Phish — Hartford Civic Center — Hartford, CT 10.23.1996
I PYITE, Poor Heart, Bag, Foam, Hello My Baby, Zero, Rift, Theme>Lope
II Brother, Ya Mar, Tweezer>Lizards, Llama, Suzy>Slave, Julius
Phish has a long history with Connecticut, stretching back to the not quite verified 05.08.1988 show at a place called CD’s in Norwalk, CT, a venue I cannot find any information on anywhere which means it probably doesn’t exist anymore because you’d have to think there would be some mention of it on these here intrawebz. As with that show, the next visit to the Constitution State is one that has no known setlist but is at least confirmed to have happened on the noted date (04.02.1989) at The Nightshift Cafe in Naugatuck. Their first show in Hartford would come about six weeks later on 05.27.1989 for a fraternity party at Trinity College. This is still a somewhat incomplete record, however, as only the supposed first set of this show circulates. The next visits to CT would be in 1990 to the famed Toad’s Place first for a show on 03.01.1990, then the classic Woodbury Ski & Raquet Club show from 04.29.1990 which circulates on video in full, and then back at Toad’s Place again on 05.06.1990 for a show that was heavily circulated back in the day. You may know it for the Hood or Bowie but the Jagermeister Song is the comical aspect of this one (dedicated to WSP who opened) or perhaps the odd show ending where YEM pretty much just ends without the vocal jam and they had no encore due to the venue curfew. There was one more show in CT on the Fall Tour that year at Wesleyan University in Middletown (09.16.1990) which was a free single set affair that has a super shreddy Trey-heavy Weekapaug and then they wouldn’t return to the state until the following Spring Tour.
1991 would produce only three shows in the Nutmeg State with two at The Sting in New Britain (05.16.1991 and 11.19.1991) and a banter-heavy affair from The Salisbury School on 05.19.1991 that was organized by a few prep schools in the area. Oh, to be able to book Phish to play your boarding school… what a different time that was. There is a humorous note that the show was apparently cut short by the powers that be due to suspected drug and alcohol use by the students in attendance, something one would never expect from prep school hippies! Quite honestly, none of these shows are overly noteworthy except in establishing Phish’s affinity for playing in the area but things started to ramp up with Phish performances here in The Land of Steady Habits in 1992. While there are only three shows for Phish here in 1992 they are all quite solid and all were performed at the Palace Theatre in New Haven. The first is the 03.19.1992 show which has one of those rare Bowie ‘tease medley’ versions and a lot of that high energy, tight shred stuff they did back then (not to mention the original arrangement of NICU). The 12.28.1992 show is a bit of table setting for the NYE Run but is a worthwhile listen all the same. Then, on 12.29.1992 they dropped a classic Tweezer in a tease-heavy show that sounds more like Spring ’93 than anything from ’92 or earlier. Of course, there are two BBJs in that show which immediately drops it down a few pegs, unfortunately…
1993 had only two CT shows, first for the 04.30.1993 stop in West Hartford and then back to New Haven for the second show on the NYE Run, this time at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum show on 12.29.1993. The playing here is quite good as they had pretty well moved on to the 1994 psych jazz sound at this stage. Stash is quite unique if you have never heard it. After skipping the Provisions State in 1994 Phish returned along the path of the epic Fall ’95 Tour for a great one (again) in New Haven, one best known for the Tweezer it birthed but also for the overall quality of the performance (not to mention being the first time – of four ever – where Prince Caspian has opened the show). I’ll now stop the history lesson to get into the single CT stop for 1996 but it is notable that the band has returned here in almost every year of touring since with an additional nine shows scattered between 1997-2000 and 2009-2013. With the exception of 2000 and 2010 these are all single night stops and in toto Phish has played solid shows here throughout their history. And this one from 10.23.1996 is certainly no exception…
The first set starts off well enough with some energy tunes to get things moving as they rip through decent takes on Punch You In The Eye, Poor Heart, and ACDC Bag. The Bag has a bit of extra sauce on it but stays within form and then they add to that energy some more with the first Foam since summer tour. Four songs in there is nothing major to take away but the playing is tight and the band seems ready to go bigger. Before doing so we get the a cappella Hello My Baby and then another couple rockers in Character Zero and Rift. The set seems to be flying by without much of note but then they start up Theme for a soaring, crisp take on the type I vehicle. Trey uses the distortion pedal well here as he plays with the peak and then upon resolution we drop into the Antelope closer you could have seen coming a mile away if you had been watching setlist trends at this stage of tour. This Lope has some solid dissonant shred jamming and tension building, bringing the crowd to a frenzied peak but it otherwise largely straight forward. And that might be one of the shortest first set recaps I’ve done which kinda makes sense here what with the quite un-notable nature of it all (and the fact that this is only a one hour set…). Which probably had a lot of people scratching their heads unless that itch was just their super hetty dreads being a little dry this time of year, brah.
And your confusion would have been further amplified had you gandered at the stage during the break rather than heading out to the concourse to chat up that cute spinner gal you met on lot earlier that day as a second drum kit was brought out! What the heck?!? Well, maybe if you were up on your side projects and whatnot you would realize once they came out to the stage that the guest second drummer is none other than Bob Gullotti, drummer for such projects as Michael Ray’s Cosmic Krewe (who is still in fine form, I must say, having just seen him as part of the James Brown Dance party thing post Phish on 01.02.2016), George Garzone’s The Fringe (free jazz improv), Surrender to the Air (remember that Trey thing we mentioned not too long ago?), and as support for a variety of folks over the years. He also has the distinction of being a drum instructor for Fish over the years so all told he has some history with the band. This would be the first of three times Bob joined the band on stage with the other two being during shows in Texas (07.25.1997 and 07.26.1997) on the Summer 1997 Tour. For this night in Hartford he sat in for the entirety of the 2nd set and encore.
The set starts out with a punchy Brother, another tour first timer, and this one apparently played by request for Trey’s brother-in-law’s birthday. Right after this Trey introduces their guest and then they drop into a quite fun Ya Mar which has a bit of a drum duel/solo in the end before they come back to the song itself. Considering that Fish virtually never takes actual drum solos this is notable, particularly since with two talented players on the kits it doesn’t ever get jumbled or showoff-y like some big arena rock hair band drummer trying to get the chick in the front row to throw her unmentionables at him. Next up is our first Tweezer in a bit and here is our first real open jam of the night. Trey and Page plug along with the rhythm section setting the beat, with Trey soloing over the time changes as they build momentum here. Trey gets a siren wail going with his sustain, looping it as Page offers up some funky fills and Mike bombs away in the back. Trey drops out to hop on the mini-kit and now we are into the most percussive Tweezer jam that I know of considering there are now three people on drums. Page takes over the lead here with Mike providing some unique lines as well and the jam goes sideways for a few minutes as they explore this open territory. Trey eventually heads back to the guitar for the last couple minutes, building towards the Reprise-ish return to the classic slow Tweezer ending. This segues right into The Lizards which gives us that lovely cautionary tale of our friends from Gamehendge. As usual, this version is bright and danceable and even with two drummers it does not feel overwrought as both Page and Trey nail their respective solos.
Backing this up with Llama you might think that the second drummer would get in the way of the beat here but that never happens. Bob and Fish work quite well together which makes sense considering their shared history. Trey shines here, of course, as they turn the civic center into a head banging good time for a few brief minutes. This is followed up by good times Suzy Greenberg that manages to amp the energy up even further even in being about as standard of a take on the song as is possible. Moving towards the back part of the set now, they transition into Slave to the Traffic Light with both drummers offering up the tell tale stop and go beat of the song. The journey to the peak here is nice but nothing new tough it does elicit a rousing cheer from the patrons in the room. Trey then starts up Julius and we are clearly on our way to the end of the set here. As I have mentioned previously, these ’96 versions of Julius really smoke with Trey shredding the shit out of them but this one has that added drummer kicking it up another notch. The swanky groove they lay down for Trey to solo over mandates chair dancing at the very least, assuming you can resist the urge to rise up and give in to the beat. This serves as a solid closer for this guest-enabled set, bringing the crowd up once more to join in the dance party. A suitably fiery Chalkdust Torture with a fun build to the final Trey solo is spurred on by the double drummers, providing the encore tonight and then we are off to discuss the relative merits of bands that have multiple drummers/percussionists while trying to get gathered to begin the trip headed south for that next stop in Hampton.
This show seems to continue the pattern set so far in this first seven shows which are high on energy and dexterous playing but light on big jams. And that is not entirely inaccurate but might perhaps be an oversimplification of what is going on at this point. With the new album out (and one that isn’t exactly full of big jam vehicles) the focus is on that material as well as getting back into touring form after about two months off following The Clifford Ball. I would maintain that we haven’t yet had a “bad” show necessarily but that doesn’t mean we have had any great ones either. Most of the jam structures so far are either true to form or in their infancy (e.g. Simple) and we are about to see a whole heck of a lot of development in that respect. This show is a fine enough Wednesday nighter coming on the back end of three straight nights after the pair in New York that preceded it. By the time the following weekend is through we will start to see bigger jams and more noteworthy takeaways, not to mention some more variation in setlist construction and song choice in general. I personally like this show because of the uniqueness the second drummer offers and the overall clean play by all involved throughout but that doesn’t mean it has all-timer jams I’m putting on the big list. With that said, your takeaways tonight are rather light but solid all the same: Ya Mar, Tweezer, and Theme as the add-in if you so choose. Viewed within the context of the tour progression it is in line with what you might expect at this stage even if we still have yet to hear the inklings of the big things to come in just a few weeks. Maybe they are holding back or maybe they just don’t want to show their hand yet. I can’t really answer that for certain but with the benefit of hindsight I can say for certain that the prevailing trends of this tour are about to be turned on their head… and that is going to be quite exciting indeed.