THE BOYS WERE BACK IN TOWN It was almost like they never left. Photo: SCOTT HOLT
For all of the excitement that surrounded Wilco on the Maine State Pier or Sufjan Stevens at Port City Music Hall or the various sold-out Ray LaMontagne shows of the past year, there is no question that last Sunday's Phish show at the Cumberland County Civic Center was the biggest thing to hit our fair city in a very long time. Throngs of people swarmed the parking lot behind Brian Boru, bars as far across town as J's Oyster were mobbed at 5:30 pm, and it must be true that every man, woman, or child within a 50-mile radius of Maine's biggest city who owned a police uniform was on duty that night.
For someone who hit about 30 shows in the mid- to late '90s, feelings of nostalgia were hard to ignore upon seeing guitar players dragging around mangy dogs, cute girls clad in corduroy and patchwork dresses, and that classic guy sporting a sign: "Birthday show! Need 1!" While a fair number of Phish fans found their buzzes killed, sitting on the curb while officers searched their cars or dumped the remains of an open container, the majority of those crowding in and around the Civic Center were nice young men and women, the grown-up versions of those fans who used to follow the band mostly up and down the East Coast while living off mom and dad. It wasn't uncommon to see couples with baby carriers.
In J's, while barmaid Leslie poured Jameson on the rocks strong enough to kill a horse, a passel of men to my left (all rocking Grateful Dead or Phish T-shirts) had to put theirs down unfinished before leaving for the show: "Hey, man, got to work tomorrow, right?"
Which isn't to say things couldn't get a little unseemly. In the parking lot mob, there was a brisk black-market economy going. I'm a little sad to say that I was largely ignorant of the popular tour drug molly, which is apparently straight MDMA (ecstasy is often cut with coke or speed or some other crap). Molly eight-balls were going for $100. There were any number of people looking for, or looking to offload, this molly. "Nugs" were at $20 a gram. I didn't get the price because I was swept up in the mob, but I was also offered sheets of acid, though he wasn't willing to break it into tabs. A Newcastle bottle out of a backpack was $5.
One hawker was offering "free passes to Platinum Plus" (which I thought had a new name now). This elicited the following response from an interested party: "Ah, dude, I know this girl there — she has the tightest twat!"
And while I'd say the law-enforcement response to the show was both appropriate and well executed, the Civic Center wasn't well prepared. The line to get through the pat-down-protected doors stretched easily 50 people deep even as the first chords of crowd-pleaser "Possum" filled the air. Most people entered to the heavy jam of the following "Down with Disease," a song once considered "new Phish," but now positively old school.