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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Phish Threw the Biggest Ball of Them All: Super Ball IX Review...the Revival

   OK, so it may not have been the biggest ball of them all - I doubt Watkins Glen cracked 45,000,  falling WAY short of the original and only other ball, the legendary Clifford Ball - but Super Ball IX was certainly one of the best. The traffic, the vending, the beers, the camping, the close proximity to the venue from everywhere (don't fool yourself, you're just lazy or really out of shape), the staff, the cops (although there seemed to be tons), all the phans, the lights, and of course, the music - SBIX was the best collection of Phish music in years. Although I'm not sure whether Super Ball IX lived up to the hype as being "the best festival yet", it was definitely one of the best. I'm calling it the revival...and if you were there you know what I mean...if you weren't, you're about to find out.

Thursday, Day One

   You couldn't punch the smile off of our faces as we packed for SBIX - partly because we were packing things like air know, the shit most of us east coasters couldn't bring to LAX for Festival 8 - and partly because, well, we were going to a Phish festival. We left MA at 1:30 on Thursday and by 7:30 our first Pop-Up was erect...that's what she said. I'm getting a lot better at that - 5 years too late. But the point is that, for only the second time in six tries (Indio at 2 a.m., which was certainly a different situation), we were not stuck in one minute of traffic getting into a festival. Not one. Even the security line only took 10 minutes. 

6/30/11 Soundcheck (apparently ~4 p.m. - we missed it)

Soundcheck: Jam > Undermind, Sleep Again, My Soul, Ginseng Sullivan, Jam

   Our three cars rolled in trouble-free, rode up a few rows of already settled phans, and parked within stumbling distance - but not within smell-shot - of some of the best bathroom facilities I've ever seen at Phish. Picture the Indio truck-style bathrooms/showers...staying in the same condition they were in during the first five minutes of the festival for the entire weekend. It was incredible. You can argue that your bathrooms were just as clean - I highly doubt it since I went in at least three brick building bathrooms outside of Glen Close - but regardless ours were immaculate, which is an enormous advantage at these things. I sound like an asshole. Let me be clear: I'm not gloating, I'm simply stating that I was immediately struck by the quality of the facilities. Oh yeah, the bathrooms had hard wood floors and fake marble shower walls. You would have been shocked, too. We got our shit together and went out to check the scene.
   Some of the vending - typical shit from festivals past - was opening as we strolled through the grounds...Ball Square I guess it was called. Amazing. Lars et al did again with intricate structures, zany art work, giant disco balls, seemingly livable buildings, and plenty of space. Phish really blows this shit up. It's amazing what a group can do with $9 million. 'What?', you say? That's figuring conservatively: 5,000 people x $370 (Glen Close) + 35,000 X $200 (GA Camping) + 500 X 150 (RV passes) = ~$9M. Didn't you love the fireworks we bought, too? I sure as hell did. But in all seriousness, the art and grounds teams did an amazing job with Ball Square, and we're so lucky to have a band so conscious of things like that. It has always added an element of "wonder" to these things. I mean those dudes rocked out the fucking artistic storage shed, which was beaming the band's projections in eight different colors as we zombied out to some crazy ambient/trance/metallic/deep space/brain-bending music while being surrounded by some WEIRD ASS SHIT!!! We love it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We opted out of long distance walking the very first night knowing what lie ahead, so we raged the Big Screen where someone was streaming or playing some of the best Phish of the last 10 years. Amazing footage, absolutely amazing. Trey was actually chubby in one of those clips. And the Sunny, clear, 70s to low 80s, which progressed into a cool, almost chilly dry night. We were off to a great start. Our friends from home, school, and tour started filing in from every direction to the Big Screen as Watkins Glen began to feel like a festival. Some of our friends were missing - not that kind of missing - but they were there in spirit. We had such high hopes. The only thing left would be the music...holy shit.

Friday, Day Two

   We woke up bright and early after a semi-late night to Henry The Third telling his tales of Super Ball IX arrival. His Headstock shirts were hidden in the woods after a run-in with security at 4 a.m. and his leg was torn after hopping several tall fences trying to get them in. Apparently these Phish-less shirts were a source of trouble so great that security refused to let them in with them. It hadn't seemed to dampen his still-awake spirit. We got ready and hit the town. Shit show. Phans everywhere, corporate and real Shakedown up and poppin', music coming from everywhere, Ball Square was ragin'. The weather was warm, sunny, and clear. It was all coming together. We all split up to do our thing and SeriousLeigh and I hit DJ Critter's crew's RV. We partied for a while to pregame for the First Set and then headed to the venue. This is what's it all about...


Set I: Possum (9:04), Peaches en Regalia (3:24) > Moma Dance (11:00), Torn and Frayed (6:51) > NICU (4:54) > Gin (14:53), Life on Mars? (3:38), My Friend (5:50), Wolfman's Brother (11:47), Roses Are Free (5:16) > Funky Bitch (7:15), Quinn the Eskimo (9:31) = 77 minutes

   Yes, the festival opened with Possum. A huge "fuck you bitches" joke to all us haters. We deserved it. Besides, they were actually doing us a favor - they got it over with. Truthfully, I'm shocked they didn't close with it. It was a standard Possum, which is further evidence for the joke in my eyes. Peaches followed and I feel like it was for every single person not in Raleigh. It was great and > into a BOMB Moma Dance. A rockin' Torn And Frayed > NICU > a MONSTER Gin. MONSTER. Next was my first Life On Mars and the first in 175 shows (2/15/03 Vegas) and only the second since 1997 (3/2 Denmark)! What an amazing moment for many of us. A relatively standard My Friend followed this epic moment before Phish launched into THE BEST WOLFMAN'S I THINK I'VE EVER HEARD. Seriously people. This thing was peeling faces off. It was punching chests. It was round-housing heads. It was upper-cutting chins. Yo, I thought it was 1997! I'm not shitty you. Roses > Funky Bitch followed before the boys ended the set with a RIDICULOUS Quinn. This set wasn't overly long, but it rocked, it funked, it had it all. You CAN'T get off to a better start.

Set II: Super Ball IX Jam I (3:56) > Crosseyed and Painless (12:57) > Chalkdust (8:11), Sand (9:56) > The Wedge (6:24), Mike's (7:29) > Simple (14:19) > Bug (9:46) > Horse (1:01) > Silent (5:13) > Weekapaug (6:49), Joy (6:05) > Character Zero (8:52) =101 minutes

E: Show Of Life (7:22)

   We thought we had plenty of time to back to the site between sets. Bad idea. We heard this weird noise coming from the venue, but we thought it was someones radio. "Turn that shit down dude, we want to make sure the band doesn't go on...". No answer. It almost sounded like the Big Ball Jam. It couldn't be. Was it...shit, Crosseyed And Painless! FUCK!! FUCK!!! I was actually screaming it so loud I was annoying my crew. We were hearing Phish, but apparently it wasn't the Big Ball Jam. They're calling it the Super Ball IX Jam #1 and we missed it. We also missed the vocal section of Crosseyed. Amateur move...fucking close-proximity camping sites! We made it back in time for the jam, but the crowds were so heavy in the area we were in by the time we got there that we just chilled by the tables. Besides, Matt Fractal was still hurting a little, and a roam through the crowd would've been shitty. Crosseyed > Chalkdust, a version that never seemed to reach the meat and cheese level that it's Crosseyed/Sand bread deserved. That's Sand > Wedge by the way, which was OUTRAGEOUS. By this time I had managed to struggle through the crowd back to some friends just in time for a Mike's > Simple. There was NOTHING Simple about this Simple. It had Third Stone From The Sun teases. It was Simply FUCKING AWESOME. What seemed to be an everlasting gobstopper of musical insanity seemed to take a turn towards the less there was a really slow leak in a giant air mattress. The remainder of the Second Set after Mike's was all segue, but it read Bug > Horse > Silent > Weekapaug > Joy > Character Zero and it sounded almost like it reads. Although all sick, the energy did not compare to the First Set or the first half of the Second Set, but it's totally understandable - even the crowd was tired after days of traveling, setting up, and summer sun. But don't let these last few, merely less-energetic-relative-to-every-other-song-from-the-other-sets fool you. THIS WAS ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS IN A LONG TIME. And it was only going to get better.

Saturday, Day Three

   Day Three was obviously the first struggle of the weekend, but not to worry. Phish festivals are worlds of wonder. Like a Winter Wonderland. After some energetic breakfast and a little Runaway Jim 5K envy we headed out to Ball Square to see everyone up and about, coming in from the race, drinking Foam, art-ing around, and getting ready for the mid-afternoon Set at 3 p.m. Saturday was Three Sets and a Secret Set day. Wow...what a day. It was hot as hell. Everyone was already burned from the previous two days. Heat stress abound. Not good. We wondered if Phish would play it cool considering the temperature and high UV-index skies. No doing...


Set I: Tube (4:50), Kill Devil Falls (7:58) > Ocelot (11:16), Lawn Boy (3:03), Divided Sky (15:47), Boogie On (6:35) > Camel Walk (5:33), Cities (5:48) > Poor Heart (2:19) > 46 Days (6:53) > Suskind Hotel (5:55), When the Circus Comes (5:30), Timber [Jerry] (5:53) > Back on the Train (5:37) > Suzy Greenberg (7:00), Monkey Man (5:49) = 106 minutes

   Tube lasted almost five minutes...holy shit. 3.0 record? KDF rocked as usual. Lawn Boy featured Mike on the fret-less 5-string  and was followed by the always epic Divided Sky. A SICK Boogie On > and even SICKER Camel Walk. Maybe it was the speed. Maybe it was the funk. Maybe it the Spanish Moon teases. Cities couldn't have been more hilariously placed out in the middle of farm, lake, and wine country and it was BOMB and > Poor Heart, my first since Indio. Phish debuted Suskind Hotel, a tune Mike opened with in Burlington a few months before. It was sick then. It was sicker here. Timber swayed as usual...shit even the Suzy was UNFUCKING REAL - they dropped the FUNK HAIL ON PEOPLE'S HEADS. It was sick, and just when you thought it was over, the boys LAUNCHED into The Rolling Stone's Monkey Man, and IT BLASTED OFF!!! Unreal. So much for letting the crowd take it easy in the heat. The band DROPPED THE HEAT! Dude, I saw so many people walking bobble-headed out of the sun with obvious heat stress; it was crazy. Some people just don't get it...but Phish does. It was on. Now we knew what to expect and we had to get ready. We had a good two-hour break between sets, so we took to raging the site with some friends who had a lot of experience with the Moon. Talk about blasting off...

Set II: Runaway Jim (9:17) > McGrupp (9:31), Axilla I (3:30) > Birds of a Feather (10:00), Stash (12:29), Sample (5:12), Heavy Things (6:37) > Horn (3:42) > It's Ice (7:49) > Mango (8:08) > Rift (6:08) > Scents and Subtle Sounds (9:48), Antelope (10:36) = 103 minutes

   It was still light out when Trey announced the top-three winners - male and female - of the Runaway Jim 5K. Some of those times were crazy - I think the winner crossed in 15:23...dude, that's like averaging under 5 minutes/mile. I want to see these people dance...or maybe they don't. I was so perplexed by the phan that can run over three miles in just over 15 minutes I didn't realize they were playing one of my phavorites, the soul elevating McGrupp. Everything rocked, but the Heavy Things > Horn > It's Ice > Mango > Rift > S&SS WAS OTHER-WORLDLY!!! Dude the second S&SS of 3.0 (MSG 12/4/09) came from space, stole my brain, took it to another galaxy, showed me how subtle scents and sounds can be, and then returned my brain to my skull just in time to be dazed during Antelope. We were chasing a down.

Set III: Golden Age (6:25) > Super Ball IX Jam #2 (7:09) > Caspian (6:21) > Piper (9:46) > Tweezer (11:09) > Julius (7:27) > BDTNL (7:55) > Twist (11:11) > 2001 (4:54) > Hood (11:54) > Cavern (4:31) > Golgi (5:16) > A Day in the Life (6:25) = 101 minutes

   Golden Age is like the new DWD to me. It kicks off a lot of Second Sets, it fucking rocks, and the Type I/II potential seems exponential. This version did it's job and > into some Type II shit only people in other dimensions experience on a regular basis...ask Matt Fractal. The Tweezer DESTROYED and took Golden Age hostage, teasing it relentlessly. Phish kept this "Last Set = full segue" theme going by BLASTING OFF THE ENTIRE FUCKING SET. Julius...raged. BDTNL...shredded. Twist...Typed II'ed to death...2001 is the new Tube...Hood (as well as many other jams throughout the entire weekend) kept the old-school glow stick wars alive...Cavern was murky...the late 90's had invaded Watkins Glen - or I had finally been sucked into CK5's circular time portal located above the light rig at center stage. Either way these sets were topping each other by the hour. LATE 90'S REVIVAL.

E: Loving Cup (5:35) > TweepriZe (3:50) 

Set IV: Storage Jam > Sleeping Monkey (~60 minutes)

   The Secret Set, which was no secret by late afternoon, was a great experience. The band was playing in the storage shed from ~2:30-3:30 a.m. and lights were beaming from all directions in many colors. I couldn't, but people could see their shadows coming from the shed. The music blasted off sounding like a spaceship trying to restart after some mechanical failure. It was deep, spacey, loud, and everywhere. It was fucking awesome. I was pretty surprised to hear Sleeping Monkey arise from the musical fog, but it was awesome just the same as Trey couldn't control his giggling to Fish obviously fucking around. When they're having fun, we're ALL having fun. Seems simple doesn't it? I would have preferred to see the band, but I suppose we never really saw them during the Tower Jam either. I loved it though - we all did - and I'd be interested to see/hear what people on the Ferris wheel experienced. A night of raging ensued as we rolled into the Dakotas to get our pah-ty on with our Central Mass Phamily. It was 7 a.m. when we rolled back to Glen Close...that's what epic nights do to your soul - keep them awake until the time you usually get up. In case you were wondering, Day Two contained over 6 hours of live Phish. This festival was achieving legendary status already.

Sunday, Day Four

   We were running out of gas by the time Sunday rolled around. Maybe it was the 6 a.m. downpour that had water dripping all over my sleeping gear for my last two hours of "sleep". Three miserable hours is enough, right? You bet your ass it is when those three hours are propelling you into the last day of a Phish festival. There is no rest for the die-hards. And there's no whining on Phish Tour. A little breakfast pick-me-up had the day in perspective as we roamed out into the camp grounds to explore one last day. The sun was beating down, but as it made us sweat, it dried our shit. It's a good pay-off. What was in store for this third day of shows? They had destroyed so many things. They had already burned down so much of Watkins Glen. What was left? A Ghost, for sure. But what else? Steam? Would we finally get our Clone? As Cocineros would say, "Just you wait Billy". We don't know a Billy, it's just our random go-to name. Kind of like Randy. Would the third show trump the previous two? Is it possible???


Set I: Soul Shakedown Party (4:14) > AC/DC Bag (6:36) > Curtain (6:40) > Forbin's (11:39) > Mockingbird (6:52) > Destiny (6:38) > BBFCFM (3:56), Wilson (7:30) > Mound (8:40), A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing (10:58), Time Loves a Hero (4:57), Reba (16:07) > Bowie (13:31) = 107 minutes (longest set of the festival)

   The longest set of the weekend could be the greatest set I've ever heard. I'll know in a few days when I finally get my emailed stub numbers (Henry The Third!!!), but I'm pretty sure. First of all, Soul Shakedown Party. Only the sixth ever and second of 3.0 (12/30/09 Miami). That's a clear warning sign. If it's true, thank you hot chicks from the rail! Soul Shakedown > AC/DC > the first Curtain W/o since 1.0 (9/9/00 Albany) - and I love With - > Forbin's > Mockingbird > A BOMB Destiny > BBFCFM with a Leave It To Beaver tease. Are you fucking kidding me?!?! After that mayhem came more: Wilson with Mind Left Body teases > Mound, a reminder of the Alpharetta mega-storm. A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing seemed epic UNTIL IT WAS TRUMPED BY THE GREATEST TIME LOVES A HERO EVER PLAYED!!! Just when we thought it couldn't get better, the boys rip into an EPIC Reba, that not only included the first whistling since Coventry, but contained supposed Dave's Energy Guide teases that I would have bet my life was the Gamehenge Time Phactory. Like I said, I haven't been able to re-listen to it yet, but we'll see. Any thoughts to stomp my hopes in the meantime? This RIDICULOUS Reba > Bowie to end the set. Like I said, it could be the best set I've ever heard...certainly in 3.0.

Set II:  Big Balls (3:39) > DWD (12:59) > No Quarter (9:31) > Party Time (8:03), Ghost (8:36) > Jibboo (8:40) > Light (12:41), Waves (11:07) > What's the Use? (4:59) > Meatstick (6:14) > STFTFP (7:23), Star Spangled Banner (5:20) = 98 minutes

   Yes, they opened the Second Set with their debut of Big Balls. Holy shit! As they were playing giant bouncy balls bounced across the pit area and looked FUCKING RIDICULOUS! One of those epic festival moments you always the burning art tower or the Baby Elephant Walk. It's what separates Phish from most, if not all, of the others. Big balls > an unfinished DWD > the second No Quarter of ST11 > Party Time. EPIC. The eagerly-awaited Ghost followed > Jibboo that reached Type-II status for sure and > another Type-II BOMB in Light. Waves was mind-boggling and > What's The Use? > Japanese Meatstick > STFTFP. The stuff legends are made of. Phish closed with the obligatory Star Spangled Banner and encored with First Tube > Fireworks to end the festival. What a way to go out.

E: First Tube (7:42) > Fireworks (forever)

   Super Ball IX certainly lived up to the hype. As I said before, I'm not so sure it was the greatest festival ever, but it was damn close if it wasn't. The music was the best collection of music in 3.0. The song choices, the segues, the jams, the length of the songs and jams, the Type-I/Type-II shit that kept bringing people to different dimensions. Everything. Super Ball IX was another in a long line -save maybe one ;) - of epic musical adventures peppered with tent partying and vending. We were winning...all weekend. We rolled out of Watkins Glen around 11:30 a.m. on July 4th and the only traffic we hit going home was some idiot Phish chick with a wrecked car rolling at a snail's pace on 17 South and some construction traffic on I-86. Maybe 45 minutes tops. Amazing. I spent a total of 13 hours in the car and the place is 11 hours from my house round-trip. It's a sweet thing living near Phish. However, my gloating will be short-lived as we prepare for the Second Leg in exactly one month...beginning with the Gorge. Ahhh. So savor the sweetness that was Super Ball IX, and know that more is coming because it's clear that the few bumps in the road along ST11:1 were just that - bumps in the road. Phish still has it in spades - the song list, the choices, the segues, the jamming, and the Type-Everything. It's all here for the taking, you just have to be there at the right moments. Will you?

- Trigger Treinta Uno

Thanks to for the set list help, my crew and friends for making this past weekend another epic one, The Green Crew & Phish Crew for cleaning, planning, and maintaining, Watkins Glen International for having us, and especially Phish for making it all possible. We'll see you on the Second Leg!

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