On October 16th, 2018 three of us drove (well, I drove) to the United States of America for a pair of Phish concerts in Albany. Approaching the US border I noticed a large, conspicuous digital sign on the side of the road warning: “No cannabis at the border”. With Canada just a day away from legalizing marijuana nation-wide the Americans were obviously making a point of making their point. “It ain’t legal here buddy, and we’ve got our eyes on you.”
So it was with a little extra trepidation that I pulled up to the border crossing, half-expecting some extra questioning. What I got was this:
“Where do you live?” Ottawa.
“Where are you going?” Albany.
“What are you going to Albany for?” To see some concerts.
So far, so standard.
“You going to see Phish?” Um…yes.
“Why?” Um….because it’s fun…
“Why would anyone want to see Phish, they are horrible!”
“Aw, I’m just kidding,” the border dude said, smiling and handing back our passports. “Have a great time.”
And we did.
Checked in to our Holiday Inn Express right around the corner from the venue and went to a nearby New Orleans-style bar for dinner, just beating the massive pre-show crowd and scoring the best table in the house. An hour and a half later we walked up the street and joined the booming crowd in front of the Knickerbocker Arena.
Dave found his Boston crew and zigged to his seat beside the stage while m’lady and I zagged to our reserved perch in the back corner of the upper level, which ended up being an excellent spot for the show.
The band kicked off with Moma Dance, which was a bit of an odd beginning – but good – followed by a nicely jammed out Tube. It proved to be a good start to the show, and things just kept getting better: Theme From The Bottom (always a favourite of mine) and Free. Later in the set Cities surprised everyone in the room (band included) by miraculously appearing out of the end of Everything’s Right. before rounding out set one with Walls of the Cave.
But it was during the second set that I realized just how odd of a show we were witnessing. Halfway through the setlist it occurred to me that Trey was ducking away from every possible solo opportunity. Whenever a soft spot would come up, a pocket just waiting for one of Anastasio’s signature screaming bend solo intros, Trey would instead milk a low chord, soloing in pure timbre rather than notes. It was really curious, really different, and really fun.
Worthy of very, very special mention was CK5’s continuing mastery of his dangling light rig. During Twenty Years Later he took things to new heights, arranging his remote-controlled light trusses in a downward sloping angle that careened and pulsated in ways I’ve never seen before. The crowd screamed madly. I was literally weeping. Gosh, it was so great.
When Character Zero started up to close the set I convinced m’lady that her best chance at truly enjoying one of her least favourite Phish songs was to air-guitar along with it. She did and she did, and so did I (of course. I always do).
Then, during the Harry Hood encore I took a chance during the late jam and raced all the way down to the basement bathroom and back again, arriving just in time to join in breathlessly for the “You can feel good, good about Hood!” singalong that capped the concert.
Out on the street the lot was getting closed up just as it was starting so m’lady and I finished off the evening enjoying fridge-beers in front of our hotel and making new friends.
All in all it was a fantastic time.
“Why would anyone want to see Phish?” Honestly!