Mr. Arron linked to a live Phish performance in his latest blog. I’m kind of wondering how he chose “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the song to link, even though I would have love to been there to party like it’s 1996. I know NYE at the Fleet Center on 12/31/1996 was a decent show, as I’ve got a three tape copy of it somewhere around here, but it’s not what I’d call a transcendent show just upon tape listens, such as one year prior 12/31/2005 at MSG. I wasn’t at MSG, either, but listening to the tapes for years (and finally getting a deserved official release from the band), I could find something in there to blow the Queen cover off the map.
In any case, the post got me to thinking about transcendent moments at shows and I linked in his comments to one of my all time favorites. It happened on a cold October 1998 weekend down in Tinley Park, where Nelson/Young/Mellencamp were hosting Farm Aid for the second consecutive year at the New World Amphitheatre. The year prior, much of the crowd left after a lukewarm set by Dave Matthews Band. The DMB kids took off and missed to the amazing John Fogerty set and subsequent performances by Willie, Neil, and John. WTF? In any case, I’m guessing the organizers didn’t want a repeat of that in 1998 when it was announced that Phish would be on the bill. They placed the Vermont boys at the end of the show, insuring that many of the heads would stick around through all the sets.
The day was cold and blustery as I met up with my old buddy Larry (a Neil Young aficionado) in the parking lot. We had seats in the pavilion, but they were off to the left side where the sound was miserable. Sets by Steve Earle, Wilco, Brian Wilson, Hootie and the Blowfish, and few others went by before the three organizers took their turns. Finally, it was time for Phish. The pavilion had cleared a bit, so we moved to the middle where the sound was much better. The boys played through “Birds of a Feather,” “Moma Dance” and a couple other songs and then finally dropped an awesome “Runaway Jim.” (picked up mid-song here) At a point near the end of the song, another guy walks on stage.
It’s Neil Young.
Neil straps on one of Trey Anastasio’s custom Languadoc guitars and the feedback begins. Later on we would find out this was based on Young’s “Arc” but in the moment it was pure cacophonous wonder. As it ends, John Fishman picks up a beat and a recognizable riff starts in. Larry turns to me and shouts “Down By The River!” And thus begins this intense 19 minute workout:
The amazing thing about this is that CMT had it on live. That they showed 19 straight minutes of Neil Young and Phish in one of the most intense and transcendent jams ever is nothing short of miraculous. The look on Trey’s face throughout is priceless. He’s like, Wow… Neil F’ing Young is playing MY guitar and we’re jamming to one of HIS songs!
Soon after, Willie walks onstage to wind down the show with the rest of the day’s luminaries. It was amazing. Simply amazing. I saw Phish seven more times that fall (yeah, I was in a mood to see shows and travel around a bit…Halloween inVegas, Madison, Chicago, Cincy), but I don’t think they matched this high point. Not since set two of the second day at The Great Went. Not again until they let it all hang out after midnight at Big Cypress. But those are other stories altogether.