, attached to 1993-05-03

Review by AHolla

AHolla I originally wrote this review three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of my first show. I wrote it for friends, but have decided to share it here because the show means so much to me. Here it is:

It was twenty years ago today.

Nope- not a Sgt. Pepper reference. Twenty years ago today was my first Phish show. The It was twenty years ago today.

Nope- not a Sgt. Pepper reference. Twenty years ago today was my first Phish show. The State Theater- New Brunswick, NJ. The night that changed my life. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot this week- how much of my time, resources and devotion has been spent seeing, supporting, and most importantly- listening to this band. It’s fair to say that my relationship with Phish is a defining part of my life, for better and (infrequently but it does happen) worse. My brother has said to me at times that some of our favorite memories are around Phish, and I couldn't agree more.

It was my senior year of high school. I had been listening to Phish for the better part of a year before this show, but it was only a few months removed from me learning of their extensive touring, and that they allowed and encouraged fans to tape and trade shows. I was not really into the Grateful Dead at this point, so this concept was foreign to me. Sometime around February of 1993 Lloyd (great man then, great man now) gave me my first tape- July 21, 1991 Set II (Arrowhead Ranch with the Giant Country Horns). This tape- roughly 70 minutes of music impacted me deeply. I heard a band that was having fun, and a band that was doing things to their own music that I didn't think bands would do. I wore out this tape and acquired others, each time knowing this was a band that I needed to see- and soon.

We scoured for the tour schedule (no one had the internet yet or really knew what it was), and found a show that we could go to- Monday night, May 3 in New Jersey. Thank goodness for being a senior in high school with good grades who already had gotten into college. Thank goodness tickets were $17 and not sold out three weeks before the show. Thank goodness Lloyd had a car. Thank goodness that we left early enough to get lost once but still make it there in plenty of time for the show.

A Phish show is not just about the show- it’s about getting there. It’s almost like you’re traveling to a secret that those who know, know. If I mention Phish to people who don’t listen to them, I get some stock answers, like- “Oh- aren't they a drug band?” or people make assumptions about me and my lifestyle. I’m not going to deny that there can be (and increasingly more through the years) some shady activities and characters at Phish shows, but if you define your experience and your attitude just based on that, you’re missing out.

On May 3, 1993 all I wanted to do was hear my favorite band play music.

Going to the show in Lloyd’s car was myself, Darren, and Andy F. Andy F. didn't have a ticket, but got the last one at the box office and ended up with some ridiculous orchestra seat. Lloyd, Darren, and myself were sitting in the balcony, a few rows up. The State Theater remains the smallest venue I’ve seen Phish in, but when it’s your first show it’s still the biggest.

Another thing about Phish shows is that they bring people together. I have had more random run-ins at Phish shows than anywhere else. Sometimes I don’t learn about these run-ins until months or years later. On this night Mike - one of my closest friends from a college I had not yet started was also at his first show. Mike gave me for my wedding an amazing gift- a framed ticket stub from the show (I stupidly lost mine).

I had spent a lot of time trying to imagine what the stage would be like. I also did not know which band member was which. In May 1993 they had four albums out- Junta, Lawn Boy, A Picture of Nectar and Rift. The problem was that although the liner notes had pictures, none of them said who in the band was who. My first surprise of the evening was learning that they didn't have the traditional band staging- that they were lined up in a horizontal row- from left to right: keyboards, guitar, bass, drums. The first of many things learned that night.

Before the show began I saw a taper setting up a microphone rig at the front of the balcony. I eagerly approached him and asked if I sent him tapes later on if he would send me a copy of the show. He said yes. He did follow through too. Tapers are generally an incredibly honorable group.

Then the lights went out.

I won’t do a song by song detail of the show, though I encourage you to listen to it. Phish just released the show as part of their Live Phish series at livephish.com, with proceeds from the sale going to support Sandy relief efforts in New Jersey. Here is what I have to say about the show:
• Everyone says that their first show was amazing, and mine was no different.
• The only two songs I did not know were the first one (Buried Alive) and one in the second set (McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters).
• The lights!
• Trey! (I play guitar and worship him.)
• The narration in the first set where they told us they flipped the building and took us to Gamehenge. Phish (and especially Trey) are expert storytellers, and they know how to keep a crowd rapt with anticipation.
• Ending the second set with Cavern, which was my favorite song at the time. I did not have any live tapes with Cavern and was not sure that they played that song in concert. The balcony shook during the chorus, and I was as happy as I could be at a Phish show.
• In the second set, Tweezer with an “I Feel the Earth Move” jam that went into Manteca and then back into Tweezer.
• Fishman!
• The first two songs of the encore- completely a cappella; no microphones. Everyone got quiet and was able to hear the band.
• The closing song of the encore- Highway to Hell!

The music was amazing. The band was tight and could turn on a dime. They explored, they jammed, they had fun- and thus, so did I. I didn't want it to end.

After that show, things were different. Some people have life changing moments happen instantly. Mine happened over the course of three hours, but it happened. I needed to see more of this band. I bought a t-shirt (which is lost- the one of caricatures of the band on the back with Page holding a pitch pipe). I cursed that I wasn't going to be able to make their summer shows. I waited anxiously for tapes of the show so I could relive the night.

I've gotten so used to instant gratification in the internet age. The last Phish show I saw was on December 30th at MSG. It was up online, available for download by the time I got home. Back in 1993 if you wanted a show, you had to send someone tapes in the mail (Maxwell XLIIs with the MaxPoints with a SASE), and hope that they would send the tapes back. When you copied tapes, no high-speed dubbing. Label things correctly. Treat these tapes as historical documents- show them respect and dignity so that when our ashes are dug up in a thousand years they will know that on the Gregorian calendar’s date of May 3, 1993 a kick ass rock-and roll show was played.

I could write a lot more about Phish, the music, and myself. But I can’t right now. I’m older, have more responsibilities, and it becomes harder and harder to work Phish in to my life. Don’t get me wrong- they’re my favorite band, and as long as I think they’re making the best music of anyone out there, I will still see them and listen to them; it’s just harder now. But today I've got the memory of a lifetime- I’m going to listen to my first show, and remember what started it all.
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