Finally it’s our turn. After an exciting first leg, Phish was finally going to play the West Coast run. Would the bust outs continue? How would the playing be? What would the experiences at the Greek Theater and Telluride’s Town Park be like? It had been 9 months since Phish last ventured out west. The choice of small venues had left us all scrambling, searching for tickets – even going out to eat one night a week before Berkeley, a random stranger the next table over saw my shirt and asked me if I had any extra Fridays or Saturdays- but now it was time for the actual shows.
It’s 799 miles from my house to the Greek Theater. The drive starts out in the urban corridor south of Seattle, goes through the Willamette Valley near Portland and then has hundreds of miles of mountain passes in southern Oregon and northern California – including the wonder that is Mt. Shasta – before the endless farmland leading up to the Bay Area. While Mel would get to experience that, I was skipping it, getting on a plane so I could see the first show.
The Greek Theatre is the venue with the most interesting pros and cons that I’ve ever seen. There are parts of the venue – and no I’m not going to say where exactly because they were hard enough to get to – that are up there with any place in the country in terms of sight and sound. And then there’s the lawn with its steep slope. End up there and you’ll be fighting the venue all night. Now this is true of many venues, it’s just that the sweet spot for the Greek is so small.
The solution seems obvious – get in line early. The problem is that the venue also has some cultural issues. The Grateful Dead have a history with the venue. This is one of the main attractions to the place, as it leads to chill security, an actual vending scene, and an extra sense of import to the event. The downside to that is that during the Dead’s runs, people would leave the show and immediately get back in line. Normally showing up for a show 4 hours early is considered excessive. For the Greek, you’ll be a late arriver. Despite the band asking people not to show up before 3, the line formed well before that, giving people the choice of destroying their entire vacation, sitting on the lawn, or being a jerk.
Descending into a new level of insanity, people actually paid migrants to wait in line for them. It takes a certain type of person to claim a moral advantage over others due to their financial flexibility; I’m glad that I never actually met any of the people who played that game.
So the Greek run started with a lot of stress, but it’s nothing that wouldn’t be made up for with a hot show. Phish had just ended an incredible run of shows, with hot playing and fascinating setlists. What surprises would we get on the first night?
Well I guess an incredibly standard show is a surprise too right?
That’s the thing with an improvisational band. You pays your money and you takes your chances. A standard Phish show is still a lot of fun to attend, enjoy the “Kill Devil Falls” and “Tweezer Reprise” and wait until tomorrow. Maybe the sacred creed will be yours.
It’s rare to get Phish fans to agree on much but on the Greek run there’s a bit of a consensus. The turning point was the “Cities.” Perhaps played for the, “Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks” line, the jam out of it went to some interesting places. Suddenly we had some life here!
Second night was a show of contrasts. The quick drop into “Mike’s Song” was horrid and awkward, but the “Simple” that followed was amazing and well jammed… which made up for the three-minute version of “Seven Below” later. We weren’t quite there yet, but at least there were some signs that the west coast wasn’t going to be shafted.
The third night was perhaps the quintessential night of the run. The simmering line fights evolved into all out warfare. The chilly evenings – which lead to some really cool views of the fog rolling in over the trees in the back of the venue – were most extreme. There was some temptation to just give up on the show and get an early start into Telluride as the first two nights just weren’t worth the hassle. Fortunately, the third night would be where it all changed. Starting with the mid first set “Gotta Jibboo,” the night had something extra. The jams were both high energy and exploratory.
While everything was well played, the highlights were twofold. For those who like the jams, “Light” ended up in an interesting jam of delicate beauty, perhaps not quite as interesting as the Gorge version a year prior with its calypso jam, but close. For the energy people, “Suzy Greenberg” was the best sans Sharon Jones version in years, with an energetic extra jam built around Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight.” After fighting with the venue for months – first for tickets, then with the culture – for a night it clicked. I suddenly really understood why people were excited for the place. For a show this big, I think I still prefer the ease of access of a Shoreline than the massive amount of work that the Greek is, but when it works, there’s a reward in the venue that few places can match. Even if I never return to Berkeley, I’ll always have 8/7/10 as the perfect evening together.