Phish — America West Arena — Phoenix, AZ 12.02.1996
I Rocky Top>Bag, Bouncin’, YEM, IDK, Theme, Gumbo, Julius
II Ya Mar, Divided, Wolfman’s>Taste>Free, Mule, Hood, Adeline
Now flying fast in the final week of the tour Phish moved on to Phoenix, AZ for their fourth show in as many days. If you are keeping track at home that is over 850 miles of travel with no off days for the longer slogs. Not their craziest routing ever (heck, it even make sense geographically) but that’s a lot of miles for the band, crew, and fans alike. Personally, had I been on this leg of the tour I would have filled my time with looking back at the setlists gone by from the Valley of the Sun which are a bit fewer than I would have expected but still bring some punch with them. The first visit to the area was on 10.23.1991 for a show at Chuy’s in Tempe (of course it is now closed, what would you expect?. It is about as average of a setlist from that time period as you could expect as the average song gap is only 2.04 shows, something that looks weird even just seeing it on paper – and notably only four songs have gaps longer than 2 shows in Destiny Unbound (4 shows and somewhat ironic considering how long the gap would get after a performance a few weeks later on 11.15.1991 in Charlottesville, VA), Mango Song (7 shows), Possum (3 shows), and Take the A Train (6 shows) with many songs even having been played at the prior show a few days earlier on 10.19.1991 out in Santa Cruz. That’s not the sort of gap Phish shows have. This is not a show I have heard as it isn’t exactly the most widely traded show ever (if at all…) and it is probably best remembered as being the first time Brad Sands worked (in a volunteer capacity) for the band, starting a long and fruitful relationship with the band. The following Spring they returned to Tempe to play on 04.13.1992 at After the Goldrush (another Mill Avenue venue now long gone). There’s some fun teasing here including the then quite popular Smells Like Teen Spirit in a few places not to mention Secret Language and the other loose, fun stuff you got in those bar band goes big type of shows. This is another show that benefits from the up front Mike in the mix similar to other shows on that run. On 03.16.1993 they moved up to the larger Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix which we covered here almost a year ago. Even if you go back to that I’ll reiterate my recommendation that you spin the Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Tweezer->Gin (this was the first of the three Sweet Emotion jams that also includes The Bomb Factory and the Seattle show from earlier in this Fall 1996 tour) and perhaps the Esther>SL Instructions>Esther if only because it is the last known time they have done that and I am pretty sure it will never happen again unless they rediscover their love for that some time soon and then feel the need to bring us back up to speed. But don’t hold your breath there. Spring of 1994 brought the band to Hayden Square back over in Tempe for one on 05.13.1994 that sees our first big time jamming in the Phoenix area. The Ice is menacing, Stash goes sideways a bit, Slave is a beaut, there’s a fun second set Melt, McGrupp has some extra sauce, and then YEM is a tease-filled beast that even gets a little MLB tease action. Later in the year on 12.09.1994 the band was at the Mesa Amphitheatre in Mesa (obviously) to play an outdoor show in December which is something you just don’t normally get to do when you are a band from Vermont. This show has jams a plenty including the wonderful “Force Theme” Lope that also gets the alternate “suck the deer shit from this side of the hole” lyrics but then it is the Slave-like Tweezer jam that takes this show to the next level. Please go listen to that. Finally, on 10.11.1995 Phish was in Chandler at the Compto Terrace Amphitheater which was demolished in 2010. This show has an atypical Divided, a bluesy Possum that borrows from ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and has some other teases like DEG and JBG, a rocking Gin, a big Mike’s that ends up in McGrupp and a few other fun segues like the move from Paug to Llama. Oh, and there’s that tease-y Suzy withthe segue into the 197 show bustout of Crossroads which is nice too. Now on to our regularly scheduled program…
Phish opens the show in a way that has only ever happened three times and at the time of this show only once previously waaaaaaaay back on 05.02.1991. Yup, that’s a Rocky Top opener which is not exactly where we are used to hearing this cover tune considering that 110 of the 195 performances have been encores. And because I know you care about this level of minutiae, the break down for the song is 110 encore slottings, 40 second setters (2 being openers), 38 first setters, and 7 third set playings (one opener). That’s probably more than has been written about that song on a Phish blog perhaps ever though I haven’t exactly fact checked that statement. Rocky Top butts up into ACDC Bag for a bit of a double opener pairing. This Bag stretches a bit as previous versions have with Trey drawing out the end solo but never leaving the known structure of the song’s progression. That sort of thing is about a year away (insert winky emoticon here). After Bouncin’ ‘Round the Room for a bit we get a bit of a surprise in our third first set You Enjoy Myself of the tour (joining MSG and Halloween). Honestly, I forgot we were up to three already so maybe the surprise is all mine. This unexpected (to me!) treat is fairly straight forward in terms of the jamming as they don’t take it to funklandia tonight. That’s not to say there isn’t any there there though because Trey rips through his solo and then the D&B section gets raucous with Trey on the mini-kit for some extra percussion love to accompany Mike’s bass aerobics. It’s a fun version that won’t make the end of tour list but definitely worked in the context of this set. From the VJ they head into I Didn’t Know complete with intro to “The one and only little, round, donut, Tasmanian devil, beast boy himself…” along with more fun digs at Fish before the vac solo. Next up is another solid Theme From The Bottom and then a romp through Gumbo sans Mapleleaf Rag ending which seems to have only been a two-time thing, sadly. The set wraps up with a fun Julius where Trey gets his guitar god on for a bit and we are left with yet another ‘fifteen minute’ lie to stew about until the lights drop once more.
As the lights drop, were you in the vicinity of the tapers you would have heard an odd chant by a small group of fans who thought that shouting out “Poster Nutbag!” in unison would somehow influence the band to play Harpua. They were incorrect in that and the band starts up Ya Mar instead. This carries over the fun vibe that they fostered in the first set and ends up being a pretty captivating version. With Page and Trey both taking meaningful solos this one ends up on the longer side of the Ya Mar graph (excepting the few jammed departures into open waters). It is about as strong a version that stays fully in bounds as you could want and just shows how well they are playing here at the tail end of this tour. Next up is Divided Sky (1:13 pause tonight and apologies for that crappy video if you happen to click it because it is clearly an upper deck side stage pull) which gets a bit of extra sauce in the post-pause jam as Fish is going nuts on the kit behind Trey’s lead. Wolfman’s Brother gets its seventh performance of the tour next, a stat that surprises me as I would have said it had definitely been played more frequently than that. This one is short but peppy with Fish’s beats adding flair to the piano Page plays and then we head right into the start of our tour staple, Taste. I expect that if you are not the biggest fan of Taste that this tour hasn’t been your favorite considering the song has a 1.74 gap rating (or a strong 0.576 batting average if you choose to look at the stats that way) having been played now 19 times in just 33 shows. That’s like YEM in the early days or something. Unfortunately for you, oh Taste Hater, they are playing the song quite well as they head into the end of the year and on to what I believe to be the best year for the song, 1997. Tonight’s is pure Trey on display as he beckons the song to go higher and higher with big runs of notes, eventually peaking the song and bringing it back around to the close with flawless ease. They don’t come up for air and drop into Free for what you hope might be the open, set-carrying jam we have been waiting for here but instead it is a well played though somewhat unadventurous run through the song with Trey spending most of his time over on the mini-kit and playing with his guitar loops to add to the percussive jam as Page leads the way, eventually settling into the return for the last volley of lyrics. There is video out there of this Free which is mislabeled as 12.29.1996 so you get a good chance to see the mini-kit fun if you haven’t watched any vides from this tour yet. After a rote Scent Of A Mule they kick into what is assuredly the set closing Harry Hood, raising hopes for something that might take this set and show above the largely ‘okay’ level so far. There is a brief whistle wah and some other mini-kit effects by Trey before the first run through the lyrics and then the jam starts out in a subdued manner as Trey noodles around the Hood theme. They hit a serene space, floating through the jam to where it almost feels like it might just whisper away into nothing. They push through and Trey raises up towards the peak, not hitting the crazy sustain like Omaha or anything but instead riding the lead and paying off this longer than expected version. Not content to end it there they sing a quick Sweet Adeline a cappella closer and then come back for the encore with a ripping cover of Fire to send the elated off into the night.
Considering where we are at this stage of tour this very jam-lite show is a bit of a head scratcher. As expected it is all quite well played and the band is clearly connected and connecting with the crowd but they don’t even bother with any song that in this era could/would go further out. There are a couple of interesting setlist calls like that mid first set YEM but this would not have been a show many people would be talking about to their friends when asked what they liked from the tour. Granted, this is the fourth show in as many nights and we have already covered the travel involved so perhaps they just weren’t feeling it to go deep. You could say that they are keeping things “safe” here but I’m not so sure that is what this is as much as just what they were feeling on this night. Were this your first show it would be a good introduction to the band without putting you in any uncomfortable spots. The setlist, while not having anything we haven’t already heard this tour — in fact just three songs here have ‘only’ been played three times (Rocky Top, IDK, Adeline) — still feels fresh due to some atypical placements. And I could once again go on about energy and whatnot but I think you get the picture. For a Monday show on the backside of four in a row there really shouldn’t be much complaint here. Takeaways are a bit light, naturally, but we do get that strong Ya Mar, Taste, and Hood for the first tier with the Divided and Free being solid second teamers. Two shows to go here and while I didn’t hit my arbitrary goal of finishing up this tour prior to the new summer tour starting we will be there soon enough. Next stop, San Diego!