There's something magical about the desert. For some people it's just a vast expanse of nothingness between the coast and the Midwest, miles to be traversed to get to your goal. Others though hear a call in the vast space and clear skies. It's not something that can be codified really, but I feel it upon every visit. It's a yearning to be free, a call to leave civilization and be one with the land. For one night Phish managed to tap into this source. For one night they managed to become one with the desert. This isn't the best night of Phish I've seen, but it's one of the most memorable. To think that I saw it on a whim.
The sole reason why I attended this show was because of the following night. Phish was going to be playing Las Cruces, NM. I earned my Masters Degree in that town, hating every minute of it. I looked forward to returning there in the same way that the high school nerd who became a software millionaire looks forward to his reunion. No matter what, I knew I'd have to go to that show. As long as I was going to go down there though, I might as well attend both show, right?
It was thinking of Tucson as the afterthought that almost caused me to miss the opener. My flight landed in Phoenix barely two hours before the show started. Only the 75 MPH speed limits enabled me to arrive at the show on time.
The Pima County Fairgrounds are precisely that. It's not really a formal venue; it's a flat strip of land on the outskirts of town with a fence around it and a stage at one end. As a place to see Phish, it had two things going for it: the delicious Thai food stand in the back of the venue and the view of the night sky. With no barriers to block it, the wind decided that it was a fan tonight and swept in to see the shows. When I listen to the show, it brings back that environment.
Outside of the incredibly strong seventeen minute “Drowned” in the first set that could have been played anywhere, most of the power of this show comes as much from where it was played as by what was played. The most blatant example of this occurs in the middle of the second set. Making an obvious thematic nod to their locale, Phish play “Vultures”. It's a call to the desert powers, and it gets answered.
As the jam got weirder and spacier, the wind drove the clouds across the moon. I found myself wandering away from the sparse crowd and the band, over towards the outer fence. As far as I could see, there were no lights or other signs of civilization. All that existed was this vast space and this music that seemed to be part of the world itself. This only lasted for about five minutes or so, but it was powerful. While the jam on its own can't reproduce this experience, I suggest that you try bringing it out to your next Arizona camping trip to see if works for you too.
I can't help feeling that the band felt this too. How else do you explain the encore? Rather than playing a quick throwaway song, they encored with “Reba” for only the second time ever. As if that wasn't enough, they followed with a “Bold As Love” that went on forever. Phish knew that they tapped into something primal that night and not even they wanted the night to end.