After a short swim in the hotel pool we got dressed and took the car to the American Airlines Arena. Its always hard to project how long it will take because sometimes traffic can be totally horrible around venues and parking lots. Not today! Despite a construction site approx. 1,5m from the venue on Biscane Blvd everything runs smoothly. There's only a very short waiting line right in front of the official parking garage of American Airline Arena. Guys with "parking 20 USD" signs try to re-direct people to their private parking lots and garages around the block. As the official fee is also 20 USD we take a right and roll straight on an 90% empty lot. Some Phishheads sit outside their cars listening to music, grilling, chilling, smoking and drinking booze.
Its only a 2-3min walk to the main entrance where we are supposed to meet with Justin and his friend from Indiana. Strangely there is only a really short waiting line on the stairs 5min before the gate opens. Back in 2003 people were standing back down to the street. The arena looks beautifully enlightened with yellow, orange and purple light and a huge video projection on the surface of the building showing Phish live footage previously recorded - really cool! Justin is right on time and after a short but enthusiastic welcome (who could expect that we see each other only 6 month after we first met at Deer Creek) we walk straight in. There is no waiting at all. Security check is relaxed.
First thing you see when you walk in is the merchandise table with all brand new Phish Florida items. I am very sorry but I have to admit that I was massively disappointed with the new goods. I don't like the event poster which is too colorful and looks like an advertisement for orange juice. The 2003 poster looked like a cheap "Kitch" painting by an averagely skilled street artist on Ocean Drive. The colors hurt my eyes. Unfortunately I only found out after waiting in line for 45min and buying #987 (or so) of #1000. Now its on the wall in my flat ;) Thank god to Facebook, Fromtheroad, Twitter, etc. you now know in advance what you get so I did not get in line this time. The T-shirts weren't any better - just not my colors (all kinds of purple, yellow, orange, etc.). Well, the trip was expensive enough and my budget needs some rest. Domestic beer at the venue is 9,00 USD, imported beer 13,50 USD, a slice if pizza 8,00 USD, a cocktail 18 USD, etc.. So while Phish is keeping ticket prices low everybody else is robbing you legally!
We were standing on the first floor and watching the people flow in. Around 7.30pm when the show should officially begin there were no signs of a soon start. Still hundreds and thousands of people came in from outside. Around 7.50pm we got to section 118 which is one of the lower sections in the middle of the arena. The seats are perfect and its so good to know that we will be there for 4 nights in a row. The people next to us were very nice. One was from Ft. Lauderdale, the other from New York City (seeing his show #96 or so - EU phans can't compete with that numbers but with the intimacy of our tiny venues).
I don't remember the exact time but it must have been shortly after 8pm when the lights went out. Suddenly people were pumped and you could feel the collective energy. Everybody was waiting for this moment for weeks. Most people were already screaming and dancing when they got up the stairs and through the entrance. So did I. They didn't play Wilson as an opener like I had wished for. They didn't play it all last night. The whole set list and flow of the show was a bit strange and the first set missed a little dancing and party vibe (except some moments).
Phishtoughts.com is quite disappointed by the whole show and pointing to the half empty venue. Yes, you hear right. Half empty (and the show was almost sold out)! There was even a black curtain covering the 3rd and 4th level behind stage and the lower section behind stage was nearly empty. Everywhere were empty seats - even on the floor. They definitely need to change the way tickets are sold. Print a name and ID# on the tickets and the scalping ends. That's the way FIFA does it with tickets for the soccer world cup.
The show kicked off with "Sample in a jar" which is one of my all time faves. The version was very tight and I thought it was a great opener. Next song was "NICU" which always is good feel tune to me. It was followed by a rare bluesy "My Soul". The following 4 songs ("Roggae", "Undermind", "Bouncing Around The Room", "Poor Heart") lacked excitement a little bit. Then came "Stash" which brought back my full attention. I must agree with Phishthoughts.com that the flow of the show was destroyed more than once. There was a lot of "humor songs" but the whole mix was strange. "I Didn't Know" (featuring the final vacuum solo of the decade) and especially "Beauty Of A Broken Heart" didn't seem to fit between "Stash" and "Possum" which was a very warm welcomed and superb finale of set 1.
Set 2 continued the spirit of the night. It took until song #4 (after "Mike's Song", "Light", "I Am Hydrogen") "Weekapaug Groove" kicked off the party. My wife Natalie who is far from being a phan felt the jetlag and was not turned on so far. Unfortunately "Weekapaug Groove", "Alaska", "Backwards Down the Number Line", "Makisupa Policeman", "Harry Hood" (all fantastic in my eyes) came too late for her to bring her back to life. "Contact" was a another "fun break" before an energetic "Character Zero" closed set 2. And then came an incredible sick "First Tube" which alone compensated for some mediocre versions last night. Trey was suddenly on fire and CK5 brought on an absolutely gorgeous light show.
After the show we met Justin and his friend across the street to give them a ride back to their hotel which was on the way to ours. Back in the hotel room I synched my digital camera to the notebook and uploaded some pictures to Flickr (Thanks to Yome who grabs them and puts them up together with my writings which I send from my Blackberry during day).
More to come tomorrow...
More pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/treyanastasio/sets/72157623084195140/