March 14, 2003


By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

25 Feb 03

I was running late and the last thing I needed was to get into a fender bender in the parking lot of the liquor store. For a few minutes, I really felt the sharp pains of having to come to grips with the worst-case scenario: I am not going to see Phish in Philadelphia.

By the look on Molly’s troubled face I knew that we were in a bind. No one was physically hurt, but I did not want to cancel the trip. Molly flew all the way to NYC for these shows. She invested a lot of money and time to go see them, and I was determined not to cancel. Somehow, someway, my quick thinking got me out of the situation and I did what I had to do to get the vehicle in suitable shape to make the two-hour drive to Philly and back, without notifying the proper authority figures. The car was able to make the journey. And onward we went.

Thanks to Modeski’s kick ass directions to the Philly Spectrum, we got there in twenty less minutes than I expected. That was time we desperately needed to make up. But we didn’t have enough time to get an authentic Cheesesteak. During Molly’s last trip to NYC, we ventured to Philly to see the String Cheese Incident play, and met up with Senor, who was in rare form that night, for sure. But we never got to sample the local cuisine, and I had been craving a kick ass Cheesesteak for some time, but that had to be sacrificed in order to get to the show on time. It was worth it. As we walked from the parking lot to the venue, I asked the food vendors for a Vegan Cheesesteak. I got several blank stares, obviously my NYC sense of humor was a little too sophisticated for the Philly Phishkids.

The seating at the Spectrum is very tight, which added to the intimacy of the event. The crowd was a lot more pumped, with a noticeable higher energy level than the New Jersey crowd. And I sensed all this before the show even started. I told Molly that the Philly crowd is more friendlier, but a little more rowdier, which should make for a kick ass show. We were amused by the conversation from three kids in our section that happened to be talking about Avril LaVigne. Amazing. Two Avril LaVigne references in less than 24 hours at two different Phish shows. Stuff like that makes me scratch my balls twice as fast.

Phish opened with Julius, a song that they hadn’t played since their return. From the beginning, it seemed as though Trey picked up right at the spot he walked away from. He was on, first song, first set. No need to warm his ass up. I was hoping to hear 46 Days, a new song, and they did not let me down. Three songs into the show, I decided the stress from the accident didn’t matter anymore, because I am where I want to be, and the show is already a notch above the one from the previous night. The jam out of Taste was the most intense version Phish I saw since their return. And the crowd was enjoying every minute of it.

Taste featured Page during the high points of the song, and they boys peaking a couple of times, which got the crowd going. I had one of the oddest moments at 116 plus shows during Taste. Half way through the song, I looked over to the adjacent section and saw an old lady wearing a green Phish t-shirt. She was staring at me. She looked at least 60 years old, and she was watching me. I gave her a "What’s up?" nod, and pumped my fist in the air twice during a wicked Trey solo. She waved back at me, and then smiled. A minute later, I looked back to see if she was still there and I couldn’t find her. I had a relatively sober show. I didn’t drink any alcohol (I was driving to and from Philly) and I certainly was not on any chemically manufactured drugs. I had all my wits about me, and I swear I saw and old lady in a green Phish shirt jamming out during Taste.

Molly called Frankie Says. It’s a rare song, but we were listening to it in my studio before we left for the show and she said, "Maybe they’ll play this tonight."

I smugly brushed her suggestion off, “Nah, it’s too obscure.”

And that is why Phish is always full of surprises. And when they bust out Slave to the Traffic Light, I was dumbfounded. Slave is my favorite Phish song, and they never play it in the first set! I was not even expecting to hear it at all this tour!! Some of the best shows I ever went to all included Slave at some point in the show… at the Sunday night Charlotte show in 1994, at the Gorge in 1997 with Senor and Jay Sheer, with Heather at the sweltering July 4th show in Atlanta, or for a well received encore at the Albany show with Gil in 1999, and most definitely in Japan with Beano, Zobo, Senor at the infamous Osaka show… all highlights personally and Phishy. And to top off the first set, they closed with a kick ass Walls of the Cave. With one set complete I was completely satisfied and I could have gone home right then and been OK with that. But Phish had one more set to play!

In homage to the Samui Pants Dropper, set two opened with AC/DC Bag, an old school Senor & Pauly Phish song. I always think of Senor during this song, and that night was no different. And then they broke out Cities, which after he once e-mailed me several years ago, Zobo wrote, “When they play Cities, think of me.” Well, Zobo got his wish. Next up was a heavy, delicious, high energy, mind blowing sixteen plus minute version of Theme from the Bottom. Without a doubt, that was the highlight of set two.

During Thunderhead, the kids behind us were singing the song “Spill the Wine” over Phish’s instrumentals. It was funny, and made us laugh, and I had that song stuck in my head the rest of the time Molly was in NYC.

"Spill wine, dig that girl…"

Pebbles and Marbles, another new song closed the stellar set. The encore began with Squirming Coil, and Molly turned to me and giggled, “You HATE this song!”

I do not hate Coil. I think parts of it, especially Page’s piano solo, are marvelous. Yes, I get disappointed and will gripe if I hear Coil as an encore song… a solo encore song. And I expected to walk away with a very familiar Phishy experience: a kick ass night, with a weak encore. A Big Bang but with a sub par exit. Without the encore the night was sensational. But then Phish saved me, they played one more song, Character Zero, a solid, ripping version, so I walked away extremely satisfied, and that made the ride home to NYC much more fun. I just saw the best Phish show I had seen since Las Vegas in September of 2000.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from NYC.

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