small theater was gone, as well as the feeling of discovering a new band and having them to your self, so to speak, but if this show and future ones were an indication, why would I care how many people were there? Granted, this was my first arena Phish show, so that was also a bit of a big jump from my last show before this, at the Providence Performing Arts Center down the road (2/4/93 for those keeping track). So, another ten thousand people or so were now seeing Phish.
This was why, I guess.
What some people to this day still call a “Dave's Energy Guide” tease, I will still just call a “Delay Loop Jam”. Whatever you want to call it, it's wonderful music, and listening to it as I write this still gives me the shivers. This lasts for about three minutes, until Fishman begins what we know as the intro to “Bowie”. What happened next was basically thirty-seven minutes of Hose. Writing a simple "at 15:02 Trey starts playing arpeggios and whistling ‘Dixie’" would not even do this justice. For this thirty-seven minutes the band goes from some great spacey stuff at the beginning (including what I hear as an early incarnation of what we all know as the "Trey loop," which became pretty standard in jams starting in ‘97). Some great funky/spacey jamming, to the rocking Phish à la “DWD” (or “Drowned”), where it almost sounds like the “Bowie” is coming to a close. This is only halfway through the trip though. Eventually the band quiets down and Page takes the spotlight, playing some great melody lines. The band takes their cue from this and starts picking up the pace again, and then quiets down again. Some ambient stuff starts, and Trey and the band start whistling into the microphones with Trey whispering "Lassie…hey boy, there's a fire up on the old hill…good dog Lassie. Good boy…Lassie, come home." Some indecipherable whispering starts, and ends with "NOW! DO IT NOW! DO IT NOW!" This is repeated a few times and then Mike hits a pretty loud note that still makes me jump when I hear it now. A bit of feedback brings the music back to what we all know as the ending of “Bowie”.
The band could have left stage for the night and I would have been happy. Instead a short but fun “Halley's Comet” followed. This ended and went immediately to “Lizards”. To me, “Lizards”, even though it's never really jammed out, is like “Bathtub Gin”. It's one of those songs that when it starts you can feel the energy of the crowd and band as one. Fishman came out to the “Hold Your Head Up” music and stated, "I believe Neil Diamond sang this song. I believe he sang it at Madison Square Garden, too. He probably sang it everywhere. He sang it so much that. I am gonna sing it now, for you." The band broke into my first “Cracklin' Rosie”. Trey yelled "Henrietta!" at the end, and then started the set closer, “Good Times, Bad Times”. Trey teased “Heartbreaker” at one point.
They returned for the encore with acoustic instruments for “Long Journey Home”: Trey on acoustic guitar, Mike on banjo, Page on upright bass, and Fishman on mandolin. It was odd seeing an acoustic song in an arena, but it comes out on the tapes anyway. They went back to their respective instruments and ended the evening with “Sleeping Monkey”. This song is always great to end a show, or to bookend a great show with an amazing first half, or run of shows.
To me, this was the beginning of what would be many a show that blew me away with at least one large improvisational jam, or just all-around solid show. Not that I hadn’t seen some amazing shows four years earlier, but this is exactly what I was looking for. Band communication, band-audience communication, and collective improvisation at its finest. If you have not heard this Bowie at least, I advise you to go out and find a copy. Do it now.