Phish — North Charleston Coliseum — North Charleston, SC 10.27.1996
I Jim, PYITE, Bag, Fee>Mule->Catapult->Mule, Melt, Talk, Taste, Suzy
II CDT, Gin, Rift>Caspian>Ya Mar, Tweezer, Fluffhead, Life On Mars?>Reprise
E Possum, Carolina
Anyone who has a sibling or four knows that there are dynamics between you that no one else really fully understands, though most of us can empathize via similar experiences. The little brother or sister always seems to get the short end of the stick and has to work a bit harder to make his or her accomplishments known. I mean, sure, there are some cases where the youngers get the upper hand but you will never be daddy’s first kid and your older sibling(s) will never let you forget that everything you have came as a result of the things they did to pave the way (and to break in your parents). In case you aren’t clear where I am going here, after their Saturday night show in Charlotte, NC Phish continued south for a Sunday night show in little brother North Charleston, SC. Now, maybe the two Cackalackys will tell you that there is no bad blood here and that any rivalry is mere of the friendly sort and I’d tell you they are probably just shining your shoes. Heck, NC has pretty much twice the population and it 40% large in area not to mention a bunch of other differences that I am bot going to bother looking up on the internet right now but all you have to do is look at how many shows our band has played in each state to know what’s up. Last time we learned Phish has played 40 shows in North Carolina so how many do you think it’s little friend tucked underneath it (or some may say that the big brother state is sitting on top of little bro until he cries “uncle” — just hope there’s no chocolate milk loogies involved) has gotten? Yeah, that would be 18 (and one of those doesn’t even count). Again with the disparate ratios! I mean, sure, of course with all those colleges and people that North Carolina has you could argue the ratio is about right but that’s not fair to the fans living in South Carolina, is it? It is? You sure? Okay. Then, let’s just move on, I guess.
Up to this point Phish had visited the Palmetto State 13 times (not including that jazz standards ‘gig’ from Dr. Jack’s house) with the first being 01.31.1990 for a show that happened but lacks a setlist or any tapes in circulation at yet another venue that no longer exists, the interestingly named Myskyn’s Tavern. For some reason, this show is not mentioned at all in the band bio for that time period but oh well such is life in the days before we couldn’t just let go and enjoy things without detailing every single moment with pictures, scribblings, and blog posts. Wait. Scratch that last part. No matter what, this was their first dip into the South, playing gigs with Widespread Panic in a lot of places to spread the message of Phish just as they had done for WSP in the Northeast where that band had less notoriety at the time. After some shows in Georgia they came back to SC first to Greenstreets (again with the defunct venues…) for a show that knows no setlist and then a return to Myskyn’s for 02.05.1990. That Spring they returned to South Carolina for a pair of shows at The Old Post Office (yup. It’s gone too) on 05.25.1990 (opening to The Mundahs whoever they are) and 05.26.1990 (no setlist, naturally) then swung south before coming back up to Greenstreets again on 06.02.1990 for what is probably the first worthwhile listen (I use that term liberally here) of these 1990 SC shows. You should probably just skip it unless you want a lot of banter and moderately okay playing from the bar band era. That Fall saw two more shows first back at Greenstreets on 10.13.1990 for a show where apparently about three people were in attendance with one being Trey’s sister and then back to Hilton Head for OOPS! It got cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. Maybe just maybe fitting 7-9 shows (depending on whether you count em all) in this state in 1990 was a bit too tall of an order even for a band that just nine years later would draw 90,000 people to a freaking swamp at the tip of America’s Wang. I mean, that’s a lot of time spent here in that year.
Things really die down from there as there is but one stop in South Carolina between 1991 and 1993 and that happened 11.10.1991 at the Music Farm (hey! a venue that still exists! WOOOOOOO!!!!). Check that one for some Rhombus Narration and other fun stuff that is typical of this era. 1994 saw a bit of South Carolina resurgence by the band as we got three shows here, first with the 04.22.1994 stop in Columbia at the Township Auditorium. Along with the requisite Dr. Jack sit-in for the Piano Duet->Bill Bailey encore that we talked about a bit last time there is a quite out there Bowie and a lovely Reba amongst the quality Spring ’94 offerings by the band. That Fall they stopped back in for a pair of shows preceding a pretty big Halloween show starting with the 10.28.1994 show from Galliard Auditorium in Charleston. I strongly urge you to spin the Bowie->Manteca->Bowie from this one if nothing else. Turning back north again on the trail to upstate New York, the band was in Spartanburg for, well, the only time ever on 10.29.1994 for one that really deserves your full attention. I mean, it is all gravy from the twisted MFMF opener on but if Melt->Buffalo Bill->Makisupa->Rift to cap the first set doesn’t do it for you (it will) then start with the Disease 2nd set opener and just let it run. This is Phish at one of their peaks, people. The next show from Glens Falls gets the pub but this one deserves an official release even if there is a [tinny] soundboard out there for it. One year later on 11.18.1995 they returned to play the North Charleston Coliseum for the first time, playing a show best known for the Brickhouse YEM (and another Dr. Jack Bill Bailey encore) but that is solid all around being that it is Fall ’95 after all. Since then they have stuck to this venue but for one pretty darn awesome show that we covered on Fall 1998 from Greenville. Our show above was the one to precede that visit and since they have been back for a pair of shows on 10.15.2010 and 10.16.2010 (check the C&P to open a raging 2nd set) but that’s future talk that we will avoid for now. I guess I should probably get to the 10.27.1996 show at this point since that is our reason for being here, right?
Now firmly on the path of this Fall 1996 tour (and about 1100 words into this post), Phish was playing their 10th show in 12 days (something that might kill them — and us — these days). Not showing any signs of fatigue the band hit the stage running, opening with Runaway Jim (he he). This one is a pure rocking opener fodder which is not a bad thing by any means. They double down on the energy with Punch You In The Eye and AC DC Bag, both of which do nothing to lower the heat of this three pack of fiery show opening tunes. Our breather after Bag is the sing along Fee which dives into Scent of a Mule. Things go as they do here but then head left in a big way as after the normal duel and scat section Mike comes in and starts up Catapult (57 show bustout) which Page mimics on the theremin, that oft seen but seldom used instrument that sits right by all of his other toys. I won’t dive into a full theremin breakdown right now but suffice it to say that I am pro-Page-theremin-use. They return for the klezmer finish and then we get the other SOAM, Split Open and Melt. Incidentally, there have been 32 shows where these two songs have both been played and then there’s the GameHoist show where we got the Mule and the Melt jam to fit the Hoist album Demand>Melt Jam fun. Seventeen of those 32 came in Mule’s debut year 1994 and three times Mule has directly preceded Melt, such as this here show. The Melt jam is mainly similar to most of the straight ahead ones of this era but for the brief play on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the psychedelic opus by Iron Butterfly (or I. Ron Butterfly if you prefer). It is a nice interpolation but nothing remarkable in all honesty. After a bit of banter about Page having a lot of family in the area they play Talk, perhaps my personal least favorite of all the Trey ballads but I won’t bore you with my internal ruminations in that regard.
This interlude brings us to Taste and here we get something new as Trey blends in the melodic line from Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), the song made famous by The Beatles though my preference is towards the Herbie Hancock version. You may know of the overt reference that Taste often includes to this melody (or not) but here in its first appearance the context is a bit different as instead of being the trigger to move on to the ending of the song it is worked into the jam itself. Now, some will tell you there are other motifs that evolved into the song’s coda like NICU or WTU? type phrasing but for now the song is still gaining steam here as the format is finally set after all those different versions that got us here. Stay tuned with this song. It is going to have a good tour. A suitably fun and rocking Suzy Greenberg then caps the set and we are left to ponder the yonder until the lights go down once more.
When those lights do finally go back down (I am convinced that time expansion occurs during setbreaks) the energy keeps coming in spades as Trey rips into a shredding Chalkdust Torture. This sets the tone for the set quite nicely. A straight ahead but fun Bathtub Gin fills the two slot and then we get a clean and shreddy take on Rift in its wake. This bleeds into the intro to Prince Caspian which provides another good example of the format this song took in 1996 with Trey offering up a bit of drone tone in the outro as they head into Ya Mar. The bouncy island tune gets the dance vibe going for a bit before the close it up and drop a mid/late set Tweezer. While perhaps not a big time version, there is some crunchy stuff to be found in this version. It fits with the prevailing vibe of the show in that instead of going off the deep end into wandering psych jammery they opt for a more concise, directed bit of hose-ery with some devilish licks by Trey along the way. This concludes and they bounce forward into a rousing take on Fluffhead, nailing most if not all of the composed bits and bringing it to a big peak that elicits a nice roar from the faithful. Another spot on run through the David Bowie classic Life On Mars? follows Fluff (I really have grown to appreciate Trey’s playing on this cover even more since the recent death of the ever changing Mr. Bowie) and then we slam into the big rock Tweezer Reprise set closer. The encores on the evening are a fun if not too special Possum and then the fitting Carolina a cappella performance (a 64 show bustout no less) which begs the question of where Dr. Jack was that night because this is the first time in a bit that he hasn’t helped out in South Carolina. Ah, well, he’d be back again eventually to do that shuffle tap dance and croon Bill Bailey for us…
Now, I just wrote a lot of words in putting together this review but in truth the show itself is not one you will probably spin much but for the few notable highlights. I mean, I got the whole second set summarized in just one [long] paragraph and when the first set holds the fun you are probably looking at a show that isn’t exactly all-timer list material. This is definitely a fun show full of some serious shred and rocking stuff but outside of the few moments of playing sideways it is largely average-level Phish improv. Hey, if you went to this one and had an amazing, life-altering experience I am happy for you and believe that this was an incredible show. For you. But in the vacuum of relistening to shows now close to twenty years after the fact (gosh dang it, we are old…) this one is probably more a victim of its surroundings than of anything ‘wrong’ with the show itself. As broken-record as it sounds, the playing here is on point and the energy is high. There is clear connection going on between band and crowd. And the obvious ‘but’ here is that there is nothing above that to discuss. That’s not to say there aren’t good takeaways from this show because there are (Mule->Catapult->Mule, Melt, Taste, and Ya Mar for the second tier). Just know that we are working our way up to the mountaintop here and this is but another switchback to be navigated as we continue to get higher and higher. Now go get your percussion suits on cuz Phish turns into a five piece band for a bit here…
Oh, hey, since we are now ten shows into the tour I thought I would give a bit of a statistical update on where our trends lie thus far. To the bullet points!
- So far we have had shows in six states (NY at 4 and PA at 2 are the only with more than one), all in the eastern time zone.
- Only one venue (MSG) has had more than one show with one venue (Marine Midland in Buffalo) being the only time the band has ever played there.
- 92 unique songs have been performed with 32 being one timers.
- Of the songs with repeat performances, Character Zero and Taste hold the top slot having been played in half the shows so far. Nine songs have been played four times (CTB, CDT, Disease, Free, Caspian, Antelope, Sample, Sparkle, and Waste).
- The songs from the recently released Billy Breathes album all feature in these shows with only Bliss not hitting the stage (and probably never happening…)
- Set openers have been quite disparate with only Jim repeating as 1st set opener and every 2nd set opener being unique so far.
- Closers are similarly diverse with Sample closing two first sets and Bowie closing two second sets.
- Encores have yet to be repeated at all.
- Three songs have been debuted (Swept Away, Steep, and the Star Spangled Banner)
Perhaps not the most exciting stats so far but stay tuned! More shows means more geekery!
One thought on “No Art To Which None Compares – North Charleston, SC 10.27.1996”
Nice review, it was my fourth show! Saw Charlotte the night before, and honestly even at just 4 shows I thought the Charleston show was fun, new and exciting but lacked any big ideas from Trey, as the Disease and Reba the previous night take the cake. I relistened to this a month ago and had to hear the second set twice in a row to make sure I got it right. It sounds to me like Jon made some mistakes and Trey sounds apparent in hammering through and past them. When I heard the Rift for the second time, I was still shocked at how fast it was played, and we all know that if there’s a song that Jon will flub, Rift is one high on the list. I laughed that Trey was almost pulling a James Brown on Jon by playing something super hard and fast after some noticeable flubbery earlier. This makes me see the second set in a whole new light, and made the Tweezer make more sense to me too.
You are so right on that the Mule and following songs highlight the show, but Mike dancing around a handkerchief while singing Catapult was one of those fun weird bizarre moments that, if you were new to Phish, made you laugh and wonder what the hell you were seeing?! Page playing Theremin after that was really interesting. This show was the first time I had seen the band two nights in a row in two different cities, and made me realize and understand that you could see these guys night after night and get completely different shows, not in just songs and jams, but in antics and zaniness. Thanks for this review it takes me way back!
LikeLiked by 1 person