Whew. Whatta year, amirite?! Yes, new music may have been a bit lacking, but fortunately the one constant that remains is that there's a shit-ton of great live music coming through NYC year-round. When I moved to Williamsburg in '08, I did so almost entirely because of the proximity to so many music venues; nearly 6 years later, that remains my biggest motivation for sticking around.
In fact, my show-going affliction reached new heights this year - I did a rough count last week, and if I wind up going to the New Mastersounds afterparty following the Phish show on December 29th, I will have seen a robust *98* distinct concerts in 2013. According to Jalepzerz' / MeatBox archives, that's a personal record (although I've eclipsed 90 shows in several other years), and as proof, I uploaded literally hundreds of videos to my YouTube channel, effectively documenting my own crime spree.
So, here I sit on Christmas Eve, workin' on my final post of the year for this blog; a post that focuses solely on the highlights of my showgoing for the year. In 4 evenings, Phish NYE Run starts, and if some notable, epic shit goes down, several of these lists could be (at the very least) a bit out of whack and (at most) completely irrelevant. I welcome that. :->
See you in the new year, everyone!
Best Live Show of the Year - Phish at Hampton Coliseum, 10/20/13
Top 10 Phish shows I personally attended this year:
10.) 10/25/13 DCU 9.) 11/1/13 AC 8.) 8/4/13 BGCA 7.) 11/2/13 AC 6.) 7/6/13 SPAC (fuck off, I loved this damn show) 5.) 10/19/13 Hampton 4.) 7/14/13 Merriweather 3.) 10/27/13 Hartford 2.) 10/26/13 DCU 1.) 10/20/13 Hampton
The best three non-Phish arena shows I saw in 2013:
16.) Split Open and Melt at SPAC, July 6 15.) Rock and Roll at BGCA, August 3 14.) Crosseyed and Painless at Holmdel, July 10 13.) Twist > Under Pressure at AC, November 1 12.) Theme from the Bottom > Shaft theme at AC, November 2 11.) Drowned at Worcester, October 26 10.) Harry Hood at Merriweather 9.) Runaway Jim at BGCA, August 4 8.) Stash at Merriweather, July 14 7.) Carini at SPAC, July 6 6.) Carini at AC, October 31 5.) Golden Age at Hartford, October 27 4.) Piper > Taking Care of Business at Hampton, October 20 (yup, this is cheating) 3.) Light at Merriweather, July 14 2.) Seven Below at BGCA, August 2 (in spite of the butchered composed section) 1.) Carini at Hampton, October 18
Ahhhhhh, night three. After being weirdly out of sync night one, I happily got my mojo back for night two and had a fucking blast. With a ton of great stuff left on the table song selection-wise, I had a feeling we'd be in for a treat, hopefully on par with last year's outstanding SPAC night 3. As the old adage goes, "never miss a Sunday show," and with a boatload of classic tunes still on the table, Phish had the opportunity to make this night (my 98th show) a truly special one.
Sadly, my boy Beafv had to high tail it back to Dallas, but fortunately this didn't mean that our day would be entirely beefless. Like us, the random dude who was staying with us at the house had brought far too many meat products along for the trip, and an (awesomely) excessive amount of grilling was already underway by the time I left to drop BeafvFellow off at the Albany airport. Now, when you've got too much meat on hand, it's time to get creative. Burger topped with sausage medallions? Done. Dueling hot dog / italian sausage with bacon? Sure. Triple cheeseburger? Why th' fuck not. Treat y'self, amirite?
Felt a bit sluggish post-meat orgy, but that ain't nuthin' a half-gallon or so of scrumptious to-go vodka cocktail can't fix. Following a quick turn through shakedown, we were inside the venue and at our seats, Page side balcony, similar to where we were seated night 2 SPAC last summer, but a few rows back. Tickets warned of an "obstructed view," but it really wasn't too bad (see picture above) - anyway, knowing that I was going to have my eyes closed for most of the set regardless, I couldn't care less about some damn fool column thingy.
On this night, we found ourselves treated to the best first set of the tour thus far, opening with a standard-hot "Bag" into a nicely stretched-out "Back on the Train." "BOTT" has long been one of my favorite l'il first set boogie numbers, and this 10-minute version featured plenty of uber-danceable bluesy funk. I'd spent much of the previous two evenings screaming for "Divided," and as such "Divided"'s opening chords turned me into a hopping, screaming high-fiving maniac. This version had a well-played composed section, and although the solo started out a bit subdued for my tastes, Trey eventually picked up the slack, foreshadowing an evening of guitar heroics.
Standard "Free" next (another personal favorite short-form first set standard for me), followed by a Rift mini-set - "Ice," "Mound," and a fire-breathing rager of a "Maze." Sure, the "Limb" was a little spicier than usual, but the real highlight of the first set for me was a positively scorching Trey-dominated "Walls," which met with fierce approval from the crowd.
Five sets down, one to go! I think pretty much everyone in the building called the second set opening "Disease," and this version, clocking in at nearly 15 minutes, covered plenty of ground, delving into hard rock soloing and gorgeous group improvisation / textures. It also kicked off a run of ultratight jamming continued in "Ghost" and into "Piper." The "Ghost" showed off some serious plinko and funk (with a brief equipment malfunction on Page's new vocoder), and the "Piper," like night 2's "Sand," crammed a shitload of impressive playing into a (relatively) tiny sub-10 minute package.
It's jams like this that, to me, epitomize the best of Phish's current improv style: not a minute wasted on ambient bullshit, just cutting straight to the chase. Of course, "Piper" has a storied history at SPAC, notably the 32+ minute monster from 6/19/04 as well as last summer's 19+ minute powerhouse from night 3. While the version from this show can't match either of those for sheer awesomeness, again, it does highlight exactly what Phish is doing well at this point: concise yet creative, jam-packed hard rock grooves, reminiscent of the improv one would've heard circa '92, but with an evolved, group-centric melodic cohesion that's distinctly 3.0.
Shortly before the "Piper" ripcord, nature called (and then some) - fortunately I had barely left our section when Page's brief tinkling marked a segue into "Wading." As I headed towards the catwalk out of the pav, I was pleasantly surprised at how many phans congratulated me on my good fortune (and, uh, foresight, I guess) to be leaving right as "Wading" started. Made it back to my seat before a rip roarin' "Antelope" started up; this version smoked as per ushe but with some "Meatstick"-infused lyrics at the end, and the subsequent version of "Meatstick" welcomed us all to break out our vintage '99 synchro dance moves. Appropriately, "YEM" shut the set down, bringing back fond memories of last year's SPAC night 3 encore.
We exited following the "Loving Cup" encore, and headed back to the rental house for some wistful post-show reminiscing and a generous quantity of light beer, soundtracked by some great electro stuff that I wish I knew the name of.
So, what to think of this run, overall? First and foremost it had to be the most comfortable run I've ever done, between staying so close to the venue, smooth, hassle-free travel, and generally having the incredible fortune to meet nothing but kind folks and somehow totally avoid assholes. (Six shows later into the tour at the time of this writing, that luck has continued.) Musically, nothing at SPAC '13 really came close to matching last year's highlights ("Tube" > "Psycho Killer" > "Tube," "Sally," "Piper,"), but I should also note that I felt SPAC '12 was a 3.0 high water mark, only eclipsed by the truly unprecedented performance at Dicks '12 (IMHO, the best I've ever seen the band play).
Happily, I had plenty of shows ahead of me the rest of the summer, with Holmdel (show #99 for me) coming up on Wednesday, a pair of shows at Merriweather during the next weekend, and San Fran and Dicks looming a little further off in the distance. More to come in the following weeks, folks!
The morning of SPAC 2 began a bit earlier than I hoped, and twice. First, around 9:30 AM, the smoke alarm in our rented house started going off - our housemate, who we'll call Breh of Steel, had accidentally singed a paper plate while cookin' breakfast. No biggie / back to bed. But come 10:30 I was awakened yet again, this time by the unmistakeable sound of AM "festivities." This guy, who we'd first met about 19 hours earlier, had come prepared, and was putting our partying to shame.
So, up and at them! Bricer and I putzed around the house for a bit, gobbling up breakfast leftovers, while Beafvy slept it off. 101 Celebration Fails later, we headed into town for some primo gastropub action, hunkering down at Druthers Brewing Company on Broadway. My buddies sampled some of the house brews at the bar, while I enjoyed an outstanding bloody. When we were seated after about a 15 minute wait, we sampled a pair of apps - the confit wings with Thai sauce and a side of slaw, and the triple pork fried mac and cheese chunks. I can honestly submit these items as quite possibly the BEST bar food I've ever eaten.
The mac and cheese dealies included pulled pork, bacon, and gabbagool, and were cooked perfectly - nice crispy texture on the outside, with a bounty of gooey cheese towards the center. Faaaaaaantastic.
Headed back to the rental house for some quality pregaming and a hefty portion of scrumptious to-go vodka / cran / etc. concoction whipped up by Bricer. Headed over to shakedown a little before 6, custying some essentials (beer, waters, gatorades) and some inessentials (heheheeheh crappy metal seahorse bottle opener).
Our seats at this, my 97th show - located in the lower pavs, extreme Mike side - were one of the most comfortable seating situations I've ever had at a Phish concert. Security was being ultra tight down low in the pavs and for whatever reason we wound up with a ton of room, convenienly surrounded by a bevy of empty seats. I guess people with tix in our section were all just stubbing further down into the front of the pav, or trying to get more centered? Who the hell knows.
Most importantly, I was in a much better frame of mind at this show than I had been night one, as evidenced by the fact that I actually *gasp* enjoyed the "Crowd Control" opener. (Each of the last six performances of this song have been first set openers, and I've seen three of 'em.) The first set continued in somewhat of a standard 3.0 fashion, with the "Chalkdust" / "Wedge" / "Bitch" / "Heavy Things" sequence being delightful, if not really offering anything terribly groundbreaking. "Bug" is an odd choice for the mid-first set pissbreak, but whatever; I submit "Bug" as being one of Phish's three best ballads (along with "Silent" and "Strange Design"). And better here than in the fourth quarter, that's for damn sure.
"Bouncing" next, and I certainly ain't too jaded to pretend I don't love pogoing around during "Bouncing;" no way, no how. The "Tube" that followed was frickin' great, with a tight-as-hell funk / techno / plinko groove that rated as many phans' first set highlight. "Julius" was up next, and, as per usual, I turned to Bricer and said something to the effect of "now, I'm not usually a fan of 'Julius' or nothin', but that Julius fuckin' rocked!" Bricer kindly reminded me that I say something to that extent EVERY time I hear "Julius." Hahahahaha, fair enough; feel free to print that one up, somebody.
After "Julius," we got the first truly "out there" type-II jamming of the year, in the form of a nearly 19 minute set-closing "Melt." This version completely abandons the typical blueprint of a dark, tension-and-release "Melt" jam, exploring an uplifting, major key (!) theme occasionally reminiscent of a less moribund "Caspian." Plenty of melodic noodling, with a goofy ending that to me was pure humor. I would put this in the top 3 all time performances of "Melt" that I've witnessed personally, alongside the totally off the wall 31 minute version at Coventry (likely the highlight of that whole weekend), and the legendary 7/15/99 Holmdel version which Kevin Shapiro just included on the most recent installment of Live Bait.
We regrouped at setbreak, each agreeing that after an average-ish show night one, we were having a much better time at this show. After a lengthy wait at the port-o-potties, I scurried back to the pav just in time for the intro to "Number Line," which... well, I'd already enjoyed the hell out of "Crowd Control" and "Julius," so why not "Number Line?" The ensuing ripcorded "Tweezer" gave way to a tight, Cliff's Notes version of "Sand," which thrilled with a nimble funk groove featuring Page on clav and Trey expertly manipulating his wah and delay effects. It's jams like this one that prove that size isn't everything, as the playing in this "Sand" was arguably the weekend's highlight.
Up next was the first "Carini" since the 12/30/12 version which, in my estimation, is the best one they've ever played. While the MSG '12 version was characterized by dark, grinding tones and Fishman's menacing, "Tusk"-like pounding, this SPAC '13 version takes on an unexpectedly uplifting inflection similar to the first set's "Melt" jam. Pretty sweet, and very much different than any "Carini" I've ever seen / heard.
There was some confusion in our section about what the next song was at first, before the knowledgeable, flask-of-Jack-swiggin' Canadian kid to our left announced, "this is 'Architect,' and it's awful." Not sure if I'll ever get used to "Wilson" being played in the fourth quarter, although Trey's ear-to-ear grin throughout this version was infectious. "Boogie On" was another odd placement choice, and I'm sure everyone in the room was hoping for an extended jam to tie this whole thing together, but the song that serves as the primary showcase for Mike's Meatball is always welcome in my book. "Possum" shuts it down, at which point I ran off towards the port-o-potties one last time... wound up actually chatting with some folks instead of hurrying back to the seats, so I don't really have much to report with what seemed like a standard / predictable "Show of Life" / "Tweeprise" encore.
Overall, amazing how much more I enjoyed night 2 over night 1, especially considering how much more kindly reviewers seemed to be treating night 1. The difference in sound between the two shows really can't be overstated, and made us vow to never watch a SPAC show from the lawn again. (Yes, night 1 sounded that bad.) Furthermore, night 2 had us seated comfortably, surrounded by an embarassment of empty seats. Our few seat neighbors were friendly and cool - in fact, had things gone just a little differently, Beafvy might've scored the rare post-show amorous encounter. (Not with the Canadian dude.)
Increasingly, I find that my memories of certain Phish shows are as much about what goes on before / after the show than at the actual show itself. This is not to say that my appreciation for the band's music has waned even in the slightest (it hasn't), but rather that in my old age I've developed a deep appreciation for traveling comfortably and generally avoiding awfulness as much as I can. (Spoiler alert: STAY HYDRATED.)
This was my 96th Phish show, my first since this one, and the band's second overall show of the year since starting the tour a couple days earlier in Bangor. Almost exactly a year ago, I had the pleasure of attending Phish's 3-night run at SPAC, which was flat-out fucking awesome; at the time (and before Dick's '12 came along and blew everything else out of the water), I felt that SPAC '12 was, musically, probably the best three night stand I'd ever witnessed.
Finally got the car packed and headed towards LGA to pick up my buddy Beafvy, who was flying in from the land of steers n' queers, before hitting 87 North all the way up to Albany. Bricer would be flying in from DC and meeting us at the house he arranged for us to rent off of AirBNB, conveniently situated less than a mile from the venue. Made it to Saratoga in about 3 1/2 hours, not too shabby.
After we got back from a quick supermarket trip, the dude who Bricer had arranged to share the house with us (and his girlfriend) showed up. Although Bricer had made it clear to them that we were definitely *not* looking to throw parties at our rented house (under strict rules from the landlord), within an hour our living room was jam-packed with the dude's friends, who had come, shall we say, well-prepared. Started to worry about this snowballing out of control......
Fortunately these kids all seemed to have their shit together - this wasn't their first rodeo. However, shortly thereafter a knock came at the front door, and the landlord's son (!) walked right into our private shitshow. Fortunately, he was just stopping by to notify us that he'd be leaving his car near the driveway, and not "checking up" on us. We were lucky as hell that this kid just seemed to want to party, because we'd clearly violated the hell out of the terms of the rental. "Don't worry," the kid excitedly assured us, "I've been breaking into this place and throwing my own parties here for years. If my mom found out I was here I'd be in deeper shit than you guys." Well, whew!
Around 5:45 we broke up the rockpile and headed towards shakedown. I stuffed my pockets with light beers for the walk (shakedown is a good mile or so further beyond the venue in relation where we were staying), as giddy anticipation began to take a noticeable hold over my physical state - more spring in my step, more joy in my speech, more appreciation for (and friendliness towards) total strangers. It really amazes me how the promise of hearing Phish totally changes my personality from sour-tongued, bitter old crank into a wide-eyed, eager, goofball. (Call it "the Phlu," or something.)
Shakedown was fucking packed, as foretold by the increased demand for tickets (compared to last year), and we custied a few beers, waters and Gatorades before heading towards the gate. Bricer had a couple sets of tickets he needed to get rid of, and we basically did one turn thru shakedown before pulling the plug. The skies opened up as we passed through the paved parking lot near the entrance, and the possibility of lightning delayed staff allowing people into the venue while the worst of the storm passed.
Before the summer '12 shows, we had all heard such terrible things about the sound on SPAC's lawn that we wound up upgrading to balconies for two out of the three nights. The first night of SPAC '12 allayed our fears, and then some, as sound on the lawn was great (supposedly due to an upgraded sound system).
Sadly, the lawn sound at this show was so distractingly awful that it really cut into my enjoyment of the music. I could barely hear Trey throughout the show, and found myself having a devil of a time actually getting out of my own head and into the flow of the concert in any meaningful manner. Truth be told, it wasn't until I listened back to the show in the comfort of my apartment a week later that I found myself appreciating the show for what it was.
First set turned out to be basically a textbook, standard-good 3.0 set, with some expected "early tour" flubs and a relaxed vibe befitting the sweltering heat. Starting off with a little extra type-I RAWK in opener "Kill Devil" (during which I quickly retreated to the restrooms) the set was highlighted by some soaring major key crescendos in "Bathtub," as well as an always-welcome "Bowie" ably filling the set-closing spot. We also got the debut of new Mike sung reggae-ish song "Honeycomb"... er, "Yarmouth Road," rather, and (for the most part) solid song selection. All signs pointed towards SPAC '13 night 1 heading down the "fun party show" path that we all know so well by this point.
My overactive bladder aside (3 first set bathroom breaks!), things were going fairly well. The rain had actually cooled things off a little, knocking the mid-90s degree temperature down a few notches, and the "just happy to be here!" excitement was palpable amongst the crowd. We found solid footing and plenty of space right next to the second catwalk from the left, and parked ourselves in that general area for the rest of the evening.
Second set started off with a song choice that can be chalked up to Trey's enduring indie rock fetish: "Energy" by the Elephant 6-associated band, Apples in Stereo. (Nugget alert: Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider is credited as the producer of iconic Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the title track of which Phish covered at Merriweather during summer '10.) "Light" provided the most daring improv of the evening, taking the type-II train into patient, dark territory. L'il bit of extra mustard on the "46 Days," in the form of a cool little funk jam briefly reminiscent of the hallowed 1997 era of "cow funk," eventually segueing into an all-too-rare "Steam." Many folks I spoke with considered this a "best-ever" version, and although I have to agree that a patient groove in "Steam" fits songs inherent chillness rather nicely, I found this version to be kinda boring. "Drowned" provided a rockin' raveup before dialing things back over its last few minutes, with a typically nice "Slave" closing set 2. Character Zero" in the encore, and we're done.
All in all, a good-not-great show. Truthfully, it doesn't compare all that favorably to the previous year's SPAC night 1, which featured an incredible "Tube" > "Psycho Killer" > "Tube" sequence and the best "Sneakin' Sally" I've ever seen. But remember this review is colored by the fact that I really had a tough time losing myself in the spectacle, instead focusing on extraneous thoughts and feelings that were wholly unrelated to the music. It was a night that I found myself irked by tiny details that normally are taken in stride: sloppiness during the first set, Botchzilla during "Mango," a very awkward "46 Days" composed section, Mike's vocal hardships during "Drowned," etc. But it's tough to get too negative under the circumstances when this was still the single funnest day I've had all year.
Post-show, we enjoyed the briskest of walks back to our rental house, and we were pleased to see that no wild partying had burst out on the premises in our absence. We had all been secretly dreading the landlord's son bringing a flock of townie Deftones fans over to the house postshow, knowing that he had our balls in a vice grip, but instead we wound up draining beers in our own company until nearly 4 AM.