Phish — Benton Convention Center — Winston-Salem, NC 02.17.1993
I Buried Alive>Possum>Weigh>ATR, Sloth, Jim, Ice>Bouncin’, Fluffhead>Maze, Golgi
II Axilla>Landlady>Bowie, Glide, MFMF, BBJ, MSO>Horn>YEM, HYHU>Lengthwise>HYHU, Coil
E Carolina, GTBT
Some shows can look wholly pedestrian on paper and turn out to be absolute smokers. Other shows look fantastic on paper and then end up being largely underwhelming. And most shows fall somewhere in between with the setlist hiding the truth of what occurred, relying on our listening to get to a resemblance of the truth. I mention all of this in starting out the conversation on today’s subject show because on paper this one looks like it has a lot of potential. And it does have potential but it goes largely unfulfilled as the band never fully connects. By no means does this imply that there are not some moments in this show that deserve our attention because at the end of the day even the most flat performance by the band will have ardent defenders who found themselves in the middle of ::insert song here:: or felt particularly elevated by the communal experience they shared with the other spunions in their midst. And this one in particular is pretty uneven so there are definitely a few of those ‘moments of IT’ to be found mingling with the headscratchers, teases, and more. Oh, and just to address the venue they played here, it appears that based on the capacity .com says was for the ballroom they played in this convention center facility that they played in the South Exhibit Hall. So that’s something. Nothing quite as intimate as playing in the same room that a bunch of dentists or something probably used to hold meetings on prevailing trends in their industry (hopefully even the next day with the funny smells that follow phish shows still lingering in the HVAC units). Can’t say for certain but one would have to think that this kind of venue didn’t exactly help with the goings on of the band’s visit here.
The first set starts off promisingly enough with another string of songs being strung together before they come up for air. On this night we have Buried>Possum>Weigh>ATR and the only thing to note here from these mainly energy-building numbers is that Trey throws a ‘Sex Machine’ tease into Possum and also toys around with the Oh Kee Pa meoldy in the middle of Weigh. Other than that these are just table setting. A quick run through The Sloth gets us to the only real highlight of the set which is a straight rocking Jim where Trey is out front throwing ideas around. He takes a moment after Jim to give some thanks and then we are on to another group of tunes as they put Ice>Bouncin’>Fluff>Maze together. Ice and Bouncin’ do what they do and then we have the big energy peak of Fluff (but it is a bit rough in getting there) and the highlight of this section in Maze. This is still a pretty straight forward Maze though as there is no real new ground covered. The set is closed by Golgi which isn’t really anything special, now is it? Aside from the juxtaposition segues, write down this setlist and you have a pretty standard first set from any era (and one you could actually expect these days if you replace one or two of the less common songs with some 3.0 material.) So now it is on to the setbreak to look at the beautiful ballroom and other unique features of a block building whose greatest attribute may be that it is connected to nearby hotels. Not that many fans were doing the hotel circuit back then but whatever. I’m sure at least a few fans benefited from this. Trey also tells the crowd “don’t believe everything you read” which is a confusing statement to come out of a guy who will spend the next 20 years telling us to reading the fucking book (the right way)
The real meat of this one lies in the second set though so perhaps the band went back to the conference room they had booked here to make some flow charts and brainstorm ideas for how to get outside of the box that kept them from elevating in that first set. Or maybe they just had some sandwiches and beer. Who knows. But the intent is better in this set as they get things going right away with Axilla>Landlady>Bowie. Those first two are your energy builders before Bowie which ends up being a pretty nice version. First there’s some SL in the intro (Simpsons, Random Note, Oom Pa Pa) which also has some unique melodic interplay between Trey and Mike but then they really take off in the jam, giving us a great example of the growing potential of this vehicle. This one has hints of the massive versions of ’94 and ’95 while staying rooted in its 93-ness too. Put this one in your trapper keeper for that Bowie jam evolution term paper you have due in a few weeks. I’ll be sending out reminders soon and docking hetty brah points for tardiness. Don’t just think you can wook your way through life, son. Glide and MFMF (with acoustic intro, naturally) fill space next and realistically that’s about all they do. BBJ is notable because Page throws in some teases (Charge, Call to Post) and then we have its spiritual partner My Sweet One that brings us to a fine enough Horn. In case you are wondering about that “spiritual partner” comment, listen to Fish on both BBJ and MSO. And then look at how many times the two songs are paired up. Figure it out yet? Okay, moving on here, we next have a pretty engaging YEM that benefits mainly from the teases and musical quotes rather than from the main form of the song itself. That’s not to say that it is played poorly but rather that what makes it notable are the Mission Impossible tease (Page), Black and White tease from Mike (not the Black and White we heard during Harpua the other night. The other one. You know, Three Dog Night), and the Sunshine of Your Love jam (with lyrics in the VJ, which also has some sneezing and the choir ending). I really hope you clicked on that first link because I know I had totally forgotten about that video and the fact that George Wendt and McCauley Culkin both appear there. Man, the late 80s and early 90s were quite a different time, huh? Next up is Fish Fun Time and here we have a bit of an extended HYHU that bleeds into a fun take on Lengthwise that goes reggae and also has vac interspersed in there. Coil wraps up the set with Trey and Mike not really on the same page before Page does his thing in closing up shop. Carolina gets the a cappella nod tonight, giving Amazing Grace the night off (finally!) and getting its tour debut in the process. I’ve never heard the GTBT from this one as most tapes available cut just a few seconds into the Carolina but I’m sure it was fun because who doesn’t love that cover as an encore?
Okay, so maybe I was a little harsh on this show up top but the reality is that this show is largely underwhelming. Yes, there are a couple of highlights (Bowie, YEM, maybe Lengthwise to hear this unique take) but other than that it feels like a lot of filler. I am convinced that the type of venue had to play a role somewhat as that can influence the crowd which has a direct influence on the band. In the end, there are so many much better shows out there that we don’t need to belabor the point here, though at least we can find those nuggets here to catch before moving on to bigger and brighter options. Besides, a couple of shows from now they would throw down one that is canon so maybe they were just sandbagging.