Even months before the tour started I was worried about Cortemaggiore. Getting around Europe is so easy, the rail system goes to every major city and the train stations are always centrally located. However, Cortemaggiore is not a major city. Unlike every other stop on the spring tour there is no rail station in Cortemaggiore and it isn’t located on any maps available to your average American tourist.
It wasn’t until we actually were on tour when we got the details. The closest train station was in Piacenza, about fifteen miles away, and there were buses that went back and forth to Cortemaggiore. However, the show was on a Sunday, and there were rumors that the buses weren’t going to be running. No problem, many people (including those working for Phish) suggested that the promoter was going to charter some buses to haul all the fans on tour. Other fans were talking about renting a car/van and charging people for rides (a.k.a. “Antelope Express”).
We decided to “wing it” as we had been doing all along on tour and went straight to Piacenza by rail. The promoter didn’t have buses waiting for us, and the public buses weren’t running on Sunday, but there were several taxis at the train station that were eager to take us to Cortemaggiore. When we arrived, we discovered that Cortemaggiore was a tiny town of a few thousand with one hotel (seven rooms total), two cafes, one pizzeria, a movie theater (which doubled as the venue), three churches, and two restaurants. One was about thirty feet from the door to the venue, the other was closed on Sunday. You could walk in a circle around the whole town in about fifteen minutes.
We got to the venue just after the band had finished soundcheck. We heard from others who had watched the soundcheck through the open door that the band had performed a long version of a brand-new song that had only had been played once, in the middle of “Down with Disease” the previous week in Amsterdam. It was later named “Carini Had a Lumpy Head” at the 2/28/97 Berlin show. Someone mentioned that immediately afterward they saw Trey sitting at the console mixing the soundcheck, which was playing back over the PA, a highly unusual event that we soon forgot about.
After a lazy afternoon playing Frisbee in the park, we went to the restaurant next to the venue to have dinner, along with seemingly every other American on tour. I had the urge to wash my hands, so I went off in search of the bathroom. The restaurant wasn’t very large and was completely filled with Americans going to the show. There was a banquet room off to the side connected by a short hallway. The bathrooms were also off the little hallway so on the way to the bathroom I peeked into the banquet room where the whole Phish crew was having dinner. By this point I was frustrated with trying to find the correct bathroom in each country, and this restaurant didn’t have the international symbols printed on the doors. One bathroom door was held open so I assumed it was the men’s room and besides, I was only washing my hands. So I went in and started washing my hands when someone came out of the one stall. I turned my head around and sure enough, it was Trey. We quickly exchanged the standard automatic greetings (“How’s it going…Fine and you, etc.”) and he left to have his dinner. Immediately afterwards an American woman strolled in and exclaimed “What are you doing in the ladies room?”
The venue itself was a movie theater, but the chairs had been removed from the floor in front of the stage. The floor was tri-level and Paul Languedoc’s mix position was at the front of the middle section so anyone standing even with or behind the board was well above the heads of everyone in front of the board. The third tier was a cafe/bar setup with tables from which you could watch the show. There was a balcony hanging over the cafe section but it was closed off. I would estimate somewhere between 750 and 1,000 people were there.
Pre-show all the tapers were buzzing. It appeared that a Walkman-sized DAT recorder was attached to the soundboard and everyone wanted to know who was lucky enough to get a patch from Paul. We soon found out what was really happening. Just before the lights went out, Chris Kuroda went to the tapers' section and said, “Now would be a good time to start your decks!” Shortly thereafter the lights dimmed, the intermission music faded out, Paul pushed “Play” on the Walkman DAT hooked up to board, and out of the PA came a portion of the “Carini Had a Lumpy Head” the band had recorded and mixed down during soundcheck! The band came out on stage and got into position while the soundcheck was playing and on cue launched into a red-hot version of the song using the prerecorded portion as an intro!
The show was amazing and for the second set Fish wore his dress the only time for the whole tour. After the show there was an Italian bootlegger with a table set up right in front of the crew’s tour bus selling bootleg T-shirts and other items with the Phish logo. He literally had his back against the bus! Needless to say, sales were not brisk that night for him. The band had made arrangements for a bus to take everyone back to Piacenza because the town of Cortemaggiore did not want the Phish-heads hanging out all night waiting for the public shuttle to start again in the morning. All in all, with the size and intimacy of the town, the mood of the other fans, and the intensity of the show, it was one of the best overall Phish concert experiences I think I will ever have!