PHAREWELL MY PHRIEND: Phish Says Goodbye: Coventry, August 2004 (B.Getz on JamBase)
We figured this was the last time we would write a Phish feature and we all had different things to say so… Today’s class will feature a Phish review in the “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style. Of course, the beauty of this method is that you can choose multiple adventures and keep reading. Regardless of what your choice will be, it is all yours. Without further adieu, JamBase bids pharewell to Phish…
CLICK HERE TO READ THE ADDITIONAL JAMBASE COVENTRY COVERAGE FROM KAYCEMAN, AARON STEIN, & SUPER DEE!
B. GETZ’S ERA ENDING EVENT
The myriad of emotions of a whirlwind week were stirring inner canals, feelings dormant since era ending events like the end of high school, or the last day of summer camp. The prevailing emotions seemed as imminent and intense as the aforementioned chapter closings. However as a young adult, the thought of such melancholy immaturity normally would elicit a laugh or chuckle for the drama of yesterday. But at once it becomes serious, and mystifying, as one is left to truly relinquish the few trailing aspects of youthful exuberance, this in the form of the final Phish shows.
I should probably get out of the way to the reader that I have always been supportive, and OK with the band’s decision to retire, though it is indeed quite painful. I need to grow up, for starters, and somebody’s gotta pull the plug because I wasn’t about to stop going on tour. It’s a place I feel alive, and when it’s on, usually the force to drop whatever and go is too strong to deny. So I looked forward to, and dreaded, the final week of Phish.
It was a week of ups and downs, evidence of both why Phish took over so many people’s brains and bodies, and of why the time to call it quits is now. The promise of Hampton’s gleaming first set had me questioning just why they insisted on hanging it up? Out the gates ablaze, psychedelic, dark foreboding and methodical. It was actually a burner of a second set only played first. My mind relived the many glorious evenings in this hallowed room as the skronk-like “Gin” strutted along, and then galloping through “Jim” with sledgehammer riffage from the redhead. They had immediately brought us into the zone… In atypical post-hiatus fashion, my question was answered with a proverbial dropping-of the ball. My bliss deterred, by the evaporating magic that was the second set slop.
My mind would now race in other directions; I wondered about the late announced show, the hasty production of it all had a foreboding sense to it. The rumors abound, the anniversary of the last community shaking event evoked a hushed “what if?” to the equation. But the disintegrating music was contagious, the vibes permeating about the Spaceship, lent themselves to a general complacence that seems to have dogged Phish post-hiatus. Flashes of jam brilliance dampened by muddling composed sections of song (this would rear its ugly head again later that weekend).
I didn’t feel that well late into Monday evening, soon my throat was swollen closed and I felt terrible. I made the executive decision to skip Great Woods as to finish strong at the end of the week. This turned out to be both a smart and brutal decision, of which I would like to never discuss again.
Camden, on the other hand, embodied so much of what I love about Phish and all that comes with it. A fervent, raging lot overlooking the City of Brotherly Love, a crew of hometowners and Phish friends, and a new-age venue with stellar sound and a firm place in the heart of the band and fans. Camden was primarily pure funk, aggressive and deep fried like the onions on a Jim’s Steak. From the “Ghost” to the “Moma” to the “Sally,” the pocket was locked to Fall ’97, and to dance like that one more time, all blood and sweat, (saving the tears for Vermont) was truly a righteous, upful sendoff. For the last time, I lost myself in the lights, popped and locked, stepped in the name of phunk, and strutted that shit oblivious to anything and anybody but the sound, the sights, and spirits.
By Libby McLinn
It dawned on me towards the end of an impressive set closing “Scents,” as they landed the vessel that was bleeding sonic cyberfuck, indeed the end was near. The eerie feedback rang out and the feeling went from familiar and glowing to foreign and fear. This was such an abrupt and peculiar turn in song, intent, emotion and energy. The show for the most part had been throwback crunk, sweaty gristle, and a big ‘ol house party. “Scents” beautifully transitioned the energy to embody the power of the situation. These four men onstage, so dialed in and communicating amongst each other and with me, with us. I stopped dancing and focused. Intimate and profound, the seriousness overwhelmed many who were basking in the unadulterated throwdown, and set the tone for how intense the weekend would be. A weekend full of reflection, observation, tension and release was born. The colors in the void.
Having attended many of the Phish festivals, as well as having lived in Vermont for half a decade, I still was relatively unprepared for the experience that would be Coventry. As I touch base with many different heads who attended, it is apparent that more than any other event of its kind (there really hasn’t been anything like it), each person (or crew) had their own Coventry. Not unless you began the journey with someone, chances are they lived it quite differently than you. By now the reports are in, the traffic, the turning away of fans, the walking masses, the Vermonters who hosted campers and shuttled fans, it seems very Woodstock-esque, but for a generation of creature comforts and wookiedom.
“Don’t bring any clothes you ever plan on wearing again” was the call as we drove thru the night after the Camden throwdown. We hit an all night Wal Mart in Ticonderoga, NY and stocked up on water, gear, and the best $12.00 I ever spent on a pair of knee high galoshes. Made it to Burlington and then got the traffic news, the tow ins, the mud, the flood, etc. So we waited until 1 a.m. Saturday morning to depart and drove to the Canadian border, hugging the border and then following a local right up to the event. We entered the traffic line with people who had been waiting upwards of twenty hours, and after a bit of traffic drama, we were on Rt. 5 headed towards the entrance when Mike Gordon’s unfortunate announcement came over “The Bunny.” Only later did I realize how many bullets we dodged and how crucial many decisions and maneuvers were.
(Upon reading statements from Phish manager John Paluska and GNP’s Dave Merlin, my appreciation for the circumstances was affirmed. The situation was as catastrophic as it seemed, and the decisions made were as difficult and monumental as I perceived them to be in real-time.)
So began the legend of the thousands who walked, ditching their cars and walking towards wherever. Some caught lifts from locals; others camped on nearby farms and attended the music or listened on the radio. This is where one Coventry experience deviates from the other. The weather and its consequences created such differing scenarios in terms of getting into and settled for the festival, that getting together with people was very difficult, and I unfortunately did not see or spend time with many friends integral to my Phish experience over the last decade. It was however sobering and upsetting to not know where your peoples were, if they even got in, and to not dance or party or hug them, all of which were necessary given the finality of it all. I struggled with this all weekend, and continue to as I relive it through writing.
You got in however you had to, even if you camped on a farm miles away. The maps and organization factor were in the same condition as the festival grounds, so coordinates didn’t always help if you heard your boy was in “N” or “Jackie Onassis.” The whole thing was just scrambled, and the primitive priorities rose: Camp, get your shit together, and begin the trudge to the stage area. Actually, trudge doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Robbie W.K. “It was a test.”
Test. Intestinal fortitude. Physical challenge. Emotional roller-coaster. Journey. Experiment. Exploration. Mudbath.
Dan Granite “The Suicide Funeral.”
We camped out in Q, Jackie O territory (not that you could ever find us) and set up shop on some higher ground. The rolling greenery soothed our stresses as our camp developed, and we began to take in our surroundings for the final comedown. Something about the mountain air emits a tranquility. It allows the brain and senses to function on a higher plane, my city-and-suburb bore toxicity adapted to the supernatural festival site, the mighty mighty Northeast Kingdom, land of organics, purity, spirit and untouched rolling earth. The ideal setting for a psychedelic music community and its culminative event, coming full circle as Trey would later explain multiple times from the teetering stage, his final throne. The site, however, seemed to be a shell of what it may have been, the wonder of this land, if only given an opportunity to flourish in all its grandeur.
“Oh the wind and rain, darkness falls and seasons change, we’ll see summer come again.”
By the way it was muddy. Like really muddy.
By Tony Stack
Nearly a third of the land was underwater and unusable, and the set-up of tent-cities, vending, and RVs was as ramshackle and disorganized as I have ever witnessed. But so were the circumstances, the hand was dealt. You had to trudge through so much mud that after a while you became immune to it. The feeling of your feet squishing about in the calf-to-knee high farm sludge is one I will never forget. Many cases of trench foot, lots of abandoned footwear, aborted campsites, and the type of mud that can be applied as clothing.
From the get-go, the band was all nerves. They went on almost an hour late, and the first day was peaks and valleys. You could hear the stress in Trey’s voice, strained and throaty. I imagined him up all night in the war room, bewildered by the raining on his divine parade, screaming and ranting that “this was not how I envisioned it!” Vermont’s favorite son coming home, throwing a bash in the Kingdom and its now a state of catastrophe. What was dreamt to be the perfect homey fest (before the announcement) grew into a monster. And it stood at Trey’s feet; this was him, his baby.
And now the band had to play six sets.
For the first and last time, I felt I was grasping just how it appeared from the throne. But what would transpire was slightly beyond my imagination’s boundaries.
The foreboding “Walls of the Cave” set a dark tone for the set, and the day, which had flashes of great Phish, was mostly incoherent attempts at songs they had played a thousand times. As we murked about, the intensity of the situation began to sink in, and when Trey gave away the trampolines during “YEM,” it was apparent that the emotional aspect of the event would be running as heavy as the jamming and as high as the masses. The “Fire” to close set one was pure punk bombast, sloppy bar room blaze that seemed to exorcize the demons, at least for the time being. Many around me were confused, or weathered from the experience thus far, and there was a lethargic tone to much of the day. Some were really enjoying the choice moments, and others seemed unaffected by the music at all. Strange indeed. The setbreak gave a chance to reassess the situation.
By Tony Stack
A crunkafied, deliberately developed “AC/DC Bag” popped off set two, and for about twenty minutes, as I traversed stage ward, it seemed the boys would soldier through the murk and redirect this ship. This was one of those “Bags.” Methodical, snake charming, razor sharp nasty chunk. Unfortunately, quite frankly, they didn’t. They just couldn’t get it together, and stay within the framework of a song. Some of the jamming was incredible (“Drowned”), a rainbow did indeed appear in the sky, but in general the performance was wrought with nerves and the stress of the last 36 hours. Jon Fishman, as always, was the glue. The guy held it together as often as Trey let it slip away. But they seldom caught that fire, none of that overwhelming tension buildup or breakneck crash course brain surgery. Peaks and valleys, without that continuity that defines the band’s sets.
“We talkin’ ’bout practice. PRACTICE. Not a game, no not the GAME… We talkin’ ’bout PRACTICE, uh huh, we talkin about practice.” Allen Iverson 2002.
A long verbal diatribe preceded a jagged, spastic “Bowie,” a taste of things to come from Trey. The “Free” and “Stash” were shells of their selves and the notes just escaped Trey, and the band could not follow their leader. It wasn’t for lack of effort, however maybe lack of practice, or perhaps all the nerves and pressure, we can only speculate. When Mike and Trey moved to the rocks at the front of the stage, for one last blissful “Hood” outro jam, I savored the gesture, and the song, for under the Vermont moon, my mind scoured through what had transpired that day, my body moved to the melody and my spirit soaked from within. I wished for a grand finale to come on the morrow, a saving grace to sew it together.
Saturday night people spilled in different directions, resting or raging, the festival spirit intact despite the elements and the harrowing trek to and from the stage area. As the sun came up over the Green Mountains, we trudged back to camp for some rest, as the day we all feared was now upon us.
A different band showed up, admittedly nervous again, however naked and cohesive in a way I hadn’t seen in some time. I wondered what transpired amongst them shortly before they took the stage for the final time. Whatever it was, it was some heavy shit. Sunday was an emotional experience like none other that I had ever known. Long ago I acknowledged the importance of the Phish experience in my life, but to examine it amongst my Phish family for one long Vermont Sunday was somewhat of an out of body experience. There was a finality to this that dwarfed summer camp, or high school, or college, or even relationships.
From the first notes of “Mike’s Song,” I grooved in my galoshes as if my future depended on it, but my mind raced as well, and I watched it all from above my body. They began to deliver the goods. “Reba” wasn’t perfect, but the blissful journey that is the outro rose above and soared like a hermit thrush. Then came the metallic groove and shrapnel shredding of “Carini,” with some babbling good fun at the expense of the song’s namesake. All sorts of explanations followed, as the “Wolfman’s Brother” is Fishman (that’s why the song is so damn fonky), and Liz, and all that shit, and in general a rockin’ good time. Moms came out to do the “Sexy Bump”; Trey taunted some girl in the audience, and at some point Page played one of the nastiest clav breaks with just Fish holding it down. Fun was had, all around.
Melt Motherfucker. Melt.
The second set was some heavy shit. By opening with “Down With Disease” the floodgates of introspection burst, all of sudden the lyrics were poignant. The chorus was belted out with a newfound authority, proudly and with valor by a massive that was by now fully engrossed in this final performance. The jam took off to the stratosphere, all that is mighty about heavy rocking Phish, machine gun shreddery underscored by a thunderstorm in the pocket. Due to the depth and concentration of the first twenty five minutes of the set, what would transpire next would surprise band and fan equally.
Though “Wading in the Velvet Sea” was the turning point, it hit them, probably sometime in “Disease” that “this was it.” And we were in Vermont. And the chaos had subsided, and the day had come, it would soon wind down. They began to see the end as the sun raced over the horizon, a truly epic sunset. And as they played the shit out of their anthem, the shit hit ’em like a ton of bricks. The tranquility and peace that serenades “Wading” was as heavy as the metallic intercourse that preceded it. Chronic Phish. So much so that Page couldn’t get it out. He choked up, and thousands responded by weeping with him. Soon, Trey had to get in on the crying, and there wasn’t a dry eye on the farm.
Trey, and then Jon, Mike, and Page all expressed to the fans, here at the farm and watching in theatres across our great nation, just how they felt about us, this, the whole thing. The guard was down, there they stood, naked and crying and thanking us all. Heavy.
You could literally hear the snot dripping down his nose as Trey said “Now we’re gonna just blow off some steam” and Fish dropped that funky stutter step drum shit and it was on. “Split Open and Melt,” the song that first caught my metal ear many moons ago, was presented, naked as the band had been moments earlier. Like an old badass mustang, it took a hot minute to get up and running, but once out on the highway, there is no effin’ with this whip. Terrorizing terrain he’s visited before, this time making his presence felt and remembered and cemented. Trey scorched the heavens with light-saber-like guitar wizardry, Cactus’ bludgeoning bottom end gutting carcass’s. McConnell darkened the picture with clav, and for this timeless dimension, it was 1994 again, and the “Melt” was metal. Unwavering, unrelenting aural assault. Phish.
By Libby McLinn
“Fast Enough,” a peculiar yet graceful choice to open their final set of music was personal for me, another tune that caught my ear when I first met the band. Again, lyrical poignancy. As they tippy-toed into a bouncing “Seven Below” I traveled back to the comeback NYE 03, and I was off. The band eff’ed around onstage for awhile, but I was elsewhere. Actually, I was everywhere. Surrounded by a myriad of friends, including those crucial who walked alongside me throughout this circus decade, I began to relive countless different tours, travel, excursions. You know how we do.
The Gorge. HORDE. The Island Tour ’98. The bacon at 6 a.m. at the breakfast buffet Days Inn in Hampton. Twenty thousand deep in Vegas. Big Fucking Cypress. Getting lost as a youngster driving to Worchester from Jersey. Car catching fire in Raleigh. Independence daze in Hotlanta, Camden. The House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay. Garlic fries at Shoreline. Fucking “Sabotage” Merriweather. Terrapin Station. Jay-HOVA what up Brooklyn. Illadelph Spectrum, Yattin at the Knick, The Pnobscot River. Halloween was given a new identity, and towns, cities, states, were invaded. I cannot even write all of the memories that came over me during this “Dickie Scotland” shit I hadn’t said a word, moved or acknowledged my surroundings for twenty minutes.
I came to as Trey was empowering us with rhetoric “You CAN still have fun,” all the while coming off “Wilson” as he effectively turned the tables on us.
As much, if not more than Phish, the band and their music, I’ma miss my friends. It was always about the joy of living, Phish the itinerary and the nightly ritual, glorious, spirited, and rock and roll. But it was also about Point A to Point B, and the madness and debauchery that took place between. It was the ultimate escape, life outside of life. Indeed we can still have fun, be it ain’t ever gonna be the same. People came up to you, told you how much they loved you, recounted a good time, and hoped to see you again sometime, somewhere. This happened over and over again. “See you never!”
In reviewing the entire Phish entity, one has to be fair, and objective. It wasn’t all fun and games. People got hurt, people died. Lives were forever altered. Our culture, like the reality we escape, is a mixture of good and evil. Life and Phish culture. It fluctuated on tour and in the lot like it does in the real world. Some summer in Nantucket, and others dance around a fire hydrant. Some toured in RVs and stayed in hotels; some sold drugs and nodded during the show or robbed your car while the band played inside. But the tour waged on, soldiered on, and in 2004, the whole Phish thing, community-wise, was in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, the shows, too few and far between, coupled with the lack of practice, exacerbated by a million other variables, lacked the juice that was the foundation of the whole shebang.
With those thoughts, we arrived at the monumental song, “Slave.” The chestnut that delivers time and time again, one of the most passionate, emotive, sinister, and joyful songs steered us into the home stretch. Not fair to try to capture this power in a few words. Great choice, phenomenally performed. It all comes full circle; with the encore that everybody thought would be “Fluffhead.” Instead, the lyrical poignancy reared its head one last time in hopes of no regrets. “The Curtain With.” It was a given, sorta. Our lives had run away, and were now coming home. Embraced the music, and the intent, and the song and dance. As the song raged south of heaven, entering its final portion, all the way home for me, the melody dramatic; “The Curtain” was the first Phish song I ever heard.
I wandered off to rage in the darkness, to take comfort in the masses and dark liquor, to plot the future and give thanks. The night was a party, a funeral, and hedonism as if tomorrow wasn’t promised.
But then it arrived, with the rain, a few hours later. We were left to navigate our way home, and go live the rest of our lives.
JamBase | Philadelphia
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