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.