I first heard Phish around 1995, when a cute hippy girl I knew in high school was telling me stories of shit I just could not fathom (driving around California following some band, taking acid at age 14?) -- I was a nerd to the core (still am) and the craziest thing I had done at that point was have a beer at a family BBQ. She played me a few songs from Rift, and a couple from Junta, and like a typical 14/15 year old I thought Fee was "neat" and Lengthwise was funny. Then I went back to listening to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Pearl Jam. Fast forward a couple years, a kid moves from Connecticut to my high school in San Francisco, and he's a huge Phish fan. And Dave's got tapes! By that point I had been getting into the Dead by exploring my Dad's record collection (turns out Pops caught some Dead shows in the '70s -- you'd never guess from meeting him), and though Phish was very different from the Dead to my ears, after Jerry died, at least in San Francisco, a lot of the talk in that "scene" turned to Phish. Dave copied some tapes for me, including a VHS of that Woodbury Racquet and Ski Club show (4/29/90) which I watched a bunch of times. I go off to college in Fall '98 and I still hadn't seen Phish, but I started getting into them some more. I just wasn't paying enough attention, and I hadn't found resources like etree.org or RMP. Once I had settled in at college just across the bay in Berkeley, I finally used my newfound freedom to get out to some shows. I saw String Cheese at the Fillmore in March '99, Phil and Friends at the Greek in August '99, and got tickets to night two for Phish at Shoreline. In retrospect, I am *so* disappointed that I missed the Phil and Phriends run in April '99. God damn I'm an idiot -- I love those shows! But again, I just wasn't paying enough attention. At that time I was more interested in chasing tail and was stressing about school.
So I finally make it to Shoreline (with Dave, who became my roommate a few months later). We get lawn tickets because again, I'm just a 19 year-old n00b and I don't know any better (Shoreline lawn pretty much blows -- you can't see shit unless you're watching the jumbo screens, which is kind of like watching a DVD). My first song is Mozambique and I have no idea what the hell's going on. Is this some crazy jam or some song I've never heard of? But by the time the dark part of Guyute rolls around, I'm already locked in. This is nuts! Then Trey starts up the sirens and I get my first Ghost. I get lost in the jam and don't even remember what they're playing halfway through the jam (at this point I'm completely lit). And out of nowhere comes Lawn Boy, from Ghost with a perfect ">" as if they were one long song… I had heard the version on Slip, Stitch and Pass, and because to that point I'd only heard a handful of shows, it tripped me out that within four songs these guys had played a new latin-infused instrumental, a prog-rocking epic about a pig, a full on porno-funk groove, and now some lounge music? Needless to say I was sold, despite my being a little uncomfortable with some of the crazy shit going on around me (dirty wooks falling over and acting, well, acting like dirty wooks). Then comes Peaches, which had *just* been busted back out two shows earlier in Boise in a show (9/14/99) that also featured my second-favorite AC/DC Bag of all time (12/30/97 being my favorite). A nice, thick, funky Moma ensues, and this one's got some Monkey Man teases around 3:45 that I did NOT notice while I was at the show. Water in the Sky is the fast version, fine, and Circus is nice too -- I didn't even know it was a cover at that point. BoTT was pretty damn boring to me this time around -- it hadn't been jammed out yet, and it didn't have any funk that we'd see in versions like 6/14/00 the next year. After the little lull of Water, Circus, BoTT, things got awesome again and they didn't let up for the rest of the show. David Bowie and YEM were probably my favorite songs going in to my first show, so I was stoked to get a first set Bowie and knew enough about the band to expect that once Bowie started, it would be the first set closer -- after all, going into Bowie they'd already been playing for an hour. Bowie did not disappoint, and I was pleasantly suprised to have Coil tacked on to end the set. I instantly fell in love with the Page outro as a way to end a set, though this wasn't his best effort ever (still good though).
We went and bought hot dogs during set break -- no beer for these fake ID-less 19 year olds! We went back on the lawn and tried to eavesdrop to see what other people thought of the first set. I thought it was really good (still do!) and I got the sense that others enjoyed it, but that nothing truly *epic* had happened. Runaway Jim kicked off the second set, and I thought it was a great way to kick off the second set. It was 10 minutes long, and I remember liking how they stretched it out beyond early '90s versions -- at that time I didn't have a sense for the second set opener being the spot for the beginning of serious exploration, even though compared to later shows, a 10 minute Jim batting leadoff in the second set wouldn't be considered long at all. Dave turned to me during Jim and commented on this line:
"Jim came home when he was 17 / that's 119 to you and me"
He explained that 7 dog years were the equivalent to a human year, so the band knew what they were talking about: 7 x 17 = 119. My fragile teenage mind was blown. If I were me seeing this exchange between two 19 year olds at a show now it would probably be the funniest thing I saw all night. Oh, to be a n00b again... The end of Jim jumped right into Sand, another "never heard this one" for me. It was only the second time played, and was a lot slower pace than it is nowadays. Mike didn't stray at all from the bassline and Fish kept solid time. Trey set up some pretty psychedelic, effects-laden sonic washes throughout the whole jam -- it sounded like Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix, or some of the more acid-influenced Beatles work. Piper was up next, and consisted of essentially two full on jam sections separated by a "second verse" of red red worming. It was balls to the wall the whole time, and contained more of the same psychedelic swells from Trey. The second jam winds down into a very cool sparse section which leads into Roggae. At that moment I don't think I'd ever heard anything more beautiful than Roggae… and before I could get lost too deep in thought, here comes YEM! So I got my Bowie and I got my YEM -- thanks guys! AND WAIT, WHAT'S THIS?! IS THAT PHIL LESH JUMPING ON TRAMPOLINES WITH TREY AND MIKE?! Being a Dead fan at that point and having just seen Phil for the first time a month earlier, I just about shat myself. I didn't realize the historic significance of this, and all the "Phish not wanting to draw comparisons to the Dead" were completely unknown to me, but I did know that this was sick! I actually couldn't hear Phil for shit in YEM until the duet. The Bass Duet out of YEM was cool even though to be honest I didn't think musically it was *that* great until the very end. I know, blasphemy... Wolfman's was freaking great, and I didn't know that Phil had already learned it in April (as I mentioned, head in the sand). Cold Rain and Snow was awesome as well, and it's *so* good to hear Trey jamming on Dead tunes. Having just seen Phil the previous month at the Greek, I recognized Warren when he came out on stage -- I'm not really a fan of Mule or his music in general, but it was money to get the second guitar for Viola Lee Blues and the extra vocals are a *must* for this one. The sweet part was that even though they show had already hit the 3 hour mark before the encore, they didn't care what time it was, they jammed the encore out till it was done. VLB comes to an intense peak around the 10 minute mark, before breaking through in an orgasmic release, circling back to the main theme. Great stuff! This is a solid 4 star show -- one of the few Phish shows where the guest sit-in actually works -- but I'm giving it the full five stars for popping my cherry.