21 in 21 of 2017: #21 09/03/2018 Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park Commerce City, CO (Mike Gantzer, @aqueousband)
With summer in full swing, it’s a welcome time for me to dive head first back into the world of Phish. So much of my music listening choices are guided by the vibe of the respective seasons, and I really dig finding songs, bands, and albums that complement the different feeling that each season brings. As a native of Buffalo (though my travels as a musician during the summer months find me all over these United States, these days), jamband music in general, but specifically Phish, always seemed to fit that bill during this season.
Music is many things for me, but more often than not, it’s reflective, and nostalgic; certain songs will trigger an immediate emotional response that can be traced back to some point in my life in which that song was the soundtrack to whatever I was experiencing at that time. Some are happy, some are sad. The soundtrack to life’s inherent complexity can be quite diverse for someone like me, but Phish represents a particularly joyous time in my life in which I was discovering musicality, freedom, friendship, and youth in a way that you only really do once. A beautiful “Golden Age” (pun intended) of simplicity and fun. For this exact reason, I chose “Down with Disease” from 9/3/17 to review for my “21 in 21” piece.
Phish had been on my radar since I was about 11 years old — I was lucky to have had a father who was not only an excellent musician (jazz pianist) but he was also open minded and hip to anything that had musicality and originality, and Lawn Boy was in heavy rotation on his ceremonious Sunday afternoon listening sessions, through the “good speakers” as he put it. I remember vividly thinking that Phish was one of my dad’s stranger musical choices as I heard lyrics like “If your dog or cat ever dies, I’ll buy you a ewe”, or tales of making bathtub gin, or the ever-getting-caught-in-my-head “Bag it, tag it, sell it to the butcher in the store” line. I wasn’t sold on Phish as a strong-headed preteen who was pretty sure that Limp Bizkit was the answer to the world’s problems at the time — good call, young Mike.
Fast forward four years, add a borderline unhealthy obsession with the guitar and all things music, a deep nosedive into classic rock and weed, and I was primed and ready to hear Phish again. Ironically, the very first track I (re)heard was “The Squirming Coil”, the opening song on that weird CD my Dad was always listening to. I sat in absolute awe as I heard Trey control his guitar’s feedback in the most beautiful, musical way, and I was hooked. I can distinctly remember warm, breezy summer days laying in a hammock at my grandma’s house (prior to me having a cellphone or many responsibilities, really) and listening through their entire catalog habitually every day. In random order, I’d explore Rift, Junta, A Picture of Nectar, Billy Breathes, The Story of the Ghost, The White Tape. All of them! Even Farmhouse and Round Room were welcome, mind blowing discoveries with journeys all their own for me. Each would conjure up different imagery in my head as I listened to them.
Phish became a central focus in my music tastes and I bought every live DVD and CD I could to study Trey’s guitar playing and to analyze and dive into their songwriting and jamming approach as much as I possibly could. It was a true joy discovering all the intricacies of the culture they created; all the inside jokes, the lore, the lyrics. There was just a seemingly endless amount of awesome, quirky stuff to digest that made me fall more and more in love with this band. The only problem was: they weren’t a band at all at that point.
Much like the way that you know you can’t ever see Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles, when I was having my rise into Phish fandom as a 15 year old, they didn’t exist anymore, and it never occurred to me that I would ever get to see them. I went four full years with Phish being one of my favorite bands of all time before they announced they would reunite for those shows in Hampton, VA. It wouldn’t be until three months later, on June 18th, 2009, that I would experience my first ever live Phish show.
It’s hard to put into words the excitement that went into this day for myself and my friends. We’d since formed our own band and music had infiltrated every single aspect of my life, all of my waking thoughts. And Phish was OUR band as a group of friends, ya know? Having that perspective of never thinking I’d get to see them, the amount of gratitude and pure excitement was at a fever pitch, on par with a kid on Christmas morning.
We decided to go up a day early and camp at a nearby campground, and much to our chagrin, it pissed rain the entire night prior to the show. We still had a blast, but all slept uncomfortably in small/beat up sedans as our tents flooded pretty badly. However, the next morning, the heavens shined down upon our Phish fandom and granted us a beautiful day in which to take in our first show. It felt like I’d waited a lifetime for this moment, and we made the short trek to the parking lot of The Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, PA.
We joyfully cracked some beers, settled into a good spot on the lot, and started commiserating with our lot neighbors on either side, gleefully. All was well in the world, until literally fifteen minutes into my first beer, a guy with a “Chillin’ with my Peeps” t-shirt came right over to our group and asked promptly for ID’s from everyone. My heart sank as I realized these were cops searching the lot for underage drinking, and I was caught red-handed as a 19-year-old with a beer in my hand. These guys were out for blood, too. I nervously fumbled and said that I was 21, but a quick check of my ID proved that to be a lie and in one swift motion, I was being escorted away as they cheerfully celebrated over their walkie-talkies, “I got one! First one of the day!”
I felt sick. I had just gone from the highest high of the excitement of the day to the lowest of the low, as they put me in the back of the cop car and told me that I wouldn’t be seeing the show. It was pretty frustrating, because I was being kind, respectful, and cooperative with them but they just kept pushing this angry “You’re a criminal!” thing, regardless of how easy and quiet and kind I was. They called my Grandma (my guardian at the time) to tell her what I did, and this was, to this day, one of my favorite moments with my Grams. They said, “Ma’am, we have your grandson here, and we regret to inform you he was breaking the law at a concert down here in Pennsylvania.” She says “Oh no, is he okay? What happened?” The cop replies “We caught him with a beer in the parking lot”- to which my Grandma responds “So…? Isn’t he at a concert?” The look on the cop’s face was priceless. She’s always been the coolest, and this response was a welcome relief in a moment of fear and concern on a day that had all but been destroyed at that point.
They wrote me a $400 ticket for this infraction of the law, and suspended my license for three months! It’s a stiff penalty for underage drinking in Pennsyl-tucky, but by the grace of all that is holy in the Phish world, they let me go into the concert! I thanked the Phish gods and ran full speed towards the gate, arriving mere minutes before the show was set to begin. I hurried in and convened with my friends on the lawn just as Phish walked on the stage.
From the first note of “Golgi Apparatus,” a smile never left my face. For those familiar with this show, the setlist is something dreams are made out of. It covered so many bases of songs I really wanted to hear (“Chalkdust,” “David Bowie,” “When The Circus Comes to Town,” “Harry Hood,” “Y.E.M,” even a “Bike”/”Hold Your Head Up” segment. I mean come ON!). “Divided Sky” brought tears of joy, and I even got a”Squirming Coil,” which I know is often referenced as a pee-break song, but it felt like a full circle moment for me with that song essentially representing the start of my journey with this band.
There’s something about the moment a second set starts… Night has begun to fall, your buzz is usually starting to really catch, and Kuroda’s lights are in full swing. Certain songs in set 2 opener slot can let you know that you’re really about to blast off. For me, “Down With Disease” is one of those songs, and I’ll never forget high-fiving all my buddies/bandmates after the opening segment of psychedelia followed by Gordon’s classic funky bass intro as the whole place went nuts.
Anytime I see that on a setlist, there’s a nostalgia for a peak time in my life where things were simple, music was simple and a moment became perfect, born from an imperfect scenario. Between that association and having just recently had a momentous experience with my own band selling out the beautiful Bluebird Theater in Denver, CO (a mere twenty minutes from where Dick’s is located), this “DWD” from 9/3/17 at Dick’s seemed like the perfect choice for a jam, and it’s filled with many emotions for me. It’s also absolutely worth noting that in many ways, that first Phish show that I experienced with my bandmates was one of those early but crucial points of inspiration as musicians, and that experience helped solidify that we were going to go all in on our own journey and do everything we could to make music and chase that beautiful feeling.
That’s the power and wonder of music — it can be so profoundly subjective and can represent so much from person to person. This beautiful, exploratory and psychedelic “DWD” from Dick’s harkens back to the first version I’d ever heard with my own ears and it gives me goosebumps, just the way that it did nearly 10 years prior.