Soon we were back in Atlanta. Keep in mind that Phish had not played a show in Atlanta since 2003. Personally, I had not seen a Phish show in my hometown since 2000. Ten years? Is that really possible? One of my top all-time shows was when Phish played Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta on July 4, 1999. That show featured the band returning for a second encore consisting of an a cappella Star Spangled Banner, followed by a midnight fireworks display (again, hippies really love fireworks).
For years, Phish shows in Atlanta took place at my beloved Lakewood Amphitheatre. Acoustically stunted, and surrounded by some of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta, Lakewood nevertheless seemed favored by Phish, as they played two-night sets there in 1999 and 2000. Yet this weekend’s shows were scheduled for Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. For those unfamiliar, Alpharetta is an affluent suburb north of Atlanta. Verizon is surrounded by office parks. Lakewood is next to a flea market and housing projects (actually those have been torn down, but I choose to remember Lakewood as it was in its prime).
As my friend Eric and I drove north into the musical frontier of suburban Alpharetta, I was skeptical of how the nice citizens of Alpharetta would handle being descended upon by thousands of smiling people with smelly hair and lots of strange stickers on their cars.
We discovered that the parking situation at Verizon is a little weird because lots are spread out all over the place in random parking decks and areas so far away they require a shuttle. We arranged to park in lot “A”, which is the primo area a short walk from the venue. NOTE: “A” lot parking passes were going for over $20 a piece on Sunday afternoon. The lot scene was great, and the Alpharetta police seemed to be enjoying themselves just watching the masses fill up the lot and start having a good time. We took our time that afternoon just enjoying the scene, but after a hearty french bread pizza sold to me out of the back of some guy’s van, I was ready to enter Verizon for the first time.
Verizon is a smaller amphitheathre than either Charlotte or Lakewood. It has a large pavilion area, with a flat “pit” that is standing room only. Following the seated sections, the lawn rises up – steeper than any venue I’ve ever been to. This gives you a great view of the stage area. Plus, the entire area is surrounded by trees, including a few that remain right in the middle of the lawn. All in all, it is a very cool setting. Band of Horses playing softly as the house music? Yes, please. I believe a comment I heard near the top of the lawn summed things up as a comparison between the Alpharetta Verizon and the Charlotte Verizon, “Here the bathroom lines are shorter and girls are better looking.” What more could you want?
Enough about the setting, let’s get to the music. From the first note, I could tell Saturday’s show was going to be really good. The sound was fantastic: not overly loud, and very clear. First set highlights included an excited Bathtub Gin, a rare Mountains in the Mist, and a sweet Gumbo. The band broke into Stealing Time From Time From the Faulty Plan, a track off of Joy. I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of Phish as I listened to Trey’s bluesy riffs combine with the strong lyrics that reference his battles with drug addiction. This was a band that had grown since the last Atlanta show I had seen them play in 2000. Sanity, an obscure Jimmy Buffet cover song, which really just made fun of Jimmy Buffet, normally gets skipped over whenever I’m listening to Junta, ROCKED the crowd, and this was followed by the soaring Run Like an Antelope. Wow.
Set two picked up where set one left off. Slave to the Traffic Light pushed the exuberant crowd into a frenzy, and Backwards Down the Number Line showed that the crowd was just as into the new songs as the old. I almost couldn’t believe my ears when the set closed with a strong Harry Hood transitioning into an amazing cover of the Rolling Stone’s Loving Cup (the soundtrack for mass nudity for anyone who has seen Bittersweet Motel). A perfect encore of Sleeping Monkey into the inevitable and incredibly rocking Tweezer Reprise finished off an amazing first night in Atlanta. The crowd was way into it, and the band seemed to be having a good time.