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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2009/06/28
by David Steinberg

The Return of Adventure

While the Hampton run was fun and produced lifelong memories, it missed one important feature of tour. Only having three shows in one venue means that there was no travel, no road trips, no moments of Hell to get to the next show. Yes, that was perfect for a return, but if Phish is going to really be back, it’s time to see what stupidity they will inspire us to do. All of my best stories seem to have a show on one end of them.
Our summer plans started out pretty sane. I wanted to see at least one show on this run. Mel used to live in Asheville so that would be ideal. Since that was a hard ticket, Pittsburgh was designated as the backup plan. Sure enough, Asheville sold out in 5 seconds but after an epic struggle with Live Nation, a set of Pittsburgh pavilions were ours. End of story? Not quite. For Elayne came through with Asheville extras. It would be an epic trade involving 12 people and 8 venues and included a bit where I would trade a pair of Knoxvilles for a pair of Knoxvilles for a pair of Knoxvilles. All she needed was the word and we’d make the deal.
That night Melissa went into work. During her shift, her iPod played both songs from Bela Fleck’s show at the Asheville Civic Center and multiple versions of "Tennessee Jed." That was the omen we needed. I picked up the phone and called Elayne, "Operation 52 Pick Up is a go!"
However, the ticket silliness and changing of plans wasn’t over yet. Fenway Park was very belatedly announced. As a baseball fan that had never been to Fenway, I couldn’t resist. FenPhish shenanigans happened to get me onto the field, at which point I knew that I needed a Mariners jersey for the occasion. The Red Sox were in town appropriately enough, so I went down to Safeco Field and placed a jersey order. A week later I got a call that it was done. It was a special order, but it was perfect.

Boston was going to be hit and run in a way such as I never have before. I got on a non-stop out of Sea Tac at 11 PM. Unfortunately my red eye had the loudest kid that I have ever heard on a plane. I tried to sleep as best as possible but ended up spending most of my time thinking of ways to avenge myself against the child (and oblivious mother) keeping me awake. If nothing else, I once again wondered what it would take to get my adults only airline up and running. No screaming kids, R rated movies as an option, regular flights to Vegas – this would make money.
The day passed by quite quickly – it’s amazing how much time you can kill when Elayne’s car gets towed out of a garage and we all walked 2 miles to get it – and it was time to go to the ballpark. This was much more exciting than most trips to a venue. Fenway has a distinctive look and I have been watching games there for decades. Just getting out of the T Station and seeing the Citgo sign was enough to get the juices flowing. One of the highlights of the day happened before doors opened. It turned out that you could hear the soundcheck quite well on Yawkey Way. A whole group of us danced to "Funky Bitch" and the public debut of "Kill Devil Falls" and "Undermind."
While that will be a moment I will never forget and probably made the trip worthwhile by itself, it was a few hours later in shallow right center where I had my highlight. After all, is it not apropos for a long drought to come to an end at Fenway Park? In December of 1990 I walked out of a club in Providence, thinking just one thing – that "Destiny Unbound" song that they played was pretty good. I couldn’t wait to see it again. Unfortunately, waiting is just what I had to do. My Destiny drought went on for a seeming eternity. I even had a Buckner-esque moment where I flew out for a show in 2003, only to hear on my way out that Destiny was played the night before. Apparently though, if the Red Sox can win the World Series, I can see this beloved song again. Perhaps it’s not quite as dramatic as those 1918 factoids to say, "When I last saw ‘Destiny Unbound,’ the elder George Bush was president," but it’s still pretty impressive.
After the show got out – and I somehow escaped the gauntlet of nitrous dealers on the I-90 overpass – I headed back to Logan and reflected. I was completely exhausted, running on maybe three hours sleep. In the past 24 hours it had both been incredibly hot and freezing, with a torrential downpour in between. I was about to try to sleep in an airport. At one point in the second set, a girl threw up on me. This is a day that few people would call a successful vacation, but that’s why touring is just for the insane. Between the "Down With Disease," the "Tweezer->Light," "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" – ending a 16 year gap of its own. If Destiny was 2004, this was the 2007 championship – not to mention a certain song that rhymes with Mestiny Bunbound, this was more than worth the effort it took to get there. If given the option, I would completely do this trip all over again.

After Fenway Park any venue would be small, especially the 7600 capacity Asheville Civic Center. Even compared to Hampton, the place was tiny; there were only 10 rows of seats in the sections and no upper level at all. We got in early to grab a decent side stage spot when Mel pointed out how empty the floor was. OK, I guess we could see where we would end up for the first set. We kept walking and walking until we ended up right against the rail Page side. I figured we could stay there until we got annoyed at how squished we were.
We ended up staying for both sets.
General Admission shows can have a weird spacing sometimes. An impenetrable wall can form 50 rows back leading to the weird situation where people are getting squished midway back but there’s dancing room on the rail. I’m not sure how that works, but it was an effect we were enjoying throughout the night.
While everything in Asheville was very well played – this show receives many nominations for best of leg 1 – the part of the show that will live with me was in the middle of the first set. Since Fish doesn’t sing during "Dog Faced Boy," Trey told him to come up to the front of the stage. Fishman lay down and watched the rest of the band perform. It was reminiscent of the "emotion solos" of 1994. In fact 1994 was a great reference for this night as Trey told some stories and they played a song that let Mike yodel and the playing was tight and energetic. I was so inspired by this show, that I wrote this when I got back to the hotel:
Even from the crowd, we form a relationship with the band members. We listen to the shows and try to discern what they’re doing and how they’re interacting. Usually that’s not very successful because we bring our own biases into it (e.g. assuming everyone is using the same drugs that you are), but last night (and really the last few nights judging from the tapes) are different in one important way. The Trey from the early 90s is back.
I’m not talking guitar skills now, mind you, but the goof. The guy who was a bit of a geek but who had a blast anyway and who would make bad jokes between songs. It’s been so long since he’s been around that I had kind of forgotten he was ever there. The dynamics from the stage changed and we all just wrote it up as them maturing or wanting to try different things or just everyone getting old. Instead, it’s starting to look like that was the on stage manifestation of how bad things had become with him. The music got dark – but it was still GOOD so no one cared – and the band got (well I hesitate to say more serious) less silly and we all rolled with that because, well the music.
The last few nights have been different. Trey’s obviously been having fun on stage, more fun than I’ve seen him having at Phish in years. He’s telling stories and having amusing banter and just being relaxed, and in doing so his old personality is starting to shine through again. Without even noticing it, I had really missed that. Yes, it’s dangerous to project too much from the crowd and to try to figure out a lot about a personality that you’ve talked to twice since 1994, but it just feels like the darkness has lifted and in doing so, we can see just how bad things were for him and how much better they are now. Trey the rock star is gone, replaced by Trey the goofy guy who – oh by the way – is going to blow your mind with his guitar skills. Even more than the amazing shows being played right now, this is so great to see. I hope this can last.
And the light is growing brighter now…
How much fun are the band having? After Knoxville’s encore with the keytar and Mike’s flame bass, Mel started saying one word over and over again, "Pittsburgh!"

Melissa has a theory. When it comes to seeing a Phish run, she has decided that three is a magic number. See any less and you’ll be wanting one more show. See any more and the shows start to blend together. Now personally, I like to argue that there reaches a point of transcendence when you see a whole ton of shows when shows become songs in the larger concert that is the whole tour, but if you aren’t seeing enough shows to have that effect, three is a logical stopping point. So that’s why we found ourselves monitoring expedia and priceline and seeing if the price would plummet. Sure enough, three days out, there was a drastic decline and we booked her a flight.
All was going well in her trip. The kid next to her decided not to scream. She made her connection to Pittsburgh with time to spare. All she had to go was get out of her plane and go to her hotel to rest.
and then the thunderstorm rolled in
Constant lightning and rumors of funnel clouds started as soon as her plane touched down. They announced that they’d be able to get the jetway out as soon as there was a 15 minute period where no lightning struck within 5 miles of the airport. Now if there’s one thing you want on the tail end of a cross country flight, it’s to sit for three hours with the airport just sitting there taunting you. The texts and phone calls got angrier and angrier until she got to her hotel and wandered through the deluge to make it to the holy land – Applebee’s.
Why Applebee’s? Pennsylvania has weird liquor laws and therefore beer cannot be purchased at grocery stores or gas stations. Applebee’s doesn’t just have mediocre food, it also has bars. Apparently sometimes, thats all you need.
So Melissa’s first attempt at hitting and running a show led to one of the worst flight stories I’ve ever heard. Surely this trip would be a complete disaster. Of course some people could say the same about a botched version of a song. Star Lake’s legendary encore though led off on such a note, mainly the one that Page blew on the pitch pipe. The off key "Grind" led to the "Bike" which led to Fishman’s banter that I’m still hearing quoted to me ten times a day. Trainwrecks leading to euphoria – that’s just another way of referring to adventure.
Thank you for letting us come to your little tour.
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 Capital 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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