Soundcheck: Gumbo, Reggae Jam
SET 1: Suzy Greenberg, Julius, The Lizards, Axilla (Part II) > The Curtain > Fast Enough for You, Scent of a Mule, Stash, Golgi Apparatus
SET 2: Faht, Run Like an Antelope, If I Could, Reba > Makisupa Policeman, The Squirming Coil, My Sweet One, Highway to Hell
ENCORE: Free Bird
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Review by MJZ1974
There was a friendly excitement in the air as we gathered outside the theater a few hours before show time. The crowd of folks who followed the band in the early ‘90s were in a sense a large extended family, united in their love of the band and their music. This communal feeling was all encompassing and contagious – it was almost impossible not to be swept up in this wave of positive energy and love which we all shared. Strangers felt like old friends within a matter of minutes. I milled about with perhaps 200 other folks on benches and sidewalks outside the venue, striking up conversations of previous set lists and enjoying the occasional impromptu game of hacky sack with new friends. As I nursed a Sammy Smith Oatmeal Stout – which I had purchased from a dreadlocked fan pushing a sticker-covered cooler on a skateboard, I realized I had been separated from my friends for at least an hour. As I finished my beverage while sitting on a cement flower box outside the venue, the large doors opened and the first wave of eager fans lined up with tickets in hand. Almost instinctively, I joined the crowd and was one of the first people to enter the theater.
A few folks rushed to the front of the stage, but most of us just gathered on the floor area about 20 feet back. I found myself with a few people who I had played hacky sack with earlier that afternoon (never did reunite with my friends) and decided this was a fine spot to be in. Up until this point, I would classify myself as a casual fan. I knew perhaps 50% of their songs, and thanks to my friends who had amassed dozens of audience tapes, I could probably recognize a few more once I heard them. The people around me were predicting opening songs and discussing what had been played at prior shows, but I stood there with little knowledge or expectations of what would be played. By the time the house lights dropped and the band wandered out, I found myself about 3 rows back directly in front of Mike Gordon.
Suzy Greenberg was the opener, and it was a song I was very familiar with. There was an electric intensity in the air as we all bounced as one, dancing during the scream-along chorus of the song. Julius came next, which was a song I only knew from some tapes I had heard in the past. Only two songs in and it felt like a furnace had been stoked. It was gradually getting warmer inside the theater, but the band was heating up exponentially. Julius had a fierce swing, it reminded me of an electric “big band sound” with Trey managing to mimic entire horn sections on the fretboard of a single guitar. The intensity kept rising with a combination of Lizards and Axilla (Pt II) coming next. By now we were all one sweaty mass of humanity trying to keep up with the sonic onslaught emanating from the small theater stage.
Scent of a Mule which came later in the set gave all of us our first dose of comical theatrics which we had come to expect from these guys. The middle passage (which I later learned was dubbed the “Mule Duel”) found Trey and Mike strutting back and forth across the stage – similar to two gunslingers facing off for a duel in an old West saloon. I very clearly recall Trey stopping in “freeze frame” style as the music paused – making weird and twisted faces at us while he froze like a statue. It was pulled off beautifully and it really connected the band with the audience. The set closed with Stash and Golgi Apparatus. My recollection is as hazy as the theater air, but I recall this Stash being very intricate and lengthy. When the house lights flicked on after the set had ended, we all high-fived and tried to cool down, which was almost impossible inside that stuffy theater.
I had not moved from my spot by the time Set 2 had ended. I am eternally thankful to the kind strangers behind me who offered a big swig off their water bottle. Thank you whoever you are! I was surprised to see Fishman take center stage on a stool with an acoustic guitar to start the set, as I found myself even closer to center stage than I had been for Set 1. I’ve learned to expect anything from this foursome, as I listened and realized I had no idea what was being played. I later learned this was a very rarely played tune called Faht. After this interlude had ended and they assumed their regular positions, something happened which would change me for the rest of my life.
The Run Like an Antelope which came next is the one definitive moment when my stars all lined up and I finally “got it”. This version is an absolute beast, and I have never experienced anything like this. I have been to many shows before and since, but to this day I have never heard – or felt - Gordon’s bass as strongly as I did during this Antelope. The band whipped us into a frenzy of whirling dervishes and they kept spiraling up and up and up. Just when I thought Trey had reached the highest peak possible, he would dig down deep and make another run to find yet another, and another, and another. Gordon slapped his bass and created thunder as we all twisted and jumped in a euphoric state of ecstasy. The balcony bounced and the floor shook. I could see girls with long flowing skirts twirling around all across the top corners of the balcony. From stage to last row and everywhere in between we were all locked in as one collective consciousness. At the conclusion of this song I felt as if I had died and been re-born a dozen times. Covered in sweat and with my heart racing, the remainder of the evening is a blur of memory to this day.
I remember Reba coming later on, and I recall the band gathering around at the front of the stage without microphones to croon an a-capella unamplified version of My Sweet One, which gave us all a moment to join in a sing-along of monstrous proportions. By this time I was about 7 feet in front of the band in the "2nd row” dead center. One personal moment I treasure came when Trey took a large bottle of water and dumped it on our heads, the majority of it falling right on me! In the heat of that night I needed the relief. Thanks Trey!
The night ended with dual covers of Highway to Hell and a Free Bird which the band managed to perform without instruments – they mimicked all the sounds by mouth only! I hardly recall saying a word as we shuffled out of the sweltering theater into the cool Michigan night air, trying to gather my senses and comprehend what I had just witnessed. Looking back, I believe the fact that I had entered this evening without any knowledge or expectations of what was to be played helped create the perfect storm which would allow me to finally “get it” during Run Like an Antelope.
22 years later, I still have it. I have seen many dozens of shows since, with many a highlight to be had. For as long as I live, however, I can point to that moment at the beginning of Set 2 which changed me forever. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank those guys for doing that to me. My gearshift has been set on high ever since!