Phish — Pacific Coliseum — Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996
I CDT, Guelah, CTB, Divided, PYITE, Midnight on the Highway, Melt, Rift, Funky Bitch
II The Curtain>Mike’s->Simple->Makisupa>Axilla>Paug->Catapult, Waste, Grace, Hood
After shaking off the rust in Spokane following their brief break to travel west Phish hopped the border into Canada for a Saturday night stop in British Columbia. This would be the fifth time the band would play in Vansterdam and the first/only playing the spacious Pacific Coliseum after the previous shows in smaller venues that we will get to shortly. This night is part of the weird “out and back” routing they almost always seem to employ in the Pacific Northwest with Seattle as the hub and the other stops as the various spokes to that metaphorical wheel. I get it to a certain extent as there wouldn’t be another venue to hit up here but it makes less sense later as they pass through Seattle to get to Portland before coming back up again to finish off with a Seattle show. It doesn’t always happen but it has enough times that people notice it and the only reason that could possibly make sense for adding all that mileage to the tour routing is venue availability which I suppose is about the most sensible reason you could think of in that regard. It is somewhat unavoidable with that in mind but still frustrating for those looking to string together a run of shows in the region. I guess the side benefit is you get more time in the car to spin tapes and connect with friends?
The first visit to Vancouver happened during our old friend Spring 1993 Tour on 04.03.1993 at the 86th Street Music Hall, coming just one show before the break between the two big legs (and being a prime example of the odd routing thing…). Check out the Stash, Reba, and YEM here for sure and add in the Melt and JJLC if you are feeling the 93 vibe. Tons of fun banter in that one too. They returned four months later during THAT month for a show at the Commodore Ballroom on 08.24.1993. As is expected from that tour you should spin the whole thing because it is replete with teases and great jams but if you are being choosy please do yourself a favor and spin Ice (with its ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ jam), Melt (with the DEG jam and ‘Long Tall Glasses’ teases), Mike’s (with the heavy metal shred), Paug (cuz ’93 Paugs were where a lot of the most open music happened in a show), and Lope (an ‘O Canada’ tease and the mind bending dissonance of those old Lopes). You will be happy with those choices. Oh, and the reparte between Trey and Fish in trading names in the Fish Fun Time section is pretty funny. Might be one of the more degrading/humorous nicknames for Fish Trey ever coined. The next Spring they came back again to play at the Vogue Theater on 05.22.1994 for what looks on paper to be a rather tame affair in comparison to some of the shows that surround it. It is better than that, of course, but perhaps not a mind blowing show. It holds the distinction of having the only Demand opener ever which is nice and there’s some fun banter about ‘Whoomp There It Is’ in Glide and Monkey but outside of the Tweezer (which feels at times like part of the Bomb Factory version from two weeks earlier) there might not be a whole lot here for the jam chasers. For their fourth visit to the city Phish played yet another venue, this time the Orpheum Theatre on 10.06.1995. There’s a nice Reba in the first set and another quality Tweezer (this one goes pretty deep – Mike has a big role in that) but otherwise this is a fairly early in the tour show where they are still taking their time getting warmed up as the tour has close to 50 shows remaining at this point. And so based on this history it is not unexpected that upon returning to the area in 1996 they would grace yet another room, something that has now held true for every time they have played Vancouver – including three years later in 1999.
Seemingly out of the grasp of weather’s cold grip they start the night with a rocking, raging, and fitting Chalkdust Torture that features Trey prominently. This is the type of Chalkdust opener we were brought up on, big on the energetic shred but otherwise straight forward. Guelah Papyrus slots into its familiar number two role tonight and then we get a boisterous Cars Trucks Buses where Page goes off on the piano for a bit giving this one a bit of spark before wrapping up.Next up is Divided Sky (1:10 pause tonight), soaring forth with a clean version that keeps the energy headed upwards, almost as if their intent is to see how much higher than can take things. This is further punctuated by the Punch You In The Eye that follows as here five songs in there has been little letup in the party excepting perhaps the slower vibe of that Guelah (though I’d argue that that song is not a lull like a ballad or some acoustic thing). By 1996 PYITE had fully replaced The Landlady after the two songs had battled for setlist inclusion in 1993 and 1994 which results in clean, ripping takes on this fan loved song (I love this tune as an opener and/or energy boost but I’m definitely in the “play Landlady” camp too). Now we finally get a bit of a breather as Trey first banters about the late night, extended border crossing over into Canada which resulted in this picture
The story of that photo – which Trey briefly references in introducing the next song – is that they had a pretty lengthy border crossing delay as the tour bus was searched high and low by the guards for… stuff. This gave the band enough time for Mike to teach them a fitting road song, Midnight On The Highway, which slots in here as the midset breather/bathroom break tune. It is a grassy number written by old friend Tim O’Brien (who first joined Phish on stage at Red Rocks on 08.07.1996) for Hot Rize. This is but one of a few Tim/Hot Rize numbers Phish has played over the years with Nellie Kane being the most notable (and only non-one-timer). Here’s the memorable Sandy Kane from Worcester 2012 to remind you of that fun night. Mike had performed a couple of times right before this tour around Burlington with Doug Perkins and Gordon Stone so it was fresh for him, making for a nice interlude for us. The song itself is a traveler’s lament about being away from his love, something that fits in well with the life of a musician. I kind of wish this one was more than just a one-off performance as I could see it being a good bluegrass slot tune. Alas, that was not to be so let’s get back to the show. Following our border crossing interlude the band cranks into Split Open and Melt, bringing us back into the energetic jamming they had going prior to that little respite. They stay within the Melt framework as Trey solos above the theme and Mike pushes the groove itself, eventually bringing it back around to the close. A well played Rift keeps the energy going and then they cap the set with probably the best Funky Bitch of the tour so far that doesn’t include a guest harmonica soloist or a three way percussion blowout. After his solo and the final refrain Trey sits back and comps with some of that proto-funk vibe as Page creates big organ swirls (not a euphemism) pushing this a bit away from its typically bluesy root jam into something a bit different. Just when you think they will bring it back around and take it even higher Fish blaps and Trey trots out the 15 Minute Lie and we are off to setbreak to catch our breath and rest our bones a bit after all that dancing.
After the huddle up with your buds to talk about how fun that set was (woo! we’re back to the energetic first sets!) you settle in to see what they have in store for the second frame. First up is that wonderful harbinger of jams to come, The Curtain, getting a faithful and true rendition that lives up to its reputation of setting the table well. I don’t need to go into the whole (With) thing here as that was but a figment here in 1996 so the focus is on the tune as we knew it then was typically in providing set up for a vehicle. Most times that was the case but there are also 11 Samples to follow Curtain in its 119 performances (behind #1 Tweezer at 17) which is just plain wrong. Thankfully, tonight is not one of those but instead something with some meat to it as they drop into Mike’s Song. This version gets pretty heavy in a hurry as they opt for a crunchy Type I version, leaving behind any thoughts of a big, groovy 2nd jam like we’ve seen more than once on this tour. Trey stays up front in this jam, trying out several different lead lines as Page comps behind on the organ and Fish pounds out the big beat. This isn’t quite Machine Gun Trey but he’s working it out all the same. Right about where this might drop down into the second jam with the siren loops and big Mike tone Trey moves into Simple, giving us a seamless segue into the most reliable vehicle we’ve had this tour. As with the Mike’s they keep things mainly linear and again Trey is out front leading the charge. There’s no move to the mini-kit in this one so it doesn’t open up in the way most of these Simples have. They drop into a section that could go out into an ambient bridge space but as that is starting to materialize Trey plays the intro comp for Makisupa Policeman, our third of the tour. The keyword tonight is more of a retelling of the previous night’s encounter as Trey says “woke up in the morning, border guard in my bunk. He took his fucking dog on the bus and he found my… dank.” This elicits some awkward cheers out of the crowd (I mean, who really wants to cheer about a guy getting searched on the side of the highway?) and then they stretch it out for one of those comforting, ambient Maki jams. Trey adds a few appropriately placed whistle wahs and Mike hits the fight bell as well as we get a little precursor to the ambient fun of 1998 and beyond along with the vocal repartee that comes in the final round of lyrics. Trey then plays that grating, old psych transition line and BAM we are into Axilla. Tonight’s version has the ‘modern’ ending to the song (i.e. no ambient goo) and then we get Weekapaug Groove which should have been obvious to you. The first part of this jam is all peaky Paug stuff, leading you to believe this will be a straight forward rocking Paug but then Trey draws out a line in setting a loop that he then wah comps over and the band shifts into a dance groove. Page hops on on the toys to add flavor here and Trey comps in a way that makes you think they are heading into Llama while also being wholly unique. I wish they had stuck with this for longer because I think it could have really erupted into a major blowout peak jam but instead Trey messes around with the lead melody and Page adds in a bit and with Fish still ostensibly playing the Paug line Mike comes in and croons the Catapult lyrics over the beat. It is one of the more unique moves into Catapult that you will hear which begs the question as to why one might be seeking those out. Page plays the Catapult melody as Mike punctuates Fish’s beat with fight bell hits and Trey tinkers on the mini-kit as this peters out into a bit of an underwhelming close. And then we get Waste. Yippee. No biggie, we were due for a break by now and there are definitely much worse things they could have dropped here so we’ll just sway with an arm on the shoulder of the total stranger next to us as they cringe in horror about the crazed weirdo hanging on them (hey, at least they’ll have a good story to tell their normals after the show) as you hold that lighter aloft while belting out that one line that really speaks to your soul, man. Oddly enough, that line is not the one everyone else sees as the key one so your hug buddy starts to make the move to remove himself from your uncomfortably sweaty grasp and sensing that you hold on even more tightly as the band builds to the coda. Finally, as Trey wraps up the end solo your new best friend (your mind, not his) sees his opportunity and takes it, running off to the bathrooms as you try to start a conversation about how much that song means to you and your crew. It’s like your theme song or something you start to explain, only to finally open your eyes to find him no longer there and the band moving out front to do an a cappella Amazing Grace.
The band moves back to their typical places and you scan the local area to see if your pal has returned but who are you kidding, he and his girlfriend aren’t coming back to this spot again after that. Dude had to go to the merch stand to buy a new shirt since you got him pretty well saturated there and let’s face it you aren’t exactly the cleanest gent on tour by this point so that friendship has sailed, brother. But with the trademark Fish hits signaling its start, Harry Hood begins and you forget about all of this, losing yourself in the patient move through the song out into the open embrace of the resulting jam. They are working as one here, building it up organically with somewhat disparate ideas gelling into the whole. Page compliments Trey’s lead while Fish and Mike push the tempo as they arrive at the final peak to the delight of the masses, paying off this Hood in a similarly satisfying yet wholly different way than the one from Omaha a few shows ago. In the end swirl Trey gives some thanks and then we are on to the encore for a well deserved Good Times Bad Times rock out (with a little dedication to the numerous road crew folks who make their home in Vancouver) before everyone departs to begin figuring out how to stash all those BC headies to keep them safe on the return through the border crossing into the US of A.
This is by no means a legendary show or even one that you will hear people call out as one of the best from this tour. Heck, there really isn’t one, big, centerpiece takeaway jam to laud as it is one of those ones that is a bit more than the sum of its parts. It is a very good show in comparison to the one that precedes it and it is clear they have now shaken off the apparent rust from the trip West (or at least caught up on some sleep even though that seems doubtful what with the border fun) and feels like one that is setting up bigger things to come (it is). There’s also some very engaging jams here as our takeaways are Melt, the whole Mike’s Groove (sure, the Axilla is a short one but we’ll just let it ride as it works in context) and the Hood with the bonus Midnight on the Highway for the one off beaut it is. There’s some of that Saturday Night Special energy thing going on here but not in a negative way like the jams suffer as a result and there’s definitely no jukebox feel to the sets like you get with the 3.0 SNSs. It is just your average solid Phish show all over which is in no way a dig of any kind. It is a fun spin and I recommend listening to the whole thing like maybe if you are stuck in a car traveling between the various Northwest tour stops they never seem to route in the same way each time? Now on to Rip City for one of our few Sunday night shows of Fall ’96…