"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stephen Prosper In His Time

This recent Nemo snow storm reminds me of another snowy night show at the Beacon Theatre. Now everything I'm writing about in this blog is about life after the Grateful Dead. Please don't misconstrue my gushing about this show to be a slight against Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead. It's about living life with lemonade.
If you plant ice you're gonna harvest wind
In 2006, my wife had a pretty full plate. She was getting her Masters and working in a lab under the direction of Dr. Wadler. Between the two she did not have any free time, but she agreed to go to one night of five nights Phil was playing at the Beacon. The Beacon is my favorite Theatre to see music in New York. The cozy atmosphere and the impeccable sound is why I favorite it and also why the Allman's will set up for a month in the joint.
The first night of the run was the first time I went solo to a show. I had a great time, despite being alone. Seating neighbors were friendly, I had a smart phone to entertain me, and I didn't have to talk to anyone when the music was moving my feet. The second night Warren came out for the second set that was dominated by a "Viola Lee" sandwich. During that Saturday night a heavy thick snow storm started. The taxi's did their very best to keep the snow off the street, but it was clear that New York was bundling up for a whopper of storm. It was that calm before the storm.
Sunday morning I woke up to 18-24 inches of snow that had blanketed the city. My wife was starting to get cold feet (literally) about going to the show. I didn't put up a fight because I knew I could go it alone. Plus I was worried about getting to the show. Subways, trains and buses weren't running to the Bronx, and I was going to have to drive it. 
Because I need a car for work, I have always had a car. I know all the hiding spots to find parking around venues like the Beacon, MSG, Irving, and when it was The Wetland. But when there is a heavy storm; one, no one with a car moves it, and two, parking spots get filled up with snow. I searched for parking garages online and found one near by that was open. 
I parked in an exterior parking lot so I had some digging to do. I kept a shovel in the apartment, which I used to dig. I remember two or three times hitting my car with the shovel. It was inevitable. It took me about 2 hours because the snow drifts on one side of my car were up to door handle, and that was the lower side. I went back to the apartment to dry off and have dinner and then drove into Manhattan. 
It normally took about 15 minutes to get from my apartment to the parking spot hunt and this night was no different. The roads were remarkably clear and there was no traffic on the road. Manhattan was eerily quiet. I got on Broadway from 79th Street and drove down as it occurred to me that all the spots on Broadway were open. No parking garage for me. So I literally parked across the street from the Beacon. It reminded me of the stories my Grandma would tell me of going to dances at Roseland Ballroom where her sister would park right on 52nd Street, in front of Roseland.
I had the extra ticket that my wife was supposed to take. There was no one looking for a ticket in front. Whoever didn't have to wasn't coming out, but I found someone who thought her boyfriend might need one. I miracled them and walked in. 
Buckets of Moon beans in my head
As soon as I walked in I saw that all my digging was for the greater good, we were being treated to a special guest. Barry Sless was on stage playing ambient sounds on his pedal steel with Trey Anastasio. Weather you like Phish or not, the guy can play. I myself have not always dug Phish. In 95, I think I saw them about 12 times, than in 96 and 97, I think I saw them less then half that amount. At the time, I had been to there "last" gig in Coventry, Vermont and I knew that there was something not right with them and him.
This night was different. He was vibing on New York City acting like Vermont and as a result he played with a fire that I hadn't seen since Nassau on 2/28/03. Also, the song selection of the night showed his vulnerable side and it reminded me of his TAB gig at Higher Ground, were he revealed his tender side with songs like "Ooh Child" and "Row Jimmy."
My mind was racing as Trey and Barry left the stage to go conference with Phil. I hit up one friend after another with texts about what was happening. One of my stall worths was off seeing WSP, which I jabbed him for, considering what was happening.
I also pondered the opener. Ever since I first got the famous second Phish gig from Nectar's, 12/1/84, I've wanted to see Trey do "Scarlet," one of my favorite Dead songs. Then I considered the Phish April Fools show from 1986, where the band pulled off "Help/Slip/ACDC Bag." "Slipknot" with all it's intricacies is very much like "David Bowie" and even though Phil closed the first night of this run with it, I pondered each. To my delight they opened with "Help/Slip/Franks." Listen to Trey's guitar roar. He is like a caged animal that gets freed. Trey is shooting straight lightning from his guitar. He is revved and ready to go. When he let loose during the "Help," I remember the Master Larry Campbell's eyes widening as he looked at Phil. Phil gave him a smile and a nod and Larry started laughing. The chills ran down my arm. It was magnificent. Then there is a moment when Trey stops singing the second verse of "Franklin's" because he is not in sync with Lady Joan. They take there time to get it straight, and they have a symbiotic vocal relationship the rest of the night.
Trey gets to bust out "Up on Cripple Creek" next. I hoped that this song would have been picked up by Phish after Levon died but not every penny I throw in a fountain comes to fruition. The whole time he was singing it he was dancing, which is impressive when you hear how heavily the song was played. Trey's knees were bouncing up to his guitar as he yodeled the song.
The "Cold Rain and Snow Jam" was definitely something that wasn't practiced but based on the circumstances, how could they not have acknowledged it. Then the "Buckets of Rain," Trey sings with Joan was breathtaking. Unknowing to us or him at the time, the song really says something about himself and his situation. The confusion of a heartbreaking loss and it is the second Dylan song I remember hearing him sing. Mike sings "Quinn The Eskimo" and once in 1986 he sang "Hurricane." Up until that time the only Dylan song I heard Trey play was the worst version of "All Along The Watchtower" ever, Phish with Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders.  With the "Mmmmm" that Joan lets rip before the song Trey redeems the song by ripping this "Watchtower."
Going where those chilly winds don't blow
Between sets I hope for that "Scarlet/Fire" opener but when the band returns to the stage, I understand that they are going a completely different way. A glorious "St Stephen" that is bursting at the seams and clawing at me like a tiger that has escaped from the zoo. Then Phil gets his Ryan Adams fix in with the bluesy "What's Sin." Trey doesn't play the slow blues very often but listen to the second solo. He sparks the stage with kerosine for it. 
Then, what is the best post-Garcia "Cryptical" ever. True that some of the 22 minutes of electric energy could be considered a lead in to "Dark Star" but it is still the most fascinating jam of the night. It swirls, it curls, it dances, it takes chances, it is what we hope for walking into the venue. That enlightening sense that takes you by the chin and floats you off to never-ever-land. It was pure bliss seeing Trey and Phil transform the peak of the song into a three minute ear organism. The band layers the jam creating several different movements and events. An improvisational masterpiece, which Phil bombs into "Dark Star." The break in verse serves as the opening to roll into "The Other One." The peak of "Cryptical" was a foreshadowing of weight of the verses of "Other One," and specifically the second verse. Trey is like the Emperor from the end of "Return of the Jedi" shooting fire from his finger tips, as they "Come round, in a circle." Back into "Dark Star" as you hear Phil lose his voice as he sing "Mirror shatters." The set is closed with two blazing rockers and to sly songs that fit the climate of the night, "Going Down The Road" and "Gimme Shelter." Trey laughs as he sings, "Going where those chill winds don't blow." They cap the song with a "Bid you Goodnight" instrumental, which is a bit tentative at first though by the end has Joan "humming" a gorgeous end to the song. Like a lot of Phish shows I've been to, a Rolling Stone number ends the set. Trey was pretty geeked to be closing out a storm show with "Gimme Shelter," it's also my opinion that he should cover more Stones songs. He was so enthused to be singing and playing their songs at Festival 8, that I really feel it was their best Halloween Costume.
Phil enlists Rob to come up and sub for him on the Donor Rap. The band then takes on the Phish classic, and Phil's favorite, "Wolfman's." Even though Phil is not able to provide the background "Shirley Temple" it is a spirited affair. Trey then calls out a special guest, a marvelous musician photographer and part time harmonic player, Danny Clinch. No matter how long it would take us to get home, we all "Wait, wait for the midnight hour."
The next summer Trey and Phil joined forces for a tour that featured, Benevento/Russo, Phil and Friends and the GRAB band, which I called Phish Lite. Trey sat in with Phil several times that I saw but none had the furry, energy, and joy that this one had. 
Download the show's soundboard HERE.
I: Help, Slip Franks, Cripple Creek, TLEO, Cold Rain Jam, Lucy, Buckets, Watchtower
II: St Stephen, What's Sin, Cryptical, Dark Star, Other One, Dark Star, Eyes, GDTRFB, Gimme Shelter E: Wolfman's, Midnight Hour

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