SetListTees recently put out a call for Guest Bloggers on our Social Media and Newsletter. We're pleased to present our first piece which was submitted by Jeremy Streem and is about attending his first Phish concert on November 21, 2009 at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH. Enjoy!
My first Phish show was a 3.0 show. I know…
I’m like the opposite of a hipster. I usually find my way into something well after it’s already been cool. I didn’t truly discover the Grateful Dead until after Jerry’s death. I had some passing appreciation for Phish in college, but it was mostly limited to boozy hangouts with ‘Junta’ as the soundtrack. The Phish ‘thing’ didn’t unlock for me until well after Coventry happened and Phish was no more. Two friends of mine during my deployment in 2006-2007 were huge Phish fans, and they helped me ‘get it’, providing me with hundreds of hours of concerts to listen to. Once again, I found myself enamored with a band that had already come and gone.
And then… Hampton 2009.
Of course I couldn’t get tickets, but Phish was back! It meant that I might finally be able to experience the Phish community in person. I just needed to find my way to a show. That problem didn’t take long to solve. Phish was playing two nights at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati as part of the Fall 2009 tour. My buddy Chris and I got tickets to the second night, snagged ourselves a hotel room and headed down to the Queen City.
We stayed across the river in Kentucky and took a cab over to the arena. Since the arena is nestled on the banks of the Ohio, it’s not the most friendly or accessible when it comes to parking. Resourceful as ever, Shakedown Street organically appeared in a dead end area underneath one of the freeway overpasses. Chris and I spent time wandering around, running into old friends (including my friend from halfway around the world who was responsible for making me a phan) and meeting new ones until, finally, it was time to head inside.
This was my moment! I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. Up until the point that I hit the doors, my excitement had been tempered by the knowledge of the setlist Phish had played the night before. It was like a recitation of all my favorite tunes, and I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t hear any of those songs during my first real show. Once I had my ticket scanned, none of that mattered anymore. I was actually going to see Phish perform live, with my own eyes and ears!
Our seats were Page side, in the corner back behind the stage. It gave us a great side view of the stage and the whole band, as well as the floor. Finally, the house lights went down, and my heart rate and blood pressure went up. As I saw Fish, Mike, Trey, and Page come into view from behind stage and take their places, I had a grin plastered across my face that could only be described as an impression of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. My grin stretched even further as I watched the band members communicate and smile with each other as they were getting ready. I could tell that they were enjoying each other, and that they were in this for real. I found myself rocking back and forth on my feet, almost lurching in anticipation, waiting to spring into the sweet release of action as the first song hit my ears.
What’s it gonna be?
What’s it gonna be?
What’s it gonna…
We were off and running. Cincinnati launched with a ferocious, bounding energy, fueled by Skyline Chili, Magic Hat on draft, and the simple realization that what had been gone for 5 long years, what had meant so much to these 20,000 plus people, was back. Recommitted and refocused, the band steered the ship through a first set that could easily be described as riding a lifeboat through a hurricane. We held on to each other and rode the waves together, overjoyed at the prospect of simply being able to be in the boat again (or, in some cases, for the first time.)
Regardless of all the great moments that I had on that wonderful night, my absolute highlight had to be ‘Split Open and Melt’. As Trey ripped through the complex opening runs, I felt myself lock into his playing. Being a musician for most of my life has led me to experience live performances in a unique manner. Throughout a show, I’ll find myself alternately rocking out like a typical fan, and then I’ll realize that I’m listening intently to one musician or another, trying to focus on what they’re doing, or how they’re doing it. Trey had me charmed like a snake in a basket, and the song rolled on, quickly moving into the jam.
Being familiar with a song through recordings is no comparison to LIVING one. This particular ‘Split Open and Melt’ wasted no time getting dark and nasty. Atonal riffs, delay, and echo reverberated throughout the arena while Kuroda gave visual context to the building tension on stage. It was one of the most wonderful and terrifying things I’ve ever experienced in my life. In fact, it scared me.
I’m not kidding. I felt like I was trapped and needed to escape. This cacophony and visual overload pushed me to the brink and I almost had to walk out of the arena onto the concourse.
Almost… And yet, just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, it was as if the band felt my panic and let me off the hook, because they finally brought it back into the structure and finished out the tune. It was one of the most breathtaking experiences I’ve ever had at a musical performance.
Phish finished the first set with a delightful high-energy version of ‘Antelope’, which set the crowd into a jolly mood through set break. They returned for a fairly perfunctory second set, which included my first ‘2001’. It was my first show, so it was my first experience with the Glow-Stick War. Our corner seats allowed us a wonderful view of the neon showers that rained and exploded throughout all levels of the venue.
After sending us out into the chilly November night with a headbanging encore of ‘Axilla’, Phish likely got on their busses and hit the highway to make the overnight trek to Syracuse for their show the next day. Chris and I chose to forgo the taxi and walked back across the bridge to our hotel. As I breathed in the crisp night air, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened to me. It was more than ‘What did I just hear?’ or ‘What did I just see?’. It was the long overdue realization and understanding about my college friends who would travel to an abandoned Air Force base to sleep in a tent and see the same band for three days. It was the confirmation that they were on to something special way back then. It was the relief and gratitude that Phish had, indeed, come back, and that I had the opportunity to be a part of that.
I didn’t just see it. I didn’t just hear it. I lived it. I was a part of it.
I couldn’t wait to do it again.
“We’re all in this together…”
-Jeremy Streem is an Army Musician and longtime Deadhead. He discovered Phish during many late nights of listening during his overseas deployment. He is also an unapologetic die-hard Cleveland sports fan. You can follow his random tweets @cymbopp and see lots of pictures of his cross-eyed cat on Instagram: Armysax