Phish — The Cow Palace — Daly City, CA 11.29.1996
I Frankenstein, NICU, CTB, Zero>Divided, Gin, LoM?, Maze, Suzy
II Wilson>Simple->Sparks>Sparkle>Taste>Swept Away>Steep>YEM, Waste>Hood
After a night off to celebrate perhaps the most American of all holidays Phish found themselves in the Bay Area to play the venerable Cow Palace, a venue with a long and varied history of sporting events, concerts, political rallies, and most true to its name, rodeos and livestock expositions. Now, we can debate the relative “‘Murican-ness” of Thanksgiving as compares to July 4th and other more overtly patriotic holidays but save for the lack of fireworks and rah-rah flag waving you can’t tell me that a day filled with overeating to a degree unmatched the world over, drunken creativity when it comes to the manner in which a flightless bird is prepared for consumption, the comforting background noise of a series of never-as-competitive-as-anyone-wants-them-to-be football games, awkward introductions and interactions between distant family and the person you thought it would be a good idea to bring into this crazy mess, and the looming threat of a family fight erupting faster than you can say “Uncle Earl is talking about politics and religion again” could be anything but one of the most American things ever American’d. Sure, “as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July” sounds better but that’s really only because we fall for rhymes easily and are wooed by the prospect of warm weather facilitating our need for scantily clad (in weird fashion appropriations of our flag design, of course) drunk people wolfing down hot dogs and crappy yellow “beer” as we hurl illegal fireworks into the sky while trying to slur out the words to our national anthem (or maybe some country song, I dunno, I tend to avoid this type of party these days) and yell obscenities into the ether about how great our mother loving country is and everyone else needs to shut up and just love it or leave it, partner. Actually, now that I write that it does sound pretty freaking ‘Murican… but still. Thanksgiving. Let’s get back on point here. Thanksgiving brings Americans together in ways no other day does and it also provides a wonderfully long weekend which tends to be a good time for those who do not wish to stay at home with the family rehashing old arguments and debating who will next take Aunt Bessie to the restroom can instead venture out for some live music. I know that before the time I had a family of my own I always looked forward to seeing who was playing Thanskgiving Weekend shows in my area. And this Friday night show in Daly City fits that bill perfectly as I imagine in additiona to those then on tour were joined by a significant number of attendees who had circled the date on their calendar (back then we had these things called “paper calendars” which came in a wide variety of sizes and designs that were very useful in planning your life since we weren’t yet permanently attached to our technology) as an wonderful excuse for getting out of the house that night.
And being people who had ties to the Bay Area such folk might’ve known already of the long history Phish already had with the region but just in case they did not or perhaps they forgot in the years since, here is a little bit of that history. I’m not going to go through everything here because, frankly, that could be a post in and of itself what with the 19 shows before this one in the area (I’m not including Santa Cruz or Monterey here) led up to this first and only appearance in Daly City. The first visit to the area was for the second ever West Coast show at the DNA Lounge on 03.29.1991 following the famed ‘Dollar Night’ show in Santa Cruz on 03.28.1991. This show and the one a couple of nights later across the bay in Berkeley at the Berkeley Square (now closed, naturally) on 03.31.1991 (an Easter Sunday show, no less) are about what you’d expect from this young band rising through the bar/club scene with lots of teases, banter, and the energetic playing of youthful exuberance. I will note that the Mockingbird here is one of the first with the narration (something I, along with most others, usually attribute as being the ‘Forbin’s Narration’. I’ll fix that going forward…) along with the fun anecdote that the venue’s lack of available power caused them to choose sound over lights resulting in the only light show being the candles that CK5 purchased at a Pier 1 that day. That Fall they played a two show run full of solid playing and fun banter at the Great American Music Hall (10.17.1991 and 10.18.1991) before returning in the Spring of 1992 for the first show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on 04.17.1992 (this is a very solid ’92 show with some fun jams in Reba, Bowie->Catapult->Bowie, and Tweezer amongst other goodies) and then the classic 04.18.1992 Palo Alto show that you definitely had a tape of BITD. That Catapult is the debut of the song which is something but go (re)spin the Palo Alto show for old time’s sake. The other notable thing here is that the crew van got broken into during that Warfield show and a lot of the crew’s personal belongings were stolen which is oddly tied to a post show party in Palo Alto where they decided to release to the tape trees the crispy tapes of that other famed show from this run, the 04.16.1992 show from the Anaconda Theatre down in Isla Vista. I guarantee you have heard that one unless you are still living under a noob rock or something. August 1992 had two single set opening performances in support of Santana before the band was back in Spring ’93 for three shows in the region on 03.24.1993 in Santa Rosa and then a pair back at the Warfield on 03.26.1993 and 03.27.1993, all of which we have covered here previously. The single summer performance by Phish in this area in 1993 was the final show of the famed August Run and their first at the Greek Theatre, sharing the bill with J.J. Cale for a wonderful night of music that you should go listen to if you don’t know it already. A three night run at the Warfield on 05.25.1994, 05.26.1994, and 05.27.18994 provided the final run of shows at that venue and the only ones in the Bay Area for the Spring Tour with each show seeming to be better than the one preceding as they opened up the jams in earnest on that last night (definitely check the Tweezer, Melt, Hood, Reba, Bowie, and the debut of Simple from this run). The Fall only saw one show in the area over in San Jose on 12.03.1994 where the highlight is the presence of The Cosmic Country Horns for the entire second set (and DMB opening if you care of such matters). 1995 had only one show here as the band got their first taste of headlining Shoreline Amphitheatre (the prior visit in 1992 was one of those Santana opener slots) on 09.30.1995 where they started out the band/crowd chess match, debuted the cover of ‘Suspicious Minds’, dedicated ‘Blue and Lonesome’ to Jerry Garcia, and generally had a fun time celebrating Trey’s 31st birthday. And that gets us to here in 1996!
Here in the 30th show of the tour (woo hoo! stat summary a-comin’!) we are treated to one of only four ever Frankenstein openers. That’s a song to set a mood for sure and one I will never complain to hear them perform considering how rare it is to hear these days with only 11 coming in 3.0. They counterpoint it with a bouncy take on NICU, back after a sixteen show absence which seems long these days but was perfectly normal in that time period (though, to be fair, it is not played as much now as it was in the early stages of the current era). The bounce carries forth into another dance-y Cars Trucks Buses which is followed by a rocking Character Zero that rams right into the start to Divided Sky. After the pause (1:03 tonight) they nail the end sections and jam before giving us our first real opportunity to catch our breath at the close. We haven’t had any big fireworks yet but that’s a pretty solid five song start to the show. Next up is Bathtub Gin, back for the first time since the wonderful version from Kansas City. Tonight’s version feels like it could erupt into something bigger like that KC one or even the famed Rupp Gin from earlier in the tour but that is not in the cards here in the middle of tonight’s first set as instead they jam within the theme. It works here but it sure feels like they could have gone bigger with this one. After another spot on run through the cover of Life on Mars? (the only ballad-ish song of the set) they slide into Maze to get us back to that dancing around flailingly thing. This one hits hard with Trey catching on to the DEG feel for a bit which influences the back half of the jam considerably. It works so well that as you navigate the mental labyrinth evoked by this jam your thoughts wander into questions of why they have only ever added the DEG to Maze one other time besides tonight (as if your mind could come up with that fact in the moment). After the shreddy climb to the end peak they tie it up and then head into Suzy Greenberg for a version that will end this first frame. While pretty much what you expect out of this song Page does get the chance to solo on piano for a bit longer than what seems normal (might have something to do with Trey doing the comping thing here) but then before you know it you are being shuffled into the concourse to support your friend who just can’t deal with the mass of people without you. This is not how you wanted to spend the setbreak but you can’t really put enough words together to protest so here you are wandering the sweaty, packed halls as your buddy guides you to places your mind definitely doesn’t want to travel.
After what seems like a lifetime you are returned to your seats, the sight of which bringing comfort to you in ways you never thought possible a mere fifteen minutes ago. That was all just a brief interlude though as the lights drop and the band takes the stage again, starting up our fifth Wilson of the tour to the delight of the white-hatted members of the crowd. The rawk out runs right into the intro to Simple which gives us our first real opportunity for jam in the show considering the tour this song has had. Tonight’s version starts out with a lot of energy as Trey solos over the Simple theme for the first few minutes of the jam but then around the 8:45 mark he shifts into a different rhythm and the band follows as they build into something not quite Simple but also not entirely open. They sit in this space for several minutes with Trey leading the way as they search for the next idea. About a minute from the end things start to break down, particularly the rhythm, and Trey sets a loop while Page plinks around. Trey then plays a couple of familiar notes which the band eventually catches and then we are into the start of Sparks! Well, there’s another bustout for you after a 173 show gap. Oddly enough, this marks the second time in the past two shows that a key element to the 05.07.1994 Bomb factory show has been brought to the stage though Sparks did have that one performance on 10.29.1994 between this show and that night in Dallas. Honestly, this version is pretty sloppy – mostly by Trey – but in the moment none of that matters because being there you would have perhaps finally been able to check off Sparks on your handy dandy Chaser Scorecard that you have conveniently laminated and placed in your back pocket. It is pretty funny that this song which has only ever been played 17 times by the band holds such sway for the bustout chasers but I suppose that is all part of the allure. I mean, I had been chasing Buffalo Bill for a looooooong time up until Magnaball last year and that song has also only ever been played seventeen times so I’m not exactly one to talk here. Sparks then heads into Sparkle (I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, TREY) which gives way to Taste (now batting 0.566!). Trey alters his path slightly tonight in getting to the peak so there isn’t any Norwegian Wood or even much of the WTU? feel in this one but it hits hard when he gets there all the same when he hits that trill. In the wind down from Taste they move into Swept Away>Steep which offers up a quick breather before they continue the string by starting up You Enjoy Myself. I like this combo as a stepping stone in this slot because it brings everything down to a more subtle space before that scream ending provides a perfect spot for that YEM intro to kick in. Too bad this is the only example, a ‘problem’ we are finding a lot this evening. As we get into the YEM I here voice my wish that some video of this show surface because this is one of the few examples I know of where Trey breaks a string mid-song and they use that as opportunity to just keep playing. Following lovely pre and Nirvana sections they drop into the ‘lyrics’ and then set up a cowfunk jam with Trey comping along to the groove pocket Mike and Fish have going while Page adds flavor. This goes on for a few minutes and then Mike hits the fight bell which seems to alter Trey’s path as he then moves into the lead role in working through the more ‘standard’ part of his turn. The crowd tries to get a clap-along thing going but Trey drops into more sparse playing before catching a different melody at the bottom and building towards the transition peak that drops us into a short D&B section and then the VJ. I’ll just say it, I have no idea where Trey might’ve broken a string in this one because there isn’t any time that I feel like he drops out or anything. Maybe he is just that good that we don’t notice but it isn’t like he breaks strings very often so it is a bit surprising to not be able to pick it up at all. Oh well. The jam here is fun and begs one to dance with the funk beat and all but for my money it isn’t quite of the level we heard in Kansas City a little while back. Next up is a late set Waste that sets up the set closing Harry Hood quite well and is the last of the three Waste/Hood combos on this tour which never happened before and hasn’t since. This Hood is a sleeper. The jam starts out very patiently as they plink through the typical stuff, slowly building up and up and UP. This is old school tension building of the kind we used to get almost nightly in Stash and other such songs though here they don’t fully resolve it to a major peak but instead the energy spills over into the final chorus like a cleansing exhalation. In the close of the song Trey thanks everyone and notes that it is nice to see cows or something and then we are on to the… Hang on. They encored with what now? And people didn’t riot??? WTF, Trey?!? Sample?? Really??? Ugh. Let’s just move on.
Hey! Whaddya know, yet another solid if not great show! Solid first set with everything well played but not necessarily notable and then a second set full of highlights. Seems to be a pattern here… There’s no reason to belabor it. This is a good show with some stuff that will make the end-of-tour list or at least be a part of the conversation. As with most of the shows in the last week plus of this tour you can pretty much throw them on and listen through without many thoughts that it might be a good time to skip ahead to the good part. That’s not exactly the highest praise but it isn’t meant as a dig either. So with that our takeaways tonight are Maze, Simple->Sparks, and YEM with the Hood and Taste being the second tier. I like the Gin for what it is but by comparison I will leave this one out since there is no way it is making the top tier at the end of the tour. Next up will be one of my personal favorite shows from this tour at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento…
BUT WAIT! We have stats to recount! This is a round numbered show, after all. So what do we have? The band has now played thirty shows in 20 states across three time zones having hopped right over the mountain states this time. There have been 135 different songs played with 35 of those being one-timers. Taste is out front for most performances with 17 but Character Zero nips at its proverbial heels with 16. After that there is a logjam at number three with six songs having been played 11 times: CTB, CDT, Sample, Steep, Swept Away, and Waste. Three more songs have double digit appearances at 10: Disease, Theme, and YEM and then from there it gets pretty muddled. CDT (4) and Runaway Jim (3) are the only songs to open more than two shows and likewise Zero (5) and Antelope (3) are the only two songs to close more than two first sets. Second set openers are headed by 2001 (5), Disease (3), and Wilson (3) while closers are even less distinct with Hood (4), HMB (3), and Weekapaug Groove (3) leading the way. Waste (4), Funky Bitch (3), GTBT (3), and Julius (3) are all up front for encore slotting. All of that just shows that even with a pretty tight rotation (86 songs are in a five song rotation or less) predicting set placement isn’t quite as straightforward on this tour. The rest gets to some pretty minute detail so we will leave it at that for now…