Phish — Smith Opera House — Geneva, NY 02.10.1993
I Cup>Foam, Guelah, Reba, Sloth, Divided, Tela>Llama, IDK>Catapult, Antelope
II Jim, Ice, Coil, Tweezer>I Walk the Line, Sparkle, YEM>Horse>Silent, HYHU>Rosie>HYHU, Possum
E Adeline, Grace, Reprise
Continuing on after Rochester, Phish was just a bit down the road in Geneva, NY for their show on this Wednesday evening at the venerable old Smith Opera House, a venue with over 100 years of history and which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This would be the one time Phish would perform here though Fish would return seven years later while touring with the Jazz Mandolin Project. But we are here to talk about that first appearance, a show replete with several tour debuts, some secret language, a few solid attempts at taking jams out of the sandbox, and – quite frankly – some very uneven playing over the course of the show. Now, I am far from being a professional touring musician and I do not make any assumptions about what goes on for such people from show to show but there just seems to be something… off… about this show, particularly with Mike’s playing. This is not to say he plays poorly but just that he isn’t on the same page as the rest of the band in several places. And he’s not the only one who seems distracted as Trey has a few WTF moments along the way too. Fish seems to be fully on his game which may be due to performing so close to home considering this venue is only about 50 miles from his boyhood hometown of Syracuse, NY. Speaking of Fish, all throughout the tape I listened to for this one he is very much out front in the mix which really just punctuates one’s appreciation for his contributions, if you are into that sort of thing. And Page just does what Page does, coloring the music brightly with his various toys. Maybe I am setting the tone too negatively here before we even get to the music itself but here in the first week’s worth of shows there are bound to be some misses as they look to connect and progress towards bigger things. Back then this was definitely not considered to be a “bad show” (and it really shouldn’t be now either) but with the bar set as high as it is these days this one has a high hill to climb in order to be considered something worth our precious time. So let’s dive in and see what all the fuss is about, shall we?
Tonight we get the second show-opening Loving Cup ever (something that will become more common going forward as the song would open several more sets before hitting the shelf for a bit after 08.08.1993) and this song is progressively becoming more of a “phish tune” with every appearance. Page has full command of this song now on the piano and Trey takes a bit more of a solo that in earlier versions but in the end it is still a fairly straight forward, bring up the energy number. This heads directly into Foam but not before Mike throws in an unrequited bit of SL (Random Note). Heck, not even the band acknowledged it. Hmmm… maybe that’s why he was off on this night? “Hey, those guys clearly aren’t on my team tonight since they didn’t even do the random note. Screw them, I’m tanking it tonight!” #thoughtsthatmikeclearlyneverthought Okay, in truth, this is probably an ‘Entrance of the Gladiators’ tease rather than the secret language signal but what’s the fun in that? It is much more fun to imagine this as an opportunity to create division between band members (and much geekier than the sort of thing that divides most musicians like “why did you sleep with my girl?” or “I told you to never eat my pimento loaf” or “why do you keep hiding the good drugs from me?”). Where was I again? Oh, right. Foam. So the Foam is servicable in getting the crowd going but doesn’t really do much above that before we get the third Guelah of the tour. Only thing to note here is two more SL signals (All Fall Down, Simpsons). Reba is up next and this one is completely and perfectly okay, never really getting to a place that allows for true connection. This is really the first place we start to hear the cracks in the night’s performance, particularly through the bulk of the composed section. They do come together for the end jam but even that isn’t one you are going to spend more than once. There’s an entire RLP* devoted to the stronger versions where one can cull out their favorite take on our favorite gal and this one ain’t gonna be featured there. Next up is the first Sloth of the tour and this one is in the typically dirty vein that most versions of this song are. Fun to hear, particularly live, but doesn’t really do much outside of the realm of a Gamehendge set where it benefits from context (and we will have ample opportunity to delve into all of that about six weeks from this here show). A clean Divided fills the mid-set long number slot (complete with a nice long pause) before we have another first timer of the tour in Tela. They play this well with Trey handling the end solo admirably (nimble, young fingers are a wonderful thing on intricate songs like this one) before they head directly into a shred-heavy Llama. Next we have the late set I Didn’t know (still batting .666 for the tour here!) where instead of Fish picking up either the trombone or Madonna washboard we get the announcement by Trey of the running bet about Fish “The Little Beast Boy” being late for the bus (at this stage up to $800) before a somewhat-rare-for-the-time vac solo. And then rather then sewing up the IDK they head directly into the third ever Catapult. This would be the only time they would play the song in 1993 before it really had it’s “peak year” by being played nine whole times in 1994. So then after this we arrive at what will end up being one of the only real highlights of this set, Antelope, with a version that gets pretty well out there before coming back around. This one is a good example for when people ask you, “hey, you, show me why Antelope is a song people talk about as having been a jam vehicle because here in 3.0 (actually, are we still in 3.0 or has it moved on to, like, 3.4 or something? I can’t keep track of these computer geek designations) the song is pretty much just a rocking set closer.” At which point you would put on this Antelope really loud and then you would both rock the fuck out before nodding knowingly to each other once they arrive at the ‘Rye Rye Rocco’ section. So yeah, there’s that. Granted, there are much bigger and better versions of this song but this one is a good example of how they used the song to build tension and get weird for a bit within the context of the song largely in a way more than they do these days (with the one-off exceptions like from Utica 10.20.2010). And then it is off to setbreak to learn about the architectural history of this cool venue that has elements of Romanesque, Art Deco, and Baroque motifs.
So after that enlightening yourself with that architectural tour, the second set kicks off with another Jim (by now you have probably noticed just how short the bench was back then. More on this shortly) and again it is clear something is going on with Mike as in the breakdown section where he and Fish usually set the ground upon which Trey will solo Mike completely drops out at one point. Now, it is a minor thing and doesn’t ruin the song or anything but this is Mike we are talking about and he just doesn’t do that kind of thing that often. They somehow manage to recover from this (phewf!) and then Trey takes the solo we expect before they bring it all back and then kick into Ice for another fairly straight forward though energetic take on this number. We then get a somewhat rare early 2nd set Coil which is fine enough and then the Tweezer we knew was coming (since last night was Taco Mike’s Groove Tuesday and we know they pretty much alternate the main vehicles every other night at this stage). This Tweezer just plugs along doing Tweezer-y type stuff but without much work outside of the main theme of the song and then before resolving it they head into another tour first timer, I Walk the Line. Now, some may say that this is a nod to Mike having a bit of an off night and others may say it was simply a cover they played sporadically around this time so why wouldn’t it pop up? And really I think both answers are right. Besides, what better homage to The Man in Black could there be than a group of floppy haired weirdos from a cow state jokingly covering one of the iconic songs in his canon? Amiright? ::high five:: Anyway, after that little interlude we have a kinda rough Sparkle (sadly, non-FMS) and then the other jam vehicle we expected, YEM.
So before I talk about that song perhaps we should discuss the pattern that existed in this era regarding song rotation and the rotation of jam vehicles in particular. At this stage in the band’s history the song rotation was decidedly smaller, partially due to the fact that most of the songs we hear today were not yet written but also due to the tight lease they kept on song rotation. I’m not going to pull out the stats here as others have covered that much better than I can (see: caped individuals who tend to track the relative length of songs and often carry a clipboard to shows) but I will say that the main songs in the repertoire would pop up on a 2 to 3 show rotation with some being more frequent (Guelah, Poor Heart, IDK, etc.) and others being less so. For the songs we rely on for that jammy goodness this holds true even more as there just weren’t a lot of songs in this era that the band wanted to stretch out beyond the song. The only tried and true songs that could be considered in this conversation would include Tweezer, YEM, Reba, Stash, Mike’s Groove (more specifically Weekapaug as the real jamming for Mike’s Song was still evolving and wouldn’t punch through until the development of the ‘Simple-esque’ jams that are still a few months away from even being hinted at), Antelope, Possum (yes, this was something of a jam vehicle once upon a time. I know. But the tales you heard are in fact true. There are several highly notable versions of the song from this period), Bowie, Hood, Maze (though largely ‘type I’ jams), and Melt (but not really fully until the ‘aha’ moment hits on 04.21.1993). Keep in mind that songs like Jim and Gin didn’t become vehicles until later and the ones in the rotation at this time that blow up in the funk era (Bag, Gumbo, Halley’s, Ya Mar) are still a long time from being more than just fun setlist fillers. And of all of the ones listed above the only consistent jam vehicles were Tweezer, YEM, and the Mike’s Groove with the others being more ‘minor vehicles’ that could or could not elevate depending on the set and setting. With that in mind, it is easier to see why the pattern mainly holds that in one show they would anchor the second set with Tweezer and YEM (and maybe one other junior vehicle) and the next would have Mike’s Groove and a junior vehicle like Stash in there. In this way you could anticipate what songs would pop up next with much better accuracy — even going so far as to be able to predict the set more easily for the most part. But, of course, the exception proves the rule so that when you do see a show that has a combination of vehicles (i.e. Mike’s Groove and Tweezer in the same set or Reba, YEM, and Tweezer all in the same set) it is a good indication that this is a show you should spin the whole way through and at high volume if at all possible. We will encounter several of these standout shows as we move along here but for the most part we should expect to be searching for the minor highlights that supplement the larger vehicles since most of these shows follow the overarching pattern discussed above.
So! Back to the show, eh? We were on YEM next, right? Right. Anyway, forget what I said above about the vehicles carrying the set all the time because this YEM is not one of the better ones out there. They definitely try, with a somewhat unique bit of phrasing from Trey in the build of the main composition but it sort of falls apart at times due to more of that disconnected playing from the band because of which the composed aspects of the song suffer. Heck, Mike completely drops out at one point which indicates that some of the issues may have been as much physical (i.e. gear related) as mental. It isn’t like can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-trainwreck bad or anything but they seems to struggle through it in getting to the jam which has a few nice moments before we get Horse’d out of the VJ. Sure, fine, whatever, play the same songs again from your new album. And this version of Horse>Silent is pretty okay but here’s another on in the 50% club over the six shows of tour so far. Not exactly keeping it fresh on the setlist front. On the bright side, we do avoid the BBJ for the first time this tour, which is something. Instead, they fire up Fish Fun Time for the first Cracklin’ Rosie of the year which plays about as expected before they give us that Possum closer we have been begging for. This one stays more in the rocking vein than going outside the song but does provide a high energy punctuation mark for the set and show. The encores provide a bit of levity as they abort Adeline due to Fish not exactly bringing his best to the table before another a cappella number in Amazing Grace (six for six on venues this tour! It’s like Fuego but without the audible groans from the jaded old timers!) and then the Reprise we all knew was coming.
End of the day, this is not a show you need to spend much time with. Your takeaways from this one are pretty thin with the Antelope being the only real highlight and everything else being either fairly standard or only notable due to being a minor bustout or general setlist oddity. There’s a couple of moments of connection that are worth the price of admission (which was probably pretty cheap at around $15 back then) but we are still about a week or so before the band really starting to hit their groove as a singular unit. I know I am repeating myself here and it is easy to say this now with the benefit of hindsight but in the moment this was not considered a “bad” show by any means. This was still a young, hungry band out there night after night proving themselves to any and all who would come to see them. And each and every night they were able to convert more and more people to their calling by doing things and playing music in ways that we were not used to but that just made us itch for more. The main “problem” with looking back at shows like this one is a modern issue as we know what to expect out of the band even just 8-10 shows from here, to say nothing of where this is all headed into August ’93 and beyond. So with that as your guide do as you are supposed to and enjoy it for what it is and not what it is not. They will get there. We all know it.
*Reba Listening Project. Maybe we can go to there some time…