Phish — Leon County Civic Center — Tallahassee, FL 10.29.1996
I CDT, Guelah, CTB, Taste, Bouncin’, Stash, Train Song, Billy Breathes, Poor Heart>Bowie
II Rift>Mike’s>Horse>Silent, Paug, Wedge, Zero, Suspicious Minds>HYHU, Slave, HMB
As fans of this band, we kind of have this reputation for being a bit obsessive and complete-ist with regards to our appetite for the music they have produced over the years. I know I know. That’s just a bit of an understatement. We can recite setlists, know show dates based on a particular run of songs, have websites (and apps) devoted to letting you know how many times you saw them play Bouncin’ in 1994, refer to infographics about song rotation, track the timing of when tour dates drop, endlessly argue over which version of a song is the best or what year is the best or whether Mike should wear scarves or is Page hitting the sandwiches too hard again or can Fish really support all of those kids or whether people should be allowed to ‘woo’ and so much more useless shit, search endlessly for teases/quotes, blather on incessantly to the twitters about so many stupid things about our scene and the band, and much much more. I haven’t even touched the taper minutiae, PT, PhishTwitters and a lot of other typical goings on in this weird world of ours. Heck, we have a deserved reputation for attacking anyone who dares to speak ill of something (Phish) that they may not like which . I guess what I am saying here is that we are quite devoted to this band so any time something major happens — particularly with their music — everyone takes notice. And there is something that I have been teasing and hinting at for quite some time now that, lo and behold, is finally here.
First things first though! Phish had only played Tallahassee one time before, for a Monday night show during their inaugural visit to Florida in Spring 93 (which we have covered here previously). That one is probably most notable for having the second to last ever Secret Language Instructions (something that is wholly unnecessary these days, unfortunately), a couple of soundcheck gems (first known takes on Nellie Kane and Guy Forget), and… um… two Fish Fun Time tunes I guess? Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a legendary show. But when the band came back they were in a MUCH different place having become a well known national touring act and all that. This visit would be to the Leon County Civic Center (now called the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center or “The Tuck” – a rare case of returning to an original name as when Florida State University took over ownership of the venue from the Leon County Civic Center Authority in 2012 they brought back the name). It sits on the main campus of FSU and is primarily used for college basketball and other university activities along with outside concerts and other typical events for venues in this size range (12,500). But on this night it was where PerazzoPhish was born and the band started something that we still reap the benefits of today.
You are probably asking yourself what the hell “PerazzoPhish” is and that is a reasonable question to ask. Well, there’s this guy named Karl Perazzo who the band met way back on the Summer ’92 tour when they opened all those shows for Santana (after leaving the OG H.O.R.D.E. tour). Along with the times various members of Phish sat in with Santana there was that 07.25.1992 show in Stowe, VT when the favor was returned (by Carlos, Raul Rekow, and Karl Perazzo) for the last three songs of Phish’s set opening the night. The Summer ’96 Euro Tour also saw some crossover including on 07.03.1996 Carlos and Karl joined in for a fantastic Taste->Llama. So when the band opened up here in Tallahassee with five people on stage it was definitely a surprise for the crowd but not necessarily uncharted territory for the band. It would take a few songs for Trey to clue everyone in on their guest for the evening but by then it is pretty clear that no one has any issue with what he is adding to the mix.
Things get started out in a rocking way as they play Chalkdust Torture for the second time in as many sets (opening both, in fact). The added percussion here amps things up even a few more notches than normal and the crowd responds with triumphant roars of approval for the slamming entry into the night. Our old pal Guelah Papyrus is back in its familiar two slot tonight, serving the role nicely before they bounce into a punchy take on Cars Trucks Buses. There’s nothing major going on here except that buoyant dance vibe but just three songs in you can already tell something is up with Phish tonight. It isn’t just that there is an added player. Something seems… new here. But we haven’t quite hit it yet. So the fourth song starts up and it is Taste and being that this is one Karl is definitely familiar with he can play around even more than some of the other songs here, resulting in some syncopated madness as they spiral through the jam towards the peak. Fish and Karl are lock-and-step in all of this, putting down a beat that pushes the rest of the band forward. I may have hit repeat on this one more than once. Trey takes time to mention how excited they are to share the stage with Karl for the night and then Bouncin’ keeps the people moving and singing along. Next up is Stash, a tune that wouldn’t seem to lend itself too well to an added percussionist. Well, it does in this case, particularly when that added percussionist helps to push the band a bit resulting in a jam that feels fairly familiar while also being something new. The familiar comes from the chugging leads by Trey which sound a lot like something from Fall ’95 (perhaps a bit like this famous Stash from 11.14.1995?) and the new is that percussive build that they craft bringing this up to be an all Type I jam but one that provides a satisfying bit of T&R. It isn’t a Stash that will be on anyone’s mind when thinking of the biggies but it is a good sign of what is happening here in this set. After that they bring it down a bit for a pair with the ballads Train Song and Billy Breathes, two songs that don’t really need the extra player but oh well. They bring the energy back up following these two with Poor Heart and then drop right into the set closing David Bowie. Getting right to the point here, they forgo the typical style of jam for Bowie, opting instead for a bit of groove pocket jamming. This is something you don’t get too often with Bowie and it is just another example already of the band’s sound shifting, seemingly as this set progresses. By the time they wrap it up (and give us the obligatory “we’ll be back in fifteen minutes” LIE, you lying liar, Trey!!) you have to start wondering what is in store for the next set. Obviously, a lot of the conversation here would have been around Perazzo but whether it is his influence or just coincidental with what they were already putting in motion is not really clear. I tend to think the latter combined with the still-unknown-to-the-crowd trick about to come in Atlanta but there is a bit of chicken/egg here as well.
Following the break, with the crowd anxiously anticipating their next move, Perazzo is the first to start up, playing a calypso-tinged beat that Trey comes in over with the start to Rift. This is one of the more unique versions of this song that you will hear (save the original, slow version of the song) as it is part Calypso Rift and part rocking shred Rift. This seems like a disparate pairing but it really works well. They drop right into Mike’s Song following Rift, working through the classic tune and heading off into a patiently crafted first jam. This jam gets a bit dark and soupy as both Trey and Page try out a few ideas over the big time bass and percussion pocket with Perazzo offering up some nice fills of his own as well. Trey is soloing with drawn out notes over the pocket, begging it to get over the hump and into deeper waters in a way that feels quite comfortable in that Mike’s way but also feels like they are poised for bigger things here. After pulling back for the main riff to signal us into the 2nd jam the crowd recognizes this could get special and gives a bit of cheer feedback in that regard as Trey breaks out the siren loop and really goes off with these wailing lead lines. He drops out to start something we simply have not heard him do before which is to do some funk comping over that pocket while Page toys around with some proto-funk lines of his own. Mike changes up the bassline to match the feel and we are fully into our first ever cowfunk pocket jam! Holy crap! This is the moment. Here is where we go from a band of precision and otherworldly psychedelic openness to one that can put down the funk and get a real live dance party going. You can hear the joy in the music here as they all bounce around the groove. Just before the 15 minute mark (yeah, I know. RIP, long Mike’s jams…) Trey starts hinting at something before playing a quite recognizable line around 15:15. Everyone hops on board and they are now in a place that hints at the classic Mind Left Body (MLB) theme while also having hints of The Wedge. Trey peaks this out with more wailing lines and we have finished the transition from the dark groove of the first jam over to the lightness of this peak. Admittedly, when they do hit the return to wrap up the song it is pretty rough going but after that jam they can be forgiven for any perceived misstep in this regard. This is a tipping point jam for the band, one that cannot be undersold with regards to the importance it holds in where we go from here.
Call it Patient Zero (thanks, MiA), the moment, example one, whatever. There simply was NO indication at all that the band would play this sort of jam here and now after what had come before it on the Fall 1996 Tour (or before then, clearly). With Phish the points of change seem to be more gradual that distinct as the band works out new ways of doing things over the course of a tour or sometimes even longer. Up until this jam if asked to define “The Phish Sound” here in Fall 1996 I would have said something like “percussive precision with moments of open musical abandon” but that description won’t work from here forward. Granted, we are still a long way from where the sound will go in six to nine months and eventually to the massive changes that came out of Summer ’97 and into the legendary Fall ’97 Tour but this is the birthplace of all of that. While not fully formed or even perhaps recognized by the majority of the fanbase in the moment, this is a wholly new way of crafting jams for the band. This takes what was up to this point a largely average tour and offers a new vocabulary for us to start to unpack, a new way of furthering the conversation between band and crowd. You may be saying “this dude needs to take it down a notch cuz Phish has always had some funk in their trunk” and to that I’d reply “yeah, but not like this. this is loose and tight at the same time and oh so fresh.” I really don’t think that I am overselling it to say that this jam marks our move from the open psych era of Phish to the cowfunk/groove period. This is not to say that every show would become a dance party of one dimensional groove jams though because at the root Phish is still a group of music nerds who just had found a new ‘costume’ to wear. Seriously, if Phish went fully to funk I doubt everyone would have lauded it as highly as they did. It is the ability to use it to counterpoint their other styles that makes it so effective as a tool. They are not a funk band but rather a band that can play funk. And in that one Mike’s jam that previous statement became real.
I suppose I need to now move on to the rest of the set because I am starting to get a bit repetitive and unfocused. So how do you follow up that Mike’s then? Well, being ’96 it probably means not Hydrogen considering they only played that pairing twice in the year (07.23.1996 and 08.05.1996) so instead we get one of only three times they have gone Mike’s>Horse>Silent>Paug. The other two are 12.30.1993 and 10.15.2010 but there are also a couple of times they have included Horse>Silent within the Groove (07.01.2011 at Superball and 08.26.2012). This interlude and lost-marbles-search segment is followed by the expected Weekapaug Groove which picks back up to the energy of the Mike’s but lacks anything more than a fairly standard take on that tune. Next they bust out The Wedge after a 70 show gap for a fun version with the extra percussion, perhaps having tipped their hand that it was coming earlier in that Mike’s 2nd jam. Another mid set Character Zero punches through with a big rocking version and then we get Fish Fun Time for the first time since that IDK in Hampton with the cover of Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds (with light up cape, naturally). That video of Elvis doing the song in 1970 is great for more than just the music but the Fish take on the song was fairly straight forward unless you feel that vac solos aren’t supposed to be part of the song. They played Suspicious Minds 11 times along Fall ’95 Tour before it hit the shelf only to be busted out here after a 48 show absence. We will hear from this song again at the end of the tour but let’s go ahead and file it as another one of those songs it would be nice to have them play again. After the HYHU bit and Trey again calling him “Norton Charleston Heston” Fish returns to the kit as the band starts up Slave to the Traffic Light, providing one more collective peak for the crowd. The addition of Perazzo doesn’t really do much here but oh well. A quick a cappella Hello My Baby acts as closer and then a raging Good Times Bad Time encore (after a 34 show gap) sends everyone off into the night to wonder about what just happened and to prep for the drive north to Atlanta for the Halloween show.
In total, this show is probably on the high side of pretty good as the addition of Karl Perazzo helps to push some of the more mundane stuff forward. The takeaway jams here though are of the highest quality that we have seen so far on this tour and not just due to the added beat maker. Taste and Stash from the first set hint at it but the Rift>Mike’s is where new Phish dreams are made. Throw in the groove Bowie for good measure and you have a solid idea of what this show offers. I know I spent a lot of words on it above but you really cannot undersell the importance of this show and that Mike’s jam in particular in how it would shape the future of the band. It is evident that they had clearly been working on this sound before that moment but by pulling the curtain back on what was to come in Atlanta (and beyond) we are shown the roots of what their groove-based ‘cowfunk’ would become. If you have never listened to that Mike’s jam I would highly recommend doing so if you are the sort who has interest in seeing these music evolutions in real time. This jam, but an inkling of what is to come, would make a lot more sense in context after the show two nights on and even more so as the tour progresses. For that you can thank not just their decision to take on the costume of a legendary polyrhythmic group of musicians but also because they brought in Karl Perazzo to help them get ready for that night. And seeing as how Karl stayed with them for a few shows even after Halloween, it should come as no surprise that everything changes from here on out. If you were a bit bored with the shows on this tour so far, stick around. I think you will soon agree that the remaining tour is anything but boring…