Phish — Auditorium Theatre — Rochester, NY 02.09.1993
I Bowie, Bouncin’, Poor Heart, MFMF>Rift, Wedge, CDT, Esther->Maze, Golgi
II PYITE, Mike’s>H2>Paug, Weigh, MSO>Sample>BBJ, Stash>Lizards, HYHU>Bike, Grace
E Cavern>Rocky Top
Okay, first things first. I listened to this show a few months ago and must have been distracted because my notes on it are that it was a wholly underwhelming show that was lacking something to take it from “well-played midweek affair” to “can’t miss musical experience”. The reality is that while this certainly would have been a much better way to spend that Tuesday night than whatever else you had going on in 1993, it never really elevates past that even if it was better on second/third relisten than my initial notes told me. And that’s… okay.
I should have known from the fact that they opened the show with Bowie that there was more than meets the eye here. In the long history of that canonical tune there have been only 12 shows opened with Bowie (of 432 total appearances). This one was the sixth ever and first since 1991; there would be three total in 1993. In being an opener, this one had a slightly looser feel at the start with Trey messing around with some chords that harken to Buried Alive and Page/Mike doodling away while Fish kept down the hit hat game. There’s a SL call (Oom Pa Pa) before they break into the song in earnest and then it is off into an exercise of building tension before the big release at the lead peak. This isn’t a world beater version by any means but it is telling in the developmental process that leads from these early ’93 Bowies up through ’94 and eventually to the epic psych meltdown mindscratchers of ’95. Nice way to kick off the show too. After that there’s some crowd-moving filler with Bouncin’, Poor Heart before they triple dip on the Rift tunes with MFMF>Rift, Wedge. Of course, there’s the acoustic intro to MFMF and the then common dark breakdown at the end before they head into speedier waters with the title track of their current release. Then we have another [slow] Wedge and a fiery but quick CDT (there’s actually some unique phrasing by Trey mid-jam here but it only lasts a few bars before they head back towards the safety of the song) before a fun Esther->Maze combo stretches the set out and provides both the strong storytelling that is Esther (not to mention some more SL with Simpsons and Random Note signals here as well as some ‘Charge’ teasing from Page, all in the intro) and the shred aerobics of Maze. Golgi caps the set as it does and we are off to setbreak to figure out how to reinvent the post-industrial rust belt cities like Rochester that can no longer rely on the manufacturing base that once made them great. Or we could get nachos. Nachos it is!
Punch You in the Eye starts off the second set with a bang as this one is definitely better than the first attempt after its long break. Still not quite there yet but nice to hear the kinks being worked out on stage for this tune which would stay in the rotation for the most part from here on out. A relatively rote Mike’s Groove follows and things are going along true to form until they hit the Weekapaug. Right after the lyrics end and they head into the jam Trey is taking a different tack, alternating unique leads with lines that are at least reminiscent of the Paug theme and the rest of the band follows along in kind. In truth, this jam stays more in the Paug realm than going elsewhere but the way they play with the theme is interesting enough in its own right to consider this a version you should at least pay attention to. And one thing we will find over the course of this tour is that there are definitely some songs that they play with more than others, which makes sense of course due to the structure of such songs, but the way they do this with Weekapaug time and again is interesting considering what the song has become here in latter day Phish. From there we have the final Rift album tour debut with Weigh getting weird here after ten previous appearances in 1992. This is followed by the first My Sweet One of the year, a song you will hear a LOT more of as we go forward as they would pair it with BBJ, double it up in encores with Amazing Grace and other tunes, or just add it to the bluegrass bits tossed around in one show or another. This one eventually leads to BBJ after a segued stop in that new hot single that some wiser than I thought might spur a version of the “Touch Heads” that flocked to the Dead after Touch of Grey became something of a hit. Fortunately (for several reasons), this didn’t happen with Sample. So after that subsequent BBJ we have a late second set Stash that dives fully into the open waters of the deep end with a captivating, at times quiet subtle jam that comes back to the main theme before heading off into Lizards without the return to the normal end and the ‘maybe so, maybe not’ section that provides resolution to the song. After a nice, clean visit with our friends the Lizards we have Fish Fun Time for the first Bike of the year and then the fifth Grace of the year (first time not in an encore slot! woooo!) to close the set. Cavern>Rocky Top are our encores tonight and then it is off towards the Finger Lakes region for the next night’s show at the Smith Opera House in Geneva.
So here again we have another one of those midweek shows that is probably not going to change your world upon hearing it but offers a few gems amidst an otherwise uneventful though well played show. Nothing here is ending up on a best of all time list but (as we are finding) this whole show is table setting for much bigger things yet to come. Plus you have a very well engaged crowd that gets the Secret Language cues, contributes lyrically when Trey leaves them space (e.g. for the “Please don’t do that!” line of Stash), and is definitely bringing the energy throughout. Hey, like I said, what better things would one have to do in the early 90s in upstate New York than to spend a random Tuesday night with Phish? For takeaways from this show I’ll say you should spin the Bowie, Esther->Maze, Weekapaug, and Stash. Onward and upward…