08 September 2009

Take Me Out to the Big Ball Game: Phenway, Part I

In the early hours of 5/31/09, I was dancing to house music in a raw warehouse space in South Park Slope, Brooklyn, with no plan of going to Boston. I was still burned the band pushed their Summer Reunion Tour opener back to 5/31/09 (originally set for Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheater on 6/4/09). I uncharacteristically purchased a s'hload (read: 4) of very expensive tickets from StubHub.com, to avoid that nasty feeling of retrospective "show regret." Unfortunately, that same week, I was laid off.

An aside: there are a few staples of phan existence I've managed to repeatedly fumble throughout my tenure, which will be discussed at greater depth in a later post. Chiefly among them is Phish TBM, or Tickets-by-Mail, the the hallowed admission system for dissemination of face-value, fair-play Phish tickets since Doniac Schvice days of olde. I've missed deadlines and wandered my way blind through the world of Phish ticketing (frequently due to being broke) throughout my life as a phan, which of course doesn't make a lot of sense, since buying tickets at face beforehand (or any advance ticket at all!) ultimately makes for a smoother show-going experience, not to mention less wallet-strain. But I've always been one to choose rough over smooth, for whatever dumb, ancestral reason. This occasion was no exception.

I also think of ticketing and show admission in general like I do a lot of things about Phish; a grand, sometimes bizarre exercise in universal energy exchange, including sound, electricity, money, karma, thoughts, elements, etc. I end up where I end up for reasons beyond my comprehension, which also includes NOT seeing shows (which will
definitely be discussed by the end of this here tour-blog-recap).

The piss and vinegar lingering behind the idea of missing certain shows/tours/tour segments, is a bitter catalyst by which I comprehend the workings of the "Great Gig Spirit." Hours earlier, my phriend texted me to say he was going to Boston, and to ask if I was going. Grrr! My blood boiled that he didn't inform me of this rather significant fact before embarking on his trip, but these things are not mine to question.

As I danced, my eyes wandered to a section of dance floor. There were two dudes dancing that I couldn't take my eyes off of. One was shorter than my 5'9", in a poly-cotton bowling shirt, cargo pants and Panama hat. His dance suggested a cross between zombie (arms outstretched), and a spastic 1970s R&B performer, shuffling and shifting side to side, foot to foot. Hipster-doofusy enough on his own, his friend, however, completed the equation, and made me realize my transfixion: tall and reedy, there wiggled a prototypical w00k, long red-brown hair raked back into a frizzy ponytail, huge orangy-brown tye-dye draped over his lean frame, worn corduroy pant legs slouched over heathery gray socks covering big feet in bashed-up Birkenstocks.

My heart leapt. My people! I blanched internally, in spite of myself. I've recently discussed (with a phan) the ambivalence phans can have towards other phans...a love-hate relationship in the deepest, "It's Ice" kinda sense. I grew up with brash, selfish jock-Deadheads, Camaro-driving Travoltas, metalheads, Model UN nerds, then came of age in college around the latter, further mixed with frat dicks and sorority girls, and, soon, a stranger breed of earth-hued shaggies imported from 1972 San Francisco. Post-college added the bridge-and-tunnelers, and most ironic of them all, "the Suits," legions of corporate undercover hippies that would skulk into Wetlands, shed their pinstriped finery, roll up their sleeves, swill brews, and get loopy with the crusties.

I'm always surprised at Phish shows (and, yet, not), especially ones in the New York area, to encounter a broad smattering of the previously-mentioned stereotypoids, and even a couple of blurrier bunches, to which I myself probably belong. Then again, I just thought it might just be like staring into the sun...even when you look away, there's this dot floating there. I love Phish, but by staring at them I also end up staring at a whole bunch of weirdos I sometimes have little in common with. Their forms remain on my retinae, and, lacking facility sometimes to judge between destiny and damage, sometimes I think I love them, too...

Upon gazing the woolly dancing lads, my heart swelled, my eyes welled (two things happen a lot, in quick succession). So what Phish moved the tour opener? It was NOW the tour opener, and I didn't have much choice but to make a decision about what was gonna happen, right there and then. Visceral elation upon news of reunion, soaking in three Hampton shows, and the great conflation of carrot-topped corporeality...red sterno burned in my abdomen, and I knew what I needed to do. Up flamed old coals from the past, when I was compelled to propel myself into time and space, to travel forth towards musical convolution. It's a churn in the sternum that heads torso-north, 'round back over shoulders, neckward ante-ears, landing finally in a simmering panopticon apre-eyeballs...

And, just like that, it is imminent. "Your time is near, the mission's clear, it's later than you think..."

Within an hour of extracting myself from the quickly thickening dance-floor fray, I'd secured a ticket for the Fenway show on my iPhone via Craigslist, and made a reservation for the 10AM Fung Wah Bus from Chinatown to Boston. Just like that. Don't ask me why I waited so long, because I don't know. But there is something unbelievable and explosive about doing that. I live for it. First, no plan, then all of a sudden, PLAN! And the plan is gloriously disjointed, unsure, blank, inchoate. It's me, a destination, and a song.

My friends found me on the sidelines sweating and rapt, and asked what had happened to me. I told them. They said, "Boston?!" These people didn't know who I was, and what I did. They're learning now, and because they love me, they accept me, and are glad to see I'm so happy (if not gone just a little bit daffy). Within minutes, I bade them farewell and took a cab home, got four hours of pitched, vibrant sleep, awakening horrified to my blaring alarm clock on a Sunday morning at 8AM, rocketed out of bed, showered hastily, shoved some random clothes in my bag (luckily with the foresight to add my rain poncho), and sped out the door.

The Fung Wah bus costs $15 for a no-frills, no-funny business jaunt to Boston from NYC. For my broke ass, the price was right. Stepping up the bus stairs with my rucksack, I loudly announced, "Is there a Stephen on this bus? Steven with the ticket?" A kid in a yellow t-shirt, surrounded by furry, long-haired, heavy-lidded collegians, peered up. He must have been about 17, and inside, something screamed, cried with joy, disbelief. Had any time passed? Was I moving forward? Had I stood still? Where was I GOING? By that point, it was obvious; who the hell cares? I live my life the best I can, an upright citizen and caring member of the human race. Now, something penetrated my dutiful march towards oblivion with a burst of motion for motion's sake. Like a long drink from a font of new usefulness...

The ride was rough, but after four hours, I was in Beantown, and Fenway-bound.I ran into a sober woman named Lynne at the bus station, whom I'd seen in New York City earlier the night just before, like time and space snapping together like a paddle ball with a mighty THWACK! Incredulous, we scrutinized each other and soon exchanged the, "Are YOU here for the...?" moment. But of course we both were! In addition, she'd spent her college days in Boston, knew her way around, and was en route to meet (gasp!) yet more sober phans near the venue. I'd never been to Boston for Phish, just Worcester, and hadn't been to Boston since college myself. Much schoolgirl giggling ensued, and we were off to the T; I drifted from that unsure height of adrenaline fueled spontaneity, into the down embrace of fortuity.

To speed this up, I hung with Lynne in the teeming melee outside Fenway for a while, until the sky began to grow malevolent and spew forth its contents. We lost each other in the mad scramble for shelter, I, wandering gleefully giggling in the drizzle through the wild, familiar fracas that is the Phish pre-show. The rain was herky-jerky, though, and in between bursts, the sky yielded forth rainbows of every girth. Then more clouds, threats, drizzle...

I soon discovered that a) the venue "wouldn't" allow cameras (which I later learned was pretty much false), and b) backpacks were absolutely verboten (which was true). After a little frenzied search, I found Hotel Buckminster up the street, which, for 20 bucks, would allow me to check my bag. They also offered an extremely comforting, warm inkeeper's humor, to this bumbling ne'er-do-well. I stripped off my inconveniences and rocketed through the (more) rain towards the gate...

Another sign that I was in the right place came shortly thereafter. Under a churlish grey sky, red poncho tossing around me, I sprinted hastily across the Brookline Ave. bridge, tearing through the sea of stragglers making their way into the stadium, and I nearly ran over Dean Budnick, author of "The Phishing Manual," and my erstwhile (long-suffering) editor during two years of writing for JamBands.com. It had been years since I'd seen him. We stopped, expressed our shock, I took a pic, sent love, and kept running. It's all part and parcel of this thing re-forming...its molecules and aims, indistinct...

FINALLY, feeling like I'd run a marathon to the moon and back, I emerged into the light inside the stadium, just in time to hear, through the deafening thunder of wailing phans (and, well, actual thunder), the band behind the tarp-swathed pitcher's mound, in their somewhat stately, somewhat silly barbershop configuration, warbling the Star Spangled Banner to the assembled audience. More eye-welling, glancing over at the big screens, in the bright stadium floods, they sat well in the crack in which they dwell: between a wall of awesome, insightful, intelligent musicianship, and a mattress of screwball, schizoid subtlety.

I found my seats, and had been planted next to Cindy & Josh, a cute suburban Phishhead couple in their mid-20s. Again, that odd feeling: "What are you DOING with your life?" And again, my brain's refrain... "You're lookin' at it!"

More rain spittled down on us, and soon the band took the stage...and the hilarious annoyance that sometimes emerges right at the locus of ecstatic return, the "Kodak Moment," emerged in the form of a giant, neon-green golf umbrella being held by an immaculately tennis-dressed, no doubt ex-sorority girl. But, as if informed by a pollster of the soul of jest, no buzz could be crushed by such foolery...

[To be continued...]


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