I had just seen Phish play four days in a row, with the Stanford free show the day before. The Stanford show was fun, but I decided to take it easy and save up energy for the Catalyst.
If you've never been to the Catalyst, the main performance room used to be a bowling alley, so it's long and narrow, with small, narrow balconies with tables on both the left and right sides (from front to back). The place holds 650 comfortably, and about 800 uncomfortably. Phish's show that night was totally sold out, so the place was really packed.
There were multiple pre-parties in Santa Cruz before the show, so we visited a few and then returned home to prepare for the show. We all took care of business before leaving the house, and then walked along the river to downtown (about a fifteen minute walk). By the time I handed the guy my ticket at the door of the Catalyst, I felt like my mind was being shot through a canon. I remember being stoked that they were playing both Miles Davis and later Steely Dan before the show.
We took the entire front section of the upstairs right area, which is about ten feet from the stage. The band had to walk past us each time to go from the backstage area to the stage. Slowly the place filled up, and somehow I got my cassette deck into the chain off of the one set of mics in the place, which was about fifteen feet from the stage, center. If you haven't heard the this show, I would recommend it as the best show I ever saw them play. My friend Nick, a jazz guitar player/instructor, was at the show. He was not a big fan of Phish, but said this: "Trey's playing was awe-inspiring during the first set." I have to agree.
At the time, I was really only familiar with the tunes from Picture of Nectar and Junta (as well as the few boots I had), so this was the first time I had heard a few of these tunes, such as "My Friend" and "Tube". The "Maze" was the highlight for me from the first set, but the entire set smokes from beginning to end.
Listening to the show again today, I feel that the musical peaks of the first set are "Stash" (one of my personal favorite versions), "My Friend", "Reba", "Maze", and "Chalk Dust". Each musician on stage played at 100% for the entire set. The band fed off the crazy Santa Cruz audience energy and in turn delivered the screaming audience one peak after another throughout the set. Second set is incredible as well.
The second set contains the craziest "Mike's" > "Weekapaug" I ever heard. It was a seriously intense experience, one you can almost feel by listening to the recording. Some say this show has the best version of "Weekapaug" ever; it is my personal favorite). The show, as was typical of this run, slows down after the "Weekapaug", but then picks up again with "Tube", "Mango" (always loved this tune), "Llama", etc.
I remember being so out of it, I almost left the venue without my tape deck. I got the deck, gathered the troops, and walked back home to listen to the tapes (we were still mentally flying at this point). When I got home and tried to listen to the tape, I realized I recorded the entire show too hot - it was blown out in such a way that I couldn't really ever listen to it - but I somehow managed to scored good tapes within a week.
This show still ranks as one of the most intense live concert experiences I have ever had. There's a great audience recording (from the same set of mics I was patched into, but from a DAT source) in circulation that is such good quality that it makes up for the lack of an widely available, good quality, soundboard source.