Thursday, July 7, 2011

Phish: Southern Run 2011 - Charlotte, Raleigh and Portsmouth Pt. 1

Part 1: Fort Lauderdale, FL to Charlotte, NC

The inevitable course of coinciding incidences recently has landed me in a position of duality beyond soul and body. By weekday I siphon through infinite bits of data in a digital world postulated by a tradition of remunerative goals. A diagnosable case of the Mondays fades into a tantalizing hump day. As if by design the five day conclusion never comes too soon, but always right on time. I hang up my white collar and don the battle attire of a true-blooded weekend warrior. This is not simply a metaphor. These built for comfort Nike dunks have trekked through a majority of North America on hundreds of musical endeavors. An evident lack of laundering is obvious but the intact sneaker is a testament in itself.
I am neither superstitious nor unkempt, but I find joy in these developed treasures having canyon dirt from the Gorge in Washington, grass smears from Empire Polo Field of Palm Springs, sidewalk grime from Manhattan and sand from South Beach. As a writer it is hard to avoid feeling envious of inanimate objects that can tell a story without words, but they do inspire me to put the pen to papyrus.

The drowsy airport security agent was startled, and particularly disgusted, when I placed them on the conveyor belt. It has 5:30 AM and she wore her "its too early for this shit" look like a pair of fresh gold earrings. My vibe was a direct contrast to the drones. I sympathized yet was alive and emanating a look of anticipation mixed with an annoyingly insouciant grin. This was not without consequence and was paid for in the form of a thorough pat down. A free feel up with the cost of travel.

I do some of my best thinking in airport terminals. Not because it offers any amount of clarity for creativity, but because it is the one place offering countless characters to fuel my voyeuristic imagination. Today was different. My thoughts moved into more abstract patterns and inevitably circled around the core of my journey. Music is not easily defined but simply put it is the lack of silence. I have never experienced total silence, and I am not sure if it even exists, but I know that am zealot to sound. Much like an addict, I can find it anywhere and there is never enough. The universal truth has promoted an endless chase to recreate the most recent high and in effect became an all-consuming necessity. It is not a vice. It is a wild abandon that can be channeled into mainlined joy. Today I was on the hunt.

My row companion on the first plane asked me two things during the aerial lam from the reality behind. The first was what religion I followed. Oddly enough someone that would ask this did not like my answer. She told me to find Jesus. Luckily my second aerial attempt positioned me with some like-minded travelers and I befriended an unsuspecting Doctor that would become a consort or sorts. Excitement fueled chatter landed on the makeshift posse. Here we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, a southern metropolis that lays claim to the largest vaults in the country. The Queen City was built on gold mine gunnies and free flowing streams - fitting for royal roots and a rebellious history. Regretfully I had to part ways with my new friends to meet my tour buddy of many years. Time was for once a non-issue and we spent the early afternoon gathering supplies. By mid-day we were knocking back microbrewery libations in a mid-tier hotel with friends - it was the perfect setting for a game of catch up.
Our socioeconomic advancement beyond impoverished academics afforded luxuries like a taxicab to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The solar glare was omnipresent and could only be partially avoided by taking cover under the sparse attempt at greenifying the asphalt quilt. Going against all instincts to maintain homeostasis for a trio of tickets began. The lot system is tiered and atop a small hill sits a surprisingly vibrant shakedown. Thirty minutes later the deed is done and cold beverages inversely disappear. More friends gather in our shady spot. A series of hilarious cross traffic helps pass the time and we are gifted with a conversation from famed lot artist Tripp. The heat is dying and we initiate the aforementioned good Doctor before taking our multi-faceted buzz inside.

Good karma came full circle when the Doctor wrote up a prescription for my lawn seat ailment. Next thing I know we are in the thinly populated Gold Circle. I easily stake out a nice aisle spot before Trey grabs a sign from the audience displaying "Mike's House". The crowd request gimmick seemed like it wasn't really part of the show, but was more of a thunderous warm up that happened to be a benchmark Mike’s Groove. This could be good! A Dog Log sound check already happened earlier in the day so the vibe was already far from standard. The rest of the set ranged from a rocking Sample In A Jar and Axilla to a funked out Wolfman's Brother that had the entire audience pulsing. A well placed Colonel Forbin's Ascent segue into Fly Famous Mocking Bird, a bananas Scent Of A Mule and a surprisingly fitting Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan rounded out a top heavy first set. I could not help but think that this would be a first set beats the second set experience like that seen earlier in the tour?
No. Phish had other plans. That would not be the case. I had a feeling so during set break I took care of business and meet up with my college roommates that were comfortably camped out in the seats detached from the pavilion. It had been long months since the three of us had all been together in the same place and this could only lead to one realistic outcome. The marathon of what can only be described as asteroid rock began with a Backwards Down The Number Line opener. Historically this is a recipe for success when slotted in a position such as this. In this case that would be a premature understatement. A segue train sped down a thunderous Rock and Roll before greasing the wheels into Ghost. This is one of the smoothest 3.0 transitions on the books. A standard Free bottomed out into a solid Reba.

The crowd was on point and thirsty for more. Admitting that this would be a fitting place for a set killer or warm down cut, one can imagine the frenzy that ensued when Icculus reared its beautiful head. The energy level hit fifth gear and I was reminded of that place I held in my mind for moments like the Killing In The Name Of from Alpharetta or the Maze from Alpine two years previous. Hold Your Head Up, a skilled vacuum solo, Over The Rainbow, Bike and hilarity gelled to form a cornucopia of mid-set entertainment that only Phish can pull off. Where do you go from here? How about two heavy hitting crowd favorites back to back with Chalk Dust Torture and You Enjoy Myself.

I was ready to breathe but could not help but blurt out enthused commentary. We settled on "I guess you had to be there" as our flagship stance. The band took the stage quickly for the encore and it was apparent that Trey knew he had total control. That all too familiar mischievous grin stretched across his face. The vocal response started from the very back of the lawn and echoed into the pavilion as the first few notes of Wilson were played. Six long months built my energy threshold and it was now being completely shattered. This was the reason hundreds of miles were traveled. Pushing the envelope to see how high the jump before falling over the edge. Consciousness rang through as the Loving Cup reached outlandish peaks and seemed fitting. Oh, what a beautiful buzz!
Thank god for that buzz because an overwhelming out flux of the crowd and an underestimating taxi company effort left our group stranded for over an hour after the music ended. Luck tapped us on the shoulder and two good Samaritans let us pack into their van cab heading in a somewhat similar direction to our hotel. Celebratory beers, shots, smoothies and more were all pleasant come downs as we watched a top ten count down of the Worlds Worst Dare Devils. Sleep was not in the cards but banter on the night’s events flew across the room between fits of laughter and telling silences after a profound moment was shared. This feeling I had forget was back in a way that I could not remember being so strong. It was only night one.

Set 1: Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bouncing Around the Room, NICU[1] > Sample in a Jar, Colonel Forbin's Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Axilla, Wolfman's Brother, Scent of a Mule[2], Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan

Set 2: Backwards Down the Number Line > Rock and Roll[3] > Ghost > Free > Reba[4], Icculus, Hold Your Head Up > Bike[5] > Hold Your Head Up, Chalk Dust Torture, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Wilson > Loving Cup

[1] "Play it, Leo!" lyric replaced with "Leo's House!"
[2] The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) tease from Page.
[3] A Love Supreme tease from Mike.
[4] No whistling.
[5] Somewhere Over the Rainbow played by Fish during vacuum solo.

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