Missed opportunities. Everyone’s had at least one. when it comes to Phish, there’s always the one that got away. The show you decided to skip because you had a test the next day. The one that was just too far away to make it back before work. The one you slept on getting tickets for and couldn’t find an extra. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen too often…but unfortunately it does happen And with Phish, it’s the worst feeling in the world when those shows become all-timers. For me, there were two that fit this category: 12/30/97 at MSG–the legendary “Harpua” and the 45-minute encore–and 2/28/03 at the Nassau Coliseum–one of the best “Tweezers” ever played and the long awaited return of the biggest Phish bustout of them all: “Destiny Unbound.”
When I was deep into The Phish Compendium and The Pharmer’s Almanac (Vol. 4), the impression was that “Destiny Unbound” was the great white whale of Phish setlists. Played frequently in the early 90s and then shelved, it developed a cult following and old-school fans clamored for its return. When Trey suggested that the band would play it again if all the fans in the front row sang the first line at the same time, leave it to Phish fans to take him up on it at Red Rocks and the Hampton Coliseum in the mid- and late-90s, respectively. Denied, the song stayed on the shelf.
As I learned more and more about the Phish mythos, the prospect of “Destiny Unbound” greatly interested me. I found it difficult to track down a recording of the song, and so for many years I had no idea what it actually sounded like. It wasn’t until the February 2003 “return tour” that the concept of actually hearing “Destiny” came back to me.
I was a junior in college at the time at SUNY Buffalo. My roommate and I had tickets to see the band in Cincinnati and passed on the opportunity to fly home to see the show a week later at the Nassau Coliseum. In retrospect, it would have been fairly easy to attend. We had plenty of friends going who could find us extras; back when JetBlue was still fairly new on the scene, you could get a round trip flight from BUF to JFK for about $100; plus, it was college–missing a day or two of classes was far from an emergency. But we were so jazzed about the road trip to Cincinatti that we saw the Nassau show as an adventure that we didn’t need to take.
When I saw the setlist after it was played, my jaw dropped. “Destiny Unbound?” They played it? REALLY? ? And I missed it. At the time, I figured it was my only opportunity. As you can hear in earlier episodes of Attendance Bias with Slade Sohmer of The Recount and Pete Mason of PhanArt, we talked about how setlists in 2.0 were fairly predictable with few exceptions. Two of those exceptions were their show in Burgettstown, PA in the summer of 2003, and this show at the Nassau Coliseum that February.
Phish broke their own mold. They played, at that time, what felt like the ultimate bust out. Maybe not in terms of “number of shows since it was last played,” but in terms of community relevance–it felt like I had missed some sort of cosmic event that only occurs once every 500 years; a special eclipse or passing of an obscure comet. The fact that it was played in my hometown venue only added salt to the wound.
Pretty dramatic, yes.
Luckily the band brought “Destiny” back into the rotation for 3.0. The simple tale of Highway Bill and Highway Jill doesn’t pop up frequently, but at least it’s in the cards. Those of us who absorbed the band’s history and self-referential universe knows that it’s special every time it’s played, simply because there were decades when that wasn’t the case. For me, the sense of closure finally came when the band played it at the 2010 summer tour closer at one of my hometown venues, Jones Beach Amphitheater.