, attached to 2003-07-29

Review by Anonymous

(Published in the second edition of The Phish Companion...)

I Think Charles Dickens Did Phish Tour
Somewhere around Chicago, Chaz bought Bobblehead Trey. A small, shiny pin replica of Phish's pied piper, Bobblehead Trey traveled everywhere with us, bouncing up and down, sometimes dancing, other times trying to free itself from its fabric confines.

For much of our cross-country journey, Bobblehead Trey acted as our official mascot, sparking conversations with strangers and adding some novel spice to my first post-collegiate Phish experience. Representing my own disheveled dance-step, Chaz's tin pet seemed like an ironic symbol for summer 2003: the lone toy in the increasing grownup world of Phish.

Seven months since their Hiatus, Phish were playing more precise than anytime since Big Cypress. Layering in bits of dark trance and bouncy, bass funk into chord-heavy space, Phish clearly favored a carefully knit medley of sounds over the high school theater high jinks that highlighted their youth. With extra tickets easier to come by than tie-dyed shirts, Phish truly flew under the radar on their way to IT. In fact, Phish seemed so status quo it was too easy to forget why we were using Phish as our cross country compass. So it's fitting that Chaz traded Bobblehead Trey for a Burgettstown ticket.

Without knowing it, somewhere between Phoenix, AZ and Burgettstown, Pa I became a jaded Phish fan. By the time I reached Pittsburgh, I had just seen my 17th show on this tour and, for the first time, everything started to sound the same. The group's set lists became stilted, and a lackluster southern run, deflated the crowd's positive and peaceful energy like a slowly dying balloon.
Ironically, only seven months earlier, Phish reached their peak in popularity. A few weeks after their return from hiatus, Phish successfully straddled mainstream America, earning a Rolling Stone cover and their name in a New York Times crossword puzzle answer. Yet, their audience seemed a little younger, a little cleaner, and a little less enthusiastic.

But hard to find winter tickets, and a long loop through the west, gradually sanded off these extra Phish fans during the summer months. With the jamband genre firmly established, music fans flocked to see all sorts of bands, be it the semi-reunited Dead or a brevy of younger improvisational bands. In fact, Phish found themselves soul searching amongst their newest, and most skeptical, fans. As Phish returned home to the northeast, they picked up stream, like a little kid running home to show his parents his favorite Kindergarten class drawing.

Throughout my summer trek, I described myself as a social anthropologist. With a pen and paper in my pocket, I picked up where Jack Keroak left off, hitting the road, escaping responsibility and trying to figure out how Red Bull and rest stops add up the American Dream. With the real world creeping closer each mile, as I approached my New York home, I felt a little older, a little wiser, and a littler more hesitant about life post-Phish than I had on past SUV fueled concert tours.

In hopes of putting my collegiate degree to proper use, I tried to connect Trey to David Copperfield within six degrees: seeing Phish is kind of like wading through a Victorian novel. It's dense, all over the place, full of surprises, and in the end everyone ends up having sex and sipping tea.

Like all summer shows, Burgettstown began in search of a supermarket. Stocking up all the essential supplies for Phishing: candy, soda, beer, cassette tapes, and sleeping pills, we entered Shakedown Street early. Within a second of entering Pittsburgh's parking lot, I subconsciously slipped from dorky English major to clichè© stricken tour mouse. My seats went from being "awesome" to "phatty," my food from "tasty" to "dank," and suddenly everything from my wool sweater to my friend's iPod was "heady."

Phish's first Northeast show since February, a few minutes in, I already felt like I was at a high school reunion. The usual cast of characters were there: the dude who wears his hula-hoop around his head, a Vegan who dresses as Guyute the pig, 200 ticketless fans, and your best friend's little brother.

Once inside the venue, my cynical instincts kicked in early. "`Sample' opener, `Character Zero' encore," I half-heartedly joked. As the Northeast neared, it seemed inevitable that Phish would pack up their few lingering theatrical tendencies as they prepared to practice for IT.

But Phish never really do what anyone expects them too and, instead of offering up an extended jam on "Heavy Things," Phish played a set of rarities designed specifically for us soured setlist-happy scribes.

Sometime between "Daniel" and ""Scent of a Mule" I started to catch on. Maybe it was Mike's smug look, or Trey's t-shirt, which depicted a young Fishman, but something strange was about to happen. In fact, the entire first set reminded me of the night before Color War broke at Summer Camp; our counselors were never able to contain their excitement.

One by one the group rolled out rarities; packing them in so densely it was hard to actually soak in each number: "Daniel," a mistakenly discarded bluegrass cover kept alive only through Live Phish, "Camel Walk," original guitarist Jeff Holdsworth's greatest contribution to the band, "Cool it Down," a fine moment from the group's cover of Loaded, "Scent of a Mule," complete with a mini-mule duel, "Timber Ho," Phish's darkest, funkiest early cover, "Gotta Jiboo" the forgotten Farmhouse jam, Fee, a manic child-hood fairy-tale that doubles as so many fans first song, and "McGrupp," a powerful souvenir from Gamhedge. Even the slow cover of "When the Circus Comes to Town" was a carefully resurrected rarity, complete with the phrase "I Could've had a chance to get out of this place." Not only were each of these songs rare in Phishtory, none of them had been played previously during this tour, proof that Phish paid more attention to their set lists than skeptics like myself had suspected. Among the first set's ten songs, only "Golgi" had been played previously during the summer months and that number was incorporated to remind fans of the soon to be notorious "ticket-stub in their hands."

Throughout set break, cell-phones buzzed like bankers at the stock exchange. Being the superstitious type, I tried not to get too excited. "Get ready for a thirty-minute `Jennifer Dance,'" I joked. But slowly, my sarcastic banter waned. Second set started with "Cross-eyed and Painless," another oft-requested number that proved Phish hadn't exchanged preciseness for novelty. Though a slow "Thunderhead" still seems misplaced, "Brother" and the holy gauntlet of Phish, "Harpua," returned the quartet to their inner musings. As the song's chorus began, I remembered how to bounce, even without Bobblehead Trey.

But in their own convoluted way, Phish made sense of their crazy spectacle. Unleashing a lethal "Harpua," Trey turned Jimmy into a strange simile for Phish. Interweaving "Bittersweet Motel" and a narration about finding IT into the song's dialogue, Burgettstown allowed Phish to address the hiatus for the first time since their reunion, al abet in their own, metaphorical language. Taking center stage, Fishman laughed his way through the R&B staple of Elvin Bishop's "I Fooled Around and Fell in Love Again." Weaving in both a vacuum solo and references to his young family, Fishman reminded fans why the band is named after him: he embodies both the Phish communities Id and its ego. As the group returned to "Harpua," everyone in attendance, band included, couldn't help feeling like they had cheated on their girlfriend, every so slightly, during the hiatus. But then to remind fans not to take Phish too seriously, "Harpua" ended as usual, leaving Jimmy alone without his cat.

Cooling off with "Bowie" and a beautiful, sedating "Farmhouse," Phish proved everyone in attendance wrong, reminding even the cynics that the group will always be a bunch of theater dorks at heart. Since that show, it's become public knowledge that the group's newly acquired IPODs brought on their rarest set list in years. Somehow I think its very sheik, that modern technology helped the group find its past. But, then again, I always take Phish too seriously.

Looking back, perhaps I should have foregone February tour to finish "David Copperfield" in class. If I had, I would have learned that sure enough Charles Dickens did do Phish tour. After all the first rule of any Victorian Novel is that no matter how dark things become, in the end, everyone finds their way home. That is until the next tour.


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