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Velvet

7/5/94

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Big day in Ottawa 22 years ago:

 

On July 5th, 1994 I had a few drinks and strolled the handful of blocks between my house and the Ottawa Congress Centre to see a band I had been hearing a bit about called Phish.  I had missed them before in Montreal when a friend that I had seen the Grateful Dead with all but insisted I come with her to see Phish at Metropolis.  I remember bowing out with the excuse that I had been out several nights in the past week seeing local bands in Ottawa and could use a night off.

 

Ouch.

 

But a few days before Phish played their one and only show in Canada’s capital city another friend of mine played me a cut off of the Junta album, a catchy rock number with the unlikely title Golgi Apparatus.  “Pretty good,” I said, not entirely convinced.  He put on one more song that he thought would hook me, and he nailed it with Contact.  Quirky, weird, and clever; I’m in.

 

The room was sparse at best, maybe 200-250 people in a room that could hold 3,200 or so.  I grabbed a couple of drinks from the bar and walked right up to the stage and stood audience-right in front of the drum kit.

 

That was odd, thought I, having the drum kit set up on stage left instead of in the middle.  

 

No matter, I had the whole area to myself and if I remember correctly I even used the stage as a table to set my drinks on.  Soon the band went on and changed me.

 

They opened with Rift and then Sample before The Curtain went into the first Letter to Jimmy Page in several years.  The second set had the first Cities played in half a decade but none of that meant anything to me - I had never heard any of this before.  Frankly, I had never heard anything like this before.

 

For me the show was a mind-bending display of musical and instrumental pyrotechnics that poured out of these four guys in a never-ending cavalcade of shock and surprise.  Nothing went the way I thought it would, the music was utterly unpredictable with sharp turns and right angles all over the place; time signatures overlapped each other in ways I had never heard before…vocal harmonies that shouldn’t have worked landed perfectly on top of jagged melodies that were unforgettable.

 

I was flabbergasted.

 

At the time I was just about finished my music degree and I was in a band that thought we played some pretty crazy, off-kilter rock and roll so I was simultaneously completely ready for this Phish concert and not at all ready for it.

 

The gorgeous instrumental beauty juxtaposed with the Dada-esque lyrics of Stash, the miraculously original melody of Bathtub Gin (how had nobody found that one yet?), the absolutely jaw-dropping YEM with an intro that pits Trey’s 11/8 guitar part over Mikes 5/8 bass line and Page’s 10/8 keyboard part while Fishman pounds 4/4 underneath and the vocal outro jam and oh yeah, the trampolines?  I mean c’mon now!  I was thoroughly humbled and awed.

 

Oh, and then the band plays Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky with the drummer playing the solo on a vacuum cleaner, then they performed two songs with no amplification whatsoever, melodica/standup bass/acoustic guitar with the crowd alternating between hushed applause and shhh-ing each other, then they did a couple of barbershop quartet classics and ended the set with that very first song my friend had played for me a few days before, Golgi Apparatus.  I was dancing like a fool laid out to dry, my t-shirt long wrenched from my body I flailed away banshee-like with the entire Fishman-side floor area to myself.

 

Capping the show as they did with a Good Times, Bad Times encore was perfect, proof that they could tear up a straight-ahead rock and roller without any gimmicks just fine, thank-you very much.  The show I had just seen had changed how I looked at rock music and to see them Zep out and nail it hard for my walkaway song felt like a kudos to the history of the genre…a reminder of what rock music used to sound like now that I had seen the future.

 

To date I have seen the band ninety-five times.  I’ve travelled all over North America and met friends from a thousand places following them, so yeah, this was a pretty big show for me.

 

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Nice memory.

I came to Ottawa from Kingston to see Phish for the night and stayed at a friend's place who had preloaded myself and my buddy's heads with some tapes that he gave us.    I wish I could remember it in detail like Velvet.   I only knew a couple of the songs played at the time and now can't even be sure which ones I only had heard then.  We didn't have more than 2 or 3 tapes to listen to before catching this show.

I recall being enlightened as to why they would be "the next grateful dead" as Relix was proclaiming. Sure the talent was obvious, but I found their non-amplified barbershop portions to be delightful like "man these guys can sing!" and the quirkiness of Jon Fishman's vacuum solo helped add to the entertainment.

Would love to see a video of this show pop out one day.  

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