Phish Overcome Venue Troubles in Hartford

Part two of three in a Phish Head's guide to Phish's N.Y. mini-tour

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Slaves alright to the traffic light, the traffic cop and just plain traffic in general. Granted this was Phish's first-ever visit to the Meadows Music Theater in lovely Hartford, Conn., but the folks running the show really weren't prepared for the turn-out.

Getting to the venue from umpteen different directions (all of which were poorly controlled) sucked. Trying to find a parking place when the main lots were full and some of the coveted surrounding spots were going for as high as $40 a pop (not that they couldn't be talked down to $10 by droppin' a heavy RS.com rap!) was also a nightmare. On behalf of our fellow fans, trapped in the bumper-to-bumper with us as the music began, we say this to the band: opening with rare fare such as "Ha Ha Ha" (first night) and "Buried Alive" (second night) was just plain mean!

What we did see, however, made for some solid, fun-filled (and longer than Holmdel, N.J.) sets. There was certainly some enjoyable stuff during the hour-and-a-half-long first set -- including Robert Palmer's "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley" (which we haven't seen for a few months now), "AC/DC Bag" (which we only heard en route from the lots to the lawn) and an oddly placed "Tweezer Reprise" (meaning it didn't close the set, but was followed by "Possum"). But, as far as first night's highlights are concerned, look to the second set.

"Halley's Comet" kicked off the hour-plus second set with some serious bounce. And who doesn't like "Mango Song?" ('Spose I should check rec.music.phish for the answer; I got flamed on that "Hood" comment already!) Even those naysayers will have to admit that this version was beyond flawless. We're calling it the mega-"Mango"-jam in our parts. Call it what you will, but at least admit it was amazing.

Fast forward to "Makisupa Policeman," during which Trey Anastasio couldn't keep a straight face as he delivered the catch-phrase of the night: "One bourbon, one scotch, one big fat doob!" The boys were obviously in high spirits, keeping the rockers not too rockie and the jams not too jammy. And three nights in, there were still no repeats. The second night changed that.

What made the first set of July 1 particularly interesting was the song pairings. After "Buried Alive" (damn it!), the band went on a mini-Hoist kick (broken only by "Poor Heart") then moved perfectly to a more mellow run, with "Roggae," "Vultures" and "Dirt." And that's where the repeats kicked in. "Gotta Jibboo" came back as a set opener, while "Mike's Song" and "Weekapaug Groove" showed up later in the set. Thing is, though, this round put Holmdel's to shame, forsaking what vaguely sounded like teases of the more common, silly "Simple" for a soothing "Swept Away," then "Steep," then the old-school Mike's Groove middle-man, "I Am Hydrogen." Hey, no problem seeing a song again, especially if it's going to gain from show to show.

Chaotic scene notwithstanding, these two nights were well worth the traffic. But somehow they weren't as exciting as Holmdel. Stay tuned for the real mayhem in Camden.