Oh the Places You’ll Tour
Perhaps, I’m seeing things. As far as I can tell, a few weeks ago I saw Phish play two-stories high, nested atop of David Letterman’s famed Late Show marquee. For just under forty minutes, I swear I saw a few hundred fans join me in the jamband bobble, seeding a mini-Shakedown Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Sprawling over four city blocks, each facet of Phish’s fan base seemed to send a few able-body representatives, mixing suited Wall Street-types and tour-warn wookies into a carefully cultivated crowd. In fact, Phish’s mirage-like mini-set seemed to compact every element of a full-scale show into a carry-on luggage size event, from a tight, jammed version of "Tweezer" to the call-and-response echo of "Wilson." One nine-to-fiver even had the foresight to plaster his "Fluffhead" plea onto his cubicle’s Plexiglas.
But for a few dizzying days, I wasn’t sure if I had, in fact, seen a Phish show. In lieu of dissecting jams and analyzing annotations, the aftermath of Phish’s Letterman spot quickly unfolded into a heated, cyber-fueled debate. Like Phish’s performance on Austin City Limits four years ago, popular opinion seemed divided as to whether or not this elongated television appearance should, or could, count as an official performance. Some opponents seemed to believe the unorthodox structure, and ADD approved set time, of this show made it less worthy than a proper Phish performance. On the other hand, other newly christened Letterman-heads believed this rooftop gig contained a cinematic, Let It Be-quality equal to any other Phish show (though its stage time did clock in just under your average Phish set break). Finally, after a few days of particularly stinky brain farts, the Letterman show received both its communion and its confirmation: phish.com and phish.net listed the gig as a tried-and-true Phish performance.
At the risk of derailing into Descartes-like debate, I am a strong believer that "if I hear it, I can count it." In other words, any time I hear a band, I feel I have the right to document the experience. While I’ll admit a certain competitive edge weighed into my decision to count any, and every note that filters into my frazzled brain, this philosophy came after many months of careful thought. In fact, for the past seven years, I’ve curated a rather comprehensive list of all my musical memories. From my first stadium-rock experience to the perplexing Phish experience mentioned above, I’ve tried to log each and every musical moment. Without realizing it, slowly this simple, black-and-white list blossomed into a timeline of my life — a listing of all the places I’ve traveled and towns I’ve called my own. Like any work in progress, over the years I’ve groomed my music list, adding annotations and amending asterisks I’ve recounted along the way.
As my concert list has expanded in size and widened in scope, I’ve also created several unofficial rules-of-thumb to help structure my musical memories; the most difficult of which is what, exactly, constitutes a concert. With musical instruments floating around my house, and homegrown bands popping out of my garage, I surely shouldn’t count anytime I’ve simply witnessed live music. Likewise, it seems foolish to count each and every bar band that overpowered my favorite pub’s jukebox. At one point my rule-of-thumb was that if a band was big enough to play the Wetlands, a certain sentiment of professionalism carried over into their performance. But, then two things happened. First, some of the bands I’ve seen flounder in their pre-Wetlands days, later grew into legitimate obsessions and, ultimately, the legendary club closed it doors, leaving a footnote without a source material to reference.
Occasionally, when I’m particularly bored or in need of a nostalgic means of procrastination, I’ll flip through my thirty-page-long concert list. Sometimes, I ponder adding other important dates to this timeline, recounting the special parties, birthdays, and gatherings that accompany the group thrill of the concert-going experience. Over time, my concert list has become less about what I saw and more about when and where I saw it. At one point, I even think I tried to keep track of the concert going buddies that joined me at each stop along the way. So many times, the act of concert-going is more about the experience of attending an event than hearing what a particular band has to offer. But, for some odd reason, I made the decision long ago to let each concert entry breath freely; to allow this list to serve as a reminder of my memories not a written history. In fact, in my mind, a concert really didn’t happen until I’ve recorded it in my little black book a few hours after returning home. Without writing it down, I often feel a concert will become lost in a sea of memories, wondering aimlessly around my subconscious. Since my list graduated into an electric format a few years back, a concert’s entry serves as an exclamation note of sorts — a carefully documented record of my life long tour.
Recently, I’ve found myself seeking out new places to see the same old bands. In the process, I’ve seen new venues, towns, and even states, all the while closing in on all five of New York City’s boroughs (damn you, Staten Island). That said, I haven’t really seen Phish play anywhere more interesting than David Lettermen’s marquee. If I wasn’t to count this performance as a concert, I feel I’d be missing an important stop on my lifelong tour — an odd journey that now symbolizes the urban sprawl I proudly call my home. After all, Phish chose to play "Scents and Subtle Sounds" twice that afternoon for a reason: "You don’t have to count them, just enjoy them one by one."