My thoughts on the Clifford Ball
Please allow me to begin by saying that the Clifford Ball was the greatest concert experience I have ever been a part of. It was not the best phish show I have seen if you consider the music and jamming by themselves though. (That might be Halloween 95 or Murat 93)
I had no idea what to expect before I arrived except six sets of phish and camping. And I guess a whole lot of people. And maybe some surprises too. That's about it.
So here's the Clifford Ball from my perspective:
I was in Vermont at a friend's house about three hours from Plattsburgh. We (three of us) decided to leave on Thursday about 11 o'clock. We thought we'd beat the traffic by arriving at two and that there should be some people there since the gates opened at noon. Well the surprises began immediately upon entry. There were so many people already there, the lots were filling and the camping areas were already fully inhabited. The place was booming when we got there so we quickly closed up the car and began moving about the masses. We took a walk to get our bearings and see what we could see. All I could think for a while was, Damn. All this for one band? Anyway we explored, danced some by the DJ bus, and explored more. Saw Mike wandering the parking lot in a golf cart; almost expected to see him hearing about his bike rides before. Stayed up till six partying, wandering, and wondering.
The Clifford Ball Radio was the first of many special treats of the weekend. I thought this was a great idea and a good way to get most of the crowd information. We flipped it on as soon as we came in the gate and heard Bitches Brew, that was a good place to begin. Later the music got a little weirder. There was some reggae-type-stuff early on Friday morning and one of the CDs was skipping for about 45 minutes. The radio told us about the wristbands so as soon as we woke up we went and got them with no lines to wait in.
So we're the idiots who came supremely ill-prepared. Yes we were most definitely outclasses by pretty much everyone there. We came in a small car, a Civic, with no tent, and one sleeping bag between the three of us. We chose not to ignore the No Alcohol rule which was pretty dumb and evident to us as soon as we were on the lot. We figured that peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread, which was slightly crushed in the trunk, some fig newtons, and chips would take care of our Epicurean needs for the weekend. We were sorely mistaken. I look next to us and there are these guys who have two pickup trucks parked next to each other with a tarp up between them. The brought a damn full size gas grill! With the big propane tanks and all. I'm looking at a pb&j in my hand and then at their feast across the way. Oh well. We slept on the tarmac on blankets until it started raining when we moved to the car and slept (may not be the best word) to the delightful sounds of KE2XZK (or something like that) 88.9.
Yay, gates open at one o'clock for a six-thirty set. The walls of the compound (as one of the security guys liked to call it) were painted like the sky. Night sky turned to day sky and back again. It was a long wall and it must have taken a long time to paint. I added this to the list of things that made the Clifford Ball more and more amazing. When the gates opened there was a small marching band that started playing along side of people on stilts. Everyone was in high spirits at the time of the gate opening and this just made it better. Shit, we lost Alan and it's quarter till one. Oh well, We're all going to the same place. An hour or so later we found where that same place was. We knew because Alan was there and he knew because we were there. Are you getting all of this? From the same place we went and found a place to sit and wait for musics to begin. We played cards. The planes with messages were an interesting monotony breaker. Stunt planes later excited the crowd.
I knew to expect surprises but I thought they were all going to be related to the sets that Phish was going to play. I had no reason to expect a small village inside the concert area. I couldn't believe it. For those of you who weren't there I'll describe it, if you want to skip it go to the next bloody paragraph. There was a town square replete with Barber Shop, Ball Court, Ball Diner, Some kind of chapel, General Store, and a statue of Clifford Ball himself in the center. On the outskirts was an artist area where people were making, building, painting, and creating. There was another building that contained giant asphalt balls. One was about five feet in diameter and some of the others were a bit smaller but they were all painted like a street. Outside of that building there was a guy standing in front of a huge log about three feet in diameter. He was chopping at it with a hatchet, a tiny hatchet, he was making very slow progress. There was a theme here and if you can guess what it was you win. It was Clifford Ball. Ball was the theme. Artists were sculpting and decorating balls of all types. Inside on of the buildings in the square there were plaques up on the walls with words: orb, sphere, dance, globe, testis, bullet. I got orb, globe, sphere, and dance but I wasn't sure what testis was. I know testes though. At our time of great mental anguish a helping friendly man arrived. It was the Barber of Clifford Ball. He also knew what testes meant but was not sure what testis meant. He consulted the nice woman in the Diner but she didn't know either. He sat us down in the Diner to wait while he located someone with the answer. I was into this whole role playing thing, it was fun. I always liked to go to places like Sturbridge Village, Plymouth Plantation (are you from Massachusetts?), or Colonial Williamsburg. The Barber was playing a good part, he was funny too. Anyway, he came back with the answer: testis is the singular form of testes. Many of you probably know that already so sue me. Bullet, how is that a ball? Our only guess was the fact that bullets used to be balls oh so long ago. I was looking for something more clever than that so there are two verdicts: it's not the real reason or that reason is NGE. Enough about all that. Jim Pollock was in a tent signing art that he had done. There was a special deal, if you were wearing a shirt he designed you got a dollar off a purchase. I bought a three dollar sticker for two bucks. [Image] There was a music tent too, there was a saxophone quartet, that's all I remember. There also was a place to "confess to Phish." It was attached to the chapel. It was a small room with a mic and a podium that you would sit behind and "confess" in front of a camera. Hmmm. The barber that I mentioned before gives haircuts too. He only cuts one hair though. I found him giving a haircut to a camera crew guy's fuzzy microphone. I chose the hair that he should cut and then presented the cut hair to the guy holding the mic. So basically Clifford Ball square was cool.
Sitting by the sound board waiting for many hours to roll by I noticed there were many cameras all around. I figured they would use them for the three giant screens they had behind the sound board structure. There were too many for just that though, and all the roving camera crews, and the confess to Phish thing. My original thought was that they were going to cut together stuff and play it at intermissions but they didn't do that. Maybe they'll make a video of the whole thing and sell it. That might be cool.
By the way, free water idea: good. Plenty of porta-potties: good. Mist tents: good. Huge slice of watermelon for a mere dollar at one of the food tents: good. no shade to speak of while waiting for music: bad. Sunburn: bad. Sunburn: ouch. Huge plate of Indian food: good. Bringing a deck of cards: good. Phish soon: GOOD.
Now, for the music review I'll not go song by song, other people have already done that anyway. I will talk about what I remember and leave out what I forgot. So some things may be out of order too. I'll try to get the Friday/Saturday distinction correct.
My favorite game, what will they open with? I thought they might do Sanity or something crazy like that. Nope, maybe Runaway Jim or My Friend, My Friend. Nope. What was it anyway? They opened with Chalkdust. That was pretty good. Nice pumped up opener. Next was Bathtub Gin. This was great, looking back it was one of my favorites of the shows. The jam was very cool, Trey was playing with the melody always in mind, a Monk like approach. I liked to hear how he tweaked it and played with it. This just ended too, no restatement of the lyrics, no nothing, Trey just looked sided to side and when he was sure he had everyone's attention it just stopped. I liked it. Ya Mar, and AC/DC Bag followed, this is when I begin to think to myself, "Have I seen and listened to too much Phish?" I just was bored by this stuff. And I know that it's the same stuff that I liked when I first heard it. More on this later. Divided sky peaked my interest slightly except I knew that there was going to be those long, pointless pauses where people cheer for no reason. The fist slow part though was interesting, Trey used some infinite repeater effect and basically recorded a few notes and had that repeat in that background what he played on top of it. Through all this testing, fooling, and playing, Trey has really discovered/invented some cool things one can do with effects. During Trey's pause he watched a helicopter fly by. Fish also took a long pause before the "ding ding" reentry to the tune. The jam was standard Divided Sky. This was right about sunset by the way. Any significance, probably not. Everytime I hear Esther I love it. That song is so well written, everything about it. From the way the time change works to the way each part's mood reflects what is happening in the story. Yeehaw for Esther! Halley's Comet was a good treat. Bowie I remember being above average but I don't remember why.
Set break, more card games. This time we played Crazy Eights.
Set two contained SOAMelt. This one was nothing very special. I liked the Sparkle -> Free. This was the same transition they did at Halloween, I like it. I liked the Rift -> Free better though. Free rocks, this tune always pumps me up big time. The Trey on the mini-drums and playing with effects is not too bad. An acoustic portion was nice. There were the three new songs that I hadn't heard before. The Waste seemed kinda cheesy but it was a nice song. All three had interesting twists to them, they are not standard songs. I like them, I would like to hear them if they are on the new album. Strange Design is still lame no matter how you slice it. Sorry if anyone likes it. After the acoustic came the Mike's songs portion of the show. Mike's Song: good. Simple: good. Contact: ok. Weekapaug: good.
Set break, too dark to play cards. pick nose instead. oops I forgot that this set break, we didn't stay close to the stage, we moved back.
Set three. We found ourselves on the hillside near Ball Square. Makisupa Policeman. The screens are way ahead of the sound when you travel farther away. That was annoying. Trey says, "Dank" and the crowd loves it. Seems weird to me. 2001 was great! Page, by the way, is showing more and more good stuff everytime I see them. Page rocks this tune which was taken much longer than I have ever seen it taken before. Something like 10/15/94 but longer. I really enjoyed that one. I expected Down With Disease to be funky and cool because I heard that about one earlier this summer but it was standard. I always tie this to Divided Sky, the sound similar in the feeling of the jam. NICU is lame now compared to tapes from 92. I think it may be for the little reason that Trey omits the high note in the chord sequence of the tune. I liked that little part. Harry was good. I find myself liking the jam parts right when they begin when Trey is playing melodically and it seems more well thought out. This goes for Antelope, Harry, Possum, Bowie, SOAM, Chalkdust, AC/DC Bag, and some others. Towards the end of these jams they revert to build, build, build, Trey's guitar screams, drop off to some dissonant thing, then it builds again. Ok, this doesn't really go for Harry but Harry always does end in a similar fashion. The fireworks were great. Amazing Grace encore was fitting. You can't really top a Harry -> fireworks. Plus there's always tomorrow.
Sleep on tarmac, to tired to party. Starts to rain again, go in car. Listen to radio, hear weirdo versions of Halley's Comet and I Didn't Know. Mouth feels like a sewer.