I begin this show review by reiterating that I have *never* seen a party scene at a hotel (ok, motel) like I did at the Days Inn Hampton. Never. Long story short, after night one I went to bed late, woke up late, and my mindset Saturday morning (or lack thereof! T'heh!) closely mirrored the carnage mere feet away outside our rooms. Oy gevalt!
Of course, the best way to wash off a layer of filth after a debaucherous evening at the Days Inn Hampton is to actually venture out to see what the world has to offer beyond said Days Inn. By 11:30, me, Bricer and Salsa had hopped in my car and headed off to the Mill Point Music Festival at the St. George Brewing Company, just a couple exits away down the highway. Held in a field behind the brewery, this festie was clearly catering to the thousands of Phish fans who had rolled into town for the weekend, with the most obvious musical link being an afternoon set by Natalie Cressman, trombonist in TAB. (Hilariously, the field was festooned with several advertisements from a local law firm aimed at the unfortunate few who got arrested at the shows - see below. Which begs the question - if running multiple nitrous tanks until 4 in the fucking morning every night isn't enough to draw the attention of the cops, pray tell, what is? Not that I'm complaining, of course. Fuck yeah anarchy!) We were fortunate to be present for most of Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos' set of classic rocked-up blues covers and originals. See below for video of their cover of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."
I treated myself to a couple of fish tacos from one of the food trucks parked in the field, Bro's Fish Tacos - absolutely delicious. After the Conqueroos' set, we explored the Brewery itself, with my buddies enjoying some pints and a few free samples. By the time we left to drive back to the motel, I was in dire need of a nap, and my buddies met up with a coworker of Bricer's at Kelly's Tavern next door to the Days Inn, the first of our *five* visits to this fine establishment throughout the weekend. (Cheese soup may or may not have been purchased / consumed. Also, major shoutout to Heavenly, Kelly's' badass bartender. Sup girl!!). I met up with Bricer and Salsa at Kelly's after said aforementioned shuteye, wolfed down a grilled chicken sandwich, and IT WAS ON.
Once again, Bricer prepared us some scrumptious preshow LotBev, fueling our walk over to The Mothership. For me, this marked my 109th Phish show, as well as the 17th anniversary of my very first ever Phish show. Despite the historic "Carini" and the nice "Roggae," night one definitely left room for improvement, and there were obviously still plenty of great songs still left on the table. After we got inside, we were once again pleased with how easily we found a spot in front of soundboard, Mike side, despite this being by far the most well-attended show of the weekend. We also met a young lady and her "service dog" (wink, wink - see below) - first time I've seen that at a show, ever. Pretty hilarious if ya ask me.
The first set started with the first show-opening "Bathtub" in over 20 years - a standard-good 3.0 version, aided by a little extra added length. "Moma" in the two-hole is standard-good first set fare, and "Tube" is always awesome, with this version notable for plenty of Mike on his bell and Trey manipulating his delay in a manner reminiscent of the incredible "Light" at Dick's '12. "Fast Enough" deals us the evening's first ballad, this one being oddly tentative and flubby, with some truly sour vocals. Over the course of the set, it would become painfully obvious that Mike's voice was totally shot.
[Brief interjection: as I was editing this post, I realized that I've focused more than I should've on Mike's blown-out voice, especially considering what an insignificant percentage of any Phish show actually involves vocals at all. Before I start to sound too negative, I should say that I enjoyed this show much, much more than several of the shows ranked higher by the consensus.]
The band huddled briefly before whipping out rarity "Curtis Loew" - only the song's second performance of the year. Salsa really got into this one; I remember our first time hearing the band play "Curtis Loew" was at the Big Cypress soundcheck, although we'd have to wait until Bethel3 to actually see it played at a proper show. "Ya Mar" is a jaunty little typical first set version, but BOY OH BOY is Mike's voice shot! He makes up for it however with a sweet little "Play it Cactus!" meatball bass solo. My fourth "Stealin' Time" of the year, then a "My Sweet One" in which Mike, once again, sounds like he's gargled with Dran-O. This version includes a looooooong pause before the final "...naaaaaaaaaaame," which, hypothetically, would've been lengthy enough for Mike to purchase, brew, and drink some Throat Coat tea.
Trey starts up "Mike's," which at this point is fucking mind-boggling. Is he trying to torture poor Gordo? Clearly Mike could use the evening off from singing, but instead yet again he's given the task of performing lead vocals. Otherwise, a fairly standard-issue 3.0 "Mike's." "Hydrogen" into a "Weekapaug" that finds Trey taking a back seat for much of the jam, allowing for some nice funk courtesy of Page, at times approaching plinko territory. At 9 minutes, this version benefits some extra length, including a brief tease of Seger's "Main Street" (yay Beafvy!).
First set recap: fairly standard overall except for Mike's brutal vocals, which, to be honest, didn't really stand out as much at the show as they do listening back. Songs like "Bathtub," "Moma," and "Mike's Groove" didn't really deviate much from their usual 3.0 prototypes, although each is always extremely fun to hear regardless. Ideally we'd get a boatload of non-Mike songs in the second set, maybe in the form of a "Lizards," or, even better, some long, hot jamz.
"Ghost" leading off the second stanza has me hoping for big things. At this point, I tried to recall: when exactly was the last truly epic "Ghost" I'd seen live? Possibly the great 12/31/10 MSG version - IMHO to this point the finest 3.0 "Ghost" overall... for now. (FORESHADOWING!!!) Anyway, this one evolves typically over the first 9 minutes or so, with Trey gradually easing into some soaring leads. At 11 minutes in, Trey treats us to some gorgeous, uber happy licks, approximating the peaks of the previous night's "Carini." The really great stuff starts around 12 minutes in, with some assertive, muscular riffing that sounds an awful lot like the legendary "The Real Gin" from 12/29/95 - this leads into some VERY fast, explosive melodic leads from Trey at 13:20. HOSE!!!!!!! Highest energy point of the weekend thus far, with all three of us pogoing like madmen. In fact, this actually sounds an awful lot like the aforementioned 12/31/10 Ghost. Awesome! Back to some "Real Gin" jamming by 15 minutes, and a brown note by Mike signals a fade into full-on space by 16:15 or so. The last few minutes sound a lot like the techno-space style often used during Summer '99, dissolving slowly before another Mike "brown note" and a final fade out. Frickin' incredible. Whatever people euphemistically mean when they refer to a jam being "patient," this ain't it. I submit this "Ghost" as probably the best version of the song I've ever seen, and probably the second best jam of the tour overall (behind Hamp1 "Carini.")
The post-"Ghost" fade-out leads into the intro for "Disease". Despite some promising early chunky leads by Trey, this one loses momentum quickly and disappears into, you guessed it, "Steam." This one's a slow, relaxed version, with plenty of spacey weirdness: a "steam sound effects" solo, Mike tapping his bell with drumsticks, and Trey on drums, all buttressed by Page's chording on the organ, before the return to the "Steam" theme around 10 minutes or so. Up next, "Fuckerpants" sends what seems like half the room fleeing for the restrooms, as it does.
Considering the fluid, nimble bass licks Mike had been dropping thus far during the weekend, it's not a surprise that the apeshit intro to "Boogie On" is a welcome hear. About halfway in, Trey plunks a chord that EVERY FUCKING TIME I'm going to think is signaling a segue into "Psycho Killer," which at this point has gone unplayed since the great "Tube" sandwich from SPAC '12. "Theme" next, and at the time of this writing, I've seen the last 5 "Theme"s and 14 of the last 20 overall. I could never get sick of this song, but needless to say if there were someone in the room who was more excited than I was when they played the monster version of "Theme" at AC two weeks later, I'd like to shake his / her hand.
At this point in the set, of course we were wishing that they'd kick down another major workout to nail this set down, but fuck it, I'll take "Wedge." "Silent" is the evening's Q4 ballad, and wow, don't look now but there's been no "Horse" played yet in the calendar year of 2013, covering 7 performances of "Silent." "Silent" is my personal choice for "best Phish ballad," although with all the great "Roggae"s lately, depending on one's definition of a "ballad," that's likely to change. "Harry Hood" puts a bow on set two, which to me is a perfect song choice for several reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, this show commemorates my inaugural Phish show, and "Hood" was really the first Phish song I became totally obsessed with all the way back during my nascent Phandom. I consider the Went "Hood" to be the second truly "religious" (or whatever you want to call it) experience that I ever had at a live show, coming less than 40 minutes after the *first* such experience (the Went "Gin"). Furthermore, as we all agreed after the show, this was an incredibly joyous, life-affirming experience. Salsa, who just recently learned that he and his wife would be having a son (their first child), said this show was the first time he'd been moved to tears by music, and for me, it was all I could do to keep from melting into a size XXL puddle. Hugs were exchanged, and we all had one of those perfect moments where we felt our overwhelming appreciation for a truly great moment matched the greatness of the moment itself (if that makes sense). It was, as I texted to Salvador and Beafvy later, somewhat embarrassingly, "a truly emotional evening."
(It seems crass to go back to snarkiness after this, but here goes nonetheless. Mike's vocals during the "Quinn" encore have me wondering what the all-time world record for "most blown-out vocals for a guy who's singing lead in front of 10,000+ plus people at once" would be. Although it can be argued that rough lead vocals and "Quinn" are *both* nods to Jerry. I keed, I keed.)
Post-show, we schlepped back to Kelly's Tavern again for some low-priced beverages before walking the 50 yards or so back to the raucous scene at the Days Inn. Bricer and Salsa turned in, but I stayed up once again until the wee hours laughing my fat ass off and handing out Miller Lites that I'd actually had in my car since before SPAC1 (they were still good! I swear!). If you're by any chance one of the crazy motherfuckers who was hanging out with me back side of the hotel, second floor, night two, I'm'a go right ahead and refresh your memory as to some highlights:
1.) belligerantly drunk dude approached us, loudly claiming he needed $22 to buy food for his infant daughter, offering his possessions (a "burner," a $2 winter cap, a couple Newports) in return, as well as an impassioned plea for help. Our assembled crew quickly gathered the cash, but of course we allowed the guy to keep his phone thinking that, you know, a phone is an important thing for a father to have. He thanked us profusely, seeming at the verge of tears, and ran off into the night.
Naturally, he returned a half-hour later smoking a huge joint, which he informed us he had actually spent the $22 acquiring. He seemed quite proud of his ruse, calling us "a bunch of stupid motherfuckers" and reminding us between chuckles what a bunch of "fuckin' suckers" we are. Not for nuthin', but I've been called worse by better. Anyway, the last we saw of this wonderful individual, he was openly pissing off the second story balcony onto the cars below, laughing maniacally while struggling to maintain his balance. "Keep living up to the stereotype!" someone shouted at him.
2.) I befriended a guy who was a little too spun, talking him down and feeding him beers. Super nice guy. After he'd regained his bearings, he thanked me graciously and, unsolicited, kicked down some potent party favors in return. Saying that this dude was the exact opposite of person #1 would not be too far off the mark.
3.) Not to get too specific, but it's always fun sending aggressive, rude cokeheads on wild goose chases you know are going to be fruitless.
4.) Another first - balloon vendors just handing 'em out for free. Unreal.
So, this was just a great day overall. Where night one proved to me (once again) that if you're not focusing on the music you're doing it all wrong, night two allowed me to remember how to do it right. I'm continually amazed by the incredible kindness and hospitality that those within the "scene" show me, and very fortunate to be able to do this type of shit so often. Night three, onward!!