June 17, 1994. It’s a date that never quite got the same temporal recognition as, say, September 11, 2001, or December 7, 1941, but many Americans will remember where they were that fateful day.
That hot summer evening was when the one and only Orenthal James Simpson (joined by Al “A.C.” Cowlings and his white Bronco) opted to lead the LAPD on an absurd slow-speed chase instead of turning himself in as a suspect in a double homicide. This we all remember thanks in no small part to the recent one-two punch of The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story and ESPN’s four-hour 30 For 30 documentary O.J.: Made In America, both of which racked up a host of well-deserved nominations and awards last year.
What else was happening: Arnold Palmer was playing his final round at the U.S. Open, the 1994 FIFA World Cup was kicking off for first time in the US of A, The Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks were playing Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and, in a sweltering Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, a crowd was packed in for a Phish show that would turn out to be one of the strangest musical moments in the history of the band, a group whose trajectory is marked with a fair share of such remarkably whimsical watermarks.
The chase, out on the 405 freeway, started not long after Phish took the stage. At the set break the band saw, presumably on the green room TVs, that history was in the making and casually peppered the entire second set with opaque references to O.J., kicking things off with an enthusiastic “What do ya say, O.J.?!” This being 1994, no one in the audience had handy-dandy little devices that would have alerted them to what was happening in the outside world, so their experience was uniquely surreal. Besides all the O.J. nonsense, the actual music itself from that night was pretty great and these days it’s generally regarded as one of the best shows from that tour.
Whether the band was attempting to mark an anniversary (happy 23rd, O.J. show!) or were just being flooded with memories as they prepared to camp out in the Bradley Center earlier this month to rehearse for a 13-night Madison Square Garden run, they decided to finally release the remastered soundboard tapes of the show on their Live Phish site for one and all to enjoy. Hell, assuming he’s not in too much trouble for getting busted whackin’ off, O.J. might be out on parole soon enough to enjoy the show himself!
UPDATE: Yep, he made parole.