Phish — Memorial Coliseum — Portland, OR 11.24.1996
I Poor Heart>Bag>ATR, Bouncin’>Reba, Zero, Strange Design>Taste, IDK, Sample, Lope
II 2001>Sparkle>Bowie, ADITL>YEM, Cup>Suzy
First and foremost, apologies for the gap in posting of late. I had a couple of trips – both work related and not – in the past few weeks that made getting a show post up not possible. But we are back and I’m looking to get through the end of this tour before the new one starts, assuming life doesn’t throw me more junk pitches. Now on with the show…
Leaving Vancouver and headed south, Phish traveled the 300 plus miles to Portland, OR for their third Sunday night show of the tour thus far. There would be a two day break following this one to make the harrowing journey back north to Seattle for the Wednesday night pre-Thanksgiving Jimi Hendrix birthday bash but that’s our next one to tackle after our visit to Oregon. Alas, we have no information on how the border crossing back into the US went as they headed down south for this one so we will just have to fill our time with looking at the bevy or solid shows the band played here previously.
By 1996 the band had a strong history with this city and Oregon in general having played Portland nine times before this night and Oregon a total of sixteen. The first visit here on 04.05.1991 was at Starry Night which is now the Roseland Theatre. It is a typically fun affair from that bar band time period with nothing major on the jam front but listen to The Lizards for some fun banter by Trey and maybe the Hood which is interesting for the time period. That Fall they returned to the same venue (now with its new name) for a show on 10.12.1991 that is most notable for the Artis the Spoon Man sit-in in the second set for several songs. If you don’t know that name, he is a self-proclaimed “living myth” based in the Seattle area who plays “avante-garde percussion” and is best remembered for the song he did with Soundgarden which is appropriately named Spoonman. If you were of a formative age in the 90s you definitely heard it. A lot. That October show is a bit light musically but did have a double encore after the spoon goings on had ended if you like that sort of thing. The singular show the band played in Portland in 1992 was on 04.24.1992 (I’ll forgo the continued venting about routing here but let’s just say that going Eugene>Seattle>Portland>Olympia doesn’t make much sense geographically) and here we get our first glimpses into the jam side of things in these shows. Check out an early extended Stash, a unique Mike’s, a VJ’d/On Broadway’d Paug that segues well into Mango, and a crazy shred Llama amongst all the teases and more from this one. Spring 1993 saw the band in town for a pair of shows at the Roseland (their last ones in this venue) on 03.31.1993 and 04.01.1993, both of which we have covered here previously. The first night has a nice Reba, the roots of the ‘Axilla II’ ending in the Ice jam, and a tease-filled Hood along with a fun Harpua story and a bunch of solid Trey banter including him professing his love for Bonnie Raitt (pretty sure that’s what he said). The next day was a full one for the band, first with a public appearance at the Ancient Forests Benefit that also included performances by Neil Young, David Crosby, Carole King, the Heart sisters, and Kenny Loggins and then for the show that night at the Roseland. This is an April Fools’ Day show so that plays into a lot of what goes down including the ‘trick’ in the Fish Fun Time segment that deserves to be heard. That August they played the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on 08.26.1993, throwing down a jam-filled show that pleases from the opening Jim through the end. Definitely check out the Reba, Melt, Hood, Bowie, and JLLC but you should probably just go ahead and spin the whole thing if you can including the nod back to the 4.1 show in the Guelah pause. That was also the second to last show of the tour before they took a long break to record Hoist that Fall before returning for a very strong NYE Run that you may have heard once or twice. The following Spring the band was back, this time playing the Civic Auditorium on 05.23.1994. It might not be a world beater show but it is typically strong in being average for that tour with a lovely Reba, big time Lope, and a YEM that harkens back to the Eugene Weekapaug from about a year prior with a Psycho Killer tinged VJ (this one also has some great Page piano and that thematic riff out of Trey in the start of his part in the jam). And finally on 10.05.1995 Phish played the oh-so-boxy Memorial Coliseum for the first time (coincidentally, their first visit matches up with the Trailblazers moving to their new home in another venue) with an early tour show that is pretty okay if a bit light on big highlights. I highly recommend the Forbin’s Narration though as Trey gets a bit metaphysical instead of just giving us another imaginative story and the Bowie is a good one too. Not a bad bit of lead up to our show here for this town and I’m not even throwing in some of the classic ones from Salem and Eugene.
The show starts with our second Poor Heart opener of the tour which drops right into ACDC Bag for one of only six such pairings. This Bag has a bit of extension in the end jam as Trey plays with some effects to compliment the ‘normal’ progression which is nice. They run this into our third All Things Reconsidered of the tour which currently sits at a 646 show gap since it was last played in February 1997. That’s too long, Phish. After a squee-inducing Bouncin’ Around The Room they head into Reba for our first toe dip in the jam pool on the evening. Trey climbs the ladder in a quite quickly paced version of the song and meets the band at the peak for a quite satisfying release in a version that really surprised me with how much I liked it considering I have never heard anyone laud this version before (which is honestly not unexpected with so many solid Rebas living under the radar). Next up is yet another Character Zero which is a bit oddly placed in the midset but that doesn’t impact the playing as Trey flexes his “I can play like Jimi” muscles. Maybe that’s foreshadowing or maybe it is just that he has gotten there with this song after playing it fifteen times in the twenty-eight shows from this tour but either way this is the type of Zero I want to hear. Page takes the forefront for Strange Design before our sixteenth Taste of tour starts up which while a tad sloppy in the return to the end has a good bit of Trey in the jam. I Didn’t Know comes in for only the second time this tour (kinda shocking considering how many times it was played back in that 93 timeframe) and along with typical humorous banter about Fish’s nom de plume for the evening (Norton Charleston Heston) Trey quotes the Beatles tune ‘Because” in introducing Mr. Heston. Then we get Sample’d before a particularly rocking and shreddy Run Like an Antelope caps the set in fine fashion. The breakdown section has a bit of tinkling around before they get to rye-rye-rocco-ing and again we get the Norton Charleston Heston nod and then before you know it we are out in the concourse once more trying to slake our thirst with a cool beverage as we laugh about yet another “fifteen minute break” comment out of Trey.
That first set is about what we expect at this stage on the tour with a couple of solid jams, overall great playing, and more of that energy thing though I have to say the song choices are getting a bit predictable here. Save for that one time performance of Midnight on the Highway last night we haven’t had a tour debut since Omaha and the gap charting looks more like a middling NL team’s starters’ ERAs than anything. That might not be the easiest analogy to unravel. However, we have seen time and again this tour that a jam-lite first set doesn’t usually carry over to the second frame so there is some good hope to be had in getting yourself mentally prepped for this one. And this one actually did get a good Reba and an engaging Lope so it’s already beating par with the real meat still to come.
The band returns for the second set and starts out by building a familiar soundscape, clearly working towards the drop into 2001 but in no rush to get there. Trey and Page play with effects as Mike cements the bottom end and notes approval on the fight bell and before you know it this intro section has gone on longer than most versions of this song ever have with the recent exceptions of the Atlanta and Memphis performances of the song. No longer just a table setter for big vehicles this song is evolving on a nightly basis into a vehicle in its own right. This is apparent in how they are tackling the song one this tour, one night focusing on building to the release ‘refrain’ section, another night stretching out the intro to create an atmospheric jam before moving into the song proper. The version before this one from Memphis leads to this one and this one will allow for even more when we hear it again in a few shows. This will all go even bigger in 1997 and beyond but the seeds that were planted when this tour started are already starting to sprout and the template is taking root in changing the band’s approach to the song. Oddly or perhaps not all things reconsidered, they pull up into Sparkle instead of dropping into something bigger. This might signify the band’s acknowledgement of the growing import of this song as vehicle and not just the warm up it had always been or it could just be Trey just wanted to shred through this Rift number. No telling with him sometimes. With the energy in the room now approaching feverish levels Fish kicks into the start of David Bowie as fan hopes go even higher in anticipation of more of the type of jamming this song got back in Kansas City. The fans thinking such thoughts are often not rewarded as the band tends to not follow that predictable a path but tonight they would have opportunity to smile as from the drop out after the lyrics we are right back in the depths for another directed journey. This is another one that has not seen the praise it deserves even if it isn’t a mind flipper in the vein of the massive ones from 94/95. There is a type of groove jamming going on here that the band didn’t have at their disposal for those monsters which provides the base upon which the jam succeeds. This isn’t wah funk groove like YEM is exhibiting or even the percussive groove of the Simples we have heard but something that has a bit of both along with an edginess, a darker thing. It doesn’t even stray too far from the main Bowie theme too much but you can just as easily get lost in it all the same. It is mildly hypnotic such that when the return to the Bowie close comes you might finally open your eyes and shake the jamwebs out of your noggin to remind yourself of where you are. Somewhat fittingly they play A Day In The Life next, offering up another solid take on the odd tale by the Beatles.
This is our cool down song, I suppose, because next up is You Enjoy Myself to fill the latter half big jam slot. After lovely Pre and Nirvana sections they work through the ‘lyrical’ section with Mike giving some fight bell approval along the way and then hit the jam, first for the Page-led organ section. Mike gives us more fight bell and Trey adds in the whistle wah and other effects as he hops on the mini-kit for a bit. They patiently work through a percussive jam here and then Trey moves back over to the guitar to take his turn in front. Trey takes his time here, building to a peak that he sustains and allows to fade out into the transition to the D&B section which results in a fairly low key bit of Mike-led groove. They move out of this fairly quickly into a faster paced VJ which feels more in line with the lysergically intense versions of the song from 94/95 than here in the pre-funk days. In a way this YEM is a good example of what 1996 was all about as they had full control of their ability to work through compositions while adding in interesting, multi-layered jams. There may not be the wild, open exploration of other years here but it all works well as a whole, combining their instrumental mastery with the fresh creativity of new jam forms still emerging. This YEM may not be quite as captivating as the one from Kansas City but that’s a tough one to overtake, honestly. The set then finishes up with a double closer pairing of Loving Cup and Suzy Greenberg, both bringing the energy but otherwise not really notable in any way. The encores proceed similarly as we get a Ginseng Sullivan>Cavern pairing that does well to send everyone off into the Portland night on a high if not particularly unique note.
This show is pretty clearly a reconnection with what they had been working towards in the latter half of the Midwest leg of the tour before the move west seemed to slightly derail that mode. The energy is there as always but there is also a great patience to how the jams are developing as evidenced by the 2001 and Bowie. This first set crackles with energy and is the type of set you could hand to a friend unfamiliar with the band to give them a taste of what the band is about without potentially scaring them off with some big second set open vehicles. If you had to pick a ‘stereotypical’ type of show from this year (and tour) this Portland one would be a could choice and I say that with no implied negativity. If nothing else it is the sort of show along a tour that makes you beg for more as the band seems to be about ready to burst into bigger things. And at the end isn’t that really all we could hope for? Your takeaways tonight are Reba, 2001, Bowie, YEM with Bag and Zero being the second tier. Next up is a pre-Thanksgiving stop back north in Seattle for a raging hot show before we make the turn south towards California and the final week of the Fall Tour.