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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2004/07/29
by David Steinberg

The Beginning of the End – Key Span and SPAC

Thirteen shows left – 8 in June, 5 in August. Years and years spent following a band around, analyzing lyrics, arguing over setlist trends, seeing new places, meeting cool people, and it all comes down to this. If I want to do anything else stupid to see this band, I have this one final chance. No longer will there be the urge, the need, the desire to rearrange my life risking jobs, friends, and relationships to be exposed to the music. There are thirteen shows left, and I don’t see any reason not to see every single one of them.
Those were my thoughts when the announcement was made. I quickly bought the remaining concert tickets and made some plans. Studying my remaining vacation days, I quickly saw that I’d have to do something kind of stupid. The plan was to fly out on Wednesday night, drive to the Brooklyn/SPAC shows, fly back on Monday morning, go to work on Tuesday, red eye it to Chicago Tuesday night, and then drive to Deer Creek/L’alpine. Did I mention wanting to do stupid things to maximize my shows?
The first stupid thing I was doing, of course, was subjecting myself to New York City. There are people who love the place and would never live anywhere else, but I am not one of them. Even when I lived 90 miles north of the city, it took the Grateful Dead or Phish to make me venture down there. There are just too many people in too small of a space for my tastes. Sure the city might never sleep, but I’m a morning person anyway. It’s an incredibly expensive city to visit which is another reason for minimizing my trips there. In fact unless Phish return, this very well might be my final trip ever to New York.
After some issues involving the hotel in New Jersey, we drove back through the tunnel and over to the venue. Since this show was going to be shown in theatres, George, Elayne, and I decided to try to get in the film. We lined up very early to get some rail space; we were about three rows back throughout most of the first set before people came in and moved us back.
The actual physical space of Key Span is amazing. It’s a small place that they don’t oversell. The lightposts have glowring-esque fixtures around them. Sure I would wish it were in another city (and had a different security force as I learned on the second night), but the floor is roomy and quite pleasant. I didn’t get a chance to see the view from the stands, but I heard no complaints from there either.
If I could make one suggestion though, I wish they could take a page out of Safeco and put in a roof. I don’t know if the people in the theatres saw the severity of the storms that rolled through (one before the show, one at during the maze) but they were impressive. My shoes got so soaked that the logo fell off. It rained so hard that my cell phone broke from being so water logged. It rained so hard that after I finished jumping around during the Maze, I looked down at my clipboard and I had no setlist. The soaked paper ripped and ended up being a wadded up ball of paper on the ground. So much for my one attempt at trying to keep a timed setlist from the front row. I guess the rules still do apply, even if it requires a diety to enforce them.
After the rather good show, we headed into town to see at least a little Amfibian. While I wouldn’t go on tour with them or travel, they put on a good show. Unlike most of the new jambands, their song are melodic and catchy; I’d rather see them than most of the touring bands in our scene. Alas though it was a late night show and our tiredness made us leave after 3/4 of a set. Leaving shows early has been something I’ve been doing a lot lately. This time though I actually regretted having to leave.
After a few hours sleep (ruined by the hotel messing up our reservation and putting us all in one tiny room), we headed back to Brooklyn. Well we tried to head back to Brooklyn. We were rearended by a cab on the West Side Highway. In any other city you exchange insurance information, maybe report to a police officer, and go on your way. Here the cabbie tried to just hand over some cash, refused to give out any information and while the cops we called pretended that they didn’t even know where the West Side Highway was (we told them that we were right next to Ground Zero and apparently that wasn’t enough of an identifier for them), they were perfectly willing to give us a ticket when George tried to report the issue to his insurance company while he was driving.

Watch out for the rat poison
The fun continued when we got to the venue. First they were being very anal retentive about the lots, not opening up the main lot until this rather sketchy lot filled up. When we finally did get into the lot – driving past a sign warning us of a recent application of rat poison in the area – we got to see the NYC police in action. While walking down Shakedown, a guy suddenly got tackled right in front of us, bringing down a table full of t shirts. After the tacklee tried to get up a few times, the tackler finally identified himself as a police officer. The officer handcuffed the man and refused to either read him his rights or explain what he had done. The excitement was not yet over though. A man went up to someone who he thought was another undercover (it turned out that he was correct) and called him a narc. The undercover policeman then punched the guy in the face, nearly sparking a riot. Is this the kind of crowd control tactics that the NYPD is taught?
Inside the show things were calmer. Ok it was lame that I couldn’t join my friends up in the stands with my field ticket, but I took advantage of being solo to use the back of the floor. Behind the soundboard there was incredible amounts of room. I could run around and dance and do whatever I wanted without having to risk bumping into people. The set might not have been fantastic, but having that much space was incredible.
The space wasn’t present at the end of the show. For the second time that night, I nearly witnessed a riot. All of the people on the floor had to funnel out one single exit. It was backed up and not moving. Meanwhile the stands were empty. If we could walk up through there. there wouldn’t be an issue but they were blocking it off for some reason.
People were getting more and more frustrated. They started rocking the barrier back and forth and chanting at the police. At one point someone jumped the barrier and ran up the stairs, only to be stopped by security who forced him back down. That was the first time that I ever saw someone get kicked into a show.
I could defend this police behavior if there were a reason for it, but none comes to mind seeing how they removed the barrier a few minutes later. Security was just on a power trip, ruining what could have been the memory of an impressive venue.
Albany is a short drive up I-87 from NYC. We took our time heading up there. Stopping at a rest stop, we saw some people from northern Maine. Despite being a mere hundred miles from Limestone, SPAC would be their first shows. I wished them luck in getting good first concerts. Little did I know how accurate that prediction would be.
The tour turned around for me during the Walls. Before then the set was pleasant enough, but lacked any improvisation. The Walls jam, while not overwhelming by any means, gave hope that I would be getting one of my sets. ‘I want a Rock and Rock-> Piper -> Seven Below kind of set,’ I requested during the break. I wasn’t far off with that call.
The second (and perhaps final) version of ASIHTOS went to the space that fans of the song were hoping for. There were a few hours between the release of this song on the net and Trey’s message. That time was filled with speculation about the spaces that this song would go to. Maybe the song won’t grow to be a monster over many tours, but we did at least get one glimpse into what could have been. Both far longer and far more impressive than the Brooklyn version, this would have been a highlight in some sets. This night though it was just a hors d’oeuvre. The Piper that followed was a monster.
While everyone who frequents Live Phish can hear how incredible this Piper was, there is one thing that only those of us on the lawn experienced. As the jam was just starting, a massive glow stick war started. Sure they might be ‘so 1997’ but there was something about how this one worked, how it was so in sync with the playing that night. Long before the Piper became THE PIPER, I was inspired to write down in my notes, ‘Remember this moment forever.’ Despite the warning in that night’s encore that moments cannot be easily preserved, this will be one that will stick with me. It’s been a month since the show, and just thinking about being on the slope of the lawn as we made our own light show during the beginnings of a jam that would become legendary is enough to make me smile again.
That, if anything, is perhaps the lesson of this run. Sometimes you don’t need the perfect seats or the perfect songs. I was in the balcony on the second night and while it was cool to experience the illusion of being in a rather small theatre – you can’t even see that the lawn exists from there – I was not part of whatever glow happenings that might have occurred. Sometimes it’s more fun to be in the lawn after all. Sometimes the most important events of a Phish show are only partially about what happens on the stage. There are moments in the universe where we are connected. Phish might be the catalyst, but there is more meaning that four people playing their instruments on stage. It might have only lasted for a half hour, but that by itself was worth every hardship that tour brought.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at He is the stats section editor for
The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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