Sure, it's tough to justify flying out to San Fran to see still yet more Phish shows when I'd already seen six this summer (and with the inevitable pilgrimage to Dick's less than a month off at this point), but with the boys playing as well as they've been, and with San Fran being a city that's more than capable of providing plenty of diversions during the twelve or so waking hours daily that we *won't* be at the Phish show, it makes rationalizing the trip all that much easier.
This would be my first show since MPP 2 (which would ultimately be the best show I'd see all summer), and by all accounts the tour had reached new levels of excellence at the Gorge (arguably the most highly-regarded run of the year thus far) and Tahoe (of course, highlighted by the incredible 36-plus minute "Tahoeezer"). I had high hopes that the stellar jamming would persist, and, having couch toured Summer 12's BGCA shows the precedent of great performances at this venue had been set a year ago.
This was only the second time I'd been to the city of San Francisco, but I got such a good feel for the city last time I was here (trip with my brother during Summer 2010, during which we did several miles of walking in a different direction each day for a week) that I was looking forward to this trip offering much more than just great music. This would also be the first time I'd be seeing Phish shows in California since Festival 8 in Fall '09 (AKA The Rise and Fall of Robeman).
My day started with a 70 minute wait on the tarmac at JFK, although fortunately I'd planned on getting in early so this delay wouldn't jeopardize us getting to BGCA on time. My solid ssf luck continued outside the terminal before my buddy Salvador Sriracha (who had just finished driving from Minnesota to the shows at the Gorge, over to Tahoe, and now to San Fran) picked me up at SFO while trying to negotiate some very convoluted lease provisions over the phone with a potential tenant.
We would be staying at The Mosser in Union Square, noted (by me) for its proximity to the venue, reasonable prices, shared bathrooms, and lack of air conditioning. (I'd stayed here in '10 and thought it was fine.) Pre-show, we had time to venture out for a lovely meal at Burmese Kitchen before getting serious and rolling out towards the venue. The "scene" in front of BGCA was different from anything I'd seen before; basically no real organized "shakedown" but plenty of vendors and heads chilling and getting fucked up in the public park ("Civic Center Plaza") between BGCA and San Francisco City Hall. Pretty surreal to see all of this chicanery going down right in the middle of a busy city, but oddly comforting to see people imbibing / partaking freely and without worry.
I was suffering from a troublesome knee, injured the weekend before in a tragic beer pong accident, so I suggested that we spend night one in the seats, preferably Page Side, and preferably with at least one huge speaker column pointing directly at us. Check, and check (see above picture). Again, we had the good fortune to be surrounded by friendly, knowledgeable folks at this show, and I immediately fell in love with the venue itself; it's like a smaller version of UIC Pavillion, only with all seats general admission and WAY better bathroom situation.
The show started with a rare "Free" / "Meat" combo - only the third "Free" opener ever. I enjoyed this "Meat" more than any I'd seen since the late '90s, as the band tacked on fake ending after fake ending until it seemed half the crowd was laughing their asses off. A flawless "Oh Kee Pah" into a standard "Bag" (not "Suzie"? yowza), which forecasted the debut of my newest lot shirt a couple nights later.
"Vultures," which came next, is always a treat, although the band doesn't really play this one frequently enough to keep it properly practiced. The ending riff of the song saw the first of many "WOO!"s that we'd get this weekend - I for one usually love it when Phish encourages crowd participation-type stuff (i.e. 2011's "Page / Mike / Fish's house" and last summer's frequent "TUCK!" references), and at this early point "WOO!" hadn't worn out its welcome. "Roggae" followed, yet another tour debut, and one of *six* we'd get in this first set alone. This "Roggae" saw Trey peeling off some really pretty, understated melodic soloing, in what would become the theme of the set. Probably the best "Roggae" I've seen since Vernon Downs '98.
"Sand" came next, the first performance of the song in the opening stanza since last year at this same venue. It's tough to judge a quickie first set "Sand" - I mean, of course I'd rather hear a worked-out version in the second set, but fuck it, I'll gladly take it as a random early-show spirit lifter. Face it, even a short-form "Sand" (this one featured some plinko) is still better than pretty much anything you're going to get in this slot. Listening back to the show, there's a moment where the crowd goes totally apeshit seemingly for no particular reason - love that.
"Circus Comes" and "Babylon Baby," played back to back, provide a swift yet firm kick to each of one's testicles; I'd bet that half the people in the room headed out to the restrooms during this lamentable pairing. (I do have to applaud the girl who loudly requested "FREEBIRD!!!" after "Circus Comes," though.) I finally got my "Reba" next (YIPPEEEE!!!), my first of the summer. The crowd inserted "WOO!"s after each "bag it" and "tag it," and the band played the complex "fugue" section of the song magnificently. More nice, chill, melodic leads by Trey during the improv segment, too. Good work, guys! Not usually a fan of "Halfway to the Moon," but on a night like tonight when Trey's in the mood to crush the more subdued parts of the band's catalog, you'd be a fool not to appreciate his efforts. Laugh if you will, but this has to be the best "Halfway" they've ever done. "Golgi," a song that once was plagued by overuse and is now a welcome hear, shuts'r down.
All in all, a "laid back" set appropriate for a "laid back" day in a "laid back" city. Little-to-nothing in the way of notable improv however, although if you're the type of person who gets all tingly for tour debuts, you likely soiled yourself during that first set. Wish I had more info to report about setbreak shenanigans, but when your seating / bathroom / refreshments situation is as manageable as it was on this night, it leaves plenty of time to make nice with one's neighbors. Before the second set started up, I had a mock-angry argument over set two opener with the chick sitting behind us, with her predicting a "Punch" and me the obligatory "Disease." Well, we were both right...
"Punch!" All right! Another one I'd been chasing all summer. The band actually stops the song a couple of times for "WOO!" during the intro, and Trey halfheartedly joining in with some goofy "HEY!"s of his own is kinda funny. "Disease" next, and this one is basically MPP 1's less-energetic cousin, in that it really never gets too far away from the initial "Disease" chords for the duration of its 14 minutes. Things start to get a little more interesting towards the end, but for some reason Trey leads them into "Caspian," which, eerily registers absolute SILENCE - no audible crowd response at all - on the LivePhish recording. (In all fairness, that's because half the folks in the room ran to the restrooms, while the other half fired up Candy Crush.) Again with the back-to-back ballads, as "Farmhouse" comes next. By this point, the pleasant, limber leads that Trey was inserting into the first set slow-burners have morphed into jittery, awkward wanking on Trey's part. Consecutive ballads in the second set is pretty much a mission statement (or manifesto).
I was fuckin' stoked when they started up "Seven Below," another bustout - they hadn't played this in 46 shows, and boy was that immediately obvious. The composed section of this "Seven Below" is botched as badly as anything I can remember since Coventry - and I don't invoke the dastardly "C" word lightly. You can't help but feel sorry for Trey as he struggles to find the right notes over and over. Things didn't look good, but the jam more than makes up for it. Things pick up in earnest around the 5:15 mark, with Trey bringing back the most thrilling part of the great SPAC 2 "Carini" (high note, followed by squiggly hammer-ons). Really, really nice. Trey noodles around for awhile before Page takes over on the clav around 7:30. At 8:00 Mike's patient bass tones signal a complete tempo shift, going full-on HOSE for a little bit before settling into a familiar 3-chord lick that's basically a more muscular version of the "Seven Below" opening theme. Pretty cool! The now-compulsory "WOOO!"s take us through the 10 minute mark, followed by bluesy soloing and funky ass clav - HOT STUFF!!!! Then more "WOO!"... actually this is the exact part of the show that manages to highlight both the best and worst aspects of the "WOO" - it frustratingly derails the best part of the show, but the band kindly rewards us with still yet more great jamming, this time similar to the breathtaking segment after the second group of WOO!s in the "Tahoeezer." This is followed by still yet more WOO, then a quick return to pre-riff intro, then fades out. When all was said and done, this "Seven Below" was on my short list for favorite jams of the tour, competing with night two's "Rock and Roll" and night three's "Jim" for best improv of the weekend.
"Theme," like "Free" is another tune that I love, but I've just heard too much of. 6 of the last 7 "Free"s; 5 of the last 7 (and 11 of the last 17!) "Themes." "Hood" is, of course, an always-welcome seratonin dump, and this one elicited a grinning "remember the one at the Went?" from me to Salvador, who I had attended the Went with nearly 16 years ago. This "Hood" has a nice, spaced-out intro, although they fumble the exchange at the outset of the lyrics. The "Dixie" quote went right along with all of the random teases they've inserted into the summer's "Hoods." I'll remember this rendition in particular for Trey's unusual, absent-minded, off-key singing during the jam (this was a trend that would continue over the rest of the weekend, oddly) as well as more of his little coked-up, squiggly leads.
My third "Stealing Time" of the tour preceded the set-closing "Coil." In almost any instance I'd prefer nearly anything over a "Coil" second-set closer, but at this show it just seemed to make sense given all of the evening's ballads, as well as Trey's preference for muted, reserved soloing. Of course, it had me dreading a "Waste" / "Sleeping Monkey" encore or some such horseshit, but my fears were allayed by a hot "Walls" encore that raised the energy level in the room to the highest it had been all evening. "Fuck yeah" to ending on a rocking note.
What to think of this show? It seems to be stylish to euphemistically refer to shows like this as "average," but I think in this case that would be a bit of an insult to what an "average" Phish show actually means to me. Basically, I showed up incredibly sleep deprived, wanting nothing more than to dance like a maniac, only to have that prospect thwarted somewhat by the overabundance of ballads. Still had a lovely time, though of course.
Post-show, we wandered back out front into the Civic Center Park area, where all manner of lot snacks and cheap beers were being peddled. We happily imbibed, serenaded by the hissing of nitrous tanks before calling it a night.
TO BE CONTINUED!!