Phish — Sports Arena — San Diego, CA 12.04.1996
I MFMF, CDT, Horn, Uncle Pen, Timber Ho!>Sample, Train Song, Guyute, Zero, Lizards, Bowie
II Ha Ha Ha>Mike’s>Caspian>Sparkle>PYITE, LoM?, Reba, Lawn Boy, Paug
After their one night in Arizona Phish returned to California for two nights, one technically being considered an “off night” followed by a show in San Diego. The off night was spent singing the Star Spangled Banner for the LA Lakers vs. Seattle Supersonics game that Trey mentioned in introducing their performance of the song back in Seattle on 11.27.1996. That game, played at the Great Western Forum was one by the home team 110 to 106 over the eventual division champion Supersonics in that rookie year for Kobe Bryant and the first season that Shaquille O’Neal played for the Lakers. Then after that off day fun Phish went a little further south to play their fifth ever show in the San Diego area. The first visit to the area was kind of delayed by about two years if you were one to pore over the details of the old Phish Newsletters as there was a “TBA San Diego Area” date for April 14, 1992 listed in the March/April 1992 version. Thankfully the drought ended on 05.14.1994 at Montezuma Hall on the campus of San Diego State University surely quelling the concerns of those far Southern Californians and the masses of transplanted trustafarian surfer types who contributed to the sustained growth of the region in that time period. The show is a fun one with a nice Reba, a Mike’s that gets a bit dirty and shreddy, and just the all-around solid play of the time period. The wait for the band’s return would not be long after that as they came back to play a two night run at Spreckels Theatre on 12.07.1994 and 12.08.1994. The first night might jog your memory a bit as it includes the version of YEM from A Live One but do also check out the Melt because that one is fantastic and the Jim gets a little Gypsy Queen love. The second night goes deeper with a Maki->Maze opener, a wildly funky Simple->Catapult->Simple->Lizards (yes, I said funky about a ’94 show), a crazed Possum, a big beautiful Reba, and a frenzied Bowie being the highlights. A little less than a year later they played at the Summer Pops stage at the Embarcadero Center on 09.28.1995, the second show on that Fall ’95 Tour and one that is well played if pretty short on the jams… not unlike the tour opener we just got from St. Paul. The next visit would be for this show sitting on the other end of a Fall Tour which was played as the second to last show of the tour. But you already knew that.
For the third time this tour and the fifth in 1996 as a whole Phish opens the show with My Friend, My Friend. This is the third show opening version of the tour (which I always seem to over explain so we’ll forego that today) and one that goes as you would expect in leading up to that evil peak. Next they run through the shred clinic of Chalkdust Torture which gives us a bit of double opener energy as Trey slays this tight version. They pull up a bit for an early Horn (which I feel usually gets played in the back half of a first set after the first potential vehicle but that could just be me projecting that) that is played finely enough before we get the bluegrass song for the set in Uncle Pen. After Pen they start into Timber Ho! to give us our first real taste of the jam on the night. As with pretty much every Timber Ho! this one stays within the song and doesn’t stretch for too long but Trey does twist things a bit in his solo before the final verse/refrain, giving us a bit of dark jam jerky to gnaw on as we wait for the main courses to come. Unfortunately, they go from this to Sample and then follow that with Train Song, kind of killing the darker vibe they had been setting with the bulk of the songs up to this point. A rocking take on the Guyute suite brings us back a bit and satisfies the howling fist pumpers who almost have their heads pop off when they crunch into Character Zero after that Guyute. You have to admit that playing the song as much as they did on this tour wasn’t a bad thing for the song because by this point they are straight crushing it with Trey toying around all over the fretboard and the rest of the band keeping stride. After the rock out Trey starts up our fifth Lizards of the tour which they run through quite well before Fish hits the tell tale intro to a set closing David Bowie. As with most of the Bowies on this tour this one burns hot and deep, coming in under the radar but laying waste to all it touches. It isn’t a massive one but it churns and roils with tension building goodness and pays off with a satisfying peak before Trey slips in The Lie before leaving the stage.
You fill the setbreak time by wandering around this old venue, learning about how it once was supposed to host the GOP National Convention (1972) only to have the GOP move their thing to Miami with short notice (kinda not surprised there), played home base for several middling sports league teams (like ABA and WHL franchises), and hosted the numerous music luminaries who have graced the stage of the venue over the years. The venue has now succumbed to the Naming Rights Bingo game like so many others but still trucks on as a viable option for tours to come (but let’s not kid ourselves; Phish ain’t coming back here unless they somehow start doing very big tours again and that’s a pipe dream). Before you know it your friends shuttle you back to your spot and the lights drop and the band cranks into the second Ha Ha Ha of the tour. In your head you are wondering why this song now because the song is often the telling finger-to-the-side-of-the-nose winking nod to something tongue in cheek they have done before this but then you remember they opened Hampton with it and just give into the quick run through this to wait and see what they drop into in its wake. That would be Mike’s Song which is never not welcome to most of us, particular back in this era of extended open jams and fully developed second jams in the song. From the drop out of the lyrics Trey is in charge, playing around the Mike’s theme as the rest of the band builds up the chunking groove. Trey shifts to some funk rhythm chords and adds in the wah as Page comps on the organ. After a minute or so of this dance party music Trey re-initiates his lead and gets into some staccato-like playing before taking things to a higher plane. He moves back and forth between these two modes for a bit before we hit the power chords that signal the move either into the second jam or out into the next song. Second jam it is tonight! Trey goes low and menacing and starts setting loops as he moves over to the mini-kit for a bit of double drums action with Fish. He keeps the loops gong as he moves back to the guitar, playing these big wah’d out lines and feeling around the groove pocket as Fish goes nuts on the kit. At about the 13:00 mark they shift modes again and Trey is in lead in the higher end again, noodling towards the end bit which they kind of slam into rather than taking their time. This is one of those big, dark, groovy Mike’s jams that implores you to dance, never fully leaving Mike’s but also something different at the same time. It’s a definite keeper. Next up is one of only two ever times Prince Caspian has followed Mike’s song (the other being 07.29.2014) and while largely what you’d expect they do seem to draw out the ‘plinky’ section towards the end before the big jarring chord shift. I guess that is something of note. After a quick run through Sparkle they keep moving with Punch You In The Eye. Trey yells out some kind of affirmation and then Fish adds in another bit of ‘Get Up Offa That Thang’ like he did a few shows ago. They nail this one with Trey hitting everything cleanly in the Landlady section before moving on to our sixth Life On Mars? of the tour. After running through four solid if un-jammed tunes they start up Reba, working through the composed section effortlessly. The jam starts out quiet and in a patient way with Trey tinkering around and Page mirroring him as Mike throws in some creative ideas of his own. Now, the .net Reba doc calls this one “thoroughly average” which I suppose is true in some sense (don’t get me started on the overly complicated rating system employed there) as they stay in form the whole way but if that is the average then I’m happy to just ask for average Rebas in the future. I would have been quite satisfied with this one live, particularly as this relatively late stage in the show. Fish hits the telltale run to wrap it up and then they stop on a dime sans whistling for Trey to give a bit of banter/thanks to the caterers since they wouldn’t be joining them in Las Vegas for the tour closer. Two of them get to dance on stage with Trey (!!!) while Page croons out Lawn Boy and then we are off into the Weekapaug Groove closer you knew was coming. Trey starts out with heavy wah before they even hit the first recognizable bit of the song and then we are off into happy fun dance party land. Trey takes a creative approach to the main riff, altering it slightly as he solos and plays ALL THE NOTES. He seems to pull up a bit towards the end, first giving thanks to the crowd and then blowing up the final peak but I assure you no one would have been complaining at that stage. When they come back out for the encore Trey has more thanks to give and then they lope into Jesus Just Left Chicago (mike giving a *ting* of approval right at the start), still the last time the song has been used as an encore in its 80 appearances. Page lights this one up and then Trey tears the place down as the band closes out yet another quite fine show in the end run of this tour.
Here we have another example of the big Fall 1996 sound they have developed over the course of this tour with pretty close to all of their various styles on display from tight shred and intricate composition to open groove jamming and smile-inducing dance party anthems. The band is so connected at this stage that it really doesn’t matter what they play because everything comes off the way it feels like it should and the creative ideas they are sharing never feel forced or out of place. I admittedly was only truly familiar with the Mike’s Song from this show before going back to spin it after so many years but I was happily surprised at the overall high quality of it (and having an available soundboard in circulation sure doesn’t hurt). Mike’s and JJLC are the clear tier one takeaways with Reba and Bowie coming in just under that but don’t mistake the lack of takeaways for a lack of quality. I’m pretty much just saving up for that tour ender at this point ::wink wink:: So one show to go now and chances are it won’t get posted until next week what with new Phish competing for ear time and the holiday weekend upcoming. Plus this one will be a biggie considering the bigness of what goes down there (he says without wanting to drop any massive spoilers). But fear not because I’m not losing steam here, just making sure I give this last one its rightful due before we get to the recappin’, jam rankin’, and movin’ on to the next project thing…
Thanks as always for following along…