, attached to 1996-10-18

Review by likeaghost

likeaghost I got an e-mail today from phish.net wishing me a happy phish anniversary. I really didn’t need this to remind me of the day, #NeverForget, but it really put a smile on my face, so few e-mails these days actually matter. 19 years ago today i walked into the now parking lot that was then the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, PA a skeptic and walked out a phan. Being 38 years old i have basically spent half my life with phish. Their touring schedule dominates my world most of the year. Wether it is chasing rumors as to when and where the tour dates will appear/be, or planning my actual tour; but the true reward is the show itself.
October 18th 1996 was a normal crisp fall evening in southwest Pennsylvania. Our journey got off to an odd start; upon leaving Erie and heading south in quite a rain storm, my drivers side windshield wiper flew off into no man’s land, or rather some place on the side of the highway. I quickly exited and pulled into a parking lot. I have no car fixing skills but was able to take the passenger side wiper and move it to the drivers side, while using a golf club head cover to keep the empty wiper arm on the passenger side from scratching the windshield. I think we, my friend and future roommate Mark along with my little sister Meredith, went to a store that sold wipers but couldn’t figure out which one to buy and tour funds were low, plus it was getting late.
We pushed on to Pittsburgh. The rain ended well before the show. After picking up my girlfriend, her roommate, and another mutual friend we headed to the famed igloo to see phish. We parked in this random tiny lot for like five dollars i think, which probably seemed like a lot but we were close, before we even got out of that lot Mark had acquired a ballon. I had no idea what was going on, it all happened so fast. He handed it to me and i was confused, i didn’t want to jump into anything, after asking stupid noob nitrous questions i realized what the heck, when in Rome, and took a tiny drag and nothing really happened and i really didn’t want more but was happy to feel like i was giving it my all.
I say that cause i really wanted to try this world out, not to join but rather say i tried and now i can accurately make fun of it without people saying “don’t knock it till you try it.” Although i was raised on classic rock and rhythm and blues; i had found my way to punk rock and that world really didn’t get along with the hippie subculture. The crossover was starting as my punk friends hit college and traded skateboards for bongs. I resisted all of this until my straightedge punk rock high school girlfriend broke my heart. She left me in pieces and i tried to pick myself up by trying all the things she hated. My next girlfriend along with my little sister basically conspired to get me to see phish. Meredith needed me to go so our mom would let her go, and Teri just wanted me to share her favorite thing, phish, with her boyfriend. Teri had written her college entrance essay not just on a show but the version of Squirming Coil from her first show at the Warner Theatre in Erie.
I really liked live music so i jumped in fool force. Teri insisted i see two shows back to back to understand the feel of tour. Buy the ticket take the ride, which was fun in itself. Tickets went on sale and we were on it, which is half the fun, when it works. Teri called ticketmaster a few minutes before on sale time and used her phone skills to strike up a conversation with the operator and when the time struck we ended up with 4 seats on the floor, row nine. We ran to my neighbors to tell Mark, he was mad he didn’t know tickets had gone on sale and frantically tried to operate the phone, it was amusing and i let it progress for a while before asking him how many tickets he needed since one of our 4 was for him. I’ve never seen someone so happy. Mark and i became friends as our worlds were crisscrossing. He showed up a day late to college and our apartment complex because he was at the Clifford Ball. He basically slept the next two days and gained the name Hippie Mark cause everyone just talked about how he slept for two days and had long hair. I now understand the process of festival recovery and can relate to his need for extended sleep. We hit it off as friends when he saw all my punk cds; he was just getting into puck rock after years of jam band chasing. I acted as his puck guide while he schooled me on phish.
I was pretty excited just to be on the floor at the Civic Arena. I’m not much of a hockey fan, but love sports in general, so standing on the same spot that many magically sports moments took place really made me happy. We were young, we had a metal pipe that we thought was so cool and swag that we thought was so strong. The lights went down and i quickly got swept up in the show. Runaway Jim will always hold a special place in my world as it was the first song i heard live. I remember thinking it sounded like a Grateful Dead song. I told that to Teri and she said maybe it was a cover and we actually believed to to be a Dead Cover for almost a year. Noobs.
I tried my best to not look like an idiot when the clapping in Stash happened, i also thought it was too freaking cool. Divided Sky is where i left any thought of hating on this scene behind. This song has more beauty in it than should be allowed. I still lose it every time and cherish each time i get to hear it live. The journey it is, the pause, the power, the band chasing the same feeling, together.
The first set ended with Sample in a Jar. This was the only song i actually liked/new before the show. It always struck me a just a good rock and roll tune and i was so happy to recognize something and that just took the moment up to a greater height. The lights came up for set break and i turned to Meredith and announced that we had to see this band as much as we could till it was over. I didn’t and still don’t know what i meant by over, although through the years it has seemed to be and might have been a few times.
Teri used to call set break “halftime” and i loved that so much. It made it seem like a game and i love games. We headed to the back of the arena hit the bathrooms. I overhead a conversation, “I’d really like to hear Sparkle again.” This afforded me my first opportunity to sound like a real fan. I interjected that they had played it last night in State College. I picked this up from Teri who was really bummed when she saw the set list from last night, as she too wanted to hear Sparkle again.
During the set i had observed someone keeping a written setlist and thought it was the coolest thing. It reminded me of the first time i went to a baseball game and saw someone keeping score. Both instances seemed like a way to get into the game/show a bit more. I had to try and over a year later i finally was confident enough but still to this day have “noob” moments when i wonder what to write. I love this band for keeping it that way.
The second set was even a higher level of music. The version of Maze is listed as a “fan favorite”; i remember the first time i saw that in some phish publication. I was so proud of my first show. It would be remembered by all based on this version of Maze. Reba was Meredith’s jam and she was so happy when it started up. Waste became Teri and my song, such great lryics. Looking back at this show i am amazed at the number of classics i got. Fall 1996 is generally regarded as a down tour. There was a bit of a bump during and after halloween but most see this as a time that phish was struggling with the transition into consistently playing large rooms and the pressure of carrying on the tradition of the Grateful Dead now that Jerry was gone and so much of the circus that is tour had transitioned to them.
I didn’t see any of this as i believed i had just seen the greatest concert that had ever been performed. Till the next night that is…


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