[ATTENDED: June 28, 2016] Phish limb
A friend of mine in college first got me to listen to Phish (circa 1992), but it wasn’t until the LivePhish releases starting in 2001 that I really got into them. [Incidentally, if you bought those discs and kept them in that plastic liner thing, check your discs because those plastic things have eaten away most of the whatever is on them that allows a player to play music. Most of my discs have sections that are totally see-through and register an error. I don’t think anything can be done about it DIY and I’m quite sure that Elektra isn’t about to give us new copies or anything.]
I had never gone to a Phish show for a couple of reasons. I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into the “culture” of the shows, which seemed intimidating at best. And, once I decided I wanted to see them, I could never actually get tickets. Well, the Phish lottery came through and I scored a ticket to this show at the Mann Center.
A word about Phish now. I knew that people were devoted to the band, but I never knew how much the band reciprocated. In order to let fans have a fair shot at getting tickets to their shows, they have set up a lottery. All ticket prices are the same and you either get tickets or you don’t (you can later by them on Ticketmaster or whatever). If you get tickets, your seat could be front row or lawn or anywhere in between. And the price ($49 face value for all) is quite cheap, I think. Well, I won a lottery ticket, and my ticket came all psychedelic instead of a standard Ticketmaster type ticket. Which is cool. But not only that, your ticket gets you a free download of that night’s show when it becomes available on the LivePhish website. And that’s usually within a few hours of the end of the show. The shows are normally around $10 to download, but if you bought a ticket you get a free one. That’s super cool.
Also, every once in a while (12 times now) the LivePhish site has released free compilations of live songs from various shows throughout the band’s history. Most of these downloads are 3 hours or more. That’s a ton of free music. Nice. So I’ve listened to these collections a lot and I know most of the songs they play very well.
Back to the Mann.
I had “won” lawn seats for this show. I hate lawn seats. You can never get close and you have to watch a screen to see anything. I considered not even going. But when we went to the Mann recently I realized that unlike nearly every other venue with lawn seats (PNC Arts Center, whatever the place in Camden is called), these lawn seats actually weren’t that far away–you could see pretty good. So off I went.
Aside from some kind of snafu upon getting in–it said gates would open at 6 but they actually opened at 7:30 (which freaked everyone out as that was listed as showtime)–things went pretty smoothly. And I soon learned about the friendliness of Phish fans.
I was walking around on the landing between the final row of under-the-roof seats and the first row of exposed seats (lawn seats are beyond those) and I started talking to these two guys who had each seen Phish 20+ times. The last time Phish came to the Mann, there was a huge thunderstorm and the guys were there. They said that they took shelter right where we were standing. Well, we were also due for a huge thunderstorm as well (the radar map looked particularly fierce), so I decided to stand with them. This meant I was essentially 15 rows behind where we were for Flight of the Conchords a few weeks ago. And since it was elevated somewhat, the view was awesome!
Now as the show got closer to start time, the person who was checking seats seemed rather easily distracted and people started walking around the barricade and into the seated area. And soon enough, the guys I was talking with did too. I decided not to since my view was really perfect (and no one was sitting in those final row seats anyhow–although people did eventually migrate in).
My new neighbor was a very friendly guy who told me that right now right here was the happiest place in the whole world. He was very chatty, gave me a bit of friendly grief about never having seen the band before (he was up to show #40) but was ultimately really happy for me to get to experience the show. He was also very generous to myself and others around me.
I had no expectations for the setlist. I knew that Phish played different stuff almost every night and that you could never plan on what you might hear. Since I really like at least 75% (maybe more) of their catalog, I would have been happy to hear anything. I did have a few-fingers crossed songs, but I couldn’t say for sure which of those I ‘d like to hear more.
So I was absolutely psyched that the opened with “Wilson” a great fan-sing-along (with a nod to nearby King of Prussia). It was a fantastic way to start the show and I settled in for a great time. Although during the song the yellow-shirted security guards came barreling through telling us we couldn’t stand there–we had to get to our seats. Everyone nodded and then went right back to standing there. And they never came back.
Phish often plays covers n their shows. And it turns out that I’ve heard some of the covers so often I didn’t even realize they were covers. Like “Funky Bitch” which is a fun and funky song (by Son Seals) that Mike sings. And then they played a brand new song, “No Men in No Man’s Land.” I had heard that they were playing new songs on this tour (album due later), and I was delighted not only at how good the song sounded but how easy it was to get into it. This was the first extended song of the night, hitting over 8 minutes.
And then they jumped to the Story of a Ghost album (the first album that I really got into–they played three songs from it) and played an extended jam of the cool song “Roggae” (nearly ten minutes). The band really enjoys mixing up genres as the next song was a brief countryish romp also sung by Mike called “Nellie Kane” (another cover, this one from Hot Rize). After a long version of “Gumbo” which ended with a great clavinet solo from Page McConnell, they returned to Ghost with one of my favorite songs “Birds of a Feather.” This song rocked and the audience erupted with excitement (clip from Instagram).
That song segued into “Sleep Again” which I assumed was new but is actually a solo Trey Anastasio song. Despite how much I like Phish I’ve never listened to any of Trey’s solo stuff, so this was new to me. It was a bit mellow but once again fit perfectly. And then we did get a new song. We had the official debut of the song “Things People Do,” which was short but really good–I’m looking forward to the new album quite a lot. This song was another bluegrass type of song with lead vocals from Page.
And then they ended the first set with four songs in a row that had me super excited and dancing–“Limb By Limb,” a song that starts a little slow with some fun call and response vocals and then turns into a huge chorus (clip on Instagram). This one ended with the drummer Fish singing the final “Limb by” section–one of the few times he got to take the spotlight. And then, one of my super favorite songs, “Split Open and Melt” (I couldn’t believe it when they started playing those opening notes). They jammed the song for over ten minutes (clip on Instagram) and I was sure that was the end of the set. But, to my surprise Trey launched into the really short but wonderful “Oh Kee Pa Ceremony”–a delightful instrumental that segued perfectly in to “Suzy Greenberg.” “Suzy” isn’t one of may favorite songs, but I had forgotten just how much fun it is live when Fish ad libs some lines before the chorus (here’s one). Which was so much fun to sing along with the rest of t he audience (and yes that song has ratcheted up pretty high on my list of favorites now). I was secretly hoping that Fish would bust out the vacuum cleaner for a solo, but I knew that was unlikely. And there were some extra drum fills on this song which gave him a chance to shine.
Trey didn’t speak a lot during the show. He said hello after a few songs and then said how much he enjoyed playing at the Mann–he said it was one of his favorite venues. When the set was over he didn’t say anything either, the band just bowed and walked off.
The rain was supposed to have started by this time but it hadn’t. The map suggested it would be coming really hard in the next half hour or so. So, seeing my chance I invited myself into the seated area. I sat in an empty seat for a time until the second set started. As the set started I watched a guy roll up the largest join I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t feel bad about stealing someone’s seat because it seemed like nobody was actually in their seat. At previous Mann shows, the security folks try to keep the aisles clear, but they obviously gave up for this show–people were standing all up and down the stairs and I can attest that there were more people than seats. I was sort of in a seat for a bit but when the owners came back I just moved to the aisle with the 50 other people and had yet another great view–this time a little closer.
I didn’t know that Phish tended to play “Fuego” at the Mann center (third time in three tours now). This is from their latest album and it’s a song I know less well than the others, but I recognized the fun “woah oh” section and was pretty happy to be part of the first fifteen-minute-plus song (set two is when they really start jamming). It was interesting watching Trey fiddle with his pedals and gear (which was waist high on a stool rather than on the floor).
By now it was dark and the lights were really outstanding. I hadn’t really thought about Phish having a light show necessarily. I assumed there’d be lights of course, but I didn’t expect the kind of full stage backdrop, practically arena like show that they had. It was perfectly moody depending on what they were playing with all kinds of rippling effects and lava-lamp-type trippiness.
Since it was now dark, that meant it was time for the glow sticks to go flying through the air. Someone hurled about fifty small glow bracelets up in the air like a shower of fireworks. And after that, more did and soon there were glowing lights flying everywhere. And when the band launched into “Runaway Jim” (another great song with a big “Woaah oh” section) the crowd went nuts.
This rollicking song was followed by the more mellow and fun “Gotta Jibboo” a song from Farmhouse (an album I really like and am apparently in minority I about). And then they played “Breath and Breathing,” another new song. It wasn’t the first time they’d played it but I gather it was the first time they’d jammed it out to nearly ten-minutes. And it was a moody jam–with all kinds of dark sounds and crazy effects in the middle of the jam. This song segued into the super fast and fun “Timber” (another song I assumed was there’s but which is actually a cover of Josh White). There’s something about a sold out venue of people shouting “woah oh” that is rally great.
Then Trey started playing the opening notes to “Slave to the Traffic Light” and I was petty excited. I had forgotten about that song as a possibility and it was great to hear them jam on it for nearly ten minutes. But nothing could prepare me for the excitement I felt when I heard the opening notes of “You Enjoy Myself.” If I had a top five Phish song list, this song would certainly be in it, at times it would be number 1. I love the melodies that Trey created and they way the song has a super long introduction before it even gets to the words (and that build up). And the words: Boy. Man. God. Shit. and then some silly nonsense sung in falsetto by the backing singers (and the fans). After playing the familiar intro, Trey held off on playing the amazing solo–he seemed to stretch it out teasing us that he might not actually play the whole song (a possibility but a cruel one). And then the solo began and they rocked the song and rocked the song. While they were playing I saw a roadie roll out a small trampoline. And as the song was rocking out Trey and Mike jumped on their trampolines and started jumping in sync–turning and spinning and just having a great time. (clip on Instagram) I never expected that. When they got off the trampolines, Trey put down his guitar and ran to the back of Fish’s drum set where he played the marimba lumina while Fish played a solo. Mike joined in on bass too, but for a few seconds it was all percussion. And when he was done there Trey ran back to the front of the stage and they began a two-minute voice jam–all four guys making nonsense noises: clicking and screaming and getting louder and quieter and making a hell of a racket that was wild to be a part of–everyone was pretty much mesmerized by the noise.
And that was that. Two sets of about 80 minute each.
I couldn’t have been happier with the set list. I didn’t even need an encore after all of that. But I was pretty excited to get another song or two. My head reeled with possibilities: Tweezer, The Squirming Coil, Run Like an Antelope, Stash, Chalk Dust Torture? So I was a little bummed when they came out and played a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo.” It was certainly fun to sing-along with (come on without, come on within, although I’m not sure why I know the song that well).
And that was it. I was really hoping for one more classic song, but now I’m just being greedy.
I totally get now why people follow them around. There are easily 20 songs that I would now love to hear/see live. The guy who gave me a hard time about this being my first show insisted that I had to go back again tonight for the second night. I didn’t have a ticket but he assured me that I could very easily get one. And I am tempted. But no, one night is enough (I didn’t get to sleep till 2:30 after all) and I’m not the kind of person to drive that far and risk not getting in.
But man, was it a great show and I will definitely try for the lottery again next time around.
Leaving the Mann Center can be a challenge and I think we were in line for about 20 minutes waiting to get out. The whole time I kept hearing people muttering to beware of the hippie crack, which I wisely avoided.
And despite all of the threats of rain, I don’t think it ever actually rained. There were a few drops on my car but the grass wasn’t even wet. So I brought my poncho for nothing (better safe than sorry).
This dog –> got a better seat than I did.
Funky Bitch 6:14
No Men In No Man’s Land 8:16
Nellie Kane 2:59
Birds of a Feather 7:35
Sleep Again 6:05
Things People Do 2:49
Limb By Limb 7:19
Split Open and Melt 10:18
The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony 1:43
Suzy Greenberg 6:40
Runaway Jim 7:52
Gotta Jibboo 8:51
Breath And Burning 9:34
Slave to the Traffic Light 9:36
You Enjoy Myself 18:43
Quinn the Eskimo 4:49