had shaky legs for the first few hours between getting to the airport and then having a bit of a flight delay. Of course this happens when there’s a timeline to be met. Team Southwest was resilient though and brought us to Los Angeles early despite taking the extra time for acclimating to a brand spankin new plane. Pretty sure I haven’t been privy to the experience but how appropriate for opening the cork on this weekend of cherry popping. Being so excited typically translates into an agonizingly long flight but I had with me The Psychopath Test and nearly finished it, laughing out loud for most of the way. So time collapsed and boom, we’re on the descent to LAX during which my neighbor had to ask what I was reading. Unfortunately, the shuttle ride made up for lack of anxiety in the air. There were four of us heading to Long Beach and one person to a neighborhood north of the venue. Befuddling but whatever we made it with plenty of time to spare.
I was wrong thinking the concert venue was on the trade show side of Long Beach Convention Center but this worked out not intending to drink beforehand. One of the pages offered direction to the correct entrance before pointing me to the restroom where I would spend the next hour or so, plenty of time to change and allow the sweaty clothes dry out. With such late afternoon flight and lack of any real plan for a place to stay after the show, I chose to cram whatever I could into a backpack. The sweaty clothes issue, I did not consider beforehand. Just ick! Fortunate though that leggings and dresses play significant roles in my wardrobe these days making for light traveling and rapid drying. Since this was my first west coast show and the boys had expressed a minor disdain for signs, I chose to wear a song request that probably translated best to Joy but was intended to inspire Halley’s Comet. Looking back to the late nineties, it’s probably some of those juicy improvisational versions I regret missing the most. Did I say regret? Wrong word but you know what I mean.
Over by will call, I chatted with some guys trying to get backstage. One of them had met the band in Ohio when they first played Riverbend. I got my ticket and went inside stopping by the prominently positioned Waterwheel table where raffle tickets were offered for a poster signed by the band. It wasn’t long before bumping into those guys again one of which was freaking out a bit having had a piece of shroom go down the wrong pipe. How uncomfortable! He asked me to keep by him since his friends were wandering around. We finally convened by one of the beer lines and headed outside for a cigarette. I rarely smoke but needed a couple puffs to take the edge off in avoidance of beer consumption and the consequential potty breaks. Just before heading upstairs, I put on the wig. Our seats were about 4 rows up from the first balcony rail on Page side at a perfect angle for seeing the full stage. The mood was mellow not surprisingly given this was a midweek show and the quantity of quality ganga in the air, ripe for a Suzy opener. A Suzy opener? Laughter ensued from memories of Alpine Valley as did the marathon of dancing. Mr. Miner’s theory about tour leg openers might hold water being corroborated by the first set. Although no song really stands apart from the rest, it was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and we even got a Bouncing. I’m truly appreciating the consistency of this era. We don’t know what we’re gonna get on any given night but aside from a few flubs here and there, the playing is passionate and technically solid.
Set break at LBCC was a cluster fuck probably due to where our seats were located. The halls were so jam packed; I couldn’t get to the bathroom or refill my water bottle at the drinking fountain so beer it was in attempt to avoid the purchase of bottled water. For the second set, I went to my ticketed section behind the stage. Who knew Rock and Roll would evolve into such a lengthy, abstract work of art? For the first time at a show, I captured video from the start of this masterpiece through the glow stick war during Ghost. Unfortunately it’s not worth sharing since I couldn’t keep still in the squat position for thirty minutes. Following a brilliant beginning, the level of intensity remained elevated throughout the set with a brief breather during Dirt.
After the show, I joined a group of people recapping their experiences in the grass. My ability to speak is usually limited due to the processing of sensory overload so I bummed a cigarette and attempted to re-hydrate as satisfaction simmered my cells. Ready to walk again, I headed over to the nearest hotel in hopes of finding a cab running into friends from The WaterWheel Foundation on the way. At least twenty people had the same idea so I went to the bar across the street to wait it out. Not surprising, the place was wall to wall filled so I waited over a half hour before finally ordering thanks to a lovely couple at the bar who let me squeeze in to be seen by the bartenders. With beer in hand, I found a corner out on the patio and struck up conversation with someone from Iowa during which a fall down drunk person passed to go presumably back to the bar. I pleaded out loud for this guy not to be served given the likelihood of him falling on someone. Sure enough the guy walks out again holding another full beer and falls on the person standing next to us. I thought maybe that diversion would make this guy forget what he had already said at least three times already. “Yes, I am aware of the obesity epidemic in America and that an acidic, mostly animal based diet is in part to blame.” I agreed with him each time but this didn’t stop the repeat mechanism in his brain. He responded each time by saying, “But you’re not obese?” Talk about confusing signals. At last cabs pulled up in front giving me an escape to Hollywood for a few minutes of rest before boarding the shuttle to San Francisco.
Waiting for the bus in front of the hostel, I met a couple people from opposite ends of Australia, one of which was a yogi/musician on tour and another who had found a two week bus tour rolling through the western national parks. My riding mate was from San Francisco and graciously shared his brandy to chill me out until we made our only pit stop. The ride out of LA is picturesque and remains so for much of the ride to a new set of eyes with sprawling citrus orchards through much of the valley. With interesting company, time elapsed until the smell of garlic permeated the bus and the bay area fog with enveloped the mountains. Powell Street in the Tenderloin District is disorienting at night with the non-grid layout for this part of the bay. My new friend was heading to the BART and allowed me to tag along. Seeing the subway map re-assured my sense of direction towards The Mission to find where I’d be staying for the weekend. First thought was to grab a bite to eat but a welcoming sample of a mushroom cap altered that tendency rapidly. After multiple weak varieties, this was certainly a surprise. I wondered if much of what seeps into the Midwest loses potency due to travel time and hitting dry spells along the way. One small cap set the tone for what was to come.
Maybe three hours of sleep at most left me less groggy than I would have thought but too foggy for any real planning outside of walking a couple of blocks to The Red Café for some chilaquiles. Breakfast definitely helped the decision making. I researched some of the tourist activities, considering the Golden Gate Bike Tour into Sausalito but opted for heading straight to the of Civic Center Box Office in hopes of finding a ticket to the first night of the Phish trilogy at least. I was first in line around 2pm and intended to remain there for a possible re-release. It happened around 3:30 online only through Ticketmaster. First attempt with app secured a ticket but the network bumped me out after hitting the purchase button. Adrenaline rushed through my body giving me a much needed second wind. One person in line did get lucky though. Soon after two fans walked out of the venue and approached me. One of them asked what time I arrived and if I was first in line. I said, “Yes.” They both replied, “We have your extra.” That immediate rush and joyous reaction which followed was one of the most genuinely happy feelings of my adult life. Sounds hyperbolic but ask people I’ve spent the most time with about my poker face.
Soon the stress hormones subsided. My new box office line friend and I waited a bit longer for will call to open then we camped out with the others waiting to find their dream spots in this all general admission venue. On this night mine was on the northeast corner of the tapers pit. Sitting beside me was a photographer with five inch platform boots. Smart thinking right? I first wondered if he might be Mr. Miner but that hunch quickly subsided when the top of conversation evolved to photography geekery. Having a Leica at these shows would have been fun without a doubt. Show sounded great from there. The roomer in line about a bag opener was true after all. Good call because it got us moving right away. I thoroughly enjoyed getting pounded and liquefied by Mike’s bombs during Sand after Trey tucked us in with Corinna, especially since that stream of consciousness transpired into a quick gusher courtesy of Halley’s Comet. Still stings a bit to say this was my first but that jolt is exactly what will send that vehicle into orbit where it belongs once again. During subsequent listens of Set One in full, I felt a strong disco funk presence in the room which certainly made for a fun dance party that wasn’t sweaty enough to keep me out bathroom during set break. YEM from The Phish on Turntable.fm coordinated a meet-up by the WaterWheel table but getting there quickly was happening so I missed meeting Kari by seconds probably. Returning relatively late to the floor put me in a different location during set two between the tapers pit and the soundboard on Page Side next to a fourth generation San Franciscan. We had blast singing along during second set. In catching up with the studio collection, Wading In The Velvet Sea or Velvet Cheese as Pauly prefers to call it, captured my heart as one of their most graceful compositions so that metaphor will likely remain one of the most vibrant memories years from now. The city blocks off the street in front of the venue to accommodate attendees filing out en masse. Walking beside me on the way back to the BART was a samosa vendor. First bite of substance I had since breakfast so the curry blend hit my taste buds with a vengeance. Had a couple Ranger IPAs at the place I was staying at to finally mellow me out after that sensory assault.
Excitement aside, my internal alarm clock remained on Central time allowing for about four hours of sleep at most. I debated taking the Golden Gate Bridge bike tour again but instead went on a ticket scavenger hunt starting at the venue. With the hundreds of people walking around looking for the same thing, I visited The Center to meet Chris Calarco as intended. His yoga class had just ended so people were in the lobby talking. Since I didn’t go to the class, I waited to chat until attendees had their words with him. In the meantime, I asked around for an extra. The person who runs the center encouraged a shout out to the group. One person responded that I missed it by about five minutes. After some friendly conversation with Chris, I asked him who we need to lobby for Phish to play the Crystal Ballroom. He replied that there’s no way they’ll play such a small venue. I had a feeling but didn’t find out for sure until a week later this yogi from Portland is indeed Mr. Miner. The look on his face when webcast came out of my mouth re-enforced the hunch. Whether at the ballroom or elsewhere, I hope Portland is one of the tour stops next year and that I secure tickets prior to making the trip so more time can be spent enjoying the city instead of on a mission. After hanging out with friends in line at the venue for about an hour I took a walk over to the corner nearest to will call thinking someone might have my extra. Venue staff was doing their best to keep us from waiting around in one spot unless we had tickets at will call so I circled the venue for the chance of running into someone like the catering company loading food into the venue. Temptation was strong to give them a hand but I kept walking. On the next trip over by will call, I found someone with a ticket right around 6pm just before the line moved from across the street to alongside the venue. With my body flooded once again with adrenaline, I floated back to where my friends were in line. Musically, the second night wasn’t as exciting as the first but still a well-crafted couple sets of music and great fun. Two moments in particular stand out. One was at the end of the most ambient sounding Simple I’ve ever heard. As Fish’s delicate cymbal patterns faded into the next song, I was so close to having the best orgasm and it may have showed on my face because Mike and Trey both looked straight at me and laughed. Then shortly after the lyrical intro to Fluffhead,I remember Trey saying to Mike that “this is gonna be fun” maybe because it’s one of the most difficult songs to dance to so those of us who try probably look goofy as hell from the stage. Moments like those are what separate Phish from other bands. I hung out with friends outside the venue for longer than the previous night. They almost convinced me to head out to a bar but I was functioning on about nine hours of sleep in three days so to bed it was. On the way I stopped to pick up a snack at one of the only Mexican cantinas open on 24th street after midnight. Best damn veggie burrito ever with just the right amount of spice and moderately portioned, perfect post show rejuvenation for the first meal since breakfast over twelve hours prior.
With so much movement at these shows I make a point to stop eating at least four hours before, sometimes more. On Sunday, I grabbed a sandwich to eat in line so that there’d be more energy reserves going into the final night. Again I didn’t have a ticket but Ben whom I met standing in the box office line on Friday said he might have one. He called me about three o’clock to let me know his friend wouldn’t be able to make it. Without having to search for anything, a significant chunk of time in line was spent lying down on the sidewalk until the line moved across the street. That small dose of meditation was enough to revive me for another three hours of raging. My mom’s words stuck with me throughout the week. I kept my wits about me for the entire time more because remembering what happens is a source of strength rather than out of fear for what might happen to me. We both won. I had about a quarter of a piece of mushroom chocolate which I saved for the second set and a handful of ganga caramels left. This along with plenty of water and a couple post show beers to wind down was par for the weekend, pretty low key. What’s there to say about Sunday night set other than it was so magical that most attendees had a questioned look on their faces meandering outside the venue and many were asking how our favorite band would top it.
What I’ve enjoyed about sets of Summer 2012 are the segues and repeated themes from show to show. To use an MVP candidate Cross-eyed & Painless as an example, it’s kind of like watching one episode of The Office. We are likely going to get a few laughs but unless we watch the entire season or series for that matter, we miss out on the running jokes and storyline. Before this summer, I hadn’t been to San Francisco, seen Phish in a city West of Des Moines, Iowa or attended a single venue run. So many missed opportunities at MSG but after chickening out for NYE 95 especially, I felt like there was some road to cover before stepping foot in that venue for an end of year extravaganza. I’d been out east twice for John Mayer to learn that Jones Beach and SPAC, while they might be two of my favorite venues are not the places to go for a solo flying free spirit without a car or license so when Leg 2 dates were announced, there was no question in my mind that hitting as many west coast shows as possible should be my intention. So grateful the plan came to fruition at last.