Saturday, May 19, 2018

Marathon XVIII

Money is a little tight and Gloria has no vacation time with her new job, so for my next marathon, we needed something in early June that was drive-able in a weekend and inexpensive, but also in a new state so I can continue my quest to run all my marathons in different states.

Using that criteria, we found the Youngstown Marathon in Ohio on June 3.

Sure, most people would probably say that if you are going to do one marathon in Ohio, it would have to be the famous Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati or maybe the big Cleveland Marathon. But even though I thoroughly enjoyed the giant spectacles of Boston and New York City, and the big fun of Rock and Roll San Antonio, the smaller races seem to be more my style.

OK, so this one is really small.  Last year's race had 200 people.  That makes it slightly bigger than the 2009 Eisenhower Marathon (175) that produced my personal record and slightly smaller than the 2013 Fort Myers Beach Marathon (230).  With small races, my worst fear is getting lost - 26 miles is a long way to go and if there is not a lot of runners, there is also likely not a lot of volunteers, not to mention a dearth of spectators and large gaps between participants. Not only can it get lonely, but worrisome - I have had more than my share of occasions at small races when I wondered if I was still on the course (and some unfortunate experiences when, in fact, I was not).

That said, the course for Youngstown is displayed with an excellent interactive map that will prove to be helpful. The day before the Park City Marathon, I wrote down directions for every turn on every road and brought it with me at the race.  And I am glad I did because I would have been sunk by some of its confusing sections had I not done so.

The other benefit of small marathons is the easy in-and-out.  We will stay in a cheap hotel a few miles away, park our car near the race's start and finish and not have to worry about early wake times, shuttle buses, giant corrals and other stuff that can make big marathons frustrating.

There are two weeks left and my training has been going incredibly well.  I will be prepared.  I will be properly trained.  I will eat the correct pre-race meals.  I have not yet decided whether I will make it a PR attempt, but I am confident this will be a quality race and I am determined to make my 18th marathon another enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 5, 1998

The funk is strong with this one.

Night four of the quickie Island Tour saw Phish messing with everyone's expectations right from the start. "The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" opened the show for the first time in three years and then, when everyone was likely expecting the usual "Suzy Greenberg" or even "AC/DC Bag" to follow, a hard left was taken and the band launched into "You Enjoy Myself" (first and only "Oh Kee > YEM" ever). Naturally, this "YEM" was funkier than usual, keeping the groove nice and slippery for the audience's dancing pleasure. Even the vocal jam was funky.

Phish knows how to play with contrast, so the strongly executed but decidedly un-funky "Theme From the Bottom" between "YEM" and "Bathtub Gin" was an impressive move in set-list construction, leading the way for a fantastic "Gin" and its entertaining (though a bit rocky) segue into a funkified "Cities". I suppose "Sparkle" was thrown in for the sake of more contrast, to break things up a bit one more time before the set-closing "Split Open and Melt", which was good enough but neither rip-roaring like the early-'90s versions nor Island-Tour-funky.

In fact, it may have seemed that the funk was done for the week with excellent, but definitely non-funky, performances of "Down With Disease" (totally rocking), "Ya Mar" (fun and breezy) and "Prince Caspian" (big and bombastic).  However, the second half of the set brought it back as songs continued to segue, with a jarring crash from "Maze" to "Shafty" and with an effortless slide from "Shafty" to "Possum" to "Cavern". Save for the latter, every song in the set (save for the "Cavern" closer) was left unfinished.

As if the point had not been completely made by the music, Trey Anastasio even mentioned during the intro of the funkiest "Cavern" ever, that they were going to jam on the funk groove for the rest of the night because, "That's sort of been the thing."

It is almost surprising then, especially since Trey also instructed the audience that they can take off if they want to, implying that the funk groove would be all that was left of the show, that they came back for an encore with a blazing "Bold as Love" (or even at all - they probably could have continued the "Cavern" funk jam until their curfew with no encore and no one would have been upset about it).

But there is still no doubt that the funk certainly had been "the thing" in that small but glorious moment in time known as the Island Tour. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 4, 1998

In an awesome reversal move, Phish opened up the second half of the Island Tour (the first of two shows at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island) with "Tweezer", after capping the first half with the "Reprise" version of the tune.

Funk played a big part in Phish's jamming in the latter half of 1997 and that spilled over into these shows, too.  It was clearly evident in the "Tweezer" jam that sounded like what the version at the Great Went festival the previous August had the potential to be. 

By this point of the four-show run, the rust was shaken off and the composed songs were executed as wonderfully as the jams - from the simple stuff like "Ginseng Sullivan," "Bouncing Around the Room," "Funky Bitch" and "Lawn Boy", to the more complex tunes like "Limb by Limb" and "Taste".  The latter had a jam that even blew away the excellent version from 3/1/97 that had been officially released on Slip, Stitch and Pass, five months before this show.  And as a set closer, "Character Zero" just kept getting more and more rockin' in '98.

"Birds of a Feather" was obviously a new song they really wanted to push and explore.  The Island Tour featured the song twice, first at its debut on Long Island and then with a long jam in its second go-round in Rhode Island.  In addition, the officially released Island Tour package includes a version played in between at the Providence soundcheck during which the band members seem genuinely excited about its prospects (and with another excellent jam, too!)

In previous years, leaving songs unfinished was an occasional occurrence, but not quite commonplace.  The fall of 1997 demonstrated that jams could get so far out that they could not come back, and the second set of 4/4/98 continued in that direction, with "Birds" giving way to "2001" (which built upon both the extended-jam potential from the Great Went and that fabulous Phishy funk), which segued beautifully (and surprisingly!) into "Brother", which itself abandoned its usual chartered course before the final chorus to sail away on the tide of its own funky momentum. And though the latter did actually come around, it was so forced as to seem unnecessary.  After a pause, the band must have sensed the weirdness, too, because they jokingly started to play the song again from the beginning.

The "Ghost" that followed was another open-ended funk jam, but "Ghost" has always been an open-ended funk jam; at this point, though, that was becoming the norm, not the exception.  Maybe that is why this "Ghost" never really got its due, being overshadowed by the standout versions that preceded it. Fans will always recall 11/17/97, but no one mentions 4/4/98 as a "Ghost" highlight. 

With the exception of the oddly placed "The Lizards", the fact that an excellent set-closing "David Bowie" and a gorgeous "Harry Hood" encore are the least interesting things about the second half of this show should be all you need to know about how far the band had come and where it was headed by the time it hit Providence for this tour. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 3, 1998

If it happened now, I would probably prefer to stay overnight in the Uniondale, N.Y., area, for a two-night stand of Phish at Nassau Coliseum, but two decades ago, we crazy kids decided to drive the 60 miles from New Jersey, drive back after the show, and then do it again the next day.  I was still attending university at the time, so maybe I had to get back for a Friday class; but I honestly can not remember.

My ticket stub from the second night of the Island Tour. Section 103 - good seats!

Things got off to a much better start on the second night, with outrageous jams in "Mike's Song" and "Weekapaug Groove", and a strange placement of "Old Home Place" sandwiched in between. Listen closely to the "Weekapaug" jam and you can briefly spot the now-familiar chords to "Mozambique", which would make its debut with Trey's one-off band called 8-Foot Flourescent Tubes a couple of weeks later, though the (assumed?) title at the time was "Free Thoughts".

Slowing things down afterward was the only thing that made sense and "Train Song" did the job nicely; but "Billy Breathes" was mangled so badly that it is a minor miracle that Trey managed to make his solo soar, literally at the last minute. The other highlight of the set was a well-executed (though not earth-shattering) "Reba".

While the '80s songs dominated in the first set, the entire second set makes a good case for why the four-show Island Tour made it into the Phishtory books and was given the full official-release treatment.

After two go-rounds with Ween's "Roses Are Free" in December of 1997 - that rocked harder than, but did not stray far from the original - the third time was the charm as it was given the full Phish treatment for a whopping 28 minutes; and it was not only lengthy, it was fascinating, with excellent interplay between the band members. Keeping pace with the magic that was made in the celebrated fall of 1997, the consistent grooves were fun for the dancing legs, but there were enough change-ups to keep it interesting for the ol' ear holes. It seemed to herald the beginning of "Roses" as a new jam vehicle but, sadly, the song reverted right back to a five-minute rocker after this, with the exception of the epic 35-minute version at dawn, near the end of the all-night 12/31/99 show. That show still remains in the vaults, though, so this Island Tour performance the only officially released version with an extended jam.

Also particularly notable was the relatively new "Piper" that followed "Roses". More of an excuse to jam than a song, it was obvious that the repetition and acceleration would build up to a climactic frenzy. The surprise came on the back end. The outro that has now been long abandoned, but was usually less than a minute even at the time, turned into its own extended jam that lasted even longer than the front end. And as the music finally wound down into a lovely piano solo, Page segued into a "Loving Cup" that ended with a fan jumping up onstage only to get taken down by Pete Carini (crew member, and he of the famed "lumpy head").

Because Phish shows are always of-the-moment affairs, the band used that to power a musical theme, singing, "Carini's gonna get you..." throughout the intro section of a "Run Like an Antelope" that soared into its climax, ending one of Phishtory's historic four-song sets.

But the fun did not stop there. For an encore, the band played "Carini" (natch) and called its titular subject onstage; and then proceeded to play "Halley's Comet" (surprising for an encore choice) which led into "Tweezer Reprise".

As it is, "Tweeprise" is a surefire rocking way to end a show, but playing it in a rare three-song encore and without actually having played "Tweezer"? Well, that is an acknowledgement some awesome stuff just happened.  We left feeling thoroughly satisfied.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 2, 1998

Twenty years ago this month, at the first of four Phish shows, Trey Anastasio said they "got bored at home" and decided to play a few shows.  They booked two nights at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and two nights at the Providence Civic Center on Rhode Island and dubbed it the Island Tour.

I attended the two Long Island shows with my friend, aLi; my brother, Ben; and a few other pals.

My ticket stub.  It only cost $25 to see Phish 20 years ago.
Most of the notes I made from the first show (April 2, 1998) focused on the general fun that was had, how much of a bummer the security guards were, the crazy and long jams, and the band's light-hearted approach.  Two decades of retrospect reveal a slightly different - or at least, more complete - story.

Immediately, in the first set of the first show, it is easy to spot that despite being bored at home, they were likely not practicing. Flubs were present in the composed sections of almost every song, notably in the tricky meter of "Sloth" and the miscued ending of "My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own" (the latter I was truly grateful to hear, though, due to its rarity). But when "Stash" took off into its It positively slayed for more than 15 incredible minutes.  And the set-ending "Chalkdust Torture" was so fast and fierce that with its ramped-up tempo and missed cues, combined with Trey flying so far off the rails during the solo that he barely stuck his landing, it is hard not to point to this moment as the beginning of the road to the 2.0 era - when the composed sections took a backseat to long, exploratory jams that rarely made it back down to earth.

After all, it was only a few months later when Trey (incorrectly) declared that no one cares if they miss some changes and that it is "all about energy," in an interview that ended up in the 'Bittersweet Motel' film. It was that attitude (and the drugs that likely induced it) that proved to be the band's undoing a few years hence.

That said, there was fun in the air and some magic, too, especially in the second set, which included a solid "Simple" jam, the debut of "Frankie Says", the buttery segue from "Wolfman's Brother" into "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" and the monster jams in the latter and "Twist".

Speaking of "Twist" and 'Bittersweet Motel', there is a scene during which they are practicing "Birds of a Feather" (which also debuted at this show) and they are having a laugh about incorporating what they call the "'Star Trek' chord." I do not know if that scene was filmed before or after this show, but Mike is clearly riffing on that familiar eight-note pattern during the jam in the Island Tour's "Twist".

Save for that "Stash" and the set-ending "Chalkdust" (which includes some band banter/silliness at the end), the first set is mostly forgettable.  But that second set is well worth repeated spins.

Monday, April 16, 2018

An epic Boston Marathon

I was able to catch some of the race coverage of the Boston Marathon today and I watched with delightful surprise as American Desiree Linden and Japanese Yuki Kawauchi won their respective divisions.

A few tears even formed in my eyes upon the realization that Linden, born and raised in California, USA, pulled ahead of her competitors to gain such a commanding lead in the last few miles that she finished the race with no one behind her for four minutes, as she marked her victory as the first American woman to win the race in 35 years.  Wow. 

It is also important to note that six of the other ladies in the top 10 were also Americans, including the amazing Shalane Flanagan.  In short, the American gals positively crushed it this year. 

On the men's side, Kawauchi managed to surpass Kenyan competitor Geoffrey Kirui in the last two miles, with an enormous kick that put him far ahead, making him the first Japanese man to win the race in 31 years. 

In a sport that has for so long been so dominated by Africans, it is quite amazing to see Americans and Japanese athletes stepping up to the challenge and taking home wins in the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon.

If, per chance, you feel like watching the short movie I made from my experience running the Boston Marathon in 2010, it is in three parts on You Tube:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Vacation running in New Orleans

We drove with some friends to New Orleans from Parsippany, N.J., earlier this month to celebrate my friend aLi's 40th birthday in a big way. But the first thing Gloria and I did after spending 22 hours in the car was go for a run.

OK, that's not entirely true.  First, we were greeted by the rest of the gang who had flown from Jersey, then we had a celebratory drink, and then we went for our runs.

Long run that ended up being 11 miles on March 11 in New Orleans

I randomly decided to run east from our French Quarter hotel and the goal was to not get lost, so I stayed as close to the Mississippi River as possible, first through the very crowded Woldenberg Park and then through the spacious Crescent Park (which involved going up a long flight of stairs to a pedestrian overpass). Back on the road at Chartres Street, I hooked around Poland Avenue, past Bacchanal Wine and Spirits (where we would end up on Tuesday afternoon for wine and cheese) and turned right on St. Claude Avenue, which seemed like the main drag through the Bywater section.  I love running over bridges, so to do so over a little inlet from the river was fun, especially because it had a separated pedestrian part. The bridge placed me into the region of the Lower Ninth Ward and Holy Cross sections.  Sadly, these areas seemed to be a bit depressed, but turning toward the river into the town of Arabi, the neighborhood reminded me of sections of Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Fla. That was when the rain started - when I was at my farthest point in the run - and it came down in buckets, so the return trip was not pleasant at all.  But with temperatures in the 60s, at least it was not that kind of rain that chills you to the bone.  I got a little lost going through the French Quarter, looking for our hotel, so it ended up being 11 miles total.

Quick three-miler on March 12 in New Orleans...after the big party night

On Monday, I headed southwest for a quick three-miler that took me through what I suppose is downtown, past Canal Street and along Camp and Coliseum streets, into a peaceful residential section.

Eight-mile run on March 13 through the Greater NOLA area on the other side of the Mississippi.

Tuesday's eight-miler was the best.  On Monday afternoon, we had taken a ferry across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point and the first thing I noticed from the terminal was the pedestrian path along the river.  Gloria and I immediately knew we had to return for our runs the next day, so I am happy to say that I did my eight-miler along the lovely (and blessedly flat) trail, where I had a beautiful view of the river and the city, saw folks walking their dogs, ran under the Route 90 bridge and passed a few other runners. What a treat, though in retrospect, we should have run the opposite direction for more trail and better scenery.

A mostly uninteresting four-mile run in New Orleans on March 14

For my last run in NOLA, I went northwest from the French Quarter through the urban residential areas along Orleans Avenue.  Not much to see there, but good enough for four quick miles on my last day in town.

Gloria and I probably could have partied a little more and stayed up a little later each night if we had decided to skip our runs for the sake of vacation, but now that I am a dozen years into it, the running itself has inevitably become an exciting part of every trip.  To see new places and traverse the landscape on foot brings a unique aspect to traveling. No amount of boozing it up on Bourbon Street can compare to that.