Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
 Moved briefly through the ending segment of DWD.
Average Song Gap: 34.29
Notes: Phish played Golden Lady for the first time since October 20, 1994 (458 shows). Trey chided Fishman at the start of the second set, claiming that he didn’t know how to play Disease. Trey teased DEG in Seven Below. The jam out of Piper included an In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida tease from Page and a Rift tease before moving briefly through the ending segment of Disease (in the key of Piper, no less) before segueing into Makisupa.
Songs by Debut Year:
In bed at 4 a.m. Blinked open at 11:15 a.m. Game day.
We had a quick jump in the pool, rallied up with friends, and finally went to a well-deserved brunch at the Treasure Island buffet. Plate after plate of food, coffee, juice, and some unnecessary but fun champagne.
Back to the Vagabond by about 1:30 p.m., time for cocktails by the pool and to regroup and forge the night’s plan. I was part of the go-early group this day.
I talked to my friend Melissa (Bubbles) at about 3:00 p.m. and she got me completely fired up. This girl should be a motivational speaker. She wasn’t even going to come to Vegas, but when some tickets became available, she said screw it, flew out from New York, solo, hooked up with some friends, and did Vegas up in style. On Sunday morning she made a helicopter ride over the city, and that afternoon she was seeing Siegfried and Roy before skipping over to the Mack for the show. She was just talking it all up like Tommy Lasorda, and got me so fired up that any residual fatigue
Finally took off for the lot at about 4:00 p.m. or so. Cory G, Cletus and I hit the line (good position!), Rick and Leigh Ann cruised the lot to sell more of their license-plate frames (perhaps you bought one? “Slave.....to the Traffic Light). Gates opened early this night, around 6:00 p.m., and as planned we secured the same amount of space, on the same side but closer: section 105, first section off the stage, Mike’s Side, around 20 rows up. Sweet.
The group slowly filtered in and by 7:30 p.m. we were all assembled. Suddenly someone noticed the rafters : the “Ghost” sign was back. But now they had cut off the “82” from it so it read “1 Days Since Last Ghost”. We never saw it because we were on the Mike side, but apparently at the corner where the stage met the loge seats on his side, someone had a sign that said “Mike’s Corner.”
I gave away a lot more CDs and got all sorts of stuff in exchange; a sweet green Dancing Bear necklace, a small chocolate, something else similar. Shortly before the lights dropped, the crowd energy (again palpably high) erupted into the wave. It can be cheesy at a ballgame, but it was dead-on this night.
As show time approached, we all wondered whether Saturday’s energy would carry over; would they just pound us again? The answer, to be revealed immediately, would be a resounding “YES!”.
“Bowie”> “Catapult”> “Bowie”. Any questions?
The high hat started up, and a few people thought “Maze”. I even gave our first-song pool money to Laurie, who had picked “Maze”, only to take it back (yoink) quickly when I knew it would be “Bowie”.
Song one. Check.
The highlight of the “Round Room” later in the set was the long outro jam that was ambient and groovy and, if we hadn’t been steamrolled by an “Antelope” the night before, I would have sworn was going to lead into “Antelope” (reminiscent of the “Fee”>outro jam> “Antelope” from Champlaign in Fall ‘97).
According to the Phish Companion, as Phish prepared for the first Halloween “costume” show on 10/31/94, where they played the fan-voted Beatles’ “White Album”, what they really wanted to play was Innervisions. They worked up “Golden Lady”, soundchecked it a couple times, and performed it exactly once. Until 2/16/03 at the Mack Daddy! Very hard to go wrong with Stevie. Ah, but we were still just getting started. Poor Heart was next, and Greg won our pool (first of our first-song picks to be played).
Set II opened with the dissonant wah-wah that can mean only 2 things: “2001”, or “Down With Disease”. It was the “Disease”, and a beauty. Then a tasty segue into “Seven Below”, This built back up into a good jam, and at some point they rammed it back into “DWD” and the place went ballistic.
At this point, on I.Z’s command, he and I fired our streamers together, and they worked great opening up over the crowd like twin jet trails. Meanwhile, Cletus had out the large bag of shiny confetti that I had taken to NYE ( and failed to use, passed to Iffi and Mitch, who passed it to Cletus in Hampton, who used a little at the Col. Bruce aftershow, but then brought the balance to Vegas!), Throughout the show, Cletus would occasionally launch a big handful of confetti over our group.
When the “DWD” madness finally ended, and the Mack Daddy was again safely back on land, it was time for a tasty break, and “Anything But Me” fit the bill. I’m a sucker for a nice ballad, when well placed (a well-placed “Lifeboy” is still one of my favorite things). And I’m also a big fan of a certain type of Phish lyrics; the bizarro ones are fun to sing along with, but I really like a clever turn-of-phrase that gets you thinking (I like anything that gets you thinking) by creating an image. One favorite has always been in “Guyute”, picturing the Ugly Pig he lectured me in a language strange, then scampered quickly out of range. “Anything But Me” has some nice ones, and in Vegas on this night I had fun with this one: “I am just a raindrop that accelerates without control, losing bits and pieces in descent 'til I'm no longer whole”. Nice.
After I heard the NYE show back and heard the Piper opener, I started a discussion with some friends by saying that the NYE Piper was the best that I had ever seen live. This sparked all sorts of “best Piper” discussion, and several people pointed to the 7/6/98 Prague version as being their favorite. Indeed, it is quite solid, with a long jam that jumps all over the place. (It was this discussion that got me the 7/6/98 CDs for free that inspired me to burn a bunch and hand them out in Vegas).
Well move over, there’s a new sheriff in town. This Vegas Piper is immediately in the discussion. It was freaking ludicrous. It ended in a long, spectacular funk jam that just kept going, and topping itself, and building, and breaking down into wah-wah guitar, then ripping off again. It never lost its momentum. It was only fitting that it would segue back into “Down With Disease” (third time) for a spell, then jam off in another direction, before finally settling down into a crowd pleaser, “Makisupa Policeman”!
Somewhere around here, as we were throwing all our remaining confetti all over the place, I got a big confetti flake directly in my left eye. We saw it in there but couldn’t pull it out, so we resolved to deal with it later.
Even as the “Friday” encore ended, we were hoping for something else, but to no avail. Hey, we can’t complain in light of what went down in Vegas for two nights, but still, the moment called for a triumphant encore, even just a “Funky Bitch” or a bustout “Viva Las Vegas” cover, or something. But that was really the only miss of the whole two nights.
We spilled out of the Mack, called our limo, and in about ten minutes we were sitting in the stretch, drinking vodka on ice (no mixers to be found) and listening to the 1993 soundchecks disc that I had brought.
Because most of us had been in Vegas for two days and had not yet gambled, our group decided during the show that we would rally up at the Vagabond and head just up the Strip to the Frontier, where some friends had discovered $5 tables the night before. Got back to the hotel, and while waiting for everyone I went next door to Subway and grabbed a foot long sub and inhaled it.
Finally we headed over to the Frontier at about 1:00 Am. or so, and we quickly commandeered a blackjack table, with about five of us sitting and playing.
And then it happened. In what I can only figure was the crescendo of this weekend full of magic and madness, I briefly turned into Rain Man. We were playing blackjack, and at one point I was dealt an ace first card. I casually asked the dealer, “Gimme the Jack of Hearts”. Bang: Jack of Hearts. It was a big laugh, everyone was shaking their head, myself included, and the next deal came around and my first card was again an ace. People looked at me. “Oh, this time it’s the ten of. Clubs.” Can it possibly be right this time? Bang: ten of clubs. OK, this is weird. And now the table is freaking out, myself included again! It takes several minutes for the game to resume. People are yelling and cheering, “He just called another card!”.
I really can’t explain why it happened, just total random luck. And I really can’t explain why it happened a third time, about ten minutes later, next time I drew an ace first card, people looked at me and I just said, “Uh, Queen of Hearts”. Bang: Queen of Hearts. Somewhere during this time I’m told the floor manager came over and replaced the pit boss to oversee things, and we were all yelling and laughing. I asked the dealer (same guy all three times) if he had ever seen anything like this and he shook his head in disbelief. But that was it. The casino must have known it was a fluke since I was playing little money at a $5 table, and after less than an hour in the casino I cashed out (won $20, woo hoo!) and hit the sack.
Mia and I had to fly back to LA in the morning on an 8:10 Am. flight, alarm clock going off at 6:20 a.m.
Monday was a very long day. Flew back to LA, hung out with family for a bit, then piled the girls into the car and drove all the way back to the Bay Area. Arrived about midnight. Ouch.
I had to be back in the Bay to appear in court (I’m a law-talkin’ guy) on Tuesday afternoon. The court of appeal, no less, very formal and quiet. It was quite a culture shock, going from screaming-confetti-thrower to suited-legal-arguer in about 36 hours.
Oh, and that morning, driving to San Francisco, I finally pulled that piece of confetti out of my eye.
Set 1 kicks off with Bowie, already a sign that the band's gonna get down to some serious business, and this is a sharp Bowie that catches a sweet groove at the 10 minute mark and morphs into quicksilver hazy bliss (a hallmark of 2003), then makes a fine return to the classic Bowie jam. The band churns out a thick, dark groove for a few minutes, makes room for Catapult, and then bursts back to the main Bowie theme for a fine finale. But lest you think they'd gotten all the first set jamming out of their system, there's a very good rendition of the now-forgotten Round Room that beautifully peters out in typical 2003 fashion, super-rarity Golden Lady (which I wouldn't mind hearing again), and a fine set-closing Pebbles and Marbles that lets Trey cook, so to speak (and lets him hint ever so gently at DWD, to my ears). That's a darn fine 70 minutes of music right there.
Set 2, as @waxbanks points out, takes on some of the shared qualities of the segue-fests of old, but with a true 2.0 feel. DWD starts up the set, and this is a perfectly good DWD (analogous to, say, 12/11/99's version) that rocks hard before simmering down and slowly, sneakily winding its way into Seven Below (albeit with a key change needed to get into -7 proper). Seven Below, one of the many reasons why 2.0 cannot be dismissed, gets a very nice relaxed reading here, with Page showing off his chops in fine fashion, and the band throws in a DEG tease just for funsies. Then, after making their way back to the Seven Below theme, Trey gets a neat idea and fires up Ye Olde DWD Theme, and the band makes a proper return to DWD. It's a fine piece of business (if not quite as truly dramatic as 12/29/13's brilliant DWD -> jam -> DWD), and wraps up a tremendous opening act to the set.
Anything But Me gives the band a breather, then we get the real meat of the set in a standout Piper from an era where Piper really found its legs as a set-making vehicle. The band immediately whips up a propulsive, heady brew in the Piper jam (another hallmark of 2003), with that new guitar tone helping to add to the jam's raw power. Trey starts snapping off chords as Page gives the ivories a good tickling, and things settle (if that's the word) into an upbeat, peppy jam as Page moves to the organ and Mike starts making his presence felt. The groove starts getting more and more minimalist, with Fish's busy drumming really keeping the pace, and Trey starts playing more optimistic chords as Fish goes to the hi-hats. Then, just as one fine broad wink to the audience, Trey picks out the DWD theme yet again, and we get one final rush before the jam amusingly slides into Makisupa. This is a fine companion piece to (again) 12/29/13's in-the-pocket Carini, and an A+ jam. Everything else is standard, but that hardly matters.
Final thoughts: an absolutely classic show. The first set is very accomplished, even for an era where first sets were often quite strong, and the second set features a deservedly red-colored jam and a glorious DWD -> -7 -> DWD sandwich. I know 2.0 has a reputation, and can often get a bad rap, but if you can put that aside there's no shortage of riches in those two years. 2/16/03, in my opinion, is one of the most precious jewels in that treasure chest.
If you look at past shows with “Catapult” in them you will notice that most of them are some of the best shows ever. Knowing this, I believed we might be in for something epic on this night. The “Horn” and “Guyute” that followed dashed that dream, however. They’re not bad songs, but just not songs that are played in epic shows, and man have I heard “Guyute” enough already even after two and a half years of Hiatus.
I was pumped for “Round Room” and I believed that this song had great jam potential until they actually did jam on it. This was very typical of the ambient style from 2000, which I am not a fan of. Listen to any of the jams from the second set Hershey 2000 show and you will know what this “Round Room” jam was like.
“Golden Lady” may have been a bustout but it wasn't exciting. That, my friends, is a cheesy song. “Poor Heart” was a welcome boost in energy as much of the crowd was starting to look dazed. “Pebbles and Marbles” was a song I was hoping to see and I thought it could be a second set opener. It may have served better as a set opener, because it just doesn't cut it as a set closer. They were working to get this to rock pretty hard, but I felt it was really choppy and rushed. I love the song, but this version didn't impress at all. This set was the worst of the four this weekend.
For the second set, you could feel the spacey openings of “Disease” right out of the gate and it was on! The beginning of this “Disease” was rough to take, though. The sloppiness was akin to many of the composed sections of the Hampton songs I have heard (see “YEM”). There were some groans, but by the jam section we had forgotten all about it as Trey was absolutely ripping this song apart. This jam got down to a groove pretty quick, not a typical rock and roll “Disease” that can get repetitive and dull by some accounts. I for one like the “Disease” that can settle and groove, and this pleased me just fine.
The segue into “Seven Below” was the first real segue of the weekend and it was the Phish I fell in love with so many years ago. I think Mike was playing the bass line to get the segue going and Trey moved in quickly to follow suit. I didn't think a “Seven Below” could be as good without snowflakes and dancing ice fairies, but this one beat New Year’s. Trey really got the industrial, grungy guitar going. He jammed over the theme and then into open territory, brought back into the theme, back out into uncharted territory, and back into “Disease”! This was absolutely sick, and I was pumped to get a segue both in and out of a great song like “Seven Below”.
“Anything But Me” was fine by me, although it killed a little momentum. I like the song, and at the end it sort of sounded as though they were just going to pick up an ambient jam. At this point a couple of us were thinking/praying for a “2001”, but when “Piper” kicked in we said we would settle. The NYE ”Piper” raged and contained all the energy necessary for the first song back. Could it be beaten?
That “Piper” was Mike Tyson getting bludgeoned by this Lennox Lewis of this “Piper”. It was hands down the best I have seen or heard and I have seen and heard a ton of “Piper”s. The thick gooey funk that worked its way into this twenty minute jam was just what the doctor ordered. The start/stop Trey solo ala so many of those Fall ‘97 shows is something I have been dying to hear again for years. The jam back into “Disease”, which some have incredibly called lame, was magic to my ears. This jam is one that should be ranked with many of the best, and would fit perfectly into the best sets of any Fall ‘97 show.
The segue into “Makisupa” was strong like the “Disease” — > “7 Below”, and the song was entertaining as always. I am surprised I haven't read more people comment on how prominently Trey was saying the "house" lyric because we were all obviously finding out that "the house always wins" this weekend! Did no one else find this funny? I got a good laugh out of it.
The “Friday” encore sucked, no other way to say it. I have come to expect shitty encores from this band over the years, and this was a prime example. Suck it up and send us out into the streets of Vegas
in a frenzy!
Overall it was a great, great weekend. In terms of music, it is probably the best two-night run I have seen since Philly in ‘99. It was the most fun since Vegas 2000. It had glimpses of some of the best Phish jamming anyone has heard since Boise ‘99 and the best of ‘97. There was though some looseness in the composed sections of some of the Phish standards, notably the sloppy “Disease” and some problems in the “Ghost”. Strangely enough, these two songs produced the best jams of the weekend, which means I will surely sacrifice perfect composition for sick jams.
I was on the floor, ten deep in front of Trey for this one, which was awesome because he took over this show. I predicted a “Punch” opener, but I don't think anybody was ready for what was about to happen... “David Bowie” > “Catapult” > David Bowie!
There is no way anybody ever predicted this in a million years. The last time “Bowie” opened a show was 12/30/93. Before it started, Trey teased a riff that might have been “Julius”, though I'm not sure. That got people stoked and then he turned and talked to Mike and Fish. Fish started the “Bowie” beat and the crowd was stunned. People's jaws dropped. The energy just built up and then finally Trey pulled the “Bowie” opening off to perfection. This was probably one of the most surreal moments I've ever had. The energy was amazing during this song.
This set had a weird flow to it after “Guyute” finished. “Golden Lady” was oddly placed and I think the set could have used one more song, maybe a “Melt” after “Poor Heart”. The “Bowie” was amazing and I'm still stunned that they opened with it.
I vote for the “DWD” reprise out of “7 Below” for high energy point of the run. The second they segued back into “DWD”, everybody in Thomas and Mack went completely bonkers. I personally didn't see this coming.
The “Piper” is the best one I've ever heard. The buildup was beautiful and somewhat epic. The crowd really appreciated this selection and it was very loud in the arena. At about the five minute mark Trey hit some rockin’ chords and all of the sudden about a hundred glow rings went flying from this one spot on the floor, and then it was on: one hell of a glow stick war. Trey's face was priceless and I think it was at this point he started jumping up and down. There was such a great connection between the audience and band during this song. It went on for what seemed like a half hour, glowsticks flying everywhere, with lots of exploration in the jam.
I thought maybe they'd segue into “Guy Forget”, but instead they decided to go into “DWD” once again. The place went crazy again.