Most of us have heard of the Bermuda Triangle and many have perhaps glimpsed that Onion headline of 20 years ago something like “Five Years of Man’s Life Lost in Mysterious Kansas Rectangle”. And about three years ago or so I was attempting to listen to the first disc of Phish’s new boxed set St. Louis ’93 and I had something astonishingly strange happen. The set, by the way, was comprised of parts of two different shows, each of which took place in St. Louis, within that same year. Anyway, it was storming outside and my power went out, and somehow it was like perfectly synchronized with the presently gyrating version of “Divided Sky,” like the room went dark for 10 seconds and then the music ripped right back into the conclusion of that guitar theme in the solo. And then there was “I Didn’t Know,” a full-band, vocal a capella jaunt that was a different beast entirely.
Now, I’m from northern Indiana and to be honest don’t know TOO much about Missouri, other than it with famous competence in this regard actually rivals my home state in racism. I lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, which is about one hour from Champaign, Illinois and two from St. Louis, for four years, finding the town by and large uninhabitable in the summers, one time even walking my fat a** home without a shirt on after work. Actually I specifically remember it being 87 degrees plus humidity this one night when I was walking home at like quarter to 11.
Well anyway, now I’m back up at home and enjoying the kind of day (though I do work later) that absolutely makes you jones for a return of the touring/festival circuits — high of 82 and sunny, with no humidity and a slight breeze. It’s the kind of day that would make the performers extra nervous, for fear of ruining a spectacle so perfect. And for some reason it just called for “Prince Caspian,” by Phish — the final song on Billy Breathes, their ’96 album that I think hardcore Phish fans hate BECAUSE it’s so good and doesn’t earmark the sort of live setting that promotes heavy hallucinogen ingestion.
But I guess everything is less overproduced as compared to studio albums, unless they’re produced by Hendrix or Page, maybe, so I decided to go on a hunt for the PERFECT version of “Prince Caspian,” which entailed browsing the “live” options. Now, I realized that context is everything, in concerts, the same reason why I was reluctant to go see Guided by Voices in Bloomington and witness firsthand Bob Pollard’s disdain for all things Hoosier. So when I got the first result and saw “Amsterdam,” I thought, eh, ok but it’s probably not going to be as climactic as a performance within the States would be, sung right from Trey Anastacio’s original songwriting vantage point between sea and shining sea. Next were a couple options from 2017 and 2015, respectively, and I thought eh, hunky dory but I want something from back in the DAY, when this tune was still fresh in the songwriter’s disposition and he’s got a more fomented conception of its potential power.
So there was the “Phish – 08.06.97 – Prince Caspian” result on YouTube. Hmm, no locale listed. But I guess I’ll give it a shot.
Trey’s opening rhythm guitar bounded in in full, juicy sound, so things started off pretty auspiciously. The vocals came in, with Trey looking sort of plump like a late-era Jerry Garcia but still of full voice and axe chops. Interestingly, though, the drummer John Fishman was only playing sporadic hat hits, which I thought was disconcerting for a second. But then I realized what they were doing: leading up to a full-on release of tension when the full band entered in, drums, bass, keyboards and all, for a complete immersion in the songs’s regular, time-honored groove. Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. And I still have no idea what he says in the second verse before “Oh to be Prince Caspian / With stubs instead of feet” but overall the vocals came across inspired and smooth, which brought us, at four-minutes, to the guitar solo. Now, keep in mind the version of the song was nine minutes long. But still, nothing got stale or repetitive, and at seven minutes I glanced at the time and couldn’t believe I were three minutes into the solo. The song ended at eight, save for a couple trippy, nondescript sounds coming from John Fishman’s general direction, and I thought cool, a minute of crowd noise. This will cease my craving to go see a concert, or at least quell it slightly. But much to my surprise they busted into “Cars Trucks Buses,” a sharp, jazzy little instrumentation also from Billy Breathes and written by the keyboardist Page McConnell.
At this point I was pretty much prepared to vouch for this show entirely, as the video footage had been seamless and showcasing the same stage for each song, and decided to look up where it took place, hoping fervently that it was States-borne. And I was in luck: they must have returned from Europe less than a month prior and let things rip in America, on this particular August 6th at a place called the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre but thankfully shirked So. Cal. for Maryland Heights, Missouri, presumably a suburb of St. Louie or Kansas City. Anyway, I put my phone down and thought da**, I better not touch anybody right now or I’ll shock them. By the way, the next four nights are calling for thunderstorms, at least up here.