09 December 2009

If You Become Naked (Guy): "Too Hot" Tour's Cold, Cold Closer (Part I)

You could call Fall 2009 Phish Tour the "Too Hot Tour" -- it was for me on occasion, in more ways than one, sweat trickling furiously into my eyes too quickly for me to swipe it away with frenetically gesticulating hands. I tend to liquefy when in motion-propelled trance states, or just extreme heat in general; expansive, progressive Phish shows are obviously no exception.

This here's the first installment of my tour recap, which I shall be engineering in reverse, from most recent to the beginning, backwards down a blistering, controversial, celebratory cluster line of shows marking the return of Phish as I know and love 'em: sometimes slowly, haltingly, and occasionally in great bursts of brilliance. Thirteen shows in sixteen days yielded a condensed slab of evolution in the band, its phans, the "discourse" surrounding them as a "phenomenon" and of course, their music, which is escalating in exploratory risk exponentially.

So, if not to only prove my point that some points on that line can definitely be termed "key evolutionary moments," I'm going to start at the end, and work my way back, with the full complement, travel and music, opinions and sensations, soup to nuts...me, you and my kazoo, on Phish T00R 2009.

I remarked to the friend of the dude from whom I bought my ticket for last Saturday night's Charlottesville tour closer: "The amout of sweat on the forehead and neck [indicating with right index finger] is a barometer of the quality of the show so far..." He stared at me, blind drunk, having imbibed with a vengeance since the lot, then swiffed readily from a hip flask of some reeking firewater before the show (of which I demurely declined to partake).

Later, paralytic, he tried to slow dance with me during the pastoral "Harry Hood" outro jam. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to try that one on me. His unsteady arm attempting to encircle me, I unraveled a dainty pirouette that sent him reeling Fishward in confusion towards his friends. Capture narrowly averted, I continued my avian Page-side gyrations, the matter flying blithely behind me.

"Naked" is a pretty good way to describe where I was at by the time I got to the Charlottesville, VA Saturday evening; a raw, humble, surrendered space, where silliness settled upon me like a blanket of new snow. Soul-wise, I was clothed in nothing but my smile, and all the wry and elusive humor I have inside floating around me like gauze. Imagine, if you will, six weeks of feeling like you're living in a nightmare, a trapped parakeet stuck in an all-wrong situation you feel powerless to change, but one making you monetarily able to enjoy a delectable freedom otherwise difficult to achieve. I found myself on my knees on a few occasions, pleading for a solution to emerge. Now, with one crucial part of the equation solved (awkward, ill-fitting job = removed), a new level of puzzlement presents: Life Without a Net (all the time in the world, while the world bears down)...

Flashback to Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, 12/2/09, 7:52PM. I got a ticket from a phan in Phlorida, and was chillaxin' with the one and only Mike Z, a/k/a The Famous Nile, responsible for getting me into this mess in the first place, back in '93. Just kidding! Being a turbo-phan isn't so much a mess as a perpetual toss-up. If and when it does get messy -- e.g. including, but not limited to, body parts afloat in a pool of perspiration, the result of an electro-fried Cactus slappin' irrepressible Fish shimmy po'boy -- it can be the finest morass imaginable.

Believe it or not, 12/2/09 was Mike Z's very first MSG show. I realized later with surprise that, with that statistic, I've probably surpassed him in the number of shows attended, which is a bit like realizing you've grown taller than your mother; kinda odd. Weirdly, the exact moment I uttered my recent occupational update to MZ, an MSG guard descended upon us like a screeching falcon, where I innocently perched with Mikey and some other "seat magicians" attempting to conjure up a "psychic upgrade" before the lights went down. We were drawn up sharply and threatened with eviction by The Man, and Mike Z sidled off, remarking in mock gangsta behind Makisupa's back, "I took a bullet! Yeah! I took a bullet!" That's my Maggie!

He didn't get to hear the news until a text floated in, nearly paternally on Sunday evening: "Are you alive?" The last he'd heard from me was frenetic begging for his credit card as the whole rental deal went south; of all the pholx in the world, he was the one I knew would dig the scenario, and sweetly researched the train in tandem with me, and suggested it as Plan B, when we discovered he'd need to rent the car himself to pull it off. He was already at his place of employ when I anxiously called SOS, one main (uh, rather crucial) reason he couldn't even come on the trip.

I sent him a few texts earlier that week, pix of my sweet spot in Philly, of ex-AstroTurf-clad "Lawn Boy" Doug Loeb in Albany (mutual pal from our SUNY Oswego days), and one that said "Which MSGs are you going to? I've missed you all these shows! :-P " And it's true...as much as I've whined about that old college roommate "stealing Phish" from me, Mike Z gave me the gift of Phish, and I have partaken richly. 

Now I know the reason
That I'm feeling so forlorn
I'll pick you up at 8 as usual
Listen for my horn...

Flash Forward: Saturday, 12/5/09. I'm on the 12:05PM Amtrak to Charlottesville at Penn Station. I'm thankfully rested from the "misfortune" of getting shut out of the final MSG show. The way I see it, if you got into Friday's show you either hit the lottery, knew someone who did, bought a ticket soon thereafter (right around the time I was still languishing from Festival 8 expenditures), got lucky in the lot, paid above face, or "knew someone." Miraculously, I managed to miss every one of the hits in that list, hence (actually hilarious and kinda sweet) sufferin' my very phirst Phish shutout in 16 years. Not bad odds, considering!

[More (depressing?) (hilarious?) (holistic?) footage of me and the miscreants outside MSG Friday night, giving the streets a taste of what was up...video by me.] 

I mucked it up until a clearly deranged phellow shutout babbler splashed some squalid moonshine on my New Balance'd foot. Later, y'all! (Thunderous Zzzzzzz's...)

As the train rolled outside Penn Station on its way, I see it's now snoshing outside: that is, dumping down a nasty mixture of snow and slush in damp, fluffy flakes. Staring out the soon-speeding train, I was really glad I wasn't in a car on the road. The original plan foiled by The Man and his heavy requirements (that wee matter of credit cards being necessary to reserve rental cars in the borough of Manhattan), may have made me feel even more like a doofus that can't get their "adult act" together.

But, self-deprecation aside, one never really knows why any of these things happen, job-loss mid-tour, bollox'd Charlottesville rental car plot... For me, driving 6 hours in wintry mix would've been nothing short of a total horror-show. All the spraying backwash, flying grit, and tedium of trying not to swerve and spin, would've been just enough to render me loopy before the last show in an already pretty commanding run.

And the job thing...that's a little more tricky. I'm still adjusting to not having to go to that office anymore, which generates a sense of blessed relief beyond expression. But though I now have an assload of time to write, I also have an equal measure of time to stare into space trying to "solve my life" through sheer force of will. 

Won't make any calls
I'll just bounce off the walls
Till I go back to Kill Devil Falls... 

Thanks for the reminder, Trey. I'll try leaving the house later, maybe. Maybe I just won't talk to anyone about my job, and pretend everything's fine.

This uncomfortable phase of my existence has been reminding me of a story in Phish: The Biography that cracks me up wildly, and has been lending me a little comfort about the eventual amazing success possibilities of those who meet adversity in attempting to cram themselves into the Mainstream, with less-than-excellent results:

"Around this time Fishman went through a hard bout of the lovesick blues. A serious girlfriend split up with the drummer, plunging him into a chronic funk. The relationship ended over what she saw as his laziness. One day he had awoken with the revelation 'work sucks,' and decided not to show up for his job shoveling snow in downtown Burlington. She issued an ultimatum: 'Either you go to work or I'm leaving.'

"He didn't go to work and she made good on her promise, so Fishman retired to his bedroom, rising only for band practice. Actually, he didn't even have a bed at that point, just a growing mound of dirty clothing that he sprawled upon. Each day he began sleeping later and later. The cycle was broken one day when when Mike Gordon brought a plate of eggs and toast to his room.

"'I thought you might enjoy breakfast in bed,' he said with the barest flicker of sarcasm. It was five o'clock in the afternoon.

"'That was the first thing that made me laugh in a long time,' said Fishman, 'and from there, things got better.'"

Hey, where are my eggs, Mike? (kidding, kidding) It's no easier that Phish likely escalated what was a non-working job situation, which makes it look amazing like I got let go because of tour. But I think, though it'll take me a minute to get my footing, the benefits of the turn of events will begin to show themselves, at least in terms of the real thing I've been avoiding doing for the last seven years which is: write, write, and WRITE, already!

And that, I'll continue. Plan B to Charlottesville meant eating a hundred bucks for a train ticket with some bananas and nuts, reclining and reading said Phish bio, and ended up sharing my heady snacks and talking shop with a young gent I'll call "Future Boy." He's the New Wave of Phan, 23 year-old recent Ohio University graduate, lanky baja hoodie-wearin', slow-talkin', dirty blond floppy-haired tour kid named Thane. As in "of Cawdor" (that Macbeth boy); or to me, now, just "Thane from the Train." This young gadabout opined authoritatively from under heavy eyelids on the finer points of every show from Hampton 2009 onwards, which he proudly boasted were his first Phish shows ever, which he promptly began hitting like meteors from the moment he stepped aboard, missing none except Hampton #3. I felt for him...

He got me completely re-aligned with the imperative to revisit Late Summer 2009 Tour, which (I know, I know!) I still haven't even touched my tongue to yet (though the ears have savor'd some glory), and, specifically, gems nestled among its early stampede (e.g. Red Rocks #2, 7/31/09, a near-historic dollop of proto-3.0 spontaneous shakedown). It came with great clarity speaking to Thane that I was bearing witness to both the evolution both of a brand-new Phish, as well as a brand new phan. There, before my eyes, was the future lot scene, with a Bachelors degree in Sustainable Urban Planning. Nice!

Thane and I detrained and made our way to the local bus stop across the street, to catch the #7 towards the arena, after realizing there weren't any cabs in Charlottesville, and the soonest you could get one via phone was 90 minutes! Not sure what I expected having not been able to find a cab anywhere at Midnight, the night before Thanksgiving, at the train station, dead in the center of Philly...yeah, right.  I personally love taking mass transit when I'm on tour, to get a feeling for the "local color." Speaking of which, the lighting in the bus was low and blue, the mood of some mobile nightclub grotto, a random assortment of students and semi-toothed hobos gathered in the bizarre disco glow. We hopped off the dismal Studio 54 on wheels when it rolled into a swarming flow of activity in the wet, glistening street about 5 minutes up the hill...

We hopped from the bus into a marauding phalanx of chaos. I will now posit my "Show Tone and Tenor" for the Charlottesville Tour Closer: CHAOS. The scene was not gritty like, say, Camden or Philly, and not outright silly like Worcester or Boston, but a haywire, inebriated, Final Four-type frenzy of heavily-accented co-eds, mixed in with an assortment of phreaks of every stripe.

Strangely, though, rather than being obnoxious, it was jubilant. Thane and I (the new and old guards, together) were pumped to finally be there. We made it! Both of us had suffered last-minute travel contingencies in NYC, and had the same miserable "I'm f*cked!" moment, then took the extra leap to find our way South in the wintry climate despite. Getting our collective shit together (tickets, peeps, meetups, etc.), we traded digits and bade each other farewell, and each disappeared into the mix.

The scene leading into the John Paul Jones Arena was a precarious tangle of rowdy, heedless obscenity; comically upset boyfriends and/or girlfriends attempted to hush their significant others' loud, inappropriate, Southern-drawled statements in close quarters with fellow phans. "Well, I never!" I said aloud at one point, at some of the dialogue. "Uh-oh, I think I just might have..." I replied to myself.

Inside the venue was a mess of a different sort. The interior of JPJ Arena must've been engineered by a disused slaughterhouse architect. The onrush of squashed spectators surged inward, and were then forced around an almost tubular corridor surrounding the arena space, like a grumbling herd of disenfranchised sheep in an interminable chute. This unnerving march was inconveniently punctuated by huge lines of beer-buyers, through which the already-ornery masses were squeezed like an absurd human sieve. Somehow, though, all the mayhem and disorganization made for an oddly edgy, cheeky fun.

It was a disaster in the happening -- the JPJ folks should really do some kind of follow-up on the way crowds are funneled through that place -- however, be it the tour-end energy, or everyone's collective excitement to finally be warm, safely traveled and at a Phish show in the Fall, chaos met euphoria, and the resultant product was a show that didn't stop for a second; no valleys, only peaks, and for all its hiccups and winding, precarious palpitations, Charlottesville was an apt end to a solid couple weeks of logarithmically evolving Phish.

[To be continued: the music part takes a little longer to write. In the meanwhile, do your homework: read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 if you haven't already done so.] 


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