My first exposure to this band was in the back of a red minivan headed East toward Sunset Beach. My cousin, Ray, who was a couple years older than me and therefore cooler, let me borrow the album to listen to in my Sony Discman on the ride down. Figuring that I was an Allman Brothers fan, he suggested I give phish a try.
Previously, foolishly, I wasn't a fan of phish on purpose. Same reason I wasn't much a fan of the Dead, either. Just on principle. I hadn't given them a listen really, but I knew assholes who liked those bands and since assholes liked that music I decided I wouldn't. Also, that impression was based on musical tastes of mine that at the time were much more commercial-, classic rock- and hip-hop-based. I was also 13 when I formed that opinion. Point is, tastes change.
Two tracks in, listening to "Stash," I got hooked. The polyphonic dysmorphia of the band at the end of the jam that bow-tied into a neat finish grabbed me. I hadn't heard music with crowd participation, such as it is in that song, before. And I couldn't unhear the plinking piano and loping bass that builded up with Fishman's drums over soaring guitar that Trey Anastasio would eventually describe as cowfunk.
Only eventually, though, because I was listening to a recording of phish from '94. We all know the cowfunk era was 1997. Doy.
Anyway, it was 1995, I was 15 and just finished my freshman year of high school and I had just discovered phish. What a time to be alive. That summer beach trip would have a few other firsts, too, like learning a little more about girls with Margie, who had sun freckles and beach-bleached hair. She kissed me the year before and was looking forward to seeing me too.
So this mild obsession with phish began in that minivan as I was plunged into their world. The foam-covered headphones did enough of a job keeping my tunes going, as long as the 10-second anti-shock worked. It was confusing, and surprising and comforting to have songs teased out over 10 minutes, and crescendo or just fizzle out - like "Tweezer." Slave to the traffic light, especially on that album, has one of my favorite pretty moments in music. And "Chalkdust Torture" spoke to my high school mind.
I would come back home after that trip and order as many CDs as I could. My first purchase was Junta, their debut double album. My buddy Brock thought it was weird music, and I couldn't blame him too much for that. But I was also getting a taste for Primus and Zappa at the time. And the late night blues show from Gaston College radio. All that, and I had never tried weed. Or drank a single beer. (We'd have college to blame on that.)
Nah, that summer was all CD clubs like Columbia House. I thought I had a racket with them, too: Join the club, get 10 CDs, buy three, quit the club. I did this at least five times in high school. I wasn't a kid who went out and partied, and when I would occasionally sneak out of the house, it was to go sit in a parking lot and eat donuts and wash it down with chocolate milk. I had acne, girls didn't like me. At least not the ones at my school, not enough to "go" with me. I had some buddies who liked to hang out with me, and that worked well enough most of the time.
It was also the precious last few months before my first real job. Building bikes at a bicycle shop in downtown Mooresville. My evenings were largely spent laying in bed, writing shitty poetry and watching baseball highlights on ESPN.
So, phish. That band would help ground some of the longest friendships I have. My first show was in 1996, at the old/new Charlotte Coliseum with Dustin and his girlfriend. Earlier that month, after a year of playing about every phish album I could get my hands on, I went to buy Billy Breathes the day it came out. I geeked out on "Theme From the Bottom," where the band drops into them singing in rounds, "from the bottom, from the top" in a way that sounds like "from the frotham, from the throw." That was when you had to go to stores to buy music. I love that I can stream A Live One as I'm writing this, but also have some nostalgia for record stores. We'll get into that in some future blog post.
Anyway, so beginning this month of blogging about my favorite albums, it makes sense to begin with the band that I would end up seeing a whole bunch:
- In '96, '97 and three times in 1998 - Atlanta, with Dustin, and in November, both nights that would be recorded and released as "Hampton Comes Alive." That trip also brought my friends my claim of "the 'demand' jam."
- In 1999 - with my mom and a bunch of buddies who swear a joint was passed among us. I did not partake, but can't speak for anyone else.
- A very spacey 2003 in Charlotte, which I don't remember well.
- What we thought would be the last hurrah of the band in 2004, in Wisconsin with Brian, another friend, and a guy we gave a ride back to Asheville - a trip to see the band before the hiatus.
- In Knoxville in 2009 - which is now where I live since 2011, but it was nowhere on my radar at the time. Also, I recall that one being a very smoky show. Also a road trip w/ Brian.
- Twice in 2010 - Charlotte and Atlanta - which would be the beginning of the era of Gerald saying "this is my last phish show, I think, for a while."
- Charlotte, 2011.
- Two hotass shows in Indiana in 2012 - during a time in which I needed all the friends I could get, and again in Charlotte for a badass Sunday show with Dustin and Brian.
- Charlotte, 2014, with Brian. Another "last show" comment from me.
- Walnut Creek in 2015 at Dustin's place. There was a big shakedown at the show that popped a bunch of otherwise OK people for selling beer. Jerks.
- This excellent show with D, Brian and my cousin and his people in 2016.
I think that's what, like 18 times? The first ticket cost $20. I think they're about $60 now. And across all those performances are some of the most times I've ever had in a car, outside a car, in a field and just up late listening to music with friends.
So I'm glad I got into phish when I did. Because the music is great, but it's the friends you get to enjoy it with that makes going to see shows like a little reunion. As we get older, we have to make excuses to see each other as much as possible. Why not make it a big concert?