Phish — Civic Auditorium — Omaha, NE 11.16.1996
I Poor Heart>Disease, Guyute, Gumbo, Rift, Free, Old Home Place, Bowie, Lawn Boy>Sparkle>Frankenstein
II La Grange>Jim->VoL->Kung->Catapult, Axilla>Hood>Suzy, Amazing Grace
E We’re an American Band
After getting tricksy and jamming hard in St. Louis on Friday night Phish traveled another 400+ miles for their Saturday night stop in Omaha, NE visiting the largest city in the Cornhusker state for the first (and only) time. This marked the band’s sixth in a row with some form of performance starting with the Monday night show in Grand Rapids and including the pre-game performance of the Star Spangled Banner for the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Tuesday before four straight nights of shows capped by this one in the other Gateway to the West. Seriously, when you have two regional capital cities that are less than 500 miles apart trying to promote themselves with the same moniker it induces some head scratching on the part of those of us who perhaps aren’t as hip to the history of westward expansion and the role that crossing big rivers plays in that. That confusion aside, in the past week they have covered over 1,600 miles of travel through the Midwest to make their total over the tour more than 7,100 miles which would take a hell of a lot of grilled cheese sold in order to cover your gas money not to mention tickets, food, lodging, and whatnot. I sure hope you had a better fiscal plan than relying on your grilled cheese margins for covering those expenses. Somehow you made it here though and with the cold weather just amplifying along the path you are really hoping for another hot show to keep the chill at bay for perhaps one more day
Sheerly by the virtue of the low number of times that the band has played in this state, Nebraska might have an argument for being one of the best places to see Phish (statistically) so you have that going for you coming in. I say that with some confidence knowing that prior to this night there had only been one show in the state over in the capital and home to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. If for some reason you don’t already know that show from 10.21.1995 you should probably pause here and go ahead and spin that because it is very much worth your time. I mean, there are only three shows where they have ever opened with Reprise of which this is one and the other two are 11.09.1995 which is quite stellar and 06.19.2010 which is… um, well, it is a fun show that has both a Reprise opener and encore? Yeah, okay, it isn’t exactly the best show ever but they were really having fun with the Reprise thing after the double encore of it in Hartford and then opening SPAC with it for the third performance of the song in a row and then Trey teasing it in there before they capped the show with it as well (in what could go down as one of the more obvious calls in band history if you follow the setlists closely each tour). But yeah that Lincoln show (at yet another now defunct venue, the Civic Auditorium) has some heat in the lead up to Halloween on that epic tour. Big time Bowie, really fun YEM, a beaut of a Hood, one of those real purty Rebas, teases all over the place, a return to Reprise out of a shreddy GTBT to close the first set, and just a solid top to bottom show all around. Go ahead and spin that (there’s even an official archival release available on LivePhish) and come back. We will be here when you are all caught up.
::checks imaginary wristwatch::
::stares longingly out of window::
… hmmm… I wonder if they are coming back. Can someone do one of those facesnaptwitogram things all the kids are on about and see whether we just lost everybody to Fall ’95? I really shouldn’t be promoting other shows as highly as I do. The guys in Marketing are really gonna lay into me again and I just don’t need that kind of stress right now, man. It’s just that, wait what’s that? We’re good to go? Really? My producer is giving me the sign to keep it rolling so we won’t try to stretch this out any further. Okay, let’s do this!
The festivities on this evening begin with Poor Heart (while we don’t have full show video of this one I’ll sprinkle in what I have found on YT), that witty ditty about stolen tapedecks which has been a setlist staple forever. I was a bit surprised to find out, however, that in all of its 294 performances the song has only ever opened 13 shows (and 9 second sets) which really feels quite low. Now, granted, the song often comes in at the #2 or #3 slot as a secondary punch in the opening combo but this is still a lot less than I would have guessed. It gets weirder still since three of those openers happened in single set opener slots during the Summer ’92 run when they were opening for Santana and another is a Santana opener from Summer’ 96 so the number of full Phish shows that have Poor Heart openers is then only nine. Looking at those shows there really isn’t much to point to in terms of cohesiveness except perhaps that (leaving out the single setters) they did it three times each in 1995 and 1996, haven’t opened a show with Poor Heart since 09.21.1999, played Bowie in 7 of the 9 shows, and that’s it. There’s nothing else to really link these shows. And I have now spent way more time on this than anyone really should and it is keeping us from the show here so let’s just keep it moving. Poor Heart gives way to Down with Disease and tonight we have another fiery first set version that starts off with a little double tap *ting* by Mike in the intro and then takes off for a screaming bit of shred that really kicks the set into gear. Riding that wave they then head into Guyute, our second of the tour, and pretty well nail the big composed rocker. I always feel like there is more that I should be saying about this tune but outside of the end peak part it really doesn’t do much for me personally. I know there are those who chase it or whatever and I am probably a bit jaded on it having seen it way too much at its peak but there’s just no there there for me. I’d rather they spent that 10+ minutes on something a bit less… I dunno… predictable? Eh, whatever, it is perfectly fine prawg rawk so yeah. Oh well, I guess we can now say I’ve discussed it and move on. Next up is Gumbo, our fourth fun, dancy, energetic tune to start the set and just as in Grand Rapids this one gets the Maple Leaf Rag ending which is nice. Keeping their collective feet on the proverbial pedal the band cranks into Rift for a run through the, um, Rift number and then drops into Free yet again for the eighth time in 23 shows. That’s not a complaint by any means as they have settled into a satisfyingly dirty mode of jamming this song on this tour. Tonight’s version gets some Trey mini-kit fill action including the whistle wah in the big, swirling build and pays off in a fist-pumping manner for all the dudes in the front row.
And then in the wake of Free we finally get a bit of a respite from all of that rocking Phish as they trot out The Old Home Place for our second grassy tune of the night. This allows the full-bladdered folk to run off to do their business and then a few minutes later they drop right back into the bigger stuff with what will be the anchor of the set in David Bowie (Part I, Part II). The intro to this Bowie is a bit different than normal with Trey playing bent, almost twangy notes to accent the high hat and then when they get to the kick it is on. Fitting the mode of these first sets (and for this song in general in this time period) this Bowie is mainly of the type I variety though in the first half of the jam Trey keeps it low key and opts to explore around the Bowie theme in building all of that wonderful tension we look for in this song. There is a great deal of patience shown here as unlike in a version you might here nowadays they really give this one room to become more than just a run to the peak. I mention “nowadays” because here in 3.0 Bowie is a neutered form of its former self, never going as deep as it once did when it was one of THE biggest of vehicles but even still not even touching some of the latter day 1.0 and even a few in 2.0 ones that get into some type II exploration. I’m not saying this Omaha Bowie is an all-timer or anything but even in a relatively tame version there is more to be found here than in most of the 3.0 Bowies with the notable exceptions of the one that came in the wake of the Disease Supreme on 06.03.2011 and perhaps 12.28.2012 which are coincidentally the only 3.0 versions to eclipse 15 minutes… Now we finally get the first real breather of the set as Page comes out to croon Lawn Boy which then gives way to a non-FMS Sparkle (obviously). After that they romp through a spot on cover of Frankenstein (I have an irrational love for this song) to cap this fun if not phenomenal first set, sending the faithful to the break with yet another LIE about being back in about fifteen minutes. At this point I am surprised we believe anything they say what with how much they push this deceitful agenda on their adoring fans.
Steaming about this seemingly tongue in cheek comment by Trey you storm out to the concourse to get some fresh air, fume a bit, and maybe stretch the legs before the band decides to come back whenever that happens. As you do you hear passing conversations about other great events that have gone down here at the (now closed) Civic Auditorium like that Elvis show in ’77 which was one of his last or that epic Vice Presidential debate between Bentson and Quayle from 1988 which birthed the famous “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” line (found around the 59:00 mark in that video) or the 07.05.1978 and 10.21.1973 Dead shows that went down here. I’m sure there are other highlights at this venue but I am not getting in the habit of noting Hootie and the Blowfish shows so we’ll just nip that in the bud right now, mister. Eventually you make it back to your spot and get ready for what should be another hot set if the past few after Ames are any indication of direction (pro tip: never make assumptions about future Phish sets based on the relative performance of previous sets as this can go wrong in several ways). The lights go down and you start to get yourself ‘right’ as the band starts into our first La Grange since the prior year’s New Year’s Run (56 shows) and from the get you can tell Trey is going to tear this one up. That assumption is correct as there are no signs of rust on this bluesy rocker, a song now residing in the “Where are they now” files since it petered out of rotation in late 1.0 and has only been played once in 3.0 on 07.08.2012. Wrapping this up they bring out Runaway Jim, working through the verses and then heading out into a focused jam that sticks to the main theme of the song while also forging some new ground. After searching a bit they land in a fast paced groove that allows Trey to toy around on top, offering up staccato lines and such that lean towards something a bit in the Hendrix-ish way but still not quite there (though we will soon enough). There is a funkiness going on here as well as this groove punches on before they drop into a less structured phase that sets up the transition space.
After a minute or so of effects Trey comes to the mic and asks Fish to drop out on the drums allowing him to introduce the bustout of the Vibration of Life (148 shows), a ‘song’ most common in 1994 but also found in 1992, 1993, and here in 1996. If you aren’t familiar with it the performance can be either confusing or eye-opening in that holy-crap-these-hippies-are-weird way but I was always a fan of it if nothing else but for looking around to see the confused looks on the unknowing faces surrounding – perhaps due to having caught almost a third of the 22 total performances of it. The song typically showed up in the middle of or as the resolution to something else, most frequently in the middle of YEM but also oddly in the middle of Mockingbird and a couple of times in Bowie intros. While seemingly serious about resetting ones energy and stuff the VoL is really more joke than anything (just spin the 10.31.1994 version in the middle of Harpua if you have any doubt) what with it’s reference to “seven beats per second” that basic math will tell you is 420 beats per minute, stoner boy. Some will say this song is a waste of precious second set potential jam time but I argue that it is an example of when they are feeling loose and comfortable on stage which opens things up to any sort of possibility musically. It is in the vein of stuff like Catapult, Faht, Kung, and the other stuff that those not ‘in on the joke’ would have no frame of reference for in coming to a show for the first time since those ones don’t hit the setlist of the type of tape one would give to a newbie to prime them for a first time Phishing trip. So when they drop this bustout then follow it with one of those really wild Kungs (pretty sure there is a *ting* in there somewhere too) and then take that into Catapult that really sets a tone as to where their heads are on the evening — and also probably threw more than a few spunions upside down and sideways in the wake of that Jim jam. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on it even further they go from Catapult right into a raging Axilla that devolves into the Axilla II ending where the band throws in bits of Kung, shout outs to Lee Fordham and the rest of the Light Crew, and more madness as Trey riffs off of the “don’t shine that thing in my face” bit from Axilla II. With one last “Leeeeeee Fordham” that every time I hear it sounds to me like he is saying “Riiiiiiicola” out of one of those lozenge commercials they turn on a dime and drop into the intro the Harry Hood. Just go ahead and cue that video up as it is worth it and adds to the context of the performance greatly.
Perhaps you already know this version of the song based on the reputation it has deservedly gotten over the years but please indulge me here. This Hood encapsulates a lot about what we look for in Phish in one tidy 15+ minute segment from a show. Starting with the canonic ‘reggae’ intro the band is loose as Fish and Trey throw in more Lee Fordham nods and Mike accents with numerous *tings* of the fight bell. Moving to the lyrics Trey replaces the “Harry” line with “LEE!” as Fish answers with “FORDHAM!” (in my opinion, a much better exchange than the annoying call and response we cannot seem to outgrow that started at Red Rocks ’96 based on a fan flier). A faithful and true run through the composed section mellows the mood a bit and then we are off into the build towards the jam. The band and crowd are rising together here, all but willing this thing to explode even before we get to the last “Thank you Mr. Hoooooooood”. The band moves into the jam with a quiet feel and a ton of patience as Trey assumes his prototypical staring-out-into-the-yonder-that-actually-is-the-ceiling-of-the-venue pose, leading with delicate lines as Page adds color on the electric piano. The move along here for a few minutes in building the beautiful climb towards the peak we all know is coming and the pace quickens as Trey noodles around. As you whirl around with eyes closed and smiling that uncontrollable grin this song tends to evoke Trey stops searching and holds a note (innocently at first) as the rest of the band continues to jam. After about 30 seconds he is playing at pulling the note out of his guitar and soon he is using his pick hand to egg on the crowd as the other three are just going nuts all while that note sustains. The crowd catches wind and adds to the energy as Trey head bangs and pumps his fist in response to the jam Fish, Mike, and Page are throwing down and by about the two minute mark of this you start wondering how long they can go with this. The anticipation continues to build as Trey holds the note for another minute, finally coming back into the lead after more than three minutes. The crowd erupts in response and then the four continue to jam with Trey shredding on top of the ordered cacophony of major key rage they have constructed. By the time they come back for the end refrain you can sense that everyone has been waiting to exhale and step down from your tippy toes, offering up that release we all sought. Not willing to provide any break for the weary they come out of the end swirl by punching into Suzy Greenberg to the elation of the crowd. This Suzy has more Lee Fordham fun, a La Grange tease by Trey in the first break before Page’s organ bit, and then an Axilla tease by Trey in the next break before Page’s piano solo. It is the sort that caps a hot set with the callbacks to earlier goings down. It sure feels like this will be the set closer but then the band pops out front for a little a cappella to send everyone off into the night, busting out Amazing Grace for the first time this tour since they last played it to encore the first night of the Clifford Ball. Heading then to the encore there are a ton of songs they could potentially play here so you have to wonder what is up when they count off and wait for Fish to get it going. But when he does he starts into one of those oh-so-familiar classic rock intros that were the soundtrack of our collective FM radio youth, knocking the beat and cowbell of the Grand Funk Railroad rocker We’re An American Band a song that is obviously a debut for the band on this night. With its raucous tone and referential lyrics (you know, that whole verse about Omaha and the Saturday night thing?) it is a perfect choice to send everyone out into the night on another high note. And after that almost fully segued, scorching hot second set (save for the Amazing Grace) I know I would have been skipping and hooting and hollering as we made our way out into the cold night. The energy that comes from that kind of experience can stay with you for a while which is obviously a part of why we do this time and again — and it might benefit you if your next move was to get into the car to start the trek down to Memphis for the show two nights later.
Judging from the past two shows, we have hit another upward swing on this tour as the band is gelling something fierce and really connecting with the crowd as well. Sure, the first sets are still (and will continue to be) largely energy/song-based affairs but that’s not unexpected in any era. But carrying that energy forward into the more open waters of these second sets is something that this band does so well — and that makes the belly flop in Ames all the more telling as an outlier. With a dozen more shows to come on this tour and the entire West Coast swing still waiting things are heading to another peak with this show pushing the potential higher as we go. Considering that as I mentioned above this was their sixth night of some form of performance in a row it speaks to their interest and intent for there to be not a single misstep here. This show is one of those that combines all of the things that make Phish who they are: execution, energy, connection, humor, hijinx, open jamming, bustouts, covers, and more. I know that the ‘weird’ setlist inclusions in that mid second set might not turn on the newbiest of newbs but as a snapshot of this band tonight’s show is a pretty strong option for one to give to a friend who asks you what this band is all about. They may not get IT at first but once they hear other shows and then come back to this one they will thank you and perhaps say something like “yeah, now I understand why you gave me that tape” assuming you still give your friends cassettes which would be weird because your friend would probably look at you funny and throw it back in your face because who even has a tape deck anymore besides that one dude who always seems to have good drugs but who still drives a beat up 80s Subaru that is definitely being held together by the stickers that cover about 90% of the once painted rear end that screams to cops “please pull me over” and what was I talking about? Eh, you probably got the point there. Your takeaways from this one are the Hood, Jim, and Bowie for the first tier and then the La Grange and We’re an American Band for the second. I would say throw in the VoL->Kung->Catapult->Axilla section too but let’s keep those to ourselves and besides you are spinning that whole second set through anyway so who cares what I put on that player on the sidebar. Rest up now because this tour is on fire pretty much from here on out and Memphis has some seriously big guns and a fun sit-in coming up next.