Phish — Key Arena — Seattle, WA 11.27.1996
I Julius>MFMF, Ya Mar, CDT, Sloth, Uncle Pen, Free>Theme, Bold As Love
II Disease->JJLC>Mule, Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Disease, SSB, Fire
After an oddly placed two night break to get from Portland back up to Seattle probably mainly attributable to Monday and Tuesday being two of the least frequently attended nights for live music or even lack of venue availability the band hit the stage once again on Thanksgiving Eve. Generally a night where you might’ve gone out to visit the local watering hole to see old friends from high school since you are all home for once, this night offered the opportunity for a different sort of communal gathering as Phish played the Key Arena for the first time ever. This was, of course, not the first time the band had played Seattle with seven prior shows going down in the Emerald City (not to be confused with the locale in The Wizard of Oz). The first visit here was on 10.11.1991 at The Backstage, a venue which closed in 1997. There aren’t any full tapes in circulation for this one even though what does circulate is a soundboard but the unique take on Bowie survives (see if you can figure out what song the jam is based on without cheating) and the YEM VJ is topical to the goings on of that day in referencing the ‘pubic hair in your coke’ bit from the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, specifically the testimony of one Anita Hill (look it up, junior. it was a big deal back then. and get off my lawn while you’re at it.) About six months later on 04.23.1992 they played The Oz Nightclub (clever…) for a show heavy on the teases and banter typical of those bar band days. Trey starts Tweezer in the wrong key which is always fun too but it does nothing to diminish a fun if somewhat slow version of the song. 1993 saw two shows in Seattle, first for the West Coast Leg ending 04.05.1993 show at the HUB Ballroom which we have previously covered and then on 08.25.1993 at the Paramount Theatre. The April show has some solid jams being that it came some 47 shows into that tour, most notably the Stash, Tweezer, and YEM. The August show is full of highlights including a big time open Stash, a shreddy Possum, a very unique Paul and Silas with vocal jamming, and a YEM that gets Baby Gramps up on stage during the VJ as they work their way into his song Nothin’ But A Nothin’. It is also the show that started the trend of the band giving homage to Mr. Hendrix in his hometown as they played Bold As Love here for the first time in the encore. Spring of 1994 saw the band come back to yet another new venue, this time playing the Moore Theatre on 05.21.1994. Aside from some funny pre-Hood banter and a bunch of tease-laden songs there isn’t much of note in this one even if it is hot like a Spring ’94 show should be (and it has another Bold As Love…). In Fall 1995 they played a two night run (10.02.1995 and 10.03.1995) at the Seattle Center Arena which is now known as Mercer Arena. In the first show along with Trey introducing the Chess Match dealio to the tune of Night Moves there is a wonderful sequence in the second set of Simple>Keyboard Army, Slave that I recommend you check out. The Simple devolves into something of a proto-ambient jam which provides a great starting point for Keyboard Army and then the Slave is a meandering, patient wade through the song’s progression with Fish even adding some vac to the jam. The next night isn’t really big on highlights but it is a solid Fall ’95 show and there is the second to last Faht ever here and a solid Hood taboot taboot. And that catches us up to dive into this show above…
Phish comes out hopping on this night, opening with a fiery Julius that sees Trey doing work in limbering up for the evening’s proceedings. The room now moving, they drop into My Friend My Friend for the first time in fifteen shows, altering the mood from the sunny vibe of Julius to the darker tone of MFMF. This alteration occurs again when they start up Ya Mar to follow MFMF. Trey plinks his way through his solo before giving way to Mike’s island scat business to close this one up. Bringing out the rawk, the band blasts through a tight version of Chalkdust Torture where Trey takes charge with an arena-filling solo. Keeping it crunchy they head into The Sloth next for a bit of the grimy side of Gamehendge. Then after a quick run through our second Uncle Pen of the tour Trey cranks into yet another late first set Free. Okay, sure, two of the nine Frees this tour have been second setters, but the majority are all here in the latter stages of firsts sets. This one from Seattle hits the mold of what they have been doing with it this tour, giving Page and Mike room to get a bit weird while Fish and Trey lay down that percussive beat. Trey adds in some guitar effects and loops along the way before they come back to the final refrain. Now, here the .net setlist notes a “>” from Free into Theme From the Bottom but if that exists I must have the wrong tape because they clearly wind Free down and the crowd cheers before they take a quick pause to start up Theme. Goes to show never trust a setlist. Tape don’t lie. None of that matters, of course, as the music is what makes it all go and this Theme lives up to that ideal. Trey takes a slightly different approach to the jam here, not exactly opening it up but definitely not following the same progression that we typically get with this song. It is nice to hear them comfortable enough to toy around with the song in this manner and before you know it they hit that familiar peak to end the song. And then we get a bit of a bustout (67 shows) in honor of Jimi Hendrix’s birthday with Bold As Love which is perhaps my personal favorite of the “straight up” covers that the band plays relatively consistently. By “straight up” I mean that they do not open it up for exploration like Crosseyed and Painless or Rock and Roll just to give two examples. And while they might not be able to fully achieve the quadrophonic swirl that the album version of the song gives the listener (I tried to find a youtube of the album version of the song but that seems to not exist and the only live version on there sounds worse than an eighth generation Dead tape that needs pitch correction amongst other issues) it always gets me where I want to be with the evocative lyrics and that end solo that Trey (usually) nails. I chalk up my undying love for this set closer/encore tune to the confluence of me diving fully into Phish life right about the time I was taking deeper dives into Jimi’s catalog as well which resulted in me having a couple of pretty awesome experiences with the song at shows in the ’93 time range. But enough about me. This one caps yet another fun first set (and makes it it the third time in the past five shows in Seattle that they have played the song) and then Trey throws in a little nod to Jimi’s birthday and place of birth being Seattle before the band leaves the stage for the break.
Over the break you may have been wondering what else the band had up their collective metaphorical sleeves for this second set what with the table setting the first frame offered up. Sure, there are no big jams in that set but since when have we been expecting that on this tour? The fact that they eschewed the ballads and just went out and ripped up everything they played bodes well for this set and throwing in a nod/bustout to Jimi just ups the ante. Sometimes that results in unfulfilled expectations and other times not. On this night the latter holds sway against the former as we shall soon see.
As the band returns to the stage Trey and Mike set a couple of loop delays and Mike starts that familiar deep cyclone of bass goodness (even adding a fight bell for good measure) tipping us off that Down With Disease is imminent. Sure enough they burst into the song and run through the verses and early jam energetically, continuing the mood they set up in the first set. After a few minutes it is clear they are not going to rush through this one – it is after all only the fourth second set Disease of the ten played so far this tour – and Trey settles into playing elongated lines around the Disease framework. At around 7:15 in Trey adds some wah and is comping with speed in a manner that sounds like something Jimi would do as he waits for the next shift in the music idea put forth by one of the band members. This settles into a groove pocket that is still largely Disease but also getting further and further from the song proper. Now close to ten minutes in you might think they will wrap this up soon considering pretty much every version from this year has been somewhere between 7 to 12 minutes in duration. But not this one. Trey is playing over the rest of the band who seem to all but drop out for a bit until Mike adds in a familiar bassline that Trey catches on to in turn. We are oh so close to having this jam move into Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ territory before Trey takes the lead out into a completely open jam space. Around 14:30 he moves on again, repeating a riff that the rest of the band then complements and at this stage you would be forgiven if you turned to your buddy and asked “YO WHAT SONG IS THIS??” because we are out into the open water now. I’m not one to really put too much to the length of a jam/song in determining its worth because I think there are definitely examples of jams that suffer for the searching (as there are also those that end way too soon) but it is very notable that this version has not eclipsed any Disease from 1996 in length with the wonderful Clifford Ball version being the only one even close in timing. As we move towards the 18 minute mark things seem to be breaking down but really it feels more akin to the open psych jams of ’95 than to something losing steam. Mike comes through the murk with a steady bassline and then Page toys a bit in a way that is almost asking the others “okay, what now?” as Trey hits the minikit for a bit. Unlike many of these percussive jams this one builds as Page and Mike lead the way and Trey throws in the effects to match the Fish beat (which has been relentless throughout this jam – part of why I love this one as a workout jam). Trey adds to this with some delay tactics on the guitar, looping that scratchy electro tone as the soundscape tumbles forward. Then almost out of the aether that they have constructed you hear Trey play the telling melodic introduction to Jesus Just Left Chicago, an interesting choice as the come down to the aural madness we just experienced. At the least it offers us some firm ground upon which to stand with its easy bluesy shuffle and definitive solo sections (though if they were really giving props to Jimi I’d have loved to see them tackle Red House or another of his more straight ahead blues covers even if that is just revisionist wishful thinking). Page shines bright on the piano here in the first solo slot and then Trey takes his turn after the second round of verse, opting for a laid back and sparse solo of the sort that causes the spun to arch back almost too far in acting out the notes in their dance. He pushes through to the peak and then after the final verse/refrain we are on to Scent of a Mule for that whole thing.
Yeah yeah, I know, I’m seemingly always harping on the placement of Mule and I get why it was there in these days but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It isn’t a bad version here by any means – in fact, the first ‘jam’ is a wonderfully frenetic thing and Trey has a pretty interesting scat/solo thing in his turn – but it is definitely not the high point of the set (which is a very good thing). Perhaps sensing they need to take the set to another level Trey starts up Tweezer once we have been we are reminded of the elegance and brightness of here. The pace is slow in getting through the lyrics but once they hit that drop into the jam (Mike fight belling us in) Trey plays a descending line and then we are off and running. There’s a swagger to this jam as Trey flirts around the Tweezer theme while adding some extra distortion to his tone. This is all ‘type I’ if you have to label it but the swampy, bluesy feel of it adds that dirty grit that gets everyone seriously tearing it up. Around the ten minute mark Trey shifts his intent a bit to a very familiar riff and it quickly becomes clear they are moving into Sweet Emotion for a massive bustout of the Aerosmith song which had not graced the Phish stage since the famed Bomb Factory show on 05.07.1994. As a seasoned fan, you already know that one, of course. Trey moves out of Sweet Emotion after a few rounds of the title refrain and suddenly we are back in Disease! They patiently build it up to the end peak we had assumed wasn’t happening tonight considering the departure for JJLC earlier in the set but here it is as you and the rest of the crowd lose yourselves in the hooting and hollering that they came full circle here (enterprising fans have come to call this section the “Diseezer” which is a pretty good portmanteau as they go in phishlandia). And I’d just like to point out that when you combine the two sections of Disease in this set you get what was then the second longest Disease ever behind only the massive 12.12.1995 version from Providence and even without that end section close in length to the big time 06.26.1995 version from SPAC which came out of a similarly large Free. And then Trey closes the Disease out by playing the main riff to Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ which just further cements in your head that they are on top of every single little thing here and, man, Trey, get out of my head dude cuz I really can’t take much more of this shit, man. Seriously. Too much. Sensing your unease the band huddles up at the front of the stage and Trey banters a bit about the next song coming, mentioning their upcoming pre-Lakers game performance of the Star Spangled Banner – a game which will feature the then local Supersonics no less. Now your mind is totally blown as you listen to the patriotic a cappella song. With one more little intro nod to Jimi the band then cranks into the set closing cover of Fire (this being the other Jimi cover the band keeps at the ready). Following the brief encore break you are “treated” to the only Waste>Reprise ever (which works pretty well, honestly) and then it is off to gather yourself to figure out how in hell you will be able to look presentable at your mom’s cousin Arleen’s house tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Good luck with that, spunion, we’ll chat about that hilarious familial trainwreck preshow in Daly City…
Phish has a tendency to play some pretty hot shows on the eve of Turkey Day and this is no exception. The first set is a rocking good time that sets the tone for the evening and then that second set just doesn’t let up. The only ballad-y song is in the first encore slot and even that is Waste with its trilling end solo by Trey so it isn’t like they broke into an acoustic mini-set there. There’s not much of a throw away tune in this show within the context of this tour which is a good indication of their intent on the evening. For takeaways the obvious are the Disease and the Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Disease and for the second tier I’ll add in the Theme though honestly you could probably add more if you are so inclined. I’m just starting to realize I have been a bit liberal this tour and if I want to get the end playlist to something manageable I need to be a bit more discerning. Okay then. Enjoy that turkey break and we will be back from the Cow Palace before you know it!