Jonesing For Jams – Phish and Jones Beach

Jones Beach Theater is located on the shores of Long Island Sound in Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, NY. This outdoor amphitheater is one of two “large” outdoor venues in the Greater New York City area with the Garden State Arts Center being the other one, located on the opposite side of the city. With a capacity of approximately 15,000 people this venue attracts a wide variety of performers and has been a mainstay of the summer season since opening in 1952. There have been several updates and additions to the venue over the years including a smaller “theater” setting that seats approximately 5,000 people but that venue is not one where Phish has performed. In 2012 the venue was inundated with water from the storm surge related to Hurricane Sandy resulting in a $20M project to repair the theater in advance of the 2013 season. Phish has played here in two of the three main eras of their career with the majority of the performances occurring since The Return in 2009.

The fourteen shows Phish has played at Jones Beach have all been in the summer months with the first two in 1992 being single set performances on other tours (i.e. not as part of a Phish Summer Tour). The initial performance took place as headliner for the H.O.R.D.E. tour while the second was a set opening for Santana later that same month. All subsequent performances have been Phish-only two set shows with single night visits in 1993, 1994, and 2013 and multi-night stands in 1995, 2009 (3 nights), 2010, and 2012. While Friday is the most common day for Phish to play here with five such shows all other days of the week except for Monday and Saturday have witnessed Phish on this stage. Coincidentally, the first and last performances here both occurred on July 12th.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Jones Beach Jams. Not the biggest list but there are some doozies in there.

07.12.1992  Phish’s first visit to Jones Beach was a single set performance as part of the now defunct H.O.R.D.E Tour (Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere – anyone else remember the ‘theme’ song?), Jon Popper’s brainchild that helped spur the jamband movement in the early 90s by getting like-minded bands and fans together for shows at the large outdoor sheds around the country instead of cramping into small indoor venues. That’s putting it very simply but I’ll recommend you do a little internetting if you are curious about the development and evolution of the concept. For this show Phish had the headliner slot as it would be their final performance with the traveling fest before leaving for a few small theater shows ahead of their gig opening for Santana later in the month. They came out wearing large papier-mache masks and opened with a mic’d a cappella performance of Adeline after which they apparently gave those masks out to folks in the first row. After fun runs through Chalkdust and Bouncin’ they get to the meet of the set (remember, this is not the open jamming band we know now as the name of the game was precision, energy, and playful creativity at this stage) with Divided (a mere 15 second pause!) and Fluffhead. Both of these are well played if a tad loose, showcasing the compositional prowess and ease of connection between the four musicians. Covering the gamut of their stylistic palette of the time they play their cover of Uncle Pen next and follow it up with the contained madness of Maze where Page shines brightly in his turn at soloing. Glide then induces the sing-along mode and gets some of that patented Phish tongue-in-cheek humor as Fish takes a vac solo in the end pause before they come back to finish it up. They close the set with a rocking Possum that has several bits of Secret Language and a tease of Blues Traveler’s But Anyway in the intro before Trey runs roughshod over the song with his solo before giving some thanks and closing up shop for the night, sans encore. Fun little time capsule set but you won’t be spinning this one otherwise.

 

07.24.1992  A mere twelve days later the band was back here for one of those Santana opening sets, the sixth such show of that tour run which extended into late August of that year. Because I love it so much, I have to link what exists of their previous day’s adventure as the house band for the Hangin With MTV show. It is a wonderful snapshot into just how not part of the mainstream we all were back then. Anyway, this short single set show starts off with MSO after which Trey thanks the crowd before starting into a bouncy version of Foam. Next up is a serious bit of shred in Tweezer as Trey shows off a bit for the crowd gathering for the main set performance and then Page gets his turn to shine when they follow it up with Coil. They continue the string by going right into YEM and here we have perhaps the best tune of the night as they put together a very energetic run through the song on the way to a hilarious ‘french hairdo’ tinged VJ. The set closes with Reprise but they were not finished for the night as Carlos invited them out for a five song sequence during his set later in the evening. I have yet to find tape of that sit-in by Phish but I’d guess it is akin to others from this tour so check em out if you feel like hearing them trade licks with Santana’s band. Again, this single setter is a relic more than something you’ll seek out.

 

07.23.1993  Summer 1993 gave Phish their first full show headlining visit to Jones Beach as the band came here in the middle of the tour and not too long preceding a stretch run in August that I often mention as one of those big time evolutionary peaks in the band’s history. Buried Alive starts us off with Trey sustaining notes to up the tension and setting the tone for the evening. Typical of the time, they string this together with two more songs as a form of ‘triple opener’ with Rift and the now long lost jazz standard Caravan completing the string before they play the newer (to them) bluegrass cover Nellie Kane. Nellie drops to a shreddy Maze (are there any other kind?) and then following Horse>Silent (wherefore hast thou gone, oh acoustic Horse intro?) they destroy an extremely fast paced PYITE just plain showing off their youthful vigor and dexterity. Jim gets one of those compact jams that we talked a bunch about in the Spring ’93 reviews, Ice sees Mike and Trey on the exer-gliders (such as in this Glide from a couple days earlier), with Lawn Boy and Cavern ending a fun-filled set. There’s nothing legendary here but just some good clean open air fun with the band.

After the break they open with 2001, a song only debuted a few shows earlier but already on its way to making its mark on this year as it would eventually be played 21 times, all set openers, including a run of ten straight shows of which this night is one. Only a table setter at this stage they pair it with Poor Heart and then Antelope for another one of those triple opener dealios. This is the type of Lope that many yearn for, perhaps not as long or drawn out as future versions but packing a major dose of psychedelic tension/release. They back it up with one of those songs now residing in the where-are-they-now files, Faht, the playful acoustic guitar tune performed by Fish over a soundscape of pastoral noises. Man, I’d love for them to bust that one out again some day. Trey comes in at the end on acoustic for the MFMF intro, giving this one an even more unique flavor as they pull off the full transition into that tune.  After Uncle Pen and a thankfully quite short BBJ they head into YEM and somewhere mid-jam this one goes sideways. They hit on a percussive, repeating phrase that gets more and more pronounced and aggressive and then all of a sudden they are in BBFCFM! Noice! They rage this absurdity to its natural conclusion and then pop right into Chalkdust, keeping the place up and rocking. Trey goes into a Crimes of the Mind jam in the midst of the Dust and then they slam the point home with a powerful Highway to Hell closer. This is a hot hot set of the Phish. Amazing Grace and Daniel Saw the Stone are the encores but you’ll want to rip through that second set some time. It’s pre-game-get-yourself-psyched-up music, people.

 

07.15.1994  The next summer Phish was back for the penultimate show of the summer tour, one that is notable as being the first (partially) solar powered show as Greenpeace brought a truck to collect, store, and distribute supplemental solar power to the venue.That’s not all this show has going for it though, not by a long shot. After opening with Rift>Sample and then playing a nice enough Divided (1:05 pause) they run through solid takes on Gumbo, Foam, and Fee with Foam almost getting a Mound tease out of Page somewhere along the way. Next up is Melt which doesn’t follow the typical path of dissonance but instead this one builds massive tension in a version that will have you pumping your fists and throwing your undergarments at the stage. Um… maybe not that. But it’s really freaking fun. Golgi closes the set and Trey thanks Greenpeace for the solar power before the break.

This second set gets a unique opening as they play the first (and only ever) Letter To Jimmy Page opener. This was the second non-Alumni-Blues-rooted LTJP in the past seven shows as they had recently busted out the tune after 357 shows in the middle of a Curtain>LTJP>IIC first set sequence on 07.05.1994. Prior to that it had been 811 shows since the song had been played outside of Alumni Blues, then for an encore slotting following Golgi and Corinna at 05.11.1987. It didn’t exactly become a “thing” though as the song went back on the bench after this night for another 587 shows. So it goes. LTJP is quick and sets up Bowie which becomes the main vehicle for this set. This is the classic ’94 style Bowie with tons of ideas being thrown around, dissonant playing throughout, that trademark tension building jam template, and oh yeah a full quote of the Allman Brothers’ Jessica along the way as well. There are bigger, woolier Bowies from this time period but you can get a good snapshot of the style from this one. Bouncin’ allows for a breath of fresh air and then our gal Reba drops in for a visit. Trey hits on the theme to Popeye in the jam, everyone comes along, and the jam moves into more open waters than typical for the song before Trey comes back and puts together a surging build to the close. A very Page-heavy Ice is next (good stuff right there) and then they string it together with Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, DFB, and Julius for quite the varied thematic run of tunes. Here in the late set we get Fish Fun Time and with it a 292 show bustout of a verifiable ultra rarity for the “sing along” Setting Sail. This tune is so rare it had only ever been ‘performed’ three times prior to this night with all three being intonations emerging out of YEM VJs and the most recent more than two years prior to this show. Not exactly one a lot of people would have known. Alas, we still wait for another to manifest here 861 shows later. A punchy Jim caps the set and then a Monkey>Rocky Top encore finishes things up for the night. This is a an average-great show for the time that shows the band loose and having fun as the summer tour wound down that year.

 

06.28.1995  1995 was the first time Phish played more than a single night (or set) at Jones Beach, again in the latter stages of that summer’s tour. Axilla II opens the show in one of its final appearances before older brother (sister? no idea on standards for gender refs for asexual song titles) Axilla took back the armpit song mantle in the band’s rotation. This is the only ever show opening version of the song. Next up is a great run through a patient Foam where both Page and Trey get elongated turns at their solos in what comes off as a pretty laid back version of the song. They keep the vibe light with FEFY (Trey really soars in his solo here) and then our gal Reba is back for another go of it. The jam starts out in that laid back vein but builds as it goes, resulting in perhaps not one of the best ever but one I think may be a tad underrated but those who do such things. They ditch the mellow vibe from here on out in the set, starting with PYITE, continuing with Stash (one that shockingly relies on heavy use of that ol’ tension-building thing) and then capping the set energetically with Fluffhead and Chalkdust.

Sample ends the setbreak and Poor Heart gets the two slot before the band starts into what will end up being a thirty minute plus deep dive into Summer 95 Tweezer madness. If you are only familiar with later era groove-oriented jamming this style of Phish can be somewhat mentally taxing as they explore every nook and cranny of an idea before moving on to the next one. It feels like it could all fall apart at any moment or take off on a wild trip as you hang on to your marbles for dear life. There is way too much going on here to go through line by line so I’ll just say strap in, listen for the DEG and Cannonball jams, and enjoy the ride. See you on the other side for the Gumbo cool down, dude. Now, that DEG in there may or may not count for stats purposes as an ‘official’ performance (hard to really say with that song considering how often folks hear it when it ain’t there) but if you do count it you are looking at a 479 show bustout of the song. If I was there I’d probably count it (wink wink). A rousing Sparkle and fun time Suzy get us to the end set proceedings which tonight include a patient run to the peak in Hood and a bombastic Reprise closer before the Adeline and WMGGW encores. This is a solid example of summer 95 with a big (giant?) jam vehicle anchoring things but not being the only thing people will remember from this night when all is said and done like, say, the Tahoe Tweezer.

 

06.29.1995  Night two starts out with Jim and Trey almost immediately harkens back to the prior night by throwing in some Cannonball licks before a very uplifting type I jam that runs right into the start of Taste. They soar through this one as well (be ready, as this is the ‘old’ version of Taste so just a tad different in the arrangement from what we are now used to) and then ease up a tad for Horse>Silent in advance of the midset Divided. After a quite lengthy pause (1:54) they attack the end jam with gusto and then start into a four song sequence headed up by the not so common midset placement of Cavern. This runs into Rift and Simple and finally Melt for the payoff jam you’ve been waiting for here. This is a slow build Melt jam (well, slow for back then anyway) that never really strays far from structure but gets some long, drawn out runs by Trey as they up the tension. Rather than end here they do a quick a cappella Carolina before resting up for more second set goodness to come.

That set starts with Free, the first time the song had ever opened any set or encore. It has happened several times since but still comes as a bit of surprise since only 14 of the 171 performances of the song have come at the start of a set or encore (and there is but one ever encore slotting anyway so… yeah not common). This version is mainly table setting with a small bit of jamming before they tie it up and head into Bowie, like Tweezer another one of the songs that pretty much always delivered that summer. That’s pretty much the only similarity here though as over the course of about 28 minutes they get so far beyond Bowie you really would have no clue that’s where they started from unless you had already written it down in your setlist notebook. Trey and Mike flirt with some MLB phrasing at times as they noodle around looking for ideas to latch on to. Fish and Page follow along with the drummer changing up his rhythm pattern almost as frequently as Trey moves to another thought. This jam is perhaps a bit less connected than the excursion they went out on with the previous night’s Tweezer but shows how completely out there they would take these jams in that era. They start the return to the Bowie close a full ten minutes before it happens, surging with tension for a big payoff when it finally hits. Strange Design provides the cool down next before they dive in for a big time midset YEM. The composed parts are all nailed and the Page and Trey jam sections are good but it is the D&B that really catapults this one to higher ground as Mike and Fish throw down an extended bit of jammery before the VJ. After a lovely Acoustic Army they close with ADITL and then cap the night with a Theme encore, the first time of eight encore slottings for the song enjoying just its ninth ever performance at this show. As the final Jones Beach show for Phish until 3.0 this one is a solid one if perhaps not quite to the level of other shows surrounding it on this much lauded tour.

 

06.02.2009  When Phish returned in 2009 they announced the first Summer Tour of The Return with two dates scheduled at Jones Beach. This night was not one of them. I don’t have any insider info on why this occurred but my guess is that they got Fenway scheduled for 05.31.2009 after the original tour was announced and didn’t want the big gap between shows so they added this one. Being only the fifth show since that whole pesky Breakup thing this one finds the band reconnecting which is a polite way of saying it isn’t exactly top shelf Phish on display. They open with Jim which goes fine as they give it a tiny bit of space, then moving into Foam before debuting STFTFP. Here in the debut there is even less soloing than the typical version these days which is impressive in a certain sense. Next are three 3.0 debuts in Timber Ho! (which gets a bit of Trey wah, something not common for the song), a gooey Cities that feels like it could keep going before they close it up almost abruptly, and Driver. Our gal Reba comes next and after an admirable run through the composed section they take their time in the jam as Trey plays delicately, setting a very laid back tone for this one. As they build Trey leans heavily on the wah resulting in a version many will call ‘whale-drenched-drivel’ even if that is a bit harsh. After Possum (listen for some solid Page soloing before Trey has a bit of a trainwreck turn) and Farmhouse they close the set with If I Could, the first one in 109 shows which was coincidentally the only other time the song has closed a set (also the first).

After the break they open with Mike’s Song before suddenly moving into the first Simple of the era, a shortish run through the song with a lyrical flub and without much on the back end worth mentioning. They slip Wolfman’s into the Groove here as well and then there’s a bit of a bungled segue to Paug which kind of derails that from ever really taking off. They regroup with the first Circus in 35 shows and then debut KDF at request which may be the only time a song has been played by request for its debut save for a cover or two like Rocketman. This is followed by a longish Hood that stretches past the confines of the song to an effects ladened bit of ambient space before coming back to the traditional build and close for the song. Nice stuff. The closer is Cup and the encore Suzy which are about what you’d expect here. Look, let’s not sugar coat it. This is not a good Phish show. Move on we now shall.

 

06.04.2009  Two nights later Phish was back for the middle night of this extended three night stand. First up is Grind for the first of now five show opening slottings of the a cappella ditty. Incidentally, this is only the second ever a cappella version since the debut on 12.30.1998 was with instrumentation and without all of the added math that comes with each subsequent iteration. Following Divided (a quick pause tonight at only 38 seconds!) they play the second ever Ocelot (the debut was two shows earlier in Boston) where Trey bends notes liberally in the end jam. After Coil and PYITE they trot out Dirt for the first time in 30 shows and then after NICU they give us a late set Ghost that stretches into one of those soul affirming bliss builds. Don’t mind the whale on the way there, this is a pretty solid version for so early on in the band’s return to form. I particularly like the Page effects explosion in the end prior to the return to the song’s end. Lope closes the set with its typical fun stuff and then everyone is left to brave the cold wind off the Long Island Sound for a bit while the band rests up.

With tongues planted firmly in cheek they open the second set with WITS, only the third ever set opening version for the song at the time (and still the only second set opening version). After a contained run through BOAF they bring out another rain song with Drowned, the first since 2004 but somehow still only seven shows ago. This gets a bit of a “no royalties” jam (now with more whale!!) featuring a bit of Jumpin Jack Flash jamming and then they totally butcher the transition to Meatstick (first of 3.0 natch). It’s not pretty. Adding insult to injury they send everyone to the bathrooms with TTE next. Then after Waste they close the set with a fine enough YEM before a RnR encore to nod to NYC and send everyone home happy. This show is a tad better than the one before it but similarly you won’t be spinning it again soon.

 

06.05.2009  So that leaves night three of this visit to Jones Beach in 2009 which like the night before was just a bit rain soaked to put it mildly. Trey gets the crowd involved from the start with the Wilson opener backed up with Buried Alive (yes, first of 3.0) and then surprisingly another KDF. I haven’t gone back to check the data but this is one of the very few instances that I know of where the band has played the same song more than once in the same run at a venue, excepting antics and other such fun like the Double Reprise encores at Hartford 2010 or the Poor Heart show from Hampton 1995 or something. Admittedly, this second one pops a bit more than the first but it is still a bit weird. They finish up the four song opening sequence with Bag and then trot out Fish for IDK (some fun Trey banter there) for a bit of the vac. MFMF precedes a fun Ya Mar which gets some teasing of “It’s Raining It’s Pouring” in its first 3.0 appearance. Following Theme and Boogie On (shockingly, another first of 3.0 here) they close the set with Melt, a version we should probably forget happened and just move on from, mm’kay?

Disease opens the second set and sees Trey trying out several ideas (including a proto version of one of the licks he tends to use in this song quite frequently these days) but instead of venturing out into the open they hit on an almost CYHMK bit that triggers the move for a full segue to Twist. Almost immediately this becomes an Oye Como Va jam which while not unique is generally a crowd pleaser. The set continues with a string of jukebox tunes including Piper>BDT#L, Free, the debut of 20 Years Later, and 2001 before the set closing Slave. There’s really not much going on here I find very musically interesting. ADITL is the encore and now we can move on to something not in 2009.

 

08.17.2010  In the second leg of the Summer 2010 Tour Phish came back to Jones Beach for a midweek pair of shows to end the summer (this was the year prior to the now annual visit to Dick’s). From the start you can hear how much good the year plus between stops here has done the band as they are playing with a higher level of confidence and creativity. This is evident in the Fluffhead opener (a strong statement on its own being only the sixth opener ever and first since the big time one that started The Return on 03.06.2009) and throughout the set. KDF gets another turn next (3rd time in four shows here) which drops into a quick but punchy Cities (oh, if only it had gone on like that beaut they dropped a few shows earlier at the Greek out in Berkeley…). Funky Bitch leads to Wilson and were you not at this show you might be wondering what the heck is going on with the guitar playing. Thankfully I attended so I’ll fill you in. Trey had one of those toy guitars that kids run around the house tormenting the cat and their parents with that has pre-recorded riffs in it and in several places he held it up to interpolate those sounds into the mix. This was hilarious in the moment and even moreso when Fish played along to it and then Trey mimicked the riffs with his end solo. Those funny guys… Following a somewhat shaky Reba they rip through Walk Away (I swear there’s some Reprise-ish build on display here) and then finish up the set with a funky Wolfman’s and Possum that sees Trey really stretching the boundaries of the typical Possum jam. It might not be totally pleasing to everyone’s ear but it is different – but maybe not quite as different as the “un-jammed” ones from Summer 2011. This is an average good set but leaps and bounds ahead of the playing from just a year prior.

Lengthwise gets a 68 show bustout in starting things off for the second set, providing the old school intro to Maze for the first time since 10.20.1994. The set really starts to take shape after Halley’s with a decent Mike’s starting off a six song Groove sandwich. Simple almost gets out there before the start up BDT#L. Nowadays many would audibly groan at that move (and then proceed to really get down to the end jam because that’s how it always goes down) but at this stage the song still had that will-they-or-won’t-they-jam-it-big potential. Most ended up being contained to that type I happy fun time jam but every once in a while they would stretch it out and this is definitely one of those and arguably the last of the ‘big’ ones. Fish and Mike drive this jam (seriously, listen to the break beats Fish accents this jam with and the moves Mike makes to direct traffic) as they move first through the type I part before quieting down into a blissful space and eventually coming back up to a resolution peak. Trey moves into Caspian which is brief but powerful and then they throw in an all type I but big time fun late set RnR before punctuating the whole thing with a well received Paug. They throw Cup on to close the set just as icing on the cake and then encore with SoL and Golgi. This is a much more relaxed and flowing band then the one we heard last year here.

 

08.18.2010  Night two of this 2010 pair begins with a straight forward run through Disease (with an actual return to the finish! no [1] footnote tonight!) into Sample in the two hole before that ol’ Guelah Papyrus slides into the three hole like this was a show from 1994. Backed up by Poor Heart you might start wondering what decade we are in here but then the languid journey through Ocelot reminds you this is new era Phish. Then they go old again for Chalkdust and a fun but short peak run Gin as both band and crowd are still seemingly warming up into this night’s escapades. A very quick run through Tube precedes the third of four Destiny Unbounds for the year (most in any year since it returned in 2003 after a 12 year journey and yes I know that Unbounds is not a word) and then they finally take a breath for Joy. Now, a lot of people hate on this song and I get it but – and I’m not going to eat up a ton of space on this here – this particular version of the song holds a lot of meaning for me personally as I had something of an “aha” moment which resulted in my then pregnant wife and I giving our daughter the middle name Joy in part due to this night. The full story is not really appropriate for here but suffice it to say it hit me hard. Anyway, they close the set with Antelope to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Axilla gets set opening duties ahead of a fun bit of Timber Ho! jamming that sets up one of the better moves to Light they’ve attempted (which is being nice since this is one of those songs where the full segue is simply not something that can be achieved easily). Light gets to some interesting space but Trey moves out to 46 Days instead of exploring it for too long. This song acts as a stepping stone with no real jam to it as they segue into MFMF and then start up Hood for a somewhat rare (these days) midset placement. It is a decent enough Hood but nothing overly special. The 4th quarter begins with Tweezer to the delight of all in attendance though the jam is truncated by a Horse’ing, something we all had to get used to that summer. After the obvious Silent they close with YEM and then encore with Suzy>Reprise to wrap up this visit to Wantagh. The show is not bad by any means but lacks any centerpiece jams (in either set) to hang its hat on. A bit odd considering it is the tour closer but by this point they were in fun time happy mode so probably more par for the course than an epic four song jamfest set to cap the tour.

 

07.03.2012  Two summer later Phish returned to Jones Beach for another pair of shows, this time in the final week of the first leg of summer and over the July 4th holiday. If you recall, back then Phish was playing a lot of songs that hadn’t been played in quite some time which is a different type of fun than the summers of one time covers like 1998 and 2011. Never was this more the case than for the opener here as they busted out Little Feat’s Skin It Back for the first time in a whopping 1,417 shows. Those who aren’t super versed on tapes from 87/88 may have gotten a tad excited and then confused when this song did not end up being Spanish Moon, one of the leaders in the polls of Halloween cover songs we all want to come back (though if your answer is anything but The Great Curve I have to tell you you are wrong) and a song that shares a lot with this tune. In fact, the folks over at .net indicate the band teased Spanish Moon both before and within this well played bustout which has me scratching my head just a tad but oh well whaddyagonnado. Possum (with a Skin It Back tease) and Tube follow, further amping up the crowd before another big time bustout for Happiness Is A Warm Gun, the Beatles tune only ever played one other time for that pretty important Halloween night on 10.31.1994 in Glens Falls. This is backed up by pretty average (but still nice!) runs through a ‘traditional’ Mike’s>H2>Groove and then a three song burst of Halley’s>Axilla>Ya Mar leading to the first breather for Joy. A smaller bustout for JJLC starts out the end set sequence that includes BDT#L and then Golgi as closer, giving us a grand total of fourteen songs (!) in this first frame. That’s a lot to fit into one set so not surprising to see that no song eclipses the nine minute mark which is not a judgement on quality by any means, just an observation.

The ensuing second set finds the band extremely relaxed and having fun as Trey folds in a couple of Skin It Back teases in the Chalkdust jam and an Izabella tease (be still my heart!) in a very very funky Sand. Then for Golden Age they head out into a jam that eventually winds down into a striking bit of ambient interplay between all four, seeming to be ready to fall right into No Quarter at any step but instead finding natural resolution and achieving a full stop finish. This thirteenth ever version of the TV On The Radio cover is one of the first to really come into its own, something they have continued to explore as the song has now been played 42 times since debuting in November 2009 not too far away in Albany. Next up is Wolfman’s which gets some interesting Trey work as he “scats” along to the notes he plays before making the move to Walk Away, first in the wrong key but then reset for a solid run through the James Gang classic. The end run for the set starts with Bug, continues with Fluffhead (with maybe a DEG tease if you are into that sort of thing), cools down for a bit with The Wedge, and then caps with a melodic jam in Antelope that leads to humor as Trey gets a quick call-and-response game of Marco Polo going with the crowd. Zero encores the show and afterwards you are wondering what to do with this one as it is really a tale of two very different types of sets. The song chasers will love the first frame and the flow/energy folks will dig the second while the jam chasers find what they can. Sounds about right for 3.0.

 

07.04.2012  The second night in 2012 fell on July 4th meaning fireworks and fun and woo hoo and more were in store for those in attendance not to mention a TON of songs. Seriously, this setlist looks like a playlist for a house party more than a Phish show. Hang on, getting ahead of myself there… The night begins with more of that bustout love as even before they dip into Alumni>LTJP>Alumni (27 show bustouts both of them) Trey teases DEG (maybe a nod back to the previous night’s Fluff or just playfulness. we may never know…). Then it gets interesting as Head Held High surfaces for the first time since its only other performance on 10.31.1998 (kind of a pretty amazing show) making it a 356 show bustout. Then the old TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY comes in after 136 shows on the bench before they finally play something that wasn’t a debut for the year with KDF (yup. yet another one here). The bustouts continue with Bittersweet Motel (132 shows) and then after an uneventful string of Moma, Gumbo>Bowie, Alaska we get the third ever Susskind Hotel (24 show gap), a tune more familiar in Mike Band setlists but one that probably deserves more play by the big band. This is followed by Fish Fun Time for the 314 show bustout of Purple Rain (with some of that summer’s ‘tucking’ lyrical changes added in which are quite amusing) and then they predictably do the a cappella Star Spangled Banner (34 show gap) closer. If you are counting at home that’s an eighteen song set or “only” fifteen if you don’t count each of the three sandwiches as separate tunes. By comparison, the three shows here in 2009 had only one more song played (55) than the two shows in 2012. But wait! There’s more!!

Not content with the song total from the first set they pile on another thirteen more in the second, this time without the pesky nuisance of the debate over what ones “count” as full performances. A quick Boogie On opener starts off a set where they never take a full stop but perhaps should have considering nothing here really elevates. As disclaimer, I’ll say that in the moment such sets can be quite intriguing and often lead to personal revelations and the like but on listen back can fall flat in comparison to the more renowned music this band produces. I’m not here to take that away from you if you were shown the light during this show. All I can do is tell you what I hear as I take my notes while respinning these shows more than once to bring you, the reader, my far too long thoughts on the subject. So the set goes with Boogie>Tweezer>Twist>Taste>Quinn looking like it should be all heat in the 3rd quarter but instead ends up being jukebox Phish. Julius will get you moving and RnR gets its annual appearance here close to NYC but then the fourth quarter fizzles with Horse>Silent leading to a strikingly short Hood. At this point you know they are just playing the gag of never stopping out so once you know what to expect it isn’t as jarring even if it still has you scratching your head every time they make the next move. The set ends with a triple S shot of Shine A Light>SoL>Slave and then they encore with Monkey>Reprise, altering the lyrics of Monkey to nod to that tucking thing once more. I really don’t have much more nice to say here so I’ll just move on to the last show we have from this venue.

 

07.12.2013  The 2013 visit here fell in the middle of a tour where many voices in the Phish Crit world were sounding the alarm that everything was falling apart (it wasn’t) and that Trey had forgotten how to play guitar (he hadn’t). Sure, there are some rough sets in that summer’s run but by the time they blew open that fall Tour all had been forgotten about that whole chicken little hysteria. There was a lot of rain on this tour which definitely factored into some of what went down while the band’s apparent lack of practicing prior to hitting the road surely played a role as well. By the time they arrived at Jones Beach that rust was mostly gone but playing in a torrential downpour really doesn’t sound that fun when you are handling highly charged electric devices. The first set flows well enough with Chalkdust, CTB, Ocelot, and MSO kicking things off before the water songs drop with ASIHTOS and WITS filling the “ha it’s raining and we’re singing about water” role. Those two are part of a run of songs starting with MSO and ending with Sugar Shack (which followed Sloth and BOABH) that were all debuts for the year. Noble attempts at 46 Days and BDT#L keep everyone moving but it is the end of set pair in Reba and Bowie where the band finally starts to get a bit loose. Reba (and pretty much every other song this show) has a lot of the Trey whale crutch to it but then in Bowie he lays off of that for a bit. This one almost tumbles into Manteca before they change up for the Bowie build ending. The conditions considered this set is not bad by any means but it won’t be one you add to your “sets I must listen to” list.

As they come out for the second set Trey quips about the band “practicing safe music” which is more humorous when you realize he is commenting on the plastic sheeting the crew put over their gear and instruments but also a bit telling in where they are with the playing in this one. Well, the safety net is off for this set as they take RnR out for a 19 minute ride which is great considering the three other times they have played the song here in prior years it really hasn’t been anything more than an energy rocker. After working through the RnR open jam they dance it up for 2001 and then start into Tweezer perhaps nodding to the cold wetness everyone in the crowd is experiencing at the time. This isn’t a massive Tweezer jam but a few minutes before the end Trey and Page start into a bit of recognizable interplay, hinting at the eventual flawless full segue into Cities. Somewhere in the jam for that Fish hints at The Wedge and they again make a flawless transition, sticking the landing with a fun version of the song. The set ends with Wading and Zero and then for the encore Page dedicates the first tune to all those then recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, that massive weather phenomenon that impacted millions of people on the Eastern Seaboard when it hit in October 2012 and for many months thereafter. This area was heavily damaged with the venue itself being partially submerged at the height of the storm surge so it was pretty impressive that they were able to hold a full season of events just a few months after it all occurred. Playing a song of redemption, they start into a hilariously (lyrically) botched Sleeping Monkey. It’s pretty funny banter if you like that stuff. The punctuate with the Reprise finish and then everyone is off to try to get dry before moving on to the next venue. This show is definitely weather-impacted but with some strong highlights is a recovery from the downward trend that the majority of the 3.0 shows here have brought us.

 

Tale of The Tapes

Venue:  Jones Beach Theater (originally Jones Beach Marine Theater, once – and I’m not joking – Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater, then Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, and now very recently renamed to be Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater)

Number of Shows:  fourteen

Intangibles:  Easy, wide open lot scene as part of state park makes for a lovely day by the shore leading up to the night’s festivities; seaside breeze and view is very relaxing with boaters even able to moor nearby for “free” listening to the show; structure of grandstand makes for good sound and sight lines no matter where you are in the venue; proximity to New York City brings with it songs that nod to NYC as well as the raucous energy of the nearby fanbase

Recurring Themes:  As mentioned, this venue is associated with New York City so the band frequently has played songs here with lyrical nods to the city that never sleeps including Fluffhead (four times), Cities (3 of last four visits), and Rock and Roll (all four visits since the song debuted in 1998); all but two of the eight years the band has played here have had a Chalkdust (1994 and 2009 being the exceptions); bustouts!! over the years Phish has brought back numerous tunes at this venue many which have yet to be played again since; for 3.0 several songs are almost sure bets as fifteen songs have been played in three of the four years where Phish has visited Jones Beach: BDT#L, Chalkdust, Cities, Hood, KDF, Mike’s Song, Ocelot, Possum, Reba, RnR, Antelope, Tweezer, Reprise, Paug, and Wolfman’s Brother (three of those have four performances – BDT#L, KDF, RnR – with KDF having two of those from the same year); this venue generally gets different openers for each set when Phish plays here as only Runaway Jim has ever been repeated as a 1st set opener and Chalkdust and Disease are the only songs to have opened both a 1st and a 2nd set

PJJ Ratio:  Jones Beach ends up with the lowest rating of all of the venues in consideration for this project at a miserable 1.43 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). Listening back to these shows I am not surprised at this rating as with most of the shows for this venue falling in the earlier stages of 3.0 there simply is not a lot of meat on these bones. Half of the jams PJJ includes come from the first six shows performed here (those in 1.0) and there are no tracks from the two single set performances in 1992 so that ratio is even more skewed towards the 1.0 Jam Era.

Key Jams/Songs:  1992 – Glide, Possum, YEM; 1993 – Lope, Faht->MFMF, YEM->BBFCFM, Chalkdust; 1994 – Melt, LTJP>Bowie, Reba, Setting Sail; 1995 – Foam, FEFY, Reba, Tweezer, Hood, Jim, Melt, Free->Bowie, YEM; 2009 – Hood, Ghost, Drowned, Disease->Twist; 2010 Wilson, Walk Away, Possum, BDT#L, Light->46 Days; 2012 – Skin It Back, Chalkdust, Sand->GA, Wolfman’s->Walk Away, Lope; Purple Rain, Monkey>Reprise; 2013 – Bowie, RnR>2001>Tweezer->Cities->Wedge

 

 

I went into this one expecting it to produce more than what we ended up getting, perhaps based on rumor and reputation more than anything. I have enjoyed the shows I have caught at this scenic venue and the band definitely plays with a confident and loose style here. That has not always translated to big jams though so if you are looking for all-timers outside of some of the iconic ones from 94/95 I would suggest you look elsewhere. They do play interesting shows here though with thoughtful song choices, lots of bustouts, and other “freshness” mixed in. One of the challenges faced here has been the timing of visits as many of the latter era shows have come either as they were reconnecting (2009) or at times in the tour when the band is still shaking off the rust of the long layoff between touring seasons (2012). This mixed bag definitely will keep this venue out of contention for top honors but don’t ignore stuff like the Tweezer and Bowie from 1995 or the BDT#L from 2010 or the Golden Age from 2012. I am sure Phish will eventually come back to play here again and I’ll try to make it once more because that’s what we do. We reflect on the band’s past but never hold it against them because the promise of new Phish far outweighs the perceived negatives. And that is a very good thing.

Children of the Cornfields – Phish and Deer Creek

Deer Creek Amphitheatre (I will not call it by one of the two subsequent corporate monikers) is located in Noblesville, IN, once a small town just northeast of Indianapolis but now fully part of that market due to the never-ending creep of urban sprawl. Once known for being surrounded by vast cornfields and not much else the area is replete with newish subdivisions, shopping malls, and more of the cookie cutter development that exploded upon our major metropolitan areas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Deer Creek is a venue almost synonymous with Phish and summer tour. Starting in 1995 and continuing through Hiatus, The Break Up, and now here in 3.0 Phish has played this venue on most of the summer tours they have performed including every one from that first single nighter in 1995 through a pair in 2004 and then hitting four of eight here in the time since The Return. Over that time Phish has played twenty-three shows in the venue with Trey also bringing TAB here for three other performances (all during those pesky times when Phish kinda wasn’t a thing). This venue is not just notable for Phish as the Grateful Dead played fourteen shows here between the opening summer for the venue in 1989 and their fateful visit in 1995 when gatecrashers the first night overwhelmed the venue staff, resulting in one of the few show cancellations ever as the Dead were forced to cancel the second night. Keller Williams even wrote a song about that whole thing. Obviously, there are many other bands who have played here but this isn’t a blog about them now is it?

The twenty-three shows Phish has played at Deer Creek have all been part of a Summer Tour. Most visits to the venue have been multi-night stands though in 1995, 2009, and 2016 the band played only the one show. There are two three show stands here (2000, 2003) and all other visits have been two nights apiece. Oddly, even with this venue having the second most shows in ‘modern era’ Phish they have never played a Saturday night show at this venue. Every other day of the week has been played at least three times. That’s kinda weird for such a revered venue in the band’s history.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Deer Creek Jams. Let’s get to getting…

 

06.19.1995  The first visit to Deer Creek came about midway through the Summer 1995 tour, a tour that produced some legendary jams and saw the band really coming into their own as a national touring act (and emerging from the very large shadow of the Dead to be honest), not just playing bigger sheds but now playing multi-night weekend stands at some of the more renowned tour stops then popular with regularly touring bands. Of course, this first visit to Deer Creek would only be a single night but having the band step up to the 24,000 seat venue here after playing the much smaller (but still quite loved) Murat Theatre (2,500 capacity) the summer before and the IU Auditorium (3,154 capacity) a bit down the road in Bloomington the previous Fall is a pretty big leap. This is not to say they sold out Deer Creek that first year but it wasn’t exactly empty either. Now, if you were around back then you, like me, probably recall that the Summer of 1995 was a watershed moment for the band in many ways what with our band stepping up to these big time venues, the pronounced influx of new ‘fans’ spilling over from Dead tour, the growth in the music being played, and more. Granted, not all of what was happening was seen as good but in terms of the music you really cannot deny that 1995 Phish is one of the first BIG peaks in the band’s upward trajectory. So it was then that Phish came to the cornfields for their first performance at Deer Creek, the 10th show of the summer tour. Coming out of the gate hot they soar through a Theme opener and then swing through a a couple of tour staples (Poor Heart, Bag) before bringing out Tela for the first time in 32 shows. The first true big highlight comes in the back half of the set as they take Reba for a ride, connecting on a jam that benefits from contributions by all four members of the band. They cap the set with a fun Rift>Cavern>Lope sequence that peaks with one of those Lope jams that made the song great, igniting the crowd and providing that big release we all seem to crave. Trey updates The Lie to be sixteen minutes tonight but it doesn’t make it a true statement. They still take way longer than that to get back to the stage.

The second set starts with a quick Simple to get us moving again which deftly segues into Bowie which is where the meat of this set lies. Now, some will say that the peak for the big time open Bowie jams was in 1994 and they would be correct in a certain sense but if you want to hear the band at perhaps the peak of their open shred psych period you should probably go listen to the big Summer ’95 Bowies which includes this beauty. Typically, Bowies of this era head into dissonant territory from the start but here they hit a more melodic space in the early part of the jam which they use to build a groove (as much as Bowie allows for that) as Trey hints around the mythical MLB jam template. They eventually move on to the more traditional tension building, drawing it out and refusing to resolve it for several minutes as they shift back and forth between the frenzy and quieter sections. As they head for the final peak around the 19 minute mark Trey grabs onto the MLB theme more directly, counterpointing the manic jam the others are playing with the telltale downward run of notes that make up Mind Left Body and using that to add to the tension by extension. He then solos off of this at the Bowie breakdown close and afterwards you find yourself soaked with sweat and spent from the jam they just threw down. That’s 95 Phish to me in a nutshell. Total control and abandon at the same time bringing us to release in ways we never thought possible. The band can be excused then for backing this Bowie up with fun time numbers Mango, Cup (back after 38 shows!), and Sparkle before going back to the jams with a wonderful YEM. A quick Acoustic Army later we are in the Possum closer which gets pretty darned demented on its way down the road. It’s a solid version from a time when Possum was actually a song we looked forward to for its creative, out there jams. A nice ADITL encore later we are out of here. Solid show to start our run through Deer Creek!

 

08.12.1996  Just one year later Phish came back with the full circus in tow, stopping by for a pair of shows on the short US Tour that led up to their first major festival, The Clifford Ball. These shows happened just after the troubles at Red Rocks (which we discussed previously) and combined with the single night stop at Alpine on the way here comprised the entirety of the Midwest portion of this “tour”. The party starts off with a bouncy Ya Mar opener and then an unexpected but quite welcome second song Melt (!) as they waste no time in getting down to business. This is not a giant open what-the-hell-song-is-this type of jam but it is tight and all about building that psych tension. Trey rides a trill run to the return peak, egging the rest of the band on as it builds, and bringing it home with panache. Next up is a very well executed Esther (40 show gap) which bleeds into a hot, straight forward Chalkdust before they bust out Weigh for the first time in 66 shows. With the pattern now set, they alternate common songs with mini-bustouts for the balance of the set, never really stretching much musically but playing in a very connected manner as they string Ice>DFB (32 shows), Taste, Oh Kee Pa (48 shows), and Suzy together here. As we saw on Fall 1996 this is about what you’d expect from a first set in 1996. Not great but in no way bad either.

The second set starts with a nice Timber Ho! that gets to some of that dark territory they like to inhabit with the song, a space that always feels like it could go on and on but never does. Next up is Sparkle which really seems odd but surprisingly is the most common song for them to play after Timber Ho! opens a second set (okay, it is only three times ever but still that’s more than any other song…). They keep the segues going into Simple and Caspian and then into McGrupp (some great Page piano work here) which leads to a scorcher of a Lope which almost flirts with some Force Theme teasing by Trey but instead goes dissonant shred. A couple of songs later we get another Possum closer and another one worth your listen which isn’t something I’d say about most Possums these days. They encore with Sample which is excusable only because there is another show here tomorrow. Overall, a solid show with a couple of nice highlights but this show lacks anything approaching a centerpiece jam vehicle.

 

08.13.1996  Night two here is the one you know much better considering it was an official release and all. Following a rousing Divided opener (1:02 pause) with more strong Page piano playing (get used to it!) we get some 1996 debuts for Tube (32 shows) and Tela (35 shows) with both being well played takes on the old school classics. The midset gets a Maze befitting of the year when it (arguably) peaked though that really came in the Fall. The cool down from that hot Maze is FEFY and then it is bluegrass time for another debut for the year in The Old Home Place (40 shows). The end run for the set cranks up the energy with PYITE, a smoking Llama where Trey employs the siren loop to great effect, and a fun singalong for Glide before they head into Slave to wrap it up. At the time this was just the fifth first set closing Slave ever (there are now eleven) and they made it count as Page stays on the piano throughout and Trey lays back a bit which gives Mike some room to shine as well.

Following The Lie and subsequent longer-than-your-addled-head-is-comfortable-with setbreak they come out and start playing a melodic little jam that feels like it could end up being a Dead cover or something but then ends up being Bag which makes you chuckle at that random thought. After Bag they play a spotless version of The Lizards (more of that extra piano sauce from Page) and then bang right into Mike’s to get the Groove going. If you don’t know what a truly massive Mike’s Song can be, please stop reading and start this one up post haste. This is a juggernaut of a jam with a big tension-filled first jam that moves into even nastier places once the second jam begins. Page stays on the piano for the majority of it and Trey is playing possessed as they lay waste to the heads in attendance. This is pretty much the definition of the type of hide-under-your-seat jam that the jaded vets love to lament never occurs anymore. After about 17 minutes Trey drops out into some loop setting and Page moves to the keyboards. Fish rolls along on the toms, pounding the drums as Page leads and eventually the whole band is contributing to the soundscape. Rather than come back to the close they move into Lifeboy (another first for 1996 at 29 shows) and here is where I state that this song really should be the meat of the Mike’s Groove sandwich more often, particularly as resolution to demonic jams like the one that precedes this version.

The Paug that follows is a fun time big dance-y version that sees Trey move over to the mini-kit and then Page takes up the theremin (where have you gone, theremin???), first getting weird but eventually working into Somewhere Over the Rainbow as the rest of the band drops out completely. This leads to the then common acoustic mini-set deal with Waste, Train Song, and Strange Design being the tunes played before an a cappella Adeline. They close the set with Bowie, tonight a lot more contained than the one the year prior but still effective in building up that tension before the release. The show gets the coveted Monkey>Rocky Top encore though it is a bit debatable whether it achieved the level to deserve it if you read that much into this sort of thing. Personally, I think the Mike’s Groove is worthy of the price of admission and everything else is just gravy so I’ll allow it.

 

08.10.1997  Summer 1997 saw the band again coming here for two nights and again in the US portion of touring following dates in Europe. This time was a bit different, however, as their extended time in Europe both in the Spring and early Summer along with some shifts that had occurred starting around the time they covered Remain in Light for Halloween in 1996  were very influential in the evolution of the band’s sound. Here in the thirteenth show of the US portion of the tour we were now familiarized with this burgeoning ‘cowfunk’ thing (which had been QUITE surprising at the first US show in Virginia Beach for those of us who hadn’t been exposed to any tapes from the Euro tours earlier in the year), wondering how and where it would be implemented into all of these songs that we knew and loved. Well, tonight they get right to the point, opening with Gin and adding a bit of that stank on it as they get loose for a bit while also staying firmly at home within the structure of the song. This was only the sixth (of now 12 ever) time the band opened a show with Gin though perhaps not entirely out of left field since they had done so earlier in the tour out at The Gorge (and before then it had been since 1990!). And while not a wide ranging jam it does set a certain tone for the night. Sparkle comes in out of the Gin ending and then they go right back to the well for a third song Disease. Again, this is ‘contained’ in the sense that it never gets to open jamming but holy crap does this thing cook. Trey is doing that thing where he plays ALL THE NOTES (and flirts with DEG a bit at times) and the rest of the band keeps pace with him, resulting in an explosive run through the song similar to how it went when first becoming a tour staple in 94/95.

They take a deserved breath here with the always welcome Dirt, get a bit funky with CTB, inhale deeply with Billy Breathes, and then go big with a midset Melt that easily birthed a couple hundred mind babies. Play this one loud and proud but avoid doing anything that requires active concentration like driving or doing your taxes because it’ll flip you around a bit. Along with the ‘standard’ odd time signature psych there are bits of the King Crimson song Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Part 2 woven into the main jam and then when they return to the Melt ending Trey inserts Third Stone From The Sun quotes before the final wrap. It’s a keeper, lemme tell ya. After that everyone in the venue needs a little break and for that Phish provides what will be the last to date Bye Bye Foot, the tender Fish-sung ditty (I’m serious, he actually sings this song straight) that many of the most ardent song chasers still pine for here some 611 shows since it was put on the shelf. I like this song and lyrics are poignant. If you dig this version please do yourself the favor of spinning the Walnut Creek version that preceded this one. After a nice Ginseng Sullivan they close the set with Hood, which feels odd (there are only five such placements out of 371 total performances) but is pretty apt considering this set plays more like a second frame than an opening set. And this isn’t just a lip service run through the song as they build towards a big time soul satisfying peak release before Trey notes that they will be back in “exactly fifteen minutes” repeating the phrase more than once and telling everyone to set their watches as if that will cause us to believe him. Well, who really cares how long it was when you have that set and then get what comes next.

Set two opens up with Cities (here’s some nausea-inducing video for ya), once thought to be gone forever but here getting its resurgence with the advent of cowfunkery. After the verses they drop right into the dank funk as they build a pocket so thick you will be doing deep knee bends involuntarily no matter where you are and yes that includes you over there sitting on the toilet. This first half of the jam is about as close to a dictionary definition of cowfunk as one could put forth. Still in funk mode, Trey starts playing a more direct lead, moving away from funk comping to that Hendrixian style he used so well in 1997. Around the sixteen minute mark the band shifts over to an almost familiar melody and hits on a mode that wasn’t uncommon space for them to inhabit in these lengthy excursions. Some say it is reminiscent of Ramble On (probably not considering that song didn’t debut with Phish until a year later but sure why not) or maybe a Franklin’s Tower jam but both theories are a bit of a stretch to me. The jam growls into more rocking territory and you start to see that they are setting up the move to another song but even still the GTBT power chords come as a bit of a “oh nice!” surprise when they hit. They take the end of this out, chugging into what might be the first/only open jam out of GTBT. They are looking for focus here, throwing out ideas left and right and then Page hops on the theremin and proceeds to take this the direction of weird which is perfectly fine by me. Trey hops on Page’s keyboards, Mike takes up the guitar, and we have ourselves the first Rotation Jam in 50 shows. Eventually Mike bumps Trey off of the keys, Page takes up the bass, and Trey moves to replace Fish on drums but he doesn’t budge at first, leaving Trey standing there awkwardly. He relents though and takes up the guitar and after a bit more roto-jamming they play the first (and last) US version of Rock A William, yet another Fish-sung song but this time one a bit more demented than endearing.

It might be one of the more off the wall set of lyrics they have in the catalog which is saying something. After that everyone goes home to their instruments and they key up the set closing Bowie, hanging in the intro and noodling about building tension in a more subtle way until finally bursting into the song after a full eight plus minutes after the initial bit of high hat hits. This is not a big time energetic rocking take on the song but more of a patient noodle-rama as Trey, Mike, and Page all interweave variously melodic lines around each other’s playing. There are a few parts where it feels like Mike and Trey are teasing other songs that I cannot place. Finally after about fifteen minutes or so they ramp up the tension for the end run. Not everyone’s favorite sort of Bowie, but I like it. A funky Cavern encore later and we are left shaking our heads at the setlist in the lot wondering how they could possibly top this tomorrow. This to me is a great show (one that holds true the Sunday Show axiom too) in a lot of ways and one that really deserves an official release (just in case anyone who can influence that is reading…).

 

08.11.1997  So does this second night top the one above? Well, no, probably not in any measurable way that we look at these shows but still, there is a lot to like here (here’s the super grainy video). I’ve been pretty open about my love for the Maki>Maze opener pairing so getting one here is a good start. The keyword tonight is “schwag” which for some reason gets a bigger crowd response than some of the more clever ones I’ve heard Trey use so, I don’t know, maybe the Midwestern folk were happy he was finally talking about the quality of weed they were used to back then? Anyway, Maki is really all about that ambient dub outro jamming which this one has a few minutes of before they make the Maze move. If you like your Mazes long and mind scrambling you came to the right place because this one goes to eleven. It isn’t that it veers from structure or anything just that the band connects to throw down a jam that drops jaws along with dropping all the too-spun-too-soon wooks who weren’t prepared for it. Even the dude wooing too closely to the mics on these auds agrees with me here. The set gets a bit song-y from there as they trot out WITS and then the first US versions of Guyute and Guelah on the year before a decent run through the newer song LxL. Trey nails Horn and then we get a Lope closer that takes that tension from the Maze, builds it back up a few times, and then releases quite nicely in that way we like about this song. Trey then messes up the lie by saying they’ll be back in “3… 2… minutes” which I guess could’ve meant 32 minutes but that would be a bit too honest if you ask me.

Second set starts with Timber Ho! similar to the first night in 1996 and again they pack a lot into the nine-ish minutes this song occupies. After Timber Ho! they drop into a couple of the newer numbers, first for a short run through Piper and then for a really well played Vultures (one of those songs I kind of wish they would play more but maybe not because it gives it more weight when it does come out, you know?). I don’t know that you could say this is a jammed version of the song but Trey’s solo alone is worth hearing, especially here in one of the versions before the song was re-worked and had the lyrics “softened” a tad. Four songs in they romp through My Soul and then start up YEM to your surprise as you think it is a bit early in the set for such things. Phish has other ideas though as they take their time here, at times connecting and at times moving apart in a fairly non-standard take on the YEM jam. Now some will say this is not a good YEM while others think it is the best one they’ve ever seen so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Interestingly, for as much as you hear about cowfunk taking over Phish in 1997, the only song in this entire show that gets that Trey comping funk breakdown. YEM has always had a bit of the funk on it (Phish funk anyway) but this one gets extended including a move into an effects-laden glitch jam that feels pulled from 1999 and they blow through the move to the B&D to keep going with it until finally coming around to the VJ after about 23 or 24 minutes. With still a wee bit of time left to play they slide Zero in as the closer and then Page gets the spotlight for the Coil closer, wrapping up a second set that is oddly only a few minutes longer than the first set when all is said and done. Call it a case of the Mondays or whatever but after the barn burner that was the previous night’s show it is understandable for them to take a different direction musically on this night. Far from a disappointing show, this one has some if not as many highlights as the one that precedes it.

 

08.02.1998  A year later Phish was back for another pair of shows, again following a European Tour and in the run up to the now all but traditional end of summer festival. This show starts out in a unique fashion as they open with Roggae for the only time ever. It isn’t the biggest Roggae ever (not to say the song has ever really been more than what it is) but it is a nice, comforting way to ease into an evening with Phish and 23,000+ friends. Next up is Divided (1:08 pause tonight) and Horse>Silent (first ones for 1998) before our first entry in The Summer Of Covers with the Joe Tex ditty You Better Believe It Baby, a nice enough song that pretty much NO ONE knew at the time resulting in the first two version of The Phish Companion (and the setlist info on phish.com) having it incorrectly listed as Too Much of Everything which is a Fabulous Thunderbirds song that while nice in its own way sounds absolutely nothing like the old soul classic linked above. And this was the second (and last) time the song was performed so it wasn’t even a one off song like many covered that tour. A compact but super funky Boogie On gets us back to songs we know by heart (well, maybe not as much at this point since this is only the third one since it was shelved way back in 1988 but still…) and then without skipping a beat they drop into Reba for a visit from our gal. This might not be the best one ever or even from what was a great year for the song but it sure grabbed my attention both live and here again on spinback. A 52 show bustout of Weigh follows and then after a quick BOAF Trey just notes they are “taking a quick break” instead of perpetuating the lie, a nice change here for once.

The second set starts with yet another pretty darn good Possum (it is becoming a bit of a thing here at Deer Creek) though I’m not sure where this Manteca-like jamming is that .net notes. Next up is Ghost which starts out in that wonderfully loopy way with the band settling into that ‘grown up’ cowfunk groove that flourished in 1998. Mike and Page offer up great contributions as Trey rides rhythm for the majority of the first half here until he hits on a repeating phrase and they pick up speed as they head towards what must be a resolution peak. But as was more common back then they never peak it, instead hitting a different groove that eventually drops out into the 61 show bustout of Lifeboy (yay!). Bowie follows this with what starts out as a typical type of noodle jam led by Trey but then when they come back to the end bit Trey inserts teases of Lizards, Divided, and Possum between the Bowie riffs which the crowd really likes a lot.  Mike takes the mic for the debut of the strangely apt but also odd cover of Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You, a song only performed one more time by the band which we discussed for the Fall 98 review of 11.09.1998 way back when. After a Cup closer they encore with a nice but shortish Hood (there’s some interesting/unique playing in the intro lead up to the first lyrics) and the fourth ever Bittersweet Motel (a song you had to get used to hearing a bunch that summer considering seven of the seventeen ever versions are from that tour and it is the fourth most played song of the US portion of the tour) sends us off into the night to sleep off our fun until the next one. This show is pretty standard for what you could expect from Summer 1998 with a few big fun jams mixed in with creative setlists and one off covers but it isn’t exactly legendary status Phish.

 

08.03.1998  The Summer of Covers, as this tour from 1998 is known in some circles of the fanbase, included a lot of headscratcher choices for one-off songs played by the band. But some of them are ones people still want to hear Phish tackle again such as the opener from this second night of Deer Creek. By 1998 The Smashing Pumpkins were kind of on the downswing after massive success first with Siamese Dream and then with  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Oddly, Phish chose a song of theirs from well before these peaks, debuting the one time cover of Rhinoceros to open the show on this night. Outside of lacking the distorted guitars of Billy Corgan and James Iha this is a pretty faithful take on the song and I think a tune people would go nuts for if they ever decided to break it out again which I doubt they will. The secondary opener tonight is Halley’s, a tune that really came into its own as a jam vehicle in later 1997 but then more fully in 1998 and 1999. This one drops into cowfunk goodness from the drop (you know, that moment where the decision is either jam it or play a different song) as they move through several ideas on their way to the transition to IDK for 43 show bustout of the other Nancy tune in the repertoire. It is a bit surprising that these two songs have only been paired together like this just this one time (with just one IDK, Halley’s ordering having happened with Nancy on board for vocals at 05.14.1998). Even more, since both of these songs have been played a relatively high number of times (Halley’s – 124; IDK – 255) and have both been around since the beginning (don’t mind that little 475 show gap for Halley’s in there that was broken on 03.14.1993) I was expecting they had been played in more than just thirteen shows together but stats are funny, right?

Keeping us on our toes, next up is the 492 show (!) bustout of Ride Captain Ride, a song I definitely never thought I’d hear the band play live but have now caught twice (including this one!). After a fun CTB they open into Moma where Trey takes charge of the jam, soaring with his playing above that BEK groove. After another mini bustout for Strange Design (32 shows) they close with Zero, tonight sans any trace of The Lie. The second set opens with another tune that benefited greatly in terms of jamming during this time period, Gumbo, as they stretch it out with a Manteca-infused dance party that showcases the band’s supreme interconnectedness. Jams like this one are why people now groan whenever songs like Gumbo, Tube, and Halley’s don’t get the treatment. Following Axilla they soar through one of those life-affirming LxLs before turning the set towards the weirder sort of stuff first with Meat then for Fish Fun Time and the 129 show bustout of Bike. After that wraps we get the third of the will-they-or-won’t-they-jam-it Triumvirate in Tube and here the answer is more “no” than “yes” as they tease with the pinner funk breakdown before the final verses. Oh well, can’t jam em all, can ya? (you actually can but that doesn’t mean they will). Interesting to me and perhaps only me is the fact that this is the only show ever where all three of those songs are performed. Another thing that has only happened in this show is a Wedge closer which is something to tell the kids for sure. The encores are Circus?Lope and then we are left waiting for the next year’s pair. Probably the better of the two here in 1998 overall this show is a bit front loaded for jamming as the ‘4th quarter’ runs off into song mode once Fish Fun Time takes over.

 

07.25.1999  The return to Deer Creek in 1999 made it five years running so by now everyone was all in on the notion that you really shouldn’t miss shows here. To prove the point, Phish came out with intent in mind, opening for the first time ever with Meat before raging one of those demented MFMFs that seem to set the tone for the rest of the night. They never fully close with the Myfe lyric, instead moving into the Siket Disc goodie My Left Toe for what would be the last confirmed performance of the instrumental. I say confirmed because over the years since folks have found bits of this in other jams though there is no real confirmation of that having confirmedly occurred. This bit of ambient serenity evolves into a big time massive bustout in Whipping Post, the Allman Brothers classic that was in steady rotation in the very early days before dropping out to become a Fish Fun Time number played maybe once a year until all but disappearing but for that one version at Alpine on 08.10.1996 which happened to be the show before the pair here that year. This is actually even more of a bustout since Trey takes the lead vocals for the first time since 09.21.1990. Its a rousing version with great appreciation from the crowd but lacking the big time jam that the Allmans might have tacked on to it. They bleed into the start of Makisupa next, hitting the multi-ball with keywords “gooballs, brownies, stink, kind nugs… keef” and then moving into a birthday shoutout for CK5 with lots of fun in there including the 715 show bustout (if you count it) for HBD as Trey give Chris a light solo and sings to him that they are going to get him wasted that night. Fun stuff. After they come back to close Makisupa Chris gives a quick thanks to Trey for all that and then they run through Saw It Again and get funky with an extended groove Boogie On which precedes the Cavern closer.

After the “quick break” they open with BOAF which as it tended to do in 1999 goes big, first for the full ride frenzy of the ‘straight forward’ BOAF jam but then in a more 99-ambience way as they hint back to that first set MLT before cranking out a mini bustout for Walk Away (35 shows). A midset Lope follows which gets something of a groove-based jam instead of the traditional dissonant fracas typical of your favorite old school versions but it is an interesting departure from the norm in that regard. Trey teases Stash for some reason at the outset of that jam but after that they move into that Lope groove and you forget it even happened. They emerge into Suzy after the end of Lope and after the first set of lyrics drop right back into a funky groove jam (with those 99 Trey loops yo) where Page is leading on piano and the rest of the band is following along. The crowd even gets some clapping going at one point as you’d be hard pressed to be able to NOT dance to this one. Listen as Page flirts heavily with Stevie Wonder’s I Wish at the breakdown at 7:45 or so but it is a stretch to say he actually teased it. Deserved of a break, they pull up for Fish Fun Time and tonight that’s the 210 show bustout of Purple Rain which Fish completely botches the lyrics to, eventually just thanking the crowd for supporting his vacuum habit. The closer is fittingly YEM tonight which gets a bit of a Boogie On jam before it is all said and done and then we get a predictable Cup encore which hang on! This one has some extra stank on it! Big time peak and some outro jamming make this one better than your typical Cup encore. I know I have attendance bias here but this show is just plain great Phish. This is the band with full range and capacity bringing it all together. You should spin this show loud and frequently and take Trey’s advice to “take it slow”.

 

07.26.1999  The second night of this 1999 stop also happened to be the final night of the US Tour as the band headed off to Japan for the first time following this one. There is a bit of a tour ender feel at play here as the band and crowd celebrate everything that led to this point and that shows in the setlist as only one song, a one off debut cover we’ll get to in a bit, is played that was not already performed earlier on this tour. What I’m getting at is that this is a pretty song-heavy show with a few jams sprinkled in not the other way around. Similar to the previous night, they open with a song they’ve never slotted there before, giving Farmhouse its first primary placement (there are now four more including three in the Fall 1999 Tour). BOTT drops next and then they play the rearranged Vultures (differing from the one the year before here slightly both musically and lyrically) before taking it down a few notches for the lovely ballad Sleep. Gumbo gets the mid set stretch with a jam that first starts out in a typical manner, then gets a bit more Trey shred/mass note playing followed by a brief ambient outro that works into NICU. After playing the first Beauty of My Dreams since they played it with Del McCoury and his band at Oswego the previous weekend they head into Gin for what is sure to be a big gooey bliss peak run jam, right? Well… not really. Trey again puts on his guitar god hat, playing long runs of notes as Fish pounds hard in pushing the pace for this one. It never really gets to that typical jam space for Gin in this era but that different take makes it one to hear. After another quieter moment for Mountains in the Mist they rock out Axilla (complete with the Part II closing) which runs into the start of the set closing Stash. Again Trey gets his guitar god on in a pretty straight forward tension building version that delights the crowd.

The second set starts with Wolfman’s and they take this one out for a big ride in the ’99 way, moving effortlessly through phases of cowfunk, ambience, and some guitar led rock over seventeen plus minutes that feel like they fly by much more quickly than that. After a patient slow build but un-jammed Piper (seriously, they don’t even start singing until about halfway through this version) we get a big, soaring Theme where Trey shines brightly in another showcase of his skills. Sticking with the vehicles, next up is Disease, offering hope for one more big jam before the night ends. They rage through the early type I jam as Trey hints at some well known phrasings he tends to fall into with this song but then after bringing it around to the close of the song they alter course towards a feedback-laden soundscape jam. They meander through this space for several minutes until Fish hits the telltale 2001 beat giving us our escape hatch but then Mike comes in with the start to Melt! It isn’t very common to hear Mike direct traffic like this but I like it. The Melt jam is pretty much what you’d expect (listen for some Turning Japanese teases) but this version gets a bit more credit for the speech Trey gives before the end, thanking everyone and praising our scene while mentioning the big time issues (that article is now almost humorous with how dated some of the acts mentioned are) that had occurred just a day or so earlier at the Woodstock ’99 festival. The connection of which he speaks is definitely a big part of why this has all worked for so long. And then as if to stick their tongues out at that mess in upstate New York even more they come out for the encore and debut the (abbreviated) cover of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock (but played in the CSNY way) before swinging through a fun Julius to send everyone home. This show is perhaps not as great as the one preceding it but as Mike In Austin said recently, often the show before the tour ender is the real heater. I definitely agree with that notion but don’t skip this one!

 

07.10.2000  Summer 2000 brought Phish to Deer Creek for three shows in the middle of the week in June which isn’t exactly headliner routing for such a big venue but necessary to be able to fit in all that other Phish in other places. With the benefit of hindsight we can probably see that the cracks leading to Hiatus were already quite big and one of the contributors was their rigorous touring schedule so it is conceivable that this sort of routing was a factor in all of that. But at this time that was an unknown so let’s just get to the music, eh? First up are CTB and Wilson, combining to give us the dancing bug and fulfill our need to shout out names with 20K+ of our friends. Then after a nice enough Ice they stretch out for one of those “standard good” template Gins that are all over this time period, not doing anything particularly unique but definitely getting the crowd amped up. A mini bustout (28 shows) for Buffalo Bill is the cool down from the Gin and then after MMGAMOIO they start up Melt for what is sure to be a big time version. Well, it is not that. Instead it is a shorter version with not much going on musically. A non-FMS Sparkle and stock Funky Bitch later they arrive at the Bowie closer, running through it cleanly but never really pushing the boundaries too much. Trey plays some very nice runs here but this is a pretty neutered version of the once jam juggernaut.

The second set appears to hold the goods though as from the start things are a bit looser and more open. They hit that sweet dance pocket for the 16+ minute opening Jibboo and then get loopy and electro for the big Sand groove that follows with Page and Trey toying around with various effects over that punishing groove. They keep the same type of tone going for a better-than-advertised-but-still-a-bit-too-contained-for-my-liking Twist and then put together one of the more unique pairings I’ve encountered with Fee>WTU? (the WTU? is a good “oh nice!” surprise out of the ambient outro for Fee). Honestly, it kind of works thematically when you think about the lyrical content of Fee and the message of WTU?. Kind of makes you wonder why they’ve never done it again. Faithful runs through LxL (actually, Trey destroys this one pretty well) and Cup close the set and then the encore is another Lope here in the cornfields, and again Trey slides a Stash tease in there to make sure we are listening. Lope is tied with Possum for most times Stash has been teased in it at six with Wedge right behind at five. Hard hitting analysis, I know. That’s our game here, folks. Anyway, this is a fine enough show but really not one you will spin much of anything from very frequently.

 

07.11.2000  Ah… a middle night show. The scientists will have to tell us why, but for some reason Phish always seems to find their groove better in the middle night of three show runs than any other night (on average). After a largely “safe” first night Phish got comfortable here, sprinkling in jams, bustouts, and a seguefest second frame for good measure. They start out with that ever-welcome open air sunshine vibe cover tune Ya Mar, stretching it out a tad but never leaving the song behind. They keep the vibe going with a funky Moma and then give us the ol’ third slot bluegrass throwback with Uncle Pen before starting up the four hole first jammer with Drowned. Somewhere along the way this Drowned gets to a super happy bouncy groove that will have you smiling from ear to ear and then they get into a bit of stop/start action before wrapping up and heading into something… familiar but not quite… Hey! That’s Chalkdust Reprise after a 391 show gap!! What the heck?? If you have never heard this super rare tune, do yourself the favor of spinning it because it is just plain fun. And with tongues planted firmly in cheek they back that up with a ripping run through Chalkdust. Next is a very solid version of Theme and then the Cavern closer leaves us waiting for more.

The second set opens with a wonderful 2001 that stretches over twelve minutes before bumping into the start of Disease. This one sticks to the type I template for the most part but in the last few minutes becomes… Moby Dick?!? Heck yeah! “Only” a 172 show gap here but a fun little quote before they head back to close up Disease. Jim comes running in next and after a few minutes of slick groove jamming they amp it up and return to Moby Dick. Then they start into BOTT where Page initiates the move to Moby Dick which the rest of the band follows before they finish BOTT. Then we get Hood which progresses in a lovely manner as most Hoods do (don’t miss the Dog Log phrasing by Page and Mike just before the lyrics. ‘Sup, Smuff!) before they bang into Moby Dick once more at the end. Now they are just playing with us. Fish Fun Time is up next with Terrapin (85 show gap) being the vac ditty tonight (along with Fish being introduced as Russell Crowe) and then in the return HYHU we get more Moby Dick, this time with Trey on drums and Fish on vac. The Zero closer is fine and dandy at this point but you know they aren’t done here so in the wake of the big First Tube encore they again go into Moby Dick and then into Chalkdust Reprise. Trey even banters that if anyone missed anything they should read the book or see the movie just to drive the point home about this set. Similar to many of the seguefests, this is not a cornucopia of jams but a show that is greater than the sum of its parts in how it all comes off. Seek out this one for certain.

 

07.12.2000  The final night of this final Deer Creek run of Phish 1.0 starts out with some big time bustout love first with a mini one for MFMF (69 show gap) but then the biggie as they trot out The Curtain (With) for the first time in 1,178 shows! This was so unexpected that I doubt anyone saw it coming particularly since it wasn’t like they had shelved The Curtain or anything (it was played earlier on the tour at Star Lake). They had clearly been working on this one as it comes off cleanly, swaying through that slowed down Rift melody as Trey and Page each take turns soloing over the main theme. There are bigger gaps that have been broken in the band’s history but I maintain that this might be one of the more important in the sense that it brought a very much loved (and also quite good) bit of instrumentalism back to the catalog which differs from most bustouts being short songs or oddball ditties rather than fully formed pieces of music (with the biggest example of the other sort probably being FYF). Now warmed and ready to rock they open up Tube into a funky jam where Trey at first hits the keyboard rig before coming in on guitar with a creative melodic line. It isn’t the longest Tube jam ever and it doesn’t get one of those full-stop-reprise jams like the legendary ones from Chula Vista or Hershey or Dayton but it’ll get your body moving for sure. The set takes an odd turn from here though as they string together several fine enough songs for an uninspiring sequence of Heavy Things, Billy Breathes, and Beauty of My Dreams before dropping into Free for what we hope is a biggish version at least. They do get into some interesting space here with Trey playing that backwards-note-eating thing he does so well and then they back it up with a rocking Axilla (including the Part II ending). Page then closes the set with his lovely Coil musings.

The second set starts out raging hot with a fiery type I BOAF followed by an equally blistering run through Piper. The Piper feels like it could’ve kept going but they decided to pull up for a full stop before the first C&P of the year (last one previous was the midset doozy during the overnight set at Big Cypress). Initially they chug through the sped up TH funk but in the final four plus minutes they drop into a more millennial ambient groove space that evolves to be the intro to Caspian. Oddly, they choose Meatstick to close this shortish set with the last few minutes being another Trey speech giving thanks, mentioning this being the sixth straight year of playing the venue, how they will see us here next year (um… yeah… about that, Trey…), and giving a shout out to the thousands of people listening from outside who got left on the wrong side of the fence sans tickets. Good guy, that Trey. Not sure what he was thinking with the Wading encore though. Weird guy, that Trey…

 

07.21.2003  So following Hiatus Phish came back to conquer America once more. Here at Deer Creek we get another three night run, once again as a Monday-Wednesday visit. These shows fall about midway through that Summer Tour so by now they are fairly comfortable playing again meaning that while the composed stuff is still not solid (when played at all) the jams come often and in many cases from unexpected places. You just never knew what you’d get in 2003. So the show starts out innocently with standard takes on Cites, Jim, Meat (38 show gap, 1st of 2.0), and WITS and then they start into Stash for the first bit of open playing. This one doesn’t depart Stash for very long but in the latter half there’s some interesting work by Trey building tension with phrasing that many might yell out as being DEG teases (it is not). The Old Home Place (63 show gap, first of 2.0) and yet another Vultures (seems to be a thing for this venue – still no wooing though!) follow Stash and then we get a fun four song sequence to end the set with BOAF>Mike’s>H2>Paug. BOAF starts out rocking, making you think it’ll be another scorcher like that one a few years ago and then around the five minute mark they downshift as Trey noodles around for a few minutes before reprising the BOAF theme. Then they drop fully into ambient goo that eventually give us that Mike’s. This Mike’s is very slowed down from the start but that doesn’t stop them from getting crunchy in the jam as Trey uses that 2.0 growl tone to push things along. But it’s the Paug where things go big in this Groove as they run through a fast paced type I jam before treading open waters for a bit (including a tease of Shock the Monkey by Trey) and then closing with a big time, somewhat unusual finish for the song. Not a bad way to cap the set.

They come out of the break with Suzy and then Taste where Trey kind of goes a bit nuts in his solo before reining it in to circle around for the close. Next up is 46 Days for its fifth ever performance which feels weird to write now since it is a tour staple in 3.0 but yeah, it really only had been debuted earlier at that Hampton Run we detailed a few back. This one doesn’t go quite as big but does have a solid 2.0 dirty jam at the onset that moves into a dissonant feedback-filled jam before slowly quieting down to an ambient transition point. They start up Tweezer and everyone is getting excited as they imagine the massive jam to come since this is the first ever Tweezer in this venue but they never really leave the song, instead tinkering around the Tweezer theme first in building and then in bringing it down to where it eventually just peters out as they move into 2001. Yet another quality LxL is next with Trey starting out in a subdued manner before really going for it in a solo that some say includes DEG phrasing (not sold on this one either). The closer is the first GTBT of 2.0 (45 show gap) and then  Cup>Reprise provides the encore on the evening. This is a decent enough show but probably not one you will spin in toto very often.

 

07.22.2003  For the middle night of this 2003 run the band started out with a somewhat rough run through PYITE prior to first of 2.0 runs through Beauty of My Dreams and Gumbo. Gumbo goes deep and dark almost immediately after the lyrics end, combining that dark meat 2.0 jamming with an old school bouncy happy song for a fun journey only three songs into the set. This is probably not what you expect out of Gumbo but it is a very interesting jam that balances light and dark elements quite nicely which is a pretty good analogy for 2.0 in general now that I think about it. After an energetic run through Divided (1:33 pause tonight) they get the dance music going with a quick Boogie On before heading back to the darkness for Carini. This one feels charged to explode as Trey growls out that uncompressed tone but they rein it back in to close out Carini and then start up Magilla (first of 2.0; 58 show gap). I like this tune but it is a bit of a head-scratching choice after that dark jam. Whatever, man. 2003 was a weird year.

After a Possum closer and the resulting break they come out and open the second set with Melt, once again pushing that light/dark dichotomy as they head off into an extended jam that moves through several phases. First is a wah-drenched type I jam where Trey is searching within the Melt theme followed by a more brooding open jam that departs from the telltale odd time signature of Melt and then finally they increase the pace for a rocking run to the finish except for that bit about never returning to the song and instead making a deft move into Free (to once again counterbalance the dark with light). This Free is compact but peaks out quite nicely after more of that crunchy tone and then we get the midset cool down with… Friday? Oh hell no. This will not stand. And if you want to come at me with defenses for that song I’ve got all day. ALL DAY. You simply do not put that song as the midset cool down for a five song set. Heck, why play it at all? After almost nine endless minutes we get the reprieve as they bring out the first Lizards of 2.0 (36 show gap) and then a biggish WOTC closes the proceedings with much bombast and some extended inbounds jamming. The encores are Bouncin and Frankenstein just to cap that whole light/dark thing. Overall this show is pretty solid if a bit uneven with some of the song choices but there are several good jams to spin so you can excuse some of it. But not that Friday.

 

07.23.2003  If that second night captures the dichotomy of 2.0’s balance between light and dark the final night here in 2003 captured another facet of shows in the era: the juxtaposition of mind blowing open jams with badly flubbed composed pieces. I’m not normally one to harp on the flubs because musicians are human and all that but in this case I’ll play along a bit. They start out with the fifth ever SASS (with full intro!) which stretches out into an uplifting open jam before giving way to Theme. There’s a bit of clunkiness getting through the composed parts here but then Trey plays a nice solo in the end jam so all is forgiven. The Rift afterwards is pretty rough though as Trey kind of loses his place and doesn’t even play some of his parts as they stumble through this one. In probably the first positive thing I’ll say about Sample on this blog I will admit that playing that next helps them to get their feet under them again (and the subject matter is kind of on the nose what with all the criticism they are always subject to). Next up is the first Sneakin Sally of the year and this one goes into some cowfunk vamping but with that edginess on top as Trey adds creative licks in with the static comping he is doing. They settle into one of those grooves where you find yourself slowly spinning around, taking it all in and watching the dance moves and awed expressions of others as the music fills you up. After a bit they almost suddenly decide to pull the plug for Billy Breathes which is a great song and all but c’mon that groove was thick and dank and all the other cool words your friend started using after seeing his third show in a row that one time. Well, this isn’t the cleanest BB ever but we’ll give it a pass because the song is so lovely. Our last bit of first set jamming comes from Seven Below, one of those songs that seems to always get a little extra something even in being the ‘standard’ take on the song. Maybe I just need to up my expectations for the song. And for good measure there’s a botched Cavern close but they’ve been messing that one up for about ten years at this point so not really too surprising.

The second set kicks off with Disease which from the drop into the jam feels more like a Seven Below jam than a Disease one. They throw in some CYHMK bits along the way and push the tempo up as they hit the home stretch but this is a good example of Phish coming back to something they were enjoying earlier. You don’t hear them do it much anymore since the style template is now so diverse that they tend to keep moving into different types of jams rather than reprising ‘old’ ideas but every once in a while you can catch them doing it. Surprisingly, this one drops down for a rare placement of Coil. They buck the trend here by playing a clean version with a typically nice outro solo with the only real alteration being that Page doesn’t take as long of solo as Trey stays with him for most of it similar to some of the earlier versions of the song. Next up is the always welcome Maki interlude where Trey basically tells a Dad Joke at the expense of Max Creek (it’s baaaaad) and after a brief outro jam they bring back Buffalo Bill for the first time since their last visit here in 2000 (55 shows). Antelope follows with a jam that gets well beyond the Lope theme for a bit before returning for the peak and oh yeah this one is dedicated to “our friend Greg” who everyone assumes to be Antelope Greg who I will not fill space with here in discussing. The fifth ever (of six) Thunderhead is next and again I voice my lament that this song has disappeared which will go unanswered as always. A nice Slave and a Waste encore later this run is a wrap! Again we end up with a decent enough show buoyed by a few very good jams but also grounded by some of that not-so-tight-ness.

 

06.23.2004  In the final year of 2.0 before The Long Wait Phish played Deer Creek two more times, again dropping a midweek pair on the traveling horde. The first was a Wednesday show a year to the day after their last visit here. After crowd pleasers with Llama and Bouncin they get to the jamming with a third song Gin that stretches out with a long first/type I jam where Mike is really giving the bass the business before they drop into a more subdued groove space for several minutes prior to closing out the song. Solid takes on Ya Mar, Pebbles and Marbles, and Page’s Army Of One (3rd ever at the time) fill the rest of the midset and then they give us the first Melt of 2004 for the set closer. Actually, the P&M was the only song from this set previously played in the year so that statement is a bit simplistic considering this was a somewhat fresh bunch of tunes as that P&M has the only gap less than ten shows (with Melt being the longest at 26). This isn’t as big as the one from the last visit here but there’s some really great Fish and Mike stuff in this jam so listen well, friends.

They bounce into the second set with one of those table setter Halley’s Comets that drops into another song rather than any inkling of a jam with tonight’s answer to the “will they or won’t they” question being C&P. Always one I like to hear this version stays pretty much within the confines of the song (Royalties Jam naming be damned) though they do have some fun playing a bit in the back end before moving into a midset Slave. After that they trot out the second ever version of Nothing which also ends up being the only version they have ever jammed out once they tack on the lovely bit at the end that deftly becomes 46 Days before you even know it. Without jamming that one they then move into another very strong SaSS from this venue, this time sans intro but with a very captivating jam to it before they pull another flawless segue out of their hats on the way to B&R. Yet another solid LxL from here precedes yet another Cavern closer and then a nice but underwhelming Waste encore ends the evening (on stage at least). This is a better than good show, particularly for the time period leading up to The Break Up with some top notch jams and good setlist construction and flow.

 

06.24.2004  So then the final night of Phish at Deer Creek for what was expected to be, well, ever came and no one really knew what they’d throw down as the swan song to this much beloved venue. They set the tone for the evening by opening with Loving Cup for only the sixth time ever and first time since 04.17.1994, giving everyone the excuse to party hard from the get go (not that anyone needed that permission, mind you). Next up is Cities which delights the crowd but all of a sudden there’s a BOTT where the Cities jam should be (nice transition though) so let the head scratching begin. Vultures gets another solid run here in its fourth time played at the venue (a pretty high percentage for a song that has only been played a total of 38 times) and then following a quick MMGAMOIO they give us the vehicle we have been waiting for with a late set Disease. The jam starts out in a laid back way, grooving through several offered ideas by various band members until they climb the ladder for a fun jam that much like that Cities somehow lands in another song entirely, this time RnR to close the set.

After the break they open up with Tube and instead of just being a set up this one gets the treatment as Fish and Mike in particular give this one the business (the Mike bassline in particular is quite infectious). Next up is another midset Lope here at the Creek and while maybe not as out there as others they have played (even here) it gets wild and dissonant with Trey throwing in some very heavy hints towards a Gypsy Queen jam not too far ahead of the peak drop. After The Wedge they tear through a dark Timber Ho! led by Trey and Fish and then set up the end of set sequence with Caspian>Simple and they head to the WOTC closer. There is a full return to Disease in the jam here as Trey plays that telling trill riff as they finish the unfinished Disease before capping off the WOTC. Good stuff. The encore is Coil which is never a bad thing and but for the small slip up by Trey in the final bit of guitar before the end run this is a nice one. This show is better than it gets credit for and paired with the one before it offered a pretty solid “last run” for the venue. Thankfully, that end was prematurely assumed…

 

06.19.2009  Five years later Phish returned for their first single night performance at Deer Creek, coincidentally fourteen years to the day following that first visit to the corn. As the band was still in the infancy of 3.0 it is understandable that this show is perhaps not as jam-heavy as many of the ones that preceded it here but that doesn’t mean it is without its highlights. BDT#L opens for its first (and only to date) time ever (this is also the fifth ever performance of the song) and then after running through Bag, LxL, Moma, and WitS (a telling nod to the rain of the day…) they go for the first bit of jamming with Melt. Yeah, so, let’s just say this early into The Return they weren’t exactly capturing the dark beauty of this one. I’m not gonna lie, it is pretty tough to get through this one. They simply just don’t ever connect as Trey throws out a bunch of various ideas but never in step with the rest of the band. Let’s move on… A few more okay songs later (Lawn Boy, Wedge, and STFTFP – 5th ever one of those) they give us a debut with the first performance of the song that gives this blog its name, The Connection. It’s a nice enough ditty with some of those reflective lyrics that people love to quote (you, I’m talking about me) but the really telling thing to me is how good this sounds in comparison to that Melt earlier. I think it says a lot about where the band was at this stage of their re-connection that this song while not a vehicle by any means sounds fresher and more interesting than one of their long-time go to jammers. They follow this with a nice take on Ocelot (4th ever) with Mike voicing approval on the fight bell in the intro and then cap the set with the now resurgent boisterousness of Fluffhead.

After a rain soaked break they come out with the water songs, opening with a fun pairing of ASIHTOS>Drowned. The outro jam for ASIHTOS starts out in theme but then diverges to a more ambient feel with Trey and Page playing some very original stuff that I wish would have gone on for even longer than it did. Drowned also gets a nice outro jam that moves effortlessly into Twist where they again stretch out for a bit with some CYHMK phrasing and then a brief dip into open waters before the second ever Let Me Lie (woo?) takes over. They make up for that move with a solid Tweezer that hits a nice bit of open space before dropping into the ambient transition move for 2001, setting up the Suzy->Possum closing sequence. The encores are Monkey>Reprise which may or may not be “earned” depending on your view. I was not really loving this show on spinback for the first set but that second set is much better than I remembered. It isn’t one you would put on a “top whatever” list even for early 3.0 but there’s some good stuff in there.

 

08.12.2010  Keeping the every-summer-tour-we-play-Deer-Creek streak alive for one more year, Phish came back in 2010 for a pair, opening with Jim for somehow the first time ever at this venue. They run through a bunch of tour staples over the course of this pretty tame set with the Roggae having a nice little peak and CTB being a first for the year but really there isn’t much to speak of in this set unless you want to complain about all of the time eaten up by the bathroom-bumrush-inducing, set-closing TTE. I’m not here to bash that tune but with not much to hang your hat on leading up to it the placement is worthy of the grumbling from many who attended this show. This isn’t a bad set but outside of a nice, compact Wolfman’s jam and that Roggae there isn’t much to hang your hat on unless you are the type to wade through TTE for that final five minute payoff like I am.

The second set gets a Drowned opener and much like last year’s this one hits some very agreeable jam space after the initial run through the song proper. This section begins around the 9:00 mark and if you are listening closely you may find that this jam has elements that seem to foreshadow the coming of Waiting All Night, a song that won’t debut for another three years at the lightning rod Halloween performance on 10.31.2013. Pretty neat to hear it here. That evolves into the start of Jibboo which is fun but just as they are dropping into what could be a meaty jam they pull off the full segue move into the rare these days second set placement for Gin. After a quick adrenaline shot to the peak jam there they run off a bunch of songs (MFMF, Buffalo Bill>Twist>Horse>Silent) on the way to another rare tune for second sets in 3.0, Melt. On that Buffalo Bill (81 show bustout btw) really quickly, it is a weird stat oddity that this version of the song was the third at this venue in its last five performances. It took me over 25 freaking years to catch this song live and Deer Creek gets it three times in five. What are the odds. So the Melt, while definitely more together than the one from 2009 this Melt isn’t a world beater so it isn’t too big of a surprise when they bail out for a DFB bustout (64 shows). After a pinner but nice Hood and Golgi closer they come out for the encore and Trey picks up the megaphone meaning “ERMAHGERD! THEY’RE DOING THE FEE SONG!!!” which sure, fine, but it had been a full 388 shows since the last Fee with megaphone. Neato. The outro of this becomes NO2 (only the sixth ever at the time) which melts into an 88 show Kung bustout (including Trey playing with the siren button on the megaphone) which bangs into a Fire finale. That’s the kind of encore people will remember. Might not be the greatest show ever but always nice to see the band having a blast and keeping it loose.

 

08.13.2010  Night two gets going with a Chalkdust opener followed by the first Guelah of the year after a 42 show gap. Get ready for a quick recap of the balance of this set because this is just a long string of decent songs played fine enough. You get the three hole slot bluegrass (MSO), Axilla, Fish on vac for IDK, a short version of WOTC (76 show bustout), a Stash so short you might miss it if not paying attention (okay, it isn’t bad but being that it is only a minute or two longer than the album version it isn’t exactly one you will be rushing to spin), Train Song slides in after a 36 show gap, Numberline is what it is, Ocelot gets a bit whale-y but is fine, Curtis Loew lets the song chasers pad their stats, Wilson gets the chads pumped, and then Possum lets them rock out to close the set. What, you want me to talk about how that’s the second 1st set closing Possum here (along with the four 2nd set closers)? Fine, done.

How about that second set then? Halley’s kicks it off (with the ultra rare San Ho Zay tease in there!) and then they drop into Light (first one since the amazing one from the Greek the week before). It isn’t a set-carrying jam but they get into a really nice syncopated bit of interplay in the last few minutes before Trey introduces the move to 46 Days. If you recall, this was the summer where people were getting really annoyed with the whole “TreyDHD” thing where he would seemingly pull up out of jam potential to move into another song. This set is that in a nutshell. Nothing is played badly by any means, but every time they seem like they are about to go somewhere he comes in and pushes into a new song. Out of 46 Days it becomes Maze which gets a full stop before they play Meatstick and again right as they should at least do a bit of ‘normal’ jamming Trey layers in the start to Mango Song. Then the second longish tune of the set (and carrier of the 4th quarter) comes in with Fluffhead followed by a fun if expected Julius closer. The Contact>Slave encore pairing is a nice nod to the impending overnight drive to Alpine but that’s small consolation for a pretty unremarkable set and show. I’m guessing there won’t be many who can put up a good defense of this show if it wasn’t your first, hit some ‘major’ arbitrary milestone, or happened to coincide with you emptying your stash into your belly.

 

06.28.2012  For the first time since they started playing here, Phish skipped a year when touring in the summer (2011) and instead came back the next year in the early stages of what would end up being a pretty darn good summer of Phish. This visit while lacking the standard rain storms (which would have been much appreciated at the time) arrived during a major heat wave that raised concerns of major instances of wookdown and the potential for brush fires in the lawn areas of many venues. It was serious stuff, folks. Ever cognizant of their fans, Phish came out with a plan to keep it laid back until the sun had set to cool off the area, throwing us a bunch of bustouts and other gems along the way. First up with the second Birdwatcher ever (ending a 35 show gap and being the only opening slotting of the song ever) which was followed by a very well executed Curtain (With) after a 39 show gap. The jam here is light and breezy and really set the tone for the balance of the set. After the fun of FYF (43 show bustout) they went way back for Old Home Place (103 show gap), filling the bluegrass requirement with one of the more easy going of the grassy tunes they play. Following a solid string of P&M, Weigh, Chalkdust, and Wolfman’s (there’s some nice swagger funk in this one) they busted out (is ‘busted’ the right tense there? wook grammar is tough) Cool It Down after 54 shows on the way to a first set Tweezer (gotta keep us thinking cold thoughts at the very least, right?) that while not wide ranging or exploratory gets right to the point with a compact, Trey-heavy jam before the old school slow down ending. Tela wafts in on the wind from beyond the mountains and then they close the set with a raucous STFTFP as we all then got the chance to cool off for a bit.

Mike’s Song opens the second set and then they go into McGrupp (for the first time out of Mike’s since 10.07.1999) which gets a very interesting jam to it aside from just the normal Page going off on the piano bit as Trey joins him in taking this out. They end up in the start of BOTT which gets its own multi-themed jam that eventually heads into a bit of transition space that in the moment sure felt like it was going to become Psycho Killer which probably would have catapulted this show into instant classic status before they made it HYHU instead for Fish Fun Time. As Fish figured out what to play (including Trey really prodding for Sexual Healing as Fish realized he didn’t remember any of the words) Mike teased IIOHAB and Mike’s Song but then we got Bike. As they then finish up the return HYHU Mike booms into Paug while Trey is still on drums. Fish takes up the guitar, it goes about as well as you could expect with some funny banter by Fish, and then Fish and Trey are both on drums, and finally we get back to where we are all supposed to be for the main/remaining part of the song. This is the sort of thing that back in the day when you got the tapes sans any context you would have no idea what the heck was going on until someone clued you in and you’d be wondering why Trey played so horribly in the Paug intro. After a fine enough Caspian they move into Waves (a more common pairing than I thought with three instances of Caspian preceding Waves as in this case and another three the other way around), taking the boat into its open waters for several minutes of wonderful playing before closing the set with Bug and a punchy if contained Bowie. The Show of Life>Reprise encore is then basically gravy after a fine set like that. This is a better than you realize show particularly considering the overwhelming heat of the day.

 

06.29.2012  The second night has fireworks of its own starting with the 88 show bustout of Crowd Control but running all throughout the night. The heat had only abated by a few degrees so everyone was still pretty testy, including the security at the gate which might have prompted this bustout. After DaaM they go all the way back to Halloween 1998 for a nifty Sweet Jane bustout (352 shows) reminding us once again just how broad and deep their catalog really is as they nail this well loved classic. Some funny banter about signs follows (remember when that was a “thing”??) before a nice LxL and a standard rocking Possum. Non-staples Mound, our old friend from Fall 96 LOM?, and Mango keep everyone moving and then they go old school with the fun madness of BBFCFM which I will never not like. Strange Design, BOAF, and Halley’s provide more fresh setlist options/placements before the cap the set with a 73 show bustout of WMGGW, a song I know a lot of people really like but personally does nothing for me. Oh well, they can’t all be our favorite songs.

After that inventive first set they dive in headfirst with the Disease second set opener for the first opportunity to really stretch their legs. At the start Trey mimics some of the flourishes Page is playing before taking over to explore a theme of his own. They continue to trade ideas over the course of this fluid jam with Trey getting very close to moving it into Undermind at one stage before switching gears. As you spin around with eyes closed suddenly you realize they have moved into Sand, never seeming to skip a beat along the way. This Sand is all about that Mike as the bass master pushes the pace and pretty well leads the entire thing over the course of its densely packed jam that includes a couple of teases by Trey. At the very end Trey changes keys to make the move to Twist easier and now everyone is getting very excited about this third potential vehicle in a row. Well, that word “potential” is key here because due maybe to some lyric flubs or just plain desire to mix it up Trey gets goofy, playing with the lyrics to “twist them around” by saying various band members’ names in other letter order (you know, like the song’s lyrics mention?). Sensing this isn’t going to go anywhere Trey pushes into Rift instead of a Twist jam which is fine I guess. Better to hit the reset button than to try to beat the computer without all the necessary power ups you missed, right? Then they go into Gin which is definitely not something expected here but neither is the very non-Gin-like jam with its Twist quotes (and more of the letter mixups) and On Broadway tease by Trey. He has clearly put away the jam pants for the night and is just letting it ride. Similar to the end of Twist he rather quickly puts together a nice transition to Fluffhead which pretty much tells you the end of the jamming has come. Following Fluff they end the set with a 41 show bustout of Ride Captain Ride and that Antelope you’ve been expecting for the past two visits here after they played it every year leading up to 2009 at Deer Creek. Still in a bit of a weird mood, they triple encore with Cavern>Sanity, First Tube which while fun is a pretty odd run of tunes for an encore. Having attended only the first night here that one holds preference for me personally what with all the jamming and bustouts but there is a definite appeal to this one as well even if that second set might have left you a bit flat footed were you to be expecting nothing but big jams.

 

06.26.2016  Okay, so yeah, here we are at the last one for Deer Creek (I’m sure you are sick of reading my blather by now) and yes this is a show that didn’t exactly get people to quit their jobs to head out on tour. But being a completist here I’m gonna do what I do so strap in. Coming back to Deer Creek after the longest gap since the band had started playing here (three whole touring years!!) Phish was also playing this show on the back end of the two nights at Wrigley Field in Chicago following the tour opener earlier that week in St. Paul, MN. Third nights can be tricky for all of us here in 3.0 as we are older and not necessarily wiser when it comes to pacing ourselves. The band sometimes shows this fatigue too and since there was the travel from Chicago to Indianapolis overnight to be factored in the stage was kind of set for this one to not exactly light it up. Layer onto that that some weren’t exactly pleased with how Phish was playing out of the gates to start this tour (like, did they even practice, maaaaannn??) not to mention there being a rain delay and showers throughout the evening and you can tell where this is headed. Honestly, listening back it isn’t as bad as the chicken littles made it out to be but there also isn’t a whole lot to hang your hat on in that first set. You see the MFMF opener and you think “oh yeah, old school darkness!” but that never really happens then there’s a stock KDF, okay but short Camel Walk, odd ASIHTOS>Poor Heart pairing, micro-jammed Tube, sure fine Halley’s>Maze, and Lawn Boy filling up the majority of the first set. Next is the debut of Breath & Burning which is fine but Trey almost apologizes for it in thanking the crowd for letting them try out the new tunes (to say nothing of the lack of positive response for the Miss You debut earlier that weekend following a pretty dank Sand). They close the set a bit more strongly with a run of Saw It Again>Theme>First Tube but it isn’t enough to salvage the going-through-the-motions feel of this one.

They come out a bit hotter for the second set with fun takes on PYITE and BOTT but really it is the midset that holds the value in this one. Light opens up into a very bright jam that I can’t imagine anyone complaining about. Trey latches on to a theme for a bit around the 9:00 mark that feels lifted from an Allmans jam but they move on and eventually drop into some clav-led transition space prior to the move into Golden Age. Always a fun one to hear, this GA doesn’t stretch out much at all after a few rounds of Trey echoplexing as they instead opt to go dance party with a pretty darn good segue into Boogie On. Rather than keep the dancers spinning they take it way down for a Wingsuit>Shade double that really saps the energy out of the place before the (YES AGAIN) Possum closer. The RnR encore then feels tacked on as an afterthought once the set lost its way. I like that midset sequence but could have used a bit more work before they moved to Boogie On. I’m not in charge of those decisions though so I it just ends up being a bit of a shrugger of a night. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another three years to cleanse our palettes from this one.

 

Tale of the Tapes

Venue:  Deer Creek Music Center (officially, Klipsch Music Center and previously Verizon Wireless Music Center)

No. of Shows:  twenty-three

Intangibles:  This is one of the classic outdoor “sheds” in the national touring circuit and one that already had a good reputation before Phish ever set foot on stage such that some of that mythos (particularly as relates to the Dead) ‘rubbed off’ a bit on the band and the fans’ reception of such. Once an oasis in a vast sea of cornfields, the “vibe” of seeing shows at Deer Creek has always been one of the best in the scene not just for the music the band plays but also for the free wheeling lot scene, late night campground shenanigans, and “can’t miss” reputation that evolved over the years. There really is something indescribable about shows here, something that you kind of have to experience to understand. It is weird because it isn’t a spectacular venue like The Gorge or Red Rocks. It’s an outdoor shed not too unlike so many others around the country but for some reason Phish and their fans have made it a homestead in the Midwest. Now some twenty-two years after the first visit here the area has changed significantly which has impacted the free wheeling nature to a certain degree but it still stands as one of those venues that if Phish comes to play you should probably try to make it there.

Recurring Themes:  Trey loves to banter here, often saying stuff like “enjoy yourselves out there tonight” or “don’t do anything we wouldn’t do” in acknowledgement of the fun to be had camping in the cornfields; Rainstorms while not really discussed above have played integral roles in set timings and even a few big jams like the Drowned from 07.11.2000 or the ASIHTOS>Drowned from 06.19.2009; If you like Run Like an Antelope, this is the venue for you as nine out of twelve visits have one including each visit from the first eight times they came here – and a couple of those have Stash teases in them for some reason; unique openers – in 23 shows they have only repeated the opener twice (MFMF, Ya Mar) and several of those have been first time openers for the song; out of the eight Possums here (tied with Melt for #2 in total times performed) four have been second set closers so that’s a fair bet to make; speaking of Melt, they tend to play the song quite well here which is good considering its relative frequency; another song that they tend to play quite well here is Limb By Limb which has a great batting average in its seven performances; and finally, don’t expect to get a Tweezer here as it took thirteen shows for the first one to drop here and there have only ever been three performances of the song at this venue

Key Jams/Songs:  1995 – Theme, Reba, Lope, Bowie, YEM, Possum; 1996 – Melt, Esther, McGrupp>Lope, Possum, Divided, Slave, Bag (with unique intro), Mike’s>Lifeboy>Paug; 1997 – Disease, Melt, Hood, Cities, Theremin/Rotation Jam, Bowie, Maki>Maze, LxL, Lope, Timber Ho!, Vultures, YEM; 1998 – Roggae, Boogie On, Reba, Possum>Ghost>Lifeboy, Rhinoceros, Halley’s->IDK, Moma, Gumbo, LxL; 1999 – MFMF->MLT->Whipping Post>Maki>HBD>Maki, Boogie On, Boaf->Walk Away>Lope>Suzy, YEM, Cup, Gin, Stash, Wolfmans, Theme, Disease->Melt, Woodstock; 2000 – Gin, Jibboo>Sand, LxL, Drowned->Chalkdust Reprise>Chalkdust, entire 2nd set of 7.11 show plus encore, Curtain (With), Tube, BOAF>Piper, C&P; 2003 – Satsh, Paug, Taste, 46 Days, LxL, Gumbo, Carini, Melt->Free, WOTC, SaSS, Sally, Seven Below, Disease>Coil, Lope; 2004 – Gin, Melt, C&P>Slave, Nothing, SaSS, Disease, Tube>Lope, Tomber Ho!, WOTC; 2009 – ASIHTOS->Drowned>Twist, Tweezer; 2010 – Roggae, Drowned>Jibboo>Gin, entire 1st night encore, Light; 2012 – Curtain (With), Tweezer, McGrupp->BOTT>HYHU>Bike>HYHU>Paug, Waves>Bug, Disease>Sand, Gin; 2016 – um… Light maybe?

PJJ Ratio:  Deer Creek comes in at a surprisingly low 2.13 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). With how well loved this venue is in the fanbase I was shocked to find the ratio to be this low. My personal list above is bigger (and I’m going to put together a bit of comparison to the PJJ guys’ offerings when this is all wrapped up) but I understand the choices made as well as why they left off certain ones off.

Deer Creek and Summer Tour were once synonymous as the band visited here on ten straight years (well… years in which they toured that is…). Following that first single night visit in 1995 the band made themselves comfortable for most subsequent stops here, maxing out at three night stands in 2000 and 2003 before ramping down for future routings through the area. There are some straight legendary sets that have been played here but also some pretty forgettable ones which you kind of brush aside because of the sheer amount of music they have performed here in the land of corn. To my ear the good far outweighs the “meh” here (I don’t really think there are any completely bad sets/shows from this venue though others may disagree) so you could pretty easily make a case for this to be considered one of the best venues for Phish in their history. Some of that for me is related to attendance bias since I have managed to scatter s decent amount of visits to Deer Creek over the years but you cannot deny that the band has always played in a very comfortable manner in this shed. The amount of music played doesn’t necessarily push it to the top as there is something to be said for quality over simple quantity but is sure helps make the case for Deer Creek. In the end I am sure that Deer Creek will lose out to another place but here there are more than a few sets that I personally hold dear as some of the best Phish I have witnessed both live and on tape.

Feeeeel The Heat – Phish and American Airlines Arena

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

 

After so many years playing Holiday Runs in the Northeast with that one quite memorable stop in South Florida for Big Cypress, Phish decided that for their 2003 NYE Run they would play at the then relatively new American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL. A welcome change from the high cost hustle and bustle of New York City in late December, Miami offered up a new venue, new sights, and perhaps most enticingly warmth in a time of year we had grown accustomed to bundling up before and after sweating our asses off in the arenas of Boston and New York. The venue is home to the NBA’s Miami Heat but also has a rich history with music acts beginning on its opening night December 31, 1999 with local legend Gloria Estefan ringing in the new year while Phish played not that far away in the Everglades. Many many more have played the venue since with Phish stopping by for four night runs each of the three times they have visited the venue. And just recently an anecdote by the Dude of Life (aka Steve Pollak) on Tom Marshall’s enlightening podcast Under the Scales provides the connection we lacked for just why Phish started playing here. Apparently when Trey and Steve were both in high school at Taft Trey would stay up late playing music loudly and Eric, the guy who lived in the room below him, is (was?) now the President of AA Arena (not entirely sure on the actual position and such but the anecdote is around the 11:30 mark of the podcast linked above) and asked Trey to bring the band down to his arena which they did and now continue to do in rotation with MSG. And here twelve NYE Run shows later from the venue I think we would all agree that that connection opened the door for this venue to be considered as one of the most storied in the band’s history.

 

The twelve shows that Phish has played at this venue have all been as part of New Year’s Eve Runs with four played in 2003, four in 2009, and four for the 2014 Run which extended into 2015. The 2003 and 2009 runs fit the traditional format with the first show on the 28th and running through the big highlight three setter on the 31st while that 2014 run started on the 3st with the three subsequent shows falling on January 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of 2015. This wasn’t the first time the calendar influenced the sequencing of shows for a Holiday Run as for the 2002-2003 Run coming back from Hiatus which we just covered for the Hampton post had the same date layout. While it is unclear if and when the band might return to this venue if they stick to the not-quite-a-pattern it’ll probably be in 2019 or 2020 assuming they are still playing shows at that stage.

 

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Miami Jams. Now on to the shows!

 

12.28.2003  2003 was a confusing time to be a fan. Yes, we had our band back and yes they were playing with a new, unique template of sound but other aspects weren’t quite the same. Like, what song do you think would make the most sense for opening a Holiday Run in a new-to-us venue far from their typically Northeastern winter stomping grounds? If you guessed a sprawling, psychedelic Bowie, well, you either cheated or should go lay some money down in Vegas or some other place that allows gambling. I mean, it was only the 10th Bowie opener ever at the time (12 now total in 470 performances of the song) and not exactly the quick shot of energy opener you expect in that slot. But it set a certain tone for the run, that’s for certain. And if you recall, a snippet from this jam was used for the the teaser video in advance of the band’s return here in 2009. Oh hey, here’s a video playlist of what I think includes the whole show, cut into bite-sized tracks like YT used to force us to ingest. Now the opener you expected comes next (Sample) and then we are back to the jamming for a third song Tweezer (this is the type of expected unexpectedness that shows in 2.0 could produce). This is a patient Type I version where Trey takes the lead and doesn’t let up, crafting soulful lines and playfully prodding us to rise and fall with him until the jam naturally resolves into a fade out ending with no return to Tweezer. A couple of songs later they drop Frankie Says that ‘gets the treatment’ as the kids like to say with one of those ambient goo jams that coalesce into something better than they start out to be as the band swells towards an almost peak before winding out into the start of Llama. And while perhaps not the precise shred of your dad’s Llama this one has girth as Page plays an entertaining bit of that electric organ thing and Trey plays a not quite standard part in his turn at the lead. The set wraps up with the lyrically botched Fish Fun Time tune Love You (maybe playing more than once ever 50ish shows would prevent such botching but probably not though I will say the lyrics he makes up here are pretty funny) and then Reprise which is another surprise considering that out of the 271 times the song has been performed only 18 are first set versions (that’s a low 6.6% for those accounting at home). The second set starts off with Jibboo and rather than doing its normal thing of being a funk siren loop’d workout this one gets pretty rocking (and rolling) before they come back to finish the song. Next up is Suzy and you are expecting a fun time party song setting up the next deep dive vehicle only to have Suzy become that deep dive. Now, there are varying opinions on this jam and its relative merits as a piece of music considering it basically becomes a one man showcase of hard edged guitar playing while the rest of the band follows along. Some will say this is a great example of Trey just letting loose and going for it – something he doesn’t really do all that often – and that is a fair take assuming you are one who values a bit of guitar wankery every now and again. Others will say it is nothing but guitar wankery with Trey showing off at the expense of full band cohesion/exploration and that is also a fair take if you are more into the dance party connect-the-dots type of jam template. Personally, I think it leans more towards the latter viewpoint than the former but at the same time I see the beauty in it as a unique move by the band and know that had I seen it in person my view on it would assuredly be different. The raging guitar swirl eventually subsides into a loop’d bit of ambient transition and sets up the move to Theme. Much like the first two forays in jam from this set this Theme is more rock out on the way to the (almost) peak than blissy groove clinic as Trey again takes a quite meaningful lead and the rest of the band rides along. A nod to their last visit to South Florida is next with WITS (to the delight of the knowing crowd) and then Friday sets up the set closing Hood which has more of that rocking energy and swagger on the way to the end peak. A Monkey>Cup encore seals the deal and we have our first one in the books for Miami. This is an interesting show in a lot of ways, highlighting a lot of the “good” of 2.0 with some uniqueness in the prevailing mode(s) of jamming and the ever welcome fresh take on setlist construction. It also is something of an outlier as 12.28 shows go where typically the vibe is one of warming up and reconnecting with the next couple of nights being the meat in terms of musicality. An odd factor may be that this is also a Sunday show which as we know has its own axioms though I think that is less of it than simply the band and more specifically Trey really going for it from the start of the run.

12.29.2003  Night two of this run (videos here for set one and two) starts out with another odd but appreciated opener placement as we get just the fifth ever (and last to date of 157 total performances) Piper show opener. The one prior to this was the first tune played after Hiatus so perhaps a nod there even if not overtly intentional by the band. After an ‘On Broadway’ tease they slow build it, heading out into fast moving, loose jam befitting of an opening slot. This is not the most ‘connected’ Phish you will ever here but the raw energy of it is infectious and by the time they get to the Reprise-ish peak in the last few minutes you are hooting and hollering and backslapping everyone around you (don’t worry, it happens to the best of us). They circle back around to Piper again with another round of the lyrics and follow it up with a fun Foam before slotting our first true ballad of the run third with Anything But Me. The second peak of the set comes with the LxL that follows and really by second peak I mean second, third, and fourth peaks as this one (arithmetic on that might not be accurate and may be subject to hyperbole) goes for the rafters before coming back to earth. Wolfman’s is next and suitably funky with a tease of FZ’s Apostrophe thrown in for good measure. And then the old school Poor Heart>Cavern pairing ends the first set proceedings for one of 18 times in their shared history (and one of six times that combo closed a set). RnR opens up the next frame with promise but just as the jam is about to get interesting they move into Twist. Now, some say they hear a quote of FZ’s Dinah Moe Humm but I’ve spun this version more times than it deserves and I am not catching it. Whatever. Anyway, outside of that mythical quote this Twist is mainly a pass through on the way to a fun Boogie On which almostnotquite gets a jam of its own – one that is pretty reminiscent of what came out of Boogie in Worcester 2012. Next up is Ghost and while perhaps not the best one ever this jam is really creative, not just sticking to the wah funk comp-a-thon but instead weaving an inventive thread on their way to a full segue to Free. In Free they get super crunchy with Trey growling out his lead and Mike playing a particularly dirty bit of slap bass as the two go back and forth for a couple of minutes. Trey’s 2.0 growl is on full display here and it is wonderful. The growl carries over to the Divided Sky that follows which is always an interesting thing to hear considering the signature soaring tone by Trey for this song generally invokes the wide open sky and whatnot. It is a nice departure, honestly. There’s a lengthy pause tonight (2:27!) which amps the crowd up even before Trey tears apart the end solo and then following this they shred an extended GTBT to close out the set.  Then oddly we get a double encore as the band plays Waste, leaves the stage, and then comes back for Coil to the delight of those in the room. It isn’t common for Phish to do that (and kind of odd here considering it isn’t like this show was the greatest one they ever played) but a neat surprise when it does occur.

12.30.2003  Night three of this run is where things really get… interesting. First up is Wilson which gets left unfinished as they segue to Sand right before the “blap boom” section. There’s a ‘War Pigs’ tease in that Wilson which may have been but probably wasn’t played to honor Earl “Wilson” Hindman of Home Improvement fame who died that day. Sand is high energy and hard hitting here in its 45 show bustout (which is a head scratcher seeing how that’s the song’s longest gap since debut and smack in the middle of the period where the song kinda made the most sense in terms of the band’s playing style. Oddly enough, the next longest gap for the song – 40 shows – also ended here in 2009). As they move into the jam Trey is playing something almost recognizable which continues to form until it dawns into a full segue to the 72 show bustout of Shafty, here played with a bit more edge than typical. After a quick run through this setlist rarity they bounce into NICU (complete with a Shafty tease) and then continue the bustouts with a 200 show whopper in Weigh. Then they get to the funking with Cities (dropping Sand teases in there) which somewhat surprisingly segues to Mule. Then a fairly standard Gin gets completely away from the song as they tease the Steely Dan tune Show Biz Kids and a little After Midnight before shifting into a full segue for 2001. Trey plays the Gin melody in the initial build of 2001 then noodles around as they hit the first peak. After that it is a full-on teasefest with Sand, Auld Lang Syne, and more at play. But what you know this version for is the move to the P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) jam (with lyrics) in the back half which almost blows the roof off the place. Little did the fans know as the set concluded that this wasn’t just a fun bit of teasing… The second set starts out with Tube which initially hits the funk pocket (Trey also plays a very familiar descending melody just after the three minute mark but I can’t place it) and then they hit a stop-start breakdown section as Trey takes over the lead and moves away from Tube into open waters. They ebb and flow with this jam, eventually leaving the groove behind and setting up a transition to… something… but what? Oh Shit. What the heck? I know that melody. They aren’t, are they? Yup, they are now into a drone’d take on The Doors’ LA Woman, the classic rock staple you definitely blasted more than once at full volume with the windows down as you raced along whatever the local back road was that you and your friends chose for joyriding on bored, hot summer nights in your youth. Not just a single verse riff on the tune, the band sticks with it and then dives into what could have been a quite lengthy groove exploration but for the fact that they blast into BOAF instead. There’s a solid jam here with full LA Woman phrasing/quoting before they kind of slam back to the end of BOAF without singing the final refrain, instead heading back to LA Woman for the ‘Mr Mojo Rising’ section. It’s the good kind of sloppy if that makes sense. Now they head into Makisupa and instead of the typical wink-with-forefinger-touching-the-side-of-the-nose weed keyword reference Trey banters about how they were going to bring back ‘Touch Me’, the Doors tune they used to do with Fish singing and the GCH supporting but lacking horns they decided to just bring out George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars instead which ends up being fine with everyone there based on the reaction of the crowd. Starting with the Maki rhythm, they open up a medley of P-Funk classics including Butt-A-Butt, Get Low, Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucka), P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up), and One Nation Under Groove before P-Funk departs and our band is back playing Makisupa (where Fish get a single a cappella line from Touch Me for good measure) which ends with Fish on vac alone on stage before the entire band departs. So yeah. THAT happened. As with many of the sit-ins the band has had especially in later years some love this while others do not so it is an interesting insight into where someone is/was with the band to hear their thoughts on this bit. If anything, the stories about the back stage antics from this night are more legendary than the music the collaboration produced. I mentioned the band left the stage after that Makisupa but that wasn’t the end of the set. We still have a quite beautiful set closing Disease that is in opposition to the music that precedes it in this set considering the delicate feel of it as opposed to the raw energy and loose playing of everything leading up to it. Then after a tease-y Contact (LA Woman, P-Funk) and a shaky WMGGW we are done with only that looming triple set NYE show to come. A product of many factors, this show is a ton of fun that deserves a listen. Hopefully some day video will surface of it as well.

12.31.2003  What do you do to top a show like that one just above? Sure, it isn’t a pure display of jam heroics but it is the sort of show that ends up being quite memorable to those there due to the setlist hijinks, big time sit-in, teases, and everything else. And maybe topping it isn’t ever the goal because each show is its own time and place where comparison falls flat. But being Phish it wasn’t like the band was just going to roll over and play a ho hum concert on one of the biggest days in the Phish calendar (videos here – fair warning: those are hand held in the first few rows and what they lack in sound quality and stability they make up for with proximity and crowd energy). First, they start out by finishing off that Wilson from last night, coming in with the “Blap Boom!” line and final shreddy bit before moving into Mike’s Song for what is the “real” opener here. This Mike’s and the Hydrogen that follows are pretty stock but the Paug brings in the tease fun once more first for Auld Lang Syne then for Jungle Boogie (???) and in the return to the end Divided Sky as well. The balance of the set is mainly feel good energy stuff like Moma>Guyute and YEM (listen for a vamp on Cities for a few bars in Moma and a brief ALS tease in the YEM pre-jam build) before they close the set with something that feels like it should have happened more than once by now: First Tube>Tube. Admittedly, it is only the close of the Tube left unfinished last night but still (and yes, I know they did a Tube, First Tube pairing for 06.07.2009 in Camden) it feels like this should happen more often. And just because, the First Tube has more ALS teasing which isn’t exactly a mind blowing thing here on the one day a year people sing the song anyway. Typical of NYE gigs this feels like a warm up set with much much more still to come. And that much more comes quickly as the second set starts off with a wide ranging Stash that covers a lot of ground over its 23+ minutes including a bit that flirts with MLB. The range of 2.0 jamming is on full display here. The rest of this set is fine enough with a peaky type I run through Seven Below (I’m a sucker for that jam) into Lawn Boy and then they throw in a unique Chalkdust->Slave>Chalkdust capper before leaving for that last break of 2003. The first Chalkdust has a crunchy ALS quote then quickly moves to the Slave transition and then right on the heels of the final note of Slave they drop right back into the Chalkdust end jam which caps with the Trey Feedback Jedi antics. Set three kicks off with a debut cover of that Jungle Boogie that Trey teased in the first set which is where the prank starts in earnest. First, Fish’s kit slides to the side of the stage and a car (an old Mini Cooper) is lowered down in its place. The car door opens and first a football player (for back of a better descriptor), marching band, and cheerleader/dancers emerge one by one as if out of a tiny clown car. The band joins in to play with Phish (the drumline breakdown is pretty fun) and then the football player dude (he’s wearing an Eddie George Titans jersey which might have some significance that I don’t know about) counts us down to midnight. After ALS the band and marching band (which turns out to be the Miami Palmetto HS band) take on the debut of Iron Man for an instrumental take on the Black Sabbath classic before the marching band departs by way of the crowd. It is brief but hilarious and typically inventive by Phish for their annual New Year’s prank. And then with balloons still being popped the band chugs right into Jim, settling us back into a Phish show properly with another wide ranging yet completely different jam than Stash and continuing the tradition of a sizable jam coming out of the NYE proceedings. This jam ebbs and flows between quiet/subdued playing and big time rock out, pushing the boundaries of agreeable dissonance at points and then shifting once more. It feels like this one runs out of ideas with a couple of minutes to go but they chug on and eventually land in Simple which leads to a nice if a bit noodly Reba. Then we get some Fish Fun Time first for IDK and then for another fun debut with Fish on vac for the Dirk Diggler anthem ‘Feel The Heat’ which you would know from Boogie Nights and nowhere else. Trey and Page tease David Bowie’s Fame and then in the HYHU to follow there are more antics around Fish and his heat. A rousing Lope closer and Frankenstein closer later and this run is done. This is a good example of what NYE shows tend to be which is more celebration and party vibe than hetty deep dive jamming. We will have more to discuss in this area as we go ahead.

12.28.2009  In the magical year of The Return Phish threw out the template of playing MSG yet again (possibly due to one Mariah Carey already having the venue booked and maybe related to having played three nights at MSG earlier in December) and came back to Miami for the first shows in Florida of 3.0. Being the first NYE Run shows of the era, expectations were noticeably high in the fanbase as people openly wondered what they would do to match or even top the last visit here. A tall order to be certain but Phish phans are nothing if not bursting with optimism. But framing that within the context of the year that was in 2009 it was more likely that we would get shows heavy on the reconnection vibe where songs take precedence over open jams. So it isn’t much of a surprise that this first show while well played feels like a warm up what with its song-heavy setlist. To the surprise of absolutely no one Sample opens the run but then after NICU we get a 110 show bustout of My Soul followed by the 64 show bustout of Roggae (a lovely version taboot) both of which had last been played prior to The Return. Next is the relatively new (to the stage anyway) Undermind which is fun in the sense that they were still figuring out how to approach the song here in its sixth ever performance. Later on there is a tension-filled Stash that stays at home in the song but resolves nicely and then “the last vacuum solo of the decade” per Trey in IDK tips their hand a tad about setlist construction over the next few nights. After a BOABH, Possum closing sequence they come out for the second set with Mike’s, amping up the crowd before diving into the then new jam vehicle Light for a fun but mainly straight forward run through the song and outro jam before they return to the Groove for H2 and Paug. Then we get a double dip of Purgatory tunes with Alaska and BDT#L before a humorous Makisupa introduces us to the concept of “Mike’s House” which we would get a lot more of come 2011 (not sure why 2010 wasn’t full of “House” references) and which is a bit of foreshadowing about who would end up being the run’s MVP of the band. This bleeds nicely into a Hood that while essentially just one long run to the satisfying peak does so quite nicely. Then the show concludes with predictable takes on Contact>Zero and the First Tube encore and we are left to wait for the next night’s goings on. This is a perfectly okay show but not one you will find yourself spinning and praising much.

12.29.2009  If the first night of a NYE Run is largely warm-up and reconnection after a break then the second night often results in shit going down. There are debates about which date between the 29th and 30th (or second and third shows if you prefer) of a NYE Run are the best for good reason. And pretty much every year right after the 28th show ends everyone starts talking about how great the next night will be by comparison. It’s another one of those Phish Axioms, I suppose. You wouldn’t know it from the Golgi opener or even from the second song Maze which while ripping is nothing special but then the set starts to take shape. A contemplative Driver leads to one of those rare performances of The Connection (a highly underrated song if my blog name and twitter profile say anything about my thought on the matter) and then to a compact but funky version of Wolfman’s. They stay type I for the somewhat whale-y Ocelot that follows and then play a solid version of our gal Reba before busting out Access Me for the first time in 54 shows which makes it the first of 3.0 similar to the era debuts of the first night’s first set. Concise versions of Divided (1:20 pause) and Cavern (with botched lyrics naturally) close the set but you can tell there’s a bit more punch in the band tonight already. First up is a rocking KDF that has a bit more stank than most of those early versions, getting things moving which gives way to Tweezer to the delight of the crowd. This is arguably the best Tweezer of 2009 and still ranks as one of the better versions of the song for all of 3.0 (well, top twenty-ish anyway). At the drop they move into Manteca-ish playing almost immediately with Fish interjecting vocal punctuation as Trey and Page layer in effects and Mike takes charge on bass. They sit in this pocket for the majority of the jam as Mike leads the way and eventually downshift to a transition point, almost coming into a new pocket but instead moving into Caspian. Oh well. After a nice peak in that though they go back to dance party mode for Gotta Jibboo which loops along nicely until meld it with Wilson, playing that song in full before coming back to close Jibboo in one of the more unique mashups of their songs you could conjure up. This is followed by a particularly soaring Heavy Things, a version that would never be on anyone’s big list of highlights but one that hits that happy love beams radiating out into everything type of space. I might be a tad biased there considering I have a very poignant memory of dancing with my then baby girl in our kitchen while this blared loudly and she giggled at me but still. It’s a solid version in that wait-until-after-the-lyrics-cuz-the-jam-is-actually-pretty-okay way that some songs have (looking at you BDT#L). Anyway, next up is the end run of the set with 2001>Slave finishing off the never-a-full-stop set before the Monkey>Reprise encore you just won five bucks off your buddy on in one of those easiest ever bets. This show is definitely more connected than the one that preceded it and yeah, maybe it still isn’t up to the level of the 2003 visit here but this was a new time and a new way of approaching the NYE Run for all of us so we’ll give it a pass on that front.

12.30.2009  Night three here starts out with yet another bustout (hang on here cuz the bustouts come fast and furious in this set) with Soul Shakedown Party coming in off a 64 show absence back to 2.0. The song is a solid way to open a show which makes sense considering six of the ten ever performances of it have opened a show (with another one being a second set opener). It might not be a sure fire sign of a killer show like, say, a My Soul opener but it certainly sets the mood nicely. A punchy Jim gets us dancing a bit hard and then JJLC comes in for the 90 show bustout with its bluesy stylings. Next there is a curious debut as the band plays the old Gene Autry song Dixie Cannonball, a head-scratcher of a play until we learn why it slid in here tomorrow night. STFTFP amps things up and then they come with another bustout for the first Corinna in 100 shows, ending the second longest gap (at the time – current gap is 169) for the song at another South Florida NYE Run (longest gap of 1096 shows was broken at Big Cypress). WTU? somewhat fittingly gets a 74 show gap broken next with the odd stand alone first set placement that has actually been more typical than its favored spot as jam vehicle landing pad. Then they up the game with a 236 show bustout of Tela, the debut of the Phish original Gone which really feels like a song that never got its due considering this performance and the one the next year in New York on 12.31.2010 are the only versions of it live ever. Rocky Top (86 shows) closes out the bustout parade for this set and then a rocking Chalkdust and a Bowie that kinda almost not quite hits a Reprise build in lieu of the typical T&R ends the set. Quite a lot to write about a set that is largely jam-lite but bustouts are fun for some. The second set starts out with an almost bustout as they play the first Sand in 40 shows since that big one on 06.07.2009 – which is the only one between here and its last performance also at this venue back in 2003 as mentioned above. This stretches out a bit but stays in Sand land throughout as Trey scratches that whale’s belly and the rest of the band punches that groove ticket. Next up is a satisfying run through The Curtain (With) which precedes yet another bustout, this time the 54 show gap ender for Lifeboy. Then, right when you expect a big time jam vehicle to finally show up the band starts into BOTT and you realize this is probably going to just end up being a jukebox set until… waitjustaminute… they are taking this bad boy out for a ride! The jam starts out in BOTT mode but then Mike moves us into totally open waters, even causing Fish to drop the shuffle beat completely as they create new music here. Trey and Page come in to aid for a melodic, mantra-like section which Trey solos over as Fish adds in a new beat. Trey hits on an idea as the band builds, goes away from it for a bit of trill, and then comes back to it as they head for the bliss peak to the delight of all in the room. They take a breather for Wading in the wake of this BOTT and then we get Fish Fun Time for hey wait a sec! They said the last vac solo of the decade was last night! What gives?? Well the cow comes home after Fish sings Love You (65 show bustout because of course) as instead of doing the honors himself they bring up a fan who does a pretty admirable job under the circumstances and gets to take the vac home with him as a souvenir as well. Fun stuff. After Free they close the set with what will eventually be called The Boogalope as they first play Boogie On then head to Lope only to tease/quote Boogie On a bunch in a fun run up to the end. Then a keytar-aided Frankenstein encores and we are left waiting excitedly for the New Year’s show to come. On top of all of the bustouts there is that big time BOTT jam here which in combination might push this show up above the others preceding it from this run.

12.31.2009  And then there was New Year’s. First sets on this date always feel like everyone is sitting on their hands a bit, riding that nervous energy trying to figure out what the prank will be and feeling all the feelings of the year coming to a close. Personally, I can think of no better way of turning the calendar over than spending it with these people and this band. It might not be the tightest night of playing but what could be better than ringing in the new year with Phish instead of dealing with the amateur hour night that is NYE for most people. Plus you get to see what the latest prank will be, right? So tonight they use the on the nose lyrics of Bag to open things up (name me another song with as many cliched lines as that one) and then head to 46 Days for more rocking fun. The Everglades throwback nod is next with WITS followed up by a contained Gin and an energetic PYITE>Moma, Guyute triple header before the bustout parade begins once more with three in a row for Swept Away>Steep and Demand (145, 145, and 392 shows respectively). Demand drops into a nice if safe Seven Below and then after Lawn Boy with Mike rightfully taking the solo (he is the top badass this run after all) they close with a punchy Julius. The second set starts out with enthusiastic if not exploratory takes on four segued songs for  RnR>Piper>Simple>Theme with the Piper probably being the adrenaline peak of that run. A nod to that year’s Halloween comes next with Shine A Light and then we have what will end up being one of the best jams of the run with Ghost->NO2 (which of course is a big bustout at 219 shows). The Ghost is a clinic in Mike-led awesome as right after the verses end he starts directing traffic. The rest of the band follows along with Page and Trey offering up ideas as they slowly climb the ladder towards a massive release peak. But that never happens as they artfully shift to a more diminished mode, seemingly moving to transition but sitting there as Trey plays around the groove Mike and Fish have set. You can almost feel it coming and then there it is, a full move into an ALS bliss jam that melts into ambience and becomes the foundation for that NO2 bustout. A quick romp through Suzy punctuates the set and then we wait for them to come on just before midnight. When they return (definitely not just fifteen minutes later) they start up the new dance anthem Party Time which fittingly gets a bit of extension in getting us to the countdown and move into ALS. The post ALS jam this year is Disease in a bit of a throwback move which stays in bounds but brings great energy with it before the band drops out and all that can be heard is Trey’s lasting loop. What you didn’t see if you weren’t there or haven’t watched the scattered videos of from this whole sequence is that a giant mirrorball was lowered from the rafters to the stage in conjunction with the countdown. In this ambient space Fish opens up a door on the ball, climbs in, and then is apparently inserted into a cannon (inside the ball of course) that was wheeled out as well. The cannon is fired, shooting the Fish Disco Ball across the venue and seemingly through the roof (if the spot light and helicopter sounds are to be believed). Fish has left the building! Now does that cover of Dixie Cannonball make sense?!? Well, that’s all fine and dandy but now there is no one to play drums so Trey brings up a woman named Sarah from Pittsburgh who says she’s been playing drums for about six months. Trey asks her what song she wants to play, she says Fluffhead, and then she heads to the kit to start it up. Somewhere in there Fish returns dressed in the same outfit as her and wearing a wig matching her hair and then plays the rest of the set as “Sarah”. The highlight here is probably the YEM which is quite fun. For the end of set bows Sarah replaces “Sarah” with the rest of the band, completing the joke. They encore with the debut of Blue Moon (on the day of an actual blue moon no less) as background music while they thanks the crew (itself something of a “once in a blue moon” moment) and then finish up with the Cup exclamation point you probably knew was coming. Oh, and the gag continued outside the venue as the “landing” spot for Fish’s mirrorball is in front of the venue, on top of a car with VT plates with a sign in the window saying it had been driven from Vermont fueled by maple syrup, as the car oozed out maple syrup and smoke. Funny stuff, guys. Is this the best NYE show ever? No, definitely not even close but it is a really fun one and a great return to the tradition by the band. That Ghost will keep you well entertained though.

12.31.2014 Phish returned to Miami for another NYE Run to cap 2014 a few weeks following a Fall Tour that had a lot of people scratching their heads until they finally seemed to connect just before the end run for Halloween in Las Vegas that gave us the wonderful Thrilling, Chilling album “cover” and more. Coming into this run there was some consternation within the fanbase about whether we’d get the let’s-just-practice-on-stage band from the early part of the Fall or something closer to the band that was hitting its stride just as the tour ended. Honestly, one of the biggest questions was where if anywhere would the new songs from Halloween facotr into the sets. Added to all of this was the question of how this run would go considering the NYE show was the first of the run instead of the typical-but-not-always last show being on New Year’s Eve. That sequencing has only happened one other time as we mentioned in the Hampton write-up when discussing the end of Hiatus on 12.31.2002 at MSG with the three shows that followed in Virginia (though with a gap day for the travel in that run). This causes the first set of NYE to act as warm up for the band and crowd alike which is fine, I suppose, but also kind of sets a tone for what we can expect in getting started. Oh hey! What a surprise! They opened with Sample! Yeah, so really the only song of note in this first set is the Wolfman’s which stays at home but gets a solid Clav and effects workout by Page as the band and crowd first connect on something. The balance of the set is all songs that were tour staples at the time with the longest gap being eight shows for Bouncin’ and Train Song. The set closing ASIHTOS is decent enough but kind of stock when it comes down to it. For the second set they fit half as many songs into roughly the same amount of time, giving us a bevy of jams to sink our teeth into along the way. After a frenzied, compact BOAF they head off into Ghost, first swanking through the funky type I jam and then building to that sweet bliss run you and everyone else in the crowd knew was coming. Rather than peak it and head for the next tune (I mean, yeah, they peak it but not in that finale sort of way) they settle back into a bit of Ghost groove, winding down to what seems to be the full stop ending of the song. But then Trey solos over it and the band climbs to what might be… another… nope, they move to transition, feeling around, setting dials, messing with effects, and eventually arriving in Theme of all places. This is only the second time the two songs have been paired (08.15.2010 the other in this order with no such luck for Theme>Ghost) so at the very least you know we will be getting another peak run which is nice. They quickly enter the solo with Trey playing soulful lines in a version that feels like it’ll wrap up in a normal fashion but then they hit the “from the bottom, from the top…” vocal round bit and Page comes in with that same synth sound that accented the Wolfman’s jam and they hit on a stop/start jam that gets the crowd woo-ing as they tend to do. The groove here is just filthy as Page plays with his effects and Trey rides rhythm as they hint at transition (Trey is clearly playing Cities at one point, The Birds at another) but Mike goes big, amping up the crowd and pushing the groove and hitting the fight bell repeatedly as they shift towards that Cities Trey foreshadowed earlier. As they make the move Page triggers the first sample of The Birds and the now iconic “THEY ATTACK!” voice joins the Cities groove as they execute a flawless segue into the beloved Talking Heads cover. After a bit of a rough go in the lyrical section they go right out into a funky jam with Trey playing some almost Plinko tones as Mike and Page lay on the effects-laden notes in a big way. They shift to a not quite Manteca bit (.net says there’s a tease there, I’m not sure) for a short time that gives way to familiar bliss transition space which here extends for longer than typical, almost coming up to peak run of its own before Trey opts out for a move to Chalkdust. Okay, sure, why not? They romp through a fun but standard version of this and then to close the set we have the first Thrilling, Chilling song performed in full after that 10.31.2014 show with Martian Monster. Page is liberal with the samples in this slinky version which also features Trey playing some quite crunchy leads as they patiently work towards the big finish. Mike throws down a ridiculous meatball filter’d note as Trey sets loops and it all kind of dissipates into a somewhat anti-climactic end for the set. Not in a bad way, just that typically sets end with a big release, you know? Okay, so now it’s NYE Gag time and the band comes out front to start, meaning we are getting something a cappella which is a surprise for a NYE set off the bat. The song is the debut of the old spiritual Dem Bones which they perform well enough before giving way to Fish on vac but something isn’t quite right as he appears to get the vac stuck on his mouth. They stop to figure things out and Trey, Mike and Page banter about what to do, eventually deciding to change the flow from “suck to blow” the words of which then getting repeated and pitch shifted numerous times as an explosion rings out and the room goes dark. When the lights return a giant Fish balloon has been sent up to the rafters as the band throws in a couple more “suck to blow!” cries and the countdown for New Year’s proceeds. At midnight the standard balloon drop and ALS is done and Fish is back at the kit (naturally) as the joke has now been played. The post ALS jam choice is our second Halloween tune, The Dogs, which is accompanied by some Floydish piercing laser lights by CK5 as they rage through this one before dropping right into Tweezer. Now we’re talking! This one is straight up love beams and smiles glory jamming that even gets a bit close to a Reprise finish before they bring it down to transition out but even in being somewhat linear it is such feel good music you won’t care a bit. The next run of songs continues the feel good vibe as they run through Simple (with some nice Mike action in a short version), LxL (where Trey soars in another not lengthy take), Bug (for the power ballad pay off), and then BDT#L (with the ever present aw-hell-oh-wait-this-jam-is-pretty-good-after-all slot). The set wraps with more fun time sing along dancing fun but nothing really of note musically (except maybe for the MM vocal quote in the Julius closer banter?) which is not out of line with what we generally expect from the post-NYE jam part of these third sets. As NYE shows go, this one is pretty solid though that first set is a definite warmup lap before they really got started.

01.01.2015 Now settled in and with the NYE thing out of the way, Phish was able to get down to business for the rest of the run and as a kick start to what would eventually end up being a quite spectacular year for the band in 2015. After a pinner Tube opener and a fun Gumbo we get a rare third song placement for Bowie which is unexpected kinda like how jamming this song in any meaningful way is unexpected these days. Page does the crooner thing for Lawn Boy with Mike giving us a pretty darn good solo if you like those in there and then the balance of the set pushes through a bunch of songs on its way to the somewhat predictable Gin closer. The Undermind here is fun and the Gin has some nice trill-y tension building right before the peak but there’s no real meat here. Speaking of no meat, the second set starts off encouragingly enough with an enticing Twist>Piper pairing but once you see the track times and spin them you figure out quickly they are straight forward versions of both tunes that could stand a few more sets in the gym instead of preening up there flexing their tight but small muscles. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the story of this set as the only music really worth your time in the whole of it is the biggish Winterqueen ending and that pretty much says all you need to hear about this one. Look, it was a quick turnaround after the NYE show and everyone is clearly tired, band and fans alike. I mean, how much do you get done on New Year’s Day after raging it late night for the holiday? Let’s just chalk this one up to being the “hangover” show after NYE and move on.

01.02.2015 Now waking from the groggy hangover of the previous night, the band and fans return for night three with visions of sugar plum jam fairies dancing their curly-cued dance in their heads. The fifth ever Free opener provides hope even in staying contained and a wiggle-worthy Moma ups the dance factor before butting up against a punchy crowd-pleaser of a take on Possum finishes off the opening trifecta. Roggae gives us a bit of that soaring beauty and then the play a Stash that might be in the conversation for one of the shortest ever which gets you wondering whether this is just going to be another mailed in show like the night before. The rest of the set is more of the same sort of thing we’ve been dealing with for three full sets now as they run out a bunch of songs common to first sets at the time, only really giving any space to the end of Coil where Page, as usual, shines brightly in his spotlit role. I can only imagine what people were thinking at the break here but thankfully someone or something woke up the band because when they came back out they threw down all the mustard (yeah, it’s a mixed metaphor, what of it?). For the 45th time ever at the time they opened the second set with Mike’s Song (now at 46 of 510 times the song has been played). The jam here is not the longest you’ve ever heard but Trey employs the echo and delay to great effect as Mike and Fish romp around, at times almost getting to a stop/start jam before they bring it round to close. The meat of the Groove tonight is 46 Days, the lone time this has ever been the only song sandwiched between the two classics. They jam briefly here with more Trey effects, a darkened edge, and a touch of Manteca-ish fun but then move over to Paug where the real fireworks go off. Page starts things off in a funky way, punishing the clav and getting the crowd all aflutter. They settle into what seems to be the Paug end jam with Trey soloing around the theme and just when you think that end chorus is coming in they hit a brief stop/start section that brings out the woos, naturally (I tend to think this occurred a lot in this time period as a way to potentially reset the jam and not necessarily to get the woos going overtly though it is an obvious result). Page keys the trigger for the “They Attack!” sample a few times as they drop into a loopy, effect-driven jam and Trey moves to the marimba lumina as Page solos and they search for direction. Mike puts down the bass and take up Trey’s ‘Doc (Page ostensibly plays the basslines), playing a lot of notes (ironic for him) while implementing the delay pedal, resulting in a very creative jam unlike post you’ll hear from this song. Trey eventually comes back to the ‘Doc, messing with the loops a bit but then bringing it home to the end of the song. Good stuff all around. After a solid if uneventful run through Fuego they peak Slave, dance it up for 2001, and roar in the WOTC closer, finally capping the show with that age old Monkey>Rocky Top combo you didn’t realize has happened as many times as it has (second only to Monkey>Reprise for Monkey encore combos). The second set here is a very solid one with that above average Mike’s Groove, particularly the Paug jam. But overall the show is still a bit uneven what with that flat first set.

01.03.2015  The final night of this run starts out in unique fashion as they pop in with a Maze opener for only the 11th time ever in the 305 times the song has been performed (it still has yet to open another show). After this brief but shreddy jolt they back it up with Bag in its comfortable two slot (I’m not crunching the data on this, Poindexter, but anecdotally it sure seems to drop into a lot of sets in this slot) and then they go a bit bigger with Divided Sky in the three hole. This is a nice enough version (1:24 pause) but nothing special and then we get a run of songs that could only drop this way in a first set with Cavern>Mule (uh, okay), Plasma (love this no matter where), DtaD (better than it gets credit for), WitS (because, of course! we are in Florida after all!), Melt (just really doesn’t go anywhere), and Zero (hey, there’s a shocker!). A fine enough warm up set but not exactly the banger we were looking for in setting up the final set for the next six months. Harrumph. So they come out for the start of the second set, drop that looming STFTFP and then head into Disease which was also just ripe for the picking. By now you are starting to check out on this run (or maybe finishing up the entirety of your stash before catching that plane tomorrow…) so you aren’t expecting much above the stock good/great Disease jam we’ve come to know and love in 3.0. Trey toys around with that thematic riff he loves for Disease (around the 6:00 mark or so), signalling the intention to go out (at least that’s how I like to interpret it). Trey tries out several ideas here (several you might recognize), trilling at one point before they drop into a clav-led groove pocket that almost immediately breaks down, making you think they are transitioning but really just setting up the next pocket. Page and Mike take charge here as Trey adds rhythm flavoring (there’s a song he is oh so close to playing but I cannot figure out what it is) and then Mike signals another shift with a big Ice-9 note. The band catches a new theme, building towards some hot bliss action. Mike brings out the drill which gets Trey and Page in line for that run and you can feel it building. Trey flirts with something that sounds like Simple but ends up becoming more of a Manteca vibe as the crowd eggs them on and the hose opens wide. This ends up being a false peak as they drop back down with Trey reprising his soaring lead with more subdued chords which Page catches and plays as well. They shift to a glitchy, looped bit of electronic chatter and then Trey hits the telltale chords which moves us into Light. The jam here is not wide in breadth like the Disease that preceded it but there is a nice syncopated section in the back half that benefits greatly from some big time Mike contribution as Page goes clav’ing for dollars once more. Trey tries to initiate more stop/start but instead they move on to Sneakin’ Sally. There is a brief VJ but then they move into a Trey/Fish led build (almost harkening back to that thematic riff that I keep harping on). Again, they don’t quite peak it but drop down to a transition move, this time coming up into Sand. This jam is all swagger as Page romps around and Trey plays with the lead but it ends up being more of a stepping stone than a vehicle of its own as they wrap it up and head into Hood after a few minutes. After the nice Hood peak (along with a HBD tease from Trey and an ALS tease by Mike) we get a Suzy closer – complete with more “They Attack!” sampling – and then the fitting GTBT encore sends everyone off into the warm Miami night. To be perfectly fair, this last set kind of saved this run which started out hot, lagged in the middle, and seemed destined to fizzle out entirely until that Disease took things to a higher level. It’s a good way to cap the run and gets everyone itching for their next visit to South Florida (which seems to be every 5-6 years at this rate).

 

Tale of the Tapes

Venue:  American Airlines Arena

No. of Shows:  twelve

Intangibles:  Every show played here has been on a NYE Run so if that holds you know you are getting a run of four shows to settle in with; South Florida provides the seasonal warmth and laid back vibe enticing to even the most ardent defender of Northeastern Winter Phish; while enticing, location is not easily accesible for large swaths of the fanbase making for an easier ticket hunt than other NYE Run locales (like say… MSG?); room has solid acoustics and the venue is seemingly easy to navigate in terms of in/out/security/etc.; band and crowd foster the connection this venue has to perhaps the greatest thing Phish has ever accomplished (if you think anything other than Big Cypress I’m curious why) with nods back to it every time they play here

Recurring Themes:  As mentioned, every show here has been part of a four night stand for the NYE Run; song debuts: the band has debuted nine songs ( LA Woman, P-Funk Medley, Jungle Boogie, Iron Man, Feel The Heat, Dixie Cannonball, Gone, Blue Moon, and Dem Bones) in the twelve shows here which is a high percentage if you remove album cover sets from the equation; also of note, six of those nine songs have only been played the one time; though the sample size is relatively low there are several very common songs never played here with Fee, Ice, MSO, Rift, Sparkle, and Lizards being the most obvious; somewhat a product of the timing of when these shows occurred, the first two visits here are punctuated with several big bustouts though the last run lacked that aspect; with four show runs the band runs through a good portion of the normal catalog such that if you catch a run here you almost assured to catch the following songs (all which have been played every time the band has visited the venue: Bag, 2001, ALS (NYE Run skew), Gin, Bouncin’, Cavern, Chalkdust, Bowie, Divided, Disease, Free, Ghost, Hood, HYHU, Lawn Boy, Mike’s, Piper, Poor Heart, RnR, Lope, Sample (sorry), Sand, Simple, Slave, Monkey, Stash, Suzy, Moma, Coil, Theme, Tube, Tweezer, Reprise, WitS (duh), Paug, Wilson, and Wolfman’s

Key Jams/Songs:  2003 – Bowie, Tweezer, Frankie Says, Jibboo, Suzy->Jam>Theme, Hood, Piper, LxL, Boogie->Ghost->Free, Divided, Gin->2001, Tube->LA Woman>BOAF>LA Woman->Maki->P-Funk Medley>Maki, Disease, Paug, Stash, Seven Below, Chalkdust->Slave>Chalkdust, Jungle Boogie>ALS>Iron Man>Jim, Reba, IDK>Feel The Heat>HYHU; 2009 – Roggae, Maki, Hood, Reba, Tweezer, Jibboo->Wilson->Jibboo, Heavy Things (shut up!), Corinna, Bowie, BOTT, Boog-A-Lope, Ghost->NO2, Party Time>ALS>Disease, YEM; 2014/15 – Wolfman’s, ASIHTOS, Ghost->Theme->Cities, Martian Monster, Tweezer, Gin, Roggae, Mike’s>46 Days>Paug, Disease>Light->Sally>Sand

PJJ Ratio:  Miami comes in at a healthy 2.67 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). That figure is interesting as I expected it to be front loaded towards the 2.0 era shows but the guys at PJJ are big on the last run with 17 of the 32 jam tracks they culled coming from those four shows.

 

Miami gains points from the fact that it has always been a Holiday Run tour stop. That means in the twelve shows here there are three extra sets of music as compares to a venue with potentially more shows but no three setters. The fact that the band has only played four night runs here factors in since we know from experience that the band seems to perform well when they are relaxed and comfortable, something that is a natural result from not having to travel between shows and get accustomed to a new room each night or two. These factors also artifically inflate the value of this venue to a certain extent because NYE Runs are always seen as “special” what with the prospect of three set shows, the Gag, and such. This may not be one of the top venues overall for Phish in the end but you would do pretty well for yourself by making the trip to enjoy shows here and lounge on the area beaches during the day. That alone might make the trip worthwhile considering the time of year they always drop by!

Interpretations on 12.31.2016, Set III

I’d like to step aside from the Venue Project for a minute to get some of the innumerable thoughts down that have been swimming through my head since walking out of Madison Square Garden after the NYE show a couple of days ago. I have debated with myself about whether I should post this because, well, it could be taken in a few different ways depending on your approach and it definitely opens me up to the type of criticism that tends to divide our scene rather than bring it together. But you know what? I don’t care. If nothing else I want to flush this stuff out so that I can process it, take what I need from it, and move forward. Not sharing that seems to me to be the wrong way to go about starting that course of action.

 

Before I start this I feel like I should make a few disclaimers. First and foremost, I am not musically trained, can barely play an instrument, and do not have the vocabulary to speak to the specifics of the music that Phish plays. I am but a simple fan who has spent countless hours listening to this band and following them around the country to the extent that it is as much a part of my life as anything else I hold dear. This passion is why I write about the band and even without the formal knowledge that would undoubtedly make my posts more worthwhile I am comfortable with where I am in the stratosphere of our scene. What I do have is a background in liberal arts having read, dissected, discussed, and argued many of the great works of Western literature and art with people much more intelligent than I could ever pretend to be. This background and my obsessively analytical way of approaching my takes on Phish are my utility belt and crutch at the same time but at the very least I think that provides a bit of context about how I am looking at the Gag that Phish performed this past New Year’s Eve.

 

Unlike most of my posts, this will not be a full show/run deep dive through the minutiae of the show(s) but instead some thoughts on how I personally interpreted the art that Phish created for us with the spectacle of Petrichor and the set that unfolded in its wake. I am also not looking to turn this into a lit crit piece so outside of quoting some Phish lyrical content I won’t be trying to relate this to any Big Themes in the world of art and literature. Heck, I’m not even going to touch on the visual reference points that to me seem almost obvious (looking at you, Rene Magritte and Giuseppe Maiorana, amongst others…). I’m already making some fairly large leaps and assumptions so no need to dig a deeper hole for those who might deride this.

 

One of the things I often say about Phish shows is that ‘we all attend the same concert but experience a different show’. I state this again here to drive home the point that I have no insider information and no expectation that my words and thoughts on the matter hold any more weight or truth than the perspective of someone else. As much as we try to let go of it all, each time we see the band we bring everything in our lives leading up to that moment with us. It is unavoidable. And at a show our individual experience is shaped by the moments we have with the music, the people around us, and everything else that carves out the memories that we take away from being in that place at that time. All of that contributes to how we engage with the experience and influences our personal reactions to what occurred (or didn’t depending on what set of expectations one has). What may be a life-changing, mind-expanding journey for me might be the worst show ever for someone else and vice versa with many thousand varied experiences falling somewhere in between or around those poles. For me, the truth to be found in seeing shows is a personal one and not something universal that will apply to those around me. Heck, it might not even apply to the folks you shared the experience with directly in the moment. In my mind, that makes it all the more interesting to discuss since by doing so we can learn more about the experience from another perspective.

 

I know that this may simply be a personal reflection that doesn’t resonate with anyone else and reflects only the journey I traveled that night. It is not meant to be seen as anything but that. If you want to read such a thing, please be my guest. I am not looking for validation or hetty points or whatever. We all have times at shows where everything makes sense whether it be in the beauty of a Hood Jam or connecting through dance with a stranger or something else entirely. This is how the set unfolded for me. If it isn’t your bag, so be it.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all four shows on this latest MSG run and experienced each night from the Floor taboot. That alone puts this run into memorable territory for me personally but even further I was sharing it with a bevy of long time and newer friends including my wife, her sister and boyfriend (who I also consider a dear friend), two of my oldest best friends (who are married), and one of my newer friends in Phish not to mention the numerous wonderful individuals I have been lucky enough to meet over the years at shows, on the internet, and in person who all contribute to this wonderful thing we all share. Each night seemed to build on the prior one with themes emerging as we went along including the a cappella openers, second set mashup jam fun, bustouts, and more. By the time we got to New Year’s Eve there was a palpable buzz of anticipation as everyone waited to find out what the band had in store for this year’s big finish to the year. If I wanted to I could probably scratch together a pretty loose argument for a theory on the theme for the entirety of the run but my main goal here is in approaching the Petrichor production (and to an extent the balance of the third set) as that is to me the most overt example of Trey and the rest of the band building an artistic theme from this run.

 

At the start of the third set the stage set up had been augmented not just by length as Trey discussed in setting up the wonderful walkabout by Page and Mike for Lawnboy in the first frame but also by adding a full percussionist’s rig as well as three mike stands for what was assuredly going to be a horn section. There may have been more added but that was about the extent of what was visible to us at the back of the floor. When the musicians all walked out on stage Phish was joined by the TAB horns (James Casey, Jennifer Hartswick, and Natalie Cressman) along with Andres Forero (percussionist, of Hamilton fame) and (unseen until later when Trey pointed him out) Jeff Tanski on keys and other “symphonic” sounds. As the band started into the quiet beginning of the orchestral piece the crowd listened intently, producing a pregnant silence not too dissimilar from the awe we all felt during the Magnaball WTU?. This was different though as the anticipation for how the gag would unfold was building as the band moved through the structured piece into the more upbeat phrasing that first introduces the horns.

 

If you watch the video (and I HIGHLY recommend that you do, many times over) you can see the incredible smile on Trey’s face as this thing that he has worked on for so long is finally unfolding. That smile is evident throughout and really shows how happy Trey was to share this with all of us. They bounce into the first set of lyrics, introducing the main theme conceptually with the repeated phrase of “and the rain came down and washed it all away” as the crowd begins get into the groove being built. The song passes into the ‘pre-storm’ guitar-led segment and sixteen persons dressed in black suits with black bowler hats atop their heads and black masks shrouding their faces walk to the front of stage as Page plays the melodic interlude on the baby grand. In the moment my immediate thought was that these were the ‘no men’ referenced in the song No Man In No Man’s Land. As these ‘no men’ (that really works on many levels) form a line across the stage rain begins to fall, reflecting the lights and cascading as sheets onto the dancers, band, and rail riders alike. The dancers move with the music and take out black umbrellas, coming together to form one protected whole before separating with one dancer having taken off his mask at center stage. He then performs a series of tricks with umbrellas, juggling them and balancing one on his nose as the storm proceeds. He is playing in the rain without a care for the nuisance of being wet, something we all did as children (and that hopefully some of us still continue to do today).

 

The music shifts as Trey plays descending notes that seem to signal alarm and our lone known man is grabbed by the No Men who re-mask him, robbing him of his individuality and returning him to anonymity as one of the No Men grabs his umbrella and breaks it before throwing it aside. Another individual shows herself, flashing her brilliant red hair as she is tossed and accosted by the No Men, eventually being re-masked as well. A third No Man briefly shows his individuality but is quickly subsumed by the group and returned to the normalcy that they endeavor to maintain. The music here is building to the transition point where our next set of lyrics will come in and as this happens the dancers create a pyramid of uniformity around another one who has gone “individual”, flipping him upside down and shaking him before he escapes just as Trey sings the line “and the clouds will open and the seas will rise.” This individual then leads the No Men through a coordinated routine that includes each person “picking him/herself up by the collar” amongst other evocative moves (all while Trey sings and beams that wonderful smile behind them). After Trey sings the “when there’s no more future and no more past we’ll be on our way back home at last” lines the dancers slowly come back together at center stage but this time something is different. While the rain still falls, none of them is engaged in keeping the status quo but rather they are all distracted by a group of white/lit umbrellas that are slowly descending from the ceiling. As these new umbrellas come to rest just above the outstretched hands of the No Men they all shed their masks to reveal their individuality.

 

The band is playing the hopeful main theme now as the white umbrellas rise and fall into various patterns above the dancers. The band begins to sing the refrain “and the rain, and the rain came down” as the dancers leave the stage in a way not too dissimilar from how people passing on a busy city street would pass by each other, almost bothered by the nuisance of interaction. The umbrellas are moving through coordinated orientations, appearing almost as if they were jellyfish swimming and forming shapes such as an infinity symbol or a double helix with an array of colors and other lighting fills highlighting each one in turn as Trey takes the soaring lead and the rest of the band swells. At this point the rain is all but stopped, having accomplished its role of cleansing the No Men of their anonymity. As the song comes to its end the dancers return to the front of stage and we are nearing midnight Trey says “well, it is never too soon to get out of 2016 so…” and begins the countdown (a full 2-3 minutes early) to the expected Auld Lang Syne. The umbrellas are lit as a rainbow now and Trey says “aw, what the fuck!” laughingly acknowledging his early timing as they hit New Year’s and the ceiling (sky?) opens up and drops a massive deluge of balloons and other stuff upon us. It takes a second of recognition but most of the balloons are inflated cats and dogs such that it was literally raining cats and dogs on us. There are even cat/dog noises accompanying the deluge which also includes small foam raindrop-shaped stress ball thingies, confetti, big bouncy balloons, and so much more. By the time they finished up ALS the entire stage and floor area was overflowing such that we were up to our necks in cats, dogs, and whatnot. The No Men – though unmasked – oddly stand motionless with sullen faces but then Trey counts off the start to Suzy and they turn away from the crowd before throwing down their black suits and emerging in bright yellow outfits and with faces beaming, befitting the raucous abandon of the celebratory jam.

 

It is pure mayhem at this stage as they find spaces to dance and the band plays amidst the masses of balloons (with the various techs trying in vain to clear scene). Everyone is acting individually now with the dancers playing around and getting into the spirit of the old anthem about that free spirited gal no man can tame. The band jams along for a bit with the horns and added percussion adding that punch to the song that horns always do with Suzy. As it ends Trey never fully stops playing but starts in with the rhythm line for NMINML and we are off again into another dance party. The dancers and such have departed but the party ain’t over by a long shot. This song choice is very purposeful to me once you start to read into the lyrics:

how far have we fallen, how far can we go?
how far will we fall, if there’s nothing below
you stand on a rock, suspended in air
emblazoned with sunlight keenly aware
that we’ve broken free, something has changed
a tear in the fabric, some tiles rearranged

we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land
darkness the one thing we all understand
we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land

and the truth will rise above, and fiction fall beneath
although the lies may bite, the truth has all the teeth
you see us as a window, you’re happy that we’re here
exposed to all the elements, while inside all is clear

but if you hold a mirror, and you turn it to one side
the depth you see within at first, will find a place to hide
we are the no men in no man’s land

the loss of all motion, the absence of sound
when there’s no sun to circle around
we are the no men in no man’s land

Something has changed here. No longer are we under the weight of the storm that was 2016. In coming into the new year we are able to shed the “friction” and “lies” that dragged us all down which if you want to take as an overt political statement I’d be hard pressed to argue against. But even on a simpler level this song represents the move from conforming to being ourselves, understanding the darkness but not letting it define us.

 

Petrichor was the metaphor for that personal revelation and Suzy is the example of what freedom can look like (albeit under the guise of a person so different as to be seen as needing professional help). NMINML then punctuates the message of looking inward to become our best outward selves. But it doesn’t stop there. The next tune, Breath & Burning, is one that many probably audibly groaned to hear the band play in that spot but just listen to the lyrics and it fits the theme:

Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter
If the nightmares all came true?
The black clouds that scattered across
The sky so there’s nothing left we can do
Let’s celebrate while the hurricane
Throws salt and water into the room
The canary died
The healer lied
The yellow fields disappeared too soon
Mid-air voltage blooms and grows
Unstoppable, it’s instant heat
And as sinners plea on bended knee
We’ll be dancing here for days
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning At the waves command
And what does it matter
That the end’s in sight?
We’re not going gently
We’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light!
The sudden unexpected fate
Of sunken ships
Was our future path
Your string of beads did nothing to
Prepare for you what was sure to pass
Shadow wheels in shipping lanes
The angry winds blew straight from hell
And the tortoise pulls his head inside his shell
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter?
It’ll be over soon
Our heads on a platter
So lets spin in the light of the moon
We’ve still got the light of the moon
We’ll dance in the light of the moon
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning

This song speaks to hope and not allowing the many negative outside factors alter who we are and how we act. At a certain point, you cannot change or influence those around you. But you can change how you approach your interactions with others and more importantly how you approach YOU. As cheesy as the line is, there is hope in the idea: “and what does it matter that the end’s in sight? we’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light.” When the shit hits the fan would you rather be complaining about the stench or making the best of a bad situation?

 

At this point I have probably lost most people. I get that and have to reinforce that this is the interpretation that I took from the show in the moment and upon reflection after the fact. Song choice and thematic intent are messy subjects when it comes to Phish because as I mentioned above we are all coming at this from vastly different sets of experience. It is more than likely that this is not the true intention of what Trey was looking to do when crafting this project. But I like to think that he’d be open to this type of investigation. Let’s get back to it. Don’t worry, I’m almost done…

 

After Breath & Burning the band counts off another song with a high groan potential for the fanbase. Tide Turns has always felt like more of a TAB type of tune to most and based on the performances of it and the music it offers I can easily see that argument being made. But here in the context of this set the lyrics take on a slightly different meaning than how I had originally read them when first hearing the song. I have been talking about not losing yourself in the anonymity of conformity in our culture which is mentioned in the first stanza and continued throughout the song:

When you’re lost in the darkness
And the lonliness cuts so deep
When every breath is suffereing
And you’re longing for sleep
You don’t have to be alone
I’ve still got a kind word to spare
I’ve still have an ear to listen
I’ve got time

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

When the wolf is at your door
And the mirror holds your nightmare
There’s no need to hide your tears
If it’s too much for you to bear
You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

This is a song about not only finding yourself but of offering connection for those who need it. The message is clear. You do not have to be alone in all of this. Even as we are “slowly turning at the waves’ command” (from B&B) the narrator is offering to be there, offering hope to the individual in this personal struggle. This could apply to so many circumstances in our lives. How many of us have wanted to take that risky step into the unknown but were afraid to do so? How much easier was it to do such a thing when there was someone there to help you, support you, and guide you through that transition? In a sea of No Men we seek connection with individuals, something that our little community fosters but that is less prevalent in the wider world of our culture(s). Perhaps the message is not just to find the support you need but to be the one there to give it when you see the need in others as well because “together we can make it through.”

 

When they started up the next song, 555, along with really being excited that we’d get to hear this song with horns I found myself paying closer attention to the lyrics than I had before:

They’re tyin’ a blindfold cross my eyes
I rest my face down
Skidding on switchbacks near the sides
Gonna try to bust out

Get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away
Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day

Sprint on cobblestones past the tracks
They kept my money, and my water
Don’t wanna run ‘cuz I want it back
But I know I really ought to

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

They bought my soul for a pile of cash
Everybody else got paid out
They’re closing in I gotta dash
I gotta find a way out

Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day
Get up, jump out, don’t wait

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

In our context this song speaks to the struggle of breaking free from “them” and weighing the frustration of being able to “break away clean” else one escapes/leaves this “scene” entirely. That is, we often find ourselves struggling to be individuals who still desire to be able fit into a group or community which can cause some to “get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away, hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day” by removing themselves from participation in such community. We constantly push and pull between wanting to be individuals and wanting to be accepted within the greater whole.

 

Interestingly, the next song is not one I would have thought would fit this theme but once I took a closer look at the lyrics it fits perfectly after 555. Up through now we have seen the struggle to brush off the negativity of outside influences with the goal of allowing one to remain an individual followed by songs of hope and connection and then one about struggling with all of that. So when Ocelot started up I thought that perhaps the theme was complete only to find relevance in the words sung:

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
Morning is over
and noon slouches on

Your stripes could all fade
in the poisonous day
When you see the sunlight
move out of the way

You prance with the beasts
who parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest by light
Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the herd
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where are you now?
You never listen to me anyhow
You wandered and ambled
you walked, now you run
Knowing you’ll bake
like a snake in the sun
You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)

Hey what do you know? Another song about finding connection but maintaining individuality! Granted, the connection is loosening now and I wouldn’t fault anyone for telling me this one is a stretch. But how many times have you wanted to feel included when you were somehow left out? Sure, it feels great to be your own person but sometimes you want to be able to blend in and “float with the flock”. This song brings that home by pointing out that no matter how bright your individual “spots” are sometimes it is fun to simply “come out and play.”

 

The set then closes with the instrumental shot of energy that is First Tube, a song that may not have any of the overtones that I am connecting here. Then again, perhaps it does. Early versions of the song as performed by that short-lived early incarnation of Trey’s solo projects ‘8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes’ included Heloise Williams repeating the phrase “free thought” over and over. No man is an individual without free thought. Something to ponder. It’s a very loose connection but I think it offers up a closure point for the theme I am looking at here. Plus getting a Phish First Tube with TAB horns was a nice treat even if they didn’t take this (or really any) of the songs too far afield.

 

The idea of catharsis is often bandied about when discussing Phish’s music, particularly singular jams but often when looking at the arc of a particular set or show, for example with a well placed Slave or Hood that caps a deep dive set by bringing us all back into the light. I find it to be an overused term for the most part but I can attest that with this set that I experienced it in the moment. The tale that Trey wove brought forth a lot of emotional weight for me, weight that I was able to purge in the joy of that First Tube closer. Heck, even the Loving Cup encore helped in that regard what with the wonderful feeling that comes from belting out “what a beautiful buzz!!” at the top of your lungs with 19,000 other people. Phish generally ends their sets and shows in a manner that allows for such release. That is perhaps one of the things that many of us chase more than anything: that feeling of being able to lose yourself in the music, letting all the worry and weight of life slide away if even for only a few moments, and connecting with those who surround you. On this night, to me, the message was clear.

 

If you have read this far, I appreciate it. It seems that each year our dissections of Phish’s NYE Gags get more and more divisive as we have more points of comparison to relate them to. Was this set as compelling as the Hourglass NMINML jam from 2015? Musically, no way. I have been fortunate enough to see Phish on NYE several times and each time I know that there is more to what they are doing than a simple collection of songs being played. It is natural for one to want to find connection to the music just as we yearn for connection with other people. We want to be able to relate these experiences to what we know and understand or perhaps to foster questions about that which we do not comprehend. I know that my experience this year and in years past is different from what others got from the show. And I am probably reading more into this than ever intended by Trey and the band. But the very fact that this music can foster such thoughts in us is encouraging because it gives evidence to something that Mike Gordon once wrote to me on a postcard many many years ago after I sent in a letter to the band (the exact substance of which I have long since forgotten).

What you have written is far beyond the realm of a compliment. It’s an indication that the deeper thing – that deeper thing – is happening. Thanx so much.

Mike Gordon (Phish)

Art is defined by interpretation. Without context, real or projected, there is no meaning to it. To me that causes it to lose intrinsic value. We tend to shy away from this sort of perspective on the art that Phish creates or perhaps many of us do not view it in that construct. I am not here to say why that is. All I can do is reflect on what this music did for me and caused me to feel. At the root that is the goal, right? My interpretation is a product of what I observed visually, aurally, and physically along with the concepts I had swirling around my in head looking for external meaning or import. Phish provided the story and for that I thank them. I have found value in the experience that they gave me by way of their art.

 

 

The Mothership Connection – Phish and Hampton Coliseum

Like many of these venues, the lore surrounding Hampton Coliseum and Phish is almost as big as the music the band has played here. While also used for pedestrian uses such as minor league sports, rodeos, trade shows, and the like this venue has become known as a can’t miss stop for many bands outside of Phish, most notably The Good Old Grateful Dead who played the same number of shows (18) as our band Phish in this room. After playing single night stops here in Fall 1995 and Fall 1996 Phish played a pair of shows that instantly became canon and the stuff of legend in the community. From there the aura grew as the year following they came back for another pair of shows released just before their visit in 1999 as the six disc Hampton Comes Alive which was the first full show concert album release by the band. Phish has also used this venue as part of their initial shows returning from both Hiatus and The Break Up which only served to further solidify this locale as one revered by both band and fans alike. As venues go, there aren’t many that can match up to this one in terms of both history and the quality of music performed which makes for a strong argument supporting this as one of the very best venues in all of phishtory.

 

Phish has played the Hampton Coliseum eighteen times starting in Fall 1995. They visited on each Fall Tour thereafter up through 1999 with 1997 and 1998 being two night stands. The 1999 pair of shows were the last show of Fall Tour prior to the celebration of the millennium at Big Cypress. In 2003 the band played a three night stand to cap the New Year’s Run Return from Hiatus shows that started with the New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden. Then after a last single show here before The Break Up in 2004 they came back in 2009 with three in March 2009, signaling their triumphant reconnection with each other and we the fans. There has been one further three night stand in Hampton to start out the Fall 2013 tour after which they have yet to return.

 

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Hampton Jams. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty…

 

11.25.1995  Phish’s first time playing here was along the path of Fall 1995, only a few shows prior to the start of one of the most revered months in the band’s history. The show starts with Poor Heart which normally I wouldn’t really even bother to mention except that this show is known as the “Poor Heart” show since they end up playing the song three different times in three different ways. The first set is pretty average as even Bowie is a neutered version of what we came to expect in that time period when it was one of the major vehicles for open exploration by the band. There is one of the few Taste That Surrounds ever and some crisp if not inventive playing on display but overall there isn’t much here to spend your time with. The second set starts out with a menacing Timber Ho! that slides into a vocal jam that becomes Kung (their only pairing ever) and then Mike’s Song starts up where you just know the jam is about to go down. That is true in a certain sense as the jam starts out with a lot of potential but after several minutes of first jam darkness the band members start moving between instruments, giving us the first verifiable Rotation Jam in the band’s history. Now, these days we have become perhaps a bit too accustomed to instrument switching and such what with the Marimba Lumina jams and stuff but back then this was A VERY BIG DEAL since we had no frame of reference for it. It was a very unique thing for Phish to do and while perhaps not the best music they have ever created it is interesting to hear. They eventually return to their proper seats to wrap up the Mike’s and then we get a couple of acoustic grassy numbers and Strange Design before the Paug to close this Groove. The musical highlight of the show might be the soaring Hood that follows which while pretty typical for the time is a good example of that sort of Hood. After a quick a cappella HMB we get the bookend Poor Heart closer, this time the “Slow Heart” version. And just to keep the joke going, for the first encore we have a Slow Heart Reprise which is a joke in several ways considering when fans hear “reprise” they instantly think of the sped up amazingness that is Tweezer Reprise whereas this is an even slower take on Poor Heart than even the one that closed that second set. And on top of that, this makes three versions of the same song in one concert which goes against everything the setlist junkies hold dear. It doesn’t last too long though as they only sing a couple of lines from the song and then crank out Fire to wrap it up. This isn’t the best show from Fall ’95 by any means and clearly not the best from this venue but you have to start somewhere and I’d argue that it is easily a definite upwards trajectory from here.

10.25.1996  The next Fall the band returned to Hampton for another single show, this time on the front end of the tour in what I consider the first “leg” of this tour. I wrote about this one for the Fall ’96 reviews in case you haven’t read enough of my words yet. For reasons that remain unclear to me Phish decided to open with Ha Ha Ha for the first time ever (only other one ever occurred 06.30.2000) and then rips through a botchy Taste that recovers in the jam and one of those fun Maki->Maze pairings where the dubby outro jam from Maki sets a solid platform from which the Maze takes off. Later on in the set Trey banters a bit about how great the room is and how they love playing there and such before launching into a solid T&R filled Stash. Then to cap it we get a longer-than-typical Coil where Page really shines in his solo outro piano recital. The second frame begins with the first ever Tube>Caspian (yay?) and then moves into a bunch of songs with a mini bustout for TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY along the way. Free gets some minikit love in a brief jam but the real highlight of this set/show is the big energy of Hood in the back half of the set. This is a very song-heavy show with not much in the way of individual highlights but that’s to be expected when nine songs get their tour debut and none of those are vehicles. The most striking thing about this show is how different things will be when the band returns in a little over a year.

11.21.1997  You know these fall ’97 shows, I know these Fall ’97 shows. You probably had one of those crisp early gen XLIIs of this one as soon as they hit the fanbase just like I did and just like me you probably wore it out in record time. Listening to this stuff after that Fall ’96 show here you begin to question your sanity because how the heck is this the same band one year later? Much has been written about that tour so I won’t belabor it too much so we’ll just all agree that the reputation of the band and this venue is founded on this pair of shows. Just to point out the striking difference, though, the band opens up with the first ever cover of the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue, using it as a platform to craft a wide ranging thrill ride of a jam that stretched past sixteen minutes and includes cowfunk, looped bliss, and full band connection of the highest order. This is a deep second set jam opening the show, people. And just to prove the point that they mean business they drop from there into a menacing Melt that packs a mean psychedelic punch seemingly fitting for closing the set rather than sitting in the two hole keep-the-energy-going slot. The balance of this first set is song-focused with everything played well (including the humorous anti-drum solo in Lawn Boy) up through the set-ending (?) Caspian that never really ends as Trey sets a series of loops that go on  even after the band has left the stage until the house lights finally pop on… but of course that was after Trey again told The Lie. In this case I’ll gladly forgive the lie because when the band again hit the stage they dropped one of those magical four song sets that were now the norm on this tour after only four shows (each of the preceding shows but one had a four song set with 11.16.97 being the lone outlier with the ungodly FIVE whole songs in the second set). The opening Ghost may not peak hard or be notable to those creating the jam charts but it is very creative and somewhat surprisingly not a full on cowfunk jam as one would expect from the song particularly in that time. But then the band transitions to ACDC Bag for what is quite frankly one of the more unexpected jam explosions out of a song in the band’s history as up until this point the song was primarily a high energy sing along with a decent if brief outro jam that 100% of the time was type I even if extended. Here we get a version more than double the length of any one prior with sections that melt into each other seamlessly to the effect that it is hard to describe what “type” of jam this is above simply saying type II awesomeness. Then they execute a flawless segue into a patient, gradual build Slave before popping the energy off with a fun Cup closer and Guyute encore. This is all-timer canon Phish and we are still only in the first night of the run.

11.22.1997  After the gem they threw down the night before it was anyone’s guess what Phish might do on night two of this ’97 Run at Hampton. Sure, you could easily say they would destroy the venue once again as each of the prior shows on the tour matched that description but in what way would they accomplish it tonight? Well, first thing you do if you are Phish is open with a song that about 99% of the fanbase is psyched to hear any and every time they play it: Mike’s Song. They have only ever opened 21 shows shows with the song with this one being only the second in the ‘jam era’ after the one at the Paradiso earlier that year (and prior to that it was all the way back on 11.06.1990) which is pretty rare considering the song has now been performed 509 times. The band quickly settles into a comfortable groove here with Trey teasing BEK and playing around the Mike’s theme, hinting at the drop into a second jam that never materializes as the jam gradually resolves down towards the transition to I Am Hydrogen. Following a funky breakdown in Paug they give us another rare placement with one of only 26 ever first set Hoods. Admittedly, in that era it was a tad more frequent than now but still not exactly what you expected when you entered the venue. This one is good enough to cap a second set much less sit in the four slot of a first set but then again this tour did a lot to upset our preconceived notions about placement and song choice. After a masterful run to the peak in Hood they finish off the set with a couple of the ballads and the double closer punch of Frankenstein>Isabella, two closers that I’ll never tire of hearing the band perform. So then they come out for the second set and some fans up front try their best to get the band to finally bustout Destiny Unbound by singing the first lines of the song only to have Trey not hear it correctly and give us some pretty hilarious banter. And then they start up Halley’s Comet, another song like Bag that up until this night was never known as a jam vehicle. Well, that changed in a BIG way here, my friends. Watch this great video of it and in particular pay heed to the moment when Trey tells Mike to “stay on F” which basically keeps this thing rolling as they head into uncharted territory for an amazing cowfunk excursion. Our expectations for Halley’s have never been the same after this night. They back this up with a funk-laden Tweezer that has several BEK teases, which they then play because why not as they head to the end set proceedings. I mean, c’mon, they’d already played three songs now so clearly it was over. Tonight actually gets five songs as they run through a nascent Piper and close with a bombastic Lope followed by a Bouncin>Reprise encore. As with the night before we have another canon-worthy show on our hands. Combining the two you get one of the most revered tour stops ever and even more so when grouped with the third show from the weekend down the road a bit in Winston-Salem which is part of the boxset commemorating this weekend (and might include some of the most unique jamming of the weekend which is saying a lot). This two show stand is the foundation upon which the reputation of Phish and this venue began and the point of comparison for every show that followed. Fair or unfair, that’s how good this music is.

11.20.1998  It is understandable after what occurred here the year before that fans would have extremely high hopes for what the band might do upon returning the following Fall. Hampton was no longer a “sure, why not” venue to hit it was MUST SEE PHISH ATTEND AT ALL COSTS. That set a pretty pretty pretty high bar for this run but you know how expectations and Phish fans go…  As you would expect, I wrote about this one during the Fall ’98 project. The show begins with a bit of a tongue in cheek nod back to last year as they debut another “classic” rock song, running through a couple of rounds of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part II, the song you knew best from mid 90s sporting events and commercials. A brief Tube leads to one of the bigger bustouts in the band’s history as they bring back The Mighty Quinn for the first time in 1,155 shows (!). Later in the set there is a nice Meat>Stash combo with a Fikus tease in the Stash and a bit of ambient transition in the Meat outro jam and further on a lovely Roggae and eventually a biggish if not overly long Melt closer. The second set starts with a largely type I Gin that builds towards a great release peak. There’s an Axilla here with the Axilla II ending and later on Fish Fun Time gives us another debut and one time performance with the Will Smith banger Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It which after the HYHU return leads to another quite uplifting Hood from here in Hampton. Carl ‘Gears’ Gerhard comes out for the Cavern encore to blow trumpet and then we are off to wait for the next show. Considering that this show and its younger by a day brother got released as the Hampton Comes Alive boxset it is clear that the band and a goodly portion of the fanbase are big fans of these shows but when compared to the ones from the prior year you end up with a conversation that never ends about what constitutes good Phish. This show is an example of a song-based party vibe show where the jams are resultant rather than the impetus of the fun and debuts/bustouts are part of the equation. I always end up undervaluing this show for some reason but then realize I enjoy it again on respin.

11.21.1998  Back for more fun (read what I wrote previously here), Phish stuck with the party vibe for night two by filling the first set with a bunch of crowd favorite songs before stretching things out a bit in the second frame as is their habit. The first set starts out with a crowd-appreciated Wilson>BBFCFM pairing as Fish inserts a bit of his Gettin’ Jiggy vocal into the BBFCFM and Mike teases the Leave It to Beaver theme. Later they bustout Cry Baby Cry for the first time in 278 shows with Nellie Kane popping in for the first time after 293 shows a bit later. Between those there is a very well played Foam amongst the standard fare that populates the balance of the set. Look, I’m not gonna sugar coat it. This is a SNS show for at least the first set. Everything is fun and played well but outside of the few moments in the Foam jam and those bustouts there isn’t much to say about it. That changes pretty quickly in the second set though as they first open with Sabotage (third ever of five total and last of 1.0) followed by cranking into Mike’s Song. This one is not as big as the ’97 version but gets to some interesting jam space before heading to Simple sans second jam. Simple may have had its best year ever in 1996 but don’t tell this version that because it is just plain pretty music. From there the Groove extends through to the end of the set after the band strings together a few tun time numbers and throw Ha Ha Ha in the place where the Free jam should be before closing the set and the Groove with an energetic Paug. As their last joke of this run the band debuts a one time cover of the Chumbawamba song Tubthumping, a tune you had a hard time avoiding around that time if you were the type of person to listen to the radio or frequent a certain type of dance club. Tom Marshall takes the verses for the singing and Gears is back to assist with the trumpet. Fish throws in some Gettin’ Jiggy words and the band has fun with this one in capping the run. And so ends the 1998 stop at Hampton, one that had lofty expectations perhaps not met but appealing enough to warrant that official release. The pair is a reasonable snapshot of where the band was at this point in the bigger picture while perhaps lacking the deeper thing that was more evident on releases like A Live One.

12.17.1999  For the 1999 pair of shows at Hampton Phish visited at the end of the Fall Tour (or perhaps more accurately the December Tour considering there was an earyl Fall run from September into October) and only eleven days before the start of Big Cypress, something that was kind of a big deal for the band and fans alike. These two shows would be the last chance anyone would have to hear the band before that to perhaps try to figure out what to expect as if they would foreshadow it at all. With this renewed anticipation – and on the heels of the Hampton Comes Alive release from just before the late fall Tour started – the band opens up here with a patiently building Piper that works well with the palpable energy even if it never really takes off to any new or interesting places. The seat continues with some of the interesting setlist calls we expect from 1999 as they mix old and new, fast and slow together for a fairly uneven result. The Jibboo here is extended with the looped out jam you would anticipate from the song and PYITE has good, well, punch to it but outside of the knowing nod to the upcoming NYE festival with the “filter out the everglades” line in WITS there isn’t too much of note here. The second set starts out with a BOAF that briefly strays from normalcy and then Moma Dance which drops into a sparse, Page-led, effects-filled jam that is wholly independent of the song but serves as the transition to and intro of Bug. That cathartic number is followed by the final of the ignominious performances of Jennifer Dances which is really not nearly as bad as everyone always makes it out to be. Perhaps sensing they need to bring everyone back from the restrooms for the end of the set, the band starts into a somewhat slowed down Melt. The band heads into a mesmerizing take on the Melt theme, showcasing that millennial sound as they mix in the glitchy effects and loops for a jam that feels ready to either explode or fall apart at any moment. The band keeps it together and comes around to close with Zero followed by a three song encore and hopes for more from the Saturday night show.

12.18.1999  When Phish opens the show with a song that is typically seen as a set two vehicle or closer it is typically a good sign. And when that opener is an eighteen minute plus Hood, well, that’s even better.  The jam here starts out bright and airy and proceeds in a linear fashion as they slowly work towards the peak. There is a solid payoff here and then they play one of the eight ever covers of Jimmy Smith’s Back at the Chicken Shack, a perfectly fine song if a bit of an odd one for Phish to have had in their repertoire. It fills the JJLC/Funky Bitch bluesy rock cover slot, I suppose.  A 68 show bustout of Dog Log dedicated to Tom Marshall  (1st since the one we mentioned back in Worcester) precedes Tube where Trey sets the loops and hits the mini-keyboard for a bit as Mike thumps out a big bassline. There is a lot of similarity here to what they were doing in the previous night’s Melt or perhaps in the famed 2001 from 09.29.1999 amongst other jams from this tour. After a few more tour staples they cap it with a big YEM closer, bookending the set with two songs that total more than 40 minutes of the time spent on stage. Trey takes his biggest lead of the show yet here, showcasing one of the iconic lciks that often permeates the song and to me sounds a heck of a lot like his song Quantegy which will get its lone live performance in just a couple of weeks following this night. The second set starts with one of those big 1999 2001s, all stretched out and funky. Tonight’s features some teasing of Peter Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do, complete with Trey giving a nod to “Bob Mayonnaise” on the keyboards. This is typically humorous Phish, of course, but also a nod to the Hampton Comes Alive album release. They move into Sand, another song that had a great year in 1999 for one of the four “big” versions of the song to come from that initial season with Phish for the song. This is the sort of jam that you could bottle up and sell as “99 Phish” and the wooks would buy it in bulk simply for the privilege of it being offered. The balance of the set is pretty stock as they run through a quick Mike’s Groove in the end after playing Horse>Silent, Possum though there is another 68 show bustout for the Buffalo Bill that was last seen in that same show as Dog Log above. This is the better show of the pair from 1999 with some interesting highlights if perhaps still a bit less than might have been desired though admittedly that’s about what shows were at this stage: big jams interspersed between sometimes head scratch worthy song choices with little of the composed mastery numbers on display.

01.02.2003  Due to the whole Hiatus thing Phish wouldn’t keep their streak of consecutive years played here alive as they next returned for a three night run following the first shows back from Hiatus at MSG. This was a different band than the last time they visited with new material on display and a different tonality, particularly from Trey, from their prior visits – not to mention that whole thing of coming off the longest break they had ever taken. This shift is on display from the start as they open with an extended Chalkdust, jamming the song in a festive manner befitting of the holiday run within which it sits (considering that the NYE was the first show followed by these three starting two days later it isn’t much of a stretch to call this the de facto NYE Run for that year). The jams continue with a multi-phased Gin that includes some of the signature 2.0 growl tone from Trey and then after a quick joke about “Tom Hanks” once again joining them on stage (this is a reference to that 12.31.2002 show) they run through Ice on their way to a playful BOTT. This is followed by the debut of Round Room which is fitting for this room which is indeed round. After that the set goes into mostly song mode with a shortish Stash being a little upward blip before the Zero you saw coming back at MSG two days ago. Oh, and here’s full set video from that first frame. The second set opens with another debut, this time 46 Days, which goes far beyond the song we had just been introduced to a couple of weeks prior when the album came out. The signature 2.0 Trey tone is on display in a big way here as he growls through the main type I jam and out into dark, ambient waters. The band moves through several phases over the course of the song, eventually finishing with a strong CYHMK-type jam that peters out into the transition to Simple, leaving the main song unfinished. Later on a strong LxL falls into the debut of another Round Room tune, Thunderhead, which has some inventive soloing by Trey in the back end jam prior to that song’s crash into Lope. Following a predictable Cavern closer the band debuts the fourth song of the night for the encore in Mexican Cousin, a tune that is either a love it or hate it type of proposition for many a fan. Where the first show back at MSG had the energy and excitement of the Return and NYE balled up into one giant release of energy this show offers the freshness of new material and the emerging evolution of the band’s sound in 2003. The highlights here are telling in the direction they go and bode well for the balance of the run.

01.03.2003  Since the band didn’t break it out for that MSG Return show by this third show into the year the fanbase was starting to wonder when that first Tweezer would drop. Sure enough, Phish opened up night two here with the anthem and while perhaps not the life-changing version some may have wanted there is a lot to like in this compact, type I version. It gets the room moving and settles everyone in so that when they drop into the Theme that follows there is a nice roar of approval for the first one of 2.0. Two songs later is the debut of Pebbles and Marbles, here showing off a very nice bit of jamming, something the song has lacked in 3.0 versions (and most of the 2.0 versions to be fair). The five song first set concludes with YEM but not before they restart it after a train wreck start to the composed section. Listen for some interesting VJ antics. A rocking BOAF starts the second set and then the band drops into Wolfman’s that really needs to be heard – and preferably quite loud if you can manage that. You’ll dance hard to the infectious funk groove but just hang on because this one goes nookular in the back half before they move onto a particularly fun Makisupa which nods to Hampton with keywords including “Waffle House” and “Hooters” which if you have ever been to this venue you know to be two of the more visible/notable places to grab a pre or post show bite near the venue (and surrounding hotels). After a fun if uneventful Axilla>Free pairing they debut another Round Room tune with All of These Dreams and then close the set with a bit of instrument switching in Possum that sees Page on Trey’s guitar, Trey on Mike’s bass, and Mike on Fish’s Cracklin’ Rosie cymbals. Not exactly the rotation jam from the 1995 show here but fun for the band to be playing around up there. The encore’s Contact does actually have a bit of an extended jam but that doesn’t mean my wife wouldn’t have booed at it anyway.

01.04.2003  For the third night here and last of this Return/NYE Run the band comes out gunning with a fiery Llama and a fun Boogie followed a particularly emotive Roggae before they bring back the energy for hot Maze. Another Round Room debut fills the midset cool down slot as Anything But Me hits the stage for the first time. Following a few more fun numbers they end with a solid Melt, one that feels like it could have gone on for a bit longer. This show already feels more like a celebratory Saturday night affair than the prior two and that carries over into the second set as oh yeah wait I almost forgot! Here is the video for both the first and second sets of this one. So the second set starts out with Rock and Roll which gets a shortish jam before they move into a stock Mike’s Song. The bridge tune tonight is Mountains in the Mist (a song I didn’t really grow to appreciate enough until probably the Festival 8 acoustic set) and then they punch into a Paug, taking it out for a ride in what will eventually be the most open jam of the night. There’s a dark aspect to this one which makes more sense when they transition into WTU? for a haunting version. Disease gives promise of more improv but instead gets dropped for a full segue to FEFY which is nice but not exactly the big, open, set-defining jam many came for here. Following this ballad they close with the second ever (and final to date) 2001 2nd set closer which while fairly standard goes get some ‘thanks’ banter by Trey in the end before he, Page, and Mike each take a turn at the “big rock ending” thing. Then they wrap up the run with the eleventh debut (all from Round Room, leaving just Mock Song unsung for now from that album) in Friday. Not exactly the biggest punctuation mark to cap the run. Oh well. Still a fun show if perhaps not as jam-worthy as the nights preceding it.

08.09.2004  About a year and a half later Phish came back to Hampton, this time in the final run-up towards what was then purported to be the FINAL SHOWS EVER at The Festival Which Shall Not Be Named. Here is video of both sets. As with the 2003 run, this show opens up with the jammed out pairing of Chalkdust>Gin, tonight stretching past the forty-minute mark in total. Chalkdust starts out with big time energy and then settles into the loose, melodic ambient jamming that typified 2.0 and 2004 in particular. Instead of petering out they build the jam back up and slam back into the Chalkdust theme to wrap up the song and head off to Gin. At the time there weren’t many big, open explorations of Chalkdust as points of reference so for quite some time (like, that whole long wait thing we had not too long after this show) this was rightfully considered one of the best Chalkdusts the band had ever played along with the likes of the one here a year ago, the one from IT 08.03.2003 and the one from Camden on 07.10.1999 (though most would agree that the best era for the song in terms of open jamming has been here in 3.0 considering the number of big versions we have enjoyed in recent years. The Gin that follows this is quite impressive on its own (and even more so when you pair it with the Chalkdust) as the band slowly meanders towards the first peak which they hit around the ten minute mark. They are not nearly done yet though as they drop into a chunky groove where Trey and Page throw around ideas to see what might have promise. The pace quickens and the intensity strengthens as they head to another peak, now fully outside of Gin and kind of reminiscent of Llama at points, but before they hit it they turn to dissonant, searching playing. Trey starts strumming something almost recognizable and then everyone tries their best to be the first to shout out JIM! as they head into the classic tale of thieving dog gone astray. After an interesting bit of jamming they wrap this for a full-on, in your face raging WOTC, giving the jam room to breath even in staying within the structure of the song. Then after a quick Loving Cup another five song first set is in the books here in Hampton. Now, if you were around in 2004 or even have just gone back to spin those shows you have probably noticed that they can be a bit… uneven. Like, there will be big jams followed by odd sections of multiple ballads or entire sets where the band seemed to wander about without much sense of direction or cohesion. There are a few reasons you can probably come up with for this sort of thing happening which we won’t get into here but I bring it up to say that this second set is perhaps one of the biggest head scratching sets there is after all that jamming they did in the first. All of These Dreams isn’t the energetic set opener you came for, the LxL is okay at best, Lifeboy feels misplaced here, Crowd Control works best as a knowing nod opener for gate crash type shows (or ones with too much security influence), this Seven below goes nowhere in almost hitting 15 minutes, Stash feels thrown in and uninspired before they bail for NICU, and then Bug>Contact>Zero is just a set closing bunch of energy tunes. It takes until the encore Bowie for them to take any chances which pay off for me in the move towards deep dissonant waters but others may disagree. I know there are many for whom this was the last Phish they might ever hear if they weren’t heading north afterwards for Great Woods, Camden, and TFWSNBN and that’s a disappointing thought. But unfortunately it was a sign of times.

03.06.2009  I could – and have – write many many words on the emotions and significance that surrounded the 2009 Return shows by Phish here in Hampton. And many much better writers than I have done so as well so I’ll just assume that by being here reading this you already have a certain level of understanding for just how major this was in our little world. Suffice it to say that this was perhaps THE hardest ticket ever for Phish and the excitement and anticipation for the shows was understandably off the charts as everyone made their way back here almost five years since the band’s last visit in the wind down of 2.0. Knowing that the band was coming off of the longest stretch of not playing together since forming way back when I don’t think anyone expected them to come out super polished and ready to jam which may have been related to the fact that we were all just so excited to have our band back together and seemingly healthy once again. The band that we had last heard was quite frankly a mess no matter how hard you try to justify the sloppy playing and questionable decisions with comments of “yeah but they played some amazing jams brah!” Heck, by the time of that show above this one they weren’t even attempting to play many of their more complicated composed numbers, opting for the ones that were more straight forward in structure and required little practice if any since they weren’t doing that anymore. So when the band came out on stage and started up Fluffhead of all songs we knew that this time things were going to be different. Everyone (bands and fans alike) had aged a bit and hopefully matured as well though that might still be something of a work in progress… Anyway, this night was THE RETURN and it was all about reconnecting with the band and our fellow fans, so the music is something of an afterthought in terms of overt analysis. The collective release packed into that “OH YEAH!” line from Fluffhead was catharsis of the highest order and just what so many of us needed, the band included it would seem. After pretty well nailing that Fluff (a song that was notably benched for the entirety of 2.0) they proceeded to run through fairly standard versions of a TON of songs, packing a whopping 28 tunes into the two sets and encore. Songs from all eras were on the table with the first set including mostly songs from the early to mid 90s (except for that Farmhouse I suppose). Nothing here is musically “special” except in the sense that we never thought we would hear the band play these tunes again. For the second set they opened by debuting the now loved/hated BDT#L and following it up with concise versions of several notable second set standards. The Tweezer->Taste is nice, the Possum rocks, First Tube>Hood is a fun shot of energy, and the Waste>YEM works well as a cap to the set. Then after the bouncy triple encore of Grind, Bouncin’, Cup it was over and Phish was back! There might not be a show that can eclipse the feelings associated with the optimism that comes from knowing that.

03.07.2009  The second night of the Return (and I think it is notable that the band chose to play here again after using this venue as part of their return from Hiatus back in 2003) was a bit more relaxed now that the band had a show under their belts and the feelings had returned for all that THIS was where we were supposed to be. Again, they packed a large number of songs into this show (27 in total) as the first set included another 15 songs just like the night before. A punchy BOTT>Jim opened things up and save for a pretty cringe-worthy run through Melt the rest of the set kept the vibe fun and free though didn’t dive into much in the way of open jamming. They debuted the Page tune Beauty of a Broken Heart along the way and that one would stay in the rotation for the balance of the year before becoming a once-a-tour-if-you-are-lucky song. Other fun stuff here includes a nice bit of Page in Ice and the huge eruption for the Lope peak closer. The second set starts out with a solid RnR that gets to some nice blissy melodic space (something to get used to with the many RnR 2nd set openers from this year) before seguing into a solid LxL. The Ghost that follows has a little proto-plinko jam before heading off to Piper which in turn gives way to BOAF. The rest of the set is all fun stuff with a straight forward Mike’s Groove leading to the expected Zero closer before they encore with ADITL. As I mentioned above this show is a bit more relaxed with all involved probably a tad more comfortable after the nervous energy of the first night had dissipated. It probably isn’t one you are going to go back and spin a lot but you might want to revisit the RnR and Ghost.

03.08.2009  So then the third and final night of The Return came and with it the bittersweet thoughts of “what next?” since at that time we really didn’t know where this was all headed. But Phish being Phish they had other ideas, opening with Sanity for only the second time ever (10.31.1996 being the other) and setting the tone somewhat for the evening. Perhpas doubly so considering one of the big “globe” light thingies up on the ceiling burst right when Trey sang the “I don’t care if the world explodes” line which was a bit of a ‘whoa’ moment in house. A fun if short Gin precedes the debut of Undermind and then a bunch of songs later they debut the one time cover of the George Jones tune She Thinks I Still Care, a fairly odd choice for a one-off tune but maybe not so much considering it is a Mike sung tune. Five more songs later they close with Frankenstein which for the first time features Page on the keytar once owned by James Brown. The second set starts off with what will end up being the biggest takeaway jam of this run in Disease as they (again) head into melodic blissy proto-plinko realms for a soul satisfying jam that winds down into the start of Seven below. Later on there is a quite fun Twist that while type I should get you moving pretty well before they segue into 2001 and Moma for a triple header of dance fun. The expected Slave closer caps this second set and then a four song encore including the Reprise they left hanging from night one wraps it up. The band played an almost unheard of 30 songs in this one (making that 85 total for the three shows) but again, this is celebration Phish. Any thoughts of critique are not really relevant. While this and the two shows preceding don’t have the jam highlights of other shows (or venues…) the impact of this run is so important that it factors into the overall picture for this venue.

10.18.2013  Four years into 3.0 Phish again returned to Hampton and again for a three night run (here’s your video for set 1 and set 2). Anticipation was high once more with a big rush on tickets initially just feeding the perceived demand for the shows to come. In the end that anticipation was a bit overwrought as there were ticket trees to be found here for the brave souls who traveled sans tickets. And looking back these shows had a big hill to climb considering the history with this venue and the fact that these were the first shows of the Fall Tour coming off a pretty well received Summer Tour which made for one of the dreaded “over expectation’d” runs a definite possibility. This first show of the tour ended up being oversold but underattended (that’s one of the verses of Undermind, right?) which is generally the perfect scenario for the band to come out and say “got ya” by throwing down a master class performance. Except when it isn’t. So even though the started strong with a nice run of Wolfman’s, Jim, Mound, Chalkdust and played a fine enough first set in total, there just isn’t much there there. Sure, Stash goes sideways for a bit and WOTC peaks nicely but even the song selection feels safe. Maybe it was just the band warming up after the layoff since Dick’s. Who knows. After the break they did add some gusto, first opening with a groovy Twist that drops to ambient transition space for the move to Free and backing that cruncher up with yet another lovely Roggae (maybe it is me, but that song sure has come into its own in 3.0) . After running through Sparkle and Cavern they start into Carini which by this time had become a pretty reliable place for jamming in 3.0. Tonight would be no different as they take the jam through several phases seamlessly as if planned, combining edgy darkness, bliss rock peaking, a funky breakdown and more into what stands as one of the big highlights from the entire tour. By the time they bail out for BDT#L you don’t even care it is that good. The balance of the show is just filler by comparison but not in a detrimental way. This ends up being a fine enough tour/run opener with that one massive highlight upon which it hangs its hat.

10.19.2013  The Saturday night show (set 1, set 2 videos) from this run turns up the heat a bit considering they open with the highly danceable triple play of Gin, Moma, Tube before taking a breath for FEFY. The Gin is a straight forward peak hunter and Moma gets bouncy a bit before they throw in a nice little funk jamlet for the Tube. Maybe the bigger Saturday night crowd had something to do with it or maybe the muse just hit them a little harder that night. Either way, this first set is a nice one if you like to hear the band hitting on all cylinders even if the songs stay mainly in the box. Case in point, the Mike’s Groove to end the set looks like another stock run on paper but has some quite nice playing particularly by Page in the Paug. The second set gets the jamming going from the outset as they stretch Ghost out with a long, somewhat whale-y but dance-y groove jam that rises high and stays there to the delight of the crowd. I was a bit surprised to see that this was only the second 2nd set opening Ghost of 3.0 (at the time; there have been two since). It is a much better jam than I recalled and kind of surprising that it doesn’t get more love. They drop into Disease and you just know this is gonna blow up except that it doesn’t and they forego anything of a real jam here to head into Steam which is fine I suppose. It’s too bad because they really had something going with the serene space they drop into there. Oh well, Steam it is. And this one is a little more interesting than the typical one considering after a dirty bent note jam that’ll cause you to make weird, contorted faces Trey hops over to join Fish on the kit and Mike bangs away at the fight bell while also playing bass with drumsticks and his drill. This is all around the 33:00 minute mark of that set 2 video I linked above. Little did we know how frequent it would become for Trey to want to go all Rhythm Devils on us… From here the set goes into cruise control as they string together Caspian>Boogie>Theme>Wedge and then Silent>Hood to cap the set, giving us yet another satisfying Hood here at The Mothership (listen for a bit of callback to the Plinko Hood stylings from Worcester 2010). And then for good measure another Quinn as encore nodding back to its return from the Where Are They Now? files here several years later. There might not be a massive center-piece takeaway jam here but this is a very fun show to respin.

10.20.2013  Our final (for now!) show at Hampton was one of those mythical Sunday Nighters and here the “rule” held true as it is one that people still speak of in that way we do about the shows that pack the biggest punch. (Here’s the videos for set 1 and set 2). Looking at the first set’s list you might be saying “what the heck is he doing saying this was a big night?” and sure, that’s valid, but the playing is on point here three shows into the tour and capping this run. They throw four big energy songs together to start with BOTT being the peak moment of that group. Even the Roses feels like it might stretch a bit but instead gets Sample’d (wtf, man?) before a mini-bustout for Ginseng Sullivan (39 show gap). Rousing takes on 46 Days, Divided, and Bold As Love send everyone to the concourse smiling and jonesing for more which is all we want, right? The glory of this show is found in the second frame though as after a 47 show bustout for Paul & Silas in honor of some dudes dressed in Where’s Waldo garb causing Trey to think they were wearing prison outfits so ha ha oh well thanks for the bustout, Trey (he banters about it at the start of the set 2 video). But that’s just window dressing because the Tweezer that follows is where type II dreams are made. It starts out dark and demonic and eventually winds around to an ambient exploration that perfectly resolves into the start of Golden Age. The jam that emerges from this GA is a funky throwdown that counterpoints the darkness of the Tweezer jam with bright dance party playing by the band and then heads into ambient space though this time with a different feel entirely from what came out of Tweezer (I love when they do that). From here it really feels that they are working towards a move into 2001 but instead they ramp up to Piper for an energy boost. They head into the jam here and you start to hear something… a bit… familiar which isn’t uncommon but then WAIT! Are they? (they are) They can’t be! (they can) Holy crap they have moved into the debut of the BTO classic Takin’ Care of Business! What the phunk?! The place explodes with recognition and everything is peachy in joyland as they romp through the cover before dropping back into more of that ambient goo to set up the transition into that 2001 you thought you heard earlier. Trey has added his emerging mastery of the echoplex to the mix here which is something I’ve really loved about the addition of that little tool to his arsenal and this 2001 pushes the energy in the room even higher if that is at all possible. Then just when you think they will head for set ending energy rocker territory they drop into Sand for a compact but powerful run through the vampy millennial number before punctuating the set with the Slave peak we expected. A fitting ADITL>Reprise encore later and we are on the road with another Hampton run in the books. This was the first peak of a tour that ended up being very strong and has since left us all waiting for that next announcement of their return to this wonderful room.

 

Tale of the Tapes

Venue:  Hampton Coliseum (nee, Hampton Roads Coliseum)

No. of Shows:  eighteen

Intangibles:  Mid-Atlantic locale allows for extremely large regional draw capturing both the Northeast and Southeast with Midwest access not bad either; all GA format makes it a special place since you can end up anywhere once you get inside; great sound for this type of room (some might say it has perfect “slapback”); mythos surrounding the venue carried over from Dead tour where it became a must-hit venue; wild and wooly lot scene adds to the overall experience and similarly local hotels and other places have become part of the story of seeing shows here; timing of shows played here has been key considering they used this venue as part of return shows from both Hiatus and The Break Up; it’s called The Mothership for a reason, dude

Recurring Themes:  multi-night stands (only three single shows with six multi-nighters including three three-nighters in 2003, 2009, and 2013); Hood and Mike’s Groove – seven of the nine times the band has played here have included a Hood and a Mike’s Groove (though not necessarily the same seven); Phish has only played the same first set opener here twice (Chalkdust); only three songs have repeated as second set opener (BOAF, Ghost, RnR); jamming is the norm here as it has become a place known as one the band feels comfortable stretching out and creating new, wonderful music in the moment; reunion shows – as mentioned above the band has used this venue for returns from both Hiatus and The Break Up; instrument switching – the first rotation jam occurred here in 1995 and they also played with their friend’s toys in 2003 and 203; as hard as a ticket as it can be to procure for shows here they have never played Golgi at Hampton; other ‘common’ songs never played here include Fee, Lizards, Buried Alive, and DaaM; popular one time covers aren’t uncommon here as they have debuted five songs that were only ever played on that night (Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It, RnR Part II, She Thinks I Still Care, TCOB, Tubthumping; overall eighteen songs have been debuted at Hampton including the ones mentioned in the prior note, most of the Round Room album, BDT#L, Undermind, and BOABH

Key Jams/Songs:  1995 – Timber Ho!>Kung, Mike’s Song->Rotation Jam->Mike’s Song and the various Poor Hearts if you are into that sort of thing; 1996 – Makisupa->Maze, Stash, Hood; 1997 – Emotional Rescue->Melt, Ghost>Bag->Slave, Mike’s Groove, Hood, Halley’s>Tweezer>BEK; 1998 – Gin, Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It, Hood, Mike’s>Simple, Tubthumping; 1999 – Jibboo, BOAF>Moma>Jam, Melt, Hood, YEM, 2001>Sand; 2003 – Chalkdust>Gin, BOTT, 46 Days, P&M, Wolfman’s>Makisupa, Possum instrument switching, Contact, Roggae, Paug>WTU?, 2001; 2004 – CDT, Gin, WOTC, Seven Below (kinda); 2009 – Fluffhead, Tweezer->Taste, BOTT, Ice, RnR>LxL, Sanity, Disease, Twist->2001; 2013 – Twist, Roggae, Carini, Ghost, Steam, Hood, BOTT, Tweezer->GA->Piper->TCOB>2001

PJJ Ratio:  Hampton surprisingly has a lower than average 2.17 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). This is likely a result of somewhat tame shows in 1996 and 1997 not to mention the song focus of 2009 and the extended night runs of 2003 and 2013 ‘requiring’ more songs to fill the time

 

There is no denying the magic that exists in this room. Hampton is a storied venue for good reason but some of that is based on the intangible factors as much as the music itself. The role this venue has played in the band’s history cannot be discounted as it is a place the band is clearly comfortable playing and one where fans feel free to be themselves. From a purely analytical perspective this venue is surprisingly not as reliable for producing top level Phish shows but when the non-concrete factors are layered on top something special is revealed. As with every show there are thousands of different experiences that tell the story of what is going down. So when so many of these varied opinions all agree that something special is occurring it cannot be questioned. This is a bucket list venue for all fans of Phish, one that needs to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated and understood. Long live The Mothership!

 

Old School Vibe in a New School Time – Phish and The Worcester Centrum

For our first indoor arena on the Venue Project we come to the wonderful Worcester Centrum, now known by its corporate moniker, The DCU Center. This venue holds sway not just for Phish but also for other music acts going all the way back to the first event here, a concert by none other than Frank Sinatra. Just to name a few, U2 had their first stadium show in the US here back in 1983, the Grateful Dead played twelve shows between 1983 and 1988 (before getting banned…), Boston had a nine night stand drawing over 100,000 big haired fans in 1987, Neil Diamond played a record 21 shows (Phish is closing in at 16!), and Dave Matthews apparently played some legendary pair of shows with Bela Fleck supporting in 1998. No matter what type of recreational past time you enjoy, there’s a good chance you can catch a version of it at the Centrum and musically that holds true as artists (and “artists”) of all kinds have played here over the years. For Phish fans in and around New England this place became one of the can’t miss venues on the touring circuit, usually good for at least a pair of shows in a place where the band played with ease and comfort while the crowd enjoyed the classically ‘dirty’ shakedown lot scene and general orneriness of interacting with the locals. In an effort to be transparent, I live about ten minutes from this venue and therefore hold it quite dearly. Expect fluffing.

 

Phish has played the Worcester Centrum sixteen times with the first show being the grand New Year’s Eve celebration from 12.31.1993 and the last to date being the second night of a pair on the Fall 2013 Tour. After that first time here the band has played at least two nights with the exception of their visit during the whirlwind Winter 2003 run including two highly memorable three night runs here over Thanksgiving weekends in 1997 and 1998.

 

Here is you www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Worcester Jams. Note that the famed Worcester Jim has entries for both the full thing as well as smaller chunks for each of the different sections of that epic in case you want a more manageable dose there.

 

12.31.1993  When your first time playing a venue is New Year’s Eve, you go big. Add on the fact that this was a band on the rise playing their first big time NYE Run (prior year’s runs were a much smaller affair) and you have the recipe for some serious heat which is exactly what the band brought that night. Coming off a lengthy break after a heavily front loaded year that saw a full, two legged spring tour (half of which we began this here blog by reviewing) followed by a summer with some H.O.R.D.E. sets mixed in with one of the famed months in the band’s history (August as if I have to mention it) Phish had made their way up the East Coast with a four show run that started in Washington, DC before three New England shows in New Haven, CT (their first in the big old Veterans Memorial Coliseum), Portland, ME (their second show here and first full show after a single set H.O.R.D.E. appearance in summer 1992), and here in Worcester culminated the year for the band. For each show of the run the stage was decorated to look like we the crowd were peering into a demented fish tank and that would make a lot more sense the next year when the band released their first – and only- music video ever for the big single off of Hoist, Down with Disease (more on that song in a bit). This is a very highly regarded show in the fanbase, one that many consider canon and for good reason. From the start of the show opening Llama you can hear the energy from both band and fans alike threatening to blow the roof off the room before they even get warmed up. Pretty much everything they play in this show is nailed though obviously some things stand out more than others like the crisp takes on Stash, Reba, and Lope in the 1st set or the raging Tweezer and Peaches tease-filled Ice and Possum from the 2nd set. The context there is that this run was the first set of shows the band had played since the passing of Frank Zappa a few weeks earlier, resulting in numerous Peaches teases throughout the shows as well as the song being played on three out of the four nights (there are other songs that got repeated in the run like Hood and Possum but that was more a factor of the limitations of their catalog at the time than anything). The third set is the template for how Phish would manage New Year’s shows in the future with a post Auld Lang Syne jam celebrating the new year as they open up into a jam-filled run of songs to ring in the proceedings. This night got brand spanking new music with the then unnamed but soon to be well loved Down With Disease jam (just the riffs, no lyrics, ma’am) which gave way to a smoking, tight Melt. The rest of the set is party time Phish culminating with a Hood that has long been a favorite of many a fan with some still considering it their finest pure, straight ahead version of the song ever. It is a perfect cap to this celebration and quite the jam to inaugurate this venue into Phish lore.

12.28.1995  Two years later Phish returned for more of that New Year’s Run goodness, this time playing the first two shows of the now traditional four night run before heading down to MSG for a pair of shows that were kinda pretty amazing. Warming up for that here in Worcester, the band came in hot on the heels of the legendary Fall 1995 Tour which peaked during its final month only a short nine days ahead of these shows. That results in a well polished band plying their trade rather than spending a show or two shaking off the rust. The fruits of that show from the start as they open with Melt for one of only nine times ever in the 312 performances of the song. The rest of the first set is just your typical for the time nailed fare with the fun of the PA going out during Rift being the only true notable somewhat unique feature because, c’mon, having Page sing the iconic “and silence contagious…” line at that moment is almost too convenient, eh? The second set, however, goes left in a hurry as after the Audience Chess Move they open with a dark, punishing Timber Ho! featuring a lot of big time Fish fills that slides into a raging Theme that Trey dominates. After some more evil Phish with Wilson>Buried Alive they drop into Tweezer which is in the vein of many of the classic Summer/Fall ’95 Tweezer jams which is to say that that shit is dark, yo. If you aren’t hip to the Fall ’95 jam template this is a good example of the mindfuckery we got nightly. There’s a bit in here that will be resolved in the next night’s show as Mike “practices” some of what goes down in the Bass Duet jam with his teacher Jim Stinnett but we’ll leave that for the next one down. Eventually this Tweezer morphs into a full segue to IDK where Fish takes up the trombone in the exhale of the set as they drop a late Uncle Pen and then we breathe deep again for a soaring yet also quite dissonant Slave closer. This is the type of show to kick off a NYE Run, Phish. Don’t forget that a few weeks from now…

12.29.1995  Night two on the 1995 run here in Worcester starts with a run of six songs strung together before the band takes a moment to rest. In there we get a compact Disease and one of those Taste That Surrounds that lived in the space between when Fog That Surrounds eventually became Taste. The Stash is really where things get going in earnest as they build tension with a staccato-filled jam that stays at home in the song but comes to a massive peak complete with a nice held note by Trey before they wrap around to the final round of ‘maybe so or maybe not’. The remainder of the set is raucous fun with Fluffhead and Llama before the a cappella Adeline closer cools things down a tad for intermission. Our second set starts with one of seven ever Makisupas, eventually dropping into a feedback-heavy, ambient-ish jam that melts into Page hitting the organ for the start of CTB. After that we get the always welcome second set Gin. This one is a rager from the start as Trey picks his path, navigating through the Gin theme as Page throws in his grand piano stylings. Almost suddenly, at around the 7:50 mark, Trey starts repeating a quick phrase that settles the band into a fast paced groove that Trey starts soloing over delicately. Fish is pounding away here as it evolves away from Gin into a recognizable tune, particularly if you had been around that Fall for, oh I don’t know, a certain Halloween performance? Once Trey plays the tell tale chords it is clear they are playing The Real Me to the delight of the fans. Trey’s worn out vocal cords from the prolonged tour are evident here but this rocks hard before they seamlessly come back to the Gin close which in turn segues right to a solid take on the classic McGrupp. Then, following a fun BBFCFM and as hinted to above Mike’s old bass instructor Jim Stinnett comes out for a bass jam that has some classical elements some may recognize. As the rest of the band rejoins Trey pushes it into La Grange and on to the end of set fun numbers. This show is known for the “Real Gin” but don’t sleep on the Stash and McGrupp here or that bass jam which is a unique sit-in to say the least.

11.28.1997  After skipping a visit in 1996 Phish returned for a Thanksgiving Weekend Run, giving us an excuse to dance off the holiday meal with three heaters in the ol’ sweatbox. A Curtain opener is always a good sign especially when the dance partner is a big time funky YEM. They forego the VJ for IDK and then tear through Maze as they do ahead of the piss break midset Farmhouse. The funk comes back in spades with our now defunct friend BEK (okay, sure, it’s now Moma but that’s not nearly the same is it?) and then the set concludes with one of three ever Theme>Rocky Top combos (a bit of an odd pairing if I do say so myself). This is a quality first set which was kind of the norm that tour but still only a taste of what they were about to throw down. First up is another set opening Timber Ho! which again delights with that dark magic. Next they go for the peaks with LxL which they follow up with a super peaky Slave that lands in Ghost. Now, Fall ’97 is a great tour for Ghost as they had settled into a comfortable way of attacking the jam after its debut that summer and this version is definitely a keeper. It is a clinic in cowfunk with everyone on board, compin’, clavin’, bassin’, and beatin’ into an infectious groove accented by a laser loop track. Trey resets the groove with a common comp phrase he employed back then (Mike’s *ting* shows his approval) and then they take off again as Trey alternates between lead and follow with Mike *ting*ing along as they drop into a sparse section that just begs to blow up for the final peak, which it does as Trey repeats the same, familiar lick over and over with ever increasing intensity and the band swells to the… ugh. really? so much potential for the release here and they drop into Johnny B. Goode. Oi. Not what I would have called there but then again I’m not exactly too handy with the musical creation thing like our friends up on stage, am I? Eh, after that hot set I’m not going to let a rocking fist pumper closer ruin it for me. Fun show, let’s do it again tomorrow.

11.29.1997  The middle night of a three night run that falls over a weekend generally means you get the SNS show here, one with a bunch of fun rockers and type I jams but not much in the way of otherworldly exploration. Well, that’s not where this one goes which should have been evident from the start of the Wedge opener considering it was only the 2nd ever show opening Wedge at the time (Great Went day two being the other) and still one of only five ever. Then there’s a punchy fun romp through Foam before the set slides into song mode for a few bustouts (TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY after 67 shows and Sloth after 55) and caps with a slow burning, better than you remember Bowie. This is all appetizer though because what goes down next is still unmatched and probably will forever be so within the construct of a ‘traditional’ Phish set. Over the years, Phish has played the song Runaway Jim 377 times with versions ranging from the straight forward road song variety to longer, chugging jam vehicles that stretch well beyond the confines of the song structure (much like Jim’s wanderings…). On this night in Worcester Phish laid down the single longest single song jam ever with a Jim that comes in just a minute or three under the one hour mark. Now, depending on your favorite species of Phish jam this one may lose you in places but there really is something for everyone to be found in the “Jim Symphony” that moves through several distinct sections without ever falling apart. There are several teases, a full-on Paug jam, and more to be found here, enough that it may take repeated listens to fully grasp all that they packed into it. I know a couple of people who had that as their first show and let’s just say they were NOT prepared for that level of immersion into Phish. Perhaps sensing this unease, the band drifts into the start of Strange Design in the wake of The Jim then backed that up with a soul affirming Hood and eventually a mini bustout of Suzy (of all songs!) after 49 shows on the bench. Then for good measure there is a unique triple combo of Buffalo Bill, Moby Dick>Fire including Trey playing on The Song Remains the Same intro for the 435 show bustout in the middle there. This show is justifiably known for The Jim but giving it a full spin might surprise you with how complete it is even with that biggie in the middle.

11.30.1997  For the Sunday show capping this run before the quick turnaround to get down to Philly to sing the national anthem on Monday one could have excused the band if they wanted to play it safe after that big without a net type endeavor the night before. But that’s not what Phish does now is it? Again we get a rare opener with Guyute doing that for the first time ever here (and one of only four all time in 124 performances of the song). A not so standard Funky Bitch keeps em grooving next and then Wolfman’s in the three slot goes plaid in the best way. This is a second set hide-under-your-chair multi-themed thirty minute beast placed a mere twenty-five minutes into the show, well ahead of the schedule most of the trippers had planned for this evening. The jam heads into devilish territory with some Esther and Sanity lyric/music quotes before the band deftly throws a curveball in by seguing to the Elvis Presley classic Love Me, a Mike-sung tune we discussed back on the Fall ’98 tour. This is the last of the seven 1997 versions before it went unplayed until the following Fall and was eventually shelved. So as to not front load this show too much the band drops a hose-filled Stash in the two slot of the second set, taking the song out for a long, enjoyable ride before going unfinished into an arena-sized Free which is to say it rocks hard if not for a very long time. Without ever fully letting up on the sustain Trey then moves into soundscape building as the other players join in to create an ambient jam that feels more at home in 1999 or 2000 than here in the cowfunk days but I guess you gotta start somewhere. It provides a nice bridge to the slow build Piper that follows and something of a respite after that Stash->Free combo. After the expected Lope to close the set we get the one and only performance of Them Changes, the Buddy Miles tune from the album of the same name that also showed up on the Band of Gypsys album from the same year (1970). An interesting one off choice, it would be nice to hear why they played it then and never again.

11.27.1998  A year later the band was back again for another post-Turkey Time three pack of shows, ones that we have covered here previously. The first night is a quite well known show what with it being included in the first set of LivePhish releases. I won’t rehash my previous posts here (too much) but for this show the meat is definitely packed into the second set (even if the song Meat appeared in the first). The Reba and BOAF in the first are highlights but mainly serve to whet our appetite for the Dagwood set to come. If that reference is lost on you, go brush up on your Blondie cartoons a bit and maybe you’ll get it? Anyway, after Buried Alive the band drops a few rounds of Wipeout, the classic surf rock song by the Surfaris (get it???) that should not be confused with the oh-so-80s Beach Boys/Fat Boys joint of the same name. Bits of the 722 show bustout will pepper the set including in the middle of Weekapaug and to cap the Golgi encore but that’s not the only reason this set holds sway in the fanbase. The Chalkdust includes the debut and one time performance of the English Beat’s Mirror in the Bathroom and a return for Dog Log after its last appearance in the wake of The Riverport Gin amongst the frenetic shredding and boisterous energy from the band. Sanity and Buffalo Bill show up after the Chalkdust and then we get an almost-not-quite “traditional” Mike’s Groove since H2 comes back after a 68 show absence. Then following that Wipeout Paug fun they head out into the bliss of the type of ambient jam that Fall 1998 was known for before capping the set with a rousing Lope closer. We’ve talked about the uniqueness of seguefest shows before so I won’t dive back into that but let’s just say that this is definitely a case where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

11.28.1998  While this middle night was probably never going to live up to the legend of the one from the year before it holds its own as a solid if not great show that is a good example of what they were accomplishing that tour. The first set is anchored by (again!) the first ever Gumbo opener (only three ever there and the other two are in 3.0) which includes a nice if not extended jam, a compact but dangerous Disease, a crisp run through Foam, and a Melt that breeds hope for the second set to come. On paper this second set doesn’t look like a can’t miss winner but there’s a lot to be found here. The Wolfman’s>Timber Ho! combo has a dark, ambient vibe that Page counterpoints with bright piano fills and the Mule has some unique dueling including Mike putting the viking helmet on as he battles Fish but then the Caspian surprises with the power that the song can hold as Trey takes charge with his end solo. Then there’s a Crossroads bustout (64 shows) before a late set Tweezer that while not as expansive as we might want chugs through some interesting sections before suddenly ending for the Cavern closer. As I said above, this is not a ‘canon’ worthy show but there sure aren’t any low lights to worry about either.

11.29.1998  So then we have the final show of the 1998 Turkey Run which also happened to be the tour closer that Fall. For the third night in a row we have a first time opener, this time the Josh White ditty Paul and Silas complete with alternate lyrics to reference Paul Languedoc’s arrest the night before for not wanting to leave the hotel bar in a timely manner. This first set also has a soaring Theme and a unique LxL->Catapult->Kung>Maze section that delights the bustout junkies and setlist mavens. For the end of set the band welcomes Seth Yacavone (see the post on this show from the Fall ’98 reviews for more detail on him) for his song All The Pain Through the Years and the only ever cover of Layla. Those are fine enough but this isn’t the best sit-in ever even if they were giving some free pub to another Burlington dude. That said, Seth shreds so if you ever get the chance check his band out. In the second set there is a Simple that goes ambient but in a dark and dissonant way instead of the typical blissy bright feel and then peters out to Makisupa where we get more digs at the expense of Paul followed by the typical ambient dub mini-jam the song often gets. The Possum that follows goes fully into Wipeout before coming back and then we get one last airy vehicle with the late set Gin. This is a keeper and one that encapsulates the tour sound well before the band wraps things up with a powerful YEM and move into the encores. It is hard to say that any of the final two shows can live up to the fun and uniqueness of the first night of this run but in terms of open jamming this one is the big dog for the year at Worcester.

02.26.2003  During the post-Hiatus Winter 2003 Run Phish played the Centrum for the third to last show of that tour. After a telling tease of Call to Post at the outset they were off running into YEM for only the 11th ever show opening version of the song (and first since 1997) with the 12th (and last to date) occurring later that year at Shoreline. This is a bombastic version of the classic with the crowd erupting at several points to voice their approval for the return of the band to New England after Hiatus. Then the set takes on a “What I Did on Summer Vacation” vibe (not my line but I like it) as first we get the Mike/Leo Kottke tune Clone (which had you been listening closely was quoted by Trey in the YEM VJ), then later the TAB tune Drifting, Pork Tornado’s Blue Skies, and Vida Blue’s Final Flight with a really uplifting Roggae and big time funky Moma interspersed before a punchy Maze closer. If you aren’t familiar with these side project bands and/or songs, check out the Phish versions which are fun interpretations if perhaps not 100% faithful and then go spin the originals. Sadly none of these has ever graced the Phish stage again but it was a neat thing to hear the band mix these tunes in with some high quality ‘standard’ fare. The second set starts out with a long run through Stash, one that benefits from the 2.0 sound as they drop some gritty funk and Trey gets to some almost plinko space in his staccato playing. Next up is a far reaching Ghost that first meanders and then climbs to a powerful transition to Low Rider (after a mere 214 layoff) before shifting over to Makisupa where the keyword references a fire in the band’s hotel back in Cincy. The outro jam of this then pushes into Ya Mar and from there the set stays in a more song-based mode as they ride the high energy of the room. This is a unique show with the setlist debuts and a great example of the highs that 2.0 Phish could reach.

12.27.2010  It was then another seven and a half years before Phish would return to Worcester, partially due to that whole “breaking up” thing. Here we get the first two nights of the first five night NYE Run in the band’s history with the last three occurring down at MSG after one night off between the venues. This was the first show following the Halloween Little Feat throwdown in Atlantic City so it isn’t exactly surprising that there’s a bit of rustiness to be found here. On top of that, there was a full-on blizzard going down outside and Trey was battling a cold. All that said, this was still another fun night in the Centrum and being the first time the band had played here in 3.0 spirits were high amongst the faithful. The first set is very song heavy with only the lovely Roggae eclipsing the ten minute mark as the band mixed in the 54 show bustout of Cool It Down and the second/final version of the Mike tune What Things Seem mixed in with mainly common fare. The second set starts out promisingly enough with Mike’s which gets a 74 show bustout of Mound in the middle slot (only time that has ever happened) before they bring Paug around (so much for the hope of a set-spanning Groove, dude) and then trot out Farmhouse. Seven Below provides hope and delivers on that to a certain degree when Trey begins adding WTU? phrasing to the jam, eventually ending up there for a unique meshing of the two songs. Honestly, outside of the clever lyric change in Cavern to “take care of your boots” that’s about it for highlights in this one. Oh well, at least there’s more to come.

12.28.2010  Night two on this stop feels a lot more energetic which might be as much about the crowd being more comfortable as the band considering Trey’s voice is not in a good place for singing tonight. The first set gets a couple of bustouts in MMGAMOIO (56 shows) and She Caught the Katy (323 shows) which I still scratch my head about in wondering why that song then. Before we can answer that rhetorical question they blow up the room with a compact but boisterous Wolfman’s and then debut Pigtail which was then promptly shipped off to TAB tour until it came back twice this summer. The set ends with another debut, this time a curious choice due to Trey’s voice issues as the a cappella Birdwatcher (another song heard mostly with TAB after this time) gets its turn. Oh yeah, almost forgot. Trey uses a toy Sarah Palin thing to insert her soundbites into Alaska, amusing himself greatly and throwing a bunch of spunions into a wild head trip. Nice job, Trey. The second set chugs in with standard takes on Carini and BDT#L before an energetic BOTT (with the crutch Streets of Cairo tease thrown in) that segues nicely into LxL. Later in the set we have two more bustouts with Frankie Says (82 shows) and Albuquerque (60 shows) which precede a stunningly beautiful plinko-filled Hood that is the gem of this pair of shows. Listen for Page teasing the wonderful Spanish Harlem along with some other musical nods that may or may not be there depending on who you ask. The Bug closer and Shine A Light encore add some gravitas behind that Hood and we are outta here for the year.

06.07.2012  The Summer 2012 tour got started here in Worcester with a pair of shows that had the fanbase buzzing as the band was coming off a rather underwhelming NYE Run to end 2011 and following a Spring where Trey hit the symphony circuit and Mike did a little Euro run (including headlining Jam in the Dam VI). Hopes weren’t exactly high about the music the band had left us with last so no one really knew what to expect here. Perhaps in response to this, Phish came out with guns blazing, leaving those questions at the curb. It doesn’t hurt when you start the tour with Buried Alive>Jim>Torn & Frayed sequence, going from the old school darkness through a bright and fun Jim jam and onto a song with emotional impact and poignant, relevant lyrics like “the band is a bag of nerves on first nights”. After a few more energetic dance numbers we have a pair of bustouts surrounding Ocelot in the ultra rare Nothing (78 show gap and only six ever performances now) and Beauty of a Broken Heart (91 show gap). Then the set concludes with a somewhat different take on the Possum jam and Rocky Top, giving us little to no hint about what was to come after the break. Things get started with a Carini that goes to bliss territory pretty quickly, opening up into a lush, sway-friendly space where Page is layering in various effects on the keyboards and Mike and Trey are tinkling around, eventually building up to a transition point where Trey moves into Taste, one with a soaring Norwegian Wood tinged jam (I will never tire of how quickly we fans pick up on that sort of tease. You can hear the recognition within a note or two here). This is followed by yet another solid Ghost from this venue which tonight starts out with a patient groove that evolves through several sections before starting to lose steam when Mike takes charge and pushes it into Boogie On. Normally that would probably signal the move into fun time Phish where the jams are an afterthought but tonight they take Boogie out dancing as Trey plays an infectious lead and Mike employs the meatball filter to great effect. The crowd climbs on for the ride as they peak it out more than once before dropping back down to a funk groove and eventually segueing into the 102 show bustout of If I Could. You could excuse them for wrapping it up with a couple of rockers after that but a punchy Quinn, peaky Hood, Cavern, and a bit of Buried Alive reprise are still in store before the predictable Cup encore. This show is a very strong tour opener and definitely one that had us all beaming after the doubts that preceded.

06.08.2012  The second night follows the Worcester tradition of rare openers as Free gets its second ever appearance in the one slot (first one was only three shows prior on 12.29.2011 – and there have now been another four since this one) and then in the three slot fans finally got their wish for another go at jamming out the Ween classic Roses are Free. you know how I said you can hear the tease recognition in that Taste? Well, once the crowd realizes they are stretching out this Roses the place went WILD. This was clearly a conscious effort by the band that pays off for all as they settle into a playful groove where both Trey and Mike bring forward creative ideas before it drops out into Theme. The rest of the set is fine enough, I suppose, but that Roses is where the hat hangs, so to speak. The Julius has a bit of extra stank on it and the Gin peaks well in closing things up which is always appreciated. The second set starts out with a better-than-I-remembered Disease but it’s not one you will see thousand word essays written about any time soon, I would venture. Next up is Sand which doesn’t go too far into the typical jam but instead after a bit of plinko gets one of the more unique full segues ever accomplished by the band as they somehow move from the late 90s groove vehicle into a bluegrass cover in Nellie Kane. Dubbed the “Sandy Kane” by some it deserves a spin or two if only to hear this transition go down. The balance of the set is fine enough with the only Mike’s>Maki>Paug ever and a highly danceable 2001 in the penultimate slot but nothing really elevates in the second set.

10.25.2013  The following year Phish was back for another pair in the week leading up to their Fall Tour ending stop at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. This first set is decent with a nice Wolfman’s and the 109 show bustout of MMGAMOIO (last played here…) being the notable things to take away from it. This is not to say that nothing else is “good” here just that it is the type of good we expect from the band without it ever going past that mark. But the second set is a different story as they open with Waves, giving the song space in the second jam as they bring it up to a swelling peak that crashes into the start of Carini. Sorry about that ‘waves’ imagery there. It was just too easy. Anyway, the Carini is another solid one, this time staying in darker territory than the one from here last year in a more compact version that I felt should have continued longer rather than moving on to Caspian. Oh well. The BDT#L jam after that is nice in the oh-yeah-this-is-why-I-like-this-song way that often hits those who grumble about it being played mid second set and then we have another entry into the Worcester Ghost files. This one is playful and light as they change the lyrics to reference Fish’s son Jack. The jam dies out into Dirt and then after a straight forward Disease they head to end of set proceedings with a Sally>Cavern>Lope sequence. The encores are extended a bit tonight as they fit in four songs including Contact which if you listen to closely enough on the auds you might hear my wife loudly booing (kidding about hearing her, but she is NOT a fan of that song and has definitely booed it at shows… including this one). The first half of this second set is really strong but overall this is a bit of a standard-feeling show.

10.26.2013  The next night is a different story. Maybe it is me but something about this first set just speaks to the combined energy of the band and crowd making it a lot better than perhaps it should have been just looking at it on paper. Nothing here is a big jam highlight but everything pops from the Party Time opener on. There’s something to be said for a set when even in being ten songs long only has one almost slower song with Ride Captain Ride. The second set continues the trend though now with jams aplenty as they first take Drowned to several places including some Oye Como Va type phrasing, a Steam-like part, and a section that really feels a heck of a lot like Jimmy Cliff’s Sitting Here in Limbo. The Light that follows is brilliant as well, shining with melodic delight and hitting a section where Fish interjects “heys” in an obvious nod to the ‘hey hole‘ jam space they hit.Succinct runs through Sand, Theme, and Mike’s lead to the second ever No Quarter in the Groove sandwich slot (which is to say the placement is the second ever, not that it is the second ever performance of the song) as Paug caps the set in rocking fashion. During the Boogie encore someone joins Fish on the kit, eventually taking over for him as Fish moves to the side to watch. That person turns out to be legendary drummer (and Berklee School of Music professor) Kenwood Dennard who many in the Phish scene probably first became aware of from his appearance on the Maceo Parker tour staple album Life On Planet Groove which you probably heard a lot if you spent any time in the lots in the mid 90s. Kenwood stays on the kit for Possum and while I personally like this very different take on the drumline many were not quite so appreciative of it. So much for taking risks. This is definitely the better of the two from 2013 and might be the best of the 3.0 shows overall from this venue considering the deep jams and clear intent to just go for it from the start.

 

And now for the Tale Of The Tape!

Venue:  Worcester Centrum Centre (DCU Center)

No. of Shows:  sixteen

Intangibles:  geographic position draws fans from all over New England and the Tri-State area to the southwest, better acoustics and ease of access than similarly sized venues in Boston appeal to the band and fan alike, venue is one of the classic minor league hockey sheds where Phish made their name – and still has that feel, always has one of the wildest old school lot scenes around

Recurring Themes:  multi-night stands (only two single shows with six multi-nighters including two three-nighters in 97 & 98); unique openers (Funky Bitch is only repeat with several songs opening shows for one of few times ever), bustouts (almost every year there are at least a few minor and often major song bustouts, singular performances of songs (eight songs have been played here and nowhere else: All the Pain Through the Years, Blue Skies, Clone, Drifting, Final Flight, Layla, Mirror in the Bathroom, Them Changes), no Divided Sky or ACDC Bag (neither song has ever been played here), Ghost jams (every version they have played here has merit in some fashion), Possum and Stash (chances are, if you come to Worcester shows you’ll get one as each has been played in all but two of their stops in town)

Key Jams/Songs:  1993 – Stash, Reba, Lope, Tweezer, Ice, Possum, ALS>Disease Jam>Melt, Hood; 1995 – Melt, Timber Ho!>Theme, Tweezer->IDK, Slave, Stash, Gin->Real Me->Gin->McGrupp>BBFCFM>Bass Jam->La Grange; 1997 – YEM->IDK, BEK, Timber Ho!, LxL, Slave, Ghost, Foam, THE Jim, Hood, Funky Bitch, Wolfman’s, Stash->Free; 1998 – Ya Mar, Jim, Reba, entire 2nd Set of 11.27, Gumbo, Disease, Foam, Melt, Wolfman’s>Timber Ho!, Caspian>Crossroads, Tweezer, Theme, LxL->Catapult->Kung, Simple, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin; 2003 – YEM>Clone, Roggae, Moma, Stash, Ghost->Low Rider->Maki->Ya Mar; 2010 – Roggae, Seven Below>WTU?, Wolfman’s, BOTT->LxL, Hood; 2012 – Jim>T&F, Possum, Carini->Taste>Ghost>Boogie>IIC, Hood, Roses are Free, Julius, Gin, Sand->Nellie Kane, 2001; 2013 – Waves>Carini, BDT#L>Ghost, Gin, Drowned>Light, Possum

PJJ Ratio:  Worcester comes in at a lower than expected but still solid 2.56 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). Even my hometown bias can’t massage the numbers there.

Worcester has a long history and is rightfully considered one of the classic venues in Phish lore. A lot of that reputation is based on the shows from 1.0/2.0 as some of the sets in 3.0 haven’t exactly been all-timers. This is a place where the band and crowd are clearly comfortable which shows up in the loose feel to the playing and the general rowdiness of the fans both inside the venue and out in the streets that surround. While at the end of this the Centrum is definitely not going to place highly in the overall ranking of these venues it is a place we hold dear as much as for what it represents from the band’s past as what they continue to do when visiting. Some truly canonical stuff has gone down here including NYE 1993, The epic Jim, the Wipeout Set, and the “What I Did On Hiatus” set but that is really just the cream of a banner crop. Long live the Worcester lots!!

 

It All Runs Together – Phish and Merriweather Post Pavilion

The 1960s were a time of developing and acting on big ideas in many ways. For some it was opening up to self expression and not simply following the path of others before them resulting in the massive social, cultural, political, and artistic shifts that typify the era. Without diving into some kind of essay about wow, the 60’s, maaaaaan let’s just agree that a lot happened back then. One thing to occur was the creation of the planned community of Columbia, MD by the Rouse brothers, notable real estate developers whose big idea included the design and construction of a familiar venue to Phish and music fans in general, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Seated in the midst of the 40-acre Symphony Woods on land once part of a slave plantation and named after heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, the venue was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, probably better known for buildings like The Guggenheim, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Dancing House, and many other visually memorable and aesthetically striking structures. Originally meant to be the summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra once that organization went bankrupt the booking net widened to include political rallies and even that godforsaken rock and roll music. There have been a couple of bans on “rock music acts” here over the years due to some gate crashing and whatnot but here almost 50 years since its opening (you have to think they have some fun stuff planned to celebrate that next year) it has become one of the more frequent tour stops for Phish particularly in 3.0.

 

The band has played Merriweather Post Pavilion fifteen times starting with a single setter in the summer of 1992 and extending all the way up through a two night stand in 2015. As hinted at above 11 of those 15 have come since The Return in 2009 including two night stands for each of the last five times they have visited.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Merriweather Post Pavilion Jams. Note that there are a couple of jams from other Columbias sprinkled in there (SC, MO). Don’t let that confuse you. It is just how the filters work on PJJ. Plus you get that ridic Funky Bitch jam from 11.22.1994 so no complaining!

 

07.17.1992  Sometimes it is better that there are no tapes of a show. For this first appearance by Phish at MPP that is the case as the band battled through sound issues and an overall lackluster performance in their first set opening for Santana after leaving the H.O.R.D.E tour behind. The reviews you can find of this one range from bad to worse with the one in the Companion by Timer being pretty eye-rolling in many ways. Hey, I was at this show too and while it wasn’t the best set of Phish I caught even that year you don’t see me hassling the drummer about whether this meant they had sold out. MOVING ON…

08.08.1998  The first full show of Phish waited another six years for whatever reason but they came back with fire (perhaps to atone? probably not but fun to speculate for them). The fun starts in earnest with the third song Sneakin’ Sally which gets a big funky outro jam that ends up in Guyute. Following a subdued Fikus, Farmhouse pairing they ramp it up for Possum and then debut a song that would later show up as part of that year’s Halloween costume, the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane. This has always been a favorite song of mine so to hear Phish play it (with some added gusto by Trey in his solo) was just amazing at the time. The second set starts out with one of two ever Cavern openers (notably, there are only 13 total set opening Caverns – 10 1sts, 2 2nds, 1 3rd) which came after one of only five Wedge show openers ever (of nine set opening versions ever – 5 1sts, 4 2nds). That’s actually probably the least exciting part of this set though. The 2001 that follows is a clinic in ’98 Phish funk and big Trey leads with some fantastic stuff by Mike for good measure in the back half. They pause the dance party for a nice Tela and then drive into a patient, grooving Piper that stretches out in a wonderful way before we get Fish Fun Time for one of the four performances of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing that all fell in that year. The set concludes with one of those soaring 98 Hoods which gets a bit of extension in the jam before they debut a seemingly out of left field cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage to the crazed delight of the fans in attendance. This is a triumphant return to the venue for the band with jams all over and the band at a peak. It is definitely a keeper.

07.09.1999  The following summer Phish returned again for a single show, opening up with an on point but contained LxL before kind of sleep walking through the majority of the first set that came after. It isn’t a bad set but there’s not much there there until you get to the set closing Jim which chugs through a rocking type I jam and gives hope for the second set yet to come. Coming out with what seems like a bit more purpose they rock through PYITE (with one of those good ol’ Super bad teases) before dropping into a gooey Free>WTU? that is oh so 1999 in the playing. After a Sofi-aided Meatstick (it was the summer of that dance craze which swept the nation, after all) the band starts into Mike’s Song. From the start you can tell they intend to stay in this Mike’s space for a bit and the resulting jam has the feel of an old school T&R jam as it slowly builds as they groove through several minutes of engaging music. As the release forms Trey is hinting at something… ah! there it is! Sweet Emotion quotes come in and the band peaks out the song and moves into Twist for the only time that combo has ever occurred. They don’t go far out like in the preceding Mike’s but Page manages a Spooky tease in there and then we get a fun Paug that nods to the impending solicitation by the band to help break the record for coordinated dancing by quoting Macarena. There is also a Meatstick tease in the encore Hood which while not as big as the one from the previous year is a solid capper to a good Summer ’99 show all the same.

09.17.2000  A couple of weeks before those final 1.0 shows at Shoreline we just covered Phish was back at MPP for their fourth show – and last until after The Return. If your younger phriends ever ask you what the heck The Millennial Sound was this show would be a good one to offer up as an example. First up is the ultra rare Guyute opener (one of four ever) to get the fist pumping and rocking out going. Later there is an underrated Gin (2000 was a good year for the song so in comparison to others around it maybe not the best but definitely a fun one), a bunch of mainly standard for the time takes on songs, and the second version of The Curtain (With) that tour following its ginormous gap stretching back to 1988. The second set on this night is all killer no filler stuff from the Rock and Roll opener through the Free closer including a unique take on Theme that segues into the 40 show bustout of Dog Log and a Mango Song that stretches into deep groove jam full of effects before ending up in that aforementioned Free. There are definitely more complete shows from that time period but the entirety of the second set is worth your time.

08.15.2009  Upon returning to MPP during the first summer tour back in action Phish opened up with a direct nod to the challenges the fanbase has had at this venue over the years by playing the first 3.0 version of the Undermind tune Crowd Control. The constant presence of police helicopters over the lots here and the seemingly militaristic control the security sometimes implements have made for some baaaaad experiences for many a fan over the years. Part of that could be a residual from the venue’s past with regards to rock bands here or it could be a Phish thing but either way it brought out the quirky almost-feels-like-a-protest-anthem ditty for us. The rest of the set is a song-based affair with thirteen played but it is notable that several of these were first timers for 3.0 including that opener, Sloth (57 show gap), Axilla (30 shows), and Ha Ha Ha (69 shows). And that Fish-penned tune preceded the debut of another, the now fairly loved Party Time.  The second set is a bit underwhelming (the Tweezer goes nowhere) but there is a standout 46 Days that even listening back sounds like it could be plucked from a show a little more recent than the rusty days of that tour. You probably won’t go spinning this one in full so grab the 46 Days and let’s move on.

06.26.2010  The next summer would be the first two night run at MPP which has been the case for every visit since. Again, we get that Crowd Control opener (not played between the two shows) and a largely meh first set that is mainly notable for the debut and one time cover of the Neutral Milk Hotel song In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. This was during that tour when every show (almost) had a one off cover by the band kind of like Summer ’98 where that was a thing too. The Phish version is nice enough but never stuck around after this night. Our second set starts off with a strong RnR which was an oft used vehicle in that time period, often alternating 2nd set opening slots with Disease. Later on a promising Tweezer got Horse’d (another trend that was a “thing” that summer) and then the set drifted off into a string of closers lumped together. This too is a show where you’ll pluck the RnR and maybe the Tweezer out before going elsewhere.

06.27.2010  On night two Phish was perhaps a bit more relaxed as they come out with a fun bustout of the instrument-switching, self-referential-lyrics-having Walfredo to open the night. Mainly a relic of the Europe ’97 February run, this was the first since the final run of 1.0 some 131 shows prior. There’s a nod to the venue in the early stanzas as they recollect the namesake of the song, Santana percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr., eating crab backstage at that first performance here in 1992 but other than that is is just another quirky rarity people like to pine for more than anything. Another bustout is next with Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood popping in for the first time in 89 shows before the set settles into another bunch of songs that don’t raise any eyebrows due to rarity or unique playing. The second set is one that was talked about quite a lot in the wake of this night as from the end of the Meatstick->Saw It Again combo the band got mighty playful, slipping in several teases amongst a seguefest type of run of songs. Piper has some Saw It Again in it and then Ghost gets more (and a San Ho Zay quote for good measure) before evolving into a had to have been planned debut of the Stones’ classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash which then morphed back to Saw It Again. The ensuing Contact has more Saw It Again and then the set closing YEM goes for broke with Saw It Again, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Meatstick, Surfin’ Bird and Daniel Saw the Stone teases before one final Saw It Again nod in the encore Fire. These are the type of sets that are so much fun in the moment but sometimes don’t hold up quite so well on tape. Here some of that energy translates but mainly as a fun relic of a loose and fun night with our musical heroes.

06.11.2011  Just about a week short of a year later Phish was back again for another pair here, this time foregoing the Crowd Control opener for that Daniel Saw the Stone which was teased the year prior. That’s a 137 show gap ended for those keeping score at home. Again, the balance of the first set is pretty average though they did flirt with extending Roses Are Free  but that would have to wait for the wonderful excursion in the second show of the tour in Worcester on 06.08.2012. The second set here has thirteen songs which tells you a bit about how deep they didn’t go on anything and that’s in a set that includes a Tweezer (Horse’d again!), Waves (no end jam), RnR, Piper, and 2001. I was at this one and while a fun night definitely not anywhere close to one of my favorite shows even of the ones I attended just that year.

06.12.2011  Fitting the pattern with these two night stands here, the second night has a bit more to offer. First up are a couple of bustouts with one of the best old school openers there is, Buried Alive, coming in after a 46 show gap followed by a 141 show bustout of the VU song Lonesome Cowboy Bill. The rest of the set is pretty predictable as the band runs through a total of twelve songs on their way to the inevitable Zero closer. This is not to say that the band isn’t engaged, just that this is shaping up to be a Saturday Night Special rocker energy show which can be extremely fun when there even if it fell on a Sunday. They just don’t translate as well to tape. That energy is on full display during the C&P in the two slot of the second set where they never leave the song but peak the crap out of it before dripping into the start of Steam. Later Light is just about to start getting out there at the end of its main jam but instead we get The Wedge. Look, let’s put it this way: when the Alaska in this set is the third longest song and longer than Hood you aren’t exactly in jamlandia. The triple encore Sanity>Maki>First Tube feels like a bit of a makeup call when you really think about it considering all that didn’t go down in the second set there. Oh well. They can’t all be heaters…

07.13.2013  After taking 2012 off from MPP Phish returned for Summer 2013 with a first set that while still a tad on the stock side does have a couple of bustouts (Destiny after 61 shows; HttM after 49) and a few jamlets. I like this Taste even with the somewhat whale-y tone from Trey (which carries over into HttM) but the set ending Melt is probably the best highlight from this set. There’s a lot of bent tone dissonance here as Trey rides the back of that whale hard. There is never that feeling of oh-no-this-might-fly-right-off-the-tracks that makes the best Melts what they are but they stick the landing and everyone is safe to fight another day. The second set opening Disease starts off with some solid Trey Trill similar to what you’d hear in a Waves jam before they dive into open waters, Trey bending notes as Page tickles through to a beautifully sparse space. They hang here for a few minutes as each member tries out a new idea or two before Trey strums a few telling chords and we get a real live completed Disease! Those are actually pretty rare these days as the song is typically the launch pad into something else, going unfinished approximately 72.8% of the time (that stat is totally made up but probably not far off these days…). There’s a fun, peaky mid-set Hood here with some subtle teases of BOAF, Dog Log, and Divided along the way and then we get the second ever Architect before a set closing Mike’s>Simple>Paug where the Simple rocks out with melody that almost feels like the Disease return phrasing before the real closer in Paug. Fun show but still in that SNS vein.

07.14.2013  Night two here is a Sunday which brings out the well worn and not necessarily valid chants of “never miss a Sunday show!” from those attending. Hey, it’s said for a reason but there are definitely more than a few examples where this ‘axiom’ does not hold true (I’ll have more on this venue and days of the week in the stats at the end). Thankfully this one is not a big miss. After some table setting in the first set first half the band goes for it in a Stash that is a definite keeper. Yes, there’s the typical T&R here but there is also a section of lovely melodic playing as they build not to mention some chunkier, funkier bits along the path. It is definitely one of the more engaging takes on the song in 3.0. Next up is Mule which goes about as HOLD UP! What is this new toy Fish is playing?? Yep, this is the first ever use of the marimba lumina that we have grown so accustomed to hearing Fish (and Trey) play in 2016. It was quite the novelty in this song that summer. Who knew it would become Trey’s new mini-kit/keyboard rig? This is followed up by a punchy Ice>Tube>Lope end of set sequence as the band plays their most complete first set here since at least the start of 3.0. Golden Age starts off the second set and even if it doesn’t stray far from form there’s a nifty Third Stone From The Sun tease in there. After a jamless Twist and a WYSIWYG BDT#L they head into Light for the expected highlight vehicle of the set. Those expectations are met as this jam goes type II in a hurry with the band connecting on several mind meld ideas including a bit of hey hole type throwback playing and even a stop/start bit that avoids the full blown woo flu. This is a nonstop version that’ll get you up and moving. Mike comes in with the laser tone as they head into Boogie and then keep it rocking for Julius but the set closing YEM is more of what you want as there’s a decent if un-peaked jam and more tease fun with a quote of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (long time contender for one of the best songs with an annoyingly long name). This show holds the second night MPP being better rule as true once more with some very good jam highlights taboot.

07.26.2014  And now for the pair from 2014 where the infusion of the Wingsuit/Fuego tunes is seenas six of the ten songs from the album showing up in these two shows. The first night has a standard 3.0 first set with the one highlight being a lovely Roggae where Trey and Mike both interject thoughtful guitar lines. The second set cranks in with a raging Carini that only gets to the major peak in the final minutes which is really just a set up for the transition to Ghost. This Ghost starts out patiently and then Trey shifts into a lead mode, first playing a repeated phrase of chords that feel like they should be a tease but once you put that thought out of your head you realize it is just a happy times feel good music. Instead of peaking it out Trey shifts into another phase and the band follows into a face paced groove section full of Trey effects and Page synth lines until they drop out into Steam. The set continues without a lag as they pass through Mango, Monica, Light (with a couple of all too brief moments of full band connection), and 2001 on their way to a soaring Hood that caps the set. In a tour that was pretty uneven between the extremely high bar set at Randall’s Island and some of the lows elsewhere this set holds up as a beacon of what that tour could be when the band was comfortable and communicating.

07.27.2014  With another Sunday show to be played at MPP you have to start thinking about whether the axiom will hold considering this venue has a bit of an up and down history with Sunday shows. What they gave us though is one of those shows that transcends the day of the week to become one of the ones people talk of fondly years afterwards. You aren’t going to find any singular jam highlights in this one though the first set does have solid if not epic versions of Sand and YEM. The second starts off innocently enough with Wilson (as if anything related to that foul despot could be innocent) before they blast into Tweezer, eliciting cheers from the crowd about what could be. But when they hit the jam section Trey strums a few chords and Fish changes the beat and we are off into BOTT?! After a verse they drop back into Tweezer for a few bars then back to BOTT THEN back to Tweezer where the jam pays off, complete with some Manteca by Page and then they drop into one of those newer tunes, Waiting All Night. After a verse or two of Free the band comes back to Tweezer, then off to Simple (with a Magilla tease in there), then back to Tweezer, then into the start of Free. A quick verse or so of that and then we get our first big bustout with Catapult (206 show gap) which heads into a nice Slave. This segues into Disease which while not as long as most versions these days does get to a synth-heavy space in the end as they work towards the full segue to NICU. There’s a teeny tiny end jamlet here that is perhaps not as memorable as the one from 12.14.1995 and really is more bridge to the HYHU that follows but keeps the seguefest going all the same. So guess what that means! Yup, Fish Fun Time and I wonder what he’ll ‘sing’ tonight… oh, hang on a sec. Is this? What the… hey, they are playing the divisive Jennifer Dances! With Fish singing this goes about as well as one would expect and is a perfect Phish troll of those who were pining for the song to come back into play (this was only the fourth ever version and following a 352 show gap). Then after the HYHU to close Fish Fun Time (with a vocal quote of Jenny D by Fish) they start up another rarity with I Been Around, the B-side Page tune (it’s on the Party Time album of seconds from the Joy sessions) which had only been played three times before and not for 149 shows prior to this second set closing version, complete with the band walking off stage in lockstep together. The Boogie>Reprise encore is a nice capper on a wild and fun set. This is pretty much the definition of a seguefest and a great example of the benefits of adhering to the Sunday Axiom.

08.15.2015  In the end of Summer Tour run-up to the wonderful MagnaBall festival Phish played another Sat/Sun pair here, coming in hot off the run of shows leading up to this one. The Simple opener again gets a Magilla tease in a first set full of fun what with the bustouts (Glide and McGrupp both at 53 shows not to mention another three with 24 show gaps: Buried Alive, BBFCFM and YPC) and a fun acronym sandwich for BBFCFM>YPC>BBFCFM not to mention the obscure Gaktoidler reference in Lope (that’s from the 1996 Phishbill). The band is loose and having a good time which is always nice to see, particularly when you are looking forward to the second set to come. After a Halley’s opener they get right to business with a multi-phased 46 Days jam that goes from dark and menacing to light and bright before ending up in the power ballad Bug. This peaks well and then they hit Steam which gets WTU? in the middle which is always a welcome thing though here it replaces any real jam from Steam. The segues keep coming as they go into Piper, taking the song down into a low groove before bringing it up to a big peak and then heading into Tweezer. Hopes are high for this one in this late set slot but instead the band creates another sandwich (must’ve been Page’s turn to write the setlist) by going into NO2 after a 202 show gap (and for only the then sixth time ever). Okay, there’s a crunchy groove with loops getting there but still, there’s no big Tweezer jam here (but we were well rewarded a few days later so…). After a big WOTC closer we get more fun Phish as they talk up Page’s “all time favorite song” Sleeping Monkey which also gets quoted in the expected Reprise to follow. It can be argued that this is a more memorable show than the seguefest a year prior since there is some real live engaging jamming going on above the moves between songs but both definitely have a you-kinda-had-to-be-there vibe that doesn’t fully translate on tape. No matter what this was a grand way to start their weekend at MPP in 2015.

08.16.2015  The next night the band kept the fun going, first teasing that Sleeping Monkey before the show and then eventually quoting it in the YEM VJ at the end of the second set. In between there are a couple of bustouts that are not as big as the ones from the night before or night 2 in 2014 but still worth mentioning (Nothing – 139 shows; Shine A Light – 91 shows) as well as a few solid jams and an overall well played if not otherwordly show. NMINML gets that mutron funk workout, Stash is another solid T&R build version though well below the one from the year prior, and Bowie actually gets more than the standard take we have become accustomed to in 3.0 just to mention the first set bangers. The second frame is a tad song heavy in a way as eight songs that could almost all vie for vehicle status (save Shine A Light) compete for minutes resulting in none of them every really taking off. Sure, there’s nice bits in the Disease as Trey plays a thematic riff that popped into several jams that summer and Light has potential with the echo’d out jam but just as that is getting interesting they move into an unjammed Twist. Oh, and there’s a nice wobbly echo’d Sally before that YEM (which has a nice jam too) so check that one out. But these jamlets don’t elevate this show above what it is. This is a SNS on a Sunday, unfortunately. It’s tough when your older brother is better than you but so it goes.

 

Time now for the Tale Of The Tape!

Venue:  Merriweather Post Pavilion

No. of Shows:  fifteen

Intangibles:  good fanbase reach being situated in Mid-Atlantic has made it a consistent two night tour stop (in 3.0), woodsy setting and grass lots make for a fun day pre-show, big crazy lawn can be a ton of fun though you’ll want the pav for better sound and sightlines, you get to see helicopters?

Recurring Themes:  two night stands (five such in 3.0); weekend shows as Phish has only ever played here Friday (2 times), Saturday (7 times), and Sunday (6 times – which is a lot comparatively); band likes to play Hood (6 total) here not to mention BDT#L, Free, Stash, Tweezer, and Reprise all which have five appearances; Crowd Control openers (2), SEGUEFESTS!!

Key Jams/Songs:  1992 – no tapes!; 1998 – Sally, Sweet Jane (debut), 2001, Piper, Hood, Sabotage (debut); 1999 – Jim, Free>WTU?, Mike’s->Twist>Paug; 2000 – Gin, Curtain (With), RnR>Theme->Dog Log>Mango; 2009 – Tweezer, 46 Days, Party Time (debut); 2010 – IAAOTS (debut), RnR, Tweezer, Saw It Again seguefest set; 2011 – yeah, so… I got nothing here… maybe the Tweezer, RnR, Piper, C&P, and Light? that’s what PJJ has…; 2013 – Melt, Disease, Hood, Simple, Stash, Mule, Ice, Golden Age, Light; 2014 – Roggae, Carini->Ghost, Hood, Tweezer seguefest set; 2015 – Roggae, 46 Days, Steam>WTU?>Steam, Piper, Tweezer->NO2->Tweezer, Monkey->Reprise fun; Stash Bowie, Disease, Sally

PJJ Ratio:  MPP comes in at a solid 3.00 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.48). Not the best but a better than average showing for this venue.

Merriweather has some 1.0 history including some of the best jams that have been produced here but it is really the 3.0 shows that have given it its reputation. There are frequently Sunday shows here which fans love and outside of a few underwhelming sets the crowd and band connect well in this place. Throw on a couple of “legendary” seguefest sets and this venue is one that fans try to hit if they can swing it. The feel here is a bit of the South but more of the Northeast, contributing to a buzzing vibe and energy feedback loop that can make seeing shows here a quite memorable experience. Just don’t linger in the lots lest the copters getcha!