Where This Meets That
On this date 15 years ago, jamband juggernaut Phish forever changed my standards for live music with their performance at Atlanta’s Lakewood Amphitheater.
I’d listened to countless bootlegged Phish shows on cassette as far back as the early ’90’s, but this was the first time I ever saw them in person. The solid first set was fun enough but simply couldn’t have prepared me for the ground the band would cover during a rocking second set.
If you’re not familiar with Phish, their shuffled set-lists and improvised jams usually draw comparisons to the Grateful Dead. As far as I’m concerned, however, simply no live performer compares to Phish during their heyday in the 1990’s. Their collective chops as musicians and chemistry as on-the-spot musical mad-scientists set them apart from everyone else.
The highlight of that night 15 years ago was the second song in the second set, at the time their newest and most promising jam vehicle, simply called “Ghost”. Before the studio “Steve-Millerized” it for the ensuing album bearing the track’s name, the song was loose, grungy funk that really earned its own spotlight in any given set-list.
The song was new to me and this performance totally “hooked” me as a “Phish-head” for years. Even though, it’s now been nearly a decade since I last saw Phish live and several years since I’ve given them any steady play in my rotation, I still consider this 27-minute long version of “Ghost” the single greatest performance of any song I’ve ever seen in my concert-going life.
Sadly, I’ve never found video of it, and quality audio recordings are scarce. Here is about as good of a recording as I’ve ever heard.
27-minutes is daunting for most, so here’s a roadmap, mostly for my own amusement:
0:00-3:00 Pretty much the “core” song
11:00 Aw yeah, the cauldron’s really starting to bubble.
11:50 Everyone – front row, back row, vendors, cops – EVERYONE is grooving.
17:00 The place is starting to rock so hard that the cauldron is starting to swish back and forth.
18:40 The cauldron is finally toppled, this funky mess just going everywhere, pouring through seams in the stage before slowing to a mere drip by the 20:00 mark.
20:40 Something mysteriously chill and refreshing comes oozing out of the mirk of the toppled cauldron. This song has completely transformed into nowhere land. Nobody is grooving any longer, just . . . listening. Intently.
23:30 What’s this now? The band’s gathered the darkest, most concentrated elements of ooze and begun simmering it once again?
24:10 Now this is just getting muddy and mean.
25:30 Madness, pure and simple. Stage lights are going crazy. Nineteen-thousand recent groovers are stunned at having their minds thoroughly just blown. (One time I was listening to this part of the show on my parents’ stereo, and my dad strolled by and just turned it off, thinking it was just an off-band of the radio. I said something like, “Jeez Dad, that’s, like, the sound of genius”. He just shrugged.)
27:00 The recording cuts off as they pull out flawlessly into the next song.
Note: If it’s not obvious, the cauldron was strictly metaphorical. Nothing was spilled on stage, and no ooze was borne from any mirk. It’s just . . . aw shucks, if you’d have been there, you’d understand! Either way, I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish that “Ghost” a Happy Birthday!