Heheheheheheh. Ah, 2014: another year where I tell myself 'this is the year my obsessive show-going addiction ends;' another year where I see more shows than anyone I know who isn't employed at a performance space / venue. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!
A quick list of locations where I've seen shows this year:
--Brooklyn (double natch)
--on a boat circling Manhattan
--Commerce City, CO
--Miami (in 7 days!)
As of this very moment, I've seen 93 concerts this year, and I've got at least three more coming up - Uncle Ebenezer at Knitting Factory Saturday night, Television (first time seeing them) at Irving Plaza on 12/28, and a little up-and-coming rock band who I think are called Assface in Miami on New Year's. The following is my totally subjective, largely meaningless, and wholly amusing (to me) recap of the best stuff I saw in '14.
Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!
The Ten Best Phish Shows I Saw All Year:
1.) Phish, 10/31/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
2.) Phish, 7/13/14 Randall's Island, NYC
3.) Phish, 7/27/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4.) Phish, 8/29/14 Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
5.) Phish, 11/2/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
6.) Phish, 10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara
7.) Phish, 7/26/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
8.) Phish, 10/28/14 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Fran
9.) Phish, 7/11/14 Randall's Island, NYC
10.) Phish, 8/31/14 Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
Although Fall Tour officially ended nearly a month ago, not a day goes by when I don't think about what stupendously fun-tacular times I had over the 2+ weeks I spent out on the road. And that's not only because I'm still obsessively listening to the Haunted House set (which I am). In fact, just simply thinking of Fall Tour lifts my spirits so much that I inevitably wind up typing in the annoying, upbeat, eminently punchable tone you're currently reading. BOINGGGG!!!!!
I chronicled my Fall Tour travails in (more or less) real time, day by day, here, but before I forget all of the other wacky stuff that happened along the way, here's one random memory from each stop.
10/21, Santa Barbara
Before the show, I picked my good buddy Salvador up at his parents' home in Pasadena, where he grew up. They have an avocado tree in their back yard, the first time I've ever seen one of those, uncultured yokel that I am. I was afforded the opportunity to pick an avocado using one of these. This gave me great joy.
(Oh 'cado tree, oh 'cado tree...)
10/22, Santa Barbara
While standing in line in the men's room upstairs, a slight miscommunication between fellow line-standers led to one guy yelling, at no one in particular, "red velvet cake is a scam! IT'S JUST FOOD COLORING!!" The things one learns on tour!
10/24, Los Angeles
Say it ain't so, Beafvy. My buddy Beafv had his troubles at this show, resulting in the spilling of many, many beers (and, uh, some other stuff). His behavior was so outlandish that finally one of our neighbors on the actually handed him a bright red card that read, "STOP." Oh, sweet, naive neighbor; if only it were so simple.
10/25, Chula Vista
Well, they can't all be winners. As explained in my writeup of this show, we visited a couple highly-rated breweries before the show. At one, Societe, Beafv and I were unpleasantly surprised to see an assortment of motorcycle fellows out front, several of whom were proudly wearing tee shirts with Nazi "SS" insignia emblazoned on them. Yikes, with a capital "go fuck yourself, you subhuman shitbags."
10/27, San Fran
After lollygagging our way up the coast from San Luis Obispo in the most enjoyable way possible, making several stops at Big Sur along the way, Salvador and I got nailed by rush hour traffic. (Totally worth it.) By the time we checked into our motel, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a major time crunch. We bussed towards the venue, hopping out a few blocks away from BGCA with the aim of grabbing some quick grub at McDonald's so as to not start the show with empty tummies.
Ahead of Salvador in the line at McDonald's was an elderly man who appeared more than a little down on his luck. He ordered "20 McNuggets for $2.99," although after placing his order he was informed by the manager that, sorry, 20 McNuggets would be $9.99 plus tax. Immediately, Salvador stepped up and offered to buy the McNuggets.
The man was incredibly grateful for this, telling Salvador that "you're my angel, you've come down from heaven." A very nice gesture from probably the best guy I know.
10/28, San Fran
Make sure you read the bottom line.
10/29, San Fran
Anyone who knows what the hell they're talking about agrees that the first *great* show of the tour was SBB2. At BGCA3, we sat next to a dude who told us that he had it on good authority (the wife of the venue owner, apparently) that in the morning pre-SBB2, Trey was running stadiums up and down the staircases inside the venue. Whatever it takes, breh, whatever it takes.
Post-show, we were strolling through the casino towards the elevators, when we came across a gaggle of at least 20 phans performing the "Thriller" dance, synchronized to the song which was being played over the in-house sound system. "Did they all, like, practice this?" we wondered, before coming to the conclusion that, no, plenty of people actually know the dance. In addition to us, a decent size group of onlookers had gathered and were enjoying the revue.
Day three in San Fran began a bit later than had the first two, and not just because of our unexpected late night at Toronado the night before. This was the first day during which we didn't really have any grand plans during the day prior to the show, other than to eat a meal at House of Nanking, which I'd first eaten at last summer with Salvador. With the weather in the city absolutely gorgeous, we decided to start off at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District, walking a few miles through the marina to the restaurant.
We arrived at House of Nanking, meeting up with a girl we'd met the previous night at Toronado. She wanted to try the Nanking Chicken, and Salvador and I just told the waiter to just bring us whatever he wanted to suggest, which wound up working out great. As we expected, the Nanking Chicken was basically like a higher end General Tso's, and we also got a scallop dish with vinegary greens and a fried lamb dish with bok choy. Oh yeah, also a crisp fried knish-shaped egg roll thingy with fresh vegetables and noodle filling. Splendid!
After stopping by briefly at the famed City Lights Bookstore nearby, I walked back to the hotel for a nap while Salvador met a friend elsewhere in the city. Started getting ready for the show around 5 - ate a grilled falafel wrap (kinda meh, but improved dramatically by liberal squirts of sriracha) from the aptly named Food Cafe on Van Ness and drank a couple iced coffees to fuel up.
Once again, the city was showing the baseball game (Game 7, wooooo hooooo) on a huge screen at Civic Center Plaza, only unlike the previous night the game was super competitive and the assembled Giants fans were watching intently. For the first time, I realized that there could, in fact, be a riot after the game, and I was eager to see what the reaction of the city would be post show. We headed inside BGCA early in order to get seats extreme Page side again, a few rows lower than where we'd been the previous night. Between the excellent sight lines, ampleness of space and sound quality, I have to say this is the best place in the room to be.
The show itself was another solid outing, in line with night one at BGCA and, say, Chula Vista earlier in the tour. The "Moma" > "We Are the Champions" > "Moma", was great with the band going into "WatChampions" just after the conclusion of the baseball game - the Giants won, and the crowd absolutely ate this up. Nice gesture by the band, even though Trey outed Page as a Mets fan after the song, hahaha. The set-closing "Wolfmans," the set's other high point, featured knee-deep chunky funk and a great peak.
Second set began with "First Tube," which is definitely my favorite song to watch Trey play. He was all smiles during this version, hopping around enthusiastically and playing powerfully throughout. The "Disease" that came next had some nice type 1 jamming, eventually dissolving into the ambient / spacey type of improv that's been employed so frequently during this tour. On the heels of the great "Theme" at SBB2, this one was back in the realm of being a fairly standard version. "Light" was probably the highlight of the set, getting really atonal and rhythmically unsual in a manner similar to the great version from summer '13 at MPP2. And closing the set was probably the rippin'est "Possum" I've heard in ages.
After the show, we were surprised to find practically no evidence of post-World Series mayhem, walking to our friend's hotel room at the Days Inn nearby for a few beers after chilling in the Plaza area for awhile. We decided to call it an evening fairly early, as Salvador needed to get on the road super early the next morning to drive home to Oregon. Not to mention that we were both very, very much spent.
So, this ended the California portion of the trip for me. By the time I'd get to SFO to drop off my rental car the next day, I had racked up about 13 miles of driving between LAX > Pasadena > Santa Barbara > Pasadena > LA > Chula Vista > LA > Pasadena > San Luis Obispo > Big Sur > San Francisco. Jeez frickin' Louise, what a trip!
With all of the moving parts and variables that were at play, from logistics to tickets to accomodations to just general travel anxiety, I feel incredibly fortunate that things went as smoothly as they did, and that we were able to have so much fun not only at the shows, but before and after. I'm getting a bit misty-eyed here with gratitude - for Salvador, who is pretty much the greatest tour guide (and friend!) I could ever ask for, for Beafvy, who flew in for the Forum > Chula Vista portion of the run amidst terrible stress (HAHAHAHAH!), for Bricer and Rumpo, who I'll be seeing the Vegas shows with, and the general Phish communnity overall, with / amongst whom I've had nearly entirely positive interactions along the way. Oh yeah, also Trey, Page, Mike and Fish. Can't forget them. You guys are the frickin' best.
OK - time to start pregaming in earnest for Vegas1. WOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
Day Two of BGCA began with us dropping off laundry (verrrry necessary) before getting an excellent meal at Burma Superstar on Clement Street. With this being my seventh day on the road, and after having eaten plenty of great food along the way, this was probably the best meal I'd eaten thus far. The rainbow salad was exquisitely arranged, with about fourteen different fresh ingredients; the pork and pumpkin stew balanced the sweetness of the pumpkin with succulent pork chunks; the catfish chowder was quite unlike anything I've ever eaten. Oh boyyyyyy... getting really hungry just typing this.
Stopped for a minute at nearby Green Apple Books, where I scored a copy of the infamous Sonny Barger's autobiography for a cool five bucks and change. Next, we hopped back in the car and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Muir Woods National Monument, hoping to do a little hiking and sightseeing - in particular, this would be my first time seeing redwoods up close and in person. After receiving questionable advice from a puzzlingly uninterested park ranger ("Yup, all the trails are the same." Uhhhhh what?? No, they aren't!), we set off on what turned out to be a very brisk five-plus mile hike up the mountain and back, taking the Ocean View trail to the top and the Sun and Dipsea trails back down.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge again back into the city, grabbing banh mi and summer rolls at Saiwalks on Steiner Street. Although these were probably the priciest Vietnamese sandwiches I've ever seen, they were also quite possibly the *best* I've ever eaten - plenty of meat, complemented by crispy veggies. (Also, who knew that sriracha came in packets?) Highly recommended.
The City of San Francisco had announced that they'd be showing game six of the Giants / Royals World Series on a huge screen at Civic Center Plaza, right in the midst of where phans would usually be wandering around at "shakedown" preshow, and Salvador and I were eager to see what the interaction between Phish phans and baseball fans would bring. By the time we arrived in the second inning, however, we were met by a largely despondent fanbase; the Royals had jumped out to an early 7-0 lead from which the Giants would not recover. We noted a much stronger police presence in the Plaza, and decided to head in early to get good seats upstairs, extreme Page side, speaker worship.
The show began with "Crowd Control," one I *always* seem to get (I've been in attendance for the last *5* versions), followed by - SURPRISE! - a rippin' "Mike's Groove." This one rocked harder than anything from night 1, with a little extra mustard in comparison to an average 3.0 version, and had us thinking that tonight would be special (it was). Later in the set came my first ever version of the TreyBand standard "Plasma," a song debuted by Phish at Eugene. I like this as an addition to the rotation - it certainly has jam potential.
The closing "Gumbo" into "Sanity" into "Antelope" was probably the best first set sequence seen during this tour - Page absolutely owned his solo during "Gumbo" in a manner reminiscent of the excellent 12/29/13 MSG rendition. "Sanity" was the year's first version (first since BGCA2 last summer, actually), met with screams of approval from the sweaty crowd. And the "Antelope" incorporated a "Gumbo" tease from Trey, while bringing the room to a fever pitch at its climax.
All in all, probably the finest first set of the tour overall to this point, with great song selection and scorching playing during the classics. And after spending night one on the floor, we were loving having plenty of room to rock out upstairs. Sweet mother of mercy, is BGCA a great venue!
Second set led off with only the third "Kill Devil" second stanza opener ever. This was the longest version I can remember seeing, and probaby the best one, too. The type 2 ambient spaciness was quite unlike any version I've ever heard - always good to hear them putting a new twist on the standards. "Fuego" in the middle of the set was once again fine, clocking in at over 12 minutes, but as I've said before, the next essential version of "Fuego" will be the first one the band has played. Sorry, but that's just true. "Julius" next, and once again, I'm going to remind anyone reading this blog that this exists.
After a year in which "Twist" re-ascended to the status of supreme jam launchpad in 2013, the song has had few truly memorable versions in 2014 thus far. This one, however, clocks in at over 14 minutes, emphasizing the full-band jam style that was employed so frequently during the SPAC and Mann shows from the summer, if yer into that sort of thing. A rockin' "Jim" benefited from extra length as well as the element of surprise song placement-wise. Nice! And although several '14 "Hood"s have taken dark, type 2 detours not necessarily associated with the song in years prior, this one goes deeper than any I've heard before. Really an incredible version, and even though I need to re-listen after tour to confirm, this might just be the greatest "Hood" I've ever witnessed live (apologies to the Went "Hood").
Following a quick "Loving Cup" encore, Salvador and I walked back outside to the Plaza, hanging out in "hot dog alley" in front of the Wells Fargo for awhile before taking off towards Toronado. We both noticed that we felt oddly charged up after this show, especially considering how much we'd exerted ourselves while dancing. This sort of post-show-adrenalized feeling happens every so often after truly special shows - especially unusual considering that we were stone cold sober, although that would change shortly at Toronado, haha.
Really, really loved this bar. After night one, we told our cabbie to take us to an area that has bars; he dropped us off on a block that had four *closed* bars. Toronado reminded me of some of my favorite Brooklyn dives, with an awesome heavy metal soundtrack, great beer selection, and bartenders / staff that are total assholes, haha. After a few pints, we befriended a girl whose hilarious tour stories had us literally doubled over with laughter. Eventually cabbed it back to the motel after what was, top to bottom, just a great frickin' day.
One of my fears about this tour was that I'd find myself getting (still yet) more jaded. This is the most intense touring schedule I've undertaken, the first time I've been away from home for more than two weeks at a time, and I could've seen myself losing some excitement over Phish with all the inevitable "The Line" and "Wingsuit" repeats. But, much to my delight, the exact opposite has happened. These guys are the best. Bring on night three!!
Our third day in San Francisco got off to a nasty start when the sink in Salvador's room overflowed with disgusting sink backup, the unpleasantness of which spurred us to get to the lobby of our hotel in time to score some of their wonderful complimentary chocolate chip muffins. Salvador had read me some info about the Church of St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, and the concept of a religious service propelled by jazz improvisation certainly sounded unlike anything I'd ever witnessed (and potentially either awesome or hilarious or both), so we hopped on a bus and headed a couple miles west.
When we arrived at the church, we found ourselves in the presence of about twelve other tourists, several from abroad, as well as a handful of musicians who were hoping to perform in the service. After each of us in attendance introduced ourselves, the Archbishop arrived, and the church members briefly reconvened in a back room, pot smoke wafting out into the audience. I was intrigued by the iconography, and bought a pair of postcards depicting some of the Church's artwork.
We stuck around for part of the service, which included the ramshackle choir interpreting various hymns and bible readings, accompanied by the various musicians (saxophones, keyboard, bass, drums, harmonica), and a middle-aged woman solemnly performing a tap dance routine. Needless to say, this was quite unlike any "church" service I'd ever seen. The Archdeacon specifically requested that we not film the proceedings, so I'll direct you to their YouTube page for some videos.
Having already enjoyed Chinese, Burmese, and Vietnamese cuisine during the trip's previous two days, we wandered deeper into Japantown in search of a Korean lunch, deciding on lunch specials at Ssisso. Not bad, but not as great as Dokebi or Surasang back home. After our meal, we milled about at the street fair in the area for a bit. Salvador bought some cute trinkets for his kids, and I ate a delicious chicken teriyaki on a stick from a vendor. Hopefully some bunnies were saved, as well.
We bussed back to the Tenderloin and picked up Salvador's car, aiming to spend as much time as possible before the show at Marin Headlands north of San Fran across the Golden Gate Bridge. (Thanks to my buddy Salsa for the suggestion!) Again, I'll spare you my piss-poor attempts at describing the astonishing views of the coast we took in during our hike at Marin Headlands - instead check out my pictures here, here and here, if you'd like.
Drove back to the Tenderloin once more, dropped off the car, stopped off at our hotel, and hustled out towards the venue, briefly pausing some solid Mexican takeout along the way. While waiting to get into the venue, we met up with friends of Salvador whom he'd met at Dick's '11. This was the latest that we'd arrived to any of the three shows, and as such we wound up getting seats way upstairs, in the Page side corner at the back of the room. (We'd been very pleased with the sound upstairs night one, when our speaker worship tactics worked out great, but on this night we found that we were kinda shortchanging ourselves with the volume muted a bit.)
On to the actual show, finally! I can do without the vague, mealymouthed quasi-politicism of "Crowd Control," but "Divided" gives this first set a rock-solid set anchor not found during the opening moments of nights one and two. Trey always loves playing "Wilson," and I always love hearing it, especially early in the first set. A very, very well-executed "Foam" comes next, and, don't look now, but this is already far and away the best first set of all three nights. Fuck yeah! "Halleys" is another personal favorite and the punchy straight-up blues of "My Soul" maintains the energy already accrued in the set.
"Ya Mar" is another solid song choice, breaking out the night's first appearance of the "WOO!" and featuring a one-string guitar solo by Trey, before the first legit bathroom break opportunity of the show during "Army of One." The somewhat rare "Taste" (they haven't gone fewer than 10 shows between appearances of the song since late '09) shows off some nice tension-release chops, then a standard-good "Gumbo" before "Train Song," followed by a break in the action due to Trey's malfunctioning amp. Page takes the opportunity to thank the crowd, who in turn roar in approval. The opening stanza comes to a close with yet another relative rarity (and only my third ever) "Pebbles and Marbles." Nice little rendition here, this closely resembles a shorter type 1 "Disease" jam, with plenty of "flutter Trey" while Fishman gallops along.
So, yup, easily the best opening set of the three days, and by a sizeable margin. We were somewhat frustrated by close quarters and crappy sound in our seats, so we booked downstairs during "Energy"'s opening chords, finding a spot Fish - er, Mike - side about three quarters of the way back on the floor. (We immediately noticed the difference in sound quality compared to first set - *HIGH FIVE*.) This was my second "Energy" of the summer, after I saw the song's debut at SPAC1. I've heard / read a lot of negative criticism about "Energy," with many critics feeling that it's lightweight and mediocre. Personally, I think it fits in with the "Joy" era new songs, especially lyrically. (Note - these two thoughts are not necessarily mutually exclusive. :->) The improv in this version starts out with more of Trey's unusual, off-key, absent-minded-sounding scat singing (see night one's "Hood," in particular) before things head into very pleasant, rockin' type I territory. Around the 7 minute mark, Trey fires up his wah, which leads to some wikka-wikka-wikka funk, signaling an airtight full-band tempo shift, and suddenly, we're knee deep in a tasty, speedy "Birds" jam for a few minutes. Well, sheee-it! If they're going to regularly give "Energy" this kind of workout, I eagerly welcome it into the fold - the more legit jam platforms the better, of course. [Note - at the time that this review was finally posted, "Energy" hasn't been seen since this version, now 20 shows ago.]
"Jim" materializes out of the ether, and, along with night one's "Seven Below" and the "Rock and Roll" from night two, this "Jim" is in steady competiton for the title of Best Jam of the Weekend. By 6 minutes in, things have gotten verrrry spacey, prodded along by Mike's nimble bass licks. Bluesy soloing starts up in earnest before the 10 minute mark, and by 11 minutes, they're committed to a soulful, bluesy stomp, which, to me, is textbook "wheelhouse" Phish jamming. Very nice. By 13 minutes it's back to spaceyness, which continues for a few minutes before "Carini"'s jagged opening chords. Of course, at this point in the year, it would've been premature to predict "Carini" as the Song of the Year (with landmark versions at Hampton, AC and MSG still yet to come), but this one's a "standard" pre-'13 3.0 "Carini" - still very enjoyable but nothing truly out of the ordinary to report. "Wedge" comes next, reminding me of my recently renewed appreciation for Rift, originally cultivated when Salvador and I first really started getting into Phish in October, 1996. At this early point in our phandom, we only had access to a handful of live Phish bootlegs, so we spent A LOT of time listening to the studio albums, developing an admiration for the band's songwriting skills up through the Billy Breathes era.
"Light" next, a song that really didn't spread its wings as much as could've been expected during summer '13 (except the incredible MPP2 version). This one is pretty standard-enjoyable on the strength of plenty of fluid blues-rock soloing, before Trey and Page duet on a weird, syncopated percussive theme starting around 11 minutes in. Similarly, a solid "Bowie" keeps the song selection stellar before another "Horse"less "Silent" starts the 4th quarter off with the set's first ballad. "Meatstick" = Boogie City, and "Quinn" emerges as the weekend's obligatory nod to Jerry. A relatively short, sweet "YEM" closes the second set, highlighted by multiple "Meatstick" teases and a few more outbreaks of the "WOO!". Fourth Junta song of the evening, too!
To the delight of the crowd, the year's first "Sanity" (*fifth* Junta song of the show! Fuckin' old school heady shit, brah!!) starts the encore - only my second time seeing this song played live ever - before a smokin' cover of Hendrix' "Bold as Love" shuts'r down as a tribute to the dude who was prominently holding up the BOLD AS LOVE sign on the floor all weekend (see below for a post-show picture of the grinning bastard).
Really a great show, top to bottom, with a nice first set, excellent song selection throughout, and some legit type II jamming in "Energy" and "Jim." Overall, *by far* the best of the three BGCA shows, and probably my third favorite show I saw during the summer, trailing only MPP2 and my all-time sleeper show, SPAC2. (This show hands down beats anything they did at Dick's a few weeks later, too.) Furthemore, I have to say that BGCA is among my favorite venues at which to see a show. Great sound (if you can get a speaker), all general admission seating, intimate setting (6000 capacity), friendly staff, and easily the best bathroom situation I've ever encountered at a show.
Postshow we chose to stick around Civic Center Plaza as long as we could, chilling out front with wooks ranging from friendly to irritating, all of whom seemed to want to bum a cigarette or five. Cheap-ass Tecates from the Mexican dude who was selling pizza were once again our fuel, although the lack of a public restroom was... problematic. We walked back towards the Mosser one last time, marveling at the abundance of spent nitrous balloons as far as several blocks away from the venue. Quick pit stop at some shitty dive on Market, at which the bartender decided *during my order* that they were no longer serving beer (fuck that!). Finished off the night with a few more beers in Salvador's room while we traded off selections from our favoritefemale-frontedweirdo bands.
Good times. Anyway - let's face it - I ain't getting any younger, and I'm hoping that going forward my pre-show routine can more closely resemble ours from San Fran - meaning taking in the local sights and getting some great local food, instead of just predictably day drinking and listening to dudes yell about sports. For me, summer tour would continue 4 weeks later at Dick's, where Salvador and I would be joined by Bricer and Beafvy. As for post-BGCA, I had a flight back to JFK, while Salvador would need to scurry 375 miles down the coast for the west coast leg-ending show at Hollywood Bowl later in the evening.
(Stay tuned - I should start posting Fall tour show reviews over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we have a Spring '14 tour announcement by then....)
During my trip to San Francisco last summer with my buddy Salvador Sriracha, we made a point of trying as many different types of Asian cuisine as we could cram into the three days we were in town. First we ate at Burmese Kitchen, then banh-mi at Saigon Sandwich and awesome Chinese at House of Nanking the following day. Day three, we found ourselves near Japantown, and, looking to try some Korean, I found Ssisso on Yelp, so we stopped by for lunch.
It had been my goal to get some authentic bi bim bahp, but we both instead opted for lunch specials which offered more food for less money (we were both starving). Mine, the top picture above, included bulgogi, soup, dumplings, and a dish consisting of sauteed cellophane noodles and vegetables. Salvador's was similar, although he opted for the "Ssisso chicken," served in a soy / garlicy sauce. (The bottom picture depicts a few of the typical traditional Korean sides that were served before the meal.)
We found the food at Ssisso to be pretty good, although the soup and noodles dishes were served lukewarm, and the chicken, although flavorful, didn't seem terribly fresh. I came away with the impression that they probably prepare large quantities of this stuff in advance to save time and then reheat it (or in our case, don't) to order. Not bad, but not great in comparison to my favorite Brooklyn and Long Island Korean joints. Of course, it's probably unfair to judge an entire restaurant solely on the basis of two lunch special orders, but what can ya do.
BGCA, San Fran, summer '13, day two. We managed to limit our night one post-show chicanery to a few beers at "shakedown" in Civic Center Plaza and a few more back at the hotel, so we were up reasonably early in the morning, eager to get some good food and see some sights.
My buddy Salvador had never tried banh-mi, so we set out for Saigon Sandwich on Larkin, just a couple short blocks away from Civic Center Plaza / BGCA / City Hall. I was surprised at how inexpensive the sandwiches were compared to their Brooklyn counterparts, and accordingly we each bought two (for me, a "classic" (or whatever they call the one with cold cuts and pate on the West coast) and a "roast pork"). We sat in the strong wind at Civic Center Plaza eating our sandwiches, amazed that a line of die-hards at least 50 to 80 strong had already formed at the gate, waiting to snag prime rail space inside the venue (it was barely noon at this point!).
As we sat and ate, we were joined for awhile by a wook who Salvador initially mistook for "the king of West Coast acid production" and his girlfriend, sharing war stories from the road with them - my favorite involved this dude's friend successfully making a fake "VIP Pass" out of a ripped up Miller High Life box at Northerly, hanging it around his neck, and being granted all access, haha. We were intrigued by the many flags that were displayed on flagpoles above the Civic Plaza - here's the fascinating story behind the "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP" flag.
We wished wook dude and his girlfriend luck on their search for tickets, and walked back towards our hotel, surprised that none of those in line had any interest in Salvador's uneaten second sandwich. We eventually found a drunk dude who we'd met the previous night, and he was more than happy to take the sandwich off our hands; we'd run into this guy several times more during the weekend, usually over late night Tecates somewhere nearby.
Today's day-venture was to be a trip out to Lands End, which I'd visited with my brother three summers prior. (Click here for my pics of the breathtaking views, since there's no way my words can do this wonderful place justice.) Truly a gorgeous hike, and perfect to get the ol' juices flowing before a night of Assface. On the drive back to the hotel, we stopped off in Chinatown for a wonderful, seemingly authentic Chinese meal at House of Nanking which wound up being the best meal we'd eat all weekend. I'm really no fan of day drinking, and listening to idiots yell about sports at a bar is like fucking torture to me, so this was probably the best pre-Phish show experience I've ever had.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we hustled back over to BGCA, getting inside in plenty of time to get a decent spot about halfway up on the floor, extreme Page side. For the most part, we once again had the great fortune to be surrounded by kind, enthusiastic folks, many of whom had great stories about the West Coast shows from the previous week at The Gorge and Tahoe, which Salvador had also attended.
I thought night one's first set was subpar and lacked flow; what would we get tonight? "Grind" starts us off, the SIXTH CONSECUTIVE version of this song I've been in attendance for. I figured they'd come back at us with a "Chalkdust" or a "Punch" or some such to raise the energy level, but instead we get the first "Weigh" since June '12, another oddball choice that follows the precedent of night one's many bustouts. This "Weigh" included the evening's first of many "WOO!!"s, beginning in the intro and continuing throughout the song. Unfortunately, "Weigh" was marred by the two loud, ornery, sunglasses-wearing, DMT-smoking meatheads behind us who were literally heckling the band. (What is it with people and this drug? You're aware that smoking it is *without fail* going to turn you into an overaggressive dickhead, right?? Anyway.) As always, the crowd appreciated the rarely-played and reasonably well-executed "Alumni" that came next - first version in over a year.
"Lengthwise" followed... uh, wtf? It's as though the band were purposely trying to keep this first set from establishing any real momentum in favor of giving n00bs the opportunity to check rarities off their bucket lists. Yes, another bustout, and only the fourth "Lengthwise" since 1998, but I'd obviously prefer a "Tube" or a "Funky Bitch" or a "Ya Mar" (or pretty much anything upbeat, for fuck's sake) in this slot. As it has in 9 of its previous 14 performances, "Lengthwise" segues into Fishman tapping out the "Maze" intro - finally some fire! Nothing groundbreaking in this "Maze," but it did what it needed to, essentially serving at the set's "real" opener after the parade of rarities. I'm certainly not too cool to enjoy rocking out to a well-played "Sample," although this selection did nothing to keep the set from heading back into below-average territory overall like last night.
"NICU" was a nice choice, although this one was tainted by some particularly ugly Trey flubs. "Mound" had me headed for a bathroom break, back in time for the beginning of "Jesus Left Chicago," one that I'll always remember for two reasons: 1.) Page forgot practically all of the lyrics, and 2.) Trey's solo was frickin' SCORCHING. The "Driver" that came next was reportedly a result of the fan-initiated "Driver Campaign" honoring a fallen Phan. Personally, it signaled my return to the urinals.
"Timber" instantly improves the set, turning in a tidy, enjoyable, standard 3.0 rendition, similar to all those brief-yet-warped '10 / '11 versions that established the song as a first set gem. "Axilla" of course is THE song in which Trey gives off the most exuberant vibes, and this was an appropriately rockin' version which (as per ushe) got me a little too carried away. I had hoped for another rocker to extend the set's newfound energy, but instead we get one of my favorite Phish ballads, "Bug." Apparently I wasn't the only one hoping for something a little more upbeat, as Fishman's lively pounding keeps this version as merry as any "Bug" I've ever heard. First set comes to a close with the summer's seventh (!) "Possum" and a rollicking "First Tube" which matched the earlier "Maze" for the title of "most danceworthy song of the set."
Nothing out of the ordinary to report during setbreak, other than us taking advantage of the opportunity to position ourselves more advantageously towards the center of the floor, away from the dreaded volume-killing balcony overhang, surrounded by a crew of incredibly cute, tiny, friendly girls who were blasting key-bumps of god knows what all night. Sure beats hanging around with aggressive Team Deemsters douchebags!
Second stanza led off with "Rock and Roll," and having skipped Jones Beach earlier this summer, I was VERY eager to hear a substantial, worked out version of this classic. The improv section starts out as per ushe, with "Disease"-style galloping rhythms and guitar heroics. Shit starts to get wacky around 7:45, as Mike and Page bring in some awesome space-funk. By 9:20-ish, a ripcord seems all too probable, before Trey picks up the reins and spurs on some nice full-band interplay. At 10:35, we're back to a familiar jam theme that we all know and love, heading towards glorious, uplifting territory just before the 13 minute mark. By this point, we're in the grips of a soaring, gorgeous, (and, perhaps more notably, wholly "WOO!"less!) major key Phish jam, gradually dissolving into space and, finally, "Steam."
"Steam" has to be the best song Phish has written since "Undermind," and this version includes some very nice soloing by Trey, who proves the old adage (?!) that "a little extra mustard goes along way towards improving one's steamed meats." Starting off around 25+ minutes into the set, "Number Line" kicks down a welcome bathroom break, and, as it does, deals some pleasant, melodic Trey soloing and a knee-jerk "hey, would you look at that, we're under the mistletoe..." opportunity to hug / high five your buddy (or buddies).
A solid "Mike's" features Page stepping to the fore while Trey remains mostly on the sidelines. "Hydrogen" into a standard-yet-fun-as-always "Paug" keeps spirits up, before another pissbreak materializes in the form of "Joy"'s incredible clothes. Next, HOORAY! A well-executed "Fluffhead" which inspires the crowd to rock the eff out harder than at *any* other point during the evening, and arguably hardest of the whole weekend, possibly only topped by the following night's "BOY!" during YEM. A short, raging "2001" keeps the 4th quarter awesome, finding time for still yet more "WOO!" in the intro, while the "Slave" set closer transports us all to delicate, pensive territory before the big Hollywood ending. Monster of an 87 minute second set! "Waste," then "Suzie" (complete with another several helpings of "WOO!") in the encore leads us back out to the Plaza.
All in all, this show was quite an improvement over the first night, and it puzzles me why it would rate lower than night one as per phish.net user rankings. Sure, there was very little Type II jamming, but the playing overall was much tighter and the song selection far better IMHO. Whatever, I'm the schmuck who thought SPAC2 was among the best shows I saw all year, and you know what they say about opinions. YMMV, as always.
Post-show, we cooled off in the Plaza again for awhile, plowing through a bunch of cheap Tecates and once again running into crazed transient brah who had so graciously accepted Salvador's sandwich earlier in the day. Starved, we opted for some "lot" food in the form of unusally spicy (and delicious) potato samosas. When the police finally swooped through the Plaza to shut down the nitrous vendors, we took that cue to get the eff out of Dodge. We sought out a bar near our hotel, at which a gay dude tried the old "oh, I bought these mojitos for someone who didn't show up, you want 'em?" trick. I was kinda flattered by this poor, misguided dude's attention, not gonna lie, although once he heard we were in town for Phish, he reared back his head, let out a self-effacing "you sure know how to pick 'em!" laugh, and departed hastily. Whatever, free mojito, amirite?
Bought StreetMeat from dude with a hibachi near the bar, and returned to the hotel. Not a bad day, eh? Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of our San Fran weekend, complete with a jazz-inflected church service, great food, wonderful scenery, and, of course, the third and final night of Phish at BGCA '13.
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.
As I mentioned in this post, we had some splendid meals during our San Fran trip in early August. On the Saturday, we got some excellent (and cheap, especially compared to what I'm used to in Brooklyn) banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, before taking a ride out to Land's End, after which we headed in to House of Nanking. Not gonna lie, this was probably the finest meal we ate the whole trip.
So, above we have five pictures. The top is the outside of the restaurant (duh!), second pic is of the ginger garlic poached scallops; third pic is salt and pepper mushrooms; fourth pic is stir-fried baby pea shoots; last pic is of the "shrimpackets."
I'm a huge fan of the fresh, unadorned, (seemingly) authentic style of food preparation they utilize here. Each of the dishes we tried seemed to be made with as few ingredients as possible, and nearly everything was freshly prepared and delicious. Even the "fried" items were (for the most part) light, tender and crisp. Definitely miles away from the typical cheapo greasy Chinese crap that I'm used to. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was hurried and efficient, with a team of waiters serving the dishes one-by-one as soon as each was prepared. Reminded me of when I'd eat in Chinatown (NYC) with my grandma thirty years ago - your first instinct is that the whole thing is about go off the rails, but then you realize that the system thrives in chaos, functioning as a well-oiled machine of deliciousness.
The only item that we tried which I wouldn't recommend was the "shrimpackets," which were little shrimp chunks inside an empanada-type fried wrapper. I just didn't really much care for the neither-doughy-nor-crispy texture, but then again I don't really love empanadas, so I would've likely ordered something else had I known what "shrimpackets" consist of.
By the time we were done with our meal, a line of people waiting to eat had formed outside House of Nanking that continued halfway down the block. "Don't worry, it's worth the wait," I douchily reassured the few folks within earshot as we left and headed back to the car.
After the meal, we hustled back to our hotel to get ready for the evening's Phish show, which... hmmm... no clue when I'll get to reviewing that, since I'm only up to Merriweather at this point. Anyhow.