Lots to Catch Phishing Off the IslandsBy Joel Rosenberg
Providence Civic Center
April 5 and 6, 1998
Phish were up in Vermont working on some new studio stuff, when they decided they were bored. What's nice about being one of the most popular touring bands in the country is that when you get bored, you can spontaneously announce a tour and know people are going to show up. So Phish did, and people did.
Calling their four-show run the "Islands Tour," the band played two nights on Long Island and then two nights in Providence. They closed the second show at Nassau Coliseum with Tweezer Reprise without having played Tweezer. So it made sense that the first trick of the New England shows was to open with Tweezer, starting with what they had finished the previous night. Things just got crazier from there.
The first set of Saturday night was pretty good. A nice Bouncin Round the Room got the mind jogging, and Limb by Limb accelerated it to a run. Lawn Boy was beautifully lounge lizardized by pianist Page McConnell, complete with audience participation when a front row female propositioned Page with a flower. He graciously accepted it, and the Phish family feeling was in full effect.
But it was the second set that really established the Providence Civic Center as their turf. They opened with Birds of a Feather, a new tune played for only the second time, the debut having been at the tour opener. "Birds of a feather are flocking outside,"lead singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio explained to a knowing audience. Referencing the scene that has developed around this band, both in the parking lot literally outside and in the more figurative subculture, the song was a new vehicle for light board master Chris Kuroda to strut his stuff - and what beautifully mesmerizing stuff it is. They must have put some serious thought into this one, since it completely sucked the crowd in.
They segued into Theme from 2001, their nod to Kubrick's classic, and then Phish jammed into a one-minute instrumental version of Brother. When they seemed to stop short, Trey said, "That was the single-edit, radio friendly version. This next song is not radio-friendly; it's really long and really slow," and told the story of the Ghost, then into Lizards, and finishing the set with an amazing variation of David Bowie, where drummer Jon Fishman seemed to be quadruple-timing the hi-hat to create an unsettling techno feel that drove the song like I've never heard it before. To top it off, they came back to extinguish a sea of lighters with Harry Hood. And it was still only Saturday.
A cooler evening got people inside a bit quicker than the previous night, but they started even later, perhaps to give those who forgot daylight savings a few extra minutes to realize their mistake. Once Phish came on stage, they played a quick Oh Kee Pah Ceremony, and then completely and totally screwed the entire place up with a thirty minute You Enjoy Myself.
For those who aren't familiar with the song: There's a tremendous build section right in the middle, and on Sunday, the boys took their sweet time with it. In fact, the build lasted at least twice as long as usual. They held each plateau to the point where the crowd could barely take it any more, at which point they raised the bar and moved to the next plateau. By the time they were ready to crash it over the top, the entire auditorium was literally shaking in anticipation, as though suffering from musical withdrawal, and that next note was the only thing in the entire world that mattered. There's no good way to explain it, other than to tell you I was sweating from the tension, and felt like a tidal wave swept over the room when they finally fell from their ascension. And when Trey and bassist Mike Gordon started bouncing in time on their mini-trampolines, the audience couldn't thank them enough for the show. This was, again, still the second song.
From YEMthey played Theme from the Bottom, which mellowed things out a bit, and led to a grooving Bathtub Gin. It was Cities, however, that really got my attention. A Talking Heads cover, it's summarized by the line "Find yourself a city to live in."The first track off their most recent live album, Slip Stitch &Pass, it has to some extent become their theme song, since Phish has assumed the Grateful Dead's role as the band to tour with. It was particularly poignant given that lots of New Yorkers had invaded Providence for the weekend, and didn't much care about where they were really based. They followed with Sparkle, a song which describes losing touch with reality and just keeps getting faster and faster. If this wasn't enough to make you go insane, they closed the 90-minute set with Split Open and Melt, which needs no explanation.
Set two was woven together as a continuous piece, mixing jams and lights with Maze and Possum, Down with Disease and Ya Mar. And it was towards the end of the night that Trey let everyone in on the secret that we already knew. He thanked the crowd for coming to as many shows as possible, and said he understood if people had to get home and do homework. "If you want to go home you can, just leave. We're just going to keep playing this funk groove for a while, since that was the theme of all this... This is for all those that came down wanting to dance... We're gonna funk it out."
Phish shows are an event. And for a tour like this, where the drive isn't that great from the first two to the second two, lots of people try to take them all in. Only it's easier for people to justify going to the show Thursday and taking off Friday than it is to go on Sunday and miss Monday. The thing about Phish is that they're so good, when they want to put on a show - I mean really put on a show - they can. Saturday night was great, as usual. But Sunday night was the reward for being naughty.
If you haven't seen these guys yet, suck it up and do it. They're going back on tour through Europe at the end of June, and then they'll cross the United States in July and August. Check their web page, <\http://www.phish.com>, for details on the tour, and for buying tickets. Mail order started yesterday and finishes tomorrow, so it's not too late yet if you're thinking about joining them for more than one date. There's a reason that people show up. Find it out for yourself.