While we did not know how momentous this show would be, we knew we were in for something special – the musical costume. Although we had three cars we could have chosen from, me and my three buddies chose the one in which many things did not work – including the speedometer and, as it turns out, the gas gauge… This choice was made, of course, by the willingness of the driver to drive, and we did not want to quibble with such small items as “working condition”.
When 30 miles or so from the venue the car started to sputter and my friend noted that while he could not be sure, he thought he might be out of gas, the import of our vehicular decision hit home. Had we actually come this far just to miss the big show? This was Halloween, remember, and we were all dressed up freaky people in the middle of up-state farm-country. Someone had the brilliant idea that we could go door to door looking for gas, so we pulled over and split up down the country lanes in search of fuel – two gas station attendants, an Asian Restaurant waiter/Kung-Fu Master, and an Iron Maiden fan replete with sketchy mustache (back of the closet/thrift store costuming at its best). Despite it all, we found a farmhouse with a gas pump and people willing to help us out with at-cost fuel and a jerry can. Somehow, we were quickly back-in-business. I often wonder what the people thought and what we would have done if not for them. Look honey – a nice Kung-Fu boy walking down the road in the dark needs some gas! I supposed we would have hitched, but four young men at night on Halloween – in an area where you don’t really see hitchers – may have made for a tough sell.
In any case, we made it there, and parking near a “Wilson’s Shoe Shop” seemed an omen of sorts – good or ill, who could tell? We were Fish-side partially obscured, so we went walking for a better view. Frankenstein – with a masked Trey – really tore through us, and filled the arena with an intense dark energy. Sparkle, however, reminded us that Phish was really just playing with us and wouldn’t necessarily drive those sufficiently prepped over the edge. Simple followed the same bouncy vibe Sparkle started and we found a nice spot in the back of the arena where we could take in the whole spectacle. Simple ran into a spacy ambient-type jam which was at times beautiful, but contained a few discordant tones which hinted at things to come and strangely wound down like a toy running out of steam. This was one of these nights when the band was totally in control of how you felt, and you were at their mercy to do with as they willed.
Divided sky was a breath of fresh air, and I had the feeling if we just stayed in that moment forever – the delicate post-pause Tray -Mike interplay over organ and drums – then all would be right in the world. Of course, like all moments in time, this one was transient, and we moved towards the finale – Page driving upwards with piano and Trey taking us on a journey to somewhere we knew but simultaneously to someplace new. The climax to Divided Sky is always special, and this one definitely brought us to the top of some great mountain – or was it a cliff?
Which, of course, it was, as Phish dropped us into a dark place they had opened up with Frankenstein, and we were quickly reminded that this was Halloween and none of us were going to just have a nice time – this was to be an experience and there was no escape. This was all the more poignant as I, and I am sure many others, had a cat Poster Nut Bag, and Harpua never ends well for felines. When the vibration of life was transformed to the vibration of death, and Barney’s greatest hits to War Pigs, I fell for it and thought we were in for a Black Sabbath, but we were suddenly dragged back to Harpua with Jimmy watching poster get sucked to the depths of hell. Jimmy gets over it, as we all should, with some honky-tonk piano, and the next sequence Julius > Horse > SITM don’t seem very substantial – palette cleansers if you will – compared to what we have just been though. At just over an hour in, it felt like we had been at it forever and we knew we had a ways to go.
Reba started as was its wont, and was played perfectly through its scripted parts – building and releasing tension with perhaps a bit more urgency than normal. Around seven minutes (according to my CD and not my memory…) it starts with a loose funky jam and we know that this is something special, and around nine minutes it drops off to such a sparse jam that a gentle breeze could blow it away. Then it gets weird at 11 minutes then picks up speed into the standard Reba mold. Definitely one of the great readings of the song, but made all the more incredible by contrast to the Halloween vibe and the energy of that night – which was bursting through the rafters – as they manage to lay down a spare almost sentimental number as if they had all the time in the world. And then, just because they could, they hit a crisp Golgi and – see you in “19 minutes”…
We were still wandering around when we heard the DSOTM heart start beating and just as the potential import was setting in, it cut to Ed Sullivan and I knew it would be the Beatles. Back in the USSR started and finished before we really could adjust to what we were about to hear and Dear Prudence came to chill the whole scene out. For the first time we decided to go to our seats and relax. I must say that “The Beatles” was (and remains) one of my favorite albums, so this was akin to an old friend coming over to chill. There would be a few songs that could potentially take off (e.g. Helter Skelter, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps) but in general I was feeling – “The Beatles”? Really? Can that even be played live – it was certainly never meant to be – what will they do with it? Some of my friends not really familiar with the album just had that – What the F – glaze. With Glass Onion they opened up another possibility – alternate lyrics – a game that I could listen for, but I think the “I told you about Guyute the Pig” lyric was pretty much the only real change up until the “and if she could only hear Cactus” change in Honey Pie near the end.
There is not much for me to say about the quality of the music in this set. It was well done, and certainly entertaining at the time, but in the end not something that it really makes sense to listen to (as opposed to the original) outside of the “check out what they did” listen. The theatrical aspects of the thing, however, are another matter. From that perspective “look at what they are doing” was much better than “listen to what they did”. While My Guitar Gently Weeps did not disappoint – although it was none too extended – but Don’t Pass me By was the first place where things got interesting. Rather than playing it straight, they made it into a pepped-up number with a bluegrass-type beat and high-lonesome-harmonies (and yelling).
Birthday was another strange moment - Mike played a slow super-creepy version of the melody (du-du-du-du de-du de-du) over and over while a birthday cake was presented. I can clearly hear what they are saying now, but at the time I really thought they were saying it was “Satan’s Birthday” while another friend was convinced they were inviting him on stage for his birthday (NB it was not his birthday). Helter Skelter was another interesting version – especially the ending where in place of Ringo screaming we get a sweet harmony on the “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” line. In a bit of a surprise, they actually stretched out Cry Baby Cry with a nice solo, but again nothing too radical. Revolution 9 was great. Not great as in I will listen to it regularly, but great as in “How do you do it?” – Oh, that’s how. You don’t recreate it, but rather evoke the spirit of it. Not something to listen to, but the snippets of dialogue from the original, Mike and the Cymbals, and Fish in the ultimate anti-costume it was truly the psychedelic performance piece it was meant to be. Now that that is over – is there actually another set?
After a brief Physical Graffiti tease that was over before it started – 2 double albums, why not? They hit hard and tight with David Bowie, which get dark and spacey 5 minutes before Mike and Co. start to really drive it home from 7 minutes through the end without letting up – with the last 4 minutes in the bend your mind category. Oh yeah – this is why we are here. This is the real stuff. Bowie was deep and put us back under, but Bouncing breaks the spell. It is a good transition, however, to Slave, which is a beautiful version and perhaps required a Bouncing reset of the mind to properly set the table. This Slave, like the best Slaves, builds a slow euphoric crescendo, until the release (of the green light?). Rift is solid, but remarkable only in that the band has the stamina at this point in the night to keep the relentless stomping number at the pace it deserves.
Sleeping Monkey, however, felt just about the pace for the hour. I was pretty exhausted at that point – emotionally and physically – and home on the train seemed to be the best way to go - much better than getting in a questionable car, with a questionable driver, for a five hours’ drive in the cool upstate early morning air back to Geneseo. Poor heart was crisp and seemed like the “wake up and get the blood flowing song” for people about to head out into the night. A short set it would have made, yes, but who could blame them?
This, of course, was not what the band had in mind, and there were two monsters plus a costume contest to go before the night was finished. When they start to dig into Antelope after the intro and the stash tease, at around 2:40 in, you can tell that they still have a lot in the tank. Had we been thinking about the drive home? Trey is killing it, up and down, moving forward and dropping back. It has that great Mobius-strip-type sense of always going somewhere but never arriving and somehow ending back where you started. At five minutes in he is just messing with your mind like at any moment the vibration of death is coming back to suck us all down to visit Poster in hell. Then at 8 minutes it all pulls back and we are off to a straight finish to the song and the set.
Amazing Grace was nice, especially since nobody ruined it by screaming prematurely as would often happen. The long-promised (and largely forgotten) costume contest was set up with a nice Mike-Fish funky groove with Page dropping some 70’s riffs over the top, while Trey worked the “applause-o-meter” to determine the winner. Of course, you can’t end on a costume contest, and the farewell gift is squirming coil. The selection was perfect and they nail it. Listening to it, however, I can’t help but anticipate the closing Page solo. This “moment” is perhaps the most ingrained in my mind from the night – everyone gone and Page just playing a beautifully heartfelt solo. From that moment on, I have always lamented that Page has never released an experimental solo classical-jazz-type album a-la Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau. I am sure his work could stand up, but as of yet, it remains to be seen.
Rather than drive home, we just parked at the side of the road and slept. Not sure how all four of us managed it, but once it was proposed, there was no other option. We decompressed and deconstructed the show in our minds, but that feeling of the ending solo lingered as we drifted off and wondered if we would be able to find a nice breakfast place in the morning.