October 29 is a special day for me — It’s the anniversary of my first Phish show. That particular October 29 happened 23 years ago today, when I ambled down a hill from my Tallahassee, Florida apartment to the Leon County Civic Center — capacity 12,000, far fewer actually in attendance — to see a band my brother Phil had suddenly lost his mind over.
In 1995, Phil was a student at the University of Central Florida with an affinity for calling into talk radio shows. He’d built a persona of sorts around his delight in using/trying to bring back the catchphrase “man alive!” So it was that “Man Alive Phil” called in to participate in a radio contest in the fall of 1995 — something about telling the DJs who you’d kill and how for a free pair of tickets to some concert at the UCF Arena. Phil’s target: Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. His method of execution: It’s all a little fuzzy now, but something about tying one end of a string around “Lil’ Dave” and the other around a rock, and then throwing the rock out of the window of a tall building. The DJ’s loved it. Phil won the tickets.
After some pre-show drama (Phil’s roommate’s girlfriend didn’t want him going to a concert without her, but she lived in a different city — God, I miss immature relationship bullshit, so cute!) Phil and his buddy made it to the UCF Arena to see … Phish. From Vermont. Who? They’d never heard of the band, and had no expectations. In what’s now considered a legendary performance by fans, Phish not only laid waste to the UCF Arena, they somehow reorganized the my brother's synapses my brother (he was stone sober, by the way).
Phil called me the next day freaking out over what he had just seen. I asked him to repeat the name. “Phish, but spelled with a PH.” That's funny, I thought. I just received some Phish tapes in the mail (as part of my mid-90s Led Zeppelin tape trading obsession — more on that in a future post), played them once and definitely did NOT want them. I sent them along to Phil and thought nothing of it … until the following year, when Phish announced a run of shows in Florida, including Tallahassee (where I was living while attending Florida State University), West Palm Beach and Gainesville.
I made a deal with Phil: I would go to his three Phish shows in the fall if he went with me to see the Smashing Pumpkins (who I was head over heels in love with) at the Ice Palace in Tampa in July. The deal was struck. I did enjoy the Pumpkins show.
I have been to something like 35 Phish shows since that first one, and the memories of that night are fragmentary to say the least. I remember the people dancing — something I had NEVER seen before. In my experience, dancing at a concert involved a mosh pit and getting kicked in the face. These people were just twirling around, everyone having a ball. I dubbed one burly dude next to me the “Canadian Bear Hugger” after the character from the Punch Out video games, and we exchanged a high-five after a particularly energetic tune that had me jumping up and down. (I later learned this was my first “David Bowie,” — a song I would later become obsessed with). Set Two featured a colossal Mike’s Groove, where the band played around with the Talking Head’s “Houses In Motion,” which would be featured two night’s later as part of Phish’s Halloween show at the Omni in Atlanta.
Once the show was over we wandered out into the lot, and I remember being scared of the other people hanging around. I was young, and sheltered, and naive. I was a 20 year old baby, and I had some growing up to do. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Phish was going to be a huge part in that maturation process. One that wouldn’t kick in for a few more years … and a few dozen more shows.
PS: Why has this show never been released by LivePhish? A major oversight, in my opinion.
Mike's Groove from Tally 1996: