Phish — Kiel Center — St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996
I Wilson>Divided, Bouncin’, Zero, PYITE>Caspian, Ginseng, Train Song, CDT, Taste>Cavern
II Makisupa->Maze, McGrupp>Melt, TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu, MMGAMOIO>Mike’s, Monkey>Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug
E Funky Bitch
After getting the heck out of central Iowa quite quickly Phish headed southeast towards their Friday night date in St. Louis to play a large arena show here for the first time ever. By this time the band already had a very strong history with the Gateway to the West as they had been coming here practically every year since they played three in the area in 1992. The first visit was to the now closed (shocker) Mississippi Nights on 03.30.1992 playing a fun, banter-filled show with the obligatory teases and SL not to mention Trey dedicating BBFCFM to Brett Hull and mentioning that they had put the entire St. Louis Blues hockey team on the guest list (no idea if any of them showed up but one of Trey’s childhood friends, Roger Holloway of “just like Roger he’s a crazy little kid” fame was definitely there based on banter). This show also has a Tweezer inflected by one of personal favorite classic rock cover tunes ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ (originally by Status Quo but give me the Camper Van Beethoven version any day) and the rare Fish Fun Time sandwich of HYHU preceding and Cold as Ice bookending it. Later that summer on 08.02.1992 they played a single set as opener for Santana at Riverport Amphitheatre, the venue they have played more than any other in Missouri (and kind of important in phishtory what with that kinda awesome Gin that went down 07.29.1998…). They capped the year in this market on 12.04.1992 back at Mississippi Nights (for the final time that Phish would perform there) with a show big on SL and high energy rocking, most notably in the Possum from that second set – check out the fun Forbin tale here as well. Returning in 1993 they had graduated to the larger American Theater, one of those great, old vaudeville houses of the early 20th century that is, you guessed it, now closed. There were two shows here with the first taking place on 04.14.1993 and if you haven’t ever heard this one I highly recommend you check it out. There are some really interesting setlist calls here like Stash->Kung->Stash, some acoustic Kung-Horse madness, and YEM->Spooky->YEM (calling back to the YEM from Gunnison about a month prior) and the white hot playing that typifies that second leg of Spring ’93. There’s a fun Harpua story here and tons of teases as well if that is your bag. Oh, and Trey’s friend Roger was back again this time getting up on stage to ask his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes) prompting the band to play ACDC Bag in his honor afterwards. That summer they hit this venue in full stride of that August run, dropping a show on 08.16.1993 that was for quite some time considered to be pretty legendary what with the big jams in Possum, Reba, Foam, Melt, Mike’s, Ice, and Paug along with everything else that goes down here (including a Sparkle with a unique little intro jam that, sadly, does not result in the FMS). Clearly, this was a venue they enjoyed playing. Continuing to grow in popularity, when Phish returned in 1995 they had moved up to the Fabulous Fox Theatre for their show on 11.23.1994 dropping a show best known for the beautiful Tweezer and the YEM->VoL->YEM they threw down in the second set. For 1995 their sole visit would be back at Riverport Amphitheatre, this time headlining for a full show on 06.13.1995. This show perhaps suffers in comparison to the shows that surround it considering that they stopped here between the great pair at Red Rocks and the one that follows which just happens to include The Mud Island Tweezer but it does have a really nice Reba and the “jazz version” of Golgi, according to Trey. Based on the information above it is pretty clear the band has done well here but whether that is due to a great crowd, stops generally coming mid-tour once they have hit their stride, or some other less obvious reason remains a mystery.
That gets us up to speed in advance of our show here tonight, their only time playing the Kiel Center. Before I get going, note that there is full video of both sets out there for this one:
So feel free to watch/listen along as you read as if that is physically possible. It is worth it to witness Mike’s purple shirt and sparkly pants and Trey showing off the guns with the sleeveless t-shirt along with the fun had at the end of the second set which we will get to in due time.
Seemingly brushing the prior night’s performance off almost immediately the band comes out with a rocking Wilson, getting the crowd engaged from the start with the call/response we all love to hate these days. This drops into Divided Sky, something they have done 15 times – and six times to open a show. Just because I was curious I discovered that the only song to more frequently come out of Wilson is actually pretty surprising considering it is a now rare cover: Peaches en Regalia (18 times). Anyway, the Divided here is soaring, clean, and ripping (pause is 1:15 tonight) and does nothing to lower the energy in the room as a result. After bounding through Bouncin’ Around the Room and rocking out Character Zero Trey kicks into PYITE, making this five straight crowd-pleasing tunes to start the set. After pretty well nailing the entirety of Punch they end up in Prince Caspian, giving us another of the sort of version you could expect from the song in this era. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really do much but sap the energy out of the room for a few minutes. Which I guess many would say is bad… Well, they ramp right back up for the bluegrass slot with Ginseng Sullivan tonight, getting the sing-a-long going before really bringing the set to a momentum-ending point by playing yet another Train Song. Okay, fine, whatever, you probably needed to pee by now anyway if you didn’t take the opportunity during Caspian so no biggie. As generally happens they follow this ballad with something a bit more fiery which tonight is Chalkdust Torture. This one is the classic type I rager. Next up in the penultimate slot for the set is Taste and while I do like this song I am kinda getting tired of it by now. This makes 12 appearances for the song in 22 shows with only one other song anywhere near that total as Zero also sits at 12, setting up the competition to see which song will be crowned as most-shoved-down-our-earholes this tour. I shouldn’t complain because at least they haven’t overplayed something far worse as the end jam is always smile-inducing for me. This runs into the set closing Cavern (yay) and we are off to wander the halls of this NHL team venue, pondering the meaning of the “fifteen minute break”.
Now, that first set doesn’t look like anything overly special and realistically it is not in comparison to some of the real juggernauts over the years but even just listening to it in relation to that Ames show you can tell things are different somehow. The crowd has something to do with it but it may have had more to do with the ‘trick’ the band was about to pull which you can partially figure out from the setlist above. Trey has a bit of a tell in that way, often being a bit more giddy or musically involved when things are afoot, be it an overt trick to be played or simply things that unfold as the set progresses. This is easy to say in retrospect particularly in going through a whole tour where you see the patterns that emerge but in the moment it is definitely not something that you will expect that the crowd will notice outright. So with the crowd being none the wiser Phish came back out to start the second set and immediately dropped into Makisupa Policeman (key word: “stink kind”) you had to know that something was up at the very least. As if to give away the end, Trey at first sets a loop that is quite similar to the Maze intro before the high hat which could easily have caused some to be expecting that song to open instead of the Maki they jump into instead. The song has been played 96 times and only 16 of those have been set openers with seven of those being 2nd set openers so you could excuse someone for making that sort of assumption. Go ahead and look at the stats on that as it is a pretty reliable indicator of a hot set to come. They drop into a fun little jam here with Trey adding some mini-kit fills (whistle wah and the water drip one) and Mike playing the bassline of what sure sounds like Dog Log while Page toys around for a bit before setting up the transition for a full segue to Maze (interestingly, of the 7 times that pairing has happened 5 are set openers). Par for the course, this Maze rips hard with Page taking his time on the organ before Trey takes it to the stratosphere at the peak. Next up is McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, one of favorites of the Gamehendge suite primarily due to that end Page section which tonight does not disappoint. After that bit of ivory tickling they head out into Split Open and Melt, giving us our second vehicle already in this set. While this Melt doesn’t turn sideways into a full type II jam Trey does lead his way through some directed searching around the Melt theme which results in a dirty jam that while linear pays off quite nicely.
After those two shredders Trey gets a bit tender by starting up TMWSIY, pairing it with its partner Avenu Malkenu as one would expect. What one might not expect though is that instead of returning to the ManWho theme after that Yiddish Funk they start up My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own. You may be saying “so what” and that is a perfectly valid response but we here at LIMR Enterprises pride ourselves on bringing you the nittiest and grittiest of useless facts about this band so here goes. Every time Avenu Malkenu has been played it has been preceded by ManWho (that’s 76 performances) and these two songs have never not been played together (i.e. in the same show). Traditionally, we expect the band to return to ManWho after Avenu Malkenu but the data suggests that this might not always be a wise assumption to make. In 20 of its 79 performances Avenu Malkenu has not returned to ManWho though in one case (11.28.1992) after playing Maze they went back to ManWho to close that open door. It is notable that in most cases where they do not return to it the set in question ends up being quite memorable though considering this could also be said for many of the sets in which the full sandwich happens that’s not exactly a hard and fast Phish Rule to make money betting parlays on (there are Phish parlay betting lines, right?). Tonight marks the only time they go into MMGAMOIO instead as with its relative infrequency the only two songs to have had it occur for them are Bag (2 times) and Mike’s Song (3). All that to say that it is still a bit surprising to hear when they do go elsewhere — and I say this as someone who has managed to catch four instances of this in the 11 times I’ve seen them play these songs. Well, whatever it all means they play MMGAMOIO (37 shows since the previous one) to give us a bluegrass tune in each set (thanks, guys) before heading on into the Mike’s Song you kind of figure would be coming by now if you have been paying attention to the setlist. After the lyrics they head into the first jam and out come the tramps (something I thought was done by this point but I guess my memory on that is a bit foggy). I’ve read things that say that this is a short or even uninspired first jam to which my response is “have you ever tried improvising live music while bouncing a synchronized choreography on mini trampolines?” and I have yet to have anyone be able to answer yes to that query. Of course, I haven’t exactly asked very many people either…
Trey and Mike hop down from the tramps to move into the real meat of this jam as Kuroda fills the stage with smoke as was par for the lighting course for this jam in this time period. The overarching feel here is not too dissimilar from the main jam template they have established on this tour as they get into a chugging, guitar-driven jam. Typically as these jams have progressed we have seen Trey hop over to the mini-kit to give room to Page and Mike but tonight he stays on lead, going big all while Mike drops big bombs in counterpoint. This jam is a classic take on the second jam, erupting into a noisy back end (Mike voices approval with at least two *tings* of the fight bell) that never comes back to the ‘traditional’ Mike’s finish but instead kind of abruptly resolves into nothingness. This is the peak jam of the show and the third worthwhile one this set. After a quick breath Trey starts into another mini-bustout as we get the first Sleeping Monkey of the tour (25 shows) which continues the motif we have going thus far. If you were watching the video you might have noticed that when they came out to remove the tramps at the end of that Mike’s jam a piece of paper is placed in front of Trey’s monitor which ends up being important in paying off the trick they have been building all night. The band starts into a familiar melody that might not be easy to pick up at the start as Trey banters about thanks from “myself, Mike, Moses over there, Mr. McConnell… oh, and Mimi” before noting that the set has been “brought to you by the letter ‘M‘ and the number ‘420’” which is a fun reference to Sesame Street as well as nodding back to the set which began with their ‘weed tune’ and started the run of songs with M featured in the title somehow. Without knowing their internal shorthand for each song which probably belies it even more you can still see the pattern they have put together. As the yawn of realization washes over you they start into that familiar-ish song with Trey taking a peek at the lyric sheet he was brought to stay on track as they debut the Beatles’ tune Mean Mr. Mustard! The crowd loves it but even more so when from stage left a crouched over, hobbling, draped in cape man makes his way to the stage, in time with the song’s “such a mean old man” chorus (if this were pro wrestling and we had some context you could argue this to be the entrance music to the ‘heel’ with the crowd screeching and gasping and shouting out “oh mah gawd! they are playing his music!! here he comes!! EEEEEEEEKKK!!!). And who should that mean old man be but the band’s old friend and once frequent collaborator (both musically and in prankiness) John Popper. He throws off the cape to reveal his trademark tactical harmonica vest as the crowd erupts in recognition and at that moment the band jumps into the Weekapaug Groove you figure is coming but can’t really expect based on this whole ‘M‘ thing they have working this set.
Now, there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to sit-ins with Phish. We have covered this a bit in the past but in general the dynamic of having additional people on stage with Phish doesn’t always work particularly when the sitter-in is a “lead” type player who needs to be in front of whatever is going down. This often causes fans to make sweeping declarations about never wanting anyone to sit in with the band — except for horns, of course, because who doesn’t like what horn accompaniment can add to the mix? Then you have the folk who say ‘bring it on’ in any form as that is the root of this collaborative, improvisational thing the band has fostered over the years. Or you could have that friend who doesn’t opine but takes the ‘wait and see’ approach before either effusing praise or crapping on whoever deigned to sully their religious experience with the band. I can see the logic of these varied viewpoints and I personally probably sit more with the last person there except for that last bit because in the end while I may have a transformative experience at a show I’m not laying blame on a guest musician if I personally do not make that connection on a particular evening. Which brings us to Mr. Popper.
Being that both Phish and Blues Traveler came up in the same period of time, in the same general circle of musicians, and even with some members having grown up together at the same prep schools it makes sense that there would be a connection between the two bands. Recently there have been some anecdotes to come out about the ever-going prank war between the two bands as Mr. Popper has a new book out to promote. Personally, my favorite one is this from the ’93 H.O.R.D.E. Tour:
The set-closer on July 27th was You Enjoy Myself and it featured many special guests joining Phish onstage, including Chan Kinchla from Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews and members of his band and members of Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. During the traditional “mini-trampoline” section of YEM, a true to life dummy of John Popper (complete with his trademark hat and harmonica vest) was lowered in a wheelchair (Popper was confined to a wheelchair that whole summer due to a motorcycle wreck) from the ceiling toward a giant trampoline while Popper jammed along offstage. The joke, based on Popper’s grand personage, was that the cable holding the chair and dummy “broke” and the effigy of Popper crashed through the trampoline and thunked onto the stage. The musicians onstage then shocked the audience by attacking “Popper” as the harmonica wailed on.
or perhaps the time on the ’92 H.O.R.D.E. tour when he came out to jump on the tramps during YEM and proceeded to bust through it on first hop resulting with him leaving the stage dejectedly, though some would contend that this was not a prank so much as a result of his size at that time being too much for the springs to bear. But the roots of their collaboration on more than just humor as members of both bands have shared the stage with each other on numerous occasions. I’m not going to go through all of the times Popper has joined Phish (as an aside, if you don’t know that Ritz Power Jam show from Spring ’93 I am a big fan and promoter of it and will now refer you to the post I wrote about the Roseland shows which include a Popper sit-in as well) but suffice it to say he has brought his harmonica stylings to the Phish stage a lot. A person’s appreciation for his sit-ins is, I believe, directly related to your tolerance for his brand of mouth harp playing which can be either fascinating or unbelievably grating depending on the ear of the listener and because within only a few notes it is plainly clear who is playing harmonica when he is involved… for better or worse. Realistically, the majority of his appearances with Phish are for tunes that are pretty straight forward blues/rock template songs (the most common are Funky Bitch, JJLC, Fire, and GTBT) which means that you don’t have to think much about where it is headed or worry that he will be able to keep up. Heck, Trey even pulled a section out of the old arrangement for Reba and added some of Popper’s lyrics for a song called Don’t Get Me Wrong that they played together three times in 1990 before it disappeared… forever!
So when Popper threw off that cape you had to be wondering what we were in for here, particularly with that Paug just hanging out there waiting to be played. Surprisingly, he hops right on and crushes his solo in the first section of Paug, getting the crowd amped with the first run to the peak and setting the tone for this jam. He and Trey size each other up musically as they move through this one and unlike some sit-ins his playing never gets in the way but rather adds to it. After some hugs and such everyone departs the stage for the encore break and you know Popper is coming back out, which he does, and then we have a not surprising at all take on Funky Bitch. This song lends itself well to this sort of sit-in where both Popper and Trey and take their big solos and in watching the video you even get to see them slap fives during one of the verse sections in acknowledgement of how good it all comes off. Sure, neither of these hit the jam heights of the Mike’s earlier on but they are big time crowd pleasing rockers and sometimes that is what you need to cap a really great show on a Friday night in the middle of America.
I’ll be honest, I never had a lot of love for this show prior to spinning it a few times in getting this write-up put together. I guess I had brushed over all of the great playing here for the gimmick without realizing just how solid this one is throughout. And the contrast to the preceding show is so striking you almost have to laugh and wonder why they sandbagged that one so badly (though we covered that already…). Honestly, I had a bit of a hard time picking out the takeaways here in the end because pretty well everything is nailed. In terms of pure highlights I guess I have to narrow it down to Maki->Maze, Mike’s, Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug, and Funky Bitch for the first tier with McGrupp coming in as the second tier option. I could probably add the Melt as well but considering that there have been better versions already this tour we’ll leave it off. I definitely recommend spinning this show and watching the video if you have the opportunity because after the little lull there earlier this week the band has caught fire once more… and it really only gets better from here!