09 October 2009

Clear Your Cache and Shake That, Asheville! Themes From the Bottom of the Second Inning

First, I should say with great joy and import that, finally, long-awaited Phish 2009 Fall Tourdates have been floated onto the breeze, and like a mighty wind across the land, dreams of sweeping strobes and stampeding snare riffs have hijacked everyone's thought-streams for the next month and a half. Coffers are quickly being emptied, trust funds desiccated, grannies manipulated and gas pumped.

Without even thinking, I put in for ONE TICKET (the Loner Wolfe[TM] lurks again, as per usual) at Phish Tickets, for the 11/18/09 tour opener. As was speculated (now confirmed true), the 2009 Fall Reunion Tour opener pops off a scant 24 hours before Father Time belches me into my 35th year. Yes, if Phish can kick out the jamz till after midnight, on 11/19/09, I'll be ringing it in right, lettin' it all hang out, whatever "IT" may be at the moment... I, again, before them and they before me, flying supine on soundwaves, as I throw my life away gleefully, in an onrushing torrent of song. I recalled the other day that I was listening to Phish on the stereo at home, minutes before my 25th birthday.

Topping it all off on a muggy Friday 10/9/09 (BTW, Happy Birthday, Jesse "The Walrus" Jarnow!), was my initial tumble into a savory morsel I'm just now tasting: 6/9/09 Asheville Civic Center, Asheville, NC. Yeah, slap me around as it might, this struggle with the Summer Tour '09 beast refuses to cease. I thrash and kick and bite, and not so much fight, but desire to properly channel it, as it punches me in the eye. I skipped on 6/4 and 6/5/09 simply because I'd listened to them so many times, they turned to goo in my head. 6/4 wasn't as monumental a show as I once thought, and was trying to re-elevate it to, outside a propellant "PYITE" and a lively "NICU" pepper-pot stew.

Lesson #177: don't bother with the minutiae in shows if the whole of the show makes you too sleepy to discuss it. A hard-won lesson, the only way of knowing is to wring the living shit outta the show until you know. If you haven't written about much, then there probably wasn't much to write about...at least not for now.

You can compare it to a century egg, ages-old Asian delicacy crafted of an avian ovoid (chicken, duck or other pregnant hen, whatever), wrapped in straw, salt, spices, lime, and other gross stuff, buried underground and preserved for months, even years, cured, refined, pickled by time, then cracked open to be found black and gelatinous, to be savored for culinary effect. All Phish shows, to my mind, have something golden in them, I don't care what it is -- it could be a moment of belly-shattering banter, or one mellifluous measure -- but it doesn't all come at once.

6/5/09, by contrast to 6/4, was the moment the band cracked open the egg of reunion nerves, portent, sturm and drang, to reveal their squiggly, giggling core, assertively furtive hilarity that's kept me coming back to Phish. It's a big cake to squeeze into conservative prose, and an ass-kicker in that I missed it due to rain and admitted aural oversaturation -- standing in a life-sized bong three days in one week, for the first time in 6 years sober, was a lot to fathom at the time. 6/5/09, being the first show I wasn't there for, was the origin of what I have endearingly come to refer to as "V-TOOR," or "Virtual Tour" -- the 21st Century, wherever-you-are, armchair, bus stop, pajama-clad equivalent of Phish tour, online and on-demand.

"V-TOOR" meant I could be (and was, once) at the show in my head, while at the Duane Reade on Broadway and Houston St. on a Friday night, to check Twitter and have @Phish tell me they just started playing "The Wedge" in Indiana, making me freak out and nearly fall over a stand of cheap sunglasses. Believe it or not, in some aspect, I went on V-TOOR for every Summer 2009 Tour show. I had Twitterific fired up on my iPhone 24/7, clued into time-zones and show-starts, eventually jacked by the spine into Hoodstream.com, and many other popular outlets with shaggy rogue leaders out in the teeming trenches, surreptitiously holding phones aloft to snap blurry pics and transmit hettie streamage, sharing the groove through the Ether-tube as never, ever before possible.

Thus, I'm trying to keep on this train, but not squeeze myself too tight in it. I can't lose the fun, otherwise, after all, what's the use?

I Know You Driver

I had a dream the other night. Trey left a plastic shopping bag at my house with a selection of items in it, most prominently (I couldn't help but peek) a stack of button-down shirts of different colors and styles. He told me he'd be back later, and to be there because he'd need my input.

He returned later, and, to my surprise, people began trickling in after him. He grabbed his plastic sack and disappeared into a back room, smiling.

It was late, nearing 2AM, and I found myself squeezed into my couch as a few more strangers appeared, taking seats around my apartment, awaiting an upcoming event I wasn't aware of. I looked to my right, wondering who had just begun crowding me; it was CK5 himself, Phish photon guru, Chris Kuroda. (FYI: my apartment is NOT that big. I live in New York City. Duh.)

Suddenly, a hush came over the room. Trey came ambling in before the assembled muttering onlookers, wearing a pair of white jeans, and a white button-down shirt with sky-blue vertical stripes. His hair and beard looked ashen. In fact, he looked like an albino. He threw his palms up and said, "Well? Whaddya think?"

I frowned, appalled. It appeared he was testing new stage outfits. Exasperated, I said, "Definitely not. It makes you look even more pale than you already are! No way, definitely not."

"Uhh-huh"s and "Totally"s circulated around the room. He nodded vigorously, stroking his beard, and bolted off into the back room again. What was happening? Had I become Trey's "style advisor"?

Confused as all get-out, and waiting for him to re-emerge (from a pause as long as the ones in the 6/9/09 Asheville show), I got impatient and walked out the front door into the dark. I seemed to have moved to a sparsely-populated suburb, but at that moment, decided to walk all the way to Manhattan, reaching the Sheep's Meadow in Central Park just by sunrise. There was an assembly of w00ks and weirdos quickly gathering in the park. It was the vision of a phestival in the phormation: Jawa-like dreadies in earth-hued patchworks, coagulations of homegrown hemp-necklace-vending-glass-amassing crunchies under trees, etc. Further down the pitch, an enormous projection screen had been erected.

As the sun whispered over the horizon, the crowd settled before the big screen, whooping madly, and, with hilarious recognition, I watched as it began to show Trey modeling his next shirt, as simulcast from my apartment, in full Technicolor, before thousands of phans in the park. As if I hadn't just been there hours earlier, I wandered around the Meadow, anxiously looking for just the right watching-spot, only to find many of the choicest angles occupied by gnarly pockets of hard-partying heads. In one area, I glimpsed some old acquaintances, who figured in my past endless, microbrew-swilling (etc.) rage-fests throughout the mid- to late-1990s. Not prepared to deal with such reunification at that moment, with various loud aromas and grandiose vibrations issuing from their midst, I wandered onwards.

Then I remembered: I really didn't have to worry. After all, though a disorienting disconnect was making me see myself as through a pair of 3D glasses, the "main event" was being broadcast from
my house. And you know what they say about houses in dreams. It was not going to be missed, but as always, enjoyed, from a series of intriguing, engaging angles.

It reminded me, strangely, of the first Jammys ceremony at Irving Plaza in 2000, when I was slated to present the "Community Service" award with Benjy Eisen. When came time for my appearance, I was yuckin' it up, going big with some headz at the top balcony bar, in of one of my favorite NYC venues. I felt larger than life, and was not doing the best job handling it, on the heels of a couple of noteworthy musical onstage appearances, and also being on the roster for Writer of the Year for "Innerspace," my Jambands.com column of 2 years. Out of a fog, I heard someone saying my name, and noticed, with further nervous urging from the people I was chillaxing with, that it was time to make my presentation, and they were calling me over the effin' venue P.A...

Booking downstairs in a floor-length black velvet and red satin gown with metallic-blue Pumas (same ones I wore to Phish at Radio City that year), I made it to the podium just in time to mimic, in realtime, my shoddy deadline performance for pretty much every month I'd written for Jambands.com: always just a moment late.

Humbly, I look back on those days, fun for what they were worth amongst pleasure on a quick decline, and look forward to clearer, brighter times.

Havin' a Good Time, Vishnu Were Here

Like the Hindu god of Creation, Phish is reshaping itself, so why shouldn't I do so along with them? After a wrenching week of self-examination, near-ecstasy and more incipient agony, I hit some kind of Phish bottom, and seem to have (yet again) popped out the other side. It remains near-impossible to explain the portent of the band's return in my life. It's like teleporting into the past, your present body and experiences intact, yet the past seems quite a lot like now...how do I know that it's the past? All feelings, sounds, impulses are the same -- nay, intensified -- but nothing looks the same. I'm clearer, and in many ways, more self-controlled (thus, quizzically, more free) than I was then. I have a bit more knowledge of my inner experience, what I like, want, need, and would be better off without. To be catapulted backwards standing here, as an expression of an ever-evolving future-now, is a daily thrill-ride I simultaneously want to share and shout, and hide with in my darkened room, marveling childlike at it all, a novelty of new, glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling.

Getting back to V-TOOR, I spell it (and call it) "t00r" because it's the stupid l33t way me and some of my friends referred to following bands back in the day. Because I'm a rationalzer by nature, I could acronym "V-TOOR" "Virtual Technological Ontological Online Roadtrip," but V-TOOR sounds like "detour," and I swear, Phish has put my life on a big-ass one of those time and again, sweet victory, God bless 'em. I'm not surprised V-TOOR and I get along so well. I'm also a heckuva multitasker, and appreciate Phish on the mental plane as well as the physical, emotional and spiritual ones. Phish 3.0 is doubtlessly the iteration of the band I'm most fully plugged into, and thus most fully involved in, having a more (slightly) mature perspective on all that's come before. I was much too impatient to get into tape trading. [Ed. Note -- Not to say I didn't try -- there's a large box crammed full of tapes attesting to that fact -- but it generally bored and aggravated me.] I wanted to go to every show possible, to download the whole package right into my backbone, but I had to survive, as a (seemingly perpetually) single twentysomething girl in NYC. And I seem to have done a fine job nearly killing myself *without* up and going on Phish tour, thank you very much.

From a tech perspective, Original Phish (1983-1985) is Colossus, America's Nazi-code-breaking, war-winning juggernaut that was the world's true first computing device. Phish 1.0 (1985-2000) is like Windows 98, a VAST improvement on DOS, or Windows 3.1 (i.e. a world without Phish, or a proper GUI, say). Phish 2.0 (2003) is like Windows Me (i.e. a lateral shift only just short of a total disaster), and Phish 2.5 (2004) is Windows Vista hell; slick on the outside, but in the interior, a flaming-hot mess. By contrast, Phish 3.0 has been likened to "your cool high school teachers" (by some fool in Hoodstream chat).

My karmic arc is flying in just the right trajectory to meet that of Phish, in a midair bisection of human technological history. Let's face it...without V-TOOR, I couldn't have felt the excitement of a "Maze" in the moment, before I heard it, which itself happened only hours after I saw it appear in their setlist. I spent HOURS on V-TOOR this past summer. The minute I couldn't make shows anymore, I was on Twitter, swimming in the #Phish feed, phollowing @Phish (the band's official Twitter presence), and as people at the shows sent out the setlist, blurting realtime commentary on the show, from the show, on their portable communication devices.

Widely-available public Internet connections didn't exist in 1989. Cellular phones weren't commonly used in 1993. I signed up for my first personal email address the day after I got home from the Clifford Ball in 1996.
Networked PDAs weren't prominent in 1998. Video streaming was still kind of a bitch in 2000. Twitter didn't exist in 2004. See where I'm going with this? Outlets like rec.music.phish and Phish.net [currently in a Beta-version overhaul -- get in there y'all MySQL coders and help 'em out!] have been around forever, as well as IRC #phish and a zillion other phan endeavors on the Internet. But this is some new shit altogether. It's real-deal, 21st Century Phish, the counterculture turned on digital.

Phans, by dint of their mere existence during this massive ~15 year groundswell evolution of human communication, have always been on the bleeding edge of new technology. As Phish has been a part of my life, so have they been filtered through all the new methods. Analog taping went digital. CD-Rs replaced cassette tapes. And now, we grab shows, setlists, images, commentary, tickets, rides, the whole nine, like fly balls out of a sky blue as Mike's right eye. I know a lot of the old-schoolers wonder about this, how it's "changing the scene," and possibly draining vibrant, provocative, scrappy DIY Phishhead culture that rolled over the Interstates of America after the band, throughout the 1990s. Have we all just become a big pack of abhorrent custies?

To my mind, if there's anywhere to look for that spirit these days, ironic as it may seem, it's V-TOOR. From 6/5/09 onward, I spent hours online being with and observing my phellow, often hilarious-to-the-point-of-sociopathic phans in action, tapping the well of electronic participation with the band they couldn't be with, but couldn't help continue to follow to the last. First, the #Hey Phish chat room on USTREAM.tv was where I ended up, directed from #Phish on Twitter, to a page where on lucky nights, you could catch some slob holding up a jailbroken iPhone, resulting in a bad, scratchy video stream, and if we were
really lucky, some half-decent audio. And I'm not being facetious...the e-droplets, scanty and ear-blasting as they often were, were like manna from heaven. I cried laughing time after time, as streams dropped and the chatroom would explode with "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"s, and sundry other outlandish expletives.

As tour nights passed, an elusive, ragtag crew of touring cyberphans began meshing, to arrange as many nightly streams as they could manage. Dog_Log, the Butter Room, Secret Leaky, PhishTwit on Qik.com...the combined efforts of these itinerant techno-mercenaries kept us cheering on a whole new level, for the band, and those who strove to bring the show to us. Thus, Hoodstream.com was born. Over the 2009 Summer Tour, it became one of the more reliable, catch-all repositories of online video & audio streaming headz across the country, linking us all to the band we couldn't see in the flesh.

Just for laughs, and since it's been a while, what with work and grappling with this damn blog, I just kicked over to Hoodstream.com to dig the scene. I'm only too happy to see things are as they have been, with 7/15/98 Portland Meadows, OR "Harry Hood" streaming, and a couple of heads tuned in, chillaxing, discussing their Fall Tour plans in the chat room on a Saturday afternoon. The Hoodstreamers have set up a Facebook page, and there's a button on the page to become a fan. I click it, and do, because I am. Blunt, aggro fuzz of "Hood" with loud, harassing symbol clangs ceases into a post-"Thank You Mr. Miner" jam, beginning with all barely audible, rising gradually (from a chirpy Trey solo) into a bright, confident semi-tropical crescendo. This is
exactly why I've had to take a Hoodstream.com hiatus...I go there, and I don't ever leave. The closest show I saw to 7/15/98 was three months earlier, 4/3/98, the second show of the two I saw from the famed four-show "Island Tour," at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY.

Hoodstream.com is run by some people I don't really know. I thought about trying to make inquiries to the faceless aliases for this post, Joephus (and his epic brother, LookItsAbe, if memory serves), CostaPete, kari108, meatmeetdebar -- many of whom are responsible for the downloads I've been listening to -- but decided against it. Not that it doesn't matter, but it's just like any other excellent, anonymous encounter you have on tour, it's Phish phans foregoing personality and prestige to offer up fruits of the band's work, through the channel of their own labor of love. And if I keep coming back, I'll probably meet them anyway.

To briefly track the progression of my Phish '09 Summer Tour obsession, by 6/9/09, I had not yet dug deep enough to find online streams, and was settling for tweaking while reading setlists delivered via Twitter. By 8/1/09, I was on Hoodstream.com almost 24/7, going to bed at 2AM EDT (12AM CT), awakening at 5AM EDT to hear the end of the show I missed the night before, which had been up on Hoodstream for about two hours. I was soon West Coast-bound for the first time to see the band in CA, then WA, having met a dude named Marc (aka mmmphish) in Hoodstream chat, who offered to let me camp with his AZ posse at the Gorge a week later. I can be a pretty shy and conservative lass, believe it or not, but this stuff (along with being sober enough to not fear harm) pulls me outta my shell with the quickness. His girlfriend made some KICK-ASS blueberry pancakes the morning of 8/8/09. That I commited rampant "pancake-a-cide" that morning, savagely murdering serveral innocent pancakes, remains an in-joke between my new friend and me, to this day.

When I first found the Hoodstream.com chatroom, I didn't know how to join the chat; when I learned you needed to contact them for a login, I emailed the webmaster directly, immediately, and started whining and kicking up a fuss. Within 10 minutes, I was shooting my mouth off with the muckety-mucks, and within two weeks, they made me a mod.

This is the spirit of Phish. I've said all this to say that, from what I can tell by listening, that spirit returned in earnest on 6/9/09 in Asheville, NC. This is the first show of the tour I'm really getting into which I wasn't at, but it's the first one of this kind that has captivated me enough to feel like I was (or could've been, at least). Everything that makes Phish Phish was in play at this show: a big old coal-fired pack of Southern Fried phans, and the true-skool knowledge that Phish was back on tour, led the band to split open and belt out their tunes, in an evolution of euphoria that surpasses that of 6/5/09, Jones Beach III (which was plenty fun for Phish, maybe, but not so much for their rain-soaked phans), the nervy aimlessness of 6/6/09 Mansfield, MA, and the cool guardedness of the pre-long-haul launch 6/7/09 in Camden, NJ.


6/9/09 Asheville Civic Center, Asheville, NC

Set I: Kill Devil Falls, The Moma Dance, Sample in a Jar, Stash, Dog Faced Boy, Gumbo, Tube, Lengthwise, The Divided Sky, When the Cactus is in Bloom, Bold As Love

Set II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Ghost > Fast Enough for You, Halley's Comet > Maze, Alaska, Theme From the Bottom, Golgi Apparatus, Possum

E: Loving Cup

After "Kill Devil Falls" sparks the burner, the Phish Summer Reunion Tour 2009
officially begins, by way of a drippy, slithery, elastic episode of "The Moma Dance," which immediately sets up Asheville's mood; something like an edgy, tongue-in-cheek, costumed cocktail hour-meets Appalachian rent party. At 7,200 capacity, The Asheville Civic Center is not much more than a tiny, glorified collegiate basketball arena, with a seething, slobbering, Phish-hungry sold-out crowd jammed in so tight, you can hear every-thing. From the jump, "Moma" borders on sexually aggressive, as Mike skins back a few attitude-heavy bass runs in dirt-grinding Southern fashion. Fish's vocals are slightly sinister and sly. Trey ups the rigging, then rasps out his "Ohhhh ohhhh"s, panting hoarsely like the night is dirty and young, and so are they. He then asserts that he means it, notes bending, poking and squawking. Someone in the audience replies, sends out a high, long-ass whistle, and in minutes, they wrap it up and skate right into "Sample in a Jar," cooling the tones, moving the crowd out of hip-cranking into a triumphantly sandal kicking, Dixie dirt-flicking fist-pumping jam.

Phish is on the road again, and Southern soul-charged, in their first NC flyby since July 2003. In comparison to earlier '09 shows, there are only fleeting fumbles, all matched by triumphant readjustments, almost as if for every slip there's a righting of posture followed by a leap, proving mistakes are truly the launchpad to mastery.

The closed-in crowd is raunchy, an element of the performance all its own. This one dude begins at 13:17 in the very, very long pause out of "Sample," bawling mournfully for "Tela," which he continues to do, heart-wrenchingly throughout...the entire...show...during...al...most...every...pause. Poor fucking guy! Who can blame him? Right there witcha buddy. I'll be a urine puddle at Fest 8 when they play it. Yes, I said "WHEN THEY PLAY IT AT F8"...

You know something's happening when "Stash" boosts the venue into the stratocumulus on a warm-breathy, in-unison cloud of "Ohhhhoohhhowww-whoa!"s. Fishman soaks up Gordon's attitude, or maybe they're trading it back and forth; Fish's woodblock, splash and hi-hat signatures are generously drizzled over "Stash" (and the entire show). Through his bits of wrist-wriggling prestidigitation, my tremoring armhairs sense the gladness Fishman derives, stitching together the ornate, inter-band communication. They're being injected with a warm jelly-embrace from a grateful, pulsating audience, resulting in simmering-turned-flaming sterno. Nearing 9:20, we're suddenly teleported to 1950s Morocco, a brief whirling-dervish, Casablanca desert jazzfest, thick with the scent of sticky jam hash, witnessing a sometimes mechanical staple rise to an evolutionary "Stash."

In the pause, the "Tela"-Screamer begins to literally plead, hollering, throaty-voiced, "PLEASE...PLAY...TELA!!!" His wailing, in a way, becomes a version of the song itself...

Prior to the "Dog-Faced Boy" serenade to Fishman, Trey goes on a "Four Second-Long 'VH-1Storytellers'" with a lighthearted -- though alarming, or touching, depending on your interpretation -- retelling of his scandalization of Fishman's privacy by mining lyrics from his journal, during Trey's and Fish's period of co-habitation. You can probably tell, from context, how I feel about it; there's a quizzical "Ohhuuuhhhh?" from the audience, followed by screeching (from the women, mostly) when Trey stammers, "One day [Fish] left his journal...on the, um, table in our living room, and I picked it up and wrote three songs out of his journal without him knowing it."

However, it's also clear to see how brotherly love bonds these guys so tightly together, that what would normally be considered a grievous transgression becomes another facet of humorous, boundaryless breath of artistic dialogue between these two old friends.

After Trey substantiates some lyrical intervention in "Dog-Faced Boy" to avoid "an angry phone call" from Tom Marshall, he launches another of the co-ghost-written Fish tunes, "Gumbo," which sashays, clamors and clangs with several swell moments of Page's pointed piano palpations.

Then, a crowd fave, the indeed ridiculously-worded "Tube," scrambles out in a skunky hurry. One may become a little aware here that there's a decisive Page storm a'brewin...he's tossing out hot shredded wah like cheddar melting in midair and landing on a hot, jalapeno potato. The soul food analogy begins to steam at about 3:00 in mid-gravy...then wraps in a vampy method carefully practiced in "Tube," a warm beignet of sweet spicyness dripping with a strange grease that can't be good for you, but sure tastes like it is.

When "Lengthwise" popped into the Twitterific stream on my iPhone, I was aghast. Seriously? Yeah, it happened, Fish's tender, fuzzy falsetto sending its plaintive warble into the fray, which responded in unison. It is followed by "The Divided Sky," distinguished by pre-existing jaunty electricity already all over the stage. If the sass I'm hearing is plain show-offery, then it's damn good to hear, since Phish 3.0 up to Asheville (save Hampton) sounded, at times, anything from tentative and loose, to terse and nervous. Asheville brought lockdown and hookup in their truest senses; the band's individual instrumental journeys snap through and construct a smoldering, musical "man-love" framework, the results of which almost audibly crackle from the crowd's swiveling joints. Phish, simply put, did it to Ashville in their earholes. Lucky you, Asheville!

These coital analogies really only get worse starting here; the Center starts to really sizzle, and it's young love all over again. Tonal foreplay in "Sky" turns to a happy-slappy twang-grass debut-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoooo, "When the Cactus Are in Bloom." Bold, exhilarated Gordon yodels ring across the walls and hills...until...Holy shit! We round second base, Jesus, with a G# bustout into hot crème fraiche of Page's voice, detonating the first words of cataclysmic spectral Hendrix opus, "Bold As Love." (deep breath) I'm gonna stop right there, because we haven't even gotten to the second set.

Let's take it back to first base, and savor the first blush of this road relationship rekindling, "Backwards Down the Number Line" Set II opener. You could call it a lucky breaking ball, but I don't think so...I've already cheated and listened to the first couple songs from Knoxville, and it only gets hotter. I'm normally not one to go in for overuse of the term "peak" to describe climactic moments, jam- or otherwise; I'm more a believer in the plateau theory, where planes of pleasure slide around laterally whilst rising along a steady, invisible incline, felt only in the amount of blood vessels exploding along one's anatomy. However, I must say the situation at the end of 6/9/09 "BDTNL" demands the description "peak" -- Trey stretches and kneads the winding phrases, just nailing all the high points, and quite like a leisurely traverse of first base, judging by the audience's reaction (self included), it is pure pleasure that makes you make that kind of pained, wild, amazed face upon finding the jewel to your crown.

The strata continue to slide, the pulse already riding high, as the radiant apex of "BDTNL" becomes rearranged, turning the dimmer down to a frisky, planetarium dark, Mike's pizzicato cranium-fizzing with Page modulations, a random, driving Fish drumbeat in the ears pushes, then fades...

Meanwhile, Trey sneaks out the back door, shifts to the solid key of G, and starts tossing out chunky chords, while everyone's still slipping around in the primordial sauce. A few far-flung, hair-trigger setlist heads in the audience catch onto what's happening -- word and feeling spread; you can hear some girls' high-pitched squeals, as he-phans and she-phans still coiled up in the futuristic froth are kicked into "Ghost". Masters of puppets with justice for all, but mercy for none during this show, Phish has this batch hooked, Southern-simmered and hangin' high. Slide-thump-thump, slide-thump-thumping, dragging Asheville along with them, after the unearthly "BDTNL" outro, the band floats straight into the unlawful, B.B. King(ston)-tinged, clavi-wah paranormal.

How we got back to second base again, I'll never know. The band thoroughly uncivilizes the Asheville Civic Center with rattling, prattling Trey solos in "Ghost," Mike prodding insistently through a synthesized cylindrical core, bursting into thin air dancing with happy phantom frequencies. Someone in the crowd crumbles, shrieking, as the air slowly thickens again, and the "Ghost" lightning storm comes undone to take it down a couple, into a tune perfect for pulling into third, if you're shafty.

Another bustout (and heart-melting girl-crusher) comes through "Ghost > Fast Enough For You." Rarely played live, 6/9/09 marks only the 10th time "FEFY" was played in the new century. Again, he-phans and she-phans alike are fondled equally during this interlude of the seemingly endless Asheville love-fest.

Just when you thought he'd gotten too drunk to keep it up, "Tela"-Screamer has begun taking hostages by guilt-tripping surrounding phans to scream for the song with him. "PLEASE!!!" he begs loudly. Either he's harassing onlookers to join him, or they start screaming with him, just in hopes that Phish will comply and play the song, so he'll stop screaming. They don't. Mike begins matter-of-factly "deep-joop-ba-ba ba-jimboo"ing into "Halley's Comet," scatting in his impassive baritone throughout the celebratory ode to the elusive celestial body.

Things lighten up a bit here in Set II, and hands seem to have been restored to their less-naughty stations with "Halley's." Back somewhere between first and second, a good, clean fun time arises as everyone does a bit of "whoopee!"-style rejoicing at their good fortune, ending up at the first bona fide amazing Phish show of the tour. The otherwise mundane one-down one-up, one-up one down, two-note progression is tossed about with Mike's insistently deadpan "deep-joops," jokey, jubilant Trey/Page harmonies, and even a couple of sneaky Fish syncopations flipped into the Party Mix, which he later spices up further with some generous, faux-obnoxious cowbell.

"Halley's" here holds a lot of truck because of what's come before it, and what everyone knows remains...more of the same. One can speculate as to the theory of "persistence-resistence," as someone I know discussed with me at the Bob Weir show Friday night, e.g.: the final set of night two of Bonnaroo. That is, when an otherwise unbelievably good show gets dashed to hell in a handbasket, in order to -- who knows? -- preserve its own previous awesomeness through lemming-like self-sacrifice, to the aural horror of the punters assembled.

This would NOT be the case in Asheville. Call it uninterrupted crowd-band power-supply, the program running smooth as black ice, or the nebulous alchemy of artistic transience nabbing the band like a fairy-dusted catcher's mitt, as they flew the coop of the Northeast. Asheville just kept reaping the rewards of Phish's first pure-tour show.

On a roll of crazy, nonsensical segues anyways, they shimmy their way out of a G-rated > PG-rated "Halley's" outro, into a darker R-ified air within a few moments, the menacing hi-hat of "Maze" in full pursuit. Cutey-pie time is over, at least for the moment. Hey lady, hey man...are we gonna get down to it and just slide home? Uhhh, let's go for a jog! Oh no! We've gotten lost in the forest! This is not sexy, this is sorta like a horror movie! Zombies! Ghosts! Kinda like "Thriller" but a little more extra-innings hectic, gospel, overtime jazz...Page is chasing you down with his Hammond organ, Fish and Mike are galloping on your chest...this is kinda sexy but it's not because it's so EERIE, so MINOR! Trey is twisting flashlights in your face! Friends or foes?! Eeeek! Holy crap! Where the fuck are we?! GAAH! Run for your LIFE!!!

At 6:05 "Maze," I can't tell; are Fish's splash cymbals muffling audience members puzzlingly demanding "HOLY SHIT" very loudly? It's possible. Gals and/or dudes now realize their not-so-sweet significant other has chased them into the forest under false pretenses to some log cabin shack in the middle of Whiskey Dick, North Carolina, to get 'em all hot and bothered and stirred up enough to (end of "Maze") POUNCE! POUNCE! Har har, my sweet one your ass is MINE...

...umm, nope! Nice try! Instead, we've found ourselves After Midnight (as it were) in a freezing cabin, somewhere in the Great White North, starting all over again from first base, because our mate is PISSED at us for trying to pull such a stunt, exciting enough as it might have been. The frustration is such that, at 11:14 in the gap after "Maze," at least on my recording, a tortured yowl so dire and intoxicated issues forth from the crowd, "WeeeWoooOOOGGGH!!" This quickly (naturally) reminds "Tela"-Screamer that he's falling down on the job, and he brays, "TEEEEEE-LAAAAAAAHHHHHH..." which is quickly punctured by a flirty one-horse saloon-type Page tumble across the keys, sliding into the pokey, Zappa-punny, eskimo honky-tonk of another debut, "Alaska." There's another drumstick for yer Page repast, buddy...are ya happy yet?!

What's odd about "Alaska" (and understandable in my relationship with Phish) is I was convinced upon encountering its debut in these first listens to 6/9/09, that I'd surely heard it before that point on tour. Like, BEFORE before, and I don't know what that means. I just realized I could be confusing it with "Ocelot," whose slouchy vamp it does indeed resemble. But they're not the same tune, the latter being somewhat more playfully G-rated than the former, which is definitely heading back in old-fashioned-winking-bedroom-eyed direction the girlfriend/boyfriend is urging us in...when are we gonna melt those icecaps, already? Plenty of time, too...it's a hella long Alaska at almost 8 minutes. Ah! I finally remembered -- when I first saw the setlist from 6/18/09, I was thoroughly compelled to seek the show out, partially intrigued by this new Aleutian tune. So I did, and I guess I listened to it so many times, with its hokey poetry just so, that it felt like an old friend.

Can I keep up my "boy-meets-girl-meets-Phish-in-Asheville-foreplay-fest-2009" theme? If you pick up right here, at about 6:20 in this first "Alaska" jam, the truncated text message answer is "O HL YS!" -- fantasy images that dare not speak their names shall be left in the ears of the listener. More peaking that yes, I once again will uncharacteristically deign to refer to as such, because there's something unutterably scintillating about one's loved one yowling, "I'll stay right here!" (to me, anyway). Of course, according to my (meta-insane) fanciful fantasy analogy, one's loved one can't go anywhere, since they're marooned in a cabin at the North Pole. But duh! What do you think is gonna happen if they both stay...right...there...? (hyulk, hyulk) And it's not just for laughs, kids, because by the end of "Alaska," I'm about ready to swoon.

"Tela"-Screamer is very upset now, having been subjected to an 8-minute new song, as is some dude down front hassling, "Play something old school!", while some freak about mid-floor is screaming for "Ocelot," which is kinda funny, considering what I just observed a couple paragraphs ago, and as the song starts, some by-the-book jackass yells, "Freebird!"

"Theme From the Bottom" might as well be continued "...of Our Simultaneously Beating Hearts," the audience satiated by Page and Fish's metronomic intro, crooning along to Mike and Trey's hypnotic, synchronized thrumming. Here's where you could've lost me, since all other "Theme"s were spoiled for me forever by the 3/6/09 Hampton version, in my opinion, not only one of the best of that song in existence, but one of the best renditions of any of their shorter songs, EVER. I must've listened to that "Theme" a thousand times, memorizing (just through repetition) every note and aspect of Trey's and Page's standouts. It starts slow, very cautious, but comes to palpitate with a tremulous elation of walking after having been asleep for...oh...five years?! Could be the sheer emotion of it all, but I think emotion's not the least of the reasons versions of some Phish songs can kick substantial ass.

Subjected to the Baseball Analogy, you'd have me doddering between second and third right about here, heading forward fast so as not to get pinched! Nahh, this "TFTB" isn't nearly as much raw emotive goodness as 3/6/09 "Theme," but for the sake of analogy, "Theme From the Bottom" is a mesmerizingly sensuous tune, surging forth in such operatic splendor you'd be hard pressed to achieve coyness at this point. "Theme" is a sinus-opener, a throw-your-hands-up-and-sway-er, representing in its own way sloppy moments of sweaty, crowded frenzy, a chorus of elbows and hair and the messiness of ecstasy. I can only imagine what the so-called "Civic Center" must have looked like by this time of the show. People are losing their minds. Gurgling, vibrating, uprising -- this show can be filed under "F" for..."Frantastic!"

Before "Tela"-Screamer himself gets a chance to get going (he's too distraught, and has one of his hostages has take over), some enraptured fellow declares his outright adoration, "I still loooove youuuu!" The band is like, "Jesus!" in spite of themselves, and waste zero time roaring into "Golgi Apparatus." It might as well be the opener, they come at it with such energy.

My fingers are tingling as I write this, I'm typing so fast; the editing is gonna be hell, but my God has it been fun. A "Golgi" like an opener penultimate in the second set...what did Asheville do with it on a TUESDAY NIGHT? They went to bed happy, at least until after a "Possum" follow-up essentially kicked the shit out of them some more, driving them WAY past home, over the wall, into the lot, and all the way to Knoxville. Is it the mountain moonshine? That hettie musk of the hill-people? Asheville is the hotness from bottom to noggin. The audience is a major part of the show! I feel Trey's gonna drop a "Destiny Unbound"-tease (which is a segue that would sorta kick some tail someday)...what is a phan to do, when their band of choice has thoroughly scandalized them, taken them to the hilt then beyond, and, perhaps, just a little further? Well, simply put...it's kinda next-level, is all. When you hit the high and you think there's nowhere left to go, when you thought they were gone and so did they, off spins the top and chance comes in, an almost obscenely spiritual wind of fortuity forcefully exhaling gusto back into some old souls that really never aged.

Splayed across the bearskin rug, torn up hillbilly shirt lying nearby, cigarette smoke wafts (it's virtual smoke...I don't smoke...and nor should you...hah) in dizzy, dispersing post-coital mayhem. Even "Tela"-Screamer has been silenced. It's pointless, you think...but his proxy does manage to get one last yawp in before Page (again) shuts him up with the first pounding heartthrobs of the H-bomb "Loving Cup" show-closer. Dirty sandals lie askance, logs blaze in the hearth, the cold Inuit winter wind is a mere memory. Actually, everything is but a memory, at the head-pounding, finger-tingling, relentless end of a crusher-show, in that "I feel your mouth kissing me again" kinda way, the "where do I start and you stop?" sorta way...and we've only just begun. Or is it ending? Or...have we even...? They drew further away, and, via phone lines, cable and satellites, I only crept closer. Oh, what a beautiful buzz, what a beautiful buzz.

Now, I make my way over to phiSHows.com, to cue up the deep, smooth 10/14/95 "Tela," and call it a night.

[Freakin' sweet pics from another V-TOOR discovery -- what can I say, I've been outta touch -- TheButterRoom.com, C. Taylor Crothers, from the the cover of June 2009 Relix.com, and 6/9/09 by Dave Vann...I love you, man! Thanks also to phiSHows.com for the streamz]


Matt Dubno said...

This was one of the sleeper shows of the summer tour IMO. I listened to every summer show, usually the morning afterwards, and had them in heavy rotation until a week or so post-SPAC until I gave them a break and went back to my normal listening rotation. Now I'm going back and listening to some shows from the summer with more care; Asheville really stands out. This was one of the few shows this current tour without too much of a dead spot in the setlist.

Great stuff as usual Miz Wade. Can't wait till MSG! You'll find me out ragin' Ninth Avenue.

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