You’ve Been By Here Before — The Next Tour To Tackle

I, like many of us, have a long and varied history with the band Phish. I have been privileged to see this band all over the United States in every possible type of setting over the course of twenty-five plus years. I have not seen the band in a foreign country and there are definitely big stretches of shows over that time that I was unable to attend for whatever reason but I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to share in the experience of their music as much as I have.

In thinking about what tour to tackle next in reflecting back here I wanted to focus on something that was wholly removed from my personal experience with the music. I also wanted it to be a tour that I have listened to but have not done a deep dive into as far as listening goes so that it would be fresh for me to hear so that I could come in with something of a clean slate. So this would require the tour to be one where I did not attend any shows and where I had not spent a lot of time listening back as compares to some of the more classically highly touted tours in the band’s history. And at the same time I wanted it to be a tour that has musical merit and value within the evolution of the band and their sound which is to say that my decision would factor in some thought about where the band was coming from and where they were headed considering my ability to shine a retrospective light onto the proceedings. Lastly, I wanted this tour to be one that was high on jamming and open jamming in particular since that is, at the core, what Phish does best in my estimation.

As fate would have it, there are a few tours that fit this bill quite swimmingly with one being a tour that I long did not listen to very much because I was unable to catch any shows on — but for what I consider a very good reason. After catching several shows along the Summer 1998 Tour as I finished up grad school work, several friends and I took the Fall to backpack our way around Europe, starting in Madrid and doing a lap around the continent over the course of about four months. People came and went along the way but I personally came back in late November having missed any opportunity to catch Phish that Fall. Don’t fret for me though, as I had an amazing time and capped it by seeing what would be my final full NYE Run of 1.0 at the end of the year. We won’t discuss why I didn’t make it to Big Cypress the year following as that’s a conversation for another day.

So call it burying the lede, but what I am announcing with this post is that my next project will be to detail the show by show goings on of the Phish Fall 1998 Tour.

This tour includes a lot of what we all love about Phish in these twenty-two shows and shows a band on top of their game but still pushing the envelope to get further out. We will have plenty of big jams to dissect, antics to laugh at (or deride if that’s not your thing), new songs, an album release, a Halloween cover costume, the don’t-skip-the-skip-show show of all of them, and much much more. Heck, with this small number of shows perhaps I should just start with the few shows that led up to that tour opener in Los Angeles, as there is a lot to detail in those as well (this includes the Farm Aid set, the surprise show in San Francisco, and the pair of sets at The Bridge School Benefit).

For now though, let’s all get our files in order to start going back to that time when Phish had graduated on to bigger venues and bigger expectations, a time when they seemingly could do no wrong, a time when their sound included all of the elements of what had gotten them here but not a time of stagnancy of any sort. The band and scene had grown to all but peak height and many openly wondered whether it could keep going in this way for much longer. While that sort of thinking would eventually become more of a factor, here in Fall ’98 the wheels were still turning and the Phish Express was chugging along with no signs of apparent wear, tear, or ill repair. So let’s hop on board and listen in to what the band threw down in the middle of those years that many refer to as The Peak, shall we?

As I Thrill to the Magic Charms — Seattle, WA 04.05.1993

Phish — HUB Ballroom — Seattle, WA 04.05.1993

I  Llama, Ice, Fee, Maze, Fluffhead, Paul & Silas, Stash, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, Bowie

II  Axilla, Poor Heart, Caravan, PYITE, Tweezer, Glide, YEM, HYHU>Cracklin’ Rosie>HYHU, Reprise

E  Carolina, Fire

Now back in the good ol’ U S of A after their one night tour of Western Canada, Phish put another solid show in the books for the good people of Seattle, WA on what would be the last night of the West Coast leg of this Spring ’93 Tour. This is a show that provides a nice exclamation point to all that preceded it, offering musical ideas that have been developed over the past two plus months and popping off with the energy of a band that knows they can do effectively whatever they choose in delighting their fans. Tonight’s show would include so many of the elements that make Phish who they are that it seems difficult to think that the band did not actively take the show in the direction it would eventually go.

Starting with the first set opener the band showed they came to do business, offering up a fiery little monster of a Llama that contains a tease that would play heavily into the tenor of the show, particularly the second set. This tease is Caravan and if you know your Phish history you will note that this jazz standard was once a relatively common cover with 26 of the total 42 performances to date occurring in 1990 (and another five times in 1991 — four times on the Giant Country Horns tour that summer). We will come back to this though…  After that we have a clean take on Ice and a megaphone-less Fee to bring us to the next rager in Maze. A typically high energy version, this one is quite shreddy and fast-paced with a big organ (heh) solo out of Page and some crowd participation as the fans clapped along during the initial build and in a couple of other spots. This clapping is something that wasn’t necessarily rare in later ’93 and ’94 but this is the first time this tour I recall hearing it so clearly on the tapes.

Next up is a mid set Fluffhead and this take is on point and energetic, which seems to be something of a theme by now in this set. Nothing too special here but nice to hear them nail this tune. The bluegrass ditty tonight is Paul & Silas which then gets us to the main highlight of this here first set in a dynamic Stash that I definitely recommend one listening to if you can.  The jam starts off patiently, allowing the band to get a bit outside the song itself before they head into a DEG-ish section and eventually come back around to the song while seemingly hinting at CYHMK along the path. It is a good example of what Stash used to be. By now you’d think they would be starting to head towards the closer but first we have Story Time with Trey by way of Forbin’s>Mockingbird. Tonight’s story is another engaging one as Trey notes the crowd being pretty ‘toasty’ and being quite literal here he means that the crowd is turning into toast.  I don’t want to ruin the detail of where the story heads from there but I will note that there is a ‘Those Were the Days’ (theme to All In The Family) in there from Page. After that we get the lovely resolution that is Mockingbird and finally the set closing Bowie you could have bet was coming if you had been watching setlists this tour (much easier said than done back then, frankly). The intro section gets the Secret Language in spades tonight with Simpsons, AFD, and Oom Pa Pa signals, not to mention a tease of Mockingbird before they head forward for a mainly ‘in bounds’ version that provides an energetic stamp on the set and allows us to all catch our breath for a bit with the break to follow.

After that breath-catching session the band came out and started up the 2nd set by continuing the high energy motif with Axilla and a decently fine Poor Heart before we get the payoff on that tease in the show opener. After 224 shows and almost two full years they dusted off Caravan, throwing in a Manteca tease for good measure. Incidentally, the song would then stay in the rotation for the next leg of tour, being played three more times between this show and the tour closer in Durham, NH a month from here. Each of those also included a Manteca tease for whatever that is worth. Sadly, after seven more appearances for the song it has been shelved (last occurring as a bustout after 160 shows for the New Year’s Run in 1996 at the Spectrum in Philly). Pardon the parenthetical dangling participles there.

After this we get PYITE which is just fine and dandy before they head into a Tweezer that doesn’t stretch too much but offers up several more Caravan teases out of Trey. Worth the listen but this Tweezer isn’t making any best of lists. Glide provides a respite of sorts before the next big one which tonight is YEM. We get a few ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ teases along the way here and Trey exerts his domination in taking over the jam which brings us to a nice peak and resolution.  Next up is Fish Fun Time which tonight is Cracklin’ Rosie and then we have a bombastic Reprise closer to cap the night. For the encores we get a couple of ‘dedications’ as they first do the un-mic’d a cappella for Carolina (played in honor of the University of North Carolina basketball team which the band watched beat Michigan during setbreak — this is the infamous Chris Webber time out game if you can recall) and then Fire (for Trey’s friend Dudley who was the other guitarist in Space Antelope back in the day). After this the band would be off for a few days before starting up things in the Midwest on April 9th. They were not resting on their collective laurels, however, as they traveled back east to receive an award and perform at the Boston Music Awards, gathering more laurels in the process.

I am a fan of this show and while it has a few warts in a couple of songs that aren’t exactly top notch versions there is a lot to like here. Seeing as it was the capstone show on a wonderful West Coast leg of the tour, the band is clearly feeling it and they provide a bit of everything in their bag of tricks to celebrate this fact. The straight forward rockers all have great energy, the more open jams go places with concerted effort, there are quality teases and some secret language, Trey tells a captivating story, and the band engages the crowd on several levels that pay off for everyone. Yes, there are better shows on this tour which we have discussed (and which are yet to come when I eventually come back to detail the last leg of this tour) but if you want to give someone an idea of what they could have expected from Phish in this era, you can’t do much better than to offer up this as an example. Your highlights tonight are the Stash, Caravan, Tweezer, and YEM, as well as the Forbin’s story if you like that aspect of Phish.

Next up for me is kicking off our new tour project which we will leave to surprise for now. I will also be putting together a post to pull together the biggest of the highlights through these first two legs of the Spring Tour so keep your eyes peeled in that regard.

Before we move on, however, I do want to give the stats update for these 47 shows. By now they have played in 19 states over 61 days (yup, that’s only 14 days off non-show dates over that time). They have played 121 unique songs with 23 being one-timers. The most frequently played tunes are BBJ (32), Rift (29), Amazing Grace (28), and Poor Heart (28) with HYHU being left out because of course I am not counting that. The most common 1st set openers are Buried Alive (7), Golgi (6), and Llama (6) with the most common first set closers being Antelope (17) and Bowie (14) by far. Second set openers are a bit more scattered though Axilla (9) and Jim (7) are ahead of the pack. Second set closers are also somewhat widespread but Reprise is king with 10 such performances. Encores are also expectedly all over the place but Amazing Grace (18) and Sweet Adeline (11) are the only above single digits. Another interesting trend is how often certain songs were played in consecutive shows (something that virtually never occurs anymore with such a huge song canon) as Amazing Grace, Rift, BBJ, and HYHU all had runs of five or more shows, including three such runs by BBJ and two by HYHU including one run of 22 straight shows. Seven songs had gaps of at least 21 shows within this tour (Lifeboy, Tela, Weigh, TMWSIY, Aveenu Malkenu, Walk Away, and Harpua) and 18 songs were debuted (Loving Cup, Wedge, Lifeboy, Amazing Grace, Sample, Moby Dick, RnR All Night, Pig in a Pen, Nellie Kane, It’s My Life, Choo Choo Cha Boogie, Loup Garou, Spooky, GGITS, You Gotta See Mama Every Night, Sweet Emotion, My Life as a Pez, and Psycho Killer) though several of those were one-off songs played during sit-ins and at least four others were effectively “jams” rather than full performances of the songs. Lots more detail to be found in the stats but I think you get the point.

Thanks for reading and we will see you on the other side…