Phish — Knoxville Civic Coliseum — Knoxville, TN 11.06.1996
I Melt, CTB, FEFY, Taste, Train Song, Poor Heart, PYITE, Billy Breathes, Bowie
II Wilson, Curtain>Mike’s->Swept Away>Steep>Paug, Mule, Sample>Funky Bitch
E Rocky Top
Heading north from their quick dip into Florida, Phish took two days off before playing again in Knoxville, TN. By this time the band were no strangers to Tennessee having played 14 shows in the state (the total is now up to 25 shows making this state tied for 19th most played by the band). The first time they came to the state in Spring 1991 they hit up this college town of Knoxville first, playing 02.27.1991 at Arnold’s Flamingo Grill (or Flamingo Cafe depending where you check). There are no known recordings for this one, unfortunately. The next time Phish came here was on the eve of the classic Roxy Run in Atlanta, playing a solid (if water logged…) show at the Electric Ballroom we have covered here previously. Check out the Tweezer->Foam, Reba, a tease-filled Antelope, and more from this fun show. They returned later that year on 07.29.1993 for a show at the Tennessee Theatre on the eve of the epic month we got that summer. There’s a punchy Possum, a rocking YEM, a great Mockingbird narration, an unusual Maze intro and jam, an extended (!) Bouncin’ outro, and more (like Trey and Mike on the exercise gliders for Ice – check around the 2:25 mark of this video for an example of that if you aren’t familiar) of that frenetic Summer ’93 greatness in this one. They came back only one time in 1994 for their first visit to the Knoxville Civic Auditorium/Coliseum facility, performing in the smaller Auditorium venue on 04.25.1994. This one has a ripping Jim, one of those awesome Fee->Foam combos from that time period, and a big time Melt all in the first set along with a super shred Antelope (with Layla teases) anchoring the second set. They returned once more on 11.28.1995, a solid show with one of only seven Stash openers ever (out of 401 performances of the song), a tease-tinged Suzy, and the lone performance (by Fish) of Wind Beneath My Wings as a dedication to his hero Col. Bruce Hampton (who sat on side stage reading a newspaper during the song). There are some bits of this show that appear in the Col. Bruce documentary Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Colonel Bruce Hampton. That doc is well worth your time if you dig the Colonel or any of the myriad of musicians he has influenced. Like Phish.
So now they were back once more to the venue where Randy Rhoads played his last concert (March 18, 1982) before his tragic and frankly pretty stupid death in a small plane crash where he joined the tour bus driver and the band’s seamstress for a stolen plane joy ride that ended in a fiery crash due to them deciding it was a good idea to buzz the tour bus where Ozzy and others lie sleeping. This show was personally my first since Pittsburgh and the start to a nice six show run in eight days for me (and the band and other people, I suppose). Getting down to business from the start, Phish starts tonight with the quite rare Split Open and Melt as there are only nine such show openers in the 306 times the song has been played (with an additional 12 2nd set opening versions). The jam here is nice enough, albeit a bit brief for my tastes, and includes some In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida phrasing and teasing by Trey, something we heard in the prior version from Charlotte as well. I’ll just say right now that if they want to start opening more shows with Melt I will not be complaining. It sets the mood much better than most of the more straight up rocker options. Page gets the turn to work some stuff out in the subsequent Cars Trucks Buses, getting the boogie machine rolling for all who care to hop on board. Following CTB they bring it down a bit for the tour debut of Fast Enough For You, that tender relationship ballad from Rift full of singular lines that always seemed to end up in the doodle section of your classroom notebooks when thoughts went a-wanderin’ during a boring lecture. This leads to Taste, already the 8th performance of the song in just fifteen shows. The outro jam here is pretty straight forward and brief but serves its purpose in this set, providing a counter point to the two ballads that sandwich it tonight.
That latter ballad is Train Song and after the travelogue ditty they crank into Poor Heart to ramp the energy up. Poor Heart leads to a rocking Punch You In The Eye and then we are back to ballad land for Billy Breathes. At this point you kinda have to wonder what is up with the pace tonight considering the set has had three ballads which all seem to mess with the overall flow a bit. My memory of this in person was that we were all saying “c’mon, guys!” a bit in hopes they would blow things up and once through Billy Breathes they do exactly that by setting up a loopy intro to the set closing David Bowie. The jam in Bowie starts out in a patient way, perhaps a result of the carry over from the set that precedes it. This version is pretty straight forward thematically but they take it out for a nice ‘type I’ ride, establishing some solid T&R along the way to the satisfying peak and resolution. This laid back set allows one (during the “fifteen minute” setbreak) to cordially debate the merits of Peyton Manning as a leader, quality upstanding man, and quarterback with any of the hundreds of completely reasonable Tennessee football fans in attendance and if you take the first half of this sentence at face value you really don’t know much about college football in the South. I’m not saying anything about Mr. Manning, just that UT fans are straight crazy pants nuts. And I say that as a vehement defender of my own team who have never been anything but the most perfect gentlemen and symbols of the innocence of the game.
As if to speak to that insane line of thinking, Trey comes out and starts up Wilson, a tune about a wonderful leader of men who maybe got a bad rap due to some scandalous press by the opposing party. I mean, maybe he really did what was in the best interest of those Lizards and they just haven’t had enough time to see that. They say history is written by the victors (well, lots of people say that anyway even if it isn’t always the case) so maybe once they overthrew him and cancelled all of the great programs he had instituted to keep them from doing things smart people don’t do they rewrote all of their history to make him out to be the bad guy. Why else would they keep imploring you to read their book if not to get you to buy into their propoganda?? I’m tellin’ ya, man. Trey’s in on it too. You think he didn’t get some kind of kickback from the Lizard lobbyists for telling the tale the way they wanted it? I’m guessing he got taken care of pretty well…
Where was I? Oh, right, Knoxville and the start to the second set. So after Wilson they punch through into The Curtain, offering up a sort of double opener pairing. Here in its With(out) form as it was in that era (and honestly, most of us really didn’t even know or at least concern ourselves with With since it had been over eight years at this stage since they had last played With) and as always it offers up a great lead-in to whatever vehicle they had up in the rotation that night (except for the eleven times they did Curtain>Sample which, c’mon, what the hell, Trey?). Here in Knoxville that led to Mike’s Song and this one continues the upward trend of awesome for this song on the tour. The first jam starts out super crunchy and a bit plodding as they all seem to feel each other out to see who will take charge. Trey plays with a couple of descending lines before starting up his lead, toying around the main theme of the song. This goes along for several minutes with the band picking up steam along the way as Trey makes those open-mouth-o-face motions to accompany his playing. He eventually comes back around to the Mike’s riff but instead of moving out to the next song in this groove they drop into a dissonant space to begin the second jam. Mike is on top here, offering up the main lead while Page adds in glitchy electro fills to accompany his organ. Trey is on the mini-kit here, giving Page and Mike room to play for several minutes and helping Fish to build the pocket. They clear out the noise around the 5:45 mark (of the second jam. this is about 16 minutes into the Mike’s proper) and Trey moves back to guitar for some heavy wah fill action. Things fall into a bit of a groove pocket jam here for the next few minutes without a true lead being played, showing a pretty conscious effort by the band to not get in front of themselves here. Over the last minute or two it loses focus as you can tell they are all kind of waiting for the next thing to happen but just before the transition Mike does offer up a little more and then we are out into Swept Away>Steep territory. This is the second time this tour that they have played this as the filler in the Mike’s Groove sandwich and I’ll say again that I am a fan of it. Tonight this makes for the only ballad space in the second set and following the Pink Floydish scream bit at the end we are right back to dance party time for Weekapaug Groove. This one stays at home in the song but they elevate the jam to allow Trey to straight GO OFF heading to the end peak in that way that has you hootin’ and hollerin’ and fist pumpin’ and shouting out “yeah!” with each round of notes. You know the feeling I mean.
So after that really fun Mike’s Groove you know we probably only have a few tunes left with maybe one of them being a vehicle of some sort. They start into Scent of a Mule which lets you know it is probably this and then heading to the closer after a song or two so you settle in for the always odd and sometimes interesting spacegrass tale of aliens, farm animals, and lemonade. The song goes as it does and then we get more of a ‘real’ jam than what is typical as first Page take his turn on piano, Fish joins on woodblocks, then Trey leads on guitar (with the vocal scat thing), then Page with Mike, then everyone comes back and finally we are on to the normal klezmer finish (with Mike really drawing out the “well”) and return to song. I am not going to get into the habit of breaking down every Mule jam but that one was at least interesting in how they structured it all. Following Sample in a Jar we do get that set closer we knew was on its way, tonight in the form of Funky Bitch. It is a rocking version (page on the organ in particular) but mainly serves to cap the set with energy. Then, being that we are in Tennessee we get Rocky Top to encore because of course we do.
This show is a decent enough Wednesday night show in a college town. You get some interesting setlist construction what with the Melt opener and the up and down tempo of the first set and then a solid grouping of songs making up the majority of the second set before it goes cold at the end. The takeaways from this one are a bit light (Mike’s is the only sure fire one but Melt, Paug, and the Mule if you are really feeling generous make for a nice little list) but the energy is high and there are signs that bigger things are on their way (they are). Best thing to do here is take what we came for and rest up for the next night in Lexington where along with a few tour debuts we will get a quite memorable jam to discuss and debate with regards to its all time placement.