Phish — July 3rd (Alpharetta, GA)
As a kid, the night before Christmas was always my most sleep deprived evening of the year. I would climb in bed, dreaming of the toys and goodies that Santa’s seemingly bottomless sack would deliver to our den. I would toss and turn, awakening at an hour that would beat a farmer’s wake-up call. I would then venture into my parents room and ask them if we could go and see what Santa had brought us. Invariably, my parents would ask that I come back and wake them when the big hand was on 12 and the little hand was on 7. Of course I was three hours early and waiting until 7 was going to seem like an eternity. But the clock would just tick….. tick……tick…………………….tick.
Now that I’m much older and time moves much faster, situations like my Christmas eve/morning time creep are few and far between, but every now and then something comes along and I get that old familiar feeling. That nervous energy accompanied with generous portions of insane anticipation. It had been quite some time since I’d revisited it, but here it was on the afternoon of the eve of Independence Day and I couldn’t wait for our evening’s festivities to begin. You see, my favorite band, Phish was in town and just happened to be playing in my backyard, well, not literally, but in Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta and my wife and I were catching the band on the last two nights of the tour. In my 17+ years of seeing the band, I’d only been able to sleep in my own bed a handful of times. This would be one those times.
The scuttlebut on this tour was that the band was once again playing with razor precision. The rust that inevitably collects was gone and they were once again a finely tuned, firebreathing machine, capable of dizzying heights. Not only that, but they were playing at the Verizon Ampitheatre in Alpharetta, a venue that was still sparkling from its newness, possessed an astonishing sound system and didn’t have a bad seat in the house. I had hedged our bets and got PIT tickets for both nights making sure that we’d be as close as possible to the action.
After hanging at the pool that afternoon, we made our way to the venue, no problem. Friendly faces, friendly staff and (ahem) friendly cops. There’s nothing like the tension in the air before the band takes the stage. We chatted amiably with the folks around us, making idle chatter, knowing the lights would soon drop and the evening’s entertainment would begin. And then it did.
The band came out all smiles, no doubt pleased that this new venue was packed to the rafters and that they had a few tricks up their sleeves for this pair of shows. The first ceremonial wick was lit as the band fired up Character Zero, a song that has been known to get a crowd rocking before firing into my first Destiny Unbound. The crowd bounced along to the exploits of HiWay Jill and Bill, unaware that this wouldn’t be the only rarity of the set. A standard Rift was performed before Trey snagged a “McGrupp” sign from the crowd and the launched into the old school favorite, which was I was personally overjoyed to hear. The band continued on with Bathtub Gin, which I’ve always loved, but has proven to be amongst my wife’s favorites as well. Gin was the first song of the night that allowed the familiar Trey/Mike double helix groove to bound from the stage, as Page’s tinkling keys shimmered, taking golden light.
A collective breath was taken with Mountains In The Mist, seemingly possessing more tenderness before launching into the ska beat of NICU, which made me remember many years ago people calling it “In An Intensive Care Unit”, forcing me to smile. The band followed with a brief Gumbo, which I tend to like a little spicier, before the next course of My Sweet One and Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan. After snacking on a Clif Bar and some cold green tea, we ventured into Page’s first vocal of the night with, Strange Design. Another first timer for me was up next with Sanity. At this point I was thinking, this is a long set, are they going to end with the quirky, bizarre song from Junta? But noooooooo. They came back to end the set with a fire breathing antelope, that scorched down the mountaintop with a fierce fury. The first of the four sets was over and my goodness, they set the tone.
Lou Reed’s influence was felt in the second set opener, in the form of “Rock and Roll”, which dissolved into “Prince Caspian”. As we floated upon the waves, I thought to myself that the next song is going to be a game changer. As Caspian’s digital delay devolved into the void, the crunch funk of Tweezer heated up. Dance Party ’10 was now underway in Alpharetta with our gracious amphibians as hosts. Tweezer gracefully danced and kanoodled until morphing into a cosmic city visit in the form of “Slave”, a song that allows all members to flex their collective muscle, with Trey’s ‘doc leading the way. I thought to myself during this display, does any band play better as a cohesive unit? I couldn’t think of any, which led me to a conclusion that I’d made 15+ years ago. These guys are my favorite.
Bouncing Around The Room was up next, followed by Possum and Backwards Down The Number Line. All standard versions, but all still great songs. Harry Hood stepped up to the plate, wanting to get in on the party. Always an anomaly, the song combines elements of reggae, metal, new age and joy. The band followed with their take on the Jagger/Richards song, Loving Cup, which to my ear trumps the Stones’ version. Actually when I first heard Phish play the song back in the mid-’90’s, I embarrassingly assumed it was an original, but Phish truly makes it their own. After completing the song, the band left the stage, concluding the second set, Only to return to play Trey’s ode to his “monkey” in Sleeping Monkey, with the obligatory nod to the Beatles in the middle section (Velvet Underground, Stones & Beatles?!? in one night?!?!) and then close the show with Tweezer Reprise.
Phish 7/4/10 to follow. Stay tuned.
All photos are courtesy of the very talented Derek Martinez.