On July 3rd, 2019 I woke up in Saratoga Springs much earlier than I wanted to and headed downstairs for the free hotel breakfast, which wasn’t too bad at all. It was much better than I was, that’s for sure, but that isn’t saying much. After taking a feeble stab at nourishing myself I went back upstairs where m’lady and I checked each other for bruises and memories, of which we had plenty and few, then I spent the next four hours sitting alone on the front deck writing a song called I Wish I Was a Cell Phone. Again, the song was better than I was.
Next up was an unhelpful dinner where I didn’t even finish my warm, thick, freshly cooked Saratoga potato chips – if you can believe that – and then it was off to night II of Phish at SPAC. We were lucky to hop into a friend’s Uber which saved us a fair walk and got us to the venue in time for a pleasant bout of relaxing on the lawn before the concert.
When showtime loomed m’lady and I left our friends and found our adjoining seats in a thankfully rather sedate section of the balcony, where we sat in sleepy anticipation waiting for the concert to begin.
In no time the lights faded and the four lads ambled onstage and started the show, or at least they tried to. As Trey played the opening chords to Fluffhead the crowd latched on and screamed their anticipation. Fishman started rattling on his ride cymbals and Page plunked down a few notes while Mike…well, Mike was having problems with his bass. As the other three guys shrugged and vamped, Mike’s tech poked and prodded and eventually went backstage to retrieve a replacement bass (aka: a “rebassment”). Mike put it on and immediately the strap gave away, almost causing him to drop his spare bass. Egad…this wasn’t boding well.
All the while the other three musicians continued to tickle out the opening to Fluffhead with a half an eye on their troubled bandmate, who still couldn’t seem to find any sound. After another twenty seconds or so the tech re-emerged holding bass number one, stepping towards Mike’s riser with a strident, confident gait that told the crowd, “Don’t worry friends, I got this,” and he was right – he had fixed the bass.
And then, after the other Phishies had already been flapping in and around that Fluffhead intro Mike came in with his first note of the evening and clearly the show had finally begun, proving something I’ve always known: a song doesn’t actually start until the bass comes in (with apologies to The Doors and The White Stripes).
Following on the back of Mike’s instrumental troubles, the sound of the first few songs was really muddy and Trey’s vocals were very, very low in the mix. I had frankly never, ever heard anything other than the tiniest little sound quirk at a Phish concert, but here the sound was, well, bad. Roadies were seen running about, Mike kept signalling to the stage mix guy for more monitors, and Trey even had a midsong huddle with one of the techs.
Meanwhile the band had upped the ante with a second-song Guyute followed by one of the Thrilling Chilling tracks, Martian Monster. Next up was Llama and then Steam and Poor Heart and, well, it’s quite startling how much clarity I have when recalling this concert, especially when compared to the previous one the night before*.
Thank goodness for two-night runs, but c’mon now.
Anyway, it was another great show (my 113th, I believe) and afterwards we re-found our preshow friends and half-walked half-Ubered our way back to the Inn, where we found a little jam on the porch but overall kept the night under control.
The next day we had the pleasure of enjoying the day off in Saratoga Springs, one that saw us cycle through the vast and beautiful state park, sample from a couple of the smelly carbonated healing spring water spouts that are the town’s namesake, visit a huge old cemetery (where we happened upon a couple of curious deer) and the old racetrack (Saratoga Springs boasts the oldest horse racing in America, doncha know), coast past a mile of big old beautiful houses, and have a dinner that couldn’t be beat before laying on the grass in Congress Park and staring up at the darkened sky watching a very loud and frantic 4th of July fireworks display alongside thousands and thousands of other people, all of us ooh-ing and aah-ing to (almost) beat the band.
Having a non-concert day in Saratoga Sprigs was something I’ve long wanted to do and man, it did not disappoint. Now I’m hooked on the idea of coming back for the horse races.
*Or is it?