On June 22nd, 1995 I rounded out a three-show run of Grateful Dead concerts south of the border with my second-ever Phish concert, which took place at a lovely little amphitheatre in the Finger Lakes region of New York state with the very obvious and quite pleasant name: Finger Lakes Performing Arts Centre. It’s now called Constellation Brands – Marvin Sands Performing Arts Centre which is clearly a much catchier name. It’s staggering to think of how much thought went into the new name.
Did I say “thought”? I meant “money”.
Anyway, as I said I had just finished a very eventful and dare I say life-changing little run following the Grateful Dead from Vermont to New Jersey with my good friend Jason, and we pulled into the Finger Lakes lot to find our good friend Corey lackadaisically selling Molson XXX beers (the high-octane beer from the pre-IPA lot era) aside his flashy red sportscar sporting Ontario plates. We gave him hugs and handshakes and he gave us frosty beers in return and we three whiled away the preshow drinking away all of his profits.
We had lawn tickets for the show which was a-okay with me. With very few exceptions I tend to prefer standing on the grass at outdoor venues to standing on the concrete-floored seating area in front of a folding chair – I don’t sit down very much at concerts* (especially back then), and this outdoor venue in particular was rather small anyway. It’s a good thing that we were on the lawn too, because I fell myself down a couple of times…on purpose.
Y’see, back then there was a secret language that Phish was trying to create with their audience and having seen the band a year before and done some listening since I was “in” enough to know about the inside joke but still very “newb” enough to totally screw it up. Basically, Trey would make a slippery-slidey sound on his guitar alerting everyone to get ready for the coming message and then he would play one of several set riffs that called for a collective audience response. Like, he could play a snippet from the theme to The Simpsons and we were all to scream “D’oh!” at the same time. Or he would play a riff from The Byrds song Turn Turn Turn and everyone was supposed to turn around en masse and face the back of the venue. The idea was that only the serious core Phish-heads would know to do these things and these seemingly random collective actions would both intrigue and freak out the newcomers.
I mention this because I twice heard Trey give the signal and follow up with descending slurs that told me (and many others, or so I thought) to fall down onto the ground and play dead. Only he hadn’t made the signals – I had obviously been a little too excited about being in on the game and was listening a little too hard for the signals – so I was the only person in the crowd who just randomly fell down out of the blue.
And I can tell you, it’s a lot less cool when you perform a mass simultaneous action along with exactly nobody else.
Musically, I can (and should) report most particularly on the second set of this concert, notable that it is. The first set was fine, fun, and quite standard (though what did I know about “standard” Phish sets back then?) but the second set contained a mere three songs – two and-a-half, really – including a deep delve into exploratory space-jamming over under and through their one-riff masterpiece Tweezer, a single song that stretched to a full forty minutes and only wrapped up by morphing into a reprise of the same song, obviously titled Tweezer Reprise. (For those keeping score, the other song was Theme From the Bottom, which opened the set.)
Wow, a forty-minute song. Funny that I walked out of there thinking this was pretty normal for the band (again, I had only seen them once before, whereas I have seen them well over a hundred times by now). Also funny that I would eventually find myself in attendance for one of the band’s most famous and notorious jams, the very famous Lake Tahoe Tweezer, which clocked in at a relatively brief thirty-seven minutes.
After the show Jason hopped a ride with Corey leaving me to drive back to Ottawa solo. It was (and remains) very, very out of character for me to drive with even a hint of alcohol in my system, but despite pounding back a bunch of powerful beers before the show I still got behind the wheel and drove after the concert. Now, I knew that I would be meeting a border guard along the way so I wasn’t drunk or anything, but let’s just say I became quite concerned when a patrolman lighted me up about an hour after I started the ride home. He was pulling me over for my broken tail-light, I knew that from recent experience, having gone through an altercation with the New Jersey police over the same issue the night before. I also knew that I needed a distraction, quick.
So, to direct the officer away from any thought of checking my sobriety I quickly led the conversation straight to my broken tail-light (and headlight, I’m now remembering) and showed him the summons I had already received for the infraction in Jersey, further assuring him that I would soon be in my own land where I would then be the concern of the Canadian law enforcers, and where I would be getting the lights fixed in short order anyway.
He acknowledged my Jedi mind trick with a smile and an obedient wave and sent me on my way. No droids for him on this night!
*Yeah (turning around with an annoyed look), I’m that guy, and no, I don’t care if you “paid for these seats”; if you aren’t a patch-wearing outlaw I’ll continue to stand throughout the concert thank-you very much. If you’d like to complain there is an usher right over there. If he tells me to sit down I will consider it, but until then all I can say is enjoy the show, buddy (turns back to the music and raises fists in the air).