7/20/98 - Ventura County Fairgrounds, Ventura, CA

The lot scene: I don't like talking about this part much, but on a brief note, it was mellow. Yes, security was present, but it was definitely an improvement on Shoreline the night before. I didn't see any kids get busted for vending, and staff didn't do a full pat down at the gates as they often do at many venues. The venue: I hear people ranting about what a horrible place the Ventura County Fairgrounds are to see a show. Personally, I like this venue. True it is a dustbowl, but you don't go to a Phish show to floss your new threads. Besides, I was dirty enough from being on the road that a little dirt couldn't hurt. It is located right on the beach so the climate was nice. And best of all, it wasn't hard to find good seats; no matter where you were, you were fairly close to the stage. The crowd: Hmmm...I met some cool pholks and rapped with the dude who brought the funk bus to the Gorge. He said Mike dropped in for a short while and that I should look for the funk bus in Maine. There were a lot of drugged out people there who seemed like they belonged more at a rave than at a Phish show, but this is the reality that we all must deal with. Especially in southern California, no offense to those of you from the southland. Now onto the show........ I. Bathtub, Dirt, Poor Heart, Lawn Boy, MSO, Birds, Theme, Water in the Sky, Moma Dance, SOAM II. Drowned>Makisupa>Maze, Sea and Sand, Caspian>Hood E: Sexual Healing>HYHU, Halley's The Gin opener was, in one word, PHAT. Clocking in at over 21 minutes, it was extremely long, and I loved every minute of it. I'd been waiting for a Bathtub the whole tour thus far and felt this one coming. I love this song as an opener. In the middle, the boys launched into a massive funk jam and on my setlist, I actually had it labeled as Gin>funk jam>Gin. Amazing. Dirt was a very fitting song given the venue. I think this is a beautiful song and was afraid that maybe it had been dropped from the lineup. Poor Heart was phun, nothing special, except for the crazy Crosseyed&Painless tease at the end. Well, then again, maybe it was special... Lawn Boy is a cool little song. I enjoy the lyrics My Sweet One was next. After Poor Heart, this one came completely out of left field. Again, it is a phun song and got the crowd dancing, but I was fiending for some jamming. At least it was short and sweet. Birds of a Feather are flocking outside! Yes!!! This is one of my favorite new songs. I was very happy to hear it after a string of really short tunes which highlight the personality of the band and who they are, but don't necessarily bring out their amazing musical capabilities, IMHO. Theme was good as usual. I really like it and I called this one. It was another that I'd been waiting for. One of the highlights for me. Water in the Sky. To be honest, I liked the old version better. Don't get me wrong, the new H20 is very danceable and all, but somehow it doesn't seem to fit. The old version I thought was a very pretty tune and this new one is well, uh, kinda strange. It was followed by the Moma Dance. Without a doubt my favorite of the new songs. Big improvement on Black-Eyed Katy. Katy was a sweet instrumental, but the Moma Dance is on a completely new level. This was the 4th time out of 5 shows so far, and each time it got better. This one started off really slow and methodical and built up into tremendous energy. Split Open and Melt closed set one in style. It wasn't as long as some of the versions from last year if I recall correctly, but it was definitely well played. Set two opened with Drowned!!!! I love this song, what a treat. Not quite on par with NYE 95, but then again, what is? Nothing but smiles here! Out of drowned emerged the familiar notes of Makisupa. Very phun song, a crowd favorite indeed. I wasn't expecting it at all, having just heard it at the Gorge a few nights before, but no complaints here! Key word was "skunk." Makisupa segued nicely into Maze. This is a nice pairing. I think these two songs go well together, even though they are of a completely different style. Apparently the band thinks so too, because they have done nice transitions from Makisupa>Maze in the past as well. Maze was ok. It was shorter and tighter than many versions I've heard, but this one didn't quite do it for me. The space jam in between though was phat. Sea and Sand. Nice work by Page here. Sort of killed the momentum, but nonetheless a wonderful song. I just thought the placement coud have been better. Prince Caspian is one of my favorites. It's a beautiful song and this one had to have been one of the best versions ever. Caspian segued into Hood!!!!! This was a repeat from Portland so I didn't see it coming, but I can never get sick of Hood. As usual, Hood was beautifully played, one of the best Hoods IMHO, an improvement on Portland. Real long at about 18 minutes. The ending was absolutely beautiful. What a way to close the set. Sexual Healing!?!? Go Fishman!!!! Totally hilarious, Fishman did a funny dance, you had to see it to believe it, and then started walking around the stage like a robot. Hey, that guy Trey isn't too shabby at the drums! --> HYHU. No surprise here. Me and everyone else were a little surprised when the boys picked up their instruments again. Halley's was a shocker. I had never heard it before, so needless to say, this one sent me into ecstacy. At the end, there was this low buzz which I can only describe as stoney, and one by one, Trey, Mike, Page, and Tubbs exited the stage. Overall thoughts: Set I: 8.5-solid with some definite highlights (Gin opener comes to mind) Set II: 8.8-the boys were really playing well this set, so much energy, and the encores were wacky This was a very magical evening. Perhaps not as powerful as the 2nd night of the Gorge, but this show was probably my favorite of the west coast. Get the tapes!
Four quick Ventura notes : 1) Split Open & Melt was noticeably slower and slightly funky (....imagine that). The jam gets crazy (i.e. non funky), but then returns to the ending segment of the song with a big slowdown in the beat. I love a good Melt, and you sure as heck can't beat some slowfunk Melt. 2) Lawn Boy was the "sunset" tune. With the pacific ocean directly behind the audience, the band was treated to a sweet sunset, and Kuroda didn't put on the stage lights until it was basically dark. I was like 15 yards back from the stage and could hardly see Page cheesin it through the barely-there sunset light. 3) Trey seemed a bit tipsy on the alcohol early on. He took a shot of something out of a clear plastic cup (I'm guessing it was some quality tequila) right after the crazy 22 minute Bathtub opener. After Poor Heart, Trey introduced Mike as "Poor Heart". He then repeated the humor after Lawn Boy and MSO, by calling Page "Lawn Boy" and calling Fishman "My Sweet One" after each of those tunes were done. 4) The lot scene was killer, with a beautiful public beach literally running alongside one part of the parking lot. Gotta love that they kicked down 7 songs at this show with water imagery (Bathtub, Theme, Water in the Sky, Moma Dance, Drowned, Sea and Sand, Prince Caspian). Oh yeah, there were a bunch of hotels REALLY close to the venue, so I imagine the killer scene just moved over there (and to the nearby, beachside campgrounds). ======WATCH THE SAIL======== " t h e m o m e n t e n d s " ============================ webersan
Ventura has always been my favorite place to see a show. I love how you can get as close as possible and not have to pay outstanding prices. And who can complain about the scenery, can't get any closer to the water. I like the old jams, so i was psyched to hear bathtub to start it off, but it took me a little while to get through the set till an incredible Split open and melt finished it off. Out of all the funk that they are playing now, Makisupa Policeman is fast becoming my favorite. Which madfe me happy when the jammed it in the second set. When they ended that, and went right into Maze, i didn't knoiw how things could get any better. Maze has always been an intense song live for me and i think most audiences. Yet the most enjoyable part of the night came when the flowing jam of Harry Hood started, and the lights when out. The audience turned into a sea of glo-sticks jumping out and falling through all the people. For a while this went on, and i'm sure the band enjoyed the visual stimulation from the crowd. This ended the second set, and i'm sure most were thinking how this could possibly be topped? well, fishman took care of it by serenading all the ladies in the audience and making all the men laugh by grooving to sexual healings. what a night! mike pettit California
Disclaimer: Ventura was my 18th Phish show since 1994. I've heard about 300 hours on tape. My wife's cat has heard approximately 200, which means that even our pet probably knows more about Phish than you do. But I digress. This was to be my only Phish show of the summer, and my expectations going in (especially after seeing Shoreline's stellar playlist) were minimal. The setlist, as best as I can recall and from Eric Burns' recollections, went like this: Set One: Bathtub Gin, Dirt, Poor Heart, Lawn Boy, My Sweet One, Birds of a Feather, Water in the Sky (not sure about the placement of this one), Theme, Moma Dance, Split Open & Melt (approx 80 min) Set Two (aka the Beast that Ate the Beach): Drowned -> Makisupa Policeman -> jam > Maze, Sea and Sand, (something here, and I'm bummed I'm forgetting it), Prince Caspian, Harry Hood e: Sexual Healing, Halley's Comet (II + E 90 min) The scene was the same as last year -- very chill despite cops on horseback. Some fellow insisted that he saw a horse throw his badged rider...I may have paid to see this, as the guy wasn't hurt. We went in as the gates opened, and quite easily dropped a blanket on the cracked dirt surface about halfway between the soundboard and stage -- perfect seats, imo. I called GIN, and was quite happy to hear it, though I prefer it as a mid-set jam setpiece instead of an opener. Well, this Gin wasn't as glorious as the Went version (my personal favorite), but it quite easily bested the Gorge's Gin opener from last year. It was very exploratory as I recall, with Fishman and Page really shining. I had no idea until Eric Burns told me so that this was a 20-minute version. Honestly, I got so lost in it that time really meant squat. It was perfectly apparent that the boys were on, and that I'd picked the right show to see. Probably the strongest opener I've ever seen next to Sneaking Sally on 12/30/97. DIRT was perfectly played and very appropos given our dusty surroundings. Nice song. Nuff said. It started a stretch of tunes that most people out there will read and say, "lame." I can't really put into words why it wasn't, but it wasn't. Honestly, who knows whether the energy from this run will translate to tape, but it was crackling. The POOR HEART saw Fish more than his usual animated self, and Mike's solo drew props from Trey -- who, by the way, was having a fucking *blast* all night. They rawked out the ending, and then coda'd with the closing licks from Freebird much as they did in Lyon last year with Bela. At this point, the crowd was going bananas. The LAWN BOY was well-timed, and rendered in typical supercheese fashion. I always like to hear this tune, though I think some folks think of it as Yawn Boy. MY SWEET ONE was a surprise, given that they'd already played Poor Heart -- two songs I speak of in the same breath. It came out of the gates sounding like Mule, which was due, but MSO was a nice treat for a west coast crowd that hasn't heard that tune in a long, long time. Energy was still popping, but momentum had sagged the slightest bit. Time for a recharge. BIRDS OF A FEATHER was my first and, along with Moma Dance, the new tune that I most wanted to hear. This version did not disappoint. Jenn turned to me as the jam began and said, "this sounds a lot like Talking Heads." Bwahaha...indeed. If Phish is wearing their influences on their sleeve a little lately, they're doing it quite well. This BOAF ripped. Straight-ahead, type-I dissonance groove. By this point, the crowd was on its heels, and Phish was charging right at them again. I don't think this is where WATER IN THE SKY was placed, but if it was, it was terrible placement. The new arrangement of this song is certainly more "Phishy," but it's really not appropriate to the lyrics. I rather liked the lullaby version, but I suspect I'll get used to this one. Regardless, two minute tunes don't really get in the way much. THEME scratched an itch I didn't even know I had. The last few versions of this song I'd heard live were a little uninspired, and this one had it. All I remember is grinning ear to ear, and the fact that it was very *loud* by the end. The MOMA DANCE, SPLIT combo to finish the set seemed to me like a great dichotomy. Here we had a song that epitomizes Phish's "new sound" -- a total showcase for the new mode of simple, focused and thoughtful playing -- and the complex wackiness of old-school Phish. I agree with most of Darius's remarks on Moma, except for his assertion that it sounds like MMW. To me, it sounds like Phish...a much spacier tone than MMW typically grooves to, and less earthy. Anyway, I turned around as this tune began to see Dirksen grinning like a cheshire cat, and turned back around as it ended...same grin. I called the Split seconds before it happened, and as Splits typically do, this one screamed. Trey especially was on fire for this one, just kneeding the lower registers of his 'Doc patiently. Very meditative groove a la many 1994 Stashes, which just then detonated at the end. I was seriously impressed. Long set break as I recall. Perhaps a full 45 minutes. Discussion at the break was very positive, but a little reserved. I was maybe more effusive than most, seeing as how I'd heard the two tunes I called, and the two new tunes I wanted to hear. The second set was gravy...and what gravy it was. Let's be honest...has Phish ever played a "bad" version of DROWNED? This was my first, and I'm a huge fan of the Who, a huge fan of Quadrophenia, and a huge fan of some of the jams it's produced (12/31/95, 12/11/97). It was also appropriate because, as you all probably know, Quadrophenia is the story of rival factions of teens who live near the beach...much like the West Side Story of industrial Britain. Perfect for the venue. Anyway, I jumped around like a maniac as Page rang out the first licks on his grand, and my enthusiasm was rewarded with a *scorching, heartfelt, hosedown.* This was, to my ears, absolutely titanic type-II Phish jamming. Of course, I'll have to hear the tapes to know whether I'm blowing smoke, but I was moved. This must have been twenty minutes long, and it segued seamlessly and melodiously into MAKISUPA. What a great breather. "Woke up in the morning....ssssssssskunk." As my wife and I have a family of them living under our house, skunks are sort of a theme with us. They're all over the place in SoCal, and I wake up to the smell of them all the time. Though...wait...maybe Trey wasn't talking about that kind of skunk...;-) Anyway, he played a terrific little solo at the end of this tune, playful and reminiscent of the post-Hood jam from Darien last summer (though not as developed). > segue (more of a meltdown, really) into MAZE. Short version. Crackling version. Page just shredded the Rhodes. I can't comment enough on how *together* this band is right now. Synched up, lean and mean. This was an "old school" Maze -- far, far tighter than some of the disasters that were played last year (Utah, NYE anyone?). Major, major props to Chris Kuroda for his work last night -- he just took this song to another level. As Eric Burns has noted, this Drowned -> Makisupa > Maze combo clocked in at about 35 minutes. Yesssss. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard Page start to play SEA AND SAND. Not only was it completely in keeping with the beach theme of the show, but I never thought I'd hear it. Ever. Beautiful version -- a perfect example of how a ballad can sustain the energy of a crowd if it's played with heart. Does Page's voice sound more practiced and steady to anyone else, or is it just me? My apologies if I'm missing something in here... Make no mistake about it, fans...this PRINCE CASPIAN was no Fuckerpants. While I was afraid it'd vacuum the vibe right out of the bowl, I was dead wrong. Trey simply shone on this extended version, leaning into the 32nd notes, smiling and dancing around the stage -- it was just a real treat to see them nail a tune that's been so uneven and fairly maligned. Saul...hear this. Around this point I was thinking Slave, which I'd have preferred over HARRY HOOD at the time. I'm (1) not a fan of glowstick wars and (2) not a fan of the Trey-takes-the-backseat versions that this song seems to have spawned since 1996. Honestly, I find 12/30/97's Hood to be almost unlistenable. Well, the composed section of Hood was really nice and clean, with a playful little high-end flurry from Trey right before the "Harry!" I got doinked in the head by a glowstick as the whole thing was petering out, but was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness and patience of the jamming to that point. Then, the jam got serious. And to make a long story short, sports fans, Trey is back in the SADDLE on this song!!! It wasn't what I'd call a teary-eyed version, but rather extended, scorching and purposeful. Really, really beautiful, and it didn't suffer at all for Trey's showmanship. Bravo. I sort of figured on a long encore, as we were at around 67 minutes. I did *not* expect SEXUAL HEALING. Who did? I think someone once suggested this one, maybe a year ago, on r.m.p. Now, I've seen Fish do Cryin'. I've seen him do Suspicious Minds with Elvi. I've seen him do Purple Rain in the purple rain over Red Rocks. And this topped them all. Not only was he dancing around at the front of the stage like a drunk muppet, but he actually lifted the mu-mu and wagged his ass and private parts at the front rows (someone who was on the rail, please remark!). If it went on a little long, who gave a fuck? No one near me. There was one moment in the HYHU fanfare where he ran to the front of the stage and pumped his arms on the one as the band came down on the same beat -- and Chris *jacked* the bright whites. And for a moment frozen in time, Greasy Fizeek was the biggest rock star on the planet. I was sort of surprised to see them going back for their instruments after that one, and absolutely floored by Doop-Choop... HALLEYS was, as best as I can describe it, stoney. It descended into a super-goop funk jam, maybe four/five minutes long, until Trey started to bust off some loops. "I hope they just walk off now," I said to Burns, and they did. What a magnificent show. Apart from some fantastic bust-outs, the playing actually surpassed the setlist. The band had a raucous blast onstage, and seemed to truly appreciate the crowd. I sit here this morning sated. Thank you, Phish. -- "You remember what happened to the boy who suddenly got everything he ever wanted, don't you?" chris bertolet
Just a short note to let everyone know that it was a great show. For those of us paying attention, Mike Gordon and Fishman could be seen darting through the crowd on the ocean boardwalk outside the venue on an electric cart right before the show. They were going fast enough so that by the time you realized who was ripping by you, it was too late to stop and talk. With Fishman at the wheel, there was of grave danger to limb and life in attempting to stop that maniac. The first set was not an easy space for me to get into. New songs and a new sound and poor positioning in the audience on my part kept me less than fully satiated. Don't get me wrong, the stuff is good, but I really hope that this "funk" sound is just a part of the overall growth of the Phish sound (as I'm sure it is) and not something that they're firmly sinking their teeth into for the long term. As you can well imagine, the majority of these songs will be around for a long time, but I believe that they will be representative of one aspect of the many-faceted Phish. The second set was more old school. I placed myself in front of the soundboard and the sound (for me) improved dramatically. The songs were familiar and the band and the audience were having fun. The Ventura County Fairgrounds is a great venue for these guys and I hope they continue to play there forever. General admission is the only truly democratic form of concert attendance. You want front row positions, you make damn sure you get there early and stake out your place...all of you comped ticket holders can take your chances like the rest of us. Peace, Marty
great show monday nite! the bathtub gin went off. it could've gone on the whole set, but trey pulled it back in for us. i was glad to see a pretty solid theme from the bottom and finally get a split open and melt... drowned and sea and sand were unexpected (but quite fitting for the surrounding environment). brought back memories of new year's 95 to me... great transition to makisupa as well. pretty fulfilling show. they boys seem to be kicking it into gear now. where's runway jim? phoenix?
First of all, I had a blast. The proximity of the venue to the ocean is paradise, and obviously the band was inspired by their view from the stage to do a "sea set." Lots of water references - a great thread running through the show. There was a time when nitrous balloons and beer in the parking lot would be my stadard M.O., but last night I decided to walk on the beach and skip rocks into the surf, and look for whales and chill to get in the mood. Sort of communing with the surroundings...and the show was right in my stride. I was pretty psyched at the prospect of a Gin opener - I have been watching the setlist rotate, and excited to see this tune back in action. I have not seen a show since last year here - I can't give accurate comparisons to other shows. But I can say that I like the new tunes. Dirt and Drowned were interesting lyrically. And I danced and dug on Birds of a Feather as well. The vocals sound good, and I was in a good spot in the crowd - for the first time I had enough Mike in the mix, and that was pretty perfect. Great job on Lawn Boy solo and driving Melt to close the set. Makisupa>Maze was spectacular. Huge rock and roll showmanship right there, with the backdrop of palm trees and a few stars in the mist. Sea and Sand was a nice short nugget that I liked alot. I am not and cannot be a Caspian fan. Sorry. Then a fat Hood. Fun encore - Sexual Healing is perfect for Fishman. I have to say that Ben Harper has been closing shows with this too, and his version brings me to tears. But Fishman is a charmer too. Then Halley's Comet was groovy and I was happy to be kicking up the dust one last time before hitting the road. Trey is driving the wah-wah into the ground. The jam in the middle of Bathtub sounded an awful lot like Moma Dance to me. Was that a tease or just a rut he is in? Still the subtle playing of Page underneath the drone of the wah works well, and Fishman is great at mixing it up and driving it harder. I think I already mentioned that Mike Gordon is a god. I left in a great space. Cheers guys! How about playin the Greek again next time through?!? Peace Aric

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