Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 10.25.1996
I Ha Ha Ha>Taste, Makisupa->Maze, Billy Breathes, Mound, Guelah, IDK, Stash, Coil
II Tube>Caspian, Timber Ho!>TMWSIY>Aveenu Malkenu>TMWSIY, NICU>Free, Strange Design, Hood>Cavern, SSB
We have had the opportunity to revisit a pair of shows from The Mothership already, considering that the Fall ’98 tour included a two night stand at this, one of the band’s favorite venues in which to perform. I say that with confidence as here in this Fall ’96 single night stop (the 2nd of 18 shows played in the Hampton Coliseum) Trey banters about this being one of the band’s favorite rooms to play due to the good sound and ability for everyone to move around where they like. Considering that they had only played this room once prior to Trey making that proclamation, it speaks to the band’s appreciation of this place as they would only play a single show here one more time (08.09.2004) with all other visits being two or three night stands. The most famous of these, of course, is the Fall ’97 pair that wowed the fanbase when the tapes made it out to the masses but perhaps as equally important it the three night stand the band played in 2009 to end The Long Wait and usher in Phish 3.0. There is also the pair of pre-Big Cypress shows from 1999 and two three night stands separated by ten years in 2003 (the cap to the NYE Run that started at MSG for 12.31.2002, ending Hiatus) and 2013 (three scorchers on the well regarded Fall Tour from that year) but it all started with an innocent Saturday night on fall Tour ’95 tucked between stops in Pittsburgh and Knoxville (kinda sounds like a country/trucker song there…). That 11.25.1995 show is perhaps most notable for spawning the first ever Rotation Jam (out of a pretty decent Mike’s) and is sometimes referred to as the Poor Heart Show considering they played the “normal” fast version in the first set, the Slow Heart version as show closer, and a quick Poor Heart Reprise as part of the encore. There is also a solid Timber Ho! 2nd set opener and an engaging Hood to be found in this show so check it out if you never have.
As you can see (and probably already knew), this is a room that has become one quite revered in the Phish world both due to the easy nature of seeing shows here and for the music that has been produced. Considering the number of shows here over the years, one could get a pretty good snapshot of the band’s progression simply by spinning these in order… but that’s not really what we are here for, is it? So let’s get into the Fall ’96 offering from The Mothership!
From the start, things are a bit different on this night as they open with the Fish-penned Ha Ha Ha (for the first time ever and one of only two times it has opened a show – the other being 06.30.2000). This setlist oddball tune was a bit of a bustout here considering it had been 45 shows since having last been played at the Philly Spectrum on 12.15.1995. These days we look at this song as a nod to a joke, resolution to a big jam, or some other indicator but in the opening slot it seems they are trying to clue us in before the show even gets started so now you end up going through the whole show wondering what that Ha Ha Ha was in reference to way back in the opener slot. And you would honestly be still wondering that by the end of the show since there really isn’t anything in this set that seems to warrant it but now it is in your addled brain, causing havoc with your ability to surrender to the flow, man, and what the hell, now you are having a weird inquisitory head trip instead of being able to lose yourself in the music and shit. Screw that, brah. Back in the room, the band has now moved on to Taste, working through a rough go of the composed section but putting up an energetic if straight forward end jam. Our first Makisupa Policeman of the tour is next and after the “dank” keyword we get a brief, dark, layered outro jam that kinda sorta sounds like it could be plucked out of Fall ’98. There is a full transition into Maze from this which gives us yet another solid take on the song, if perhaps not quite to the demented levels of that one from Pittsburgh.
Now four songs in you can easily tell they are amped up and playing well as everything has been on point (well, maybe that Taste wasn’t perfect but the jam made up for it…). They take a brief breather for, um, Billy Breathes (SO obvious) and then give us a fine take on Mound, a tune that I have often wondered whether it would ever break free from its structure (it hasn’t and won’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop asking). Our old pal Guelah Papyrus continues the dance theme and next we have our first I Didn’t Know of the tour, sung by “Mr. Norton Charleston Heston” himself. After the suck and blow tune we get that Trey banter about this being one of their favorite rooms to play and that leads to a solid Stash. There is some decent T&R building in this version as they leave the song structure for a few minutes but this one isn’t going to rise to the top of the heap by any means. The first set comes to a close with a somewhat longish Squirming Coil as Page takes his solo out for a nice walk in capping a set that has had some pretty good work throughout by the Chairman of the Boards. As you listen to this show you might determine this to be a “Page show” and you wouldn’t be wrong at all in saying that as he does bring a lot to the table throughout (and Coil closers kind of tip their hand in this regard too).
After the setbreak the tour debuts continue with Tube, here a quite short and contained version of the song that in only a year will have evolved into the sometimes-jam-vehicle we pine for these days. Even with the funk about to drop on us there are no hints of that sort of thing here as it segues into Prince Caspian. Wait. What? Segued from Tube to Fuckerpants? What the hell, Trey? While they get through the song you are now starting to wonder why they chose that pairing and if it had ever happened before (it had not) and you start pondering whether this will be a new thing where they pair two seemingly disparate songs like this (it will not). So the Caspian moves into the typical 1996 build jam for the song and you are okay with it because you are an enlightened phan who is capable of brushing off those odd choices and just giving in to the will of the music. At which point your overly patient girlfriend standing next to you rolls her eyes, shakes her head, and leaves for the bathrooms because she did NOT come here to way to some crappy tune about a guy with no feet. And here some 19+ years later you finally realize why that chick wasn’t much of a keeper. Oh, as an added fact here, there is only one other time they went Tube>Caspian was just a bit more exciting as in 07.27.2003 they go Tube>Caspian->2001 in a quite satisfactory segment that has a nice outro to the Tube before a rousing take on Caspian eventually bleeds to our favorite space funk cover. Well, we didn’t get that here in Hampton but it wasn’t all that bad, honestly.
They quickly move on to Timber (Jerry) (yes, I know altering the name of this one time and again is annoying but I really can’t decide which way to name it) and while a brief version there is a nifty little jam that seems to hint back to the Stash from the first set. This drops into our first TMWSIY>Aveenu Malkenu>TMWSIY sequence of the tour (40 shows since the last one) which, while nice to hear, is taking up precious second set jam space here, boys. The subsequent NICU ain’t helping either, Trza. But then they drop into Free and we have at least a few minutes of that chunky rocker as Trey posts up on the minikit for a bit to allow Page to do his piano thing before Trey moves back to the guitar and we wrap this one up. Page gets to sing Strange Design next and then we get what will end up being the veritable highlight of the show with a nicely peaked, type I on steroids Harry Hood. Seriously, the build in this one is very patient and comes off so well. It just adds another entry to the Hampton Hoods legacy where in every single visit to this venue except the 2003 one they have put up a pretty decent version of the song (the main reason it didn’t pop in 2003 is due to it having been played at MSG right before that run). A funky run through Cavern and a rousing Star Spangled Banner wrap up the set and then following the rocking Johnny B. Goode encore we are on the road once more.
So here we have a show that is kinda light on the jams but yet still follows our upward trend for the tour so far. You can almost smell what is about to happen but they are still holding back a tad from that with nary a hint of any of the awesome they will lay down on that crowd in Atlanta and beyond. That’s pretty impressive when you realize that they have clearly been working on the Remain In Light material by now but have yet to allow it to slip into any of these shows to date. This show is a pure fun time Friday night Phish show with some interesting setlist choices and quality playing hiding the fact that they really didn’t cover any new ground here. The takeaways are light with the Coil and Hood be your only definite entries as I wouldn’t want to add anything else that really isn’t that interesting at the end of the day. But hang on to your hats because the Saturday show to come will turn us over into the next phase…