Sometime around 9 p.m. Saturday night, I tweeted the following:
Never had a higher musical moment than right now. Ever.
I’ve been doing this for a while. I saw my first Grateful Dead show at Blossom Music Center — the same building where I saw Phish last night with Mrs. Crappy and Dr. Yohe — in 1984. That’s 26 years of chasing the feeling I get when it all works — the band, the music, the company, the energy, the setting — everything — comes together in the kind of perfection that doesn’t happen very often.
And somewhere in the middle of Mike’s Groove — the three-song suite that ended last night’s first set — there it was. It built up to that point with a sweet cover of The Ballad of Curtis Loew, a raging Sample in a Jar and an adventurous Time Turns Elastic and continued through the second set that included more breakouts, a dark jam coming out of Backwards Down the Number Line — a song that Mrs. Crappy had complained was too poppy while we were on the way to Blossom — and ended with a drop-dead beautiful Page solo at the end of the Squirming Coil encore.
I was exhausted. I had danced in the sticky June heat for more that three hours — much like I did at shows at Blossom or Riverbend in Cincinnati when I was 25 years younger — but I came away actually feeling refreshed and recharged.
And wondering — was that the best show I’ve ever seen?
That’s a tricky question to answer; this is very subjective stuff we’re talking about. My experience on a given night may be vastly different from yours, depending on something as simple as where I’m sitting or what mood you were in when you pulled into the lot.
My opinion can also change from last night — when I had given myself over completely to the music and the moment — to when I listened to the tapes the following day. But in listening to last night’s show, I haven’t come up with much that convinced me to change what I thought last night. I’m not a sucker, and I’m certain that someone with a lot more experience with Phish could point out better versions of the songs we heard last night, but it was refreshing to hear Dr. Yohe, who does have a lot more experience with the band, say he walked out of the pavilion at Blossom with a similar opinion.
And then how do you compare this with fading memories of shows you saw decades ago? The Dead at Riverbend in 1985, Hampton in 1988 or Louisville in 1990? Little Feat on that sweltering August night in Columbus? moe. at the Point or at Allegheny Landing? The Keller show at Mr. Smalls a couple years ago? And where does a non-hippie band like Wilco, and the monster shows we saw in Athens last spring or here a few weeks ago, fit into this mix? I walked out of each and every one of those concerts sweating, grinning and knowing I had just seen something special.
I certainly wouldn’t claim this was the best Phish show ever — at least not in a technical sense — and most people would say it wasn’t even the best Phish show I’ve seen — that honor would probably go to the 2003 show at Star Lake. But there’s no question that everthing worked for me last night — that convergance I talked about up there at the top happened — music, people, place, everything — and struck me like a lightning bolt just before the set break.
We’re now 24 hours removed from hearing Page tell us that the band had a great time last night, just after he finished up that solo piano spot at the end of Squirming Coil. That’s almost certainly not enough time to be able to judge where that Blossom show fits into everything else I’ve seen and heard since that other night at Blossom 26 years ago.
But what I felt last night was real. It’s still there, in fact. It may not go away for weeks, or months, or years. If it sticks with me as I think it will, I’ll know for sure. Until then, I’ll be happy with the fact that it was close enough to ask the question in the first place.