Historian: Parker Harrington (tmwsiy)
Last Update: 2014-11-06
Fans walked into Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ on 10-31-13 for the second run of Halloween shows at this venue and the first since the band played here for the 2010 run, with exceedingly high expectations and suspense as to what album choice Phish would don as their musical costume. Unlike past years, such as 2010, where the Halloween show culminated the run and tension built through the prior shows, this 10-31 show was the first night of the three night run. Yet, with increased social media, rumor mills and communication among fans and information purportedly coming from “those in the know," several albums raced to the top of the candidate list and anticipation and rumors were just as rabid as prior years.
Early arrivers entering Boardwalk Hall quickly disseminated the news after digesting the Playbill. Wingsuit. Would Phish really be debuting an album’s worth of new material? Was “Wingsuit” really a song? Or was that too going to be a massive prank? After a lackluster first set, Phish delivered something that many fans had been anticipating for a long time: a slew of new Phish songs. Not one-off covers like the summer of 2010 (“Free Man in Paris,” “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” “Killing In the Name”), not side band songs that slowly trickled into Phish’s repertoire (“Architect,” “Babylon Baby,” “Show of Life”), and not even covers that have huge jamming potential (“Energy”). Just pure Phish. Every venue is numbered here on Phish.net. Boardwalk Hall happens to randomly be 777. Lucky number 7's. Anticipation was high for the second set to see if Phish would roll the bones and come up big… or crap out.
The 10-31-13 show of course is unprecedented in the annals of Phish’s Halloween history – covering an album “from the future.” Yet there are scores of shows where batches of songs have debuted. Even a show with just a few debuts is exciting to reflect back upon. I was at the 1-20-90 show for example – and hearing “Squirming Coil,” “Carolina,” “Caravan” and “Bouncing Around the Room” for the first time may not have seemed earth shattering at the time – but decades later, it resonates a lot louder. Likewise, 9-13-90 (“Stash,” “Landlady” and “Buried Alive” among others), 4-4-94 (“Scent of a Mule,” “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Down with Disease” and “Julius,” etc.) and 5-16-95 (“Strange Design,” “Free,” “Theme From the Bottom,” etc) all featured a bunch of debuts that became stalwarts in Phish setlists. Those shows too have intensely personal memories for me – like many Phish shows do for so many.
While I was not in Boardwalk Hall, that second set opener with the presumed title-track of the new album, “Wingsuit,” will always resonate loudly with me. With tears trickling down my cheek, I listened intently and hung to every note and lyric. It was a powerful set opener: New Phish. The first of an unprecedented twelve new songs to debut. The band at their Phishiest – going out on a limb and forgoing the typical album pick. The band boldly stepping into the future after a particularly strong run of shows in their fall 2013 tour. And a song that instantly became a personal favorite.
Wingsuit? What suit? For those unfamiliar with the sport of wingsuiting, it’s similar to skydiving. Yes, you jump out of a plane or do a BASE jump (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth (like a cliff)). And yes you have a parachute that must be deployed to bring you back to terra firma. The difference is what happens between the initial jump itself and the landing. By wearing a special suit, the wingsuit, that drastically increases surface area and provides lift, the “flyer” can soar through the sky. While typical freefall has the skydiver falling practically vertical to the ground, a wingsuiter can travel forward close to three times whatever distance they fall. So for example, a wingsuit jump from an altitude of 18,000’ can have the wingsuiter travel over eight miles. Imagine jumping over Plattsburgh Air Force Base and landing in Vermont. An exhilarating experience. Man has always tried to fly. To be free. To soar like an eagle effortlessly. Wingsuiting gets us very close to that dream. Some think skydiving and wingsuiting are particularly risky and dangerous. While it is an extremely safe sport with very, very few fatalities, sadly, they do occur. On 11/11/09 I lost my precious identical twin brother, Steve, in a wingsuiting accident.
He had previously set a record earlier in the afternoon for the most amount of wingsuiters in a formation (known as a “Flock”). This was a celebratory sunset jump. He fell and landed on a ranch near Lake Elsinore, CA. A loving family came upon him soon after he fell. They formed a small circle around him, held his hand, spoke quietly to him and comforted him even though they knew he was deceased. One of them told of a spectacular sight in the sky. Several eagles formed directly over their heads and flew in tight formation for several minutes. And then, seemingly on cue and choreographed with precision, all flew off in straight lines in completely opposite directions. He said it was as if they lifted his soul to the sky and was a new beginning for Steve elsewhere. Powerful.
Steve (purple wingsuit) in a Flock over Lake Elsinore, CA
Would Phish’s second set opener, like wingsuiting itself and fraught with some risk and danger, bring a new beginning as well? Would it soar? Jam?
Well, as one of the lyrics in the song said, it just felt good. Poignant lyrics and some soaring guitar work by Trey kicked off the set nicely.
And gliding away, you fly where you choose
There's nothing to say, and nothing to lose
Time to put your wingsuit on, time to put your wingsuit on
Every Phish show is filled with expectations and emotions. Some are over praised, some fly under the radar, some receive universal praise while others receive mixed reviews. Despite what anybody thought walking out of Boardwalk Hall on 10-31-13, one thing is absolutely certain. History was made that night. Wingsuit started the set and 11 more songs followed. Some may not make the album. Most probably will. Some may never be played again but many probably will. And with near certainty, a few of them will, one day, become true legends in the Phish canon. It is probable that countless future fans will look back on this show and wistfully wish that they had been there. Like the Lowell show. Like the Wetlands show. Like the Flynn show. I am happy Wingsuit kicked off this historic set. We'll see what the future holds for it and the other debuts.
On May 14th, 2014, Phish announced that the forthcoming album, the band's twelfth studio effort, will be titled "Fuego" and will be released on June 24th. As expected, most of the songs from the Wingsuit set made the cut. Wingsuit itself was the tenth and final track on the album as opposed to the first song on Halloween. Likewise, the first batch of performances in the "Wingsuit heavy" Summer Tour of 2014 saw the song slotted in a myriad of positions. It powerfully closed the first set of the tour opening show in Mansfield, was seen early second set at both SPAC and The Mann, served as the meat of the second set after "Ghost" at Randall's Island and a mid-first set rocker at CMAC.
"Blue Skies" is a quintessential skydiving term that is used both for "Hello" and "Goodbye" much like "Aloha" is used in Hawaii. It is also a term of love and good wishes.
Blue Skies Steve.
Blue Skies Wingsuit.
”Wingsuit” – 10/31/13, Atlantic City, NJ, photo credit © Andrea Z. Nusinov
”Wingsuit” – 10/31/13, Atlantic City, NJ