Notes on Attending a Phish Concert for the First Time
- Beautiful Weirdos. The ethos at a Phish concert is “come as you are.” Before the show, the parking lot of The Forum, in Inglewood, where the Lakers used to play, resembles the set of a Fellini movie grafted onto an ancient Grateful Dead memory. All clothing and barbering choices are acceptable. Smiling at strangers allowed. Dancing for no reason strongly encouraged. People who attend Phish concerts tend to be uninhibited; the absence of inhibitions makes them beautiful.
- Traveling Economy. A tribe of Phish-heads tours with the band, selling veggie burritos — or grilled cheese, or fruit smoothies, or glass pipes, or art, or handmade clothes, or whatever. The broad avenue of campers and pickups backed up for business is known affectionately as “Shakedown Street,” in homage to the Dead who came before us. Whatever you seek will be found at this carnival-like bazaar, especially if it’s a consciousness-altering substance. Or if it makes you laugh.
- The Nitrous Mafia. For five bucks, you can buy a big round balloon filled with nitrous oxide. The businessmen who own the tanks, one hears, have earned a scurrilous reputation in some quarters. I have not investigated further, other than to perform quality control on their product, which I can report does indeed make one laugh and feel slightly faint and euphoric — for a very brief time, maybe a minute. This is why you often see folks at a Phish concert walking around the parking lot with three (or more) balloons in hand.
- Fabulous Forum. Old school. A floor and two mezzanines. No corporate skyboxes. No separation between the swaying bodies. No obstructed or partial views. A fabulous place to see a rock concert.
- A Seasoned Quartet. Jon, Mike, Page and Trey have been jamming together for something like 35-years; the depth of their groove goes beyond “tight.” It’s a kind of telepathy. Aficionados consider them Phish 3.0; twice before they broke up/went on hiatus. This version, I’m told, is slightly less rapid-fire virtuosity and more transcendent grooviness. They play appropriately loud, but not punishingly loud. By the rumble in your chest, you know you’re at a rock concert, but you don’t need earplugs, and you can actually talk with the person next to you without shouting. Phish music is pleasure music. Pain isn’t part of it. The band seems happiest when every single person in the arena is up on her feet, dancing his ass off. Singing along. Or not. Having a good time — however you define that, so long as no one is harmed — is paramount.
- CK5. The band’s lighting designer, Chris Kuroda, is considered “the fifth member of Phish.” His contributions definitely enhance the sensual experience. His lights don’t just change colors and move about on mobile rigs, they dance. And at the perfect moment — and it’s always coming — his lights fall on the audience, illuminating revelers in various stages of ecstasy.
- E, L, and Maryjane. Phish is a great band. Their light show is magnificent. The crowd they draw is kind and goodhearted. But surely some measure of the amazingness must be attributed to the splendid effects of mind- and mood-altering drugs like MDMA, mushrooms, and LSD. In addition to dancing for about three hours straight, I spent most of the concert laughing out loud with tears streaming down my face, overwhelmed by the wonderful, marvelous, beautiful absurdity of life, of being human. For one night, I was in on the cosmic joke. And when you need an attitude refresher, cannabis is omnipresent. Joints — and pipes, and vape pens — get handed around like a collection plate on Sunday. Nothing’s surreptitious, and no amount of indoor blazing seems to bother the relevant authorities. So, yes, a happy, happy-happy, trippy, trippy-trippy crowd. What would happen if we replaced flouride in our municipal water with trace amounts of LSD? Nothing bad, so far as I can tell.
- Encore. Some experiences you’re glad to have had, but you wouldn’t choose to repeat. Some you want to repeat every day. I’m not joining the vagabonds yet, not traveling around the country for camping, raving and dreaming. But the next time Phish is in town, you’ll find me there, effortlessly blending in with my tribe of beautiful weirdos.
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