I’ve quite deservedly earned the reputation of someone who complains a lot about the lack of Phish shows in Oregon. Going beyond my typical “Phish last played Oregon in 1999” whine, allow me to provide you some perspective as to why exactly this fact is so particularly unfathomable whilst pre-capping the band’s triumphant return to the Beaver State and their first annual visit to the Matthew Knight Arena. You read that right… this is a PRECAP of the Eugene show.
Because there are a limited number of us in the Pacific Northwest, there is no official webcast that will allow one of my east coast colleagues to do a couch tour recap, and there is a high likelihood that I will be unable to go to the show tonight, rage Eugene afterwards, drive to Seattle for the next show at the Key Arena, AND write a recap… I am going to provide a forecast for tonight’s gig based on a historical analysis of what came before. We can discuss your displeasure for this approach and/or how chillingly accurate (I am not crazy) my prognostication was in the comments below. But first… let’s get back to that whole perspective on the lack of Phish in the Pacific Northwest thing I mentioned above.
Matthew Knight Arena
The Grateful Dead last played in Eugene, Oregon on 6/19/94, performing their last show of a three night stand at Autzen Stadium. Inexplicably, the last time Phish played in Tracktown USA was a month earlier in the Silva Concert Hall at the Hult Center on 5/19/94. Let that sink in… the Grateful Dead… featuring Jerry Garcia on guitar… played in this Merry Prankster Mecca more recently than Phish. WTF? Having listened to all five of the previous Eugene shows in preparation for pre-capping tonight’s show I have to ask why? Why Phish WHY? Sure… there were subsequent shows in Salem and Portland as recently as 1999… but still… that’s 15 years without a Phish show in Oregon. Are you kidding me?
Prior to that seemingly final Hult Center show, Eugene had been enjoying a fairly regular return engagement with the Phish. One which previously had included one show each at Woodmen of the World Hall (4/4/91) and the University of Oregon’s EMU Ballroom (10/10/91) and two performances at the Hilton Ballroom (4/22/92 and 3/30/93). If the string of shows was a relay race, the Matthew Knight Arena show tonight is going to be the anchorman… a really slow anchorman who dropped the baton numerous times during his lap around the track and took forever to come back. But nevermind all that… let’s delve deeper into the past before we get to the prognostication. To understand where we ended up we have to go back from whence we came.
The 4/4/91 WOW Hall show (capacity about 400) is best known for the “I Dream of Jean Jeannie” version of “David Bowie,” the intro for which, in addition to containing the aforementioned “Jeannie” theme song tease also has a clear through the wormhole puff of “Gotta Jibboo”... I shit you not. The “Bowie” jam is clearly the ferocious vortex that was required to suck the “Jibboo” smoke that far into the past. Go back and check it out and tell me I’m wrong… and then listen to the solid first set “YEM” while you are there. This show also features a first set “Colonel Forbin’s” > “Mockingbird,” a second set Fishman “Love You” long time, and a double encore each bearing two songs.
Six months and six days later (10/10/91), Phish doubled down (I’m noticing a trend) and through the sponsorship of Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) came back to play the EMU Ballroom (capacity about 800) and delivered a tight high energy affair that is really exemplified by an insane “Brother” and sublime “Reba” combo to open a solid second set that also features a great high energy “Antelope” and closes with a raging “Mike’s Groove.” Tack on a “Squirming Coil” with a tail of “Fire” encore and you really can’t complain, comrade.
EMU Ballroom, University of Oregon
Six months and twelve (double six) days later (4/22/92), the boys were back in town for U of O’s Earth Week celebration and the first of their two performances at the Hilton Ballroom (capacity about 1,400). An extended “Wilson” featuring an explanation of “The Secret Language Instructions” with Fishman on trombone is the centerpiece of a second set that also includes another glorious “YEM,” a “Cold as Ice” > “Cracklin’ Rosie” > “Cold as Ice” and the ever elusive WEST COAST “HARPUA!” complete with an invitation to Fishman’s after show party in his Hilton hotel room (623… factorially speaking). Anybody have any stories they want to share about that scene?
The following spring (3/30/93) Phish returned for their second engagement party at the Hilton Ballroom. To get a good grip on this show go directly to the first set “Stash” to hear an angry “Timber (Jerry)” jam morph into a delicate “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” tease from Page. The second set is well constructed and a non-stop good time. The “Tweezer” is all about the chairman of the boards and some heavy metal funk before devolving into a “Lifeboy” breather to prepare for the “Psycho Killer Mike’s Groove” (dedicated to Mike… by Mike) that was going to comprise the meat of the set. This one also included Fishman’s take on “If I Only Had a Brain” and a “Big Ball Jam” for good measure.
Which brings us back to 5/19/94 and the Hult Center (capacity 2,448… another double double?), the band’s most recent visit to Eugene prior to this evening’s return. This one tears out of the gate with a streaking “Halley’s Comet” that crashes quite abruptly into the fifth consecutive “Llama” to be played in Eugene. Yup… every Eugene show to date has had one taboot, taboot. For the second Eugene show in a row… the first set is dominated by a sick “Stash” and the second set is built around a “Mike’s Groove” centerpiece. The “Theme to I Love Lucy” which appears in “Weekapaug,” “Big Ball Jam,” and “Harry Hood” completes the loop on television show teases that was initiated in the WOW Hall “Bowie” and the show concludes with a four song encore (more “Echoes” of 4/4/91) that includes another version of “Fire.” That’s “Fuego” in Spanish.
Silva Concert Hall at The Hult Center
Having safely returned back to the future we are now prepared to construct our great expectations for this evening in the form of some probable highlights of tonight’s show (see below). Taking heed of the great philosopher Carlos Santana’s words ”Those who cannot remember the pasta are condemned to reheat it” and “Only the Dead have seen the end of Weir” and based entirely on historical trends for Phish shows in Eugene, Oregon we can be absolutely sure of what should come to pass this evening. Phish just can’t help being Phish...and certain places attract certain songs like moths to a flame.
I know what you are thinking. “All Things Reconsidered” even “The Landlady” doing “The Big Ball Jam” thinks that last one is a stretch. But hear me out. This year marks the 50th anniversary of prankster patron saint Ken Kesey’s gyppo logger master work Sometimes a Great Notion. The book about the lumberjacking Stamper family of Wakonda, Oregon takes it’s title from Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” lyrics:
Sometimes I lives in the country,
Sometimes I lives in the town,
Sometimes I take a great notion,
To jump into the river an’ drown.
Which of course evokes visions of the similar rhyme scheme in the ever elusive, I’m talking the last one was at the E Center on 11/2/98 and we all know what happened there, WEST COAST “HARPUA”... wherein the Phish from Vermont will finally come back to your town Eugene...a nd help you party down. “Twenty Years Later”... it’s still upside down.
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