My fourth Phish show (much anticipated after my third, 1994-12-29) marked the first of that Summer for me. Phish was coming to Northern Virginia to our brand new shed and we were ready to make it a great time. I can’t begin to tally the number of folks I knew at this show and, among them, how many were seeing their first show. Our tickets were acquired via PTBM and a large local crew gathered to pre-game at the home of some friends a short drive from the venue.
It was a brilliantly hot, early summer day with blue skies and few clouds. Hydration and sunscreen were top requirements. Other requirements being fulfilled, we hopped into our rides and attempted to get into the venue. It being new territory for all of us, we only had a general idea of how to approach the spot. This, coupled with construction on Interstate 66 and a general degree of befuddlement that sometimes accompanies such events, led to a hectic trip into the lots. Fortunately, we had our trusty tape of 1989-05-28 (set two) blasting in Modi’s car. This helped us keep cool as we zigzagged through the cones and chaos of Northern Virginia’s roadways.
The parking lot was a dust bowl. While the venue had been completed for the season, the lots had clearly remained an afterthought. The absence of order and landscaping could not dissuade us, but the hot moonscape of the parking lot held little attraction once we encountered the heavy security presence, so we made our way into the show a bit early.
Our seats were three-quarters back on Page’s side of the pavilion and the sight-line was perfect. Behind us, we spotted a friend who told us the previous night’s set list and all about the 30-minute Runaway Jim. He also gave us some general idea of what the new songs sounded like. Those days, when I wasn’t connected to the interwebs, seem so primitive to me now. Yet, we managed to stay reasonably informed.
When they opened with “Divided Sky” I knew we were in for another great night. You can’t really go wrong with that as an opener. A quick, tight, “Suzy Greenberg” and one of the new songs, “Taste”, followed. “Taste” impressed me as interesting, and while it didn’t really hang together at first, by the time it was over, I was excited to hear it again.
Trey pulled out his megaphone for the verses of “Fee”. I smiled and danced and gazed about, taking in the sights of my first outdoor Phish show. In the Summer daylight, it was odd to see Phish without the full light-show effect. Somewhere in this set, I’m fairly certain I settled into my habit of dancing with my eyes closed at shows. Rarely thereafter did I pay much mind to the lights at a Phish show.
“Uncle Pen” turned the pavilion into a hoedown. Bluegrass is a natural choice for Virginia and any song played this well could not help but be well received. “Julius”, not always a favorite for me, came hot on Uncle Pen’s heels. On this night, all conditions collided to make my perfect version of “Julius”. Trey took it for a little stroll and, in the process, completely ensnared my attention. You could hear him pushing at the seams of this song. Trey came to Virginia to rock and nothing was likely to hold him back.
Page gave a sweet rendition of “Lawn Boy” before they tore into my first attended performance of “The Curtain”! I knew it from tapes and was psyched to see it live. This version did not fail to meet expectations and then blew past them when it dropped directly into “Stash”.
I suppose there are people who don’t love this song, but I hope not to be introduced to any of them in my lifetime. For everyone else, this is a “Stash” worthy of note. The composition is solid if not great. The jam is out-of-this-world. Ten minutes in, where many versions would be wrapping up, they continue to fold the music inward upon itself departing further from the coherent themes while still remaining recognizable as “Stash”. My friend who had told us about Raleigh had also mentioned an epic “hour-long” version of “Tweezer” they’d played in Memphis a few days earlier. This was no Memphis “Tweezer” but it seemed as if they were testing the waters for some real exploration. How far could they stretch their improvisation without losing one another and the audience? At 13 minutes, they ascend together from the depths and hit upon the “Stash” theme once again. They dance around it for several minutes’ time before releasing the last of the tension – closing the song and the first set.
Set two began with “Wilson”, a rockin’ audience pleaser with hints of metal and was followed by a strong version of “Maze”. Page’s solo is great on this but it’s Trey who keeps it good and weird- continuing the vibe from the first set’s “Stash”. “Mound” was its typical great self with nothing particularly unusual. (Only in the context of Phish is this song anything but unusual.)
Tweezer kicked in next. The playing through the verses is strong yet standard. The Ebeneezer is no weirder than most and then the band dives headfirst into rockin’. Six minutes in, you can hear Mike tease the bass line to Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”. That doesn’t last long though, because they soon slide effortlessly into a fast take on “Johnny B. Goode”. This being a first for Phish, we all went nuts as they tore it up.
But two and a half minutes of Chuck Berry flies by and they slam on the brakes flinging us into a slower jam. Fish sets the pace with a beat that sounds very much like the “Tweezer” snippet we know as “Montana” from A Live One. But he soon yields to the lead of his bandmates, because space is the place, as they say. With their rock and roll urges sated, the band glides right on into that place. But, not for too long. After a bit, Trey fires up a snarling tone, Fish starts a rapid-fire tempo and they’re off to the races. The ensuing groove is dirty and mean and completely infectious. After only a few minutes, this resolves back into the “Tweezer” theme. Then that fades into a brief vocal jam before dissolving into the perfect quiet place from which to begin “McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters”.
This was my first time seeing “McGrupp” live. It gracefully blends complex composition, meditative solo breaks, uniquely Phish-y lyrics (it’s a Gamehenge song), tension/release, and danceability into a ten minute tour de force. This version is well worth checking out.
Another new song, one that remains exclusive to ’95, “Acoustic Army” brought the entire band to stools placed on the stage lip for a quiet acoustic guitar quartet. Rather than return to their usual positions, the stools and acoustic guitars were ushered away and a set of microphones was placed up front. A charming barbershop quartet rendition of “Sweet Adeline” extended the breather.
The band moved back to their usual positions and leapt into “Harry Hood”. I’ve managed to see “Hood” at one third of my attended shows and this is a perfect example of why that makes me so happy. The composed portion comes off with precision and the jam melts into a quiet bliss. The audience, aside from a few screamers, is held in silent, rapt, attention. The muted jamming slowly builds with Mike and Fish edging up the pace, and Trey toying with an edgier tone than most versions of “Hood”. The stillness becomes a simmer. The simmer becomes a boil. Then the boil erupts into another ecstatic peak.
The show could have ended there. I suspect, however, that the clock told a different story. The band then dug back in for another bit of rock to cap the set with “Sample In A Jar”. It felt rather perfunctory following that “Hood”. The same could not be said for the encore.
Friends of the band, Dave Matthews and LeRoi Moore (Virginia residents), came out for a one-off encore of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. It was charming and unique and sent everybody out into the lots with smiles on their faces.
Good thing, too. Traffic getting out was hell (a trademark for that venue.) The construction on I-66 (a massive widening project that was in its messiest stage at that time) created confusing traffic patterns making things doubly difficult for the heads emerging into the night. We got onto the highway and found ourselves stuck in unmoving traffic. Modi, our intrepid driver, boldly followed another car venturing into the dusty median which had been leveled out for the future roadway. I’m sure I cautioned against this unwise and illegal maneuver (don’t try this at home, gang) but Modi doesn’t wait in lines, so away we went.
I gripped the armrest resisting flashes of Mad Max as we jostled along the dirt track, passing the stopped cars, construction equipment, and orange barrels on either side of the highway. Finally, we saw the true cause of the stoppage. A car had flipped on the roadway. Police were not yet in attendance but persons were out of their cars assisting. Hopefully everyone walked away from that. Just beyond the incident we merged back into the actual roadway and moving traffic and went on home; still listening to that Ian’s House tape.
Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge, Bristow, VA
Soundcheck: Johnny B. Goode
Set 1: Divided Sky, Suzy Greenberg, Taste, Fee -> Uncle Pen, Julius, Lawn Boy, The Curtain -> Stash
Set 2: Wilson > Maze, Mound > Tweezer -> Johnny B. Goode -> Tweezer -> McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Acoustic Army, Sweet Adeline, Harry Hood, Sample in a Jar
Encore: Three Little Birds
· The Curtain tease in Stash
· Montana tease in Tweezer
Setlist via phish.net