My fourth show of Phish '13 Summer Tour (and 99th show overall) went down at a venue which holds plenty of significance in my fandom. I saw my 14th and 15th shows here during the summer of 1999, smack dab in the middle of my first real Phish "run," with Merriweather / Camden in the front and Camp Oswego in the back. I came back from said run sporting my first beard, a lamentable style decision which persists to this day. All of this took place during the "summer of Meatstick," and it seemed that everybody and their mother knew the dance in question by the time Phish unsuccessfully tried spur the crowd to break the world record for most people simultaneously performing the same dance at Oswego.
Since then, I've been fortunate to be present at each of the four shows (five counting this one) that Phish has performed at this venue, including my first ever front row seated show at any concert (5/31/11). Favorite overall memories from Holmdel? Hmmmm. 7/15/99 "YEM" is one of the three best versions I've ever seen live, and the "Melt" > "Kung" > "jam" in the second set was fucking bonkers. The following evening's "Born to Run" encore (starring a drunk-off-his-ass Tom Marshall on vocals) was hilarious. The late June '00 shows began a great run which continued through Hartford and Camden in early July - hopefully Kevin will get around to putting some of these out in an official capacity at some point. I spent the first Holmdel '11 show pogoing front row LITERALLY THE ENTIRE SHOW, and Holmdel 2 in '11 will always be remembered for the show-stopping debut performance of "No Quarter." Lotta great memories, let me tell ya.
At this show, I was accompanied by my former neighbor DNB and his girlfriend, who not only was *not* a Phan, but has mocked DNB and me for our dorky-ass Phish geek conversations on several separate occasions. Whatever. I've dragged n00bs along to several shows throughout the years, and each time to a man the n00b in question has left the show "getting it." DNB had mentioned he wanted to give his lady the "full Phish experience," which I translated as wanting to get out of the city and into Jersey early to spend as much time at shakedown as possible. Fortunately, the day's heavy early rain relented, and we found ourselves rolling into the PNC lot at *exactly* the right time, parking mere paces away from shakedown. Yay!
For as many fond memories I have at PNC, I can also recall way too many instances of the over-aggressive meathead Jersey state troopers making lives miserable in the lot. Today was no exception, as I sadly saw at least ten busts go down over the course of just a few hours. Depressing, yes, but funnily enough Mike rolled right past us on a golf cart just as the cops were cuffing some poor kid for god knows what. Whatever, it's a part of the scene that we're going to have to endure until either 1.) Phish fans stop doing stuff that's illegal, or 2.) coppers stop being bastards.
All things considered, a pretty solid shakedown - we were pleased to find $1 cans of Narragansett ("my dad and my brother's favorite beer!!" according to the vendor) and Miller Lite, and a steady supply of cheap Yuenglings. Also, no sooner had I remarked that "holy shit, all of these shirts are dumb as fuck, no?" when I came across a clever Simpsons / "Bag"-themed one that I'd never seen before, which I promptly custied up for.
Several beers / Gatorades / waters / pissbreaks later, we set out on the paved path towards the venue, knowing Phish would be taking the stage before the customary ~8 PM due to PNC's unusually early curfew. Onward!
Once inside, we discovered that the bathroom situation - always a problem at PNC - was going to be a serious issue; before first set started, the powers that be totally shut down the large subterranean men's room in the Page side plaza due to flooding, which was ironic because the only fucking bathroom that this left available to us was also a half-inch deep under water at this point. By setbreak there was a 1/2 hour plus wait just to piss, and the urine, vomit, and sewage back-up in this one bathroom had become FOUL.
Before set I, we staked out a spot midway back on the lawn, in an area I seem to have gravitated towards at one point or another at virtually every (non-pav) show I've ever seen at this venue. Everybody around us (myself included) was hoping for / calling a "Punch" opener, but "Llama," now a relative rarity, works just fine in that slot, too. "Wolfmans" followed, and the brief, funky improv was probably the highlight of a "standard" fun / not particularly memorable first set.
I'm certainly not too cool for "Sample," but my hopes that this version would be less botched than the one I'd seen at SPAC1 were for naught. I enjoyed the "Julius" and the "Halleys," although I wish the "Gin" that came next (the set's longest outing at 11+ minutes) had been served up with a little more nastiness. Ran off to the bathroom for "Lawn Boy," making it back for a pleasant "Ya Mar" and nobody's favorite, "Stealing Time." "Theme" is one of my stealth favorites as always, although it, too, was flubbed and awkward-sounding. Certain parts of this song are so frequently botched at this point that I've come to anticipate them, and hoooo boy are there some sour vocals on this version. "Suzy G." ended the first set on an upbeat note, and within seconds it seemed as though everyone in the fucking venue had queued up for the single, solitary tiny Page side men's room that was still on-limits.
One of the more predictable tendencies of this tour is the band kicking off the second set with an extended jam piece, and, as such, I was pleased that my "Crosseyed" prediction came to fruition. Clocking in at over 17 minutes, this version is a real monster, with a jam that's easily superior to anything played during the tour's previous four shows. (At the time of this writing, it's ranked in the #2 slot in the phish.net Best Jams of the Summer poll, and I think that's a fair ranking.)
The "Hood" that followed was nice, and I applaud the use of "Hood" as a "meat of the second set" number instead of automatically relegating it to late second set / encore territory. (This trend would happily continue in a few days at MPP1, too.) I'm always a fan of "Axilla," as in addition to being probably Phish's rockin'est composed original (think about it. What else you got?), it's also the Phish song that lends itself most appropriately to full body SLAYER RULZ thrashing. I'll take it!
A "Sand" > "Light" pairing looks great on paper, but these versions really weren't much to write home about. The "Sand" in particular contained arguably the ugliest Trey ripcord I've witnessed live since the infamous sub-4 minute UIC "Ghost," or, before that, the abrupt 8/14/09 "Disease" (with "Reba" jam!) > "Wilson" transition. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Trey pulling the plug on a jam if he feels it's going nowhere, but Page was fucking demolishing his clav right as Trey blurted into "Light." "Light" was average-good, including a "Maria" (West Side Story) jam which DNB (a musical theater major, uh, I think) immediately identified, bringing back fond memories of the all-time great 12/31/95 "Weekapaug." This "Light" jam was one of the set's highlights, although it's eclipsed for sheer awesomeness on this tour by both the earlier SPAC1 version and the excellent MPP1 version from a few days later, as well as the one from BGCA3 later on.
The song selection during the remainder of the set was puzzling, starting with the first mid-set "GTBT" since the unfinished, wacky, instrument switch-inducing version at Deer Creek in 1997 (!!!). A rare mid-set "Slave" had me wondering if they were shutting shit down early, although they chose to round the set out with another two short ones ("Rocky Top" and "Cavern"). The unconventionality came to an end with a "Possum" encore, and we retreated into the night, prowling (unsuccessfully) for post-show lot mischief.
All in all, although this was yet another "good-not-great" show, it was still a fuckload of fun. Unexpectedly gorgeous weather, plenty of fun at shakedown, and (most importantly) I danced my fat ass off the whole friggin' evening. DNB's girlfriend entered the day as a skeptic, but left it as a full-on convert, babbling shit to the extent of "now I get it!!" several times on the way home.
As I mentioned earlier, this was my 99th show, and I would be skipping Jones Beach Amphitheater two nights later, choosing to attend my 100th show at Merriweather with good friends. [Spoiler alert: I had a fantastic time.] I'll try to post my MPP1 review next week, folks.
[proof that the Page-side underground bathroom WAS open at one point :-/]