Phish in Chicago, 7/19/13. The Show that Wasn’t.

Chicago brings out the blues in Phish and the first show at Charter One Pavilion was no exception.  It contained many of the songs that pass for bluesy in the Phish catalog, Wolfman’s Brother, Julius, and the definite blues number My Soul.  I even thought that maybe a Sugar Blue encore might be in the not too distant future.  Alas, there was no future.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Even though the venue has been around for a while, I hadn’t made my way there, so I was looking forward to it.  If you are not familiar, Charter One is on an island in Lake Michigan that once was home to an airport. In perhaps one of the baldest civic moves I ever witnessed, the former Mayor Daley had the runways bulldozed in the middle of the night, citing “security concerns.”  There were protests, a law suit I think, but when the dust settled the airport was gone and Northerly Island was a place to see concerts. 

As an actual venue it is quite meh.  The general admission pit where I had tickets was a black top slab with a raised stage platform.  There were a couple of “VIP” stands toward the back of this area which I can’t fathom being a good place to enjoy a show.  Is waiter service and a seat that important?  By the look of things at least as far as Phish fans are concerned, not so much.  There are also rumors of a lawn beyond the upfront section, but I didn’t bother to explore it, though it didn’t look to be pitched at all so basically it was a plain where the view was better on the video screens than anywhere else. 

Speaking of views, they were quite underwhelming.  Looking toward the stage, one might, kind of, if you twist around, see the skyline of the city.  If you were on the lawn I would imagine you could see the lake, but from my vantage point there was no evidence I was surrounded by water.  I could have been in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  I don’t think a lot of planning went into the original concepts for the venue and the recent “improvements” were just a means to make more places for people to stand.  It is kind of remarkable, in the worst way, that such a public space has absolutely no ascetic value whatsoever.  The location would seem to have so much potential, but it is wasted by such mundane, even lazy use of space.

Sadly, this wasn't anywhere near where you wanted to be standing.
Sadly, this was from outside the venue.


Now, on to the show or lack of it, sadly.  I’d love to give a more detailed rundown of the first set, but there really isn’t a need.  It was Phish as a blues band, mixing in some of their gentle weirdness just to keep it interesting.  If my memory serves this was the first time I ever saw a Scent of a Mule in the first set, but considering how much of a paint-by-numbers song it is, that novelty wore off almost after the first note.  46 Days kept up the blue-tinged feel and Limb by Limb is always a favorite of mine, largely for the lyrics.  I hope the day comes that I bear witness to an epic Limb by Limb, but alas this was just a nice little version that I won’t fast forward through when it comes up on shuffle. 

Never underestimate the optimism of a Phish fan.  As we were standing around waiting for the second set, the wind was picking up and the clouds to the west and north were looking more and more ominous.  I texted to my wife, “if it rains, I’m doomed.”  There is absolutely nowhere to go for cover.  I heard multiple folks around me saying that it wasn’t coming anywhere near us, that it was all blowing past.  I really doubted that especially after the road crew started wrapping everything on stage plastic.  By the time the band got back to the stage, it wasn’t just a matter of if, but when was the rain going to fall.

I had weaseled my way pretty far up front on the Mike side of things, so when Cactus started poundin’ da bass (read with bad Jamaican accent) I knew Down with Disease was on its way.  It is a pretty basic, solid Disease, but if you are not a tour completist, you don’t need to give it a listen.  It begins to really step out of the main Disease structure around the 7:30 minute mark, and starts holding down a nice little, up tempo groove about a minute later.  Unfortunately, this vein didn’t get well explored.  Of all things, it really sounds like Page pulls the rip cord and starts to slow things down, ultimately coming to rest on Prince Caspian.

Caspian only lasted for a minute, and even before Page’s announcement it was apparent that something was going on.  Page stopped playing and the rest of the band kind of looked his way saying, “huh-oh.”  Sure enough, the news wasn’t good.  Due to the approaching storm, the venue needed to be evacuated immediately. 

Now, I’ve been in some pretty horrendous storms in my Phish career, including the 7/14/2000 show in Columbus that resulted in the show being delayed.  As it turned out, this storm didn’t seem so bad, but given the location, namely an unprotected island, the temporary nature of the stage, and the amount of lightening, it was a wise move to cancel the rest of the show.  One thing that I’m sure was going through the promoters and venue officials minds was the stage collapse in Indiana last year.  I know as the screens and some of the suspended amps were swaying, that tragedy was going through my mind.  Phish and most of the fans did the sensible thing and called it a night.  The band even went so far as to give the fans an extra set on Saturday and a partial refund.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the refund because I missed the e-mail until it was too late.  I blame Ticketmaster more than the band however, because I doubt it was their idea to have such a small window to apply for a refund. 


In the end, it was a nice way to spend a Friday night.  It was nice to see Page take the lead throughout much of the set and in my heart of hearts (and old legs) getting home around 10:30 was kind of nice too.  Maybe we can do one show per venue at the Old Country Buffet start time of 4:30?


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