As I put my ear to the crack in the door of the Ritz Theater, I just could not believe my ears. I had been listening to the ending solo in “Slave to the Traffic Light” every day for a week before the show, joking with myself that I would actually hear it in Florida. When they broke into the intro, I just could not believe how huge it sounded. With a song as old as that being played with fresh licks from a much more talented Phish (since the days they had had it in rotation), I knew we were in for something special when the show would start.
The fast “Funky Bitch” soundcheck was pretty funny…sounded almost like someone was fast-forwarding a tape of the tune. I guess they just wanted to get it over with or something.
Sweat was pouring down my green face by the time they let us in (fifteen minutes later than they promised). We ran in up to the front of the stage, where I was no more than six or seven feet away from Trey's rack and prepared for the show.
The “Chalk Dust” opener smoked, and Trey laid down a pretty amazing solo, playing so in the pocket…very tasty. I always love seeing “Guelah” because of the dance and the licks during “Asse Festival”…such fast composition is a treat to see live, and this was a fun and bouncy version. “Poor Heart” had a solo that was sort of like the one in Tallahassee where Trey used space and less notes. As soon as Mike started the slapping for “Brother”, I lost it. All I could do was scream "Thank you!" at the top of my lungs. I thought this was the one real treat we were going to get, and I was satisfied. Little did I know what was to come a few songs later. Trey struggled through “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” more than any other time I've seen or heard him play it. It was a little uncomfortable to watch this happen, but his licks in “Suzie” more than made up for it. By the end of the second Page solo in “Suzie”, the whole crowd was rocking back and forth in unison, which created a sort of physical theme for the rest of the show.
I have yet to experience a crowd with more raw dancing energy, including the NYE '92 show. By the time “All Things” ended (perfect version — not a note missed), we could see this weird look on Mike and Trey's faces as they started the very slowest “Bathtub Gin” I have ever heard. They fucked with the tempo so much, and I kept looking at Mike as if to say "what the hell is going on here?" He chuckled at everyone's confusion as they broke into an interesting bluesy jam. During the jam Mike gave Trey a look like "What are we doing?" They both shrugged their shoulders, laughed, and kept the jam going. Trey began this guitar melody that was so familiar, but I could not pinpoint it. My buddy Pablo, a Stones fan from way back, screamed “Sweet Virginia” in my ear, but I wasn't sure if this was it or not. When that jam ended, they immediately segued into a straight-ahead reggae beat. I thought they were going to pull out another “Lively Up Yourself” or something, but when Trey stepped up and started singing, "Hey Makisupa Policeman," I must have pulled a vocal cord or two as I screamed in ecstasy. I only had one tape of this one from ‘87 at the time, and I never thought I would be fortunate enough to see this.
I knew this set was going to be extra long when they segued into “My Mind's”, after the soft vocal "Policeman" refrain. It was fun to see, and I thought it would probably close the set, but lo and behold, “Dog Log”! When I heard this I truly lost my mind and could not believe what I was witnessing. Thanks to the White Album I was able to sing along. Page saw me singing it and laughed. “La Grange” blew me away. The bridge lasted forever, and by this time the crowd transformed into a heaping mass of sweat, feeding off the energy these guys were churning out like the groove was a big musical generator or something. The solos were fabulous, and it's great to hear them pull it off — a perfect example of how to make a cover song your own. After the set ended I felt like I had seen an entire show, although it was just about an hour long! We were all exhausted, and for about ten minutes my friends and I just dropped to the floor and hardly said a word, wondering how the band was going to top that set.
I was excited to see the 2001 theme open the second set. It's great to get the crowd right back into the energy level of the first set, which died down during set break as everyone tried their best to stay afloat in their own drool. I have never been a part of such an energetic crowd as the one I was amidst during “Mike’s Song”. When Trey was on the trampoline, he ripped some really intricate solos that were probably the best I've heard, versus the usual long sustained notes he forces himself into so he can keep his balance. Every minute or so Mike would hop off his tramp and stick in some killer slaps, making the groove so thick that people had no choice but to dance, and dance hard. Among the close to a thousand people that were there, I doubt at this point if there was anyone not completely drenched in sweat. Then there was the metal jam.
Trey kicked in some huge distortion and this guy, Joe Rooney, from a local Tampa metal band called First Born (I asked him his name after the show), came on stage and started singing nonsensical, high-pitched lyrics (I later asked him what he was singing and he didn't even know). Trey was so funny. He began hammering this Eddie Van Halen-like solo, and then did a huge windmill, causing him to lose his pick in the shuffle. It was so hilarious. When they segued into Sparks, I felt like I was going to cry. It was by far the best version I've heard them play. The dynamics were up and down like a roller coaster, and it was wonderful to hear them play this song now that they are so much better than when they played it in 1990. I felt like I stepped into a time warp and wound up at Wetlands or The Front — absolutely too much for me to take. “Curtis Loew” was cool. I'm not a big Skynyrd fan, but Trey's solo and Page's singing definitely make this one a must-see. Trey's blues licks had become so much heavier and pronounced in the past couple of years. It was a treat to hear this one. When they started both “Rift” and “Coil”, I was almost positive they were going to bag Weekapaug altogether, but at the end of Page's beautiful “Coil” solo, Mike immediately broke into the bass solo, and we were all electrified. There was no wet distortion or T-wah, just a thick tone and some amazing slapping just like in the old days. It was classic. It was also the best Trey solo in “Weekapaug” since 3/20/92, in my opinion. It went on for awhile and he kept coming back with some pretty sick ideas. They had the best time playing it. Fish's right hand was out of control. The ride cymbal was falling in and out of the beat like I've never seen before — he was so on!
We knew “Bike” was the perfect song for this particular evening, and when we all screamed for it Trey immediately nodded and gladly sung it. I finally caught my favorite Barrett/Floyd tune…funny as hell and a real treat. The intro to “Antelope” featured a signal that was about to be the random note, but we all started pointing downward, and Trey waited while he considered it, then busted the fall-down signal. About four or five of us up front got it, and despite the many broken bottles on the floor, we remarkably came up without a scratch. The “Makisupa” teases in “Antelope” were perfect, and a good reminder of how special this show really was. Then there was the solo in “Antelope”. The peaks did not stop coming back. Trey literally did not leave the top four frets for a few minutes, and it was like a huge jolt of electricity that was the only thing keeping the crowd from passing out (due to the intense amount of heat that seemed to linger through the whole show). To close the show I couldn't have prayed for a better “Antelope” — just smokin’! Hearing “Sleeping Monkey” was really nice. Mike made a face like he forgot it when Trey went up and suggested they play it. He didn't seem to have a problem with it though. The solo at the end was really well done, and despite the humorous nature of the song, their playing made it one of the most beautiful jams of the night. They were able to pull of the “Amazing Grace” without mics, although it did take a while for everyone to shut up.
When the lights went up, I just looked at my buddies, both new and old, and didn't know what to say. We all witnessed something so special. People have been waiting for a show like this for a long time, and these guys from Colorado assured me that it was the best of the year, with Gunnison being a close second.
It's incredible to be able to share this experience with all of you, as I keep asking myself why I was so privileged to be one of a very small crowd that got their lives changed in Ybor City (of all places!). Shows like this will never happen again in such an intimate setting, and I can only hope that bands who play at Ritz Theater-level capacity will one day be able to achieve the level of intensity that Phish achieved in that hot and sweaty Florida room.