A fairly warm evening sun cast long shadows across the parking lot of the Cheel Student Center at Clarkson University. It was the 24th of April and though the melt was on, this was Potsdam, NY, and a healthy blanket of snow still covered the warming Earth. I stood outside of Cheel with my sister and some of her friends eagerly anticipating what the evening would entail. My sister had just completed her freshman year at Clarkson, and it was for that reason and her thoughtfulness that I was standing in the evening sun carrying on a casual snowball fight with a car that kept passing by. It was assaulting the small concert crowd with snowballs, blaring some really, really loud beats and cursing out all the "crusties."
A few years prior to that April eve I began a fascination with Phish that continues to this day. The older brother of a good friend of mine used to walk around singing the chorus lines of “Fee” and occasionally confusing us to all ends by asking "Wash Uffizi and drive me to Ferenzi?" This somehow turned into some random neighborhood joke of "Wash my feet and drive me to Falansing…." I still have no idea where the word “Falansing” came from. I passed a copy of Junta and rather quickly fell in love with the hilariously intriguing sounds of “Fee”. A tape I believe to be from Hebron followed. This show contains a hilarious "poop" vocal jam during “You Enjoy Myself”, after which the band decides, "We’re going to take a short break…so we can poop!" And poop I did, many more times before finally walking on that April eve of 1993 through the doors of the Cheel Student Center and into a world different from anything I had ever known before. My sister showed me around the Student Center and I made a contribution to the Clarkson Environmental Club, which scored me my first Phish souvenir, a green Earth Week ‘93 cup with a white Phish logo. We milled about for awhile longer before deciding to head through the next set of doors and into Cheel Arena, a name that will forever send a tingle down my spine. On the way in I made a quick bathroom stop and ran into a guy that was my sisters year and had gone to high school in Liverpool, our home town. He and his buddy were dressed in full fly-fishing gear. What a riot! I hadn’t even seen the stage and already the live Phish experience was striking me as being uniquely interesting, entertaining, and downright funny.
We rounded the corner into the arena and there across the way was the stage. All sorts of speakers were stacked on the sides and a semi-translucent black backdrop complete with funky color swirls completed the scene. Ahhh, the Minkin backdrops…
We made our way to the floor and took a seat about twenty yards back. The section immediately adjacent to the stage was clear of chairs and one of my sister’s friends tossed around the idea of a mosh pit. Hmmm…this guy was pretty darn funny and though he really didn’t have a whole lot of interest in Phish, he loved live music and was psyched to have any live band, let alone Phish, at his college. Looking back upon Spring Tour '93 in the Northeast, that was entirely the point. Phish was beginning to carve a name for themselves as an entertaining live act, and as such they threw themselves into the college circuit, trying to gobble up the fans with their good times and good tunes. I think it worked! I remember later hearing gripes about Spring Tour '93 and how many newbies it brought in, “ohh the ‘FEFY’ heads.” Interestingly enough, I heard gripes in '94, '95, '96, '97, '98, and '99 as well. It all depends on who's talking and who's listening. I for one was born into Phish out of someone's generosity of sharing the magic and I'm ever grateful for that. I suppose it's for that reason that I have always embraced the notion that everyone in the world could listen to Phish; if they appreciate it and enjoy it, then that’s absolutely excellent and I’d be so psyched!
Eventually the area in front of the stage began to fill up, as well as the seats around us. The floor was full of bodies about back to the soundboard, as were the arena seats, and a smattering of folks milled about the rest of the place. The arena lights dimmed and I caught my first glimpse of the band as they walked up onto the stage and assumed their positions. Page made his line towards the grand piano, which I, at the time, had no idea was brand new to that tour. Fishman bounded along towards his old drum kit with the upside-down Phish sticker on it. Mike and Trey quickly slinged in and seemed to sway back and forth a bit, anxious to get cranking and stop standing in front of all those people. Many times since, I have watched this same sort of occurrence and never have I lost that initial buzz of not knowing what was or is to come.
The “Chalk Dust” opener roared and I was literally blown away by how loud and energetic it was. It was crazy how different it was live, not just live on a handful of old tapes, but live in person! In all honesty, it took some getting used to.
I was borne of, and most attached to, Junta, which is almost folky and contains a very melodic jam structure. The oranges and yellows of “Chalk Dust”, “Guelah”, “Poor Heart”, and “Stash” floored me. I was overwhelmed. What the heck was happening? This wasn’t the Phish I knew! And yet it didn’t turn me off but rather intrigued me further. The “Guelah” dance had me laughing, the “Poor Heart” slapping my knee and stomping my feet.
Eventually things slowed down. “Stash” wound to a close and Trey was handed his acoustic guitar. He noodled around for about a minute and eventually settled into the acoustic intro to “The Horse”. It was absolutely beautiful, and the progression into “Silent in the Morning” really allowed me my first opportunity to settle back and absorb and reflect upon something that I felt was touching me in a way I couldn’t understand or truly describe, and that was just amazingly intense.
To this day, I can’t really describe or understand Phish in my life, but nevertheless it is so special and so very important. The ensuing “Rift” deserves mention because it was around this time that my sister’s friend (the sort of crazy one) decided crowd surfing was in order. He took off towards the stage and next thing I knew I was watching him being passed about and tossed around to “Rift”. I must say, to this day I have never again seen anyone crowd surf at a Phish show, and I'm sort of happy about that. He’d get dropped and next thing you knew he was jumping up again. It got sort of frenzied but nothing like what was to come. After sliding through a sinuous snaky sort of “Caravan”, which I would be psyched to see once again a few years later in Philadelphia, the band pulled out a new cover. “When Something is Wrong With My Baby” drops in on a heavy drum beat and rolls through like a soft-hearted steamroller. Excellent vocal interchanges, heavy lyrics, and an explosive guitar riff all combine to make this one of my favorite Phish covers. I totally enjoyed it then and I still do. It’s a shame that it doesn’t get played anymore; it was only played three times. It was encored the following night and encored again later in the week, after which it has yet to return. “Sparkle” and “Antelope” rounded out my first-ever Phish set. The frenzy that began during “Rift” got out of control during “Sparkle”. I recall watching my sister's friend and now a bunch of other people crowd surf; they would jump up on the front barricade out into a crowd of bounding, bouncing, stomping, and frenzied folks. Half the reason people were jumping off the barricade was to avoid being crushed into it by the collective mass of crazy “Sparkle” fanatics. At some point in that mix of bopping my head, watching the crowd, and wondering why they were singing "laugh and laugh and Paul McCartney…," I happened to glance up and see my sister’s friend complete with Chuck B. T-shirt being dragged up the stairs and out the door by security. When the song wound down they jumped immediately into the “Antelope” riff, but during the intro Trey mentioned that everyone needed to "be cool" because the folks up front were getting crushed. I'm sure the “Antelope” helped…not!
My first-ever Phish set had wound to a close, and during the setbreak I pursued the ever-exciting activity of going to the bathroom at intermission. In retrospect it was really easy. There were no lines or people pissing in the sinks. The halls (which were just a walkway at the top of the seats) were clear and there was no herding of the cows to be done. I recall walking back down to the floor, looking out through the haze in the arena, glancing at different people, and absorbing a sort of strange collective vibe I would later come to realize was omnipresent during intermissions. Sometime during the break the crazy crowd surfer with the Chuck B. shirt came back sporting a girl's baby-blue sweatshirt and a new hat. The change of clothes apparently got him back in, but how exactly I have no idea.
Set II would be another excellent adventure. I was settling into the surroundings, and in doing so becoming more comfortable with listening to the music in the show environment. The setlist contained a number of songs from very early on in my listening adventures with Phish. I felt like I had a better grasp of what was going on and it really allowed me to sit back and enjoy myself. Llama ripped things open and I was psyched to hear this tune because I loved that funky little “Blastopast” story on the inside cover of A Picture of Nectar. Gordo popped at his bass strings and “Foam” bubbled to life. I laughed to myself while wading through the thick “Foam”. This is probably one of the first Phish tunes that I really felt the imagery not of the lyric but of the music. I thought back to my good buddy at home and recalled how many times we would be playing ball or hackey-sacking or something silly like that and suddenly we’d be missing our shots and completing none of our passes. Every time, as if something cued us, we’d suddenly belt out "fallllling innntooo a deep well…."
“Bathtub Gin” was really cool. It, too, was one of the first Phish tunes I remember getting really into, and as I listen to it now I can hear the beginnings of new forms of Phish creativity scratching towards the surface during this particular “Bathtub”. It would also be the beginning of an odd sort of crush in which I really like watching Trey sing "Brett is in the bathtub, making soup for the ambassadors…." For some reason the inflection in his voice and the way he steps to the mic during “Bathtub” has always, for some unknown reason, elicited images of Trey and some wacky childhood adventure. I was more or less a child myself, and I certainly was when I first heard the song. It seemed to evoke an interesting sort of bond that spanned generations. “Dinner and a Movie” and “Mound” were both just plain fun — I love both tunes, and I often wonder why neither are in rotation. Next thing I knew these big ole’ balls were being bounced around and the crowd was jamming the band. I had read about the “Big Ball Jam” previously, but this was definitely something that had to be seen. It reminded me of a big, out-of-control gym class.
The “You Enjoy Myself” that followed would forever seal my fate. This song was one that had touched me before, and experiencing it live gave it all the more meaning. The tramps were in full effect and I bounced right along with them. This song still makes me bounce, and this particular version was really pretty darn rippin’, a B+ on the Dirksen scale, and you can reference his review if you’d like to know more. In the present sense, it's because of that review that I’m sitting here pawing through my memories and sharing them with you all. In the holistic sense, it’s because of that “You Enjoy Myself” that I’ve come this far.
Standing atop my chair, legs growing weak, mind growing tired, a chaotic vocal jam driving into my head…I started to think I was being brainwashed. I was actually quite concerned for a moment or two, and in an attempt to lessen the effects I began adding "lalalala…" and such to the vocal jam. I thought it would protect me from being brainwashed, but apparently it didn’t work. Phish has developed into an extremely important part of my life. Although I only get to a handful of shows every year, I enjoy them all immensely. Those moments in time create a web of memories which act to allow me the leisure of time-traveling my own history within the pages of Phish. I recall adventures and travels with friends and family, I feel the tears and the laughter, it all comes flooding back through me and it's incredibly powerful and important. It is so much a part of who I am because it allows me to remember who I was. A song on the way out the door, in the car, or live in concert evokes memories of some other page of history, and within that page I travel on an ongoing thread of attached moments in time. It's quite special because I'll recall a moment in 1993 or 1995 or whenever…some random whim of memory will float forth, and as the breezes catch drift of my thoughts I begin to recall what was going on in my life, what it meant to me then, and what it means to who I am now. I knew then that I was being brainwashed, but there was nothing I could do about it and I’m so very glad that I didn’t.
Speaking of brainwashed, after the “You Enjoy Myself”, Fishman came out from behind the set with the old vacuum cleaner. “Bike” was great, something about Fishman singing about a "mouse with a bike" made me feel totally comfortable being a kid, and that was quite special. Trey spoke a little about Burlington and Nectar and then finished out the set with “Harry Hood” and “Cavern”.
When I think back to the encore, I don’t recall much other than being tired, and though I was sad that it was over, I was also slightly relieved because it meant I could get to bed. I was also relieved because I had done it, I’d seen Phish and liked it a lot. I remember really wanting to like it but I worried that the live show experience wouldn't seem as whimsical and entertaining as goofing around with songs back home. It was kind of overwhelming and scary, but I had broken the ice now, and it was pretty darn fun and full of some special and very memorable moments. I was itching to get home to tell all my friends about it, and I was certainly going to want to come back again, so I was going to need to muster up some interest. It turns out I didn’t have any problems with that….
Sitting here at the end of the night I glance beside me at the tape case and stare at the “Encore: Amazing Grace, Good Times, Bad Times.” How appropriate it seems to have been and how appropriate it is.