Trying to Make A Woman That You Move – New York, NY 10.22.1996

Phish — Madison Square Garden — New York, NY 10.22.1996

I  The Curtain>Jim, Bouncin’, Ice, Talk, Melt, Sparkle>Free>YEM

II  2001>Disease>Taste, Mango, Lawn Boy, Mule, Mike’s->Swept Away>Steep>Paug

E Watchtower

 

Fresh off a night of rocking out at The Garden Phish returned for round two in this most venerable of venues. This is one of the most storied venues in the band’s long history with 31 shows having already taken place here along with another four to start TONIGHT! WOOOOOOOO!!!!! Yeah, dude! Phish at the Garden!!!! YEMSG, YO!!!!

 

Ahem.

 

Sorry about that. I’m just a little excited for Phish to bring us more new music. Let’s get back to the review…

 

Okay, so as I was saying Phish has a long history with this venue, first playing a single show along the 1994 NYE Run before a pair capped by the epic 12.31.1995 show preceded this pair we are here to discuss. Over the years certain shows here have stood out for one reason or another, be it the overall awesomeness of the show (such as that 12.31.1995 masterpiece), one particular jam or possibly an entire set that just goes to another level. Some have gone as far as to try to boil down each show played here into one or a few big takeaways, which is admittedly a difficult task. I bring all of this up because if you ask phans what they know of the October 1996 MSG Run the most common answer you will get is something like “oh, yeah, the Freakapaug show!” Now, we have a lot to get through before coming to that memorable part of this one but suffice it to say that this is the moniker by which most fans know 10.22.1996. Now that I have sufficiently teased that, let’s get down to the nitty gritty…

 

In the lore of Phish, certain songs just seem to fit best as set and show openers. I probably mentioned this somewhere along the Spring 1993 path but to me, the pinnacle for this is The Curtain. For those of us who cut our Phish teeth in the 90s we had only bad tapes to tell us of this thing called “The Curtain (With)” as the band put the (With) on the shelf from 1988 until 07.12.2000 (1,178 shows if you are counting) with versions of the song including the (With) becoming more of the norm from there (and particularly in 3.0 where The Curtain (With) has been performed 13 times to the scant 2 that The Curtain has. Even still, we now have to wait to hear whether they will continue With or Without and move on to something else, preferably something with a bit of jam to it. I’m going to skip the full breakdown of songs-that-follow-Curtain but if you guess Tweezer, Sample, Mike’s Song, or Jim you would be in the right ballpark. So in 1996 when we heard The Curtain kick off the first set the first thing you got to do was to get down to that old school classic and then start to prep for what the song following would be. On this night, that would be Runaway Jim, a song that had some of its biggest versions in Fall 1995 — like, seriously, check the 06.16.1995 one from Raleigh if’n you don’t already know it, not to mention a big chugger from that 12.31.1995 show — but also had a couple of keepers from the previous summer tour, first with the one that sandwiched Gypsy Queen at Red Rocks on 08.07.1996 and then for the beaut from Hershey on 08.14.1996 (featuring our friend the mini-kit). While this one doesn’t reach the heights (or depths) of the monsters from ’95 it does give us our first little jamlet which also has a quite nice ‘quiet’ section if that makes any sense. From here we get Bouncin’d before they drop It’s Ice on us. Page is on top doing great work as is typical while Trey scratches out these dissonant, almost feedback-y lines to counterpoint the piano work. This one doesn’t go full darkness like some of the best ones but it is a nice bit of work before we get Talk. Whoopee. Talk.

 

Okay, moving on now they do bring the darkness in the form of Split Open and Melt. This one stays mainly within the framework of the ‘standard’ progression but Trey finds a lead line that is quite satisfying. Working this towards the peak, Trey misses it by a half-step and therefore brings it back around to build a bit more tension before re-peaking the song. The rest of the band catches this with ease and if you aren’t listening for it you might not even notice but it is just another of one of those really cool things you hear when they are connected and improvising in the moment. A quick romp through Sparkle and a brief but crunchy Free serve as appetizers to the set closing YEM that drops next and from the start this feels like a big one is coming. While it might not reach epic status it is quite solid with Trey’s jam being the strength followed by a funky D&B section. I’ve definitely seen much worse first set closers than that. And now you have time to head to the concourse to fight the masses in the bathroom line and grab some water and a pretzel before heading back into the fray.

 

So once settled back into whatever lovely spot in the Garden that you habitated that night you have to wonder if there will be any really big fireworks to come out of this run now that we are minutes from the final set of the run. Sure, that first show was fun and the first set offered up a bit more jamming than the night before but you want big time music and stuff! Everyone loves stuff, right?? Well, stuff you will get in this set, my phriend (sorry, I promise to never do the ‘ph’ thing like that again). After a punchy and funky 2001 to open things up (another song like The Curtain that first lived its life as a precursor to other things rather than as the vehicle it later became) they drop into that telltale soupy intro to Down with Disease. As has been hinted at with the prior two versions on this tour, this one starts to shed the Disease skin a bit while still staying mainly within the theme. Fish is a veritable metronome throughout this one and Mike is going big while Page and Trey throw out ideas. Page heads to the effects board and plays around for a bit while Trey hops on the mini-kit before they bring it all back to the Disease finish. Disease is shaping up to be another song to watch on this tour. Next is a finely executed Taste and then our first Mango Song of the tour, always a welcome one to hear. As always seems to happen at MSG, Page then takes a turn serenading the crowd with Lawn Boy and now we are itching for something in the key of “jam” again… only to get Scent of a Mule all over us. Now, this one is certainly unique as Trey opts for a scat jam solo and rumor has it a guy who is well known as a scatter (Otiel Burbridge) was standing side stage laughing his head off for this so that in and of itself makes it more interesting than the typical Mule (and Page shines in his turn to solo too) but still. It’s Mule. In a prime slot for a big Tweezer or something. But Mule is a song that they seemingly love to play and we already covered this topic so let’s just enjoy it for what it is, mm’kay?

 

Now, to their credit, Phish does have a solid habit of following up Mule with a big jam vehicle (or Cavern but let’s just forget about that) as the most frequent dance partners for that alien adventure are YEM, Tweezer, Stash, Hood, and Mike’s Song. And Cavern but we aren’t talking about that, remember? Tonight gets Mike’s Song and from the start they attack this one with intent, dropping into a menacing jam as soon as possible. They opt out of a second jam for a full segue to Swept Away>Steep, capping it with the yelling thing that is in a few of these early versions before dropping into what is assuredly the set closing Weekapaug Groove. I should probably just go ahead and link the (shaky) video from this whole thing since if you haven’t seen it it might not seem as exciting as it undoubtedly was in the moment. First you get the band playing a really tight and fun version of one of their best loved oddball songs and then, well, then the freaks come out. You have dancers in unique garb, people being quite acrobatic, and… more all while Phish rocks out this Paug. Keep an eye out for Mimi Fishman making her first non-vac stage visit with Phish towards the end of this madness. I mean, nowadays this wouldn’t even cause one to bat an eye what with the crap that Miley is pulling and such but back then this was enough have this version crowned the Freakapaug. It’s a clever name and one that has stuck enough that people know this show for that bit of musical theater and everything else is mere footnote. It is definitely a fun thing to watch so check it out.

 

You’d be excused if you thought that after that they would head to a straight forward encore like Julius or Suzy or maybe even something a cappella and Rocky Top but NOPE! There are more tricks in store for you, oh faithful fan. Let me set things up for you a bit by providing a quite entertaining series of videos that detail the backstage goings on that night as there were several notable guests in attendance. Two of those people, the focus of those videos (and I’m not sure why there is a full rip of Bittersweet Motel at the end of that playlist but hey that’s nice, right?), end up on stage with Phish for the encore, Merl Saunders and Buddy Miles. Now, you a wisened music vet that you are probably already know who these two luminaries are but just in case you do not Buddy Miles was in Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield before becoming best known for his association with Jimi Hendrix in his Band of Gypsys while Merl Saunders also has a long history with many notable musicians but is most associated with his time working with Jerry Garcia on various projects. This night the two came out to help on the encore bustout of All Along the Watchtower, the song written by Bob Dylan buy made (more) famous by Jimi Hendrix. The only other time Phish had played this tune (excepting sit-ins with other bands and stuff like the Ritz Power Jam which followed their 1993 visit to the Roseland Ballroom across town) was with members of the Dave Matthews Band on 04.21.1994 (check out that full encore for a drum duel between Fish and Carter Beauford that evolves into a full two band jam and then eventually the DMB-type take on Watchtower) making this one with Buddy and Merl a 227 show bustout which is nice. But it is strong also for the music made which starts out as a loose exploration with Buddy offering up some vocal stylings while everyone gets comfortable (Merl joined Page on the keys and Fish gave his kit to Buddy and hopped on Trey’s percussion mini-kit) before Buddy introduces Watchtower and they crank into it for a really fun take on the tune. The dancers came out as well to add to the party and everyone has a blast putting a nice finish to this MSG run. As encores go, this is the sort of thing you could only hope might happen in your weirdest Phish fantasies.

 

When looking at this show and the MSG run in toto it may not be to the level that we have come to expect from our visits here but it still has some solid moments and points to the continuing upward trend on this early part of the tour. Of the two shows, this second one is probably the more “complete” one but that is not to say that we didn’t find value in that first night. Here on night two the takeaways are bigger (Melt, Disease, Paug, Watchtower, and perhaps the Jim if you are feeling gracious) and the stage is grander what with the spectacle they created there at the end. I hate comparing shows to each other because each one has its own special unique snowflake-ness but as with the first night by the time we get to recapping this tour this one will pale in comparison to others yet to come. For now though we have a wild night where the freaks joined the band and the band played a quite fun Tuesday night show for the round room.

 

I’m off to MSG for the back half of this upcoming New Year’s Run so don’t expect any new posts until next week at earliest… unless I decide to drop in to overly fluff the shows I will have just seen. Happy New Year!

 

Skyscraper is Grand! – New York, NY 10.21.1996

Phish — Madison Square Garden — New York, NY 10.21.1996

I  SSB, Sample, CTB, Sloth, Divided, Zero, Ginseng Sullivan, Stash, Waste, Possum

II  Wilson, CDT, Wolfman’s Brother, Reba, Train Song, Maze, Life on Mars?, Simple->Horse>Silent, Bowie

E  Funky Bitch

 

Following their first day off of the young tour, Phish descended upon the venerable Madison Square Garden for the first of a pair of midweek shows at the World’s Most Famous Arena. These would be the fourth and fifth shows for Phish in the round room and along with the three shows from 2009 stands as the only other time the band has played the venue outside of a New Year’s Run. Considering the dizzying heights reached in the last visit here on 12.31.1995 expectations ran wild and high with the big time energy of being in New York City just adding to the atmosphere. I don’t know about you but to me there is just something so unique about shows in this venue. And even here in the early stages of Phish’s visits to The Mecca we as fans already knew that it was a special thing to be able to catch our little band in this legendary place. Maybe this all set things up for a letdown or perhaps it was simply a pair of midweek shows that are a bit better than our memories of them but when looking at all of the thirty-one shows that they have played here this pair is generally fairly lightly regarded. Granted, it is up against Holiday Run shows — and some quite legendary ones at that — but perhaps we are being overly critical. I suppose to figure that out we will need to go ahead with the listen and reflection…

 

First up tonight is the super rare a cappella opener with The Star Spangled Banner welcoming us to the night. When I say rare I’m not kidding as main a cappella tunes that Phish has played over the years are NOT generally opening tunes:  Sweet Adeline (8 show openers in 138 appearances), Memories (6/42), Carolina (10/80), Hello My Baby (1/56), Grind (3/20), and the Star Spangled Banner (6/20, shockingly). That last one is interesting and probably more a factor of the song itself being the sort of thing you would start out a public event with than anything and here on this night it would be the first time the song gets the opener slot which is obvious considering it was just debuted a few shows prior to this one. The crowd is into it and that energy carries over into, ugh, another Sample which is quite well received by the masses before they dip into Cars Trucks Buses. This has that bouncy vibe and keeps everyone moving with Page shining in his solo, as always. Keeping things moving, we get our first Sloth of the tour, bringing the dirty rock out to further froth the fervent fans. At this point you have to expect some sort of vehicle to drop since they have been building the energy greatly thus far and we get Divided Sky to the delight of the crowd. Divided is one of those songs that I personally never go seeking but it is as classic of a Phish song as you could want, blending the compositional strength, unique musical phrasings, and pure musicianship that the band has to offer. This one has the crowd really into it and it is quite well executed as Trey goes off in his end solo. For the timers out there, the Pause tonight is 1:14.

 

Rather than drop into a breather song we get another rocker with Character Zero, still in its protean form without the big crunchy solo but still capable of blowing the roof off the place. Being that it is only the fifth ever Zero fans hadn’t yet fully caught on to this one but being quick learners it is well received all the same. Next we finally get a bit of a breather with the bustout of Ginseng Sullivan (103 show gap), putting the requisite bluegrass tune slot quite late in the set tonight. After this brief interlude we are back to the Phish tunes for Stash and tonight’s version is mainly an exercise in thematic searching before they bring it up to a big peak to resolve the tension. Nothing too major in this jam but a nice listen if you have the time. Waste comes in next to bring things down a bit (already the third of the tour) and then we are on to the Possum set closer. This is the first Possum since The Clifford Ball and perfectly fine in all fashions but doesn’t really require much note above that. The crowd sure seemed to love it though.

 

So after a few laps around the ring (RIP, Ring, the renovation destroyed you…) to occupy your eyes and mind during setbreak we settle back in for another set of that live Phish music we all seem to love so much. Coming on the heels of a quite rocking first set (the only real slow, breather song is the penultimate Waste) you had to wonder what direction they would go here. Well, being MSG and such Trey of course opens up with a bombastic Wilson, getting the crowd involved from the get go. After the chant-along and subsequent rock out they head into Chalkdust Torture with Trey really going for it in the straight forward but wonderfully big end solo. Second listen of this one really hit me with how hard of a punch it packs. Keeping it lively, we next get Wolfman’s Brother, still a fairly contained song here but with the roots of what is to come starting to form even if it wouldn’t be until the watershed moment that was 03.01.1997. Here it serves to continue the dance party and get us to our first vehicle of the set, our gal Reba.

 

This is not an all-timer Reba by any stretch but it is well executed and keeps the energy flow going as Trey explores within the theme. It all comes to a nice peak with Fish signaling the finish at just the right time. I love how he almost always seems to know the right time to pull the plug on Reba. It reminds me of that scene in Six Degrees of Separation where the Donald Sutherland character — “Flan” for you trivia buffs — talks about asking his kid’s 2nd grade teacher why all of the students in her class are such talented painters and she responds that she “just knows when to take away the paper”. There’s a lot that we can carry over from that idea to Phish in that often times there are jams that go on for a bit too long without anyone realizing it is time to “take away the paper” as it were. And then there are the times when we feel like there was more to be had if the band would have just kept going except that someone (usually Trey) decides it is time to move on. I suppose there is no right answer to this but it is a thought that always seems to come to me particularly with Reba jams since Fish really does control when the song wraps up. Bringing that back to our conversation about this show, this is one of those Rebas that probably could have gone on longer but was stopped at just the right point. Nice job, Fish.

 

Stopping to catch their breath a bit, Mike gets the lead singer role for the touching Train Song. It’s a good spot for the ballad as after the quick respite they head into Maze for a shred heavy romp through the mind-bender. This one is a couple of notches down from the demonic beast we heard in Pittsburgh but still probably messed with enough heads that night to keep everyone honest. The fourth and final tour debut of the evening comes in the form of Life on Mars?, the quirky David Bowie cover that was in a somewhat regular rotation throughout Fall 1995 and 1996 before becoming quite rare with one performance in 1997 (03.02.1997, coincidentally the show following that linked Wolfman’s up there), one in all of 2.0 (02.15.2003) and a few scattered versions in 2011. Some people may not be big fans of this cover since it is always played straight up and maybe it is just my memory of catching several of them in that era but it is a cover I have always liked. Trey gets to play a unique line and Page shines on the vocals which is always a nice combo.

 

Now a bit past the halfway mark in the set there’s still time for another jammer and Phish complies with Simple. This has a similar feel at the start of the jam as the one from Buffalo but goes in a more syncopated direction once Trey hops on the mini-kit. Page is getting funky (well, as funky as they did here in the early part of this tour before… WAIT! I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just leave that waiting) and it feels like it could go on for a while in this manner. However, when Trey comes back to his guitar he foregoes the lead solo like we got in Lake Placid and instead shifts into a full segue to The Horse>Silent. Always a crowd pleaser (I mean, who doesn’t love to shout out the line “I think that this exact thing happened to me JUST LAST YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRR!!!”?) this gets the crowd seal of approval before heading straight into what will be the set closing David Bowie. I say straight in because while there is no direct segue they leave out the highhat intro from Fish and instead get down to business. The jam itself takes a little bit to get going but once it does Trey masterfully builds tension towards the massive release you came for with this song. There’s a bit of an almost-but-not-quite off the rails feel here that hints back to the hey days of Bowie while staying within the song and not into the deep deep waters. It works quite well as a punctuation mark to this highly energetic show and the subsequent encore Funky Bitch just adds to that feeling as well.

 

In the end, on paper, this is perhaps not the most exciting show to look at. The first set really only has that Stash and the Divided Sky as true vehicles and the second seems a bit disjointed or “song-y” until you hear the music being played. Sure, it is arena rock heavy overall but that can make for a quite fun night particularly when you have a crowd that is willing and able to push that energy right back to the stage. Perhaps the energy is a response to the crowd and that works too. While this might not be one of the all time best MSG shows the band has every played it is a lot better on listen that I remembered. There are takeaways here (Reba and Simple for certain, and add that Stash too) and the band is playing very well here just five shows into the tour. You could also argue for the addition of Divided and Bowie there but I’ll leave those for the tour end discussion as second tier nominations. The fact is, of course, that almost everything here will soon be outshined but for this night we have some fun stuff to play. And we get to do it again from this venue one more time!

 

Which reminds me…

 

With the NYE Run coming up quite soon I will be putting up this review and the one for 10.22.1996 before sitting back to enjoy this run both on stream and then in person for the final two. I had toyed with putting up reviews for the NYE Run shows but considering I am not one for deadlines and needing to get content up right away, the thought of needing to get what I would consider to be acceptable reviews up in a timely manner simply ain’t gonna happen especially since I will be on the ground for half of the run. So I’ll leave that to others to tackle.

 

UPDATE!

here’s the full show video for 10.21.1996

Set I

Set II

you might want to take some dramamine before viewing

But What Of Silver Silken Blade – Buffalo, NY 10.19.1996

Phish — Marine Midland Arena — Buffalo, NY 10.19.1996

I  MFMF, Rift, Free, Esther>Llama, Gumbo, Disease>Caspian>Frankenstein

II  Bag, Sparkle>Slave, Bouncin’, Melt, Fluffhead, Swept Away>Steep>Lope, Hello My Baby

E  Fee, Rocky Top

 

On the back side of a run of four straight nights performing — all in different cities and venues — Phish found themselves at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, NY, the home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. As always seems to happen, this venue has changed names since then first as the HSBC Arena and now as the First Niagara Center. The venue had only opened about a month prior to this show, making it the second venue Phish had already played this tour that was pretty darn brand spanking new. State College… remember?? Geez, it was only like two reviews ago… Well, even if you don’t care about that kind of thing Phish did play this venue not even a month after it had opened but still almost a month before the scoreboard came crashing down at center ice which I suppose is a good thing timing-wise…

 

This, of course, was not the band’s first trip to the region as over the years the northwest part of New York state has been pretty darned kind to our band. The first visits were in 1991 first for a barroom show at the famed Nietzsche’s on 04.19.1991 (check out the bad joke from Fish during the BBFCFM encore and a pretty okay Reba here) and then that fall (09.28.1991) for a show at a roller rink where Trey ‘skated’ through the crowd while playing his solo in Weekapaug and some audience members took to creating their own roller disco at the back of the floor.  The next visit was in spring 1992 for a show in North Tonawanda at the Riviera Theatre (05.08.1992). There’s a nice Reba and that typically fun/loose vibe from small theater Phish with lots of Secret Language and teases throughout. The famed August ’93 run would be the next time Phish would play in the region, for the first time at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on 08.07.1993 for a classic show that has a glorious archival release available. This is a fantastic show all around but definitely check out the Stash->Makisupa, the “roller coaster of the mind” narration in Forbin’s>Mockingbird, the MFMF>McGrupp->Purple Rain, the Antelope, and more if you are somehow unfamiliar with this one. Oddly enough, this show marked the first time Phish didn’t play BBFCFM at a show in this area. The next visit would be on 04.10.1994 at the Alumni Arena of SUNY Buffalo for a highlight-filled affair, most notably the Antelope, Hood, and Melt. Then we have another famed stop to this part of the country for the 12.07.1995 show from Niagara Falls. Seriously, if you do not know this Fall 1995 gem you really should go spin that before you worry about our 1996 show here. Like that Darien Lake show it is also an archival release and has phenomenal stuff like the big first set Slave, a raging Possum, a mind-bending Melt, a frenzied Reba, and the wonder that is Mike’s->Weekapaug->DDLJ. Phish’s next visit to the area would be for our Fall 1996 show but they have continued to return to the area with four more shows at Darien Lake over the years (08.14.1997, 09.14.2000, 08.13.2009, and 06.08.2011), all shows with notable takeaways for you to peruse… like the ambient jam out of Hood and the Merry Pranksters insanity out of Forbin’s in 1997, the awesome Suzy and Drowned->C&P from 2000, um… the Drowned from 2009 maybe? and the Golden Age teases that abound in 2011. Okay, so maybe the last couple of visits haven’t had quite the fireworks but let’s just roll with it, mm’kay?

 

So with all of that history here, how does the 1996 stop stack up? Well, I am glad you asked because that is exactly what I plan on covering from here on out in this post. Good thing you stopped by. Starting a show with My Friend My Friend (or Myfe/Knife for you old folks) is generally a good sign as the demented tune froths with an anticipatory build that begs one to get down and dirty. There have been 28 show opening MFMFs in the 139 times it has been played with most setting the tone for the evening to come. This one stays at home with that screeching peak out of Trey before the denouement that gets us to our first Rift of the tour. This is tackled cleanly and we are on to Free. Tonight’s version starts out quite bombastically with Trey giving way to Page after the verses, allowing Page to set the mood. Trey adds in a bunch of pedal effects and grating tones as Fish pounds out the beat and Mike drops in some small artillery fire on the bass. They wrap this one up nicely with a nailed return to the final round of lyrics and we move into our second of the twisted tales of the night with Esther, that now quite rare crowd favorite. This one (with its Random Note SL in the intro) is paired for what stands as the last time currently with Esther, providing an interesting punch to the end of the sad tale of that little girl and her evil doll. That Llama shred can mess with heads too, so we are still somewhat in our darker theme here even with the brightness of Rift and the hopeful feelings of Free counterbalancing the other songs (though the jam in Free is of that darker realm). This connected theory gets blown up next though as they start up the Fish-penned ditty Gumbo. Well, maybe just one song out of theme is okay…

 

After the Gumbo we have our second Down With Disease of the early tour and tonight’s shreds similarly to the one from Lake Placid but we have a bit of extra effect love from Page and some exploration within the context of the song before Trey comes in to peak this one out. This leads right into Prince Caspian which acts as something of a breather before Trey takes his typical Fall ’96 Caspian solo and then we head right into the set closing cover of Frankenstein. Now, I am a huge fan of Phish’s take on this Edgar Winters classic but just in case you have yet to witness it, here is what I consider to be the canonical version of the tune as performed by Mr. Winters and his pals back in 1973. It is so good that Chuck Klosterman once did an article on it for Grantland. I’m pretty confident Phish has never gone that big with the song particularly with all of the different “instruments” that Edgar plays there. This one from Buffalo is fine enough and puts a nice exclamation point on the set, pretty well closing the book on that darker theme we started back with MFMF.

 

Considering the set includes a song about a wife with a knife, a song about the consuming dread of silence, a song that while thematically about freeing oneself from the bounds of the physical includes a dissonant jam, a twisted tale about a demonic doll, a wild ride into battle with blastoplast-wielding soldiers of Gamehendge, a lysergically charged romp about soup, a soaring jam with references to visions of demons spurred on by a bout with illness, a song about a regal dude with no feet, and a classic pastiche of varied music that nods to its namesake this set has something of a prevailing vibe going on. There is no big centerpiece jam because there often isn’t in a first set like this but it is a quite fun one if you are into the more dark side of Phish, even though in the end it is all fairly bright and happy music which further confuses one due to the dichotomy that presents. Yeah, I am totally overthinking this here but I need to write about something and a straight forward set like this one doesn’t lend itself to effusive praise about the hetty jamz, yo. But seriously, you could do much worse than a tightly played set such as this one.

 

The second set starts off with a seemingly random ‘Wish You Were Here’ tease from Trey before they start up another in the line of oddball tales with ACDC Bag. Here in the pre-1997 days this song was more rocker than jam vehicle though you do get a little extra stank for the effort as they amp up the energy big time for this version. Next up is an odd pairing of Sparkle>Slave which makes sense considering it is the only time they have paired the two songs thusly. The Slave is nice in the way that it typically is but feels like it could have gone bigger before giving way to Bouncin’. This is then backed up by Melt and here five songs into the set it is difficult to get any sort of read on what their mindset is considering that they seem to be going back and forth from one style to another. There’s nothing to really complain about though when they get into the Melt jam which while perhaps not anything epic is a fine fine version that relies mainly on the T&R build rather than the mindfuckery that generally makes Melt what it can be. This marks the tenth song to debut for the tour which is fairly typical here in the fourth show as while they are focused on the material from the new album it doesn’t stop them from being Phish and digging into their catalog. They keep the energy up following Melt by playing Fluffhead (another tour debut…) with a little extra emphasis on the “New York” line as tends to happen in this state. Our second glimpse at Swept Away>Steep follows and I have to admit that maybe it is just me but for some reason I always want to write that as “Steep>Swept Away”. Not entirely sure why but I have to consciously remind myself to not write it the wrong way. Clearly that is a me problem…

 

This duo of tunes works well as the come down from Fluff but also in leading into Run Like An Antelope considering the big peakiness of that song. This Lope gets dissonant for a bit but then goes the way the song does and everyone loves it and screams their heads off in response. As if to bring it all down a bit from this Phish comes out for our first a cappella tune of the tour with Hello My Baby. Kind of a letdown closer after the big time energy of Fluffhead and Antelope but whaddayagonnado. All that’s left are the encores which tonight are Fee and Rocky Top, two fan favorites that do exactly what you expect them to here.

 

Look, I won’t sugar coat it, this is not a top tier show. It is fine enough and quite well played for the fourth show in as many nights but there just aren’t any major highlights to pull out of this one. In truth this is something of a pattern for Fall 1996 that we will see where they sprinkle in some big time jams but have entire sets or even shows that kind of coast along on the energy stuff without much in the way of true exploratory jamming. There are some takeaways, of course, but they are probably not going to make it anywhere near a best of the tour list when it is all said and done. And with that rousing introduction I’ll say your takeaways are Disease and Melt with Free and Bag being the add-ins if you are feeling gracious. There is nothing wrong with this show by any means but it is largely average fare in a time when Phish had full command of their arsenal and a willing crowd to spur them to greater heights which is not to imply that they do not still have these things but that they were still on the rise on the heels of 1995 and with more big things on the horizon. I think this one ends up being a Saturday Night Special that was probably quite fun in the moment but lacks the lasting power that a couple of big or unique jams could have given it. So now we get that first night off to travel southeast through the state for the return to MSG for a pair of midweek shows. Remember, phans: Don’t pass them, let them pass you.

Inside Me A Voice Was Repeating This Phrase – Pittsburgh, PA 10.18.1996

Phish — Civic Arena — Pittsburgh, PA 10.18.1996

I  Jim, Guelah, Old Home Place, CTB, Stash, Strange Design, Divided, Billy Breathes, Taste, Sample

II  Suzy>Maze, YEM, Reba, Waste, Hood

E  Julius

 

Continuing their opening run for the Fall 1996 Tour in Pittsburgh, PA, Phish hit the stage for the third time in as many nights (with one more to go in this string before a Sunday night off to get ready for MSG). This was the second time the band had played this venue after a quite decent one on the Fall 1995 Tour (check out the Stash, Reba, and Gin!). The band’s history with The Burgh goes way back with the band first visiting venues in this fine post-industrial city as early as 11.30.1992 — a show with the first ever non-whistle-ending Reba (it’s a good one too!) and one of the few Secret Language Instructions ever — at the Metropol, a smallish music venue that closed in 2002. Then there’s the one time stop to the now-defunct IC Light Amphitheater (one of the more hilarious product sponsor venue names I’ve ever seen because seriously what is Iron City Light doing sponsoring a music venue?? and which is now the site of a soccer stadium project) on 07.18.1993 which has a really fun Antelope that includes jams on Heartbreaker and Brother. Next would be the one time stop at the AJ Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University on 10.09.1994 for the show best known for the ALO Squirming Coil it contains. As an aside here, I saw shows at this venue on two nights of that weekend: first on Friday for Dave Matthews Band opening for hometown heroes Rusted Root (and there was NO ONE in the venue for the DMB set as this was well before their departure from playing real jam music and hitting the big time) and then on Sunday for the Phish from Vermont who also drew a smaller crowd here than Rusted Root. Still one of the stranger music weekends of my life in that regard. Okay, back to the recaps. This Fall 1996 show would end up being the last time that the band has played in Pittsburgh itself as they have since moved on to the wonderful outdoor venue to the west in Burgettstown that seems to have a new sponsor every time they come back (but will always be Star Lake Amphitheatre to me…). I won’t go too deep into detail on that classic venue as they have now played seven shows there since their awesome debut at the venue on 08.13.1997 but if you have never checked out any of the shows here first slap yourself because what the heck, man, but then go do it. You will not be disappointed!

 

Clearly, the band has a pretty good track record in this part of Pennsylvania. And maybe if you just looked at the setlist from this 10.18.1996 you might think this one is the “off year” but just look at that second set. LOOK AT IT!! THAT’S A SIX SONG SET IN AN ERA WHEN THEY REALLY DIDN’T DO THAT!! Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to get all riled up there. Ahem. Anyway, the setlist here is a tad deceiving as it doesn’t have a bunch of cool segues or many things to indicate that this is anything more than a Friday night fun time in downtown P’Burgh. And let’s be honest, it isn’t a show that is making any short lists for the year but there’s a lot to be found in this one…

 

We get rocking right from the start with our first Runaway Jim of the tour which while not overly extended has a nice jam to get us up and moving. Next we get our old pal “Two Slot Guelah” which is a fun one and not a song you ever really hear anyone complain about (because why would they?) before they bring back the bluegrass three hole tune for The Old Home Place. This is one of those songs you never really go in saying “hey, I’d love if they played Old Home Place tonight” but you still end up singing along to the playful number. Cars Trucks Buses starts up next for our first repeat of the tour (there will be more tonight…) and this one is as punchy as you could want for a version that stays totally in bounds. You really can’t go wrong with that tune. It just begs you to dance to it. Now we are on to Stash and I will admit that the first time I listened to this version it didn’t do much for me but upon relisten I really liked what Trey had to offer in this one. It is not an epic 94/95 Stash but there is some real solid T&R development as he throws ideas around in getting to the peak. It really lacks in only being 11+ minutes as I would have liked more of what they had going there. Keeping with the tour debuts (excepting CTB) we get Strange Design, that sentimental tune that was left off the Billy Breathes album but did come out as a b-side to Free in a version that is different than how they play it live (this is the only Phish single I ever purchased and I did that only to get this version). Here it is a nice breather after the Stash.

 

Trey brings the energy right back up by starting into Divided Sky and while pretty much what you expect out of this well loved staple there does seem to be a little bit of extra sauce being put on particularly by Trey who takes a quite soaring solo that has some DEG-like hints right near the peak. Billy Breathes gives us our second tour repeat and another (groan) breather tune but right after this somewhat shaky version we go into Taste. This one is nice enough with a decent bit of soloing from both Page and Trey but I couldn’t get past Fish coming in a tad early at the peak so it isn’t one I’ll be spinning very often. They cap the set with our third tour repeat in a row, Sample in a Jar, and you know how I feel about that song so let’s just move along. Overall this set feels like a lot of table setting without much payoff though the Stash and Divided were quite good. Here in the early stages of this tour it is not surprising that they are both playing a lot of songs and also focusing on the Billy Breathes material. Everything is played well enough but I definitely recall sitting there at the break wondering whether we’d be getting anything more meaty after the lights went back down. I mean, I like side orders as much as the next guy but give me that big juicy burger of a jam to sink my teeth into, please. Anyone else hungry?

 

Now, part of why we go is because of that unknown regarding what they will play – and how – so it isn’t like anyone was going to leave at setbreak before finding out what they had in store. Of course, maybe your mom was picking you up and she was waiting out front and you really did have to go right then but this was in the age before cell phones were prevalent so you can just make her wait a bit and then explain it off by saying you had no idea what time it was (probably a good idea to take off your watch before using that argument though, momma’s boy). And realistically, the set starts off innocently enough with Suzy Greenberg coming by to get the kids dancing. Nothing too special to see there. But then that heads right into Maze which starts off in the way it does before diving deep into a dark and twisted version that just blows up once Page hits the organ. He and Trey trade quite stellar solos with both riding the dark wave through to the end. This is a wonderful version of the song and while not ‘type II’ in any way gets out there. I’d gladly put this one up there in the higher echelons for Maze. Not content to rest on that the band immediately drops into You Enjoy Myself for a really fun romp through the most frequently played song in the catalog. Things are going along well enough and then in the back part of his jam Trey drops a few “Do You Feel Like We Do?” quotes, sending the crowd into a tizzy. This energy carries over to the D&B section to follow and even into the VJ which has a bit more cheering than your standard one. This is not a world class YEM to rival the best of the best but it is a solid version with that well placed nod to Mr. Frampton. Sticking with the jam vehicles, our gal Reba is up next and this one’s a real beaut, Clark. Trey works his lead lines out with an almost tension-building precision as Page lays down some fantastic complimentary bits on the piano. This all heads to the predictable Reba peak but the getting there is quite lovely. I’m a bit surprised at how lightly regarded this version is by those who rank this sort of thing as if we got a Reba like this these days people wouldn’t stop talking about it for weeks. Maybe in two weeks they’ll surprise me? Considering that this is the next version following one of the all-timers from The Clifford Ball it is nice to hear them reach for the apex once again. The counterpoint to this type of Reba will come in only a few shows when they go dark with it but this one is all about the major key peak build. 94/95 may be the Our quick breather tune tonight is Waste (second of tour and fifth repeated song from that first show of the tour) and it is fine enough but really is just fodder on the way to our Harry Hood closer. As with the other notable tunes played here tonight it isn’t a top of the heap version but it serves quite well as our closer with a lovely bit of playing by Trey to be found here. Interestingly enough, we are seeing a pattern here where a lot of these songs that they are playing well but perhaps not spectacularly here in the early part of the tour will end up having top tier, arty rankin-worthy versions by the time we get to Vegas. Gin, Hood, Reba, Simple, and other songs all get the workout in this tour. While these early tour versions don’t necessarily hint at what is to come they are solid enough that you can’t help but notice (with the benefit of hindsight, of course) that bigger things are on the horizon. That is perhaps a bit revisionist but, hey, we are allowed that kind of latitude here 19 years on from this night. I don’t know, maybe I’m just reaching. Whatever. Anyway, the encore tonight is Julius and I mentioned this on twitter the other day but pretty much all of the versions of Julius from this time period have some unreal playing by Trey. He simply shreds this one to bits and sends us off into the night shaking our heads, wagging our fingers in the air, and praising the power of Phish. It’s a nice exclamation point on a quite solid show, definitely the best show of these opening three of the tour.

 

As you can probably tell, I really like this show, particularly the second set. Yes, I was there (my first of the tour and last until a wonderful six show run I got a few weeks later) so that influences my opinion but even still you can tell there is something going on here in terms of band/crowd connection that just didn’t elevate in those first two shows. It helps when the band does their part by bringing great playing, energy, and song choice together but the crowd is as much a part of it as anything. I’m not going to dive into that big pool right now but suffice it to say I maintain that this show was aided by a receptive crowd who was willing to reflect the energy back to the band. Those are the nights that end up being the most memorable in my book. So with that your takeaways tonight are Maze, YEM, and Reba (for first tier stuff) with Divided, Hood, Stash and Julius being your next tier and Jim the ‘throw in’ play. The playlist will be updated to include all of those (sans Jim). Next we shuffle off to Buffalo for another night with more to show than what the setlist tells us…

Here Is A Place Of Elegance – State College, PA 10.17.1996

Phish — Bryce Jordan Center, PSU — State College, PA 10.17.1996

I  2001>Funky Bitch, Sparkle, Tweezer>Theme, Talk, PYITE, Zero, ADITL, Reprise

II  Ya Mar, CDT, Gin, Mule, Free, Lizards, SSB, Bowie

E  Golgi

 

Phish and college arenas go together like peanut butter and pancakes — which is really good if you have never tried it. There are books that could be written filled with nothing but anecdotes from the many amazing shows the band has played to our impressionable rising youth over the years, anecdotes that most of us have considering that so many of us were first exposed fully to the band while in our formative collegiate years. Penn State University is one of those places where the band has had a rich history, first* having played State College at the old Rec Hall on 04.08.1994 for a show that is chock full of highlights and notably includes the legendary Ice->DDLJ->Ice that birthed the very first Digital Delay Loop Jam. There’s some other great stuff here as well including one of those wonderfully out there ’94 Bowies and a beaut of a Hood. The band has played here in State College two more times, first for the show we are about to discuss and then again the year following as the fourth to last show of the epic Fall ’97 tour. This one is best known for the big time Simple->Timber Ho! but is worthy of a full spin if you have the time. Those last two appearances in State College were at the Bryce Jordan Center, a multi-use facility that hosts the basketball, volleyball, hockey, and other sports teams along with concerts, wrestling, and other non-university revenue generating activities. This venue has some solid trivial history what with Aerosmith recording portions of a live album here, The Backstreet Boys using it as the backdrop for a music video for one of their poppy boy band hits, and Pearl Jam releasing a live album of a show they played here in May of 2003. As the venue had just opened in January 1996 it was still pretty brand spanking new when the Phish scene descended upon it in October of that year, perhaps forever altering the ambient aroma of the HVAC system in the process.

 

This show starts off with the party vibe as the band throws down a quick hitting dancey combo of 2001>Funky Bitch. Keep an ear on 2001 this tour as the seeds of what is to come in 97-99 are sown as this tour progresses. Tonight’s version is pretty straight forward and the Funky Bitch that follows is about what you’d expect as well. Keeping the energy high, they then drop into Sparkle for the frenetic tale of suitor stress before giving us our first Tweezer of the tour. Maybe it is the fact that it is a mid first set version or that they just aren’t up for it this night but this one just doesn’t really go anywhere. I’m not one to base thoughts on a jam on length but considering this one clocks in at under ten minutes with the lyrical section you know it it not much more than a setlist check mark. They do take this right into Theme from the Bottom though and that has a nice if predictably soaring peak even if it is pretty contained in comparison to the strongest versions of the song.

 

Staying with the Billy Breathes theme, we get the third Talk ever and I’ll just move on because of all the songs in the Phish canon this is one of the few that simply does not work for me. At all. But that’s a “me” thing related to a certain journey along the NYE Run later in 1996 that really does nothing to add to our conversation here because at the end of the day Talk is just a little ditty they have played a grand total of 14 times (though unfortunately for me right now more than half of those were in 1996…). Following this diversion they bring the energy right back up for a nice run through Punch You In The Eye and further froth the fervor with our second Character Zero in as many shows (get used to it. this song and Taste are the workhorses of this tour with each song appearing in over half of the 35 shows between Lake Placid and Las Vegas). We are still fairly close to the album take here but Trey does start to shine a bit brighter on his solo. Zero is followed by the well loved cover of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life, a straightforward but energetic tale that you knew quite well before Phish started covering it at Red Rocks in 1995. The song works well as a closer or encore so it’s not surprising that WAIT. Hang on, they decided to throw us a bone and close the first set with Reprise, putting a nice cap on a highly energetic set with but one little lull for that bathroom break Talk. Sure, there’s not a lot in the way of takeaway highlight fodder here but in the moment this would have been a quite fun set to get down to as it is just one dance party tune after another… acknowledging, of course, that this is in the days before the real dance party music entered the equation… but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there, aren’t I?

 

And so after taking in the sights and the shiny new venue during setbreak one had to wonder what the band would come out with to start the second frame. If you guessed Ya Mar you would have been correct but I have a feeling that not too many people expected that to be our opener. It fits with the prevailing vibe though and this version is bouncy and bright even if it lacks anything resembling a notable outro jam. They keep it cranking from there with a solid, on point Chalkdust Torture (we here in 3.0 need to remember that CDT didn’t become the extended vehicle that it currently is until that watershed 07.10.1999 version from Camden). This is followed by an engaging if somewhat abbreviated Bathtub Gin, a song that had toyed with jam heights in the past but was still not quite a reliable vehicle either. Just wait though. We will soon be hitting one of the biggies… This one is not that though so let’s just move it right along.

 

When Phish starts up Scent of a Mule you generally get one of a few reactions from those around you. There’s the bathroom breakers who immediately dart out to the concourse to take advantage of the 10-12 minutes of oddity that this song produces, there’s the audible groaner jaded vets who don’t want any of their precious second set jam space taken up by this “filler” tune, there’s the excited hijinx chasers, and there’s the rest of the crowd who either doesn’t know the song well or simply doesn’t care either way because they are having a blast at a Phish show and there’s no reason to let this weird Mike tune ruin their show, man. I’m not entirely certain where I sit on this one personally as even with as many times as I’ve seen the klezmer and duel and whatnot there is something about that “here’s a place of elegance, here we shower ourselves in lightness” section that hits me every time. It’s one of those perfect Phish lyrics that evokes more than the simple words stated. But even above that this song offers up the possibility to hear them do some different musical stylings than in most other songs with Page taking a (usually) interesting solo before handing it over via the duel to Trey (or sometimes Mike gets involved too) and being Phish there is the humor factor that adds to it all too. That said, I’m not really sure why so many of the Mules the band has played warrant jamchart entries except for the possibilitty that someone over at .net is a big time SOAMule fan. I mean, sure, each one has a slightly different take on the duel section but it isn’t like they are up there creating mind-blowing “new” music on the spot. Of course, there are some versions that are worth your time and I’d argue that this one has an interesting Trey section considering he vocally mimics the notes he plays for a bit of a scat feel before they come back around to finish up the duel and klezmer madness that brings us around to the final verse and refrain. As Mules go you can definitely do worse.

 

After that the band starts up Free, that chugging powerhouse of a tune that was a pretty reliable vehicle for much of the early part of its show life, possibly peaking in 1997 but also having had a couple of quite notable versions in Fall 1995 after only having been debuted at the Voters For Choice Benefit show on 05.16.1995 (along with several other tunes…). 1996 was something of a ‘meh’ year for the tune in jam terms but that’s not to say they played the song poorly. This version is a good example in that regard as it rocks hard and has a nice bit of crunchy, grating guitar out of Trey with Page toying around all over the piano as Mike and Fish provide the bombastic rhythm behind it all. It won’t make the highlight reel but was assuredly a fun one to rock out to in the moment. Now more than halfway through the set, the band comes up for a bit of air and drops the beloved Lizards on us, offering up the wonderful tale and musically engaging song for our enjoyment. Following this you might expect them to go big or at least amp up the energy again but instead the four step out front for an a cappella tune. While it could have been any of a number of tunes at this point (and, really, where have all the a cappella tunes gone? we now only get Grind or a couple others these days and that kinda sucks if you ask me because I love that aspect of Phish) Trey mentions that they need to practice for an upcoming performance of this new song before an NBA game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the LA Lakers. So they trot out their take on The Star Spangled Banner, treating us to our first glimpse at the patriotic side to Phish. I like the Phish version of the song and hearing the entire crowd join in is always a nice touch, particularly in venues like this one. My personal favorite was the celebratory one from the encore of the 11.01.2014 show which seemed like an exclamation point on an amazing night but your mileage may vary. No matter what, this version is cool to hear due to the newness of it and how it sure seems like they really want to get it right before performing it for a non-Phish audience.

 

So how do you follow up the national anthem then? For Phish it means bringing out a big gun to capitalize on that crowd energy so they start up David Bowie which seems like as good of a choice as any. Understanding that this vehicle was a bit past its heyday, it still had the power — and reputation — to blow up the joint any time Phish started into it. This Penn State version is not a jam monster feeding on the fearful thoughts of the heads cowering from its demonic sound but it is a clinic in the high quality tension and release construct. Trey is large and in charge here, offering up lots of ideas all while playing around the building tension, first with a slowly building section that feels like it could dive right off the deep end at any point. Eventually, as the tension builds Trey’s lines become more and more intricate with Page comping around behind him. You can feel the peak stat to form as we await that sweet release but they bring things down again for another minute or so just to add more to that level of expectation. When the big peak finally does come it hits hard and will have you pumping that fist at your desk. As with the first set ending Reprise, this Bowie packs a big punch that adds to the energy of the set before it and provides the right kind of punctuation mark to this show. A quick Golgi Apparatus encore sends us out into the central Pennsylvania night and we are off to Pittsburgh for a Friday night affair.

 

There’s no reason to sugar coat this one; it is an energy/rocker show and that is fine. The biggest highlight is perhaps that Bowie closer or maybe the Mule if you really want see some people get pissed off. But even with that the playing is quite solid and the song choices all feel fresh. Sure, they have now worked though all of the songs on the recently released album that they will ever have played (still waiting on that Bliss, Trey!!) in these two shows and there are not any big time highlights in the jam sense to take with us but let’s be patient. This is a Thursday night show  and the second of the tour. They are still getting back into the swing of things and within a week or so we will be on our way to bigger and better things. So while there may not be a ton of takeaways here — we will go with Bowie, Mule (yes), and if you want to add them the Free and Tweezer>Theme — it is a fun show to hear for what it is. Not every show can be a ‘canon worthy’ jam-heavy entry so if you can’t have fun for a show like this one I’m not sure how you do Phish. That may sound a bit harsh but whatever. We are lucky to be able to dissect this band to the degree that we do. I mean, could you imagine being a massive Bruce Springsteen fan or something and trying to find the best version of ‘Born in the USA’ or something out of the 10,000 versions that are all essentially the same? I don’t say that to speak ill of The Boss as his shows are legendarily fun but even with all of the people who follow him religiously you never hear they speak about singular versions of songs as much as to compare notes on how many shows they have attended (although they have the bustout thing going for them too…). I am getting away from my point so I’ll just finish off here by saying that this is a fine enough show that is well played and should be categorized as such. Now let’s get ready for some demonic Maze action…

 

 

*Just to address the item that some super hetty fan will assuredly try to bring up, there is that classic Tela from 08.27.1998 on the Penn State campus but if you know anything about the geography of Pennsylvania you will know that Mont Alto is in the south central part of the state (closer to Gettysburg) and State College is about 100 miles north right smack in the middle of the state. This is a satellite campus and that show, in the food court no less, is a fun little listen not just for that awesome “full” Tela but also for some great banter throughout and one of my favorite things: Trey imploring the crowd to woo! WTF, Trey??

We Float Upon The Air – Lake Placid, NY 10.16.1996

Phish — Olympic Center — Lake Placid, NY 10.16.1996

I  CTB, Disease, Wilson>Buried Alive>Poor Heart, Billy Breathes, Mound>Sample, Ice, Horse>Silent, Zero

II  Wolfman’s Brother, Taste, Train, Simple>Swept Away>Steep>Caspian, Lope, Coil, Johnny B. Goode

E  Waste

 

On October 15th, 1996 Phish released the album Billy Breathes to a relatively high level of critical acclaim. This is not to say that the album quickly rose to the top of the pop charts but that unlike some of their prior (or subsequent) albums the reviews for this release were surprisingly not overly dismissive even if some reviewers stuck to the stock trade of lazily classifying them as a drug band. The music press has never been overly kind to our band so to read some of the more positive takes on this Steve Lillywhite produced album was a nice change of pace for those of us on the bus at the time. And realistically, the album probably does still stand as one of the best studio offerings from Phish. Five of the thirteen songs on this album have been played more than 130 times each (Zero being king at 186) and another four are near or above 50 performances with only one song, Bliss, never having graced the stage to date. The majority of the songs had been played at least a few times prior to being laid down in the studio for inclusion on the album but in a few cases the recording gave the opportunity to revisit the song to work out the kinks, so to speak. The result is that you get an album that works for both the devout and the casual fan, offering up the sound of Phish without being overly challenging to the uninformed listener. I don’t say that to make any negative connotation but instead to perhaps suggest that Billy Breathes is one of if not the most accessible albums the band has produced over the years. So when the band hit the stage at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, NY to open their tour and to showcase their new album you knew that we would be treated to a BB-heavy show. This was also the first opportunity to hear the band play since their unbelievable festival The Clifford Ball capped the summer and offered up the blueprint for how to hold a music festival in the new age of music that was developing in the mid to late 90s.

 

This Lake Placid show stands as one of the closer-to-home tour openers that the band has ever played, excepting the very early years of the band when they didn’t exactly play country-spanning tours. That, combined with the excitement of the album release and the energy that comes from a practiced band ready to get going, set things up well for a show where expectations would be mostly in check due to all of the potential unknowns about what could go down that evening. Right out of the gates we get going on the Billy Breathes material as they start into the Page-penned instrumental Cars Trucks Buses. Mostly existing as a first set bring-up-the-energy number, this song has opened 14 shows out of its 78 performances and has always been a crowd favorite for the dancing it begs you to do. Next up is a somewhat surprisingly placed Down with Disease which immediately takes the set up to another level. This is the type of Disease that stays mainly at home in the ‘type I’ realm but packs a massive punch in just ten minutes of shred mastery. Trey is leading the charge here, spraying The Hose liberally on the elated masses before bringing it back the classic ending that we oftentimes do not get to hear these days. The energy stays high for the next run of three songs as anytime you pair Wilson>Buried Alive>Poor Heart you know the crowd will go apeshit. This kind of harkens back to the type of energetic Phish we heard a ton of in Spring ’93 but it also has a bit more to it now that the band has elevated to a different level entirely from those speed jazz days. At this stage five songs into the set the band pulls up for a well deserved breather, sliding in the airy ballad and title track from the album Billy Breathes. This offers us the chance to gather ourselves a bit before they head out into Mound for a decent if a bit shaky in the back half version that bumps up against Sample in a Jar. After surviving that we are treated to a decently dark and down It’s Ice with Page providing some really nice work in his part of the jam. A quick run through The Horse>Silent in the Morning gives the people who love to sing along their chance to shine and then we are into the set closing Character Zero. This Zero feels like it could have been pulled right from the album which makes sense since the song is still finding its legs.

 

And then when the lights come up and you look down at the setlist you realize we have a reasonably high number of songs here with twelve songs and pretty much only that Disease to speak of as a real, bona fide highlight. The playing is all quite good here for the most part but it feels like they are holding back just a bit from totally going off. That is not unusual for the first set of a new tour and with the new album out you would expect them to focus on those songs while also throwing in some of the setlist standards and fan favorites. I actually would have expected them to play more songs from the album from the start but there is still a whole set to come for all of that.

 

So after walking the halls of the venue that is now The Herb Brooks Arena (for obvious reasons…) you settle back into your section as the lights go down and prep for the set to come. The band starts into Wolfman’s Brother (then the first time they had ever opened a second set with the song) and the dance party kicks off once again. This is the pre-cowfunk sort of Wolfman’s where the end jam is pretty straight forward but the song serves its purpose in getting us up and moving before they get back to the Billy Breathes material for Taste. Now, something should probably be said here about this song as it was only a few months before this that the “final” version of this song was formalized. If you know your song history here (and I know you do) Taste evolved a lot from the time it was debuted about 16 months prior to this show. The original version was okay, I guess, but lacked something. It was played ten times before being shelved towards the end of Summer ’95, only to return that Fall with a new set of Fish-sung lyrics and a new name ‘The Fog That Surrounds’ based on one of the lines in the song (named so by the fans. Trey introduced the song as one fans might think they know but that it wasn’t necessarily what they thought it was). This version was performed eight times before the song again changed, becoming a combination of the two prior versions and being penned ‘The Taste That Surrounds’ for fourteen appearances over the rest of Fall ’95 and into the New Year’s Run. During those Spring ’96 recording sessions the band reworked the song again to arrive at the Taste we know today, keeping the best parts of the prior iterations and setting up the structure we have that includes both Page and Trey solos in the outro jam that tends to stay in bounds while reaching high towards a blissy peak. If you want to read more about that song and its history, perhaps you will want to see the “Best Year Ever” post I created for the song a while back. It focuses mainly on versions well past this one but it is something if you are a fan of the song. Here at the start of the Fall Tour the song is pretty straight forward but it does hit that peak nicely so there’s that. A quick downshift for the Mike-sung Train Song leads in to the real highlight of this show (and a hint at some of what we can expect A LOT of this tour) as they crank it up for the first Simple since they masterfully segued into it out of a fun Mike’s Song back at The Clifford Ball on 08.16.1996 (seriously, if you do not know this version you really need to go hear it because they don’t do transitions as good as that very often). This Lake Placid version starts off well enough and then when they drop into the jam Trey takes the back seat, hopping on the mini-kit for a few minutes to allow Page and Mike to take the lead.

treymini

This is something that he did off and on throughout 1995 and 1996, ostensibly to allow for jams to develop out of ideas by the other band members rather than staying in the guitar-led realm. Reception of this by the fanbase is somewhat mixed as there are definitely those who say “playing your effing guitar, dude!” but at times it can work quite well. This Simple is one of those cases as once they get a pocket going Trey comes back in with some elongated, soaring lead lines that feel almost more like something you would hear in 1998. They play around here for a bit but then shift towards something else which ends up being the debuts of Swept Away>Steep, two more songs from the Billy Breathes album. Some of the music for these songs evolved out of a recording experiment the band took on during the recording sessions earlier that year known as The Blob. The following is from the February 1996 entry on phish.com/band:

They started the process by choosing random instruments and recording one note or musical phrase at a time in a multi-layered creation eventually called “The Blob”. They utilized a wide variety of unusual instruments including vibraphones, Mellotron, and Theremin in addition to their traditional instruments. At any given time, a band member could use his “turn” to remove a note or phrase from the tape as well. By the time The Blob was large enough to consume any substantial space on a recording reel, the band had basically determined that it was not what they were looking for. A couple minutes from the middle of The Blob were eventually used as part of the album cuts Swept Away/Steep, but otherwise that mode of recording was eventually scrapped for more conventional methods.

It would be quite interesting to hear the entire Blob project but that seems like something we might never get based on how the band left it. We do get to enjoy the pieces that were lent to some songs though and Swept Away>Steep has that. This debut version is well played and includes something you won’t hear on the album or in most live versions which is that right at the end of Steep the band collectively screams out, providing a jarring end to a largely serene bit of music. They follow this up with the song that follows the pairing on the album, Prince Caspian, by now already a dichotomous song in the canon amongst fans. The song had been debuted in Summer 1995 to mixed fan reaction with some loving the major key end solo from Trey and others feeling that the song sapped a set of any momentum gained up to that point. Personally, I didn’t really have much of an opinion on the song either way but as with most Phish songs it has grown on me and now that they have given us the majesty that is the Magnaball Tweezerpants I am not really going to complain about its potential. But in fall 1996 the song was still very much rooted in its structure, never really veering away from the formula which is perhaps part of why it was received in the way it was in that era. This version from Lake Placid is in that vein but works well in finishing the suite of music that started back in that Simple.

 

Following that four song string they kick into Run Like An Antelope and we are up and bounding once more. Trey uses a grating, dissonant build to develop the tension in this version and while perhaps not one that goes out there fully it serves well as a counterpoint from the downward trend in the energy of the music over the past few songs. Page steps in next for the always welcome Squirming Coil and as expected provides a lovely outro piano solo that might have had a lot of fans wondering at why the set was closing so early. Those fans would have to stop with their end of show preparations as instead of leaving it at that we have the cover of the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode, a song that really surprised me in becoming a song that Phish played when I caught the debut emerge in the middle of a ridiculously out there Tweezer on 06.17.1995. I have never been a big fan of this song even when Chuck Berry is singing it but it is one of those songs that anyone who has heard any rock music will know and it provided an energetic bump whenever Phish played it. For some reason they brought it out more than a few times on this tour so get ready for more of this song in late set and encore placements. With that as the show closer it is a little surprising to hear Waste as our encore tonight but with the album release and the overall newness of the song (this is only the 7th ever appearance) I suppose it is somewhat fitting for them to trot this one out, particularly with the lyrical content it brings. After that we are out for the night and headed south towards a pair of shows in Pennsylvania, first with a stop at a brand spanking new venue on the campus of Penn State University.

 

So what do we make of this first show of the tour? I will be honest, after all of the ambient jams and cowfunkery of Fall 1998 it is pretty nice to hear that clear tone and tight playing that made 93-96 so awe-inspiring. This is not to say that the playing after that was any less amazing but that it wows in a different way. Here we have the band still in their heavily geeky mode, focusing more on practice and musical connection than any of the myriad of outside forces that would eventually lead to… other things. This show is just a tiny taste of what is in store for us going forward and being the first show since the album release is obviously heavy on those songs (9 of 13 tracks got played here), many of which are songs that don’t exactly stretch the limits of the band’s improvisational chops. But as has ever been the case, when they connect it is some of the best stuff in the world and tonight that connection lies most fully in the few takeaways we have to explore. Focus on the Disease, Simple>Swept Away>Steep, and Antelope with the Taste being a decent add in if you are feeling generous.

 

You may have noticed I have updated the playlist to include the songs that I have as definite takeaways and will continue to add to this as we go along. As always though, I recommend spinning the full show to really get a sense of what went down.

Until You Burst Into Song and Unwind – Priming Up for Fall 1996

1996

 

Seemingly a lost year in the annals of Phishtory according to some,  1996 exists as a year tucked between two of the most highly lauded years in which the band has played shows. But while this year does not perhaps produce the reactions from fans that 1995 or 1997 do the truth is that this is a year full of amazing music and one that deserves more credit for helping to shape the sound of the band for years to come than it has been given. Our focus will be on the Fall Tour from this year but I think it helps a bit to understand what got us there so that we can then see where it takes us in going forward as well so with that in mind I present you with a quite brief (and not in any way seriously vetted) primer on 1996 Phish.

 

Following the triumphant and understandably highly praised Fall 1995 Tour and ensuing New Year’s Run that culminated with a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden – shows that really shouldn’t need any introduction – the band hit the studio to begin laying down the tracks for what would become the album Billy Breathes. This recording time ran over several months between February and June of that year with the band pausing in April for their first ever appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka JazzFest). This one set show is not necessarily the greatest Phish you will ever here but there is a sit-in by Michael Ray for Cars Trucks Buses (a relationship that has blossomed over the years since Trey first joined the Cosmic Krewe for a show in March 1994), a YEM->Wolfman’s combo that works quite well, a soaring Hood, and a wonderfully tensioned David Bowie that has hints of Caravan throughout. Honestly, some of the best music to be found from Phish’s visit to The Crescent City lies in the sit-ins they did with other bands while there but those are not quite the focus of our time here together, are they?

 

Around this time Trey released the first ‘solo’ project album that any of the band members had produced to date with the free jazz experiment Surrender to the Air. This was a HUGE departure from Phish and as a result the album is not necessarily widely considered a must-have album by the majority of Phish fans but it was a worthy risk to undertake as it opened up a whole different world of musical possibility – even if it did not directly result in any new songs for the Phish canon. But when you bring together an amazing group of musicians including Marshall Allen, Trey, Kofi Burbridge, Oteil Burbridge, Damon Choice, Fish, Bob Gulotti, James Harvey, John Medeski, Michael Ray, and Marc Ribot you can expect some magic to go down. Fans of this music should also check out the two shows they played for the release of the album on 04.01.1996 and 04.02.1996 at the New York Arts Academy. Maybe it isn’t your cup of tea but it is challenging improv that finds some moments of true connection amidst the competing lines of the wonderful players who laid it down.

 

Based on the Doniac Schvice that came out in March of that year we knew that the band had no other plans for the Spring besides that Jazz Fest appearance and they also indicated they would be going to Europe for a tour in July (as well as introducing us all to the wonder that is Assface…). In truth, fans would only have to wait another six weeks before the band hit the stage again, this time in Woodstock, NY while in the area recording at Bearsville Studios, a legendary recording studio where a long list of notable records were laid down over the years and which is now a private residence. This was an unannounced show at the now-closed Joyous Lake club played under the name ‘Third Ball’ with an opening band called ‘Juan Hung Low’. Clearly, the sophomoric humor of our band had not worn off in playing bigger stages of late. That show was a bit of a “back to their roots” bar show highlighting some of the newer songs (Waste and Character Zero were both debuted here) with a loose feel and a generally fun vibe permeating the music. Rumors of this show spread wide and far with high quality recordings coming out quite quickly as well, further amping up fans’ excitement for the summer to come.

 

Looking back it is hard to imagine how we made it all work in prepping for tours considering that it took until the Late Spring Doniac Schvice for us to get the details on the European Tour (and even that had several unconfirmed dates as of pressing) and the US Tour to follow. The biggest  news in there (aside from the brief announcement of the impending launch of phish.com, of course) was that the abbreviated US Tour would lead to Phish’s first ever “official” festival on the grounds of a decommissioned airforce base in Plattsburgh, NY. That news alone made the idea of a brief nine show US Tour more palatable to the masses. But before we get to that, let’s talk about that Euro Tour for a bit. Things did not start out as optimistically as one would have liked considering their first set in Italy was rained out but they were there doing several supporting sets for Santana so that allowed for the band to variously join Carlos on stage over the run as well as to allow for Phish to interact with Carl Perazzo, the percussionist who would play a big role in the tour that we are about to tackle here. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that the Euro Tour was a success on many fronts even if some do not consider there to be a high number of lasting jams to go back to from those shows. I tend to disagree but then I tend to find the good in almost all the Phish I hear. Almost.

 

A few days after returning from Europe (and with the Summer Schvice out to further whip the fervor of the fans for both the Clifford Ball AND our Fall Tour) Phish opened up the tour in gorgeous Park City, UT (oddly enough the second tour in a row that had rain leading into the show…) with Page showing off his new toy the Theremin as they opened with a haunting take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which would be quite a mind flipper if that was your first introduction to Phish…) as the stage was framed by the resulting rainbow from the passed storm. This show is okay with not many big highlights but they played a lot of fan favorites cleanly so you really can’t complain about a tour opener like that. Next was the now infamous four show stand at Red Rocks which has some fantastic playing but is most well known for the bad interactions some members of the scene had with the Morrison locals. I’m not going to bother linking the many articles written about this debacle but when you get banned by Red Rocks you know things have gotten a little out of hand. This wasn’t the first sign that the scene had changed (partially since the passing of Jerry but also as the natural expansion occurred when Phish got big over the course of 94-95) but it was the big moment where a lot of people started to recognize the cracks in the armor that had protected our thing from those negative outside influences for longer than it probably deserved.

 

The circus moved on to Alpine Valley and Deer Creek next with the band really starting to catch fire as they worked their way east all while it seemed that more and more fans hopped on the bus headed up to the Northeast. There was one final show in Hershey which ended up being a bit of a sleeper show considering so many people went right from Deer Creek to New York, probably staying on I-90 rather than dipping down into PA via I-80 so as to make the best use of the short amount of time before the festival began. Now, I would argue that the best use of time would have been to go to Hershey but what do I know? I only was able to scheme my way into a four day furlough from the summer camp where I worked on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake to cannonball it up to Plattsburgh for the festival so I can’t speak for those who hit the whole tour or at least the parts between the Midwest and the fest. Anyway, we created one of the lasting memories in the band’s history on that airforce base that weekend and that set the template not just for future Phish festivals but for the evolution of the live music industry in the US as people including the creators of Bonnaroo took that destination camping festival idea and blew it up into the bevy of music fests we now have to enjoy each year. That weekend saw the largest crowd ever (at the time) for Phish as over 70,000 of us congregated in celebration with the music and band as our guide. Along with the summer run that preceded it you can sense that this was the start of a big change in the band considering they had as many fans at that event as would have attended all four of the New Year’s Run shows in 1995 COMBINED. You don’t really go back to playing small theater tours from that.

 

So after The Clifford Ball happened – and I must say that you could do a whole lot worse than to do a little listening project following that US Tour through the festival as it is only 11 shows plus some more treats like the Flatbed Jam – the band headed home (not too far, of course, since they were just across the lake!) to catch their breath and practice a bit for the upcoming Fall Tour. In this time the final details for the Fall Tour came out via another Schvice and fans waited on the release of the album to come (which apparently could have had any of about a hundred different names than what it became…). The Billy Breathes album would end up being released the day prior to the first show of the Fall Tour in Lake Placid, NY and to this day stands as probably the best received album the band has put out. It probably wouldn’t hurt you to give it another listen to get ready for this tour since you will be getting quite familiar with almost all of the songs included on the record.

 

So that is how we got to here, the start of the Fall 1996 Phish Tour. We have 35 shows ahead of us to explore and I think if you have never taken the time to really go through this tour in earnest you may be quite surprised by how great many of these shows really are. It might not include a 20-minute-second-set-opening jam every show and they may have reined in the open psych a tad but there is a lot going on in the playing on this tour, things that will bear fruit not just in these shows but for many years to come in the world of Phish. So aside from a few short site notes below, let’s get down to the matter and crank up the Fall ’96!!

 

As a quick update, I recommend checking out some of the Band History information on phish.com/band which is a lot more in depth (and accurate) than my rough summary above. There are entries for February, April, June, July, October, and November of 1996 along with ones for several other notable times in the band’s history.

 

 

Okay, those site notes. Today, 12.14.2015, the 20th anniversary of the amazing Broome County Arena show from Binghamton, NY, will be the last day that the music player over there to the left will have the Fall 1998 tour highlights available. For this tour I am going to try something a little different by clearing the list and updating it with each show post to include the takeaways as we go along. This should help you to listen along if you feel like just hitting the top notch stuff but I do recommend spinning the full shows whenever possible as I tend to leave out some things because I am, after all, just one fan with opinions that might not agree with your take.

 

If you are still looking for those Fall ’98 gems there is a new section just above that player called “The Takeaways” where you can find download links to the compilations. This section should hopefully grow over time as we cover more and more of the band’s music.

 

Please give me any feedback you can so that I can make all of this easy for everyone. Living in the future is awesome, ain’t it?