October 20, 1994, the morning of my first day of vacation, began with a drive across Alligator Alley, out to the west coast of Florida. Up north to St. Petersburg, the day's destination. We found an inexpensive motel a couple of blocks from the venue, check in, and next it's off for adventure.
I had heard that the Salvador Dali Museum was close to the Mahaffey Theater, and this became the first stop on what would prove to be a rather surreal day. The walk ended up being a bit closer to ten blocks as opposed to the five blocks I was expecting. I was not the least bit disappointed at the works from Dali on display; it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.
We decided to take a cab back closer to the motel, stopping to be dropped off someplace for diner. After a walk back to the motel, it was on to the show. The Mahaffey ended up being a tiny theater that couldn't have held more than twelve hundred people. A guy sitting next to me described it best when he said, "This place reminds me of the theater from The Muppet Show."
When the band walked out, the first thing you couldn't help but notice was that Mike had his hair tied up, I want to say like Gene Simmons, but that wouldn't be quite right. It was more like something one of the B-52-ers might have done in The Flintstones Movie, just missing a bone or something. I knew right away that it would be an interesting night.
The shows opened with "Jim", and I noticed how attentive the small crowd was as the band was able to bring the music down to a whisper. Next, we were treated to the first and only performance of Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" until the song popped up out of nowhere on 2/16/03. With the first Halloween show coming up, this really turned me on to how sophisticated this band really is. They seem to easily transform into another band while the audience enjoys a little diversity.
While the band was playing "Poor Heart", I couldn't help but feel that these guys really enjoy playing music. The song truly brought a more upbeat atmosphere to the show. The band sped into "Guelah", and suddenly things seemed to almost stop. It was more of a shift, because Mike began to bounce a beat along before the band picked back up into "Guelah". This was the first time I noticed how Phish can change tempo at will, just deciding to slow things down for the next number.
"Split Open and Melt" seemed to take this show on a visit to the Dali Museum. For me, this "Split" marked a personal transition, a change from Phish fan to Phish fanatic. For the first time, I noticed how Phish would change tempos, taking the music in several new directions. Meanwhile, my mind was noticing how visual the music could be if you allowed it to lead you, more as a soundtrack to a day's adventure than a song with any kind of set meaning or structure. We seemed to venture forward, but we would always manage to hit some barrier. The music then seemed to swirl around this tiny theater. It was like we were caught up in a tornado, but the barrier still stopped us"....Suddenly things become very dream-like, and the room filled with smoke. "Kung" was chanted. At the time, I had no earthly idea as to what was going on. It never crossed my mind that Trey was using the powers of Gamehendge to allow the show to continue, to give the band the strength it needed to help break through this barrier, to allow the band to transport this small crowd to a land, driven by the emotion of music.
I found myself extremely impressed at how quiet it can get as Phish quietly started up "Esther". Next up was "Julius". There is not a whole lot that I can say about this version, as this Julius can very much speak for itself. It really seemed to wrap up the first set's energy. But, to my pleasant surprise, the band decided to keep going. I had not yet heard "Guyute". I was so pleased that my first experience with the song was seeing it performed live. There were moments when I could imagine myself running, maybe skipping, out in a wide-open, grassy area. Other times, I found myself being chased out in the woods, heart beating rapidly. Right when I started hearing Phish's music more as a soundtrack, they tossed in this song with suspense, drama, and the works. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy these guys? "Golgi" closed out the first set. It was time for the audience to catch its collective breath.
The lights dropped for the second set, and Jon walks up to the mic. He was holding this square wooden box that has these metal pieces reaching over a hole in the center. (I know this instrument has a name"....) Plunk, we heard. Plunk again. Jon mentioned that this is his new "favorite sound" and began to sing "Lengthwise". I enjoyed hearing the crowd singing "Lengthwise" as "Maze" came into play.
For me, it's during "Maze" that Trey's guitar work comes alive. Maybe it's just my love for heavy-metal music. Trey always seems to surf across the music, leaving us trapped in some maze.
"McGrupp" seemed to have an airy feel to it. I had heard some people use the word "transport" associated with Phish shows. I now found myself listening to their music with new ears, and it was during this "McGrupp" that I noticed how easy it was to let the music walk you to a different land. The band seemed to want to spark things up a bit, and they began to play "Rif"t. This reminded me of another point to Phish's music. They seem to cast out a line like the airy feel to "McGrupp", and then they reel you back in with a tune like "Rift". During the pause before "Silence contagious"..." I was starting to think that Page was trying to see how long of a silence he could get away with. I was impressed that the crowd seemed to stay rather quiet.
Then the band played "Harry Hood". Most people have heard the "Hood" from Gainesville, FL, that was recorded a few days later and appears on A Live One. I always felt that this "Hood" was a much better version. The intro segment seemed to go on a few extra times around. Mike was having fun. After the band finishes singing the "Thank you Mr. Hood"..." part, things took on new meaning to me. Following Mike, I am certain he was playing Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side". Mike seemed to fall deeper into Lou's classic during the next pass. I began to wonder if it has always been there, or even if it was there at all. This is another aspect of the music I love, that they always seem to hide hints of other tunes and TV show theme songs in some of their jams. Sometimes I notice, others I am sure I miss. Most of the time, I scratch my head and wonder if I really heard it at all. The crowd began to clap out a beat. The band got lost in a jam. Eventually, the crowd sort of directed Trey off into a side jam of sorts. Chris was able to get some attention, as this was the tour when he had the Phish logo swim up the backdrops. Trey almost seemed to lash out with his guitar as the band just drifted back into a jam. I found myself just drifting off into space somewhere.
Then the strangest thing happened. The band was able to get my attention, as they seemed to enter some kind of holding pattern. They almost sounded like a skipping record, stuck at one point of the song. Hell, as vain as I am, I was thinking the band was upset that I drifted off and was waiting for me to return before they continued. Honestly though, it was at this point in "Hood" that I discovered yet another aspect of Phish that has kept me a fan these past four years. That afternoon, at the Dali museum, I saw a painting that was four-dimensional. Apparently, Dali felt he could mathematically figure out the angles to create a four-dimensional painting. The way Phish was skipping around in time, it was like they had unlocked the secrets of the space-time continuum. Their music was not limited to traditional time restraints. To my ears, it appeared that Phish had created an art form that was able to travel through time.
So now I found myself looking at time in a whole new light, and I was waiting to see what the band would do next. Now that they'd gotten my attention, they seemed content to do nothing. I waited some more. Suddenly, I heard a voice from the balcony, "Hey!" The band stumbled, as if they were reminded that there was a crowd out there in the house. They slowly picked back up into the groove and built to the climax of "I feel good!" I still, to this day, wonder if they would have ever found a way out of that void on this particular night if it hadn't been for that heckler in the crowd. Wow, what a fun experience that was!
Then the band got their acoustic instruments ready. Shortly after the mic stand was placed out for the acoustic songs, I heard a gasp from the four members of Phish as a beach ball seemed to be on a collision course with Paul's new microphones. Luckily, tragedy was somehow averted. Phish played "Nellie Kane", "Foreplay/Long Time", and then closed with a ripping electric "Chalk Dust". We got "Sample" as the encore, and I left St. Petersburg a changed person.
My Phish addiction had reached new heights in 94. I had seen about 20 shows and the crowd had quadrupled in the Northeast in the time since my first show. They went from theaters to MSG in 2 and a half years. I knew they were going to be huge within a year or two. I really wanted to continue seeing them in small venues and I thought Florida would be a fun place to do that.
I attended a GD show(fantastic last show for me) at MSG on 10/18 and then hopped on a bus to Florida the next day. 26 hours of Greyhound later and I was in St. Petersburg. My plan was to offer some tour rat gas money and try to catch a ride to the other Florida shows. Then I was supposed to take a bus to Nashville to see my Dad after the Orlando show. The ride to the other shows happened but not the bus to Nashville.
I had enough cash to buy 3 tickets and pay for some gas to get around, probably 200 bucks. I got a ticket and a ride in about 15 minutes. A guy named Jeff took me on and I was all set. The show was exactly what i hoped for. A tiny theater with a crowd of mixed of tourheads and lots of first timers. Great vibes. The ushers were little old ladies so you could do whatever you wanted. Sit where you want and smoke what you want. They had no idea what was going on. This was my first Guyute and I loved it. The metal part at the end had me totally buzzing. My first Foreplay/Long Time which is still to this day one of my favorite cover songs by any band. I also always loved any show with signals. The whole psychology of talking to the crowd through music really defines the Phish experience IMO. I don't understand why they stopped doing them. First day of Florida tour was a smashing success.
We left that night and at that point the touring scene was pretty small. We ended up camping at a state park or and chilling out until all hours of the night. I really was immersed in the 90's hippie culture and felt right at home. I slept in Jeff's car with my legs hanging out the window and got devoured by fire ants. AGH! not a pleasant experience. The next day 10-15 cars all caravaned to Sunrise. At one point we were following the buses which was a very fun experience.
Jim – This is a nice short, frenetic Jim that serves well as a show opener. I really like what Trey does during this with nice complements from Page’s trailing keys.
Golden Lady – Nice, groovy Stevie Wonder song.
Poor Heart – The juxtaposition next to Golden lady is hilarious. Page fires away on the keys in this one.
Guelah Papyrus – Someone in the forum once said that they think Phish was much more technically proficient in 1994 than in the 3.0 era. While it is desirable to argue that statement, this Guelah would be good evidence for the person’s claim. It is perfectly played while retaining the energy and fierceness that 3.0 Guelah’s don’t have.
SOAMelt – Nothing too amazing here, but a thrilling SOAM nonetheless. From 5 minutes on is where it gets interesting and very fast-paced. Around the 6:35 mark I believe Mike teases Simple. I may be incorrect, but it sounds eerily similar to me.
Kung – I was almost disappointed when SOAMelt transitioned into this because the former was about to get exciting. Oh well, I can’t stay upset when there’s a Kung playing.
SOAMelt – Oh wait, SOAM isn’t over! I forgot this is the year of sandwiches, and I don’t have any problem with a Kung sandwich on SOAMelt bread!
Esther – Oh boy do I love Esther. This is one of my favorite purely compositional tunes. It also includes a fun random note signal as well as a Simpsons signal.
Julius – Trey shreds the hell out of this song starting at about the 4:50 mark. Eventually the jam gives rise to a chaotic, slow-paced drum fill which ends in a climactic jolt of energy by Fish and Trey. A short, but truly sweet type I.
Guyute – Something about the short pause between “scampered quickly out of range” and the next segment really wows me. This goes for the pause between “I hope it happens once again” and its succeeding segment as well. It seems so simple, but it’s one of those little things you come to appreciate about Phish. The ugly pig doesn’t disappoint here.
Golgi – Golgi is Golgi.
Lengthwise – Sweet start to a set!
Maze – The transition from lengthwise to Maze is cool with the guys still chanting “when you’re there, I sleep lengthwise, and when you’re gone I sleep diagonal in my bed” as the signature high hats begin. An overall well-played maze.
McGrupp – McGrupp is a great tune. 3.0 needs more McGrupp!
Rift – Also one of my favorite compositional songs. The vocal work in combination with phenomenal lyrics is always something to be taken away by.
Hood – This Hood is built up extremely well. Around the 12 minute mark is when the bliss begins! 13 minutes in, a darker progression begins with a more rock-oriented feel. The band will roar in loudness then quiet down, then roar in loudness again, only to quiet down and return to Hood’s main theme… for a bit. Near the 16 minute mark it quiets down completely with only Fish playing the high hats. Then Trey mimics the rhythm of Fish. The two swap playing until slowly Mike and Page join in building tension when Trey starts ripping the hell out of the main Hood theme. At around 18:10 the Trey treatment begins and doesn’t stop for the remainder of the song. I’m not very good at describing jams like these, but let’s just say you can feel good about this Hood. Highlight for sure.
Nellie Kane – Played acoustic, and if you ask me, it’s not as good as electric. Still, it’s Nellie Kane and is warming as can be.
Foreplay/Long Time – Wow! I’ll take the Phish acoustic version of this over Boston’s original any day. The harmony is a lot more natural and clear than the original. This is a super cool way to cool down after the monster Hood.
Chalk Dust - Once again the juxtaposition of songs in the setlist in 1994 was genius, and this is no exception. CDT being the wall of energy it is works perfectly coming out of an acoustic pair. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – half the genius of Phish from 1992-1995 was setlist brilliance and no other era rivals that genius. As for the song, it should be assumed that Trey shreds it like always, but other than that there’s not anything spectacular. It is very short-lived.
Sample in a Jar – You know that thing I said about 50% of Phish’s genius in this era being setlist brilliance? Yeah, maybe it’s a bit less. After a show that feels like it was missing one good jam, Sample aggravates me a bit in this slot. Of course I don’t expect a hose YEM or anything, but c’mon. Not even a tasty little Cities? Can’t complain too much, though.
Set 1 – SOAMelt -> Kung -> SOAMelt, Jim
Set 2 – Hood, Foreplay/Long Time, Maze
Overall: This show was borderline awesome. It had the setlist, energy, and goofiness, but missed something. It had a great jam in Hood, but outside of that there was nothing to get lost in. My verdict: a fun and appeasing show with a decent amount of IT to offer, but not well-rounded enough to merit over a 4-star review. 4/5 stars.
This was my first Phish show (actually second, but the first was at at SunFest in West Palm Beach, FL and they only played one set). I'll admit, the setlist may not look stellar, but this show was extra special to me and my crew. The Mahaffey Theatre in St. Pete, FL, from what I recall, is a tiny, yet gorgeous venue. I recall it being decorated with lots of red and gold; it definitely didn't feel like a Phish show as we walked inside. The ushers were all elderly women who were very sweet to us and we returned the kindness. I believe they debuted "Golden Lady", by Stevie Wonder at this show due to the ushers and gold decorations of the theatre.
I felt like the band was extremely focused at this show. I recall watching from the first few rows and it was like they were so tuned in that it almost didn't matter that an audience was even listening. I don't mean this in a bad way at all. I just noticed a lot of non-verbal communication among the entire band throughout the show. The highlight of the first set for me was the Split>Kung>Split, Esther. The second set was superb due to the Maze, McGrupp, Rift, Hood. Although they were doing the Foreplay/Longtime thing a few times during this tour, it was a treat to see the boys play completely acoustic, without mics. Fishman was absolutely hysterical on the washboard.
Great venue, great group of phriends on an amazing night in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thank you PHISH!
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