Phish — O’Connell Center, University of Florida — Gainesville, FL 11.03.1996
I MFMF, Jim, Billy Breathes, Sloth, NICU>Sample, Theme, Bouncin’, Zero
II Timber>Divided, Wolfman’s Brother, Sparkle>Tweezer, Life on Mars?, Possum>Reprise
On the night following their last (to date) visit to West Palm Beach, FL Phish stopped in to the college town of Gainesville, FL as they made their way north towards the start of the Midwest Run (by way of a pair of shows in Tennessee and Kentucky, of course). The home to the University of Florida, this town had seen Phish perform here twice prior, first on 02.27.1993 at the Florida Theatre in a show we have covered here previously and again on 11.13.1995 at the O’Connell Center. That former show is good for the raging hot Antelope, a playful Stash, and more of the solid Spring ’93 sound as well as being the “Pre Techno Rave gig” since the band and crew were quickly ushered out of the venue that night to make way for the rave going down there later that night. The latter show is a classic that really should be in your Fall ’95 vocabulary already though admittedly it can get lost between the Atlanta run that preceded it and the legendary 11.14.1995 show from Orlando which followed it. If you aren’t familiar, at least check out the Reba, Tweezer, and Possum from this one as all are worth it. Back to 1996, this show (again from the O’Connell Center which is home to several UF sports along with concerts and other events) would become the final time Phish has played in Gainesville as return trips to the state have gone to bigger cities and bigger venues in conjunction with the band’s rise in popularity.
The show starts out with My Friend My Friend, a song that can denote a particularly dark vibe to a set or show in being placed in this spot. In its 139 performances the song has opened 28 shows with an additional 10 second set opening versions and just one encore appearance ever on 04.29.1993. While not necessarily a sure fire indicator of hot stuff on the way (like My Soul openers, for example) it does set a certain tone to the proceedings. Tonight in the 2nd such show opening version of the tour they keep it contained and drop right from the maniacal yelling at the end to the start of Runaway Jim. Oddly enough, this is the only time these two songs have been paired thusly, something that seems impossible considering how frequently the two songs used to get played in the past. There have, however, been two times (05.05.1993 and 12.05.1997) when Jim gave way to MFMF with both times being full segues. The Jim here in Gainesville is straight forward stuff but with the added percussion and Trey putting a little extra stank on his end solo it gets a decent rise out of the crowd. A quick stop for an early set take on Billy Breathes precedes our second version of The Sloth this tour and here four songs in with but one song of any real substance you have to wonder what the point is of having Karl on board for the show. The hard edged song gives way to the bouncy NICU and those wondering existential thoughts about Karl’s role in the Phish universe at this moment are put to rest as he adds a playful tone to this already happy song. After they play Sample in a Jar we get our second opportunity to stretch a tad as Theme from the Bottom starts up. There is some nice work towards the peak out of Trey in this one and the added percussion is interesting but overall this is not a top tier version for your scrapbook. Keeping things light, the band next plays the predictable Bouncin’ Around the Room before a rambunctious Character Zero drives us home into the end of set. Looking back over your setlist scribblings once the lights come up you have to be wondering what gives here as the stage was set for another potentially great set what with Perazzo Phish engaged and a relatively clean slate of options after just one show since the night off after Halloween. There is nothing wrong with the playing but there are no risks taken AT ALL in this set with the only improvisation really taking place in brief patches of the Jim and Theme. It is a largely forgettable set that certainly had heads scratching at more than dry dready scalps.
So after the fifteen minute break (yeah right, Trey! LIAR!!) they come back out for the final set of Perazzo Phish and start up Timber Ho! for one of the 22 times the song has opened a second set in its 82 total performances. This version serves as table setting, never really going anywhere but including a decent bit of percussive jamming from the five. Next we get Divided Sky, a song I wouldn’t necessarily put into the category of songs that feel like a good match for extra percussion but once they get through The Pause (1:06 tonight for the timers in the audience) it is on as Trey nails his solo and the rhythm section plays with some serious pace in a version that feels a heck of a lot faster than it actually is. I was surprised by how much I liked this one but then Divided is one of those songs, isn’t it? You never really go into a show saying “hey, I would really love for them to play a 2nd set Divided tonight” but then they do and when they get to the end bit you are rocking out like there’s no tomorrow and everything is great and you have a vision of your future as Trey tears the song a new one and… okay, probably just me there. But I think you will find this version to be a good one made better by the added percussion. Wolfman’s Brother is up next for a quick run through the proto-funk stylings of the song before it became more of a groove vehicle. While not exploratory, this does serve to set the table for something yet to come in this set but it still feels like more could have gone down here. The race through a quick Sparkle following Wolfman’s and then segue into what we have all been waiting for: Tweezer with Perazzo.
With the potential that this song holds, bringing in the groove element on top of his percussive offerings just begs for a big jam to get thrown down here and that is exactly what we have. Pretty much right after the lyrics end they drop into a punchy groove pocket. Trey is patient here, letting the mood set as Karl drives the groove with his work on the congos. Page is comping along on piano and Trey comes in with some staccato leads that accent the groove. They are moving as one here as Trey starts to take a more active role in leading the way, playing drawn out notes evocative of the Tweezer theme. Around the 11:40 mark Page takes control a bit, soloing over groove as Trey sets a loop and hops on the mini kit. After a bit Trey comes back to the guitar and takes command, pushing the jam out of the comfortable groove as he builds towards the inevitable peak… which never materializes. Instead they head to the old school slow down ending, further showcasing that this is not your typical Phish anymore as they just took Tweezer for a 17 minute ride without ever really climbing the hill. Perhaps that is a revisionist statement as these days it seems most jams eventually head towards the resolution peak. That was pretty much true in this era too but in different ways, I believe. But this Tweezer wasn’t about resolution it was about catching the groove and playing around it in that way they didn’t do before RiL. I promise I won’t keep saying stuff like that with every new groove pocket jam but I think it is telling here as it was set up to go big towards a peak and they resisted and instead let it run its course without feeling the need to start up another song or force anything musically. New Trey could stand to learn something from old Trey in this regard.
After the Tweezer we get another one of those spot-on covers of Life On Mars? which works well as a bit of a cool down here (it is, admittedly, the slowest paced song of this set…) before they crank up Possum for start of the end of set proceedings. The only really notable thing here is that Trey for some reason decides to play some of the Chinacat->Rider transition in the intro section. That’s the only time I know of him doing that, like, ever (with Mike having a Chinacat tease in between Meatstick and Bug on 08.19.2012) so it is pretty odd for him to do it here with no seeming connection to anything in the set or then current affairs. Not that there would ever be a current affair that necessitates the band Phish teasing a tripper song by the Grateful Dead but you get my point. So Possum does what Possums do and then they jump right into the set closing Tweeprise you had already written down in your notebook and then we get our second Fire encore of the tour. Now, I am not saying they didn’t play a solid show here but I am one to side with the notion that certain encores come out for big time shows. Stuff like Monkey>Rocky Top or Monkey>Reprise, Bold as Love, Highway to Hell, and yes, Fire. I guess it works here to cap the PerazzoPhish run but in all honesty this show doesn’t elevate to the level that I would want in capping it with a raging Fire encore.
Maybe I am being too harsh here but I kind of feel that this show falls a bit flat except for that Tweezer jam. The takeaways are thin as well with it being pretty much the Divided and Tweezer and perhaps the Possum if you want to hear that brief tease. I’m just not hearing anything else worthy of inclusion in our ongoing list. This is probably all me as I really wanted the final Perazzo show to just explode with energy and big time jams and, frankly, it didn’t. It is a solid outing for a Sunday night show in a college town and there are some extremely huge things coming up quite shortly but it really felt like they missed an opportunity to take this one next level. But that is okay because at the end of the day Phish is not about the expected. So now we close the book on this chapter with the band having found a new playground to explore and still more than half of the tour left to go. On to Knoxville!