16 July 2013 (Alpharetta, GA): My 10th show, my girlfriend’s first.
Highlight #1: I’m sure “Cavern” will close set one, and oddly my girlfriend JLN’s jumping up and down and pumping her arms for the first time. “I know this song! I KNOW IT!” she says, which is odd, because it wasn’t a single, it was never a radio hit, this is her first show, and it was released when she was six years old. She doesn’t know why or how she knows it but she’s belting out parts of the chorus. I grin when she says, “I wish there were more of THAT song.” But Phish slides into the light, spring-like “Run Like An Antelope”—um, it doesn’t stay light and spring-like for long, kids—and I say, “ah, I was wrong. This will close the set.”
Highlight #2: My first “Harry Hood,” complete with audience glow-stick war, near the end of the second set. Glow sticks have been thrown sporadically throughout the night but bright clusters erupt during this song. I explain to JLN that this is standard during this song. “So, it’s a ritual,” she says. I’d never thought of it that way. (She also shakes her head in disapproval for the first time during this song, saying “Okay, this is weird.” Pretty good, considering it’s her first show, and it’s almost over.) Indeed, it is a ritual. The song’s got multiple movements, with callouts for audience chanting in unison, and a clearly defined structure that nevertheless allows the band to stretch out prettily during the final third.
Highlight #3: “Ocelot” gets slow and funky in a hurry, turning into a good moment for grinding with your significant other.
Highlight #4: Midway through set #2, JLN asks if they have any sad, melancholy, minor-key stuff. I say yes but apparently the band’s focused on the high energy tonight. That being said, the second set is slower, and with denser layers, tempo shifts, and odd meanderings. “Rock and Roll” and “Tweezer” are strong points in this regard. I had spent the evening warning JLN that the first set tends to be poppier and more accessible while the second set often goes off the rails into more avant-garde territory. (“You might not like it,” I keep saying like an idiot on auto-repeat.) I was right, yes, but also wrong to be worried. She’s dancing less and smiling less, which makes me think she’s getting bored. (I’m not. But, then, this is my tenth show.) But it turns out my girlfriend actually prefers the weirder, more adventurous second set, and says so more than once. “It’s more contemplative,” she says. It’s strange the things I get upset about. And then the band plays “Joy,” a song of guarded hope borne of witnessing pain, and it’s the closest thing to a sad song JLN will get this evening.
Highlight #5: Watching my girlfriend sing along to the encore, a sparkling and note-perfect cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” When you’re new to a musical experience, it’s nice to have something you recognize and love, something that tethers you.
**Mike Gordon’s bass seems buried in the mix, especially during set #1, so the rhythm section’s muddy to me, except during the more beat-driven moments. The individual vocals are surprisingly distinct and clear, especially Page McConnell’s and Trey Anastasio’s, but not during the harmonizing. Trey’s guitar peals and shimmers, and he’s appropriately on fire for most of the evening.
**I heard “Harry Hood,” “Cavern,” and “Pebbles and Marbles” in person for the first time.
**The most-represented album of the night turns out to be 1993’s Rift, with four songs (“Mound,” “Rift,” “Horn,” and “Silent in the Morning”). Huh. Still can’t say I much care for “Mound, which kills the energy of the “Kill Devil Falls” set opener but the segue from “Horn” to “Possum” is strong and surprising.
**Chris Kuroda’s lighting design is still astonishing, graceful, and in sync with the band’s improvisations.
**Despite my small anxiety, I’m far from the oldest person here.
**I count more than ten non-white people (not including me) in the audience of 15,000, including a couple of South Asian couples. That’s better than my last show, in June 2000. (Also in the Atlanta area.) Also, lots of families with small children. Progress!
**I’m officially to the point where pot smoke smells gross instead of invigorating. Three people offer me a bud during set #2; I decline. I no longer feel like I’m missing something by turning it down. Some dude near us is smoking something that smells like Windex and burnt toast; he says “I’m so fucked up” on several occasions but he doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself. I also don’t drink that night. Progress!