Phish — The Palace of Auburn Hills — Auburn Hills, MI 11.09.1996
I Buried Alive>Poor Heart, Sloth, Divided, Horn, Tube, Talk, Melt, Lizards, Zero
II Bowie, ADITL, YEM, Taste, Swept Away>Steep>Hood
After their single night stop in south central Illinois Phish traveled to the suburban Detroit area for their second time playing at the Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons of the NBA. By the time Fall 1996 came around the band were no strangers to the state of Michigan, having played 17 shows in The Mitten (good for #14 overall). Most of these seventeen shows were in cities and towns west of the Detroit Metro area which makes sense considering the large Phish-friendly populations at Michigan State (2 shows), University of Michigan (5 shows), and in western Michigan (5 shows – which we will get to for our next show’s post). So at this point they had really only played a small handful of shows in this region, first at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on 05.06.1992 which includes a lovely Reba and the 449 show bustout of Shaggy Dog emerging out of a fun YEM for a unique a cappella version of the rarity. A couple months later on 07.30.1992 Phish played the Meadowbrook Music Festival (which is actually a venue not a festival in case you are confused as I was) in Rochester Hills just to the east of Auburn Hills as part of their tour opening for Santana. The Phish set is pretty unremarkable but the whole band did join Santana that night for several songs which is nice. The next year saw them return to the same place, this time in a headlining capacity in the middle of that August ’93 run I keep referencing. Being seasoned Phish folk I know you already have that 08.12.1993 show memorized but just in case you do not please do yourself the favor of checking out this quite legendary show. There are teases, tons of Secret Language, a great Reba, a big time Melt, and a Landlady/Tweezer mashup that you really need to hear. The next summer on 06.23.1994 they played the Phoenix Plaza Theatre in Pontiac just to the west of Auburn Hills which along with one of those fantastic ’94 Melts has a bustout of NICU and the second ever Silent in the Morning without The Horse leading into it. And then the final time they played this area prior to our show up above was their first time at the Palace on 10.28.1995, dropping a solid if not epic show along the path towards Halloween. With all of the big shows that surround it it is easy to see why this one is skimmed over but if you give it a listen you will be pleased in doing so. And with that we are caught up on our regional review and can get into the meat of the matter for this second ever show at the Palace.
Tonight starts with one of my favorite mood-setting openers, Buried Alive, which they romp through energetically before dropping into Poor Heart. Of its 148 performances, 86 times the song has opened a set and thirty-one times Poor Heart has been its partner (though four of those were not set openers). It is one of the more common pairings for Buried Alive and somehow works in having two very different yet both high energy songs start things off. The energy stays WAY up as they rock through The Sloth and then head into Divided Sky for our first long form song of the evening. This one is played quite well (1:02 for the pause tonight, timers) and elicits many a “woo” from the fans surrounding the tapers, something you will need to get used to for this show considering this continues pretty well throughout the show. Next up is the first Horn of the tour which comes off cleanly before a punchy run through Tube (by sign request based on the Trey banter that follows). Trey then straps on the acoustic for our fourth Talk of the tour which gives us a good breather before the Split Open and Melt that follows. This Melt is pretty linear, never really straying too far from the prominent theme but it is a fun one that punches hard in getting back to the close. Next up is The Lizards which mainly does what you expect from the song though there is a brief bit of playfulness by Page in the first part of the song as he uses a wobbly, liquid tone to accompany the main melody Trey is playing. After giving us our second dose of Gamehendgery for the set we get the Character Zero closer you should have seen coming a mile away considering this is the tenth one in just eighteen shows and they kinda really like playing it this tour. Now you are left to wander the cavernous halls of this quite large venue, trying to put this first set into the context of the tour as a whole, muttering to yourself as passersby give you a wide berth. Eventually it will hit you and you sprint back to your seats to find your friends and enlighten them about what you just discovered only to have them make fun of you because as soon as you start talking you forgot it all in one of those moments of lysergic confusion that we have all experienced. Maybe another lap around the venue will trigger your memory…
Yeah nope. Instead you will get to spend this next set head tripping over that lost notion… which is not always the best thing when they start out with a jam vehicle like David Bowie. Now, this is not a total mindfunker like some Bowies but it does offer up some space for exploration (both musical and introspective). The prevailing mode is in building tension here as it sure feels like it could take a hard turn into the aether at several points but instead they stay at home in crafting a percussive groove that builds to a nice payoff at the peak. You won’t hear this one on any best of lists but as a set opener it certainly gets things going quite well. This is followed by A Day In The Life which once through to the frenetic crossover section actually matches the Bowie energy, almost nodding back to that Bowie in how they approach it. Matching the first set, they continue to build the energy by going long form with You Enjoy Myself, our sixth of the tour which puts it in a tie for third place with 12 other songs. The early part of this one is fairly typical with lovely pre-Nirvana and Nirvana sections but we are here to talk about the jams, yo.
So remember last time when I voiced my concern about not being able to figure out who plays the ‘whistle wah’ tone in that Simple and elsewhere? Yeah, well, I now have VIDEO PROOF that it is in fact Trey! I KNEW IT! It is definitely a pad he hits on his mini-kit rig that triggers it and you can see/hear that plainly around the 8:35 mark of that video right there. Even better, this is the start to the really fun part of the YEM as with Trey adding in the whistle wah fill and Mike hitting the fight bell you can tell they are ready to go. So they funk through the Trey-led section getting a dance party going and then Trey moves over fully to the mini-kit for the D&B section which includes some fantastic Mike along with all that percussive power. This is yet another good/great YEM, perhaps not to the level of the one from Lexington a couple of nights ago but still one that begs you to move. After the typically hilariously ridiculous VJ Phish plays Taste (which is 2nd in times played so far this tour at 9). This one is pretty clean with a solid payoff jam but nothing too major to write home about. While not a segue, they do drop right into Swept Away>Steep which is becoming a nice counterpoint cool down here on this tour, seeming to arrive right around when it would be a good time to change it up a bit after some more energetic jamming. So far we have seen it come out of Simple (2 times), Mike’s (2), and Fluffhead prior to this one emerging from Taste, all examples that support my premise (::pats self on back::). Even better, this leads into Harry Hood in a combo that works even better than it looks on paper. Something about the tone and flow of Swept Away>Steep really matches well with Hood. This is a classic run-for-the-peak Fall ’96 type of Hood – and I say that with all the due respect for such versions. If you were looking for an openly jammed Hood in this era people would have called you crazy and told you to take another lap around the venue. This Hood does exactly what it is meant to, building towards the big time release we all signed up for. You signed up for that, right? Well, even if you didn’t you are getting it, mister, and you will like it! Oh, Trey throws a Steep tease in there for good measure if you want to listen for that. And with that another very engaging second set has come to a close and all that is left is the swinging Julius encore to yet again send us off into the night wagging fingers and do-do-doing off into the night.
On first glance and even listen this show doesn’t really seem to be that great. And in the grand scheme of Phish history it is not “great” in comparison but there is a lot to like here. Sure, the first set is largely anchored by Divided and only has that shortish Melt as the other jam but everything is played with fire and zest. Similarly, the second set doesn’t exactly contain a murderer’s row of massive jams but it all works so well together. This is one of the hundreds of shows that benefit from setlist construction which at this time was still one of Trey’s primary pastimes. Sure, the pure takeaways are few (I’m going with YEM and Hood tonight) but as with pretty much every Phish show you’ve ever been to you would have had a blast in the moment (yes, I know there are exceptions both for personal and other reasons). Putting this show into some kind of larger context works on some levels (it is the exact midpoint of the tour with 17 shows on either side which is something I guess and you could make an argument that with the recent RiL performance and all that opened up to the band everything from here on out is looking forward in the band’s development rather than being just more of the same…) but sometimes when we try to find meaning in every single moment we lose our ability to enjoy our time in the present. Which I guess might be why I am doing this almost twenty years after the fact… So let’s just say this is a fun Saturday night in the middle of tour -and let’s not forget the fourth show in as many nights – and move on west to Grand Rapids and the rest of the Midwest portion of the tour.