The second day we got up early again in hopes of scoring a spot in the North lot again. No such luck. We parked in the South lot beside a scalper who wasn't having much luck. Buses didn't seem to be running yet (at 11 AM), so we walked to the North lot. Nice walk. Took about an hour. The North lot looked like a refugee camp that had just gotten a donation from The North Face. We parked on the hillside close to the venue to eat lunch and read for the afternoon. Buses started running steadily between the lots by 1 PM. When the gates opened around five a lot of people were ready to go in. Contrary to rumors, they did check and rip tickets. More people crowded in long before the show started than the day before.
I don't know what was missing from the first set. There was lots of stuff from “Rift”. Even the songs that could have really taken off didn't entirely. I actually took out my contacts during “Antelope”, which would normally be physically impossible because I'd be involuntarily dancing so hard. There was a large inflatable moose being tossed around towards the front. During “If I Could” (after a toss perfectly synchronized with the "flipping backwards through the doors and through the windows" line), one last toss had it land in perfect sitting position, facing the audience, on Page's side of the stage. The feat got more applause from the audience than the music did. My significant other liked the “Maze” jam a lot, though he usually isn't into it. “Strange Design” can be amazing as a return to reality after a really crazy jam (see 6/26/95 SPAC and 7/1/95 Great Woods), but there was no energy in need of releasing this time. “Free” is still a great song, but again it didn't reach its full potential. All in all, an example of why one should not judge the quality of a set based on the number of songs played. (Eleven, by the way.)
I spent setbreak trying to convince people that there really wasn't more room somewhere up front.
I don't know what happened between sets, but somehow everything cut loose in the second set. It didn't hurt to start with “Timber Ho”. In all honesty, it wasn't the musical peak of the set, but I think it started a trend of risk-taking that paid off big in the later jams. “Timber Ho” was followed by the high-hat that signals “David Bowie”, with a long, spacey introduction. The jam headed out fast. Trey teased “Bathtub Gin”, and they played briefly with the theme before moving on to other unexplored themes. The jam had a lot of variety to it: different drum beats, different playing styles. It got far outside the “Bowie” theme without ever getting lost in itself (the hazard of spacey jams). It segued into a rocking “Johnny B. Goode”, which segued back into improvisational mystery land. There were a lot of teases in here, I think, but I didn't identify them. Then again, they may have been entirely new riffs. Eventually the jam returned to “David Bowie” and ended. The “AC/DC Bag” that followed picked up the jamming ball. It was a more experimental (for lack of a good word) “AC/DC Bag” than I've heard before. It segued into “Lizards”. Suddenly, at the beginning of one of the verses, only Page (and Mike?) are singing. Trey tried to pull it together, but the words just weren't there. Fishman cracked a joke, and Trey responded by starting “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars”. What a tension release! Instead of flinging his guitar around, Trey picked up a very large doll that someone had thrown on stage and flung it around, then grabbed a cup and threw some water out onto the audience (which looked wild with the strobes going), then threw some pasta (?) onto the audience as well. Phew. When “BBFCFM” ended, they started up “A Day in the Life”, which stop/start-fast-segued into “Possum”. “Possum” was again on fire, and contained another “Bathtub Gin” tease. “Squirming Coil” ended the set with more composing from Page. “Simple” was a perfect encore. This one was pure celebration: this is what we love to do and we're doing it! And to finish the tour, they came out front to sing us “Amazing Grace”. I'm surprised they didn't collapse into a group giggle fit before this started. The audience was rowdy. After several attempts on the pitch pipe, Page turned and threw it to the audience. Trey threw something small, as well. I thought Fishman was going to throw the crowd his dress. Trey mocked throwing Fishman to the crowd. Finally the crowd and the band started to settle down and they sang nicely, almost in tune most of the time.
“Waterloo” by ABBA was the immediate post-show music — a request to keep everyone's sense of humor while waiting for the buses? In the lot, the DJ kept the bus-waiting crowd calm and partying at the same time, or at least it sounded like he was trying. The disco bus provided a party lower in the lot. The stars were out and it was chilly, so we decided to walk back to the South lot. I think a lot of people who did the walk weren't too keen on it, but I preferred the stars and the exercise to the hour spent sitting in the Great Woods parking lot two nights before. We got home at 2 AM — only an hour later than we got in at Great Woods (and the post-lot drive was forty-five minutes longer).
Amazing four nights. I was struck by how consistently good these guys are. I mean, my mood creates much more variation in my show experience than the playing does. I have more off nights just listening than they do playing. I just hope that irresponsible fools don't destroy my chance to continue hearing this stuff. I don't think Phish should return to Sugarbush, not because it is a logistically hellish venue, but because security is impossible to enforce (without causing traffic jams or resorting to the kind of violent crowd control that many of us came to Vermont to avoid dealing with). I am very afraid of what rumors of mellow, successful gate crashing will lead to next time. Unfortunately, patience and a sense of humor can only go so far in keeping a crowd from getting out of hand.