(Published in the second edition of The Phish Companion...)
There's something magical about the desert. For some people it's just a vast expanse of nothingness between the coast and the Midwest, miles to be traversed to get to your goal. Others though hear a call in the vast space and clear skies. It's not something that can be codified really, but I feel it upon every visit. It's a yearning to be free, a call to leave civilization and be one with the land. For one night Phish managed to tap into this source. For one night they managed to become one with the desert. This isn't the best night of Phish I've seen, but it's one of the most memorable. To think that I saw it on a whim.
The sole reason why I attended this show was because of the following night. Phish was going to be playing Las Cruces, NM. I earned my Masters Degree in that town, hating every minute of it. I looked forward to returning there in the same way that the high school nerd who became a software millionaire looks forward to his reunion. No matter what, I knew I'd have to go to that show. As long as I was going to go down there though, I might as well attend both show, right?
It was thinking of Tucson as the afterthought that almost caused me to miss the opener. My flight landed in Phoenix barely two hours before the show started. Only the 75 MPH speed limits enabled me to arrive at the show on time.
The Pima County Fairgrounds are precisely that. It's not really a formal venue; it's a flat strip of land on the outskirts of town with a fence around it and a stage at one end. As a place to see Phish, it had two things going for it: the delicious Thai food stand in the back of the venue and the view of the night sky. With no barriers to block it, the wind decided that it was a fan tonight and swept in to see the shows. When I listen to the show, it brings back that environment.
Outside of the incredibly strong seventeen minute “Drowned” in the first set that could have been played anywhere, most of the power of this show comes as much from where it was played as by what was played. The most blatant example of this occurs in the middle of the second set. Making an obvious thematic nod to their locale, Phish play “Vultures”. It's a call to the desert powers, and it gets answered.
As the jam got weirder and spacier, the wind drove the clouds across the moon. I found myself wandering away from the sparse crowd and the band, over towards the outer fence. As far as I could see, there were no lights or other signs of civilization. All that existed was this vast space and this music that seemed to be part of the world itself. This only lasted for about five minutes or so, but it was powerful. While the jam on its own can't reproduce this experience, I suggest that you try bringing it out to your next Arizona camping trip to see if works for you too.
I can't help feeling that the band felt this too. How else do you explain the encore? Rather than playing a quick throwaway song, they encored with “Reba” for only the second time ever. As if that wasn't enough, they followed with a “Bold As Love” that went on forever. Phish knew that they tapped into something primal that night and not even they wanted the night to end.
My final semester at University of Arizona was just starting, and what better way to get it kicked off then with my first Tucson, AZ show at the dirty dog Pima County Fairgrounds? Throughout the night, there was a nice mellow, but grungy/dirty vibe to the music which blended into one with the desert scene. As at most Arizona shows, moving up front was cake. The "Poor Heart", "Sample" opener served as a sort of warn up for the band. What came next was jaw dropping.
One of the gnarly, extended `99 "SOAM"s (see Cincinnati and Big Cypress) came roaring its head. This is more groovy and mellow then most "Splits". A fourth song "Drowned" kept up the early hot pace for the set. The rest of the more "song based" set was still very good, with the "Birds", "Theme", "Golgi" ending leaving us thirsty for more.
You could tell band meant business in the second set when they opened up with a long and intense "Carini", which jammed into one helluva "Bug". After those intense jams, Page treated us to "Strange Design". One of the all-time best "Vultures" followed and it was insane, with Trey doing some evil shredding and Mike actually leading the way. Let me add that Mike completely owns this night. Trey may be the Jedi, but Mike was Darth Vader on this night.
After another fantastic "Limb", Phish performed (the now Trey Anastasio Band song?) "Circles". This is a great song and is deserved of being in the regular Phish rotation. "Dirt" was perfect and then came a straight up, nasty "Antelope", continuing with the vibe stated earlier. The encore was "Reba" > "Axis" and you can't really beat that on most nights. "Reba" was mellow and thick and of course, that was the day that I had purchased (and was wearing) my maroon Reba/Sega shirt! After the show, the band went over to a friend's house ( I was not there) and partied it up till the wee hours, an event which included Mike, Trey and Fishman performing on acoustic guitars in her bedroom. (Some friends, right? Thanks for the call guys!)
Yet another 99' with a series of extremely solid songs strung together around average ones.
SOAM is absolutely fantastic and packs a tremendous punch for the 12 minute length it is. It is followed by a fantastic hazy Drowned that drifts into bliss jam as it will several times after this show. This pair of songs is followed by the go to (in 99') Back on the Train and Birds of a feather which have nothing extra but are well played. Theme is another above average version.
Carini does it's thing to kick you in the ass starting the second set. This is followed by likely the best version to date of Bug, it gets stretched out to 10 minutes. What gets stretched is the very essence of the song, it's just absolutely beautiful and a must hear for any fan of bug. Vultures has some flubbery but overall is average. Limb By Limb is well the same version they played all summer nothing more or less.
Why don't they play Will it Go Round in Circles? anymore? Only two times? Come on guys bust this one out! So high energy reminiscent of a well above average version of Funky Bitch or Boogie on A Reggae Woman.
The Antelope that closes the set is complete and utter destruction. And I do not mean that in a negative way. It is everything you want in an Antelope, pure tension and release the whole mid section. It builds to tremendous peaks as Trey shreds at the top of his game. A must hear for any Antelope fan.
Throughout the 2nd set I can hear a voice shouting for Reba (an odd second set choice) but I digress, I do not know if the band heard them but they got their wish. And it is above average.
Overall peaks and valleys like most shows from this year. But overall it has must hear versions of some fan favorites so check it out!
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